Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich: A local rock star with ambition, a shoplifter, and a mysterious deli fill Stephanie Plum’s 25th novel.

Look Alive Twenty-Five

Look Alive Twenty-Five

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #25

Mass Market Paperback, 306 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: December 25, 2019


Someone that Vincent Plum Bail Bonds had put up the bail for skipped town, and he’d put up his deli as collateral. Vincent’s father-in-law (the owner of the Bail Bonds) has decided he wants to diversify, so he’s hanging onto it. The catch is, the last several managers have disappeared while working. So Vinnie’s decided that 1. Stephanie is the new manager; 2. She needs to find out what’s going on to get the other manager’s kidnapped/killed/whatever; 3. She can take care of her bond enforcement job during the off hours.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. Stephanie’s running a strange little deli with Lulu as the assistant manager/sandwich guru. There are three other employees there who really know what they’re doing (mostly doing drugs while toiling away at a minimum wage job). Hijinks ensue—her car is stolen, she tracks down a couple of skips, she looks into the disappearances (with help from Joe Morelli and Ranger), and things get weird at the deli (particularly due to Lulu, who becomes a social media sensation of the moment).

I must say that Stephanie seems more competent at this gig than a lot of the other jobs she’s held over the course of this series—either in an undercover assignment or because she was trying to do something other than bond enforcement. If it wasn’t for the distraction of the investigation (and Lulu), she probably could’ve made a decent go of it and changed the series for good. It was pleasant to see her not horrible at something.

We get a little bit of another of Stephanie’s supernatural acquaintances, Gerwulf Grimoire (Wulf), here, but in such a small amount that I’m really not sure why Evanovich bothered. That said, if she was determined to use Wulf, this is precisely as much as she should.

I still don’t get what Stephanie sees in Joe, or what Ranger sees in Stephanie, or why Joe or Ranger let this stupid triangle continue. But I’m at peace with that—I’ll never get it, and Evanovich will never change it, why fight it?

If this had been part of any other story, I’d say the solution stretches credulity too far. But as it’s a Plum novel, I really don’t think I can. Honestly, it was only as I was gathering wool a couple of days later that I gave it any thought.

One last thing: I’d read the blurb for Twisted Twenty-Six a few weeks earlier, and was looking forward to reading it more than I have since the mid-teens (I’m guessing). So, it turns out that I was already primed for the near cliff-hanger last couple of pages. I don’t feel too bad saying that because it really doesn’t have much to do with this novel (although events in it do tie-in), but it’s something I have to talk about because I don’t remember Evanovich doing this in the previous twenty-four novels.* Evanovich doing anything new at this point is something to note and celebrate.

* Feel free to correct me in the comments.

This wasn’t anything special, but there wasn’t anything annoying about it, either. Which sets it apart from the last handful. Evanovich ticked all the boxes she needed to; got Stephanie into a new situation and had her handle it in a non-disastrous way; and capped the book off with something new. I can’t imagine Evanovich will return to the comedic heights of the early series—and I imagine even less that she feels any compulsion to do so. I just hope for a reliable level of moderate entertainment, and that’s what she delivered. It’s a decent time, but if you’re new to Plum—go back to One for the Money and immerse yourself in the first dozen or so of these before taking the plunge into the higher numbers.


3 Stars

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“There’s a bookstore here somewhere,” Lula said. “I’ve never been in it, but I saw it advertised. Maybe she would like a book.”

“She has four kids,” I said. “She hasn’t got time to read.”

“That’s a shame,” Lula said. “Everyone should read.”

“Do you read?”

“No. But I think about it sometimes. Problem is, I go to a bookstore and there’s so many books I get confused. So, I get coffee. I know what I’m doing when I order a coffee.”

—Janet Evanovich
from Look Alive Twenty-Five

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich: A Swing-and-a-Miss from a Typically Reliable Source

Hardcore Twenty-FourHardcore Twenty-Four

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #24

Mass Market Paperback, 275 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 25, 2018

I dropped Lula off at the office and went to my parents’ house to mooch lunch. They live five minutes from the office, five minutes from Morelli’s house, and a time warp away from me. Even when my mom gets a new refrigerator or buys new curtains the house still feels precisely the same as when I was in school. It’s equally comforting and disturbing.

At this point the series feels a lot like Stephanie’s childhood home — they all feel the same, which is comforting and disturbing for the reader. This book ended up serving as a prime example of that.

I was feeling pretty good early on, when Connie was giving Stephanie a couple of new FTA’s to go pick up — they seemed equally interesting and potentially amusing. There’s a man who got upset by the poor service he received at a coffee shop and shot up a few cars in the parking lot, and a “pharmaceutical activist” who was arrested after blowing up a meth lab he was using in an abandoned building.

Actually, the travails of the slippery fifty-two year old who threw a tantrum and his eccentric wife is a pretty fun storyline. But the story of Zero Slick gets derailed right away by antics around his political activism and then leads into the major plot-line of the novel about a potential Zombie-outbreak — that both Zero and Lula seem to be overly focused on. That ties into a series of crimes where heads are being stolen from corpses at the various undertakers in town.

Yup. Zombies. Oh, and Diesel shows up. I was so glad that he wasn’t around anymore, it actually took some effort to remember who he was. Throw in an online boyfriend for Grandma Mazur and things are overfull with the zaniness.

I spent so much of the book just wanting it over — I did appreciate the story-line about the shooter — and a couple of other FTA’s that Stephanie picked up. I liked almost everything about Morelli for a change. The Ranger flirtation (and things beyond it), not to mention the Diesel flirting, the Zombie story (even when Evanovich tries to ground it in reality), and the Mazur stories just didn’t work for me. A little too crazy, a little too would=be comedic, without success.

I like the series, as often as I grumble about it — but this was beyond grumbling. I honestly had a hard time remembering why I keep reading these. They used to be funny, now I settle for amusing and almost charming. But I know Evanovich is capable of more, and I hope she gets back to form soon – even if it’s a diminished form. I’ll be back for Look Alive Twenty-Five, but my anticipation will be muted.

—–

2 1/2 Stars

Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

Turbo Twenty-ThreeTurbo Twenty-Three

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #23

Mass Market Paperback, 319 pg.
Bantam, 2017

Read: December 14 – 15, 2017


While trying to apprehend an habitual hijacker, Lula finds herself behind the wheels of a recently stolen refrigerated truck — which she promptly runs into a Trenton Police Car, much to Stephanie’s chagrin. Both the police and the bounty hunters are surprised to find a corpse in the back of the truck — covered in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts, just like a Bogart bar.

Coincidentally enough, Ranger just got hired to handle security for the Bogart ice cream factory and wants to send Stephanie undercover to help dig up some holes in the security there. She doesn’t find a murderer straight off, but she does find a lot of problems with the security. Joe’s not handling this case for the PD, but he’s still able to provide a little intel when needed.

Speaking of coincidences, Grandma Mazur has a new fella in her life, who happens to tend bar where one of the prime suspects regularly drinks himself into a stupor. Which works out nicely for everyone.

About the only person not coincidentally connected to these crimes is Lula. She spends most of the book working on audition videos to reality shows. She and Randy Briggs make a couple of videos for Naked and Afraid-esque shows. Thankfully, there are no illustrations to this book or I’d have to bleach my eyes.

The comedy is a little dialed back from what it has been recently — which is good. Although it is there — once I saw that Stephanie was put undercover at the plant, I wrote in my notes, “we’d better get a Lucy [Ricardo] moment.” Thankfully, we did, shortly after I’d given up hope and was prepared to devote a paragraph or two to ranting about how Evanovich missed the obvious and nigh-obligatory move. Outside the Lula stuff, I enjoyed the rest of the comedic beats (and, actually, the Lula stuff wasn’t as annoying as it could’ve been).

The mystery itself was pretty easy for the reader to solve, but it’s a pretty clever bit of criminal activity that Stephanie and Ranger eventually uncover — and the way the story unfolds is entertaining enough that you don’t mind seeing the solution more than 100 pages before Stephanie does.

This is a solid entry in this long-running and still (generally) entertaining series. It’d be a decent jumping on point as well as a pleasant reunion with old friends (new readers might find it more entertaining than I did, actually, running jokes being a bit fresher for them). As a story this might actually work a bit better than some of the books do, and it looks like Evanovich has the humor/plot ratio just right, nothing to complain about here.

—–

3 Stars

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Tricky Twenty-TwoTricky Twenty-Two

by Janet Evanovich

Series: Stephanie Plum, #22

Mass Market Paperback, 313 pg.
Bantam, 2016

Read: December 31, 2016

Stephanie’s on the hunt for a frat boy on the run, a lawn equipment thief, and a rapist. The latter two are pretty straightforward, but the frat boy, Ken “Gobbles” Globovic? Something’s not right with this one, and Stephanie puts on her deerstalker to try to figure that out.

Meanwhile, Ranger needs a woman for some security work, so naturally, Stephanie’s on the case. Things don’t go as well with that as it should’ve and bodies start to show up. That’s when things really start to get interesting.

Joe and Stephanie are both examining other career prospects, and watching Stephanie try out different ideas is good for a grin or two. I think I’d have preferred letting that play out a little more, honestly. She also could’ve played out the Grandma Mazur story longer, too — that’s something I almost never say. The former would’ve been easier than the latter, definitely. Still, there was a time when Evanovich seemed to drag out similar storylines longer than I’d like, so this “leave ’em wanting more” philosophy really works (“’em” roughly translates to The Irresponsible Reader here).

Ranger stood hands on hips and looked at me. “I’m completely enamored with you, and I have no idea why.”

“I’m cute?”

“Babe, there has to be more, but honestly, I don’t know what it is.”

I’m with him there, there are times I really wonder why I’ve read 22 of these (and plan on reading more). Now that I’m only reading one of these a year, it’s far easier to enjoy the Lula’s extremes (and/or Grandma Mazur), the same beats getting played out over and over, and so on — if anything, it’s comfortable. Part of the fun is to see the different ways that Evanvovich comes up with to hit these beats.

This time out, the stakes with Joe seem to be bigger than usual. And the crime that Stephanie uncovers during the course of her other investigations/hunts is bigger and more serious than usual. Not that serial killers and mafia bosses are the stuff of sitcoms, but we’ve seen them (in various TV/Book series) used in light ways pretty often lately.

In the end, this is a better than average Stephanie Plum adventure with enough of the old reliable characters and beats and some pretty good character moments. A satisfying read for new fans or old.

—–

3 Stars

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich

Top Secret Twenty-OneTop Secret Twenty-One

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #21

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pg.

Bantam, 2015

Read: June 27, 2015

What to say, what to say . . . I mean seriously, these are like 80’s sitcoms at this point. A big reset to the status quo at the end of the novel, most of the jokes are variations on previous novels. Which makes it hard to talk about them. Let’s break this one down quickly:

  • The Good: Vinnie didn’t appear. Joyce Barnhardt only appeared as an allusion. The pacing was a bit different, I thought. Stephanie’s main target was taken care of pretty early, freeing her up to help Ranger.
  • The Bad: The main target for Stephanie was so close to the guy in Takedown Twenty that I briefly wondered if I’d already read this one.
  • The Surprising: The other big case for this book — Ranger’s case, was a lot more serious (grading on a Plum curve here) than we’re used to. Involving a bit more peril than one expects. Grandma was used well, and Evanovich showed a little restraint with her and her antics.
  • The Funny: There was the standard amount of general amusement. But, and this is important, (at least until Evanovich figures it out and drives it into the ground), Bob + Ranger = Comedy Gold. Who knew? I actually laughed out loud. That whole scene lifted this from a 2-2.5 star rating to a three. It’s been a long time since I actually laughed at one of these.

On the whole, once I settled into it, I enjoyed myself. I’m glad I read it — would I prefer that Evnovich reintroduce a real sense of serialization, let things progress with one of the two romantic leads, let Stephanie get better at her job, introducing real stakes would also improve the humor. Otherwise, this remains fairly reliable, decent, disposable reading material.

—–

3 Stars

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich

Takedown TwentyTakedown Twenty

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #20


Mass Market Paperback, 313 pg.
Bantam, 2014
Read: June 24 – 25, 2014

The guy from the fire department closed his notebook, glanced at Morelli, and gave him one of those looks that said, You poor bastard, how did you ever get involved with this idiot woman?

It’s hard to disagree with the guy from the fire department isn’t it? You wonder the same about Ranger, too. What do these guys see in this gal? What do I see in her?

Stephanie Plum books frequently have just goofy, sit-com-y images/situations at their center. This book starts off with one of the goofiest and zaniest so far. Frankly, I find the zanier aspects of these annoying and off-putting, but this one worked for me. Though if Evanovich had come back to this well one or two more times, I might have felt differently.

The central mystery was okay, and could’ve been even better than that — but Evanovich didn’t handle it right. Stephanie’s helping Ranger investigate a series of murders of elderly women. She really cares about this investigation, we’re repeatedly told by Stephanie. But if she didn’t tell us that a few times, there’d be no reason to believe that, she certainly doesn’t act like she cares — at least not enough to have a sense of urgency about it. She spends maybe 30 minutes a day on the investigation, and then goes home, goes to her parents’, or pigs out with Lula. And yeah, that’s her usual M.O. — but that’s just when she’s chasing down a pretty non-dangerous character.

Why does Stephanie ever bring Lula along to help with anything. She almost always turns things into a debacle and then goes shopping/to a drive thru/both. She so rarely contributes anything positive that you could use the phrase “never contributes” and only be guilty of slight exaggeration. If I hadn’t mentally cast Retta as Lula so I hear everything in her voice, I don’t think I could stand her any more.

This is an okay enough entry in a series that’s become okay enough. I was entertained just enough to make it worth my while and come back for the next one (probably). But nothing more. I know Evanovich is capable of better, but at this point, she has little motivation to do better. She can turn in “good enough” and it’ll become a best seller, why put in the extra effort? But apparently, I’ll keep giving her chances to turn things around.

—–

3 Stars