Michelle’s Review: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith


Michelle’s Review: The Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by robert galbraith
Published by Little, Brown on 2014-06-19
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Thrillers, Traditional
Pages: 464
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
three-stars
Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling.When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before...A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

I found this book as enjoyable as the first one, but perhaps a little hard to follow as an audiobook. There are so many characters that it was sometimes hard to keep up with them all without the ability to quickly flip to a previous chapter. The audiobook was well-produced and it was fun to listen to these characters…

…with perhaps the exception of Robin. She is such the eager sidekick and her drama with her fiance is simply not interesting to me. It almost felt like contrived drama and wasn’t a satisfying subplot for me.

If you’re looking for an intriguing mystery with pretty cool characters, I would recommend this book and the series. But if you get frustrated by being able to figure out the ending, or by slower paced mysteries, perhaps this wouldn’t be the pick for you. I imagine that I will be picking up any sequel as a good beach read in the future.

pj - michelle

Apologies and Back At It – A Note (and Review!) from Christina


Apologies and Back At It – A Note (and Review!) from ChristinaThe Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2008-07-29
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Women Sleuths
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
three-half-stars
"The Chardonnay Charade" begins with a daring helicopter flight in the middle of the night. Facing a freak spring frost that threatens to kill the grapes in her vineyard, Lucie Montgomery hires a chopper to fly over the vines in order to blow warm air on them. But her thoughts soon turn from grapes to murder when she discovers the body of Georgia Greenwood, a controversial political candidate, lying near the fields. Georgia's husband, Ross, Lucie's friend and doctor, immediately falls under suspicion. To make matters worse, Ross, a renowned collector of Civil War documents, has just discovered a letter that seems to prove that Confederate president Jefferson Davis had prior knowledge of the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. In the small town of Atoka, Virginia -- proud home to the "Gray Ghost," the Confederacy's legendary guerrilla commander -- the letter is a bombshell.Three years ago Ross saved Lucie's life after she was involved in a near-fatal car crash. Now she intends to return the favor and prove Ross's innocence. As the search for Georgia's killer escalates, Lucie crosses swords with her attractive but cantankerous winemaker, Quinn Santori, and confronts her own unwelcome feelings of jealousy over his new romance and job prospects. Her worries about her kid sister's out-of-control drinking and a second vineyard-related death further ratchet up the tension. Even though Lucie believes that in vino veritas -- in wine there is truth -- she finds that the path to uncovering a murderer involves making a heartbreaking decision that will alter the lives of those she loves.

I had fallen off of the grid for the past month and am ready to get back on my reading, research and blogging A-game. I am sorry to have been so M.I.A – Recently, I started working in the Northern Neck of Virginia and picked up and moved from northern Virginia. I LOVE my new job, I LOVE the area, I LOVE the history. It has been a wonderful experience! During the moving process, I still found time to read…

The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

We read The Merlot Murders by Ellen Crosby, book one of her Virginia “Wine Country Mysteries” series, and the book had overwhelming praise from our book club. A couple of years into the club, Michelle selected book two of her series so we can revisit the wine, the history, and the murder mysteries set in Loudon County. The main characters from The Merlot Murders, Lucie and Quinn, were also the main characters in The Chardonnay Charade.  A little overwhelming that murder seems to follow this couple, but it made character introductions shorter and the characters easy to attach to.

I particularly liked The Chardonnay Charade because: 1) It had more great wine knowledge. The spring frost and the process to keep the fruit from freezing in the cold was intriguing to me. 2) The history in this book was fascinating and right down my alley. There was a mix of Civil War and early American history. I geeked out when I was reading about a piece of furniture in an antique store they said once belonged to Francis Lightfoot Lee… I just started working at his home, Menokin, in the Northern Neck. The additions of the history made me attach myself to the book and kept me engaged.

Overall, another enjoyable read by Crosby… great for book clubs! Paired with a nice Virginia chardonnay, such as the 2013 Reserve from Paradise Springs, and you will be set!

Currently reading…

I currently have a list of books on my to-read shelf, which has grown tremendously since my last blog post. I am now finishing up The Lees of Menokin by Suzanne Semsch and am then turning to The First Emancipator, a story on Robert Carter of Virginia by Andrew Levy. Following these books, I also have: The Lees of Virginia by Paul C. Nagel, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, A Tale of Two Plantations by Richard S. Dunn, and a few others. I expect I will be busy these next couple of months playing catch up! Stay tuned for future posts from me, not only on the books, but also on the history of the Northern Neck and historical sites paired together with some of these historical fictions and non-fictions.

Happy readings!

pj - christina

Christina’s Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn


Christina’s Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian FlynnSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown Publishing Group on 2006-09-26
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Goodreads
four-stars
FROM THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF GONE GIRLFresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

I read Gone Girl with the book club about a year ago, and let’s just say I slammed the book down when I reached the end and went into a huffy fit for a little while. It was sick, twisted, but good…real good. The book kept me thinking long after I finished it and carried the book club through such a great discussion. Because of this, I decided to nominate Gillian Flynn’s debut book Sharp Objects for our October read a year later.

First, I must say I was unexpectedly surprised when this book was not checked out from my library, so there was no wait, and I was able to dive right in! I started the book on a Sunday and finished it by Monday evening… once I got going, knowing how hooked I was with Gone Girl, I kept reading and was not disappointed. Sharp Objects follows a reporter, Camille, who travels back to her small, quiet home town to write a story on the murder of one little girl and a missing second. Flynn does a beautiful job allowing the reader to understand the emotions going through the reporter as she is forced to revisit the past she left behind and the family she had not been home to see in years. Diving deeper into the book, the reader learns the reporter has her own secrets from her past she still hides. From the outside looking in, what can appear to be the perfect family – millionaire factory owners in a big house, with beautiful daughters, a pristinely dressed and regarded mother, and a quiet father-figure – can have their secrets that will leave one squirming in their seats.

The way Flynn laid out Sharp Objects was brilliant to me. She gradually introduced new turns in events and insights into Camille’s past and relationship with her parents and self. She left breadcrumbs that built up suspense and anticipation throughout the book. The characters all seemed to have their own secrets waiting to be uncovered… In my opinion, Camille’s sister was a piece of work, as was her mother. Her father was a mysterious character..a man of few words. I kept wondering if they would have a roll in the turn of events. Reading, I was filled with hate, disgust, sorrow, skepticism, hope… I was cheering for some characters (Camille and her potential romantic encounters) and I was hoping others would “get what they deserved”…

I am excited to talk about this book with the book club and learn their reactions. I found these discussion questions online through Gillian Flynn’s site to review: http://gillian-flynn.com/sharp-objects/discussion-questions/. And this is the perfect time to read Sharp Objects and Gone Girl as we anticipate the release of the Gone Girl movie coming out in early October!

I recommend diving into this twisted world of Gillian Flynn, starting with Sharp Objects… her writing-style is unique, captivating, and leaves the reader cringing amongst a slew of emotions in the end. Her style is unique and gives the brain and heart a good workout!

pj - christina

Michelle’s Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith


Michelle’s Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert GalbraithThe Cuckoo's Calling by jk rowling, robert galbraith, Robert GalbraithJ. K. Rowling
Published by Little, Brown on 2013-04-30
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective
Pages: 464
Format: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Goodreads
three-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.

Christina reviewed this first! Check out her review–we have different thoughts!

When the news broke last year that J.K. Rowling has written a book under a pseudonym, I was excited to read it. I read A Casual Vacancy, and was one of those in the “I liked it!” camp. I was expecting a similar reaction to The Cuckoo’s Calling. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite wow me like I was hoping it would.

Rowling writes in a way that if I had no prior knowledge as to the truth of her identity, I would have guessed it was someone new. It is written in a very hardboiled detective style. I read this at the same time I was listening to an Agatha Christie novel. Structurally speaking, the two were very similar. It may have tainted my opinion a bit, but I think it’s safe to say that in many ways, that’s the style Rowling was aiming for.

There is a scene in the beginning that truly exemplifies Rowling’s allusion to the Philip Marlowe’s of detective pulp fiction. Robin, a new temporary secretary, arrives at his office in a more wore down building. A beautiful woman has just rushed out of it (the femme fatale?). While Robin has a bit of a mishap at the top of the stairs due to Strike’s clumsiness, she finds Strike to be a massive guy with wounds on his face. He’s the private dic, the gumshoe. He is gruff, struggling financially, lives in his office, and smokes the occasional (or not so occasionally) cigarette. He has difficulty distinguishing between Robin and his latest temporary secretary at first. To me, all that was missing was a, “Hey, doll.”

The story was a series of interviews that led to its climax. At times it felt long and I was a little bored. That said, I still enjoyed the book and I think someone looking for a detective novel would not be disappointed by The Cuckoo’s Calling.

pj - michelle

Michelle’s Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie


Michelle’s Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha ChristieEvil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Published by HarperCollins on 2011-08-30
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Traditional British
Pages: 272
Format: Audiobook
Source: Public Library
Goodreads
four-stars
The beautiful bronzed body of Arlena Stuart lay facedown on the beach. But strangely, there was no sun and Arlena was not sunbathing…she had been strangled. Ever since Arlena’s arrival the air had been thick with sexual tension. Each of the guests had a motive to kill her, including Arlena’s new husband. But Hercule Poirot suspects that this apparent “crime of passion” conceals something much more evil.

In a summer where I have yet to go on to the beach, pool, or equal body of water, Evil Under the Sun was the perfect summer getaway mystery. Hercule Poirot is not able to vacation for long at a Cornish beach resort when one of the resort’s guests is found strangled on the beach.

I listened to this audiobook and it was wonderful. Having the actor who plays Hercule Poirot in the television series was sucg a lovely bonus. And man, can he act! The different voices and accents he put on for the different characters was so engaging. When a character sneezed, he sneezed. It really brought the book more alive than other audiobook narrators.

There was something absolutely idyllic about the setting of this book (despite the murder) that really made me long for a similar vacation. Sailing, rowing, tennis, the pool, the ocean, books, food, caves, cliffs, and company…it really was the perfect book for summer (or when you’re longing for a real summer).

The plot itself was standard Christie. Not sure I quite understand its conclusion (I certainly didn’t see it coming) but it in no way took away any of my enjoyment of the book.

pj - michelle

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


Christina’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!)

pj - christina

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