HelenKay: According to the "Dear Reader" letter inside Saving Allegheny Green, Harlequin/Silhouette’s new Spotlight Series goal is to: "single out outstanding stories, contemporary themes and oft-requested classics by some of your favorite series authors and present them to you in a variety of formats bound by truly striking covers." In this offering, Signature Select delivers on the cover and contemporary theme but the promise of an "outstanding story" falls short as the plot rises to the level of good but not great.
Allegheny Green’s life is about sacrificing, giving and a touch of martyrdom. She’s a nurse by trade. She supports her mother and aunt, both of whom live with her. When the book opens, she is in the process of rescuing her immature and always-in-trouble sister, Sissy. Seems Sissy shot her idiot boyfriend in the foot. Since he has a drug problem, a wife he forgot the mention and a host of other problems, the incident is somewhat forgivable. But, bullets bring the town’s hunky new Sheriff, former-and-once-again resident, Sam Conahegg knocking.
These are just some of the characters in Wilde’s Cloverleaf, Texas. There’s also a suspect Deputy Sheriff, a slimy TV evangelist and his drab wife, who happen to be Ally’s neighbors, and Sissy’s former boyfriend, Tim. Tim has the distinction of being the first to die in this Murder She Wrote-like mystery. And, he manages to do so in a most interesting way – autoerotic asphyxiation.
Saving Allegheny Green begins with that quirky and offbeat backdrop. Their stories are told through Ally’s eyes and solely in her voice. This strength of the book is also one of its weaknesses. Ally’s point of view is, at times, funny and charming. Her balancing act is believable. She is the quintessential pleaser of the family. No one appreciates how much she handles, but she can’t stop herself from giving. Unfortunately, this perpetual state of sacrifice grows monotonous and her viewpoint falters from a lack of depth that makes it difficult for the reader sustain the same level of interest for her plight throughout the entire book.
Staying in Ally’s point of view also robs the reader of some potentially interesting scenes with this strange and intriguing cast of characters. Most importantly, it prevents the reader from fully investing in the romance between Ally and Sam. There is a solid attraction and a few sparks, but the emphasis on the dead bodies and homicide theories pushes the romance to an afterthought. Wilde’s decision to separate Sam and Ally under a "for the sake of the job" theory allows the rest of the book to play out without interference from their relationship – a device that feels like an easy way out. Sure, the conflict between these two people and the facts driving them apart are clear. It is the emotion compelling them to be together that is missing.
Despite some faults, Wilde is a strong storyteller with solid writing skills. She paces the mystery very well, even though the ending is predictable. The real disappointment is in the failure to weave the romance through the mystery in a way that gives more life to Ally and Sam’s feeling for each other.
Saving Allegheny Green is a quick and easy read. It has the feel of a cozy mystery with a touch of romance thrown in. More character development and a greater emphasis on the budding romance would have strengthened the overall effect of this book. As it is, Saving Allegheny Green falls short of expectations, being good but never rising to the level of "keeper" or greatness.
Wendy: Allegheny Green needs a life of her own; trouble is, she’s too busy taking care of her family and half the town of Clover Leaf, Texas to find any time for herself. After Ally’s sister, Sissy, shoots her boyfriend Rocky’s toe off, the entire sheriff’s department shows up on Ally’s doorstep—including Sheriff Sam Conahegg. If there’s anyone Ally would like to make time for it’s Sam; not only is he hot, he doesn’t need her to take care of him, in fact, he could take care of her. But, the only time they seem to run into one another is when Ally stumbles over dead bodies. When Conahegg issues a warrant for Sissy’s arrest, believing she murdered the last victim, Ally turns amateur sleuth to clear her sister’s name. All she needs to do is break into a crooked cop’s apartment, dodge the knee breakers looking for money that disappeared along with Sissy, interrogate Rocky’s wife, and hope that Conahegg doesn’t try and stop her.
Saving Allegheny Green is told entirely in first person via Ally’s point of view. Ally’s perspective, while interesting and unique in that it’s humorous without being flirty or daring, is restrictive. Ally’s love interest, Sam, has limited page time and without the opportunity to see the unfolding story and attraction through his eyes, he comes off as remote and distant. Even when Sam finally claims he’s lusted after Ally, there is little action to support it. The Ally-only-point-of-view seriously stumbles in the book’s only love scene. The sex comes off as oddly detached, as Wilde tells more of the action than shows it, too frequently allowing Ally’s interior monologue to upstage the act.
The voice and tone tend toward the downtrodden as Ally is completely entrenched in her martyrdom. This is distinctive in a genre that forces it’s heroines to be Pollyannas, but the distinction alone isn’t enough to make the voice compel or prick interest. However, it does fit with Wilde’s cast of characters; people who are not genteelly poor and oppressed by evil higher ups, but are actually low class, oppressed by themselves: Ally’s sister works part time and is a full time irresponsible and neglectful mother; Reverend Ray Don Swiggly and his wife, Gloria, live lavishly on the money sent to their ministry by pension bound retirees; Rocky is a drug dealer, thief, and whatever else will turn a quick buck; Sissy’s ex-boyfriend Tim’s new lover is married; the crooked cop, Jefferson, steals stolen goods from the police department’s evidence room. In general, Wilde refuses the soft focus rose-colored glasses view that so many romance novels present.
As a special bonus, Saving Allegheny Green offers an additional alternate ending. It’s an interesting idea that is lost to the execution. The tone differs from the main story with overly explanatory dialog and narrative, and characters that feel out of step. The actual ending is more convincing, in part, because it feels as if the alternate never intended to convince.
Saving Allegheny Green frustrates as a romance. Too little time is spent focusing on Ally and Sam and what time is devoted to them is short on the escapist fantasy singular to romance. In the end, Ally’s internal story feels unresolved, as though she missed a turning point or epiphany and there is more of her tale to tell.
Wendy’s response to HelenKay: Allegheny hasn’t had a date in years. She is busy working two jobs and taking care of her mother, aunt, sister and nephew. Her unassuming, average life more closely mirrors the lives of real women than romance heroines normally do. But, is it realistic that she doesn’t make time for men? That she goes years in between dates? And, that she’s never had an orgasm?
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: There is a breed of woman out there who sacrifices her entire life for everyone else. Her existence is about giving and work, to the exclusion of everything else. My guess is that this female, regardless of her looks, she doesn’t date much and is somewhat isolated by all her burdens or perceived burdens. So, yeah, there is a sense of realism there. The problem is that romance novels use this device and character structure so often that it feels trite and unbelievable. And, in a modern Sex In The City world, the character also comes off as dated. Very 1980s romance. Here, Ally is an attractive small-town girl. She does get out of the house to work and isn’t shy in social situations. A "woe is me" feeling is part of her personality and Wilde does a good job of making that clear. I just wished Ally would have played a little against type and had possessed a real life at one point, so that the longing she felt for Sam could have reached beyond an "isn’t he hot" type of thing to a deeper, "I miss that life" thing. To me, that would have made Ally, and the book, more interesting.
Wendy’s final thought: Saving Allegheny Green is commendable for its risk taking, but unfortunately, not enough of the risks payoff in a satisfying manner. Recommended with reservations.
HelenKay’s final thought: Saving Allegheny Green good but a bit flat, never quite living up to what you hope it will be. Recommended, but with reservations because of the cozy mystery versus romance feel.