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.

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

Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (CBR8 #81)

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I work in museums. Specifically, I work at historic sites, and one of the main types of historic sites is the Historic House Museum (HHM). There are a lot of ways in which HHMs are interesting and important to our cultural heritage, and tons of ways where the traditional methods of running such institutions are just plain bad ideas at this point. The entire cultural sector is down in visitation/consumers, so there are always conversations being had about how to be better, attract more people, and just what the heck we should be doing in the first place.

Enter Franklin Vagnone, the self-appointed Museum Anarchist. If our field has a loyal critic, its him. He has built his personal brand and his professional career on bringing the HHM out of the previous century and putting the visitor experience first. He has many loyal supporters (houses should be alive!), and many detractors (you’re going to let someone nap on your lawn?).

I’ve been following his writings and work for a few years, as promoting a quality visitor focused experience is one of the most important parts of my job. Whether loved or loathed (and his coauthor and co-researcher Deborah) he has a lot to say and brings up points for reflection. I’m mostly in his camp, we need to loosen up and refocus on what people want to discover and experience, and be less precious about the vase in the corner of our perfectly researched period room (that no one can see anyway because its behind that rope and then four feet away in the dark corner because we can’t add any non-historic lights. You understand, don’t you?).

At work we’re prepping for an overhaul of one of our site’s interpretation, our mission, and even possibly our name. We are also in the prep year for our next phase of long range plans. I needed to get some ammunition to go into these meetings, and this book, which lays out ways in which to research our sites, and make decisions which make us more inclusive and less enslaved to old ideas is going to cause waves. But in any organization waves need to happen. I’m getting ready to suggest this as mandatory reading for everyone in my organization for 2017. We’ll see how that goes.

I don’t know that this book will have interest to anyone outside of the field.  Its broken down into manageable pieces, but it is very dense. I described it to one of my colleagues as being edited with a scalpel, everything in these 200 pages is important and a point of thought, but that means you have to be invested and focused. I spent weeks working slowly through this work flagging ideas which I now need to go back and write notes about to prepare for these upcoming big idea meetings and goals. How do I make people feel welcome? How do we make the experience authentic? What rules can we throw away, which rules can we bend, what new methods do we need to instill? In the best possible way this book is making me think. It’s a very good book.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 is open until January 13th, 2017. Come Join us.

Scandal in Spring (CBR8 #80)

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Here we have the concluding story of the Wallflowers quartet (ok, not quite, there is a Christmas book about a brother that I have already requested from the library even though Mrs. Julien marked it two stars…) and we have arrived at Daisy’s story, our last remaining Wallflower. I’ve had ups and downs with these books this year, but mostly this book ends the series on a good note.

Scandal in Spring shows that Kleypas has learned from her previous outings.  I still feel It Happened One Autumn suffered greatly in the pacing department (I was bored, and that’s never okay) this fourth book tempers the drama of the third, The Devil in Winter with the more reasonable pacing and practicality of the delightful first book, Secrets of a Summer Night (beware the beginning of that review, I probably owe the book a rewrite as it has grown on me in the last several months).

Daisy is the final remaining Wallflower and her father is done waiting for her to find a match. Lillian already nailed the most eligible bachelor in England and his business is secure, now he just needs to marry her off. In order to accomplish this goal, he gives Daisy an ultimatum: find a wealthy peer to marry or marry his protégé Matthew Swift. Daisy is not pleased about this idea.

Kleypas balances the unveiling of Matthew as not a bad man like Daisy’s father as well as moving Daisy out of the kid sister side kick role well. So much so that by the time the deed was done and these two were heading in the same direction I was not expecting the capital S scandal which is unleashed on them in the final quarter of the book. Matthew tells us it’s out there, but not what it is, and it’s a big one. This book rounds up to four and not down to three because Kleypas gives the plot time to unravel itself as it should to be even vaguely historically accurate (which she generally is, her 1840s England is recognizably 1840s) even though she doesn’t necessarily give it the page real estate it could have used. These plot points also continue to round out the cast of characters and build some good will towards them.

I’m on board with Lisa Kleypas and will be moving on to her Hawthorne series in 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Won’t you think about joining us? Registration is open until January 13th, 2017. 

Gulp! Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (CBR8 #69)

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I love Mary Roach. I will read whatever she writes, regardless of whether or not the subject area really sounds interesting to me. I was admittedly indifferent to this one, generally speaking, before I picked it up. The Read Harder challenge said to read a non-fiction book about science, and I knew Mary Roach was my gal for this.

I enjoy Mary Roach’s smorgasbord approach to non-fiction writing. Each idea is linked to the next, but if you look at them from the macro you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict how. Roach’s tone is respectful while simultaneously playful, and brightens up some perhaps less than pleasant topics.

In her fifth book Roach tackles something we all share: the alimentary canal. Gulp takes us inside the body, a tour from mouth to rectum with Roach answering the random questions this passageway provides. The questions inspired by our insides may be taboo, (as were the cadavers in Stiff) and a bit surreal (zero gravity pooping anyone? See Packing for Mars), but Roach has found her niche as the purveyor of answers for the taboo and surreal. Thank goodness.

Read this book if you want to know why is crunchy food so appealing, or why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells. What about the stomach digesting itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis?  (You know you want the answers to all of these questions.)

Why the three-star rating if I obviously enjoy Roach so much? This book, believe it or not, suffers from a lack of images. We can’t see our alimentary canal, and a lot of the procedures that come up in Roach’s research were a bit difficult for me to follow along. I was also suffering through a bout of the stomach bug and some small food poisoning, so this may not have been a timely book for me. But it actually made me feel better to burp along with Roach’s narrative.

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

Born Standing Up (CBR8 #67)

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I wasn’t planning on listening to this book right now, but then a sale happened and here we are. This book was on my to read list starting years ago, when I put together my Goodreads page at the same time as signing up for my first Cannonball Read (that would be number 4). I love listening to people tell me about their lives, whether it’s a friend or acquaintance on the sofa across from me, or if its someone’s memoir or autobiography.

Steve Martin didn’t disappoint. I can’t say that I’m in any way a huge Martin fan. I remember being aware of him always, by the time my active memory kicks in he was already working in movies. I’ve seen/heard at least portions of his most famous standup routines, but I don’t know that it ever occurred to me to realize that he up and stopped performing that way and embarked on other creative pursuits, let alone why he would have done such.

In this work Martin chronicles his life from birth until he walks away from standup comedy in 1981. This is not a laugh-out-loud book, but there are funny bits in it, but they are almost all about the comedy inherent in the journey he was taking from working at Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland, through being opening acts, to headlining on his own. Martin chronicles the creative life, and his outlet for his immense intellect and creativity changed in the course of the book, and eventually out of standup comedy and into movies, writing, and other pursuits.

In this crisp book (only four hours on audio including banjo interludes written and performed by Martin) and while as usual I feel like I missed something not having the pictures the hard copy includes, there was something gained, a large something gained, by listening to Martin tell me in his own words about his life, and the work he did in researching himself and his experiences in order to bring it to life for us.

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