January 2014 Reads | The Nerd Nest

Reading might be the thing I did most in January. When it’s cold, I just want to bury myself in blankets with a book and never come out. We also acquired a really comfortable chair from my grandpa’s awesome girlfriend Bev (thanks, Bev!). It’s set up in Jake’s and my room for reading and gaming. I’m finding I’m reading a lot more now that I have a great place to do it. (Other popular reading place for me: bubble baths and laying down in bed right before I fall asleep. What are your favorite places?)

January 2014 Reads | The Nerd Nest

Here are the books I read in January:

The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) by J. K. Rowling as Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike is a failing private detective resorting to living in his office when a high profile–and high paying–case drops in his lap. The distressed brother of recently deceased supermodel Lula Landry is convinced that his sister’s death was not a suicide, but the police and Cormoran aren’t so sure. In the wake of the disaster of his own personal life, Cormoran walks deeper into the gossamer world of the rich and famous. He has to see through the web of gossip and coverups to detect truth buried by the many self-involved characters connected to Lula’s life–and possibly her death.

I enjoyed this book more than I’ve enjoyed a mystery in a long time. After reading a huge collection of classic mystery novels a few years ago, I’ve had a difficult time with mysteries because they mostly follow a very predictable formula. This was not the case with Cuckoo’s Calling.

The pacing of the novel might not be for everyone: this is not a running through alleyways shooting the bad guys kind of a mystery. It’s mostly composed of interviews with various people instead. However, that’s what I love about the novel. Cormoron interviews so many varied types of people connected to Lula: fashion designers, addict rock stars, supermodels, make up artists, doormen, taxi drivers, family members, and people on the less lucky side of life. These characters are enthralling and come to life on the page. I also love when a book exists to deliver more than its plot: this brilliantly raises questions about wealth and fame.

The thing I found most disappointing about the book was the incomplete treatment of the character Robin Ellacott, Cormoran Strike’s temp. After a brief third person omniscient prologue, the book begins with a third person limited chapter from Robin’s point of view. Robin’s thoughts are interesting: she is a smart, capable person with a secret childish dream to be a private detective. This is a promising start but she, for the most part, is barely necessary in the plot. I was expecting her to become a Watson, when she was really just a mirror for Cormoran. Through Robin, we can see what Cormoran looks like, what impression he gives off, and, later, what a darn genius he is. She is doubtlessly helpful and clever, but her character isn’t developed much after the introduction of the novel or given any additional backstory. The book does set up some romantic tension between Robin and Cormoran, so maybe she’s intended to play a greater role in a series of Cormoran Strke books. (Which is inherently problematic, and is foreshadowed into the novel with Cormoran’s constant worrying about her getting the wrong idea of his intentions, even though she’s engaged.)

The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak

In Nazi Germany, young Liesel becomes a book thief, learning first to read late at night with her foster father. Soon, her stolen books aren’t the only things she’s hiding in the dark: she must learn to hide her feelings about her oppressive society and then must hide more. In the midst of the light moments of childhood and humorous antics with her best friend Rudy, Liesel’s life exists under the specter of Hitler…and Death.

DON’T READ THE BACK OF THIS BOOK. Don’t you hate it when descriptions have a spoiler? If it doesn’t happen until halfway into the novel, I really don’t want to know about it. Anyone else irked by this?

This was the first book I read for my friend’s book club! I don’t know why I’m just now, at 26, joining a book club. It’s a no-brainer thing for me to do. I loved talking about this book with amazing women and it spurred very interesting discussions.

I thought that most of the novel was amazing, but found the writing style and the narration by Death to be at times gimmicky. However, I loved that there were bright and wonderful moments as well as dark ones: this book lets you see the very best and very worst of people. It also highlights how great and terrible events effect normal people. This forces you to ask questions of what moral actions you would have taken in others’ place, a kind of forced introspection most books can’t achieve.

I was surprised after reading The Book Thief that it is considered a young adult novel. With its serious subject matter and beautiful imagery laden prose, this is certainly not light reading. Not to speak against YA: some of what I think are the most brilliant pieces of literature of all time were written for youths. I just wanted to say–don’t let the YA label warn you off!

I have more to say about this book and certainly have additional criticisms, but this post is already almost a novel in itself. If you’ve read it and want to talk about it, hit me up in the comments.

The Two Towers (1954) and The Return of the King (1955) and The Silmarillion (1977) by J. R. R. Tolkien

This month I finished off my Tolkien kick with the last two books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion, a collection of legends detailing the creation and ancient of the world Tolkien created in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I love the trilogy deeply, though its treatment of women and implications of race are deeply problematic. I only mention this because one part of my brain is enjoying the story while the other is writing a critical essay. But, for the record, this happens with everything.

The Silmarillion is only for die-hard Tolkien fans. It’s super dry, reads like a religious text, and doesn’t contain a narrative arc. I started speed reading it about halfway through, so I may not have retained as much as I otherwise would have. But then again, I might not have finished the book at all if I hadn’t pretty much skimmed after awhile.

January 2014 Reads | The Nerd Nest

January 2014 Reads | The Nerd Nest

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Make sure to put a big SPOILERS warning in your comment to warn others if you have ’em.

We are Powell’s Books affiliates. Purchasing anything through these links helps to support the Nerd Nest.