Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-Second Book Review: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling

Some authors write in the same world for so long that they are unable to break out and write a new story. When J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series, she spent so many years with the same characters. I was very curious to see if she could break away and write a different story – then came “The Casual Vacancy” which was so bad that it seemed to confirm my suspicions. Then she wrote under a pseudonym and “The Cuckoo’s Calling” came into being. It blew me out of the water.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is about a private detective, Cormoran Strike, who is struggling in his life. He and his long-time girlfriend broke up which has left him homeless, he is behind on all his bills, and the PI business is on its last legs. In addition to all of that, Strike had his leg blown off when he was in the war, so adapting to living in a tiny office is not the easiest thing for him. Robin comes into his life as a temporary secretary and together they make an interesting team. Strike is surprised when the first piece of business he is given in awhile is from an old acquaintance, John Bristow, who’s brother Charlie was good friends with Strike. This guy comes into Strike’s office asking him to look into his sister’s death which was ruled a suicide and although reluctant, Strike takes on the case. He is by no means convinced that Lula Landry, beloved supermodel, did not kill herself but Strike needed the business. “Suicides, in his experience were perfectly capable of feigning an interest in a future they had no intention of inhabiting.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 27). Together, he and Robin start piecing together what really happened to Lula Landry.

One thing that I really liked about “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was how well J.K. Rowling was able to get in the mindset of a completely different set of characters. It really didn’t feel like she wrote this, it felt like Robert Galbraith was the author. I think she did a great job with it. I personally couldn’t put the book down and there were several moments in the book that came as a complete shock. It was fun being surprised and I really enjoyed observing Cormoran Strike in his everyday movements. He is a strong, well-developed character that you can’t help but feel for. “He had lost the army, and Charlotte and half a leg; he felt a need to become thoroughly accustomed to the man he had become before he felt ready to expose himself to other people’s surprise and pity.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 166). 

During his investigation into Lula Landry’s suicide, Strike meets a lot of interesting characters including some of Lula’s friends who were models. “It was difficult for him to decide whether she was sincere, or performing her own character; her beauty got in the way, like a thick cobweb through which it was difficult to see her clearly.” (The Cuckoo’s Calling, pg 317). It was fun to see into the different lives that each character led. Lula’s model friends seemed to be good people whereas her regular driver seemed to be a bit off. Everyone had their own theory about Lula and whether she could have possibly done what everyone believed her to have done. It was clear that Lula had a difficult life, but the more Strike looked into her last days, the less likely it seemed that she had killed herself. The whole time Rowling kept the story interesting with different twists which I couldn’t stop devouring. 

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! “The Cuckoo’s Calling” was a fantastic read. The pace was great, the plot was fun and exciting and there were definite twists that I didn’t see coming at all. Cormoran Strike is a fascinating character and I really hope that Rowling continues writing about him and his world. I definitely can see this book becoming a series and I will be there to read it.

 

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Becky’s One Hundred and Twenty-First Book Review: “Jemima J” by Jane Green

After reading a horribly graphic but well written true crime book, I decided to pick up something a little lighter. I am a big fan of chic-lit and I find Jane Green to be pretty entertaining, so when I saw “Jemima J” at the thrift store, I had to have it. I’m glad that I picked it up because it was quite entertaining. 

“Jemima J” is about an unhappy girl working at a newspaper in England. Jemima J lives with two roommates who don’t know her at all and mainly look at her as someone to make them look prettier and skinnier since Jemima is very overweight. She is completely in love with one of her coworkers who she is convinced doesn’t even know she exists. There is one girl at the office whom Jemima feels a connection with, but never sees outside of work. Then, something changes – a subtle change that nonetheless grows and becomes the start of a whole new Jemima.  

I really liked Jemima and found it easy to connect with her. For one – she is a reader and (obviously, since I review books on a regular basis) I am as well. I always find it hard to connect with those who don’t read, those who don’t understand the immense pleasure that can be experienced from diving so completely into someone else’s world. I loved the way that Jane Green described both Jemima searching among the new books and also her feelings once diving into a new work. “Covers, so many covers, so many different, delectable pictures, and although, metaphorically speaking, it is the thing I hate most, when it comes to literature I always judge books by their covers.” (Jemima J, pg 52). I thought this a funny statement because I honestly do the same thing. If the title of a book and/or the author don’t reach out to me, I won’t pick up a book unless the cover grabs my attention. 

Then there is Jane Green’s description of Jemima reading a new book for the first time and slowly being sucked into a different world. “I forget I’m in Waterstone’s, to be honest I seem to forget about everything, and, as I read the fourth page, the fifth, I become Anna’s invisible acquaintance, a secret shadowy figure in the background, looking into Anna’s life, holding her hand as she meets the gruff professor.” (Jemima J, pg 53). I thought this was really well written and very accurate to how I feel when reading a new book. 

That aside – I did really enjoy this book. It was a little predictable, but still very enjoyable. Jemima goes though a whole transformation that I found to be very inspiring. I was able to relate to her character so strongly that I took something away from the book. It seems to me that if Jemima J can find some self esteem, that maybe I have a shot at it too. Maybe, my own worst enemy – the one holding me back from doing what I really want – is me. If that’s the case, maybe I can make the necessary changes to become the person that I want to be. Honestly, I was surprised at how inspirational I found this book to be, but there you go!

Would I recommend “Jemima J” by Jane Green? Yes, I think that it was quite entertaining and it took me by surprise with how much I enjoyed it. Again, it is a chic-lit book, so it isn’t for everyone. I think anyone who is looking for a fun, light read would benefit from picking up “Jemima J”.

Becky’s One Hundred and Twentieth Book Review: “Perfect Victim” by Christine McGuire and Carla Norton

WARNING – This review is about a very disturbing book that tells the true story of “The Girl in the Box”

I’m not sure why, but I have a morbid fascination with true crime. I love to read accounts of serial killers, cold cases, and true crime in general. I have a ton of books relating to this subject and I tend to explain it away by saying that it is research since I’m writing a murder mystery novel. Either way, I sinfully indulge in these books and when I got one for Christmas I was overjoyed. (Thanks Ryan!!)

“Perfect Victim” is about ‘the girl in the box’ – a story of a sadistic man who turned an innocent hitchhiker into his personal slave and kept her imprisoned for seven years. There was nothing extraordinary about Cameron Hooker from an outsider’s perspective. However, his wife knew a different man, one who would hang her up and whip her, one who would put his hands around her neck and squeeze until she passed out, one who had an obsession with bondage and pain. Janice learned that her husband wanted to acquire another woman in order to make her completely submissive. He wanted someone in his life who couldn’t say no. Thinking this mean she would be free from his unique torture, Janice agreed to this bizarre request. On May 19th, 1977, Colleen Stan stood on the side of the road looking for a ride and ended up falling victim to Cameron Hooker and his sadistic tastes. 

“Few prisoners have known a confinement more solitary, more frightening, more hopeless than the one Cameron Hooker was fashioning around his newfound slave.” (Perfect Victim, pg 15).

In the book, “Perfect Victim” the story is told from two different times – there is a running narrative about what is happening to Colleen Stan as it is happening and then there are flashes to the prosecution of the case. I found this to be very enthralling and kept me interested. I think if the book had been broken up differently it might not have been such a page turner. As it was, I finished this book in a very short period of time. 

I am not going to sit here and write that the novel in itself was that great – it was well written, sure, but it was by no means an extraordinary piece of literature. Rather, it was the subject matter that really kept me interested. It was unreal to enter into this world where a woman was held against her will, forced to live in a box, fed once a day, and all in all forced to live in a hell of Cameron Hooker’s making. Some of the things that he did to her were unbelievable. He used his power over her to turn her into a completely dependent slave and was able to convince her that he was part of a bigger organization “the company” that would crucify her and kill her family should she ever try to reach out for help. Colleen was given a new name – now known to everyone as ‘Kay’ – and was so terrified of being placed with a master even worse than Cameron that she never said a word, not even when she was allowed to get a job outside the home. It was amazing to read about how thoroughly he brainwashed her.  

I don’t want to give too much away incase you want to read this book, so I’ll jump to the end. Would I recommend this book? Yes – but it is definitely not for everyone. If you enjoy indulging in true crime every once and awhile, this might be right up your alley, however it is a bit difficult to take in so I do want to stress that his book isn’t for everyone. 

“People like to believe in an Einstein or a Beethoven – geniuses – but they hate to believe in their opposites. A genius is a mutant, something unnatural. But just as some people are born with extra intelligence, others are born without much intelligence or without fingers or limbs, or consciences.

“The human body is phenomenally complex, with trillions of cells, and trillions of things can go wrong. Cameron Hooker is a fluke, an accident of internal wiring. His instincts are simply the opposite of yours and mine.” (Perfect Victim, pg 370).

Becky’s One Hundred and Nineteenth Book Review: “The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling

There was a lot of anticipation for the release of J.K. Rowling’s first novel geared directly towards adults, “The Casual Vacancy”. I am fairly certain that no one enjoyed it. I very rarely will put down a book without finishing it. I push myself to read books. Sometimes I will take a break, but a book has to be utterly terrible for me to not finish reading it. That is exactly what I got when I tried to read “The Casual Vacancy”.

I think I read about 220 pages from “The Casual Vacancy” before I decided I couldn’t take it anymore (this was over months of reading when normally I can finish a 500 page book in two weeks). The bones of the plot are focused around a ‘casual vacancy’ – basically a guy dies. The community goes nuts, people want to replace him, time is spent learning a bit about younger characters. Honestly, I couldn’t even keep my mind focused on the pages. It seemed like in an attempt to get away from the Harry Potter books, Rowling attempted to write an adult novel by inserting a lot of crude language and sexual topics. Thanks, but we don’t need to hear about a boy’s sexual thoughts about the girl getting on the bus.

I know this is a very short review, but this book barely deserves a review anyway. It was terrible. I do not recommend “The Casual Vacancy” in any shape or form. The publisher should give people their money back – the book was that bad.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighteenth Book Review: “Takedown Twenty” by Janet Evanovich

“Takedown Twenty” is yet another Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter novel and like all the other novels, there are the same lovable characters doing a lot of ridiculous stuff. I honestly wouldn’t mind if Janet Evanovich did a spin-off series following Lula or Ranger. That would be quite entertaining. Not that I don’t love Stephanie Plum, but she does seem to follow the same pattern of not knowing what to do, having her cars break down and/or blow up, being indecisive about Morielli vs. Ranger, and so on and so on. So maybe following some of the supporting characters would be a nice change of pace.

Another thing that Stephanie does on a fairly consistent basis is claim that she is going to leave the bounty hunter business and find a normal job. In “Takedown Twenty” she is offered a job as a butcher a couple of times. Even though ‘pre-cooked’ meat is not something that Stephanie can usually handle, she does consider the offer. At least her chances of being shot and having her car blow up would be strongly decreased. The guy offering her the job is a bit intense though, “‘It’s overwhelming, right?’ Randy said. ‘Like a religious experience. Sometimes I have dreams about pigs getting roasted.’” (Takedown Twenty, pg 228).

“Takedown Twenty” involves Stephanie hunting down a complicated criminal – Uncle Sunny – who is not only mixed up in a whole lot of bad stuff, but he is Moriell’s godfather and related to a lot of people in Stephanie’s hometown. So no one wants to help her. In addition to trying to catch Uncle Sunny, Stephanie keeps seeing a giraffe running around. (A mystery that goes unanswered until the very end). But with her ever-faithful, ex-ho, spandex-wearing sidekick Lula, they know they can do anything they set their mind to. After a break for lunch first that is. Lula is hilarious, I am glad that Evanovich made her a recurring character. “‘If that’s what you want, then that’s what we’ll do, but you’re never gonna sell movie rights that way.’ ‘This isn’t a movie.’ ‘You got that right. If this was a movie I’d have a rocket launcher.’” (Takedown Twenty, pg 254). True Lula, very true.

On the one hand, the Stephanie Plum books are getting predictable, but on the other hand, they are kind of like comfort food. I enjoy the ridiculousness of these books. I think Evanovich is great at incorporating a high level of comedy into her novels and that is part of what makes them so successful. (That and the sexual tension between Stephanie and Morielli and Stephanie and Ranger). For example, “I checked out the wine. Screw cap. The greatest invention since fire.” (Takedown Twenty, pg 79). Personally, I think screw caps are ingenious, so this quote rang true for me.

In addition to attempting to hunt down Uncle Sunny, Stephanie is recruited by Ranger to help him unofficially investigate a series of murders where older women have been strangled and tossed in dumpsters. This meant that Ranger was hanging out with Stephanie a lot, which is always entertaining. I think it is endearing how his reaction to almost anything that she does is “Babe”. Ranger is a health nut, so when he sat down to share a less than healthy meal with Stephanie she said, “‘What about the healthy food thing? Wouldn’t you rather have a salad? Tree bark? A chunk of salmon?’ ‘I didn’t see tree bark on the menu.’” (Takedown Twenty, pg 148). Just the kind of humor that I enjoy.

While investigating the dumpster murders for Ranger, Stephanie recruits both her grandma and Lula to help. In other words, the two joined Stephanie when she went ‘undercover’ at funerals and at bingo. Lula, ever the one to state the obvious, “‘What kind of man comes and drinks your pinot noir, and then throws you in a Dumpster? This man has no manners.’ Mr. Newcomb and I agreed. The killer had no manners.” (Takedown Twenty, pg 157). It’s moments like that which make me laugh aloud while reading my book. This has the side-effect of making me look a little crazy, especially if I am sitting on the train or eating lunch and I just start giggling. Oh well, it’s worth it.

Would I recommend this book? Yes – I think that it was a fun read and I completely devoured it. If you haven’t read the Stephanie Plum series, I recommend it. The series is fun – it definitely isn’t something that will win the pulitzer prize, but these books are bestsellers for a reason; they are enjoyable, easy to read, and you quickly become attached to the characters. (Even Rex, the hamster). Plus you have to enjoy a book that randomly has a giraffe running around for the entire book.