Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Review: The Silkworm

Note: This thing is filled with spoilers. Proceed with caution.

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #2)

For background on the Cormoran Strike novels and my thoughts on the first book in the series, check out this post

Plot: Cormoran Strike is approached by Leonora Quine to find her husband, Owen, who has been missing for 10 days. Owen Quine is a struggling author, prone to disappearing to fancy hotels for periods of time while his wife and special needs daughter are left at home, wondering where he is. In his attempts to track down Quine, Strike stumbles upon the writer's dismembered body in a gruesome, ritualistic murder scene. Leonora is the Met's main suspect, and Strike sets out to prove her innocence.

Thoughts: Like The Cuckoo's Calling, this book starts out slowly. It took me awhile to get into it. The story is really intricate, something I think JKR excels at executing. The mystery was a bit anti-climactic. You knew there were only a finite number of suspects and it turned out to be one of the main options,so there just wasn't much of a surprise. I have to pat myself on the back here though because [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE KILLER!] Elizabeth Tassel's cough always seemed to me to be a very likely side-affect of having breathed in strong acid, which she did when she was destroying evidence.

The book within the book (Bombyx Mori) was a gross, but imaginative. I was a little confused by it at first, but I listened to most of the story a second time and it made more sense once I saw how the pieces came together in the end.

Speaking of listening: I "read" this book via Audible. Wow, this series is definitely one you should listen to (as opposed to reading regularly, which is how I did The Cuckoo's Calling). The guy who narrates them is called Robert Glenister and he is great. I love how he does Cormoran, but he even manages to do women's voices really well (so many male narrators butcher women's voices). I actually scrolled through Audible just looking for other books he's read to see if there was something that peaked my interest, cause I could listen to him all day.

Favorite part(s):

1. Robin turning out to be a kick-ass driver. I really like Robin and I want all the success for her.

2. Nina. I don't know if she was intended to really be a positive character, but I just loved her and thought she was really cool. Maybe she'll come back in a future book, though she didn't seem too thrilled with Cormoran (rightly so) at the end.

3. Cormoran getting some quality time with his brother Al, and seeing how jealous Al was that Cormoran is successful with almost no help from their wealthy father. Logically, Cormoran should be the one jealous of Al and the luxury in which he he grew up, but I love that the tables were turned.

Least favorite part(s):

1. [SPOILER] The fact that Tasssel fed Quine's intestines to her dog. Just writing that out (and then reading back through the chapter near the beginning when Strike goes to her office and the dog has thrown up everywhere) makes me queasy.

2. The taxi scene at the end. Dumb.

3. Basically anything involving Matthew. He is the worst. Especially when he told Cormoran that he dated Robin in high school because he didn't have other options. Gross. I hate him.

4. [SPOILER] The side plot of Matthew's mother's death. It made absolutely no sense that Robin didn't go down to Yorkshire for the whole week with him. I felt like Matthew had every right to be annoyed with her and I don't like feeling sympathetic toward him.

My grade: A-

Who would I recommend it to: Mystery-lovers, anglophiles, and people interested in the dramatic behind-the-scenes of the publishing world.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Book Review: The Nightingale

Note: I've got major spoilers in here. I'll call them out before you get there, but just be aware.

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah

Plot: [SPOILER] Two French sisters work with the French resistance during World War II in very different ways: one by shepherding fallen Allied airman over the Pyrenees and back to safety, and the other by saving and hiding nineteen Jewish children in her home and in a convent orphanage while a sadistic German soldier is billeted with her family.

Thoughts: Oh, The Nightingale. This book was a hard read because the subject matter was so heavy, but it was excellent. I've read a lot of books about World War II (it seems like that's all we read in high school) and have seen many of the movies, but this story was different to me for two reasons: 1. the focus was on the women who were left behind when the men went off to fight and 2. the main characters weren't people that we typically think of as victims of the Nazi regime (Jews, communists, gays, mentally impaired), but their lives were most definitely destroyed (either temporarily or permanently) by the Nazis.

I am the first to admit that I don't usually think much about the people left behind in the occupied countries and what their lives must have been like. This book illustrates how very, very hard their lives were. [SPOILERS from here on] It also reminded me that women were so important to the fight.

Isabelle is the obvious heroine and I really did love her, but I think Viann is the more interesting character because she made so many mistakes (like giving a list of Jews and communists to the German soldier billeted with her because he told her it was simply "clerical" information). She was incredibly naive, and she was also terrified. On a personal level, I relate much more to Viann than someone like Isabelle who is automatically brave and heroic and unstoppable.

After all her mistakes and hemming and hawing, Viann takes a stand and does the right thing; she felt redeemed to me and that made the whole book. She didn't give into her fear and guilt and failure. She just tried to make things right. She risked her life and her sanity to save her own daughter, her friends' children, and children she didn't even know. She nursed her dying sister. She forgave her absentee father. She lived her whole life keeping a terrible secret from her husband and son to protect them from pain.

I have to admit that I didn't expect Isabelle to die. She seemed so unbreakable to me, and for at least the first half of the book, I though she was the old lady narrating the 1995 chapters. I hate that the Nazis ultimately broke a person that was so forceful and larger than life, but it's probably the most realistic way the author could have closed out Isabelle's story. I found it very unbelievable that Gaeton would have survived the war, but that scene was a sweet, romantic touch.

Favorite part: I loved so many parts. Julian's letter to the girls was really beautiful. And when Isabelle describes the unparalleled pride she felt sending her first telegraph to Paul saying, "The Nightingale has flown," I felt proud for her. The end was lovely, especially when Viann and Ari see each other. Admittedly though, I cried for hours afterward and had a "sadness hangover" (got that from Renee :-)) for days.

Least favorite part: I hated the scene with Beck panicking and terrifying Viann because of the missing airman (I could write a whole essay about my conflicted thoughts on Beck). The fact that Isabelle and Viann killed him felt like a mercy in a way because it probably wouldn't have been so quick if the Nazis had done it. He also seemed like an ok person that did not agree with the Nazi agenda and his death prevented him from having to be a part of that regime as it grew worse and worse. And then the airman died anyway and it was such a punch in the gut because it was like all of those dominoes fell for no reason.

Just about every scene with Von Richter was horrifying. Worse than anything though, were the scenes when Isabelle is tortured by the Nazis and those where she is travelling to and is in the concentration camp. I had a couple sleepless nights filled with nightmares because of these parts. Every time I see a movie or read a book about World War II, I feel so scared of what humans can do to each other.

My grade: A

Who would I recommend it to: Everyone.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

: A young supermodel allegedly commits suicide by jumping off her balcony in a wealthy neighborhood in London. Cormoran Strike, an ex-military police officer turned private eye (and the estranged son of a famous Mick Jagger-like rock star) investigates the case on behalf of the model's bereaved brother, who believes she was murdered.

Thoughts: I liked this book. It's a murder mystery that takes place in London - oh, and it's written by J.K. Rowling (under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith); it's got a lot going for it. I enjoyed both of the main characters, Strike and his "girl Friday," Robin Ellacott. I think JKR is really great at writing dialogue and I think she's funny. Both of these skills are on display in this book. But it's dark-ish (not anywhere approaching, say, this Gillian Flynn horror though).

The ending is just a tad silly, but I have to say I did not see it coming. And it does employ a classic JKR deus ex machina plot device. However, the book is super engaging and I felt myself looking forward to reading time each night.

As a side note - very often when I'm reading a book, I try to cast it in my head to make the characters come alive more for me. I can't always think of a perfect actor for every character, but I know the perfect Cormoran Strike: Chris O'Dowd. BBC is turning this into a series and I'm afraid I simply will not be able to watch it if CO'D doesn't play Strike, because he is just so perfect for the role.

Favorite part: I loved the scene where Strike goes to visit Guy Some. Their dialogue was so natural and fluid and funny at times. JKR is so great at writing different voices.

I also loved the scene with Robin and Cormoran in the clothing store. I felt second-hand pride for Robin as she realized that she really has a knack for this profession.

Least favorite part: The reveal of the killer. I really don't want to give anything away here because I do think the killer is one that most people wouldn't guess, but the explanation just seemed a little silly and unlikely.

My grade: B+

Who would I recommend it to: Anglophiles who appreciate snappy, witty dialogue and a good mystery.