Get to the Point Book Reviews

Book Review Rules

This post is a placeholder for my Get to the Point Book Review rules.

What’s my schtick as a reviewer? I like to point out what I find interesting and I like to do it quickly.

Book Review Rules:
1. Get to the point.
– No drawn out hemming and hawing about recommending the book.
– The answer will either be “yes” or “no” followed up with points that are
relevant to the recommendation.

2. Honesty.
– No need for exaggeration or belaboring a point.
– I’m not into trashing authors or their works.

3. No Delving or Deep Diving
– I dislike reading reviews where everything about a book is outlined. From personal experience, I become disinclined to read the book for myself so I do not write reviews from a traditional format.
– I will leave room for discovery. Character names, situations, plot, etc. may or may not be a point of discussion.

If you want a traditional book review, there are plenty of reviewers who provide just that (and better than I should I attempt it). You can just as easily read summaries on Amazon and Goodreads, or better yet read the book yourself.

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt, MA
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point Book Reviews: It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell

Book Review Rules.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell

Would I recommend?
No.

Not So Great Quotes (a first for my book reviews)

His skin tasted of salt and smelled warm, like the sun baking on a beach blanket. (p. 150)

Aubrey was the one whom Jenny had been worrying about on that account, ever since she’d threatened to expose Kate after finding out that Kate was sleeping with her husband. (p. 234)

She was always careful to include the Womacks in her big events – they’d come to her Labor Day party with their four kids and Val’s parents – even though they didn’t move in the upper echelons of the town like Jenny and TIm did. (p. 235)

The sound of the windchimes and birdsong filled the airy room, which smelled of exotic woods and incense and was heated to a tropical intensity. (p. 256)

The Goods

1. Excellent portrait of college life, the stereotypes, the expectations, the pressure. All well represented.

2. Kate and Aubrey were well-written characters, a lot of depth there.

The Not So Good

1. This novel was entirely too long only to learn that, yes indeed, the HUSBAND DID IT. Again, I don’t normally give away major plot points (Book Review Rules) as I feel it’s best that you, the reader, have more reason to explore a title than not. However, in the case of, It’s Always the Husband, I feel obligated to spare you the drudge.

2. The author concentrated heavily on the character’s (Kate, Aubrey, Jenny) pasts. Much of this novel is spent in the trio’s college years, leading up to a pivotal moment that could have been addressed in half the time. The characters were well plotted, the time spent in the past was unnecessary.

3. A third of the trio, Jenny, was captured well in the college years but not so well in the present. Jenny did not come across well as an adult, nevermind a mayor.

4. I expected more psychopathy from Aubrey. She was well set up for it and that interesting character potential ultimately went nowhere.

5. It’s Always the Husband is neither a thriller nor a suspense novel, it’s more like a very long explanation of events.

I take my “no” recommendations seriously. The above quotes caught my attention as being either unnecessary, drawn out, or lazy. The amount of time dedicated to the past set me up early on for low expectations. Everyone had a hand in Kate’s death (saw that coming, the dialogue was far too generous amongst the characters) but ultimately the husband did it. The end.

Feel free to share your opinions. Just because a novel did not work for me does not mean it won’t work for you.

From Amazon

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver―brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder? When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case,that it’s always the husband?

_____________________________________________________________________

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt, MA
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point Book Reviews: Good Girl, Bad Girl (Cyrus Haven #1) by Michael Robotham

Book Review Rules.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

*This review contains adult language.*

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Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

Would I recommend?
Yes.
(Duh)

Favorite Quotes

I’m not his prisoner. I can wander down to the kitchen to grab a bite. I can walk outside and dance under the streetlight and nobody would stop me. Maybe that’s what’s keeping me awake – the choices. (p. 155, Kindle ed.)

Counselors and therapists have always told me to accept my reality, but none of them has ever explained why. (p. 259, Kindle ed.)

The Goods

  1. For any cut of beef, expect a percentage of fat to accompany it. The same can be expected of authors and their works. Perhaps not the most flattering analogy but then I suppose that rather depends on how much you a) value beef and b) care whether your calories come from protein or fat. Good Girl, Bad Girl is one trim mofo. No gristle. No chewy cuts of cheap meat. Good Girl, Bad Girl is lean, wily, and ready to throw down in the street, anytime, anywhere.
  2. Which links to the second point and always a critical one (at least for me): pacing. Robotham fucking nailed it. When enjoying a New York strip [really, Christina?] you must have some fat. That classic strip flavor cannot be achieved without it. Fat serves a purpose; the challenge lies in understanding ratio. Too much fat and the audience is forced to waste time carving away unnecessary portions that do not contribute to the overall work. Too little fat and there’s not enough flavor. The success of a story is more than the content, it’s the way in which it’s told. Personally, I struggle with pacing which is why I focus on it as much as I do. Good Girl, Bad Girl suggests Robotham is terribly comfortable with his carving knives [really???] and not only do we benefit as readers from that skill but the novel also acts as an example of ideal pacing for those of us who humor ourselves as writers. In fact, because Good Girl, Bad Girl is so lean I want more of the fat. I trust Robotham’s abilities to portion out more of the juicy indulgences as it makes sense to the story and characters.
  3. This is just the beginning! I love a series, I do. No matter where my reading interests take me it’s a comfort to know that at some point there will be new adventures with much beloved characters. I quickly attached to Evie Cormac and I’m feeling my way around Cyrus Haven. There’s more to him than is being revealed. The same could be said for Evie, but Evie, unlike Cyrus, reads like a punch to the face – I dig it. But Cyrus is being withheld and at first I was frustrated by that. I like to deep-dive personalities (in real life and in fiction) but Cyrus is meant, I believe, to be experienced with a little more discernment. I look forward to getting to know Cyrus better…why does his character evoke tension in me as a reader? Is it curiosity? Psychological dissatisfaction? Sexual tension? I don’t know but I want to find out.
  4. Which leads me to this point. If a novel has you asking yourself questions after the fact, I promise you it’s more than “good.”  Most novels I read, I digest and move on. No disrespect intended it’s just what I experience. I can honestly say it has been some time since I last read a novel that has stayed with me after reading it, and even then I’m sure it was Robotham’s, Shatter. If you have not read Shatter (why not, though?) I strongly recommend it. In fact, Shatter was my first Robotham novel and I’ve been a fan ever since.
  5. I’m blown away by the factual representation of typical and atypical psychological norms, while, I might add, Robotham seamlessly weaves these aspects into his characters like it’s no big deal.
  6. Cyrus Haven was a former student of…Joe O’Loughlin’s! (thought that was a spoiler? review my rules linked at the top) I don’t know if that’s a tease for a crossover but one can hope. Not gonna lie, one little mention of Joe O’Loughlin and my heart leapt in joy.
  7. Entirely irrelevant point but Austin, Texas is mentioned in the novel and I’m like:

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The Not So Good

  1. Aside from wanting more, there’s nothing to report. (Bias? Possibly. Do I care? Not really.) In all seriousness, if something stuck out as “off” or difficult I’d say it. You may experience Good Girl, Bad Girl differently. Feel free to sound off below – as always, comments are welcome.

From Amazon

A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen. She doesn’t appear in any missing persons file, and her DNA can’t be matched to an identity. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must determine if Evie is ready to go free. But she is unlike anyone he’s ever met—fascinating and dangerous in equal measure. Evie knows when someone is lying, and no one around her is telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Cyrus is called in to investigate the shocking murder of a high school figure-skating champion, Jodie Sheehan, who dies on a lonely footpath close to her home. Pretty and popular, Jodie is portrayed by everyone as the ultimate girl-next-door, but as Cyrus peels back the layers, a secret life emerges—one that Evie Cormac, the girl with no past, knows something about. A man haunted by his own tragic history, Cyrus is caught between the two cases—one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice. What price will he pay for the truth? Fiendishly clever, swiftly paced, and emotionally explosive, Good Girl, Bad Girl is the perfect thrilling summer read from internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham.

Cheers (and suddenly hungry for a steak),
Christina Schmidt, MA
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

(UPDATED) Get to the Point Book Reviews: Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas

I had the immense pleasure of meeting author, Jose Antonio Vargas, after his speaking event at St. Edward’s University, October 10th.

I’ve updated my book review to express my thanks for Vargas’ kind words to me (I was floored, as you’ll read for yourself), and relay some of the impressionable moments from the lecture. Cheers. dearamerica defineamerican joseantoniovargas

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via (UPDATED) Get to the Point Book Reviews: Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas

(UPDATED) Get to the Point Book Reviews: Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas

UPDATE:
I had the immense pleasure of meeting Mr. Vargas at signing. I was dumbfounded to discover that Vargas had 1. read this review, 2. bothered to retain the information (what I had written as well as some details about me), and 3. thanked me for it, he also gave me a shoutout on Twitter. Vargas is as professional as he his kind.

Seeing Vargas in person (looking much younger than his 38 years) filled with energy and tension…I can say I have a stronger appreciation for Jose Antonio Vargas on the page. I hope he writes his memoir one day. I’m guessing a memoir from Vargas would be beautiful, and heartbreaking. Heartbreaking to read? Possibly. To write? Decidedly.

Define American
Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen

Impressionable moments (for me) from the speaking event, October 10, 2019, St. Edward’s University.

When asked about being successful while being undocumented:
“I would have preferred to have a mom.”

On freedom:
“Freedom doesn’t come from the government, it comes from other people.”

Regarding risk:
“What risks do you have to take to be yourself?”

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Book Review Rules.

*This review contains some adult language.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, by Jose Antonio Vargas
Would I recommend?
Yes.

Favorite Quotes

Above all else, I write to exist, to make myself visible. (p. 58)

I wanted to scream over and over again: THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! THERE IS NO LINE! (p. 154)

I kept thinking back to that lawyer sipping the Diet Coke: “You weren’t supposed to make it this far.” (p. 116)

I came to the realization that everyone feels excluded from America, even the very people whose ancestors created systems of exclusion and oppression. (p. 172)

Home is not something I should have to earn. Humanity is not some box I should have to check. (p. 221)

To Note

I’ve stepped outside my usual realm of fiction to review Dear America by Jose Antonio Vargas. This book was selected as the very first read of the newly formed St. Edward’s University Alumni Book Club (linked if you are a fellow alum and would like to join). Dear America is also this year’s freshmen studies core theme. 

The Goods

I’m sorely tempted to just state: Read it. And then publish this review. Job done. I mean, “read it” is essentially the point. Some reviews need more expression than others, Dear America’s review will not be one of them. However, I will convey some necessary points.

  1. This point is one that is entirely random to my personal appreciation of Vargas’ story so forgive this piece that specifically resonates with me. Vargas shares how he saw the broadway musical Ragtime in New York in 1998, I saw it live on broadway in 1999. I, along with my theater troupe, spent a week long trip in Manhattan, seeing a different play or musical every evening. I had saved for this trip for months and it was everything I had hoped. Of all the live shows that we saw, it was Ragtime that shook me to the core. Ragtime relates escalating racial tension at the start of the twentieth century, and asks the question, who is an immigrant? What I loved in Vargas’ depiction, and throughout Dear America, is the author’s references to the arts in order initiate difficult conversation, or better yet, throw down the gauntlet, confronting a culture and society as a whole.
  2. Cold. Hard. Facts. Vargas is a journalist and this occupation reflects in his writing. A great deal of his book is dedicated to laying out truths concerning how the United States of America has defined citizenship (and has not defined it), determined immigration processes (or lack thereof), and this doesn’t even begin to address the various political agendas at the heart of it all. There is little room for doubt regarding factuality as all the information Vargas shares is searchable. Dear America is not just one person’s testimony of being undocumented, but an actual traceable pathway of this nation’s thought process in regards to immigration. The conclusion is, we, as a nation, don’t know what the hell we’re doing – this is not an opinion, the conclusion is evident. Read the book.
  3. Vargas’ declarations are startling. As he tells it, Vargas came out twice: first as a gay man, then as an undocumented citizen. The author kept everything about himself to himself well into adulthood. Either way, Vargas relates, he lives in limbo regardless of his citizenship status being known or not known; may as well be out about everything. I have a deep love and respect for that purest form of ‘fuck it, I’m doing this’ mindset.
  4. Vargas’ telling is a not A reflection of our times, it is THE reflection of our times. His story encompasses that of many. Vargas does not seek to emphasize any uniqueness of his own personal history, but rather conveys the story of illegal (whatever that means) immigration itself.

The Not So Good (yet, not a fault)

  1. Vargas is largely absent as a person in his own written portrayal of himself. There is very little sense of feeling or emotion from the author’s end. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. If you struggle with grasping Vargas as a person, it is not a coincidence. Based on his history, I don’t think the author can be faulted for this. And even he addressed this himself several times in the book. Vargas had to hide who he was for years, avoiding details, keeping his worlds separate, avoiding intimacy with others…why would his book be any different? If you’re reading this and, like me, think ‘where’s the anger? where’s the fear? where’s the hate?, where’s the love?’ I’ll tell you where it is…the actions. While the author may not express his feelings, Vargas’ actions speak in his stead. Do keep this in mind if you struggle to get a stronger “feel” for this author.

From the Back Cover:

My name is Jose Antonio Vargas. I was born in the Philippines. When I was twelve, my mother sent me to the United States to live with her parents. While applying for a driver’s permit, I found out my papers were fake. More than two decades later, I am still here illegally, with no clear path to American citizenship. To some people, I am the “most famous illegal” in America. In my mind, I am only one of an estimated 11 million human beings whose uncertain fate is under threat in a country I call my home.

This is not a book about the politics of immigration. This book—at its core—is not about immigration at all. This book is about homelessness, not in a traditional sense, but about the unsettled, unmoored psychological state in which undocumented immigrants like me find ourselves. This book is about lying and being forced to lie to get by; about passing as an American and as a contributing citizen; about families, keeping them together, and having to make new ones when you can’t. This book is about what it means to not have a home.

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt, MA
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman

Book Review Rules.

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Britt-Marie Was Here, by Fredrik Backman

Would I recommend?
Yes.

Favorite Quotes

“She wonders what takes the most out of the person: to be the kind that jumps, or the kind that doesn’t? She wonders how much space a person has left in her soul to change herself, once she gets older.”

“Ha.”

The Goods

  1. As a character, I love Britt-Marie. I could give or take the story (give) but Britt-Marie is a trip. I love her accidental dry humor, also reflected in her equally dry thoughts. I love Britt-Marie’s one-note, monotone response of “Ha” when confronted with unexpected information and normal, everyday expression from others. As she is challenged, I love Britt-Marie’s insistence on boundaries that do not make sense under any given circumstance. Britt-Marie is uncomfortably and unapologetically herself, I dig it.
  2. I felt Britt-Marie’s fear of dying alone, not being meaningful enough to anyone for her absence to be noticed. It was written from a real place and presented poignantly.
  3. As well as the fear that drives her decision, to exist in the world, Britt-Marie’s courage in taking on a new life at age 63 is equally portrayed.
  4. The kids in this novel are well written and it made me realize how often a child’s personality is often railroaded or neglected in literary novels that primarily feature adults. Each of the kids are unique and burn brighter than any one of the adults excepting therefrom, Britt-Marie, respectively.
  5. Many reading this novel would declare Britt-Marie as OCD or autistic…the author doesn’t define MC’s “quirks,” she simply presents Britt-Marie as is and I respect that on every single level of character presentation. I’m so tired of reading about characters who, instead of signaling their differences to the audience, are strictly defined and laid out. A good reference for this point is Ricky Gervais’ show, Derek (absolutely beautiful, if you haven’t seen Derek I strongly recommend it), Gervais never defines Derek as “intellectually challenged,” nor given any labels. Derek, as a character, is presented as is and it is utterly refreshing. That’s how I experience Britt-Marie, she is simply herself, quirks aplenty and without apology.
  6. When Britt-Marie befriended a rat (or made an acquaintance, as Britt-Marie would have it), my heart broke. I understood what drove this because at the end of the day we all need someone to speak to, even if it’s a rat that must be coaxed with a Snickers bar.
  7. I won’t go into the details (see my rules page, linked above) but I adored Britt-Marie’s ending. In the end, many declared their need for Britt-Marie and she struggled to choose amongst all the needs. The children saw what all the adults did not, including Britt-Marie herself, and helped her choose in the end. It was beautiful and not at all what I expected.

The Not So Good

  1. In every review I’ve ever written, pacing is brought up at some point because it’s critical to my enjoyment. I put this novel down, and picked it back up several times. The story is never so fluid as when we read from Britt-Marie’s thoughts, feelings, and expression, but then the tedium kicks in. Other characters like, “Somebody,” while necessary, were given too much space for expression. And because I don’t connect with the importance of soccer, I often phased out when any of the characters deep-dove into the love of the game.

From Amazon:

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry “returns with this heartwarming story about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes…

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt, MA
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Would I recommend this book?
*Yes.

*This will be a brief review. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a popular novel and has been reviewed extensively. I’m not sure what else I can lend in terms of originality but I did want to express my two thumbs-up, as it were.

Favorite Quotes 

“’Can you believe the weather?’…’Actually, I CAN believe the weather. What I can’t believe is that I’m actually having a conversation about the weather.”

“’That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.’”

The Goods

1. Great pacing. Pacing will always be critical to my enjoyment as a reader.

2. Bernadette is a multi-faceted character that you will either love or love-to-hate. A short list of adjectives may include: complex, brilliant, snobby, loving, vengeful, neurotic, bitchy, paranoid, broken, savage, mysterious. There are times you want to scream at her, ‘Get over yourself and move on from the bullshit, you’re supposed to be brilliant for god’s sake!’ and there are moments where you think, ‘I can see why she’s a flake and a snob; just mechanisms to keep people away. After what she’s been through, I wouldn’t blame her.’

I found myself, unexpectedly, siding more with Bernadette than I thought I would. I warmed to her character after reading more of her dialogue such as mentioned above (favorite quotes) regarding boredom and Bernadette’s distaste for small talk. Two different passages in the book but consistent with Bernadette’s perspective on life. Personally, I dislike small talk to my core, and I do believe you are as bored in life as you allow yourself to be. It was nice to read these points of view expressed in a female MC.

3. I enjoyed the inner work-world experience at Microsoft. Sometimes, though, it was a tad much, as though the author was advocating working for Microsoft but not before you, the reader, realized what a privilege it would be. But it was interesting, nonetheless.

4. Bee, the daughter, and Elgie, the husband, are great characters in their own right, who lend to Bernadette as a character; their perspectives soften her.

The Not So Good

1. The affair Elgie has with his admin, Soo-Lin, wasn’t necessary. It came across as a predictable sort of filler for a character at a loss about his wife and all the crazy things going on with her. Elgie is a strong character, mentally and emotionally, the affair seemed out of context. It was a sad one-night, and one-note, affair so I’m not even sure it was worth putting to page.

The affair ended knowing Soo-Lin is pregnant and with Elgie likely getting back together with Bernadette. He sets his admin up with a new house and she seems to be happy with that consolation. And I’m over here reading this like…what? The flow of the affair, albeit a brief one, and its resulting aftermath, is confusing and unnecessary. If the affair was unnecessary, the surprise pregnancy was even less so. It’s a kink in the garden hose that is otherwise undisturbed and doing its job.

2. The conditions in which Bernadette is found in Antarctica, how she got to be there, what she thought she could do while in Antarctica, are just bizarre. I know its meant to be a happy wrap-up for Bee, but that doesn’t make it any less strange to me. I know Bernadette is a brilliant, modern, green architect, a MacArthur grant winning one no less, but that hardly makes her capable of building an all-green station in Antarctica.

Stick with me here: Bernadette “flew the coop” from her Seattle home to Antarctica via cruise ship for fear of being locked up for her erratic behavior, where she manages to break away from the cruise line, and then successfully stows away with a group of scientists where Bernadette becomes inspired to build the first green station in Antarctica? Kind of justifies locking Bernadette away in my opinion. Yet these over-the-top reactions and actions are meant to exonerate her, to prove that Bernadette is a sane but misunderstood genius unhappily living in Seattle.

The ending has a conclusion meant for an entirely different work of fiction. Maybe make that two kinks in the garden hose.

And yet, I still recommend Where’d You Go, Bernadette. As a whole, the novel is fun and engaging.

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt
ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassins, Book II)

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Dark Triumph (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book II), by Robin LaFevers

Would I recommend this book?
Yes (unlike Grave Mercy, Book I).

The Goods

1. Assassin nuns. This concept was not utilized nearly enough in Book I as the main character, Ismae, was far too dull to bring the reader into full appreciation of that concept, not to mention overly preoccupied with an equally dull romance.

In Book II, however, our new main character, Sybella, continues on with the story arch and is happily all about that assassination work. Sybella is not caught up in the sanctity of killing, compared to Ismae, but rather relishes every opportunity to take someone out. If she knows the person on a deeper level so much the better as most of whom Sybella knows from her assumed father’s (recall, Sybella, as all the girls of the covenant, were sired by the god of Death, Mortain) household are retained scum acing under the villainous orders of d’Albert himself. All that to say, there’s lots of action in Book II, something sorely missing when in compared to Book I.

2. The love story is appropriate – this time. Unlike Book I, the romance element does not read as forced, dull, or out of proportion to the story. Beast, the love interest, is woven in appropriately to Sybella’s story. His character enhances hers but is not the main focus either. Unfortunately, the point of the story in Grave Mercy was sidelined for the sake of a lack luster romance. Personally, I still maintain the stance that strong female MCs should not automatically be sided with a love interest. Indeed, a romance element is often unneeded. At least in Dark Triumph the reader isn’t choking on the romantic tension, the old will-she, won’t-she bit.

In all, if there must be a romance story underlying all else, it was done well in Book II. Beast, as a character, has more of a pulse that the previous love interest, Duval, and is better written in with Sybella’s character. There is more equality here in terms of personality, decision-making, and action-taking. Sybella had lived more, had more exposure to the world than Ismae and therefore understands herself better. Sybella wasn’t a confused, unsure, simpering handmaiden. Sybella’s love story suited her experience as a character; nothing forced about it. It read naturally.

3. Pacing is A LOT better compared to Book I. Again, that dull romance kept pulling me out of the story and wondering how many pages were left. Book II hardly suffered any dull moments. Sybella proved to be a restless character who kept the story going ever forward.

4. A lot more bloody action. Sorry folks, but when you pick up a book that promises daughters of Death made into assassinating nuns, well, I can tell you, I’m not here for romance no matter how well it’s done. I want the action promised, that’s why I bought the book.

I read repeatedly that Book II is far superior to that of Book I, and it is, but I doubt I will continue on to Book III. More on that in the conclusion.

The Not So Good & Conclusion (as they are one and the same)

1. The romance element.

Better done here in Dark Triumph, Book II than Grave Mercy, Book I, no doubt. By miles, yes. BUT IT IS NOT NECESSARY.

I understood I was meant to be reading fantasy fiction (coupled heavily with historical fiction), but the truth is, these are romance novels with fantasy-styled tones running through it. The overarching story plot of the independence of Brittany, defending the Duchess, even the daughters of Mortain and their purpose, all that big important stuff, takes a backseat to the love stories. That’s not why I’m here.

I don’t think I will be reading Book III, Mortal Heart. I can already feel my way around that one based on the brief check-ins of Annith (the MC of Book III) from both the POVs of Ismae and Sybella.

I’m guessing: Annith is restless to leave the covenant, never having been chosen for an assignment, forced to watch her friends leave on their respective missions, and will likely leave of her own accord. It was hinted already that Annith was to be picked as the next Seer for the Covenant, all but assuring that she will never leave the place. I’m guessing she will strike out on her own, as Sybella and Ismae have done at some point, and I’m guessing Annith will inevitably be introduced to a love interest. The love interest will, I’m sure, change Annith for the better by enhancing her perspective of herself and her role in the world, etc.

I’m sure everything will turn out well for the Duchess and the realm too.

The point is, I’m just not inclined to find out for myself.

Cheers,

Christina Schmidt
ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book I)

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin Trilogy, Book I), by Robin LaFevers

Would I recommend this book?
No (with reservations).

Favorite Quote: “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.” 

Cringe-worthy Quote: “He blinks, ‘If you are not careful, I will begin to think you are enamored of me.’ At his words, something flutters happily in my breast, pleasure, perhaps.”

The Goods

1. I was immediately enthralled upon opening this book, I had no idea – whatsoever – that I wouldn’t be recommending this novel.

Ismae (cool name) is introduced to us as our heroine and her character is best described as steadfast and sincere. She grew up knowing her biological father was Mortain, the god of Death, and her assumed father did his best to expel her while in the womb, but baby Ismae survived thanks to her innate ability to reject poisons. Intriguing, right?

Ismae’s mother dies sometime after birth and Ismae is left to defend herself from an abusive father-figure who, when Ismae comes of age, marries her off to an equally abusive husband. ‘Great background,’ I’m thinking. I’m hooked as Ismae manages to flee the situation, with the help of others who know of her true paternal origins, and escapes to the Convent of St. Mortain. We are given a great character introduction with the promise of an equally great story to come.

2. The Convent of St. Mortain is a place for training the daughters of Death to become assassins, and more importantly, exercise the god of Death’s will. Super cool and intriguing, right? My first impression of the convent was that of a dark Hogwarts where only girls sired by Mortain are allowed admittance and are trained in the quiet killings: poisons, daggers, garrotes, and more. *Ismae quickly passes three years at the convent before she is given her first assignment.*

3. When Ismae kills in the name of Mortain or the convent, the descriptions are not lost. The character thinks out the method and reasons as to why she would choose one method over the other, and I appreciate that. It lets the audience in on the thought process of assassin-ship, not taking the character thought-process for granted.

The Not So Good

1. *The idea of the Convent of St. Mortain is the most intriguing part of the book and is the least utilized. The author barely touches on the convent, giving you the reader enough to be captivated and then “three years pass” from Ismae’s initial arrival, to leaving for her first assignment as an assassin.* What?

The nuns (the convent’s teachers) are barely described, and like those professors of Hogwarts (as a reference), they each excel in their subjects but with hardly any detail given. You experience no attachment to potentially interesting characters. You’re left wanting more – more description, more detail, more interaction with other characters as Ismae grows and develops as an assassin. But no. It’s more or less, ‘Welcome to this really cool place. You’ll learn to fight, kill, seduce, and poison…now get out there in the name of Mortain!’

2. The love interest is introduced almost immediately upon Ismae’s exit from the convent.

First, a love interest wasn’t needed. I am tired of seeing strong female characters inevitably intertwined with a lesser male character. And for what? Character exploration? Character development? Characters can explore their world and grow within them without immediately being shackled to a love interest. It’s disappointing because it comes across as an obvious (yet tired) method for female characters to move forward in their personalities. Being an abused kid in an isolated village meant Ismae had growing up to do that was safe and under her direction, and she, as a character, became stunted in that development as soon as Duval, the love interest, was introduced. Ismae needed time to stretch her newly formed assassin’s wings, get to know herself better.

Second, the love story was dull and uptight. Further proof that Ismae needed to develop as a character before a love interest was introduced; it’s a three part series, the love thing could have waited. Considering Ismae’s abusive background, I understand the slow pacing of the love story, yet again, this goes back to my opinion that the love story would not have been so tedious had Ismae been allowed to develop throughout the series. I doubt she would have been so skittish and unsure of herself.

Third, the male in question, Duval, didn’t have much personality other than the classic stoic-type. Duval is a critical character to the story but he need not have been written in as Ismae’s lover in order to do his job. Ideally, Ismae and Duval would have come to love each other over time as this is a trilogy.

Fourth, the love angle took up precious story time. Too many words were devoted to something that did not serve the story, like the author had to justify the love aspect by constantly going back to it. I was reading more about Ismae’s and Duval’s ever-growing love than I was about the activities of an assassin or treacherous royal plots.

Conclusion

The potential book 1 had, and I can say series too because I’m reading book 2, is huge. So while I do not recommend Grave Mercy, I am reserved in that opinion because I see what could have been. Grave Mercy is a great lesson to potential FF writers – go all in your world building, or go home. If your MC is supposedly a strong-willed, independent female, ask yourself if your MC really needs to be in love. Maybe she just needs to get laid before taking on her enemies? I don’t know, but at least it’s different. The point is if you want your female MC to stand out, don’t fall for the same romance writing traps.

Because of the potential in book 1, I continued on with book 2, which is a lot smoother as a story.  Each book in the series is presented from a different MC, all briefly introduced as Ismae’s friends and fellow sisters (daughters of Mortain) from book 1. So while Ismae is not the MC of book 2, she is by no means forgotten. Ismae appears regularly; the love story could have been written in at a later time.

Unfortunately, with all it’s potential, Grave Mercy is a FF novel turned romance novel.

Cheers,
Christina Schmidt
ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: The Absent One, by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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The Absent One (Department Q Series, #2), by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Would I recommend this book?
No.

The Goods

1. Highly engaging detective / thriller / mystery novel. You can begin reading at any point in the series and not get lost or feel the need to start from the first book in the Department Q series, and I appreciate that.

I read the first Department Q novel, The Keeper of Lost Causes (a book I do recommend) seven years ago, and then I read book #6, The Hanging Girl, in 2017, referenced here, and enjoyed that one immensely despite the overwhelming busyness of the characters.

2. The pacing is always on point and the energy palatable.

3. Excellent character personalities. Carl Morck (MC) remains brooding, contrary, relatable, and an overall respected hard ass. Assad, Carl’s assistant, is a wonderful foil to Carl’s uncompromising presentation, often providing a sense of humor and quiet seriousness. Assad pulls a lot of weight as a side character, my only complaint was there wasn’t enough of him this go around. Rose Knudson was introduced in this book and a needed personality who solidifies the team, although Carl doesn’t realize it at first.

4. Kimmie, the absent one, was well written. I enjoyed her point of view as an antagonist, deadly as well as oddly realistic.

The Not So Good

1. The antagonists were many but pretty much the same. Their number was unnecessary. Other than a few distinguishing details like names and some character traits, I couldn’t keep them apart in terms of importance. With the exception of Kimmie, the bad guys were really a blob of activity. They all had similar demographics and concerns. I would have suggested two (three at most) bad guys and Kimmie (who was the MC’s focus) as the original number were unnecessary and forgettable.

2. The ‘blob of bad guys’ (if you will) was overly active in its violent activities, to the point of being unbelievable. No group that large can accumulate that much havoc as private citizens (wealthy, private citizens) and not get noticed, caught, or busted someway, somehow. The activities of the gang, over the period of time the author suggests, requires too much suspension of belief.

3. The lead-up to the forest hunt scene was done well enough. Despite the onslaught of bad guys, the story paces ever onward towards the ending. The confrontation between the antagonists, Kimmie, and Carl is not what it should have been. It fizzled out.

To be fair, the antagonists endings were very appropriate, even Kimmie’s.

4. Assad and Rose did not receive a follow-up at the novel’s conclusion, but given that it’s a series, the author likely didn’t feel the need to check in with them. I would have preferred it, though.

Conclusion

I’ve now read three of seven Department Q books by Jussi Adler-Olsen, I would recommend the series despite not recommending The Absent One. I’m sure you’ve read a series where some novels are better than others but that didn’t keep you from enjoying the collection, as is this case.

Jussi Adler-Olsen really showcases true Nordic Noir, or Scandi Noir, for which there is a plethora. An outstanding and internationally known example would be, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (also strongly recommend), and Adler-Olsen has stayed true to his writing style and the genre as a whole.

What novel in a series of works let you down? A lot of people tell me Order of the Phoenix was their least favorite Harry Potter book. Naturally, Order is my favorite in the series, but I understand where others are coming from.

Cheers,
ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

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Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Would I recommend this book?
Yes.

Outstanding Quote

“I have always felt,” he said, “that violence was the last refuge of the incompetent, and empty threats the final sanctuary of the terminally inept.” Marquis de Carabas

The Goods

1. Urban fantasy. Good urban fantasy. Gaiman created entirely new groups of humanoids and creatures, all living in the “London below.” No rehashing of elves and dwarves here, thank you very much.

Gaiman, thankfully, does not strictly define any new group with cultural norms (save the marketplace rules that all creatures of the London below must abide by), or outline abilities, which leaves you guessing as to who can do what, and why, and for how long.

This point alone is why I recommend, Neverwhere. Good urban fantasy is hard to come by. Perhaps I’m asking for too much, I don’t know. But I’m impressed with the world Gaiman created. This concept of a “below” world really tapped into an idea that is, I believe, shared by a lot of people. When we think of world beyond on our own, some people dwell on the idea of an afterlife, others may contemplate a multi-verse or life on another planet, and yet others may simply look down.

2. Strong side characters, specifically the Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, and Old Bailey. And equally strong villains: Islington, and Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar (my personal favorites). It feels wrong to label them as secondary characters as they move the MCs ever forward. *In fact, I relied heavily on the side characters for momentum as I read.*

I can safely say, the Marquis de Carabas steals the show. Honestly, this character ought to be the MC in his own story.

Mr. Coup and Mr. Vandemar were wonderfully original, villainous characters.

3. Excellent humor dialogue and musings are written throughout the novel. I enjoy the odd quip in Neverwhere, although that seems to be a point of irritation for many readers.

4. Excellent pacing.

The Not So Good

1. I can’t believe I’m saying this but the MCs were not my favorite. It just goes to show, sometimes you, as the reader, may not bond with a main character and yet you can still enjoy, and even recommend, the book.

The MCs, Richard Mayhew and Door (yes, that’s the name, Door), I would best describe them as watery soup. Thin, some flavor, but not robust, definitely not filling. *To expand on my thought earlier the MCs failed to provide real traction, and the secondary characters did the heavy lifting in moving the story forward.*

Richard could be charmingly befuddled and naive, sure, but if that’s his character then dive into it. Own the stupidity. Own the awkwardness. Own the fear. Richard was far too nonchalant during all his major transitions: becoming invisible in society, to falling in between the cracks, becoming a resident of London below.

Door had even less personality. Door had no real temperament as a person. She did possess some backstory but that did nothing to flesh her out individually. Door was distressed when she was meant to be distressed, tired when she was meant to be tired, giggly when she was meant to be giggly, etc. Put it this way, any actress could play her in a movie and you wouldn’t have a strong feeling about it; the idea of Door is interchangeable. Comparatively, you would have strong opinions about who would play the Marquis de Carabas, Hunter, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. Door had one interesting attribute in that she can open doors (visible or not, locked or not).

So, one point here. That point just happened to be a sizeable one.

What are your thoughts? Please share below.

Cheers,
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Get to the Point, Book Reviews: The Witch Elm

In this previous blog, I announced I would start writing book reviews. This will be a regular, but not frequent, blog series and will be titled as Get to the Point, Book Reviews.The book may (or may not) work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do wonders for (or fail) someone else.

The Witch Elm: A Novel, by Tana French

Would I recommend this book?
No.

The Goods

1. I loved the concept. Growing up, it’s inevitable that at some point you become acquainted with hollowed trees. They’re fascinating in their own right, in life and in stories. What’s in there? A portal? Treasure? Magic? A body? In, The Witch Elm, you get the body and how and why it came to be there. I love the technical details involved in breaking down the murder, the disposal of the body, and the unfolding of it all 10-years after the fact. A lot of thought went into the murder. *It’s impressive but I’m not giving up the details because if you do read, The Witch Elm, you’ll want to experience those details on your own. *See rule #3.

2. This novel contains well-developed characters, or personalities, as I like to think of them. There are several characters, main, secondary, and background, and the author seems to have given each their fair weight. It seems a new standard to write personalities a little too thinly. I believe this is an effort to make the main character(s) more imprint-able for the reader. The more the reader can project upon the character(s) the more the reader is likely to engage in the story. Truly, I hate this style. I miss fully-fleshed characters and Tana French does not leave you wanting in this regard.

The Not So Good

1. This point is the the overall reason I don’t recommend the novel. It’s not the length of the novel that I disliked, it was the repetition. In my opinion, the repetition is what contributed, unnecessarily, to the length of the book.

There were several times where I had to stop reading convinced I had accidentally pressed the back button on my Kindle. I seemed to be rereading a thought, a passage, or a dialogue, not once, but several times. Reiteration was my biggest issue and it kept pulling me out of the story. There were times where continuing on with the book was a drudge.

This may not be a deal-breaker for some readers but it was for me. I felt every moment when I was pulled out of the story.

2. Languishing. It seems a lot of nothing is being described and then a little movement is interjected, followed by more unnecessary information. By the time things “heat up” the cooling down process is quick to follow. I would estimate the mystery kicks in 25-30% into the novel and is generally non-stop peaks and troughs throughout.

3. The MC, Toby, had an inner and external dialogue that occasionally read without real-person authenticity. The MCs language pattern might be best described as excessive? Superfluous? Sentences got clumsy in several places from word excess.

However, this does not happen throughout the novel. It occurred just enough to make me aware of it.

4. Ever see Lord of the Rings? Remember the multiple endings? Worked very well for the movie (you may disagree) but not so well here. There seemed to be several endings with the actual ending feeling tired, sad, and unnecessary. I think a Saprano-style ending would have done well for The Witch Elm. In other words, it just ends. Perhaps Toby learns the truth, experiences some sort of resolution, but does not feel any more secure for having learned it. The end.

5. Figuring out “who dun-it” came down to character observation. Two of the four murder suspects, from the beginning, weren’t murder suspects, at least not in my mind. This may be one of the let-down points of having fleshed-out characters. The main personalities were detailed so well that I knew who hadn’t done the deed, and who did. You, the reader, are set up for a twist but if you’re good at paying attention you’ll figure it out before the big reveal. Not that figuring out the “who dun-it” bit before the reveal is the goal, only I think it was a little obvious.

And that’s my two cents on The Witch Elm, A Novel, by Tana French. Did you read the book? Please, share your thoughts below.

Cheers,
www.ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle

Book Reviews: A Blog Update

Happy New Year! New year and new writing, am I right?

I hope your holidays were restful and may you have enjoyed good times, good food, and good alcohol (in moderation, of course).

I’ve contemplated writing book reviews since my blog’s inception. I do write summary blurbs (examples here and here) as I like to contemplate what I’ve read over the course of a year. Personally, I prefer summaries but admit I could, and should, go into more depth as to why I enjoyed, or did not enjoy, what I’ve read.

I’ve always turned away from actually creating fleshed-out book reviews as I read so many of them already, and, in truth, I generally dislike the style; somehow assuming I would have to do the same. This is not a critique of other’s writings. I know the work that goes into these blogs and elsewhere. I am simply pointing out that there is no rule book that explicitly states book reviews are subject to one style. Instead of searching and failing to find a style I like, I will instead write reviews the way I want to see them.

I will continue to write random blogs but I could do with more intended content too. Stuff that may actually be helpful to others, or so I hope.

There will be two major aims to my upcoming book reviews:

1. Get to the point.
– No drawn out hemming and hawing about recommending the book.
– The answer will either be “yes” or “no” followed up with points that are
relevant to the recommendation.

2. Honesty.
– No need for exaggeration or belaboring a point.
– I’m not into trashing authors or their works.
– The book may not work for me personally but that’s not to say it didn’t do
wonders for someone else.

Because this will be a regular feature (but not a frequent one) I thought it best to title my book reviews as a series so they will become easily searchable:

“Get To The Point, Book Reviews: Title, by Author”

My first review (upcoming) will be The Witch Elm: A Novelby Tana French.

Cheers,
ArmedWithCoffee.com
@gnrmuggle 

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