The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

“How easy it was to capitalise on a person’s own bent for
self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back
and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic,
catastrophic life.”

Lula Landry, a famous model, has fallen to her death from her balcony. The constantly depressed, lonely addict is believed to have killed herself. London’s glamorous world of fashion has already seemingly moved past the well publicized suicide, but Landry’s brother isn’t convinced. John Bristow tracks down the hero of the book, private detective Strike. Recently broken up with his fiance, Cormoran Strike is a hairy, slightly overweight 30-something ex-soldier, with a prosthetic leg, no place to live and a painfully stagnant career. With his new temp secretary, 25-year old Robin, Strike reluctantly accepts the case, more for the money to pay off his debts than anything else. And so the story dives straight into the typical world of celebrity: secrets, cover-ups and the omnipresent paparazzi.

I rarely like mysteries, for the very reason that has been mentioned in this book: “(…) killings were more than puzzles to be solved.” Most action packed crime novels lack both the human element as well as the touch of grounded reality that The Cuckoo’s Calling had. As I read this book, I realized something that had never really occurred to me before. I don’t love Harry Potter for the magic; it’s hardly my favourite in the fantasy genre. I like it for the compelling characters, engaging narration and the warm humour. The Cuckoo’s Calling offers all that, with an added dash of apt literary prose, a rare sight in run-of-the-mill detective fiction. All books have critics, often those who spew literary jargon with an annoying frequency and fluency. In case of this book, as in case of almost every other, I simply don’t want to address them. Let me assure you, though, it wasn’t just my unfaltering loyalty to J.K. Rowling that made me fall in love with this book.
Plot: I liked the detailed descriptions of the method Cormoran followed for his research; the extensive Google searches and conversations with each suspect about the same things, repeated for our benefit, over and over. It seemed realistic, no violent action scenes or office romances, nor delightfully developed technological help. I loved that there were clues strewn all over the book, things you could tell were important. I loved how the pieces slowly fell together and I actually was able to guess who by the very end. I love how much time was given to the how and of course, the entire book was about why the murder was committed.

Characters: It was interesting, how every interrogation revealed each character’s unique voice, opinion and priorities. And most intriguingly, none of the characters were how they appeared to be. Stereotypes were broken in the most unexpected manners; like showing a surprisingly emotional side to Landry’s obnoxious druggie boyfriend Evan Duffield. I liked designer Guy Some, almost as much as the running gag about his name (it’s pronounced ghee.) I loved the clumsy, endearing relationship between Strike and his ‘temporary solution’ Robin. Rowling can create worlds, even ordinary ones, with such flourish, that even those who rarely come onstage have an effect on you: Matthew, Charlotte, Jonny Rokeby, to name a few. I liked Rachel, Raquelle or whatever her name was as one of the people who go unnoticed, who, despite the many snouted cameras pointed their way, stay hidden in the shadows, out of the limelight. And in a very Barry Fairbrother-esque way, the most complex character of the book was the one who never made an appearance; the black girl adopted into a white family, now famous, still searching for her true self, her roots: Lula Landry.
Language: Rowling is good at one-liners, of the ‘there’s no need to call me sir, professor’-variety and this book was full of them. In the midst of all the serious drama, her skillfully funny dialogue made me chuckle. The writing is vivid, perceptive, rich. It cast a spell on me, that tugged at me and made it impossible for me to concentrate on anything else. I inserted scraps of papers (makeshift bookmarks) whenever any line, any thought appealed to me. By the time the book was over, it was filled with little pieces of paper, stuck in after almost every couple of pages. When I re-read them, the spell stayed unbroken and I do know every read will show me something new. An entire day later, today, I’m still unable to put the book back on the shelf. I want more.
After reading An Ocean at the End of the Lane, I was at a loss for words. The Cuckoo’s Calling has left me bursting with words of praise, love, surprise, satisfaction, awe, intrigue… 

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling

This post is a little ‘after the fact’, especially considering that I started reading the book about a year ago, right when it came out. It didn’t take me a year to read it, barely a month, actually. I just took a year long break from it (I don’t remember why) until a few days ago, when I read the remaining two hundred pages in a gleeful daze. It’s a great book and I want to kick myself for not finishing it and being able to say this earlier. It’s a shocking, sad, fantastic book. The weird thing is, I possibly couldn’t tell you just exactly why it was so great. But I could try.

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils … Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

In a way, nothing really surprising happened. It was a run-off-the-mill story, or a bunch of intricately woven, typical, small-town stories with nothing really new and Quidditch-ey popping out unexpectedly. Which may be one of the two reasons that Harry Potter fans couldn’t appreciate this book. The other could be the expectation that it would be anything like Harry Potter, content-wise. Since she made it plenty clear beforehand that The Casual Vacancy would be an adult novel, that hope was simply silly. The first point is something I’d partly agree with. The story, the actual incidents that took place – the drug-addicted mom, the ‘lost cause’ girl, the secrets, the lies, they were all predictable in the way that any non-fantasy set in a small town is. The story wasn’t new because it was realistic. That being said, I do believe the book had a magic of its own. For a while now, what with reading Discworld, discovering Neil Gaiman and other fantastic authors, I’ve wondered if I was a bit too obsessed with Harry Potter, if it was a tiny bit overrated. But I was wrong. J. K. Rowling is an amazing writer and she’s managed to turn what could have been a really dull book into something quite unique. She has created the most interesting characters, even the ones we get just a glimpse of. She can really look inside people’s heads, young and old, and has described their thoughts with a frank honesty that most of us don’t even grant ourselves. In the oddest way, Barry Fairbrother, the dead guy who is only talked about, ends up being the most rounded character in the book. The book makes a point that is at once blatant and very subtle. And in a very Harry Potteresque way, it ends with a running gag. It was when I read that very last line that I realized just how awesome the book was.

Here’s a review by someone who isn’t a Harry Potter fanatic. You know, a fair review.

The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling # 1

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a fun little book about reading, woven around the simplest idea: What if the Queen discovers the pleasures of reading? As she becomes a passionate reader, Her Majesty arranges a reception to meet and interact with some of the writers she enjoys reading. At the soiree, however, the Queen is disappointed and she realizes something:

“Authors are as much creatures of the reader’s imagination as the characters in their books.”

I read The Uncommon Reader last week, but something like what Bennett has said has been on my mind for a month. I still haven’t finished reading The Casual Vacancy. I’m taking it slow. But I do like whatever I have read so far and here’s what I think (call this a mid-read review):

The first half of the book is very character focused and Rowling is great at building characters. You get easily attached to them and halfway through the book, you feel like you know them. The plot moves slowly but that doesn’t mean that the first half of the book is devoid of action. There are a lot of back-stories and memories and sub-plots to keep you involved and curious. The book is impressive and moving from the very beginning. I loved the way Rowling deals with hard emotions and gory details in brisk, matter-of-fact tones and the intended message is sent across subtly, even employing dark humour, quite unlike the bold life lessons in Harry Potter. The build-up is great, you just know something big is coming, and when it does, it arrives with a BANG!

Being the die-hard Harry Potter fan that I am, I can see why Harry Potter fanatics were shocked at how adult the novel is. In her defense, of course, Rowling did make it pretty clear that it was going to be nothing like Harry Potter. And yet, most of the bad reviews I came across were from disappointed Harry Potter fans, and were full of things like:

Rowling has written outrageous stuff for the sake of making the book “different.” She has tried too hard to sound adult. There is too much cursing and bad language and I lost respect for Rowling. 

After reading every single thing that Rowling had ever written about the Wizarding World and re-reading most of it over the years, her writing felt homey and comfortable and somewhere I felt I had a connection with her, which I am sure most people who grew up with the Harry Potter series feel. But then, like Her Majesty feels in The Uncommon Reader, we don’t really know an author just by reading their book. What J. K. Rowling shows us through Harry Potter is just one side of her. And so, even though the author of Harry Potter is someone that we love and is more than enough for us, J. K. Rowling doesn’t end there. She is full of surprises and The Casual Vacancy proves that.

Top Ten Harry Potter “Aww” Moments!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Awww Moments (moments that made you go “awww”)
Because there’s exactly one month left for the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to release, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s TTT to just that! Here are my Top Ten Harry Potter Awww Moments:

1.“Wangoballwime?” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire)
Not that I particularly love Harry and Cho together, but this was absolutely cute.
2. “Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Classic, right? Dumbledore’s pretty aww. I remember him saying something like “Pip pip” too sometime.
3. “He accused me of being ‘Dumbledore’s man through and through.”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
Dumbledore opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Behind Harry, Fawkes the phoenix let out a low, soft, musical cry. To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knees. When Dumbledore spoke, however, his voice was quite steady.
“I am touched, Harry.” (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince)

I bet you’re saying ‘aww’ as we speak.

4. “Er-my-nee,” croaked Ron unexpectedly from between them. They all fell silent, watching him anxiously, but after muttering incomprehensibly for a moment he merely started snoring.
Ron. is. so. cute.
5. “I don’t think you’re a waste of space.”(…)“Well …er…thanks, Dudley.”Again, Dudley appeared to grapple with thoughts too unwieldy for expression before mumbling, “You saved my life.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Okay, I won’t call it my favourite moment. But it was unexpected and nice coming from Big D.
6. Harry did not really listen. A warmth was spreading through him that had nothing to do with the sunlight; a tight obstruction in his chest seemed to be dissolving. He knew that Ron and Hermione were more shocked than they were letting on, but the mere fact that they were still there on either side of him, speaking bracing words of comfort, not shrinking from him as though he were contaminated or dangerous, was worth more than he could ever tell them. (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince)
Isn’t this the best friendship ever? I love them.
7. “There are all kinds of courage,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. I therefore award ten points to Mr. Neville Longbottom.” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Neville’s awesome.
8. Black’s gaunt face broke into the first true smile Harry had seen upon it. The difference it made was startling, as though a person ten years younger were shining through the starved mask; for a moment, he was recognizable as the man who had laughed at Harry’s parents’ wedding. (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)
…right after he asks Harry to move in with him. It’s one of my favourite books in the series! I love all of James’ past, just the four Marauders that is – without Snape butting in.
9. “NEVER-INSULT-ALBUS-DUMBLEDORE-IN-FRONT-OF-ME!” (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
I love Hagrid and how much he loves Dumbledore!
10. Not my daughter, you bitch!” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Of course. 🙂

By the way, I absolutely hated it when Sirius, Dumbledore, Moody, Dobby and Fred died, so no “aww”s there!
What are your favourite Harry Potter moments?

Nargles, Wrackspurts and Blibbering Humdingers.

When you think about your favourite novel, where do you really start? There are so many books that can be called memorable, that make you nostalgic of the time when you loved them. There are so many books that you’ll love even years later only because you loved them years ago. I remember when I was a kid and there was nothing more imaginative and creative than Enid Blyton’s stories. I also remember the countless Famous Fives and Five Find-Outers that I read. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined better books.

It’s hard to pick the most memorable book. Right from my childhood favourite, A Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton, to the books I read in my ‘I-Worship-Ayn-Rand’ phase, to the book I last read, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter; it can be any of these! And it’s also hard to pick my oldest, most favourite book. But it’s only hard; not impossible.
Harry Potter. Yes, I am treating it like one whole book, one whole story. There’s nothing I have read, till date, that is more amazing, and more memorable than this book. It’s a classic, or it will be. If I think about it, some of my best memories are about this book or because of this book or even while reading this book.
I can think of a hundred reasons why I love this book, and they are all so obvious! It’s interesting, it’s fun, but more than anything – it’s different. Don’t tell me it’s not; don’t tell me it’s a copy of some book, don’t tell me Dumbledore’s exactly like Gandalf, only Gandalf’s better. That’s not why I call it different. No, I’ve read a lot of fantasy. But Harry Potter is realistic. It is believable. It’s an alternate world, yes, but it is not some outrageously different world. It’s actually pretty much like our own world, with magic in it. I think that makes it much, much better than most of the fantasy books I have read. There is an explanation for everything. It’s funny! Take mountaineering accidents, for example; who knew they were actually giants attacking people?! (Book 5 – Hagrid’s Tale). It makes you wonder if such things actually exist: not actually wonder, just consider the possibility. The feeling of “who knows?!”, that’s what I love the most about this book.
And there’s the way she writes, the quick wit, the stereotypical characters that you’ll find in every “Muggle” school as well (every class has a Hermione, a Luna, and an irritating pair of Lavender and Parvati), the adventure, the mystery, the way every piece fits – how all the books are interconnected, it seems as though she thought of all seven books together; it’s one whole story with seven books as seven chapters and Quidditch – who can think of anything more wonderful than Quidditch! Like I said, there are a hundred reasons.
So, when I say my favourite book is Harry Potter I think of reading the first book and falling hopelessly in love with it; endlessly talking about the books in school; the amazing Harry Potter quizzes and games and competitions; saying Lumos to put on lights(everyone does that!) or muttering Silencio when someone just won’t stop talking; waiting for the next book to release and dying to be the first one to read it so I could tell my friends the suspense; discussing what house we’d be in at Hogwarts; sitting in a boring Chemistry class wondering how helpful a Nosebleed Nougat would be right then; wishing I had Extendable Ears during vivas; forcing my father to read the book and seeing him get as hooked on it as me! I think many, many of the funnest moments in my life wouldn’t have happened if this book wasn’t there!
If you haven’t read/don’t like Harry Potter, I have to say, you are really missing out on a lot.

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