Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: SPIES AND PREJUDICE by Talia Vance

Fields’ Rule #1: Don’t fall for the enemy.

Berry Fields is not looking for a boyfriend. She’s busy trailing cheaters and liars in her job as a private investigator, collecting evidence of the affairs she’s sure all men commit. And thanks to a pepper spray incident during an eighth grade game of spin the bottle, the guys at her school are not exactly lining up to date her, either.

So when arrogant—and gorgeous—Tanner Halston rolls into town and calls her “nothing amazing,” it’s no loss for Berry. She’ll forget him in no time. She’s more concerned with the questions surfacing about her mother’s death.

But why does Tanner seem to pop up everywhere in her investigation, always getting in her way? Is he trying to stop her from discovering the truth, or protecting her from an unknown threat? And why can’t Berry remember to hate him when he looks into her eyes?

With a playful nod to Jane Austen, Spies and Prejudice will captivate readers as love and espionage collide.
Just a warning upfront: I'm about to eviscerate this book. That supposed "rule" that some people quote to make bloggers play nice? Not going for that here. If I think a book sucked, I'll say so.

Guys, this book sucked.
Really, I'm angry at myself for being drawn in. I don't have a great track record with either Egmont or Talia Vance, but I couldn't help myself. I mean, look at the title. SPIES and an obvious reference to Pride and Prejudice. How could I resist? Also, the book is blurbed by Veronica Rossi, whom I adore. (Not that I saw the blurb until just now, but somehow it makes the betrayal seem more painful.)

And really, the book started out decently. As I explained to someone on Twitter, I was two pages in and hadn't tossed the book aside yet, so life's good. The heroine, Berry, is spying on a cheating boyfriend with her best friend Mary Chris. Though not a spy (strike #1), Berry does help her father with his private detective business, which means she spends most of her free time photographing cheating spouses. Yay extracurricular activities?

While trying out Mary Chris's eavesdropping gadget, Berry overhears two hot guys discuss her and Mary, with the hottest describing Berry as "not amazing." Our Darcy-type for the book is a rich, way-too-handsome lad named Tanner. Despite putting down our Elizabethean heroine, he's clearly smitten, nearly as smitten as his (supposed) stepbrother Ryan (Bingley) is with Mary Chris (Jane). So the characterization is a bit thin. I'm fine with that.

At least, I was fine with it until Berry opened her mouth and refused to close it again. Seriously. Berry is way more Darcy than our Darcy-type Tanner ever is, though saying so is an insult to the true Darcy. At least the true Darcy is only accidentally rude, while Elizabeth Bennet is often unthinkingly sharp. Berry is neither, instead choosing to be unrelentingly caustic. I found her first one-liner mildly amusing but quickly soured on her entire character. If I were Tanner and I was faced with Berry's toxic and unwarranted attitude, I'd gladly ditch her for someone with a shred of human decency. Maybe some people will find her funny or plucky, but I wanted to snarl when I compared her to the true Elizabeth Bennet.

And therein lays (lies?) one of the biggest and most avoidable problems of this novel. There was zero reason - ZERO REASON - to tie this book to Pride and Prejudice. Yes, the four teens follow the Darcy-Elizabeth-Jane-Bingley archetypes, but so do a dozen other books out there. It's a set archetype that has permeated literature. By explicitly tying the book to P&P, I'm going to judge each character FAR more harshly than if they had simply been presented as the two-dimensional gasbags that they are. Also, I can then use the formula to predict how everything will turn out, including whether to trust the third guy who wanders into Berry's life. (Clearly a Wickham type, so duh, no.)

This whole book is a mess. It's sort of about Berry's quest to find out whether her mother committed suicide or was murdered, but then there's this thing thrown in with a hallucinogenic soda and corporate espionage and teenage contract security, because that's SO realistic. As if that weren't enough I'm forced to endure a bevy of other irritating details. For instance, Ms. Vance decides to name her heroines Strawberry Fields and Mary Chris Moss. Haha, not. She also throws in a Caroline-type wicked cheerleader who shows up for all of a page and then disappears, never to be used again. (At least her little clique is amusingly named.) Throw in a Charlotte-type flamboyantly gay best friend (in theater, sings soprano, is way too into moisturizer, and is the perfect little shopping buddy) and I'm so done.

Oh, and of course Tanner's reason for being so socially awkward and jerky is because he's homeschooled. Because we ALL know that homeschoolers have zero social skills. (In case you can't sense the heavy sarcasm, let me just state that I was homeschooled up through high school graduation.) And it's totally his fault that he and Berry don't get along, except when it's Berry's fault because she's "damaged." The obstacles used to keep them apart were so obviously fabricated that I wanted to gag.

I powered through just so I could finish and move on, but I was so over this book. I still can't tell you the various characters' motivations. The plot holes were so painstakingly obvious that Matthew McFayden and I could waltz right through them. At least dancing with McFayden would have made the time I spent reading worthwhile.

Because look at dat widdle face
I like to think that there's an audience out there for every book. I'm sure someone somewhere will adore this book and carry it around everywhere with them. Maybe even one of you. But not me. Never EVER me.

Points Added For: Mary Chris. Despite her stupid name, she's at least not an idiot. Also, the name of the clique The Dead Presidents. (But not the clique itself. They were pointless.)

Points Subtracted For: Everything else

Good For Fans Of: Caustic and unbearably rude heroines, overbearing and claustrophobic relationships

Notes For Parents: One instance of language, adultery, homosexuality

Note: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

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