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Family Ties

by Nat Chelloni

Rating: *****

Headstrong Gina Leonardi wants to live life on her own terms but that is beginning to prove difficult when her family is in the Mafia and women’s rights are non-existent.

Ruthless mob boss Renzo Castellano represents everything Gina despises but from their first encounter, their mutual attraction is undeniable. Both try to resist for differing reasons but when a mob arrangement requires them to form an alliance, how long can they hold out?...

Family Ties is the second* in Chelloni’s mafia romance series but reads as a standalone novel. Although the novel is primarily concerned with the romance between Renzo and Gina, it would be disingenuous to label it as such; this is a polished narrative that takes the reader deep into the heart of mafia machinations without being either overly complex or a ridiculously stereotypical mob homage.

From the beginning, the chemistry between Renzo and Gina is unmistakable, simmering into an outright sizzle without cringe or gratuity. Chelloni writes several tantalizing and credible situations for their paths to cross and with each chance meeting, their attraction to one another is exposed a touch further until it crackles from the page.

Further, both main characters are written with depth and individuality, Renzo especially. He is everything a reader wants him to be but there is a real, clear sense of a compelling and often conflicted personality.

Gina is depicted with just the right amount of late teenage naivety, rebellion, and guile. The contrast between her emotional volatility and Renzo’s outward restraint is well-balanced and both evolve believably as they navigate each other and the affairs of the mob.

And, as nail-biting as Gina and Renzo’s will they, won’t they storyline proves, the secondary plotline involving mafia business is equally as gripping. Nicely involving, and convincingly detailed, Chelloni effortlessly inhabits the world she writes about. It’s hugely entertaining and driven by an intriguing bunch of understated yet unmistakably authentic characters.

Not only is the sexual tension between Renzo and Gina riveting, Chelloni expertly builds pressure in other areas of the novel; an uneasy sense of foreboding begins to accelerate just after three-quarters through. This is due, in part, to the absorbing plotline but also to Chelloni’s narrative structure.

From the beginning, she gives Renzo and Gina’s perspectives in switching chapters, but, as the novel progresses and both characters are involved in many of the same scenes, she uses their viewpoints retrospectively so the reader is given a fully rounded picture of the emotional processes and reactions that each is experiencing to an identical scenario.

However, when it comes to the duplicitous dealings of the mob, although the reader is given enough little hints of foreshadowing, Chelloni wisely holds back small yet key reveals which, again, add to the suspense because there is an air of unpredictability with Renzo.

Indeed, it is this uncertainty that provokes an unexpected twist between him and Gina just before halfway. It forces them together but not in the way the reader expects and personally, my plot preconceptions for their trajectory were overturned. I was a bit wary of where Chelloni was taking them but it’s an astute move and she toys with them just long enough not to blunt reader anticipation.

There are a few convenient moments in the novel, and I did wonder if Gina should be a little older, but that’s probably because I have a daughter the exact same age!

Chelloni has done it again and produced a sophisticated, sexy, and thrillingly good mob novel. Highly recommended.

*Click here for my review of A Favor for a Favor.

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