Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Three Delicious Summertime Books

Jennifer Cruisie's "Bet Me," Jennifer Cruisie and Bob Mayer's "Agnes and the Hitman" and Kate Jacob's "Comfort Food" all had something in common--they were full of lush, sensual food descriptions and equally juicy relationships.

"Bet Me" is the story of Minerva "Min" Dobbs, a very straightlaced young plump woman who has been on a diet her whole life, and Calvin "Cal" Morrisy, a handsome young man who is used to having women fall at his feet, though they generally are the high-maintenance, low-soul types. Min and her two female best friends encounter Cal and his two best friends at their favorite local pub, and after Cals buddy and Mins ex-boyfriend bet him that he can't get Min to date him, (Min overhears and does it just for spite) Cal discovers that he's attracted to the witty and intelligent Min, curves, crabbiness and all. Though they vow to stay out of one anothers lives, fate seems to bring them together on a regular basis, and bizarre scenarios seem to mount up, until the warm, funny and delightful HEA explodes at the end of the novel. As a larger woman battling my weight, I could empathize with Min and her controlling family, her desire to stay away from heartache and her trust issues with men. As a sensualist, I could also understand her love of food, especially well-prepared Italian food, which is always at the top of the food porn list for dieters. Cal's lust for Min growing as he watches her eat and savor food was just plain hot, and made for some sizzling romantic scenes in the book. Cruisie's prose read like a great movie or mini-series script, and her plot was airtight and zippy. This is the kind of book that keeps you engrossed throughout, and provides fun and interesting characters that aren't too difficult to understand or embrace. It's a perfect vacation read for that long airplane ride, trip to the beach, camping cookout or just relaxing at poolside.

Cruisie joined with author Bob Mayer for an even juicier romp in "Agnes and the Hitman" wherein we meet Agnes Crandall, a crabby caterer and food columnist who bought the local Southern mansion on the condition that she have the former owners grand daughters wedding at the manse. The former owner, Brenda, proceeds to go to great lengths, including hiring a hit man or two, to have the wedding called off or held at the local country club so that she can claim the mansion as her own once again. Enter "Shane" a hitman whose Uncle Joe is a good friend of Agnes, and who ends up falling for her cooking and her curves. A rolicking cast of characters battle one another and reveal relationships from the past during the fastest moving plot in the genre, while the witty column excerpts that head up each chapter let the reader know what they're in for next. While there's a lot more violence in this book than in "Bet Me" (courtesy of the male half of the writing duo, I'd bet)the sex is also more fierce and frequent, and the wild characters spin through the pages faster than a twister and twice as breathtaking. I honestly could not put the book down by the time I was one-third of the way through it, because of the various plot developments and the heat building between Shane and Agnes. "Between a rival who wants to take him out and an uncle who may have lost 5 million in Agne's basement, Shane's plate is full...soon Agnes and Shane are tangled up with the lowlifes after the money, Southern mob wedding guests, a dog named Rhett and each other." This is another good vacation paperback that will amuse and rivet the reader throughout the afternoon or evening.

Kate Jacobs "Comfort Food" was slower going than Cruisie's books, mainly because her prose style was more 'chick lit' than screenplay and her dialog more formal than Cruisies. The book revolves around a Martha Stewart/Sandra Lee (from Semi-Homemade on the Food Network) hybrid character named Augusta "Gus" Simpson, who has had a cooking show for a dozen years on the network, until the station manager decides to put a Spanish beauty queen/chef on the show with Gus as a co-host and put Gus on probation with a new type of show, since her ratings were slipping. Gus is a widow who has two grown daughters, though you'd never know it from all the trouble they cause and get into on a regular basis. I found the more 'normal' daughter Aimee to be wishy-washy and needy and the 'fickle' daughter Sabrina to be spineless, stupid and a waste of ink.Hannah, the disgraced tennis star/agoraphobe neighbor was also somewhat unbelievable, as really, who can eat candy in mass quantities all day, every day, and still maintain a decent weight, or keep from the ravages of type 2 diabetes?
Gus comes off as a stiff, conservative b*tch who is too controlling and annoyingly "perfect" on the outside, while things spin out of control around her. Not until the end does Gus bend and learn to give a little to her co-host, whom she tries to undermine at every turn. Of course, Gus doesn't learn to play nice until she gets involved in a sexual relationship with her producer, that being the key to all up-tight women...not. I had a hard time liking Gus or her manipulative behavior and always "on" attitude, and I disliked her daughters as well. Yet because all the characters, no matter how stereotypical or spineless, learned a lesson and grew up toward the end, I'd still recommend this book to food channel devotees and those who enjoy savory recipes and chick lit tomes. The behind the scenes aspect of making a food network show was fascinating, and the slavish devotion to ratings rang true, from what I've gleaned from my husbands work in TV and radio.

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