The Sex on the Beach Book Club
This book took me a week to read. I took it everywhere I could think of to help along the process, but nothing worked. Finally, I forced myself to take it as my public transportation book. I have a daily two hour commute, and as a general rule my bus reading time is sacred “what I want to read” time. Only in the direst of cases do I take a “have to read” book along with me. The Sex on the Beach Book Club, unfortunately, qualified.
First, the plot: Holly is a PI who is hired to find proof of a straying wife. She infiltrates a book club, run by sexy bookshop owner Wes. At first Holly believes Wes may have a starring role in said wife’s infidelities, but it soon becomes clear that it is Cullen, another book club member, who is doing the cuckolding. Before she can relate this information to her client, however, Cullen turns up dead in Wes’s bookshop, and the subsequent investigation leads to some deep, hidden secrets, a name change, a disturbing web site, and a new beginning.
I’ve tried to pinpoint exactly what it is about this novel that made my skin crawl and my fingers itch. In fact, that first day on the bus, instead of reading the book, I made a list of the nitpicky little things that bother me:
- The heroine’s name is Holly Hillbay. Throughout the book, the hero calls her “Hillbaby“. He’s trying to be cute, I get that. But is it really necessary to italicize the “baby” part every single time?
- The hero, Wes, also calls her “baby” as a term of endearment. This may be just a personal thing, but I find “baby” to be the most pejorative term of endearment for a heroine. Especially if said heroine is meant to be a kick-ass PI. With a touchy thing about babies.
- The secondary characters came out of a catalogue. This is particularly disturbing because Apodaca, in one of the sub-themes, attempts to make a point about hidden depths and looking beyond the surface.
- The main villain’s motivations seemed, to me, to be both far-fetched and unrealistic. Unfortunately, in a romantic suspense, a strong villain with compelling reasons is a necessity, and this villain didn’t make the grade.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the little details that steer this story wrong. There are two major problems that weaken The Sex on the Beach Book Club. First, the characters’ descriptions do not match their actions. We are beaten over the head from the first page that Holly is a tough, kick-ass PI, with a hidden heart of gold. The reason why we are beaten over the head is because Holly is, in fact, not tough with a hidden heart of gold. Holly is more like a bitchy marshmallow. And, for reasons disclosed in the course of the story, Wes is not fond of police officers. But, with not even a whispered token protest, he involves himself deeply with an entire family of cops. This kind of internal incoherency puts the whole narrative on a tilt from the beginning, and the story never really gains its composure.
The second problem is in the tendency to over-explain. From the beginning, the main characters’ thoughts are shadowed by an explanation as to why that character thought that at exactly that time. As a reader, I felt condescended to, as if I wouldn’t be able to figure out why Holly was angry or why Wes was smirking. This over-explaining also undermines the suspense plot. Much of what is given away in the beginning chapters could have been held back until much later to enhance the suspense and keep the reader guessing. I never try to guess the ending of a mystery – I think it’s churlish to rob the author of the opportunity to surprise me – but I knew who the villain was from the middle of the book.
These problems are really a shame, because in the last 20 pages, Apodaca really hits her stride and writes some of the most touching scenes I’ve read in a while. Her characters settle into themselves and become warm and tender and likeable, and I found myself really caring about the resolution. But slogging through 300 bad pages to get to 20 good ones … it just doesn’t add up to an enjoyable reading experience.