Becky’s Two Hundred and Fifty-First Book Review: “The Mask” by Taylor Stevens

“The Mask” by Taylor Stevens is the fifth novel in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. The worst part about this book is the fact that the next book in the series hasn’t been written yet. Every time I get a taste of Vanessa Michael Munroe I am completely sucked into her world. “The Mask” was no different.

At the beginning of the book Munroe arrives in Japan. Trying to recover after the ordeals that she went through in “The Catch”, Munroe is playing house with Bradford while he is working as a security consultant. Just when Munroe begins to feel at peace, Bradford is arrested for murder. Munroe is infuriated. She knows that there were things that Bradford was keeping from her and his dishonesty feels like a betrayal. But Bradford’s arrest is not something she can walk away from. In order to save Bradford, she needs to shed the girlfriend façade and once again, become the detached spy to dig into the work he was doing. Although it is a personal interest for her, she needs to be all business to save him.

Part of what makes these novels so interesting is how Munroe and Bradford are so muddled in what is right and wrong. “Given the life that Bradford had led, he wasn’t an innocent man. / War made murderers out of honest men – proclaiming guiltless by law what the conscience would later bear in shame – but there was innocence and then there was innocence, and if Bradford had targeted a kill, then the body would have disappeared and the evidence scattered and never found.” (The Mask, pg 53/54). There is no question in her mind that Bradford did not commit the murder he was arrested for, but she also acknowledges that he is not someone completely innocent. This is something that I really like about these books. Munroe knows that she is not your typical hero. She does a lot of bad things, and worse than that, she enjoys it most of the time. She is truly flawed, but at her heart she wants to do the right thing. Despite all that she has been through, she wants to help.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but not to everyone. Established Munroe fans would definitely enjoy reading “The Mask” as I certainly did. But Munroe is a unique character that is constantly pushed up against violence and has to retaliate, often losing herself and pushing a little too far. Killing isn’t just an instinct to Munroe when she is cornered, but something she craves. This reluctant bloodlust is part of why Munroe would not appeal to everyone. She is a dark and complex character, and she isn’t for everyone. Personally, I think Munroe is amazing and I cannot wait to read the next book.

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Becky’s Two Hundred and Twenty-Ninth Book Review: “The Vessel” by Taylor Stevens

“The Vessel” by Taylor Stevens is a novella that takes place between “The Doll” and “The Catch” following Vanessa Michael Munroe as she, once again, embarks on an insanely dangerous task. Munroe’s moral compass may be a bit skewed, but her mission in “The Vessel” is to use her talents to right a wrong, to stop a man that will only continue to cause pain on a massive scale. To do this, she turns to her well-honed talents.

“…surrounded by the poor and the struggling while phrases and tones and speech shifted form and made shapes inside her head, as they did now in the bar. As they had her entire life. Language had defined her, made her who she was. Language, the savant-like ability to find the pattern in foreign sound, was a poisonous gift that had been with her since childhood.” (The Vessel, loc. 63) I love the way that Stevens describes Munroe’s talents. From Munroe’s perspective, everything that makes her appealing to hire is a burden that she has to carry, that she has always had to carry. Her talents with language, her ability to shift into different environments, to become a different person, her instincts, her ability to survive – all of these things Munroe accepts as part of who she is, but she still views these as encumbrances.

One of the things that I like best about Munroe is that she is a badass that is capable and willing to take a life, but that she doesn’t do it lightly. When she kills, Munroe enjoys it in a primal way – but the non-animal part of her brain hates the fact that there is blood on her hands. The balance that she tries to maintain throughout the series is part of what makes her so compelling. “Like a modern-day Apostle Paul, she was made all things to all men. She was everyone and no one. She would find him, kill him, and he would never see her coming.” (The Vessel, loc 405).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, and not just to those already familiar with Munroe. The Vanessa Michael Munroe series is violent and not necessarily for everyone and “The Vessel” is a great way to get a taste of Taylor Steven’s writing. But in my opinion, these books are awesome so you’ll probably get addicted. Fair warning.

Becky’s Two Hundredth Book Review: “The Doll” by Taylor Stevens

“The Doll” by Taylor Stevens is the third book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series and it is just as good, if not better, as the first two books in the series. What great about this series is, although ideal to read it in the order that it was written, you can still pick up the third book in the series and enjoy it without wondering what is going on.

“The Doll” starts off with Bradford looking out the window and witnessing Munroe being taken. He has no idea who took her or why, but he is determined to get her back. Having read the first two books in the series, we know that Munroe is not the kind of woman that needs rescuing, but that doesn’t stop Bradford from doing everything in his power to get answers. Once he learns that Logan – the only person that Munroe cares deeply for – has also been taken, Bradford understands that someone is planning on taking advantage of the unique skills that Munroe has by using Logan against her. “Vanessa Michael Munroe was a killer with a predator’s natural instincts; she could take care of herself. What scared him – terrified him – was what would happen if she was pushed too far. He’d seen that place of destruction, had witnessed firsthand what the darkness could do to her mind…” (The Doll, pg 11). Throughout the book Bradford is racing against a clock, knowing that the longer she is out there, the longer that Logan is out there, the more likely she will lose herself again. “The Doll” was a real page-turner.

I think that Munroe is an awesome character. She is strong, kickass, and at the same time, she is haunted by the lives that she has taken. She feels madness creeping up inside her, and despite how much she fights it down, it continues try to devour her. I like the fact that Munroe understands the toll that it takes on her own soul to take a life and therefore, doesn’t do so lightly. “Hands to her head, face to the stone, screaming without sound, she pushed back hard. For nine months she’d tasted happiness, a chance at the closest thing she’d known to peace and a real life. For nine months the rage and violence that had defined so many of her years had finally ebbed, and now those who had no right had come with impunity to nip her out of this newfound calm, throwing her into an impossible situation where no matter what she did or what she chose, the end result would be a return to madness.” (The Doll, pg 47). I loved this quote. I think that it not only describes how Munroe thinks and behaves, but also showcases Taylor Stevens’ writing, which I really enjoy.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I am a big fan of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. What makes these books unique is Munroe. She’s an awesome character with unique abilities that to most people would seem superheroesk. She is resilient, but she knows that she pays a price for what she does. “…survival and instinct that had made her who she was, and the unique set of skills both inborn and man-made that, once combined, had both blessed and very nearly destroyed her life.” (The Doll, pg 150). I think that Taylor Stevens’ writing has grown stronger with each book, and in turn, made Munroe a more developed and intriguing character. I am really excited that a new Vanessa Michael Munroe books is going to be released at the end of June. “The Mask” will be the fifth book in the series and I cannot wait to get my hands on it!

Becky’s One Hundred and Seventy-Seventh Book Review: “The Innocent” by Taylor Stevens

“The Innocent” by Taylor Stevens is the second book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. I am completely captivated by these books. Taylor Stevens is extremely talented and Vanessa Michael Munroe is a fascinating character. I cannot get enough.

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE FIRST BOOK IN THE VANESSA MICHAEL MUNROE SERIES

This book starts off slightly different in that the story opens with Logan as the storyteller. As we learned in the first book, Logan is like a brother to Munroe and one of the few that she has allowed to become emotionally close to her. Upon arrival, Logan is distraught when he realizes that Munroe has been dulling her personal demons with medication. “He left her room for the guest bathroom, irritation and anger washing over him. He needed her right now, needed her to be herself, lucid, aware, not this – brain-and-emotion-numbed, and half-alive. No matter the reasons, what she was doing was such a goddamn fucking waste of brilliance.” (The Innocent, pg 18). It is understandable that she is behaving this way after “The Informationist” ended with her losing Beyard, a man she described as ‘a rare equal’ and whom she had, in her own way, loved.

In “The Innocent” Munroe has been recruited to help Logan save a little girl from a religious cult that Logan had escaped from years ago. He has been trying to find a girl, Hannah whom was kidnapped by her mom’s boyfriend eight years before. He finally has information on her whereabouts and knows that the only way to get her out is to get Munroe involved. “In the stories of the children of The Chosen, in the sincerity of their pain, she understood the insanity of accepting the assignment and exactly why she would. There was no logic in it, no list of pros and cons; it defied the calculation and the meticulous exactness that had thus far defined her career. This desire to accept welled from deep inside; a child’s innocent yearning from years long past; the prayers for rescue never answered.” (The Innocent, pg 55). I thought this was a great insight into how Munroe thinks and feels. Her hardened exterior is to protect the damaged child within.

““Superheroes defend what’s good and destroy evil,” she said. “They mete out justice, and everybody cheers. Nobody ever talks about what it feels like to kill.” She turned her palms upward and stared at them. “They don’t discuss the rush, the savage ecstasy of bloodlust, the sense of satisfaction when it’s finished.” Her eyes cut to his. “Superheroes are glorified serial killers, Miles. Sure, they only kill bad guys, but aside from the moral labels, what makes them any different from the madmen?”
“Have you ever considered that it’s not always wrong to kill?” he said. “Maybe some people need to be killed, maybe by taking them out you break the cycle of pain and suffering.”” (The Innocent, pg 189). I loved this quote, Miles Bradford makes a really interesting point that sometimes, it is necessary – and can be – good to kill. I also liked how Munroe views superheroes; I thought it was an uncommon description.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, I think that Taylor Stevens really has something here. Vanessa Michael Munroe is a rare character, a woman that takes care of herself and others, someone that has the strength, skill, and intelligence to blend into whatever role she needs to be in order to complete an assignment. Most importantly, in my opinion, she is a woman that gets herself into sticky situations and then gets herself out of them. She doesn’t wait around for the menfolk to come and rescue her – she saves herself. I think that is a very atypical quality in a female character. I have the next book in the series already and was very pleased to find out that there is another coming out in summer 2015. This is an exciting series that I believe appeals to a wide range of people.

Becky’s One Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Book Review: “The Informationist” by Taylor Stevens

“The Informationist” by Taylor Stevens is the first book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series. I actually read the fourth book in the series first because I did not realize that it was part of a series. However I came to find this author, I have become completely captivated by her writing and the character Vanessa Michael Munroe. Taylor Stevens is truly gifted and part of what I enjoy so much about this series is that in no way, shape, or form is Vanessa Michael Munroe a ditzy damsel in distress – she is a strong female lead that takes shit from no one. She is a complete badass and makes for an amazing protagonist.

Munroe is not without her faults and she struggles with many demons. I really enjoyed getting background on why she is the way she is. She has many layers of pain to her and the more I read, the more her exterior unraveled and I got to learn about her. Munroe is in the business of getting information and “The Informationist” begins with her returning from an assignment only to find out that someone else is trying to hire her to look into a missing persons case. This is not what Munroe usually handles, but once she gets some background on the case and realizes where she would have to return in order to find this girl, she finds herself conceding to the assignment. It is when she decides that she is taking the assignment that she reflects upon what that will mean. “Returning to the past was inevitable. Somehow in the last nine years she’d managed to stay upright on a tightrope stretched between brilliance and insanity, the blackness of the abyss always with her, leaving her sometimes wondering if letting go might in the end be easiest of all.
Work had kept her sane, kept the line taut. It wasn’t fear that held her back from Burbank’s assignment or where it would lead, nor was it the contents of the envelope, symbols of the past that they were. It was uncertainty: If the line should snap, on which side of the abyss would she land? She’d planned to return when she no longer cared…
…Maybe she’d always care, maybe there was never going to be a good time, maybe she’d be running forever.” (The Informationist, pg 51).

I really enjoy the way that Taylor Stevens writes. I think she gives a unique voice to Munroe. At one point in the novel another character asks Munroe what her demons are. Her response is, “The aloneness. The invisible walls. Always the outsider looking in. Different. Unusual. I despise their world and the superficiality of it all and yet still want to be a part of it. I wonder sometimes how much simpler a life of naïveté and unawareness would be.” (The Informationist, pg 166). I think this quote sheds a great deal of light onto what Munroe is like, how she feels and reacts to things.

This is another quote that I feel demonstrates well how Munroe thinks. She is so used to relying only on herself that when someone else’s existence becomes something she wants to protect that she can’t help but react differently from how most people would. “The emotion she felt was a violation of the cardinal rule of survival; it skewed reason, clouded logic, had to be eradicated. Munroe took a deep breath and exhaled. She needed control, and to regain it required internal shutdown. Another intake of air, and she closed her eyes and then against her better judgment fought it, argued against it, and finally postponed it. Beyard was a rare equal, a man with skill and motive to destroy both her and the assignment. The danger was an intoxicating lure, difficult to abandon.” (The Informationist, pg 179).

Munroe is a complex character. She, like all people, has a natural desire to be around others. But her past has made her wary of others and instead of craving company she pulls from it. She doesn’t have the ability to function the way most do. She cannot accept other people into her world, and her aloneness makes her strong and weak at the same time. “After nearly our weeks of continual companionship, solitude brought with it the feeling of nakedness soon replaced by the exhilaration of freedom.” (The Informationist, pg 213). I think this expressed it well. Munroe functions best alone.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think that Taylor Stevens is a very talented storyteller and Vanessa Michael Munroe is a character that you can’t stop cheering for. She is a strong character that I cannot get enough of. I have already started reading the next book in the series and I hope that the series continues on for many more volumes.