Crush on You
When Christie Ridgway tweeted recent about having her upcoming release reviewed, I sent her a private message and volunteered myself. I'm glad I did.
First, some background: This Perfect Kiss, which was published in 2001, came thisclose to being a DIK read for me. I just looked back at my PW review for the book, as well as what I wrote at AAR. The book featured not only one terrific romance, but a strong secondary romance as well, and I found the emotional intensity of both couples incredibly appealing. What stood out most for me, though, was the hero, about whom I wrote: "But it is Rory who truly comes alive in this story - his constant erotic thoughts seem utterly male and, most of all, the history that shapes his behavior is strongly echoed by many of the secondary characters."
I believe This Perfect Kiss was Ridgway's second single title. Wish You Were Here was her first, and I enjoyed it as well, enough that after having read it, I wrote an At the Back Fence segment about characters with disabilities (its hero is blind through much of the book). I had less luck with a series title I read of hers, In Love with Her Boss, nonetheless, while I've not read her in some time, I have continued, albeit sporadically, to buy her single title contemporaries for years. In particular I like that they don't have suspense sub-plots; they are romances through and through, and Crush on You is no exception.
Through a bit of web research I learned that the three sisters whose stories will be told in the Baci sisters trilogy were introduced in 2009's Double the Heat anthology. Crush on You is first in the trilogy, and due to be released in late May/early June. The sisters, who inherited Tanti Baci, their family's failing winery, are on a mission to save it by turning it into a destination wedding locale. Part owners in the winery are the Bennett brothers, who own the winery next door. There's been a feud between the families for years, although ten years earlier the eldest sister and eldest Bennett brother were madly in love. Their story is sure to come, but this story features the romance between Alessandra Baci and Penn Bennett.
Alessandra is known as the Nun of Napa; right before she was set to marry her high school sweetheart, he died, and for five years she's borne the burden of being his "almost wife" for the town, and particularly his mother, whose inability to get over the loss of her son she transfers to her son's fiance. Penn Bennett, presumably modeled on Ty Pennington from TV's Extreme Makeover Home Edition, is the illegitimate Bennett brother, visiting Napa to get over a painful love affair. She thinks he's a handsome heel while he believes she's a spoiled flirt. Both could not be more wrong.
Because the Bennett brothers have a stake in Tanti Baci, Penn agrees to use his carpentry skills to prepare the winery for its wedding destination launch under the condition that Alessandra helps. Being in close quarters aggravates their sexual tension, but as they get to know each other - the burden she has on her shoulders, that he's not a conceited phony do-gooder - they share some kisses, some foreplay, and eventually a heated bout of love-making. Penn is frustrated by her inability to fully feel her passion (it's not easy not being the Nun of Napa, after all), but they continue to get closer, even after his ex-girlfriend appears on the scene and Alessandra mistakenly believes he still carries a torch for her.
Meanwhile, Alessandra's best friend Clare, her dead fiance's sister, is preparing to marry a successful man her mother strongly approves of at Tanti Baci. Her mother does not approve of her long-lived friendship with Gil, which is indeed unfortunate in that each is secretly in love with the other. This secondary relationship perfectly incorporates into the main story line. To say more would give spoilers.
Indeed, to reveal any more of the plot would spoil things for readers. Better to focus on the characters, who are well-crafted. The story reads easily, and while Alessandra's "issues" provide pathos and are understandable, her inability to get over herself and her pre-conceived notions about Penn annoyed me. Her single-minded goal about the winery's success, also understandable, makes her a not-so-nice person at times, which I actually appreciated. Quite frankly there's nothing so boring as a perfect heroine. Penn, on the other hand, is entirely drool-worthy, so much so that another of the book's flaws was a lack of word count devoted to the couple as a couple. Ridgway shows them falling in love, but I wanted to see them in love - openly - before the book wrapped up.
My grade for the book may seem low. I've detailed some of my problems with Crush on You, but the main reason for the minus attached to my B grade is that the book, as good as it is, isn't quite substantive enough to sustain a straight B. It is what it is, and that's fine, but wanted a bit more. Even so, I'll be back at Tanti Baci for book two.