If it weren't for the fact that I once read books entitled Honk If You Love Real Men and Million Dollar Stud, I would say How to Knit a Wild Bikini was the dopiest title I'd ever seen on a book. At this point, it's coming in at third place. Since I know the question is on your lips - the reason I read this dopey titled book was because Christie Ridgway is one of the authors on the romance panel for my library's upcoming literary event. Yes, the panel I'm moderating. Yep, more homework reading.
Nikki Carmichael is a chef with a shitty knee. It's because of her shitty knee that she's quit the restaurant job she loves. Now she's unemployed with a shitty knee, but luckily there is hope on the horizon. One of her culinary school friends has recommended her to magazine editor Jay Buchanan. Jay runs a Rah-Rah-Man magazine that's like a cross between Playboy, GQ and FHM. He's Hef Jr. Peter Pan. A love 'em and leave 'em sort of guy who has a bevy of beauties more than willing to warm his bed for one-night-stands. Unfortunately he made the mistake of sleeping with his insecure next-door neighbor, Shanna (yes, named after the Kathleen Woodiwiss novel) and Jay wants her off his back. So he hires Nikki as his personal chef (he and his visiting teenage cousin, Fern, need to eat real meals after all) and to play his girlfriend on the side until Shanna gets the hint.
Most of my issues with the story stem from Jay who spends 3/4 of the novel walking around shirtless, calling Nikki "cookie," and just not manning up and being honest with Shanna. In real life guys of this ilk set off my Douchebag Alarm. They just do. And while Jay has his nice moments (he's not all douchebaggery), those initial first impressions are hard to shake.
Nikki seems like a nice, albeit distant, girl. She's very much a loner. An I'm An Independent Woman Gosh Darnit So Back Off. What I really liked about her was that she called Jay on 99.9% of his douchebagginess. She's got a smart mouth. Hell, I have a smart mouth so naturally I loved her. Unfortunately she's got a mountain of baggage and hang-ups. Almost too much really. A panel of shrinks could have a field day with this girl. After a while I was desperately hoping for something (anything!) "normal" to crop up about her.
The secondary characters round out this story - Fern, Jay's niece; Cassandra, who owns the local yarn shop; and Shanna, the bimbo next door. I have to admit the secondary romance featuring Shanna intrigued me quite a bit. Think of Shanna as Paris Hilton in ten years. A girl made famous by her famous family (Daddy is an Aaron Spelling-like TV producer) and her wild child ways. Well now she's 30-something, no longer all that famous, totally alone, and with no skills outside of being able to call her manicurist and hairstylist. Ridgway pairs her up with a blue-collar guy, and it was a great mix until the ending which got very soap-operay. I can't decide if the relationship is doomed to be toxic or built on a lifetime of enabling. I suspect it would have worked better for me if Shanna had her own book devoted to her. Girlfriend has some issues that needed hammering out in more pages than a secondary romantic storyline can allow.
So where does that leave me? Well, I generally liked this book. I wasn't madly in love with any of the characters, but it flew along at a good clip and I think Ridgway writes quite well. It was breezy and sunny (not unlike the Malibu, California setting), with some depth added to the mix so that it wasn't total cotton candy. I happily kept flipping the pages to see how it would turn out for all the characters. Hell, I'm even mildly curious about the next two books in the series. Which I guess means I'm more than willing to read Christie Ridgway again....you know, when it's not homework.
My Grade = B-/C+. I'm still waffling.