Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summertime reading @ your library

What Doesn't Kill You by Iris Johansen

Kirkus Reviews –

Johansen revives some of the same characters that populated her previous novels. Catherine Ling is brilliant, gorgeous and deadly, so it's a really good thing she's on the CIA's payroll. The daughter of a Russian prostitute who practiced her trade in Hong Kong, Catherine was left homeless and alone as a small child. Instead of learning to read and write in a classroom, she spent her childhood learning how to steal to put food on the table and defend herself from the hoodlums and gangsters that roamed the city's streets. In the process, Catherine became a martial-arts expert and a genius in trafficking information, traits that brought her to the attention of an extraordinary chemist named Hu Chang. After saving Hu Chang's life when she was only 14, Catherine develops a mentee-mentor relationship with the man, which becomes critical when the CIA rescues him from the clutches of an evil manipulator out to abuse Hu Chang's talents. Although just arrived home from another mission and settling into the business of trying to develop a relationship with her son, Luke, who had been stolen and held captive as a small child, Catherine is sent to find Hu Chang. Soon, a series of events that bring old lovers, friends and enemies back into her life begins to build as Catherine scrambles to keep her loved ones safe. Johansen knows what readers like and doesn't hesitate to give it to them, but they may tire of the genius, physical beauty and deadliness shared by the good guys: Catherine's 11-year-old son reads a Chinese chemistry book, even though he does not speak any Chinese; all of the men who meet Catherine are immediately overcome with lust; and she outfights and outwits both her fellow agents and the forces of evil so often that the reader will be left wondering why the criminals bother trying. The book, weighed down by a predictable plot, won't thrill the reader with its super-woman heroine, wickedly handsome love interest and by-the-numbers supporting cast.

The Reverend's Wife by Kimberla Lawson Roby

Kirkus Reviews –

Another episode in the soap opera otherwise known as the life of Reverend Curtis Black. Chicago mega-church pastor and celebrity author Reverend Black has another self-engineered debacle on his hands. Although in the last installment he and wife Charlotte had cheated on each other, Curtis is unable to forgive her. Charlotte, who has atoned in myriad ways, including transforming her resentment of Curtis' love child Curtina into profound motherly love, goes into a tailspin when Curtis moves into a guest bedroom and coldly informs her that he will file for divorce the minute their son Matthew has graduated from high school and is safely Harvard-bound. At her favorite suburban sports bar, she has a few too many and returns home schnockered. She pours out her frustrations to Curtis, who only grows more indifferent the more she drinks. Increasingly, he's been finding solace in daily telephone conversations with Sharon, a new church member who moved (she says) to Chicago to be near him and offers him (he thinks) platonic friendship. When Charlotte's behavior grows more erratic (she embarrasses the straight-laced Matthew by impugning his girlfriend's virtue as the youngsters are posing for prom photos, and then stays out late at the sports bar where she's seen chatting up another man), Curtis visits Sharon and almost sleeps with her before his religious scruples kick in. Charlotte confronts Curtis with cell phone evidence of his flirtation, and the tide turns. Curtis actually warms to her, and reconciliation is in the air. He's happy Charlotte decided to surprise him at an event he's keynoting in Detroit, but when the couple discovers Sharon, scantily clad and lolling on Curtis' hotel bed, it's back to square one. As a pastor, Curtis is a woeful role model--he behaves ethically only when it suits him and is quicker to blame others than to accept the consequences of his own misdeeds. Despite his sanctimonious protestations, Curtis hasn't learned his lesson, and future fracases, necessitating future books, are inevitable.

 Skinnydipping by Bethenny Frankel

Kirkus Reviews –

Reality queen Frankel expands her brand with a roman à clef. Recent NYU graduate Faith Brightstone, determined to make it as an actress, leaves Manhattan for Los Angeles. Reluctantly welcomed by her distant father, she befriends his live-in girlfriend Brooke, who introduces Faith to the L.A. club scene. There follows an episodic, summary-heavy narration of Faith's encounters with men, old and young, most of whom do nothing to advance her career or enliven her love life. The exception is Vince Beck, a sexy producer with an Aussie accent, but, unsurprisingly, he turns out to be married. After two stints as personal assistant to the petty tyrants that are so much a staple of Hollywood literature (in a perhaps subliminal nod to Sunset Boulevard, one of Faith's jobs ends when a scriptwriter is found dead in her employer's pool), Faith cannot get a part--her weight, normal everywhere else, is chubbette-grade in California. Embarking, with her cheerfully bulimic roommate, on a starvation diet, she gets skinny then finally gets cast--in a soft porn flick. So much for Hollywood dreams. Part two finds Faith back in Manhattan five years later. She's turned her obsession with weight into a promising small business. Her over-the-top repartee and entrepreneurial chops garner the attention of the producers of Domestic Goddess, a cable reality TV show hosted by Sybil Matthews, a fictional avatar of Martha Stewart, only more diabolical. The remainder of the book chronicles the usual reality show indignities as contestants are ritually humiliated and eliminated, challenge by challenge. Sybil already has Faith in her sights, since Faith has some dirt on a fellow contestant and a history with the show's executive producer. What will the home and garden diva do when she finds out her own son is Faith's latest club conquest? Although the writing is competent, this novel illustrates the main difficulty posed by "reality-based" fiction: the inherent tedium of unedited real life, however glitzy the surroundings.

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