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: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

A review by Emily

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a New York Times Bestseller and is soon to be adapted to the big screen by Reese Witherspoon. This novel is a mystery thriller about a 26-year-old introverted, mystery writer (though this profession doesn’t seem to make sense to assign to a character described as having little life experience and naivete) named Nora who receives an invitation to a Bachelorette party weekend of a friend she hasn’t seen in 10 years. She is puzzled by the invite and hesitant to attend but gets roped into going by another friend of hers from high school with whom she has also lost touch.

Nora has tried for the last 10 years to put and keep her ex-best friend Clare and her ex-boyfriend in the past and she struggles with moving forward with her life and having to deal with past insecurities. We don’t learn of the deep connection between she and her ex-boyfriend until half-way through the novel, which could have been introduced earlier and been developed more to make the reader care more about her lost relationship and the events that follow. We never do learn about how Nora and Clare broke off their friendship; there had been a lead up to it the entire novel as if it were a big conflict that ended their friendship, which would have explained a lot of tension between the characters but this is not explored as thoroughly as I would have liked.

Throughout the novel, a lot of the characters motivations do not seem to add up or do not seem completely authentic. One character whom could have been implicated as the guilty party, is never explored as a suspect although there could have been a large, gleaming motive for murder that is never mentioned, which could have added more mystery and suspense to the story. The main stage of the whole novel is a mysterious large glass house in the middle of the woods. The author keeps alluding to its lack of privacy and the feeling of vulnerability of staying in it but it disappointingly doesn’t play as large of a part as you would expect it to besides adding an air of creepiness to the story. The development of the character of Clare, Nora’s best friend, leaves out certain key aspects that come out late in the novel. This novel is a quick read and a suspenseful page turner. It has a lot of twists that are unexpected and some that were kind of predictable. This novel is entertaining, however, and will leave you with chills.

My rating: 3.5/5 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: “SINthetic (The New Lyons Sequence #1)” by J.T. Nicholas

cover of SINthetic (The New Lyons

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Detective Jason Campbell has been called to investigate a gruesome murder. A young woman has been found, murdered and disemboweled. She isn’t the first, and she isn’t human. Synthetics are human-like beings who are “born” in a lab and raised for the sole purpose of doing any number of less than desirable jobs. They are expensive, and have no rights under the law. Synthetics bleed, feel, and think but they are programmed to follow instructions and are incapable of hurting humans or other synthetics. They are property and nothing more. Detective Campbell should dismiss this case as destruction of property, at best, and move on. A mysterious source calls the detectives attention to the previous murders of other young, synthetic women, and Campbell knows that he cannot let it rest. His own history informs his decision to investigate these as serial murders, without the knowledge of his superiors, and with only a unique synthetic to offer limited assistance. His life is on the line, as he sniffs out corruption at the highest levels of society.

This book has the feel of an old detective noir film, but without the rampant sexism. Detective Campbell is an individual with layers and depth, which come to light at a steady pace. Supporting characters are few, but reasonably developed and well-rounded. Hopes for more depth and background on these characters in future books are high. Even so, the limited knowledge of these characters works with the story, as readers see it from Campbell’s perspective. He’s a bit of a loner and wouldn’t know too much about the people around him, so this makes sense. While this hampers the readers’ ability to connect to other characters, it does enhance the story to be so ensconced in the main character’s point of view.

SINthetic’s plot is primarily a wonderfully twisted mystery, with decent action sequences, and moral quandaries that will raise ire and make readers think and question what they know about humanity. The story moves quickly and makes for a fast read. There are descriptions of violence and sexual assault but they come across as detached, more like a police report, and details are scant.

Book one is available now, with the second due in March 2018.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Stillhouse Lake (Stillhouse Lake #1)” by Rachel Caine

Review- Stillhouse Lake (Stillhouse Lake #1) by Rachel Caine

A review by Amanda.

I read this book for free as part of the Prime First program, offered to those with Amazon Prime memberships.

Gwen Proctor, new resident of Norton, Tennessee, used to be Gina Royal. Gwen’s former life ended the day she, and the rest of the world, discovered that her husband was a serial killer. An accident revealed the truth about Melvin Royal and everything turned upside down for Gwen and her two children. Not everyone was satisfied with the outcome of his trial; many people believe that Gwen knew about her husband’s heinous activities, or that she was his accomplice. Vile threats against Gwen and her children prompted her to run and hide with them, changing identities as needed.

In the four years since the discovery, Gwen has trusted no one. She has taken precautions against potential threats and only accepts help when absolutely necessary. Her first and only priority is making sure her children are safe even when it causes friction. When she realizes that her paranoia is causing more problems than it solves, Gwen considers putting down roots and trusting a few people. But then a woman is murdered in a fashion eerily similar to her ex-husband’s M.O., she discovers that she can’t protect them from everything, and that sometimes it pays to stay vigilant.

This book was thrilling in the truest sense of the word. The author offered a unique twist in a classic thriller trope, and raised several excellent questions that aren’t typically considered in the mystery genre. The perspective from the family of a serial killer is a complex one full of horror, rage, betrayal, guilt, and plenty of doubt. The story is told exclusively from Gwen’s point of view in present tense. This added a sense of urgency that complemented the fast pace and made it impossible to stop turning pages. The story is character-driven, with the mystery acting as a catalyst rather than the main focus. Readers will be immediately drawn into Gwen’s life. She is intelligent, fierce, driven, and very human. She doubts her decisions, questions her parenting abilities, and makes mistakes. She appears cold at times but doesn’t apologize for it. Her kids, Lanny and Connor, are balanced precariously between childlike and adult attitudes tipping back and forth throughout the book. The other supporting characters are richly developed. Even those who appear sparingly give a feeling of being actual people with histories that extend beyond the pages of the book.

There are several fairly graphic descriptions of violence and death throughout the book, as well as mentions of torture and rape, but nothing that seems gratuitous.

Rachel Caine is also the author of the young adult series The Morganville Vampires, as well as The Great Library series, the Weather Warden series, and several others. Stillhouse Lake will be released on July 1st, 2017.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “Unforgiving” by Alisic Adnan

BOOK TOUR Review- "Unforgiving" by Alisic Adnan

A review by Domoni.

Meho is a teenage boy with teenage problems. He lives at home with his family, goes to school every day, can’t figure out how to talk to his crush, and has problems with a bully. Meho also has problems a typical teenage boy doesn’t have. Meho is from Sarajevo. His village destroyed, he was adopted by an American family; a mother and father who give him everything he needs and a brother, Bucky, who worships him.  Meho is haunted by what he has done to survive and what he will do to those who destroyed his home and family.

This was a dark but interesting story. In a lot of ways, it was easy to relate to the way Meho behaved. His early life was harsh and cold. Killing meant survival, and who wouldn’t want to off the people who have taken so much from them? Many of the things in this story were just too farfetched though. Meho and Bucky are incredible hackers, who were able to hack into the biggest banks and siphon off millions and not get caught.  They also were trained in biochemistry by their grandfather, enough to work in a lab alone apparently. The calculated way a teen can plan and execute professional killers was a bit of a stretch.  Looking past that, Meho is not an average boy and the story has some twists and turns I did not expect.

The author is a good writer and does an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and keeping the reader on their toes. The world is full and vibrant so the story is easy to read. I think it would have been easier for me if the characters were a little bit older as some things wouldn’t feel as implausible. Overall, it is a good read and I would read more by this author.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Unforgiving
Alisic Adnan
Publication date: January 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

12 years after surviving horrific massacre, 15-year- old Meho commits ruthless murders and sets in motion the event which could change the world order.

The murders are followed by the trial of the century, where media vilifies Meho as a psychopath, mass murderer, and a monster — all under the influence of FBI, who are trying to conceal the identity of the victims and protect the National Security.

The only person who believes that Meho is innocent is his 10-year-old brother Bucky, who will turn heavens and earth to free Meho. After learning the truth, Bucky is devastated, but not all things are as they seem, and the truth will be revealed at the very end.

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Author Bio:

After witnessing terrible war atrocities, Adnan Alisić escaped from Bosnia and came to Phoenix, Arizona where he became a successful businessman. Entangled in a gambling addiction, he was forced to execute this sensational casino heist. He can be reached at Alisic.adnan6@gmail.com or http://www.AlisicAdnan.

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