Monthly Archives: September 2015

Review: Gray Mountain by John Grisham

1 Star

Ok, I know that seems harsh.  One star for a John Grisham book?  Really?  Yep.  I very nearly didn’t finish this book.  For fans of books like The Firm, Pelican Brief and The Client, stay very far away from this book.  This is not the John Grisham that you remember fondly with twisting plots, interesting characters, strong leads and gripping courtroom drama.  I found myself not believing that this was the same author.  While the research was well done and the subject matter was interesting, the characters were abysmal and the story plodded along and the plot got lost somewhere along the way.

Apparently this was the first time that Mr. Grisham has had a female protagonist.  I’m not sure what he thought we would find appealing in Samantha Kofer.  She was a paper-pusher in Big Law until the recession hit and she was placed on furlough.  Her firm dangled a small thread in front of her.  Work as an unpaid intern doing pro-bono work, and maybe in a year we’ll bring you back into the fold of Big Law.  Maybe.  So, Samantha sends off inquiries to almost a dozen non-profit organizations offering her services.  The only person who responds is Mattie Wyatt with a legal-aid clinic deep in Appalachia, a tiny town called Brady, Virginia.  Deep in the heart of coal country.

Samantha packs up and moves herself down to Brady, Virginia to begin working “real law” with Mattie.  She’s never seen the inside of a courtroom and has never worked for anyone other than big businesses.  So she’s in for a real shock when she starts taking cases for domestic violence, unlawful garnishment and black lung.  She’s terrified of the courtroom and constantly reminds everyone that she’s not a litigator.  Everyone.  All the time.  I got so tired of her being a wimp that I just wanted to smack her.

The background was actually the best part of the entire book.  Not many people know or even care about the miners in Appalachia.  They don’t have any idea of the conditions they work in or the effect that mining has on not only the people but on the environment as well.  I wish more time had been spent on these cases, the cases of black lung where the coal companies keep these families tied up in litigation for so long that by the time that the cases are settled, the miner is either dead or nearly so by the time benefits are actually paid out.  The crooked mining companies and their crooked lawyers.  This would have been a much better novel if Mr. Grisham had stuck to the stories surrounding these mining families and their cases big and small.  It’s such amazing material that we should have had a huge tort lawsuit bringing down the coal companies.  But we didn’t get that.

The main characters are flat, uninspired and in some cases you just don’t care about them at all and they bring nothing to the overall story.  I don’t know why some of them were even thrown in there.  The romance angle is non-existent with some random sex thrown in for no particular reason.  The only interesting characters were the miners and their stories.  I can’t stress enough how much I was disappointed in how this material was handled.  Too many sub-plots and unnecessary story lines.  If he would have kept to the issues of strip mining, black lung and the environmental and economic impact of these crooked mining operations, it would have been an amazing story.

I struggled to finish this book and once again I was incredibly disappointed in the ending.  It was like he gave up.  There was no conclusion.  It was just a sad and depressing book with a semi-Hallmark ending.  I absolutely cannot recommend this book to anyone.  If you want to read a good courtroom or law drama, stay far away from this one.

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Filed under General Fiction, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

4.5 Stars

This book kept popping up on my recommended feeds all over the place.  Then it even showed up as an answer to a crossword puzzle I happened to be doing last week.  I figured that I’d seen enough signs, it was time to check it out.  I love my library, they have an ever expanding selection of e-books and I was able to get this one within a day of requesting it.  If you’re either broke or no longer allowed to buy anymore e-books, check out your local library and see if they have options available to check out e-books.  I’ve found that many of them are now offering this service and some are even letting people check out e-readers.  But I digress…back to the review!

I’m a sucker for historical novels and I’ve always been extremely interested in all things WWII.  So I can see why this book kept popping up on my recommendation pages.  I hadn’t known that this book had won the Pulitzer Prize until I was about halfway through.  And I can definitely understand why he won the award.  Anthony Doerr has put together a novel that keeps a frenetic pace and constantly goes back and forth both between points of view and also in time.  But it works.  Instead of being something disjointed and hard to follow, it fits with the time.  How many people’s lives became disjointed and frantic?  I will admit that in the very beginning, it was a bit jarring to go back and forth between two stories that didn’t seem to be connected in any way.  I will say that if you can keep going, you will be richly rewarded.

We meet Marie-Laure in Paris when she’s a young child.  Before the age of 7 she is completely blind and dependent on her only remaining parent, her Papa.  He is the master of keys at the Museum of Natural History, handing out keys to everyone while his daughter learns everything she can by feeling the shells, the plants and insects and everything else within the museum.  She talks to everyone and questions everything.  He builds for her a model of their neighborhood and over the years she begins to find her independence and can lead them home from anywhere simply by remembering the model and using her senses to determine where she is.

We also meet Werner an orphan in German mining town.  He lives in an orphanage with his younger sister, Jutta.  He has an exceptional mind for numbers and engineering.  He also questions everything from why is the sky blue to why do cats meow.  One day while they are out searching for food and junk they can sell, Werner and his sister find a broken radio.  Within the day, he has the radio fixed and they are listening to music.  Soon they are hearing broadcasts from France.  They hear a grandfatherly voice telling stories and playing music.  His skills are soon spread through the community and he’s sent to the academy for Hitler Youth to become an instrument of the Reich.

Both Marie-Laure and Werner are caught up in the war as it rolls through.  We follow Marie-Laure and her Papa in their flight from Paris to the home of his “crazy uncle” Etienne in Saint-Malo, a walled citadel by the sea where he lives with his housekeeper.  In a strange new home she once again learns how to navigate the world.  Once again, her Papa builds a model of the town so she can find her way around.  But with one secret, there’s something hidden inside the model of their tall house by the sea.  A gemstone that some say is cursed.  One that tends to bring out the wrong type of seeker.

Saint-Malo is where Werner and Marie-Laure’s stories become entwined.  During an Allied bombing run that was designed to flush out the German army entrenched there and free the civilian populace.  Werner learns the human cost of his intelligence and Marie-Laure learns just how strong she really is.

The images that are invoked by Anthony Doerr’s writing are simply amazing.  You can feel the shells, see the destruction, smell the smoke.  You can feel the frustration of the civilians in Saint-Malo as well as the apathy presented by the young soldiers of the Reich.  This was simply one of the most breathtaking novels I’ve read this year.  It started with a slow build, through the early years of their lives and then you’re rushing headlong into the waning days of the war and beyond.  It was almost a frenetic race to the finish that left you breathless but wanting more.  I can see why he won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel.  Definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year and if you follow me…you know that’s saying something!

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Review: Prince of Darkness by Shane White

3 Stars

Review for ARC copy received through NetGalley.  All opinions are my own and the ARC status in no way impacted my impartial review of the material.

Prince of Darkness is the story of one of the first African American millionaires.  Jeremiah G. Hamilton was a contemporary of Cornelius Vanderbilt and may of the other well-known movers and shakers of antebellum Wall Street.  He was even mentioned in Vanderbilt’s obituary.  But with one exception, that his contemporaries already knew, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was black.  He was worth an estimated $2 million.  So how does an African American man go from very poor, possibly slave, beginnings to one of the richest men in America?  That’s the story that Shane White has set out to tell us.

This is nearly an impossible task.  Records from the early 1800’s are hard to come by even if you’re white, they’re nearly impossible if you are a minority, especially if you are black.  The only people who seem to have good records about their lives are the wealthy and important white men at the top of the food chain.  So how do you go about researching someone like Jeremiah Hamilton?  Public records.  A long and arduous process of combing through court documents, newspapers, diaries and other source material from the early 1800’s to Hamilton’s death in 1875.

Being rich didn’t keep him safe from racism.  He was attacked on both sides.  Blacks thought he was disingenuous and dishonest just like his white contemporaries.  He wasn’t always honest in his money making schemes and he wasn’t above taking advantage of people and situations to get ahead.  He uses an epic disaster in 1836 to further his own business needs.  But he wasn’t really any different from the rest of the elite of this era.

There is a lot of history covered in this book and it can be easy to get a little lost.  There was a lot of time spent tying everything together and there was a lot of backstory covered both about Hamilton and about the era in which he came to power.  The source material is as good as you’re going to get for that time period, but can be taken with a grain of salt because of the time it was written.  The news outlets of the 19th century was more like the tabloid outlets of today.  Most stories have a very anti-Hamilton and anti-African slant to them.  It’s still hard to get a true picture of who Hamilton was because our predecessors were so horrible at keeping records for anyone other than their white bosses.  But it’s not much different today is it?

If you’re a history buff, you will be interested in this book.  The research is well done and the story itself is interesting.  I think it would have been interesting to have lived in 1830’s New York and meet a character like Jeremiah Hamilton.

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Filed under Biography/Memoir, Historical

Review: The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice

4 Stars

This is another re-read for me.  I’m a bit OCD as I’ve mentioned and I cannot read a new book in a series if I haven’t read the previous books.  In most cases, the series is still fresh in mind because I’d read it more recently.  Unfortunately this is not the case in the Vampire Chronicles.  I read them years ago and didn’t stay caught up.  So now that there are newer books, I wanted to go back and read the entire series again!

The Vampire Lestat brings us to the 1980’s when Lestat decides to once again join the world after going to ground.  He comes back to a world that is much changed than the one he turned away from decades before.  He is drawn to a rock band that had taken up residence near him and as he sets out to become their lead singer, he comes across the book, Interview with the Vampire where he once again hears the words of his creation, Louis.  He is fascinated at the tale that Louis has concocted, but he wants to set the record straight.  He wants us, dear readers, to know who the real Lestat is.  He’s not really this evil creature that Louis depicted, he’s so much more.

The author takes us across the world and across the centuries to not only meet Lestat as a mortal but also to meet the original vampires, Those Who Must Be Kept.

We meet Lestat de Lioncourt.  The youngest son of an aging, blind and broke French aristocrat.  He is constantly questioning, never settling for the rote answers given to him by his elders and his peers.  He is one of those inquisitive beings that actually wants to know why the sky is blue.  He is a born skeptic who becomes absolutely irresistible to his maker, Magnus.  Lestat is able to expand on the reasons why he never gave more information to his fledglings.  In the beginning, he had none!  He did not lie when he stated that he wasn’t given a choice, that he wasn’t taught any of the ways and the rules…at least he didn’t have them right away.

The secondary characters also receive this same treatment.  We are given the history of Armand and the one who made him, Marius.  The history behind the Theatre des Vampyres is explained.  Even Louis becomes something more than a whining brat.  You see the world through Lestat’s eyes and what an interesting world it is.  Many of the questions that arose during the first novel, told by Louis’ point of view, are answered here.  The history of the vampire race is fleshed out and we are given the tales as they have not only been handed down from one generation to the next, but also from the being that has been keeping watch over the makers of the vampire race, Those Who Must Be Kept.

We travel from rural France to Paris, the City of Lights but also a city of darkness.  The stinking crypts of les Innocents where a coven of Children of Darkness still keep to the old ways, the worship of Satan and the old rules.  Their beautiful and terrifying leader, Armand.  A battle of wills and of ideals that leads Lestat away from his beloved France and out into the world.  Crisscrossing the continent until he lands in Egypt.  In Egypt he learns that his dearest friend has gone into madness and taken his own immortal life, his aristocratic family has all suffered under the hands of the Revolutionaries and all are gone save his father.  His despair becomes overwhelming and he goes into the earth until he is finally sought out by Marius, the maker of Armand, who he has been searching for ever since he left Paris.

From Marius he learns the history of his new race, the history that has been handed down to him over the centuries.  We learn of how he was made in Roman occupied Gaul over a thousand years before.  He learns why Those Who Must Be Kept are shrouded in secret and mystery.  Why the stories must remain myths.  Why the rules must be kept.  But Lestat was never one who could follow the rules…

I would recommend this to anyone who was a fan of the first book in the series but I would also recommend this to anyone who is interested in this genre.  It’s a different voice than those that have gone before and definitely different from those who came after.

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Review: Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice

4 Stars

This is actually a re-read for me.  I first read this book more than 20 years ago in preparation to the movie coming out.  There’s a new(er) book out now and since it’s been so long since I last read anything in the series, I’m going back and reading them all again!  I had nearly forgotten how great this book actually is…

I think that Anne Rice is probably one of the reasons that we have such a love affair with all things vampire.  You can’t help but fall in love with these damned souls.  Louis, the narrator of this story, is a vampire who never seemed to lose his mortal conscience.  He struggles to accept this “dark gift” that he’s been given.  He still feels too much, empathizes too much with the mortal life that he left behind and the lives of those he still cares for.  He was a plantation owner who had given up on life after the death of his brother and has become distanced from his mother and sister.  He is alone in the world and has stopped caring whether he lives or dies, in many ways he’s just waiting for death to come for him.

In walks Lestat, beautiful and mesmerizing.  He is both commanding and demanding.  He finds Louis when he is at his most low, his most desperate and makes him an offer that he simply can’t refuse.  He offers Louis his dark gift and Louis becomes his companion in immortality.  But from the beginning you feel the tension between them.  Lestat only cares about himself and he wanted Louis for what Louis could do for him.  He wanted money, a home, security.  He wanted to be able to be in luxury and safe to hunt and hide.  Louis wants to know everything, wants to feel everything, his empathy is still intact.  He wants to know about those who came before him, who made them what they are?  He’s full of questions and continually pesters Lestat for answers.  Answers that Lestat either cannot or will not give him.  Just as Louis is ready to leave Lestat to find those answers, Lestat has other ideas.  Claudia comes into being, the monster that never should have been.  The link that holds Louis and keeps him with his maker, the father of lies.  For now.

The story covers about 200 years of Louis’ life both before and after he was given his immortal gift.  You are taken from New Orleans to Germany to Paris and back again.  You join Louis on his quest to find his answers.  Along the way you begin to have a better understanding of who Louis, Lestat and Claudia are and what drives them, what makes them unique in their immortal world.  Which one of them has the stamina for immortality?  Could you face every day for hundreds of years and watch the world change while you stay the same?  Are you evil?  What is evil and what is good?  This quest for answers is what drives Louis and shapes him into the immortal that he becomes and ultimately shapes his relationships with those around him.

The author delves into some pretty heavy topics that really make you do a lot of thinking and considering and even some examining of your own conscience.  You find yourself being empathetic to these creatures, against your better judgment.  You find yourself being mesmerized by their beauty, their coldness.  But even in their beauty, you can see their danger.  But you are still drawn to them, like a moth to a flame.  It doesn’t matter that they are predators.  It doesn’t matter that you are nothing more than food to them.  Who can sit by and listen to Louis’ story and not want to become his companion for the next few centuries?

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Review: Plea of Insanity by Jillianne Hoffman

3 Stars

I think there are possibly more editions of this book, because the plot outline I’d originally read for this book did not match up with everything I read in the book.  I think that this edition has been edited from a previous edition.  The edition I read was a Kindle version published in 2008 by Thomas & Mercer.  My review is for this edition and no others.

The story revolves around Assistant States Attorney Julia Vacanti, a young prosecuting attorney in Miami Florida.  She’s a B trial lawyer.  She handles domestic abuse, drug charges and lesser felonies.  She seems to be a rising star in the States Attorney Office and a bane to many judges and defense attorneys.  She has caught the eye of Rick Bellido, he is THE star of the office.  He tries all the big cases and is in line for the top spot.  And it doesn’t hurt that he’s both easy to look at and they have a budding office romance.  Inexplicably, Rick gives her the chance of a lifetime.  The case that could make her career.

David Marquette, young and successful surgeon is accused of murdering his wife and children.  His influential parents have pulled together an impressive legal team and their defense is that he was suffering a psychotic break and is not guilty by reason of insanity.  David, according to family and experts, was an undiagnosed schizophrenic and his mental illness caused him to to take the lives of his family.

For Julia, this case is close, too close.  She has a secret that no one knows about.  Her brother, Andrew, took the lives of her parents 15 years earlier.  He was later diagnosed as schizophrenic and his mental illness is what caused him to lose touch with reality and take the lives of those closest to him.  Julia survived only because she was not home that night and has spent the last 15 years trying to forget.

I did have some issues with the story, mainly with Julia.  She should have recused herself from the trial, there was a true conflict of interest here and it became nearly debilitating as the trial went on.  What could have been a cathartic experience seemed to make Julia weaker and even less sure of herself.  The addition of her to the trial team didn’t really make sense either.  The only explanation that the reader can truly come to is her romantic involvement with the lead attorney.  That sadly diminishes Julia somewhat.

I wish there was less backstory and information about Julia, and more trial scenes.  Even more scenes with the accused, David Marquette.  I think more attention could have been paid to him and his story.  I enjoyed his parts in the novel more than I did Julia’s internal struggle.  You were left with many questions about David.  Is he really insane?  Is he a psychopath?  A sociopath?  Is he really schizophrenic?  I think so much was left unsaid on his side of the story that it actually took away from the book.

I put this solidly in the middle of the rating scale because it was still an enjoyable read.  I just wish Julia had been a little stronger and more attention had been paid to David.  I have heard good things about this particular author, and I think I’ll be looking into some of her other works too.

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Filed under Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

Review: Exposure by Alan Russell

2 Stars

Paparazzo Graham Wells has a secret.  His actions helped cause the accident that killed two beloved public figures.  He thought he buried the evidence.  Someone found out.  Now he is being blackmailed by a man claiming to be with the CIA.  He is blackmailed into using his paparazzi experience to bring down Hollywood icons.  That’s how he finds Hollywood golden girl, Lanie Byrne.  While doing his job for the blackmailers, he interrupts her suicide attempt and in doing so, he begins to get a better picture of the machinations going on behind the scenes and learns why he’s being blackmailed and by whom.

The novel takes you around the world from Paris, Spain, Germany and the US just to name a few.  The references used are all very current and you can tell that the author really did his research.  But there was almost too much information crammed into this book.  There was quite a bit of jumping around to the point where I had to go back and re-read several pages just to figure out exactly where I was in the story.

The protagonist was not one I could identify with very easily.  He seemed to have a conscience, but then it would disappear.  He was more interested in saving his own hide much of the time to really give me the impression that he actually gave a damn about anyone or anything else.  He also tied the ends together way too easily for my liking.  I was still trying to guess at several things when he’s already explaining how it was done with absolutely no way he could have figured out several pieces because the threads leading to them were so thin, they were non-existent.

For me, I wish more time was spent with Graham and Lanie and less time spent with some of the antagonists.  This is of course, only my opinion.  Others may find the time spent with the antagonists fine, but for me, it really took away from the story.  The flow was interrupted and it made some of the connections harder to come by instead of easier.

The plot was great and it was very well researched and written.  It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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