Game On! by Janet Evanovich****-*****

Stephanie Plum has been my constant companion for decades, but she never seems to get any older. We should all be so lucky!

My thanks go to Net Galley and Atria Books for the invitation to read and review. This book is for sale now.

Stephanie is a bounty hunter, working for her cousin Vinnie’s bail bond service. She tracks down no-shows, takes them to have their hearings rescheduled, and collects a commission. Her mother wishes fervently that she would get a normal job such as a bank teller, or just go ahead and marry long-time boyfriend Officer Joe Morelli, and keep house and raise kiddies. But Stephanie is long on independence, and she’s short on marketable skills, and so this is what she does. And we readers are well aware that she wouldn’t be half this hilarious as a housewife, so we cheer her on.

In an interview, author Evanovich said she had lit on the idea of a bounty hunter protagonist because the writer doesn’t need a background in legal matters the way that she would if she used a cop, detective, or lawyer. The primary skill required of a bail bonds enforcer is lying, and she felt she had a good grasp of that one.

You gotta love it.

There have been a few wobbles in the series, and a moment (long ago) when I thought perhaps it was played out. But like her intrepid protagonist, the author rallied and came back stronger than ever.

Can you read this book if you haven’t read any of the others in the series? Yes. Yes, you surely can; but you are most likely going to want to go back for the rest once you do so.

There are a few things that strike me as I read this one. I suddenly find myself wondering why Stephanie doesn’t seem to have women friends. She’s lived in Trenton—in the Burg—her entire life, so shouldn’t she have a few lifelong pals? But by the end of the story, I realized that her work buds are her go-to girls. Lula gets into a scrape and leaves what little she has to Stephanie (but of course, Lula pulls through. I don’t feel like this is a spoiler; since when would a riotously funny writer like Evanovich off a main character?) Connie is a distant relative, but she’s also a friend.

I also find myself, like other reviewers, wondering about the sanitized language and decreasing vocabulary levels. We’ve been drifting in this direction for awhile. At the start of the series, profanity was used by the people and in the situations where you’d expect to find it. The overall language level was accessible to anybody that finished eighth grade. Over the last several episodes, however, it’s been drifting downward. Now, apart from one “damn”, I found nothing, although the euphemisms are stellar (“What the fork,” “What the Hellman’s Mayonnaise,” “Son of a bagel.”)  And the overall vocabulary level is now down to about fifth grade. If it goes any lower (see the author’s other series,) I may not be interested anymore, but as it stands, it’s fast, it’s snappy, and I’m in.

The usual elements—escorting Grandma Mazur to viewings at the mortuary; exploding cars; men surprising Stephanie when they let themselves into her locked apartment; dinner with Stephanie’s parents; a geeky witness, or victim, or possibly even an offender, that Stephanie takes under her wing; and the red-hot Joe Morelli are all present and accounted for. Stephanie’s mother has been drinking heavily every time Stephanie gets into a dangerous scrape, and Evanovich has been toying with some character development in her direction. I hope she follows through.

The tension of Stephanie trying to decide between Morelli and the mysterious Ranger is over, for now, at least, and it was getting old, so I applaud this development. She knows that Ranger will never marry her, and there’s a lot he’ll never tell her. She knows Morelli. They grew up together, and they understand one another. Marriage, maybe not yet; but Joe is the one. She’s tempted by others in this installment, but for once, she behaves herself. Good.

Whereas this series isn’t the magnificent literary accomplishment attained by some mystery Grand Masters, and it doesn’t try to be, I rate it as five stars in the humor genre. It made me laugh out loud on page two, and though I read quite a lot of books each year, those that have made me howl this year can be counted on one hand. It’s a more valuable characteristic than some might guess, especially during these tense times.

Highly recommended to those that need a good laugh.

Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich**-***

turbotwentytI’ve been a big fan of the Stephanie Plum series since Evanovich launched it over twenty years ago.Twenty? Whoa now, that hardly seems possible. But the first book in the series landed a host of great-first-book awards in 1995, the year before my youngest child was born.  I haven’t missed a single book nor even read any of them out of sequence.

There was a point somewhere along the way when the series started to lose its zip and some of the new fuel the writer injected turned sour. Does anyone recall the bit where Stephanie’s sister moves home from out of state, and one of the sister’s daughters thinks she’s a horse? It was beyond stupid to my way of thinking, but the point is that our author pulled it all back around within the next couple of books and it was funnier and fresher than ever. The last in the series, Tricky Twenty-Two, was an absolute scream, and so although I rarely purchase a book for myself anymore, I plunk #23 onto my Christmas wish list without a moment’s hesitation. And when Christmas is done, I scurry off with my four much-longed-for new books—three of them mysteries– and prepare to feast.

So this is a crushing disappointment. Sad, sad, sad. It isn’t funny enough to actually laugh at even once, and there are aspects of it that actually offend. I consider this sort of odd, given that since her movie deal, Evanovich has actually sanitized a lot of the spicier aspects of her work. The language isn’t nearly as blue as it was when she was new at this thing and had little to lose; the sex isn’t as steamy; and all told, it seems as if her imagination has an agent of its own whispering into its ear, asking just exactly how much revenue she’s willing to risk losing if she pursues this, that, the other creative but risqué notion.

How is it possible then that for the first time in a career of over twenty years and nearly two dozen published mysteries in this series alone, this author has been so politically tone deaf?

As I read one scene involving Stephanie and Lula, a pairing that’s almost always good for a laugh, my face was in a tentative smile, the expression one wears when expecting something funny to happen any minute. And that’s the moment when Lula claims to be extra lucky when seeking employment, because she can check off three boxes; she’s Black, she’s female, and she’s large in size. These should just about ensure that she’ll be hired. And then she tops it off by allowing that the only better thing that could happen would be if she were in an altercation with a cop and got beaten up and landed on YouTube.

Once I see this, I’m not laughing, and now I’m not smiling anymore either. It’s time to put the book away, read something else, and come back later when my blood pressure has settled.

The story continues; it isn’t funny, but it also isn’t dull. My attention is held, and I’m still somewhat convinced that it’s just about to get funny. And that’s when Lula says she is going to make money online by pretending to wake up one day “feeling like I’m a dude” and go use the men’s restroom. She’ll go in, “have my positive experience”, capture it on film and get rich. And of course, there are trans people all over America getting filthy rich just by identifying with a different gender than the one assigned them by nature and their parents…right?

Not so much.

I do find two amusing parts in this story. The first is some understated business with Stephanie’s parents. It’s the only subtle humor she employs, and maybe that’s why it works so well. I love seeing her mom and dad respond to uncomfortable situations.

The second is an entirely unexpected yet believable twist on the whole Morelli-or-Ranger thing, which had begun to go stale. I won’t spoil it for you, because you may still want to read this book.

One other obvious twist is that the writing, which has always been accessible to a reader that’s made it part way through high school, has been dumbed-down considerably. I find myself distracted by the number of four and five word sentences; where’s the fluency? I check the vocabulary and recognize that she’s dialed it down to a fourth grade level. I’ve administered vocabulary tests to fourth and fifth graders, and I find myself having flashbacks of the sort a retired teacher doesn’t really need. What the hell, Janet? Are we marketing to the functionally semi-literate now?

Nevertheless, I’ll be reading #24 when it comes down the pike; but not until I can get it used or free. My wish list is now reserved for other things.

Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich

tricky twentytwoHere’s the short version: she’s done it again! Janet Evanovich’s latest Stephanie Plum novel was one of only three titles on my Christmas wish list. I get most of my books free prior to publication, and the rest I can generally find at the library. But I wanted this one hard, and my eldest son came through. And for the first 36 pages, I thought our writer had lost her magic. Turns out she was just warming up; my first laugh was on page 37, but most of the fall-down-funny moments take place during the last third of the book.

This one starts out with Stephanie finally ready to get off the fence and make a definite choice between Morelli and Ranger. Just as she gets ready to commit, she is surprised to discover her charms are rejected. Bummer. But her bad luck has only just begun. She’s being stalked by an amorous stranger who knows where she lives, and what appears to be a fairly routine FTA re-schedule job turns out to be a madman on the loose, one that may be breeding biological weaponry.

In this installment Grandma Mazur discovers social networking in a big way; Stephanie discovers there are new and different ways to have her vehicle destroyed; and Stephanie’s mother breaks loose from her kitchen and kicks some ass.

You probably won’t want to miss this one! I read it in three evenings and was sad when it was over.

Top-Secret Twenty-One, by Janet Evanovich *****

topsecrettwentyone“Hold on here,” Lula said. “Are we talking a rocket like ZOOM BANG! and everything’s blown all to hell?”

“It was more like BANG WHOOSH!” Briggs said…”And at great personal risk to myself I rescued the hamster.”


“No shit?” Lula said. “Is that true?”


Oh, great literature is good for the mind, but once in awhile we just need a little mind candy to perk up our day, and at that, Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series excels. We’ve got the usual cast of crazies as well as a war of vengeance between Grandma Mazur and Joe Morelli’s Grandma Bella. We have attack chihuahuas, plenty of explosives, and a trip to Atlantic City. What more can we ask for?

For those reading in digital format, be aware that a teaser for one of Evanovich’s other series books takes up the last 11% of the book. I was crushed when it ended at 89%, because I had expected it to keep going.

Now I will have to read something else until #22 comes along!