Bride Tree by JP Robinson

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. I received a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

Bride Tree by J.P. Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution is a tale of conspiracy, divided loyalties, calamity, and sacrifice in Bride Tree, a novel by author JP Robinson.

Together with this tumultuous period in France’s history, it was this novel’s striking cover that most captured my interest. It’s mysterious, layered, and lavish, with color that pops, and the cunning stare from the notorious Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, promises intrigue. It’s a promise the author delivers on in this historical thriller. Robinson has a clear talent for weaving an intricate plot, along with a bold flair for the dramatic.

I must say, though, that it’s one of the darkest and most gruesome books I’ve ever read to the end. It’s not that I never finish books that are on the darker or heavier side, and I have a fairly high tolerance for violence, especially in thrillers and war stories. But it takes more light to better offset the darkness for me, whether it’s an inspiring mission driving the storyline, relatable characters I’m rooting for, or something in that vein.

This tale affected me as a Shakespearean tragedy would. The majority of the cast didn’t quite come to feel like real people to me, beyond being characters in a drama. Villains and vixens rather dominate the novel, and although there are moments of justice and compassion, evil and twisted schemes take up the greater share of the story and control the overall tone. There’s gallantry in the key romance, but it doesn’t feel like an equal match, as the couple’s strength is mostly one-sided. I also found the novel’s ending to be unfortunate, as after such a heavy journey, the story cuts off in the middle of action with a cliffhanger.

Nevertheless, while it’s second in the Secrets of Versailles series, I didn’t feel lost as I read it. And aside from maybe a scene or two, this dense, intense novel kept my attention all the way through.

 

The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel C. Rosenberg

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel C. Rosenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Marcus Ryker, a U.S. military veteran and former Secret Service agent, is dead set on preventing what is likely to become nuclear war in The Kremlin Conspiracy, a novel by author Joel C. Rosenberg.

So. This is the third thriller I’ve read by this author, and given that I see a needed sequel in this one’s future, I’m not ready to say too much about what’s in it. Indeed, I’m barely even ready to exhale, after the ride this novel took me on.

I finished it in much less time than it usually takes me to read books of this length, but that’s happened with me and a Rosenberg read before. I almost didn’t like how “on edge” I was through a good deal of this one, as there were times when I practically balked at turning a page, not feeling ready to see what would happen next. But, of course, I couldn’t hold out for long. Had to keep turning pages.

I will say this, though. The storylines of two key players (Marcus, along with Oleg Kraskin, a senior aide of the Russian president) progress simultaneously through the years in this book, and I somewhat prefer Oleg’s storyline, considering how it develops/affects his character. Marcus’s storyline, though it even went so far as to make me cry in the middle of it, seems to suffer a bit more from the chunks of years that pass. The story briefly brushes over what must be some major turning points in his family and spiritual life, and it does so after the fact, more than once.

But on the whole, this thriller had me all in. Now I’m waiting to see what more must be coming…

 

Marionette by A. J. Terry

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Marionette by A.J. Terry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Ko Min-Jung has received a formal “invitation” to join the ranks of recruits for the Agency. They’ll train her to become a professional agent to help protect North Korea from foreign threats. But this training could make it impossible for Ko to remain herself in Marionette, a novel by author A. J. Terry.

This spy thriller essentially has a triple timeline and doesn’t announce where in time it’s going before it goes. But because the unfolding of the plot makes sense, the timing isn’t confusing.

I felt the story teeter toward stalling a time or two in the earlier chapters while thoughts and questions would swarm through Ko’s head. In fact, throughout the book, I thought the narration sometimes asked more questions than necessary. But it didn’t bog things down too much, and if it were a slow read, I probably wouldn’t have finished it in a day, as I did.

This is a tragic, violent, even brutal story with a main character I’d find rather “tofu” at times, taking in the flavor of events happening around her without my always having the best sense of her. But when Ko would come through, I’d feel it.

And I was hit the deepest by one character’s accounts of brilliant humanity, shining through at its own expense, and the tension and irony in what happens to one’s humanity when some authority effectively tampers with it. I was riveted by the story and only felt a little let down toward the end when I realized it wasn’t going to have as much closure as I would’ve liked.

Not exactly a cliffhanger here, but it’s clear that Ko’s journey has only begun in this novel. So I plan on reading the next.

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Note to my blog readers: while this novel has no profanity or explicit sex scenes, it does contain content for mature audiences.

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Marionette is the first of the Agent Ko spy thrillers.

*Now, while I’ve already got Book Two, I had some trouble figuring out where to get the rest of the series. A little bird told me the novels will be getting a makeover, of sorts. So I’ve decided to hold off on reading more until the redone edition of the series appears.*

  

 

Predictability in Fiction

I often say that readers are entitled to their preferences and what they choose to read or not to read. So, even though I write some romance, I don’t think all readers should prefer that genre just because it’s something I write.

Even so, I was prompted to write this blog post because I often hear fellow readers say things like, “I don’t read romance because it’s predictable. You already know the guy and girl are going to end up together.”

True, you already know that fact beforehand, but predictable outcomes aren’t exactly exclusive to the romance genre. Besides, I think there’s a difference between a predictable outcome and a predictable story. I appreciate it when an author can weave originality and unpredictability together on the way to what may be a predictable outcome.

For instance, if you read an adventure or literary novel called Wreck of the Seafaring Vessel, you already know beforehand that the ship is going to wreck. But when the author can make you CARE about the fact that the ship will wreck, can make you wish that it wouldn’t wreck even though you already know it’s going to (or can ironically make you GLAD that the ship will wreck, even though you never thought you’d feel that way), can help you to deeply empathize with the complex characters on the ship through their backstories and emotions and motives–then you get something fresh, thought-provoking, and memorable out of the novel. The outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, is predictable, but overall, it isn’t a predictable story.

I look for the same thing in romance. I know the outcome, or an aspect of the outcome, but I want something fresh and thought-provoking along the way.

As far as predictability goes, much the same can be said for many suspense, thriller, and mystery novels, where readers especially like to be surprised. Before you even start the book, you pretty much know the major aspect of the outcome: the good guy is going to catch or put a stop to the bad guy, solve the murder case, prevent the enemy operation from blowing up the ocean, or what have you. In, say, 999 books out of 1,000, no matter how many thrilling car chases there are, how many kidnappers set out to blindfold and tie people up, or how many airplanes spontaneously combust in the sky, you already know that none of those dangers are going to kill the protagonist right smack in the middle of the novel. But when I read a thriller or a suspense or mystery novel, it doesn’t matter if I already know the hero will indeed make it out of the burning plane alive and the villain will inevitably get caught. I just want something fresh and thought-provoking on the way to seeing the inevitable take place. A predictable outcome, but not a predictable story.

Again, if romance simply isn’t your thing, then it simply isn’t your thing. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve considered predictability alone to be the issue, then perhaps it’s had more to do with the overall style or storytelling in the romances you’ve read, and less to do with the inevitable outcomes. Perhaps it’s had more to do with particular books or authors, and whether or not those were the right books and authors for you, and less to do with the romance genre as a whole.

I believe it’s just as possible to write a fresh and unpredictable romance as it is to write a fresh and unpredictable suspense or mystery novel, since it’s not merely about what happens in the end (the guy and girl get together, the detective wins and the murderer loses, etc.) It’s about the journey or process toward that outcome.

Does that make sense? 🙂