Category Archives: sometimes the book just isn’t good

Love and Liability

love and liabilityLove and Liability
by Katie Oliver
Published by Harlequin UK
Genre: chick lit 
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5


About five pages into this book, I started to think it sounded familiar. Then I realized that I’d read another of Katie Oliver’s books, Prada and Prejudicewhich I … um … did not quite enjoy.

I wish I could say that my opinion of this one was better, but, well. It isn’t.

The basic story is fine. Holly James, daughter of a well-to-do family, is a junior writer for a teen-geared magazine in London and has been assigned to interview Alex Barrington, an up and coming – and single! – solicitor. They meet, sparks fly, and a romance blooms.

Problems ensue from there.

For starters, Holly professes to LOVE her job at BritTEEN, yet she would rather write about the plight of teenage victims of homelessness. She wants to befriend a young homeless girl she passes every day, yet she is so out of touch with homelessness that she thinks bringing a rucksack full of snacks with her when she spends a few days shadowing the girl is a solid idea. She loves Alex, yet she thinks he is inconsiderate, possibly cheating on her, and more concerned with winning an election than keeping promises. She is attracted to a restaurant owner, yet she claims she doesn’t care about him, yet she really does.

One of the characters has a sister who is bipolar, and sometimes I felt like this book was, too.

It reads as if Katie Oliver started writing it, put it away for a few months, and came back to it having forgotten what she already wrote. Some scenes directly contradict others, and no one is consistent. For instance, an American photographer Holly knows through work falls for a brittle magazine editor. They have an argument, but she tells him she can overlook their differences. Two scenes later, the photographer tells Holly that the editor is furious with him and that their differences are insurmountable.

Alex and Holly say terrible things to each other. In fact, they don’t seem compatible at all. Yet they supposedly love each other? The one character Holly does seem to click with is someone she happily forgoes, even though he rescues her time and again when Alex is nowhere to be seen.

It is nonsensical, and I’m not sure who to blame. Katie Oliver? She writes her stories and submits them to a publisher. So her editor, maybe? Someone has to read this before it’s published, right? And someone else SURELY notices the vast number of contradictions in this book!

We won’t even get into how much of this is a basic retelling of Oliver’s first book. The two have so much in common that it’s easy to get them confused: heroines who are daughters of wealthy men and who routinely borrow from Dear Old Dad to make ends meet, raucously humorous mishaps a la Bridget Jones, cold and apparently unapproachable love interests, and a threatening force who poses great danger.

I don’t even know why I’m giving this two stars. I guess it’s because some of the characters are likable. Or maybe it’s because I know there is a good book in there somewhere, but the problem is that it doesn’t know how to find itself.

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Slow Seduction (Struck by Lightning)

slow seductionSlow Seduction (Struck by Lightning)
by Cecilia Tan
Published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
272 pages
Genre: erotica 
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
1 / 5

Join me, will you, in emitting a heavy sigh for yet another erotica trilogy.

Is there a law somewhere – a regulation – that all erotica must come in threes? Is it not possible for a writer to just tell a story and end it on the last page of ONE BOOK?

Apparently not.

Oh, what E. L.  James hath wrought. And, no, Cecilia Tan, that is not a compliment.

So here we have the second book of the threesome. I didn’t read the first one, and while having done so would have helped understand one of the major plot points, I have a feeling that said major plot point would still be a mystery.

Following the predictable course of erotica, we have Karina, in the last year of her graduate studies (yes, she’s another young one), getting over the broken heart left her by James (yes, he’s another older, richer one), who apparently did not like that Karina “broke through his walls” and “saw the real him” and “forced him to realize that he can love.”

Does this sound like other erotica we’ve read? Yes, it absolutely does.

So Karina heads to London to work at an art gallery, but more importantly to try and track down James. It turns out that, in addition to his BDSM lifestyle, James is also an international rock star. And apparently also an artist.

To find him, she accepts an invitation to The Crimson Glove, a BDSM playground. Damon George, another purveyor of spanky panky, wants to take Karina under his black leather belt, so to speak, and help her understand the Mind of the Dominant in hopes that she can get James back.

One thing leads to a spanking leads to another thing, and Karina’s plan works. Sort of. I mean, it can’t work too well, because a third book must be written.

We know nothing about James, and that’s what I wonder about the first book. Is he in it more? Do we know him? Or is he still a mystery? I suspect the latter, and I suspect I would end reading Book One much like I did Book Two: asking what in the world is so great about Karina.

Yet again, we have the dull heroine. Oh, she’s supposed to be high spirited, but she isn’t. She’s a sniveling, whiney, woe-is-me-I-miss-James-I-love-James-my-heart-cannot-go-on-without-James kind of character.

Now, Damon is a bit more interesting, but even then, we’ve read him before.  Nothing about him or Karina, or James, for that matter, stands out.

Which brings us to the sex scenes.

Again, nothing new here. They’re hot, but since Karina has a “no penetration allowed” clause, you might suffer from blue, er, ovaries for most of the book. I don’t think you will need to strap on your vibrator for this one.

Give it a pass and read Blindfolded Innocence instead, which at least has an interesting heroine AND super hot headboard rockin’.

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Prada & Prejudice

prada & prejudicePrada & Prejudice
by Katie Oliver
Published by Carina Press
Genre: chick lit, romance
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

I’m all for happy endings. Really. I love them. I am a hopeless romantic who believes that fairy tales come true.

Make of that what you will.

But when a happy ending seems so utterly and transparently manufactured, when it comes so easily that it wrecks the story, I lose that love.

Such is the case with this book.

Well, one of the cases. The other one is that Prada & Prejudice can’t quite decide what book it is. Cheesy romance novel? Homage to Jane Austen? Rip off of Bridget Jones? Money grab?

The plot, such as it is, is simple: Natalie Dashwood (see: Sense & Sensibility), a rich, spoiled heiress (see: Emma) to a department store scion, is faced with the unfortunate fact that her family’s store is leaking money like a BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Her grandfather brings in the cold, supercilious, enigmatic Rhys Gordon (see: Pride & Prejudice) to fix things. One of the things that must be fixed is Natalie herself; her spending habits are ridiculously silly and need rehabilitating.

Quicker than you can say “Netherfield Ball,” the two develop an interest in each other that extends beyond spreadsheets. We can see why she’s attracted to him, but Natalie is drawn as so flighty and self-involved that we cannot figure out why he’s attracted to her. He sort of explains it in one scene – she’s some kind of light blah blah blah – but it truly makes no sense.

In addition to their stories, there are a couple of subplots, one involving Rhys’ father. That one signs out with a thud. It’s sort of mysterious past – mysterious past – mysterious past – BOOM, over. We don’t even know why what happened happened. Katie Oliver completely misjudges this one, and it is to the detriment of the novel. (I blame her editor: surely someone saw how problematic this story line is.)

Another subplot involves the family of one of the senior managers of the store. Again, why? Why are these people cluttering up the tale? Is it to have the Wickham-esque story in there somewhere? At least George Wickham was entertaining. There is no entertainment in this story line at all. Much like Rhys’ father, we’re left scratching our heads, wondering why this is in there.

The third subplot, centered around the husband of one of Natalie’s friends, is equally as ridiculous. For one thing, it requires such a leap of faith to play along with what’s at play here, and we take it, just because we need to trust the writer. But it is so tidily resolved that we feel cheated.

The only worthy story, then, is the central one, between Natalie and Rhys. Where this goes wrong is in its attempt to mirror Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet’s character flaw is that she thinks she is always right – that her insight into other characters has no defects. As she discovers, time and again, how wrong she is, she has engendered enough sympathy in us that we want to pull her to us and comfort her. Natalie Dashwood, on the other hand, is so flighty and dingy that I kept hoping Rhys would tell her to stuff it.

As for Rhys, he is the most interesting character in the novel, which says a lot because he is woefully underwritten. The thing with his father? Please explain. And his brother? And his attraction to Natalie?

By about the 2/3 mark of this book, I started skimming. I had lost all interest in it, save for how Katie Oliver would wrap up her story. It wasn’t worth it.

There could be a good book here. That’s the bothersome part. With a stronger editor, this could be something better than it is.

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Filed under a good idea that goes nowhere, boring heroine, chick lit, needs some hot headboard rockin', sometimes a book doesn't know what it wants to be, sometimes the book just isn't good

Alert the Media (Hollywood Hotties #1)

alert the mediaAlert the Media (Hollywood Hotties, vol. 1)
by Mia Fox
Published by Evatopia
298 pages
Genre: new adult lit; chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
2 / 5

I’ll admit that the subtitle of this book – Hollywood Hotties – gave me pause. I prepared myself for some silly writing.

And it turned out that my Spidey Sense was pretty on target.

April is a fledgling Hollywood publicist married to Ryan Monahan, an up and coming Hollywood Hottie. Unfortunately for April, Ryan tells her that he is gay and wants out of their relationship. Even worse, April’s agency represents Ryan – and they want her to go on pretending that he’s straight.

Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

The thing about this book is that its silliness could be overlooked – applauded, even – if any of the characters were likable. Oh, there is one – a guy involved in an auto accident with April – but that’s it. The friendly neighborhood veterinarian appears to be a good guy, but I wound up not liking him either.

Why doesn’t April just leave Ryan? Well, she likes her job and wants to keep it, even if it makes her feel dirty and unappreciated (which begs the question of what, exactly, she likes about it). What April does to make her clients happy will make you question everything you think is true about celebrities, and that is the one thing about this book that I enjoyed. And it is occasionally funny, in a silly way.

April is vapid and dull, Ryan is a prat, and all the other characters (except Accident Guy) are selfish and mean-spirited.

And there isn’t even hot headboard rockin’.

If you’re going to write a silly book, embrace the silliness. But also make sure your characters are likable. Lacking that, at least have some hot sexy times.

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Love Struck

Love Struck
by Chantel Guertin
280 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

On the day that Poppy Ross discovers that her husband Parker is having an affair, she is informed that she must get to the hospital: Parker has been struck by lightning. The good news? He has no memory of the previous three months. Those three months include the time he spent in his affair.

So Poppy is on the horns of a dilemma: tell Parker what she knows, resolve to forgive and forget and renew her attentions to her marriage, or try to make over herself into the image of Parker’s side piece.

Poppy of course chooses Door Number Three.

And here is where she becomes a somewhat unlikable character. Her decisions are so half-assed that you find yourself getting angry with her. When we’re supposed to be on her side, we actually begin to think she’s nuts and not worth our time.

Yet if she fessed up and bared her sins to Parker, she risks sending him back to his other woman. That motivation we can understand. She loves him, as she tells us several times. We may not see much evidence of it – she seems to spurn his attentions at nearly every opportunity – but she says she does, and we have to believe her.

I wasn’t always sure what book Chantel Guertin was writing here. I had the same problem with her previous novel, Stuck in Downward Dog, which I did not enjoy at all. Is this a romance? A comedy? A searing examination of what women will do when they are desperate to keep a man?

The problem is that the book reads as all the above, never quite certain which it wants to be. Poppy is entertaining, if not completely enjoyable. Parker comes across as somewhat daft, but I liked him. Half the time I couldn’t blame him for seeking out the companionship of another woman. In fact, Poppy herself acknowledges the cracks in her marriage, yet she does absolutely nothing to rectify them. If anything, she continues to perpetuate them.

Despite all of that, the book is not terrible (unlike Stuck in Downward Dog). You find yourself invested in the characters, somewhat against your will, and you want them to be okay. Happy and okay.

But with a premise like this one has, the book could have been much better.

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I Wished for You
by Amy Huberman
Published by Penguin
436 pages
Genre: chick lit
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
3 / 5

Do you ever read a book and think to yourself, “This author is trying WAY too hard?” Perhaps there is too much – too much plot, too much sex (wait … what?), too much cuteness, too much effort. There is a prevailing sense of desperation to make you laugh or think or cry or something.

Such is the case with this book.

The premise is solid: Grace is a bridesmaid in yet another wedding, and as she approaches thirty, what everyone wants to know is when she’ll be the one in the fluffy white dress. She and solid boyfriend Robbie bought a house together, he keeps saying they will get married some day. But … when she catches the bouquet, she sees Robbie’s face fall. Doubts creep in, even if Grace is unaware of them. Does she want to marry Robbie after all? And so she heads to a kitschy place in Ireland where one makes wishes that will come true. Is Robbie who Grace wishes to have, or is there another man out there who will capture her heart?

See? Solid premise. The problem is that Huberman TRIES TOO HARD. The little stories that populate this book, whether from explaining how Grace nearly drowned in a fountain or how she and Robbie came to have a cat, get tedious. Just when you get into the rhythm of the story, here comes Huberman with another cutesy memory of Grace’s, another “gosh, aren’t we fun!” story, that serves no purpose other than to annoy us readers. Grace is lovely. Her friends are a bit cookie cutter-ish in that friends-with-quirks kind of way, but that’s not so bad, actually. We can’t get to know them, truly, because the pacing keeps getting interrupted. What clearly is meant to draw us closer to the story and characters instead pushes us away.

At times it almost reads like you’re watching a stand up routine at Vinnie’s Yuk Yuk Club, and I found myself wondering what this book would have been like without all of the blatant attempts at humorous shtick. Yes, parts of it are funny. Yes, parts are sweet and heartwarming. Yes, parts sort of break your heart. Yes, yes, yes. But wrapped around this book is an overwhelming sense of Try Hard.

And it doesn’t work.

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Big Girl Panties

Big Girl Panties
by Stephanie Evanovich
Published by William Morrow
486 pages
Genre: chick lit; romance
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
2.5 / 5

It can’t be easy for writers to have a plus-sized heroine.

You know it’s true, so don’t even bother getting your hackles up. When you picture a heroine, you picture a woman with a lingerie model’s physique, not someone who last wore a bikini when she was seven. You know it’s true.

So imagine being a writer and wanting to do away with this mindset. Your fair maiden packs on a few extra pounds, but she’s smart and sassy and vulnerable and gorgeous despite what the scales say. She deserves the hot dude. Can you sell your readers on the concept? Can you remind them every now and then that the woman they might be picturing is not the woman you’re writing about? And how do you address society’s perceptions of women with normal bodies as opposed to those who are genetic freaks?

Jennifer Weiner does this to perfection in books such as Good in Bed. She walks that line between pounding us over the head with how wrong it is to dismiss normal-looking women and with presenting them as heroines.

What about Big Girl Panties? Can Stephanie Evanovich (yes, her sister is Janet) pull it off? (GET IT? Pull it off? Panties. Come on, you know you’re laughing.)

The short answer is: somewhat.

Holly Brennan is someone we all know. In fact, she might even be us: she uses food for comfort, increasingly so since her husband passed away. She winds up seated next to Logan Montgomery, a man so beautiful that he takes away collective breaths, on an airplane. That in itself is horrifying, because those airplane seats are not very welcoming to bigger bodies. Holly’s self-deprecating wit and fragility appeal to Logan, though, and he offers her his business card. Logan is a personal trainer to famous athletes, and he offers to help Holly get physically fit.

And here is where it gets sticky. The premise is adorable, and you know exactly how it will turn out. But to get there, we have to endure Stephanie Evanovich’s clear confusion about what book she’s trying to write. Is it a romance? A screed against society? A self-help guide? An insightful examination of the hypocrisy of those who give voice to progress for the physically imperfect?

There are lectures a-plenty here, kids. If you don’t want to sit through long speeches about loving yourself for who you are and not letting someone’s physical appearance deter you from loving them, then skip on past this one. The problem isn’t necessarily Holly; she’s accurately drawn. We understand her need for comfort, and if her turn at fitness appears too easily done, then so be it. It’s a fantasy, after all, and don’t we all want to think that we can tone our bodies with only one slip-up? Her emotional journey is more hard-fought, though, and that’s the more compelling tale.

Then there is Logan. Good grief. He’s physically perfect, and his growing feelings for Holly are fun to read about. He recognizes how shallow he is, and he even acknowledges his hypocrisy. You might want to smack him occasionally, but he’s a good guy and one worth rooting for. Oh, he’ll learn you some things about fitness and food, and his navel gazing can bring the book to a crawl.

But Logan is far, far more readable than the sub-plot involving his client, Chase, and his wife. When reading their story, you get to the “What the hell is Stephanie Evanovich thinking” part of the festivities. Girl, this is not Fifty Shades of Grey, and your attempt to incorporate a BDSM storyline is beneath you and your readers. For reals, sister. Not only that, but your knowledge of it appears to be flimsy and somewhat lacking, so do yourself a favor and excise this.

The book is fun and not unpleasant to read, but there are better books out there. You want to read about plus-sized girls getting the guy? Try on some Jennifer Weiner. Or go give Dangerous Girls a try if you want a murder mystery involving teenagers.

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