FIRST THINGS FIRST, for those of you keeping track of the Saga Of The Abandoned Car:
The Friend has finally – FINALLY – purchased a new vehicle.
HOWEVER – the abandoned vehicle is still abandoned. Details to follow when they become available.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress. (hahaha none of those words apply to this blog in any way, shape, or form i’m a horrible person ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
When I was moving out of my apartment in Portland to my current place in Yarmouth, not only did I move all of my books, but I also rescued a few dozen from my roommate, who was going to throw them away because she wasn’t going to read them again, and she didn’t have the time to donate them or sell them to a used bookstore. (We were both very busy during those few months, and I totally get it.) She read a lot of contemporary romances, whereas I had primarily stuck to the historical branch of that genre. One of my rescue-ees was Christina Dodd’s “Fortune Hunter” series; I had heard good things about Ms. Dodd, so I figured, “why not, I’ll read them eventually.”
Flash forward to November, 2016. I was still coming to grips with the next president of the United States (and still am, bee tee dubs, but I am trying so goddamned hard to not talk about it here), and a lot of my feelings just … went away. I wasn’t interested in doing anything. Instead of catching up on any number of TV shows I was told I should watch (This is Us, Stranger Things, Black Mirror) I found myself rewatching 30 Rock. But only for a couple of seasons. Or Bob’s Burgers.
And in the midst of all this, I wasn’t interested in reading anything. I was going back and forth between Publish & Perish and a couple of romance novels, but I was just … going through the motions.
One night, I randomly pulled a book out of my contemporary romance bookshelf, conveniently located right next to my bed. I had done this a few years ago and ended up reading Demon Rumm. Well, the book I grabbed in mid-November was Danger in a Red Dress – the fourth book in the series. And when I verified what the first book in the series was, I realized … my ex-roommate didn’t have that one.
So I added Trouble in High Heels to my latest Amazon purchase (along with the remainder of my James Bond series, so I now own all of them in the same style, and that did give some joy to my heart). And eventually, in December, I started reading it. And I finished it in January, after what turned out to be a bit of a hardscrabble road.
Let me first say: I was expecting a bit more out of this book. I’d heard many good things about Ms. Dodd – her characters, the plots, all were supposed to be good. But after reading this, I can only hope that maybe she wrote it as a form of satire? But then continued for another three titles in the series to make sure she hits all the points? Maybe? I mean … well, lemme go through the plot.
Brandi Michaels —
*sigh* I feel like I could probably stop right here. You can figure out what the problems are gonna be, right?
ANYHOO. Brandi Michaels is a lawyer in Chicago who was just dumped by her fiancé when he calls Brandi to tell her that a) he’s not marrying Brandi anymore, because b) he just married c) his sidepiece d) who happens to be knocked up e) with his kid. Also, he didn’t understand why Brandi wanted to continue with her fledgling law career when he was going to be a doctor and he could take care of her. Why should she want to work?
So instead of giving up and going back home to Momma, Brandi decides to have a one-night stand following her break-up, and ends up with a weekender with a hot Italian dude named Roberto. And then Monday comes along, and on her first day of the job, she learns that Roberto is actually a) a client of the law firm, b) is also an Italian count, and c) a suspected jewel thief.
And as part of the whole “representing” thing, she has to pretty much handcuff herself to Roberto, and all he wants to do is bone, because he’s uber-confident about everything, and she wants to be seen as intelligent and professional, but she keeps ending up in delicate situations, and long story short, the Mafia is also involved but everything turns up okay in the end.
I guess I didn’t expect the plot to be so … farcical? I mean, I don’t recall that there were actual handcuffs between Brandi and Roberto, but … the whole plot feels like it was lifted from a sweeps storyline on General Hospital, that was then turned down for being too ludicrous.
In addition to the plot being far-fetched and dumb, the characters are stereotypes. Brandi Michaels is described to look exactly how you may think someone named “Brandi Michaels” looks like, apologies to real-life Brandi Michaels who probably don’t look like a blonde, less-intelligent version of Jessica Rabbit. She’s smart enough to graduate with a law degree from Vanderbilt, but when her assets are discussed, they’re only found in her double-D cups. Every person she comes in contact with treats her law career as just something to do until she settles down. At the end of the novel she gets engaged to Roberto, but I can’t recall (and I’m not going to look it up) if she decides to keep her law career, or if that’s even a condition for their marriage.
Roberto is a cipher, installed to be the dall, tark, and mysterious stranger —
I just wrote “dall” and “tark” – what the hell, Alaina. No, you know what? I’m keeping it.
— Tall, dark, and mysterious stranger who reveals he has emotional baggage. Now, usually, that’s my kind of dude. But Roberto was just so … flat. For the first half of the book, he was just a piece of meat that Brandi lusted after. Even when she learned he was a suspected jewel thief, there wasn’t any depth to him. It wasn’t until later – almost the end of the book – when we learn his motivation for getting involved in this latest scheme.
“I’m not an international jewel thief – not usually – but I know the family business and I keep up the Contini contacts. Nonno [Roberto’s grandfather or uncle or someone] called and said that Mossimo Fossera intended to steal the Romanov Blaze. I used my contacts. I went to the FBI and told Aiden Tuchman that if he would find out who my father was, I would help him bring down the Fosseras.” [Roberto] shrugged his massive shoulders. “It’s as simple as that.” [p. 372]
Oh my god, he has Daddy Issues! Just like Brandi has Daddy Issues, but to a different degree! No, see, the book starts with Brandi at 11, overhearing an argument between her parents about her:
“[Brandi’s] smart, too. She’s never had anything but straight A’s, even in math.” Mama didn’t pay a bit of attention to Daddy’s insult to her, but leaped into the fray to defend Brandi.
[…] “Brandi’s probably going to be some kind of freaking English major and a drain on my wallet for the rest of my life.” He sounded so disgusted, as if being good in English were a waste.
“She’s the best in her class in gymnastics and ballet.”
“A bunch of skinny little girls in tights!”
Brandi gritted her teeth. She wasn’t skinny or little anymore. She had a figure, and at five-foot-ten she was an inch taller than Mama and four inches taller than any of the rest of the girls in her class. But around the house Daddy hardly glanced at Brandi, and he had never bothered to come to her recitals. [p. 6]
I just to point out here: in these paragraphs? Brandi is eleven. At the age of 11, this kid is taller than me, a 34-year-old woman. And apparently, she has a figure. At eleven. I am not okay with the fact that this eleven-year-old kid is given “a figure”.
(I know that girls develop at different rates, and it’s entirely possible that an eleven-year-old girl could be taller than an adult woman, and could possibly have “a figure” already. But that description, taken in conjunction with the phrase “around the house Daddy hardly glanced at Brandi”, I am hit with the idea that Brandi wanted Daddy to notice her the way he notices other women – adult women, I presume – and I just got … wicked icky about the whole thing.)
And as I said before – or may have alluded to, because I’m not scrolling up to see if I did say it or not – a lot is made of Brandi’s figure. By her mother, Tiffany –
“What are you wearing [to the lawyer party]?” Tiffany asked.
Uh-oh. “That black sheath I bought for parties at law school.”
“Darling, black? That’s so New York. Show those Chicago lawyers how good a Southern girl can look! […] the sheath doesn’t show off your figure.”
“Thank God. Do you know how hard it is to dress for business with a chest like mine?” [p. 20-21]
– her mentor, “Uncle” Charles –
“Now, Brandi, you go ahead and dress up for [Roberto] Bartolini; I know he enjoys seeing a pretty girl as much as I do. Anyway, I always thought you worked too hard. When this is over and you’re buried in dusty law books, you’ll look back and wonder what you were complaining about.” [p. 278-279]
– and a whole bunch of randos at that fancy lawyer party, where she chose a red dress in which to snare her one-night stand after being dumped by her skeezy ex:
She unbelted the coat. Unbuttoned it. Taking a deep breath, she slid it off her shoulders and down her arms.
The silence in the foyer was profound.
She looked around. Jerry’s mouth was hanging open. One black security guard had his arm braced against the wall. The other had taken a step forward. The Asian security guard was smiling as if she’d just had a vision – Brandi hadn’t realized she was a lesbian, but obviously she was. And of the Hispanic guests, the husband looked enthralled and the wife furious.
So Mother was right. A red dress worked.
A long, silk, sleeveless scarlet dress with, as Mr. Arturo said, “Two really elegant design features, darling, and both of them hold up the bodice.” [p. 54]
There’s a lot here. There’s the fact that, with one fell swoop, Brandi’s scarlet-clad tits apparently turned all these professional individuals into the Wolf from Red Hot Riding Hood. I’m not sure if we’re to believe that Brandi has such an uncanny sense of gaydar that she is normally able to pick out all gays and lesbians in a quarter mile radius, but apparently she was so proud of herself stunning everyone else into submission she missed the Asian lesbian security guard, but also, in retrospect, it was obvious that the Asian lesbian security guard was gay? How was it obvious?!
And for all of her protesting that Brandi’s extremely smart in addition to having a crazy figure, Brandi isn’t always … the smartest …
Check out her first meeting on her first day at work, after having spent the weekend in flagrante with Roberto, a tall Italian count:
“[Our client] has dual citizenship, American and Italian. The FBI claims he’s a jewel thief. They assert his specialty is diamonds, big diamonds, and that he’s stolen from museums and private citizens in New York City, San Francisco, and Houston. The CIA also has an interest in him, claiming he’s committed similar crimes in Rome, Bombay, and London. But the FBI landed him first.
[…] The FBI has videos of our client in two of those locations prior to a robbery, and most important, an audiotape of him speaking to the owner of the jewel a mere hour before the robbery took place. He’s renowned for romancing females before he allegedly steals their finest pieces — […] and this woman, Mrs. Vandermere, says she saw him take her eight-carat diamond necklace before he left for the night. The FBI is prosecuting on circumstantial evidence and one woman’s accusations.” Glenn swayed like a cobra preparing to strike. “They might be able to make it stick … if our client were poor. But he’s not. He can afford the best defense, and that’s us.”
“Of course,” Brandi said.
“He’s independently wealthy and a respected businessman.” Diana smiled with reminiscent pleasure. “The fact that he’s an Italian count doesn’t hurt, either.”
The hair on the back of Brandi’s neck stood up. She drove her pen tip into her notebook. The top page tore, but she barely noticed. Wildly she looked from one attorney to another. “What’s his name?”
“Don’t you ever read the papers?” Sanjin asked.
“His name!” Brandi rapped her knuckles on the table.
Her fierce demand took even Glenn aback. “It’s Bartolini,” he said. “Roberto Bartolini.” [p. 119-120]
Like, for real: maybe it was drawn out for dramatic irony, but come on; hearing dual citizenship with Italy wasn’t going to ping her brain at all?
By this point, I hope I’ve given ya’ll a sense of Brandi. But what of Roberto? Well, he’s short on words and prone to random Italian outbursts, to remind the reader he’s Italian:
“Why didn’t you tell me later?”
“When, Roberto? At the courthouse, when you were mouthing off to Judge Knight? At the Stuffed Dog, where Mossimo’s men were threatening you with a gun? At your grandfather’s?” She was getting wound up. “I actually meant to tell you yesterday morning, but Tiffany appeared and I didn’t want to explain why I hadn’t told her, so I kept quiet. Then we moved to the hotel, then we went dancing, then you hit Alan, then we came to McGrath and Lindoberth so I could yell at Uncle Charles, for all the good it did me, then we got stuck in a murderous elevator, and now here we are – ”
“Buono!” Roberto held up a hand. “You’re right. We’ve been busy.” [p. 295]
Finally, I have two other quotes, and then I promise, I’m done with this book. (I really didn’t expect this review to be more than 2,000 words; for that, I am sorry.)
When Brandi first spies Roberto from across a crowded room, her thought that I read almost made me fall off my elliptical machine (yes, I brought this book to the gym):
He was the one. He was the Matterhorn and she was going to scale him. [p. 70]
And this son of a bitch – I have no idea what the fuck this sentence even means:
Memories like that had kept [Roberto] awake far into the night … and gave him a hard-on big enough to warrant a line at the Navy Pier amusement park. [p. 223]
I think Roberto’s trying to liken his massive erection to a thrill ride that mayhap be found at the Navy Pier Amusement Park in Chicago. But given the choice between Roberto, the Italian Matterhorn, and the Disneyland Matterhorn, churro me up, baby, I’m going to Disneyland.
Grade for Trouble in High Heels: 1 star