Chritina’s Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)


Chritina’s Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K. Rowling)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert GalbraithJ. K. Rowling
Published by Hachette Digital, Inc. on 2013-04-30
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Goodreads
four-stars
A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide.After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.Introducing Cormoran Strike, this is the acclaimed first crime novel by J.K. Rowling, writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Our book club read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling about a year ago… for me, the book felt long and was a slow read for most of the book. Some members of the club put the book down half way and did not bother to pick it back up to finish. The end was rewarding for those of us who read all the way through because of its slam-grand finish that hooked me the last quarter of the book and had me appreciate the details of the book more. However, I did not feel the book was a testament of Rowling’s talents.

This past month, the book club selected The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, Rowling’s pseudonym. I was excited to read this book, but skeptical at the same time given the “popularity” of her previous book with the club and its slow progression. The Cuckoo’s Calling surprised me… it did not read like The Casual Vacancy (in fact, if I did not know the book was written by her I would not have guessed she was the author…then again, I probably would not have picked up the book if I didn’t already know that either). Instead, this book read like a classic murder mystery. With the mysterious death of Lula Landry, a beautiful model, Cormoran Strike is hired by the dead model’s brother to look into her alleged suicide for foul play and a potential murder suspect. Her brother will not accept she committed suicide and throws his money to a private detective to confirm he is not crazy and that Lula did not kill herself. It had to be murder.

“Galbraith” carries the reader through a systematically investigated murder mystery. The organization of the book allowed the reader to easily follow through the series of events that take place during the investigation, including the interviews with people from Lula’s life who may have had a connection to the murder. Potential evidence or personal-life details that have the ability to play out later in the book are noted throughout the case. The complex lives of Cormoran Strike and his temporary assistant intermingle and add to the crossing of their personal lives with the case at hand to solve… all while the reader is trying to piece together evidence to determine if Lula did in fact kill herself or if it was murder. If it turned out to be murder… who was the killer/s?

I found myself reading The Cuckoo’s Calling every opportunity I received. I was reading it after work, in the mornings waiting for the metro, and even pulling it out just to read a couple of pages while standing on the elevator. I found the book to be a good read and have already recommended it to colleagues and friends for their next book. Unlike The Casual Vacancy, this book kept me interested throughout with a good story-line, identifiable characters, and the anticipation on who Strike will choose to meet and talk with next. I thought I knew the answer to Lula’s mysterious death and the way the book would play out in the end… but I was wrong.

I did feel incomplete at the end of the book, however. After carrying through, noting certain details mentioned throughout the book I thought would play a role in the end, as well as identifying potential roles individuals may have played in Lula’s death…some of these details and individuals were never connected back to the conclusion in the end. I wanted to read about the reactions from certain characters to the results of Lula’s mysterious case. I felt somewhat disappointed when details mentioned throughout the book I thought would have an impact or role later in the story were not even mentioned in the end. (I don’t want to give any examples here for risk of spoiling it for another… so feel free to email me to talk more about this: playingjokersblog@gmail.com). I would have liked more of a character epilogue to draw together individuals’ reactions and, if possible, other details mentioned earlier in the book. On that note, I was also not satisfied with the end-findings on her death… I think it has left me with more questions than answers from the beginning of the book.

Overall, a good read and great book club pick. If you like murder-mysteries, I think you may appreciate the organization of this one. (Although, I hope you feel more satisfied in the end!)

My Introduction to Vlogging! In time for Booktubeathon!


I did you guys. I kind of did it.

I mean, it’s not like completely horrible. It’s on the side of a little embarrassing, but I figure it can only get better.

I made a vlog!

I had heard of this thing called Booktube-a-thon a little while ago on Twitter and wanted to make my debut by the start of it so that way I could benefit from the large community event. I’m no stranger to read-a-thons (though I am barely successful at them) so I figured it would be a good starting point for me.

Well, I can be a bit of a perfectionist and I didn’t want to just post videos using my laptop’s camera. It’s grainy and I’m snobby. So I tried using my point and shoot camera. Which worked great until all the takes I was doing were for nothing because my memory card was minuscule and couldn’t hold any videos.

I was about to go either buy a new camera or something when Emily from Oh Magic Hour offered a very common sense solution: get a larger memory card. So off I went to Target tonight, grabbed a 16 GB memory card (my old was like 512 MB!)  and a cheap tripod (which admittedly is too short for my preference so I set up the tripod on top of chairs). I went down into the basement that has obnoxious red walls, but super bright track lighting, adding my own snake light behind the camera, and voila! I have a one-take vlog.

Now, I would love to learn how to edit next. Like making it so the title image is nicer, and cutting out the pieces were I look particularly embarrassing. And I probably won’t wear an orange shirt in front of the red wall again. But I think for a rushed and first attempt, it’s not half bad!

Have any tips, questions, or comments? Please let me know! I want to be like a sponge as I figure all this out. And while I’m very busy this month, there’s no time like now to try something new!

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie


Michelle’s Review: They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha ChristieThey Do it with Mirrors by Agatha Christie
Published by AudioGo on 2000
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Traditional British, Women Sleuths
Pages: 224
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
four-stars
Miss Jane Marple helps pal Carrie Louise, invited by worried sister Ruth to Stonygates, where arrested boys rehabilitate. Foundation trustee Christian is shot dead in the guest room while paranoid Edgar shoots at Carrie's husband nearby. After more deaths, Jane sees illusions.

When picking different audiobooks for a long roadtrip, I was excited to see how many Agatha Christie novels were available at my library. It’s basically almost a guarantee that I am going to enjoy her books and that others will rarely find them objectionable. So I selected one Miss Marple and one Hercule Poirot, both read by the actors who play them in the recent iterations of their television series.

Unfortunately, I think that the choice to have this narrated by the actress made my enjoyment of the story suffer a bit. While a fantastic actress, her voice was very ‘old’ sounding (I really hate saying that. I don’t mean that as an agist comment, but I’m not really sure how else to describe it…) and it was hard to understand at certain points. I had to really pay attention and then train my ears to it. With a British mother, I typically have an easier time than some in understanding accents, but I did have a rougher time with this one.

The story itself was enjoyable. I definitely contemplated sitting my car for longer to finish a section despite the heat (unfortunately, the heat always seemed to win out). It was a classic Agatha Christie with character sketches and the grand reveal at the end. Sure, it’s formulaic, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when it comes to Christie. The ending was shocking as I had no clue until it was revealed. Enjoyable and intelligent.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card


Michelle’s Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott CardEnder's Game by Orson Scott Card
Published by Tom Doherty Associates on 1994-07-15
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
four-stars
The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Enter Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, the result of decades of genetic experimentation.

Is Ender the general Earth so desperately needs? The only way to find out is to throw him into ever-harsher training at Battle School, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when his training begins. He will grow up fast.

But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. His two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Among the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

This Special 20th Anniversary Edition of the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning classic is now digitally remastered with a full cast production. It also contains an exclusive bonus: an original postscript written and recorded by the author himself, Orson Scott Card!

This was a book I’ve always been aware of. Perhaps there were kids growing up who were reading this book around me. Perhaps its title was thrown around in conversations about books. Perhaps I was aware of the movie and some of its controversey regarding the author’s views. Regardless of how I knew about it, I had never read it and perhaps never really expressed a desire to. Until I was looking for audiobooks for a long road trip with my fiance and grabbed a young adult science fiction book in ho…moreThis was a book I’ve always been aware of. Perhaps there were kids growing up who were reading this book around me. Perhaps its title was thrown around in conversations about books. Perhaps I was aware of the movie and some of its controversey regarding the author’s views. Regardless of how I knew about it, I had never read it and perhaps never really expressed a desire to. Until I was looking for audiobooks for a long road trip with my fiance and grabbed a young adult science fiction book in hopes that it was something that we would both enjoy.

I was correct.

In fact, so much so that I had to ask my fiance if we could listen to the radio for a bit to take a little break from the audiobook. He wanted to keep binging on the story, to keep it going. That is saying quite a lot, considering that while he enjoys books, he can be a picky reader. I enjoyed listening to it, with the particular edition having multiple voice actors.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this story. I knew it had something to do with a child soldier, but the true breadth of the story caught me by surprise. It was a very deep story, with lots of layers and ideas. My favorite storyline was Ender’s, as I typically foudn myself bored or confused by Valentine’s.

It stands well enough by its own, without the other books in the series, though not everything gets solved. There were a few parts of the story that were a bit too abstract for me to fully grasp, but that might have had more to do with my own passing attention span.

I’m glad I finally read this book and look forward to watching the movie. However, I doubt if I will delve into the other books in the series. There is a reason why this is a classic and taught in a variety of schools.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer


I received this book for free from BEA 2013 in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia SpencerThe Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-10-15
Genres: Action & Adventure, Childrens, Friendship, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues
Pages: 214
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2013
Goodreads
three-stars
Meet Randi Rhodes, the world’s first ninja detective! Mystery abounds in this delightful new middle grade series from Academy Award–winning actress Octavia Spencer.Deer Creek is a small town whose only hope for survival is the success of their Founder’s Day Festival. But the festival’s main attraction, a time capsule that many people believe hold the town’s treasure, has gone missing. Randi Rhodes and her best friend, D.C., are Bruce Lee–inspired ninjas and local detectives determined to solve the case. Even if it means investigating in a haunted cabin and facing mean old Angus McCarthy, prime suspect. They have three days to find the treasure…the future of their whole town is at stake! Will these kids be able to save the day?

When Octavia Spencer spoke during the BookExpo America Children’s Author Breakfast, she introduced us to her new book as one where she strived for diverse characters. Given the latest push for diverse books, I would definitely place this book on a list of those that feature diverse characters. With a red-haired heroine with a single parent, (an Hispanic?) side-kick with hearing aids, an Asian housekeeper/nanny, a female sheriff, and an African American new friend, there is diversity everywhere.

Randi Rhodes is the Harriet the Spy of the latest generation. She is grappling with the loss of her mother and her family’s move to a sleepy mountain town. But there are mysteries everywhere and Randi embarks on one that allows her to make new friends and perhaps find her footing.

It’s an adorable book with a few pictures and creative activities for children to play along with. Depending on the age of the kid, I would venture to say that adult supervision should be required for all the tasks. I can only imagine the kinds of messes that could be made otherwise!

It’s a Scooby Doo type story. “If it weren’t for you meddlin’ kids…!” (Really, all Randi needs is a furry companion!) If that’s the type of story you (or really, your children) are looking for, this is definitely a good option.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: The One by Kiera Cass


Michelle’s Review: The One by Kiera CassThe One by Kiera Cass
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-05-06
Genres: Dystopian, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Royalty, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
The highly anticipated third book in Kiera Cass's #1 New York Times bestselling Selection series, The One will captivate readers who love dystopian YA fiction and fairy tales. The One is perfect for the fans who have followed America's whirlwind romance since it began—and a swoon-worthy read for teens who have devoured Veronica Roth's Divergent, Ally Condie's Matched, or Lauren Oliver's Delirium.The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of Illéa, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

I spent the time after finishing this book lying awake writing a blog post in my mind about it. Now that it is the morning after, my emotions have stabilized, but my thoughts have remained the same. I would say that I really enjoyed this book, but I think in some ways it was the suspense fooling me a little. I did like it, but I’m not sure if it was a truly magical experience for me.

So really, this is between a 3 star (I liked it) and a four star (I really liked it): a 3.5.

I’ve been very honest in my reviews for The Selection and The Elite about how I believe these books (I think) were only ever meant to be fun and enjoyable reads. Light, kind of shallow, and still suspenseful.

I could, in fact, quote from my review of The Elite and have it completely apply to my feelings about The One:

I kept reading this book to see if America would make a decision. And each chapter added a new revelation about either the history of Illea or some new event that made me want to immediately know the outcome. I was increasingly frustrated by America’s indecisiveness and lack of a spine…it seemed like any decision was open to be immediately changed by a single event. I am still not sure I really understand the presence of the dystopian elements. The rebel attacks, the increasing tension between the castes…I kept feeling like either more attention needs to be paid to that side of things or just leave it. The series is at its core a romance story. While that plot seems less ‘important’ than a government struggle, time and again the focus is brought back to the romance. The dystopian parts of the story are definitely political at their core, or so I felt.

The things that differed with The One:

  • The dystopian elements were hashed out more, but still almost superfluous to the main plot. In some ways, it felt like it was just there to explain the type of society that would have The Selection. I wish that there had been more depth to that part of the story if it was going to be there.
  • America actually makes decisions! Though, no one could ever exactly call her ‘decisive’. ‘Impulsive’ definitely. Though perhaps as she moves out of her teenage years, she’d mature into more of a decisive woman.

All that said, I still enjoyed the story. I stayed up late to finish it and was either shouting at America or giggling throughout it. I did grow increasingly frustrated this time around with the characters’ immaturity but I think that’s more because this is -perhaps- a younger, young adult. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who does not have a tolerance or enjoy young adult, but for those looking for a fun summer read, this fits that billet!

pj - michelle

Christina’s Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver


Christina’s Review: Delirium by Lauren OliverDelirium by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on 2012-02-06
Genres: Dystopian, Emotions & Feelings, General, Love & Romance, Science Fiction, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 480
Format: eBook
Goodreads
three-stars
Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didnt understand that once love - the deliria - blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love and the government demands that all citizens recieve the cure upon turning eightteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she will be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predicable and happy. But with ninety- five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: she falls in love.
jokers3

Delirium was another book club book selected for June’s read based off popular vote. This book sounded more interesting than I thought it was. As I first started reading the book, I loved how it started. The book read quick and sparked my interest from the first few chapters. However, as I continued through Delirium, the book began to read tediously. It felt like the same content being repeated with little progression. The theme became old and the book felt longer than the start. This book is definitely meant for the young adult audience, however, I felt the basic concept behind the book was one that was tiresomely overdone.

The book sets place in a world where love is a disease that has a cure. Readings are designed to illuminate the terrible side effects this “disease” can have on individuals. People fear love and look forward to the disease, just like the main character of Delirium, Lena. Lena was counting down the days until she was cured from this disease, that was until she met a boy that captivated her emotions… The story goes on following through the encounters Lena has with this boy as she gets closer to receiving the cure. She has a best friend brought into the mix, whom she fights on and off with and carries on with. These two characters are relatable for many teenagers going through high school and preparing for college. As the book continues, Lena is faced with the struggle of what is real and what individuals are brainwashed to think is real. The question persists throughout the book, “What will Lena do when the time comes for her to receive her cure?”

My problem with the book was that it read like every other teenage heart-throb book. The subject is getting old… will love conquer all? One of the members of our book club mentioned she felt the characters were hard to connect with in the book… that their personality didn’t really shine through. After thinking about that, I agreed with what she said. The characters weren’t predictable in the sense that you really got to know them. They were predictable because they followed the persona of other characters in the same genre of books. This teenage first love fate is starting to get old and is not realistic… Delirium read like other books and movies of similar topic. I was hoping for something new, but this book did not finish meeting my expectations it started to produce.

Overall, I did not HATE this book. I give it three starts out of five because it was still written well. While the subject is old, unrealistic, and over-played, the author’s style is unique and well-composed. This would make a good beach or casual read if one had time to spare.

pj - christina

One Month’s End is Another Month’s Beginning: June/July 2014


eompic

This month was a particularly good one for reading for me. However, that meant that quite a lot of other things went by the wayside. Like laundry. What is this laundry thing that people speak of? How often must it get done?

That said, I read quite a few books! I had wanted to read The Lies of Locke Lamora, Lexicon, The One, Hyperion, The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit, and Star Wars Jedi Academy, a total of six books, which I knew would be a stretch for me.

I ended up reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, Hyperion, The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit, and Star Wars Jedi Academy, four of those that I had planned. I’m 50% through with The One though! In addition, I ended up also starting and finishing Ender’s Game and They Do it With Mirrors, two audiobooks I had borrowed from the library. So in the end, I have completed six books! That’s really quite amazing for me. I’m now only two books behind my yearly goal of 50 books!

So in June, Christina, Calvert and I reviewed:

We also posted some non-reviews (hopefully more non-reviews coming in the future!):

In other news, I did find my wedding venue! I’ll post more about it once we book everything, but I’m very excited to be done with that part of wedding planning. And if you follow me on Instagram (deckfullojokers) I posted some pictures of my trip up to Rhode Island. It was a great vacation and even more wonderful to see all my family. I also attended the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival in May and wrote a review for Christina’s awesome website for Virginia Wine: vawineuncorked.com!

For July, I’d like to perhaps achieve a better balance in my life while also reading:

Again, likely wayy too many books than what I’ll accomplish, but I like outlining what I’ll read each month. It helps me feel like a more productive reader in the way that I pick books from different groups.

And last, but not least, welcome to the new blog design! Hazel at Stay Bookish designed it! I wanted something fun and different for the summer and to reinvigorate both it and my interest in it. What do you think? There’s still a few things that need tweaking, like changing my pages to match the new color scheme and continuing to play around and figure out the Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin, but I think it will all add to Playing Jokers!

pj - michelle

 

Michelle’s Review: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant


Michelle’s Review: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories edited by Kelly Link and Gavin GrantSteampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories by gavin grant, kelly link
Published by Candlewick Press on 2011
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Science & Technology, Short Stories, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 420
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
four-stars
In the first major YA steampunk anthology, fourteen top storytellers push the genre's mix of sci-fi, fantasy, history, and adventure in fascinating new directions. Imagine an alternate universe where romance and technology reign. Where tinkerers and dreamers craft and re-craft a world of automatons, clockworks, calculating machines, and other marvels that never were. Where scientists and schoolgirls, fair folk and Romans, intergalactic bandits, utopian revolutionaries, and intrepid orphans solve crimes, escape from monstrous predicaments, consult oracles, and hover over volcanoes in steam-powered airships. Here, fourteen masters of speculative fiction, including two graphic storytellers, embrace the genre's established themes and refashion them in surprising ways and settings as diverse as Appalachia, ancient Rome, future Australia, and alternate California. Visionaries Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant have invited all-new explorations and expansions, taking a genre already rich, strange, and inventive in the extreme and challenging contributors to remake it from the ground up. The result is an anthology that defies its genre even as it defines it.

fromthestash

From the Stash is just my way to denote when something is from before I had the blog. I have been reviewing books since January 2010 so I’d like to showcase some of that past work. This was originally reviewed in January 2012.

Brand new library book with the smell intact (don’t judge!), the anthology was my first formal introduction with the steampunk genre. And while these stories sought to be different from the cliches of the genre (which I have yet to encounter due to my beginner level with it), I have learned some things about it.

My thoughts about the genre as presented by the anthology: what sets steampunk apart from science fiction or fantasy, magical realism or alternate historical fiction? I suppose steam punk is a melding of all these genres into a broader, or perhaps more narrow category, but it doesn’t pass the test for me. I feel like the genre, and by that I mean the authors, are trying to hard to fit their stories into a particular label that at this moment is a very popular one and therefore sensational. I will continue to read the occasional steampunk novel, but I fear I cannot wholeheartedly support this movement, this literary niche without either further research or a change of heart.

That said, the anthology was a pleasant read. Each story was in fact different, and yet flowed into each other, with themes from the previous story leading into the next. Some standouts: The Last Ride of the Glory Girls – a wild west female coming-of-age story; Everything Amiable and Obliging – Holly Black is a best-selling author for a reason as this story about love and robots was riveting; Seven Days Beset by Demons – one of the two graphic stories in the anthology, I loved the art and the simplicity of the story; Hand in Glove – almost a crime noire set in California with an odd culprit; and The Summer People – which while I will argue that this was definitely more fantasy/magical realism than steampunk, was an interesting story set in Appalachia with entities that might be known as fairies.

There were other good stories in the anthology, but some felt more forced than others. Overall, I looked forward to seeing what the next story had in store and I would recommend it to anyone, whether they are mechanized veterans of the genre or interlopers into the strange world of steampunk.

pj - michelle

Excuse the Mess! Redesign and Learning Underway


So I -of course- decided to do too much at once and am both installing and learning how to install a new theme (designed by Hazel at Stay Bookish!) and figuring out the Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin. That’s a whole lot of learning all at once and I am quite overwhelmed! So if you want to be awesome, leave me comments of moral support, tips, and smiles as I work through this!

Looking forward to properly inviting you to explore the new blog (design)!