The Monday Check-In ~ 10/1/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: I adore this series, and the audiobook is fantastic. My review is here.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith: Another terrific volume in the ongoing Cormoran Strike series. My review is here.

Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman: YA adventure about surviving an extreme drought. My thoughts are here.

In audiobooks, I also listened to The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, narrated by Emma Thompson (with an intro performed by Richard Armitage). I’d never read the story before, and I’m not sure it was what I’d expected… but the voice performance was excellent, and I was definitely captivated throughout.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to a couple of hardcover all-in-one editions of Tamora Pierce quartets:

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner: A story of two sisters in a Jewish shtetl, living on the edge of forest where there are magical, fairy-tale creatures. I’m loving it so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: This has been on my to-read list for such a long time! I’ve only just started, but I have high hopes!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Take A Peek Book Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

“I seen a kid killed…He strangled it, up by the horse.”

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

My Thoughts:

Yet another tense, tight murder mystery from the pen of Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J. K. Rowling… who obviously can do no wrong when she sits down to write a book.

In this 4th book in the Cormoran Strike series, Cormoran and Robin are both more successful and more troubled when the story opens. Book #3, Career of Evil, ended at a wedding… and Lethal White picks up right at the very same wedding, showing us all sorts of consequences and aftereffects that we could only previously imagine. The tensions each carries following the wedding spill over into their professional lives, as they deal with their respective relationship partners while trying to build their detective business now that they’ve become incredibly famous (thanks to the events of Career of Evil).

The mystery in Lethal White is two-fold, kicked off by the ravings of a schizophrenic man who finds his way into Strike’s office, and then deepened when the firm is hired to investigate a case of high-politics blackmail, which soon turns into a murder investigation. There’s danger and red herrings galore, and Cormoran and Robin are at their detective-y best as they charge off to investigate, interrogate, and stir up oodles of trouble for the rich and famous.

At 650+ pages, Lethal White is a BIG book, and the plot threatens to collapse under the weight of its endless twists and turns. The convoluted schemes and interconnected alibis and misleading clues keep things interesting, but I felt at times as if the story might have benefited from straight lines occasionally. The coincidence meter is on high alert in this book, as the double-mystery is awfully conveniently interwoven. I had to suspend my disbelief big-time over Cormoran’s powers of deductive reasoning and his ability to draw connections out of seemingly thin air.

At the same time, Cormoran and Robin are a great duo, working well together and playing off each other’s strengths. The complications of their personal lives make for a diverting and engaging side theme throughout the book, and is the piece I’ll be most anxiously awaiting in book #5, whenever that might be coming.

I’m really loving this series, and can’t wait to see where the story goes. Meanwhile, I’m delighted that I watched seasons 1 – 3 of the TV adaption, C B Strike, over the summer. It was terrific way to get a refresher on the story thus far, getting me totally ready to dive into reading Lethal White. Highly recommended!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Lethal White
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: September 18, 2018
Length: 656 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library

Take A Peek Book Review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Career of Evil

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

Cormoran Strike is back, with his assistant Robin Ellacott, in a mystery based around soldiers returning from war.

My Thoughts:

Does it still need to be explained that Robert Galbraith is a pen name for J. K. Rowling? Are we all clear by now?

Good. Moving on.

The Cormoran Strike series keeps getting better and better! In this third installment, the murderer strikes particularly close to home. As Cormoran and Robin sift through the clues, they bring up a host of nightmares from each of their pasts. Meanwhile, all the attention means that their business is on the brink of failure thanks to all the negative publicity, and the threat posed by the unknown murderer is scary and unpredictable. Neither of them are safe, but neither wants to back down.

Meanwhile, we get occasional chapters told from the psycho killer’s point of view, and boy, are they disturbing! His obsession and cold-blooded determination to kill and mutilate is just horrific to read, especially as it’s all so matter of fact.

Beyond the murder mystery, which is complicated to the extreme, one of the delights of this book is seeing the relationship between Cormoran and Robin continue to unfold and deepen. Their trust in one another leads them to open up in ways that they haven’t previously, even as their unacknowledged feelings and fears lead to misunderstandings, anger, and near disaster for their partnership.

In general, I enjoyed Career of Evil very much, perhaps even more than the second book in the series, which just struck me as overdone in some ways. My one quibble is the same quibble I often have with J. K. Rowling’s writing: She seems to take inordinate amounts of pleasure in describing unsavory or sad sack characters as being just completely repulsive physically, with stringy hair or dandruff or body odor or any number of other unattractive qualities:

“The man on the door was squat and neckless… ”

“Tempest, whose black bob had certainly been dyed and who wore thick, square black-rimmed spectacles, was his physical opposite: pale, dumpy and doughy, her small, deep-set eyes like raisins in a bun.”

“He turned his head and Strike saw scalp shining through the thinning roots…”

“Eyebrows as thick and bushy as tiger moth caterpillars overhung her puffy eyes.”

It gets to be too much after a while, in my humble opinion.

Actually, I had one more quibble with Career of Evil: The tiny detail that finally enables Cormoran to have the major breakthrough and solve the mystery is… a tiny detail, so trivial that I find it close to impossible to believe that this man would have noticed and identified this teensy element and have the entire solution hinge upon that discovery. The rest of the mystery’s resolution worked for me, but that one thing — no.

Other than that, though, I’m really having a great time reading the Cormoran Strike books, and hope there are many more to come. This book’s mystery is solved by the end, but the door is still open for more adventures and complications for Cormoran and Robin and their partnership.

Added bonus: It’s so exciting to know that BBC is developing a Cormoran Strike Mysteries TV show!

Finally, a reading tip: This is a big, densely plotted book with (it feels like) a thousand characters and backstories to keep straight. The lives and details of the various suspects can easily blend together, and I found myself constantly having to flip backwards and forwards in the book to keep straight which clue went with which suspect. Keeping it all in order is part of the challenge and the fun — but I’d recommend saving this book for a time when you know you’ll have minimal distractions and plenty of concentration!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Career of Evil
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publication date: October 20, 2015
Length: 489 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: Career of Evil

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

My most wished-for book this week is:

Career of Evil

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
(expected US publication date: October 20, 2015)

Synopsis via Goodreads:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

Cormoran Strike is back, with his assistant Robin Ellacott, in a mystery based around soldiers returning from war.

Ooh, ooh, ooh! A new Cormoran Strike book! Can’t wait!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Here’s a quick look at the 2nd book in Robert Galbraith’s detective series:

(Okay, we all know the author is J. K. Rowling, right?)

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)Synopsis (Goodreads):

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives—meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

J. K. Rowling made quite a stir when news of her authorship of the pseudonymously published mystery book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was leaked last year. Rowling said in several interviews that she wanted the experience of being a new writer, outside the glare of the intense media scrutiny that follows her every move. The Cuckoo’s Calling was Rowling’s 2nd book for adults (after The Casual Vacancy), written in her post-Potter years — and once author Robert Galbraith was revealed to be Rowling, sales of The Cuckoo’s Calling skyrocketed. I enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling quite a bit; you can read my review here.

In this second Galbraith book (of a reportedly 7-book series), we pick right back up with detective Cormoran Strike, a truly wonderful character and probably the best element of these books. Strike is a big man, fearsome to behold, despite his missing leg stemming from a war injury suffered during his army service in Afghanistan. Strike is smart, obstinate, and unswerving once on the scent of a clue. He makes enemies fairly easily, and has gained notoriety in the wake of the high-profile murder he solved in The Cuckoo’s Calling. He’s also the illegitimate son of a superstar rocker, and the press loves to dwell on all the sordid details that Strike would just as soon ignore.

In the months since his brush with fame, Strike finds himself in high demand to solve cases for the rich and powerful, usually involving infidelity and general skeeviness, and perhaps that’s why he feels both pity and interest when sad-sack Leonora Quine shows up in his office asking for his help. At first, it’s a missing person case, as Leonora’s author husband has disappeared — and unlike his previous periods of hiding out and sulking, he hasn’t shown up again. As Strike begins to dig, he discovers that Owen Quine is a not terribly successful writer whose newest unpublished work skewers allies and enemies alike. There are a lot of powerful people who’d like to make sure this book never sees the light of day — and once Quine’s mutilated body is discovered, all of the book’s subjects become murder suspects.

Plot-wise, The Silkworm teeters on the edge of being overly complicated. There are dates, times, objects, motives, and secrets to unravel, on top of which, the plot synopsis for Quine’s book is a seemingly coded key to each of the main players and their hidden shames and scandals. My main complaint about The Silkworm has to do with Quine’s writing. Honestly, it’s every bit as terrible as it’s supposed to be, and his book is so heavily symbolic that only the most inside of insiders could possibly have any clue who the people being lambasted might be. I just couldn’t quite buy the idea that this awful manuscript by a washed-up, one-hit-wonder of an author could generate that much attention and kick off such a publishing world crisis.

The Silkworm is densely plotted and moves forward at an incredibly fast pace — so even though it felt a bit more convoluted than strictly necessary, I still couldn’t look away. When Strike finally solves the murder, we more or less just have to take his word for it. Yes, it’s all explained, but I’m not sure that I believe that even the brilliant Cormoran Strike could really make the intuitive leap necessary to put it all together.

Still, I enjoyed spending more time with Cormoran Strike and his terrific assistant Robin Ellacott quite a bit. They’re both fantastic characters, and the book is at its most engaging when we follow their interplay and their own inner lives and struggles. The murder mystery is twisted and suspenseful, but eventually it starts to feel like a bit too much. Full disclosure: I’m not much of a mystery fan in general, so my opinion of the case and its resolution is probably colored by that. I’d love to hear what people who are bigger mystery/thriller fans have to say about The Silkworm!

Do I recommend The Silkworm? Yes! Will I read more by Robert Galbraith? Absolutely yes! I’m really looking forward to the next installment in the Cormoran Strike series, mostly for the pleasure of spending time with Strike himself — although we all know that Rowling/Galbraith can spin a good yarn, and I’m always up for seeing whatever she chooses to do next.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Silkworm
Author: Robert  Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: June 24, 2014
Length: 455 pages
Genre: Mystery
Source: Purchased

 

Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: The Silkworm

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

My most wished-for book this week is:

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
(expected US publication date: June 24, 2014)

Synopsis via Goodreads:

Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo’s Calling.

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

The announcement was just made this past weekend that Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling, will have a new book out this June — and I, for one, can’t wait! I had mixed feelings about Rowling’s first post-Potter book, The Casual Vacancy, but I did really enjoy The Cuckoo’s Calling, which Rowling published pseudonymously last year. What I liked best about The Cuckoo’s Calling was the main character, Cormoran Strike, who struck me as smart, unusual, and not-quite-perfect. I’m really looking forward to reading the next Strike mystery, and hope it takes the character in new and complicated directions.

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)OK, we all know the drama around The Cuckoo’s Calling, right? Initially released in April of this year by an  unknown author, Robert Galbraith — purportedly a veteran of the Royal Military Police — the book was later revealed to be the work of J. K. Rowling, writing under a pseudonym. I know this has raised the hackles of all sorts of folks professing outrage — but really, why the fuss? I’m just glad to have a new J. K. Rowling book to read, and I think it’s rather marvelous for her that she was able to  have fun writing something new and different without all the intense media scrutiny that accompanies her “event” books.

With that out of the way… how was the book?

Let me start by saying that I am not in general a reader of mysteries, at least not on a regular basis. Therefore, I can’t really judge how this book fits within the norms of the genre. What I can do is assess how it works as fiction — and in my opinion, it works just fine.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a murder mystery, but actually the most interesting part for me was the introduction of a fascinating main character, private investigator Cormoran Strike. Strike is an army veteran, a skilled and respected member of the Special Investigative Branch of the British military, who has rejoined civilian life after losing a leg in Afghanistan. Strike is excellent at what he does and seems to be very well connected, yet when we meet him, he has just ended a tumultuous, dysfunctional relationship, is at the end of his rope financially, and has set up a camp bed in his office rather than admitting to his friends and relatives that he has no place to live.

Fortunately for Strike, he is approached by the brother of an old school chum and asked to take on the investigation of his sister’s death. The deceased is supermodel Lula Landry, and the police inquest proved that she committed suicide by jumping from her apartment balcony. Her brother, however, is convinced that there’s more to the story, and convinces  Strike to take the case. Despite misgivings about the validity of the brother’s claims, Strike agrees to investigate — after all, the promised fees are quite high, and he needs the cash.

As Strike digs deeper, we enter the world of fashion and super-celebrity, gossip and fame, and all sorts of tawdry secrets begin to emerge. The more Strike pokes around, the more he realizes that Lula may not have ended her own life, and he becomes committed to finding the truth about what he now is sure is a case of murder.

Unraveling the events of the day and night of Lula’s death gets quite complicated, and Strike finds sources in the unlikeliest places, from the security guard on duty to the fashion designer who saw Lula as his angel, from the limo driver to the drug-addicted boyfriend to the homeless woman Lula met in rehab. All have secrets to hide as well as information to impart, and all to seem to have something at stake. For Cormoran Strike, this case may prove to be a fresh start at a revitalized PI business — but he has to survive it first.

I found The Cuckoo’s Calling fascinating, and raced through it as quickly as I could. At 450+ pages, it did take quite a bit of time — and boy, did I resent having to put it down for little things like sleep and work. It’s compelling stuff. The plot moves quickly, with so many twists and turns that it became a bit tough to keep all the details and minor players straight. No matter — piece by piece, as Strike assembles shreds of evidence, it all comes together, and the end result is startling and yet completely thought out. The details come together nicely, and J. K. Rowling has left no loose threads or contradictions to undermine the resolution of the mystery.

As always, the author excels at creating sharply defined, memorable characters. Aside from Strike, I very much enjoyed the character of Robin, a young woman assigned as a temp to Strike’s office, who finds herself drawn into his investigation and becomes devoted to assisting Strike, personally and professionally. Many of the minor characters are quite good as well, from Lula’s Valium-addled, terminally ill adoptive mother to Strike’s entirely absent celebrity rocker of a father (whom Strike has met only twice in his life, Strike being the illegitimate offspring of a renowned super-groupie).

Perhaps my main quibble with The Cuckoo’s Calling lies with J. K. Rowling’s tendency to portray morally repugnant people as physically repulsive as well. In Harry Potter, we could not read about Severus Snape without hearing about his greasy hair, sallow skin, and hooked nose. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, there are three characters who come to mind who are just awful people — nasty, out for themselves, money-grubbing — and their descriptions make clear that we should find them disgusting:

She was wearing a pink Lycra vest top under a zip-up gray hoodie, and leggings that ended inches above her bare gray-white ankles. There were grubby flip-flops on her feet and many gold rings on her fingers; her yellow hair, with its inches of graying brown root, was pulled back into a dirty toweling scrunchie.

Within the next few paragraphs that follow, we read about her “straw-like strands of hair”, “pouchy eyes” and even the fact that when she inhales on her cigarette, the lines around her mouth resemble “a cat’s anus”. Another character is “as ugly as his pictures, bull-necked and pockmarked”, “his eyes tiny between pouches of flesh, black moles sprinkled over the swarthy skin.” In a third instance, Strike observes that an obstructionist police officer “leaned back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head, revealing dried patches of sweat on the underarms of his shirt. The sharp, sour, oniony smell of BO wafted across the desk.”

Aside from this annoyance, I found the characters, major and minor, to be well-defined and developed, and much more fleshed out as real people than the characters in The Casual Vacancy, most of whom I considered rather one-dimensional types rather than fully realized personalities. I was especially intrigued by Cormoran Strike himself. His personal story leaves a lot of room for future “investigation” — his military history, his mother’s own mysterious death, his superstar father, the crazy ex-fiancee — and I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more about all of these in future books.

And that’s the best news of all: J. K. Rowling has indicated that The Cuckoo’s Calling is likely to be the first in a series of books written under the Galbraith pseudonym and centering on Cormoran Strike. He’s a terrific character, and I would be happy to read much, much more about him.

Bottom line? I enjoyed this book tremendously. The plot is completely engrossing, Rowling is in fine command of the details, and the writing zips along. As I’ve said, I’m not much of a mystery reader and can’t compare The Cuckoo’s Calling to other books in the mystery genre. But taken on its own merit, as a novel with a well-drawn world, a great central problem to resolve, and strong characters, it’s a winner. Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling
Author: Robert  Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling)
Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Contemporary fiction/Mystery
Source: Library book