This book was silly, light and very goofy, and I didn't believe any of it was remotely plausible. I didn't connect with the heroine because I didn't believe she was real. I didn't care much about the hero because I didn't think he was plausible either. Ultimately I read to the end to find out how the crazy plot was going to end, and even that was a bit of a letdown. I've been DNFing (“Did Not Finish”) a lot of books in the past few weeks, and I'm surprised I made it through this one. The compulsion to find out how the plot mayhem was going to wind up was stronger than my confused disinterest in any of the characters.
Jasmine (“Jazz”) Shepherd moved back to (wait for it) the tiny town of Bluegill after finding her husband (now ex-husband) cheating on her. She's a kindergarten teacher in the local Catholic school alongside a passel of nuns who are at times plot points and at other times freaking hilarious. The story opens on the last day of school during a fire department visit, and Jazz is chasing one of the more troublesome students when she gets his full in the chest with a hose of water and is knocked clear off her feet – and knocked out.
Also: Jazz's chest is practically a character in this book, y'all. She's amply endowed and she knows this. It's not like she struts her stuff; she's just aware that she's got big boobs, and big boobs + wet tshirt + Catholic school yard + hot firemen + Jazz decided not to wear a cardigan over her t-shirt because it's hot out = a pretty funny scene. Later, she pulls herself out of the marina water after she falls in by hooking her boobs over the edge and hoisting herself up.
Anyway, after the kindergarten fire scene, the book goes slowly and meanderingly downhill from there. Jazz takes a summer job at the local marina, where her bosses are bizarre and quirky. Sherman is gruff and mostly shirtless during the day, and Marlena, his wife, is a former waitress who can make a wonderful margarita, and this is repeatedly brought up so that said margaritas can be remarked upon then consumed for more madcap, slightly tipsy adventures. When the book left the kindergarten setting and switched to the marina as Jazz's center of workplace adventures, I was sad – I liked the kindergarten better, because Jazz was more confident there, though just as able to get into amusing scrapes. Once Jazz starts working at the marina, things happen *to* her, and she's often a pawn in the hands of a very bizarre plot.
Case in point: late one night, Jazz is trying to start her car (which is a piece of crap and won't start) at the marina to go home when she sees two guys talking by a Lincoln Town Car. One, the one in the Lincoln, is the mayor of Bluegill. The other is some dude she doesn't know. The conversation is suspicious and loud enough for her to overhear most of it, and creepy enough that she ducks down so they won't see her.
That's possible. Sound carries weirdly near water and at night. I'm buying that.
But then the chief of police, who seems like wouldn't know procedure or even discretion if he tripped over it, gives Jazz a ride home, and Jazz mentions seeing people in the parking lot late at night. The police chief, Balcheski, asks her, off the record, to tell him everything she saw. So she does. Balcheski tells Jazz to keep that conversation to herself – but doesn't stop himself from asking her about other things she happens to overhear in later scenes.
This was when I started to question Jazz's judgment. She knows Balcheski because his daughter was in her kindergarten class, and his description in the book is as benign as possible: “[he] looked like a man who woke up every day hoping there wouldn't be too much excitement.” He gives Jazz a ride home and knows where she lives without her telling him the address – but hey, Jazz figures, it's a small town and he's the police chief. Surely he can be trusted.
Based on what? Parents of kindergarteners can't be bad people? Not in Bluegill, apparently. Because without any solid reasoning except that she kind of knows him and he's the police chief, Jazz tells him whatever he wants to know about whatever Jazz happens to overhear, which is a lot, because this woman has auditory sensitivity like satellite dishes are screwed on the sides of her head. She overhears a whole mess of things.
The mystery plot gets full on ridiculous when Balcheski asks Jazz to help the police investigate the mayor (what now?) and then tells her the FBI is looking into the mayor's possible bad-doing, and also tells her the theory of what the mayor had done. Everything. Really. These people just unload their every thought. The whole town is surrounded by Wonder Woman's lasso of truth.
So the FBI is going to make contact with Jazz at the weekend festival (a festival at which Jazz has to dress up like a duck and – thanks to her cousin – is going to make QUITE an impression) and enlist her help in the investigation into the mayor.
This blew my mind. How is that possible? What are the chances that a kindergarten teacher and summer marina office employee is going to know proper procedure enough that they can keep whatever case they all build from getting thrown out of court and down the street? Does she receive any training? Nope, Balcheski just brings her in on all the secrets and tells her everything.
Then came her relationship with the fireman.
The following two names are the two principal males in the story. Which one is the hero and which one is the villain?
Name 1: Kurt Reynolds.
Name 2: Damien Cerberus.
If you guessed Damien Cerberus is the villain, you're right. Kind of obvious from my perspective – and that was one of my problems with the characters and the plot. Everything was Too Obvious. Damien Cerberus is also so overbearing, creepy and slimy that he might has well have been called Twirly Mustache Bad Guy.
Twirly Mustache Bad Guy is so bad that everyone warns the heroine about him, and she herself gets creeped out by him, but by the power vested in her by a completely insane plot and no need for proper investigative procedure, she's the Only One Who Can Stop Him. Jazz and gravity, they are impossibly strong forces.
In addition, Jazz's behavior toward Kurt, the not-the-bad-guy-because-he-doesn't-have-a-bad-guy-name, really made me mad. They are wonderfully attracted to each other and he's quite a hunka-hunka who is (bonus!) totally a good guy. The mayor's daughter has been angling for a relationship with him for a long time, though he's not interested and says so. He's interested in Jazz and is frequently at the marina, as he's the one in charge of the department fireboat (Bluegill is on a lake, thus the fire department has a fireboat).
But when he and Jazz become involved to a certain extent, Jazz decides she knows best (and she really doesn't know anything) because Balcheski and the FBI are encouraging her to accept Cerberus' invitation to be a “boat hostess” at Cerberus' marina across the lake. Kurt warns her away from Damien. He tells her that Cerberus is not a good person and he worries about Jazz being anywhere near him. She's all, “Yeah, whatever, but standing around in a skimpy dress with my big boobs pays good money and I need money.” Kurt then sees Jazz wandering down the marina dock to Cerberus' boat, and tries to talk to her. She pretends she doesn't hear him.
The silent treatment? Really? Kurt's voice is carrying across the marina and she blithely ignores him, despite the fact that surely Cerberus can hear Kurt yelling her name, too. This after Kurt was honest with her about many other things about himself, and has generally been kind to her. I lost a lot of respect for Jazz because the whole silent treatment thing, and because of her inclination to ignore or punish Kurt when he did something she didn't like or understand.
If there hadn't been a mystery plot, and the book was instead about Jasmine's own romance and her family (there's one scene where she's hugely stressing about a family visit, and in the next scene she and her cousin are driving home from said visit, without the visit actually taking place for the reader), it could have been a really fun and possibly outstanding book. The story is told in first person and the heroine's voice is one of the most unique I've read in a while. She's goofy, she has a self-deprecating sense of humor, she cares for her cousin very much, and she's trying to start her life over again. She's also Catholic, and there's even wry humor about going to church and reinforcing the cleansing of her soul with ice cream sundaes after church. She's not a bad person, and she's hilarious in some of her imperfections.
Jazz is fully aware of her own flaws, and is very realistic about how she looks and what people assume about her, but her ability to make logical and somewhat rational decisions is nonexistent, and there's no justifiable reason for her idiocy in some scenes, particularly those involving her determination to both investigate and work for Damien Cerberus. Despite all the time I spent in her head during the story, she made no sense to me whenever she did anything having to do with the investigation.
Everyone around Jazz is strangely endearing. The characters are full of Quirky Local Color, and are goofy and sometimes endearing, but also sometimes too saccharine and ridiculous. For example: Jazz lives with her cousin, who is a drag queen, and I loved every scene with the two of them. Jazz gives a confusing impression of her cousin at the start, implying that he's resentful that she lives with him, but in every scene they have together, her cousin cares for her very kindly. He makes sure she has food, he helps her with her wardrobe or an embarrassing chicken costume for the parade, and helps her get where she needs to go when her car gives up and dies altogether. He leaves her donuts and incredibly awesome baked goods. But while I loved how her cousin clearly cared for her, he was also flaming flamerating flametastic and sometimes slipped into something like a caricature. Sometimes Jazz lived with her cousin, who was a drag queen, and sometimes Jazz lived with Ru Paul on amphetamines.
I don't expect gritty realism in every contemporary I read. I'm pretty flexible and can make large leaps to suspend my disbelief. I'm a fan of fluffy and I do love some silliness. But this was something other than madcap comedy. It was silly with a wet-noodle-strength mystery plot bolted to the side. That mystery plot was so disconnected with reality that it stopped being funny and started being confusing midway through. My notes in the digital copy of this book read as follows:
“Really?! no way.”
“Oh, for God's sake, honey.”
That's my general impression of this book: lightly amused bafflement. There's one note that summarizes everything I found bothersome about this book: “Too many similes, not enough depth. It's very superficial: all plot, no emotion, no emotional conflict.” The humor and the strength of Jazz's voice and the cast of characters around her saved the grade from D-territory, but the mystery plot was so clunky and thin, it prevented me from enjoying everything else.