Review: “Schooled” by Christa Charter

schooled_christacarterFinal Rating: fourcupscropped cups of tea mixed with a tasty combination of Mountain Dew and mystery.

OK, I’ll be honest: This is a book I probably never would have picked up if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of my good friend Marti McKenna, from The Editing McKennas. And that would’ve been a damn shame, because this book was a LOT of fun to read. It has everything: Action, casual romance, and a mystery which hits that beautiful sweet spot where I was puzzled right up to a certain point, then was given enough information to work out Whodunnit just slightly before the characters in the book do. This, to me, is a beautiful balance which not nearly enough mysteries (even some of the classics) manage to strike. Color me impressed.

At first, I assumed the book would be solely from the perspective of its main character, Lexy Cooper, but it was actually split between her and her uncle, Mike Malick, the detective working on the murder case which intrudes onto Lexy’s otherwise normal life. This worried me at first, but I quickly came to love Mike’s perspective just as much as Lexy’s. The author wields the 3rd person perspective with ease: It feels like it truly serves a purpose instead of just being gratuitous, or an excuse to build up pointless drama and keep you reading by headjumping right when something dramatic is about to happen to one of the characters. (Which is a MAJOR pet peeve of mine, as anyone who reads this blog regularly has probably figured out by now…)

The author fleshes out both characters beautifully, which is another thing I was worried about with the split perspective: So often books with multiple characters will advance the “favorite” character at the expense of the others. I fully expected Dt. Malick to be a cardboard cutout, the typical “grizzled cop” character with nothing beyond his rumpled coat and 5’o’clock shadow. But I was proved wrong (yay!) with numerous glimpses both into his life and his personality, and what makes him tick as a human being. Naturally Lexy receives more of this treatment, which I would expect since she’s the protagonist of the whole series. But the balance was really enjoyable, and I liked seeing their relationship ebb, flow, and grow the way you’d expect between two people who are close and have been for a long time.

Charter also does a great job with the more minor characters: Everyone feels like an actual person you might meet in real life. Their relationships mix with and bounce off of each other just like you find IRL, and all of this happens on top of various settings which all feel like places I could actually find in the real world. Even the parts of the book featuring Facebook or Twitter exchanges felt realistic, and this is an area in which a LOT of authors stumble. But nothing about any of the settings felt fake or too convenient to be truly real. Charter manages to create a living, breathing world, and I can tell it’s one she’s been part of in her own life.

I did have a few reservations during my time with the book, largely surrounding Lexy’s sexual conquests. First, let me make a quick disclaimer: I love female characters who are sexually independent, and the sex scenes in this book are fuckin’ hot. My quibble is not with the nature of the content. (Though some of the sexual undertones in Lexy’s relationship with Mike made me a little uncomfortable.) Rather, I think my unease has more to do with timing. It’s really hard to enjoy Lexy’s sexual exploits when in another tab, I’m logged on to Twitter watching female game developers, critics and journalists receive absolutely gut-churning harassment and hatred every second of the day, specifically surrounding who they have/haven’t slept with.

While on the page, I’m watching Lexy casually squirm on someone’s lap or have a one-night-stand with a man in the industry to get what she wants with little to no consequences, I’m also watching dedicated, intelligent women receive death and rape threats simply for speaking their minds with no grinding involved. The two worlds just don’t mix, and even though I know Schooled was written far before any of this fucking “GamerGate” bullshit, some of Lexy’s adventures struck me as pretty tonedeaf when compared to the reality women in games face daily. (Though in fairness, Charter does touch on this subject for a moment or two during a scene in one of Lexy’s work days) I realize that this is sort of the point of a fantasy–as in, it’s a idealized version of how life could/can be–but I dunno. It just didn’t click with me like I expected it to.

Then again, I’m a lot younger than the author, and this is an industry that I’ve only ever seen from the outside. My viewpoint is likely biased and uninformed in a lot of places. But they are my feelings on the matter, so take them as you will.

Overall, Schooled was one hell of a fun adventure, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a good read. I already have Book 2 in the series and can’t wait to rejoin Lexy for more shenanigans soon! 🙂

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