Series: CIEL HALLIGAN
Plot Type: Chick Lit (CH) Fantasy
Ratings: Violence-3; Sensuality-3-4; Humor-4
Publisher and Titles: Tor
"Pre-Fix" (prequel story, 3/2015)
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.
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 afghans―always 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 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 breakfast—a 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 friends—elements that continue throughout the series.
To read an excerpt, click HERE to go to the "Pre-Fix" page on Amazon.com 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!
NOVEL 2: Quick Fix
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 aura—meaning 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 humans—not 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 separately—and often at odds with the others. Ciel—the supposed heroine of the series—is 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 characters—mostly female—who 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 knows—there'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 by—you guessed it—a 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.
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 place—just for that scene. Unfortunately, just as the scene is being shot, so is Jack's wife, Angelica—but 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 hours—maybe 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 funny—just 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 bumps—not 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 suit—Mark—is 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.