"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review #54: Texas! Lucky, by Sandra Brown

From Amazon:
The first book in #1 New York Times bestselling author Sandra Brown’s beloved Texas! trilogy introduces readers to a close-knit family struggling to go on without its patriarch—and to a man in pursuit of an elusive woman who may hold his future in her hands. Charismatic and easy on the eyes, Lucky Tyler is a born rebel. His romantic conquests have earned him his nickname, while his temper gives him his reputation as the family hothead. One night, he gets in a fight over a woman in distress, followed by a night of passion neither of them will soon forget. But the lady in question has a knack for disappearing. When news breaks of a suspicious fire at Tyler Drilling, Lucky is the prime suspect. Now the mystery woman is more than just the object of his obsession. She’s his alibi.  Devon Haines has tried her best to escape Lucky. Yet his bold pursuit and self-assurance are irresistible. In order to clear him of criminal charges, she must reveal her darkest secret; withholding her help could cost him everything he holds dear. Either way, she risks losing him forever.


Lucky doesn't get in to a fight over a "woman in distress". What Lucky actually does is go to the local bar, called imaginatively The Place, sulks in his beer for awhile, notices a beautiful woman having a drink alone, questions why she's there since "there's only one reason a woman would be in The Place alone", notices that she's being harassed by a pair of rednecks, has an internal monologue with himself about whether he should rescue her even though she sort of deserves what she's getting for being in a bar alone, and eventually heaves a big sigh and saunters over to rescue her. Except she's doing a pretty fine job of handling things on her own when he steps in and makes it worse. As a result, there's a big fight with Lucky and the two rednecks, the sheriff arrives, and Devon takes off.


For miles down the interstate.


Which happens about fifteen minutes in to this book, and that's the moment when I would have tossed the book across the room except a) it was an audio book, and b) I knew I had to continue to the bitter end so I could review it here for all of you and warn you away from it.

Anyway, after our hero follows her for miles and miles and miles, he sits in the parking lot of a diner where Devon stops for dinner. HE WATCHES HER THROUGH THE WINDOW. When he realizes that Devon's rented a room in the adjacent no-tell motel, he waits in the shadows of the parking lot until she's inside her room, knocks on the door, and FORCES HIS WAY INSIDE AND REFUSES TO LEAVE.

Do you know why? Because she "owes him an apology". An apology for what, you ask? Because she wasn't GRATEFUL ENOUGH that he defended her honor back at the bar, even though he ADMITS TO HER THAT HE KIND OF THINKS SHE DESERVED IT.

Let me repeat that.


Lucky eventually cons his way in to staying, appealing to the Florence Nightingale side of Devon by showing her his stab wound from the bar fight when he was defending her (to him) non-existent honor. She tries to insist that he go to the hospital, but he CONFISCATES HER KEYS and then passes out in the only bed in the room, a combination of the pint of whiskey he downed on the way over and the bleeding from the stab wound. He wakes in the night, discovers Devon sleeping in bed next to him, and they have sleepy, semi-conscious sex. More on that later. The next morning, Devon's gone. Lucky goes home, only to discover that his family's business has literally gone up in smoke and he's the prime suspect in the arson. Devon's his alibi, but he doesn't know how to find her. He doesn't even know her real name. Then there are too many pages devoted to Lucky's hand-wringing about the whole situation and "damning the woman all to hell". Again and again he brings up the fact that this (the fire? his subsequent search for her? the fact that the police think he did it? global warming? the state of affairs in the country today? I'm not sure) never would have happened if she hadn't put herself in the dangerous situation of being in the bar by herself. Eventually, he figures out that Devon isn't her real name when he discovers her picture in the local paper; she's a columnist there. So he goes off half-cocked, racing towards Dallas after breakfast one morning, and shows up at the newspaper and demands that she alibi him. Devon insists that they go to a coffee shop (a public place, so she can ditch him if she begins to feel threatened, which she does when he barges in to her office and shuts the door and physically looms over her), he demands again that she alibi him, she refuses, and leaves him behind and goes back to the office. Security refuses to let him in without her okay, and she won't give it, so he's stuck in the lobby. She goes up to her office and is visibly shaken by the visit.



Then there's actually a scene where she sits in her car and waits for the garage door to come down before she gets out of the car, so that she can feel safe that he hasn't followed her home and can't get to her when she's most vulnerable.






Instead, he PUTS THE MOVES ON HER. She refuses. AGAIN. He eventually leaves, after much grumbling about the refusal because she was "made for him" and why can't she see that, because after all her body is responding to him, even though her mind is screaming no.

Lather, rinse, repeat for awhile. In the meantime, Lucky's GIRLFRIEND (cause OF COURSE he has a girlfriend) is threatening to make trouble if he doesn't propose, and Lucky discovers that Devon is secretly married to a guy who is in prison for some sort of financial fraud and that's why she won't alibi Lucky; she feels like she cheated on her husband, even though the husband tricked her into marrying him and she doesn't love him and he doesn't love her but she doesn't tell Lucky any of those details. There's more hand-wringing on Lucky's part, because he can't stand that another man touched "his woman" and how will he ever get over this blah blah blah cakes. But wait! It's okay, because then it comes out that Devon and the husband never had sex. The marriage was never consummated. In fact, Devon was a virgin before she and Lucky had not-entirely-consensual sex in the hotel room that he barged in to and refused to leave! This is WONDERFUL NEWS! Now Lucky can marry her! I mean, once he forces her to divorce her first husband (which, in fairness, is a jackass, but still). Which is less important that the fact that Devon is HIS ALL HIS FOREVER AND EVER and he doesn't have to worry about her having been sullied by another man's touch! (By the way, have I mentioned that Lucky got the name Lucky after he supposedly lost his virginity to the town tramp when he was fourteen and she was in her twenties?)

And then, right about the time they get married, Lucky's brother's pregnant wife is killed in a horrific car accident, thereby setting up the next book in the series. The end.


Is there a way to give a book negative stars?  Cause that's what's happening here. I'm not even giving one star. The writing was fine. There were no editing problems. Technically the book was fine. But that doesn't begin to make up for the HORRIBLE, STALKING, SLUT-SHAMING, PSEUDO-RAPEY STORY.

I swear on all that is holy, you guys, Lucky's biggest issue in the whole book - the whole entire book - was not that his family's business was in jeopardy, not that his brother's wife died, not that his mom might be worried about him, not that he might go to prison for a crime he didn't commit, but that the girl he slept with one night after he followed her for miles and forced his way in to her hotel room might not be VIRTUOUS ENOUGH for him. His relief at finding out that Devon was a virgin was bigger and better news for him than finding out he wasn't going to prison.


And what makes the whole story even more bizarre is that Brown has Devon identify as a feminist. Apparently she was in that bar doing research to write a column on how women are treated differently. Lucky's reaction to this and most other "feminist" things that Devon does is to call it cute and then mansplain that of course women are treated differently in that bar. Don't you see, honey? You shouldn't have been in there in the first place. Only sluts go to that bar, and so of course they treated you that way. What did you expect, darlin'? And aren't you glad that I was there to save the day?



If I weren't so exhausted with everything else that's happening in the world right now, I'd actually have more to say about this book and delve in to it to see if I can come up with some sort of deeper meaning, but... I can't. 
These two make Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey look like... I don't even know. I'm too tired and mad and frustrated to think of my favorite romance couples. Mainly cause there are all a little dysfunctional. Which may say more about me than I like, and which is a whole other post, if you think about it.

No, wait. I've got it. Devon and Lucky make Anna and Christian look like Eve Dallas and Roarke. 

And I don't want to read books that make me think that.

Review #53: The Almost Archer Sisters, by Lisa Gabriele

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book. It was...fine? 

From Amazon (cause I'm lazy): Georgia "Peachy" Archer always thought she was happy with her choices in life: quitting college, marrying young, raising two boys in the same small town where she grew up. But just as Peachy's life is beginning to settle into a careful routine, her sister's life begins to dangerously unravel. Beth Archer chose a different life: fancy apartment in Manhattan, fancy friends, making lots of money. She's been on her own since she was a teenager, and she's still on her own, outgrowing dress styles and boyfriends faster than Peachy can inherit them. But on a visit home one weekend, Beth upends everything Peachy thought she knew about being happy. 

There's more, of course. There always is. Warning: spoilers ahead:

Peachy catches her husband with Beth in the pantry one night. And by "with Beth", I mean that Beth is bent over the shelves, hanging on for dear life, with Peachy's husband firmly entrenched behind her, setting the flour sacks a-rattling. There is no doubt in anyone's mind what's going on. So from the beginning, Beth is painted as the bad guy. We're not supposed to like her, and Gabriele does a good job of making that happen. Through flashbacks, we learn how selfish Beth is, going off to meet her destiny in New York as soon as she's old enough to hit the road, allowing Peachy to be the one who discovers their mother's lifeless body in their tree fort when the girls were young. Beth is painted as a tramp, always dating a new guy, always flitting in and out of town, acting as though she's too good for their little one-horse farm. Peachy, on the other hand, is the martyred sister, the one who dropped out of college when she became pregnant with her first son, who stayed behind with their dad (who is a fun character and I wish we had seen more of him). Peachy's days are full of the mind-numbing things that a mother of two young boys must do, complicated by the fact that her eldest son has a form of epilepsy that requires strict record keeping and preparedness for almost any contingency.


Except things are revealed about Peachy that made her much less of a sympathetic character to me. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about Peachy that I couldn't stand, and the longer the book went on, the more I disliked her, which made me dislike the book, because I knew Beth was supposed to be the bad guy, but I wasn't feeling anything but sadness and regret for Beth. And I don't want to read a book where I feel sympathy for the woman who is having an affair.

The blurb on Amazon says that The Almost Archer Sisters is a refreshingly honest portrait of sisterhood, motherhood, and female mayhem. In the first place, "female mayhem"? What the hell is that? I'm not even addressing that. Secondly, I don't think this was an honest portrait - refreshing or not - of anything other than two very selfish women.

Review #52: I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb

Many, many years ago, I read Wally Lamb's first book She's Come Undone. I can honestly say that the only thing I remember about that book is that the main character's mother is killed when a tractor trailer crashes in to her tollbooth. Consequently, I think about that every time I drive through a toll booth. Anyway, when I read it, I happened to live with two other girls, one of whom had had the pleasure of knowing Wally Lamb as a teacher in her hometown, and so for Christmas one year she gave the two of us autographed copies of his newest book at the time, I Know This Much Is True. But I was about 23 years old, heavy in to reading bodice rippers and other light fare, and certainly wasn't interested in 900 plus pages about a paranoid schizophrenic and his forty-something-year-old twin brother.

In other words, I wasn't exactly the target audience.

But since I never get rid of books, I still have it, and a few months ago, JB was perusing my shelves and saw it, and asked what I thought. When I confessed that I'd never read it, he was horrified at the lapse in my bibliography and said it was one of his favorites. He has yet to steer me wrong, so I gave Wally another shot, and I'm so glad that I did.

Dominick Birdsey is a forty-something-year-old housepainter, who frankly isn't very good at or motivated about his job. A former teacher, he gave up the profession after losing his baby to SIDS. A divorce soon followed, although he is clearly still hopelessly in love with his ex-wife, despite being involved with another woman. Dominick's twin, Thomas, is a paranoid schizophrenic, and the novel opens with Thomas cutting off his hand in the public library in an act of political defiance. That sets off Dominick's fight to keep Thomas safe and sane, which appears more and more impossible the deeper Dominick goes in to the world of mental health care. Along the way, Dominick is forced to confront his past, his own mental health issues, and some pretty horrific family secrets. 

The novel is supposed to be Dominick's story, and Lamb deftly weaves the tale. From his earliest memories of his mother to the moment he realized that Thomas was different, from falling in love with his former wife to his tenuous relationship with his abusive stepfather, from his guilt over being "the normal twin" to his relief at being "the normal twin", there isn't anything about Dominick that the reader doesn't learn. And sometimes, the reader learns it before Dominick himself does in his reluctant therapy sessions with the doctor who is also treating Thomas.

But it was Thomas who captured me. Many of us here are affected by mental health issues - whether it's our own battle to fight or we are fighting beside someone (or someones) we love - and watching Thomas tore at my heart in a very real and unexpected way. Reading about Dominick's struggle to help his brother was difficult, and Lamb perfectly captured the feelings of guilt and love and helplessness and resentment and all the other emotions that boil to the surface in these situations, but there was something about Thomas - more than Dominick - that I couldn't get out of my head. Dominick would eventually be fine, I knew, or at least some semblance of fine, but I worried about Thomas. I fretted over him and his situation, and wanted to reach through the pages and call the doctors in the mental hospital and give them suggestions. I wanted to say, "But he doesn't like it when you do that. Have you tried this?" I wanted to tell them that I knew it was against the rules but he needed Dominick today. And SPOILER: I can't remember the last time I cried as hard at a character's death as I did when Thomas died. It was a strange mixture of pain and relief and sadness and joy that left me uncomfortable with my own feelings about it for longer than I think is probably healthy. 

This is not an easy book to read. It's long. It's cumbersome to carry; it doesn't exactly fit in my purse. And the print is tiny, which my old eyes do not appreciate, especially as the hour grows late. There are long, meandering chapters written in italics, the translation of Dominick and Thomas' grandfather's diary, which I admit I skimmed but then went back and read again, sure that there were clues hidden in those pages. The subject matter is daunting and scary and not a little bit challenging to tackle. There are triggers for many readers here: assault, abuse, death, divorce, infidelity. But it's a necessary book to read. It's the book you haul around with you for two weeks, even though it's heavy and the print is tiny, and even though you have to read the next two chapters in sixty second snippets because the kids just won't leave you alone. It's a book that won't let you leave it behind.

I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family's, and my country's past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true.

Review #51: Me Before You, by JoJo Moyes

I've been sitting on this review for awhile now, and not just because I procrastinate with the best of them when it comes to my reviews, but because I honestly do not know how I feel about this book. I think I know how I'm supposed to feel about it, but I'm not even a hundred percent sure of that.

I'm sure you know the story, especially since the movie came out a few months ago. Quiet, shy, relatively poor Louisa loses her job at the local diner, and finds herself answering a help wanted ad for a companion for a quadriplegic. Will Traynor, former Master of the Universe, is the man in need of companionship, having been relegated to a wheelchair after a freak car accident stole the use of most of his body. They could not be more different - where Lou is sweet, Will is acerbic; where Lou's family struggles to make ends meet, Will's family has enough money to buy the town - and yet, somehow, magically, they find themselves falling in love. But Will wants to kill himself, and that's where the conflict comes in.

On the surface, the novel is fine. It's an interesting premise - what happens when or if love isn't enough - and Moyes has a perfectly serviceable writing style. I think that most of the backlash from this book (and movie) has been about Will's ultimate choice: his decision to end his life because he's a paraplegic. The argument is that Moyes paints the paraplegia as life-ending, that someone in a wheelchair can't live a full and happy life. But I don't think that's what Moyes intended for the reader to think. I don't think that's why Will wants to kill himself. Above and beyond the wheelchair and the paralysis, Will is suffering, and he's suffering greatly. Imagine that every movement is steeped in pain, that every meal is a battle, that just going to the bathroom, let alone out to dinner or the store, is a challenge of epic proportions and requires more planning and baggage than most people's weekend trips to the beach. Will is tired, tired down to his very bones, and no amount of starry-eyed love is going to make that better. Is his desire to end his life any different from the woman who is suffering from terminal cancer and doesn't want to live trapped in a body that no longer works? Or the man who lays down after his wife of sixty years dies and wills himself to join her in death? Would we condemn them as so many have condemned Will? 

My issues with the book are focused on other things. I have some nits to pick with some of the secondary characters and I felt like Moyes needed to spend some more time on them, making them a little bit less heavy handed and perhaps more nuanced. I couldn't stand Lou's boyfriend Patrick; he was all wrong for Lou, it made no sense that they were even together in the first place, and I had nothing invested in them as a couple. I wanted Patrick to go away. He was simultaneously dull and the character who made me the most angry. He was, basically, a controlling, selfish, self-centered bore. Lou's parents and sister were fine, but they were not well-fleshed out and I wished we had had some more scenes with them. There was opportunity there, especially with Lou's sister, to build some good relationships, but Moyes let the pitch go by. The secondary characters in Will's life, though - his parents and his nurse - were more finely drawn and I felt like the reader had a much better understanding of their motives. 

But mainly, I kind of didn't like Will. Like Patrick, I found him to be controlling and selfish and self-centered. I love a good alpha male as much as the next girl, but this went beyond that. Even in death, it felt like he still controlled Lou. And this was only exacerbated by Moyes' decision to make Lou extraordinarily meek and mild throughout most of the book, even going so far as to give Lou a backstory involving a sexual assault that in a weird way took me out of the story. I couldn't tell if that was in there to explain Lou's reluctance to leave the village or if Moyes felt like she needed more pages, but it seemed incongruous with the rest of the novel. 

Having said all of this, I still cried like a baby at the final scenes between Will and Lou, even though I nearly tossed the book across the room when I got to the epilogue and realized that Will was still calling all the shots.

So I don't know. All this, and I still don't know how I feel about the book.

I think I'll skip the sequel though.

Review #50: Act Like It, by Lucy Parker

So everyone loves this book. Everyone. It's been all over CBR. And it popped up as $2.99 or something the other day on Amazon, so I downloaded it.


I didn't much care for it.

Can I still be in CBR?

I mean, it was okay. There were a few funny moments, and I laughed a few times, but I expected lots of snark and banter and wit and... I don't know. It just didn't blow my skirt up.

Lainie is an actor in a West End theatre, and her role on stage has her smooching with her off-stage former paramour, Will Farmer. Will's kind of a jerk, having dumped Lainie for someone else and then wondering why she's so upset with him. So I guess Will is kind of a clueless jerk. Sometimes those are the worst kind, aren't they? And then there's Richard Troy, who gives off the air of feeling too good for their little theatre, and is kind of a jerk of the pretentious kind. Richard's got some PR troubles - he's got a bad boy reputation - and so the theatre lackeys come up with the brilliant plan to make Lainie and Richard pretend to be together. A few paparazzi snaps, a few dinners out, a few blind items, and all will be well. But of course in true romance novel fashion, they fall in love for real, there's a misunderstanding about something, they have a falling out, and they come back together.
But I guess I didn't see what was so jerky about Richard. I mean, he wasn't exactly the most awesomely sweet guy ever to grace the pages of a book, but he felt pretty normal to me, kind of on the gruff side, but normal. I don't know. Maybe that says something about the guys in my life. Lainie was so good she made my teeth ache, and I was honestly surprised that she wasn't a virgin in the book, because that's the ultimate in good-girl-ness in romance - you know, the whole being unsullied by a man's touch thing. And Will was pretty bland in his jackass-ness. If he's supposed to be the bad guy, make him the bad guy, not this wussified version of a bad guy.

Maybe that's the issue that I had with the book. It was just...bland. No heat, no spark, and even the sexy times were kind of meh. I kept waiting for the wit and smartass remarks and I guess if you turned the book on its side and squinted really hard you could find them, but I'd say that it's kind of a stretch.
Years ago, my parents used to watch some British comedies. And I didn't really get them, because I think British humor isn't really my bag. Maybe that's what was wrong here? I don't know, but I feel like everyone else read a different book than me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review #49: The Pursuit: A Fox and O'Hare novel, by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg

Do you remember that show on USA called White Collar with Matt Bomer where he was an art thief who worked with the FBI but still kind of ran scams on the side? That's kind of the premise of Janet Evanovich's Fox and O'Hare series, but instead of sexy Matt Bomer, we get sexy Nick Fox, and instead of semi-boring Peter we get Special Agent Kate O'Hare. And instead of catching art thieves and staying stateside, Evanovich and Goldberg (who wrote for the TV show Monk), take Kate and Nick all over the world. 

The Pursuit, which is the fifth book in the series, begins in Hawaii, where Nick has disappeared. He's been kidnapped and is being pressed in to service by Dragan Kovic, a murderous ex-Serbian military officer who has no qualms about offing members of his team. Kate needs to rescue him, but she knows if she causes an international incident, and with Nick it's an international incident, the FBI won't be there to back her up. So she calls in her dad Jake, a former military man who still has connections all over the world, as her wingman, and sets out to find Nick. The chase takes her all through Europe and in to the sewer system of France, which yes, is as gross as you'd think, but also a little bit fascinating, too.

One of Evanovich's greatest strengths is writing fantastic supporting characters, and all of the old favorites are here in this one as well as some new characters that I wouldn't be surprised to see again. And in this series, she's using them sparingly, just enough to bring in some humor, and then they're gone again. One of the issues I've been having with the Stephanie Plum novels is that the support staff - Lula and Connie and Grandma and Vinnie - all feel a little bit schticky and tired, and that feeling is successfully avoided with the series, at least so far. And this series is a little more serious than Stephanie; these are real crimes with real-world implications, and perhaps it's Goldberg's influence that brings a darker tone to these books.

I'm don't think I've read all five of these and I might have to go back to the beginning. They're quick, easy beach reads, perfect for when you jut want to check out for a bit.

Review #48: Curious Minds: A Knight and Moon Novel, by Janet Evanovich

I wanted to like this. I really, really, really did. But I couldn't. Mom and Aunt both loved it, said it was laugh out loud funny, that Janet had finally come back after kind of veering off there with Stephanie and Ranger and Joe awhile ago. But I just didn't love it. I don't even think I really liked it.

Sutton (who co-writes the Lizzy and Diesel series) and Evanovich's new series - because it's of course going to be a series - is about Riley Moon, a junior analyst at the mega bank of Blane-Grunwald. She's Harvard-educated, and the blurb says that her "aggressive Texas spitfire attitude" helped her land the job, which she just started as the novel opens. She's thrilled with the new job, although she isn't sure about her first assignment: babysit billionaire werido Emerson Knight, who is insisting that the bank show him the family gold. But she figures it's no problem - she'll take him to the bank, show him the gold, and that will be that.

Except there are shenanigans afoot at Blane-Grunwald and the gold is "unavailable for viewing". In the quest to find the Knight family gold, Riley and Emerson uncover an Dr. Evil-like plot with the bank stealing the gold of other countries and attempting to devalue the dollar, somehow allowing the head Grunwald to take over the world. There are also explosions, a dead body, some visits to Area 51 (cause everyone knows that there are no aliens out there, just gold), and a few wild animals running loose on the Knight estate. 

So here are some of my many beefs with the book. First of all, I never got the feeling that Riley was an "aggressive spitfire". She was kind of mamby-pamby, as my mother would say. Which I recognize isn't a real word, but I'm sure you can figure out what she means. I mean, she could shoot a gun and could think her way out of a situation, but she never really gelled as the character I either wanted her to be or Janet envisioned. Secondly, Emerson was supposed to be eccentric, but what he really was was an amalgamation of several different eccentricities and none of them added up. It was like Evanvoich just looked up eccentric characteristics on line and picked a few unrelated ones. I think he was supposed to be charmingly weird, but instead he was just...weird. Thirdly, I didn't really understand the whole devalue-the-dollar-take-over-the-world plot. Maybe that's cause I don't really get how money works, beyond the basic plot points of knowing that I need it, my kid spends it, and I never seem to have enough of it. Do other countries really have piles of gold bars in reserve? And do they really keep them locked in the basement storage vaults of an American bank? That seems...ill-advised. It feels like a lot could go wrong there. 

But I think my biggest issue was that there was just no heat between Riley and Emerson. All of Evanovich's duos have a spark, witty repartee, or some sort of chemistry. All of them. And Riley and Emerson were, quite frankly, about as sexy as Nancy Drew and Ned Nickerson. I mean, if Ned Nickerson had pet zebras and a fast car. And was less of a stick-in-the-mud. And less boring. I kind of never liked Ned. Anyway, Stephanie and Ranger and Morelli all have fantastic chemistry. Kate and Nick from the Fox and O'Hare series have great snarky comments back and forth. And even Lizzy and Diesel are hot, especially when he just appears the way he does. But Riley and Emerson did nothing for me. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

When I made the blah face to Mom about this one, she reminded me that One for the Money wasn't all that great right out of the gate, which makes me want to go back and read it again and reevaluate. And maybe this is Janet's set up to what will eventually be a good series. I'll give it one more go for the next one, but she's got to ratchet up the snark and heat and humor. And tone down the twee expressions that Riley uses. ("Crap on a cracker"? Um, no.)

Also? They're doing the James Patterson thing where the font gets bigger, the chapters get shorter, and still charging $21.95 for a hardback. This is not a $21.95 book.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Review #47: Mismatch, by Tami Hoag

After the disastrous Rumor Has It, I thought I'd give Tami another go, and downloaded the audio version of Mismatch to distract me from the snowbirds and school buses clogging my roads. And while it was better than Rumor Has It, I'm not sure I'm going to download any more of her novels.

Short version: Bronwynn Prescott Pierson (really?) escapes to the rundown estate that used to belong to her uncle to mourn the fact that she just became a runaway bride. Wade Grayson, a rigid straight-laced Congressman from Ohio is vacationing at his friend's country estate next door. They meet the night that Bronwynn shows up to the neglected farmhouse and tries to burn her fiancé's suitcase on the front lawn. Sparks fly (no pun intended) and before you know it, Bronwynn and Wade are fixing up the old house together and having sexy times in between rescuing Wade's Important Government Papers from Muffin, Bronwynn's pet sheep. But then the jilted fiancé shows up, livid at being left at the altar in a spectacular way (and really, I do have to give Tami some credit here. She opens the novel with Bronwynn halting the wedding to say thank you to some people, and then she thanks her cousin for showing her what a jackass her fiancé is by having an affair with him. It's a pretty good, if implausible, scene). Anyway, the fiancé shows up (I can't remember his name), and accuses Bronwynn of having an affair with Wade, flounces off, and then days later, the press arrives, driving Bronwynn and Wade apart until she finally comes to her senses and goes about to get him back in a truly mind-boggling sort of way. And they all lived happily ever after.

So why not a great rating? Well, there were some things that bothered me. In no particular order...
1. Muffin the sheep appears to eat everything, from wallpaper to government documents to Wade's car seats. I don't know a lot about farm animals, but I kept thinking in my head, "Is Tami mixing up sheep with goats? Cause this sounds much more like goat behavior." But what do I know? I can't stand goats and make it a point never to go near them.
2. Wade. Wade was pretty boring, but at the same time, he also made me want to scream. There were all sorts of weird misogynistic undertones that I can't even really put in to words, but I felt them. To her credit, Bronwynn called him out a few times on it, but he never really backed down or changed. It was very much "you can't use power tools cause you're a girl". That drives me insane.  It's possible that Bronwynn didn't know how to use that wallpaper stripper, but I can guarandamntee that neither did Wade, and just cause he's got an outie instead of an innie doesn't mean that he is automatically more qualified to figure it out. This book is about Bronwynn being independent. Let her be independent, Wade. Jeeze.
3. The reconciliation scene at the end is a bit over the top. Wade is a Congressman. They literally break up on camera after being caught in the Vermont woods together. Wade goes back to work. Bronwynn nurses her broken heart and her sister and a Beach Boys singing hermit talk some sense in to her. So she calls a press conference to Wade's office without his knowledge so they can reconcile on camera. Maybe this book was written before the days of TMZ and 24/7 political coverage, but I just don't think that was the best course of action. See also: public marriage proposals. She could have very seriously damaged Wade's career.
4. This is a stupid thing to be bothered by, but I think it bothered me more than anything. After the estate catches fire and nearly burns down, Bronwynn decides she wants to go camping in some meadow by a lake with Wade. So they hike in to the woods with their backpacks for a few days and pitch a tent. On their last night there, the night where Bronwynn's decided she's going to say the L word, she sends Wade to the lake to catch dinner. When he comes back, she has a plaid blanket set with real silver and china, and they have a romantic meal. Then she stands up, shimmies off her sweatshirt and jeans that she's been hiking in all day to reveal a silk teddy (which she evidently has been wearing all day as well), and disappears in to the tent, where she has laid out both sleeping bags topped with an ivory satin sheet. And all of this fit in her backpack? And then Wade follows her in the tent, and then takes off his shoes and socks. Now I'm no camping expert, but even I can tell you that shoes do not come in the tent with you. At least, not on. And not on ivory satin sheets. And when you're backpack camping, you take the least amount of stuff possible. Like, you leave behind the china and silver and ivory satin sheets. I'm just saying: this was an implausible scene.

Anyway, it was an okay story. Not great, better than Rumor Has It, but not better enough to make me want to read more.

Review #46: Rumor Has It, Tami Hoag

I downloaded this as an audio book from the library. You know I need romance and light fluff when I'm driving or running, and Tami Hoag is on that list of authors where I know the story is going to be predictable but that's okay, because I also need to pay attention to the road. But this Tami Hoag? It was...not good, you guys. Not good at all. I'll give you a brief plot synopsis, and then give you my actual thoughts as I listened.

In short, Katie Quaid, an interior designer in a small Virginia town, meets Nick Leone, the transplant from New Jersey who has left behind a lucrative career stripping in New York (after failing at being a Broadway dancer) to open an Italian restaurant. Katie had a riding accident years ago which left her with scars both visible and hidden, and she's unable to have children as a result. She embarks reluctantly on an affair with Nick, only to break it off because she's infertile, and he eventually proposes with a ring hidden in a dinner roll at his restaurant's soft opening.

So here were my thoughts, in no particular order: 
- Hm. I thought this was set in Virginia, but Mary Margaret sounds an awful lot like Suzanne Sugarbaker, who lived in Atlanta.
- This is promising. Nick sounds kind of hot.
- Oh wait. Nick's talking. Nick is no longer hot.
- Seriously, narrator. Not every man from New Jersey sounds like Big Pussy from The Sopranos.
- Wait. Katie runs a wallpaper store? In small town Virginia? And... makes a living at it?
- I like Mary Margaret. She's got good snark, even if she is secretly from Georgia but isn't telling anyone.
- Nick has a mole shaped like a bunny rabbit next to his bellybutton. This feels a little bit like foreshadowing.
- Nick's going to open a high end Italian restaurant in an old store in a small town and live above it. His renovation and start up budget is only $50,000? That's...cute.
- Nick's stripper name is the Highwayman? Isn't that a bad 80s tv show with like, Chuck Norris? Not sexy. Chuck Norris is never sexy.
- Katie won't know it's Nick stripping though, cause he's wearing a Zorro mask. (Earlier, she found a gold lame cape in his bedroom. Is that part of the Highwayman costume, or does he also do Liberace impersonations?)
- WAIT! The blasted bunny rabbit mole has given him away! I knew it would come back! (Sidebar: doesn't everyone know that misshapen moles are an indicator of skin cancer? I think Nick needs to see his dermatologist.)
- Katie's...not mad? She thinks it's kind of hot. This makes no sense, as earlier she was ready to bolt from the strip club because she might see his "thing". I swear to God guys, that's what her steam of consciousness said. "Thing." Are we twelve?
- Back to Virginia and the restaurant. Katie's back hurts again but she doesn't want to tell Nick. She's sad because she can't dance. Like, ever. Cause of the horse injury. And Nick clearly loves to dance. So this must be a deal breaker to the true love thing.
- Now they're up in the attic and slow dancing. That's sweet. Nick is showing her that not every dance move needs to be a Magic Mike routine.
- Oh. Oh my. Oh boy. They're having sex standing up while dancing. This...this can't possibly be good for Katie's back problems. And also? How is that possible? Like, physically, I mean. Don't you need...friction? Or something to brace yourself against? I just don't see how this could be pleasurable. And this feels like a recipe for a disaster. Katie can barely go down a flight of stairs. I don't know how she can have this kind of acrobatic sex. Tami needed to think this through a bit.
- Lather rinse repeat for awhile. (Not the standing up dancing sex, but sexy times. Including in a meadow. Which, again, maybe it's cause I live in Florida and there are too many creepy crawly things on the ground to even consider having sex outside, but...do people really do this? On the ground on a horse farm? I seen what the roads look like after horses go by in a parade. It's not pretty, and I certainly don't want to lay down near it. Let's get real, people.)
- Katie's bringing Nick out to meet her brother, whose name escapes me, but it's some manly cowboy name. Let's call him Waylon. Actually, I think it might be Ryland. Whatever it is, the narrator makes him sound like the biggest hick this side of the Mississippi. He runs a pretty successful horse farm. He can't be all dumb.
- Hmm.  Look at that. Mary Margaret loves Waylon/Ryland but Waylon/Ryland doesn't know it.
- Waylon/Ryland needs to stop talking cause he just sounds like a big old dumb redneck, and Mary Margaret is too classy for a guy who can't stand to wear a suit and tie for one blasted night.
- Seriously, Waylon/Ryland. SHUT UP.
- Katie's breaking up with Nick cause she can't have kids. Lather rinse repeat for awhile.
- Katie's broken hearted. Nick is broken hearted. The whole town knows. Does this really happen? Don't they have Netflix in this place?
- Waylon/Ryland makes Katie go to the restaurant opening. - Who proposes with a ring in a dinner roll? When they aren't even at the table? To a girl who has already dumped you?
- Waylon/Ryland eats the ring. Well, not eats it, but eats the roll and spits out the ring and puts it in Katie's water glass. GROSS. This is why you don't need to get all creative with your proposals, dudes.
- This dinner scene is also why you don't propose in public. Totally uncomfortable, even though she says yes.
- I guess this is happily ever after? I don't know, though. It seems like Nick and Katie haven't really figured out their roadblocks. If ever there were a couple ripe for premarital counseling, it's these two.

So there you have it. And look, I'm not trying to make fun of Katie's injuries or her struggle with not being able to have children. Lord knows that fertility issues are one of the worst things that women have to deal with, and chronic pain is no joke. If Hoag had taken this from a different angle, this could have been a very different book. But as it stands? I found Nick overbearing and annoying and the Goodfellas accent did not help. And Katie was whiny and twee and I couldn't take her seriously. The other characters (I'm looking at you Waylon/Ryland) were caricatures of characters, and even Mary Margaret got on my nerves after awhile.

I think I may have gotten too worked up over this book.

Review #45: All Shook Up, by Susan Andersen

I downloaded this from the library, read it in about three hours, and pretty much promptly forgot about it. It was fine. Kind of like three buck Chuck. Not great, maybe you need an ice cube or two, and relatively forgettable. Kind of bland, like cream of chicken soup. (There's a mash up that I don't think I'd like, though: cream of chicken soup and three buck Chuck? Ew.)

J.D. Carver is "a man with a past" who has come to Star Lake Lodge to claim his inheritance - a half share of the Lodge left to him by a woman who took him in as a troubled teen. The inheritance comes at just the right time, since J.D. just turned in his now-former boss for using sub-par construction materials, and cost all of his friends their jobs. The former boss went to prison, of course, but not before he blacklisted J.D. in the town, so the share of the Lodge fell in to his lap at just the right time. Druscilla ("Dru") is "a woman with a reputation" (which, by the way, the "reputation" is the fact that she got pregnant with her long-term boyfriend who skipped town shortly afterwards and from what I could tell, never had sex again, so let's not slut shame, okay?), niece of the Lodge's owners, and single mom to a pretty cute ten year old son.

Sparks fly, of course, when J.D. and Dru meet, and it's the old "hate-each-other-on-sight" trope. I never really understood that storyline. I don't get how you can go from wanting to strangle each other to passionately kissing in the space of thirty seconds, when you just met two hours ago. That doesn't feel like a recipe for a healthy, stable relationship. Anyway, J.D and Dru connect, have some naughty adult time, and are slowly making their way towards one another. But then a man from J.D.'s past comes back with revenge on his mind, putting J.D.'s new-found family at risk, and J.D. decides to bail to protect everyone. Before he can get out of Dodge, though, he finds himself at the business end of a gun, and Dru comes in to save the day, letting everyone live happily ever after.

I will say that I enjoyed that Dru saved J.D.; that was a nice change of pace from the damsel in distress thing. Dru's actually a pretty strong woman in this book, now that I'm thinking about it. I was going to downgrade to two stars based solely on the ridiculous "woman with a reputation" slut shaming business, but now I'm remembering that I really liked Dru's solid and stable presence, so back up to three stars I go.

Review #44: How to Party with an Infant, by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Mele Bart thought that when she told her boyfriend Bobby that she was pregnant, he'd want to get married. It turns out that he did, but to someone else. Two years later, and the wedding is about to take place, and Bobby wants Ellie to be the flower girl. Mele doesn't want Ellie to go without her, so she declares that she's attending as well, and bringing a date. The only trouble is she doesn't exactly have a date, so she makes one up, confident that her friend Henry will help her out. Her friends - Annie, Barrett, Georgia, and, yes, Henry, parents she met through the San Francisco Mommy Club - aren't so sure she should go, but they appear to be willing and supportive of whatever decision she makes.

As the wedding date looms, Mele needs something to take her mind off the upcoming nuptials, and decides to enter the Mommy Club's cookbook contest, answering the contest's questionnaire with stories of her friends and their children. Mele pulls no punches, and she airs everyone's dirty laundry, including her own. The question "does your husband cook?" is answered with a biting essay about how she's pretty sure he does, but for someone else, because he's someone else's husband. Mele lists what food she'd make for each friend, each story, but Hemmings misses a big opportunity to include a recipe or two.

If there's a downfall to this book, it's that I think that Hemmings wasn't quite sure who she wanted Mele to be. In some respects, I could completely identify with Mele, who was intimidated by many of the mothers she met, but who also secretly scoffed at their high-end lifestyles. But what bothered me was this: Hemmings never really allowed Mele to speak her mind, except for in one scene near the end, and, vulgar though it may be, it's pretty fantastic and I actually cheered when I read it. I just wanted that Mele, the one who stood up to the Mean Girls of Mommyhood, through the whole book, not just in one tiny bit of dialogue at the end. It was almost as though Hemmings was afraid that she'd offend someone, and instead of writing the book she wanted to write, it felt like someone told her she had to tone down Mele's bite and acerbity, and so the reader is left wanting a bit more.

Interesting note: How to Party with an Infant is written by the author of The Descendants.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review #43, Crazy in Alabama, by Mark Childress

When I was little, my mother had an avocado green Tupperware bowl. She also had a red one and a harvest gold one, and I'm pretty sure there was a blue one, too. They were different sizes, but they all had lids that had a translucent sort of flower pattern on top, so they were obviously part of a set. The bowl itself was also translucent, and more often than not, the green Tupperware bowl sat on the second shelf of our fridge with bunches of green grapes inside. So when Peejoe's aunt Lucille showed up at his grandmother's with her husband Chester's head in it, I knew exactly what bowl Childress was describing. When I called my mom to ask about the bowl, she said she remembers it, but doesn't think that a human head could fit in it. "Maybe the harvest gold one," she said, "although it would be a tight fit." She suggested that perhaps the lettuce keeper bowl would be a better option, as it was a bit taller, and, well, you need room for the neck. I told her I didn't remember the lettuce keeper. "Well, we didn't keep a lot of lettuce in those days," she said. "You kids wouldn't eat it." "Chester's head is freakishly small," I pointed out. "Maybe that helps?" "Maybe," she said, thoughtfully, but I could hear doubt. "I still think the lettuce keeper would be better. Heads are big."
Peejoe (Peter Joseph) Bullis is twelve years old in the summer of 1965. Orphaned when his parents were killed in a car accident, he and his brother live with their grandmother in a rural town in Alabama. After his aunt Lucille serves rat poison flavored coffee to Uncle Chester and chops off his head and puts it in the aforementioned green Tupperware bowl, she takes off for Hollywood to be a famous actress on The Beverly Hillbillies, but not before confessing the crime to Peejoe and depositing her six children with Grandma. Grandma can't possibly handle all eight kids, so Peejoe and his brother move a few dozen miles away to Industry to live with Uncle Dove, his wife, and their daughter. Uncle Dove is the county's coroner and funeral home director, and the boys are installed in the attic on the third floor of the funeral home.
Summer in Alabama is hot and racial tensions are reaching a boiling point. As coroner, Uncle Dove's being called to sign more and more death certificates of black boys who have been beaten to death, but with the sheriff very obviously turning a blind eye to the racial divide in the county, there isn't much he can do. But then Peejoe is inadvertently caught up in it, witnessing the death of a young black boy at the hands of a white policeman during a protest at the city's new swimming pool. Peejoe, with all of the innocence of a young child who has not yet been taught to hate that which is different from him, can't understand why blacks and whites are being treated differently, and installs himself firmly in the middle of what is becoming a race war.
Peejoe might be the narrator and the unwitting protagonist, but it was Uncle Dove who I felt came out as the true - albeit very reluctant - hero in this story. It was Uncle Dove who took in his dead brother's two children, who went to Aunt Lucille's house and dug up Uncle Chester from the freezer in the shed and buried him, who protected Peejoe from the bully of a county sheriff, who risked his family's business by becoming an integrated funeral home, losing his wife and daughter, his friends, and his standing in the community. It was Uncle Dove who drove the funeral home's hearse in to the black area of town after a mob attack, rescuing black victims and carrying off black bodies. It was Uncle Dove who carried the body of a young black boy home and laid him out in his funeral home so the boy's family could say goodbye with dignity. And it was Uncle Dove who taught Peejoe how to do the right thing, even if it meant risking everything.
Interspersed with Peejoe's interactions with white policemen and black civil rights leaders is Aunt Lucille's story. After killing Chester, she goes on a one-woman crime spree across the country, stealing a car in New Orleans, having sex with and then hog-tying a highway patrolman somewhere in the South, seducing a bellhop in Las Vegas, and entrancing a chauffeur named Norman. Finally, she makes her way to Hollywood and on to the small screen, guest starring on The Beverly Hillbillies. She hobnobs with the hoi polloi in Hollywood until Chester's head makes an appearance at a party and Lucille is forced to flee, only to be caught on the Golden Gate bridge before she can toss Chester in to the waves. Once Lucille is brought back to Industry and Chester's head is reunited with his body, she stands trial for his murder while Industry is on the precipice of becoming the next Selma.
Crazy in Alabama is a clever, sneaky little book. On the surface, it's about some pretty nutty people. It's difficult to argue the rationality of a woman who brings her husband's head with her when she runs off to be a famous actress. Dig a little deeper, though, and there's a story about racial divides, freedom, the desire to be accepted as an equal, bravery, and heroism, and I include not only the racial issues and the riots and the lynchings and the choices that Uncle Dove and Peejoe had to make, but also Aunt Lucille's quest as well. "There are a lot of ways you can kill a person," Lucille says. "Chester was killin' me the slow way for thirteen years."
Maybe Lucille isn't as crazy as she seems.
But she should have used the lettuce keeper.

Review #42: Tell Me Three Things, by Julie Buxbaum

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for good YA fiction. And Tell Me Three Things is good YA fiction. Actually, let me clarify that statement. Tell Me Three Things is good YA fiction if you're the target demographic. If, like me, you're slightly older than the target demographic and have celebrated many anniversaries of your twenty-ninth birthday, you may not feel the same, but my inner fifteen year old loved it.

It's the beginning of Jessie's junior year of high school. Her mother died two years ago and her father eloped with a woman on a business trip, which is how she wound up moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and is now attending a small prep school with her stepbrother, who, instead of being a built-in friend, appears to want nothing to do with her. Everything about Jessie is wrong in her eyes, from how she dresses to how she spent her summer, and she's drifting in the terrifying sea of high school when she receives an anonymous email with a few pieces of advice about her new school. Even as she recognizes how weird the whole thing is, she grasps the lifeline, and spends the next few months trying to figure out who her mystery guardian angel is.

In the meantime, Jessie slowly starts to make friends while remaining close with her best friend back home, tries to navigate her new family and even finds a job and develops a crush on a boy, but she still comes back to her anonymous email friend. She has her theories about the identity, but is never quite able to bring herself to ask. And although I figured it out pretty early on, I still held my breath wondering if Jessie was going to eventually make the same connection. And, too, I wondered briefly if I was terribly, horribly wrong and her new friends were going to be revealed as the ultimate Mean Girls and behind the whole thing, leaving Jessie humiliated. But I wasn't wrong, and Buxbaum managed to somehow avoid making the whole thing twee. 

It's been a long time since I've been a teenager, and I know that things are different now, but I think that the feelings of being a teenager haven't changed.  At that age, you are utterly lost. You don't know where you fit in, you don't know what's going to happen in the future, you certainly have no control over your own life, you feel like you are the only person in the world who has ever felt the way you do, and you desperately want to feel accepted and loved and that people are okay with who you are. You want to feel that you are okay with who you are. Tell Me Three Things is about those feelings. It's not about Jessie making friends in her new school or adjusting to her mom's death. It's not about the identity of her anonymous email friend or even about her relationship with her new family. It's about Jessie discovering who Jessie is and making peace with that. And it doesn't hurt that there's a sweet little romance thrown in. 

Buxbaum perfectly nails what it's like to be on the precipice of adulthood, simultaneously exhilarated by the possibilities and scared out of your mind at what lies ahead. This is definitely one of the better YA novels out there. 

Reviews #39 - 41: Kristan Higgins Audiostyle

I have a pretty long commute, and I spend a lot of time in the car. There's only so much NPR I can handle during election season, and listening to audio books appears to keep the road rage to a minimum. But I need them to be light and fluffy romance novels, or else I can't also concentrate on driving. I live in Florida, home of the alligators, the snowbirds, and the worst drivers known to man, so I've got to pay attention. So some Kristan Higgins novels fit the bill. Also, they were what was available from the library.

But honestly? I can't remember much about them. They were fine, if a bit formulaic. I'd have been irritated if I spent money on them. They're the equivalent of a Lean Cuisine macaroni and cheese. They give you the idea that you're eating macaroni, but it's certainly not the gouda mac and cheese that costs $8.50 at the local fancy pants restaurant. They're not even the blue box of Kraft mac and cheese. But they're okay, and sometimes, they're what you want.

In The Best Man, Faith Holland, one of three daughters of the Holland family that runs the Blue Heron Winery in Manningsport, New York, returns to the farm, ready at last to settle down and join the family business. She's been gone all the time because her former fiancé, the dreamy local doctor, literally dumped her at the altar and came out to the entire town at the same time. Faith blames her ex-fiance's best friend, local sheriff Levi Cooper, for her humiliation. So when Faith and Levi meet again, sparks fly, even though they can't stand each other. An interesting twist on this is that Faith is prone to epileptic seizures, which Higgins never uses as a capital T Thing, they're just a part of her life, like having dark hair or brown eyes. (Although there is a plot point where Levi was the one who took Faith to the nurse after a seizure in high school.) Of course, the love/hate turns to love/love, and they live happily ever after.

That brings us to The Perfect Match, which features the middle Holland daughter, Honor. Honor thinks she's dating her lifelong crush, but really, it's a friends with benefits situation, and three weeks after a painfully awkward proposal scene, he's engaged to Honor's best friend, who, bizarrely, still wants Honor to stand up for her at her wedding. Staid, boring, Honor, who - I'm not making this up - always wears a headband like she's eight - impulsively agrees to marry a charming but gruff British professor, who needs a green card in order to stay in New York so he can stay close to his unofficial stepson Charlie and see him through his teen years. It's the old marriage of convenience trope, which works for a reason, and the book was fine. But Honor kind of irritated the ever loving daylights out of me. She ran the vineyard, allowed her family to take advantage of her, and never stood up for herself. She couldn't even tell her best friend, who had been schtupping the love of Honor's life behind her back, to go jump in a lake, for Pete's sake. In fact, she was still considering being the maid of honor at the wedding. What the hell, Honor? Grow a backbone, sister. I can't remember how this one ended, but my guess is happily ever after.

Leaving Manningsport and moving over to Georgebury, VT, we meet Callie Grey and Dr. Ian McFarland in All I Ever Wanted. Callie is staring down the barrel of thirty, in love with her boyfriend-slash-boss, who, it turns out, is getting married to the daughter of the company's biggest client, who, it also turns out, has it in for Callie. Callie's heartbroken over losing Mark, but through a confluence of events (that I can't remember), she takes up with the very single, very good looking, very aloof new town veterinarian. There's also a B story about Callie's overbearing, confirmed spinster older sister falling in love with their mother's undertaker (they run the town funeral home), and Callie's dad trying to get back in to Callie's mom's good graces after fooling around on her twenty years ago. (There was potential for humor when Callie's mother forced her dad to introduce her to each of his former paramours, but it just fell flat and felt kind of sad.) Like The Perfect Match, I can't remember how it ended, but I'm sure if was happily ever after.

Higgins is a fine writer. It's not high literature, but it's enough to keep me from stabbing the old people clogging up the roads at rush hour.

Review #38: Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner

This made the rounds a few weeks ago (baxlala and Jenny S posted reviews last month), and I pretty much agree with them, that this was good, but not great, and certainly not as great as I've come to expect from Weiner.

Rachel, who was born with a heart defect, is a veteran of hospitals, and she's wandering about one night at eight years old when she meets Andy, also eight, in the ER waiting room. Andy's been brought in because he fell off of a hotel balcony and broke his arm. Andy's all alone; the hotel staff was unable to locate his mother. The hospital can't treat him without a parent present, and so Rachel tells him a story to calm his fears and keep him occupied. Andy's mom arrives, he's whisked behind the doors, Rachel is sent back to her room, and they never see each other again.

Until they meet in Atlanta on a church outreach program the summer before their junior year, building houses for the less fortunate. Andy recognizes Rachel and they spend an idyllic few days together. From there, it's two more years, not until Rachel's grandmother takes her to Philadelphia for a stopover before her graduation trip to Europe, that they see each other again. They manage to form a romantic relationship, even though Andy is busy with school and running and Rachel is busy with college and her sorority, until their own growing pains push them apart again. The book continues in this vein: they probably come together and fall apart about a half dozen times, with sections alternating between Rachel's perspective and Andy's. Eventually, Andy and Rachel split for good. Rachel becomes a social worker, marries, and has children. Andy, a competitive runner who went to the Olympics only to eventually have his career tank when it's revealed that he used performance enhancing drugs, begins rebuilding his life working at a HomeGoods store. Years later, Rachel's husband has left her for another woman, and she's at the HomeGoods store shopping for a shower faucet, and lo and behold, there is Andy, ready, willing, and waiting.

The more time I've had away from this novel, the less enchanted I am by it. There is huge potential here, and Weiner had the ability to knock this out of the park. Instead, she wrote a fairly dull romance novel with a preposterous premise, too many coincidences, a too-abrupt ending, and a heroine that, in the end, still needed the man to feel complete. It was perfectly serviceable as a romance paperback, but I've grown to expect more from Weiner. If it were anyone else, I'd be knocking it down to two stars.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review #37: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones and I are about the same age. When I was younger, I loved her. I don't know as I wanted to be her friend because she was a bit exasperating, but I loved her. I got her. I got the Daniel Cleaver thing. I got the Mark Darcy thing. It was like she understood every bit of angst there was at that time in my life.

Bridget has grown up, and so (allegedly) have I, and I still love her. Why? Because she still understands every bit of angst that there is my life. It's different angst, sure, but it's still there. Instead of worrying about how to catch Daniel's attention or whether she can risk wearing her giant granny panties on a date, she's worried about nits and her kids' grades and her job performance and where she left her glasses and how on Earth she's supposed to be responsible for the little people in her house when, quite frankly, it's difficult to remember to put on clean underwear some days. And I get that. I so get that. 

Bridget is single now, a widow actually. In a move that angered quite a lot of fans, so I don't think I'm spoiling anything here, Fielding killed off Mark Darcy. In true Mark Darcy fashion though, he died while in Darfur, helping the fight for human rights, because he's Mark Darcy and he's kind of amazing. The novel opens with Bridget just a couple of years past the accident that killed Mark, and she's a bit of a mess. She can't quite get the kids out the door in time for school, she's not nearly as put together as the other mums at school, and all of her cereal is stale. She certainly doesn't make the taste free organic, sugar free, gluten free, healthy cupcakes for the bake sale the way the other mums do. Some readers may find that it's tough to feel bad for Bridget; after all, Mark's life insurance money certainly helps and she has a part time nanny. But parenthood - in all its shapes and sizes - is a challenge, and even though I'm doing it without the nanny or the life insurance money, I wholeheartedly identified with Bridget and her feelings of inadequacy, of differentness. Who among us hasn't stood around at a school function wondering what on Earth we were doing there, and hoping against hope that none of the other parents recognized what a completely incompetent nincompoop we were?

The story traces some of Bridget's mad-cap adventures: she starts tweeting (and is a hot mess at it, which is one of the reasons I don't tweet. I kind of don't really understand Twitter), she signs up for some online dating services, and has a wild affair with a much, much younger man. But it's not the adventures, or the tweets, or the pretty decent sex she has with the younger man that's the point of the novel. It's Bridget learning how to be Bridget again. Actually, I think it's Bridget learning how to be okay with herself. It's her accepting that she's never going to be the mum who makes the organic cupcakes for the bake sale and understanding that that's perfectly okay. She loves her children and tries to do her best by them, and that's what makes a good parent, not whether she's prepared a from-scratch, all organic meal for the annual school picnic. It's her realizing that although she loves Mark with all her heart and always will, she also has room for more love. And it, a little bit, is her letting go of Mark, of realizing that she's still alive, that her children need her, and that life, as they say, must go on.

The other characters are a good balance to Bridget and her neuroses. Her older son is quiet and serious, although there are definite glimpses of a young mischievous boy.  In many ways, he's a lot like Mark, which is both heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. Her younger daughter is sweet and funny, the perfect comic relief to the sometimes heavy moments that steal in to the book unexpectedly. Bridget's mom is still hanging around, although her dad died some years ago. (I admit I cried at at that.) Bridget makes friends with the mum across the street, who, to Bridget's surprise, is every bit as unprepared for motherhood as she is. There are others, too - the young man Bridget begins dating, the music teacher at the school, some of Bridget's friends make an appearance or four. But the character that won me over, in the end, was that old rake, Daniel Cleaver. In the years since Mark died, Daniel has become a true friend to Bridget, and it was lovely to see him supporting her in a completely non-lecherous way. Don't worry, though. He still has his faults, and I'm not so sure I'd let him babysit, but it's obvious that he takes his role as Uncle Daniel quite seriously.

Life might not have turned out quite like Bridget thought it would - and really, does it turn out that way for any of us? - but she's doing the best she can. And in the end, that's all any of us can do.