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Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum, #20)Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read these on a week's vacation I took with very little notice back in the first trimester,* in that stage of pregnancy which felt, for me, like walking through quicksand. I was struggling to stay awake, to sleep, to eat, to think clearly, to process the fact that I was about to sever my relationship with my parents. All while compiling the central nervous system of baby-probably-a-girl.

And reading these books. I have found pregnancy to be an intensely dislocative experience. It's one thing to say, yes, I need to let go, I need to let it happen and it's another thing to do it. Or at least to do it gracefully while wondering every morning what fresh wonders and horrors your body will throw at you today.

So I read these books, and promptly forgot their content within 24 hours. They were just like the previous 18 books, except less funny than the first half dozen. They didn't change. They won't ever change. I've accepted that, after years of saying but if she'd just--- and they would be so much better if--. If only she would just, and they would be so much better if. This was something I could let go of, and right about the time I was realizing there was not a single food stuff in the western hemisphere I could imagine putting in my mouth, they were golden.

Don't worry, my critical faculties returned with a flipping vengeance around week 11.

*Yes, it worked. Yes, they are absolutely over the moon. Yes.




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Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum, #18)Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


…And no. I didn't read this one on a plane, so it was a total disaster. I was grinding my teeth by the time the book set up an extended joke to explain that the heroine is having bad mojo because she -- gasp! -- slept with two guys. (If you were wondering, the bad mojo goes away when she swears off sex.) But the worst part is, this book isn't even successfully managing the slut-shaming agenda the author has been subliminally and explicitly dishing out for years. I mean, to really tell a story about actions and consequences, which this one specifically claims to be doing, where a woman is punished for owning her sexual desires and acting on them . . . yeah . . . first you have to write a story where a woman owns her sexual desires and acts on them. And Evanovich cannot do that. There is not a single character here who acts out of personal volition. The heroine explained last book that she's "acting slutty" because someone put a curse on her. You guys, she can't even pretend to own it, it is so fucking sad. I can't even really get pissed about the shape of the meta narrative here, because it's not punishing her for finally growing a pair and getting what she wants, since i>she didn't do that. We get a replay of the same plot in this book where her friend accidentally drinks something that makes her fall for this dude, and it's played for -- I just -- I am running out of words, I can't even.

And it's not even funny! The shot-in-the-foot joke was funny exactly one-and-a-half times, and this is, like, number five!




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Smokin' Seventeen (Stephanie Plum, #17)Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Read on the Los Angeles - Kauai leg of a really long day. Ideal in those circumstances, less so under any other, I suspect. I realize I'm about to do the thing where I take a book far far more seriously than it takes itself, but I stopped feeling weird about that a long time ago because I'm perfectly happy believing books matter as much as I think they do, even silly fluffy slapsticky romcoms about accident prone bounty hunters.

So the thing is, this is a book in which the heroine does exactly what I've been pleading with her to do for the past ten books, and starts hooking up with both the men in her life, instead of just endlessly waffling. Except she does it in the most irresponsible way possible. There are ways to sleep with two people at once -- to have a serious but open relationship with one and a long-standing fling with the other -- in a way that everyone can feel good about at the end of the day. …This isn't it. This is someone completely failing to take responsibility for herself or her actions, or to make decisions like a grown up, who repeatedly slut-shames herself into feeling awful no matter what she does. It wasn't about progress or -- don't make me laugh -- personal empowerment. It was just setup for drama and what I suspect will be a very fast monogamy reset button.

…So pretty good plane reading, then.




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Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum, #16) Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I blame the fact that I read this on my terrible chest infection. How many times have I sworn off this series? But sometimes, all you want in the world is a new book exactly like an old book, you know?

Plus one star for a moment of actual clarity. Plus one star for the thing with the alligator. Minus a star for repetitiveness, sexism, racial stereotypes, and complete failure to move! Fucking! Forward!

Okay, I’m really done this time. No really. Really really. I swear. If you see me backhere again next summer, kick me, okay?

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Finger Lickin' Fifteen (Stephanie Plum, #15) Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Fifteenth verse, same as etc. except with a lot more bodily functions humor. Exact same level of forward motion/actual resolution, which is to say none.



Best thing about this book? I didn't pay for it.


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Latest Stephanie Plum book and one of those money-grubbing attempts to capitalize on the paranormal romance kick "between the numbers" novellas that don't have canon weight.

Fourteen is exactly what you think it is – I laughed so hard I nearly made myself backfire at least once, it went by in about three hours, Stephanie never makes any noticeable progress in this whole love-triangle life decisions thing, and the single strand of real interpersonal complication tossed out in the beginning gets all but retconed by a sentence on the last page.

My ratio of delight to exasperation has been tilting bit by bit with each additional book, and I think it will continue to do so as long as we're in this endless holding pattern. It's still pretty comfortably balanced, but that won't last forever.
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Thirteenth Stephanie Plum book, in which Stephanie’s bastard x-husband vanishes after – you know what? I’m not going to give a plot summary, because that’s entirely secondary. It’s a freaking Stephanie Plum book – I read it pretty much cover-to-cover today, and it made me laugh hard enough to hurt my stomach muscles.

Where does she get it all? I mean, seriously, a book a year like clockwork, and they’re still freaking hilarious. It’s a sort of dry, off-kilter, sarcastic humor, which fits just right in this universe where everything is just a bit bigger and bolder than you expect.


"Small detour," I said to the RangeMan guy. "What's your name?"

"Brett."

He didn't look like a Brett. Guys named Brett were supposed to have a neck. This guy looked like he should be named Grunt.


And there’s an exploding beaver and a grave robber and an unfortunate stun-gun accident. God, I love these books.

I do have to register again though, as I did for the last book, that I really wish she’d make just a bit more haste in progressing the love triangle. The status is very quo, and I was frustrated by the very small, quiet references to Stephanie’s frustrations with her life and her fears for the future that, yet again, didn’t go anywhere. (And it is absolutely possible to address those complex subjects while retaining the light tone).

Well, actually, it’s mostly that I was so thoroughly disgusted by Joe freaking Morelli. Excerpt taken just after Stephanie has handled a frightening and demanding situation with smarts and style:


Morelli didn't look happy. "You're getting too good at this," he said. "You've been scared and threatened so many times, you're starting to think it's normal.
You were so cool with that guy. And he was insane. Genuine psychopath. And you played him."

"Isn't that what I was supposed to do?"

"Yes, but that isn't what I want the woman I love to do. You should have freaked. You should be shaking and crying. Look at you. You're smiling."


Fuck you, too.

I really hope Evanovich is playing a long game here with the relationships and the comparisons between Joe and Ranger, because I will be very very irritated if that sort of bullshit goes unchallenged forever.
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These are two short, holiday installments – Christmas and Valentine’s Day – to the Stephanie Plum series. They’re a pleasure, not just because Evanovich brings the usual mad comedy, but also because these books feel explicitly extra-canonical. Evanovich knows she can’t do any significant character work with regards to Stephanie or her longstanding love triangle, so she tucks most of that away, introduces a new character, and flavors the whole thing with a touch of the supernatural. In Visions of Sugar Plums, Stephanie is after a skip by the dubious name of Sandy Claws, a local toymaker, and in Plum Lovin’ she has to temporarily take over the work of a particularly talented matchmaker. The whole thing is done with a deft, tongue-in-cheek touch which dares the reader not to just shrug and go with it. There’s no system of supernatural order here, no explicit taxonomies, just a few odd happenings and the appearance of some “unmentionables” (heh). All of which slots in surprisingly well with this bigger-than-life, occasionally cartoonishly funny universe.

And it’s backed by the usual supporting cast of friends and family. Lula is particularly memorable – Stephanie gets a “my one phone call,” and when she asks what the charge is Lula says, “disturbing the peace. Tying a guy’s dick in a knot.”

That, and I just like tossing around extra-canonical material like this. Bit of a publisher’s scheme, sure, but I just like permeable universes, and this one does detour surprisingly well.
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Fiction. Humor/romance/mystery. Latest release in the Stephanie Plum series, and a disappointment. After breaking half out of the formula last time, she returns to it without a single variation. So, you know, it's funny and enjoyable and occasionally sexy, but everything is exactly the same on page 300 as it was on page 1. If I had more faith I'd put stock in the hints that she's actually going to set up the threesome, but it's never going to happen. Someone really needs to sit her down and explain the finer points of writing a successful, sustainable series.
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Fiction. Trouble-magnet bounty hunter Stephanie Plum chases fugitives, blows up cars, attracts homicidal maniacs, and regularly fucks up her love life. Rereads. I picked up the last one as a bit of a pallet cleanser, and ended up barreling through the entire series backwards. These are ungodly funny books with sparkling dialogue and characters drawn with comic boldness. For all that, these books manage to take themselves seriously to just the right degree, slipping in moments of fear and tenderness and familial outrage. The romances are funny and sometimes sizzling, the supporting cast strong, and everything always comes out okay in the end. Someone, I don't remember who, once complained to me about the female protagonist being such a professional screw-up (she sorta forgets to load her gun all the time) and so I went looking for feminist and other analyses. Unfortunately, I found them. It's a crap argument -- she fails to live up to male standards of kickassedness, so she's a bad female protagonist because those are the standards that really matter, and good female protagonists do it just like the boys do. And men can be screw-ups, but wymyn can't because it's just really bad wymyn PR, yo. Never mind that said protagonist has an uncanny instinct for tracing people and the tenacity of a mad dog. *shakes head*. It's good light reading that'll lift your spirits, and that's about as analytical as I want to get.

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