Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery (Book eleven in the Fool’s Gold series)

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Title: Two of a Kind
Author: Susan Mallery
Series: Fool’s Gold
Genre: Contemporary
Published: 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars

I went back and forth on this one. And back. And forth. And back again. There were things I liked, things that drove me a little crazy, things that made me go “Huh?”, and parts that were mildly disturbing. I really enjoyed the ending, though, for all its abruptness (quick endings seem to be the way of things in Fool’s Gold, I’ve noticed), so I’m sticking with three and a half stars. My love/hate relationship of sorts with this series continues.

Two of a Kind is the eleventh (!) book in the Fool’s Gold series (not counting the series novellas, which would make that number considerably larger) and features Felicia Swift, who made her first appearance in book ten, Just One Kiss, and Gideon Boylan, who we first met sometime during the Styker family books (Summer Days, Summer Nights, All Summer Long, and A Fool’s Gold Christmas). Both were formerly in the military–Felicia handled the logistics for a Special Forces unit and Gideon was in Black Ops. Both feel as if they can’t fit in with “normal” people–Felicia because of her uber-intelligence and less-than-traditional upbringing (her parents signed her over to a university for “enrichment”–i.e. guinea-pig-dom–at an early age) and Gideon because he was still suffering the aftereffects of a two-year imprisonment by the Taliban.

Felicia and Gideon have a history–they met overseas, where Felicia successfully seduced Gideon into ridding her of her virginity at the age of twenty-four. Her teammates Justice Garrett and Ford Hendrix (both also coincidentally living in Fool’s Gold now) had burst into their hotel room the next morning, and the two hadn’t seen each other since. Until this book’s opener, that is–which was one of its best scenes, BTW–when Gideon witnesses Felicia in a less-than flattering encounter with a six-legged foe:

“Rational thought and a working knowledge of hand-to-hand combat were useless when faced with the villainous power of the American house spider.

Felicia Swift stood immobilized in the corner of the warehouse, aware of the web, of the arachnid watching her, no doubt plotting her downfall. Where there was one female American house spider, there were others, and she knew they were all after her….

The light suddenly blacked out. Felicia jumped and turned, prepared to do battle with the giant mother-of-all-spiders. Instead she faced a tall man with shaggy hair and a scar by his eyebrow.

‘I heard a scream,’ he said. ‘I came to see if there was a problem.’ He frowned. ‘Felicia?’

Because the spiders weren’t enough, she thought frantically. How was that possible?”

Having had two arachnid encounters myself in the past week (sadly, without any intervention from big, brawny men), this opening really spoke to me. There were other similar moments, where I enjoyed Mallery’s writing and the characters she created–especially Ford, Carter, and Reese. At those times I was leaning toward a four-star rating. And then there were the other moments….

Felicia’s character, for example, is supposed to be super smart, but socially stunted. She essentially grew up on a college campus, and missed out on being a regular kid. As an adult, now, she wants nothing more than to be considered “normal” and to have a husband and a family. She just doesn’t read as quite “real” to me, though. Sure, she acts intelligent and uses big words and appears to miss social cues, but she comes off as…robotic, I guess. More caricature than character. Other characters’ responses to her often don’t seem realistic either. Several times when her friends are amazed by statements she makes and questions she’s asked, I just didn’t understand why. Maybe it’s just me, but often they seemed like statements and questions that close friends would make to each other. Or maybe I just spent too many quilt nights watching Sex and the City. I suppose that could be the case.

Gideon was more realistic, but the man had some real issues stemming from his imprisonment that I just don’t see getting fixed by the book’s quick HEA. At the very least, he’s going to have to really talk to someone about them. The whole denial thing is just not going to cut it.

Finally, the entire town of Fool’s Gold continues to bother me. I know that it’s supposed to be an ideal small-town environment and its inhabitants love it there, but I’m with the newcomers who tend to find it more on the disturbing side. People are waaaaay too involved in everyone else’s life. If perfect strangers were calling me up at my workplace and offering relationship advice, I’d stop answering the phone. Mayor Marsha has become Yoda in a suit and pumps–seriously, she’d creep me out in real life. There have been a few books in this series that just haven’t worked for me and several others that I’ve been iffy with, like this one; and yet I’ve stuck with the series for more than eleven books, and keep coming back for more….

It’s mostly for the characters. I really liked the two teenaged boys she introduced in this one, Carter and Reese. They were well-written, if a tad bit mature for their age. (Ah, fiction!) The rivalry between Ford Hendrix and his business partner Angel Whittaker made for some of the funniest parts of the book, as did their roommate Consuelo’s methods of dealing with them. Mallery tends to be heavy on the hinting of what’s to come in the series, and gosh darn it, she does make me want to keep reading to see how things will end up for the characters that she’s introduced in her earlier books. Ford is going to be the hero of book twelve, and I’m dying to read his story. His brother Kent’s turn is probably going to be soon as well, and you can sign me up for his story, odd townfolks and all. Darn that Susan Mallery!

In a nutshell: Promising story and characters, but ultimately it didn’t quite fulfill that promise for me. In the end, though, I’m still anxiously awaiting future installments to the series, ever hopeful…

(I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley and a print copy as a part of Susan Mallery’s “Review Crew” in exchange for an honest review.)

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