The Trials of Angela is a romantic comedy that isn’t very funny and isn’t very romantic. Both the hero and the heroine make unethical decisions, and their neighbors and families, especially the older generation, make unkind and bigoted pronouncements left and right. Unless you’re in desperate need of a book with a large collection of strange and/or nasty characters, I’d pass on this one.
As is indicated by the book’s title, Angela DeNero has a number of things on her plate right now. Her small law practice is floundering, her overly involved, overly strange parents have decided to move back to her hometown of Baltimore, she needs to defend her friends, the Gallaghers, in a custody battle, and, last but not least, she’s pregnant. Her ex-fiancé, the father, has crossed the pond to live in England with his new honey.
In dealing with her law clients, Angela runs into John Franco, high school bad boy, and fellow attorney. John’s best friend and partner, Tony Stefano, has a heart attack and leaves the practice in the lurch. Before the attack, Tony had agreed to take on Charles Rothburg’s child custody petition. John promises Tony that he will keep their practice afloat until Tony can come back. The only problem? Charles Rothburg’s custody case concerns the Gallagher’s little boy, and Mary Gallagher is John’s cousin. John knows that if he represents the Rothburgs, he will be anathema in his neighborhood and in his own family. And then there’s the fact that he’s very attracted to the Gallagher’s lawyer, Angela. Getting involved with her would be a conflict of interest. But when has business ever told the heart what to do?
This book has a large cast of characters who all seem to be connected or related to each other in some way. It was a little confusing trying to figure out who was who and whether Sophia was John’s aunt, or Angela’s cousin, or Mary’s mother-in-law or whatever. Criswell explains it over and over, but it doesn’t really help. A family tree might have been useful here, but it wouldn’t have completely solved the problem of differentiation because regardless of name, most of the characters are so similar that they blend into one another. Practically everyone is Italian and Catholic, and the older generation of women consists of nasty, gossiping old biddies. There are three pregnant women and two blissfully happy newlywed couples (see previous books in this series). The only truly unique characters are Angela’s black friend Wanda and John’s gay brother Peter (thankfully portrayed in a positive light).
The relationship between John and Angela is not highly developed. It is not clear why John is so determined to engage Angela’s affections. After all, he is the Embittered Divorced Man whose career-obsessed ex-wife betrayed him by aborting their child without his knowledge or consent. Why he wants career-obsessed Angela is a question for the ages. You’d think her pregnancy would be a matter for some consideration, but with him it isn’t. It borders on the creepy how involved he is with her from the moment he sees her buying the home pregnancy test. I know, I know; he’s supposed to be Mr. Sensitive Kind-Guy, but really he knows nothing about her except that she’s a lawyer, she’s hot, and she’s pregnant. Those three qualities are not usually a combination that produce ardor in a man. He also should have told the Rothburgs to shove it in the beginning; his representing them is a betrayal of his family, his cousin Mary in particular, and his own moral code. That he didn’t do so, no matter the situation with his friend Tony, reflects badly on him.
Angela is not entirely likable either. She takes cases that would be better solved outside the legal arena. She doesn’t make any attempt to tell her ex-fiancé about his baby. She makes no plans for the future regarding her child. She gets involved with John despite the fact that they’re on opposing sides of a case and everyone, including the two of them, can see this is bordering on unethical behavior. And, though she’s obviously no virgin, she’s still managed, at age thirty-three, never to have the experience of a good, quality orgasm. Until our knight in shining armor, John, comes to her rescue. Thank you very much, John.
All of these things, as well as the too easily wrapped up subplots involving John’s brother, Angela’s parents, and Dan and Mary Gallagher, might possibly be overlooked if the book were funny. But it isn’t. Angela’s father’s cross-dressing isn’t funny. Her mother’s repetitious predictions of the end of the world aren’t funny. The gay jokes aren’t funny. Neither are the food jokes, the Catholic jokes, the Italian jokes, the sex jokes, or even the lawyer jokes that open every chapter. Admittedly, humor is highly subjective, but to me the book just wasn’t funny. This is supposed to be romantic comedy, and I didn’t laugh even once.
The Trials of Angela is competently written and not difficult to read, but it had too many niggling problems for me to enjoy it. This book might be better appreciated by Italian Catholics, but I’m half of that equation (Catholic), and I didn’t appreciate how mean-spirited and bigoted the Catholics in this book were portrayed. If you are looking for a large-cast romantic comedy involving nosy townspeople with hang-ups, I’d recommend either Jennifer Crusie or Janet Evanovich over Millie Criswell.
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