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Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Maze Runner (A Trilogy)

Pro: Good stuff
Con: Some slight far-fetchedness

The Bottom Line: If you want serious post-apocalyptic stuff or if you liked the movie but haven’t read the book yet, read the book.

I don’t often jump on bandwagons. Occasionally I’ll read a book to see what the hubbub is about, but not too often. My personal reading list is already too long. But after I saw The Maze Runner’s movie trailer, I decided.

That looks kick-ass. I want to see the movie first. Then I’ll read the book.

Mind you, that doesn’t happen often. …At all. But that’s what went down, and here we are.

Thomas doesn’t remember anything. Just his name. So it’s pretty disturbing when he is pulled out of a metal box and into the Glade – a place where dozens of boys currently live raising animals, tending fruit trees…and every day heading out into the Maze. The Maze always changes, and at night gruesome creatures lurk its twists and turns. The goal? Find a way out. But with the arrival of Thomas, things change, and the very next day a girl arrives in the box with a note: “She’s the last one ever.” That’s when things go from bad to much, much worse.

There is a LOT of stuff going on in here. You’re right along with Thomas for the ride as you try to figure out what’s going on, why these boys are here, and how they’re going to get out. The movie only puts you slightly ahead of the game, as it’s not entirely the same as the book (surprise). You wonder about who put them in there and the purpose of such a terrible place. And what’s more – what happens when they actually do get out. Thomas is constantly thinking, constantly questioning, and you’re doing the same thing with him.

All the characters are nicely fleshed out, and you quickly come to like guys like Newt, Minho, and Chuck. Dashner is skilled with his descriptions, as crazy as some of the things he describes are, you’re still able to picture them in your brain, though you’ll still find yourself wondering just how the Maze got built, what’s up with the Cliff and it’s long fall down, and how all these kids were supposed to figure this stuff out.

I mention a bit of far-fetched stuff, though maybe it's not really that. More like small things that popped into my head such as, “This experiment is terrible – not in a horrific way, but just as typical experiments go, the design is awful,” or “So Grievers have spikes that come out of their body – and yet people have zero problem with jumping on these things?” Or how they figure out how they’re supposed to get out of the Maze – that’s so convoluted and disjointed, no one would ever actually make those connections without prior knowledge (which is the purpose for a certain batch of chapters, I suppose, but if that never happened, the test would fail, and I guess everyone would die, but then you’re out of a solid batch of people, but what do I know?).

But those are easily set aside and you can let yourself be swept along in the insanity. I wanted to know how it compared to the movie and to see if I could glean any extra information from the book that I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting. Got it at the library around 1pm, finally finished the book around 6:30 or so. Even when you want to put it down, it’s pretty hard to do.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

So I might as well do a bit of comparison-ing. I liked both the book and the movie. The movie worked out well in the way that Warm Bodies worked out. There are a lot of things in the book that simply wouldn’t translate well over to the big screen and were perfectly fine to cut out. This may bother loyal followers of the movie, and I can understand, but the movie stands very strongly on its own two legs, and in fact, some thing that they changed I like better. Mostly because they make more sense (particularly the escape).

There are several characters that are cut out as well, but again, that’s something I’m okay with because you can do what needs to be done with the number of people that the movie uses, especially when other characters, while familiar and perhaps even close to you (so to speak), don’t really have much to offer other than dialogue and another body to fight or die. Other changes are small and okay – at least to me – such as certain deaths near the end, the map room, or the fact that Alby wasn’t a total jerk in the movie.

So go read the book or watch the movie. Either way, you’re going to have an interesting time.

After that, gear up for the Scorch.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot (A Book Set in a Different Country)

Pro: It's an enjoyable Highland romance - what else do you want?
Con: Nah.
The Bottom Line: Fun romance to read in the tub with some chocolate. Or whenever.

It started out as a joke. One of my co-workers requested I make an entire recommendation shelf devoted to romance books with giggle-worthy titles. The prank was that another co-worker's name would be on the recommendations - which he would never make. As I scanned various titles (including Wallbanger, and Sex Becomes Her), this one did indeed make me giggle, so I added it to the shelf. (Please note, I do enjoy romance and know that it's a huge industry. Our prank wasn't to make fun of that - but just to get a reaction from someone.)

To be fair, the reaction we got was pretty great.

But as I read up on the summaries of these books to at least make some sense in the recommendation (fake though they were), this one did happen to catch my interest. And I already knew Tessa Dare was an accomplished romance author. So I ended up picking up a copy from the library.

Maddie doesn't want to be out in English society. She'd rather stay away from balls and dancing and social gatherings. Instead, she aspires to be an accomplished artist and enjoys the quiet solitude of her own company. But when the pressure is on, she thinks up a quick lie that spirals out of control. She creates Captain Logan MacKenzie, a sweetheart she met while away (as her family hoped she might). For years their "correspondence" goes on as he is away in the military. Until finally she realizes she can't keep up the charade and conjures up his death. Which is fine, since he's not even real.

Until he is. And he's on her doorstep. And he's mad about everything - and ready to collect on the marriage and everything that comes with it.

I wanted to know just how the hell this guy showed up. How did someone she create become real? So I read. And it made sense. I mean, why not?

Each character's motivations work well. Logan wants a place for his men, Maddie can finally stop feeling like a fraud. Except she's not too keen on consummating the marriage and making it official. Marrying a stranger isn't exactly appealing, especially when his desires don't include her in the least. So her goal is to try and find the letters and destroy them. Then he'll have no proof over her and she can get out of this little debacle.

I had a good time reading this and I found it different in that there wasn't ever a bad guy. No clear-cut antagonist beyond Logan and Maddie's reservations around one another. Which is interesting. I kept waiting for someone to pop up and cause trouble, but it never happened. I guess it's because I'm used to those sorts of things in romance. There wasn't ever really a huge misunderstanding between the two, either - another barrier that tends to crop up in romances. I mean, there was one small one, but it wasn't anything major and was resolved pretty quickly. So it felt different, but that was all right.

It's a fun little romp if you need a good bit of romance to keep you entertained. It's your classic timid English girl and sexy Highland scot pairing, but that's always enjoyable to read - especially when the setting is out and about in the wild open world of Scotland, complete with beautiful vistas, lochs, and the occasional bog for our hero to pluck the heroine from. Enjoy.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dinosaur Lords (A Book Based Entirely on It’s Cover)

Pro: Interesting concept
Con: …Are we there yet?

The Bottom Line: “Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones,” reads George R.R. Martin’s tagline. Oh if only, Mr. Martin. If only.

I first saw the cover for this book a long while back on Twitter and made a mental note. Dinosaurs and fantasy coming together? Hell yeah I’m in. So when I finally, finally saw it in the store, I picked it up. I had high hopes. I mean the tagline alone was a huge lure. After all – Victor Milán has created a story with people fighting on dinosaurs with swords and armor. How could I not like this?
Unfortunately there’s a lot in here that just didn’t work well for me. And I hate to emphasize this but…a lot. And it really bums me out because I really hoped to have a great time reading this. Instead, I almost quit 30 pages in and decided if I wasn’t interested enough by page 100, I was going to stop altogether. The book held on – albeit barely – and I made it to the end. But I was left disappointed and don’t intend to continue with the series when the next book comes out. Because yes, it does indeed end in clearly-there-will-be-more-books fashion.

When it comes to the plot, one could describe it as Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones – however, both of those things are infinitely better. One half of the book is political intrigue that isn’t very interesting and that features characters that are equally uninteresting. There's Jaume, the best soldier in the land who follows orders even if they’re terrible and he knows it. Melodia, a princess who sounds like she could kick ass but seems more like she’s all bluster and never really does anything. Her father the emperor who is the biggest idiot in power I've ever seen, and Falk, the bad guy whose bad guy-ness isn't even hidden (which sort of ruins the whole "intrigue" bit) and despite being skilled and powerful is a total lapdog to his mom and a servant despite complaining about it all the time. Their story is slow and features zero mystery or surprises.

The other half of the book features Rob, a dinosaur master that lords hire and then shit on, something I didn’t understand (why would you be an asshole to the guy in charge of handling all your dinosaurs? Shouldn’t that be a position of honor? And actually, now I'm starting to question the title...) and Voyvod Karyl, the brooding super-badass who’s the most interesting character of the group because he isn’t an idiot and the gods clearly have designs for him. Their job? Teach a bunch of people to learn how to fight in order to defend themselves. Rob and Karyl’s ventures take multiple wholly uneventful chapters that could have easily been skipped for the sake of time and jumped forward to more interesting events.

Despite all the dinosaurs thrown at you, both in getting you to read the book and actually in the book, their inclusion is a bit of a letdown. Warriors don’t ride meat eaters as we all would expect, and the reasoning for this (which I’m sort of assuming) isn’t all that great. Instead, they’re on hadrosaurs. Go look that up. I’ll wait. True, they’re bigger and more dangerous at running people over than horses, but it’s still not all that impressive. You could take just about every dinosaur out of this book and replace it with an animal we’re all familiar with and it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.

An issue that cropped up early on that gave me a few red flags is simply the sheer number of names and point of views thrown at you in quick fashion. I feel like there should be some kind of fantasy rule of thumb that says don’t put more than 10 character on the page within the first few chapters. If I remember right, even if I skip over the Prologue, Milán dumps at least 6 or 7 different POVs by page 40. He’s certainly fine with throwing dozens of names at you in Tolkien fashion. People have multiple names/titles, and so do some of the dinosaurs. The first chapter flings you into the middle of a battle that is confusing as hell for a multitude of reasons, this being only one of them.

Now, at the beginning of the book, Milán makes it clear; this is not Earth, nor any version of it. And yet throughout the entire book we get people speaking in what is very clearly Spanish, likewise we get words that are very clearly echoes of today’s peoples – i.e. Frances (hm, French perhaps?), Anglysh (gee, English, maybe?). This totally defeats the purpose of us not thinking in terms of Earth. And I get that maybe Milán is using Spanish as his fantasy language, but that doesn’t work for me. You can’t just chuck a real language into a fantasy world. It’s distracting and totally takes you out of said fantasy world. “But Nicole, the entire book is in English!” Yeah, you’re right. It is. But when it comes to that sort of thing, I always think in my mind that the book has been translated into English so I can read it. What about Spanish readers, then? They’re not getting anything fun or special when characters just break into the language that's already on the page. Readers are supposed to decipher fantasy words through context or be told what they are later or have them purposely left to mystery. I know enough Spanish that I could read just about everything. And if he's not using Spanish as his fantasy language then...what the heck is the point? I simply don’t understand the logic behind it.

There are other, smaller points I could get into, but I won’t bother. Just know that overall, it was really disappointing. It holds so much promise and numerous possibilities, but it just fell flat. I wish Milán success, and I’m sure there will be some fans that enjoyed this and will read his second book. I just won’t be one of them.


P.S. Truth strikes once again - don't judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empress Game (A Book by a Female Author)

Pro: All the good things you want in a space opera.
Con: It’s the first in a trilogy and it just came out. FRUTT!

The Bottom Line: If you like space opera or Dune, this is something you’ve been waiting for and I suggest you pick up yesterday.

Rhonda Mason was a part of the Seton Hill Creative Writing Program. So was I. Rhonda’s gone and gotten herself published and on the shelves. And every now and again when that happens, I like to pick up one of my fellow graduate’s work and take a look-see.

Ms. Mason does not disappoint.

The Empress Game deposits us into a galaxy controlled by councils made up of people from numerous planets. But there is a seat open on one of the main councils – a very powerful seat. That of the Empress Apparent. The only way to win that seat is through ritualized combat, and certain individuals have decided to bring in someone who knows how to fight and who can win. Kayla Reinumon is that ringer, but what everyone else doesn’t know is that she’s exiled Wyrd royalty. It’s cheating, and they all know it. If they fail, they die. If they win, everyone might just get what they’ve always wanted.

That’s the book in a nutshell. A terrible nutshell. Trust that I really don’t do this book justice. That’s because the setting is huge on a scope of Dune or Star Wars. Thousands of planets and peoples with all manner of technology and politics and plans. But the scope doesn’t get exhausting. You’re zeroed in on specific characters at all times, and focused on what they’re doing because it’s so danged important. You get a taste for the galaxy, but don’t drown in it.

When it comes to the story, characters, and, well, everything, this book made me mad. Why? Because I couldn’t freaking read fast enough! I’m becoming an impatient reader, and when something is good, I admit, I start cheating. I sneak peeks ahead to see if someone is going to kiss someone else, if someone dies, or what someone’s super-important backstory is. I totally cheated with this book. Several times. I just wanted to know! But the only way to get it all is to actually read it like a normal person. It’s just one of those books that make you lament that you have to go to work in the next ten minutes or that dinner is waiting for you on the table. “Just spoon it into my mouth for me, will you? I need to finish this chapter.”

All the characters are likeable. Kayla was a very strong woman with her weaker moments, just like any person would. Malkor was, in a way, sort of the stereotypical badass with a soft n’good side, but I really don’t care. I love those guys no matter where they show up or how stereotypical they might be these days. When a man sticks around with you even though there’s a possibility of nanites eating your face, that’s a winner.

There’s plenty of excitement with the occasional downtime, which gives the pacing a good feel. The fight scenes are well-executed, and you get a little bit of everything. Swords. Knives. Hand-to-hand combat. While a few plot moves are predicable, on the whole you won’t really know what’s coming. And the bad guy is excellent in the way that he’s not even a bad guy you love to hate. You just straight up hate that guy because he’s one sick sonofabitch.

My only peeves are that now I have to wait for more books. Going in I really didn’t know if there would be more or not, and given that I hate waiting, was really hoping that it would be a standalone, but alas – total cliffhanger. And the other peeve?

Let’s talk about “frutt” for a second. “Frutt” is a made up word clearly meant to replace “fuck.” Now, I don’t care if cursing is replaced, but I swear every time I saw this word my brain immediately read it as “fruit.” No joke, while writing this, I even spelled fruit first. It does kind of bug me, though, when fuck is replaced with another f-word (let’s not talk about “frack”), or when swearing elsewhere is a-okay, but for some reason in the galaxy “bullshit” made it in, but the highly versatile and fantastic to say “fuck” did not. If you’re gonna go, then go all in. Don’t pansy out on one swear word for whatever reason. Frutt that.

But if you want to watch a woman kick tons of ass, need a new galaxy to explore, and maybe even sneak in just a touch of skin (go Kayla, whoo hoo!), this should end up on your next To Read list.


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Alive (A Book Published This Year)

Pro: All the things.
Con: …Only if, in subsequent books, we don’t get to learn the full backstory.

The Bottom Line: If you like a nasty little packaging of horror and science fiction, then this book is for you.

I debated at first where to put this book. I considered putting it as the Book Set in the Future slot, but when I finished and given what I’d learned, I didn’t think that worked quite right. Luckily I spotted the one listed above and decided that would be better.

Describing this book is going to be tough, as Scott Sigler himself makes a request in the very back of the book urging us reviewers not to reveal too much. And I might take that to the extreme since there’s so much going on, I really don’t want to reveal a lot of things, which makes it tougher to talk about, but I’ll do my best.

A girl finds herself in a coffin. She’s twelve, and it’s her birthday. Not the best way to start the day. After panicking and realizing no one is going to come for her, she manages to break out where she finds other coffins – and her name. M. Savage. She soon discovers other things. She’s not twelve. Today is not her birthday. And she’s not the only one trapped alive in a coffin that somehow is and isn’t a coffin. After releasing other boys and girls, they all realize the same thing as Em – nothing what they thought is true, and they can’t remember any of their past. That means it’s time to find out, and that is way easier said than done.

This is the bare bones of the story, the very start of a rabbit hole that goes in a horrific circle and gets nastier each and every time. I’ve read Scott’s work before – his adult novel Infected. I never got to the rest of the series, though I was able to do some quick skimming. Scott is very good at providing readers with a wonderful blending of science fiction and horror, and there’s plenty of that here. In fact, I picked this book up at work (surprise, surprise) in the teen section, thinking, “Guess everyone’s writing teen now,” (which is true)…only to open it up and wonder how the hell this made it to the teen shelves. I mean, Hunger Games has its nasty moments, but given what the characters in this book saw in some of the rooms they passed by – yeah. No. This is some Saw-style Clive Barker type stuff. Which is why, if you’re an adult in the teen section, frickin’ go for it, man.

Piecing things together is pretty hard for a while given the information that Scott provides you. He makes you think one thing completely given all the Aztec imagery, and then suddenly, BAM – if you’re paying attention to the details you realize you’re somewhere utterly different and it’s really bizarre. I don’t feel I’m giving anything away with that Aztec bit because it’s pretty clear with the carvings mentioned and some of the names that popped up that Scott went for the Aztec inspiration. But it works because like I said, it makes things all the more confusing.

While the concept overall (once you realize where they are) has been done – and I’d list books or movies, but then I’d be giving it away – the other details, as well as the whole Aztec bit, make it very different. So does the darkness and the characters. It’s a new spin on an idea that’s been used, and that’s okay. Borrow and modify, as they would say in the art world, and oh boy, does Scott modify.

There are questions left behind, but then this is also the first book in a trilogy (grumble, grumble), so for those questions to be answered, you’ll have to wait for the next two books. I’m really hoping they get answered because if the next book just focuses on where they were headed at the end of this book and the trials they’re facing there without touching on the history of this book, well, that would be irritating. But I don’t think that’ll happen. People are acting too weird, there’s a lot still going on behind them, and there’s still the question of that one girl…

It’s a solid read with a strong female character who has to fight with things that are and what she hopes aren’t a part of her. The visuals that Scott paints are strong – if this were a movie it could be super tense and extremely freaky in several areas. I’m digging what’s going on here and I look forward to the next book (tentative release date of April 2016).

In short, people like Scott Sigler make me jealous. Jealous of his writing skills and his ability to come up with such wild stories. Perhaps someday. Until then, I’ll keep on reading and immersing myself in this world – horrific though it may be.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nimona (A Book with a One-Word Title)

Pro: Fun and funny
Con: I would have gone for graphic novel dimensions for larger images
The Bottom Line: If you want something fun to read that’s a little on the unexpected side, this is a good bet.
This is yet another book I saw while at work and took a peek inside. I found a girl with the ability to turn into a dragon, a bad knight turning good, and a purposely stereotypical hero with flowing, golden locks.
Sign me up.
Turns out that Nimona is a webcomic created by Noelle Stevenson that, happily, has been collected and turned into a book – or rather, a graphic novel. The title is the name of one of the main characters, a girl who is actually a shapeshifter. And if there’s one thing I love, it’s a damn good shapeshifter, and Nimona certainly knows what she’s doing.
She pops into the life of Lord Blackheart in order to be his sidekick. Because good villains need good sidekicks. Although Blackheart is kind of an odd villain – he has a thing about killing people, and his plans are always getting foiled (so, like most comic book villains). Nimona hopes to help him change that, though soon things are getting a wee bit out of control – including Nimona’s abilities.
And that’s just the story in a tiny nutshell. There’s a lot going on in here that some people might not expect from a web comic (though to be fair, we should all know better these days). I liked the blending of science and sorcery – one minute people are swordfighting and the next someone sees a laser gun on the ground and snatches that up for extra firepower. It’s a neat story, too. Definitely not something I’ve ever come across. I also enjoyed the snappy dialogue and the art itself. The interesting juxtaposition of bad guy vs good guy even though bad guy isn’t really bad and good guy works for a group that sucks is always a neat twist, though not everyone can pull it off. Stevenson does so easily.
Okay, so basically I liked everything about this. It was simply a really fun read that has snicker-worthy moments as well as serious moments and an ending I didn’t see coming. At all. The copy I got was from the library and in hardcover (didn’t know it was available in hardcover). While it’s pretty sizable, I wished it was larger – like hardcover graphic novel size. Some of the panels are pretty small, which is a shame because Stevenson’s drawings are so much fun. I’m sure it worked out much better online because she could upload large images and readers just had to scroll through to read them. Here they’re kind of compacted which also occasionally shrinks down the text to quite small.
But that’s the publisher’s decisions so, eh. What can you do?
If you go searching for this book, you’ll actually end up in the teen section (at least at Barnes & Noble – other bookstores may have it placed elsewhere). When in doubt, just ask. It’s worth it.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Injustice: Gods Among Us Vol. 1 (A Graphic Novel)

Pro: My God…YES.
Con: Batman, you bitch.
The Bottom Line: I’d like the world to know RIGHT NOW that I side with Superman. Granted, I’m sure things get nastier later, but as we start out, I’m with the Man of Steel.
As per usual at work, I find myself faced with a lot of things I want to read. On one particularly slow morning, I thumbed open the first volume of Injustice. I knew all about the video game and the central plot surrounding it (tyrannical Superman + half of the Justice League vs. Batman + everyone else), but was curious as to how it all went down. This graphic novel provides the answers.
It starts with the Joker (as, let’s face it, all good, terrible things do), and for once, one of his nefarious plans makes it to fruition. Only this plan was against Superman. Hence the reason it succeeded. But what followed was a domino effect, complete with plenty of surprises in interesting little twists to moi, the girl who, while I may claim allegiance to geekdom and be a DC person, has never read a graphic novel in her life. (Don’t judge, I only ever saw all the movies and every single animated episode – and that shit was good. Er, the animated stuff, not all the movies. We all know about certain of those movies…)
Alas, this is the story of how Superman fell and how he took a good chunk of the JLA with him. And you know what? I’m with him. Given the dance that Batman does with all his enemies all the time (though, to be fair, that’s pretty much every hero and villain in every graphic novel), Superman’s actions had me going, “Oh YEAH! FINALLY someone does it!” And it made sense. I see both sides – what Bats is getting at and what Superman is aiming for. But in the end, I’m not all about protecting mass murdering psychopaths who literally have zero inclination to fix themselves. And in the end, pretty much every Gotham bad guy should have been handed the death sentence 20 times over and Bats ought to realize this. But, my ideologies aside, I’d absolutely be Wonder Woman in this scenario – except without the pining after Superman part.
It won’t take you long to read – at all. I picked this up at the library around 4:45, got home a wee bit after 5, and was done by 6 after plenty of interruptions by my dog and a bouncy ball. Unfortunately, now I’m waiting for the second volume to be available, and this stuff is addictive. Fun writing, quality artistry, and a solid story all come together very nicely for sheer enjoyment. This is the kind of thing that, if done right, really ought to be the Batman vs. Superman movie, but we all know Hollywood is dumb, so right now we’ll just leave it in the hands of smart videogame developers and talented graphic novelists.
Works for me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Zoo (A Book Based on or Turned Into a TV Show)

Pros: Freaky, but intriguing, concept.
Cons: A few holes and a weird reason, but oh well.
The Bottom Line: It’s hard not to get at least a little weirded out while reading this book, and I was certainly a fan of the moral of the story.
Zoo is my first James Patterson novel, although to be fair I don’t know how much of this book he actually wrote. Given that Patterson is cranking out a novel practically every other month and that every single one of them has someone else’s name on it as well, for all I know most of this book was crafted by Michael Ledwidge.
But oh well. It’s a good story with an interesting premise, interesting bit of pivoting between third and first person point of view, and quite the satisfying ending.
The story in a nutshell: Animals are on a killing spree. They’re killing humans, and no one knows why. Only Jackson Oz seems to notice the pattern, but it may be too late before anyone believes him.
Oz is the only character to get the first person treatment. I’m not sure how this worked out between Patterson and Ledwidge, but it actually works. We get to be inside the head of the one guy who seems to know what’s going on while stepping back to view everything else, only peeking on occasion into the heads of other folks as well as animals.
This book keeps you on your toes in that you don’t know what’s causing the animals to attack. I mean, you quickly gather that it has something to do with scent, but beyond that your little mind is going to be boggled. When it’s finally revealed it seems kind of strange and I’m still not entirely sure that I’m buying what they’re selling. Especially when lions in the middle of Africa are freaking out – it seems like the ones way out in the wild would be the animals to not go berserk. The other hole includes the resolution to solve the problem (or at least, begin to solve the problem), and it starts to go away in a matter of a few days. But given that the issue is not just exterior but also involved in our sweet, sweet human skin, I don’t understand why it would. They would still smell us and that’s a problem. And with the thing so deeply embedded into every animal at this point….well…
…For the sake of the story, I hit the “suspend disbelief” button and went on my merry way.
Because it’s quite the unique ride. You want to know what’s happening. You get edgy every time an animal steps onto the page. I started to get a weird sort of feeling reading about dog packs and loyal dogs switching just like *that* and attacking their owners – all the while with my dog nestled against my leg all happy and snoozing. Meanwhile I’m sitting there thinking, “I just hope your little amygdale doesn’t get any bigger.”
I also really did enjoy the writing itself. Very descriptive, tense, and compelling, which made the book hard to put down. While I also don’t think the government could actively black out information about all the animal attacks given the sheer number of people with cell phones that have video capabilities and the insane, never-ending power of the internet (these days I know stuff before I ever see it on mass media just through Twitter alone), I was willing to overlook that, too.
So Zoo has its holes, but it’s too thrilling and different to ignore. And I think the moral of the story is pretty on point. We screwed up, but hey shit happens – except then we keep screwing up. The sad part? This does not surprise me. Not in the least. Because if there’s one thing that is true in life, it’s that humanity is f*cking stupid. There is a slice out there of folks that I know would follow the rules and be intelligent about the whole thing, but lets face it, most people would die just like they did in the book, some of which I would not feel sorry for. So the ending really worked for me, and in fact I probably would have been disappointed if suddenly, ah-ha! they came up with a cure for the whole thing and we all lived happily ever after.
I do feel sorry for the dogs, though.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Scratch Beginnings (A Nonfiction Book)

Pro: A very interesting read. Surprisingly fast, too.
Con: None

The Bottom Line: Adam shows that it is possible to scrape your way up from the bottom – it’s hard, and it sucks, but it is possible.

One day at work, a girl asked for this book for one of her school classes. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. I think if that subheading hadn’t been there, I might not have given it a second glance. After all, I get people asking for all kinds of books all the time. But with that subheader coupled with the picture of some guy standing on the side of the road with just a duffle bag made me wonder – what is this book about?

It’s about just that – Adam Shepard heads out to a random city with only the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 to his name. He can’t use family and friends for help. He can’t use his previous history to help him get a job. He’s going in on a blank slate, or at least as blank as any person can be. He becomes another homeless person lost in the masses. But his goal is to have $2,500 saved up, a functioning vehicle, and a place to call his own at the end of one year. Is it possible these days? Can hard work and sheer desire get you to a better place in life like we’re all taught to believe?

Published back in 2008, it’s not terribly old so a lot of it should still easily apply. I found this book really hard to put down as each chapter brought something new into Adam’s life. This is a look into a place that we never see. The world of homelessness. The places they can go to get help and food and shelter. What it’s really like and the reasons it’s not what many people think it is. I learned about places that hooked places up with quick and easy labor (easy as in quick to acquire for the location, not always so easy on the workers), but paid like garbage because they’re essentially the ones doing the hiring so they can get away with paying the person a lesser cut than normal. I didn’t even know places could do that (restaurants aside – and let’s face it, people shouldn’t have to rely on tips to survive, but that’s a whole other ball of wax).

And before you jump on the “Oh, well he’s a white guy anyway so he’s got an advantage” wagon, Shepard acknowledges at the very beginning of the book that he is not in the same sort of position that many others are in. He’s not a single mother, he’s not a person of color – he doesn’t have added disadvantages and he is well aware of this. But this also isn’t a book saying, “Hey, anyone can do it!” It was his own sort of documented social experiment – a personal one. He wanted to know what it was like in the dredges of society. He wanted to know if people really were getting screwed day in and day out. He wanted to know if it was possible to get out, to get up, and for at least one person to, in essence, live the American Dream.

But I’m not going to tell you if he did or not – you need to read the book for that.

I think it’s the kind of book any person could read. It’s interesting and insightful. It has funny and poignant moments like any story of human interest. Adam has his setbacks, too, from struggling to find a job to breaking his toe and facing the money-eating world that is the hospital (he didn’t know about free clinics). It’s a reminder that if you think you have it tough, there’s always a lower rung you could be on (though most of us don’t like to think about that). Ultimately, it’s a good story, a real story, and one that might have you appreciating what you have just that much more, or perhaps working a little bit harder or budgeting a little bit better to improve your own lot in life.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The District 120 Reading Challenge

Wait...I thought I was District 150? And no, that's not any sort of Hunger Games reference/pun/whatever.

Anyway, that's beside the point.

My workplace (re: bookstore) has issued a reading challenge. Given that I need to read more books in general, I'm all for it. The challenge includes a long list - 50 items to be exact - that is actually quite handy. Each one describes the type of book we should try to read, which means we can either go out and find something that matches (and in some cases, you kind of have to), whereas in others you can simply pop in any number of books that you already intended to read.

The official challenge operates on the fiscal year - basically from tax season to tax season - so it started back in April. For some strange reason it's only just recently made it's way to us, so I've already lost several months to the year-long time frame it offers. I'm going to see if I can't go ahead and finish within that time frame (ending 4/30/2016), and will go ahead and include books that I've read recently after the start date (5/3/2015), but if it doesn't work out well I'm going to go ahead and give myself until October. Why? Because A.) that's when I'm obviously starting all this and B.) I have absolutely not read that many books as of writing this. I think the total is currently at 6.

So without further ado, here is the list I'll be working off of. Feel free to join me or just follow along.

  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book with more than 500 pages
  • A classic romance
  • A book that became a movie
  • A book published this year
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book written by someone under 30
  • A book with nonhuman characters
  • A funny book
  • A book by a female author
  • A mystery or thriller
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book of short stories
  • A book set in a different country
  • A nonfiction book
  • A popular author's first book
  • A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
  • A book a friend recommended
  • A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
  • A book based on a true story
  • A book at the bottom of your to-read list
  • A book your mom loves
  • A book that scares you
  • A book more than 100 years old
  • A book based entirely on its cover
  • A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
  • A memoir
  • A book with antonyms in the title
  • A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
  • A book that came out the year you were born
  • A book with bad reviews
  • A trilogy
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book with a love triangle
  • A book set in the future
  • A book set in high school
  • A book that made you cry
  • A book with magic
  • A graphic novel
  • A book by an author you've never read before
  • A book you own but have never read
  • A book that takes place in your hometown
  • A book that was originally written in a different language
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A book written by an author with your same initials
  • A banned book
  • A play
  • A book based on or turned into a TV show
  • A book you started by never finished
And there you have it. There are a few that I foresee problems with - such as the book I was supposed to read in school but didn't. I was that kid who read everything, no matter how dull or annoying the book ended up being (like The Scarlet Letter or Ellison's Invisible Man) and for the life of me can't think of a single book that I was supposed to read but skipped out on. So I might have to improvise on that one. A book to make me cry will be tough, too. Only 3 books in my life have made me get all teary-eyed, and you never know what might do it.

Still, there it is, and that's what I'm doing. Tally-ho (and all that).


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Plum Spooky - Beware the Pine Barrens in Jersey

Pros: I like Diesel, some funny stuff
Cons: "Er...what?" plot; I would have liked to see more of Wulf

The Bottom Line: This is one of those between-the-numbers novels, and for this one in particular, you can either take it or leave it.

If you aren't familiar with Stephanie Plum, you'd better go back and read the first book.  Or, if you don't want to do the entire series, you ought to at least go back and read the first between-the-numbers book so you at least know who Diesel is and get a better grasp of what his deal is.

In this book, you get to follow Stephanie around as she kind of follows Diesel around.  Diesel, meanwhile, is trying to follow a man named Wulf.  Wulf is working with Martin, one of Stephanie's skips, so it all works out.  Sort of.  Wulf and Martin are doing something weird in the woods.  Wulf is super dangerous, and the woods - the Jersey Pine Barrens - also happens to be where the Jersey Devil lives.  But he's not, right?

Actually, the Jersey Devil doesn't really do anything aside from an extraordinarily brief cameo appearance so don't read too much into that.  There's actually not a whole lot of plot.  A lot of trying to follow Wulf, not get killed, follow Martin, and get lost in the woods a few times in the process.  Diesel does his pop-in, pop-out thing, and in the end you'll close the book wondering what the heck Wulf's nefarious plan was anyhow.  Martin mentions it, but honestly, it sounded kind of stupid.  One of those, "Really?  Is that really what's going on?  Er, that's pretty lame."  And considering the way Wulf is described, it didn't really make much sense to me.

Overall, the book is amusing in typical Stephanie Plum fashion, though some people don't like the between-the-numbers books.  These deviate from the typical ridiculousness of the regular books and take things up just one more notch with elements of the fantastic.  Diesel and Wulf are "Unmentionables."  In short, they have weird powers normal humans don't have.  Personally, I don't mind the urban fantasy element because, let's face it, the regular books aren't exactly all that plausible as it is.  Besides, I like Diesel.  I really would have liked to see more of Wulf - including seeing him in action against Diesel.  Maybe that will happen in a future book.

So would I recommend it?  Eh.  Barely.  It scrapes by with three stars.  You don't need it as a stepping stone to get from one book to the next, so if you were inclined to skip it entirely, you'd be fine doing so.  But hey, it was funny watching Stephanie kick Martin in the gonads more than once, and oh, I forgot to mention the monkeys (that's right, more than one).  Carl the monkey makes a return appearance, and he's actually much more amusing this time around.


Originally published 2010 on

Friday, September 25, 2015

Plum Lucky - Horseshoes, Money, and Gambling

Pros: A horse and a would-be leprechaun. How is this NOT funny?
Cons: Semi-weak ending.

The Bottom Line: A hilarious little interlude between the 13th and 14th book. Too bad that makes it shorter.

Just when I was getting a little burned out on Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, Plum Lucky arrived in the stores. Since I’ve read every book so far (and intend to continue, as I have a habit of always finishing what I start), I’d put it on my “To Read” list long before it even came out.

If you’ve never read a Stephanie Plum book, I highly recommend them. I’ll give you a brief rundown, and while you could read this book without any extra knowledge, it would be a better idea to at least read Visions of Sugar Plums because a recurring character named Diesel pops up yet again in this book and she doesn’t give him a whole lot of introduction. That would be hard to do anyway because Diesel’s not exactly, um, normal. Ok, so Stephanie Plum blackmailed her cousin into giving her a job as a bounty hunter. Since then she’s been kidnapped, shot at, had numerous cars get destroyed in a multitude of ways, and in general, tends to screw up and yet make it out alive every time.

This time Stephanie finds out her Grandma Mazur has discovered a duffle bag full of money. Turns out a strange little man claims the money is his. Then Diesel pops up and informs Stephanie that he’s after the little man (who also claims to be a leprechaun). Nothing normal ever happens when Diesel is around, and Stephanie would rather say no – except now Grandma Mazur has gone missing. It’s going to take the combined efforts of Stephanie, Diesel, Lula, and Connie to find Grandma, figure out what the “leprechaun” wants, and who the money belongs to. They soon realize the problem is much bigger (in more ways than one) than they expected.

I really don’t want to give away too much, though the title and Pros have mentioned a few things that come into play during this book. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself cracking up while reading one of these books (or any book for that matter). Each book is written in first person, and the voice Janet Evanovich gives Stephanie is just fantastic. Her descriptions are wonderful and often hilarious. The situations Stephanie gets into tend to be so ridiculous, but because of Stephanie’s history, it’s not hard to believe she’d end up in them. While the main series is slightly less...fantastical, the in-between novels each deal with Diesel and the strange things that go down while he’s around. Elves (sort of). Cupids (sort of). Leprechauns (“You’re not even Irish.”). But who cares? It makes for great reading. It’s mindless fun, and who doesn’t need a little of that now and then?

Sadly, the book is rather short, and a fast reader can polish it off in a matter of hours. However, each in-between book is rather short and I’m sure Evanovich is busy working on the main series, so it’s acceptable. Hey, at least we’re getting a book, right? The ending did feel a little abrupt though, as if Evanovich was thinking, “Okay, let’s wrap this up, I need to get to work on something else.” Then again, maybe she was.

But it was hilarious, and extremely enjoyable. Read it on St. Patrick’s day and maybe you’ll find a duffle bag of money (though that’s usually cause for worry, so maybe not!)


Originally published 2008 on

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Plum Lovin' - Feel the Love

Pros: Goofy, fun, plenty of Bob the dog.
Cons: Not especially exciting, but that's okay too.

The Bottom Line: Hey, it's Stephanie Plum.

Stephanie Plum. Woman. Bounty hunter. Has amazing luck and too many men looking to hook up with her – which isn’t too bad since they’re all exceptionally hot. Enjoys doughnuts. Often has problems and exploding cars.

If you’re not familiar with this character and all her crazy misadventures, then I recommend rewinding to One for the Money just to get a feel for who Stephanie is, how she became a bounty hunter, and who some of the other characters mentioned fit into the picture. Then you could try skipping ahead to Visions of Sugar Plums so you know who Diesel is. After that, you’d pretty much be up to speed (but you’d still be missing out on tons of hilarity by not reading any of the other books).

Plum Lovin’ is “Between-the-Numbers” book, published after Twelve Sharp. These little stories include Diesel, labeled as an “Unmentionable.” According to him, it’s better than being called a freak of nature. Unmentionables tend to have strange and unusual powers beyond what anyone else would call normal.

This time Diesel pops into Stephanie’s apartment and has a deal for her; he will give Stephanie her latest bail-bonder skipper, Annie Hart, in exchange for Stephanie’s help. Annie is being stalked by Bernie Beaner, and until Diesel can shut Beaner down, he’s hidden Annie. Great. So what does Stephanie have to help Diesel with? Easy – Annie is a “relationship expert” and since she’s tucked away, her clients still need help. It’s up to Stephanie to play matchmaker and make sure these people all have a good Valentine’s Day. Swell. Except there’s more to the story than meets the eye…

That’s one of the weird things about this novel. You already know Stephanie is looking for Annie and that Annie’s wanted with robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. But it isn’t until quite far into the book do you find out the details and the second plot going on. I think it might have been a little better had that second plot been weaved ever-so-slightly into the rest of the book, but oh well.

Otherwise, this was a decent book. No cars exploding, and no one out to kill Stephanie (for once, which was actually kind of nice come to think of it. Made for a good change). Basically, Stephanie is playing Cupid the entire time with the occasional help from Lula and Diesel. It’s fun and a refreshing switch from the typical Plum novel, and though there isn’t any major action, there is some action – a different kind and the fun kind. Like a cat getting set on fire and Stephanie pretending to get married. The novel keeps going and never slows down, even when nothing major is going on and Lula’s eating doughnuts and Stephanie is chatting with Annie’s clients.

It’s a good time with some great lines and goofy situations. A happy ending on Valentine’s Day complete with a lot of flowers for Stephanie.


Originally published 2008 on

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Visions of Sugar Plums - It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas...

Pros: Creative and enjoyable - wish Diesel would pop into my kitchen
Cons: Faster than it should have been, not quite right for Stephanie Plum

The Bottom Line: This gets my creative thoughts stirring - I think this has a lot of potential to go somewhere else instead of just Jersey...

You know, I’m pretty much convinced that if my sister were to ever write a novel, this is the style she would write it in. …no freaking fruitcake and no goddamn partridge. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

For those of you who’ve never encountered a Stephanie Plum novel before, this actually would be an odd place to start. Normally I’d say, “Yeah, dig in” because I know people who have simply started at a number other than one and have been fine and dandy in the ways of non-confusion, but here Stephanie is already more than buddy-buddy with Joe Morelli, foregoes the explanation on how she became a bounty hunter, among other things. Janet Evanovich basically jumps right into the book, and it seems she assumes the reader already has read previous books and needs no introduction. Makes sense to me, since in the book is a list of previous novels, numbering up to eight, so I’m guessing she hadn’t popped out book number nine yet (currently she’s up to thirteen). In any case, I recommend you start elsewhere, such as book #1. If you know your Plums, stay tuned.

It’s four days until Christmas and Stephanie Plum doesn’t have a tree, presents, decorations, or anything Christmas related, basically. And now there’s a strange, albeit handsome, man kicking his boots up and making himself comfy in her apartment. The name’s Diesel and he’s, uh, well, something. Stephanie guesses maybe he’s an alien – he pops into her apartment, can unlock doors in the blink of an eye, and doesn’t set off her gut-instinct bad-guy alarm. He decides to tag along with her as she searches for Sandy Claws, a guy who stole thousands in power tools and a few gallons of paint from a hardware store.

When Stephanie isn’t falling off her roof, trying to fend off Diesel’s teasing, getting attacked by angry elves/little people, and looking for Sandy Claws, she’s trying to squeeze in the last days of Christmas shopping and tree hunting, hoping that she can somehow pull off a great Christmas and not get killed in the process.

For a long time while reading this I was wobbling back and forth from 3 stars to 4 stars. I finally decided on 3. Why? Well, while this book has a lot of good things about it, the not-so-good things simply outweigh them.


The sheer creativity put into this book is a lot of fun. Elves that aren’t elves, but they’re still little people, but they riot so they’re not exactly lovable. A somewhat supernatural dude named Diesel who bounces around teasing Stephanie but has a serious side too (vaguely reminding me of the phouka in Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks). A guy who isn’t Santa Claus, but at the same time kind of is. The bad guy and what he can do, etc. etc. Stephanie’s usual problems are still, well, usual, but at the same time, the circumstances around them are just unusual, all the while the book is easily enjoyable.


Creativity is great, but in the end, this is a Stephanie Plum novel, and even as wacky as those get, there is still reality behind them, or as much reality as we allow ourselves to believe. In short, nothing remotely supernatural. So that made this a little off-kilter, and while I’m sure that’s what Evanovich meant to make, it still doesn’t quite work out. I think if this was another set of characters with everything slightly reworked in order to somehow accommodate for the interesting plot, it would be better. Having said that, even as it is, the book feels a little rushed. Again, that may have been Evanovich’s intention, as Stephanie is stuck with just a few days to get Christmas right, but even leaving the rest of the book aside, the ending was pretty anti-climactic and finished up rather quickly. The bad guy shows up and suddenly is in custody and voila, a dash of Christmas magic and it’s over with. I don’t even mind going without a full explanation concerning certain persons, but don’t deny me the apprehension of the bad guy. Come on.

I could just cop out and say 3.5 stars since the imagination takes it a notch above "Average" but the rest takes it down from being "Above Average." Still, keep in mind I thought it was rather enjoyable, I really liked Diesel, and the book essentially did what it was supposed to do; entertain me for a few hours on end.


Originally posted 2006 on

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Secret Twenty-One - Why Is This Top Secret Again?

Pro: 4 (meh) entertaining hours
Con: Forgettable (though I guess that might not necessarily be a con…)
The Bottom Line: *shrug* It’s a Stephanie Plum book.
I think I’m desensitized to Stephanie Plum books. I think I’ve read so many at this point that they’re so predictable it doesn’t matter what happens or what decisions Stephanie (or others) make that I don’t really have much of a reaction. I’m not terribly amused, but I’m not mad either (though I will still occasionally roll my eyes when she slaps on one handcuff and not the other and the skip inevitably gets away).
This is book 21, and the next one won’t be out for a few months yet. I’m actually looking at the inside flap of this book because even though I read it just a few weeks ago, I’ve already forgotten the plot. This is not an exaggeration.
In this book, Stephanie is out to catch Jimmy Poletti, scumbag extraordinaire, but of course he’s disappeared. However, he does seem to be trying to kill Randy Briggs, who decides - for some reason – that he’ll be safe with Stephanie. Adding to the mix is someone trying to kill Ranger – which isn’t all that surprising given that he’s made plenty of enemies over the years.
In the end, the mystery isn’t really a mystery – I mean, it is until Stephanie walks into the person doing the killing while they’re in the midst of doing some more killing. I’m just saying that no one really figures anything out. Ranger is Ranger so he picks up on his problem pretty quickly, and everyone else is essentially, “Oh, yeah, that was me.” But I guess that’s true for a lot of Stephanie Plum novels – and mysteries I guess. Heck, even the Scooby Doo gang was surprised every time they pulled off the mask with a collective gasp of, “Mr. Withers!”
It’ll entertain you for a while, but there’s not a lot going on. There’s a great deal of Stephanie driving around, chatting with Lula, occasionally chatting with other people, going to her house and talking about food, going to Morelli’s house and chatting about maybe sex, and more driving around. Occasionally she tries to take someone down and fails miserably. Oh, and cars get blown up. Can’t forget about that. Frankly, if I were Porsche, I would stop sending cars to Ranger. Mostly because I’d be mad that all that hard work and dedication into a quality car was getting destroyed on a disturbingly regular basis. Like taking the time to make a really lovely ice cream sundae only to have the person you’re offering it to smack it out of your hands and onto the street. Granted, I don’t know where Ranger actually gets his cars, but that’s beside the point.
So read it if you want, or don’t, either way it’s not like you’re missing much. I cleaned this book up in about 4 hours, and yes I’ll end up reading the next one as well. I guess in that way I’m a bit like Stephanie – I keep doing something I should probably stop doing, but hey, at this point I’m invested, so why the hell not?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Takedown Twenty - In Which Stephanie Doesn't Really Take Anyone Down

Pro: Entertaining
Con: Meh

The Bottom Line: It’s the usual Stephanie Plum stuff.

I almost wonder if at this point I’ve become sort of immune to Stephanie Plum antics. Car gets blown up. She can’t catch her skips. Lula suggests they go get food. It’s book #20 now, so honestly if you’re joining in here I don’t know why. Though you could read the first book to get into the swing of things and then pretty much go wherever you want. For some bizarre reason Janet Evanovich still introduces all the characters, though by now it’s pretty much a given that people reading this book are most likely going to be those who’ve been reading it from the start.

This time Stephanie is charged with bringing in Stanley “Sunny” Sunnuchi, mob guy and favorite of the folks in the neighborhood. So this doesn’t exactly make Stephanie popular. Finding him is tough; catching him will be even tougher. Making matters more complicated is the fact that there is a serial killer on the loose, bumping off old women and leaving them in dumpsters. Sunny is annoying, but the idea that someone is killing old ladies and just dumping them really grates on Stephanie, so she’s made it her personal mission to figure out who’s killing them. Oh, and there’s a giraffe on the loose.

There’s a lot of meandering in this book. When we can’t find important people we’re visiting Morelli, going to Stephanie’s house, getting food, or cruising streets hoping to see something new. *shrug* Stephanie doesn’t actually solve anything- or even find anyone, for that matter. She just gets into messes, destroys cars, temporarily quits being a bounty hunter, debates about Ranger vs. Morelli (as usual), and so forth.

It’s not boring, per se, but just the usual stuff with the occasional actiony bit thrown in. The books don’t make me laugh like they used to and they’re pretty forgettable. I’d actually read this one as well because I did remember who the killer was and I remembered the giraffe – although what his purpose was I couldn’t recall. Already I don’t remember if Stephanie actually brought in any FTAs. …Maybe one.

I was disappointed that Grandma Bella didn’t at least come in and take the eye off Stephanie after the big reveal at the end. Then again, she probably wouldn’t believe any of that stuff anyway, so I guess it makes sense that Bella never makes a final appearance.

Otherwise, it’s a fast read that can keep you entertained for a bit before you’ll need a brand new book.

3 out of 5 stars.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Notorious Nineteen - A Little Bit of Everything

Pro: Entertaining for a few hours.
Con: Actually, not much with this one.

The Bottom Line: I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read this one before or not, but the one was much more tolerable than others.

I first read this book in 2012 and only vaguely remembered it. All I knew was that there was gold buried in someone’s flowerbeds…that’s pretty much it. Even then I wasn’t sure if that was right. But since I’m doing Janet Evanovich September, I figured I ought to go back and read it again in order to do a proper review. You’d think I might be keen on skipping out on the rest of the books since they’re getting a bit repetitive, but they don’t take long to read, and after this one, I’m hopeful for the next two.

Stephanie is looking for Geoffrey Cubbins. Apparently he stole $5 million from the retirement place he worked for and got busted. Except after going into a hospital for appendicitis, he disappeared and no one knows how. As she looks for Cubbins, Ranger’s been getting cryptic threatening messages and wants Stephanie’s help. Here’s hoping that between exploding cars, other tricky skips, and Morelli sexy time, Stephanie can solve the case, get her man, and get home by dinner.

The Cubbins mystery was kind of weird, but interesting, though I’m not sure why the bad guys would go after people that would be actively looking for them. Still, it’s nice that it was a multi-layered mystery even if it’s ultimately not too hard to figure out what’s going on. Though, to be fair, I didn’t figure out (or remember) how Cubbins got out of the hospital.

The Ranger thing was also interesting, though not much of a mystery, but that’s okay. The guy wasn’t exactly hiding his intentions, and Ranger had already figured out who it was, so it was just a matter of waiting for him to show up.

We get a nice little list of characters showing up and being useful in interesting ways, such as Randy Briggs, and Stephanie finally utilizes the toys that Ranger gives her without balking about it (too much). Though I still think she’s dumb for not staying at Ranger’s for the duration of being stalked by a psycho – her only reason is that she’s worried about sleeping with Ranger. Frankly, my priorities are not being murdered in terrible ways first, cheating on (sometimes) boyfriend second. But hey, then we wouldn’t have certain sections of the book, so it’s acceptable.

I don’t think I was as amused as I used to be with the first several books, but this is book #19 and it’s all the things we’ve seen before. At the very least I noticed that I was nowhere near as annoyed with things as I was with Wicked Charms. Stephanie actually shows real fear, isn’t afraid to call for the cops or other help, and characters act like they (mostly) ought to in various situations. She also doesn’t get ridiculously quippy when in said situations. If she talks, it’s to stall for time until the cavalry can arrive or at least gain some information, and there’s enough description around to fill us in that she’s freaking out and trying to think of other alternatives to not dying.

So I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. On to the next!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Smokin' Seventeen - A Day in the Life of Stephanie Plum

Pros: A fun, fast read.
Cons: If you were looking/hoping for something different - don't.

The Bottom Line: Good to read when you want something fun and stupid.

Long ago (when I was still in college), I had three completely different people recommend the Stephanie Plum series to me. Normally that doesn't happen, so I decided to take a look. Fast forward to now, twenty books later (she has in-between books featuring Steph). If you know nothing about this series, you're better off at least starting with the very first book, One for the Money, so you can understand the important characters. Then you could skip around if you wanted to because there are only a handful of things that actually link between books. There is the occasional mention of past events, but usually it's not important to the story.

This time around, Stephanie is just doing her thing - until a body is discovered under a dumpster beside the bail bonds office (or at least, where it used to be since it burned down in the last book). Awkward, but not really Stephanie's problem. Her problems include trying to catch a 70-year-old skip that may or may not be a vampire, dealing with the vordo and Grandma Morelli's evil eye, trying to avoid being fixed up on a date by her mother, and now there are more bodies showing up - a few of them with notes addressed for Stephanie. She's got a lot on her mind, but at least this time around she gets a lot of good food and, mm, good lovin'.

I know by now that the series isn't really going anywhere. It's more like what I put in my title - a day in the life of Stephanie Plum. A car blows up. She can't decide between Ranger or Morelli. Lula shoots people when they call her fat. Everyone eats donuts and Cluck-in-a-Bucket chicken. And Stephanie is still a total moron when it comes to catching skips. Actually, most of that I don't mind because I'm used to it and pretty much expect it. It's silly and mindless and just what I wanted at the time. Heck, it's a small book, too, and I read it in a single day. Okay, granted I was standing at the Nook counter with no customers so I amused myself for most of my shift by reading it on a Nook, but still. Give yourself a handful of hours and you'll have this baby done in no time.

What annoys me is that Stephanie is still such an idiot. I don't mind her being an idiot from time to time, but when it comes to catching skips, I really, really wish she would be smarter by now. I understand we need funny things to happen, but I think that's still possible even if she gets smarter. As it is, she's doing the exact same crap she was doing a dozen books ago. I sat there thinking, "For heaven's sake, when the guy opens the door, just taze his butt and drag him in!" It's also getting tiring when Lula pushes her around. For half the book Lula keeps fussing and whining about turning into a vampire after getting her neck sucked on by the old guy (even though he had no teeth). At one point I just wanted to Stephanie to tell her to stop being so stupid and just shut up already. But whatever. Sometimes I feel like I'm reading a more adult version of Scooby Doo, minus the talking dog. ...Though if Bob were around more, it might make things more fun.

As for the mystery, it's not such a big deal. It was more interesting seeing how many people were actually after Stephanie this time (three) as opposed to just one main bad guy. However, it's not hard to figure out who the killer is. At all. I had the killer pegged, oh, well before I think I even hit the midway point of the book. There's really no clear way of figuring it out, but if you've read enough mysteries, you'll know.

So it's quick, predictable, fun, ridiculous, and 100% Stephanie Plum. If you want high quality, go somewhere else. If you want total fluff, this is your book.


Originally posted 2011 on

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sizzling Sixteen - Not Really Hot Enough for That Title

Pros: Amusing
Cons: A bit too ridiclous, got kind of boring.

The Bottom Line: This book is the one that will make you wonder – is Janet Evanovich going to wrap up the series sometime soon to move on to other things?

As usual, if you don’t know anything about this series, scroll to the end and click on the first book. This is #16 in the series so you’re better starting at the beginning.

Stephanie Plum is a crappy bounty hunter. Ranger is smokin’ hot. Morelli is delicious, but he and Steph can’t seem to hold down a solid relationship. Connie has cleavage and Lula is, well, Lula. Vinnie, however, is a weasel and runs up his gambling debt a bit too high, landing him in some seriously hot water. He needs to get the money or die. Except since he’s been kidnapped, it’s up to Steph, Lula, and Connie to do it. Not easy. And eventually they discover that there’s a bit more going on than Vinnie’s crappy bookie problem…

This book went rather slowly. At least, compared to other Stephanie Plum books, this one was slow. It was just one long, “Where’s Vinnie? Where’s Vinnie?” deal with them sneaking around and trying not to get caught and cruising this boulevard and that street before finally doing something. It kind of dragged from time to time. It wasn’t all that funny, and in some places it got just a little bit too ridiculous. Kind of sounds like a dumb thing to say considering how ridiculous other books have been, but I don’t know…this time…

Hobbits. In a word. Evanovich brings back Mooner (for those that remember him) and he keeps yammering on about Hobbit Con and Hobbits start coming out the woodwork. I’d also like to add that I think Steph, Connie, and Lula are stupid. I realize if they’d gone to the cops, we wouldn’t have a book, and that their asinine plans are supposed to be funny, but even I have to draw the line somewhere. And I can’t believe they gave up a ton of money when certain guys didn’t even have Vinnie. Considering everything they’d already been through, the threat the guys made was a pretty crappy one (especially after what happened later in the book). And I’m really tired of Stephanie ditching Ranger's guys and being so dumb when it comes to catching skips.

It’s amusing, but not the best, and considering some of the things that happened near the end, I’m starting to wonder if Evanovich is running out of juice. That’s fine if she is. I mean, geez people, she’s done 16 books (if you don’t include the between-the-numbers ones). I wonder if maybe she’ll wrap it up soon with Stephanie Plum. But only time can tell.

3.5 stars.


Originally posted 2010 on

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Finger Lickin' Fifteen - Saucy!

Pros: Amusing read
Cons: Some of Stephanie's dumbness.

The Bottom Line: Something fun to read for those times when you're bored or want something fun to read.

Welcome to Stephanie Plum book #15.  I'd actually read this book a few days after it came out.  But then I forgot to review it, so here we are a year later with #16 due out in a week.  I read it again.  It's fine because for the life of me I couldn't remember what this one was about.  I just remembered Lula and a lot of barbeque sauce.

Lula, as it turns out, has been witness to a murder.  A beheading, really.  And now the killers want to snuff out their only witness.  Except they're pretty bad at, well, everything, so in the process they just end up with more witnesses.  Now Lula's trying to keep her behind (all of it) from getting taken out, and of course Stephanie has to help.  Meanwhile Ranger's security services are being compromised and he needs Steph's help too.  Except helping Ranger might be a lot spicier than helping Lula, especially since Steph and Morelli are on the rocks...

I pretty much read this novel in a day because it's fast, fun, and not too involved.  It's pretty much a day in the life of Stephanie Plum, and it's been long enough that I was as tired of Stephanie's dumbness as I'd recently been getting.  But that doesn't mean I don't remember.  Steph is notorious for making moronic decisions when it comes to her skips (the people who don't turn up in court after posting bail).  Twice in this book she allows people to go into the house or another room for some reason while standing there, la de da, oblivious to the fact that the skip is getting away.  At least the second time she acknowledged how stupid she was being, which helped to redeem her a little bit.  However, I still think she's dumb for even entertaining the idea that Morelli would let Joyce Barnhardt touch him without a HAZMAT suit.  Come on, the guy likes sex but he's not about to jump into bed with something that questionable.  He's not stupid.

It's pretty much all Lula drama this time, so if Lula annoys you, sorry.  If not, then you'll be in for some giggles.  I laughed aloud a few times because I just haven't read any Stephanie Plum-ness for a while.  There are plenty of good bits to enjoy, and I do like (from a writerly perspective) how Evanovich takes typical non-verb words and makes them into verbs, like "I fobbed my way into the garage." as in with a key fob.

Of course, there's plenty of Ranger goodness, and that's really hard not to enjoy.  In fact, you have to be dead not to enjoy Ranger.  All in all though, it's a good time.  All for fun, so don't take it seriously.  Just enjoy the ride.  And the barbeque sauce.

Ok, maybe not the barbeque sauce...


Originally posted 2010 on

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fearless Fourteen - More Like Forgettable Fourteen

Pros: Bob the dog is always fun; a potato gun.
Cons: Lack of get-up-and-go, overall just "meh."

The Bottom Line: Once you put it back on the shelf it's easy to forget it's there, or that you even read it. Hey, that's what happened to me.

Janet Evanovich has now written a crazy fourteen Stephanie Plum books and I think she’s getting tired of her main character.

If you’re not familiar with the whole Stephanie Plum bounty hunter girl thing, then I recommend you try out the first book to see where it all started, as well as understand who the characters are and where they’ve come from. Otherwise, read on.

Life as usual for Stephanie Plum. When Loretta, a cousin of Morelli’s, has to go back to jail after skipping, Stephanie gets suckered into babysitting Loretta’s teenage boy. Fine. Except now Ranger wants her to help him run security for famous-ish singer Brenda. Okay, fine. Er, now Loretta is missing, and not by choice. Not so fine. Dom, Loretta’s slightly crazed brother, serves Morelli with death threats and people keep breaking into Morelli’s house. Really not fine. There’s also the possibility of millions hidden in Morelli’s house. That could be fine...but it could also be fatal. Dang.

It sounds interesting, I know, but it’s not, sadly. I expected more from this novel than I got, even though I’m getting the sense that Evanovich is getting bored with the whole Stephanie Plum thing, especially since she’s expected to crank one out as fast as possible to keep readers happy (a normal thing to do as a writer, for the most part, but still easily tiresome). Not a whole lot happens that’s worthy of my memory, and usually I soak up silly book facts like a sponge. The book felt a little disjointed and more like Evanovich was just slapping stuff down on paper to fork over to her editor.

The plot is definitely not all that exciting. Straightforward and lacking any real mystery, with only a handful of giggle-worthy spots that include a potato gun and Bob the dog. Don’t let the mention of a monkey fool you—that part wasn’t all that funny. Brenda the singer could have lead Stephanie into a lot more trouble, especially since some dialogue from Ranger gave the impression that Stephanie was going to have a really difficult time with her, but instead Brenda comes off as stupid, pointless, and annoying from time to time. Even Brenda’s stalker could have been more interesting and turned into a good subplot, but instead it falls flat and while that could have been made into something funnier, it wasn’t. I read through this novel in about a day, mostly because I was bored and I figured finishing it would allow me time for more rewarding things.

The best parts are probably just the banter and sexual tension between Stephanie and Morelli and Stephanie and Ranger. The Lula and Tank story could have been better as well, but like I said, it just seemed like Evanovich cranked something out to shut up all the fans (understandable). Still, despite the lack of laughs and mundane plot, there are still some unresolved issues which easily means there will likely be a #15 somewhere in the future. Hopefully avid fans are willing to wait in order to give Evanovich proper time to come up with something really exciting and hilarious. I know I am. Besides, I need that down time to read other things anyway.


Originally posted 2008 on

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Lean Mean Thirteen - RangeMan Underwear? Yes Please...

Pros: Fun, dangerous, sneaky, and delicious (in more ways than one)
Cons: Somewhat typical of the Plum series

The Bottom Line: What you read is what you get.

Janet Evanovich started out writing Romance. A lot of writers tend to cross into another genre from time to time, and when Evanovich stepped over that invisible line into Mystery, we got Stephanie Plum. Bounty hunter extraordinaire (sort of) with several hot men on her heels, a knack for being in the wrong places at the wrong times, the right places at the right times, getting downright lucky, and always getting a happy ending. Just the way we all like it (right?).

This is the thirteenth novel in the series (hence the title), and if you want to make the most sense of the characters, I suggest reading at least the first novel. Doing so is also likely to suck you into reading the rest of them, which would be fine, since they’re all pretty much hilarious and a good time.

This time Stephanie has agreed to do a tiny favor for Ranger – plant a bug in Dickie Orr’s office. Actually, it’s a big favor since Dickie is Steph’s ex-husband and huge jackass and every time Steph sees him, she’s likely to punch him in the mouth. But she manages to get the job done (with a few extra violent perks) and all seems well with the world. Until Dickie goes missing and Stephanie finds herself the main suspect. Is he dead or alive? And was the firm he was with even legitimate? Er...and why is everything on fire?

That’s the barebones lowdown. You’ll have to read the book to find out the rest – like whether or not Stephanie hooks up with Ranger or if another one of her cars goes kablooie.

Basically it’s your typical Stephanie Plum book. At the very least this time Stephanie manages to balance stupidity with smarts. For example, she’s still too dumb to figure out when you cuff someone you cuff both hands immediately. You do not cuff one hand and then stand around chatting with your FTA. That’s getting really old and annoying. Or when someone comes to your apartment and threatens you big time, you call the freaking cops or Ranger’s men the second you get the chance – you don’t let the guy get away. This time, though she, ah, does those things like a moron, she actually welcomes the security that Ranger’s guys bring by following her around instead of getting on an I-am-woman-hear-me-roar ego trip and giving them to slip (only to really, really need them later). That in itself was a nice change.

There isn’t much mystery though. Now when I say that, I mean there aren’t a lot of clues for you to put together and try and solve yourself. Rather, you’ll be busy thinking, “Where’s Dickie?” and probably wondering what the deal is with the guys at the firm, but it’s not really something you can puzzle through. Instead you find out what happened to Dickie and then get told what the deal is with the firm. It’s all laid out for you, map-style. This may bum some people out but since I’m not exactly an avid mystery reader (though I do really like to piece things together), I don’t much care. It happens.

Your usual crazy escapades with Stephanie are dotted throughout the book, subplots consisting of FTAs. Though those FTAs really do have some quirky things going on. Things you’d never expect. Ever. There are a few parts where you’ll laugh out loud, others where (if you’re a woman or gay) you’d go “Oooh” and envision either Joe or Ranger next to you, um, doing things, and still other places where you may not even be sure what to make of what the heck just happened. Haha.

It’s a good book. Keep going with the series. Plum Lucky is next – and it’s hilarious.


Originally posted 2008 on

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