Time for another round of book reviews from some of our misterio press authors. Most writers don’t get to read nearly as much as they’d like to, because so much time is taken up with their writing. So when we discover a really good book, it’s an extra special treat!
Kirsten Weiss ~ The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
Supermodel Lulu Landry takes a swan dive off her balcony. Is it suicide or murder? Down-on-his-luck PI Cormoran Strike has been hired to find out.
The Cuckoo’s Calling, this first-in-the-series mystery novel by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowlings, is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long while. The characters are engaging and beautifully drawn – especially Cormoran and his new, temporary secretary, Robin, who has (quite realistic) fantasies of becoming a PI herself.
Cormoran’s lost part of one leg to Afghanistan and has just broken up with his larger-than-life girlfriend of over a decade. Plus, he’s got another albatross around his neck – the PI is the illegitimate son of a famous rock star. In the hands of a lesser writer, these could all have just been intriguing details, but Galbraith/Rowlings weaves them into a compelling picture of a three-dimensional tough guy.
The twists and turns in the mystery itself are worthy of Agatha Christie. Readers will need to draw a flowchart to figure this one out. I didn’t bother though; I was having too much fun enjoying the ride. Fortunately, the next two books in the series – The Silkworm and Career of Evil – are already available to fulfill my need for more of these can’t-put-down characters.
I did find the book depressing on one score. JK Rowlings initially pubished The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith” to see if she coukd “make it” under another name.
It wasn’t until it was leaked that JK Rowlings was Robert Galbraith that sales for The Cuckoo’s Calling took off. And the fact that such a well written, fun, and engaging mystery languished says something about the state of today’s publishing industry.
On the other hand, as a mystery writer, I love, love, love to see such a wonderful book out in the world. So if you love a good, twisty mystery, you might want to check out The Cuckoo’s Calling.
Shannon Esposito ~ Four Seasons of Reno Hart by Stephen Campbell
It’s been awhile since I’ve been excited about a new character in the mystery genre, but this book of short stories has done it. Reno Hart is one strong heroine! I love that she doesn’t need to use violence to crack cases, but instead uses her brains and creativity.
I do worry about how she’s dealing with her grief over losing her husband & if she’s shut off her emotions (See! I’m actually worried about this character! lol!)
Anyway, if you’re a fan of the mystery genre, you won’t be disappointed in these well-plotted, well-executed bite-sized stories that capture Florida in all her glory and corruption. Highly recommend & can’t wait for a full length Reno Hart novel! Five fingerprints!
Kassandra Lamb ~ Wake-Robin Ridge and A Boy Named Rabbit by Marcia Meara
I try to read indie as much as possible these days, to support my fellow authors. Sadly, some of these books aren’t very good, but now and again, I discover a real gem.
Such is the case with Marcia Meara’s Wake-Robin Ridge series. Book 1 is one of the most unusual novels I have read in a long time. It was a little hard to categorize. Is it a redemption story, or a mystery, or a romance? All of the above. There’s a healthy serving of each of these, plus some interesting and believable paranormal seasoning.
It probably fits best into the romantic suspense genre, because there is definitely a budding romance between Sarah Gray, who has relocated to North Carolina to try her hand at writing, and her handsome but haunted neighbor, MacKenzie Cole.
The book tells the stories of two women who both lived in the same cabin on Wake-Robin Ridge, 50 years apart–Ruthie in the 1960’s and Sarah in 2011. There are so many intriguing elements in this book. Just when you think you have it pegged, some new twist comes along.
The two women’s stories come crashing together in a mind-boggling way, and Mac and Sarah work together to solve the mysteries of Ruthie’s life and death, and to put to rest more than one ghost from the past.
I purchased this book as part of a boxed set of two books. Book 2, A Boy Named Rabbit, also defies genre boundaries. It is one part mystery and one part family saga.
A young boy, who’s only human contact has been his grandparents, finds himself alone in the North Carolina hills after his grampa goes for supplies and doesn’t return and his sick grandmother dies. His gran’s last instructions to him are to go and find the Good People. Scared and lonely, ten-year-old Rabbit sets out to keep his promise to her, living off the land as his grampa taught him.
Mac and Sarah have settled into a comfortable routine on Wake-Robin Ridge as they await the birth of their child, but their well-ordered world is turned upside down when Rabbit stumbles into their lives. And their quest to find his kin resurrects a decade old mystery and attracts the attention of the one person his grandparents never wanted Rabbit to meet.
Both of these stories are great and well worth the investment of time and money. I’m knocking off a half fingerprint each because the story arc in Book 2 is a little off kilter in places, and the author sometimes is a bit heavy-handed with the descriptions of characters’ emotions–more so in Book 1, which is forgivable since this was the first book she wrote.
I am really looking forward to Book 3, Harbinger, which is already loaded on my Kindle.
Vinnie Hansen ~ The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens
I often discover new authors via writing and mystery conferences. When I attended Left Coast Crime in Portland last year, I met Allen Eskens, whose book The Life We Bury was nominated as a best first mystery novel. It became my favorite book of 2015, the book I recommended to everyone, the way William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace had been the year before.
These two favorite books share Minnesota settings and young male protagonists with handicapped younger brothers. In both books, the need to shelter the younger brother provides motivation and pivotal tension. The two books are told in first person and center around a crime committed decades ago. However, the narrator of Ordinary Grace places us back in that time when he was young and death unfolded around him.
Most of the action in The Life We Bury unravels in modern times, with the main character unearthing the past. Joe Talbert, a college student, is given an assignment for an English class, and. . . .
I have two nits to pick with The Life We Bury. I don’t like the title, and I saw the last major plot twist coming from a mile away. The latter allowed me to feel like a smarty pants, so I’m still giving it 5 fingerprints. I’d give it a little plus if I could.
How about you? What good mysteries have you read recently.
Posted by Kassandra Lamb on behalf of the whole gang.
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Marcia MearaAugust 9, 2016 at 8:53 am
Thank you so much for the lovely reviews, Kass. I’m so glad you enjoyed the tales from Wake-Robin Ridge. Since I’ve only been writing 3 years now, I’m definitely still learning my craft, and trying to be sure each book is better than the one before. (And at 72, I have to learn fast, to make up for never having taken a writing class, and not having decades in which to tell my stories.) But you are right that my tales are hard to pigeon-hole, especially using Amazon’s limited category system. I would call WRR a Romantic Suspense, myself, but everything in the series going forward will lean towards paranormal and ghostly Appalachian legends. Spookier stuff.
Rabbit is basically a coming of age story, and the entire focus of the book is on determining who he is and where he came from. From the very start, Mac is dead set on finding out if he has family, because he wants to reunite Rabbit with them, and return to the peaceful life he and Sarah are building. Even when emotions shift, they can’t move forward legally without solving Rabbit’s story first. So, to my mind, that’s the actual story arc. Certainly, it was my intent for it to be so, just the way Rabbit whispered it all in my ear. 🙂
Unlike my Riverbend series, where each book focuses on different residents of that sleepy Florida town, the Wake-Robin Ridge series is focused on one family, but in particular, going forward, on Rabbit. And all but the first book have been moved into the (mildly) paranormal and ghosts categories. Things go bump in the night on Wake-Robin Ridge, for sure, and nothing will ever be the same, now that Rabbit has arrived. 🙂
Hope you’ll continue to enjoy the series as we explore all sorts of things in upcoming books. And thanks again for such a great review. I’ll take 4-1/2 fingerprints all day long, and I also take every single review to heart and try to learn from it, both what people like, and what they might not. But I don’t think I’m ever likely to write something that fits neatly into one category. (I don’t, so why should my books? *grin*) Guess it’s a good thing I don’t have to please a trad publisher, in that regard. 😀
Thanks again! Now to check out the others in your list!
Kassandra LambAugust 9, 2016 at 12:31 pm
It is annoying that we have to label our stories as a certain genre, although I see the benefits of that for readers. As indies, we have the freedom to not completely fit into those neat little pigeonholes.
Is there a paranormal suspense category on Amazon?
Marcia MearaAugust 9, 2016 at 3:38 pm
Not that I’ve hit yet, Kass, but you can only dig down a little way by yourself. You have to email or call amazon if you want to make it down the “tree” to the more specific categories. I’m trying to find a few minutes to do that SOON, because neither Finding Hunter, nor A Boy Named Rabbit, is exactly where I’d like them to be.
I agree it’s silly to have to insist a book is one thing or the other, when it’s often a combination, but the categories do give browsing readers a place to start, so it’s important to make them work well. I’ve read you should change your categories up now and then, too, if you can find other slots where they would qualify. It can bring you new readers. But I’d like to hit one that really works well, before I start switching them, willy-nilly.
Love how you included several authors in this post. An easy way to spot some new books to check out, which I’ll definitely be doing.
Vinnie HansenAugust 9, 2016 at 12:46 pm
Allen Eskens’ second book, The Guise of Another, is just as good as The Life We Bury. They are stand-alones, so feel free to enjoy them in whichever order you prefer.
Vinnie HansenAugust 9, 2016 at 12:47 pm
BTW, Kassandra, I love these posts–good way to add more titles to my To-Read stack. 🙂
Kassandra LambAugust 9, 2016 at 2:01 pm
Me too. Can’t wait to read everyone else’s recommendations.
Susan SheaAugust 9, 2016 at 1:26 pm
The Life We Bury is on my TBR pile, sitting and staring at me. Okay, I’ll move it up a couple of notches! I recently read Cara Black’s Murder on the Quai, which is a kind of prequel to the Aimee Leduc series and liked it very much. It harks back to WWII in rural France, a time of special interest to me and of heartbreaking drama. I think Quai may be my favorite of all of Cara’s Leduc novels. Thanks for this interesting blog.
Kassandra LambAugust 9, 2016 at 6:44 pm
Hi, Susan. So glad you are enjoying our blog! I will have to check out Murder on the Quai. What a cool title!
Mary SmithAugust 10, 2016 at 3:37 pm
I read The Cuckoo’s Calling a couple of years ago and enjoyed it but haven’t read the next ones.
I loved Wake-Robin Ridge and will soon be starting on A Boy Named Rabbit – the Harbinger is also already loaded on my Kindle.
Marcia MearaAugust 10, 2016 at 4:48 pm
Thank you so much, Mary, and for the great review on Amazon, too. I’m so glad you enjoyed WRR and I can’t wait to hear what you think of Rabbit. 🙂
Kassandra LambAugust 10, 2016 at 6:14 pm
Hi Mary! Glad we could add a couple of books to your tbr list. Thanks for stopping by!
(And prepare yourself to fall in love with Rabbit.)
Mae ClairAugust 10, 2016 at 3:40 pm
Thanks for the reviews of some intriguing books. I’ve read Wake-Robin Ridge, and am soon to start the other two. I enjoy books that fit into the “unusual category” and also love mystery and suspense. Most of the others featured here sound appealing as well. Your reviews are insightful and nicely presented!
Kassandra LambAugust 10, 2016 at 6:12 pm
Thank you, Mae! That’s good to hear.
And I too like books that don’t quite fit in a certain groove (or we could say “rut” 😉 ).
Marcia MearaAugust 11, 2016 at 9:06 am
Thanks for reading WRR, Mae Clair, and I hope you’ll enjoy Rabbit, as well. I seldom follow anyone else’s rut . . . too busy making my own! 😀 I’m looking forward to reading some of these other books, too. And btw, I have added two of your books to my TBR pile (very near the top), as I love mysteriously spooky stuff. Looking forward to them!!