The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich: Jinkies, that was a bad book

The Big KahunaThe Big Kahuna

by Janet Evanovich, Peter Evanovich
Series: Fox and O’Hare, #6

Hardcover, 301 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: June 5 – 6, 2019

♪ ♫ ♬ Where have you gone, Lee Goldberg
Readers turn their lonely eyes to you
Wu wu wu
What’s that you say, Ms. Evanovich
Lee Goldberg has left and gone away
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey ♬ ♪ ♫

(with apologies to Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Lee Goldberg, Janet Evanovich, Mrs. Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, my parents, teachers, Vogon poets… but dang, I spent a day and a half singing that to myself)

I’ve (purchased and) read all the previous novels at least once, read most of the short stories/novellas, and listened to all of the audiobooks of the series up to this point. I was a fan, maybe not the biggest fan — I expressed issues and reservations from time to time, but I knew I could expect a fun adventure, some fun banter, a little ridiculousness, and a clever crime story when I picked up a Fox and O’Hare novel. But when the inimitable Lee Goldberg departed, I got nervous — Evanovich has slipped in recent years (as I’ve discussed), and I don’t think she cares or notices. Still, I wasn’t sure how much of the success of these books were up to Goldberg and how much was Evanovich finding a spark in new characters that wasn’t there anymore in her Plum franchise/cash cow. Well, I think I’ve solved that mystery to my satisfaction — it was Goldberg.

I’m so, so relieved that I didn’t buy this thing. I’m sorry the local library did, too, although I’m glad I was able to take advantage of this.

First off, there wasn’t much of a con. It’s an adventure story — there was a little bit of a con at the end, but on the whole, there’s no reason for Nick Fox to be around for the whole book. As such, we don’t get most of the team showing up. Only Kate’s father, Jake, comes along.

Which is fitting, really — he belongs in adventure story. His basic approach of this retired guy who can pull off the occasional save with military equipment/connections while not liking to talk about that kind of thing has been exchanged for an older super-soldier that gives no evidence of being reticent about anything or all that old.

A new member of the team is introduced — he’s supposed to be the voice of reason keeping the destruction of private property to a minimum, and to do all the paperwork that Kate seems to ignore. First I think they did this already, and it didn’t work too well (the character was alright, but a dufus — I can’t remember if it was the same guy or not). Secondly, Kate — not their boss — told him about the super-secret arrangement with Nick Fox while in Fox’s presence and in a very casual manner. It just felt sloppy. Lastly, the character is the least-realistic character I think this series has ever produced — there’s no universe in which he makes it as an FBi agent for a month — much less be expected to be an agent that can keep things going well for this partnership.

There are a bunch of non-criminal types that really don’t need to be around but keep showing up anyway — they aren’t amusing, they aren’t well-conceived characters, they’re around to complicate plots and to be funny. They rarely succeed at the latter.

The primary villain (who I won’t name because he’s not revealed for quite a while) wasn’t actually that bad, and if they’d used him better, I wouldn’t be complaining about it at all. He just didn’t get the chance to be anything but briefly intimidating and then a pawn for Nick and Kate (making you wonder if he really wasn’t that intimidating after all). His primary accomplice was the person who did most of the work. She seemed half-baked (maybe three-quarters), and wasn’t all that convincing — her scheme (for lack of a better term) didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Her henchmen were pathetic and uninteresting.

Nick Fox . . . was a shell of the character. He’d traded in his usual between-assignment shenanigans for some dumb scheme about social media coaching, using a pseudonym that showed none of the panache characteristic of Fox. There was little reason for him to be around for most of the book, other than to make bad advances toward Kate.

Kate, meanwhile, seemed less competent than usual. A bit more clueless about criminal activity and Nick Fox, and fairly dependent on her father for the more action-hero-y stuff. Which didn’t seem right, either. She said “jinkies” so much I wondered if she’d been Velma in a previous life — a trait I don’t remember belonging to her. Of all the characters, she seemed more herself than the others — still, she seemed off.

The relationship between the Kate and Nick really doesn’t make sense. Some of what’s said between the two of them makes me think that this volume takes place between Books 3 & 4 rather than after Book 5. Although that makes the whole explanation for Cosmo even worse, because I think it was Book 3 that got Kate shackled with the paperwork partner last time. The last chapter of The Big Kahuna takes the nice relationship that was developing between the two protagonists during the Evanovich/Goldberg run and ruins it — and ruins the timeline, too. If this takes place after Book 5, it’s meaningless (as is a lot of what happened before). If it takes place after book 3 (which makes the most sense), it ruins the arc of 4 and 5. Then again, it’s not like the Plum books have a real timeline, it looks like the Evanovich2 run will follow that. It’s not about development anymore, it’s not about growth of character or relationship — it’s about churning out books that’ll sell.

The whole thing felt like a Stephanie Plum book that Stephanie, Joe and Ranger forgot to show up for — but reasonable facsimiles thereof did. One of the great things about the previous novels is that they didn’t feel like Evanovich, or completely like a Goldberg. That’s out the window. And the book, en toto, suffered for it.

I’ve spent far more time and space on this post than I intended to (and still haven’t touched all my notes), so let me wrap this up. A year or two back after I spent time critiquing a book that I gave two stars to, one of my readers asked if I gave that novel 2, what would it take to get a 1? I said a book would have to make me mad, not just disappoint. Probably, on merit, I should give this two stars — there were some good moments, I have to admit (although while writing this, I seem to have forgotten them). But as I was thinking about that, I remembered that conversation, and well…this book as made me mad. It took a solid and reliably entertaining series, with good characters and ruined them. Just ruined them. I might give it one more try, just to see if they learned anything from this disaster (my guess is that sales won’t suffer much and they’ll learn nothing). But, without a different co-author, I can’t imagine why anyone would read these books again.

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1 Star

2019 Library Love Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger ChallengeHumor Reading Challenge 2019

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Always Grey in Winter by Mark J. Engels: That’s a hard no from me.

Always Grey in WinterAlways Grey in Winter

by Mark J. Engels
Kindle Edition, 184 pg.
A Thurston Howl Publications, 2017

Read: April 22 – 25, 2019

Let’s get this over and done with in a hurry, I’m in no mood to belabor things here. Let’s just rip off the bandage and just hope I don’t lose too much hair in the process.

Here’s the blurb from the author’s site:

The modern day remnant of an ancient clan of werecats is torn apart by militaries on three continents vying to exploit their deadly talents. Born in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood following her family’s escape from Cold War-era Poland, were-lynx Pawly flees underground to protect her loved ones after genetically-enhanced soldiers led by rogue scientist and rival werecat Mawro overrun her Navy unit in the Gulf of Oman. Pawly’s family seeks her out in a desperate gambit to return their ancestral homeland and reconcile with their estranged kinsmen. But when her human lover arrives to thwart Mawro’s plan to weaponize their feral bloodlust, Pawly must face a daunting choice: preserve her family secrets and risk her lover’s life or chance her true nature driving him away forever.

I honestly couldn’t have told you all of that on my own after reading the novel. I just re-read the pitch the author sent me a few months ago, and I learned more from that than I did the whole novel, too. Things make more sense now.

This is a problem. A huge problem. I’m a pretty good reader, I like to think. I’m even a pretty forgiving reader, willing to make connections that I think the author intended when they don’t do a good job on doing the job themselves. But, I just couldn’t with this book. I’m pretty sure I recognized the tricks of the trade Engels was trying to employ, the techniques he was using to keep this from being over-expository, or too info-dumpy. I applaud the tricks and techniques. When used correctly.

Those last three words are the key. Exposition is your friend. Yes, it can be overdone. Yes, it can be abused. It can be relied on too heavily. But it can’t be ignored if you actually want to communicate to your audience.

I’m just going to give bullet points for the rest of this:

  • If you have to resort to all caps to express your character’s emotions, you need to write better dialogue.
  • If you have to use that many exclamation points to express your character’s emotions, you need to rewrite your dialogue. Nobody yells/screams all the time in conversations.
  • I spent so much time reading scenes trying to figure out where and when they took place that I eventually just gave up, assuming I’d figure it out eventually.
  • A related note: there was a flashback sequence that I couldn’t tell when it ended and returned to the present.
  • The characters weren’t characters, they were names attached to pronouns and occasionally to family relations. I honestly couldn’t tell you what separated some of them from each other. Everyone had the same personality, as far as I could tell (okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic here…but not much)
  • Did I mention that exposition can be your friend?
  • There was no conclusion, no point. Things just ended. It was, as someone said, much ado about nothing.
  • This is a 184 page book. It took me 4 days to read. I just wasn’t interested past the first chapter when it stopped making sense, it didn’t hold my attention, my mind kept wandering and I had to force myself to read it.

It seems to me that Engels had a very clear idea of what he was trying to accomplish, he knew his story and his characters. I don’t think he communicated any of it on the page. I’m seeing a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews out there, so clearly there’s a lot of people who’ll think I’m out to lunch. But, I just don’t see anything redeeming about this at all — and I like to think I go out of my way to find positives in every book I talk about. I’ve got nothing here.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, and I really wish I didn’t have to give it.

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1 Star

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

The United Smiths of America by Jon Voss: I read it so you don’t have to.

The United Smiths of AmericaThe United Smiths of America

by Jon Voss

ePub, 371 pg.
2018
Read: December 12 – 14, 2018

This is going to be rough, but I promised to write this, so here goes . . .

Ten citizens of the U. S. wake up in a shipping container. They’re wearing something akin to prison jumpsuits, and a collar. They have no idea where they are, they have no idea how they got there, or who anyone with them is. They are told that they have 10 hours to defeat 9 other teams, made up of people from 9 other regions (some single-nation, others geographic groups) to win $1 billion. There are a couple of vehicles provided for them, and a lot of weapons (that they have to figure out how to use). Oh, and those collars are equipped with C-4 in order to assure they’ll comply.

Hunger Games meets the Amazing Race (or something). The Americans are all named Smith — a sign that they’re random nobodies — and each team is full of equivalents — Garcias, Suzukis, Ivanovs, etc. (these are not necessarily the names, I refuse to open the book again to check and see). Each chapter covers ten minutes or so of the ten hours they have to fight or die.

I did not enjoy a single moment of this experience. When I wasn’t bored, I was offended. When I wasn’t offended, I was discouraged by the writing. I walked away from each session disappointed and dreading returning to it. I’m not saying it ruined my life for a couple of days, but it sure made things unpleasant.

The “humor” (I think there were bits that were supposed to be humorous) was juvenile, puerile, and not funny. To say that the characters from various nations were walking stereotypes would be generous, more than one were also racist — oh, and someone (a fairly educated character) described (presumably white) Australians as a “race.” Which was news to me. One, I stress one of the Smiths came close to being more than two-dimensional and worth reading about — no other characters (no matter their nationality) came close. The story as a whole makes 80’s action films like Iron Eagle look subtle and nuanced. The author uses italics and all-caps to show emotion in dialogue, which should have been the first sign that I need to bail on the book.

The sex scene gives new meaning to gratuitous. I mean . . . ugh.

The fight scenes — and there were many, just not as many as you might expect — were decent, though.

I pushed on to the end because 1. I’d told the publicist I’d read this piece of garbage; 2. I was curious about the point of it all (and yes, you have to get near the end to find it); and 3. I wanted to see if there was anything redeeming to be found in the book. The results were, not surprisingly, disheartening. 1. I can’t imagine that group will want to work with me again; 2. The point is . . . maddening, convoluted, and uninspired; and 3. Nope.

Don’t. Just don’t. If any of you have a time machine and would like to use it to stop me, leave a note in the comments and I’ll give you a time, date and address.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel in exchange for this post from a publicist who will probably not appreciate this post at all. Sorry about that.

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1 Star

✔ Read a book that takes place in one day.

Gables Court by Alan S. Kessler: A Character Looking for Love, a Novel Looking for a Plot

Gables CourtGables Court

by Alan S. Kessler

Kindle Edition, 268 pg.
Black Rose Writing, 2018
Read: May 8 – 9, 2018

Ugh. Just…ugh. Why? Why would anyone bother publishing this?

I like liking things. I want to enjoy books. But every now and then, too often lately, I come across a book that I can’t find a redeeming feature in. This is one of those.

It is impossible, simply impossible, for someone to get through Law School (and the requisite undergrad program) and come out as naive as Samuel Baas. I would think that’d be particularly true in the 1960’s. If, if Baas had been sheltered his entire life and escaped/was released at age 24, many of his conversations would have been appropriate. But for someone with his education? Nope. Conversations at any age, on personal or professional topics.

I use the word “conversation” loosely — primarily, his conversations are monologues with a little bit of interaction between those involved tagged on.

There are several attempts at plot lines, but Kessler doesn’t seem to commit to them wholly — or for long. The novel seems listless, bouncing around from idea to idea, trying out this thing and then another and another — like a college freshman deciding on a major. I’m not suggesting any of these ideas were interesting or well-executed, but there were a lot of them.

There’s no ending to this book, it just stops. Baas has learned nothing — any epiphanies he’s had or changes he’s made evaporate faster than dew in the desert. To say I was frustrated by the ending is an understatement.

There’s part of me that wants to go on and pick this apart — but why? No one wants to read that — maybe if I was more annoyed by it and mustered up some funny comments, but I just don’t care enough to. This book induced apathy and a general sense of ennui. Gables Court was aimless, listlessly written, dull and an utter waste of time.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author, clearly my opinion wasn’t influenced by that.

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1 Star

Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood by Samuel G. Sterling

Popo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to BollywoodPopo Gigi: the Earlier Years: London to Bollywood

by Samuel G. Sterling

Kindle Edition, 596 pg.
Jolliwood Books, 2016

Read: March 31 – April 3, 2016


In circumstances difficult to explain, hard to believe, and probably meant to be comical — Popo Gigi and his twin brother, Ramyou, are born while their unwed mother emigrates from India to England. They spend years in poverty, gaining some sort of financial stability when their mother eventually marries. Ramyou is a troubled child with wild appetites (in just about every sense of the word — at least eventually), while Popo distinguishes himself academically. He eventually is admitted to, excels in and graduates from Oxbridge. Following graduation, he sets his mind to seeking some sort of understanding/closure regarding his father and his utter disregard for his twin sons. So Popo travels to India and begins a series of haphazard adventures as he attempts to meet and then bond with his father — hilarity ensues (theoretically), as does romance, a dash of danger, and more.

There is a charm to the writing that I can’t deny — even when the book seemed pointless — and even when the writing was muddled enough that I wasn’t sure what was going on (which happened a lot). Nevertheless, the it felt like sitting down and listening to a charming young man tell a long, rambling story. And, boy, do I mean rambling. Still, you can’t help but like the prose.

It’s the content of the prose that is problematic. It’s hard to believe a lot of the plot — and it’s not that easy to see the links between events that should follow each other, plot lines that are just abandoned (for chapters on end, when not totally). The “humor” is largely dependent on the kind of things I really haven’t found funny since I was in grade school — untimely erections, urine, excrement. I don’t care how many times they’re repeated, bathroom jokes just aren’t funny.

I wanted to like this, but I couldn’t. This was going to be a 2-star read for me, that I kinda felt guilty about, because of the spirit of the novel — I couldn’t help feeling affection for the style and writing, even if I didn’t like it. But the last few chapters killed that for me, it’s like they belonged to a different novel. There’s just no point to reading this book.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from Jolliwood Books in exchange for this post — I appreciate it, even if the book didn’t click for me.

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1 Star

Reread Project: Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams

Mostly HarmlessMostly Harmless

by Douglas Adams
Series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy, #5

Hardcover, 278 pg.
Harmony Books, 1992

Read: July 7 – 12, 2016

1 Stars

I was dreading this one — typically, like X-Men: The Last Stand, or The Highlander sequels, I prefer to pretend this doesn’t exist. It’s the only one of the series that I haven’t bought my son, and I don’t plan on changing that. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t be won over — after 4 or 5 tries, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency finally clicked with me, I keep hoping this will.

But it didn’t this time (I think my 5th reading).

Which is not to say there aren’t some parts that don’t deserve to be celebrated — almost everything Ford does (for example) is great. There’s a little bit with Trillian, a bit of Tricia McMillan (no, really, I meant to list those separately) and a smidgen of the Arthur material that’s okay. But not much. Don’t get me started on Random.

There’s some really clever bits here and there, some great lines — and some bits that are clearly attempts to recapture the spirit/zaniness of the earlier books, but without the heart. The narrative as a whole (after such a huge leap forward with So Long) was worthless, the story didn’t work. And the ending? Flummery. It was like Adams was just trying to get away from the series and put it in his rearview mirror. Which I get, I absolutely understand, he wanted to do something other than just crank out another Hitchhiker’s after another after another. But this was not the way to do it.

Just avoid this one, don’t bother. But if you think I’m wrong — tell me why! I’d love to be convinced that Adams couldn’t write a bad book.

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1 Star

Trumped! by Peter Davidson

Trumped!TRUMPED! Beyond Politically Correct: What You Would Say if You Had the Guts

by Peter Davidson

Kindle Edition, 116 pg.
Sweet Memories Publishing, 2016

Read: July 12, 2016


Let’s get this straight: this is not about being politically incorrect, it’s an instructional guide to being a boor, a lout, a cad . . .

I kept thinking: if I read on, I’ll get the joke, I’ll see the satire. But nope. Didn’t happen. It’s a shoddily written, cliché-ridden situational guide to being “brutally honest.”

I typically try to be thorough with these posts (especially if I’m not crazy about the book, if only to justify my problems and the time I spent reading it), but I’m not going to bother with this one. The only reason I didn’t toss this in a corner is that I didn’t think my Kindle could take it. Every second I spent reading it was a waste, it ruined my day plowing through this. I if read something as bad as this again in 2016, I may just shut this site down.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post.

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1 Star