I picked up One For The Money on a lark a month ago, and blew through Books 1-9 in about 2 weeks time, aided and abetted by a horrible flu and Kindle Whispersync. It was Lay's Potato Chip reading and I could not get enough of these characters and their professional and personal exploits. I felt I could understand Stephanie's need to break the stereotypical female Burg mold of the women that surround her. I thought some of her most insightful personal moments were when she seemed to recognize herself in Grandma Mazur (or the other way around) and when Stephanie's mother announced that she was going to college. The introduction of the formerly perfect Valerie whose formerly perfect life has collapsed around her brings Stephanie's primary conflict into sharp relief. At it's heart, I have felt that the series is primarily about a woman who is torn between loving the place and people she calls home - and all of the expectations and traditions that go with that - and chafing against those same expectations and traditions all the while. Stephanie wants to be part of the Burg, but fears playing by its rules. A woman less conflicted and more committed to independence would just move away, and create herself in her own image.
Stephanie's love interest conflict is an extension of her identity conflict. Morelli "is" the Burg. Ranger "is" moving away and creating a mysterious and exciting new self.
The conflict has worked very well through the first books of the series. At the halfway point, I am growing frustrated by Stephanie's lack of development. We know that time is passing in the lives of these characters. The recurring characters are all exhibiting, to greater or lesser extents, signs of personal development and growth. We understand from Stephanie's internal narrative that she thinks about changing, but she never puts those thoughts into action.
My problem at this point is that as a reader, I feel that I see what Stephanie wants, even if she cannot - "she wants to be a contemporary and self sufficient (oh the irony!) woman who loves deeply and lives happily and is respected for who she is and what she wants in a marriage partnership that does not suffocate her". By Book 10 - I am growing frustrated because it seems that that desire is within her grasp - and she is either unwilling or unable to do the emotional work with a partner to get to where they both want to be. As readers, we never see Stephanie telling Joe how she feels or more importantly, what she fears. The extent of their intimacy as a couple is expressed sexually, which was exciting when they were first finding each other again but has become just another set decoration for the story at this point in the series. Stephanie's flirtation with Ranger is, IMO, just that. Unless Evanovich plans to alter the Ranger character substantially in the later books - there is no future "with" Ranger for Stephanie. Something she has always known. I cannot relate to or understand the foundation for the "relationship" between Stephanie and Ranger, except for some element of sexual tension. What else? That they "relate" to each other on that meaningful "bounty hunter" level? Stephanie is a terrible bounty hunter, by her own admission. I can understand why Stephanie would be attracted to Ranger, but why Ranger to her? They seemingly have NOTHING in common. Do we want to believe that her incessant "bounty huntress in distress" is so endearing to the "international man of mystery" character Ranger is drawn as, that he would have fallen in love with her? It is preposterous, AND, kind of the opposite of what Stephanie purports to want whenever she pushes Morelli away. Maybe I am wanting more from this series and these characters than what is, in the end, a fairly formulaic romance novel with some action and comedy thrown in to shake up the genre?
I don't want to give up on Stephanie. I want to see her buy shoes at Nordstrom once and a while. I want her to eat a salad or maybe just some yogurt. I'd like her to realize that pineapple upside down cake is the favorite dessert of no adult on earth. I want her to take an emotional risk and tell one or both of the men in her life what she dreams of and what place they play in her hopes for her future. I want her to not be her biggest obstacle to her own happiness. I want Stephanie to grow.