THE TROUBLE WITH MARY Millie Criswell Ivy Books ISBN #0-804-11950-3 January 2001 Contemporary
Baltimore - Present
Mary Russo is a middle child born into a stereotype Italian family where the matriarch reminds me of Sophia of The Golden Girls TV show. Sophia Russo always has a one liner to divulge and it often begins with - The trouble with Mary is ..... to fit whatever the occasion happens to be at the moment. Thanks to many of these isms, Mary believes herself a fat failure. She dropped out of school to work in a Pizza Parlor and now her boss is dead and she doesn't have a clue where or what she wants to do. Loving to cook and deciding to venture out on her own, Mary finds a new apartment over the same building where she opens an Italian restaurant in Baltimore's Little Italy section of town. She looks forward to a thriving business, but the newspaper's food editor blasts her restaurant with a terrible critique. Just wait till that Dan Gallagher, whoever he thinks he is, gets a piece of her mind!
Dan Gallagher was a successful sports editor for the newspaper, but nepotism enters the picture and he's asked to fill a vacancy as food editor for a spell. Dan isn't happy, but doesn't have much choice either. Dan hates Italian food and must review the new restaurant opening in Little Italy, and blasts it with a terrible critique. He has set an Italian family against him and little Mary Russo is going to burn his ears when she walks into his office a few days later. But when Dan looks at the petite woman it's more than his ears that burn.
Millie Criswell steps into the arena of contemporary writing with a blast, as THE TROUBLE WITH MARY is a riot of romantic comedy. She gives readers a story to laugh with and brings a family to life when a typical Italian daughter falls for of all things, an Irishman. Dan and Mary are such fun to read about as they become friends, then lovers. Her secondary characters seem like relatives after you read a few chapters. There is the colorful Grandma Flora who never lets Sophia forget she wasn't good enough for her son, Frank, but no woman could have met Flora's expectations. The aunts and uncles and their idiosyncrasies will keep a smile on your face with their antics. Then there is Dan's precious little boy, Matthew, who doesn't want to live with Dan and is angry because his mother deserted him, but Grandma Flora and Mary will soon bring him out of the doldrums. Then, there is Mary's brother, Joe, a priest and light of his mother's eyes; and Annie, the outrageous best friend, among other characters presented. Each of the cast is fully developed and given a unique personality.
Though most of the story is a comedy, there are some serious matters hidden between the lines, and the author does a great job in solving them. Mary harbors a real fear of failure in her relationship and hesitates to commit because of that fear. She's also been under her mother's thumb all of her life and enjoys her independence and doesn't want to give that up. Dan was been burned in his first marriage and isn't interested in anything more than a casual relationship - but Mary's family will have more than a little to say about that. THE TROUBLE WITH MARY is a read to pick up when you want to lift your spirits and put a smile on your face. Millie Criswell proves she can write a contemporary to equal her previous historicals as she uses imagination, wit and humor to bring a delightful story to her fans. There are steam-filled pages of sensuality as the thirty-something virgin learns about making out. This reader is hoping there is a sequel to bring this family to a conclusion since I have a strong need to know more about brother Joe. Millie Criswell left me with a grin and a satisfying conclusion to a tale I highly recommend.
Carol Carter/As written for Under The Covers