Thursday, July 24, 2014

This Pen for Hire - A Humorous Cozy Series Begins



5 out of 5 Stars

A few years ago I discovered cozy mysteries and I have been reading them ever since.  I am in the middle of several different cozy series and I continue to pick up new cozies to try.  I first discovered the Jaine Austen series through a few short stories in collections along with short stories featuring Hannah Swensen.  Since I enjoyed the short stories so much, I decided to pick up This Pen for Hire, the first Janie Austen book by Laura Levine.

Freelance writer Jaine Austen - her mother has spelling issues - lives in Beverly Hills with her cat Prozac.  She mainly writes brochures, ads, and sometimes letters for various things.  She is hesitant to accept a job offer from Howard Murdoch, a somewhat shy man.  He wants Jaine to write a letter to Stacy, a beautiful fitness instructor/future actress.  Howard wants the letter to ask Stacy out even though he has never spoken to her.  Jaine is surprised when Howard tells her that Stacy accepts and a date is planned.  Things get complicated when Jaine learns that Howard has been arrested for Stacy’s murder.  Even though she really doesn’t know him, Jaine is convinced that he is innocent.  She feels at least partially to blame for Howard’s situation because of the letter she wrote, so she decides that she needs to investigate the murder herself.

This Pen for Hire works well as a first book in a series.  Even though it is a short book, Jaine is sufficiently introduced and set up as a likable, fun, and believable main character.  A few other characters like her best friend Kandi and nosy neighbor Lance with Superman like hearing, along with Prozac, are introduced who will be back in future books.  I really like her and want to continue reading about her various adventures.  I first read a few short stories featuring Jaine that take place somewhere in the middle of the series.  I was able to follow things fine in the stories, but when I decided to move on to the books, I started with the first one.  I prefer to read a series of books in order even if the individual books can stand alone. 

This is one of the shorter books I have read in a long time, but that doesn’t mean that nothing happens or that it isn’t enjoyable.  It doesn’t feel rushed even though several things happen by the end.  There isn’t always a lot of attention to some things, like her writing jobs that are mentioned.  That sort of thing may bother some readers, but it didn’t bother me.  There is enough going on to keep things interesting even though I wouldn’t have minded if the book was longer.

Just about all of the cozy mysteries that I have read have been more light hearted in some way than other more serious mysteries even with murder still happening.  I think This Pen for Hire, and the Jaine Austen series as a whole, is the lightest of them all.  That makes the book a very fun read and I love it.  A lot of the humor is provided by Jaine’s various thoughts about what is going on.  She shares what she thinks Prozac is thinking - like hurry up with my food or something like that - that I found to be funny.  Jaine is able to look at things with humor even when she is taking something seriously, like the murder of Stacy.  I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book.  The humor works very well for the book and I think it is one of the reasons why it is so entertaining.  Author Laura Levine worked writing for various comedies, including Laverne & Shirley and Three’s Company, before starting to write books.  I can see the influence of her prior job in her writing.  Some of the things that happen are a bit of a stretch, which may bother some readers.  Anyone who prefers more serious mysteries should probably skip this one. 

When she begins her investigation, it doesn’t take Jaine long to discover that Stacy was very well liked by men she came into contact with and hated by the women.  Jaine discovers that several people have decent motives.  I didn’t fully figure out things even though I did come up with a suspicion or two.  The mystery is interesting and entertaining.  Considering the shorter length of the book, it is fairly strong as well.  A few things that happen are more predictable and there is also some suspense at times as well.  Detective Rea, the detective in charge of the investigation, is less than pleased with Jaine launching her own investigation, something that seems believable. 

All of Jaine’s thoughts, some more wild than others, are shared in This Pen for Hire because the book is written in first person from her point of view.  She isn’t made out to be little miss perfect like has happened with some characters in other books.  She has flaws and more like a normal woman.  She worries about keeping Prozac in kitty food and paying her bills even though she loves her work.  She does have an interest in sex even though she isn’t in a relationship and has a failed marriage in her past.  There are a few sexual remarks that may be a little too specific for some readers, though there really isn’t anything objectionable or obscene in the book.  She is a more normal size instead of a walking toothpick - though the cover art is the opposite.  She doesn’t seem obsessed with her size or image, but she does put herself down at times.  She does make a few questionable decisions even though she is smart. 

Prozac may be a cat, but I consider her a character too.  She is frequently around, and thanks to Jaine, readers sort of know what she may be thinking at different times.  Prozac isn’t the most affectionate with Jaine and she is very demanding when it comes to her food.  Some of the things she does are like what my cats do at times - especially getting demanding over food or treats.

Kandi is Jaine’s best friend.  Kandi writes for an animated show about a roach and is constantly trying to meet men.  She is nice even though she is a little flighty at times.  Lance is the very nosy neighbor who must be a long lost relative of Superman because of his super hearing.  Jaine compares him to Superman more than once.  At one point he asks Jaine to do something about the motor of her refrigerator being too loud.  He comes across as something as a jerk with the way he acts, but he has gotten better in future books.  Detective Rea is only in a few scenes, so he doesn’t get a lot to do.  The other characters that are tied to the murder investigation aren’t developed much at all.  A few of them are interesting. 

This Pen for Hire is a very fun, entertaining cozy mystery that deserves to be read.  It could be too humorous for some people.  It works well as the first book of a series. 

This review is part of elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write-off because of Jaine comparing Lance to Superman.

I originally posted a review of this book on Epinions on June 10, 2012 as dragonfire88.  This is a new review written for this blog.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling - J.K. Rowling Begins a Mystery Series



5 out of 5 Stars

On April 18, 2013, the book The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith was released.  I didn’t hear about it at the time.  It was a few months later when basically the entire world heard something about the book when it came out that Robert Galbraith was actually a pen name for J.K. Rowling.  I did look up the book at that point, thought it sounded interesting, and I decided to get it.  I’m very glad that I did since it is a very entertaining detective/mystery story.  The story is one I would have been interested in no matter who wrote it. 

Cormoran Strike, struggling private detective, is a veteran who lost part of his right leg to a land mine in Afghanistan.  He is already having a bad day when he literally collides with Robin, his new temporary secretary, almost knocking her down the stairs in the building where his office is.  Shortly after that, John Bristow arrives, wanting to hire Cormoran to investigate the death of his sister, famous supermodel Lula Landry, known as Cuckoo to friends and family.  Her death three months before has been ruled a suicide and John believes it was actually murder.  Cormoran thinks that John is in denial, but he takes the case, thinking he’ll just need to talk to a few people before finding enough proof of suicide.  He discovers things that don’t add up, so he continues investigating, while Robin handles things at the office and becomes more interested in the work.

The Cuckoo’s Calling starts at the scene after Lula falls to her death, describing how the press descends, trying to get pictures of the body.  This part also shows how the police officers handling the case react to the victim being so famous.  The book then jumps forward three months, giving some background information on Robin and showing her disastrous first meeting with Cormoran.  After that, things are mainly focused on Cormoran’s investigation, though other things not tied directly to the case come up too.  The story is entertaining and I found it very interesting.  I couldn’t put the book down once I started it.  I have read that Rowling plans to write more books about Cormoran and this book works very well as a first book in a series, providing a good foundation for more books.  I will definitely be reading future books in the series.

The book is wonderfully descriptive and I found it very easy to imagine the characters and settings around London while reading.  The high level of description is part of why the book is longer, and that might bother some people.  I think the descriptions work very well and make the book stronger. Cormoran has a prosthetic leg and he does deal with issues tied to that at different times.  I don’t know for sure how accurate that stuff is, but it seems realistic.  He has issues with swelling and irritation and he has to go in for a checkup.  I think is good that those things are dealt with and not glossed over or ignored completely.  All those sort of details help to make him a more fully rounded character and I think they make what is happening in the book more believable overall as well. 

I think there is a good amount of mystery to what is going on in The Cuckoo’s Calling.  Things seem very straightforward with Lula’s death at first, but once Cormoran starts working on the case, more questions are raised.  I like the way the investigation is handled, with the various things that Cormoran does are shared, even minor things.  Some of those things may seem boring to some readers, but I think they are realistic and something else that strengthen the story.  Readers learn things when Cormoran does.  I came up with different ideas, none of which were right.  The way the case concludes works well and I don’t think it came out of nowhere because the clues were there all along.  There is some suspense in some scenes without making the entire book suspenseful.  Some of what happens or comes up during the book is somewhat upsetting or disturbing.  Nothing really graphic or gory happens.  Characters do swear which could upset or offend readers.  There are multiple uses of the word that rhymes with luck, along with variations of the word.  I didn’t think it was used excessively, but others may feel differently.  

There is a large group of characters, and while many of them are barely around, they still manage to stand out and they are developed decently.  Some of the supporting characters in this book have better development than characters that have more to do in other books.  There are several characters tied to the investigation, with some of them turning up more than others.  Readers learn about Lula through Cormoran’s investigation and his conversations with her family, friends, and people she worked with.  Lula seemed to have a perfect life, but looks can be deceiving and things tied to her and her death are more complicated than they seem at first.  

Cormoran has a somewhat complicated backstory that is slowly shared throughout the book.  It isn’t directly tied to the case, but it helps to explain certain things about him and why some people react to him the way they do.  His past will probably continue to come up and there are some interesting possibilities there.  Cormoran isn’t a typical hero or main character, but he fits those parts very well and is a very interesting character.  He isn’t perfect, so he does make what could be considered questionable choices at times.  Even with his flaws and baggage, he is a very likable character.

Right now, I do think of Robin as a supporting character because she isn’t around as much as Cormoran and doesn’t receive as much attention.  I’m thinking that could change and she may play a bigger role in a future book.  At first, Robin isn’t that happy about working for Cormoran.  Then she gets pulled into the work and comes to enjoy it and she ends up being very helpful.  A little bit is shared about Matthew, the man she gets engaged to the night before she starts working for Cormoran.  Not much comes out about him, but so far, I don’t care for him.

J.K. Rowling became famous for writing the Harry Potter series, a widely popular series of books about a young boy who is a wizard.  The books are aimed at children, though in each one, the main characters are a year older.  As the characters mature, so does the subject matter, and things do turn dark at times.  The Cuckoo’s Calling is not aimed at children in any way.  It is a very different type of book than the Harry Potter series.  That doesn’t mean that fans of Harry Potter won’t also like it but it is possible that some won’t like it because it is so different from the Potter books.  I really enjoyed it and think it is one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time.  This is not a child friendly book, though it may be all right for some teenagers.  Parents should definitely read the book first. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a great mystery/detective book that is well worth reading regardless of who the author is.  People that like mysteries and detective books should definitely give this one a chance.  The book isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it is worth checking out.

I originally posted a review about this book on Epinions on October 14, 2013 as dragonfire88.  I made a few changes before posting it here.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Plans for This Blog

I have decided that I am going to start posting some of the reviews that I originally posted on Epinions here.  I think that most of the time when I do that, I’ll probably make at least a few changes.  When I do repost one of those reviews, I will mention that it was originally posted on Epinions.  If I have recently reread the book, then I might just do a whole new review.  I think I will still mention that I had previously posted a review of the book at Epinions in that case as well. 

I have managed to read more books again recently and I hope to get some reviews posted soon.  I just need to get back into writing more consistently than I have lately.  When Epinions closed down a few months ago, it did cause me to lose motivation, something I am still dealing with.  Hopefully I can keep my motivation so I am able to post more consistently and often. 

I think at times that I will make posts about what I am currently reading or about a new book - or books - that I have gotten.  I also want to set up a page, or maybe it will just be a few posts, that list the books I have reviewed along with links to the reviews.  I had something like set up for my reviews at Epinions.  I will be doing this for each of my blogs.  I know I don’t have many posts on any of them right now, but I figure that this is a good time to get started on that.