Cozy Reads for Chilly Nights: A Winter Reading List

Looking out over the winter landscape filled with snow and ice (this is Minnesota, after all), we here at The Library Ladies are looking for a cup of cocoa, a warm fire, and a good read. With the Winter Solstice descending upon us, and the holidays that come with it, we have a list of winter-y reads to get your in the seasonal spirit. 

341288Book: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Publication Info: Roberts Brothers, 1868

With the opening line “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” we are introduced to the beloved March Sisters and their coming of age. The story of Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth has been beloved since it’s publication in the 1860s, and has stood the test of time not only as a favorite children’s book, but an enduring Christmas tale. It has spawned numerous adaptations from stage to screen, and shows the love that a family has for each other during the best and worst times of their lives (we will never forgive Louisa May Alcott for Beth). If you haven’t read it before or if it’s been awhile, it could be fun to pick it up and see why this story is so immortal.

25773791Book: “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North” by Blair Braverman

Publication Info: Ecco, July 2016

We in Minnesota know cold, but even the colds of Alaska and the far reaches of Norway are a bit intimidating. In this fun memoir, Blair Braverman recounts the time in her life where she uprooted from California and moved to the Arctic Circle, first working on a sled dog team in Norway and then moving to work as a glaciar tour guide in Alaska. Telling stories from her various jobs, as well as the stories that are far more about her personal life, “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube” is a tale about adjusting to a new life, standing tall even when you feel like you don’t have it in you, and learning to love living in the deathly cold.

25489134Book: “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Publication Info: Del Rey Books, January 2017

I will take any and every opportunity to promote this book. And with my review for the third and final book in this trilogy coming down the pike, this reading list is the perfect place to once again highlight this series. Set in Russia and featuring a snow/death god, is it any wonder that this makes for the perfect read for fantasy lovers in the winter? Nevermore will you appreciate your warm cozy house than when you are reading about Vasilisa and her family all vying for the coveted chance to sleep on top of the househould oven. Like the cover of the book, the story perfectly captures the beauty and danger that can be found in the extreme cold. Fans of fairytale-like fantasy stories should definitely check this one out!

24485589Book: “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Publication Info: HarperTeen, March 2017

Another fantasy novel, this one a re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Hunted” is unique for the important role that winter plays in this classic tale. Much of the story is driven the the harsh cold and the winter hunting prowess of the main character. I particularly enjoyed this re-telling for its joining the rare ranks of fairytale retellings that do not demonize the main character’s sisters, but instead develop healthy familial relationships alongside the primary romance. The story also takes several divergences from the classic tale, so readers shouldn’t go in confident that they know already where this story is going or will end up!

20309175Book: “My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories”

Publication Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2014

We read this book a few years ago for bookclub, and it is the perfect short-story collection for the winter months. As the title so obviously states, these are holiday stories, but they are a diverse grouping, focusing on different winter holidays and the many different people who experience them. While we both found the stories hit and miss (we had a few stand-out favorites, but also a few that we didn’t enjoy as much), as a whole this collection has a little something to offer up to everyone. Plus, you can read it one story at a time through-out the holiday season, drawing out the fun with a nightly new story!

What books do you enjoy reading during the chilly, winter-y months? Let us know in the comments below!

Who Rules The World? Girls!: Books With Women Who Kick Ass (Part 2)

Two years ago, we here at the Library Ladies were left despondent and angry at the way that the Presidential Election turned out. Two years later, most of our fears have been confirmed, and American politics has been a shit show. But this year, it was a Midterm Election, and things went a bit better this time around. One of the reasons for that is more that 100 women were elected into governing positions across the nation, breaking the all time record of women in such roles!! So in honor of that, we’re bringing back our Women Who Kick Ass Book List, and this time it’s based in hope!!

13642929Book: “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor

Publishing Info: Knopf, January 2013

The first Latinx justice and the third woman on the bench, Sonia Sotomayor is a really awesome lady in many, many ways. Her memoir is the story of her life, from her childhood living in a Bronx based housing project to her time as a Judge on the Supreme Court of the United States. She is very open about the struggles that she had to overcome in her life, from a broken marriage to living with diabetes since childhood and an unstable home life, but always emphasizes the determined spirit that she had to get through. Sotomayor’s voice always shines through in relatable and honest ways, and her story shows the power of believing in oneself, and how far it can take you.

10846336Book: “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, August 2011

Jesmyn Ward has always been known for writing emotional and evocative books, from “Men We Reaped” to “Sing, Unburied, Sing”, but the novel that first won her a National Book Award was “Salvage the Bones”. It’s the story of Esch, a black teenage girl living in a coastal Mississippi town as Hurricane Katrina is heading towards shore, and the ways that she tries to keep her family together as the inevitable lurches towards them. Esch is a determined and driven character, who is dealing with her own personal turmoil outside of the impending hurricane (poverty, an unwanted pregnancy, a rough home life), but she is always there for her siblings and always trying her best to make things safe for them as the storm looms. This is a tough read, but it’s beautifully written and the characters, especially Esch, will stay with you.

32025298Book: “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone

Publishing Info: Dey Street Books, September 2017

Similar to our recommendation of “Hidden Figures” in our last list of this kind, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” is another incredible true story of women operating behind the scenes throughout history, getting stuff done, but going largely unnoticed. Together with her husband, Elizabeth Smith could be considered the starting point for the NSA (for better or worse these days). But in her time, she was able to put her incredible code-breaking stills to work on secretive missions to gain important intel during WWII. But the story explores much more than just that, diving also into her work exposing gangsters during Prohibition and her husband’s experiences breaking the Japanese version of Enigma.

3236307Book: “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

Publishing Info: Harcourt, October 2008

Another fiction choice, “Graceling’s” main character, Katsa essentially has the skill of “being badass.” You think I’m exaggerating, but that’s pretty much it. In a world that is made up of certain individuals with seemingly random abilities, Katsa’s is by far the most awe-inspiring. But as fans of Spiderman know so well, this type of gift doesn’t come with out strings and difficult choices attached. What makes Katsa stand apart is the way she never backs down from confronting these challenges herself. She doesn’t wait for others, she doesn’t question her own abilities. She just sees a wrong or a need, and she acts. Definitely a go-to for fantasy fans, Katsa fully earns her place on this list.

28503941Book: “Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblaizers Who Changed History” by Sam Maggs

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, October 16

Of course, there are simply too many amazing women throughout history to list an entire book for each of them. So instead, here’s a lovely compilation of twenty-five of them for you to enjoy in small snippets. What makes this collection all the more enjoyable is the fact that many of these women may be ones you were unfamiliar with prior to picking up this book! There are also interviews with women currently in STEM-related fields and other resources for women looking to make their way into the sciences.

What are some of your favorite books about powerful women? Let us know in the comments!

Bookclub Review: “S.T.A.G.S.”

35248505We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett

Publishing Info: Penguin Teen, January 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate received an ARC from NetGalley.

Genre Mash-Up: “Satire” and “School Story”

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

Kate’s Thoughts

Yes, I did read and review this back at the beginning of the year. But when my genre mash-up came up in our Book Club drawing, I thought that perhaps “S.T.A.G.S.” should get a revisit through the lens of pure satire as opposed to teenage thriller. I thought that it was really just going to meet the requirements for our book club, but then something  happened that brought it into a new focus: Brett Kavanaugh was nominated and confirmed for the Supreme Court, in spite of the fact that he was accused of attempted rape by a classmate from high school (not to mention a whole slew of other issues), with many people saying that his Yale credentials and good background meant that he couldn’t POSSIBLY be a sexual predator. All of a sudden, a book about privileged wealthy kids at a private school stepping on the less fortunate, all because they CAN, felt incredibly, incredibly relevant, and it caused my opinions of this book to evolve a bit.

So re-reading “S.T.A.G.S.” with these events in mind made it a sobering experience. This time, seeing Greer, Chanel, and Shafeen have to contend with the Medievals and their cat and mouse nonsense made me look a bit deeper into how this could be satirical as opposed to straight up survival YA popcorn. Seeing the action unfold again with a different lens made it a more chilling read, and my eyes were more eager to spot the little moments, be it when Greer is more willing to believe her rich, white counterparts over Shafeen in spite of damning evidence of wrongdoing, or presumptions that both Greer AND Nel have about Shafeen based on his heritage.

As satire I do think that it can be heavy handed at times, but over all I think that it works effectively. High school is always ripe for the picking when it comes to satirical possibilities, though it’s not as often you see it unfold in full on violence, though that’s probably more due to actual violence in schools being far too prevalent as opposed to creators not thinking about it. “S.T.A.G.S.” manages to tread a good line in making the points it wants to make, while still managing to mostly punch up. I enjoyed reading it again with these themes in mind.

Serena’s Thoughts

I was excited to read this book when Kate said it would be our next bookclub pick. While not falling in my typical genre of reads, I had had it on my own personal reading list for a while. I like survival stories in general (though I’m often overtaken with judgement about plausibility and stupid choices, but that’s half the fun!) and I remember one of my favorite projects in highschool English had to do with re-creating scenes and a map (which I hand drew and was very proud of) for “The Most Dangerous Game.” So yes, in many ways this was right up my alley.

As Kate discussed, this also came at a pretty rough period in American politics so many of its themes struck a more somber note than they may have reading outside of the current environment. I liked a lot of the more up-front points being made about uber wealth and privilege as well as some of the more subtle comments that Kate alluded to. I would be curious to see how this story read in Great Britain which has a much longer history and different understanding of the type of class system on display here. American readers simply don’t have this type of background to layer onto our reading of this story and, even while I still was able to appreciate many of its larger point, I feel like some of these shades of criticism and even comprehension were lost on U.S. readers.

I very much liked our main character Greer. There were a few moments here and there  where her plethora of cultural references could have been a bit much, but over all, I was so involved in the story and on-board with her character that I don’t think these distracted overly much. And there were a few key ones that really struck home with how a fan of media (movies, books, etc) would relate a new situation/scene to something they’ve read or seen in a film. And while there were definite moments where I wanted to shake her out of some of her more stupid decisions, overall she read as a very realistic protagonist. For the most part, she is clever and discerning, so her moments of weakness read as very believable. I mean, c’mon, it IS an unbelievable situation! Doubting their suspicions only makes sense.

My one criticism of the book had to do with the violence and introduction of the story. No, it wasn’t too much for a young adult novel. If anything, it felt too PG. I kept waiting for something truly terrible (in a life-ending way) to happen, but instead, all of the action and violence felt a bit toothless. In particular, there is one event that Greer references right in the beginning of the book, so the entire story is building towards it, supposedly. And then we get there and…it is not at all that thing. And even after the event, Greer insists on referring to it as her original concept, and I was just like “but…but…IT’S NOT THAT!” I don’t think this would have annoyed me so much if it hadn’t been for the fact that readers are teased about this event for the entire story. And then when this misdirection is combined with the relatively tame action of the story, it just felt like a bit of a let down.

But overall, I still very much enjoyed this book and it was a nice excuse to venture outside of my typical reading boundaries.

Kate’s Rating 8: “S.T.A.G.S.” held up pretty well the second time through, and reading it this time I was more in tune with the satirical elements about the haves subjugating the have nots, and how systems (as well as the compliance of other have nots) help them escape consequences.

Serena’s Rating 8: A stellar main character makes up for a few weaknesses as far as plotting and action.

Book Club Questions

  1. I picked “S.T.A.G.S.” for this book club choice because my theme was satire meets a school story. Do you think that the satire (of the wealthy privileged literally hunting the less fortunate) is effective?
  2. One of the biggest themes in this book is about privilege, and how those with it exploit and victimize those that don’t. How did Shafeen, Greer, and Nel’s interactions with the medievals and each other come off? So you think that these three had some privileges that others didn’t?
  3. What do you think Bennett was trying to say with Greer’s hesitance to believe that the Medievals were up to no good in spite of the evidence presented to her? Why do you think that she was more susceptible to believe the best of them as opposed to Nel and Shafeen (outside of her crush on Henry, that is)?
  4. Shafeen made up a story about feeding at a tiger’s tit to take the attention off of Nel, but tells Greer that he doesn’t live in a palace but is actually from a bustling city (though he does have royal roots). Why do you think he made up a story like that instead of telling a true story from his youth.
  5. What did you make of the Medievals rejection of technology and their categories of Medieval vs Savage? Do you think that Henry had a point about the ills of the internet?
  6. At the end it is revealed that even though Greer, Shafeen, and Nel have become the new prefects/medievals, the Abbot has been shielding and continuing the violence without their knowledge. What did you think of that revelation?

Reader’s Advisory

“S.T.A.G.S.” is new and not included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Let The (Deadly) Games Begin!”, and  “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”.

Find “S.T.A.G.S.” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Strike”

91rfsozxewl-_sy445_This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. This past week we’ve reviewed all four books in the series thus far, and now we move on to the BBC Show “Strike”. We’re going to review “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm”, and “Career of Evil”. All three series can be found for purchase on Amazon, and in the U.S. “Strike” is known as “C.B. Strike” and is shown on Cinemax.

81gwbabcevl-_sy500_Series 1: “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

Kate’s Thoughts: I’ll admit that the first thing I noticed about this series was how damn gorgeous Tom Burke is. Cormoran Strike in the books is described as being kind of an awkward looking dude. I mean, his hair is described as ‘pube-like’ for God’s sake, and his gait is lumbering and he is a large guy. When you look at Tom Burke, he doesn’t really fit that, so perhaps the casting felt a little bit more on the “Hollywood Awkward” side. Am I complaining? Hell NO I’m not, because


But my thirst aside, I really was impressed by our first dive into a TV adaptation of the “Strike” books. “The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the one that not only has to pull together a mystery with all its twists and turns, it also has to introduce us as the audience to our main characters and get us to invest in them. And, just like in the book, you start to love the characters right away. Burke and Holliday Grainger, who plays Robin, have a sparkling chemistry right off the bat, with Strike and Robin quipping and bantering their way through the Lula Landry case. The mystery itself was well paced, and the additional third episode (as opposed to the seemingly usual two) made it so the mystery could be given the proper amount of screen time without butting into the exposition needed to flesh out the characters within this first foray into the world they live and operate in. Everyone did a fabulous job with their characters, and the tension was well placed without feeling overwrought.

Serena’s Thoughts: First things first: I completely agree on the hotness of Tom Burke not aligning with the character as described in the books; I also agree that I don’t care in the least. But as for our other main character, Holliday Grainger (can we take a moment to highlight the weirdness that it must be to be an actress with the last name of Grainger playing a character written by J.K. Rowling who has been compared to an adult Hermione?) is almost pitch-perfect for how I imagined Robin. Everything about her look and portrayal of the character line up perfectly with how I read Robin: beautiful, looks sweet enough that others easily underestimate her, all while masking hidden depths of smarts and capability. As Kate said, the two actors also have great chemistry, and it takes practically no time at all to be fully bought into following them as both a potential romantic couple and as crime-solving partners.

I also liked the way the mystery was lain out. This first series was given three full episodes, one more than the following two which must condense more complicated mysteries into a shorter run time. But I think it balances this extended time well with introducing our main characters and fleshing out the characters at the heart of the Lula Landry case.

Lastly, there’s also the fun game of “spot the British actor” to be played with this entire series. And now, knowing what we do about “Lethal White,” I think the pay off for their casting of Charlotte in particular with payoff well down the road.

912eqsfqanl-_sy500_Series 2: “The Silkworm”

Kate’s Thoughts: I was a bit worried when I saw that they had condensed the length of “The Silkworm” into two episodes as opposed to three, but my worries were immediately alleviated by the time we got into the nitty gritty of the story. This show did a good job of setting up the premise of the plot right in the very first scene, in which a suicide of a mystery woman plays out in a rather disturbing and upsetting way. This doesn’t become apparent as to its relevance until a little further into the story, but I really liked how it set the scene to tell us that we’re getting into something a bit more dour than “The Cuckoo’s Calling.”

We got to see a bit more of the interactions between various suspects and important players outside of their time with Cormoran and Robin, and what I liked the most about that was that it made it feel almost more sinister. We can see bitterness and sour grapes when their defenses are down, and it made for a more intriguing follow through. I will admit that I hadn’t re-read/skimmed the book before watching this adaptation, and while I KNEW who the culprit was, I still liked seeing all of the potential red herrings being laid out. It felt a bit like an Agatha Christie cast of characters, who all have motive but aren’t all guilty (“Murder on the Orient Express” notwithstanding). Each character was brought to life by fantastic performances especially from Lia Williams as Liz Tassel, Quine’s old friend and colleague.

And I’d be completely out of character to not mention the adorableness is that Cormoran and Robin. Burke and Grainger still have awesome chemistry, and their banter and interactions are really just the BEST. I also love that their body language exudes the friendly tension between them. Be it a knowing look from Cormoran or a glance to the side from Robin, they clearly are well matched in these roles. They really do bring the joy of these characters from page to screen. Plus, Kerr Logan plays Matthew like a complete lunkhead who is easy to hate, which is EXACTLY how I want to see him. All in all “The Silkworm” was well done even with the shortened adaptation, and it made for a truly enjoyable ‘whodunnit’.

Serena’s Thoughts: I, too, had my concerns when I saw the shortened run time. However, I was more concerned for how “Career of Evil” would fare, which we’ll get to shortly. As it turned out, I felt like the show did a good job of condensing a complicated mystery into only two hours without leaving the story feeling rushed or unrealized.

Instead, there was even the inclusion of some favorite scenes from the book that weren’t even strictly necessary for this story, like Robin’s badass driving skills. However, growing up in the country, I will say that the method they used to try and highlight her ability here was a bit lackluster since anyone who has driven off pavement even a little could recognize how little skill it really takes to pull off what she was doing here. Whereas, in the book, her quick reaction to a sudden crash ahead was much more visceral and true to the abilities of a very talented driver. That being said though, I liked that the show didn’t cut out moments like this that really help build up our characters as more than just your run-of-the-mill British detectives.

I, too, hadn’t re-read the book before watching this, so it was fun piecing together the clues presented on the show with my vague memories of who the killer was and how they pulled it off. I also very much enjoyed the scenes that dealt with Quine’s wife and daughter who has special needs. Amidst a large cast of suspects, all of whom are very unlikeable, and a murder victim who himself isn’t the best guy, it was nice to see this strong bond between mother and daughter. Some of the strongest emotions in the show dealt with the fallout and challenges that came with Quine’s wife being arrested as a suspect, leaving her daughter in the care of strangers.

91gyxi7ouml-_sy445_Series 3: “Career of Evil”

Kate’s Thoughts: If I referred to “The Silkworm” as channeling Agatha Christie, “Career of Evil” goes into straight up Jo Nesbø territory: it’s bleak, it’s creepy, and it’s black as night. I was happy to see that the show didn’t shy away from the grim themes of the book, from sexual abuse to spousal abuse to child predators, but while it did tackle said themes it never made them feel seedy, and never made the viewer feel voyeuristic. I enjoyed seeing some of the parallels that the show drew between the Shacklewell Ripper and Jack the Ripper (it was especially eerie seeing the first victim lit up against a backdrop of an illuminated ‘Whitechapel’ sign. Shivers), and while the show couldn’t really do the perspective of the killer as much as the book could, there was still the tension of their ‘hunt’ through the moments we did get.

This was also very much Holliday Grainger’s time to shine. Robin goes through it in this book for many reasons, and boy did Grainger really portray the pain, determination, and near frenzy that Robin experiences within the narrative. I’m not like Serena in the sense that Grainger was exactly what I imagined when I first read Robin (not to say that she’s bad of course), but in “Career of Evil” she absolutely nails the character and claims her as her own. It also becomes quite clear in this performance that Robin is destined for so much more than what those around her expect of her, and I think that Grainger nailed that aspect of her character. I also MUST mention the casting decision for Shanker. Y’all, it’s Ben Crompton, aka Eddison Tollett, Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch on “Game of Thrones”, and he is EXCELLENT as the snarky and morally ambiguous pal of Strike and Robin.

“Career of Evil” was another great adaptation, and I have high hopes that “Lethal White” will be another exercise in excellence. So how long do we have to wait on that one, BBC?

Serena’s Thoughts: Like I said above, I was more concerned about the truncated length of this season because of the added portion of the killer’s perspective that we had in the book. And, as Kate said, while that had to be adjusted here, I was still, overall, pleased with how they managed to keep elements of that storyline intact.

This story was by far the most dark of all the mysteries so far. But I feel like the show did a good job of not shying away from the gruesome aspects of the crimes involved while avoiding reveling or glorifying in its own darkness. We still got a good look into the dark psyches of all the potential killers and their own terrible histories with violence towards women. And, as Kate said, Grainger really came into her own with her nuanced and layered portrayal of Robin’s reaction to these crimes.

My one criticism for this season (and kind of the entire run of series so far) is that without background knowledge of the books, there are a few scenes here and there that are ultimately left dangling. In this season, for example, we have a brief flashback to Charlotte mentioning a pregnancy to Cormoron. Fans of the book will recognize this moment as part of what lead to Cormoron’s eventual, final split with Charlotte. But if you’re only watching the show, this scene goes unexplained and disconnected to any of the events leading up to it or following it. Instead, it kind of just dangles there, weirdly out of sync with the rest of the plot.

Hopefully, whenever they get around to “Lethal White,” showrunners will again extend the run time so that some of these loose threads are given the proper attention. Not to mention, that book is almost twice as long as the others, so you sure as heck need more than two episodes to properly cover it! Never fear, Kate and I will be all over it the moment it drops and a review will be sure to follow!

Joint Review: “Lethal White”

40774524This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we review the recently released “Lethal White.”

Book: “Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, September 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.

Book Description: When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott—once his assistant, now a partner in the agency—set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been—Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much trickier than that.

Serena’s Thoughts

I pre-ordered this book the second I saw that that was even an option. As much as I love the library, I’ve done my time on miles-long holds lists for popular titles, so for this one I said, NOT TODAY! And then the second it arrived on my doorstep, I informed my husband that I was going to take a bath (while reading) and then make dinner (while reading) and then sit on the couch the rest of the night (reading). No surprise, but he found other things to do that evening. And then I sped through this book in only a matter of days (which says something, since, like the Harry Potter series, book four came with a massive jump in word count.)

This book starts out with a time jump. After briefly touching on the events of the cliffhanger left in book three, we find ourselves one year later following Robin and Stirke as they go about their business. Largely disconnected from each other. Business is booming, however, so each are busy with cases. But all of these come to a stop when Strike is visited by a strange young man reporting a crime that took place long ago. From their, the mystery quickly spirals out to include a group of wealthy elitists and the political fields on which they now operate.

Here the mystery gives us a bit of a break from the darker tones seen in both the second and, even more so, the third book. But with this change comes the most complicated mystery and expansive list of players we’ve seen yet. Galbraith takes full advantage of the extended wordcount to introduce an intricate web of characters who all criss-cross with each other throughout lives full of dark corners and hidden secrets that none want to reveal to our two detectives. What’s more, the initial mystery that is given, that of a child’s potential murder years ago, is quickly padded out with several other mysteries, including even a new death that takes place in the present. I had no chance whatsoever to put all of these pieces together, so about halfway through the story I just gave up trying and let myself enjoy the ride.

Robin and Strike’s relationship also takes on a new role in this story. While leading up to this one, we’ve seen them build up their trust, friendship, and maybe even more, the events of the third book struck a blow and both are still reeling, not quite sure of the other or their partnership. Again, the extended wordcount allows Galbraith to devote a good chunk of time to each character’s perspectives on how they came to be where they are and how each is dealing with the challenges of their roles. Robin, especially, is still recovering from the events of the third book and her attack. I really appreciated the fact that her recovery and the on-going side-effects from something like this were not just swept under the rug, but instead presented as lasting and needing of attention to recover from.

Also, Matthew is the worst. It must be said once again and once again with feeling! MATTHEW IS THE WORST! And actually, this would probably be the one factor that holds me back from giving this book a full 10 star rating. At this point in the series, four books in, readers have a very clear idea of who Matthew is and what he is (and is not) capable of. With that being the case, his continuing presence in the story starts to verge away from “a character who is fun to hate” and more towards “a character whose ongoing involvement is starting to damage the characters around him.” Notably, Robin.

I love Robin; this has been well-documented. And I even have more reason than some to understand her ongoing difficulties with dislodging herself from a toxic person in her life. But at a certain point, this begins to feel like a bit too much and makes me question Robin’s own strength of character. I’m pleased to report that these concerns are calmed by the end, but I did find myself more frustrated with this aspect of the story than I have been in the past.

Kate’s Thoughts

Actual footage of me outside the library door on release day. (source)

It felt like forever, but the most recent Cormoran Strike book, “Lethal White”, finally arrived this year after a three year hiatus, and let me tell you, was I ever so ready for it. Hell, I went to my old library, you know, the one that has the ‘new items that don’t circulate’ wall, stalked outside the door before it opened, and grabbed it for myself the day it came out (much to my old boss’s chagrin: she is ALSO very invested in this series and hoped that she could get dibs at the required fifteen minute wait; I dashed that hope BUT WELL). Given that “Career of Evil” kind of ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, I was more than ready to pick up where we left off. Oh, and I was looking forward to the mystery as well, because while it may seem like I read this series solely for the relationship between Cormoran and Robin, that simply isn’t true. At least not totally.

Galbraith does a great job of jumping right into it, so great that it didn’t feel like it was a clunky return at all in spite of the gap. We drop right in at the end of the last book and see how that all susses out, and then there’s a time jump so we can put our focus on the mystery at hand. While the time jump was frustrating in the sense of trying to get some pay off for the emotional fallout of said cliffhanger, it makes sense so that the attention is on Cormoran and Robin’s next case. And once again, Galbraith has created a compelling mystery to try and untangle, this one focusing on political leaders in Parliament, blackmail, and the possibility of a murdered child. While I think that some authors may have had a hard time tying it all together, Galbraith makes it seem easy. The book is the longest yet, coming in at 650some pages, but the mystery itself doesn’t feel bloated or drawn out. Seeing Cormoran and Robin tackle a very complicated case with the idle and dysfunctional rich, aggrieved and angry leftists, and a mentally ill man kept me on the edge of my seat, and kept me guessing most of the time, and rarely did I call what twists and turns would be coming up next.

Okay, mild spoilers here now: It’s also fun following Cormoran and Robin, as their detective dynamic is always a treat. And while it is strained a bit at first given her marriage to Matthew (a marriage she STILL went through with in spite of his general awfulness AND a moment between Robin and Strike that was VERY heavy), they fall into step and remind me what I love about their partnership. Cormoran and Robin still trust each others judgment and work well with each other, even though things are a little awkward given their unresolved feelings and now complicated relationship.

And let’s talk about the various relationship complications in this book. While I am still very much for the slow burn agony and ecstasy of the Cormoran and Robin “will they or won’t they” dynamic, I’m starting to lose some patience with various obstacles thrown in their way. For the life of me, I was NOT sold on Robin going through with her marriage to Matthew after the revelations in previous books (god AWFUL revelations that show how toxic and manipulative he is). I don’t feel that Galbraith gave us enough of a reason for Robin to try and give the marriage a go, and felt that it was just kind of thrown in there to prolong the will they, won’t they tension between Cormoran and Robin. On top of that, if you guys remember Cormoran’s manipulative and spoiled ex Charlotte from other books, she makes her first drawn out in person appearance in “Lethal White.” This, too, concerns me, as I worry that Galbraith is starting to lay the dominoes that could potentially cause more unnecessary drama down the line. I understand not wanting to show your hand too soon for getting two characters together (and really, it WAS satisfying when Ron and Hermione did FINALLY get together in book seven), but Cormoran and Robin may be treading towards unbelievable character flaws if this keeps going in the way it seems to be. All that said, I STILL LOVE THEM AS A FRIENDSHIP AND I STILL ROOT FOR THEM AS A ROMANTIC COUPLE.

Overall, “Lethal White” is a triumphant return to a series that I greatly enjoy. I really hope that we don’t have to wait another three years for the next one. Put “Fantastic Beasts” on the back burner until you have this one all done, Galbraith!!

Serena’s Rating 9: The best in the series so far, benefiting from a more complicated mystery and extended time devoted to the development of our main characters.

Kate’s Rating 9: My favorite entry yet, “Lethal White” was a most triumphant return to an excellent series. Galbraith is in top form in this one, and hopefully we’ll see more of Cormoran and Robin soon.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Lethal White” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads list. But it should be on “Best Crime & Mystery Books.”

Find “Lethal White” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “Career of Evil”

25735012This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we review “Career of Evil.”

Book: “Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, October 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.

Book Description: When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Serena’s Thoughts

After the first two books, I felt like I had a solid handle on the series and some pretty high expectations for its continuing trend of greatness. So, a perfect time for Galbraith to throw readers a curve ball! (Thank god, not on the “greatness” side of things, since I still loved this book).

Turns out that fame and success have a downside and it comes in the form of a leg, packaged and delivered to Robin at Strike’s private detective firm. And so starts their next mystery, tracking down three suspects whom Strike suspects capable of A.) holding a grudge against him and B.) having some affinity for body horror. But while they are working one side of the case, the killer is working on another and slowly circles closer to the very people searching for him.

Well, if I thought the last book was a turn for the darker, I was ill prepared for this one! I mean, a disembodied leg is delivered by mail right there in the beginning, so readers have a good clue going in that this will be a more gruesome story than the first book and likely the second as well. However, that’s just the start of it. This book delves into a truly depraved side of humanity, focusing mostly on violence against women committed by the men in their lives. These scenes are graphic, uncomfortable, and I’ll be honest, hard enough that I had to put the book down at times. However, as hard as some pieces were to read, Galbraith handles these topics with clarity and conciseness, never falling into the trap of “torture porn,” but instead highlighting the challenges of these types of domestic assaults, not only in their brutal form but in the restrictions and limitations of systems to deal with these types of crisis.

While we have heard a lot of about Strike’s background, his family life and his time in the military, this book really focuses in on Robin and reveals many new aspects of the character. Some scenes are, again, very challenging to read, but altogether, Robin’s story is one of a survivor, giving countless women a great character to serve as an inspiration for picking up one’s life from ashes and making it one’s own once again. There are a few particular lines of dialogue and reasoning that Robin lays out with regards to this type of violence that I believe will speak to many and give voice to underlying emotions that are familiar to those who have suffered similar experiences.

The story also changes its format in this book, with chapters alternating between Robin and Strike’s investigation, and the actions of the killer. What makes this all the more incredible is the deft way in which Galbraith weaves in little details for all three suspects that would still apply even having the voice of the killer in one of our ears already. It’s truly masterful.

The last note I will say on this book is HOLY COW, cliffhanger warning! Now, three years later and with “Lethal White” comfortably in-hand, this warning is much lighter. But at the time, this was a killer.

Kate’s Thoughts

You all know how much I love darkness in my fiction, so when “Career of Evil” involved not only murder, but also a severed leg in the post addressed for Robin, I was pretty damn excited. Ghoulish? Maybe. But it’s not as if Galbraith’s previous series hadn’t escalated in darkness as the story arc progressed. Besides, “Career of Evil” ups the stakes for both Robin AND Cormoran within the narrative. Not only does Robin receive a leg in the mail from a madman, but Cormoran thinks that he is the real target, and has three people in mind. One of whom is from a very personal and sad part of Strike’s past.

As Serena said above, we not only get Cormoran’s POV in this, we get the an expanded POV of Robin, AND the POV of the killer. While the format is a bit different from the previous books, Galbraith balances all of it with ease. Being able to get into the mind of the killer was especially interesting, and it gave a bit of method to the madness, depraved as it may have been. It absolutely ups the creep factor of this book, and explores a more visceral horror kind of mystery as opposed to the less graphic (by comparison in “The Silkworm”‘s case) whodunnits of the previous books. And what a grand mystery it is. Galbraith kept me going and kept me on my toes with the twists and turns. Everything is laid out meticulously and with great care, and the red herrings are effectively distracting just as the actual clues are easy to miss while being in plain sight. I was completely thrown for a loop with this one, and when the solution did eventually arrive I remember being gobsmacked in the best way possible.

And this is almost assuredly a turning point book for Robin in a few ways. We not only get some more background for her, but we also learn about some dark things in her past. And it’s quite dark indeed, so dark that I had a hard time reading it. Her experiences make some of the investigating within the case she and Strike are pursuing somewhat personal for her, which in turn leads to some strife and conflict down the line in how she approaches her investigation. But it never comes off as a character flaw or anything like that; on the contrary, Galbraith makes it very clear that Robin’s response is completely understandable, and never makes her seem foolish. I appreciated seeing Robin’s story, and other stories of victimization that so many people, specifically women, face. Like Serena said above, I appreciated how Robin’s background gave voice to these darker things, and that her story is relatable to those who are familiar with it.

I also liked some of the things that we learned about Cormoran in this book, mainly in regards to his mother and her death. Cormoran is convinced that she was murdered by a former husband of hers, and his attention in this case turns back on this man, Jeff Whittaker. I found this to be a way to show the long standing effects of domestic abuse, not just against the parent, but also against the child. Cormoran’s own experiences contrast to Robin’s, and it was fascinating seeing the two laid out next to each other.

“Career of Evil” is assuredly dark and twisted in some ways, but the characters at the heart of it really keep it from going into full on despair. And I second the despondence over the cliffhanger ending!!! Luckily for you new readers the newest book, “Lethal White”, is out now! So your wait will not be as long and agonizing as mine was.

Serena’s Rating 8: A very dark entry, but one that speaks to the challenges of sexual and domestic assault and the failures of our society to handle these crimes and support victims.

Kate’s Rating 8: While the content is darker the messages are important, and “Career of Evil” never quite falls into full on bleakness thanks to the continued interactions between Cormoran and Robin. Learning more about them makes this all the more rewarding.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Career of Evil” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Female Crime/Mystery/Thriller Writers” and “Thrilling Creepy Suspense.”

Find “Career of Evil” at your library using WorldCat!

Joint Review: “The Silkworm”

18214414This week we’re bringing to you a special, all-week review series of Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling’s) “Cormoran Strike” books. As we both like mysteries, especially when they are combined with thriller-like components, we’ve each been avidly reading the series since the first book released in 2013. And like other fans, we’ve just been dying during the horrendous 3-year wait that has come between the last book and the most recent entry, “Lethal White,” which released this last September. So this week, Monday through Thursday will be devoted to our joint reviews of all four books now released in the series. And to round out the week, on Friday we’ll be joint reviewing the BBC series “Strike” that has covered the first three books in the series so far. Today we move to “The Silkworm.”

Book: “The Silkworm” by Robert Galbraith

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, June 2014

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library.

Book Description: 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…

Serena’s Thoughts

At the start of this book, my hopes were on an upward trajectory. The first book had taken me completely by surprise with how much I loved it, especially my immediate attachment to both Strike and Robin. But how would these relationships progress and would the quality of the mystery be sustained? Given that I routinely reference the fact that, regardless of anything else, it is truly a heroic feat that Rowling managed to maintain the quality of her Harry Potter series amidst a world gone Potter-mad, this was probably a silly worry.

After the success of the Lula Landry case, Strike’s private investigation firm has taken a turn for the positive. It is made even better by the burgeoning abilities of his receptionist Robin who has proven herself more than capable of taking on a few of the investigative aspects of a case herself. However, neither are prepared for the strangeness of the mystery that arrives on their door: a reclusive author, a poisonous book, a ritualized killing, and a whole mess of suspects.

Like the first book did with its behind-the-scenes look into celebrity life and the fashion industry, this mystery delves into the seedy underbelly of the publishing world: its challenges, rivalries, and the various roles that so many play in the creation of a work of art. Within this world, we meet a whole slew of potential suspects, all with their own creepy little ties to the victim and his work. But unlike Lula, even our victim has his own sleazy connections. While the first book’s crime was fairly straightforward, this book delves into the truly disturbing aspects of a ritualized death and highlights the dark and uncomfortable versions of art (this time in the written word) that can be found in the world.

With this darker tone, it is a relief to still have Robin and Strike at the heart of the story. Their histories and ongoing struggles are slowly continuing to be padded out, as is their strengthening friendship. We even get a tense little meeting between Strike and Robin’s horrid fiance, Matthew.

The mystery itself was excellent (though I did have a better guess as to who the perpetrator could be), but its the strength of the characters that really continued to sell this series to me. That and the strong writing: Galbraith has a particular talent with dialogue that is best exemplified in exchanges between Robin/Strike and when Strike is testing the waters with new suspects.

Kate’s Thoughts

After I enjoyed “The Cuckoo’s Calling” so much, I knew that “The Silkworm” was going to either dash my hopes for a good series, or solidify them. So when I picked it up and started reading, I was relieved to see that not only was Galbraith still going strong, but she had even taken it a few steps further in regards to complexity and darkness.

I loved the mystery at hand even more this time around for a few reasons. The first is the nature of it. What starts as a missing person’s case (when Owen Quine’s long suffering but still loyal wife approaches Strike) turns into something far darker, involving a ritualistic murder and the darker aspects of the publishing industry. Not only did I highly enjoy the fact that Galbraith had no qualms calling out a lot of the cutthroat and abusive aspects of the industry as a whole, I liked that, given how entrenched Galbraith has been in the business for a couple decades now, it felt like this portrayal had some teeth behind it. Many of the suspects are in the industry in various capacities, are skeevy in their own rights because of how they treat others and each other. Quine himself sounded like a real prick, and I liked that, unlike Lula Landry, Strike and Robin were investigating the death of someone who didn’t deserve it, per se, but was unlikable enough that it made the suspect pool that much larger since seemingly EVERYONE had a beef with him. Because of this, I was left questioning things a bit more. Plus, the murder itself was, while disturbing, incredibly creative and memorable. But it also didn’t feel like it was purely there for shock value; it manages to tie into the story at hand, and say a bit more about how others viewed Quine and the poison pen work they attributed to him. I also feel like Galbraith felt more at ease in terms of writing a full fledged mystery in “The Silkworm”. While I of course adore “The Cuckoo’s Calling”, “The Silkworm” felt like it came together more naturally with its clues and how they fit together.

And like Serena said, at the heart of this book is the friendship and working relationship between Cormoran and Robin. I loved that Robin has been given more to do since Strike has a more comfortable and trusting rapport with her, as while the ‘his girl Friday’ trope is a fun one, she really does go above and beyond it. Her passion for the work has really allowed her to grow as a person and a character, and now that she and Strike are both friends and on a more equal footing it means that their relationship just becomes all the better and more entertaining. Of course this story isn’t without some obstacles to this friendship, namely in Matthew, Robin’s sleaze of a fiancé. Matthew never quite manages to grow as a character and remains pretty two dimensional, and while sometimes I find that frustrating it actually works in this story for a couple of reasons. The first is that his inability to grow really highlights how much Robin DOES grow, which of course leads to tension between not only them, but also between Robin and Strike (though theirs is the far more enjoyable romantic type). And the second is that it is fun to have a character to hate, at least until a point, which I’m sure Serena and I will touch upon in the later books…

Overall, “The Silkworm” proves that “The Cuckoo’s Calling” wasn’t a fluke for Galbraith, and it also made it so this series became an absolute must read for me. It shows that, like the “Harry Potter” books before it, Galbraith is comfortable to push into more complex territories as her stories go on.

Serena’s Rating 8: A strong sequel that turns its darker tone on the underbelly of the publishing world and the disturbing nature of art.

Kate’s Rating 8: With more complexity and a comfortable descent into darker thematics, “The Silkworm” serves as proof that Galbraith knows how to write a solid mystery with excellent characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silkworm” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best London Mysteries”, and “Books with Disabled Protagonists”.

Find “The Silkworm” at your library using WorldCat!