Review: “The Heist” by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Heist: A Novel (Fox and O’Hare)

A review by Vanessa

The FBI is not supposed to let the bad guys go. But sometimes a criminal might just be what you need on your side to get the job done. At least, that is what FBI Agent Kate O’Hare keeps trying to tell herself. For five years she has chased the illusive, brilliant, and boyishly charming con artist Nick Fox across the country. Watching him escape time and again has been the frustration of her career, and her personal life, especially since he has been so bold as to taunt her by visiting her hotel rooms while she is not in them. Now she has finally caught up with him, and fulfilled her promise to herself to arrest him and put him behind bars. If only she wasn’t suddenly so bored after all of the excitement of chasing him for so long. But somehow, after a daring courthouse escape, Nick has pulled off the greatest con of all; he has convinced the FBI to let him stay free and work his con-artist magic to help them catch the bigger badder bad guys. And Kate is first on his list for a partner to work with in nabbing his new marks.
Kate is as tough as they come. Raised by a career marine soldier, and an ex-Navy SEAL herself, she has never liked the idea of seedier undercover work. She likes busting in, smashing down the doors, and arresting the bad guys with her glock in hand. But in truth, chasing down Nick Fox has given her an addiction to the excitement she can’t deny. So when her boss’s boss’s boss, the deputy director of the FBI, gives her a choice to work with the con-man instead of chasing him she says yes. Against all of her better judgements. The bad guys they are going after are far nastier than Nick Fox and Kate is all about bringing in the criminals, no matter what it takes. Nick just wants a chance to stay out of the jail cell, and maybe to have some fun working with the attractive and complex Kate. So when they go after the famously corrupt Derek Griffin both Fox and O’Hare are in for a bit of a surprise as to what they can learn from each other, and what a great team they will make.
As always, I am endlessly amused when I read collaborative work that joins the best traits of humor, action, engaging supporting characters, and attraction from a co-author team. Especially when that team is a male-female duo who are masters at their craft. Evanovich and Goldberg create an action-packed exciting world where the hardcore, military trained, fast food chugging, crack-shot FBI agent is a 5’5” slender brunette, and the charming, likes-to-enjoy-the-finer-things, life-long con-artist criminal actually has heart of gold and sense of loyalty a mile wide. When they throw in the cast of supporting characters, each with a surprising depth even when they only have short moments in the story line, it makes for some seriously entertaining reading. There is no end of excitement, intrigue, and of course when Evanovich is involved, humor. Bringing the two main characters together when they are so at odds with each other and simultaneously fighting their attraction to one another is skillfully executed by the authors collaborative writing. That the two characters can so smoothly transition from enemies to partners in a totally believable way is a mark of their talent in working together. I highly recommend this book and the rest of the series.

5 out of 5 stars

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Review: “Seeing Red” by Sandra Brown

Seeing Red
A review by Vanessa

This book was purchased and suggested by my mother, an avid mystery reader.

Sleeping off a hangover, and staying out of the spotlight, are John Trapper’s top priorities in life when news reporter Kerra comes walking through the door of his P.I. office. But if the bombshell of information she just dropped on his desk is any indication, he won’t be achieving either of those. Kerra wants Trapper’s help to get in contact with his famous, and now reclusive, hero father so she can reveal a secret of her own to the world; a secret about the infamous Pegasus hotel bombing that happened to make Major Trapper a hero 25 years prior. But Trapper knows there is more to the bombing than anyone else thinks from his time investigating it while at the ATF. His obsession with the tragedy that shaped his father’s, and by extension his, life got him fired 3 years ago, and left him estranged from his father. But the appearance of Kerra might just be the one thing that breaks the whole mystery wide open. Kerra won’t give up until she gets an interview with the man who saved her life all those years ago. She’s prepared do what she has to. What she isn’t prepared for are her feelings for Trapper. She can see the wounds he tries to hide, and she knows together they can find the answers to the questions he has. Especially when finding those answers may be the only thing that saves her life this time.
This book is a good read and the prose itself is as flawless as it can be. The dialogue is engaging, and scenes playing out between the characters were filled with tension and interesting twists. Last minute changes in direction during the action keep the reader engaged and propel the story line forward. The love interest is scorching and not easily to be forgotten. The hero is the very definition of smoldering; your classic brooding sex-god with a difficult past that you can’t help but fall in love with and want to “save.” The heroine is no exception to this of course. On the whole Kerra stands on her own ground for most of the story; holding on to her determination, displaying her strength of character and stubbornness without shame, and generally giving the hero a run for his money.
The only mildly disappointing thing is that after meeting Trapper, each time Kerra makes a move within the story line so much of her motivation is linked directly to him. Yes, her initial determination is for herself at the beginning and that makes her an interesting catalyst for the beginning of the story line. But thereafter her personal journey takes a back seat to his. Kerra has such an interesting backstory, but her background doesn’t seem to inform her current behavior at all after it has been established. With Trapper, you can see the personal torture that comes with it every decision he makes, and it makes him a very engaging character even when he is being a jerk. But for Kerra there are so many moments throughout the book where she seems to be there more as a prop for the hero rather than as a driving factor in the plot line of the book, even though her life is literally on the line. Although she fades in later chapters she isn’t an entirely gray character, and the story as a whole keeps the dynamic between the characters, including Kerra, interesting and engaging. Good read.

4 out of 5 stars

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Review: “One for the Money” (Stephanie Plum #1) by Janet Evanovich

A review by Vanessa

This book is from my own personal library; this review takes a look at the popular novel through the lens of the major motion picture it became.

Stephanie Plum is no stranger to desperation. It’s not like she hasn’t been through the ringer before, but when she loses her job as a lingerie buyer and is forced to go to work for her perverted cousin Vinnie at his bail bonds office, she knows she has hit a new low. But when a big FTA (failure to appear) hits Vinnie’s desk, Stephanie thinks things might just be looking up. The FTA is the man who took Stephanie’s virginity, Joe Morelli, and she’s got a big score to settle with him. Tracking him down and dragging his ass back to jail is the perfect opportunity to do just that, and make some big cash as a bounty hunter. Of course she has no skill-set, no training, no tools, and no cash to get what she needs to get started. Blackmailing her cousin into letting her take the case is just the first step. If she wants to make a real go of this new career, she’ll have to get serious. Enter Ranger. The guy is big and scary to the max, with attitude, gorgeous eyes, and muscles for days; but he’s the real deal, and he’s willing to mentor Stephanie so she has a chance at catching Morelli. Now all she has to do is survive telling her traditional Italian family that she’s about the take on a job where she has to start carrying a gun.
Things get crazy, hilarious, and terrifying quickly when the case surrounding Morelli’s arrest turns out to be far more complicated than Stephanie thought. Luck is on her side when she finds Morelli fast, but doesn’t have the clout to bring him in. Her only option is to follow the evidence, and the trail of criminal activity that Morrelli is tracking to try and clear his name. Maybe she can catch him unaware and force him to bring himself in. But getting more involved means getting into the line of fire of a psychotic murderer, some big time drug runners, and her crazy grandmother who is unnaturally fascinated with Stephanie’s new line of work. She has got to get Morrelli to come in before someone gets really hurt. She just hopes it isn’t her. But maybe with a whole lot of dumb luck, a little strangely accurate intuition, and the right timing, she’ll get her man in the end.
This book is the first in a long series that got its start back in the mid 90’s, and was made into a movie in 2012. For a book series that now spans multiple decades, it’s no secret why it’s still going: Evanovich is a master of character writing. She weaves the story together in sometimes interestingly haphazard ways, but always the characters that drive the action are multi-layered, unfailing entertaining, and admirably lovable or the kind you love to hate. Stephanie Plum is the perfectly inept heroine of her own story; brassy, bold, unpredictable, totally independent, and completely unprepared for everything she gets herself into. And boy, does she get herself into some crazy stuff, often with her hilarious Grandma Mazur in tow. This book made me fall in love with Stephanie and all her wacky hi-jinks, so I was of course ecstatic to learn that it was being made into a movie. But as always when a favorite novel goes Hollywood, there is bound to be some disappointment.
Overall, I have to say I was impressed with how the movie was able to modernize so many aspects of the story, without ruining the essence of what made the original story so great. Throwing cell phones, modern technology, and an update to Stephanie’s iconic fashion habits into the mix could have played out of tune with a story that was written in the 90’s, but they did a good job. What was lacking was the backbone of what made Evanovich’s writing so great; the strength of the characters. Katherine Heigl is no slouch in the acting business, and I certainly appreciated the independence, determination, and attitude that she tried to bring to the Stephanie Plum character. But there is a certain element to Stephanie, an untenable unpredictable ability to bullshit her way through almost anything, that was lacking in her movie persona. Morelli, played by Jason O,Mara, was a bit more satisfying with his passionate anger, and lust filled attitude, but even he was bit too much fiery Irish-man and not enough smooth-and-simmering Italian.
But I was most let-down by Grandma Mazur. The lovely Debbie Reynolds is a wonderful actress, and her brashness on screen was entertaining, but her liveliness was no match for the Grandma Mazur of my imagination; the one who sports spandex shorts to match Stephanie’s coolness factor and somehow pulls it off better than she does; is innocently fascinated with Stephanie’s gun right up to and including when she shoots the gumpy off the chicken at family dinner; and is fiercely loved and protected by Stephanie who feels they are kindred spirits. I still enjoyed seeing the personification of my favorite characters on screen, but I do hope one day they bring it back as a TV series, and spend a lot of time picking out the perfect people to capture the fantastic essence of the characters.

4.5 out of 5 stars for the book
3 out of 5 stars for the movie

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Review: “Nephilim” by Jeb Kinnison

A review by Niraja

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mt. Hermon, Utah, is the small Mormon town, that Sara is moving to. Jared is a local kid with a few addictions he is working to overcome. The two meet, become friends, and begin to fall in love. Meanwhile, near the abandoned Zion Mine that was once thought to contain treasures of lore, young people begin to disappear. Sara and Jared must fight for their lives and the fate of humanity, as dark angels plot and evil forces arise.

Nephilim, by Jeb Kinnison is a book chock full of US and Mormon history, religious ideology, and mythology. Surrounding this history is a story of two modern day teenagers who must fight evil with faith and love. Mr. Kinnison does a great job showing how the power of love and the power of faith can lend strength to overcome obstacles of daily life as well as the greater forces of evil. His writing is simple and straightforward, yet he is able to create clear pictures of people and places in the reader’s mind. Through Mr. Kinnison’s writing, one can also understand and empathize with his characters’ thoughts and feelings. Even so, there was a lack of depth to the characters; they felt a bit one dimensional. As a result, I was never totally drawn to any of the characters and never fully invested in their struggles. Their struggles, resulting in the final action scene was exciting however, and I appreciated the imagery and creativity of how Mr. Kinnison uses the characters’ connection to online games in their fight against the evil forces.

At the beginning of the story, I appreciated the tidbits of US history as well as the history of Mormons (and a bit of those of Jewish faith). I also appreciated the sections of the book where it describes Mormon religious scripture and how the faultings of men who wrote scripture can account for its clash with some findings of science science and yet the basic tenets of faith still apply. As the story continued however, full chapters of history and religious teachings slowed down and interrupted the story, for me personally. I felt myself wanting to skip and skim some of these chapters in order to get back to the story. As a result I may have missed if there were any significant bits that would have added to the sorry.

Overall, I think that the story had some interesting ideas and plot lines. However, I also feel that the story structure and character depth could have been improved or changed to allow the reader a greater connection and investment in the story.

Rating 2.5/5 stars

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Review: “The Trouble With Harry” by Katie MacAlister

The Trouble With Harry by Katie MacAlister

A review by Vanessa.

The new home of Harry Haversham, Lord Rosse, is full of secrets. It is only natural seeing as how Harry used to be a spy, working for the Home Office, serving King and country. Now Harry is a family man in search of something even more important: a wife. After the death of his first wife in childbirth, Harry is not looking for some young title-hungry girlish maiden to throw his life into chaos. He needs a good woman to help him rebuild his new home. But Harry will have to keep a few secrets from the new Lady Rosse. To avoid someone marrying him only for his title, he won’t tell her he is a lord until after they are married; and perhaps it would be best not to mention his five children. First Harry must find the perfect woman. Someone of strong character, good humor, of some age, who loves children, and isn’t to unpleasing to the eye… Someone just like Frederica Pelham. But of course, the lady has one whopping large secret of her own. And Harry’s spying days might not be as far behind him as he thought.

Frederica Pelham, Plum to her friends, isn’t quite sure she is doing the right thing when she answers the advertisement in the paper looking for a wife, but she hasn’t much choice. After being ruined by her first husband, whom it turns out couldn’t be her husband since the lying charlatan was already married, she has been cast out of polite society. Trying to care for herself and her orphaned niece has become impossible, and Harry seems like an answer to her prayers. He is handsome, and as it turns out, a lord who doesn’t seem to know anything about her troubled past. It doesn’t feel right not to share the secret but Plum has to do what she can to survive and to be a good mother to her suddenly five stepchildren! Besides, she has an even darker secret that could ruin them all if anyone were ever to find out. Plum wrote a book, but not just any book. She wrote the most popularly banned book that is all the rage with high society known as the Guide to Connubial Calisthenics, and if anyone ever found out the fallout would be more catastrophic than ever. She has to do everything she can to keep Harry from finding out about her past and her secrets, for her sake and the sake of her new family. But how long can secrets really last?

MacAlister’s ability to shape a plot line is always fantastic. It is not just about her ability to develop lovable and interesting characters, but the way she weaves together the experience of discovering her characters with the overarching romantic story is really wonderful. In this novel, she does just that with the intriguing backstory of Harry, and his experience as a spy and his very entertaining five children. Plum, as well, is a strong character whose own backstory is fascinating and makes for a complex twist in the romance set up between the two of them. I really like how MacAlister writes in the historical romance genre, setting up the obvious tropes of the time, while still allowing her lead female character to show uncommon strength, tenacity, and determination. Having read so many of McAlister’s modern paranormal romances, I remember being very eager to see how she fit her classic humor and writing style into the historical romance genre. This one was my first of her historical romances, and she did not disappoint. The romance is passionate, heat-filled, and satisfying, but there is so much more to the story the reader will discover through the mysterious twists and turns. A great read!

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Charlie All Night” by Jennifer Crusie

 

“Charlie All Night” by Jennifer Crusie

A review by Vanessa.

This book is from the reviewer’s personal collection, bought many years ago. As always it is nice to go back and revisit old comfortable standbys.

Charlie Tenniel has a job to do. It wouldn’t be his choice to masquerade as a radio DJ at Tuttle, Ohio’s WBBB radio station, unless he has a good reason and becoming a famous radio personality, isn’t it. In fact, he is just doing a favor for the station owner who is a friend of his father by investigating a menacing letter sent to the station. Charlie is determined to find out what’s going on and then get out. After all, Charlie doesn’t do long-term commitment of any kind, and especially not to a job he never wanted and doesn’t know anything about. But if his druggie brother could manage to be a DJ then Charlie should be able to use his brother’s reputation as a cover; and with no one the wiser he can finish his snooping, solve the mystery, and be gone in a few weeks. Of course, Charlie has no idea what is about to hit him when Bill gives him Alice McGuffy as a producer for his show. Her spunk, determination, commitment to her career, and fantastic mouth may just put his determination to stay detached and not make waves to the test.

Allie is one of the best producers in the business. Which is why when her boss Bill pulls her from producing the best time slot and sticks her with a new DJ in the worst time slot for no good reason, she is not happy. Of course, the upshot is it means not having to work with her yuppie-scum-dweeb of an ex-boyfriend, radio talent Mark King, anymore. And Charlie is… well bred. And steady. And funny. With a voice like melted chocolate and a natural talent for radio. In fact, maybe Charlie is just what she needs. A quick fling to get over Mark, and a new talent to push her career back onto the right path. But with Charlie fighting her at every turn by refusing to be a star and driving her crazy, both in the radio booth and in her bed, things might be a bit more complicated than she thought. And Charlie keeps saying he is only temporary… will he really leave when his job is done?

Crusie is and always has been one of my favorite authors. One of the greatest aspects of all of her books is her ability to give characters, main and secondary, a sense of being completely whole and alive without killing the story with tons of mundane details. Her writing can be described as simple, but good, and though that has a tendency to sound like the equivalent of boring it is anything but. Her stand-alone romances, like this short and sweet novel about Allie and Charlie, are always an excellent comfort read. She packs in just enough mystery to keep you curious but as always the real story is about the people you meet while reading. They are complex, lovable, interesting, and relatable. In this particular book, the story is less about getting the bad guy and more about what good people have to do in bad situations. And love. It’s always about love. The kind you stumble across when you didn’t even know it was coming. It flaunts a few romantic cliches that are predictably old-fashioned, where the guy acts jealous when he has no right, and the girl forgives his mildly misogynistic faux-pas in the end. But all in all this one is comforting like wrapping up in your favorite quilt and relaxing away an afternoon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Angel of Eventide” by Elle Powers

Angel of Eventide by Elle Powers

A review by Niraja.

An electronic version of this book was supplied to the reviewer by the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Seamus is an Angel of Death.  That is to say, he frees the souls of the dying when their time comes for them to move on to the eternal realm.  In his years of service to the dying, he has helped the elderly, folks in accidents, and children all move on.  He has performed his designed duties faithfully, trusting in the love and the story of his Da (Father). That is, until he is assigned to the drowning of a six-year-old redhead named Maren.  Instead of assisting in her death, he is overcome with emotion and saves her life.  Seamus must then decide: protect this girl and possibly become a fallen rogue, or go back and do what must be done to make things right?  But everything is not all that it seems in this eternal story of love, devotion, and acceptance.

I have yet to read any other book with a theme and story elements quite like this paranormal romance.  The book was unique to me not in its story of fallen angels or romance, nor in the theme of the divine love of God, but in the combination of the two ideas.  The story is written in the third person, which allows for us to experience the events, thoughts, and feelings from both Seamus (our Angel) and Maren (his redheaded lass).   I enjoyed being able to read each character’s perspective as this helps in understanding motives and relating to the characters.  At times the perspective would switch from one character to another and back again within the same paragraph.  This would cause me to become a bit confused and have to re-read the section. By the end of the story, I was used to it and appreciated how it could relate to the theme of a divine story that encompasses all of the world and God’s creations (angels and humanity). Seamus’s character was well defined in the story and we could see his growth, but Maren felt a little less solid to me even with the perspective switches.

Powers does a fantastic job of creating visual imagery with her words.  I was able to see scenes and visualize characters’ appearances strongly in my mind which added to the allure of the story.  There is a fair bit of angst and character growth and realization, especially with Seamus, that is common to this genre and that Ms. Powers does a great job of illustrating.  There were some conflicts that seemed to come to too simple of an end and some themes that I would have liked to see explored a bit more.  Some aspects of the ending were a bit confusing to me. However, it ends on a positive and joyful note that will be satisfying to folks who like their happy endings.  

Overall the book explores some interesting themes related to love, romance, death, and God’s eternal story and plan.  So if you like Christian romance and paranormal romance, this may be the book for you.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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