Ask Anyone
by Sherryl Woods, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-901-3

This book may as well be retitled Invite Everybody, because that's what it is: a really bloated field trip featuring characters from the author's past Trinity Harbor books. These characters hog the limelight so much, they are in every fricking page. If there's a romance between Jenna Kennedy and Bobby Spencer, it's buried under the mess of overzealous matchmakings, smalltown la-di-das, and scenery.

Maybe it's just best that Ms Woods let go of her previous characters. Sure, she may love them like her own kids, et cetera, but they already have their books. Give poor Jenna and Bobby a chance, you know?

What little space allocated to Jenna and Bobby see them dealing with their romance. Jenna is a Daddy's girl "desperate" (I quote the back blurb) to win the approval of her Daddy - whom she knows she will never win the approval of (go figure) - by surprising him with the development blueprint of the riverfront town of Trinity Harbor. To do this, she needs the help (don't these women always?) of Bobby Spencer, the local single-daddy (aren't they always?) who also happens to be a gourmet chef (hmm, now that's a catch). I'm sure there's a romance between them somewhere.

That is, if I take a black marker pen and black out every time Bobby's sister and her husband hog the scene and talk about their stories and issues.

If I can overlook the ridiculous matchmaking attempts of the smalltown idiots. They don't cozy with Jenna's idea of renovation, but somehow, they are also certain - at first sight - that she's the Right One for Bobby. I shriek, "How do you know?" but the deafening silence that follows my question could only mean that the author is pulling out trite plot elements out of her bum.

If I can stop shuddering at the scene where Jenna is sat down by Bobby's sister and her husband (if you are wondering why they sound so familiar, they star in the previous book, About That Man, not that they are content to stay there, because here they are, hogging the freaking limelight with their sex life and scary interrogation of newcomers to Trinity Harbor - YES, I'm bitter) - is this an example of smalltown American pie warms and hugsies? Trinity Harbor comes off more and more like a KKK colony in every passing of the minutes.

Ask Anyone is like a wedding dinner where the guests push the happy couple off the stage, take over the karaoke machine, eat up all the food, and bring the roof down. Some people may be amused by the whole thing, but me, I can't help feeling sorry for poor Bobby and Jenna. They aren't bad characters, even if they are stereotypes, but maybe that's because I hardly know them. Ms Woods should really learn to let go of her characters and make sure when one story ends and another story begins, dang it, one story really does end and another story really does begin. Otherwise, write a real sequel and just be done with it, instead of shortchanging the poor new characters.

Rating: 60

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