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Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW:  Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW: Driving in Neutral by Sandra Antonelli

Driving-in-Neutral

A new, quick-witted, quip-heavy romance for grown-ups from Sandra Antonelli about facing your fears — because love is the greatest risk of all.
Levelheaded Olivia Regen walks away from her car-racing career and the wreckage of a bad marriage to take on new work that’s far removed from the twists of racetrack. Her new life is about control, calm and the good friends that she adores.

But her first day on the new job involves getting up close and too personal with her claustrophobic boss, alone in a broken elevator. Her unconventional solution for restoring his equilibrium shocks them both and leaves Olivia shaken.
Determined to stick to her plan, Olivia drives headlong into work and planning her best friend’s wedding, leaving no room for kissing, elevators, or workplace relationships. But Emerson is not one to be out-manoeuvered. Can he convince Olivia that her fear of falling in love again is just another kind of claustrophobia – one that is destined to leave them both lonely?

Dear Ms. Antonelli,

Even before Jane forwarded the information about your latest book, I had already taken notice of it on our submissions page. As you’re one of the few authors I routinely read who features older heroines and heroes in leading romance roles rather than just sticking them in background roles for yuks, I knew I was going to at least try it. I do love catching all the references to things I grew up with such as the “Love Boat” and Olivia’s taste in music.

My, this book has the wedding from hell. A Diva Bridezilla – and she needs those capitals – plus some wedding party members who need a hard right hook to the jaw (these are the bride’s friends?) – are enough to drive anyone but Olivia around the bend. But Olivia handles it with her usual cool, calm demeanor and refrains from telling them where they can stick it. If it were me there, I’d have caught a charge for assault before the vows were finally taken.

Wow there are a lot of secondary, tertiary and quaternary characters in this book. I feel as if I need a scorecard to keep them all straight and wondered if I truly need to keep up with them. In the end I decided that I truly needn’t have bothered with the effort to keep most of them straight.

The blurb does not lie about quick-witted and quip heavy and thankfully most of that is from Olivia’s mouth. She’s smart, she’s sharp, she’s intelligent and she’s fearless. She can also puncture Emerson’s ego and – sometimes – assholic behavior without even breaking a sweat. Even though Olivia is more than ready to verbally defend herself and zap unwary males who try and tease her, I did get tired of the sheer number of times this happens. After getting caught in the elevator with Emerson in a rain drenched state and with her skirt raised to get her knickers untwisted, he gets the wink-winks and she gets the snickers. The fact that this is Real Life makes it all the more depressing.

Emerson is a conundrum. He can spout the most asinine drivel for the longest time and truly seems to have his foot in his mouth every time he’s around Olivia. The man can be clueless about how clueless he is but the analogy of him reverting to a tongue tied awkward teenager who is flustered by the discovery that he really likes a girl is an apt one. He is like the men who want to impress a woman so badly that they end up acting like a fool or a twit.

Olivia is in neutral or as the title suggests, her life is going along in neutral on a straight road to nowhere. Readers see her as calm and in control but only her friends realize how “flat” she is after arriving home from her public and painful divorce. If she doesn’t get emotional, she feels she won’t be hurt again. It’s going to take a lot to pierce her shell.

Yet Emerson is the man to do just that. He finally gets his footing at the wedding and that is when the sweet romance starts. Emerson and Olivia actually begin to talk to each other rather than just slinging barbs and rapier responses. They get to know each other, revealing intimate details of their lives and past mistakes. They talk before taking it physical so when they do finally do that, it means far more than sex. He makes Olivia realize that she’s missed having emotional “road curves” to handle with her lightning fast reflexes.

Emerson also loves Olivia’s quickness, self possession and confidence. He freely admits to the other guys that he wants a woman with experience in her life rather than just big boobs. I like that Olivia isn’t desperate to get a man in her life or indeed, even to find a date for the wedding. She’s just fine going solo, thank you. The farting sofa scene and Olivia’s protective neighbor were hilarious, too.

Both have failed marriages – Emerson’s is more from neglect rather than anyone being an ass while Olivia’s starter marriage was followed by her younger man, Eurotrash race driver marriage. She starts thinking never again, so when she does lose her heart and falls, the betrayal she feels is gut wrenching. The way she handles that is reprehensible but her pain is understandable.

These two get taken to the edge before the romance gets reeled back in. Frankly after how Olivia acts and what she does, I wondered if Emerson would be able to forgive her. If not for his determination and that of their friends in trying to get them back together, all would have been lost. The end of the book was too abrupt for me but they’ve already said a lot and maybe Emerson will concentrate on changing Olivia’s mind for good rather than hyperventilating on the elevator ride down. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

REVIEW: For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli

Blurb

By day, Willa is a mild-mannered scientist; by night, she’s on the trail of stolen classified documents. Technically that makes Detective John Tilbrook on her side, but Willa has secrets she can’t share…

John is instantly fascinated by the new physicist on the block, even though Willa keeps her distance. A fan of coincidence and happy endings, John has plans for the secretive scientist with the wicked sense of humour.

But Willa has more than her heart on the line — her best friend is at the top of the suspect list for espionage, she’s having trouble leading her double life, and somehow her hair just turned purple. As days speed past, Willa’s life unravels as she struggles to come to terms with her unexpected feelings for a man she just met. John’s a big fan of happily-ever-afters, but will he believe in love and happiness when Willa divulges the real reason she’s in town? Will he break the law he’s sworn to uphold — for love?

Dear Ms. Antonelli,

I’m afraid this is going to come off a bit like “Jekyll and Hyde” review a book. There are parts of this book I really like and some that seemed aimless to me at the time even though they eventually all tie together. The destination was worth the trip but the ride sometimes got boring.

for-your-eyes-onlyAs with “Renovation,” I am delighted with the ages of these main characters. John immediately notices the fine age lines at the corners of Willa’s eyes and likes them. She’s got character and the wisdom of maturity and he’s the same way. They speak and make references that I grew up with – ABBA song lyrics, and 80s pop tunes – and they both think, as I do, that 8 year olds shouldn’t cake on eye liner and sing about their ass in their jeans. If that makes them – and me – sound like the “next stop is liver spots, incontinence, and dentures” so be it. I know these characters. They are me and I love reading about them as the hero and heroine and not as cute oldsters.

Another thing I immediately picked up on and wish there had been more of is Willa’s synesthesia. I first read about this years ago in an article in Smithsonian magazine and was enthralled. I wanted this too. To hear sound/voices in colors, for my letters and numbers to have color and feeling, to experience the world in such an unusual and fascinating way. The only other romance character I recall with it was in an old book called “Enchant Me Not” by Michele Hauf. So kudos to you for including this and for having it help Willa in her investigation. I just wish a bit more of how she sees life on a daily basis had found its way into the story.

Willa is a strong woman. She can change her own tires – well except for one stubborn lug nut – and if she needs help, she’ll ask for it, thank you. She’s a physicist too! An honest to God, works at Los Alamos, brainiac PhD. I wanted to stand up and cheer about the fact that she doesn’t turn stupid to get a man nor give up life goals. Part of this is that she’s past the age of having children and her idea of marriage and settling down is from the viewpoint of a woman approaching 50 but still, she’s smart and stays that way.

John is the starry eyed romantic of the two, the one who thinks in terms of “meet cute” and romcoms. He’s also almost endlessly understanding when Will tells him she doesn’t have the time for a relationship. John is a man of patience who knows who he wants – Willa – and is willing to put the time into getting her. I did worry at the end when he (finally) blows a gasket and wonder if all your heroes will end up doing this. But then it becomes clear – and you have laid the ground work for this – why he should be allowed to and that what he tells Willa doesn’t mean he doesn’t still love her. As John says, these are extraordinary circumstances, ones involving the FBI, classified documents and national security. In other words, not your every day conflict. Willa does tell him some stuff about what she’s doing but not everything. I can admire that as does John once he’s learned about it.

But as I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s told in vignettes which might be fun to read but which often appeared random and unconnected. I’d finish a section and think, “why is that here?” Why should I care about Willa’s contentious relationship with her step-daughter, the murder investigation John’s working on, Willa’s widowhood, or the fact that several men are falling in love with Willa? Eventually it did all make sense but I think readers need to know to stick with this story.

This book also has a lot more extra-romantical stuff than did “Renovation.” The investigation is a major part instead of mere background “white noise.” Willa and John spend a lot of time “on paper” apart because of it. It also comes complete with an alphabet soup of FBI agents. The stakes here make me glad I don’t deal with this level of classified stuff. Thank you for managing to keep it straight and fairly easy to understand even if I have no clue what Willa and her colleagues actually work on when they’re doing their physicist stuff.

My feelings about how to grade the book shifted as I neared the end. I loved that John brings Willa “back to life” and gets her to laugh again. I love that Willa inspires John to be the romantic hero it seems he’s always wanted to be and shows that nice guys can finish first. The resolution of the document leaks actually seems more realistic to me than a bunch of Black Ops crap. The angst and pain that they both go through on the way to a HEA – which I agree is better than a happy ending – feels like two mature people who have lived and lost and are delighted (and a little scared) to find love again. I just wish so much of the body of the book hadn’t seemed so random while I was reading it. B-

~Jayne

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