Review: The Casual Vacancy

I put The Casual Vacancy on my 2015 TBR Challenge list because, after my love for the Robert Galbraith books, I decided I needed to step (back) all the way into JK Rowling’s adult fiction.


I will admit, I went in with some trepidation. After all, this is a far cry from Hogwarts, folks.

Further, I will admit that my mom’s commentary on this book had me worried. After she read this, I think the statement she emailed to Amanda and me was “there is not a happy sentence in that book.”

So, let’s back up for a second. The Casual Vacancy is about an open local government position in the (fictional) UK town of Pagford. After a councilman’s sudden death, there is a scramble to fill his seat between two factions – warring over the issue of whether the town is responsible for the nearby council estate (low income housing), its residents, and the addiction clinic it houses. This book is dark. Everyone, well everyone except for poor Barry Fairbrother who dies on the first page thus causing the casual vacancy, has some serious skeletons in the closet – or else skeletons on full display for all the world to see. But Rowling weaves these interconnected lives together in such a way that I could hardly put this book down. I would say I’ve never been so interested in a local government election, but that would be a lie – and a story for another day.

My verdict? Five Stars. My mom, as usual, is right, but that does not mean I didn’t love this book. Unhappy sentences, maybe, but what sentences! What characters! What a portrait of complex human relationships.

What a fucking ending.

Have you read The Casual Vacancy? What did you think? Are you planning to watch the mini-series?


Review: The Silkworm

Warning! Minor spoilers below, but you can read our spoiler free discussions on the Silkworm part 1 and part 2.


Amanda: Holly and have now finished The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (a/k/a J.K. Rowling) – in my case finished by reading in the car over the weekend while ignoring my husband and daughter.  Oops.  #booknerdproblems

Holly: Oh, I finished sitting outside a coffee shop with a latte. And a cookie. It was lovely.

Amanda: I loved this book! I had my suspicions about the motive and the murderer of course-but when it comes to mysteries I really love to be proved wrong. I did not see the ending coming.  I did have one suspicion as to the evidence in the murder prove correct so I could still feel like a good armchair detective!

Holly: I am impressed that you had a suspicion! I had zero clue what was going on. Observancy is not my strong point, sister. Strike pays attention to all these details and then pieces together the most obvious (though completely crazy-sounding) explanation. Isn’t that basically how Sherlock Holmes stories work too?

Amanda:  Yes! I think you’re right about Sherlock.  I think this means we need more Sherlock in our lives.  Exhibit A: Every Breath-a contemporary teenage Holmes set in Australia  which I need in my life pronto. Exhibit B: Sherlock.


Anyway, pardon that diversion.  

It will be interesting to see as the series continues what mistakes Strike makes.  There has to be some or he’ll be too perfect.  I feel like none of his theories were wrong in the Silkworm. I hope he doesn’t get a big head!  Also, I loved Robin so much! I’m glad she did more investigative work in the Silkworm and I can’t wait to see how she does in investigative training.  I think they’ll continue to do an excellent “Good Cop, Bad Cop” together.

Holly: Well, sometimes he makes mistakes in his relationships with people – his cop buddy, his sister, and poor Nina! Oh, and his client at the beginning of the book too. So, he’s at least a little flawed. I definitely can’t wait for some more from Robin too.

Amanda: Excellent point! He’d totally be a tosser if he was a crime solver and everyone had to love him absolutely.  I do like that he has the rough edges. Hmm maybe I’m cold hearted, I didn’t feel too badly for Nina.  Maybe he’ll fall in love with Robin and get more in touch with his friends.  Maybe?  I can hope?

Unanimous! 5 stars! Can we have book 3 now please?

Still Reading The Silkworm

When we last reported on The Silkworm, our favorite private investigator, Comoran Strike, had gone from trying to find a missing person to trying to solve a murder. Check out part one of our conversation here. Now, we’re 60% through the book, and dying (perhaps that’s a poor word choice) to know whodunit!

Holly: So, I have two non-spoiler thoughts on this book so far. First, one of our #1 commenters (hi blodeuedd!) said “not my genre” about this book. So now I feel compelled to explain to everyone that this is not exactly a mystery/crime “genre” book. I mean, I’m no expert, as I don’t really understand book genres, but I think this is more of a really great novel about a guy who also happens to be an investigator solving crimes. It’s got a lot of things I love – including the London setting, the well developed characters (who we are slowly getting more details on!) and just lovely writing.

Amanda: I am no genre expert and if you look at my Goodreads shelves you can see I read a bit of everything.  I think the best mysteries are those that get a bit deeper-who is the investigator and what draws him on the case.  I like that about Strike.  He’s working this case because he needs to know what happened-not because he’s being paid.  I also love the setting.  When can we plan a sisterly trip to London to look for Strike?

Holly: Here is my second thought – J.K. Rowling, winner of the book world, wrote a book about a book in which a (crazy? disgruntled? not sure yet!) writer has written a book that reveals a bunch of character flaws about people in the book world. C’mon – what are the chances she has drawn on personal experience to create the publishers, agents, and editors? Do you think she’s taking digs at anyone herself?

Amanda:  Very interesting idea.  I think I have an idealized image of the creator of Harry Potter in my head that she must be too classy to do that.  But I will say I love reading about the publishing world in books.  Maybe there are some digs from her early days?  I bet there are people searching for themselves for sure! I love that I have no theories built up of whodunit! I feel like the reason for this murder is going to come out of nowhere. I was on the edge of my seat at moments waiting to see what would happen.  Time to get back to it!

Holly: Yes, must finish! And also, let’s start planning that trip to London for sure!

We’re Reading The Silkworm

When Amanda and I started this blog (almost) a year ago, we didn’t really know what we were doing. (Spoiler alert: we still don’t.) One of the first things we decided to do was read a book together and discuss. We started with The Cuckoo’s Calling, and posted check-ins at 30% through, 60% through, and done.

We loved our read-along, so we’ve kept that up to read other books together! We also loved The Cuckoo’s Calling and Private Investigator Comoran Strike.

All this is leading up to saying that it’s time for another read-along, and this time we’re reading The Silkworm, the second Comoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith a.k.a. J.K. Rowling.


If you’re not familiar with our hero, Strike, he’s an Army vet working a one man detective firm with the help of his office assistant Robin (we love Robin!).  Novelist Owen Quine is missing and his wife believes he’s in hiding at a London hotel.  She hires Strike to roust Quine out and send him home.  Strike learns there is much more going on than an unhappy author out sulking when he reads Quine’s latest novel. Then, when Quine is found brutally murdered, Strike becomes much more involved in this case than he expected to be.

We’re up to 30% so far, and here’s what we’re thinking!

Holly: So far, I still adore Robin and I want her to be involved in solving the case! Also, tosser is a British word that we should use more of.

Amanda: We found out what the silkworm is! Also, the book within this book is weird. Of course, totally agree re: tosser.  Will definitely try to throw it into use more often.

Holly: I quite love this line – “if it had crossed Strike’s mind that it might be considered arrogant or deluded of a private detective with no authority in the investigation to imagine he had the power to delegate tasks to the police office in charge of the case, the thought did not trouble him.” I love Strike.

Amanda: I love that even though we’re only 30% in I feel like we’re getting to know Strike a bit better.  I want more about his Army life and how he was led to open this office.  I also want to know more about his ex-fiance, Charlotte, and what life was like for them together.  Basically I want to know why she’s wrong for Strike so that I can see how perfect Robin would be for him.

Holly: So, I still haven’t read Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (yet), but I hear there is a big emphasis on class distinctions. And, I was thinking about that in how this book has set up the difference between Strike, his office, and his living quarters, as opposed to Robin’s fiance Matthew (bit of a tosser). Or even his own sister Lucy. Or his ex. Strike does not inhabit the world of the comfortably middle-class – though that is at least in part by choice.

Amanda: If you think about Rowling herself I would think she has more perspective on class distinctions than many authors, right?  Going from the poverty line as a single mother to having more money than the Queen of England must leave you with some opinions on class status.  Strike also has exposure to all sides also from his unconventional upbringing, his knowledge of his rockstar father, Army life and then living with Charlotte.  We know the situation he’s in now with living above his office isn’t as bad as things could be, but it will be interesting to see as the series progresses if his income grows how his lifestyle changes.  As long as he doesn’t become a tosser its all good.

Holly: Dude, don’t even!

Amanda: Don’t even what?! What did I do?

Holly: Don’t even call Strike a tosser! That is a misuse of our new vocabulary word.

We’re back to reading and we’ll check in next week with another 30% done!

Harry Potter Romance Controversy Our Thoughts

Amanda & Holly

Have you seen the news?!  JK Rowling has told Emma Watson–Hermione herself!– that she  “wrote the Hermione-Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment”, and that “for reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron” instead of with Harry himself.


She is also quoted as predicting that the pair would have needed relationship counseling.  To that I say no big deal! I think counseling is good for everyone and why not take something that could make your relationship stronger? I am sure Hermione would instigate counseling and prod Ron into going with her.  Hermione and Ron both are strong willed and opinionated, so I’m sure that taking time to check in with a non-emotional party and making sure they’re both being heard and validated in their marriage would be a good thing!  My sister says I’m assuming a nagging female role for Hermione in the situation that she’d take him to counseling.  I’m assuming the smart woman who knows that marriage is WORK and needs to be worked on continuously actually. So neener neener neener Holly!

Here is how the conversation about these revelations went down between my sister and I during the very boring Super Bowl last night:


For starters, WTF.  For seconds, it’s interesting that this is even a conversation. I’m watching the Superbowl and also reading comments on the twitter and the facebook where every commercial and facial expression is analyzed from every angle, but it still surprises me how much we, as in everyone, scrutinize authors outside of the books.  And sometimes completely change our minds about a book based on how we feel about an author.

Not that I’m changing my mind about anything! I just think its weird that a) JK can come out with a statement like that then b) it spreads like wildfire and c) we all go apepoop.

I love when Ron and Hermione get together.  And I love that it starts when Victor is interested in Hermione and then Ron finally wakes up!  I love that Harry and Hermione are platonic great friends of the opposite sex.

But truth?  I don’t love that in the end Harry & Ginny and Ron & Hermione are all happily ever after.  BUT NOT BECAUSE OF SOME BS IDEA THAT HARRY AND HERMIONE SHOULD BE TOGETHER.

The only reason it bothers me is that its just *too* neat and perpetuates this idea you must meet your soulmate, or at least someone you’re really into, by age 15 or you’re destined to wind up lonely and unhappy.

[Amanda disclaimer-I did meet my soul mate at 15. But I didn’t decide he WAS my soul mate for years and years!]

Of course I must remember who I’m talking to. That’s my point.  One of the 2 of us had met our best dude at 15.  The other of us would probably not have gotten along with dude at 15.  So it irks me a little that they all end up with their Hogwarts sweethearts.


I see your point.  Maybe because its a “kids book” the general Happily Ever After ending doesn’t bother me?  Because also, with the short epilogue she had to tie it neatly into a bow.  No room to introduce new loves.  I know some people would be happier if the epilogue was not even included– I am not one of them!

I also LOVE Hermione and I love that she doesn’t end up #2 to HP in a relationship.  She’s so much more than just his girlfriend.  Which I feel is how she would have ended up in perception if they had dated.


Yes, I agree with what you’re saying about Hermione not being #2 to Harry, but not sure I agree with the wording.  Ginny isn’t exactly a doormat!  Harry can deal with an independent woman!  But yes, I am glad Harry and Hermione are not like that.  Because she belongs to Ron! So, take back everything I just said about being annoyed with the ending because I actually don’t want it any other way.


But then again it’s not like they had average lives where they were meeting the loves of their life at 15.  They were all signed up to die together.  Kind of different than me being afraid of Brother Ruhl with J.


Also Ron gets kind of a bum deal.  What teenage boy isn’t at least a little bit of an idiot? 

[Amanda disclaimer: What fully grown male isn’t sometimes kind of an idiot?}


And that’s not what I meant either! Ginny is a bad ass!  Bat bogey hex?!  And yes– I agree re: Won Won.


Excellent point.  Traumatic experiences lead to intense connections.  And I just died at Won Won.

In summary, even if JK thinks the ending should be different, she shoulda kept that thought to herself.  Or maybe she should write a new book about the next generation at Hogwarts.  Though I’d like to think those kids don’t have quite as much seriousness to deal with!  Second, I’d also like to think that Hermione and Rob both learn to bring out the best in one another.  Third, I bet Ginny, Harry, Hermy and Ron hang out like every Friday night.  Big fun.


I agree, but I don’t want books about the kids.  I am ok with just compulsively re-reading.  Besides, JK is too busy writing more Cormoran Strike to write more HP!

What are your thoughts?  Do you think Harry and Hermione belonged together?  Or were you a Lavender fan for Won Won? Are we just crazy?  I’m off to reread!

Finished with the Cuckoo’s Calling


Holly and Amanda

Make sure you check out part one and part two of our discussion on The Cuckoo’s Calling!

Holly has been traveling for work and I have an insane 3 year-old who refuses to go to bed, so we had to summarize our thoughts on the Cuckoo’s Calling by text message. (edited by Amanda to make sense and to cut spoilers)

H:  I finished! I was not sure what to expect with this book at all, but I definitely enjoyed it more than I was expecting! And spending  most waking hours at various and sundry airports was not at all annoying because I was so engrossed in finishing my book!

A:  I also enjoyed this far more than I expected to.  I was so glad that the character I suspected was not the creeper I was predicting him to be.  I was not going to be entertained by that story line.

H:  Yes!! We totally learned our lesson suspecting that person.

A:  I think that Rowling has a gift that makes you care about her characters with very little interaction.  You never meet Lulu alive, but you have to feel sadness and pity for her-even though there are definitely aspects you do not like about her as well.

A: Lulu is like the anti-Harry Potter in a way.  She has no one real to love and support her in life.  Where are her Hermione and Ron?!

H: Oooh, that is a profound comparison about Lulu and HP.  Except wait, HP grew up with no one (visible to him) loving and supporting him.  And Lulu had everyone around her clamoring to get close to her.  So I’m not sure if they are alike or antithetical.

A: Hmm.  Maybe I was trying to sound too smart :p

H:  And I did appreciate the genuineness some characters showed in their affection for Lulu, though it’s hard to tell who is genuine sometimes!

A:  No one was genuine except Guy!! And maybe crazy mama.

H:  And that Strike! He is so clever.  I want to read it again just to see what I can pick up on that I missed.

A:  And Robin! Is her engagement totally falling apart as the series continues?

H:  Oh! I can’t decide if that will happen.  Or if that’s what I want to happen or not.  I am definitely interested to see what Robin gets up to in the next book.  When does that come out?

A:  August 1, 2014 per Goodreads-I’m not necessarily buying that date due to the lack of details.  And Amazon has nothing.

H: My one gripe, because I usually have one, is that the BIG REVEAL scene felt a little dramatic and unrealistic… like that scene was written for a movie.  Because of course in a movie everyone has to spell out what they know and how.  But, maybe its logical based on those characters and their personalities and what they’re trying to prove.

A:  Totally agree.  She could do that in HP because a) it was a “kids” book and b) with magic you can do whatever you want!

Agreement: 4 stars!

Still Reading the Cuckoo’s Calling

Click here for part 1 of our discussion on The Cuckoo’s Calling

Click here for part 3:

Check in #2 – 60% In

Warning: Slight spoilers ahead!  We’re more than halfway through the Cuckoo’s Calling and here’s what we think so far:

Holly –

I know I am always going on about the books that Amanda demands I read, but I should probably confess that I am a pretty bossy little sister. I am currently insisting that we discuss this book so far, like five minutes ago, so that I can get on with the rest of the story ASAP! We agreed to stop at 60%, which, with the chapter break ended up at 62% and it was definitely a big moment! Strike just received some very interesting information. (BTW, if you are not a Kindle person, we are not actually crazy with figuring out the reading percentages…Kindle does that for you!)

I am definitely getting into the story, and I’m clearly dying to finish. There were a couple scenes that had me laughing out loud (I do that when I read. J looks at me like I’m a crazy person when I’m reading something funny.) – one where Robin is digging for clues at a high-end boutique, and one where Strike is goading Lula’s Uncle Tony. I have two texts from Amanda from the last few days about how much she dislikes Uncle Tony. I won’t say too much else, at the risk of spoiling anything, but Rowling/Galbraith has definitely left some guns on the wall that had better go off in the last third!

Amanda –

Let me also say Holly’s J looks at her like she’s a crazy person a lot. And most often when we’re together laughing our heads off.

As I’m bombarding my sister with texts about how I dislike Uncle Tony her response: “He is shady without the palm trees.”  Perfect description! What is his deal?!  So many questions need to be answered right now! And Rochelle?  Hello payoff?! What’s happening here?

I am glad this is going to be a series because I definitely need to know more about Strike than I think one book is going to cover. Is he ever going to call Charlotte back?  His dream description is killing me “gorgeous, vituperative and haunted.”  What is up with her?

And can Robin really leave his office to work somewhere else?  This is going to upset me.

My train ride home tonight had better not be too crowded to read again! Suspense is starting to get to me!

Reading “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

Holly: If you think that all Amanda and I do all day is read and blog about books, you are incorrect. We also spend a great deal of time gchatting/texting/facebooking about all the books to read and blog about. Seriously. Oh, and Amanda is also making me tweet. I still don’t know what to do there.

cuckooscallingAnyway, in one of these conversations, we talked about reading a book together, and discussing as we read. Amanda suggested The Cuckoo’s Calling, by J.K. Rowling’s alter-ego Robert Galbraith. It was an Amazon deal-of-the-day, which was obviously all the convincing I needed.

I had briefly seen the story about how this book was written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym*, but I hadn’t read any details about the book. I haven’t yet read The Casual Vacancy, so I wasn’t sure what to think about a non-Harry Potter Rowling book.

*Now that I just read that story in more detail, WTF? “It was frankly too good for a book by an unknown first-time author”? That may be the more depressing statement I’ve ever read.

30% In

Holly –

This feels very strange. I keep wondering how anyone figured out this was Rowling.** I’m looking for some giveaway, like for Robin to get on Platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross. No such luck.

There was a line about Strike’s beer: “The Cornish beer tasted of home, peace and long-gone security” which made me wonder about butterbeer and what that’s supposed to taste like. Is that the giveaway?! I checked: “Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside.” (Prisoner of Azkaban) And now, I want a drink.

Anyway, I’m still not sure what to think. The story feels worn – down-on-his-luck detective working on a (seemingly) dead-end case with a beautiful secretary hanging on his every word. And it feels like it could have been set 40 years ago just as easily as today. Yet, I totally buy it, and I am invested in the characters, and I’m excited to see what happens next…even if I probably would not have picked up this book if I didn’t know that Robert Galbraith was actually JK Rowling.

**Google just told me that it’s because her lawyer spilled the beans. But apparently before the story was broken, the London Sunday Times did analyze the writing style with a software program. This is kind of an interesting story.

 Amanda – 

I of course had read every story I could see about this being a new Rowling book because: A) I am a huge nerd. B) I miss Harry Potter and even if I cannot have HP back I want more from Rowling’s mind.  I did try The Casual Vacancy, but I did not finish it.  I liked the style and thought it was well written, but honestly it was just too dark for me at the time.  I tried to read it during the holidays and it was just the wrong book.  I need to go back and try it again in the right mindset.  

Like Holly, I am also looking constantly for an indication this is J.K. Rowling writing, but I’m not really seeing it.  I have found myself checking a definition or two on my kindle-certainly not something you have to do in Harry Potter!  I do love a well written mystery so I was really excited with this was an amazon deal of the day.  

I liked Robin right away, though I suppose she’s a pretty stock character-pretty young thing from a small town following her boyfriend to the big city.  I was worried she was going have a run in with our murderer right after she was introduced.  I like Strike and I’m intrigued as hell about Charlotte, Strike’s newly exed ex-fiance. I hope we get more of Strike’s backstory as the book continues, he’s an interesting guy.  

We’ll check back another third of the way through!

In the meantime follow us on twitter-we’ll add a link when I figure it out. @GuninActOne and @Ampersandpaper

Click here for part 2 of our discussion: