Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Grand Finale (book) by Janet Evanovich

This book made me think, "I know I've seen this movie." It has some of what I came to love in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series (like wacky humor), but I didn't think it was as good. It was...meh.

Synopsis:

Berry Knudsen is convinced that her latest pizza delivery call is a prank - the house she arrives at looks creepily unoccupied, and it's in the middle of nowhere. While contemplating the spookiness of the situation, she hears a kitten stuck up in a tree near the house. Berry has a soft spot for animals, so she decides to save the kitten. While in the tree, she accidentally spies on the owner of the house she's supposed to deliver the pizza to. He's getting undressed, he's hot, and Berry can't help but look. However, when he unzips his pants she panics and falls out of the tree.

Embarrassingly, this alerts the hunk to her accidental spying, but he doesn't seem to mind too much. Berry's attention is snagged by her Jeep, which rolls off a cliff. She'd have killed herself going after it, but the pizza-ordering hunk stops her. And also kisses her. In the way of so many Evanovich men, Jake Sawyer, the hunk, finds himself interested in Berry partly for her prettiness and partly for her nuttiness. He convinces her to let him drive her home in his gorgeous and very expensive car. During the drive, Berry finds out that he's a first-grade teacher and the chemist who invented Gunk, a popular and disgusting children's toy. The main reason he's now a first-grade teacher is so that he can invent more stuff and have the kids test it all for him. That makes him seem slightly less appealing to Berry.

During the drive, Jake also finds out a few things about Berry. She was previously married, but, after the marriage fell apart, she went back to school part-time and took a job as a pizza maker. After the owner of the business retired, she bought it, and now she runs a pizza place in addition to going to school. Her life has recently been complicated by three new workers she hired - she had intended to hire people who could deliver pizzas, and she instead ended up with three homeless little old ladies.

Berry can't deliver pizzas and support herself and three old ladies without a car, so Jake offers to let her use his. Berry does, but it's stolen almost immediately and stripped bare by the thief/thieves. It's depressing for Jake, who bought that car with his Gunk money, but he's not letting something like that chase him away from Berry. Then one of the little old ladies accidentally sets fire to Berry's apartment.

Jake, being a nice guy who also hopes to have Berry fall for him, invites Berry and the three ladies to stay at his house. While this gives him lots of time to flirt with Berry, the presence of the three old ladies tends to kill potentially romantic moments. They do manage to find time for those moments, but Berry's failed marriage is still very much in her mind. She doesn't want to get married again and lose all the confidence she's managed to build up.

Jake gets more and more frustrated with the way the ladies are messing up his chances of wooing Berry, so he starts setting them up with any elderly men he can find. Jake doesn't seem to understand what worries Berry most about marriage. His plans involves kids, a dog, and a wife, and Berry can't help but think he'll run roughshod over any plans she might have for her life - which doesn't mean she isn't the teensiest bit happy about the idea of ending up married to Jake.

Berry and Jake do finally sleep together. Unfortunately, Jake then seems to fall into the same behavior patterns Berry's former husband did, becoming distant and working all the time. It depresses Berry, but then he thaws again and explains that he just had to get caught up with homework grading - and then he brings a surprise dog home. Jake is still a nice guy, but things keep going a little less than perfectly. He seems to assume that he and Berry are just going to end up married, and when he proposes to her it's in a bathroom. Berry doesn't say no, but being engaged seems to make her feel nauseous. Things get even worse when Berry discovers that Jake is the reason her apartment is still unlivable - he used a stinky invention to make it smell bad so that she had to stay with him a while longer. Before things can get too rocky, they're brought together by their worry over their dog, who has eaten the engagement ring.

Jake decides to back off a bit and put the engagement on hold until Berry is more comfortable with the idea. This seems to help, too - various things Jake does convince Berry that marriage to Jake wouldn't be the disaster her previous marriage was. Unfortunately, Berry isn't sure that Jake even wants to marry her anymore. What she doesn't know is that he thinks that the idea of marrying him makes her unhappy and nauseous. Eventually, both of them clear up their misunderstandings. Jake is thrilled that Berry has finally decided she wants to marry him, and Berry finds out that Jake has been distracted because a few things he designed and invented have just sold, and he now has lots of money again. Here's hoping that their engagement survives the arrival of Jake's Aunt Bitsy, who's likely to be worse than all three of the old ladies put together when it comes to killing romance.

Commentary:

Forgettable, not terribly interesting, and I can't quite get myself to believe that Berry has really overcome the things that made her fear getting married to Jake. I mean, he still has to have a life, and his kind of life might mean that he's going to be distracted at times. Will they really be able to run Berry's business, have her go to school, have him invent things, etc.? The instant way Jake fell in love with Berry was a bit much, too. I like more build-up than that - that's probably why I like Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books more, since there's time to get an idea of why Stephanie might be so appealing to the men in her life.

The little old ladies weren't too interesting either. More annoying really. I know they were intended for additional comic relief, and it seems Evanovich has always loved "kooky old lady" characters. Unfortunately, for reasons I can't quite articulate, these ladies weren't really as much fun as, say, Grandma Mazur. Maybe because Grandma Mazur has more than one book in which to be kooky and therefore runs less of a risk of taking over the story. These three ladies not only made life just a bit more difficult for Berry, they also kept butting in on the romance - and none of the three really grabbed me enough for me to be ok with any of that. Could the romance between Berry and Jake have been better developed if the little old ladies hadn't been there, taking up pages? The dog was cute enough, and Evanovich seems to love dogs who eat everything, but a cute dog can't carry a book.

This book had absolutely no mystery elements, and that was probably for the best. The romance was forgettable enough that I can't imagine a mystery would have made it much more interesting.

Not too many read-alike suggestions this time around, sorry.  If you haven't already, I suggest reading at least the first few Stephanie Plum books.

Read-alikes:
  • Bet Me (book) by Jennifer Crusie - Another romance that includes comedy and food.  This isn't my favorite Crusie book, but it's not bad.
  • The Cubicle Next Door (book) by Siri L. Mitchell - This is a Christian romance, but don't let that scare you off - the Christian aspects aren't that major, mostly just the main characters looking for a good church to go to and occasionally thinking things like "What would God want me to do?"  Jackie, the main female character, doesn't like the idea of having her office divided up into cubicles and having to share her space, but Joe is like a steamroller - he won't let her not like him. Jackie blogs anonymously about her feelings toward Joe, which grow from annoyance into love, but then she has to worry about Joe discovering her feelings when her blog suddenly becomes a nationwide sensation.  Those who liked The Grand Finale's spunky little old ladies and heroine who has marriage fears might want to try this.

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