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Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Author:  Linda Grimes  
Plot Type: Chick Lit (CH) Fantasy
Ratings:  Violence-3; Sensuality-3-4; Humor-4
Publisher and Titles: Tor
          "Pre-Fix" (prequel story, 3/2015)
          In a Fix (9/2012)
          Quick Fix (8/2013)
          The Big Fix (5/2015)
          All Fixed Up (5/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 6/8/16 to include a review of All Fixed Up, the fourth novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first three novels.

                         NOVEL 4:  All Fixed Up                        
     Ciel Halligan, aura adaptor extraordinaire, has a lot of experience filling in for her clients―as them. A rare genetic quirk gives her the ability to absorb human energy and project it back out in a flawless imitation. She's hard at work, posing as a well-known and celebrated astronaut, about to make a stunning announcement on behalf of the space program...when the photographer documenting the job sees right through her aura. Worse, it soon becomes apparent that he not only knows Ciel’s not who she's supposed to be, but means her harm. 

     When Ciel's elderly Aunt Helen―also an aura adaptor―is murdered in Central Park, and the same photographer shows up at the funeral, Ciel starts to feel even more exposed. Then more adaptors are killed in the same way, and she becomes terrified her friends and family are being systematically exterminated ... and it's starting to look like she's the ultimate target. She turns to Billy Doyle, her best-friend-turned-boyfriend, for help, but when an unexpected crisis causes him to take off without a word, she's left to rely on her not-so-former crush, CIA agent Mark Fielding. 

     Staying alive, keeping control of her romantic life, and unraveling the mystery of why adaptors are being pursued becomes a harder balancing act than ever in this new Ciel Halligan adventure from Linda Grimes.

     Given the number of pregnancies in this novel, it's alternate title could have been All Knocked Up
Pregnancy #1: Ciel is hired to stand in for an astronaut who is returning to the space program to become the first woman to conceive a baby while in outer space. 
Pregnancy #2: Ciel's brother, Thomas, and his wife, Laura, announce that they are expecting their first child. 
Pregnancy #3: Amid all of the emotion and celebration surrounding the first two pregnancy announcements, Ciel begins to have suspicious physical symptoms that indicate that she herself might be pregnant.
    Two of the three pregnancy stories form the basis for the plot―one for the action story line and one for the romance story line. 

     First, the action plot: During Ciel's first public appearance as astronaut Dr. Philippa (Phil) Carson, the NASA photographer assigned to cover the event realizes that she is not the real Dr. Phil and demands to know "Who are you? Or should I say, what are you?" Ciel is shocked because this means that somehow this man―Alec Loughlin―has somehow figured out how to identify adaptors and see through their auras. Soon, someone kills several adaptors, including Ciel's Aunt Helen, and then sets his murderous sights on Ciel herself. This plot is the best of the series so far―much less silly than previous books, with more twists and turns and lots of suspense (and violence). When the motivations of the murderer are revealed at the end of the book, they are a bit murky in spots, but still, it's a well-told story.

     And now for the romance plot: During the early chapters, Ciel muddles and flusters around as she worries about the consequences of a possible pregnancy. First and foremost in her list of worries is the big question: Who is the father? Is it Billy (her current boyfriend) or Mark (her long-time crush with whom she had an accidental one-night stand)? When she finally has a pregnancy test, life gets even more complicated because each man has a wildly different reaction to the news. One stands by her and one skips out―and you'll be surprised at which man takes which action, especially the reasons why the deserter skedaddles.

     As the physical attacks on Ciel become more and more violent and as her baby-daddy situation gets more and more complicated, Ciel finds herself immersed in fear for her life while suffering through heart-breaking uncertainties about her future. This is the first time that we've seen Ciel deal with an adult situation in a grown-up manner, and that alone sets this novel several notches above all of the previous ones.

     Although the story lines are serious, Grimes also includes a big dose of her signature humor. For example, Billy masquerades as a naughty department store Santa. Then, Ro and Mo (Ciel's mother and Billy's mother) are forced to adopt seven mischievous, Christmas-tree-climbing cats named after Snow White's dwarfs. And to no one's surprise, Ro creates some really awful holiday food concoctions. (Anyone have a taste for grilled blue cheese on raisin bread with grape jelly?) Not to mention Ro's awful Christmas sweaters and Mo's ugly afghansalways good for a chuckle.

     I almost didn't read this novel because I thought it would be more of the same ridiculous dithering that was rampant in the first three books, but I was pleasantly surprised. Grimes managed to keep the humor to a sane level while delivering two compelling story lines that played out with enough unpredictability and intrigue to keep me engaged all the way to the end. Although Ciel seems to make her final choice between her two men at the end of this novel, I'm still not sure that Grimes has completely closed the door on this issue. (P.S. Although Billy is a nice-enough guy, I'm definitely on Team Mark.)

     Although this novel has a "FINAL" feel, we can probably expect to see more stories about Ciel's hectic life in the future. In an on-line interview, Grimes states, "I love Ciel and the gang, and I’m not done with them yet, but there are other characters in my head clamoring for their stories to be told, too." Click HERE to read an excerpt from All Fixed Up.

     The premise of the series is that the female protagonist and her two love interests are aura adaptors. They have a genetic mutation that allows them to alter their auras so that they look like other people. By just touching another person, they can draw a bit of that person's energy and immediately make a complete physical change, becoming an identical physical copy of that person. The major fault in this mythology is that the adaptors themselves cannot tell whether another person is real or an adaptor, which is the crux of many of the jokey situations that overwhelm the plots.

     Ciel Halligan is the female of this trio of BFF adaptors. She hires out her adaptor skills to clients who find themselves in situations they want to avoid. Billy Doyle is Ciel's womanizing best frenemy; they were raised together like sister and brother but are not related by blood. Billy uses his adaptor talent in two contrasting ways. As Ciel describes it, "he's not above separating stupid and greedy people (his words, not mine) from their assets. I'd say he was Robin Hood-esque, only I've never seen evidence that the booty makes it into the hands of the deserving poor." Between scams, Billy helps out their friend Mark Fielding on some of his missions. Mark is a sexy, blond CIA covert agent who is the best friend of Ciel's brother, Thomas. Mark is also Ciel's long-time, not-so-secret crush. The relationship among the three is filled with meant-to-be funny sarcastic dialogue and way too many silly pranks.

                    PREQUEL SHORT STORY: "Pre-Fix"                    
     This very short story introduces Ciel Halligan, Billy Doyle, and Mark Fielding, the three main characters of this series along with a few of their friends and family members. The story introduces the concept of aura adapting and illustrates how it works when Ciel's friend, Addie, asks Ciel to stand in for her at a meeting with her grandmother (aka Queen Bitch of the World) because she knows that Grandma will be saying some very mean things about her late father. 

     The story takes place just as Ciel is graduating from college, without a job and without any prospects. What she'd really like is to become a CIA agent like Mark, but he talks her out of it by describing the "wet work" part of his job in such gory detail that Ciel loses her breakfasta highly embarrassing moment because she is so gaga over Mark. 

     When Ciel completes the grandma gig with great success, Addie suggests that Ciel turn that kind of activity into a real job. This is a nice introduction to the series mythology and the primary characters. You'll get an early look at ditzy Ciel and her over-protective male friendselements that continue throughout the series. 

    To read an excerpt, click HERE to go to the "Pre-Fix" page on page and click on the cover art.

                         NOVEL 1:  In a Fix                         

WARNING! If you plan to buy this book, check it out carefully before you leave the store. My copy of In a Fix is defective. It has two sets of pages 97-128, and it is missing pages 65-96. If that happened to one book, it had to have happened to a lot more. Caveat Emptor!

     Truthfully though, the missing pages didn't really make much of a difference in making sense of this silly story. As the story begins, Ciel is on a tropical vacation masquerading as Mina, her socialite client. Mina, for unknown reasons, wants Ciel to pretend to be her until her boyfriend, Trey, proposes and presents her with a ring. When someone kidnaps Trey and blows up their beach bungalow, Ciel discovers that the old English woman in the bungalow next door is really Billy, who apparently always secretly follows Ciel around on her assignments because he thinks that she's too weak and stupid to stay out of danger. When the two of them rescue Trey, they discover that "Trey" is really Mark, who is substituting for the real Trey (also a CIA agent) because Trey had to take care of other business. The entire set-up is goofy. Why would a man and a woman ask others to stand in for them during their own marriage proposal on a romantic tropical island? It makes no sense at all, and neither does the rest of the story, which devolves into a slap-stick sit-com plot with villainous Vikings who combine Medieval weaponry with modern-day pharmacology to cause all sorts of trouble. 

     Mark and Billy are the worst kind of male chauvinistsalways insisting that Ciel stay behind and always protecting her to the point of insult. (Although, I have to say that Ciel definitely isn't the sharpest knife in the drawerbut, then, neither are the guys.) I'm sure that the male protection sub-plot is supposed to be sweet and funny, but, to me, it's ridiculous and somewhat offensive because the guys make no bones about treating Ciel like an imbecile most of the time. They lie to her, stalk her, and burglarize her office. What kind of "good friends" do those things, no matter how well intentioned they are? The triangle romance story thread is woven through the action plot, and by the end of the book, Ciel is sharing passionate kisses with both Billy and Mark. (She is also attracted to one of the Vikings.)

     So...To sum it up, here are reasons I didn't care much for the book: My copy is missing 30+ pages; the action plot is silly; the characters are cardboard thin and completely loony; and the mythology has holes big enough to drive a truck through. The author is calling the series "light urban fantasy," but this isn't urban fantasy by any definition. It's feather-weight chick lit fantasy, with much attention being paid to wardrobe descriptions, clothing styles, and shopping—all with an overload of scatterbrained zaniness. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from In a Fix.

                         NOVEL 2:  Quick Fix                         

     Most of the main characters in the series are aura adaptors, which means that they can make adjustments to their auras and make themselves to look exactly like another person. (See the "World-Building" section of this post for more details.) Even another adaptor can't tell the difference between the real person and an adaptor. 

     When Ciel takes Billy's little sister, Molly, along with her on an assignment at the National Zoo, Molly touches a baby orangutan and adapts its aurameaning that she turns a real orangutan. As if that's not bad enough, poor Molly is stuck in her animal form; she can't change back into a human again. This incident kicks off the plot as Ciel and Billy try to smuggle Molly out of the park pursued by a Zoo employee and her henchmen. Key to the conflict is how Molly made this supposedly impossible adaptation. Adaptors are only supposed to be able to turn into other humansnot into animals. Besides, Molly is far too young to be able to adapt. So...what's going on? You'll have to read the entire book to find out because the answers don't come until very near the end.

     The rest of the story consists of a series of slapstick, silly episodes in which Ciel, her brothers (Brian, James, and Thomas); her new boyfriend (Billy Doyle); and her teen-age crush (FBI agent Mark Fielding) stumble through a series of sitcom adventures as each one works on various mysteries separatelyand often at odds with the others. Cielthe supposed heroine of the seriesis almost always kept in the dark as to what the men in her life are doing. Mostly, she babysits the Molly orangutan, tries to avoid her mother and Billy's mother, and keeps asking "What's going on?" every time she bumps into one of the men.

     The story turns into a whodunit mystery filled with concealed and mistaken identities, betrayals, and power-mad bureaucrats. All of the separate story threads come together in the climactic ending, but for most of the book, the reader doesn't have a clue about what's really going on. There are too many tangential charactersmostly femalewho may or may not be who they say they are. Each of the men has a different opinion on the true identities of the bad guys (or girls), but none of them provides enough details for Ciel (or the reader) to figure anything out until the big reveal scene at the end of the book. It's a very unsatisfactory way to develop a story, and very frustrating for the reader, not to mention the heroine, who isn't really a heroine at all in this book.

     On the romantic front, Ciel and Billy consummate their relationship, but Ciel still has the hots for Mark, and Mark sometimes seems to return her affection. I'm guessing that Ciel will wind up with Billy, but who knowsthere's not much logic in most of the events in this series, so she could end up with someone else entirely.   

     Once again, I'll warn you that despite the cover art and the marketing, this is definitely not an urban fantasy (UF) series. It's strictly light-weight chick lit with a touch of fantasy. Ciel could never be a UF heroine because she doesn't ever do anything meaningful and she has absolutely no street cred. All of the men do their best to keep her out of the action, and she allows them to manipulate her each and every time. She never knows what the men are up to, and she is never on the front lines of the plot until the very end, when she has a major TSTL moment and puts Molly and herself in deadly danger from which she has to be rescued byyou guessed ita man. If it weren't for one slightly graphic sex scene in this book, this could be a YA series. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Quick Fix.

                         NOVEL 3:  The Big Fix                         
    As the story opens, Ciel Halligan is masquerading as Jack Gunn, a movie star who is deathly afraid of snakes. When Jack discovered that his newest movie had a major scene that involved a huge wriggly mass of snakes, he hired Ciel to take his placejust for that scene. Unfortunately, just as the scene is being shot, so is Jack's wife, Angelicabut whereas Ciel is shot by a camera, Angelica is shot with a gun (seven shots in her back). Ciel is horrified, and immediately enlists her boyfriend, Billy Doyle, to take her to her isolated hideaway ranch, where she has stashed Jack only to discover that Jack has been missing for several hoursmaybe more. Then a gun is discovered hidden in the stables, a gun that isn't owned by anyone on the ranch. What's going on here? Did Jack somehow kill his wife while using Ciel as an alibi? Did Lily-Ann, Angelica's sister, kill her, since she was home at the time and had reason to hate Angelica? In other words, whodunnit? How? And And why?

     O.K., that's the action plot, but we also have a rather complicated romance plot as well. To review: Ciel and her family are aura adaptors, meaning that they can change their appearance at will. Several of Ciel's friends are also adaptors, including Billy, Billy's parents, and Mark Fielding, Ciel's brother's best friend (and Ciel's long-time crush). Even though Ciel and Billy have hooked up, she still melts into a gooey puddle whenever Mark turns on the charm. To make a long story short, an unforgettable, irretrievable incident occurs between Ciel and Mark at Ciel's brother's wedding that rocks Ciel's romance with Billy. Oddly, Billy's reaction is not nearly as explosive as one would have expected. But then, there is another major romantic crisis between them much later in the story, and that one brings on some tears and heartbreak before it is resolved.

     Grimes alternates between murder mystery scenes and romance scenes, as Ciel, Billy, and Mark try to work things out. The mystery plot is a bit hectic, especially when someone takes a shot at Ciel while she is masquerading as Jack at Angelica's funeral, and when she is sent to jail while she is masquerading as Angelica. The fact that not even the adaptors can tell who is real and who is the adaptor continues to be the weakest part of this world-building. It seems to me that Ciel and her buddies would work out some sort of verbal code so that they could let one another know who is who.

     Running through the entire book is a series of brief scenes with the Halligan and Doyle families. These scenes are meant to be humorously zany (I hate "zany" as much as Lou Grant hates "spunk"!), but they are mostly just silly. A perfect example: a 3-page scene involving a family food fight in Ciel's condo that deteriorates into an all-out watermelon-seed-spitting war. That scene consists of many variations on this sentence: "She was reloading her mouth with juicy red ammo when a whole slew of seeds pelted her." Not funnyjust page padding.

     For the first half of the book, Ciel is just as ditzy as she was in the first two novels, but after she gets beaten up in jail, she decides that she has to start taking better care of herself. By the end, her new sister-in-law, Laura, has begun training her in self-defense, and she seems to have grown up a bit. Unfortunately, the men are still as chauvinistically protective as ever, which tends to weaken the female characters by implying that they need a man around to take care of them.

     As you've probably guessed, this isn't one of my favorite series, mostly because I'm not crazy about paranormal chick lit involving feather-brained heroines with zany families. When I read a print book, I use multicolored tabs to indicate major plot points, world-building elements, characterization revelations, and plot problems. When I finished this book, the tabs were almost all red ones—indicating a multitude of plot bumpsnot huge problems, but enough off-kilter scenes for me to have a number of moments of confusion and disbelief (like the ridiculous mistaken-identity incident that causes the romance kerfuffle after the wedding, for example).  

     At least the publisher has stopped trying to use misleading cover art to pretend that this is an urban fantasy series. This time around, the cover art shows Ciel and her two men and uses the typical chick-lit colors for the title (except that the guy in the suitMarkis supposed to be blond, not brunette). If you have been keeping up with this series, you'll probably have the same reaction to this book as you had to the first two. Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Big Fix.

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