Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rain Gods: 4 Stars

Rain God by James Lee Burke

My reasoning behind choosing this novel is all because of my dad. For years, my dad has worked a job that involves him being in a truck driving around for hours. (He repairs and installs pop machines and many of his customers are in other cities and/or states). He gave me this book to listen to with one question: Is the book really good, or does the reader make it really good?

The reader is none other than Mr. Will Patton, an actor I happen to adore. So of course I took the book and gave it a try.

The book is the second in a series about Sheriff Hackberry  Holland, the sheriff of a small Texas town not far from the Mexican border. After receiving a mysterious phone call about shots being fired near an old abandoned church, Holland goes out to discover the bodies of nine Asian women buried in shallow graves. He digs them up and calls for reinforcements. It doesn't take him long to figure out who made the call.

Pete is an ex-solider who has trouble adjusting to civilian life. After getting mixed up with the wrong people, he makes a call and then takes his girlfriend on the run. Not only are the running from the cops, but they are running from a psychotic criminal and a holier-than-thou religious hit-man. Needless to say, the story started out with a bang.

The story was intriguing. With all the different characters, it winded and twisted all the way to the end. What I really enjoyed about this tale were the strong women. Instead of just doing what their significant others tell them to do, and following like children, these women took their own path and stood strong on their own.

So the answer to the question?  That would be both. The book was really goo, but honestly, without Will Patton would have received 3 stars. Will Patton added so much  emotion with his voice that even simple phrases carried a strong non-verbal communication with his tone and cadence. I must find more audiobooks by him!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Darkly Dreaming Dexter: 4 Stars

 Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

I really enjoyed the show Dexter of Showtime so I figured I should try the books. The first book follows a very similar plot to the first season of the show. I wouldn't have guessed the end if it weren't for the TV show. I thought the book was very well written. I'll try the rest of the series. I did listen to the audiobook. Nick Landrum read and I did not like him. I could hear him swallow constantly and he would confuse the voices sometimes. 

The basic plot of Dexter is that he is a serial killer. After being adopted by a cop, Dexter's father, Harry, begins to notice strange things about Dexter. He is killing animals and seems to lack empathy. It doesn't take Harry long to learn that Dexter lacks something very important, feelings. Dexter isn't missing all feelings. He does feel loyalty to Harry and his adoptive sister Deborah and he does enjoy killing, but he lacks things like compassion, love, and respect. Seeing what is happening to his son, Harry tries a unique tactic: he teaches Dexter to kill without getting caught. But he gives Dexter a code so that he only kills bad guys. So Dexter is a serial killer vigilante. 

Now, some of you may be wondering how anyone could possibly enjoy a book about a psycho serial killer, vigilante or not. The answer is rather simple.  This book was less about Dexter's kills and more about how Dexter attempts to function in a society he doesn't understand. Without emotions, there are many things Dexter simply doesn't understand. As the narrator, Dexter has a unique perspective on social functions. It is fascinating to me. 

I do have one criticism to the books however. Deborah. She is mouthy like 20 sailors combined and more moody than a teenage girl. Every time she appears in the book, I root for her demise. Perhaps future books will help me see her purpose.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Playing the Enemy: 5 Stars

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

Considering the current condition of Nelson Mandela, I decided to post this review today in his honor. 

This is the tale of Nelson Mandela becoming president of South Africa after apartheid ended and his use of the national rugby team to bring the nation together. I knew very little about this before the movie Invictus, the movie inspired by the book, and decided I wanted to know more. To my surprise, the movie doesn't cover much of the book. 

The book doesn't really start the rugby tale until over half way through. The rest of the book is the back story, setting up the importance of the game. I loved learning about this. Mandela lived a unique life, and while not perfect, was exactly what that country needed at the time. 

After being arrested for terrorism, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison. The powers of transformation that he had were incredible. The prison warden, Colonel Piet Badenhorst, showed his hatred when three judges came to visit the prison and Mandela accused the guards of beating the black prisoners.  Badenhorst said, "Be careful, Mandela. If you talk about things you haven't seen, you will get yourself into trouble, if you know what I mean". Mandela turned to the judges and said "Gentlemen, you see for yourself the type of man we are dealing with as a commanding officer. If he can threaten me here, in your presence, you can only image what he does when you are not here." By the time Mandela left Robben Prison, that same man made a point to come see him and wish him luck. 

Other guards Mandela won over by speaking about rugby, and even one grew so close to him, he snuck his eight month old son into prison just so Mandela could hold him. 

Mandela knew from early on that sports are a great way to unite people. I, myself, immediately feel more inclined to like someone if I find out they are an Atlanta Braves fan. In fact, I can hate someone, but if they talk about my team, I immediately warm up to them.  

One note, this book was definitely written with Americans in mind. Several times while describing the game of rugby, the author used American football as a reference.  He also referred to the world's news crews and named a few as examples, all American. I liked this approach because he explained this from the perspective of someone who knows little about the culture and political struggles at that time, a.k.a ME!

I cannot recommend this book enough. He is such a great man and while his legacy may not be easily forgotten in South Africa, it should not be forgotten here in the United States.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The King of Torts: 4 Stars

The King of Torts 

The King of Torts by John Grisham

Everyone has a price. Clay Carter learns that really quick in Johns Grisham's novel, The King of Torts. After attending law school with the goal of joining his father's law firm, Carter is quickly left scrambling when his father's firm goes under just as he graduates. Having missed out on interviews with law firms, Carter is forced to become a public defender. He loves his long time girlfriend, but her parents are unhappy with his salary and continually work to get their daughter to dump him. This eventually works. Left alone, poor and miserable, Carter begins work on his new murder case. And then everything changes. 

Tequilla Watson was in drug rehab. He was let out for two hours on good behavior. He went and found a gun and shot and killed a man. When questioned by Carter, Watson, who had no history of violence, had no explanation for his actions other than he "felt" like he needed to kill someone. Frustrated, Carter begins looking for something, anything, to help him defend the kid. Then he meets a man who know EXACTLY what happened and why. All Carter has to do, is sell his soul and he'll be made a millionaire instantly with his own law firm. 

Carter sells his soul.  His dreams come true, except he doesn't have the girl. Within a month, Carter has entered the game of mass torts. He has the terrible commercials on late at night.  "Have you or one of your loved ones taken X prescription drug and now are experiencing Y symptoms?  Call us today and we'll get you a settlement."

Within 17 months, Carter owns a few homes, a Porsche, and a luxury jet.  But just as quickly as his life turned into gold, it's about to fall apart.

Once again, I loved this John Grisham novel. You will definitely see my bias for Grisham show throughout this blog. I reluctantly read one of his books in college. I had a few hours to kill, stuck at school, and this book was left on a table. It was my freshman year and I had not yet discovered that taking a nap anywhere in school is completely acceptable and normal. So I grabbed the book and started reading. I fell in love with Grisham's novels then and there, and to date have only disliked one.

This book was no exception. While keeping me enthralled in a story of the rise and fall of one lawyer, I also felt incredibly educated. At the beginning of the book, I didn't even know what a tort was, much less a mass tort. By the end of the novel, I felt like I understood the complexity of mass litigation.

As usual, I highly recommend this Grisham novel.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Playing for Pizza: 4 Stars

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

As always, John Grisham captures my attention in a wonderful story. Unlike his law novels, this book has a much lighter story. A washed out football player who is unable to let go of the game, runs to Italy to play on there less-than impressive league. He is running from angry fans, a pregnancy cheerleader crying, "he's the father" and the reality that he won't make it in the NFL. 

In Parma, Italy, he sits, cocky and arrogant. The city and other players show him a new reality and he begins to change. While the game is not even close to the caliber as the game in America, the friendships are of a higher caliber. Without doing anything bu showing up, he instantly has friends. Not just the kind of friends that will wave if they see you in public, but the kind that go out of their way to help you. He becomes torn in his desire to stay with the new culture and the need to prove himself a real football player in the NFL.

The story is simple and low action, but captivated me none the less.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

V is for Vengence: 3 Stars

 V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton

Much like with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, I chose this book for the title to fit into my goal of reading a book that starts with every letter of the alphabet. Sue Grafton was kind enough to have an alphabet series, so I anticipate probably reading the Q book as well. I have never read a Sue Grafton novel, much less on from the alphabet series, so starting with the letter V, which is nearly the end, was quite strange.

Despite the oddity of starting at the back end of a series, the novel was quite good for a light read.  Following the adventure of Kinsey Millhone, a private detective, Grafton spins a tale of mystery. Not knowing any of the back story or characters, I did not feel like I was missing out on anything crucial. I was able to follow the story easily and gain a sense of character for many of the people introduced in the book.

The book started out by telling about five different storylines that seems unrelated. You read on wondering how each of these stories are going to intersect, some of them never reveled until nearly the end. The stories were easy to keep track of and the characters were also easy to remember.

The unique element to this story was that she gave a different sense of right and wrong. There were cops and "gangsters".  Typically you would hate the gangsters and like the cops. However, Grafton gave a sense of liking some of each and hating some of each. This element left you wondering how this story could possibly end well. I personally am a big fan of not knowing how books will end.

At the end of the day, this was just another mystery. I did really enjoy the book, and plan on reading more in the series. Would I recommend this book?  Perhaps, but it would not be one of the first books that would cross my mind. I would most likely say something like "You should read one of Sue Grafton's books. She's a good writer".

Monday, June 17, 2013

Red Rain: 2 Stars

Red Rain by R. L. Stine

Oh boy, where to begin? I suppose at the beginning.....

As a young child, around 7 or 8, I was introduced to R. L. Stine with the Goosebump series. Like most kids my age, I fell in love. I read each and every book in the series. I had a difficult time putting them down once I started. I anticipated the release of each new book. I remember the waiting list at the school and public library being so long for each new release, that my mother would often buy them for me and my siblings (and my mother does NOT buy into fads so this was a big deal). I have fond memories of climbing into my tree-house and spending hours engrossed in a story. Once I got a little bit older (12-13), I moved on to the Fear Street series, which I also adored. After that I moved on to more and more books from different authors. I give a lot of credit to my love for reading to R. L. Stine, the man who made me love reading.

So when I found out he had written a book for adults, I HAD to read that book.  And that's where it all went down hill.

Red Rain is the tale of a woman who travels to a small island to witness a death ceremony for a travel blog, arriving just before a hurricane. The hurricane hits and the island is devastated. In the chaos and aftermath, she stumbles across 12-year-old twin boys who claim to have lost their family and home in the storm. The woman loves them so much, she decided then and there to adopt them and bring them home, despite her husband's protests.

Back at home we meet the woman's husband, the main character for this tale, and her two children. It doesn't take long to realize the two boys are pure evil and out to get rid of their new father and "rule the school". 

The book was poorly written. The chapters seemed very haphazardly thrown together. The characters were wholly unlikable so I could have cared less what happened. There were giant plot holes that never seemed to be addressed. I wanted to pick up the novel and chuck it out the window, I hated it so much. I wanted to stop, but held out until the end, hoping against all odds he'd turn it around.  He didn't.

After I finished the novel, I felt cheated and robbed. All I could think was "Were his other books this bad? Is the childhood I hold so dear actually filled with terrible writing and ridiculously terrible stories? Was my childhood based on a lie??" I realize this may seem like an extreme, but it's like finding out your childhood hero was actually a sleezeball.

Usually I would say that I do not recommend this book, but with this one I will go one step further and say PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.  It will destroy your childhood.

So you are probably wondering how this book got two stars?  That is simple. It was written by R.L. Stine, and even if this book was total crap, he is still the man who inspired me as a child and for that reason ALONE, he will always get some credit in my book.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Sex on the Moon: 1 Star

Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich

Few things annoy me more than a non-fiction book that is more fiction than reality. With high hopes, I started this book of a kid who steals moon rocks for his girlfriend, only to be immediately confused by the tone. The author gives details he couldn't possibly know. I don't mind the idea of writing nonfiction as a narrative, but when you take as many liberties as Mezrich, it's time to call it fiction that's based on a true story. His main source of information was the culprit, Thad Roberts. Through personal research, it doesn't take long to learn that most of the other players and facts of the case, label Thad a manipulative liar. His tale of thievery, while interested, is tarnished with lies and exaggerations. 

Despite my disappointment in the labeling of this book, the tale itself annoyed me. The guy starts out pleating for sympathy and blaming all else in his life for his actions. This tale of "love" is nothing even close. Thad plotted to steal the rocks and even located a buyer long before he met the girl. The girl, mind you, was young and wide-eyed, obviously manipulated by Thad, who was much older, oh, and very much married. And he knew her less than a month. This guy blames his actions on not only his religious parents and strict Mormon upbringing, but even on his wife and NASA for their classification of "trash" rocks. The problem being, Thad stole rocks that took one man years to obtain through proper channels and lost his life's work, a man who was nothing but gracious to Thad. I was thoroughly disgusted by this tale. 

The worst part was the women involved. His poor wife discovered her husband's infidelity when he called to be bailed out. Then when she sent divorce papers, he decided to call her to apologize. She merely told him she hoped he was enjoying the his new friends in prison. He then goes off on how cruel she was to say that to him. Seriously? You want sympathy? No. You get none. 

Sadly, this will be made into a Hollywood movie and he will be portrayed as the genius who made an innocent mistake for love. It's sad really. I hope Tiffany Fowler (Rebecca in the book) was able to seek therapy and move past this and I hope his now ex-wife has found happiness. As far as Thad, I guess he is on to manipulate an even larger audience.

I do not recommend this book and will NOT see the movie if/when it is made. 

Dracula: 4 Stars

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Spoiler Alert

The first chapter of this book, made me want to put it down, but I am so glad I powered through. What a fantastic story! I loved it!  

There are quite a few chapters towards the beginning that drag and add little to the story, but that is the only downside. The characters are well developed and easy to relate to despite the different lifestyle. The story was captivating and scary. Dracula was frightening even though he was not even in half the book. 

Van Helsing was a rough and tumble hero without fitting the stereotype. As an older gentleman who was a scholar and not athletic, he had a way of evoking a sense of security and trust with everyone he met. He didn't even kill Dracula, he was just watching from a distance, protecting Mina. But all of the characters instantly loved and trusted everything he said, and Stoker made me feel the same. 

What a great book!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Angel's Game: 3 Stars

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I must admit, I was torn on how to rate this book. I adored The Shadow of the Wind more than most books I have read in quite a few years. The author still writes with a beauty that I envy. His words seem to glide off the paper. 

However, this book took too long to catch my attention. Also, the main character went from likable to unlikable around the time the story picked up. Once the story picked up, it became difficult to follow and I found myself re-reading whole sections just to try and keep up. 

The end was.....well...disappointing, confusing, and flat out creepy. I hear the next book helps explain this one. I will have to give it a try. 

Based on the writing alone, I would have given this 5 stars, but based on the plot, 1 star. I compromised and gave it 3 stars. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Innocent Man: 4 Stars

The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham

Once again I was shocked by not reading the back of the book. I simply chose this book because I love John Grisham. I did not know until over halfway through the book that this was nonfiction. 

The book was sad and alarming. Not only is the fact that two men were wrongly accused and convicted of a murder, but for many other reasons. When investigations become focused on wrong parties, the victims family does not get justice and real killer does not get punished and is at risk for causing more heartache and pain with future crimes. But aside from the tragedy of the particular injustice, there leaves the sadness of a family who was desperately seeking help for a son and brother with deteriorating mental health. The fight was hard enough before the false accusation. 

Grisham did a fantastic job of telling the story, despite the fact that you knew the outcome before it arrived.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald: 4 Stars

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

My reasoning behind reading this book was more for the title than anything else. After accepting a challenge to read a book for every letter of the alphabet, I was looking for a novel for the letter Z. This one was all over the bookstores, so I decided it fit the bill perfectly. I'm glad I did.
After exhaustive research, Fowler wrote a narrative of the much talked about relationship of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, as if from Zelda's perspective. The two were the "it" couple of the roarin' twenties. Many envied them in their prime and lamented them at the tragic end. I must admit, having recently seen Midnight in Paris, Allison Phil is who I imagined as Zelda and Tom Hiddleson as Scott.

At the young age of 17, days before turning 18, Zelda Sayre met a charming young author named Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald. The two instantly fell madly in love, despite both families against the relationship. He was off to war, and therefore their relationship must wait. Once home from the war, Scott headed to New York to finish his first novel and make money before he'd marry Zelda. Feeling neglected, Zelda purposely manipulated Scott into a jealous frenzy. This situation is one that would be repeated several times throughout their marriage. 

Immediately after being wed, the two were soon rich and famous. Scott's alcoholism raged repeatedly in their marriage, as well as his need for approval from society. Scott seemingly gets tunnel vision when it comes to his work, not just wanting to be great, but the best. During this, he seemingly forgets or ignores Zelda. Zelda than goes to extremes to get his attention, often attempting to make him jealous. Due to the jealousy, Scott is never able to fully trust her. 

Its sad to read as two great people, slowly become destroyed, despite their clear love for each other. Each spending too much time worrying about how they are perceived by the outside world and less time worrying about how they are perceived by each other. Perhaps if each had focused more on their marriage than making sure society viewed them as individualist, they could have been their for each other when they were needed; Scott for his constant alcoholism, and Zelda for her eventual schizophrenia: the two things that would eventually take both their lives, albeit indirectly. 

Fowler does an excellent job of giving a voice to the infamous Zelda Fitzgerald.  Her writing gives you the sense of sass and strong will often associated with the woman. She also did an excellent job of not placing all of the blame of the final outcome on Scott alone, even with Zelda's voice and perspective. She helped give a sense of love and devotion to two people who inadvertently destroy each others lives as well as their own. 

I would recommend this novel.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Great Gatsby: 3-4 Stars (depending on my mood)

 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spoiler Alert!!!!!

While looking for himself and where he belongs, Nick Carraway moves to New York. His cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, also live in the city. They are rich, popular, and social. They are also unhappy. Tom's affair is far from hidden. Eventually, they introduce Nick to another socialite, Jordan Baker. Nick and Jordan even begin dating, but Nick never seems to be completely interested. 

Then one night, Nick realizes he lives next door to the great and mysterious Jay Gatsby. Known for his extravagant parties, very few seem to actually know the man himself. But soon this changes for Nick. Gatsby begins to socialize with Nick, but not without reason. He is in love with Daisy and always has been. He grew up poor and due to his social status compared to Tom's, Daisy had chosen Tom. Gatsby had spent years making something of himself. He threw the lavish parties in hopes that Daisy would soon arrive. Seizing his opportunity, he gets Nick to arrange a meeting and soon Gatsby and Daisy are having an affair of their own. 

This is when big problems arise. While Gatsby is infatuated with Daisy, Daisy is only out to make Tom jealous. After a night of unspoken slights and jabs, the couple and Gatsby get in a large argument and Daisy and Gatsby leave, only to find tragedy.
I was torn on how to rate this book. The plot left me disgusted with people and I found myself sympathizing with only one person, Mr. Wilson. But, to be completely honest, I think that is how Fitzgerald intended it. If so, he accomplished his goal. He has a beautiful way of writing that I envy. I was mildly disappointed with some lack of character development, but I supposed it is because these people lacked character. Again, I believe this was intentional. 

Either way, I'd recommend the book, but do not promise you'll enjoy the story.