Ms. Burke, I Presume?

I’ve been reading since I was knee high to a duck, and for all these years I’ve generally gotten into new authors rarely, and with no real expectations. I had two rules for every book by a new author that I picked up. (1) I vowed to give it the benefit of the doubt, and (2) I would read it from start to finish. One thing that has changed, however, as I’ve gotten older, is that I don’t want to waste my time if I’m not wowed from close to the start. There’s too little time left in life.

Several authors have gone down this new path in the past few years, and I feel I’m better off for it. Of course, it also means if someone is a slow starter (a la J.R.R. Tolkien) I’ll never get into him/her because I’ve never gotten past the start. I think it’s a good tradeoff, though, so it doesn’t bother me too much. In my family (we are all readers) this has become a commonality to all of us, and we often swap names of authors who have underwhelmed us and those who have proven to us their worth.

9780571328185Usually, for me, once an author has found a place in my heart I’m hooked for life. Even if they disappoint me every once in a while (Dean Koontz), they ARE generally given the benefit of the doubt because of the good will they’ve built up with me. It’s been true since I was a kid, and it remains true today. That’s why Alafair Burke truly intrigues me so much, because she’s the exception that proves the rule.

First off, if you asked me today which new authors I would recommend, I would give you her name in a heartbeat. She’s an excellent writer, who has solid plots, who has great twists, and who keeps pages turning. I’ve read several books from her in a two month period, and I keep looking for more. But, unlike many of the other authors in my “must read” list, I don’t recommend checking out all of her books. In fact, one particular group of her books I avoid at all cost.

I know, it seems strange. Why is this one author the exception? How can I be so enamored of her on one hand and so standoffish on the other? Well, that one’s pretty much simple when you break it down. You see, Alafair Burke writes three specific types of books, two of which are series, and the third are standalones. I absolutely adore her standalones. Books like The WifeThe Ex, and Long Gone are positively fascinating books that fit what I said above about the author’s style. And her Ellie Hatcher series is beyond reproach. She’s created a protagonist who is real, with her flaws and her decision making issues, but as a reader I’m in love with her.

71PTBEO3J2LBut the problem comes with the other series — with Samantha Kincaid. Where Hatcher is someone I can get on board with, Kincaid is rather… bland. There’s something just not quite three-dimensional about her character, so she falls flat. I’ve read three books in this series now, and I just started a fourth. I’m trying my best to give Ms. Kincaid the benefit of the doubt here, hopeful that she’ll evolve into a stronger character, someone I actually care about, but she hasn’t. And I don’t. In fact, I’m very close to making the command decision to drop her like a bag of rocks.

It’s odd to me that someone who I truly appreciate in style and voice can lose voice when it comes to one series and yet maintain it when it comes to everything else she writes. I’ve really never seen it before in my years of being a reader. Perhaps it’s just me, and I expect more of her because of the other books I’m enamored with from Ms. Burke. Or maybe it’s just that she’s set the bar so high with everything else that she’s written, that Kincaid comes off a bit lost and underdeveloped.

Regardless of the reasoning, if you’re up for a new author, I still recommend Alafair Burke, with the slightest of reservations saved specifically for the one series. As an introduction to Ms. Burke, I suggest The Ex. It’s a great read.


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Harry Potter Memories, Volume 1

75580517I stood outside on a warm July night as the clock closed in toward midnight, surrounded by a group of people just as rabid as I was to get the final installment in a series that had captivated us for so long. It was a bittersweet few minutes because I knew when I finally had that book in my mitts that would be it; there would be no more firsts when it came to Harry Potter. And I knew that when I had finally gotten to the last page and read that last sentence, that last word, it would be finished. I would have no more books to look forward to. I knew I would have to savor it in a way I had savored very few things in my life to that point. That was okay by me.

The group outside of Barnes & Noble that cloudless night were varied, from the black-wearing goths, to the bowtie nerds, to the casually chic, to, well, me. I was the only tall black guy wearing glasses in the bunch, but I didn’t stand out because we all stood out. We were standing outside of a book store at midnight, in 2007, after the point when physical books were supposed to be obsolete, desperate to get our hands on the same thing, like crackheads needing that pipe.

That brought us together, but it separated us too, because we all read in different ways. Some of us take our time and absorb every single word, sometimes going back and re-reading entire sections when we feel we’ve missed or want to clarify something. Others skim read, a process I call “getting the gist,” and they fly through each book with ease, but they don’t get each subtle nuance the way the absorbed readers do. For the skim readers their ultimate goal is to get to the end of the book as quickly as possible, whatever it takes.

Some of those skim readers were in front of me in line that night, as we all had to take numbers according to when we arrived at the store. I got there at quarter of 12 so I was in the 20’s, and I knew my wait to get my hands on the coveted book would be infinitely longer than the people in front of me who loudly declared they would finish the book in the parking lot, that they wouldn’t budge until they were on that last page. Then the floodgates opened, they called the first group of ticket holders, and it had begun.

The lucky ones who had those first tickets disappeared inside the golden gates, and in a matter of minutes they were back with their copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in hand. A few of them opened the book up straightaway and skipped to the last page, to see how it all ended. It was in those moments that I sincerely wished that magic was real, that each page’s words would only appear after the previous page had been read. But no such luck, so I merely hoped they would keep whatever happened to themselves.

Then my number was called and I was gone, inside the store at quarter after midnight. A man in a suit stood next to a large table that was completely filled with copies of the book. He handed one to the woman in front of me, who I swear did a dance before hustling up to the register. Then it was my turn, and he handed me my own copy, the book I knew I would treasure until the end of my days. I followed the woman to the register, desperate to give her my hard-earned money in exchange for an experience that would certainly be as magical as the words in the book themselves.

I emerged into the parking lot again, and even though there were still legions of fans out there milling around I didn’t see any of them. My eyes were locked onto the artwork on the front of the book gripped tightly in my hands. I didn’t see any way that I would get sleep that night, but I wasn’t staying in the parking lot. My car materialized out of the fog of my obsession, I clicked it unlocked, and I tossed the book onto the passenger side seat. It would have to wait until the next day, on the way to Massachusetts.

When I would read until I couldn’t read any more. Because it was Harry Potter. Because it was the final book. And it was time.

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Ashley Bell & The Revival of Dean Koontz

Ashley-Bell-CoverDean Koontz was dead to me. After a lackluster 77 Shadow Street, a pedestrian Innocence, and a virtually unreadable The City, I began to wonder if the maestro had lost his touch. To me Koontz always meant the supernatural, but nothing hokey or unrealized, but two out of the three books mentioned above were just that — hokey, and unrealized. I could see kernels of possibility and creativity in all three, but they seemed more like first drafts than final copies. In fact, I didn’t even finish The City because of the plethora of cliches and rampant jump-the-shark moments. And for the casual Dean Koontz reader, you’re probably wondering what I expected from him in the first place.

Yes, he’s the same guy who wrote Dragon Tears, Odd Thomas, and Mr. Murder, three novels that took dark and unexpected turns into the occult and dark matters of the twisted heart, but those novels had characters who were believable. They weren’t about dark, twisted souls for the sake of being about dark, twisted souls. I actually CARED about the protagonists of those books, and for good reason. Dean Koontz obviously cared about the protagonists of those books, whereas these recent main characters are mere acquaintances, and not ones I would want to spend too much time around for fear of getting dirty.

He’s my favorite author, so it was with much difficulty that I put down The City, never to return to it. It was the first Koontz book I started that I didn’t finish, and it was not for lack of trying. I spent so much time dredging through each page, each line, every single word, looking for something, anything that made me feel like I was reading a Dean Koontz book and not some schlock by a lesser author, and I could find nothing. There was nothing in that book that stirred something deep inside my soul, nothing but a surface so boring I fell asleep in the middle of the day while trying to focus on its vapid language.

I figured: “The man’s lost it.” After 77 Shadow Street and Innocence I had to at least entertain the sad idea that the man whose work I had fallen in love with in the ’90s just didn’t have it anymore, that he had burned out like so many before him. In fact, I was in mourning, so I went back and read Sole Survivor again to calm my jangled nerves. It did the trick. So when my wife brought home his latest from the library — Ashley Bell — I was actually in a good enough place to give it a shot without worrying about The City and the dark specter it had cast over me at the time. I had “good Koontz” as a marker, and I went in it with great expectation.

The book has not disappointed so far. I am 265 pages in (about a hundred pages past where I had given up on The City), and the pace of the book is good. Really good. There’s just something about a Dean Koontz classic that doesn’t force the pace, that reveals just enough in its good time, but never too late, and Ashley Bell has that in spades. We aren’t even introduced to the titular title character until page 146, and by then the book was already firmly in my head, the protagonist already a friend of mine. That’s good reading in a way that I haven’t had in a while from a Dean Koontz thriller.

So I’m savoring it, this revival of my favorite author, because odds are it won’t last. Odds are this is a one-off, and I’m enjoying it too much to try and think ahead, to try and anticipate what’s coming next. I’m savoring it like that last piece of cheesecake, stretching it out to make it last me as long as it must until I’m forced to read the next one, and cross my fingers that this is a true revival and not something else. For now, though, I’m in heaven. Or as Dean Koontz would say, I’m One Door Away From Heaven. And that’s close enough for me.

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Why I Love Stephanie Plum

stephanie_plum_-_sarah_shahi_5She is so clueless sometimes it’s amazing to me that she keeps surviving, and that thing where she’s in lust with two guys at the same time, what’s up with that? I mean, seriously, make up your mind already. It’s been 21 books and counting. The tension should be long gone, or the two of them should have beaten each others’ brains out several times during the course of those 21 books. Of course she should also be dead multiple times, but somehow she keeps luckily escaping, like a cat with its proverbial 9 lives.

Her name is Stephanie Plum, and she is so ridiculous sometimes that I can’t help but laugh out loud whenever she actually does catch someone who has skipped out on bail and needs to be rebonded. She’s been shot at enough times by bad guys, by good guys, and by random guys who weren’t really shooting at her, but near her. She’s been held prisoner, trapped in seemingly hopeless situations, and has an endless rotation of people she’s known forever who constantly judge her for not settling down, one of which is her own mother, who seems a little too caricature for my tastes.

And then there’s her Grandma. God bless that woman, but she’s an absolute mess. It’s no wonder where Stephanie gets her issues from, but that being said, Grandma is also the source of the spunk that makes Stephanie so delightful as a character in the first place. But the hamster, yeah, the hamster must go. If I have to hear about Rex’s soup can one more time I’m going to start putting my fingers in my ears and making faces at the book. Honestly. He’s outlived his usefulness as a tertiary character, and he needs to make his way to “fun on the farm.”

Don’t get me started on the abysmal movie choice to cast Katherine Heigl (I don’t even care if I spell her name correctly) as this quintessential Jersey girl. The accent is all off. The looks are all off. And the feeling is all off. If they had to start a movie franchise based on this clueless heroine at least get an unknown actual Jersey girl to play the role. It would only be fitting to play it that way, and not to sully the name of Ms. Plum with an actress who doesn’t fit the bill. At all. Better yet, just leave the movie count at 1 and keep my girl Stephanie pinned to the pages of her books instead of gallivanting on the big screen.

For the record, I think she should just ditch Morelli and just go ahead and get Ranger out of her system. She needs to just jump for it and see how far it goes. We all know it’s not heading to marriage, but maybe if she goes as far as she can she’ll get some perspective on it, and perhaps the sexual tension between the two can dissipate. It’s the only thing keeping her from committing to someone else (Morelli) and finally giving her mother the grandchildren she so desires.

Nevertheless, I love Stephanie Plum. She’s feisty, and because she’s clueless she gets into some purely hilarious situations. I find myself laughing out loud at her antics, especially when she goes on the road with her stereotypical black sidekick (and former ho — lest we forget), Lula. The two of them always seem to leave the skip by him/herself long enough for him/her to slip out the back door (there’s always a back door) and deprive them of their body receipt, and therefore their much-needed money.

Oh, and if I had the money I would buy Stephanie Plum a bullet-proof, reinforced titanium alloy car so she can get from Point A to Point B without getting it blown up, set on fire, or stripped (I mean, even I know that if you park on Stark Street you will return to a stripped car, and I’ve never even been on Stark Street). Look alive, Plum! Or maybe I wouldn’t even buy her a car because she’s likely to find some other way of getting it destroyed, and then I’m out the money and she’s still driving Big Blue.

Yeah, I love Stephanie Plum despite all the drama she creates and that springs up around her, because she puts up with a lot and somehow still comes through in the end, like any good heroine does. But she doesn’t stay clean throughout. She’s often roughed up, her clothes sullied, her apartment blown up, or any combination of variables that keep her heart rate high. It’s this high state of action that keeps drawing me back to her, the girl from the ‘Burb who likes donuts way too much and never has anything in her fridge.

Because, yeah, that’s who she is, and I wouldn’t change a thing.


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FALLEN | A Review

fallen-by-lauren-kate7Can love survive death?

In Fallen, by Lauren Kate, this question is answered many times over. Daniel and Luce have a connection since the beginning of time. The only problem is that she keeps dying. Oh yeah, and he’s an angel. The story of fallen angels is a varied one in literature, but Kate puts a new spin on it that is refreshing, the idea that one kiss can incinerate as well as recreate.

Before her eighteenth birthday in each of her reincarnated lives Luce meets Daniel, he kisses her, and she spontaneously combusts. It has happened over and over again through eons, but now that has all changed, and no one is sure. In this life Daniel kisses her but she doesn’t go up in flames, and they need to find out why, how that difference can put them all in danger. What at first seems like a miracle might doom them all for eternity.

In this battle between good and evil, there is murky ground, and the love between an angel and a reincarnated mortal is incredible to watch, and even more incredible to recreate time and again through the ages, but Kate does an amazing job of setting up this world and making it believable. From the fallen angels on both sides, to the human beings who are pawns in the game, to the undying commitment between the two protagonists, the world they inhabit is fully fleshed out and intriguing.

Luce is my favorite character because she constantly doubts her world. She isn’t a weak-willed woman who just lets things happen to her, at least not in this book, and she wants more than anything to figure out the reason she hasn’t caught internal fire. While she can’t remember her previous lives at first, it’s her connection to Daniel that survives and keeps her motivated. But she doubts even that love at first, moved as she is by another fallen angel, Cam, who is on the other side of the equation.

But this isn’t a simple love triangle, a la Jacob vs. Edward. It feels more real, more honest, because the fight between Daniel and Cam has gone on for more than a millennia, and the grit that has collected between the two is just as electric as the love between Daniel and Luce. It is this diametrical opposition that fuels the book, and indeed the series as a whole, almost as much as everlasting love does.

I enjoyed Fallen, and the rest of the series, because the prose flows smoothly and I get lost in the world that the characters inhabit. I enjoyed it because it doesn’t stick to boring paradigms, preferring instead to surprise the reader at every turn. It kept me interested from start to finish, which is the best I can say for any book, and at the end I found myself identifying with positions and characters I never thought I would, in ways I never thought I would. That’s the mark of a good book.

I give the novel FIVE stars.


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Short Shrift

short_stories_195010-25q3ffzShort stories have gotten short shrift in recent years for some reason. The beauty of the short story is that it can introduce you to characters, tell a story, and resolve itself in the course of a few thousand words as opposed to over 100,000 like a novel does. And unlike a poem, short stories aren’t written in subjective verse, and thus are easier to understand. Yet, how many of us can name a current short story writer who isn’t also a writer of longer works?

For comparison, look at someone like Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, he wrote poetry as well, but he was famous in his time for such works as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Black Cat,” which are all short stories. Indeed, he never wrote a full-length novel, and yet he’s seen as one of the premier writers not just of his time but of all time. Another example is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famous writer of the Sherlock Holmes series of short tales. His tales have spawned a slew of movies and television shows that have been wildly popular as well.

But name me someone in the 20th or 21st centuries who is renowned as a short story writer in his/her own right. The odds are that you can’t, or maybe you’re one of the few faithful readers of short fiction. Time was when we would go to the library and get out a magazine where there would be short stories, or a condensed book that had several novellas/short stories in it. Then in school we would read stories like “The Monkey’s Paw,” and we would be fascinated by it. But even that was written ages ago, in an age long before this modern world.

John_Grisham_Ford_County(2)I remember when John Grisham released his book, Ford County, and how I was looking forward to it with such excitement and anticipation, because it was a collection of short stories instead of his standard novels. You see, I have something to admit. I absolutely adore short fiction (even short short fiction), and I don’t care who knows it. I love the nuance of the genre, how a good short story writer can weave the tale in such a way that it’s both intensely detailed and succinct in ways that novels could never capture.

Another one of my favorite authors — Bentley Little — also came out with a book of short tales, entitled The Collection, after many of his fans specifically asked him to do just that. You see, he was a short story writer first, and had many of his short stories published in various magazines and journals. Eventually someone saw his work and signed him to write novels, but he always remembered his roots. And the short stories he weaves are phenomenal.

When I was studying to be a teacher, I had a mentor teacher who knew I enjoyed short stories so she bought me a collection of Best Short Stories (of whatever year it was) as a goodbye present. I devoured those short stories, even though there were over 30 of them in one volume. Some were good, some were bad, and some were in-between, but none of them was boring. They kept my interest, for one reason or another, all the way through the book. Since then I have begun collecting those volumes, and now I have over 10 of them from different years. Their spines are worn from my reading and re-reading them almost religiously.

You’ve probably guessed it by now, too. Even though I have two of my novels published, my first love was the short story. In fact, I’ve written over 100 short stories already in my life, each one as special as the next, every one like one of my children. Just the ability to write about these characters who have lives before they meet me and lives after is magical. I imagine I’m just a photographer taking a snapshot of a moment in their lives, and they become my friends for that small moment. Even if I don’t like them as people, I at least get to know them, and I enjoy the learning experience.

So, why are short stories getting short shrift these days? I think too many people don’t want succinct tales, especially in this age where the serial novel is king. We want more, not less, from our reading experience. We want to get a character and follow them over the course of several really big novels instead of over the course of well-written short stories. Holmes wouldn’t last in this world, I’m afraid. Or maybe we should just try and revive the short story, resuscitate it like we did the ’80s. It could happen, and if it does, I’ll just say, “I told you so.”

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Checked Out

requiemI just realized not just that I read a lot of series books, but that there are also a plethora of series books out there, more so than it seems like there were back in the day. We’ve come a long way from Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. I even recall reading the massive horde of Star Trek books that were out there once upon a time. It was even interesting to read the ones by the same author, or to compare the different authors’ styles of that series.

So, last week I was reading the second book in the Divergent series, and this week it’s on to the third (and final) book in the Delirium series. Requiem has been out for a little while now, but I was caught up reading a bunch of other stuff. In fact, it’s been so long since I read Pandemonium that I had to go and read a synopsis of that book to re-familiarize myself with the fringe characters and the plot at the end of that book. Ah, the glory of series reading!

Here’s what I have Checked Out this week:

  1. Requiem, by Lauren Oliver. After I got caught up on the series again I realized once again why I liked it in the first place. Society is breaking down, which makes sense since the society is based on this “cure” that will stop people from falling in love, because they say that love is a delirium that makes people do stupid things. Well, duh! I’m really interested to see how this one winds up.
  2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. This one is strange, but it still has my attention enough that I renewed it from the library. Ooh, that would make a good entry. Renewed. Anyway, this store is a magic portal to another dimension, or something like that. Okay, so I’ll admit I’m slightly confused. I may just start this one over from the beginning again.
  3. The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. This book club selection reads like just what it is, a book club selection. It is literary without being too stuffy, so I’m enjoying it. I just hope others in the group appreciate it as much as I have been so far.
  4. Running Blind, by Lee Child. This is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series (see, another series book!) and I happen to be reading them in order, but I just got this one and I’m excited to get started on it. I think I may finish Requiem first, though, and get that series finished.
  5. Psychos: A White Girl Problems Book, by Babe Walker. I might be about to check this one back in. It’s the second book in a series, but I haven’t read the first one yet, and I thought it wouldn’t be a problem, but this is not a standalone book. I’m getting quite a bit confused as I read along, so I might just return it until I’ve read the first one. I’m going to read a few more chapters and then make the decision.

There was this biography of Johnny Carson that I picked up last week from the local library that I really want to read, but it’s a “new” book and I just don’t have the time to read it right now so I sent it back. I put it in my phone’s list app, however, where it joined 10 other books that I need to get back to when I find the time to read them. Also on the list of books I need to get to pronto is the final one in another series, The One, by Kiera Cass. I was enchanted by the other two, so I look forward to when it finally comes in through the library.

Happy reading to you!

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Why I Like Jack Reacher

jack-reacher-boxed-set-6-books-I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of Jack Reacher. It took me ages to pick up the first book and give it a thorough reading, but that was two weeks ago and I’m already more than halfway through the third one in the series. That’s what I do with series that I like, I’ve discovered. It’s how I plowed through 16 tomes of Stephanie Plum misadventures in less than three months. I guess I just like to play catch up.

And yes, I’ve employed a tactic of reading all the reviews for each book after I’ve read the book. I’ve never really done that before, and it’s an interesting exercise, I’ve found, because people are so wide-ranging in their feelings about the character, about the series, and about each individual book. Apparently Reacher himself, as written, is just such a polarizing figure, and attacking Lee Child’s writing believability is en vogue as well.

Having read all of the reviews for the first two books, absorbed all of the information from other readers, and compared it to my own reading, what changed about my own view of the character? Absolutely nothing. In fact, I laughed at both the people who say Jack Reacher is a fully realized character, and at the people who say he’s as flat as a pancake. I chuckled when I saw someone claim the books were formulaic and boring, as well as at the guy who hailed the books as “perfectly written.”

Because, no, the books aren’t perfectly written, but neither are they so vapid as to make them unreadable. They’re pop fiction, right? Take a lot of action, a bit of sex, and a little Sherlock Holmes, and you’ve got pretty much every Jack Reacher novel, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Child is not the second coming of Faulkner, nor should he be. There’s a place in the market for his type of fiction as well as whatever else is being trotted out there as well.

If you’re not familiar with Jack Reacher, I can sum him up in six easy points…

  1. He’s ex-military police
  2. He’s smart about the obscure stuff and stupid about the obvious stuff
  3. Apparently girls drop their panties when he’s around
  4. He’s a HUGE, yeti-type dude
  5. He’s the classic drifter who enjoys living “off the grid”
  6. He falls into most of his adventures by coincidence (um yeah)

That there (#6) is one of the biggest issues those who hate the books have with the plots. Most of the time some incredible coincidence leads him into the adventure, and yet somehow it is also connected to him in some way. Apparently even though he’s spent nearly his entire life in the military, either as a brat, or as an officer, he somehow still found time to make impressions on a cadre of diverse individuals throughout the length and breadth of a country he hasn’t spent much time in.

But I’m a fan, because I like the action. I can suspend my belief enough to go along with the coincidences, to avert my gaze when he has sex with yet another bombshell, and to follow him into impossible situations that he gets out of in creative ways that may or may not actually work in real life. But, see, Reacher doesn’t live in real life. He lives in a series of books, so he can do those things, and I follow him through every single one of them without blinking an eye.

Oh, and the movie, don’t even get me started on the debate surrounding that one!


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jk-rowling-the-cuckoos-callingLet me start at the end and work my way backwards, which is pretty much what happens in a detective thriller, at least a classic one anyway. Someone is dead, and the detective is hired to trace the story back to its origin. Why is that person dead? What was the motive, be it suicide or homicide? Then, the story ends when the detective susses out the true cause of death, the motivation that would surely be the beginning if it were most other sub-genres of fiction. That’s what happens when the detective genre works well, which it does for J.K. Rowling (pseudonym Robert Galbraith), in the beginning of her new Cormoran Strike series.

First, I’ll admit that I knew it was Rowling when I first read the novel, and of course that changed the way I approached it had I thought it was simply a new writer named Robert Galbraith. That being said, I had recently tried reading Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy and it was not the page turner I had expected from her, even without the famous Mr. Potter in the narrative. So, my recent history suggested that I should be more open-minded about this book, to not expect a Harry Potter, but also not to expect anything like Vacancy. Otherwise, why would she have chosen a pseudonym?

The story is simple enough. A supermodel’s adoptive brother hires private detective Cormoran Strike to figure out what really happened to his sister when she sailed to her death out of a high-rise window. The police had ruled it a suicide, but the tale just didn’t ring true to the brother, so he sees Strike. What I loved about the story from the beginning was its vivid descriptions that didn’t linger but that simply explained and then moved on. That’s what I’ve come to expect from Rowling, and she returns to form from the very start of this one.

Strike is in the mold of such rumpled detectives as TV’s Columbo, not stylish like Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and I think that suits him. He has a bright mind, and the rumpled facade causes others not to take him or his mind seriously, so he can really delve into the situation at hand, which in this case is a supermodel’s supposed suicide. Needless to say, he uncovers layers to the case that give him pause, in the end realizing a conspiracy of unfathomable depth. Of course this puts him in personal danger and he must figure out the true depth of things before anything befalls him or his associate/secretary Robin.

There’s of course a latent sexual tension between Strike and Robin, but it remains under the surface, unlike so many detective stories I’ve read where the P.I. is a rogueish ladies’ man who gets not only the secretary but any other woman who is even tangential to the case at hand. Oh yes, and Strike is missing a leg. While that is not really central to the story, it still affects it, however, because I sense his discomfort and embarrassment about the missing limb that keeps him somewhat humble throughout.

As for Robin, she is new to Strike’s office, but she proves herself more than adequate with her assistance. I sense the two of them will keep up their subtle tango as the series goes on, but I think the dance itself is enough to keep the energy charged without them ever becoming physical. Some of the best collaborations really exist because of that tension, and if it stretches too thin it will snap, and then their connection and the help they offer each other will be at an end.

What I love so much about The Cuckoo’s Calling is its sense of timing. It reads quickly without flying through important details. Rowling set up the pace well, and incorporates her reveals at just the right places for them. I forgot pretty fast while I was reading it that 1) it was written by the same woman who wrote Harry Potter, and 2) the characters weren’t real. That is the mark of good fiction, in my opinion, that you get so involved in the story as a reader that it blurs the line between reality and fiction.

I look forward with baited breath to the next book in the series (The Silkworm), coming this summer. I would recommend this book and series to anyone who enjoys the classic detective genre. I would leave Harry Potter expectations at the door, too, because this is a completely different kind of animal.

I give this novel FIVE stars.

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Genre Wars

bookstore_sections-550x411“What? Our book club is reading non-fiction this week? I’m skipping it until we get back to fiction. I don’t care if the book won a bunch of awards. If it really happened, I’m out.” -Nicky L.

I have several friends/acquaintances who have an aversion to non-fiction, for some reason believing like in the old days that it’s going to be sleep-inducing, as boring as watching paint dry. But I’ve found that non-fiction has changed throughout the years, so much so that those long-term fiction-only readers need to take notice. The key is finding those non-fiction books that talk about someTHING, rather than the ones that talk about someBODY.

I myself enjoy biographies and autobiographies, but only when their subjects are people I already find interesting. Case in point, I really enjoyed Decision Points because it described in detail the decisions made by former president George W. Bush, and it had really cool pictures. It wasn’t just a telling of his life story, instead being a chronicling of important events told from the “other side,” meaning from his perspective. I much prefer those kinds of stories to the ones that just go through a history of the person themselves.

Books like Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, are fascinating journeys into history in a way that defies the standard non-fiction definition. That’s because writes like Hillenbrand focus on the narrative just as much as on the facts. It’s how she tells the story just as much as it’s the fascinating story itself that sells it to readers and will make just about any hater of non-fiction reconsider. That’s the glory of any story told well, isn’t it, that it ushers its reader in and amazes that reader enough to keep interest, isn’t it? Well, non-fiction now has the power to do that just as much as fiction.

“Drama has the ability to show the true power of words, because we get to see those words walking and talking with passion and fire on stages across the world. That’s real magic.” -Theodicus

My wife, a librarian, asked me the other day to recommend a play for a book club that routinely reads novels from month to month. They want to branch out and try a play to mix things up, but they also want one that lends itself to discussion. I told her I think she should go with a play that has an accompanying visual that is available because a play was meant to be seen and not just read. When I was teaching ninth grade English and we would get to Romeo & Juliet I would always have the students act out the play for just this reason as well.

The-Glass-Menagerie-imagePlays, just like non-fiction books, get a bad rap from people who enjoy novels, but they too have changed over the years, from the dry nature of some Greek and Roman plays to the more modern plays by such masters as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. In fact, I suggested The Glass Menagerie by Williams, and A View From the Bridge from Miller as two plays that the book club would be able to digest and discuss after both reading and watching them. These plays have complex characters that are three-dimensional, and so can be identified with by just about anybody. They also don’t have happy endings, in my opinion, so they beg the questions about “why not?”

Genre wars are interesting to watch. I know people on all ends of the spectrum, from the diehard biography-only types, to the fiction worshippers, to those who have to have a mix of reading materials and genres to feed their obsession for reading and absorbing anything they can get their hands on. But the one thing we have in common is a love of reading, and that’s a wonderful thing, whether or not we decide to branch out and check out other genres. I still find it fun, though, to try and convince others to give something else a chance.

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