Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in the Cormoran Strike novels by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling. I’ll admit -- this is the first book I’ve read by her as I’m probably the only person who has never read the Harry Potter series.

I enjoyed the book and thought it was well written. The mystery was well done and clues were placed, but I never figured out the killer. Other reviewers complained that he just interviewed people. I think that’s the life of a private investigator. It didn’t bother me. I read cozy’s as well and have sorta classified this as a “hard boiled cozy.” The death being investigated occurred before the story starts and the second death happens “off stage” so to speak. His thoughts about Charlotte didn’t bother me as he’d just broken up with her at the beginning of the book. I also think we, as readers, had to get a picture of Charlotte, I suspect, so we would hope he wouldn’t go back to her. I loved Robin, his assistant, and thought there should have been a little more of her, but given Strike’s circumstances and Robin’s newness as his assistant, I found that it fit with the story. I am sorry that Matthew, Robin’s fiance, comes off badly. We don’t really get to know him at all.

The story centers around the death of model Lula Landry, who was adopted as a child, as were her brothers, John and Charlie Bristow. Charlie was a boyhood friend of Strikes, who died while on vacation with his family. Lula’s death has been classified as a suicide, but John doesn’t think it was and wants Strike to prove it wasn’t. Strike ultimately does and it all somewhat comes full circle. There are other characters that all seem like they could have a motive - her uncle, the fashion designer, the boyfriend. I even wondered if her adopted mother had something to do with it based on how information was being provided to Strike. I don’t want to give away the story, so I won’t say anymore, except the conclusions Strike ultimately came to fit and the story worked, but a reader would have to be very astute to take it all in. I wasn’t.

There were some things that stood out a bit. I realize people cuss, we all do occasionally. Strike doesn’t really, but just about everyone he talks with does. The author seems unnaturally obsessed with bodily functions and describing people in terms related to the nether regions i.e. Strikes “pube hair.” Why? Everyone is either good looking or ugly. There is almost no in between, except maybe Robin, who is pretty, unless compared to Charlotte. She paints such an unflattering physical image of Strike (nothing to do with the lost leg) that it’s hard to see him as a hero. Maybe that’s her point. She goes into more detail about daily bathroom habits than any author I’ve read and it adds nothing to the story other than perhaps showing Strike as destitute and homeless, but even then some of it has nothing to do with that. It’s just there, adding nothing, in a TMI way. Strike uses the shower at a university and the pool -- apparently by acting like he belonged there. I’m still wondering why the university. Was it close by? If he wanted to get back in shape, a gym would have been the ticket, but maybe the leg was holding him back or money. And, just about everyone smokes. Seriously, the only person who doesn’t light up is Robin. I know very few people who smoke and am unsure why in this day and age, she decided that every character but one would smoke. Perhaps, she knows a lot of smokers.

The wrap up came at the end and was done expose style by Strike to the killer. There was a little bit of drama, but the bad guy was caught. What we also learned was that she held back information (unless I missed something?) that Strike had, so I’m not sure we could have figured it out as we didn’t know everything. For the most part we know what Strike knows, but we aren’t privy to the conclusions he’s drawing and in the end, we didn’t even know some of the actions he took. I did like that she gave an epilogue.

I’ve read the first two chapters of the next book (provided in my copy of this book) and am undecided if I’ll read the next ones. I’d like to as I like Strike and Robin, however, reviews for the [Silk Wormwood] indicate that parts of it are very graphic and gory. I can handle bodily functions and language, but gore is not my cup of tea. So, I’m not sure I’ll read anymore in this series. Recommended if you like a good mystery.


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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Recipe Review: Angel Baby aka Dutch Baby

A friend shared this modified recipe for a Dutch Baby with me.  Her boyfriend, who loves this recipe, is forever calling it an Angel Baby, so we gave in and call it that.  For those unfamiliar with a Dutch Baby, it is basically a baked pancake.  I had never tried one, though I'd seen pictures and seen them on restaurant menus.  Spending quite a bit of time at home during these COVID-19 times, I've been trying new recipes.  So, I gave this a go.  So glad I did!

This recipe replaces the milk with a sour cream water mixture.  I'm not sure where she got the original recipe, but this one has also been made smaller.  She baked in an 8x8 glass dish.  After reading the history, I decided to give it a try in the cast iron skillet as well. I think I prefer the skillet.  The results were a little different - I got a thicker pancake, but I also reduced the butter by 1 tablespoon the second time (cast iron skillet).  Actually, with powdered sugar it tastes like french toast to me.  This serves two nicely, but was, of course, too much for me.  I've tested warming the left overs in a 350 degree oven and have enjoyed it the second day.  The second batch I warmed in the cast iron skillet at 350 degrees. I'd recommend 6-10 minutes or more depending on how warm you want it. 
In glass dish...

I ate mine with powdered sugar, but you could also add syrup.  Following friend's lead, I also added a couple of slices of bacon.  However, this thing has three eggs, so the protein is there. 

Recipe:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees
Put 8x8 inch glass dish or cast iron skillet with 3 tablespoons butter in oven to pre-heat.

In a blender, mix:

3 eggs
1/3 c. milk (I used soy)
1/3 c. sour cream mixture (1/2 sour cream; 1/2 water)
2/3 c. flour
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In cast iron skillet ; fell some after
removed from oven. 
Pour batter into prepared dish when butter is melted.  Bake for 18-22 minutes. 

Dust with powdered sugar.  Maple syrup optional. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Book review: Tightrope by Amanda Quick

TightropeTightrope by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by Amanda Quick and I enjoyed it. As many others, I liked the cover, but I got the paperback and the cover is a little different). I was intrigued by the main character being a former trapeze artist and that it was set in a small California town in the 1930’s. It wasn’t what I expected, but I still enjoyed it.

It opens with Amalie Vaughn escaping a serial killer and then jumps forward several months to her new town of Burning Cove and a show featuring a robot, who kills the inventor, Dr. Pickwell, during the show. This is a relatively short book, but it has a lot going on. Maybe too much. I feel like if she had expanded the book a little, more attention could have been paid to character development and to some of the side stories. The book is basically about retrieving a cypher machine that was stolen during Dr. Pickwell’s show. There is a large cast of characters and it took me a while to get them and their roles straight in the mystery. There is also the mystery of Amalie’s would be killer’s accomplice,

Back to the basics - after the attack, Amalie leaves the circus and buys an inn in Burning Cove to start anew. We aren’t privy to any of this as the book leaps ahead to this after her attack. We get filled in a little on her thoughts, but I think those six months would in and of themselves be a story. Luther Pell runs the town’s hottest club, The Paradise, and while he’s what I would consider a main character, we just don’t learn a lot about him. Matthias Jones works with him and they are trying to recover the cypher machine. Matthias has a unique skill set, which is kind of odd, but it doesn’t bother Amalie and is key to the resolution of both mysteries. I’d rather not spoil too much. As mentioned the cast of characters is big. I particularly liked Willa, who was in the circus with Amalie and her Aunt Hazel, and who shows up at the Hidden Cove Inn because she has nowhere else to go. She takes to the inn immediately and I would love to have seen more of this story -- the building of the inn. Another story thrown in is the rumored haunting of the inn by a psychic who died there. They ultimately take advantage of it, since the murder of Dr Pickwell, who was staying at the inn, was providing less than positive publicity.

Other characters include a female private detective, with a hinted at back story, a newspaper reporter, a gossip columnist, a fading movie star and his chauffeur, a stalker, and the “bad guy.” In addition to the mystery, this is a romance between Matthias and Amalie.

As I said, I enjoyed the story and debated between three and four stars. I ultimately with three for a few reasons. The relationship between Amalie and Matthias moves very fast, like over a week. The sex scenes were cheesy and added nothing to the story. Character backstories were hinted at, but that’s it. I’m not sure if this is because they’ll be in future books or not. This book is rich in characters and I kind of want to know where they go. How does the inn do? How does Matthias family react to Amalie? What about Matthias and Luther’s next adventure? What is the private investigators backstory? What happens to the fading actor? It almost seemed as if it ended in the middle or that she rushed the story because she wanted to be done. And then, there were all the references to flying. It is throughout the book and after awhile it was just a little more cheese in a book that had enough cheese. Honestly, for how many best sellers this author has, I was surprised by the amount of cheesiness in this book. It had the potential to be great, but fell a little short. That’s not to say I won’t read other stories set in Burning Cove. I recommend if you like the author or the time period, just be forewarned that while the mystery is good, if a little convoluted, the romance is rushed and a little lacking.


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Saturday, January 25, 2020

Book Review: You Do You by Sarah Knight

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the second book I’ve read by Sarah Knight and I’m wishing a little that I’d read them “in order,” as this book kept referencing her first two books (one of which I now have and will be reading shortly). Again, this wasn’t earth shattering, but I've rarely gotten through self-help books and I’ve made it through two of hers -- easily and somewhat quickly. I find it kind of sad that someone had to write a book giving people permission to live their authentic lives and that I’m one of the ones reading it. Sometimes, though, maybe we just need a reminder.

This book basically gives you permission to just be you, but keeps the golden rule in mind -- don’t hurt others in the process of being you. The basic premise of the book is to break down some of the “rules” of society, These include: Don’t be Selfish; Do your Best, Don’t be Difficult, Be a Team Player, Don’t Quit Your Day Job. There is also a Should and Shouldn’t section, one of which is Put Family First.

Apparently, she took a lot of flack on the selfish part in a previous book, but I agree with her. If you never take time for yourself, then you basically make yourself a martyr. At some point, you have to be a little selfish.. I think today’s term is self-care. This section spoke to me as I have neglected self-care and am overly stressed as a result. The part about family also spoke to me. It has it’s down side as well, but ultimately we have to live our lives. That may take us from family, but it doesn’t mean total disconnection.

I’m also a person who once quit my day job. There were a lot of reasons for it and I had a plan, so obviously I agree with her take on that as well. It was scary, but ultimately it was one of the best things I have ever done. I’ve never regretted it.

We are all raised with guidelines and they may vary from family to family, region to region, culture to culture. While they have good intentions, sometimes they lead us to lead lives that may hurt us. By ignoring some of these guidelines, we live better lives, which not only benefits us, but also those around us.

I liked that she emphasizes that being you should not hurt others. And, the Epilogue reminded us that we all judge others - so not only should we be ourselves, but we should let others be themselves as well.

This is not a life changing book, but it’s a good reminder that it’s okay to be who you are and that sometimes society’s guidelines need to be tossed. As long as the tossing doesn’t harm others.