BookBin2016: Career of Evil

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And J.K. Rowling has done it to me yet again. It wasn’t enough to lure me on through year after year of eagerly anticipating the next Harry Potter novel. Oh no. That wasn’t enough. Now, she has to do the same to me, this time as Robert Galbraith, spinning the continuing adventures of her latest fictional heroes, Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott.

This time, with Career of Evil, the primary case is far more personal than the previous two, which lends itself to much more personal revelations about and between our protagonist and deuteragonist. I’m not quite sure how I feel about a lot of the backstory we learn for Robin Ellacott, but it wasn’t really all that surprising. Rowling alluded to such revelations throughout the previous two Strike novels, particularly The Silkworm. I think I’m okay with it, simply by how beautifully Rowling handled it. Ultimately, it has made Robin Ellacott that much more multifaceted, that much stronger, that much more able to complement Cormoran Strike’s own complexities and strengths.

Strangely enough, I don’t even really care that these are detective/crime novels. I’m beginning to find that element of the tales secondary to what I believe has always been Rowling’s primary talent: building a compelling world into which her readers can enter and become blissfully, rapturously, exquisitely, holistically lost. Seriously, her books are so long for a few reasons, one of which is the care she gives to making the worlds she invites you to explore actually worth exploring. Also, her Cormoran Strike novels are unabashedly, unapologetically British to their very core, which I admit makes me love them that much more. Whereas I know that many British novels get rewrites for American audiences, if for nothing more than to keep American readers from having to ponder foreign locations or figure out foreign phrasing (because Murhka), I feel as though Rowling set about to root these novels so deeply into the soil of her homeland that no amount of rewriting could deracinate them.

Thank you for that, Ms. Rowling. I love the flavour and feel of Strike and Ellacott’s language and behaviour, their destinations, their locales, their foods, their drinks, and by all things holy under the British crown, I need to find some Doom Bar on this side of the pond soon, so that I can experience the beer that Rowling either must love herself or knows of someone who loves it deeply. Honestly, Cormoran must drink a bottle or pint of it every chapter!

Final Verdict: I love Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott immensely. I love their development, both singularly and together. I love their chemistry. I love their interactions. I love their existence. I even love their cases and the care in which Rowling leads them through investigations. I feel slightly guilty in revealing that I find the actual cases less compelling than the characters, but I also still find the cases at least interesting. And the reveals, while somewhat anticlimactic still, are well-considered and quite well-played. I would expect nothing less from Rowling. Or Galbraith. Or Strike and Ellacott. I can’t wait for the next novel. The question is, when will they release a set of novels so that I can buy them all together?

BookBin2014: The Silkworm

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It looks like this is the year when I rediscover J.K. Rowling, eh? I’ve already reviewed The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling this year, and obviously enjoyed them enough that I wanted to continue reading Rowling’s more adult fare. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared to jump into her latest offering, The Silkworm, just yet. However, when the library emails to inform you that you’re next in line for a popular book you’ve placed on hold? You make yourself ready.

As with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is another book Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and another book featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike. Again, I have to say that I love Rowling’s ability to create holistically stimulating worlds for her characters and, subsequently, her readers. I love falling into the pages of these books, walking alongside these characters. I think Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are delightful and I enjoy every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them thus far. I admittedly find some of the secondary characters irritating, but that’s life, innit? The core is compelling, and that’s what matters most.

I also enjoyed the plot of this novel a bit more than the first Cormoran Strike story. Much darker than the first story. Much more gruesome and sinister. This story focuses on the fate of an out-of-favor author who goes missing, only to turn up murdered in a manner similar to the fate of the protagonist in his latest book. With only a select group of people having seen said manuscript, it’s up to Strike and Ellacott to shake away the chaff and find the culprit.

Let’s drag out the dead horse that I usually beat at this point regarding mystery novels. All together now: “Not my cuppa.” Fine. I think they might at least be growing on me…or at least, Rowling’s take on the genre is wearing me down. This story was a lot less anticlimactic in its reveal than I found the reveal to be for The Cuckoo’s Calling. I still felt slightly “meh” regarding this reveal (perhaps because I had started to pick up on where the story was heading and why), but more for my own personal mystery aversion. Objectively, Rowling pulled together a fantastic story. Also, she’s quite the twisted sister. Me gusta. There were a couple of particularly vicious reveals that either made me newly appreciative of her obvious internal darkness or laugh as a result of my own gallows humor. Rowling continues to impress me with her authorial acumen to a point where, even when I don’t necessarily enjoy the genre, I’m still going to willingly go along for the ride because I know the driver is so impressively skilled.

Final Verdict: Even though I wasn’t quite prepared to fall down the mystery novel rabbit hole once again, Rowling made it easy for me to follow her by providing me with another riveting visit to yet another one of her skillfully built worlds. Actually, I think I enjoyed this one enough that I could see it finding its way into my library. Definitely looking forward to the next Cormoran Strike tale!

BookBin2014: The Cuckoo’s Calling

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My experience earlier this year with J.K. Rowling’s first foray into non-Potter fiction was decent enough that I decided that if I could find her second offering at the local library, then I would give it a go. So it was with delight and a little trepidation that I borrowed The Cuckoo’s Calling.

First, I really wish that I hadn’t known that “Robert Galbraith” was Rowling writing under a pseudonym. I wish I’d been able to experience this novel thinking that it was someone other than an already established author trying to break into another genre after a somewhat mixed first attempt. However, truthfully, I probably would have never read this book if I hadn’t known that Rowling was the actual writer. See, I have learned through repeated trials that detective stories simply are not my cuppa. I do keep trying (because I just don’t know when to quit sometimes), but I’ve yet to find one that makes me go “YES! THAT’S IT! THAT’S THE BOOK FOR ME!”

Totally strange, I know, considering that so many of my favorite shows have been crime procedurals…including that one three-lettered series that I simply can’t quit. But I digress.

Still, I have to say that The Cuckoo’s Calling came pretty close to finally pulling me into the detective genre all the way. Close. But not quite all the way. True to Rowling’s form, she did a fantastic job of setting up compelling characters and situations that kept drawing me along for whatever fantastically bumpy ride she had in mind. Plus, Rowling has an enviable skill for planning things out to the very last detail. I honestly could not fault the conclusion of this story, even when I sat and pondered it far more deeply than I think I’ve ever pondered one of these stories.

I think, though, that this was part of the problem I had with the novel. It was so well-planned that the reveal felt…anticlimactic. I don’t know how else to put it. I felt that the whole novel preceding the part leading into and finally giving the big reveal was so solid and enjoyable that…I don’t know. The ending should have been more…more.

Great use of words there, right? I’m trying not to give away anything about the ending, though, because I don’t want to ruin anything for those of you who might not have read this book. And even though I wish that the ending hadn’t been quite as neat and polished and sedate as it was, I do think this book is worth reading. Rowling is gloriously talented to the point that, even when I don’t completely love every bit of every story she writes, I can still love her for her abilities and her obvious devotion to language and literature. To put it in her own vernacular, I think she’s brilliant.

Final Verdict: As well written and mostly enjoyable as this book was, I kind of feel at this moment that I don’t need to add this to my collection. However, I found Rowling’s detective Cormoran Strike an interesting enough character that I have already added myself to the wait list at our local library for his next adventure, The Silk Worm (the library hasn’t even received any copies yet and already I’m 384th in line!).

BookBin2014: The Casual Vacancy

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I suppose that notoriety for a particular “thing” does have a bit of a double edge to it. Yes, you have gained fame (and often great financial stability from said fame), but you also have found yourself pigeon-holed by expectations that you forever continue to be/do said famous “thing.”

Such is the case with J.K. Rowling. After spending more than a decade spinning the tales of Harry Potter and his band of friends and foes at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she was both quite financially set (richer than the bloody Queen!) and quite pigeon-holed. What do you mean, you don’t want to write about Harry’s adventures anymore? What? You want to…write for adults now?

(Okay, some can very validly argue that she was writing for adults also with the Harry Potter books.)

So, after years of being She Who Must Write Harry Potter Fiction, Rowling decided to hang up her invisibility cloak and set to writing different stories about different people in a completely different style. A style meant for grups.

I have to admit, denizens, that I found this highly disorienting. I sort of expected this response, which is why it took me this long to take a stab finally at Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy.

From an objective perspective, Rowling’s first foray into writing for adults? Not bad. Quite decent, actually. She’s rather successfully brought her acumen for planning and outlining intricate plot points in clear language to this novel about the idyllic parish of Pagford and many of its residents. She weaves a detailed tale of the many surface and surprising ways that the sudden death of Parish Councillor Barry Fairbrother impacts the town. She assembles an impressive array of characters and how they connect, impact, influence, irritate, offend, betray, belittle, disappoint, inspire…basically, how they interact with each other in realistic, albeit overly negative ways (Rowling’s commentary on our real-life propensities to too often be utter gits to one another?).

Objectively, this is a fascinating character study from a skilled author, even if it is a bit like a slightly more high-brow, slightly more believable literary equivalent of a soap opera. Rowling’s take on The EastEnders?

Subjectively, I have to confess that I found myself often thinking that the writing was far too blue, far too graphic at times—almost as if Rowling were putting extra effort into distancing herself from those pesky children’s novels. Her teenaged characters, particularly, were in many ways the anti-Potters. Less concerned with the fate of the wizarding world and more concerned with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Very concerned with these things. Especially the sex. Again, from an objective perspective, the depictions were believable. Subjectively, I kept envisioning Harry and his mates behaving in these ways, and that really skeeved me out.

Additionally, this novel was quite a quiet departure for Rowling, who was our guide through physical adventure, danger, and more with her previous project. In comparison, The Casual Vacancy was…not completely devoid of action. However, most of the action was internal, reflective, mental, solitary, or a combination of these options. Again, it’s not as if nothing happens. Quite the contrary. The book takes us on a definite journey. Rather than provide us with fantastic action for our imaginations, however, Rowling provides us with contemplative discourse on character behaviors that lead us to the ultimate destination of this story (which, admittedly, becomes quite clear well before the denouement).

Final Verdict: I can understand why many found it difficult to warm to Rowling’s first adult novel. As unfair as it might be to Rowling and her talents, it’s very difficult to forget completely that she is Harry Potter’s “mum.” Also, if you were a fan of her Potter novels, it’s going to be very difficult to let go of that wish that this was another entry for that story rather than something new. Objectively, I did enjoy this novel. Subjectively, I kept waiting for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to come in and steal me away for another of their wondrous adventures.

However, I do believe I will give her second adult novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, a proper go. I think it was quite wise of her to publish her second non-Potter book under a pseudonym. I just wish I didn’t know it prior to reading it. I’m afraid I’m going to do the same mental comparisons as I did with this first novel. But we shall see…