Anyta Sunday offers up her take on Christmas with the release of her novel, Shrewd Angel. Part of the seven standalone novels that make up The Christmas Angel collection, her novel is loosely tied to the others solely by the appearance of a somewhat magical angel tree topper. In this case, it serves as a remembrance of lost parents who loved each other deeply and left two siblings behind: Cliff, who is in his twenties and guardian to his sister, Bianca, who is only seventeen. Cliff tries his best to be both a good big brother and also a pseudo parent, but the death of his parents has left a huge hole in both of their hearts and that is often filled with angry interchanges over whether or not Bianca can date. Since there are two young men who are ardently after Bianca’s hand—or at least a date, Cliff finds himself closing ranks around his sister to fulfill his parent’s wishes that she pursue academics and wait until college to waste her time getting her heart broken, in other words, dating.
Cliff is fairly successful at strong-arming his sister until Pax moves in next door. Pax Polo is a minorly successful guitarist for a rock band that is on the rise. However, after getting into a fight with the drummer, Blake, the two are thrown out of the band until the others can decide who can remain—perhaps both of them, perhaps not. The fight was supposedly over Pax treating Blake’s sister poorly, but that may not really be true as Pax is definitely not heterosexual. It’s possible he’s bisexual, but more likely gay and in the closet due to being worried about what the band may think of him and that it may give them the reason to boot him permanently. Asked to leave the group house, Pax rents a room from Luca, one of Bianca’s suitors and her neighbor.
Pax is wily and narcissistic, but it hides a real need to be liked and he intends to use all his charms to bend the shrew, Cliff, to his will so that Luca and his arch-nemesis, Henry, may date Bianca. Henry has promised Pax an opportunity to open for a wildly popular band—one Pax has always wanted to play for, as incentive for Pax to get Henry a date. If Pax can get the gig then he is sure to be taken back into his own band and all his problems will be solved. What he doesn’t count on is just how much he ends up liking the shrew next door.
Loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Shrewd Angel is a wild romp complete with witty dialogue, fantastic humor, and fast moving action. One cannot help but fall in love with Pax regardless of the fact that his scheming and manipulative ways are never going to work out. He is a lost soul—not happy in the band and yet not confident enough in his own talent to really make a name for himself in the music world. Cliff is simply a hurting man who has been thrown into the deep end and is trying to do what is best for his little sister, but comes off as dictatorial and heavy-handed most of the time. His surly, outspoken way of dissecting every situation is occasionally a bit much to take. I had to remind myself that somewhere beneath his mean-hearted exchanges with just about everyone there was a kind soul that was really just struggling to survive the emotional devastation of losing the parents that were such a major force in his life.
Being very familiar with Shakespeare’s play, I had to be careful with this story and judging it on the merits of the stage play and all the ways the author chose to change it up. There were times when I wasn’t very invested in the outcome of this slow burning romance, but the wit and outlandish circumstances Pax often ended up in kept me invested in the end. It’s just that, for me, Cliff seemed really mean spirited—unlike the original shrew who was indeed rather nasty, we didn’t catch enough of what made Cliff tick until much later in the story—by then I was struggling to even like the guy. However, I freely admit my bias rests on having both acted in and directed the stage play, which I feel definitely biased me somewhat. Fans of this author are going to love the way in which she crafted this story—it is truly funny, not to mention quite romantic toward the end.
Shrewd Angel is one of those novels that makes you appreciate a novelist who can perfect the slow burn romance technique and give you wonderfully crafted characters who may be flawed, but still tug at your heart strings. I think it will be well received by anyone looking for a lovely romantic comedy with lots of spirit and a little chaos.