Bubbles Unbound
by Sarah Strohmeyer
(Dutton, $22.95, NV) 0-525-94580-6
****
Three words describe this book: Over-the-top. From the characters to the action, Bubbles Unbound takes it to the extreme in a thoroughly fun-to-read romp.

Meet Bubbles: most people tag her as the typical dumb blonde, with primary interests being sex, gossip and soaps. But Bubbles is more than that. She's also a single mom, the premiere hairdresser at Sandy's House of Beauty and a perpetual student at the local community college. It's not that she has a love of learning; it's more that it's the only way to suck money out of her social-climbing ex-husband Dan.

Bubbles is secure enough to ignore how almost anyone perceives her - except her daughter, Jane. Bubbles married as a teen because she was pregnant and put Dan through law school only to have him leave her when he finished school. Bubbles and Jane still live in the same house, Bubbles still has the same job, they live paycheck to paycheck surrounded by generic everything. Bubbles wants Jane to get more out of her life and decides she needs to be a better role model for Jane.

Bubbles has gone through (and flunked out of) most of the college's courses, but shows a knack for her latest class: Journalism. After Bubbles snares an exclusive interview while on the class's courthouse field trip, the nighttime editor of the local paper (also her professor) begins giving her freelance assignments. After acing her class, Bubbles is on the lookout for her big break, the story that will launch her fulltime reporter career.

On the way home from an assignment gone awry, Bubbles comes across a murder scene and soon is smack dab in the middle of not only the biggest story of the year, but also the biggest lawsuit ever brought against the local newspaper. Determined to ferret out the truth before being killed herself, Bubbles uses all her weapons: her looks, charm, a gossip's...errr, journalist's, nose for garnering information, and the dubious protection services of her mother, her mother's hulking militia friend, Genevieve, and Stiletto, a sexy AP photographer who may be her savior...or her assassin.

Bubbles is an unconventional and lovable heroine. She admits to having a fashion weakness for hot pants and tube tops and realizes most people think she dresses the way she does for men. But, as she explains, this isn't the case. "I dressed this way for me. It's a medical fact that my body won't accept cotton or wool or drab colors for that matter. They make me itch and depressed. I don't feel comfortable in anything that's not tight or stretchy or short."

Strohmeyer's style reminds me a bit of Janet Evanovich, but faster, more "unbound." In fact, Janet E. was Strohmeyer's mentor on the book. Nonstop action, humor and unconventional characters make this an easy, fun read. No matter how over-the-top the characters or action is, Strohmeyer doesn't neglect building a good mystery (and a few twists) into the story either. As a bonus, scattered throughout the story are homemade toiletry recipes contributed by the "characters," such as Ten Steps to a Bubbles Deluxe, Tiffany's Beauty Treatments, Mama's Peppermint Pick Me Up and Sandy's Coffee, Rosemary & Vinegar Rinse.

If you like your mysteries on the wild side, be sure to check out Bubbles Unbound.

--Jamie Engle


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