Well we know that we live in Minnesota, but honestly, it’s hard not to be discouraged when a giant snowstorm comes through your state and dumps a lot of slushy, cold, and somehow brown snow on your head in the middle of April. Because of this frustrating turn of events, here are some book titles that will hopefully remind the winter doldrums that Spring is supposed to be here.
Book: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Publishing Info: William Heinemann, 1911
Because what says Spring more than a garden filled with flowers? That isn’t to say that the garden in this novel started out that way, at least when first introduced. But when headstrong orphan Mary Lennox arrives on her uncle’s estate and finds him to be isolated and her wheelchair bound cousin tucked away, she soon discovers a long forgotten garden that becomes a symbol of imagination and hope. This classic has endured in the century since it was first published, and has become a well loved tale of family, love, and not giving up on the kindness of those around you. The regrowth and rebirth of the garden is the perfect image to say goodbye to winter.
Book: “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart
Publishing Info: Delacourte Press, 2014
Though this technically takes place in summer, any warm weather is looking good at this point. If you like the sound of a summer beach home right now, and are looking for a YA thriller with a lot of twists and turns, “We Were Liars” could be a good escape from the lingering cold. Cadence Eastman is a wealthy and privileged teenage girl whose family has gone to their summer estate on an island every year. But during her fifteenth summer something happened to Cadence that she can’t remember. As she tries to adjust to being back on the island and fall back into routines with her friend group called The Liars, including cousins Mirren and Johnny, and family friend Gat. But it seems like everyone may be hiding something from her. And Cadence wants to find out the truth of what happened, and hopes that she and her fellow “Liars” can help her remember.
Book: “Hades: Lord of the Dead” (Olympians #4) by George O’Connor
Publishing Info: First Second, 2012
It may be called “Hades: Lord of the Dead”, but this children’s graphic novel is really about Persephone and her journey to the Underworld to be Hades wife. This is an adaptation of the tale of Persephone, who was taken to the Underworld to become Hades wife, and her absence left her (domineering) mother Demeter so distraught she brought eternal winter. The deal made between Persephone and her mother eventually led to the explanation for the change of the seasons, as when Persephone returns to her mother’s side, Spring arrive. While some people don’t like the Persephone and Hades romance, at it’s heart it’s a story about change, transition, and growing up, and O’Connor does a good job of giving Persephone, the goddess of Spring and also the Queen of the Underworld, some agency in her story.
Book: “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson
Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin, 1962
A bit of a downer to put on this list, but still far too relevant to ignore, “Silent Spring” is the legendary environmentalist book that opened people’s eyes about the consequences of pollution. Rachel Carson wrote this book as a warning to America about what chemicals in our environment can do, and because of it many reforms were passed to help ease the damage that corporate interests were doing to the world around us. It also helped lead the charge in developing the EPA. One of the things that people associate with spring is the sound of the bird songs that happen after our avian friends have returned from a long winter away, and the title alone gives a chilling idea as to what it would mean if the birds, thanks to DDT and other pollutants, were no longer around to listen to. Given that there are more concerns about environmental issues being raised and the consequences of pollution on our world, “Silent Spring” is still an important read.
What books get you in the mood for Spring? Let us know in the comments!
On March 30th, 1939, “Detective Comics” introduced the world to Batman, the Caped Crusader known for fighting petting criminals and mental patients so that Gotham City would be a safer place! We kid, we kid (kinda). We’re both Batman fans here (though Serena is decidedly #TeamSupes when it comes down to it). Since it’s the brooding billionaire’s birthday this year, here are some essential takes on Batman through the decades. Happy 80th, Batman!
Book/Arc: “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller
The 1980s was a serious shift for comics, with titles taking on darker and more existential story lines. One of those seminal comics series was Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, which brings a middle aged Bruce Wayne to it’s pages. Gotham is being overrun by a gang called The Mutants, and Bruce Wayne decides that it’s time to bring Batman back to try and get some justice. But age and time has taken it’s toll, and Bruce isn’t certain he can do this alone. Especially when old foes start to come out of the woodwork, and have decided to take this moment to wreak as much havoc as possible. But it’s when Superman is enlisted to fight back against Batman as ordered by the Government that things take a real turn for the dramatic. Miller’s story is a favorite with many fans, and it brings darkness that hadn’t really been seen with Batman up until this point. While it isn’t one of Kate’s favorites, it’s hard to deny the impact that this story had for Batman in the years to come.
Book/Arc: “The Killing Joke” by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (Ill.)
A controversial title to say the very least, Alan Moore wrote this essential, dark as night one shot story that changed the course of a few of the Batman characters in significant ways. The Joker is up to his old tricks, and this time he decides to hit Batman where it really hurts: by hurting his friends. Yep, this is the story where Barbara Gordon is shot in the spine and then, potentially, sexually assaulted. It is absolutely a rough read (and so on brand for Moore, who is one of Kate’s problematic faves in the comics biz), but it did so much for Batman stories from then on out that it has to be included. It gave Joker his most accepted back story that influenced Tim Burton’s “Batman”. It gave us Oracle, the superhero Barbara turned into after she was paralyzed, who became arguably the most powerful of the Bat Family because of her hacking and information skills. “The Killing Joke” has its detractors, and rightfully so. But its influence is indisputable.
Book/Arc: “The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Ill.)
While many people think of the deranged super villains that Batman fights, sometimes we forget that he also has helped take down organized crime syndicates in Gotham. The Falcone and Maroni Families takes a prominent role in “The Long Halloween”, a collection where Batman has to try to stop a mob war all while trying to figure out who is killing people on each holiday of the year. Not only do the crime families and their intricacies get a big slice of the plot pie, this is also the collection that give Harvey Dent his most complex and accepted back story as he goes from idealistic district attorney to crazed criminal. It should also be noted that this is a story arc that gives Bruce and his lady love Selina “Catwoman” Kyle a fairly functional relationship! Well, as functional as the two star crossed lovers can be, anyway. And keep an eye out for a whole slew of enemies like Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and, of course, The Joker.
Book/Arc: “Knightfall” by Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy, Alan Grant, Dennis O’Neil, and Doug Moench
Bane gets no respect when it comes to his movie counterparts. In “Batman and Robin” he was a weird street punk turned feral roided out monster, and in “The Dark Knight Rises” he is relegated to a crony role to Talia Al Ghul of all people! Is that any way to treat The Man Who Broke The Bat? “Knightfall” is the story line that introduced Bane as the first adversary who could not only intimidate Batman, but to put him out of commission when he broke his back on his knee (which “The Dark Knight Rises”, admittedly, adapted properly). Bane is a super genius as well as being suped up on Venom, a man who was born in a prison and had to serve the time his parents had racked up. He is a formidable foe to be sure, and to take down Batman and put him on the sidelines for an extended period of time? THAT is impressive.
Book/Arc: “A Death in the Family” by Jim Starlin and Marv Wolfman (Ill.)
We tend to think of Batman as someone who always comes out on top. But there was one time that when he failed, it was the worst failure he could have made. And that was when he couldn’t prevent the death of Jason Todd, aka Robin. Jason Todd was always a controversial figure in the comics; he was the second Robin, and a very different character from Dick Grayson, whose shoes were already VERY big to fill. The fans didn’t care for him, and when the creators gave the fans the chance to vote on whether he lived or died, he was given a resounding death sentence. Unfair? Perhaps. But it was one of the most powerful stories because Batman was bested when the stakes were at their highest. This storyline has been alluded to, if not directly addressed, in newer iterations of Batman mythos, and while they tried to replicate it with “Death of the Family” (and the death of Bruce’s son Damian), the initial power and gut punch of “A Death in the Family” will probably never be replicated.
Book/Arc: “The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (Ill.)
The New 52 was the expansive reboot series DC did in the 2010s, and The Court of Owls is arguably the best story line to come from this era of Batman comics. It’s a little more secretive and clandestine than other Batman villains. Usually the villain is apparent and in our face. But with the Court of Owls, very little is known about the Illuminati-esque secret society that may be pulling the strings in Gotham City. Even Batman goes in with very little information, and can’t rely on his vast (and sometimes SUPER convenient) knowledge when facing off with these foes. It’s nice to see Bats at a disadvantage every once in awhile, and The Court of Owls puts him at a vast one.
What Batman stories are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The day everyone wears green and likes to claim some loose, loose connection to Ireland to justify a night out on the town. We here at The Library Ladies like to use any/all holidays for a completely different purpose: as a loose, loose excuse to create random, themed booklists. So here are a few books that have some (remember “loose”) connection to Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day!
Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, February 2002
Juliet Marillier is one of my (Serena’s) favorite authors. Her writing flows off the page in a beautiful, lyrical style, often combined with a fairytale-like feel. She often has a whole host of books that are set in a historical, fantasy-based version of Ireland. I could make an entire list on this theme all written by her. But my favorite of her works is still her first story, “Daughter of the Forest” that is a re-telling of the “Seven Swans” fairytale. I consider it the definitive version of this fairytale, even, that’s how good it is. Throughout the story, we see how important Sorcha’s homeland is to her identity and the beautiful descriptions of its deep forests and quiet lakes is simply one more reason to check out this fantastic tale.
Book: “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer
Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, April 2003
Just in time for the growing hype about the movie version of this beloved middle grade book, “Artemis Fowl” is also a perfect fit for this list given the location of Fowl Manor on the outskirts of Dublin. Not to mention the host of fairies who live below ground and work for the LEPrecon Unit. Artemis Fowl himself is a 12-year old genius who gets on the wrong side of said fairies when he takes one of them hostage in a ploy to regain his family’s lost wealth. He’s the kind of precocious protagonist who manages to be both frustrating and root-for-worthy at the same time. If you somehow missed this one, best check it out now before the movie hits screens! There are also a bunch more in the series, so you could potentially have quite a reading list on your hands.
Book: “Lion of Ireland” by Morgan Llywelyn
Publishing Info: Forge, March 2002
This is a historical fiction novel that attempts to novelize the story of Brian Boru, a 12th son who grew up to be one of the greatest king’s of Ireland. In many ways, his is also thought to be a story that lay behind the legend of King Arthur. Set in the 19th century and drawing from the scant information that is known about the man himself, Llywelyn attempts to novelize the life Brian, documenting his rise to power and his ability to gain the loyalty and love of a people. The story is long, but full of action and romance. Readers in the mood for a historical story that is at least partially based on a real-life person, look no further than “Lion of Ireland.”
Book: “The Hounds of The Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea
Publishing Info: Oxford University Press, 1985
When you take two siblings, a Goddess of Death, and some hell hounds with a tenacious streak, you get the fantasy book “The Hounds of The Morrigan”. This YA adventure is set in Galway, and takes Irish and Celtic mythology and brings it to the 1980s. When ten year old Pidge finds an old manuscript, he unwittingly releases the vicious serpent Olc-Glas. Now that Olc-Glas is free, he gains the attention of The Morrigan, the Irish goddess of death and destruction, and she wants to join forces with the snake to cause mass chaos. Pidge and his sister Brigit are the only ones who can find a magic stone that can destroy Olc-Glas and hopefully save the world, but The Morrigan has sent her Hell Hounds to hunt the siblings down. Taking classic mythology and giving it a 20th Century twist, “The Hounds of The Morrigan” is a fun adventure with an Irish twist!
Book Series: “The Dublin Murder Squad Books” by Tana French (“In The Woods”, “The Likeness”, “Faithful Place”, “Broken Harbor”, “The Secret Place”, “The Trespasser”)
Publishing Info: Penguin Books, 2007-2016
Tana French is a name you probably know if you are a big mystery/crime procedural fan, and her most popular books are those in “The Dublin Murder Squad” Series. The first in the series, “In The Woods”, concerns a detective who suffered a childhood trauma that he hasn’t quite let go. When a new case involving a murdered girl happens in the same woods of his trauma, he has to try to keep his past at bay. The next book in the series follows another member of the Murder Squad, and the book after that follows another one, etcetera etcetera. The books have a devoted following, and the peripheral connections are fun to see within high tension and sometimes very upsetting mysteries.
Book: “Making Sense of The Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland” by David McKittrick and David McVea
Publishing Info: Penguin, October 2001
During the latter part of the 20th Century, Northern Ireland was caught in a struggle between those who wanted Northern Ireland to stay with the U.K. and those who wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic of Ireland, and while it wasn’t technically religious in nature it tended to split along Protestant and Catholic lines. The conflicts had many instances of violence, with bombings, kidnappings, riots, and targeted violence coming from both sides. It’s a complex and dark time in Irish history, and “Making Sense of The Troubles” is considered to be a comprehensive and even handed account of the decades long conflict. It’s a dark book to finish the list with, but given how The Troubles are still in living memory, it’s an important read nonetheless.
Do you have any favorite stories set in Ireland? Share yours with us in the comments below!
Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and along with candy and flowers comes some lovey dovey feelings. While we here at the Library Ladies aren’t exactly hopeless romantics, we do love a good book with a focus on love. In honor of the holiday, we have some recommendations of love oriented books to check out.
Book: “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman
Publishing Info: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007
The film adaptation of this book made a huge splash when it came out in 2017, and I took it upon myself to read the book afterwards because the story had such an impact on me. Set in the Italian countryside in the early 1980s, “Call Me By Your Name” concerns the love, passion, and heartbreak between Elio, the son of a professor, and Oliver, a graduate student on an archaeological project. The chemistry between Elio and Oliver is crackling, and it tackles the ups and downs of first love for a younger person, and the fears of coming out for an older one. Given the time period, the age difference, and the personalities of the two main characters you can see where things are going, but even as they end up at their logical conclusion the reader is still taken in by the sweeping romance and tenderness between Elio and Oliver. Read it but be sure you have a box of tissues to cry into when all is said and done.
Book: “Married with Zombies” by Jesse Petersen
Publishing Info: Orbit, 2010
Unconventional romance can be fun as well, and what could be more unconventional than a married couple finding themselves again during the zombie invasion? Sarah and David are a married couple who are having relationship problems. Sarah thinks that they may be on the brink of divorce, and David doesn’t seem to care. But then the zombie apocalypse happens, and the two of them realize that they won’t be able to survive without helping each other. And as they try to make their way through the wasteland in hopes of finding safety, they start to remember why they fell in love with each other in the first place. “Married with Zombies” is the first in a campy and fun series that explores love and romance in an honest way when it comes to a marriage on the rocks, and brings in charming characters and fun zombie action.
Book: “The Shape of Water” by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Krauss
Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, 2018
Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” was the Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars, and while a number of people like to make fun of it (‘the Fish Fucking Movie won?!’), at the heart of it is a truly sweet and sweeping romance between two outsiders who are looking for companionship. Elisa is a mute woman working as a night cleaner at a scientific laboratory, and while she has friends she feels isolated because of her disability. But when she stumbles upon a secret project, which involves the captivity of a hidden creature taken from the Amazon River, she forms an immediate connection. The book is an adaptation of the film, but in written form it gives more in depth perspectives of a number of the characters, and approaches the romance from other angles. Fans of the movie will like the additional content, and those who haven’t seen it will probably want to after reading it.
Book: “Your One and Only” by Adrianne Finlay
Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018
For a science fiction angle, we recommend this YA title featuring a future populated entirely by well-regulated clone generations. Their orderly lifestyle and strict cloning process is thrown into chaos, however, by the introduction of Jack, the first non-clone boy to exist in this world for decades. Being the new kid at school takes on a whole new light from this angle, but luckily he forms a connection with Althea-310 who sees his struggles and becomes curious about this new form of life and what he may have to teach them. Their romance is sweet, while also leaving plenty of room for a deep-dive exploration into a dystopian society and what it means to be human.
Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publishing Info: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017
Technically this is a historical fantasy, but I feel it fits much more neatly under the “historical romance” category as the fantasy elements only exist on the far outreaches of the story itself. And that story is first and foremost a romance. Told from three perspectives, we see the pains of old romance slowly give way to the joys of new love. Antonina, Hector, and Valerie each have distinct voices and challenges, and what made the book particularly enjoyable was not only being able to root so strongly for our main duo, but having a villain, who while sympathetic to a point, was also great fun to hate. Fans of historical romance are sure to appreciate this one!
Book: “Radiance” by Grace Draven
Publishing Info: Grace Draven, 2015
This one solidly falls under the romance category, being similar to “The Shape of Water” in its presentation of a non-typical romantic duo. Brought together through a politically arranged marriage, Brishen and Ildiko have much to learn about not only the stranger they married, but the very different worlds and cultures they each have come from. But what makes this book stand out from others is the truly sweet and respectful way that this romance unfolds. It just goes to show that angst, drama, miscommunication, and general “bad boy” behavior is not necessary to make a romance spark. Both of our main characters are simply wonderful people and it makes their love story all the more enjoyable for it!
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.
Book: “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.
Book: “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.
Book: “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!
Book: “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!
Book: “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!
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!!
Book: “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.
Book: “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.
Book: “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.
Book: “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.
Book: “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!
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.
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.
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.
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!