Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crystal Clear by Jane Heller ****

This is another of the wad o'books I picked up at the Portal Library Sale held each October. I can't recall now whether someone there recommended it, or I picked it up for it's chick-lit cover and possibly the cover blurb.

It's chick-lit to the max, hitting all the points: first person POV, 40+ year-old single career woman from NYC (is it just coincidence that my 2 chick-lit experiences have been Jewish women from NY?) trying to make sense of her life. Like I've come to expect from chick-lit, it's snarky comedy too. Crystal is a CPA, a partner at her NY accounting firm, dating a lawyer - at least, trying to, whenever she and Steven can fit in a movie or dinner in their chockful calendars. Crystal visits her father every Sunday - but he couldn't care less; as far as he's concerned, she's keeping him from his reruns of Barnaby Jones.

All in the space of a couple of days, Crystal learns that Steven's ex-wife is back in his life, causing her to doubt their relationship, and that her accounting firm is about to downsize and she figures she's the partner on the shortlist to go. To top it all off, her father blurts out that the person he misses most is her older brother - a child who died at age 3 before she was born and whose existence was kept a secret from her, until now.

Her assistant at the accounting firm encourages her to become more spiritual and take a trip to Sedona, Arizona, on a quest to find inner peace. The last thing she expects to find in Sedona is her ex-husband Terry - a man she married right out of college, divorced one year later and hasn't seen in 20 years. Apparently he was the quintessential Peter Pan - he'd been a college jock, everyone's favorite, but couldn't settle down and find a job after college and marriage. Job security was apparently very high on her list of important things in life, and without that, their relationship was over.

Just to further complicate her life, once Steven sees her reaction to his ex-wife being around, he decides it's time to get serious, threatens to follow her out to Sedona and begs her to marry him.

Terry apparently settled in Sedona 11 years before, with a girlfriend who got pregnant, had the baby and split - leaving him with a preemie infant to raise. That experience forces maturity on him - he starts a company taking tourists on Jeep tours around Sedona, buys a house, and in effect finally becomes what Crystal had been looking for in a man: mature and settled down.

On the Jeep tour is a millionaire heiress, Amanda, and her entourage: a group of unhappy lackeys, all of whom have ulterior motives and agendas which make them each a suspect when Amanda goes missing. But the number one suspect is a close friend of Terry's, a native American spiritual guide, and Crystal decides to do whatever she can to help clear his name.

Now - I'm sorta conflicted about this book. I enjoyed it, mostly, and am rating it 4 stars. But there were some things that really bothered me about this book. Crystal's attitude was nowhere near as annoying and snarky and outright obnoxious as that of Shelby in With A Little Help From Above. But it was not exactly the opposite of that, either, and some of the things she said and thought just rubbed me wrong (not that I can come up with a single example now...). While I know I should expect this in chick-lit, I also felt that the characters of Amanda, the shallow millionaire heiress, and all of her entourage, were cardboard and 2 dimensional. Yeah, yeah, it was supposed to be (sorta) funny and all, so they were cartoony, which I didn't like, because I felt the author went overboard in her effort to make them that way.

Then there was Annie, Terry's 10-year-old daughter - another character who just didn't exactly ring true. I'm not exactly an authority on kids, but have known my share - and the whole bit of her watching C-Span and discussing politics just did not ring true. OK, maybe it was just smart-ass writing, and we're just supposed to think the kid was worldly and wise, but I thought she pushed the envelope on that. However, she did pull back and have the kid say some kid-like things and have some kid-like reactions - until the end. Then I was rolling my eyes again at the trampoline scene at the end which really did not work for me. It should have been suspenseful and scary, but instead was silly and unrealistic.

Maybe I'm expecting too much - I like a laugh as much as the next person, and hey - I read Time Travel books, so who am I to expect realism? And in the end, I did enjoy the story as a whole - although I would like for the epilogue to have wrapped it up for me a little better. Somehow just taking her to the house, and not inside for the reactions, was like being a kid and having one of my sisters offer me a cookie then eat it herself and laugh at me...

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