Wednesday, February 20, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Saved by the CEO

The Book: Saved by the CEO by Barbara Wallace

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4507, 2016, Eighth (and final) book in The Vineyards of Calanetti continuity series, out of print, available digitally.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: 1) I'm a sucker for the Harlequin Romance line 2) I tend to enjoy Wallace's books and 3) I picked this up at an RWA conference...because of course I did.  It was a Harlequin and not tied down.

The Review: Never let it be said that Wendy half-assed the "Series" prompt for this month's challenge.  The eighth and final book in a multi-author continuity series when, you guessed it, I haven't read a single entry preceding this one.  I'm happy to report that while, yes, it's glaringly obviously that this part of a series, Wallace did a good job of keeping an ignorant newcomer engaged, and there's enough past characters here that I think those already familiar with the series will be happy.

Louisa Harrison went through a publicly humiliating divorce.  As a naive 21-year-old she fell for her older, rich boss.  She thought she was Cinderella, finding her Prince Charming.  Turns out the Prince was emotionally abusive, isolated her from everybody she loved, and in his spare time was running a Ponzi scheme.  Never mind that Louisa was the one who unearthed the evidence against him and hustled it straight to the authorities - as they say, never let the truth get in the way of good gossip.  After a messy divorce, where the tabloids crowned her "Luscious Louisa," she runs off to Tuscany, where it just so happens she inherited a distant relative's falling down palazzo.

Nico Amatucci is the successful vintner who grew up in the shadow of the palazzo, watched it succumb to neglect until the American heiress could be bothered to show up, and keeps the vineyards operational.  Well, more than that, he's turned them into a raging success - in no small part to his wine being the talk of the recent royal wedding that was hosted at the palazzo.  Sparks have been flying since he met Louisa, with tension aplenty, and it spilled over during the wedding when they shared a steamy kiss.  Then she got spooked and ran.

He finds out why she ran over the course of this story.  Thanks to the royal wedding Louisa has been found by the tabloid press and her reputation as a gold-digging hussy who led her "poor husband" to ruin is coming back to haunt her.  Nico, with his take-charge attitude, along with the fact that he's smitten, wants to protect her - not realizing that his "take-charge attitude," coupled with her ex's isolating, emotionally abusive ways, is going to send Louisa running as far and as fast as she can.

As already mentioned, this is the final book in a long-running continuity, but it doesn't take a genius to realize that the chemistry between Louisa and Nico has been simmering for a long time (especially since two previous books featured his siblings as main protagonists...).  So fans would be more than primed to finally get this romance.  As a newcomer, Wallace did a great job of introducing past couples without them sucking the energy out of THIS romance and I never felt like they were unnecessary filler to keep fans happy.  Every past character who shows up serves a purpose in this story.

I also really liked the world-building.  Wallace made me believe in this small, romantic Tuscany village that was seeing an uptick in tourist traffic thanks to a royal wedding.  The atmosphere was really lovely, to the point where I'm half tempted to run away from home.

What didn't work?  Well, this is one of those books where I felt like the characters needed a good therapist before a romance. Nico, bless his heart, is only doing what well-meaning Alpha heroes have done since the dawn of time. As the reader I knew he was only doing what he thought best because he cared for Louisa.  But to Louisa, who has lived through her nightmare of a first marriage?  She sees it as Nico wanting to control her.  She's wrong, of course, but you can see why she would jump to those conclusions. Which signals to me that she's still unpacking the majority of the baggage from her Evil Ex and yes....she needs a therapist.  She's got friends, but nobody she's felt comfortable enough to confide in until the paparazzi ferret her out.  And then she, naturally, confides in Nico.

For his part, Nico has baggage from his parents who had a love/hate/make-up/break-up relationship and he has vowed to never let "passion" rule his good sense.  He found a nice, steady, low-drama girl, got engaged, but when she got tired of being treated like a potted plant, she broke their engagement.  And Nico?  Well, he didn't love her, was mostly with her because there wasn't any of that messy ol' passion, and has pretty much resigned himself to being alone...because he doesn't see it being any other way.  Honestly?  I get it - but damn, I felt sorry for his ex.  I mean, she never shows up on the page, but she sounds like a positively lovely, low-drama kind of gal.  I hope she's somewhere in Italy getting her groove thang on.

I enjoyed the setting, the world-building is very good, and I loved spending a few hours getting swept off my feet.  I poked a few holes in the romance, but this was still very much a Calgon Take Me Away sort of read.

Final Grade = B-


Jill said...

I went a bit eclectic this month and read "Strong Poison" by Dorothy Sayers for this month's TBR challenge. I've actually been reading it off and on for a while and I *did* finish it, but I wish I could say I enjoyed it more, but it was a meh experience.
I loved Agatha Christie and golden age mysteries when I was growing and maybe if I had discovered Sayers then, maybe I would have loved her. The reason I'm trying to read them now is b/c so many authors I admire rave about her books. Well, there are things I liked a book, I just didn't like Peter Wimsey or the actual mystery. (shrug). There was also a lot of snobbery and casual bigotry that is pretty typical for its day. It's not a deal breaker for me, but it might be for some.
I specifically read this one because it introduced his love interest Harriet Vane. I liked her and some of their dialogue, but by the time the story opens, Peter has already met her, fell in love with her and decides her really wants to marry her. The only problem is she happens to be on trial for the murder of her lover. Oops.
So I know this is a mystery, not a romance, but can I say I find nothing more boring than falling in love at first sight? I will cut Romeo and Juliet some slack, but they were 14. So annoying protagonist (IMHO, I know lots of people love him), boring love story, so so mystery. What was good? Harriet and a lot of the side characters were good, there was witty dialogue. A lot of the digressions that had very little to do with the mystery were good.
I might read another one in the series *if* it has Harriet. I'm not even trying with the rest. Onward!

Dorine said...

Glad you found a good one, Wendy. I'm like that - sometimes I just want to read a book, whether it has a series connection or not. That's pretty amazing that a final book would be so easy to read. Sounds fun, too.

I have a tough time with series because there are so many books I want to read that I don't want to overdose on one particular author. LOL

Jill - that's too bad that you didn't fall in love with Sayers' book. That's hard when something is recommended and you just don't understand why. I'm like that with most books that get huge raves - I try them and wonder what I'm missing. LOL

I hope next month is better for you. :)

Wendy said...

Jill: Yeah, the "romantic elements" portion sounds like a snooze-fest. My knowledge of "golden age mystery" is pretty spotty. As a teen I read some Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh but completely missed Sayers.

Dorine: I might have another book in the series buried in my TBR...possibly. It's hard to say. Between print and digital my Harlequin TBR is beyond out of control.

Dorine said...

I'm the same way, Wendy. And foolishly, I didn't add them all to my GR account so there are surprises everytime I try to find something. I do have a good system where I label them print or eBook on GR when I remember to add them. Remembering is the problem. LOL