Thursday, August 7, 2008

Don't Look Down (book) by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Lucy Armstrong is a director who mostly does dog food commercials. She really enjoys her work, but she agrees to finish a four-day action movie shoot so that she can check up on her sister (Daisy) and her niece (Pepper). It's quickly evident, however, that there's more to this shoot than Lucy realizes. The movie's script doesn't make sense, Daisy might be on drugs, and Lucy's ex-husband and the movie's stunt coordinator seems to be involved in anything and everything fishy that's going on. Captain J. T. Wilder, a Green Beret, has been hired by the movie's lead actor to be his stunt double, and he, too, can't help but notice how badly everything seems to be going - everywhere he looks he sees military-related details in the movie that aren't even close to accurate, and he's the only one who believes Pepper when she says she sees something she thinks is a ghost hiding somewhere outside the movie shoot. Then J. T. gets a call from the CIA and finds out that there really is something fishy going on. Suddenly, J. T. has to deal with potential danger, movie crew members who may or may not be trustworthy, people trying to kill him, a little girl who's too energetic and precocious for her own good (Pepper gets into trouble a lot - there's a sniper and an alligator to deal with, after all), and raging hormones (the movie's female lead has great breasts, and Lucy inspires fantasies about Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth).

It took me a while to warm up to this story, and, overall, I didn't like it as much as Crusie and Mayer's Agnes and the Hitman. However, it was still a fun read, so I'd recommend it to someone looking for a book that mixes suspense, romance, action, and a bit of humor.

For a while there, I was a little annoyed by Pepper, who, as I've already said, has a habit of being too precocious for her own good. I think Pepper is maybe 5 year old, although I might be off by a year in either direction. Pepper talks a lot (and never with contractions), is determined to be a good assistant for her aunt Lucy, and is really lonely. She wants a Wonder Woman Barbie and her Animal of the Month is the alligator - what a coincidence. Although I did have a tendency to dislike Pepper, without her several things couldn't have happened. In the end, Pepper's the one who makes it impossible for everyone to pull out of the operation (basically, continuing to shoot the movie, something that it integral to a plan to get lots of money and/or some jade phallic symbols), since no one can back out after she gets kidnapped. Also, Pepper is the inspiration for the book's best running joke, which is basically anything to do with Wonder Woman and Lucy. Several characters note Lucy's resemblance to Wonder Woman, and I loved reading about J. T. trying to deal with the thought of Lucy and some Wonder Woman underwear. It was very funny stuff.

I didn't always like J. T. either, although I don't suppose my reasons were always all that fair. J. T.'s basically a military man through and through. Anytime he looks at just about anything, he thinks about it in military terms, sometimes at the oddest moments (such as when J. T. is trying to find Pepper, who has gone looking for moles). J. T.'s been to Iraq several times, and he's had some unspecified bad experiences that lead him to occasionally drink more than he should. When he first arrives at the shoot, his eye is caught by both Althea, the movie's female lead, and Lucy. Althea is a beauty with a great body and terrific breasts, and Lucy is a strong, competent Amazon of a woman. Assuming that Lucy isn't interested in him, J. T. falls into bed with Althea pretty quickly, something that's liable to turn off some romance readers. I, for instance, would rather not read about the male lead in a romance of any sort having sex with someone other than the female lead, even if the sex isn't actually described in detail, the male and female leads aren't actually in a relationship yet, and the reason for the sex isn't too far-fetched. I just don't find it very appealing, and I held it against J. T. a little.

However, as in Agnes and the Hitman, Crusie and Mayer go with the "a dependable man who knows how to save a woman in trouble is a sexy man" idea. It worked in that book, and it works in this one, too. J. T. is there to help save Pepper whenever she needs it. Lucy's more than strong enough to take care of herself (at least in situations not involving people with guns), but J. T. can back her up in any areas she has trouble with - he actually appreciates that she's a capable woman, and she actually appreciates that there are some things he can do for her better than she could do for herself. This will all be very refreshing for anyone who's ever read a romance novel where the male lead is so determined to protect the female lead that he seems to have no real recognition of any strengths she might have and where the female lead responds by doing stupid, badly thought out things in order to prove her competence and independence. J. T. also engages in more "dependable is sexy" activity when he actually remembers to pick up a Wonder Woman toy when Lucy asks for one. It's stuff like this that made this book a really enjoyable read for me.

Basically, I enjoyed this book for its flashes of humor, its somewhat engaging suspense and action, and its "dependable is sexy" aspects. However, I thought the book also had a lot of weaknesses. I already mentioned the problems I had with some of the characters - Lucy was the only character that I don't remember ever disliking, even a little, since it was great to have a heroine who was genuinely competent, caring, and intelligent (all this makes me wonder how she ever managed to fall for the slimeball who eventually becomes her ex-husband). Another thing I disliked was how messed up time seemed to be in this book. There is a lot going on in this story, with the CIA, a kidnapping, accidents, questions piling up, and a relationship developing between Lucy and J. T. Somehow, all of this happens within four days - this is something that's really only hitting me now, as I'm writing this post, since I think my mind just blanked out the "four days" bit while I was reading it and assumed everything was taking place over a much longer time period. Now that this issue is occurring to me, the amount of stuff that's crammed into this story is just mind-boggling.

  • Agnes and the Hitman (book) by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer - Somehow, Agnes has to make sure that a wedding goes perfectly while dealing with someone who may want to harm her and her dog. Shane, a hitman, is recruited to protect her by an ex-mobster friend of hers. Like Don't Look Down, there's plenty of suspense, danger, humor, romance, and memorable characters.
  • What the Lady Wants (book) by Jennifer Crusie - Mae Belle wants to find her great-uncle Armand's diary. Armand recently died of a heart attack, and Mae comes up with the idea that if she tells a less-than-competent PI that he was murdered and that whoever murdered him has the diary, the PI will find the diary. Her choice of less-than-competent PI is Mitch Peatwick, stockbroker turned PI. This is another book with humor, suspense, romance, and memorable characters.
  • Tangled Up in You (book) by Rachel Gibson - Maddie Dupree has come to the small town of Truly, Idaho to write a personal true-crime book about her mother, who was the "other woman" when she was killed in Truly. Mick, the owner of the bar Maddie has come to, is the son of the philandering husband and his wife - the wife killed Maddie's mother and her own husband. Mick's thinks the past is the past and doesn't need stirring up, but he and Maddie can't seem to help but be interested in each other. Those who'd like another story with wit, romance, and engaging characters with secrets might like this book.
  • One for the Money (book) by Janet Evanovich - In the first book in Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, Stephanie, a resident of Trenton, NJ who's desperately in need of money, gets a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie - never mind that she doesn't know the first thing about being a bounty hunter and doesn't even own a gun. Her first assignment is to bring in Morelli, a cop who's been accused of murder and the guy who charmed her out of her virginity when she was 16. Those who'd like another fast-paced story with interesting and quirky characters, action, romance, and humor might like this book and series.
  • Trust Me (book) by Jayne Ann Krentz - Sam Stark, the brains behind Stark Security Systems, has been left at the altar again, and Desdemona, the caterer at his wedding, desperately wants to collect her check. Although the two of them couldn't be more different (Stark is logical, business-minded, and controlled, while Desdemona is energetic and intuitive), they begin to fall for each other. Things appear to be going well until someone tries to steal Stark's pet project, a program called ARCANE, and Desdemona's half-brother becomes a suspect. Those who'd like another fast-paced story with an interesting cast of characters, humor, and suspense might like this book. Like Don't Look Down, this book also includes children (Stark's half-brothers, who are struggling through their parents' divorce).
  • This Heart of Mine (book) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips - Children's book author Molly Somerville is still working through her long-standing crush on Kevin Tucker, quarterback for her sister's Chicago Stars football team. Unfortunately, he doesn't even know she's alive, at least not until they're marooned together at the family vacation cabin. Phillips, like the Crusie/Mayer duo, writes about spunky heroines and strong but vulnerable heroes, focuses on the relationships between characters, and includes humor and snappy dialog in her writing.

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