Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Book CoverDevon’s review of Under the Italian’s Command by Susan Stephens
Contemporary Romance released by Harlequin Presents 1 Jul 08

One definitely has certain expectations when reading a Harlequin Presents. Larger than life, super wealthy, super gorgeous, super domineering hero, overwhelming a less wealthy, less powerful, less gorgeous heroine with his desires. At their best, they can be fabulously escapist Cinderella fantasy, at worst obnoxious drivel. The blurb for Under the Italian’s Command seems par for the course for this line, but it left quite a bit out. This book was surprising, sometimes in delightful ways, sometimes in jaw-dropping ones. A mixed bag indeed. Under the Italian’s Command takes place against the backdrop of the British legal system, which I am pretty unfamiliar with. From what I can glean, senior law students are assigned a practicing lawyer to act as advisor and pain in the ass. Awkward, Rubenesque Carly Tate has been given Lorenzo Domenico, an Italian American barrister, who is hot, well built, confident, domineering and all those other HP qualities. He seems to delight in testing her with crazy challenges. They spark off of each other, but it is an unlikely pair.

There were some very entertaining moments, but the words that keep coming to mind are disjointed and choppy. The characters and plot kept switching gears so suddenly. Lorenzo starts out cut from the HP mold. He’s arrogant and high-handed with Carly, determined to test her mettle. He finds her unattractive. Then, out of the blue, he thinks she gorgeous, and turns into sensitive therapist man, trying to figure out what will fill the empty place inside Carly. Not that we’ve been given much reason to think Carly had major issues before he brings it up. Carly appears to have escaped from a chick-lit novel. Super-smart, but frowzy and klutzy, Carly definitely lacks confidence in herself. Her internal monologues were often laugh out loud funny, though. She was a charming character.

Too bad the storyline went careening all over the place, throwing her into one ridiculous situation after another. She crashes her bike into an Alfa Romeo, then Lorenzo wants her to throw a Christmas party, then there’s a roast she has to go to, then Lorenzo moves in, then she has to make canapés for Lorenzo and his friend, then an incident in a bar with speed-dating, then oh yeah, the party! Plus, a scholarship competition. Plus family woes. You get the idea. So much piled on, then they fall in love somewhere along the way. But it all seems to take place in the course of a few days. Even the love scenes confused me. One moment they’re in one position, the next a completely different one.

It seemed slapdash and frenetic. Several significant scenes take place offstage, which was disappointing. They did have chemistry, but I wish the characterization had been more consistent. Every time I started to get into the romance, something would happen to jar me out of it, going “What? Who? Why?” It was readable, due to the sense of humor, and the charm that was displayed by the hero and heroine. I’d try Susan Stephens again for that reason. But I have misgivings about recommending this to others beside her fans.

Question: In Great Britain, are people of Italian heritage referred to as “Latin,” “Latin lover”, having a “Latin soul” or some other variation on the theme? I’m Italian-American and I’ve never heard that before. When I’ve heard such a phrase used it’s in reference to someone with Latino heritage i.e. Spain, Central or South America. Either way, I find it corny, but I was curious if it was a cultural difference.

DevonGrade: C

The Summary:

An innocent mouse… Sheltered and mousy Carly Tate is out of her depth. Dark, dangerous Lorenzo Domenico is the first man to make her heart race, but she knows the gorgeous Italian will never see past her frumpy clothes and awkward shyness.

She’s his for the taking! Little does she realize that, to Lorenzo, sweet, endearing Carly is a breath of fresh air. He’s sure that underneath her disastrous fashion there’s a voluptuous figure—and he’s going to be the one to discover it….

Read an excerpt here