Audiobook Review: The Doll by Taylor Stevens

17 06 2013

The Doll by Taylor Stevens (Vanessa Michael Monroe, Bk. 3)

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Length: 13 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts:In The Doll, Taylor strips away the trappings of her writing and presents a balls to the wall fast paced action thriller that will leave the reader awash in adrenaline soaked bliss. While her normal touches are still there, her vivid international setting, her complicated character’s unique skill set and her spin on typical action hero motivations, the action in The Doll is crisp and mean which makes it the most satisfying entry in an already excellent series.

Grade: A

Sometimes I think that egomaniacal super villains are their own worst enemies. I’ll be the first to admit these masters of the criminal element are intelligent people, they have to be in order to put together their international crime cartel and keep it running in a sea of scumbags and degenerates. Yet, there comes a point were the brutal simplicity of being the worst of the worst just isn’t enough. They have to start playing with their food, brutalizing their enemies with more and more complicated schemes until each plan needs to become more elaborate, each enemy more skilled and the box they build for them more perfect. You would think that the best way for these people to survive would be to keep the most skilled crime fighters unaware of their existence. Yet, instead they attempt to draw them into elaborate traps. These traps are often well conceived, devious and as close to perfect as perfect can get. Yet, there is one fatal flaw, they put a piece on the board that never should be there, and force them into THAT moment. For every one of these evil schemes leads the heroes of the tale to THAT moment. THAT moment where all hope is stripped away, where the trap seems perfect, where the hero has nothing else to lose. That’s when things start to go wrong. Now, our evil maniacal leader doesn’t have a highly skilled operator forced into a situation where they use their skills to help their evil plans, no, instead they have a highly skilled operator whose one sole motivation is to deal death and destruction to them in whatever form they can. A desperate trapped animal is the most dangerous type of animal there is and this is the most likely outcome of their evil scheme. So, evil egomaniacal super villain, maybe dial it down a notch, sure, play with your food a bit, but maybe lay off  the motivating highly skilled individuals to reign hell fire down on your head. You’ll live longer.

In the latest thriller by Taylor Stevens, Vanessa Michael Monroe is kidnapped by an international human trafficking ring, and forced into an elaborate trap. Either she delivers a young starlet, uninjured and undrugged, to the sadistic man who arranged her purchase, or those she loves will be horrifically killed. While Michael attempts to find a way of this trap, her lover Bradford attempts to locate and rescue her brother, the cartel’s bargaining chip against Michael. In The Doll, Taylor strips away the trappings of her writing and presents a balls to the wall fast paced action thriller that will leave the reader awash in adrenaline soaked bliss. While her normal touches are still there, her vivid international setting, her complicated character’s unique skill set and her spin on typical action hero motivations, the action in The Doll is crisp and mean which makes it the most satisfying entry in an already excellent series. I am always skeptical of “The Best Series Edition Yet” and “She Keeps Getting Better and Better” type of reviews. What Steven does is a bit different, she seems to reinvent her writing style each new entry, keeping her wonderfully conceived character the same, but telling her tale in a way the illuminates a new aspect of her life. Some may like the new style, while others may long for a return to older styles. Me, I loved every moment of it. The Doll is a more traditional thriller, less back story, less reliance on Michael’s past yet still informed by it. The plot is full of elaborate cat and mouse schemes, car chases and gun play, but told in the intelligent plotting manner the author excels at. Stevens also manages to create an intriguing relationship between Michael and her captured charge, one she utilizes well for emotional manipulation. I also liked that we got to see a bit more of Bradford acting independently from Michael. I think this was the first time I began to truly understand and embrace this character as his own person, and not just Michael’s love interest and reliable partner. The Doll is a thriller with action that rivals Robert Ludlum and Lee Child, yet with a character that elevates it above simple chasy, explody, shooty fun. The Doll is easily my favorite action thriller of 2013 so far, and may place Vanessa Michael Munroe up there in my mind with the likes of THE Jacks (Bauer and Reacher) who, I think she could probably take in a fight. Well, maybe.

Once again Taylor Steven’s novel is brought to life in the hands and vocal styling’s of Hillary Huber. One of the things I love about this series is how carefully and deliberately Huber delivers the action scenes.  Often with action, a narrator ups the pace, creating tension through rapid fire prose. Yet, Huber actually slows it down, highlighting the intelligent action, allowing us to follow each one of Michael’s complicated though processes as she makes each decision within a world of snipers, car chases and bratty starlets. I have always been a big fan of Huber’s unique voice. She brings a maturity and gravitas to her characterizations, that forces to you pay attention to each character, no matter how vapid you may feel they are at first glance. While there wasn’t as many international accents in this entry, Huber excels at capturing the unique settings and giving us authentic sounding characters of all ages, sexes and nationalities. The Doll works well as a standalone thriller, but why do that to yourself? If you haven’t yet listened to this series, grab yourself a copy of The Informationist, and spend some time with the wonderful duo of Taylor Stevens and Hilary Huber.

Note: Thanks to Random House Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

17 01 2012

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens (Vanessa Michael Munroe, Bk. 2)

Read by Hillary Huber

Random House Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 26 Min

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: The Innocent is a smart taunt thriller, where information and well thought out plans are just as much weapons as knives and guns. Steven’s latest novel is highlighted by the realistic portrayal of her broken protagonist, who struggles to truly understand her reactions to the violence that comes with her work.

Grade: A-

I don’t know much about cults. Oh, I am familiar with the media’s presentations of infamous cults like Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians. I have also followed some of the stories about extremist Mormon polygamist cults. Yet, typically when we get these stories, it’s because of the aftermath of some horrid event, or controversial policy of the cults. Until the damage is done, cults tend not to be very news worthy. Growing up in an evangelical fundamentalist church, I used to hear the word cult thrown around pretty willy nilly. Some would say that any religious group was a cult, if they didn’t truly follow the one way, including other protestant denominations that put too much focus on minor aspects of the Bible. This, of course from a church, who at one point in time, believed that the King James Version of the Bible was the only true form of the Bible, and totally submersion was the required form of Baptism. In fiction, I rarely find a story dealing with a "cult" that has the feel of authenticity. They either want some grand conspiracy of devil worshipers, or some militia style group with a religious trapping. It never came off as more than a literary trick to create instant bad guys for our kick ass main character to shovel revenge upon. Yet, listening to Taylor Steven’s The Innocent, you could just feel the authenticity in the writing. Stevens never tries to over sensationalize the topic or make it some mass grand conspiracy. Her main character isn’t getting revved up to exact violence upon this group of evil doers. The authenticity comes from its intimacy. In The Innocent, Vanessa Michael Munroe is attempting to rescue one child, to pull her from a destructive situation, ands into the arms of people who truly love her, and will protect her.

While I found Taylor Stevens first novel, The Informationist, to be a unique and fascinating thriller, I wasn’t expecting her to be able to top it with the next installment, yet she did. Stevens again utterly impressed me with the intelligence of her thriller. Vanessa Michael Monroe, called Michael by most people, is one of the more realistic thriller series characters I have encountered. I love the fact that she doesn’t just bounce back from the events of The Informationist like it was another day at the office. Michael is affected by the violence and killing. She also suffers from sort of tainted spirit, a feeling that the exhilaration she gets from her actions makes her just as bad as those she brought to justice. Yet, when she is asked by her best friend Logan to rescue a young girl named Hannah who was kidnapped from her mother by the cult called the Chosen, she chooses to pull herself together and take on a job that she is uniquely qualified to perform. The Innocent isn’t the fast paced ultra violent non-stop thriller that many people may expect. Michael moves deliberately, taking calculated steps to increase the likelihood of success while minimizing collateral damage. Yet, while each move is well thought out and information is valued over violence, when the time for action and violence comes, Michael, and Stevens the author, deliver with tension building moments and well plotted action sequences. One thing that I especially liked was that the true denouement of the piece isn’t some violent shootout that brings the bad guys down in a wave of blood. The resolution of the plot isn’t achieved by violence, but by Michael’s personal understanding of what needs to be done to start the transition of this broken girl back into a safe protective, and loving environment. The Innocent is a smart taunt thriller, where information and well thought out plans are just as much weapons as knives and guns. Steven’s latest novel is highlighted by the realistic portrayal of her broken protagonist, who struggles to truly understand her reactions to the violence that comes with her work.

Hilary Huber has now narrated both of Taylor Steven’s novels. What truly struck me while listening to Huber’s reading was how well she seemed to understand the character of Vanessa Michael Monroe as well as what the author was trying to achieve with the book. Huber reads in a deliberate, methodical pace. Her pace highlights the meticulous planning of the characters as well as the intricacies of the plot. Even during the action scenes, Huber maintains her deliberate reading allowing Stevens words to create the tension. Huber seems to understand that she needed no change of pace tricks to make the action come alive. Also, I loved how her tones matched the development of Michael’s character. In the beginning, she is read with an almost lifeless tone matching the character’s state of mind. So, at times when dealing with  her partner Bradford, or best friend Logan,, and especially when dealing with Hannah, Huber’s infusion of life into Michael’s voice made those moments resonate even stronger. This second chapter in the story of Vanessa Michael Monroe is a wonderful thriller and a logical follow up The Informationist.