From Death Eaters to Death Investigators

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbaith (2013)

Opening Line: “The buzz in the streets was like the humming of flies.”

I don’t read mystery thrillers too often (at least not adult ones), but everyone knows I can’t resist J.K. Rowling (the face behind the Robert Galbraith pen name). And she didn’t disappoint.

The plot revolves around the sudden death of supermodel Lula Landry, who fell from her apartment balcony one freezing winter night in London. Police ruled it a suicide, victim of depression and the wild whirls of fame. But when her brother comes calling at the offices of P.I. Cormoran Strike, he cries murder, and it’ll be up to Strike to prove it.

Strike is the character to pay attention to in this book. He’s the one who’s a mysterious mess, and while Lula’s death is certainly intriguing, she’s dead before the novel begins. We don’t get to know her hardly at all. Instead, we get to know Strike, the wounded veteran with a basically bankrupt detective agency and a woeful end of a love life, who — despite it all — is somehow a character I was instantly drawn to. Add to that, Robin, the assistant he can’t afford to pay, mistakenly sent to him from the temp agency. She’s the smartest and quickest assistant he’s ever had, and although she gets a permanent job offer from a different company before the week is out, she hesitates. Because working for Strike is the most exciting thing she’s done in a long time.

As happens quite a lot with me, this was an audiobook read, so I’m not sure if the clues to the Lula mystery were really there all along or not, but for me this one wrapped up much like an episode of Scooby Doo, with the mask ripped off and Strike explaining to the audience what really happened. To be honest, I kind of liked it that way, but this might be a turn off for some readers. If not, there are already two more Cormoran Strike novels waiting in the wings.

1.5 stars

A Rom-Com, of the intellectual and relatively depressing variety…

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

Opening line: “To start with, look at all the books.”

It’s hard to deny my attraction to a book that begins this way. A coworker of mine several years ago told me that as a former English major, I should definitely read The Marriage Plot. She was right — it’s got the fixings to a novel I should love: literary references out the wazoo, multiple character perspectives, a sense of epic storytelling (crossing time periods and oceans), and a complicated romance.

Madeleine Hanna is an English major working on her thesis about the “marriage plot” of literature’s great novelists, like Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontes. But while her intellectual mind is caught up in the romantic structure of the page, her real life romance is much more complicated, featuring two very different gentlemen. The first is Mitchell, who was “friend-zoned” freshmen year but still holds a torch for our heroine, while the second is Leonard, a mysterious biology student who intrigues and enchants Madeleine like no one has before. And while this might sound like the makings of a very common modern-day marriage plot, Eugenides does what he does best by complicating things with intense, intricately-crafted characters. Mitchell heads off to Europe and India after college with his roommate to figure out what the hell he’s doing with his life with or without Madeleine, while Madeleine and Leonard deal with Leonard’s apparent bipolar disorder, or as it was known in the 1980s when this tale is set, manic depression.

I liked this book. I wouldn’t stretch it to love, but, like I said before, what Jeffrey Eugenides does, he does well (see my review of his previous book Middlesex). I admire his character development, the vastness of his landscape, both in terms of time and place, and his way of piecing together stories in a way that adds depth and intrigue.

1.5 stars, edging to 2.

Who knew labor could be so hilarious?

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita by Heather B. Armstrong (2009)

I have finally finished this glorious book. It took me several weeks, because I was consumed by reading other things where plot was much more the focus, rather than this one that lives on HILARITY, but I’m glad I let it last so long. A little bit each day did a lot for my moods. I feel bad, because I’m sure my neighbor could hear me laughing late into the night from my cozy bed.

Heather Armstrong, the creator of what is supposedly the most popular personal blog on the internet, dooce.com (also hilarious, check it out), put together a captivating memoir of her pregnancy and first nine months with her first daughter, Leta. What  resulted for the reader was a strange collision of excellent birth-control (I NEVER want to experience hemorrhoids!) and an enormous desire to have a baby RIGHT NOW (how else am I going to smell that sweet baby smell?).

Although it’s obvious how much she loves little Leta, Armstrong doesn’t gloss over the not-so-pleasant points of pregnancy and new-motherhood. In fact, she is quite blunt with all the struggles she encounters. With a history of clinical depression, Armstrong is forced to lay off anti-depressants during her pregnancy and nursing period, which almost (literally) causes the death of her. She ends up spending some time in a treatment facility, getting back on drugs, and as a result becomes a much happier person, wife, and mother. Through the roller-coaster 18 months, and punctuated with a letter to Baby Leta each month (a tradition she still continues in her blog, 72 months later) the reader gets a glimpse of what being a mother really means.

With capitalization to emphasize her truly hilarious points and chapter titles like “Labor to the Tune of Janet Jackson’s Nipple” and “You Have to Feed the Baby…Through Your Boobs,” Armstrong keeps you laughing till the very end, a rare and incredible talent.

Three stars, absolutely.