This is the twelfth and last (for now, anyway?) Pink Carnation book. I haven't read the eleventh book as yet, but the review of book ten is over here. This book also spoils the end of book ten, so I guess I have to put the review behind the spoiler cut. I'll just say that this is an excellent finish for the series and gets four and a half stars.
I freaking LOVED the Bigtime series back in the day--it's a really interesting series about a world overrun by superheroes and supervillains that did some really interesting handling of genre blindness vs. genre savviness. Alas, other folks did not love it as much as I did back in the day and the series was canceled by the publisher after three books. But huzzah, the author got the rights back and she's not only republished the first three and a novella (not sure if I'll review that or not, maybe?), but has self-published the other two books she had intended to do! I don't know if she ever intends to do more in the series or not since she has many other paying, being published by others series going on right now, but I wish she would because I was so happy to return to Bigtime!
Anyway, this book features Abby Appleby, Bigtime's premier party planner. She's always Crazy Prepared and always has her khaki vest on, with tons of pockets carrying every possible survival item she might need during a big event. She also has super senses--thanks to a freak accident involving a karaoke machine--but is NOT inclined to use that as an excuse to go superhero, thank you very much. While she's not super into superheroes--that's her best friend Piper's department and we'll meet her in the next book--Abby does have a major run-in with one when she spots Talon, a "gadget" superhero along the lines of Batman, in the midst of a battle with his nemesis Bandit. She fires off the police alarm tone on her smartphone to break it up, but not before Talon gets sprayed in the face and temporarily blinded. Abby hauls him home and they're snowed in during a blizzard for a few days, with him unable to see her and her unable to remove his goggles to check on his eyes (he's got MAJOR security on those, wowza).
And thus, we have a Cinderella superhero story going on: Abby refuses to tell him her name (she's kind of embarrassed by the whole thing) and calls herself "Wren" because she's such a nobody; he nicknames her Nightingale when he hears her singing, and the two of them really, really hit it off except for when he's snoring. It's love...except she freaks the hell out at the idea of him seeing her eventually and ditches him before he can do that. Ouch.
Naturally, she meets Talon in his mundane identity as Wesley Weston the next day when he books her for a party--and with the super senses, she can tell it's him. (Also, props to Wesley for NOT alliterating his superhero name to go with his real one. Clever boy!) So she knows darned well that he's looking for "Nightingale" when he tells her so--but she's still so freaked out and low self esteem girl about everything that she doesn't want to be honest with him about who she is. She's such a nobody, after all. While this plot element didn't super annoy me, I could ah...see why other people reading this book may find it to be a bit much after awhile. So keep that in mind. I was pretty much like "well, it's Cinderella in Bigtime and that's how the tropes work" so it didn't bother me really, but it's probably not going to be my number one favorite in the series because this did drag on a bit longer than I would have preferred.
In other news, Abby gets gifted with a corgi puppy* that Piper found in the street and can't keep due to her allergies. Abby names him "Rascal" and carries him around with her at work while attempting to find him another home, but ends up getting attached to him anyway. And for those of you wondering why the hell a pureblooded puppy was somehow abandoned in the streets, well, that turns out to be an interesting plot development. Turns out that the rival cosmetics company wars, and Talon's battles with Bandit, may tie in with the mysterious Tycoon, a supervillain nobody's seen. And Abby's supersenses let her in on something being wrong in certain products.
* CORGI PUPPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE CORGIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyway, other than the low self esteem stuff dragging out for longer than even I, a person who relates to that, might have preferred, I thought the plot of it was well done. I think I'm going to give it three and a half stars because the "oh woe is me, I'm so lowly in this world and don't deserve an awesome guy" brings it down a bit, but overall, I was happy to return to the world of Bigtime.
Lizzie Medina is from a close knit Mexican family, living in Detroit. Her family has pretty much decided ahead of time that Lizzie is going to become a teacher, never move out of town, and settle down and have babies with a local. Lizzie, however, has always wanted to live in England and manages to get into a one year grad program in London with her friend Callie in order to do it. When they arrive in London, Callie gets them theater tickets to check out big shot movie star Jackson Coles in a show. While Lizzie is unimpressed by Jackson onstage, she does hit it off with her seat neighbor, Thomas Harper. Thomas is also an actor who's been in the same hit franchise* as Jackson, but so far he's been a supporting cast member and hasn't really hit The Big Time yet. He and Lizzie like each other right off the bat and start dating, and have a sweet, kinda innocent, totally perfect romance. She meets his parents, he meets her parents, everything's swell except the whole issue of what'll happen after Lizzie's grad program ends.
* obviously based off the idea of Twilight
And then another movie Thomas made hits the big time, and suddenly he and Lizzie are British tabloid stars. Lizzie already had some reservations about dealing with his fame, but finding out your entire life (and being implied that you're a gold digger) is in the news would add some more. And what happens after Lizzie has to go home--can this romance last when Lizzie feels obligated to go home and drudgingly get a teaching job in Detroit?
This story felt kinda sweet and slight at first, mostly because Lizzie and Thomas are SUCH GOOD PEOPLE. So sweet, so perfect as a couple, and Thomas is literally the perfect boyfriend. (He may out-perfect Jason Vanderholt, even. At the very least, those guys tie.) For the first half of the book I kept thinking this seemed too good to be true, even, and it made things kinda...bland in some ways. The action gets a bit more gripping once Thomas hits the big time and they start having life complications, though. What specifically stood out to me was Lizzie's dilemma about going against her family-- bad enough she went away for a year, bad enough she got a British boyfriend, but NOT GETTING A STABLE JOB?! The horror! I'm not making fun of that even though it sounds that way-- I got that she felt she couldn't break away from her huge, demanding family so easily. In the end, that's why this is Lizzie's story, seeing if she can strike out on her own all the way. I even enjoyed how Thomas, Mr. Perfect, just finally lost his shit at one point. I probably wouldn't normally be that into yelling, but in this case it felt like well earned frustration, and it made him seem a little less bland/perfect. And in the end, Lizzie figures out her priorities.
It's pretty reasonable to compare this book to Someone Else's Fairytale, and I can't help but think that the reason why I was so into SEF was that Chloe was such a distinctive, kinda hardass, not ordinary girl character. While Lizzie is totally sweet and nice, I was reminded of reading Vision in White and how two perfectly nice people could somehow end up not standing out beyond their niceness. Maybe a little less nice would be in order here? I'm not saying get nasty, but I'm thinking that a little less perfection and a little more drive might be in order. Just give them some flaws and some spark!
Overall, I'm giving it three and a half stars. It was a nice read, even if I kind of wished these two would get a little ...I dunno, spicier? I hate to use this phrase when one of the characters involved is Latina and that leads to shitty cliches, but ...I dunno, I guess I just wanted them both to seem a little less perfect, more fired up, something.The book headed in that direction towards the end, which was good. But overall, this is more of a snuggly comfort read than one where people are sparky. If you're in a comfort read mood, give this a try.
"HAVE YOU BEEN NAUGHTY? One hundred and sixty years ago Kris Kringle walked the earth spreading the message of love and peace between peoples. Then he was kidnapped and given a drug that wiped out his memory, while the goblins hijacked Christmas. OR NICE? Kris has been found. But he’s not what you think. In fact, he’s not what anybody thinks, unless they happen to know he wears Armani, drives a vintage Rolls Royce and dislikes reindeer. Even more he dislikes the fat caricature the goblins stuck him with. He’s the most powerful death fey living, who gave up mortal women because none could complete him. He’s about to reclaim Christmas. That’s why he needs Adora Navarra, a biographer. Only she—along with the help of the fey already fighting the goblin menace—can help take back his image and punish the wicked. And only she can complete him. Santa Claus is about to go to town."
I found this randomly at a library book sale and was all "wtf?" and "this sounds crazy" and "I must read this to see how crazy it really is!" A romance novel about a hot Santa? You know you're wondering. Heck, for several days last week I was carrying this book around and just handing it to people and going, "LOOK AT THAT PLOT." Which was a hoot.
What is less funny is this book, which isn't exactly for the lulz, or all that romantic-ish (sorta?). I'm not sure what the heck it is. What I have been able to deduce is that this book was the sixth and last in a series, obviously I haven't heard of this series or read the rest of them, and thus I kind of had to deduce what the heck was going on in the world. As far as I can tell, fey and goblins (also called "lutins," dunno why) are "out" in human public, and goblins actually run LA, but they're forced to get surgery and like, cut off their extra arms in order to fit in with the humans. Mostly goblins seem to be the villains in here, but I'm not entirely sure about that and I gather there's some kind of impending war about to happen? And there's not a lot of fey left either. There's an "important dates in fey history" page in the front of the book that is probably more helpful regarding the previous books than this one. There's also a lot of Encyclopedia Exposita excerpts about the main character that were...pretty obscure to me.
I don't know if Kris Kringle (a.k.a. Santa Claus, Bishop S. Nicholas, Niklas, The Saint) was covered in previous books or not, but what happened to him gets pretty short shrift. Kris is a "death fey who had completely renounced his magical destiny and gone to do good works among humans." He was everyone's beloved ambassador of goodwill who apparently got forced to drink some sort of goblin poison. It didn't kill him (if he was killed he'd just resurrect anyway, so there's no point), but it made him crazy/gave him amnesia for an unspecified period of time* and nobody knew where he was. Now he's been found and recovered/recovering (not sure which) and wants to reclaim his job/title/reputation/whatever. Especially since he's kind of annoyed that in the public eye, he's fat and wearing a red suit all of the time, because he's much more of an Armani guy. He's also kinda weird on the pop culture references--he can quote Star Wars, but doesn't know what a "bimbo" is and thinks that a guy cheating on a girl is referring to sport. I'm not sure how long the guy has been out to lunch mentally, but that's...odd.
* frankly, I wish the author had specified because man, it's confusing. I'm guessing the poisoning happened sometime in the 1800's because he's mentioned as palling around with Dickens and Clement Moore. According to the front page, he was found in 2006 and the book was published in 2013.
To repair his reputation and clean up those wrong ideas like his wardrobe, Kris hires a historical biographer, Adora Navarra. Adora's a nice enough girl, but she's had a sad childhood and a recent weird illness has wiped her out financially and physically, so she could use the money even if this assignment sounds batshit. She also has some kind of multiple personality issue going on, with some cranky negative voice she calls "Joy" (ironically/deliberately named, NOT like the Inside Out character whatsoever) that is usually yakking in her head, in a protective sort of way. When Adora goes to meet Kris (who's living in LA and NOT the Pole), it's certainly unexpected to get to check out his antique vehicles and aforementioned fancy suits and the fact that he's hot and there's no Mrs. Santa and he hasn't had a girlfriend in like, centuries or whatever. Anyway, I don't think she gets the opportunity to get a lot of writing done because Kris primarily takes her out traveling a lot, including to a fairy hill, and pontificates about his life, and sometimes about the goblin social situation. Kris also deduces that Adora must (of course) be part fey, which explains a lot.
"You know, the legend I can't believe people fell for was that I moved my operations north because I loved the snow. Sheesh! If I loved the cold so much, why were my first American headquarters outside of New Orleans? The only reason I was ever at the North Pole was because the goblins drugged me and left me there to feed the polar bears. Santa's toy factory at the Pole--ha! That'll be the day." (He's shocked, shocked! to hear that this isn't common knowledge among humans.)
"I never wore that red suit but twice--one would be the one time I was seen and reported in the newspapers. And frankly, I don't want to use reindeer any more. Most are mule stubborn and none-too-bright. Horses are much better. Besides, I need to update my image. Just so you know, I don't actually use animals to pull my sleigh--no point in being accused of equine cruelty, is there? It's all public relations these days, I see. And I have other ways to travel when I make my rounds....Maybe manatees would be a good replacement, mascot-wise. Or condors. Or a dragon! Kids would love a dragon, don't you think?"
"But as for the misguided people trying to find Christmas at the mall--don't blame that on me. At no point did I tell the masses to go and worship at the House of Nike or the Gap--though I like their clothes well enough. Damn, I don't want to sound like I'm condemning them." Adora leaned over and wrote down both names and then: possible endorsements?"
"And Goddess be my witness--I never told anyone to make fruitcake, let alone inflict it on their family and friends annually." (Though after he says that, he admits that he likes it if someone makes it right.)
"Very well, it seems we need to make a clear distinction between me and the holiday as people know it. Perhaps the book should include some photographs of me in a Hawaiian shirt. I could play tennis or something."
And I bet you're wondering what happened to his reindeer, right?
"Sadly, some of these reindeer became venison steaks." "You ate Vixen?" "Don't be ridiculous. The goblins ate them, after they fed me their filthy drug and left me to die. They didn't get Vixen, though. Clever girl, she got away."
I'm still wondering how a guy who was on amnesia crazy drugs even knew that Vixen got away.
Anyway, Kris is looking to settle down now. "You know, adventuring often means going short on sleep--and lunches. You meet dangerous people and have your life threatened daily. I have decided that adventures are more fun in theory than in practice. It's time to settle down." Clearly, Kris is a hobbit now. And of course he and Adora get interested in each other, even if she thinks it's warped to have a thing for Santa Claus and that she's believing the weird shit he tells her. He also reads her mind(s) and is pretty much psychically begging her to say the magic love words "Eat my heart. Drink my soul. Love me to death." Hoooooo boy. And the more Adora hangs out with fey types in the hill, the more she figures out things like the traumatic experience she blocked out as a child that also created Joy. She also finds out that the Goddess is fixing them up and wants babies out of them, which she is incredibly freaked out about. This plot, for the record, doesn't really get followed up on. I probably would have been growling had it gone to the usual point that romance novels do. I guess we should assume Adora will get over it, though.
Occasionally, we get a brief chapter giving us the goblin point of view, mentioning the guy who poisoned Kris and his minion Miffith. There's a charming (not) mention of Miffith being a former gang member who got forced to rape a goblin fruit junkie as his initiation--"He'd raped the human fruit-junkie as ordered, but he hadn't been able to pinch and bite her the way he was supposed to. She was just too pathetic. And he'd kind of wanted to see her again." I.... DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO SAY TO THIS. It's mentioned because there's a comes-outta-nowhere-ish followup to that at the end of the book, but... again, I don't even know what to make of it. The mind boggles.
But overall, this book doesn't have a whole lotta cohesive plot, and there's not so much in the way of romance. It's a whole lot of Kris sharing his thoughts--"Interview with the Santa Claus," if you will--more than anything else. Thoughts on being Santa, on being ten thousand years old, on goblins, on the upcoming war--I'm still not at all sure what the hell went on with the war thing at all. It's...just weird. I found a quote on Goodreads that summed it up: "I was hoping that the book would read more like the incredibly funny and cheesy back cover description. The ending came a bit abruptly as well. It seemed like there was so much build-up of tension in the world and then "Eh, it's okay now."
I think I'm going to give it two and a half stars. The stuff I quoted is what's giving it the half star because it was a bit funny. But mostly, I just finished this book and was all, "wtf did I just read?" It wasn't super bad, but I can't quite say it was good either. Mostly just...very weird and I'm not at all sure what the author intended with this one, but I'm pretty sure the marketing department differed.
Anyhoo: Meg Koranda is the daughter of Hollywood people, and made friends with president's daughter Lucy Jorik in college. Now she's in the small, super jerkass town of Wynette, Texas for Lucy's wedding to town mayor, son of a pro golfer, and general TOTALLY PERFECT GOLDEN BOY Ted Beaudine. Meg hasn't really figured out what to do with her life and has been spending her family's money essentially traveling around the world and picking up cool knicknacks and jewelry--but she's been cut off and at this point is dead broke and hasn't been able to afford to go to see Lucy before the wedding. So when Meg meets Ted, who is literally such a perfect person that trumpets blowing a chorus of hallelujahs happen and the heavens open up and spotlights land on him when he enters a room. "I know. Stuff like this happens to him all the time. He says it's accidental," Lucy says. Oh yeah, and he even has stigmata, which he claims was a marking-pen accident. Can someone please enlighten me as to what the hell kind of marking pen accident leaves stigmata? I'm really curious.
Ted is so perfect that the entire town of Wynette is making Lucy--a president's daughter, mind you-- feel like she is waaaaaaaaaay too inadequate to marry their perfect Ted. Gag me. While that's annoying, Meg is distracted by something else: the fact that Ted doesn't exactly seem to have strong romantic feelings for his bride. Also, Lucy may be a rebel at heart in Meg's opinion, but she's far too used to people pleasing to back out on her own...right? Meg's verdict on Ted to Lucy, said to her privately, is "Luce, he's wonderful. Everything you said. And you absolutely cannot marry him." Lucy knows it but feels she can't back out now. Except the next day, she does, and Meg gets ALL of the blame from everybody on both sides for breaking up the relationship and the wedding.
Things get worse for Meg when Lucy's entire family, who liked her before, blow out of town on fumes of rage, and Meg ends up being too broke to even pay her hotel bill and gets busted for it. She's stuck in Wynette working off her debt for three dollars a hour less pay than anyone else working at the hotel gets--yes, this was deliberately done to fuck her over and everyone in town knew it--and is so broke she's sleeping in her car and going to have a problem when that time of the month comes and she can't afford to buy tampons, because SEP does love a broke-ass heroine. Then she remembers that Lucy showed her an old abandoned church that Ted bought her as a wedding gift and goes to live in there, at least. Ted eventually finds this out and is snippy about it, but lets her live there. Anyway, the entire town haaaaaaaaaaaaates Meg, but she's too broke to even drive to the nearest city to job hunt. After she works off her debt and gets fired for soliciting tips so she can do things like eat and buy tampons, she does finally get a job at the country club because the guy hiring is too new to know she's the town Voldemort. As one review I read of the book said, I would NOT want to live in Wynette, Texas.
Meg gets hired to run the drink cart, but on her first day of work, almost the entire staff is down with food poisoning, forcing her to caddy for Ted, the other bigwig golfers in town, and Spencer Skipjack, the bigwig that might build a giant golf resort in their town. Turns out that Wynette as a town is rather broke and everyone has their hopes on Ted nailing down that deal. While Meg is a terrible caddy at first since she has no effing idea what she's doing, she figures out from listening to Spence (who's a name dropper and starts drooling when he finds out who Meg's parents are) that he's the sort that needs to win the golf game in order to feel like his penis is mighty, something she's well aware of in Hollywood life. Ted and his dad don't exactly get the mental memo about this, so Meg does some manipulations so that Spence wins the game. At which point Spence gets a whopping crush on Meg and suddenly everyone would be quite happy to literally pimp her out to him. Meg tries to get out of this one by claiming she's obsessed with Ted and it's unrequited love. The awkwardness doubles when Spence's daughter Sunny rolls into town and is determined to nail down Ted herself--which is probably the real reason why Spence is considering here rather than the big city for his resort.
This book reminded me of several other ones: Welcome to Temptation ("bad girl" and town golden boy who meets a woman who finally makes him sweat, plus the "his mother hates her" plot. plus "If I had a gun, I've have already used it on you" remark), I'll Take Manhattan (idle rich girl learns that the ultimate fun is working), and Ain't She Sweet (for "the entire town hates you and is out to get you"). Meg ends up liking working, even if it's literally just driving around serving drinks off a golf cart, and Ted points out that learning how to survive on her own in a town where 98% of the residents hate her is a challenge she's enjoying. I did like that about Meg, who's clearly a good-hearted person and also has a talent for making her own jewelry that she starts putting to use as well. A lot of people start offering her money to leave town, which Meg refuses. She will only take money for her hard work, thankyouverymuch. So overall, Meg is cool, and starts getting some grudging respect from the locals after awhile.
On the other hand, there's Ted. For a Mr. Perfect dude, he is not coming off as the best of guys. As Meg notes, he does not seem brokenhearted IN THE SLIGHTEST about his fiancee running off on him, his only feeling about any of it is being ticked at Meg. Ted admits to screwing around on Lucy when Meg sees him with another woman (though it turns out he's lying and that was just his best female friend), claims he was only getting married because at this point in life he needs a wife and a president's daughter fit the bill, and in general is pretty jerky to her even beyond that for awhile. Meg pretty much nails him down in this paragraph: "He was absolutely perfect. Except for that emotional hole inside him. He'd been prepared to marry Lucy and spend the rest of his life with her, but her desertion didn't seem to have even made a ripple in his daily existence. Something to remember if she ever found herself entertaining the vaguest notion of a more permanent future together. The only thing Ted felt deeply was his sense of responsibility." And that's a problem. The two of them eventually have some kind of hate-friend-fuck-type relationship go on, because it's a romance. While Ted is an absolute pro in bed and has probably memorized a lot of sex manuals, Meg feels like there's something missing because of that emotional hole in him. While they keep the nookie secret at first, you know how small towns go, and then Meg finds herself being SUPER harassed--i.e. vandalism, robbery, terribly forged note about how she has an STD, etc. Whee!
So when Meg finally falls for Ted--he said he didn't ask her about the terribly forged STD letter because he said if there was a problem, she would have mentioned it--I was all um...that's it? That's what did it to you? I know people fall in love in mysterious ways and all, but that was the kicker? Sure, he respects you more as a person and starts wanting to take you out in public and proclaims it to the entire gossip mill, but...I dunno, I guess I'm just not that sold on Ted from reading about him. Or maybe I just don't like those coldish remote dudes.
Oh yeah, and at one point they seriously have sex NEXT TO A LANDFILL. I AM NOT KIDDING. "There, on the perimeter of the landfill, with decades of garbage decomposing in compacted cells, with methane meters sniffing the air and toxic leachate trickling through underground pipes, Ted Beaudine pulled out all the stops." Yeah, who would have ever thought that "garbage decomposing" and "toxic leachate" would have ever made it into a sex scene? Not I. Should it have? I say no, because seriously, LANDFILL SEX. TWICE.
I did enjoy the comeuppance of the Skipjacks, otherwise known as "The Scene Where Ted Finally Loses It." And sure, everyone loves a good "dude pines for a lady" mope or three towards the end of the book. And everyone loves a good grovel that explains why he was fond of Lucy but wasn't nearly as messed up over her as he was over Meg. That's not bad.
So....I guess I'm gonna go with three and a half stars, overall.
"The one romance of her life foiled by a spinach salad."
(I don't know what the author was thinking having a line like that in here. For the record, it's a commentary on twins liking the same things to eat...or date.)
I don't know why I do these things. My mom is a big ol' Debbie Macomber fan, and I've occasionally read books of hers over the years and found them to be kinda...odd. I'm not sure why the heck I picked up this 80's special my mom had lying around the house when I was over for the weekend, but it was interesting.
Carrie and Camille Lockett are fraternal twins. Camille is a sultry brunette with big blue eyes that all the guys go for. Carrie is a hazel-eyed redhead with freckles who has always felt like the ugly duckling in comparison to her twin. Carrie's also been "the brains" and "the mom" in the family to boot, as she's a professional artist. When Carrie paints a portrait of her sister (I'm assuming she really needed the money), she expects it to go fast because everyone loses their shit over Camille, and pretty much any dude Carrie's dated that she introduced to Camille has dumped Carrie for her twin. For the record, Camille does come off as a bit shallow/not super filled with depth, but she doesn't sound like a bad person who deliberately tries to steal men from her sister. Camille does genuinely care for her sister and her happiness, but Carrie seems so utterly blinded by I'M A LOSER NEXT TO MY TWIN that hoo boy, she can't see it. Anyway, when Carrie's dealer wants to introduce her to a gorgeous fellow who's bought several of her paintings, Carrie has a hard time trusting it. But after he turns down buying the Camille painting, Carrie thinks well of him enough to want to meet the guy. And when she sees Shane at a party her dealer throws, things look promising.... until Carrie finds out that Shane bought the painting after all and she flips the hell out and backs out on the match. Shane wonders what the heck went wrong and makes darned sure he actually talks to her a few times until she calms down, and even manipulates her a bit into painting him so that they can hang out.
Shane has secretly had a crush on Carrie for quite awhile, apparently (both because he loves her work and because he thinks she's a fox), but she's been completely oblivious at best--and frankly, whenever she sees that painting around his home or office again, she gets very cold and abrupt and rude to him. "You're hot and you're cold" totally fits her. But Shane presses on and eventually Carrie lets herself get involved with him, and happily. But she's constantly afraid that once he meets Camille, it'll be over in a flash, and she freaks out at the idea of Camille running into them in a restaurant due to her twin sense/liking of the same restaurants/liking of the same dudes. Even though Camille is involved with a fellow named Bob and seems to be kinda hot and cold on him herself. It must be a twin thing because both of them get the idea to "test" their guys to see if they're really loved and it doesn't go well when either of them pull shenanigans like that. (Take note, ladies, don't do it. It's not working even in a romance novel.) Sometimes Carrie is all "okay, FINE, let's just get this over with and I"ll have you meet her and run off with her" and then chickens out, and both Shane and Camille are trying to figure out on their ends why the hell she's acting so weird about her sister/about this guy she likes. Heck, at times Carrie acts like she's going to fix Shane up with Camille and Camille is kinda like "I'd never deliberately steal a guy from you but if you're not interested, I'd go..." That doesn't help any.
Anyway, this book is far more about Carrie's whopping insecurities than anything else. I give the author credit for making Shane a decent fellow--I'm not overly thrilled with Alpha Male 80's Stalking Technique stuff in romance novels, and Shane's doing that at the start, but I think in this case it was kind of needed given how often she kinda snaps and flips out--a push to get past her defense is clearly needed when she is also obviously interested back but chickening out. I felt sorry for him because he is clearly doing his damndest to figure out what the hell is going on, but at the same time the author's had to hand him the Idiot Ball so that he's kinda "close but no cigar" as to figuring out what the hell is making Carrie suddenly snap and run so many times. You want to yell DUDE, SHE FLIPS OUT EVERY TIME SHE SEES THAT PAINTING, TAKE A HINT a lot, but Shane never quite gets (until page 131 after he's actually finally met Camille) that Carrie has issues about her sister. Hell, at one point he figures out that the painting has something to do with it, but that's because it must be some kind of secret self-portrait of Carrie herself in which she was fudging her own looks. Uh...what? The author tries to make this make sense, but it doesn't really.
Camille does get a little brattier toward the end, which seemed like she got the Brat Ball or something. For a girl who seemed genuinely not interested in stealing Carrie's man, she seems to appear as if she'd be interested, and there's a crack she makes about Carrie's "minor deficiencies" that is such an OW that Shane gets really ticked on Carrie's behalf, but he restrains himself from saying anything about Camille's "sensitivity of corn husks" in public. I wasn't thrilled with that, but she does rebound back into decency later.
The book makes it clear that Shane is so besotted with Carrie and her talent that you pretty much know he's not going to stray even when he meets Camille. And after The Worst Happens and they do meet, it gets a little amusing when Camille's dude Bob finally goes to see Carrie and talk about his romantic angst with her sister. After both of them find out that Shane asked to see Camille privately and are stewing about it, then it occurs to them that it could be perfectly innocent--like Bob and Carrie's own conversation is at the moment. They both like the idea of stirring a little jealousy up and being seen together by Shane and Camille, but then they get over it pretty quickly and Carrie vouches to Camille that Bob really was interested in commitment after all, etc. And both sisters admit to being jealous of the other one--Camille's always been envious of Carrie's brains and talent.
Though when Camille suggests a double wedding, Carrie still kinda has an obvious flip out about it. Sigh. Well, I'd like to think that someday they could get over it. At least enough to be maids of honor for each other without thoughts of "stealing the show."
Overall I enjoyed this for some reason, but it did make me think that Debbie Macomber sure does write heroines who are really easily insecure and overwrought in about three seconds every time they feel threatened by another woman. (I still remember vividly a book of hers I read once, Love By Degree, in which a heroine literally up and moved out of her place within a day because her boyfriend took the "wrong" car to work.) I think I'm giving this three and a half stars overall because the Idiot and Brat Balls annoyed me, but somehow I was touched reading it, so go figure.
(Oh, and for the record, check out this pink manga cover update of the book, because DAMN. Shane is drawn accurately, but why is Carrie now a blonde? As a review of it I saw pointed out, it makes a lot less sense for a blonde to be angsty about her looks compared to a redhead. Also, why is his named spelled with a Y? Oy.)
Wow, this one is really good. For the record, it's another sequel/takes place in the same universe as a few other books--notably Natural Born Charmer and Glitter Baby (which I haven't read). I say it's a sequel because a few characters from those books make some cameo appearances as Georgie's friends, but they're not super crucial to the plot.
Anyway, this book is clearly another version of the Brangelina/Jennifer Aniston drama that we all know well. Our heroine, Georgie York, is America's Sweetheart primarily for a sitcom she was in for 8 years, "Skip and Scooter," in which she played a spunky teen orphan living with a rich family. Everyone loved her Scooter Brown, until the show ended when her costar Bramwell Shepard (playing the sweet preppy Skip Scofield) got caught with a sex tape. In adult life she's made a few shitty romantic comedies she's not proud of, and she's recently divorced from Lance Marks the action star, who very notably threw her over for Jade Gentry, gorgeous sultry humanitarian. The book starts out with the sonogram of their baby being thrown in Georgie's face by paparazzi-- especially painful for Georgie since she wants kids and Lance didn't and he's been lying that they broke up over her not wanting any. Her old costar Bram sees this and is all, "Fuck it, I'm not coming to her rescue," which Georgie notes. However, after Georgie runs for it and heads to their former costar/mutual friend Trevor's house, Bram follows along and overhears Georgie proposing marriage to Trevor (who's of course gay) so as to get the paparazzi of her back. To which he is pretty much all LOL in her face about...but then he starts following Georgie around to various places and forcing her to interact with him in public.
Let me tell you about Bram: he was pretty much an asshole for the entire run of the show. He came from a bad family/neighborhood and spent eight years of the show partying it up with his asshole friends and doing every substance he could get a hold of. Georgie had a crush on him for his good looks (and I think the personality of Skip that he showed on camera), which he deliberately decided to ruin by taking her virginity without so much as a thank you ma'am after the wham and bam. Pretty much everyone (except Trevor, for some reason) that knew him hates him, and for excellent reasons, and his career has boiled down to playing some skeezy dude once in awhile. However, Bram's been secretly rehabilitating himself--quitting the jerky friends and the substance abuse, not being as broke as you'd think, and he's secretly working on a movie deal he really cares about. On the other hand, he's still quite the public asshole and enjoys that. But overall, he needs to rehab his business image in Hollywood and hanging around with Georgie and fueling "Skip and Scooter" reunion movie rumors could help. So he follows her on a trip to Vegas, and they get wasted to the point where they admit they don't hate each other any more, and then Bram realizes something--
Next thing they remember, they wake up naked in bed together with a marriage certificate on the floor. What the fuck. They don't remember if they had sex or not, much less the wedding, but Bram does remember his last thought being that their drinks were roofied. At first they're ready to call lawyers, but Georgie quickly talks Bram into having a sham marriage for at least a few months for the aforementioned publicity reasons (plus bribery), and they quickly have her move into his nicer-than-expected place and go all over town to get their photos taken. And married life is weird and rocky even beyond pretending to suddenly love a guy that you think is a jerk. Bram loves to say jerky things to Georgie that aren't true ("you're going to have to tell my girlfriend I'm married," "I got your ring on eBay," etc.) and it takes her awhile to figure out what's true and what's not with him. And then there's his housekeeper Chaz, a punk 20-year-old who Georgie likens to Mrs. Danvers in personality. However, Chaz turns out to be like Bram--both of them come from bad backgrounds, both of them like to be assholes in public, but privately have their own fierce loyalties that they show in abrasive ways. This is especially evident when Chaz has to associate with Aaron, Georgie's sweet and nerdy PA, and starts naggingly rehabbing his look and diet.
This is probably one of the best "rehabbing a bad boy" books I've ever read. It points out that yes, the guy has to decide on his own to clean up his act--which indeed, Bram is doing all on his own, thankyouverymuch. But associating with Georgie--a goodhearted lass and team player-- starts to mess with Bram's perception of himself as a sly lone wolf who's not interested in anyone but himself. He's quite protective of her around Lance, or her pushy stage dad Paul, neither of whom he approves of very much. He totally supports Georgie in dealing with people, especially when Lance and Jade show up at their dinner party unexpectedly and bring their recent possible exposure of SARS along with them, forcing the entire party into a bottle episode house arrest. Likewise, she supports him as he's trying to convince their neighbor/former PA turned studio bigwig Rory into getting involved in the movie he wants to make. While the movie plotline doesn't quite end like I thought it was leading up to, it overall seemed to work for the people involved in the way that they wanted it to, I suppose.
"The sex part of this phony marriage had turned out to be a lot more fun than he could have imagined. So much fun that he'd started to feel a little uneasy. He only had room for one person in his life, and that was himself. Chaz had been an accident."
I have to admit that the two of them taking pot shots at each other is fun, even in the phase where they hate each other. The evolution is well done, and I agreed with a line in this review about how the context of their dialogue changes. And when they finally get around to having sex, the scenes are really fun (particularly one where they're in a sex toy shop).
The other potential romances in this are also very sweet--the slow burning interest between Chaz and Aaron and the surprise interest between Georgie's dad and her agent. The agent story is particularly interesting because Paul picked Laura out as someone he could easily control--and so far she's been that and is kind of ashamed of that--but during their house arrest she stands up to him and comments that he needs to be more of a dad and less of a dictator, which he slowly realizes and starts doing, and starts getting his own life as well. As for Georgie getting her own life, she takes up recording people around the house when she realizes that some of them (which is to say, Chaz) open up more when they're being filmed, and this leads her into a new direction careerwise and otherwise standing up for herself in a reasonable manner.
Anyway, I'm giving this four and a half stars because it was near epic. I suspect I'll reread this one as often as I do Natural Born Charmer.
Charlene Dugan thought she had a pretty good life. She's very independent, happily divorced for 20ish years but still on good terms with her cop ex, Jake, her daughter Stephanie's grown up and employed, and she's got a nice boyfriend, Dennis, who she sees a few times a week but has no interest in marrying. And she kicks ass at being a divorce lawyer.
Then Charlene has a really shitty day. One in which her daughter bitches that she doesn't want to end up like Charlene. One in which her mother is showing signs of dementia and it can't be ignored any more. One in which she sees her boyfriend having a tete-a-tete with a hot young doctor. One in which her tire goes flat and she's rescued by her ex-husband, who makes a crack about her fear of commitment. By the time she staggers in home, exhausted, realizing that Dennis is a totally good guy and the only stable thing in her life...she proposes, feeling like she'd better lock that down.
That's pretty much where everything goes to hell. Because Dennis, a widower of 20+ years, starts having doubts and hitting it off way too well with the widowed wedding planner--especially since Charlene ends up being way too busy at work to ever make a planning meeting. Because Stephanie, who everyone tells us is nice but super spoiled, is kinda feeling bratty over the fact that her live-in boyfriend Grant is way too busy at school and at his bartender job to spend much time with her ever, and probably never will be able to since he wants to be a cop. And she kind of takes a dubious dude up on his offer a few times and then he starts stalking her. And Charlene's mother Peaches is going all kinds of downhill fast, so what are they going to do to take care of her? And Jake (who's quite the do-gooder cop and he and all of his buddies are working to protect various down-on-their-luck women) recruits Charlene to help a young mother whose ex is now trying to get custody of their daughter out of the blue, so Charlene is way too occupied to even see Dennis.
You probably get where this is going. Heck, halfway through the book Dennis has moved on emotionally, he just can't get a hold of Charlene long enough to break up with her. Meanwhile, Charlene has been off and on hooking up with Jake and does it again...
This is an interesting book because for a romance, I didn't find it all that romantic. (And this review felt similarly.) It's far more of a book about breakups, in a way. Dennis and Charlene are kind of "two rights make a wrong" a la Sleepless in Seattle-- two folks who happily settled and didn't really think too much about it, but once they actually deal with the idea of formal commitment, the relationship peters away. Charlene and Jake seem to be a match sexually and have a similar passion for saving women, but do they match otherwise? Or was it just Charlene's own flaky dad issues that made her throw Jake away? They're both nice enough people, but I can't say I was sold that those two are made for each other either as life partners either. More as FWB's, in some respects.
As for Stephanie, while she comes off as pretty dang bratty at the start (neither of her parents can even mention her for the first half of the book without being all, "she's really sweet, she's just...being a princess, AGAIN" or "God, I wish she'd stop complaining about her boyfriend."), it isn't totally awful of her to want a dude around that she can actually see and hang out with. Grant straight up isn't going to be available for her to see almost all of the time if she works days and he works nights and when he has free time, he's in class, and that's never going to change once he becomes a cop (which Stephanie, as a cop's kid, will be aware of). Maybe she would be better off finding a guy with a day job, and Grant finding a woman who's okay with him being gone most of the time. Even if he's a super nice guy, maybe they're not a match when it comes to how they want to live their lives. So when Grant eventually hits his limit on this, I was relieved. But what was awesome was that Stephanie realized that she's also kind of a wreck in her own way, and starts cleaning up her act and becoming a grown-up--NOT as a way to get Grant back, she doesn't even tell him she's doing that--but just for herself. I was really impressed.
As for the romances, I wasn't too into Dennis's whirlwind relationship with Agatha the wedding planner. It was okay, not objectionable, but...okay. It was bland, except for the well, cheating aspect of it (ugh). For a "decent guy," Dennis sure doesn't seem to think too badly about getting physical with Agatha before becoming single again, so that's a bit fishy about him. Charlene's assistant Pam's developing interest in another man is nice, but we don't see much of that to get invested in it or the guy. And while I don't really have objections to Charlene with Jake, I don't necessarily think they would need to remarry either.
But in the end, this is a book where nobody gets married, and heck, nobody even lives with each other by the end as far as I can tell. Grant and Stephanie seem to be in a tentative "we'll see" sort of situation--which is probably fine-- and Charlene and Jake give me the impression that they'll be together in the same way she was with Dennis, i.e. independently. That might be the best way to handle a relationship between them, actually.
And I'll give the author props for drastically turning the custody situation on its head--would not have expected it to go there, I'll put it that way! (There's also a case involving a goose...well, let's just say that ends INTERESTINGLY.)
Overall, I'm going to give it three and a half stars. I enjoyed the read, but I wouldn't say I was super sold on any of the love relationships being all MFEO for each other. I kinda think that's okay--but maybe others won't. So I give fair warning.
This is the second in a series, I haven't read the first book in it (Sun Kissed).
Lori MacEwen comes from a family of psychics. One girl per generation inherits the gift, and Lori has it more strongly than her mother and grandmother (both of whom like to peek in on the kids....even while they're making whoopee, AWKWARD). Lori has a knack for having visions of missing kids, which really bit her in the ass two years ago when trying to save a kid went horribly wrong. Now she's moved to the relative boonies of Crystal Falls, Oregon, in hopes of restarting her decorating business and moving on with her life in relative anonymity. (Good luck with that.) Her psychic powers have interfered with a lot in her life--schooling didn't go so well, dating really doesn't go so well so she's still a virgin at 31. However, since she was a kid, she's had visions of a certain cowboy.
Then Lori goes to the grocery store and runs into the cowboy and has a whopping vision: a rafting accident, an 8-year-old boy named Trevor and his dog are lost in the wilderness, and the cowboy--named Clint Harrigan--is not only Trevor's dad, but the only one who can save him. Suffice it to say that delivering this news originally goes awkwardly, Clint's not really into the idea, and he doesn't have a kid to his knowledge. Then Clint turns on the TV the next day and sees the news of the rafting accident and the deaths of Senator Robert Stiles and his wife Sandra--and why yes, Sandra was a woman he dated 8 years ago. But she would have told him, wouldn't she? Anyway, Clint has to track down Lori and ask her to come into the wilderness with him--he's a trained EMT and horseman and even has O negative blood (hint hint) and he can search longer than regular search parties. The requisite "country boy vs. city slicker" stuff happens, with Lori having to adjust to riding horses and being saddlesore and there being large animals roaming nearby--but the two of them end up hitting it off and falling in love. They're also both Catholic and after a really bad incident with a girlfriend (not the baby momma), Clint's sworn off sex until marriage.
Uh, supposedly. Hah. This book walks an interesting line between being relatively religious/Catholic and dealing with the fact that most adults do boink before marriage, and that being Catholic might give one a bit of a complex about one's psychic powers. I normally don't find that sort of thing appealing in a romance novel--while bored in Montana one summer I read a terrible religious romance novel that made me feel like I was reading about the world's weirdest religious threesome--but the author made it work. And once they finally find Trevor--who's managed to do surprisingly well cooking his own meat in the wilderness after his dog kills it--he's gotten into an accident and things get gripping.
I was very interested in this plot and whipped through it pretty quickly. It was a good read, the characters are very endearing, and both his and her families are quirky, spunky, a little obnoxious but entertainingly so. While there's one aspect of the ending that's a bit too convenient--let's just say Clint won't have too many problems in getting custody--overall it was very enjoyable. So, four stars.
Jennifer Chaise (great name for her starting occupation) grew up poor and taking care of her bipolar mother. At age nineteen someone encouraged her to date the rich gentleman old enough to be her grandfather, which led to her embarking on a career as a professional mistress. Which she's fine with--she enjoys the perks, behaves perfectly, does a lot of physical upkeep and always keeps her own money stash. It's all going relatively well with her married boyfriend of two years, Nick Noble. Yeah, he's got a temper, but mostly he takes that out on his current wife, Barbara. Jennifer knows how to behave, like staying oblivious to whatever he's doing for work. And hey, the money makes up for it.
Then the two of them go away to Las Vegas and the wife shows up. Jennifer sees the fight and tactfully hides out in the nearest bar for 2.5 hours, but when she returns...she sees Barbara face down on the bed, Nick's covered in blood, and when his bodyguard tells him that Jennifer briefly saw the altercation, he yells "Shit. Find her. We're gonna have to do something about her, too." Jennifer is no dumb bunny and runs for it--eventually settling down in the small nearby burg of Boulder City because she reasonably expects she'd get caught if she left the state and there's no way Nick would expect her to crash there. After a terrible attempt at re-dyeing her hair, she ends up shaving it bald and getting mannish clothes and trying to pass as some kind of weird punk girl. She gets a waitress job at the local diner because the owner, Buzz, is the sort who takes care of the people around him. (And presumably he never asks for ID.) She says her name is Doris and then is all, "Crap, why did I say that, now I'm stuck with it!" Hah. Though her ex's henchmen do try to blanket the town with her photo (turns out he's told the cops she stole from him), she doesn't get recognized as far as she can tell. And oddly enough, no matter how many searches she does, she never does find that anyone's been missing Mrs. Noble.
Anyway, Jennifer/Doris ends up liking Boulder City. Everyone there is super nice and basically adopts her even though she's super funny looking and has nobody and might even be a little suspicious--though she does let on to a few people that she is running from a boyfriend that went bad. Heck, she even gets a library card without anyone demanding that she have ID. She also makes friends with a retired professor and her dog, and the professor lets her house sit for the dog for months while she flies to England. Louise the professor also wants to know what's up with "Doris," which she lets out in dribs and drabs. Jennifer also makes friends with Hedda, a teenage girl whose rocky family situation reminds Jennifer of her own growing up all too well. She realizes that while there were plusses about her rich lifestyle, she's really been enjoying catching up on her reading and making friends--something she's never really been able to do much of in her peripatetic life.
And then there's Alex, the cop next door. Who's a perfectly nice dude and figures out who Jennifer is from those fliers, but politely doesn't tell her. He does some searches on his own and reasonably concludes that the girl with a clean record being reported by a guy who keeps getting investigated might have a reason to flee, and he'll wait until she's ready to spill. Which she eventually does because well, she'd like to stay here and at some point in time she's gonna have to clear this mess up. Especially after she becomes romantically involved with Alex. And it's all just very sweet and nice for the most part. There's one out-of-nowhere moment where the inevitable "whore" is dropped out of Alex, which annoyed me and seemed totally out of character for the dude--but it's at least over with VERY quickly. I seriously wondered if an editor made the author put that in or something.
As for the ending...well, I give the author credit for throwing in some definite surprises at the end of the story. I'll mention it below the spoiler space, but let's just say that a few things that we think are true while reading the book turn out not to be. It definitely made the ending very lively, and I kinda have to give the author credit for some twists I wasn't expecting in this one.
Overall, I'm giving it four stars. My mom is crazy about Robyn Carr and collects all of her books, but this is the first one I thought sounded like it had an interesting plot on the back, and it did!