The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

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As a book blogger and reviewer, I receive countless requests from authors and publishers to read their latest offerings. These requests flood my inbox with such volume that it is impossible read every book that I'm asked to. My "to be read" pile is already unmanageable! Every once in a while, I pass on a request that I end up regretting. I'm still kicking myself for not jumping at an advanced copy of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Now that I've read The Cuckoo's Calling, I can add it to my list of regrettable passes.

I remember reading the summary and request for the debut novel by Robert Galbraith. I had so many books on my schedule that I couldn't justify adding one more to the list. I didn't thing about The Cuckoo's Calling again until the news broke that Robert Galbraith was actually a pseudonym for the famed author J.K. Rowling. I instantly added the novel to my languishing pile of books to read.

The novel follows two people who are searching for their place in society. Cormoran Strike lost his leg in Afghanistan. In coming to terms with his physical condition and the stress of adjusting to civilian life, he ended up losing the woman he loved as well. Now he lives out of the office where his fledging private investigation business is beginning to look like another failure in his life.

Robin is searching for a career. With her impending marriage, she is close to building a perfect life. While she continues the job hunt, Robin takes on various duties from a local temp agency. She is beginning her first day as a secretary for private investigator Cormoran Strike when John Bristow enters the office. Bristow's sister was the famous model Lula Landry who tragically died in what has been ruled a suicide. Bristow suspects foul play and wants to hire Strike to investigate. Desperate for any way to keep his struggling business afloat, Strike agrees to investigate the mysterious details surrounding the superstar's death.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a refreshingly straightforward murder mystery. Rowling allows the details of the characters and the investigation unfold at a natural pace without relying on any narrative tricks for suspense. Instead, the thrill of reading the novel lies in the way the protagonists battle their personal demons while dealing with the family drama that surrounds Landry's death. True to form,  Rowling fills the novel with the kind of detailed descriptions and tangents that readers either appreciate or loath. I feel like these details ultimately add to the overall story, even if the pace of the action is occasionally sacrificed. The Cuckoo's Calling is a fantastic mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. With this novel, Rowling proves her flexibility as an author and provides a start to what promises to be a great detective series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2017, 7)

The One Man by Andrew Gross

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"And saving that one life now is akin to saving the world."

How do we reconcile the horrors of the Holocaust? Countless men, women, and children were senselessly murdered during the years of World War II. Since the horrifying events of those years, authors have done their parts to make sure we never forget. There are, of course, the real-life accounts like the Diary of Anne Frank and the hauntingly poignant writings of the late Elie Wiesel. Many other authors have turned to fiction to portray the events of those years. In his latest novel, The One Man, author Andrew Gross takes a departure from his usual thrillers to add his voice to those who have preceded him. Gross decides to take on the horrors of the Holocaust with a historical fiction novel that graphically displays the injustices of the genocide while celebrating the heroism of the brave few who defied it.

The year is 1944 and physicist Alfred Mendel has finally succumbed to the same fate of his friends and neighbors before him. Mendel and his entire family have been rounded up by the Germans, stripped of their possessions, and shipped to Auschwitz. He is quickly separated from his family and forced to live and work under the brutal conditions of the camp. Little do the Nazis know the true power that Alfred holds. He is one of only two people in the world with the scientific knowledge needed to produce a weapon of unspeakable proportions. He alone holds the power that could mean potential victory in this war.

Nathan Blum narrowly escaped the clutches of the Germans when he fled from the confines of a Polish ghetto. As he sought refuge in America, word reached him that his family was murdered in cold blood on the streets of that same ghetto. Since that time, Nathan has worked a desk job at a U.S. intelligence agency. He is determined to make amends with the killing of his family, and the U.S. government may have the perfect way. Nathan is fluent in both German and Polish. He has the undeniable features that match those who are prisoners in the camps. And most importantly, he has a deep hatred for the Nazi's and everything they stand for. All of these characteristics make Blum an ideal candidate to take on one of the most dangerous operations ever conceived. He will sneak into the one place he as done everything in his power to avoid,  and he will rescue the one man who can change the course of the war.

The One Man sees Andrew Gross shift gears to deliver one of the most important novels of his career. The suspense practically writes itself as Gross tells the story of a man breaking into the one place that so many long to leave. The mission is do or die. If Nathan achieves his goal, it has the potential to end the war and save the lives of those he left behind. If he fails, he becomes just another innocent life lost to the evil ideologies of the German Nazis. It is a given at this point that Gross delivers the break-neck pacing of a seasoned thriller writer. What sets The One Man apart from his previous endeavors is the depth of the characters and the delicacy with which he deals with the subject matter.

There is no shortage of writings that detail the horrendous treatment of the prisoners in the concentration camps. While Gross provides quick glimpses into these horrors, he smartly avoids a retread of those difficult reads. Instead, he focuses the majority of his novel on the men and women who inhabited the camp. By granting his characters the ability to express their genuine thoughts and emotions and giving them the necessary time to develop, Gross provides readers with a larger understanding of the complexities of each human life involved in this incredible moment in history. Gross frames these remarkable character revelations through his well-trodden thriller roots. This makes the uncomfortable realities of the situation a bit easier to digest. The One Man exceeds my highest expectations by delivering an unputdownable novel that manages to both thrill and inspire. Andrew Gross delivers the most mature novel of his career, a novel that will be very hard to top.

For more information, visit the Author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 6)

Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell


Depraved Heart begins much as the 22 novels preceding it have. Dr. Kay Scarpetta is surveying the body of a Hollywood star's daughter when her phone buzzes. The message appears to be from the private line of her niece Lucy. As an expert in all things technology, Lucy has accumulated a massive wealth and cherishes her privacy. If Lucy is reaching out through this line, then something is terribly important.

If you didn't read the previous novel, Flesh and Blood, then you may be surprised to learn that a psychopathic murderer and Lucy's former love interest is out to kill Scarpetta. For those of you who did read the last book, you'll recall that Carrie Grethen, who Scarpetta believed dead, shot Kay with a harpoon gun and escaped. When Scarpetta looks at the message from Lucy, she is terrified to discover that the message is actually a link to a secret video taken of Lucy during her days as a trainee at the FBI. Two things become very clear. Carrie is behind the videos, and she is threatening the lives of Scarpetta and everyone she holds dear.

The twenty-third installment in the Kay Scarpetta series corrects many of the wrongs committed in the previous novel. Flesh and Blood threw a sudden cliff hanger at readers that really sullied all of the great moments that preceded it. Thankfully, Cornwell uses Depraved Heart to begin to flesh out the implications of that ending. With all of that in mind, I highly recommend reading the previous novel before you dive into this one. Without the backstory of Carrie Grethen's resurgence, much of the plot and suspense of this novel will be unintelligible.

I was gifted an autographed copy of Depraved Heart from my book-blogging friend John Valeri. My mixed reaction to the previous novel kept the book languishing on my shelf for months. Finally my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see the story through. Much of my complaints about the newer Scarpetta novels remain in this one. Kay Scarpetta has gone from a tough medical examiner making her way in a male dominated profession to a paranoid whiner who complains when things don't work out to her liking. The evolution of the character has made it difficult to root for her. Where the early novels relied on the action of an active investigation, Depraved Heart is mostly comprised of the suspicious inner dialogue of the main character. The action is almost non-existent.

All that being said, I could not stop reading this book! I'm usually weary of an author reviving a villain from previous novels, but Carrie Grethen is a force to be reckoned with. To see the way that Scarpetta, Lucy, and Marino (Scarpetta's longtime detective partner) react to being hunted by a killer is terrifying. For all her faults as an author, nobody can deliver genuine scares and thrills like Patricia Cornwell. The climatic encounter had me holding my breath as Scarpetta faced one of the most fear-inducing scenes that I've ever read. While Depraved Heart is far from perfect, it represents an upward tick in a series that has recently languished in mediocrity. With Depraved Heart, Patricia Cornwell has found a solid footing to ground the next evolution of her decades-old series. For the first time in years, I am eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Kay Scarpetta series.

For more information, visit the authors website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
This review is part of a TLC Book Tour.

(2017, 5)

Friday Flicks: A Monster Calls


Before he embarks on directing the prehistoric sequel to Jurassic World, director J.A. Bayona presents a film that features a much different kind of monster. A Monster Calls tells the intimate story of young Connor O'Malley. Connor's life is in shambles. His schoolmates bully him and leave him emotionally and physically battered. At home, his single mother (Felicity Jones) bravely faces terminal cancer. Connor's estranged father lives with his new family in America, so it looks like Connor will have to move in with his stern grandmother played by Sigourney Weaver.

One evening, Connor encounters a monster that emerges from the large tree outside of his home. Liam Neeson brings a perfect balance of menace and wisdom to the voice of this animated creature. The monster informs Connor that he will tell the boy three true stories. At the completion of the third story, Connor must tell the monster a story of his own truth. Neeson's booming voice narrates as each story unfolds in the form of beautifully rendered watercolor animations. These fables intersperse with Connor's domestic drama and culminate in a crescendo emotion and self-discovery.

Based on the novel by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls brilliantly combines fantasy with the raw emotion of a child coming to terms with the mortality of his mother. Patrick Ness follows in the footsteps of other authors including Gillian Flynn and Emma Donoghue by providing a screenplay of his work that both preserves the intent of the novel while effortlessly adapting to the different medium of film. Lewis MacDougall brings an honesty to his role as Connor, effortlessly shouldering the emotional momentum of the entire film. MacDougall's performance is juxtaposed by a masterful turn by Sigourney Weaver as his grandmother. With Bayona at the helm, A Monster Calls is a modern day fairytale that sails through the difficult topics of love and loss while maintaining a heart and imagination that makes it one of the most unique and emotionally satisfying films of the year.

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia


"Evil is simple. It's a child's explanation for why people do bad things. The truth is always more complicated and worth pursuing."

There were many versions of Hattie Hoffman. To her parents Hattie was the perfect child. She affably joked with her mother and father, doing her part to fill the void left by her military brother. At school, Hattie took on other roles. She earned solid marks in her classes and did her part to befriend her classmates. For her best friend Portia, Hattie played the part of trusted confidant. With her boyfriend Tommy, Hattie was the reliable arm candy. She accompanied him to all of his outings and did her part to agree with and encourage him.

Who is Hattie Hoffman? That's what Pine Valley Sheriff Del Goodman has been trying to figure out. Her mutilated body was discovered in an abandoned barn, and now Del has to identify her killer. For Del, the case is personal. Pine Valley is a small town that doesn't see much excitement. As such, the entire city is abuzz with the story of the brutal crime. To complicate matters even more, Del is good friends with Hattie's father. As the details of Hattie's final hours come to light, Del precariously balances his professional and personal obligations while revealing the shocking truth behind the girl who everyone loved.

Everything You Want Me to Be is a remarkable novel by Mindy Mejia. Mejia employs shifting perspectives in each chapter to bring about a suspenseful reveal. I've grown a bit tired of this particular technique, but there is no denying that Mejia uses it to maximum effect. It's difficult to comment in detail on this novel without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, I was immediately grabbed by the story and breathlessly turned the pages until the novel concluded. While each character had their flaws, I feel it only added to the authenticity of the world that Mejia created. Everything You Want Me to Be is a brilliant character study and page-turner that fans of great mysteries are sure to enjoy.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 4)

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Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt


"Finn said art isn't about drawing or painting the perfect bowl of soup. It's about ideas. And you, he said, have enough good ideas to last a lifetime."

June has a special relationship with her Uncle Finn. Finn is a famous painter who lives in an apartment in New York. June has always had a hard time fitting in with her family and peers. Finn offers her an escape filled with culture, exploration, and understanding. He accepts her for who she is and indulges all of her quirks and curiosities.

The year is 1987 and June's world is beginning to change. Finn has been diagnosed with a mysterious illness. Her parents, both accountants, are in the thick of tax season and spend little time at home. Mom has been very muted about Finn's illness. June is only allowed to visit him during weekly trips with her mother and sister. She knows little about AIDs, but June sees the debilitating effect it is having on her beloved uncle. After weeks of deterioration, Finn finally succumbs to his illness.

June is devastated. The only person who truly loved her for who she was is dead. Mom seems eager to put the whole ordeal behind them. While the rest of her family seems keen to leave the memory of Finn in the past, June wants to know more. Who was the strange man at Finn's funeral that had Mom so upset? Did that man really kill her uncle? And what has become of Finn's apartment and possessions?

In Tell the Wolves I'm Home, author Carol Rifka Brunt presents a deeply moving coming of age story about love, loss, and acceptance. By having fourteen-year-old June narrate the novel, the author makes the heavy topics a bit more palatable. We feel every emotion of June as she discovers the cruelty and ignorance that surrounded the AIDs crisis. At its heart, Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a coming of age story that manages to weave larger themes into its foundation. From the very first page, the book captured my emotions and imagination. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a stunning debut novel that will have you contemplating its layers long after the final page.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 3)

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