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Book Review: The Blackbird Papers

The Blackbird Papers Book Cover

Rating: 3 stars

A rainy night . . . A stranded motorist . . . A Good Samaritan passerby … a Nobel Prize–winning professor . . . The setup for a shocking murder designed to cover up an even more sinister crime . . . 

The Blackbird Papers marks the debut of Ian Smith, a major new talent in crime fiction, and of Sterling Bledsoe, his smart and occasionally combative sleuth. 

World-renowned Dartmouth professor Wilson Bledsoe is returning from a party celebrating his latest honor when he encounters a broken-down pickup on the secluded country road to his home. The next day, the discovery of his body with a vicious racist epithet carved into his chest leads to the quick arrest of two loathsome white supremacists. The local authorities seem ready to accept the case at face value as a racial hate crime. But the murdered professor’s brother, FBI agent Sterling Bledsoe, has inserted himself into the investigation and isn’t ready to buy into this pat solution. A look around his brother’s lab and brief interviews with his students and colleagues pique Sterling’s curiosity about Wilson’s pet project: a nearly completed paper on the mysterious deaths of hundreds of local blackbirds. 

Fast-paced and cleverly constructed, The Blackbird Papers introduces a major new talent in mystery and crime fiction.

I found this book to be an immensely interesting read. It was fast paced and mostly kept me interested to find out what happened to Sterling’s brother. But near the end of The Blackbird Papers, I slowly found myself losing interest. Especially near the end when you find out who kills Sterling’s brother and why.

What made this murder mystery book so interesting to me was going through the process of uncovering the mystery. You have Sterling’s brother who is missing at first until they discover his body. Then when they find Wilson you see the whole process of them examining his body to find out how he was killed and try to find out why. From there, you see Sterling going through his brother’s research, trying to uncover more clues.

I found this part of the story especially to be interesting whenever he uncovered that his brother was trying to discover why an alarming amount of blackbirds were being killed. It made the story that much more interesting because it showed that Ian Smith did a little bit of research to add detail into this book. It also made me want to continue reading The Blackbird Papers to find out who killed Wilson.

I also found Sterling as the main character interesting. Especially since this whole case involved the murder of his brother. I thought the story would be a little different since Sterling was trying to uncover the murder of his brother. But if anything, he seemed more determined to find out who killed Wilson than anything else. I know a lot of that had to do with some emotional problems of his own when it came to his brother, and I appreciated that this book included those details within its pages. While you wish Sterling could’ve gotten some reconciliation with his older brother, you also see his character grow as a result of this case.

I also like that Smith ended the story by Sterling respecting his brother’s last wishes. I found that to be a very touching scene because he goes through a lot in order to solve his brother’s murder and he is finally able to feel peace that his brother is no longer there.

While I enjoyed these aspects of The Blackbird Papers, there was a lot missing from it for me to enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. For starters, while the pacing of the plot started off really wonderful for me, it soon was at a point where it slowed down completely and became predictable. The plot reached this point near the end of the novel when those who didn’t want Wilson’s research to get out tried to frame Sterling for his brother’s murder. Each time Sterling found himself unraveling another piece of the puzzle, he’d have to run away from law enforcement. For me, that started slowing down the storyline because I knew he was close to getting the information he needed. It also felt like Smith added those moments into the story so there’d be action and conflict for Sterling while he’s trying to get to the bottom of the case.

I also found the person responsible for the death of Wilson to be predictable. I don’t know if it’s because I already had a feeling whenever his character was introduced that he was responsible or if the plot in the story was just that predictable for me. The only thing surprising about that part of the story was that more people were in on it than I was expecting. But that overall doesn’t really change the way I feel about the suspect because I still had those feelings from the beginning that this person was responsible.

The Blackbird Papers is an interesting murder mystery novel. I enjoyed it because the overall story kept me wanting to find out what happened next, but I was also disappointed that the killer was too easy for me to predict. I also found the pacing of the novel close to the conclusion to be lacking, but also really enjoyed the ending because Sterling finally found some peace when it came to his own conflict with his brother. It was overall an enjoyable read that I would’ve liked more if the killer wasn’t so predictable to me and if the ending of the story didn’t move so slow.

Book Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)

The Cuckoo's Calling Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a 2013 crime fiction novel by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel’s suicide.

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.

Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

You may think you know detectives, but you’ve never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you’ve never seen them under an investigation like this.

When I first began reading this book, I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it. I’d attempted to read The Casual Vacancy a while back, but never really got too far into it. As a Harry Potter fan who hadn’t really read any other work by the author who wrote one of my beloved favorite series, I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this book. But after giving it a read, however, I found myself really enjoying it.

The main storyline in The Cuckoo’s Calling is about a famous supermodel whose death everyone believed to be a suicide. However, her brother John Bristow thinks differently and hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into her case. What he discovers investigating her death is a labyrinth of twists and turns to get to the truth of how she died.

What I enjoyed when reading The Cuckoo’s Calling is the characters. I enjoyed hearing in detail about Strike’s personal life, learning more about him and his relation to the world of the famous he was searching for answers. He’s a rough character I wasn’t expecting to be introduced to in this book, but I found his roughness to be quite alluring. It also helped explain certain details that came up as we learned more about him. I also liked Robin’s character quite a bit. She’s a very resourceful woman and I loved reading her interactions with Strike as these events unfolded. She’s also a character I could find myself relating to in this story because I’d probably react the same way as her if I found myself working for a private investigator. I’d want to get myself entangled into the investigation, want to find some way of helping solve the case or providing much needed information to help find the suspect. I wouldn’t want to accept a job somewhere else because the job I’d have would be exactly where I want to be. I liked the relationship the author gave between Strike and Robin. It was very cordial and friendly without being too intrusive. Robin allowed Strike to live his life without interfering, but was supportive of him whenever he needed it.

I also enjoyed the details Robert Galbraith put into the storyline. It’s a story full of richly deep plot that’s not too complex for any reader to enjoy. But it also has enough new vocabulary for the reader who wants a challenge when reading. The writing style is also unique because Galbraith tells us what happens throughout as Strike begins to investigate Lula’s death. You see the crime scene in front of you and hear the dialogue between Strike and all of the characters who were involved. You see how Strike uncovers evidence to the crime and find out how he knows who killed Lula. It’s such a good read that I couldn’t wait to find out how it unfolded.

Not only do I enjoy this book because it’s a crime mystery novel, but also because you get to see the underbelly of being a celebrity. Galbraith takes us into the world of being a celebrity by allowing us to see what they deal with on a daily basis. You see this whenever Strike interviews Evan about his involvement with Lula. You get to see him and Ciara being hounded by paparazzi whenever they leave a building and being followed home. In this book, you get to see both the good and the bad about being famous and how anyone is capable of murder.

There are two things with The Cuckoo’s Calling, however, I didn’t particularly enjoy. For one, I didn’t like how the chapters were divided. Galbraith divided the book into separate parts, and then had chapters in each part. The reason I didn’t particularly like this is because it felt completely random how it was done. I also felt like the story could’ve continued without it. While I don’t necessarily mind books being divided into sections like this one, I just didn’t feel like it made sense to do it.

My other criticism with this book is I felt like there was more telling in this story than showing. For example, whenever you find out who kills Lula, Strike explains it to you how he came to this conclusion instead of showing all of the details that made him get there. While I don’t mind being told what happens, it killed the suspense in the story for me.  It took away the element of surprise because I was told who killed Lula instead of being shown how that conclusion was made. And I felt like this happened a lot throughout the book, which at times seemed a little too much for me. There were times in the story where I wanted to be shown certain details instead of being told about them later on.

But despite these two criticisms I had with this book, The Cuckoo’s Calling was such an enjoyable read to me. It was full of interesting characters, intriguing mystery and details about being famous that really made me flip the page to find out what happened next. I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out what happens with Strike and Robin next. Hopefully, The Silkworm will be as much as an enjoyable read as The Cuckoo’s Calling was for me.

Book Review: Color Blind (Dr. Jenna Ramey #1)

Color Blind Book Cover

Rating: 4 stars

SYNESTHESIA: 
A neurological condition characterized by automatic, involuntary sensory perceptions triggered by seemingly unrelated stimuli.

There is something unusual about Dr. Jenna Ramey’s brain, a rare perceptual quirk that punctuates her experiences with flashes of color. They are hard to explain: red can mean anger, or love, or strength. But she can use these spontaneous mental associations, understand and interpret them enough to help her read people and situations in ways others cannot. As an FBI forensic psychiatrist, she used it to profile and catch criminals. Years ago, she used it to save her own family from her charming, sociopathic mother.

Now, the FBI has detained a mass murderer and called for Jenna’s help. Upon interrogation she learns that, behind bars or not, he holds the power to harm more innocents—and is obsessed with gaining power over Jenna herself. He has a partner still on the loose. And Jenna’s unique mind, with its strange and subtle perceptions, may be all that can prevent a terrifying reality…

Wow, what an enjoyable read! This book was quite the page turner. It was a mixture of crime fiction and neurology. The story centers on Dr. Jenna Ramey, a woman with the ability to read people through a neurological condition that allows her to see colors surrounding people. She uses her special ability to help profile and catch criminals. But she also had to use this ability to save her family from her wicked mother when she was younger. Now, she’s called to help with a case involving a mass murder who holds power even when he’s behind bars and who might possibly be connected with her mother in some way.

What I enjoyed about reading Color Blind is seeing the story from Dr. Jenna Ramey’s perspective. I loved learning more about her condition, being able to see the detail put into describing the colors she was experiencing from the people she talked to. I’ve never read a crime fiction story that went this much into detail, and I found each piece of information I learned about Dr. Ramey more and more interesting. It made the story that much more interesting for me to want to continue reading to find out what happened next. It also showed that Colby Marshall did her research on synesthesia, a condition I’ve never really heard of myself until now. Makes me want to do my own research on the topic to see what more I can learn.

I also enjoyed this read because I found the story and characters to be interesting. I liked getting to hear more about Dr. Ramey’s background, find out about her mother Claudia and how she saved her family from uncertain death. I like how personal this case ended up being for Dr. Ramey because you could see her doing the best she could to save those around her. I found myself really engrossed in this story because of how interesting the storyline became that I couldn’t put this book down. I wanted to find out how Isaac was connected to Claudia and how that resulted in the events that followed. I also found Dr. Ramey’s relationship with Yancy to be most interesting, even though I don’t really understand why her connection with him is stronger than what she had with Hank.

I also like Color Blind because it’s crime fiction. I especially like that they showed Dr. Ramey as someone who doesn’t bask in her celebrity status. She’s a sincere person who wants to do things to keep those she cares about safe from the harm her mother will cause. Because once her mother gets out, she knows her mother will come for her and those she holds dear. This book was just such a page turner for me that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

I appreciate that they include some video game talk in this book. I like that Marshall has Isaac and Sebastian meet each other to make their plans in a video game that they both play. It’s something you normally don’t see in crime fiction stories, so I was surprised by it, but really liked it.

There are only a couple of things with this book I didn’t particularly like. For one, I felt like the connection between Isaac and Claudia was too disappointing. While it was an interesting spin I didn’t see coming, it wasn’t all that surprising for me to begin with. You could tell there was a connection between the two from the beginning just from the way Isaac interacts with Dr. Ramey and how he knew more about her than anyone else.

I also felt like most of the ending was pretty rushed because the last half of the story moves along very fast. Everything happens all at once, like the pieces were there just waiting to be lined up. While I usually don’t mind that, in this story the pieces that came together were pretty disappointing. For example, they made the capture of Thadius too easy to me and I found myself actually feeling for Sebastian. Despite his ties to Isaac, he didn’t seem like too bad of a kid, just troubled and in need of serious help. The end itself while interesting just didn’t do too much for me other than make me sad that the book was over. The only thing interesting about it to me was what happened with Claudia because I find her character to be really intriguing.

Despite these small things most people wouldn’t have minded, I found Color Blind to be a fantastic read. It had a little bit of everything I enjoy about crime novels, plus gave me the chance to learn something new. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to read the rest of the series to see what happens to Dr. Ramey next.

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