Marie’s Reading: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith

cuckoo's callingI’m late to the party here, but I’m glad I finally gave the Cormoran Strike books a try!  I just finished the first in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

This novel introduces us to Cormoran Strike, a wounded veteran turned private detective.  He’s just broken up with is girlfriend and is living in his office, which he can already barely afford.  He’s also got a temporary secretary named Robin, whose services he also cannot afford.

Strike takes the case of Lula Landry, a supermodel who fell to her death from her balcony months earlier.  Her brother is convinced it was murder, and wants Strike to prove it.  Soon the detective and Robin are drawn into the world of celebrity and wealth, where digging up the truth turns out to be exceedingly difficult.

I love Galbraith’s use of language.  The names all have an almost Dickensian ring to them, and the descriptions are clever and evocative.  The settings are very richly described, too–the world-building of London and of Strike’s dingy little office are both great.  Given the subjects of fame and celebrity, there’s a lot of social commentary going on here as well, and it works as another level to the investigation.

Strike is a fun character.  He’s very much the damaged PI type, with a difficult childhood, personal trauma, and relationship problems.  Yet he also comes across as a decent, intelligent, and generally kind man who is dogged in  his pursuit of the truth.  Robin, playing a Girl Friday kind of role, is also great–she’s torn between her disapproving fiance and her love of the excitement of solving a crime.  She proves herself very talented at sleuthing, too.  The partnership that builds between Strike and Robin is very nicely portrayed, and they make a great team.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is fun, compelling, and a great crime story filled with multiple layers and entertaining characters.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest!  If you like Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, you might like these, too.


Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling. Just in case anyone hadn’t heard that yet.



April Simply Books! Meeting

We held a brief meeting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon this month, and here are the books we shared with each other!

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson–this Pulitzer Prize-winner is a novel
about a pastor from a long line of pastors. He’s in his mid-70’s, and
the story is written as a letter to his seven year old son. The
pastor knows he won’t see his son grow up, so he’s using this letter
to impart fatherly wisdom and lessons. There’s lots of great food for
thought–scripture is used and discussed, but never in a preachy way.
There are several passages worth going back and looking at again. The
only wrong note was the ending–it seemed like it belonged in another

“Our Kind of Traitor” by John le Carre–le Carre’s novels of intrigue
are a lot like knitting argyle socks–lots of threads picking up in
different places! But the characters are incredibly
three-dimensional, you really get inside their heads–they’re people
who often doubt themselves and their motives. The story itself is
about international intrigue and money laundering. It’s hard to put

“Thunderstruck” by Erik Larson–unlike Larson’s “Devil in the White
City,” this book *is* easy to put down. It’s enjoyable, but tough to
get into a narrative flow when there are two stories going on: one
about Marconi and the details behind the invention of the telegraph,
and one about the Crippen murder.

“Miller’s Valley” by Anna Quindlen–this novel is set in the
1950’s/60’s in California, in the area where lots of rivers were being
dammed and lots of property developments going up. It’s centered on a
family fighting these changes, who want their slower way of life to
stay the same. Really good characters. Almost reminds one of the
Waltons–just people who want to live in the old and familiar way.

“Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the
Human Body” by Neil Shubin–this is a very accessible science book,
great if you’re interested in paleontology. It examines the history
of the human body and why and how it evolved the way that it did over
billions of years.

“What Is the What” by Dave Eggers–this novel tells the story of one
of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He comes to America to avoid becoming a
child soldier. It’s a tragic and comedic look at his immigrant
experience in the United States.

“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones–Oprah’s most recent book pick
is about a young black couple who have been married for a year. The
husband is convicted of a crime he did not commit, and goes to prison
for five years. The novel examines their marriage and its
breakup–very sad, but very good.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith–this mystery novel is
about a private detective named Cormoran Strike, who’s trying to solve
the possible murder of a model. He’s a great character, different
from the stereotype of PI’s–he’s a veteran and worked with military
police, and he’s got some issues, but he comes across as generally a
good guy. The descriptions, names, and word choices are all very
evocative. You’d never know this is JK Rowling writing under a pen
name, but once you do, you can see all of her strengths on display.

We also briefly mentioned a few other books, since we had so much time
left over: “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah; “Olive Kitteridge” by
Elizabeth Strout; “The House of Unexpected Sisters” by Alexander
McCall Smith; “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson.

Our last meeting of this season will be Saturday, May 26th at 2pm in the Jean Picker Room at the library.  After that we’ll be on our summer break June-August, and reconvene on September 22nd!


April Staff Picks



An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
I love Barbara Pym.  Her books are always so funny and charming, filled with great characters.  This particular book is about a group of people who all live in the same not-so-fashionable parish in London, who all wind up on a trip to Rome together.

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842
by Nathaniel Philbrick
This is the story of an amazing, incredible voyage of discovery that lasted for over three years, including science, exploration, hardships, lost men and ships, from the Antarctic to the cannibal islands of the South Pacific, to the treacherous mouth of Oregon’s Columbia River. The book, though, as well as the expedition itself, is marred by bickering and feuding amongst the crew and the leader of the expedition. The leader, crew, and scientists never got the recognition they deserved, because of the backbiting and counterclaims that accompanied the voyage. Philbrick tried to weave the stories of resentment into the book along with the astonishing accounts of discovery; perhaps it is a good reflection on the expedition in that the acrimony affects the achievement of a great story.

Points North by Howard Frank Mosher
Like many of Mosher’s earlier works, these  short stories are set in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont—remote, rustic, and beautiful.  Mosher tenderly examines the lives of individuals—some living in isolation, some in small communities—as they struggle to connect with each other and with the natural world.  If you love the fiction of Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry, as I do, you will love the work of Howard Frank Mosher.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Radium girls is about the girls (mostly teenagers) who worked in the radium dial painting factories unaware of the danger of this new magical material. The girls literally glowed when they left the factories in the evening due to the radium dust that settled over them. Unfortunately, years of exposure caused unexplained illness down the road and many of these girls died in their early 20s. In addition to their story, this is a tale about corporate greed and corruption as the factory first ignored the reports of these illnesses and then worked to cover up the cause. Ultimately the resulting lawsuit led to changes in worker’s rights and compensation. Radium Girls draws the reader into the victims suffering as they desperately seek relief from their symptoms and try to understand why they are ill.

Marie’s Reading: “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

snow childMabel and Jack are in their fifties, living on a homestead in Alaska in 1920.  Mabel is grieving a stillborn child, and she and her husband hope to make a new life for themselves.

One night, during an unaccustomed bout of fun, the couple build a child out of snow.  The next day, a mysterious little girl shows up on their homestead.  Mabel is convinced that the girl is the snow child come to life, to be a daughter for her.

The rest of The Snow Child follows Mabel and Jack throughout the years on their homestead, as their “snow child” Faina grows up.  They eventually learn the truth about her, but there still remains something otherworldly about the girl, even as she turns into a young woman.  Jack and Mabel also befriend the Bensons, another local homesteading family with three sons.  This is a very character-centered story, and very focused on the relationships between them.  Love is explored in all sorts of forms–romantic, parental, friendship, for the land and for home.  It’s very tender book.

Based on a Russian folktale (and this is made explicit in the novel), there’s a very strong element of the fairytale in the story.  The atmosphere is incredible, right from the get-go.  The Alaskan wilderness is vast and unforgiving, but not without its beauty.

The Snow Child  is a beautiful book, in its settings, characters, and exploration of grief, growth, and love.  If you liked The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro or Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, definitely give this one a look!



Marie’s Reading: “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt

sisters brothersEli and Charlie Sisters are known throughout the Oregon Territory as deadly killers.  They’re on a job for a man known as the Commodore.  The brothers are to hunt down and kill a gold prospector in California.  The story follows their mission, and the side adventures they have along the way.

The novel is narrated by Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of drinking and killing.  Eli does, however, really love his brother.  As the story goes on and he starts to grow a conscience about this particular mission, Eli begins to think that this life might not be for him anymore.  But how can he make a break and not lose his brother?

One of my favorite aspects of how deWitt tells this Western is in his characterization of the brothers, Eli in particular.  It’s when Eli’s character and story arc really clicks that the novel drew me in the most.  These two are hired guns, but there’s enough backstory to tell you  that Eli and Charlie came from pretty troubled circumstances.   There’s also a curious spareness, almost a flatness, to Eli’s narration–as the story went on, I began to read it as an unwillingness on his part to do too much self-examination.  You get the sense he doesn’t like what he’s become, doesn’t like his temper or his circumstances, but he doesn’t see a suitable way out.

Though it’s violent (sometimes intensely so), it’s also darkly funny, and the tone is never terribly intense.  There’s a wonderful sense of place, too–the West Coast in the early 1850’s comes through as an area full of danger, freedom, and promise.  The story is very fast-paced and compelling, and, as I said, Eli is a fascinating and complex narrator.

If you like Westerns with great characters, some moral quandaries, a nice setting, and plenty of shoot-outs, give this one a try!


Simply Books! March Meeting

Here are the books we shared at this month’s Simply Books! meeting:

“Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American
History” by Katy Tur–this memoir is by a journalist who followedT  ru mp on the campaign trail. No new information about the campaignitself, really, but an insight into how hard these journalists work and how much they might have to give up to take such a job (Tur had tomove from her home in London and lost her relationship). Well-written, and you admire the knowledge Tur has.

“Care and Management of Lies” by Jacqueline Winspear–this novel is by the same author who writes the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, but this book is not a mystery. It’s about a husband and wife during World War I writing letters back and forth, each telling comforting lies to reassure the other about how things are going. The wife is left to run the farm, while the husband is enlisted as an officer. Nice historical details, and beautifully written. A lovely read.

“Face Down Upon an Herbal” by Kathy Lynn Emerson–this mystery is the
second in the Lady Appleton series. These books are set in Elizabethan England and star herbalist Susanna, who keeps getting sent to manor houses to solve crimes. Despite the title, you don’t really learn too much about herbs! They’re enjoyable, easy reads, with nice historical details like spying and the role of Mary, Queen of Scots.  In this book, Susanna is sent to a crime scene because the victim was found face-down on a book that she’d written.

“Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins–Robbins is a quirky, funny writer, and this novel is all about the perfume business. It’s got a very involved plot, but it’s fun. You also learn a lot about perfume!

“Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?” by Mary T.
Newport–this book is about Newport’s personal journey in caring for her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her research into the use of ketones in brain health. That research led to more work in researching how coconut oil, a saturated fat, might effect the brain in a positive way. It’s a fascinating direction to look into, and it’s always good to know what sorts of things might help keep your brain healthy.

“Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World” by Nell
Stevens–this is a piece of creative nonfiction, all about the author’s time in the Falkland Islands as she tried to finish the novel she was working on. Stevens received a travel grant to finish her writing, and rented a house by herself in the Falklands. Part of the
story is about her time there, and what a fascinating part of the world it is. She also includes excerpts from her novel-in-progress.  It’s a delightful, creative picture of this time in her life, and it’s great how she can keep so many layers going at once in the narrative.  The descriptions are wonderful, too.

“Mozart’s Starling” by Lyanda Lynn Haupt–this nonfiction work by naturalist Haupt was a nice surprise! It’s all about starlings, inspired by the story of the starling owned by Mozart. Haupt also adopts a starling as she’s doing her writing and research for the
book, and anecdotes about her bird are interspersed with background about the species. It’s an informative book that covers a lot of topics–music, birds, linguistics, and our relationship to the natural world. Even if you’re philosophically opposed to this invasive
species, it’s a fun and fascinating read!

“Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third
Crusade” by John Reston, Jr.–this dual biography is about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin during the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Saladin, the Muslim leader, had taken back much of the Holy Land, and the Europeans then tried to re-conquer it. This book focuses a lot on Saladin–it’s clear Reston is a fan–and it’s fascinating to hear more
from the Muslim side than the Christian during the conflict. Not far enough along in the book to make a total judgment, but it’s very readable and about a compelling, if terrible, historical episode.

Our next meeting will be Saturday, April 28th at 2pm. There will be
an event in the Picker Room, so we’ll need to meet in our alternate location, the J area just beyond the rotunda.


March Staff Picks



Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Creepy, sad, and compelling, this thriller is about a girl whose mother is a serial killer.  Milly was the one who turned her mother in.  Now she’s in a foster home awaiting testifying at her mother’s trial.  Can she overcome her hideous childhood, or is she more like her mother than she wants to be?  Milly’s voice really makes the book–being solely in her head makes the story that much more believable and absorbing.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Although it’s classified as a children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth works on multiple levels, with charms for adults as well as for kids, and in an era when there’s an inordinate premium put on data, this gentle, clever novel values knowledge and prizes wisdom, while indulging in delicious silliness and wild wordplay.  A hit with the adult read-aloud group!

It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir by Simon Fitzmaurice
A true account in Simon’s own words of his life, his ALS diagnosis, ups & downs and family.  Incredibly courageous, sad and uplifting. Wow, we don’t have it so bad. I
read the book after a friend was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is now a 2017 Indie film, by the same title and is available through the library’s Kanopy service.