The name may have changed but the writing is still the same. Annie Flannigan’s first two novels, written as Luanne Jones, were good-natured Southern contemporary romances that didn’t quite hang together well enough to satisfy me. Despite the new name and trade-sized paperback format, Love and a Bad Hair Day offers another of this author’s stock Southern heroines surrounded by colorful secondary characters and an alleged Mr. Wrong who is obviously Mr. Right.
Divorced beauty salon owner Jolene Hadley Corbett lives by the motto “Nothing prepares a woman for her daily battles like the perfect hairdo.” Armed with impeccably coiffed hair, Jolie resists any change that threatens her or her beloved hometown of Verbena, North Carolina. But when Howdy O’Malley, patriarch of the money-grubbing O’Malley clan, passes away, it looks like change is inevitable. For years, the O’Malleys have run the South Winds Trav’O’Tel and All Day Breakfast Buffet across the street from Jolie’s salon. Now Howdy’s heir, Ryman O’Malley, has come to town and announced that his only recourse is to close the Trav’O’Tel. Jolie isn’t about to let him get away with it. After all, he’s an O’Malley, and due to a long-standing feud between their families, she is honor-bound to oppose anything he does. Also, the Trav’O’Tel is a vital part of Verbena’s struggling economy. And finally, Jolie has a personal score to settle that dates back twenty years to a swimming pool incident when Ry’s hands accidentally ended up where they had no right to be.
Ry has come to Verbena with the grudging company of his 17 year old daughter, Sugar Anne. It’s largely Sugar Anne’s impulsivity and blunt honesty that push Jolie and Ry together, forcing them to face their long-denied attraction. But with Jolie’s feisty grandmother the bulwark of the famous Hadley-O’Malley feud, can Jolie ever be free to love an O’Malley? Even if she defies the Feud, she’s doomed to more heartbreak, because Ry has made it clear he’s leaving Verbena and its bad memories behind him as soon as possible.
Every time I read a book by this author, I feel as if I’m only getting half of the story. Too much critical information remains inside her head and she’s not able to effectively transfer her ideas to paper. The outer trappings are all there – family feud, history between the hero and heroine, town landmark – but there’s no inner core to hold the novel together. I need more of the characters’ history, or stronger writing, to make me believe that these issues were so important to them. Ironically, Love and a Bad Hair Day has a cover endorsement from Deborah Smith, who excels at writing Southern novels with characters who are defined by their families and their pasts. Smith, however, creates enough backstory so the reader understands the characters’ motivation, and she is able to create three-dimensional individuals instead of Southern stereotypes.
Speaking of problematic characters, let’s discuss Jolie. It was hard for me to get past the fact that her adult sexual fantasies revolved around a quick feel-up that took place when she was thirteen years old. That’s either slightly sick or extremely pathetic. Then there’s her total failure to do anything constructive to save the motel she supposedly treasures except ranting and raving at Ry whenever she gets a chance. Her loving attitude towards her son and Sugar Anne go a long way towards redeeming her character, but for much of the novel she sounds like a squawking chicken ineffectively trying to avoid the farmer’s knife.
The novel’s secondary characters are standard Southern-fried humor stock, notably the ornery but good-hearted grandmother with the colorful nickname and the sexpot best friend. Sugar Anne is the most interesting individual in the novel; you’re never quite sure if she’s acting out or seriously troubled. Flannigan/Jones should consider writing her story a few years down the road.
After a lot of down-home sayings and colorful small town gatherings, Jolie lets her hair down and learns that change can be a good thing. I hope Luanne Jones is happy with her new pseudonym, but she’ll have to change more than her name before I can recommend her work.