*audio book borrowed and downloaded from local library’s overdrive system*
Regina’s Rating: 2.5 stars/Grade D
I started this book with a lot of hope. But ultimately, it was the same as the earlier books. This book is not great. It is more of the same, but it does have a few laugh out loud moments. I feel like I should explain where I am coming from on this series. I don’t happily or easily give this book a low rating. The Stephanie Plum series now has 19 regular novels and several “in between” novellas. The first book was published in 1994 (1994!) and Ms. Evanovich is still writing about the same character — Stephanie Plum, bail bondswoman. While Stephanie’s clothes may have changed and the accessories she carries are different since the first books, Stephanie is surprisingly the same character she was in the first book, with small changes. Stephanie hasn’t aged, she hasn’t matured, she eats the same foods, has the same hamster as a pet, has the same familial relationships and the same job. 19 years later and the character is static. I am a long time reader of this series, while not having started in the 1990s, this series is one of the first series as an adult that I read and one of the first books in audio that I listened to. To be fair, I moved on to other series and was excited to learn that there were more to books than classics, literary fiction, mysteries and crime fiction. I can attribute my learning that lesson to Janet Evanovich. I will always love classics, literary fiction, mysteries and crime fiction but I am a woman that likes variety in her books and I am constantly genre jumping.
I began listening to the Stephanie Plum series around 2004. I was hooked after the first book – light, funny and unlike anything I had been reading all of my life. I would rush to the library and look for the next in the series and within weeks I had read/listened to all the available Stephanie Plum books. Then, I began waiting for the new releases in the series and buying them in hardcover. Janet Evanovich didn’t disappoint. She published a new book every year and often released season novellas involving Stephanie Plum. I bought them all. All. Brand new and in hardcover. My relationship with Stephanie Plum is one that I invested time and money in. I kept hoping, wondering — would Stephanie make a choice? It had to be Ranger, right? Right? He IS the fantasy, isn’t he? What would Lula do in the next book? Would Stephanie ever learn how to shoot her gun? Would Lula ever lose weight? Would Stephanie ever choose a guy? Would Stephanie ever have more sex with Ranger? And my waiting for the answers to these questions spanned years, a decade, and my waiting marked a decline in my interest in this series.
Herein though, lies the problem with this series. Stephanie never makes a decision. Stephanie never matures. The original depth and quirkiness of Stephanie and the side characters, like Grandma Mazur and Lula, have become caricatures of their original characters. It is almost as if somewhere around book 13, Ms. Evanovich decided to focus on only the elements of her characters that she thought readers liked and the result was characters without any depth and who merely repeated the same actions over and over again. Lula wants — fried chicken. Grandma Mazura wants — some action and tries to get it by attending funeral homes. Stephanie’s mom is — an alcoholic (when did that happen?). Ranger says “Babe”, all the time and has a lot of cars. Morelli is — horny, likes to eat and wants Stephanie to quit her job. And during all of this, Stephanie wants two men, sucks at suspect apprehension and continues to have her best relationship with her hamster Rex. She continues to attend family dinners where pot roast, stuffed peppers, meat loaf, roast beef and other old fashioned standards are served. So around book 13 or 14 I stopped buying these books and started checking them out from the library. I stopped having hope and excitement for each book and started realizing that each book only brought the same story again and again and again …… It wasn’t that I didn’t like these themes, because I do, I did. But the constant repeat of the identical themes and story lines in each book was boring and frustrating.
I did not finish Smokin’ Seventeen (2011), I just couldn’t. So I put it down. And I didn’t read Explosive Eighteen (2011). So I cannot tell you if Notorious Nineteen is better than the last two books. What I can tell you is that it offers nothing new from the other Plum books and I was able to read it without confusion having not read the previous two books. I knew who the bad guy was and why he was doing it. From the beginning of the book, I knew what happened to the missing bond target.
So what does Notorious Nineteen offer readers? Bob steals Morelli’s food. Grandma wears funny clothes. Lula eats a lot of food. Grandma wants to help with the investigation. Ranger calls Stephanie “Babe”. Several times. Stephanie is not good at being a bail bondswoman. Inconceivably, Ranger hires Stephanie to help him with a dangerous job. Does Stephanie bring her gun to this job? Nope, she leaves it at home. Stephanie’s mom drinks a lot. Stephanie’s dad seems uber focused on fried chicken. Stephanie is late on the rent. Stephanie is hot for Ranger. Morelli is horny. Grandma and Lula are almost interchangeable. There is humor based on old people, short people and fat people. Stephanie wants to get married and (again) notes that Ranger is not the marrying type. There is some sort of oddly placed acknowledgement that the food they are eating clogs arteries and at least once, Stephanie opts to have a salad. And some odd philosophizing by Stephanie where she wonders if carrying guns and using guns is contributing to violence. I say these things are odd, not because I disagree with the sentiments but because they are just sort of inserted in. The best moment of this book is a scene at a nude beach involving Lula, Stephanie and their bond target that they need to apprehend. I admit to laughing out loud several times during this scene. Thank you Ms. Evanovich for that nudey beach scene.
There are three car bombings/fires in this book. Not just one, but THREE. Ranger’s reaction? He says, “Babe” and provides a new car. Remember Joyce? Remember why Stephanie’s marriage fell apart? Well, I think Stephanie forgot. She is now in a relationship with Morelli yet kisses Ranger and lets him fondle her breast. Let me be clear. Ranger is my preferred “hero” in this series and I have no problem with a character who makes her own sexual choices but that is not what Stephanie is doing. She makes a choice to be with Morelli, he believes they are seeing each other exclusively and she just drifts into Ranger’s arms (while on a job) — without making a choice because his hotness apparently overwhelms her.
Ms. Evanovich, I know you have a successful formula with these books. Fans have enjoyed this series now going into its third decade. Thank you for everything you have given us. But please, please let’s have some story line advancement here. If I wanted to read the same story again and again, I would just pick up an older book in the series. As it is, I won’t be back until I hear from other readers that the next books in the series (because I know there will some) have some character progression.
Readers who were happy with the last few books, will likely enjoy this book. Readers who have been frustrated with this series should probably give Notorious Nineteen a pass.
Series Reading Order:
1. One for the Money (1994)
2. Two for the Dough (1996)
3. Three to Get Deadly (1997)
4. Four to Score (1998)
5. High Five (1999)
6. Hot Six (2000)
7. Seven Up (2001)
8. Hard Eight (2002)
9. To the Nines (2003)
10. Ten Big Ones (2004)
11. Eleven on Top (2005)
12. Twelve Sharp (2006)
13. Lean Mean Thirteen (2007)
14. Fearless Fourteen (2008)
15. Finger Lickin’ Fifteen (2009)
16. Sizzling Sixteen (2010)
17. Smokin’ Seventeen (2011)
18. Explosive Eighteen (2011)
19. Notorious Nineteen (November 20, 2012)
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