"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

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.