Career of Evil (CBR9 #4)

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OVERALL THOUGHTS

4.5 rounded up to 5 stars, because this book deserves a higher ranking than its predecessor.

I had thought the world of Rowling’s writing was done for me. And then. AND THEN. This series showed up in my life and I have the gift of her back. Writing intricate but not unsolvable mysteries where the clues are right there in front of you, and if you are anything like me only make sense to you after the big reveal.  No BBC Sherlock magic here, just good writing.

SPOILER FREE GENERAL REVIEW SECTION

I’ve gone back to my reviews of the earlier books and while The Cuckoo’s Calling didn’t blow my skirt up, I noticed dramatic improvement in The Silkworm and both shone with Rowling’s characteristic strengths: she can build the hell out of her world and build characters of incredible depth without acres of exposition. She shows, not tells. Rowling’s gotten comfortable and moved away from the paint by numbers approach (which was on full display in The Cuckoo’s Calling), while still embracing the mechanics of the genre.

Career of Evil is a step above. The Strike books are ever overly grand in their setting or pace, but this story dials it down to the point of precision of a master craftsperson.

Book three in the series finds Strike and Robin in the crosshairs of a man bent on revenge against Strike and planning to use Robin to exact it. Our antagonist’s opening salvo is mailing a dismembered leg to Robin at the office. Rowling uses the technique of laying out the antagonist’s goals from their point of view, then opening the First Act and having Strike lay out the possible suspects to draw the reader in. You have just enough information from the antagonist’s point of view to think you know who did it.  Rowling allows you to go on that way for a bit, and then layers in how ALL of the suspects fit the information you as the reader have.

And then the game is on.

This book has plenty of plot. SO MUCH PLOT. There are murders, stalkers, police investigations, road trips, narrow misses but that isn’t what pushed me to round this book up to five stars. But we’ll get there in just a second.

But before we go into spoiler land, I cannot suggest enough that you listen to these books on audio. Robert Glenister is the second best narrator I have listened to, and is only second to the incomparable Ralph Cosham who reads the Inspector Gamache books.

Here we go.

SPOILERY IN DEPTH TALKY TIMES

What this book is really about is sexism. Rowling burns down the misogyny of both daily life and violence against women. She shines a light on all of the incidental ways woman are made to suffer and are put at risk by the world we live in, and she has very obviously been heading here from the beginning because we finally have the Robin backstory reveal.

Seriously, I said spoilers.

There’s a lot of detailed violence and rape in this book, including Robin’s story of her rape and recovery. With this narrative move, laid in place way back in Cuckoo’s Calling we have the heart of the discussion that Rowling is placing under all the other violence of the book. The perpetrators are men, the victims are women, and it’s not always about outright violence.

It’s a discussion of sexism both casual and pervasive that Rowling achieves by letting us into the minds of the antagonist, a serial killer who objectifies women; Strike, a man who tries to be good and still ends up short sometimes because it’s difficult to overcome the effects of his white male privilege, history with his mother, and military training; and Robin who is objectified, victimized, and mistreated by the most important people in her life despite being more than competent.

Rowling gives us another wonderful heroine in Robin. She explores how Robin took control of her own recovery (defensive driving and self-defense courses) and we learn that she is so committed to the work that she and Strike do because she wanted to be in this field before her attack and felt as though it was taken away from her. But she’s overcome what happened to her, and she’s strong as hell (sorry for that earworm) and better able to take care of herself then either her partner or fiancé think she is. Both have their own veiled sexist ways of trying to protect her, and Robin is steadfastly not letting them put her in mothballs as she was following her collegiate rape. This however has major implications for both the mystery portion of the novel and the character driven aspects of the book.

Robin and Strike’s personal lives serve as foil for the case they are attempting to solve. Robin and Matthew’s relationship is rocky at best in the beginning of this book, and then Matthew confesses to cheating on Robin following her rape, WITH A FRIEND WHO IS STILL IN THEIR LIVES (the fucking asshole, seriously if you were on the fence at all about Matthew at the beginning of this book you won’t be at the end) their engagement is called off. Which then leads Strike to notice all the more closely how his new girlfriend of about six months just doesn’t measure up to Robin, and we as the reader are allowed to see how he struggles to keep Robin in the “coworker” box all this time. It, plus the dangers of a case where they are both targets, creates an increasing sense of tension as more and more victims accumulate.

I’m running out of words to talk about the end of the book, but it’s dramatic, and with all good mysteries the clues were there along the way, there’s no trick. The personal entanglements got the better of me as Robin goes back to Matthew and their wedding occurs.

Because still: Fuck You, Matthew for that dick move. YOU DO NOT GET TO DELETE VOICEMAILS AND BLOCK CALLERS ON YOUR FIANCEE’S PHONE, JACKASS.

I don’t know how the smile Robin gives the battered Strike while saying I do to dickweasel Matthew is going to play out, but all I can say is: Please let book four be released this year. PLEASE.

Also… on audio, which I already mentioned I LOVE, there’s 20 minutes of acknowledgements and song credits. I THOUGHT THERE WAS MORE BOOK. I AM STILL MAD/SAD THERE WASN’T MORE BOOK. I NEED MORE ROBIN, STRIKE, AND THE DELIGHTFUL SHANKER MY GOD I NEVER TALKED ABOUT SHANKER.

Ahem, I’ll see myself out for now.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We’re pretty awesome if I do say so myself, why don’t you stop on by and see what wackiness we’re up to.

Talking as Fast as I Can (CBR9 #3)

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We already have a couple of reviews of Lauren Graham’s newest book Talking as Fast as I Can over at Cannonball Read and from the people I’m also friends with on Goodreads I’m sure there will be more. I am going to weigh in now with my review, and it’s this: the book is good, in parts only okay, with moments of great. Three stars.

Wait, you want more? Okay, fine. But, I don’t like coming in with the first meh review on this one.

Graham got her writing deal based on a book she started writing on the set of Parenthood, which as a Graham aficionado I have of course read: Someday, Someday, Maybe. That book was also good, and I rated it three stars as well, but that may have had something to do with the depression I was in during CBR5. Very little got through the malaise in 2013. Her authorial voice in the memoir is different from in the novel, and that was good. Very good news actually. But… I preferred her tone in Someday.

I bet this book works better in audio. The things that bothered me had to do with repetition in the short page count (barely over 200 pages). I love a parenthetical aside, but with books written from first person singular as if in conversation with the reader, the same asides can grow old fast.  Just how many times am I expected to think it’s cute that she’s saying hello to the various hosts of the Today Show as she references the morning show circuit?

The great stuff is that Graham shares her personality with us, and it’s very much what you would expect. It was nice to get an idea of her personal history and I enjoyed the stories about her extra year, undergrad, and eventually graduate school. I loved the chapter where she assesses her career history and the loving way she talks about both Gilmore experiences and Parenthood.

Also, and this really is a nitpick; I did not enjoy reading about what a struggle it was to get this book published on time. I was excited to see where certain projects are in the pipeline (I really am excited for her collaboration with Mae Whitman for The Royal We) but, it was a little off-putting.

Hopefully those of you who are going to read this love it more than me, but know that I really did enjoy my time reading it, and thanks to ellepkay for my book exchange gift!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (CBR9 #2)

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I try to read a little bit of many different genres throughout the course of any given year. However, like most people, I lean more heavily on some genres than others. Fantasy, while one of our most read genres (over 150 pages of reviews!) on the Cannonball Read, has been a slowly growing genre for me. It took some in depth discussions with Ale for me to nail down my problems: I have a very difficult time getting my brain around non-Earth settings, and the tropes, particularly the Quest, do not always hold my attention.

Which brings us to a work of Fantasy that I should have read three years ago when it was gifted to me as part of the Cannonball Read Book Exchange instead of just letting it wallow on my bookshelf. To the best of my recollection I became aware of Daughter of Smoke and Bone all the way back in Cannonball Read 4. Yes, this has been languishing on my to read list since 2012.  But, I was nervous. Then I read My True Love Gave to Me, really loved Laini Taylor’s story in that collection, and felt like I could finally read this… two years ago.

In fact, this book had been on my shelf so long I had forgotten what it was supposed to be about in the first place and actually went in cold. Here is a synopsis from Goodreads for those who want more information than I apparently did.

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That question haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?”

I absolutely LOVED the beginning of this book. The world that Taylor builds around Karou and Brimstone felt lived in and real. The building out of our heroine felt natural and dynamic.  I was deeply curious about the mysteries embedded in the narrative as Taylor laid in more and more detail. When Akiva arrives on the scene, things only get more complicated and interesting.

The middle section of the book suffered a bit for me (there’s some well-handled instalove, but I automatically have trepidation about it whenever it shows up). The final section while incredibly well played kept one of my favorite characters off page (that feels like a spoiler, but for the dozen of us who hadn’t yet read this book I’m intentionally staying super vague) and had me contemplating a four star rating. Then I immediately looked up the next book in the series, put my request in, and will be picking it up this evening. Any book whose sequel I want to read immediately is a book that deserves to be rounded up to five stars. This is not a perfect book, but it is a brilliantly put together one that left me engaged, entertained and desiring more time with the characters and their journeys. It’s a win, folks.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Dukes Prefer Blondes (CBR9 #1)

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Here we are again lovelies. It’s the beginning of another Cannonball Read and I am telling you about a romance novel that I enjoyed and picked up based on the suggestions of other cannonballers. It’s the system at its finest, really.

We almost read this one for Book Club last year, and part of me wishes we had, and another part of me thinks this one would have been a little too tropey as well. And I say that knowing full well that it ended up on Mrs. Julien’s best of list for CBR8.

I don’t normally struggle with reviews, but I’m having a tough time coming up with my point of view on this one. Dukes Prefer Blondes didn’t really grab me out of the gate, and that might be my own fault for reading it before bed on vacation. The book is also fourth in a series, and I haven’t read any of them. You don’t need to, but I could tell there was backstory I wasn’t quite piecing together in the early part of the book.

Our romantic pair in this outing is Oliver “Raven” Radford and Lady Clara Fairfax. She was raised to marry a duke (I believe see book 1 of the series for further details?) and he is a barrister like his father and third in line to a dukedom, but his cousin is only a few years older than him and it looks as though he will continue his life just as it is. Of course, that’s where Lady Clara arrives needing his help to find and rescue a boy from a nefarious crime figure. Drama Ensues.

The parts of the book which focus on the relationship building between Raven and Clara worked for me, particularly when he needs to convince her family to let them wed. But the narrative felt uneven in places, as though the three distinct acts of the book were actually three novellas all about the same characters. I’m not complaining, really, just processing as I type. Ah, I’m a little rusty at this reviewing thing

So, to recap: yes, read this book, but your mileage may vary.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in its ninth year. You can join us in reading, reviewing, and saying fuck you to cancer until January 13, 2017 when registration closes. Otherwise, please just come on by and read reviews or keep an eye out for our Book Club posts. All are welcome.

A Wallflower Christmas (CBR8 #84)

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It should be known that I am a completist. I love to complete a series, it’s like the book version of checking the last thing off of a to do list. (I also like to do lists.) To cap off the Wallflowers series Lisa Kleypas wrote A Wallflower Christmas, and I was in because I also like to finish the year with a Christmassy read when I can, and I’ve already reread and reviewed A Kiss for Midwinter once this Cannonball.

As I summarized in my review of Scandal in Spring, Kleypas set herself up with four friends who were on the outside of the matchmaking market of their various seasons, and found fun and interesting pairings for each. Half of our Wallflowers are sisters, and this fifth book (although a very skimpy 200 pages in my hardcover version from the library) focuses on their eldest brother Rafe. We’ve already been introduced to the horrible parenting of the Bowmans, and Rafe’s childhood was certainly no better and perhaps worse. While I have a fondness for men with terrible childhoods as romance protagonists, this book suffers from other shortcomings which bring it down to a two.

While not the most grievous, it should be noted that this book reads like a series of vignettes as opposed to an actual story. If Kleypas had released the characters of Rafe and Hannah to their own 100 page novella the story flow would have progressed nicely, but in order to shoehorn in the visits with the beloved Wallflowers, and create a place for Hannah in the pantheon, the narrative arc is sacrificed in places. And that is not the worst crime, Kleypas’ worst crime and what in all honesty has me rounding this down to 2 stars is the nonsensical plot line where Lillian thinks Marcus has eyes for another woman and the amount of real estate it is given in this book in comparison to our short visits with Simon, Sebastian, and Matthew.

But even that 100 page novella would need something more, because the story is very paint by the numbers, and per Kleypas’ Authors Note at the end is a way to give her readers what they want, and hopefully convince them to move over to her other series.

Do I regret reading this? No, it’s not bad; it’s just not very good. Rafe is a rake out of central casting with a grudge against his father and designs on being let back into the family business. Hannah is a woman of middle class means just trying to ensure her cousin marries for love and will be treated well while trying to find a small corner of life for herself – and has her thoughts turned completely upside down by falling in love with the very opposite of “good” Rafe. It filled that perfect place for me as something to read while sitting in an airport and then on a plane and not being able to concentrate since the world is alive with holiday travelers. This is review 84, and I had hoped to get to 85 (from an overly ambitious 91, that would have been 1 and three quarters cannonball). I still have about a week, but I don’t know if I’ll sneak another one in. If I don’t, it’s been a great year cannonballers and I’ll see you in January for CBR9.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 (yes our ninth year!) will be open until January 13th, 2017. Come join us.

Completed Read Harder Challenge 2016

In its second year, I have once again completed Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. I appreciate that these 24 tasks push me to consider what I am reading, and give me a way to prioritize my endeavors. Below are all the books which I have read as of December 21, 2016 in attainment of these various goals.

I look forward to 2017’s challenge as the tasks continue to get more specific.

Read a Horror Book

Read a nonfiction book about science

Read a collection of essays

Read a book aloud to someone

Read a middle grade novel

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie award.

  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, narrated by Robert Glenister. Mystery 2015

Read a book over 500 pages long

Read a book under 100 pages

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

Read a book that is set in the Middle East

Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900

Read the first book in a series by a person of color

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)

Read a food memoir

Read a play

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness

A Life in Parts (CBR8 #83)

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When I found out that Bryan Cranston would be publishing a book in 2016, I was on the lookout. I am a late in the game Cranston fan, but there’s something about the roles he’s chosen, and the way he conducts himself in public that spoke to me, and I thought, I’d really like to know what he has to say. Since I had particularly enjoyed his reading of The Things They Carried I decided to go with the audio version.

Here’s the thing about this book: Cranston has the goods. He’s an introspective writer unpacking the sixty years of his life and his nearly forty-year career with wisdom and clarity. Badkittyuno and Caitlin D have laid out how wonderful this book is and what a good person Bryan Cranston is, not perfect, but lovable.

And here I come in with a three-star review.

I’ve had some ups and downs with memoirs and autobiographies this year. I’ve also had a bunch in the middle. Here’s what I think kept me from loving this book, even though I should have. Other than a gimmick (each chapter is categorized by a role whether as an actor or as a person) there is no real point to how the narrative is broken down. Cranston chronicles his life from beginning until the years following Breaking Bad, but that’s about all. There’s some good soundbite insights that you’ll likely see quoted elsewhere, and cautions about making sure you are making the correct decision for you, and not for someone else, but I felt myself left wanting with this one.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration is open to join us for CBR9 through January 13, 2017. Cannonball Read is an annual, memorial book challenge to read and review 52 books in a year. Or 26. Or 13. Choose your level and read to meet your goal all while fundraising for the American Cancer Society in the memory of AlabamaPink.