Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Phone Calls" by Ann Reit

Juliet Gibson is an aspiring poet who is in love with Timothy Thornton from afar. She has plenty of other boys in her life, including fellow poet Oliver, who has recently returned to town after four years away. Not to mention philosophical Cliff and sporty Mike. However, none of them except Tim send that special tingle down her spine. Juliet is despairing that she'll never find that special boy when she receives a mysterious phone call in which an anonymous male voice quotes "Did my heart love till now?" from Shakespeare's classic play. Being a poet, Juliet finds this wonderfully romantic, and not creepy the way the rest of her family and friends do. In fact, it gives her the confidence to start growing out her hair and wearing pink sweaters. Her mysterious Romeo calls the same time each week and, as all the boys in her life suddenly start showing romantic interest in her, she must figure out which one of them it is.

"Phone Calls" is one of those treasures I managed to find for just 1o cents during an Op Shop trawl. I was attracted to the so-bad-it's-good cover in which a blandly pretty girl (with what can only be called a mullet) clutches a phone to her ear as if she's just been told she's won the Lotto as opposed to having cheesy Shakespearean sonnets recited to her. I like grabbing these books from decades past to see how far such things as attitudes and technology have progressed since the book was published. Alas, I couldn't find anything outrageous within the pages of "Phone Calls". Even though it was written before the advent of mobile phones, it doesn't change things. And the message the book puts out is largely along the lines of most modest teen romances: be yourself and like you for who you are. It avoids cliches such as the "mean girl", and is actually kind of bland. The identity of Juliet's secret admirer is a foregone conclusion and the resolution is a bit pat and overly convenient. There is some mild humour in the descriptions of Juliet's house and her fashion choices (they're all horrible), but otherwise "Phone Calls" isn't exactly something you should go out of your way to find.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Breakneck" by Erica Spindler

Detectives Mary Catherine "MC" Riggio and Kitt Lundgren are back (after "Copycat"), this time when first MC's fiance Dan and then her cousin Tommy are murdered. Different weapons and methods had been used for both, so they are unsure whether the deaths are related. However, Tommy's murder certainly seems connected to a series of other deaths, most of them impressionable young college students who shirk socialising for excessive computer use. Each have a reputation for being a "cracker" - a computer hacker who uses their knowledge to illegally obtain others' funds over the Internet. Certainly, the victims exhibit wealth beyond their means, including Tommy, even though MC refuses to believe he could be involved.

The detectives' meeting with FBI Special Agent Jonathan Smith alerts them to the existence of a skilled hitman named "Breakneck", whose signature is that he never uses the same weapon twice. Ah, a possible connection to Dan's murder! However, MC must also deal with the fact that Dan might not have been the man he claims he was - the youth centre he worked at with good buddy Erik Sundstrom seems connected to the events as well. So what secret did all these victims share that got them all killed?

Interestingly, this offering from Spindler is not courtesy of usual publisher Mira Books. Was there not enough romance in her books anymore? Because certainly, Spindler is showing a refreshing tendency to move away from "terrifying situation brings about true love" and towards the issues faced by couples once they're in a relationship. The focus here is on Kitt and her partner Joe's relationship and the difficulties it faces after the death of their child and the demands of Kitt's job. Of course, I didn't really give a shit about any of this, especially since I got tired of Joe banging on about it all being Kitt's fault. However, the more Spindler writes, the more she seems to be abandoning the strict genre formula conventions, when the opposite is usually the norm.

Disappointingly, "Breakneck" is not one of her better efforts. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it was never gripping enough, and just didn't seem to hold together from start to finish. Basically, young folk are dying, they were all "crackers", and a deadly assassin was offing them all over some stolen money. There are a few loose strands in which you wait and see how they connect to the proceedings, but it was not enough. Not to mention one strand which seems to exist solely so a gay character can be revealed as a sick pervert, but which has nothing to do with the main plot. He's outed, exposed as a freak, kills himself, and that's the end of that. Never mentioned again. It was so offensive I nearly put the book down right there. The other maddening element is MC's constant hand-wringing over what sort of person Dan really was. He's dead now, honey, it doesn't matter too much anymore! Part of the problem was the forced nature of MC and Dan's relationship. Spindler has to repeatedly ram down our throats just how much they're in love in only a short time before he's murdered for the sake of the plot. At the end of the day, the relationship could have been removed entirely and not affected events all that much. It also presents the problem of how MC stays on the case with not one, but two, people close to her being the murder victims. Despite the chapter in which Kitt effectively blackmails the police chief into letting MC remain involved, it is unconvincing at best.

The book also attempts a subplot over the relationship between MC and Kitt and how much they trust each other. I'm sorry, but their friendship never seemed real enough for me to be invested in the betrayal Kitt felt whenever MC would race off and do something without her. Especially when most said transgressions were pretty damn piddly.

Nevertheless, "Breakneck" provides a bit of mindless entertainment. Despite the shaky, padded plot, there are one or two decent twists along the way, and MC and Kitt, despite minor faults, are fairly likeable. Nice to see two reasonably strong female characters as the leads. And the novel is another example of the evolution of a writer who has enough talent to try something different and move her writing in another direction. It's worth sticking around to follow her progress.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Double Exposure" by Bonnie Hearn Hill

Reebie Mahoney is adrift in life after losing the vineyard she co-owned with her ex-husband. She does a variety of different jobs, but none mean much to her. However, in her latest job as a newspaper temp, she is chosen by the mistress of a dead ex-president to be the recipient of a big exclusive. Unfortunately, the mistress is shot and killed before any juicy interview can take place. Reebie becomes the main suspect, even though it makes absolutely no sense that she could have done it - she had a co-worker witness right with her for f***'s sake.

The president's mistress - Jeanette Sheldon - has actually been presumed dead all these years, so what really happened the night she was supposedly killed? Why has she been living a secret life? Why did she choose an absolute numbskull to confess all her secrets to? Reebie teams up with hunky journalist Leo Kersikovski to find out the truth, but everybody has secrets to hide - Jeanette's best friend Marcus (a closeted TV star), her other lover Ed Palacios (a sort-of mobster), the president's wife, the president's retarded son, the president's former aide and Dorothy The Dancing Donkey. Okay, I'm kidding about that last part.

It's hard to know where to start in trying to describe how awful this book is. How any editor could have slogged through it and thought: "Wow! Let's get this on the shelves, pronto!" is a mystery to last beyond time itself. For starters, the plot is all over the place, despite there not really being any plot. By the end of the book, you're left wondering why everybody went to so much trouble to do what they did. Characters die for very little reason at all. Motives make little sense.

But then again, I suppose that would have something to do with how terribly the characters are written and conceived. As is typical for the romantic suspense genre, the main character is the main culprit. What. A. Moron. The absolute nadir for me was when she asked the hitman who's trying to kill her to help out the other lady he's just whacked over the head. Sure honey, the hitman will put away his weapon and check to make sure she's okay. Then again, the hitman isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. Instead of killing a witness, he's happy to crack them on the noggin and provide them with the opportunity to later escape. Savvy.

When Reebie isn't being a total tool, she's being an exasperating whinger. How dare her ex-husband take possession of the winery in the divorce! I mean, it belongs to him and his family, but he had a moral obligation to hand it over to her because she did such a great job running it! She bangs on and on about this, and it often gets to be too much to take. What planet is this idiot from? I would have been rooting for the folks who wanted her dead, but considering they were all too stupid to successfully off such a dippy drip (I'm really running out of adjectives for "stupid person"), that was also difficult.

The icing on the cake is the terrible writing. Check this out: "his polish-black hair was so silky that my first impulse was to stroke it. That's what beauty does to us. Our first thought is that of the child. Touch it. Make it mine. But the child grows up and learns what happens when you reach for those bright balloons bursting with colour." Okay. Sure. What the f*** does that mean? Either my brain can no longer register metaphors and similes through too much exposure to romantic suspense garbage or....I'm reading romantic suspense garbage.


What really sealed the deal was when we learnt that the ex-president's aide shot and killed Jeanette. Interestingly, he also bit her on the ankle. Right down to the bone, apparently. WOULD THIS NOT BE OF INTEREST TO THE CORONER AND DETECTIVES WHO COULD MAKE A TEETH MOLD AND IMMEDIATELY RULE OUT THEIR PRIME SUSPECT????? Hands down, "Double Exposure" wins my award for the stupidest book I've ever read, so now I'm actually looking forward to see if anything can top it.