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Visions of Sugar Plums
by Janet Evanovich
(St. Martin’s, $19.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-30632-6
As an avid Stephanie Plum fan, I was excited to hear about this book. Each June I find myself rushing to the bookstore with my hard earned cash, shelling out big hardcover bucks for the privilege of devouring the latest Plum adventure. In fact, Janet Evanovich is one of the few authors I actually pay hardcover prices for. The offbeat characters, laugh out loud humor, and the ongoing relationship between Stephanie and vice cop Joe Morelli get me hooked every time. Unfortunately, while Visions of Sugar Plums does contain each of these elements, there is just not enough of anything to really sink your teeth into here. Instead of closing the book with a smile, as I normally would, I found myself feeling cheated by the length (149 pages) and price ($19.95!!) of the book.

There are only four days until Christmas, and Stephanie has done nothing to prepare for the holiday. No tree, no cookies, no presents. Her job as a bond enforcement agent isn’t going too great, either. She has been unable to find “Sandy Claws,” a toy maker who is wanted for burglary. Thus, she is less than pleased when a mysterious, six foot, blond hunk magically appears in her kitchen. This isn’t all that surprising, as fans of this series will understand…strangers have a habit of randomly appearing in Stephanie’s apartment all the time. What’s different about this one (besides the fact that he goes by the name “Diesel”) is that he claims to have supernatural powers. His reason for showing up is not clear. In fact, he himself is not even sure why he is there. However, he decides that since he will be hanging around with Stephanie, he will take it upon himself to get her into the Christmas spirit.

As Stephanie and Diesel search for Sandy Claws, readers are treated to some classic Stephanie Plum moments, such as dinner at her parents’ house (complete with the wise cracking Grandma Mazur, and Stephanie’s niece, Mary Alice, who thinks she is a horse), and the inevitable “Stephanie’s car blows up” scene. The only thing unusual going on here is the secondary plot involving Diesel, a mysterious character known as “Ring,” and their supernatural powers.

Too much plot description would really give this story away, because there isn’t that much to it to begin with. Fans of the Stephanie Plum series will appreciate the brief appearances of favorite characters such as Lulu, Randy Briggs, Stephanie’s sister Valerie, and Albert Kloughn. Ranger, Stephanie’s “other” love interest and occasional co-worker, does not appear at all, which was disappointing.

The frustrating thing about this book is that it has a shallow feeling to it that left me wanting more. It felt thrown together and lacking in depth. The dinner scene at Stephanie’s parents’ house was fun….but somehow not enough. I wanted more Grandma Mazur. I also really missed Lulu’s offbeat humor. Perhaps if Visions of Sugar Plums had been sold as a paperback, I would feel differently. However, I do feel that hardcover books should be held to a higher standard, given their cost, and this one just fell short. If you are a Stephanie Plum fan and money is no object, then by all means give this one a try. Otherwise, my advice is to wait for book nine to be published in June.

--Kerry Keating

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