Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-3661-7
Fantasy Romance, 2010
It is to my experience that ensemble comedy, for some reason, often works better in a television sitcom format than in a romance novel format. Unfortunately, Ellora’s Cave veteran Ashlyn Chase’s big mainstream not-that-raunchy debut effort Strange Neighbors isn’t going to change my perception of ensemble comedy anytime soon.
The basic premise is that Merry MacKenzie, a nurse, finally gets to break away from her suffocatingly overprotective family by having her own place in a cozy part of Boston. The other folks staying at the apartment building are… odd, if friendly and welcoming. And there is ample compensation in Jason Falco, the all-star pitcher of the Boston Bullets who also happens to be the landlord. Since this is a paranormal romance, you can probably guess that there are something not exactly human about Merry’s new neighbors. Indeed, these folks are vampires, witches who run a phone sex service, and more. As for Jason, he and his family are werewolves. Merry is in for a hairy old time now, heh.
Maybe if Merry and Jason are given room to explore their relationship, they could have taken advantage of the chemistry between them to give me a hairy old time. Both are likable, if somewhat familiar, characters and I don’t have any problems with them. I know, it is so rare when that happens, especially when it comes to heroines who don’t make me want to pull out my hair and eat them, but I can’t really rejoice because the secondary characters in this book just overpower the main characters to the detriment of the overall story. You’d notice that I haven’t mentioned any plot line in my synopsis of the story, and that is because way too much of this book is Merry reacting to the antics of the secondary characters. Some of them, especially the “funny” old women stereotypes, are just way too intrusive and even annoying. The presence of ghosts who spend too much of the time making wisecracks and playing voyeur doesn’t help as well.
For way too long, I find myself wondering whether the story is going to go anywhere. It’s just “laugh at these people, haw, haw” for too much of the time. To top things off, this book has a gimmick that I always find cheesy: an epilogue that serves only to give me a sex scene between Merry and Jason. I know, they are beautiful people and sparks just fly when Tab A is inserted into Slot B – chick-a-bow-wow – but I don’t need an epilogue to know that.
Strange Neighbors is like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which the two only sane main characters stand aside and let the residents of the asylum run the show. The author took a gamble in hoping that I would be so enamored of these wacky secondary characters’ antics that I would be delighted when these antics fuel the story to the finish line, but unfortunately, she has lost that gamble where I am concerned. More romance, more quiet times, and less cacophony and “wacky” stuff next time, please.