Top Ten Tuesday: Things Books Have Made Me Want to Do or Learn

My 3rd TTT! Whoohoo, I’ve stuck with something for 3 weeks.😀 Ahem. Anyway. Sponsored as always by the awesome The Broke and the Bookish blog.:)

I don’t think I have 10 specific things for this one, so I’m just going with what I do have.

1.  My childhood fantasies always, ALWAYS involved horses. I know many little girls can relate. I was obsessed with horses. Mostly of The Black Stallion variety. But also including the Misty of Chincoteague books. Even as an adult, one of my bucket list items is to visit Chincoteague Island (where the Misty books are set). The fascination with horses has never died, but sadly never been fully realized either.😦

2.  Climb mountains. When I was in 7th grade I had to read Banner in the Sky. I loved mountains and taking long walks in the hills well before that, but this book lit some kind of flame for reaching the TOP in my little competitive heart.

3. Travel and history. I’m putting these together because there is one author in particular that I have to credit with kindling the love of both. Lois Lenski, writer of the 1946 Newbery winner Strawberry Girl, wrote an entire series of children’s books set in the different regional areas of the United States. It just so happened her hometown was Springfield, OH, which ALSO happened to be the largest public library near my family when I was growing up. Her books met my mother’s VERY strict moral standards (maybe because they were written in, oh, the 40s!) and still entranced my hungry brain. I wanted to GO all these places! See people! Also see how they had all changed in the 50 years since the books took place. I still have a very soft spot in my heart for Lenski’s writing.

4. Be proud of myself. Realize that I am worth something, that my feelings and desires are valid whether they are shared by – well, anyone – or not. This I can’t lay at the feet of one particular author, book, or character. I’ve read a lot of books with strong female characters, or female characters who became strong, independent, and fearless. Some of the characters were real. Elizabeth Blackwell – first female doctor in the United States. Florence Nightingale – almost singlehandedly revolutionizing the field of nursing and saving countless soldiers’ lives in the Crimean War. Jane Austen – writing novels when women were supposed to be seen and not heard. Amelia Earhart – flying and daring and doing in the age of perfect, silent, long-suffering housewives. Some of the characters were not real but no less inspiring. Jo from Little Women – scribbling and traveling and daring to be different in her life choices. Eowyn from Lord of the Rings – a Shieldmaiden of Rohan, and a healer.Hermione from Harry Potter – it’s ok to be smart and love books more than you like to dress up. Sara Bradshaw from Jacob Have I Loved – being strong for herself when there is no one else to be strong for her. And a new favorite, Feyre from A Court of Thorns and Roses – “I am no one’s pet.” So many, and I’m still discovering more. I love developing, imperfect, strong female characters. Nothing turns me off from a book faster than Buttercup-type females. Gag. 

So that’s definitely not 10, but I think it’s a pretty good list. Can’t wait to see what everyone else is coming up with! Leave your link in the comments and I’ll come visit…I try to visit people from the main link up, but there are SO many! 

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Publisher’s BlurbIt is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

Unplanned mini review! This came in the mail unexpectedly on Friday, and after my immense book hangover (still recovering) from ACOMAF it seemed different enough to maybe help. It was lovely. On a completely different plane than ACOMAF, but that was what I needed and I enjoyed it so much I had to write a review. Even if I’m missing my usual notebook photo because I, er, didn’t actually take notes.😛

This book was an immensely enjoyable read. It’s well written, witty, and overall well researched and put together. The characters are believable and fleshed out. Believable? With an 11-year-old chemist for a protagonist? Yes. Yes, indeed. I was surprised, because I when I read the premise I thought it would be a rare writer that could pull it off. Bradley manages it. Here’s why.

As someone who was – not meaning to toot my own horn here – a very precocious child myself, with interests far outside of most of my peers, and very, very lonely until I gave up on the idea of having real friends and devoted myself to books until people grew up enough (yes, I distinctly remember having thoughts, at about Flavia’s age, that no one except a rare adult or two understood me at all but maybe when my “friends” grew up they might) – I found her to be not only believable but immensely charming. There, was that sentence long enough? I wish I had known someone like Flavia as a child. I’m sure my parents are grateful I didn’t. I didn’t ever have the brazenness she exhibits, probably because my parents were not eccentric explorers or gentry like hers. Also she was growing up in the 50s, when it was generally much safer than the 90s to allow your children to run all over town and not worry about them until dinner. I would also have been much better off if I had been able to come to her conclusion about the rest of the world at an earlier age, but, c’est la vie.

I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.

Flavia is an astute observer and is without many of the filters that an adult narrator would have. While the mystery itself is nothing very deep, it’s the setting and the characters that populate the story that made me love it so much (and immediately set about procuring the next one!). Flavia’s inner commentary is by turns shrewd and naive – something else Bradley managed to strike just the right balance on to maintain the believability of her 11 years.

It’s a fact of life that a girl can tell in a flash if another girl likes her…With a boy you can never know whether he’s smitten or gagging, but with a girl you can tell in the first three seconds.

Then there are all the delightful references to literature and culture thrown in, which just added to the charm. I love meeting people who’ve read the same books I have!

“I was hardly surprised to read that he (Flavia’s father) had named his first two offspring after a Shakespearean hysteric and a Greek pincushion.”

In short, I just want to go visit and meet all these people, because I feel like despite their eccentricities I would like them very much. I really hope that Bradley lets us get to know them and their histories better. Especially Dogger. Dogger is just so sweet and yet so broken…I want to know more about what made him that way. Also I definitely want to see Flavia grow up! She reminds me, slightly, of Anne of Green Gables, only with a scientific bent instead of literary.

5/5 stars. It maybe should have been 4/5, due to what was, in hindsight, a rather shallow mystery aspect…but I enjoyed the reading of it so much I can’t help myself. 5 stars it is!

Book HANGOVER – A Court of Mist and Fury

Photo linked to appropriate Society6 store. I need this.

No, this is not a review. Not yet. This is just me…flailing. Because OMG all the feels. And because I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to finish this 630 page beast (no pun intended) and was drinking wine so I feel a little bit actually hungover. I started reading at noon yesterday and only took a few breaks. You know, because eating. And picking the husband up from work.

Found this “Which Court Do You Belong In” quiz, which is OBVIOUSLY WRONG, because somehow it says I belong in the Spring Court. *sob*

Yes, I am showing my new bookmarks off everywhere. Because they’re that adorable.

My morning has been spent finding everything I possibly can on the next books. The next one of which will not be released until MAY 2017. WHAT DO I DO?!? There’s not even a title yet.
Also, ALL the Rhysand/Night Court candles. Because I need them, obviously. I need to be able to smell that sea/citrus/starlight scent. *hearteyes*

Specifically this one. Aaaah! Link to store.

Also this. And this. Because Evie Bookish’s store is awesome.

Real review forthcoming, some time this week. If I can become coherent again.

 

Book Review: A Killing in the Hills

Dun-dun-dun-dun. Isn’t that just such a foreboding title? The title alone was actually what made me first notice this book (unfortunately I don’t remember if it was on a blog post or my random wanderings through the long halls of GoodReads). Then, oh hey! It’s set in West Virginia – which has a real soft spot in my heart, due to my absolute favorite childhood place being my great-grandparents’ farm there.

Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed with A Killing in the Hills, which was author Julia Keller‘s debut novel (2012). I’m torn between 2.5 and 3 stars out of 5. The issues I had with it were several and overarching and I was in a near-constant state of annoyance.

First. What the everlasting fuck does this author have against teenagers? Carla, the teenage daughter of Bell Elkins, is quite truthfully the flattest character I’ve encountered in a long time. It honestly feels like the author has a personal vendetta against teenagers and took it all out in her writing of Carla. It nearly made me DNF the book, it’s THAT bad. All the way down to her “flying thumbs” on her cell phone. Trust me, we’ve had quite enough of the cell phone cracks. Maybe she just doesn’t have experience with young adults and needed a stock list of characteristics. Sullen? Check. Irresponsible? Check. Drug experimentation? Check. Constantly on the phone? Check. Throwing snarky comments at Mom? Check. Ugh.

Second, I don’t see what the switching of POV to the killer (every few chapters) did for the story. To me you could have left out all those chapters and nothing would have changed. It was just…irritating. Jarring. Trying too hard to be scary.

Speaking of jarring…third problem. Bell’s back story, which is told in flashbacks, felt so familiar. Leftover. Used. Been there done that. The entire story is pretty darn predictable, but especially this part. It felt like the author was trying to be sensational or thriller-like, and in the process just borrowed pieces from popular books in the genre. Sigh.

So, why did I even finish it? I’m not someone who feels bad about tossing a book onto my DNF stack. Life is too short to waste on books that make me want to pull my hair out or have me rolling my eyes every 30 seconds.

The one thing Julia Keller is good at (and maybe I should have seen this coming, since her Pulitzer was for journalism) – is describing her setting. I could have sworn I was walking right down the main drag in my grandparents’ town, Backwoods, WV. Which also happened to be the county seat, just like this one. In fact, there were enough similarities to make me suspect she used their town as the model! Her similes are rather drawn out and overly wordy (see what I did there?), but in her place descriptions they are mostly bearable.

It was a shabby afterthought of a town tucked in the notch between two peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, like the last letter stuck in a mail slot after the post office has closed down for keeps. 

Then there were some spot-on characterizations of the locals accompanied by lines here and there that did genuinely make my heart ache. But, sadly those moments were short-lived and few, and often accompanied by much telling as opposed to showing.

A lot of the people in Raythune County felt invisible. They felt marginalized, forgotten….Being on television, even if it was only to say, Yessir, we’re all pretty darned scared ’round here after that awful shooting’, no question ’bout it, might be the high point of their lives.

Overall…I can’t recommend this one, sadly. Not even in hopes of a sequel. I don’t have enough time to read as it is, and while I’m mildly curious as to what will happen to a couple of the characters in this book, I highly doubt that mild curiosity will ever overcome my massive TBR enough to bump the second of this series to the top. Which, somehow, has accumulated five books. I honestly don’t know how.

I’m taking the time to write this because I wasn’t just “meh” about it, I was massively disappointed. West Virginia and it’s people, with all the problems of drugs, unemployment, and violence, is very close to my heart and I feel it could have been given so much better treatment. Not to gloss anything over, but not to throw worn out sermons (re: drug use) at the reader either. Keller tried to convey the beauty and the pain of the place but ultimately I think the unoriginality of her plot and characters will be what stands out to most readers. IMG_3433

Waiting On Wednesday – Imprudence!

I am so so so sososososo excited for this new release by Gail Carrier!! Imprudence is the second in the Custard Protocol series, which follows the daughter of Alexia from the Parasol Protectorate. Technically, it was released yesterday, but since I’m over here in Korea I am definitely STILL WAITING!! I have my shipping notification though! Review will be forthcoming as soon as I can finish it! Hopefully it will be here about next Monday or so.

Yep. I’m also aware I just used way too many exclamation points, and I don’t care.😀😀😀

Also, until today I was completely unaware that “Gail Carriger” is actually a pen name of Tofa Borregaard, who is also an archaeologist. How did I miss that?

Book Review: My Lady Jane

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This book was like sitting down and eating a big bowl of jelly beans. Or maybe gummy bears. Yes, I think gummy bears. Without the calories!

Like these. My favorites, from the local co-op I used to shop at in Virginia. Mmmmm. (photo from Greenly, but the ones I bought were, um. just pure sugar, haha!)

My Lady Jane is a light-hearted, fun-filled, rollicking good time. It’s billed as YA…fantasy? Alternate history? To me it feels most like humorous alternate history, complete with shapeshifting. Bwhahahaha. Such a refreshing turn on the whole Protestant/Roman Catholic problem. I loved that they took the very gloomy story of Lady Jane Grey and turned it into something so much fun. Note: no one dies in this version. Except…well. Anyway.

Something that always struck me the hardest about Jane’s story is how freaking young all the main players were. Pawns on a chessboard to their scheming, conniving elders. Well, they’re most definitely given their voices here! I was laughing before I got to the end of the second chapter, as the young King Edward is lamenting his death sentence:

There was so much he wanted to do with his life. First of, he wanted to kiss a girl, a pretty girl, the right girl, possibly with tongue. 

And then Jane! I had always suspected, but now I am quite sure, that Jane Grey was a girl after my own heart.

She delighted in the smell of ink, the rough feel of the paper between her fingers, the rustle of sweet pages, the shapes of the letters before her eyes. And most of all, she loved the way that books could transport her from her otherwise mundane and stifling life and offer the experiences of a hundred other lives.

This book does not take itself or its topic too seriously – but, seriously enough to include the facts (and note deviations from them), even down to how Lady Jane’s name came to be carved in the Beauchamp Tower. Alongside that, however, are not-so-subtly-veiled nods to popular culture references that, in context, had me rolling in my chair and my husband wondering if I’d truly lost my marbles. Jane is bookish and nerdy but also a spunky little spitfire, and I love her.

“Who are you calling beef-witted?” she laughed at him. “Your mother was a hamster, and your father stank of elderberries!”

10 points if you can name the original source.

“I might not be able to beat a weapons master, but I can easily best an old, top-heavy, pusillanimous, two-faced, paltry, odious excuse for a man.” He pushed his sword forward until it was against his father’s coat. “Drop your sword.”

Do I even need to explain why it took me 5 minutes to stop laughing enough to continue reading? I’m sure there are probably other references in the book, to other movies/stories, but I’m not the most up on pop culture myself so I might have missed some.😛

4/5 stars. My only real critiques would be that, even with the obvious goal of being fun and laughter-inducing, the villains should have been a little more, well, villain-y. Even the Duke of Northumberland, for all his plotting and scheming, isn’t very scary. Maybe that would have effected the gummy bear quality too much, but that part felt a bit flat to me. Also, at one point there is a big “hunt,” which all seemed very convoluted and unnecessary but somehow took up several chapters. After that was out of the way though, the romping pace resumed and all was well. The ending was very satisfactory, to all involved. Too bad the real facts aren’t as full of unicorns and butterflies (to be clear: no unicorns actually appear).

“We’d fight so much less if everyone would just sit down and read.”

I quite agree, Jane. Quite agree.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books That Take Place Outside the U.S.

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This week’s Top 10 Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and #3 for me) topic is Books That Take Place Outside the U.S. I didn’t realize how few books I read that aren’t set in the U.S. until I tried to put this list together. Even the ones that fit are mostly set somewhere in Britain. I even went back into some of my childhood favorites and still struggled to get 10! Obviously I need to expand my horizons on this point. Recently I’ve discovered some Australian books that look really good, so I may be trying to get my hands on some of those. I tried to NOT include any fantasy or alternate history types on this list…but one made it through. Hehe. Otherwise, they are all historical or contemporary novels. Links go to GoodReads! Which, by the way, I would love more people to follow over there so hit me up!

  1. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (Scotland) – one of my all-time favorites! Time-travel, strong female heroine, love and war.

 

2. Persuasion, by Jane Austen (England) – this is my favorite of Austen’s novels. Second chances.

3. Heidi, by Johanna Spyri (Switzerland) – I read this SO many times as a kid. This picture is of the exact edition we had too. I loved it so much the pages started falling out!

4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (England) – another one that I first read as a child, and the enjoyment has definitely continued into adulthood! I love this new cover by Rock Paper Books (they have a whole line of reprinted classics, all with amazing cover artwork…definitely want more of them on my shelf).

5. Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling (England) – yes, all of them. How can you pick only one? It’s all one big story. I read this as an adult, believe it or not, and I know they are fantasy so maybe they don’t technically fit this list, but…I feel like they do. So. There they are.😀

6. Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery (Canada) – another childhood favorite! I never did read the entire series but I re-read the first two I don’t know how many times. Gilbert Blythe…sigh.

7. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russia) – this one I read in college. It’s a real doozy. Definitely worth reading, but I personally could only take so much at a time. Not one I could sit down and just blow through in a day. It’s dark, and sad, and creepy…but ultimately…satisfying? I hesitate to use that word. But it’s one of those that makes you think very, very deeply. Maybe too deeply.

8. People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (Bosnia) – technically I guess you could assign several countries to this one. But OMG. If you haven’t read it, go. Get it and read it now. It’s amazing and beautiful and it made me cry.

9. A Great Deliverance, by Elizabeth George (England) – this was a random pull at my local library years ago, and I still remember it even though I haven’t read anything else by George. It was so disturbing I couldn’t read anything else for days afterward! I’m curious now what I would think…might have to re-read. It was good. But disturbing.

10. In The Woods, by Tana French (Ireland) – last but very far from least, my latest mystery author obsession. Tana French is amazing. Period. This is one of those rare books that actually felt like it sucked me into the pages and deposited me somewhere else entirely.

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

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I have soooooo many feelings about this book. I loved it, but I have issues with it. I loved the characters, but I want to throttle them. This is my cherry pop for Sarah J. Maas’ books, and I have to say I’m quite definitely hooked. I’ve already checked out A Court of Mist and Fury from the library (thank the stars they HAD it for once). Sadly it will probably be waiting until next weekend, when I can devote an entire day to devouring it all in one go. I’m a bit confused by the GoodReads page for the series, because it lists 8 (count them! 8!) books…while the FAQ on Maas’ author website clearly says “third and final book in the series is slated to be published in 2017.” SOMEONE HELP ME UNDERSTAND!!!! Ahem. Anywho, barring some unforgivable deviation in writing, I’m sure I will be biting my nails for the next release. I’m already waffling on my book buying ban.

ADDENDUM: Oops. A little more digging revealed this announcement! I am trying not to get my expectations too high as I haven’t read that much of her work yet, buuuuut…yeah. So much hope and potential.

My first impression, on page 7 (yes, page 7), was “holy shit does this woman know how to set the atmosphere!” As Fayre is stalking the wolf, my heart was pounding. I actually put the book down for a minute. I was startled at being that sucked in that fast. As the story continued, I continued to be impressed by the world building. Somehow she managed to do it without the massive info-dumps so many authors resort to using. Whoohoo! Mad props. And, I can feel the snow. I can see the poverty, and then the masked glittering court. Ooooh.

Characters. Ah, where do I even start. This could be a very long post. Fayre, we all love you. I do wish you didn’t have quite such a guilt complex though. About 1/5 of the way through the book, she has a dream about the wolf she killed – killed because all her life she was told that wolves were evil, as were the Fae, and would slaughter her and her family without pausing to think twice. And yet, after spending just a few days in the Spring Court, she is suddenly overwrought. Fayre dear, why so many guilty feels?

It was regret, and maybe shame, that coated my tongue, my bones. I shuddered as if I could fling it off, and kicked back the sheets to rise from the bed.

All very dramatic of course, but, um…knowing what she knew at that point in time, I think most of us with an ounce of backbone would have killed the wolf too. Just saying. I’m willing to chalk that up to her being 19 and impressionable. And horny.

Then there is the whole Tamrin Problem. Because while he has some great lines… (Um….possible SPOILERS? You’ve been warned…I tried to be vague but might not have been as vague as I thought)

Against slavery, against tyranny, I would gladly go to my death, no matter whose freedom I was defending.

…he’s a lying bastard who never even apologizes for his myriad deceptions! UGH! I actually kind of liked his over-flown, flowery, stilted mannerisms until his lies are all uncovered. And then even when Fayre is hit in the fucking FACE with them, she just accepts them and follows him to…er…some-indefinite-place-of-mortal-peril.

At least Fayre realizes, however briefly, that she’s caught a bad case of the hots.

I knew I was headed down a path that would likely end in my moral heart being left in pieces, and yet…and yet I couldn’t stop myself.

Well. Bravo to her for realizing it and consciously making the choice, at least. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. The key is personal responsibility, which Fayre seems to have in spades (albeit exhibiting itself most often as the aforementioned guilt complex).

Also, re: Tamrin – HOW, and WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, is it SEXY for your love interest to lose control and be a mindless beast? I get it, it’s Beauty and the Beast, yadda yadda. But. NOT COOL!! Thankfully that scene is short and not portrayed entirely positively…but it was still more sexy than horrific and it really disturbed me.

About halfway through I felt the story became really predictable. Maybe due to the Beauty and the Beast influence? Still a bit sad. However, Maas still has some lovely, lovely prose that actually stirred my little non-believing critic’s heart.

I was loosened, a top whirling around and around, and I didn’t know who I danced with or what they looked like, only that I had become the music and the fire and the night, and there was nothing that could slow me down.

Ahhhhh. Yes. Talk to me, baby. I kind of wished I was drunk while reading this, because I’m pretty sure I would have been spinning right along with Feyre.

Then we’re kind of back to the predictabilty. Boo. But then, a few interesting things happen. But then, there’s this riddle deal thrown in – was that supposed to be a big mystery? Because honestly. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I was mumbling the answer at the pages in front of me, and yet SOMEHOW it takes Fayre several more chapters to figure it out.

So, this is near the end. I was thinking this was a 3/5 star book. Then…Rhysand happened. Also there’s the little not-much-explained story of Lucien. And OMG Fayre. What happened to you, Love? She’s still Fayre and yet…her naivety and what innocence she had left gets wiped entirely clean. But there is still Rhysand…omg. What…what?? Dun-dun-dun, and it’s over.

Leaving me reeling in my chair and desperately checking the library catalog for the second one. Despite all the flaws. Despite my homicidal feelings toward Tamrin. Despite odd division of the story into 75% slow, sweet romance and then BAM! 25% knives and blood and confusion.

It was lovely, for all its flaws. I am going to be tearing my hair out until I get through A Court of Mist and Fury.

Oh, but…Fayre? Can you please, please get over your obsession with the “shell” of your ear?

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Something Else Sunday – #2

Sunday again! This week both went by very slowly and very quickly. Funny how that works. So aside from my reading life (which was horribly slow, I only finished one book)…

Starting off with Sir Tristan, naturally.

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I somehow managed to come down with a beastly cold that stole my voice and knocked me flat in the space of about 12 hours. It also rendered me unable to sleep – quite a feat, as sleep is usually my answer for everything. Tristan was much confused, but stuck to my side like glue.

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Hiding his face from the offensive glow of my booklight.

I did manage to complete another yarn for the Tour de Fleece this week. Just barely though, so I only have an on-the-bobbin shot for the finished yet…it’s still hanging on the line drying. It’s so very girly…way outside my usual colors, but I’m aiming to make a stuffie for my lovely little goddaughter with it, so girly is acceptable. It’s a 3-ply, about 3.5 oz, 220 yards.

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I also got to go on a bit of a road trip with a bunch of people from work – we went deep sea fishing! Sadly DH couldn’t go, and my camera died about 6 pictures into the trip. Because of course my rechargeable batteries weren’t exactly recharged. Sigh. I’ll try to put actual fishing pictures up later, but for now, here’s one of the small-town Korea we passed through on the way. Quite blurry of course…the bus wasn’t exactly a smooth ride.😛

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Book Reviews Coming Up: (covers link to GoodReads)

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Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Public Service Announcement: Robert Galbraith = J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame and the almost-singlehanded ensurer of the continuation of the love of reading in the Millennial Generation. Pretty sure most people know that already but just in case, I wanted to put it out there. Knowing that really affected my expectations of this book – whether that’s good, bad, or indifferent I’m really not sure.

The Cuckoo’s Calling (1st in the Cormoran Strike series, 2013) is Rowling’s attempt at a detective novel aimed at fans of hard-boiled crime. I had such ridiculously high hopes for this book! Which, I am happy to report – I found mostly met and justified. Overall I think “hard-boiled” is a bit overstated, as Rowling (I can not refer to her as Galbraith, so help me) seems to shy away from anything particularly descriptive as far as violence or sex, though the language is colorful at times.

We’re first introduced to the secondary main character, Robin – I can’t think of her in anything but that term, because while yes, there are technically TWO main characters, Robin and Strike, Robin is decidedly in the background.

Robin might be a pretty girl, but she could not hold a candle to the woman he had just left.

Oh, but our down-and-out, recently single detective, Cormoran Strike, is so impressed by her efficiency and intelligence, despite her “lack” of physical charms. Which is ironic, given the manner of their first meeting (but I’ll leave that for you to discover yourself). Strike’s ex, Charlotte, while in the background for most of this story, is left not completely tied up. I’m thinking her story is far from finished.

From Charlotte he had learned that the kind of money he had never known could coexist with unhappiness and savagery.

I was a little worried in the beginning that this was going to dive off into the realm of detective love story, seeing as a good portion of the first 75 pages was dedicated to the “whose-fucking-who” of the book…but to my great relief it was left alone for the vast majority of the pages after. The love life of the protagonists is set, but definitely in the background. Phew. Much applause.

The writing is no less than I would expect from someone of Rowing’s caliber. Smooth, flowing, and she manages to weave the threads of so many different stories together so deftly that I found myself interested in them all and yet not getting lost in them (unlike my disastrous attempt at reading Game of Thrones…by the time I was at something like chapter 5 I was so lost in the incest and many different narrators I didn’t know which way was up). There is of course, the murder mystery…which involves both the victim, supermodel Lula Landry, and several members of her family with their own stories. Strike, with his shady and rather convoluted past. Robin, perhaps the most straightforward character of them all but also with the most relatable story for many of us that were spared an abnormal childhood. Lula’s story is convoluted and part of the fun for me was watching Strike weave in and out and around the maze around her.

Rowling is her usual stellar self when it comes to description, entertaining both my brain and my inner ear with her prose. Her style works very well for me…none of the odd turns of punctuation, phrasing, or editing that seem to plague authors sometimes.

When her mouth puckered into hard little lines around the cigarette, it looked like a cat’s anus.

Oh dear god, help me. Did she pluck that ungenerous thought right out of my head? Obviously I am not, as I previously assumed, the only one to be so uncharitable.

“I usually, like, ricochet off the bouncers and they have to push me in.”

I love the way different characters have their own distinctive voices. It isn’t as easy as we might think, to write dialogue in such a way as for the reader to recognize the speaker by reading their lines alone. And she does it pretty consistently.

Strike is also not painted as the dashing hero – and I like that. I like that he is unlikeable, at least in the beginning. Of course by the end I had rather a soft spot for him, but he’s still uncouth and raw and stubborn as hell. He does however, have a keen sense of observation – and one that is believable not only due to what we learn of his background but to little things he says or does throughout the book. To me that is a very important aspect of any mystery novel, because if I can’t believe in the abilities of the detective…well. No. Go.

Overall, I gave this book 4/5 stars on initial reading (which was almost 2 weeks ago). Writing this now, maybe I should have said 3.5/5…but when I finished it, 4/5 was really how I felt. I enjoyed the writing, I liked the characters and I’m really looking forward to the next book because I want to know what happens in their lives. The mystery itself, while finessed and characterized well, wasn’t particularly ingenious but it wasn’t one I guessed within the first hundred pages, either. My feelings on the series could probably go either way, depending on what happens in the next book.

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