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: “The Trouble With Twelfth Grave (Charley Davidson #12)” by Darynda Jones

The Trouble With Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

This review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

Charley is in a bit of trouble, yet again. Her handsome husband Reyes has re-discovered his godhood, thanks to the godglass – an almost inescapable hell dimension in which two dangerous beings and countless innocents have been trapped. When we last saw Charley and Reyes in Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (read our review here!), Reyes had just escaped from the hell dimension, after being accidentally trapped there by Charley. Whoops! Not only has Reyes forgotten a chunk of his life on Earth, he is supremely angry at his heavenly Brother and has gone feral, bent on destroying Jehovah’s treasured creation. A series of murders has Charley afraid that Reyes has crossed permanently over to the Dark Side. In between trying to track down her wayward husband, she must also secretly investigate the murders, help a friend out of a legal jam, and act as a consultant for Amber and Quentin with their amateur P.I. business. Thank goodness for her trusty assistant Cookie, and, of course, for coffee.

The latest installment in the Charley Davidson series does not disappoint. Charley is still clever, loyal, and quick with the witty comebacks. The stress and worry of the situation with Reyes is balanced by her never-ending optimism. She still makes time, no matter what, to help her loved ones, even when that means going without sleep. Charley continues to grow as a character, as she learns more about her origins and purpose. Readers will enjoy seeing more of their favorite supporting characters and learning new information about old standbys, much more than the last book.

Plotwise, parts of the story did seem to drag a little, but the excitement leading up to the cliffhanger ending definitely made up for it. The relationship between Charley and Reyes went in an entirely new direction, hopefully for the better. The author managed to skillfully sneak in some sexy scenes, as hot as ever, and nostalgically reminiscent of the first book. With only one more book left in the series after this one, it is absolutely worth pushing past the slower scenes.

This book will (fittingly) be released on October 31, 2017.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Butterfly Project” by Emma Scott

Review- The Butterfly Project by Emma Scott

A review by Amanda.

Zelda Rossi is a mess. She has come to New York to meet with publishers about her graphic novel, Mother May I, but things are not going the way she had hoped. She is at her wit’s end when she stops in at Giovanni’s Italian restaurant for a last minute dinner. There, she meets Beckett Copeland, a busboy at the restaurant, who might be as much of a mess as she is. He also might be able to help her where no one else can. Both Zelda and Beckett have tragedies in their pasts. Zelda is trying to run from hers, while Beckett punishes himself, but perhaps they can help each other find some normalcy.

This is a story with an abundance of heart. Zelda is a talented artist who uses her art to heal. She has a prickly exterior that keeps everyone at a distance, but it hides a generous spirit and loving heart. She does her best to push past the fear and guilt that she’s lived with for ten years, not realizing that all she’s actually doing is making things worse. Beckett also lives with guilt and anguish over a tragic mistake, which he believes can never be forgiven. He works hard and looks out for his friends, avoiding any deeper connections. These two souls are drawn together in a serendipitous moment that could change both if their lives if they’ll let it.

The characters are well-rounded, fully developed people, including supporting characters. They have faults and virtues, they make mistakes, they freak out. The plot is well paced throughout and relies on the strength of the characters to keep readers interested, rather than fast-paced action or surprise twists. There are examples of Zelda’s art sprinkled here and there, and it adds another dimension to the story. This is a contemporary NA romance, with some salty language and steamy sex scenes. There is also some talk of drug use and criminal activity, light descriptions of traumatic events, and realistic depictions of panic attacks.

The author has several other books, which I will definitely be checking out, including the Full Tilt duet.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Review of Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs

A review by Niraja.

After a nearly fatal accident, Mercy finds herself kidnapped by a powerful vampire who sought to use her in a plot against the Tri-cities.  Mercy escapes in her coyote form, only to discover she is alone in Europe without money, clothing, or a passport. Unable to rely on her mate or pack bonds to contact Adam and the pack, Mercy must use her wits to discover who she can trust as allies and who are the enemies she must fight, while simultaneously trying to prevent outright war between vampires and werewolves.  As if that wasn’t enough to handle, ghosts stir and an old power awakens in the heart of Prague…

Silence Fallen is the 11th book in the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs.  I awaited it’s release with baited breath and am pleased to report I was not disappointed.  Yet again, Patty delivered an exciting plot and well developed believable characters that we love (or love to hate).

Mercy shines as our heroine as she uses her wit and resourcefulness to get herself out of, and back into, sticky situations.  True to form Mercedes faces her situation with inner strength and determination.  As a result, she is both impressing and bewildering werewolves and vampires alike as they find her more than what she appears to be.  Once again Patty weaves elements from past books into Silence Fallen.  I appreciate this element of her writing because not only does this strengthen the continuity of her stories, it also makes her characters feel real.  As in her other books, Silence fallen had moments where I was cheering the characters on, feeling sympathy, getting anxious, laughing out loud, and happily feeling warm and content.  

This book differs from previous books in the series as it has several chapters from Adam’s point of view as he struggles with factors surrounding Mercy’s kidnapping and as he plots to recover her.  I enjoyed these chapters immensely as they not only grant insight into Adam’s emotions and thought processes but also show some of our favorite supporting characters from a different perspective.  Patty also throws in a small surprise twist at the end to which there are cleverly subtle clues, discoverable in hindsight (and a thorough reread of certain scenes).

Overall the book felt comfortingly familiar and yet held refreshing changes.  I was engaged in the story and felt connected to the characters.  If you are a fan of the Mercy Thompson series, Silence Fallen will not disappoint.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “At First Blush” by Beth Ellyn Summer

Review:

A review by Amanda.

At seventeen, Lacey Robbins has her future all planned out. She has spent years developing LaceyBlushes, her makeup tutorial channel on YouTube, although her romantic life has suffered a bit because of it. Her dedication has earned Lacey a coveted summer internship at On Trend, an online magazine. The internship could help Lacey reach her goals of finding sponsors for her channel and landing a contract with Glass Cube, a marketing and talent management company for YouTube. Life is looking bright for Lacey as well as her best friend Cynth who has the chance to intern for a late night show across the street. In a bid to help Lacey let some romance into her life, Cynth makes a bargain with her – she will accept the internship with the late night show if Lacey will flirt with hot guys at On Trend. Lacey reluctantly agrees, if only to ensure that Cynth takes the job. Little does Lacey know, the hottest guy at On Trend turns out to be their surprise guest editor and cover feature, musician Tyler Lance, whose reputation as a narcissistic party boy does not impress her. Add in a sponsorship from a subpar makeup company, family stress, and the struggle to keep her fans happy, and Lacey may have to reevaluate her life plan.

At first glance, this book may appear to be superficial and silly, like just another frilly story about a teenage girl falling for the cute boy. By the end of chapter one, however, Lacey has shown her potential to be a fully realized, multidimensional character. Her passion for makeup is not borne from a desire to simply look pretty; she has a natural eye and a deep appreciation for presentation and aesthetics. Lacey has found a way to turn her love of beauty into a profitable career, and she has sacrificed other aspects of a well-rounded life to make it happen. She has a genuine enjoyment of the process as well, from choosing the tutorials to staging the background, filming, and interacting with her subscribers. While many adults consider teenaged girls to be silly and inconsequential, Lacey showcases the reality that girls can have ambition and goals beyond dating and boys. While there is romance in this story, it doesn’t dominate the plot. It is balanced nicely with both obstacles and pleasant surprises and serves more as a metaphor for unexpected disruptions to even the best-laid plans. The supporting characters have a realistic vibe and provide both drama and relief in Lacey’s life. There are some very minor cliché aspects, mostly regarding the romantic drama, and this is not a book that is full of dramatic plot twists but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the story. This is the first book from author Beth Ellyn Summer, and I will happily read future books.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “The Mediator Book 1: Shadowland” by Meg Cabot

Review: “The Mediator Book 1: Shadowland” by Meg Cabot

A review by Vanessa.

Susannah Simon has a special gift. Well, she wouldn’t call it a gift, really, because it certainly comes with its obligations. Namely, the requirement that she speak to and help out all of the dead people whom she can see. As much as she would prefer to ignore them and be a normal high school sophomore, their reasons for hanging around sometimes interfere with her life; and her life has enough interference already. Her mother has married a really nice guy named Andy, and although Suze approves of him for her mom she’s not so happy about the moving from New York to Carmel, CA. Or being stuck with three new annoying stepbrothers, and changing schools, and leaving her one and only friend behind. What’s worse is that her new home has an unwanted guest residing in her bedroom. His name is Jesse, and he was so obviously young, handsome, with six-pack abs, lovely dark eyes, and gorgeous hair when he died. Suze doesn’t like having him as a distraction when she is trying to adjust to all the changes. But he is not the only distraction she finds.

Suze is startled to find several surprises waiting for her at her new high school. There is Heather, the very angry and dangerous dead girl haunting her locker. Then there is Father Dominic, the school’s principal, who it turns out is a mediator just like her! Suze doesn’t know what to think about meeting someone like her for the first time ever and fitting in with other kids at the school. It seems like things might be ok in her new life. But Heather has some very dark revenge to enact and Suze is just getting in her way. Plus her youngest new stepbrother, a sweet and super smart kid who Suze actually likes, seems to know way more than he is saying. She’s always taken care of things all on her own, but this time it might be too much for her. Can she stop Heather, and protect the people in her life that she is really starting to care about?

As always, Meg Cabot delivers a wonderfully well-told story of young life, but this time with a supernatural twist. Her famous Princess Diaries series may have put her on the map as an author but this series showcases her ability write in the paranormal genre as well. Her characters are totally engaging and utterly realistic. The supporting characters fit right into all the expected tropes, but at the same time, each of them holds their own interest for the reader. They might be typical, but they are so great to read it just doesn’t matter. Suze is both a “typical high school girl” and a very unique character. She struggles with school, friends, boys, raging hormones, and annoying brothers. She thinks about fashion and clothes, and what it would be like to be kissed.  But in between all that she struggles with suppressing her own emotions to accommodate the happiness of her mother, the ever-present influence of death, the moral implications of forcing a ghost to cross over unwillingly, and the guilt that comes with being forced to lie to her family and friends for their own good. She also harbors a quick temper and some violent tendencies that make her an ever more interesting character. The only drawback to this book would be that some of the stereotypes might be embraced a bit too willingly. But even then, the characters cannot be described as boring or one dimensional. I love this series, and I would recommend it to young, and adult readers alike.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “One Piece: Baroque Works 22-24” by Eiichiro Oda

One Piece: Baroque Works 22-24 by Eiichiro Oda

A review by Hannah.

One Piece was started in 1997 and is continuing today. There are 81 volumes to date, which is why this series of reviews will be broken up into three volume books. From now on there will be spoilers for what happens in the rest of the series. You have been warned…

Sir Crocodile is gloating to Princess Vivi over his victory in the royal courtyard. The battle has started, King Cobra is under his control, and just in case the battle stops, he has a bomb hidden near the town square, set to go off in 10 minutes. Koza, the rebel leader, overhears this and attempts to warn all the fighters in the battle below. Baroque Works shoots him before he can get the word out. So it’s up to Princess Vivi and the Strawhat crew to find and defuse the bomb before everybody is killed. Luffy shows up after figuring out Sir Crocodile’s weakness. Ms. All Sunday has King Cobra take her to the Tomb of the Royal Family.

Ms. All Sunday finds what she is looking for and King Cobra figures out that she is really Robin Nico, an archeologist who has been wanted by the Marines since she was eight years old. Luffy defeats Sir Crocodile in less than 10 minutes and Alabasta’s Civil War ends in a cleansing rain. After the dust clears the Marines surround the island nation and are searching for The Going Merry. Princess Vivi says goodbye to the Strawhats and volume 23 ends with the most iconic images of the series.

Volume 24 opens with Robin Nico joining the Strawhats. She earns the acceptance of the crew right before an ancient ship falls on them. Turns out there is an entire ocean in the sky with islands floating on the clouds. Luffy decides that they will go up there, so the crew goes to Jaya, the closest island on the regular sea, to get some answers.

If you do not get at least a little misty eyed during Vivi’s goodbye speech, there is a chance that you might not be human. She went through so much with the Strawhats, became a part of the crew, and all she wants is to know that she will still be their friend if they ever meet again. The crew can’t tell her anything, because the Marines are listening and they don’t want to get Vivi in trouble, so they show her. Princess Vivi of Alabasta is now and forever a member of the Strawhat crew.

This is not the last we’ll see of the Alabasta gang. Starting with chapter 35 (Vol. 4) the chapter titles are also a “where are they now” story for important characters, usually people who show up again later in the series. It starts with Capt. Buggy(vol. 2) and crew, then it’s Kolby and Helmeppo (vol. 1), next is Django (vol. 4) and currently Hachi (vol. 8). This is great, because it shows just how small the world is (many of the characters run into other characters from different story arcs) and it allows characters to return to the main story in a natural way.

Translation wise, it seems like it went stagnant. Zoro is still spelled Zolo, Luffy still says “Gum gum” before their attacks, and a devil’s fruit power that changes a man into a jackal is called the “Mutt Mutt Fruit.” I personally would have gone with “Canine Canine Fruit.”

I really like how the crew reacts to the transition of Vivi to Robin. Princess Vivi is an optimistic, driven, and self sacrificing girl. Robin is an older, disillusioned career criminal. They are opposites in just about every way possible, but both fit in well with the Strawhat crew for practically the same reasons. Sanji fell instantly in love with both of them. Nami was motivated by greed. Ussop, Luffy, and Chopper had a new playmate. Zoro remains aloof.

These are the volumes of One Piece that made me fall madly in love with the series. They show everything wonderful about the series. Action, character development, jokes, and incredibly satisfying sucker punches.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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