Sweet Laurel

True Love

The Trouble With Mary
by Millie Criswell
(Ivy, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-8041-1950-3
Mary Russo has come to the realization she’s “living a dead existence.” She’s still living in her parent’s home in Baltimore’s Little Italy and working a dead-end job as a restaurant bookkeeper (which suddenly has disappeared with the death of her employer, Luigi Marconi). To top it off, at age 33, she’s never really had a serious relationship. In fact, she’s still a virgin.

But poor Luigi’s death seems to be the impetus that changes Mary’s life. She decides to move out of her parents house, open a restaurant of her own and, most importantly, finally have a relationship with a man. Now if it seems strange that it’s taken this long for Mary to get her act together, you’ll understand once you meet her mother, Sophia.

Sophia is the overbearing, controlling and unmovable matriarch of the Russo clan. After 33 years of domination by Sophia, it’s no wonder Mary is a little shy in the self-confidence department. Her strict Catholic upbringing, as well as numerous reminders about men not wanting the cow when they can get the milk for free, is responsible for her fear of intimacy.

When Mary breaks away from Sophia’s dominance, she truly begins to shine. She opens her Italian restaurant, Mama Sophia’s (what better way to win her mother’s approval than to name the place after her?), and things finally seem to be going her way. Until the Baltimore Sun restaurant review.

Sports columnist Dan Gallagher was certain to be named the new editor of the Sports section of the Sun, until the paper’s owner decided to give the position to her nephew instead. Now he is interim editor of the Food section and the paper’s restaurant critic. Enraged, Dan is tempted to quit, but he has more than just himself to consider. He is suddenly the sole support of his ten year old son Matt, now that his ex-wife Sharon has run off with her aerobics instructor.

Dan has little choice but to stick out the Food editor position until the nephew has messed up the Sports section enough for Dan to step back in and fix it. His first food assignment is to review a new Italian restaurant called Mama Sophia’s. Unfortunately, Dan hates Italian food.

When Mary reads his unfavorable review, she hits the ceiling and immediately tracks Dan down at his office to let him know exactly what she thinks of his obnoxious review. Right from the start, Dan likes what he sees and is determined to get to know her better. The best way to do that? Take his son for pizza at Mama Sophia’s. It’s not long before their relationship takes off.

The Trouble With Mary is filled with laugh out loud moments. It’s fun to watch Mary grow from the painfully self-conscious daughter, held firmly under Sophia’s thumb, to a self-confident business woman. In fact, all of Mary’s extended family is a treat: her sister Connie who’s married to the proctologist, her sainted brother Joe, who’s delighted Sophia by becoming a priest and her kleptomaniac grandmother Flora.

My only problem was in the romantic relationship between Mary and Dan. I just didn’t feel the “zing” that Mary describes in her encounters with Dan. He falls for her immediately and except for a rather neanderthal opinion of working women, there isn’t much conflict in their relationship.

The Trouble With Mary seems designed to set the scene for author Millie Criswell’s next book concerning the relationship between Mary’s best friend Annie, who has a reputation for sleeping with just about anyone, and Mary’s brother Joe, the priest. I can imagine the fireworks Sophia will set off in this one if the sainted Joe decides to leave the priesthood. I can hardly wait!

--Karen Lynch

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