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August 2nd, 2013


by Madeleine Rex

So, What Did J.K. Rowling Do?

Until July 14th, I, and most people I know, had never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now, most of us own a copy and are reading it as quickly as we can. The revelation that J.K. Rowling is the author behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith certainly shook up the world of books.

The reviews on the back of the book, written before the leak, are hilarious. It seems some of the reviewers were psychic. Mark Billingham says, “Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can’t wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel…” Mike Cooper couldn’t have known how true his last sentence is, “Robert Galbraith’s debut is as hardbitten and hard-driving as its battered hero. CUCKOO’S CALLING scales the glittering heights of society even as it plumbs the dark depths of the human heart. A riveting read from an author to watch.”

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with all the news, the leak was the friend of the wife of Rowling’s lawyer. The woman, Judith Callegari, posted the author’s true identity on Twitter. In a statement, Rowling expressed her anger at having been outed as The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s real author:

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not Judith Callegari or Rowling’s (former) lawyer. How could you ever live down betraying the woman who created Harry Potter? Talk about shame. And public humiliation. You can read more about Rowling’s statement, as well as the law firm’s pathetic attempt to save-face, here.

But I think the real question is: Why the charade? Publishing under the pseudonym resulted in sales that were microscopic in comparison to what Rowling could have gotten. Approximately 1500 copies of the book sold between April and mid-July. Since then, it’s risen to the top of every best-sellers list I’ve looked at.

Rowling insists that she was enjoying the anonymity, and it doesn’t seem as though she ever intended to announce her authorship, which is what fascinates me most. The pseudonym allowed her to prove that she could receive critical acclaim without her name slapped onto the front of her book. Though The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t selling all that well, the reviewers liked it. No one can say Robert Galbraith wouldn’t have found his way to best-seller-dom with book two or three or four. Maybe Rowling didn’t mind the idea of biding her time – after all, she doesn’t need the money.

The Guardian article, “JK Rowling tells story of alter ego Robert Galbraith,” goes into detail regarding Rowling’s motivations. I can’t help but wonder how long she thought she could keep it up. Beyond the first book, no doubt, but she’s so well known that I can’t believe her secret could have remained a secret forever.

All the same, it’s a shame she didn’t get to reveal her identity on her own terms.

Even more shameful is what this whole scenario says about first-time authors. Despite solid reviews, The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t flying off the shelves. I’d never heard of it before, and I work in a book store. What does this say, then, about readers? What does it take for us to open a book and take a chance on something? I wish I could say I’d bought The Cuckoo’s Calling before I’d known who the author was. I wish I was a fan of Robert Galbraith’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I haven’t read much crime fiction, there’s a good chance I’d have never picked up this book without knowing the truth of its authorship.

This saddens me. I’m reading the book now, and though I’m at the beginning, I can see that it is a great piece of fiction. Its tone is dry yet detailed. The characterization is remarkable and the premise unusual. The humor is clever and often grim (yes, grim humor). I would not know any of this if Judith Callegari hadn’t tweeted J.K. Rowling’s secret. Yet another Guardian article highlights the negative repercussions of Rowling’s “ruse” and the skewed views of the book world, which you can read here.

Whatever Rowling’s motivations and expectations, one thing is undeniable: We’ll be seeing a lot of Robert Galbraith in the future. And I, personally, am happy about that. If you’re as interested as I am in this whole pseudonym thing, check out this post on Barnes and Noble’s Book Blog, “5 Authors Who Used Pseudonyms.” It quite cleverly points out that J.K. Rowling has always used pseudonyms, her real name being Joanne Rowling.

Whatever you think of all this drama, I heartily recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?

July 21st, 2013

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Author: Ransom Riggs

Published: June 2011

Number of Pages: 352

Rating: 4/5


A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here – one of whom was his own grandfather – were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason.

And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive [From Goodreads]


“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”


This is the sort of book that is impossible not to judge by its cover. The cover is awesome. I think that was what initiated the book club girls’ interest in it. Thankfully, the book itself is great, too.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not at all what I expected. I was hoping for a bit more creepiness and scare-factor, but I was generally satisfied by the read. I enjoyed that history was woven into the story quite deftly by the hands of the author. The premise was interesting and the development of the plot fun to observe, but I found that the characters were lacking life.

That’s quite a statement about a book that I still rated 4/5, but let me explain. There was nothing particularly unlikable about the characters. Some of them were witty, some were sweet, some were gruff but kind. They had personalities, sure. However, their personalities were packaged, two-dimensional, and rather uninteresting. I felt like there was little or no character development. Jacob, in particular, seems much younger than he really is. This, along with the character’s two-dimensional-ness, caused the romantic subplot to feel forced and awkward. Actually, one of the characters I found most intriguing was Jacob’s dad, and he plays a rather insignificant role in the story. Characterization and character development were undoubtedly this book’s greatest flaws, which is disappointing to a person who reads primarily for characters.

All the same, it’s the premise of the series that saves it. I love the ideas that Riggs toys with and am excited by the direction in which I believe the story is headed. The magical elements are fascinating and allow the book to stand out from the sea of YA titles. Riggs does a good job of revealing the character’s secrets and abilities, answering just enough questions and revealing just enough through the course of the story to keep the reader satisfied but curious.

Jacob’s voice, despite his character’s static qualities, was another high-point of the novel. His occasional wittiness was just the sort of spark that the book needs more of. I wish the dialogue had been as witty and less scripted (a confusing description, considering this is a book and therefore “scripted” by default, but you know what I mean). Overall, being inside Jacob’s head is enjoyable and comfortable. His bits of insight are welcome but not conspicuous enough to disrupt the narration.

In the end, I found Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children‘s greatness relies heavily on the use of old photographs. Riggs spent hours going through people’s collections of photographs in order to find some that fascinated him, and then he worked those into the story whenever he could. I appreciate that hard work and can attest that it pays off. The photographs add an awesomely unique dimension to the book and were possibly my favorite element.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not a perfect book, but it is a good one and a promising start to the series. I’m excited to see where Riggs’ efforts will take him and what adventures he has in store for these delightfully peculiar children. I heartily recommend the book to book clubs, as it was a huge hit with mine. There are some good discussion questions online, too.

July 14th, 2013

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Clockwork Princess

Author: Cassandra Clare

Published: March 2013

Number of Pages: 592

Rating: 4/5


A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.

Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.

As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

Danger and betrayal, secrets and enchantment, and the tangled threads of love and loss intertwine as the Shadowhunters are pushed to the very brink of destruction in the breathtaking conclusion to the Infernal Devices trilogy. [From Goodreads]


“No one can say that death found in me a willing comrade, or that I went easily.”


I was plagued the entire second semester of school by anticipation of this book. My friends were reading it and frantically whispering about it all the time. Now, having read it, I know why.

Clockwork Princess is the perfect ending to this incredibly fun series. It’s full of surprises, and therefore certain to disappoint some who hoped for a less bittersweet conclusion, but I thought the ending was quite appropriate. The Infernal Devices is not a cheery, uncomplicated series. Clockwork Princess reflects the conflict and struggles that the trilogy deals with, but it also testifies of the importance of love and family, a virtue that I believe is at the core of the entire story.

Perhaps that is why I loved the series so much. It isn’t “preachy” at all, but it, through the story and characters, testifies that the bonds of family are stronger than the force of any adversary, any darkness. It sounds corny, I know, but life is corny. Well, the good parts of it. So, at risk of being corny, I have to say that I appreciate the sentiment at the core of this trilogy and recommend that everyone read it. You get a fantastic message cloaked in action and Victorian-era London and steampunk awesomeness.

Plus, the awesomeness of the characters is mind-blowing. I love the cast of characters in this series, and it’s in this book that they have the opportunity to show their true colors. They rise above awful circumstances and fight to be honorable. The ending is so satisfying because there’s a sense that everyone has done all they can to be good people, they’ve risen above challenges, and they’ve held onto their loved ones. They’ve managed to remain optimistic in a dark world, and they’ve discovered the light in it.

Concerning the plot, this is the faster-paced of the last two books in the series. It’s insanity from the very start. Magic and betrayal and death all play a part. Naturally, those three “characters” mean surprise after surprise. I was listening to the audiobook in the car, and every time a disc finished, I had to pull over or have a passenger put the next in immediately because the suspense was just too much. All the relationships, all the mysteries, all the conflicts come to an exhilarating climax. Mortmain lives up to his frightening reputation, his character sick and menacing and strangely pitiful. The clockwork creatures become even more powerful and despicable. Meanwhile, Tessa is developing into the sort of heroine she reads about. As you can see, a lot happens in the 592 pages.

This series is fun. It’s full of humor and has a dash of silliness, but it is so much more. It has a deeper level and message, and that’s one of the things that allows it to surpass The Mortal Instruments in my esteem. There’s more spirit in these books.

If you’re interested in steampunk, this is a series for you. If you’re interested in a story about family, this is the series for you. Sure, it’s not perfect. It’s not a literary masterpiece. But it’s dynamic. Three-dimensional. Give it a read.