Friday, June 22, 2018

The Rooster Bar

by John Grisham
352 pgs

Mark, Todd, and Zola are three law students about to start their final semester at Foggy Bottom Law School in Washington D.C., and while for many in their position, it's an exciting time, for them, there's little to look forward to. Combined, they owe over $600,000 in student loans, and because Foggy Bottom is a low-level school, the only have about a 50% chance of passing the bar exam after graduation, and little-to-no chance to find jobs with decent law firms even if they did.

They are victims of a real-life scam Grisham shines a light on in The Rooster Bar, in which for-profit law schools recruit mediocre students, who have no business being in an law school, and then encourage them to rack up exorbitant student loans from the federal government to pay for it, with the assurance that they'll have no problem getting on with a firm when they graduate, who will help them wipe out their debt. The students then graduate and find out those promises were empty, and have a lifetime of insurmountable debt ahead of them. The only people making any money are the owners of the schools.

After one of their classmates decides to take his own life because of the circumstances he now finds himself in, the three classmates come up with a scam of their own. They decide school is a waste of money and time and since lawyers are never asked to prove they've earned their J.D. and passed the bar, why not just start acting like lawyers? Mark and Todd start hanging out around courthouses, hustling clients there with DUI and other traffic charges and taking in cash retainers. Zola starts chasing ambulances in hospital waiting rooms. They change their names and start a bogus firm, and they live and work out of an apartment above their favorite bar, The Rooster Bar.

The appeal of Grisham's story is finding out how far they can take their scheme before their house of cards comes crashing down, along with the lengths they're willing to go to to keep it up. But I found myself wishing for characters I could root for. Zola is the most sympathetic of the three, but eventually I was ready for all three of them to get caught.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Uncommon Type - Some Stories

by Tom Hanks
403 pgs

Who knew Tom Hanks was a writer? I didn't. I guess it makes sense though. As an actor and a director, telling stories is what he's been doing for years. Why not write them as well?

Uncommon Type is a collection of short stories written by Hanks that all share a common element or theme: an old-fashioned typewriter. Typewriters make appearances in each of the stories. Sometimes it's a small cameo, other times the typewriter is a major character in the story. But it's always one of those old, built-to-last-forever machines for which Hanks must possess a strong feeling of nostalgia for.

The stories in Uncommon Type are each heartfelt and charming, two words I don't think I've ever used individually, let alone in the same sentence together. But that's really the best way to describe them. Take the story "The Past is Important to Us" for example. It's a story about a wealthy man living in 2027 who repeatedly travels back in time to 1939, so he can bump into a beautiful woman wearing a green dress at the New York World's Fair over and over again, despite the risks to his own life each time he goes.

Or "Christmas Eve 1953," which is about a WWII veteran who lost most of one of his legs and hands in the war, but whose experiences in the war have made him that much more grateful for the wife and family he now gets to enjoy now that he's safe at home.

Tom Hanks is a pretty good writer. He's not as good at writing as he is at acting, but still, I was impressed. I'd be interested to see what he could pull off with a full-length novel.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Friday, June 8, 2018

Earthcore

by Scott Sigler
577pgs

Earthcore is the first of Scott Sigler's books to be written, but it's the last one for me to read. Primarily because when it was originally published back in 2001, it had such a limited press run that it is hard to get a hold of a physical copy of the book. I had also heard Sigler had plans to re-release it eventually, s I figured I'd just wait. in 2017 Sigler decided to not just re-release it, but to give the book a major rewrite at the same time.

The book takes place primarily in the Wah Wah Mountains of Southwest Utah, where an old prospector discovers what will turn out to be the largest platinum deposit ever found. The company who secures the mining rights to the deposit will inevitably become one of the most profitable in the world for many years to come. EarthCore plans to be that company.

Connell Kirkland, a young and ruthless executive for EarthCore assembles a team to go after the platinum, which lies three miles below the surface, farther than anyone has ever successfully drilled and mined before. At that depth, the temperature is hot enough to cook a human being in only a few minute's time, so the team relies on state-of-the-art gear and equipment to keep them alive and safe as they make their way to the mother lode.

But this wouldn't be a Scott Sigler book if that's all there was to it. And sure enough, the drilling awakens a danger that has lain dormant for thousands of years.

Not having read the original edition, I don't have anything to compare it to. But I can definitively say the new version doesn't read like a book by a first-time novelist. That's not to say it's an excellent book. It's not. But it's a fun and entertaining story that makes you look forward to the sequel Sigler sets the stage for at the end.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett
973 pgs  (Kingsbridge trilogy #1)

Okay, I finally got around to reading Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. I don't know how many times people have told me I needed to read it, but it's been more than a few. It seems like every time Follett came up in a conversation I was asked whether I had read it yet, and I always felt a little pang of embarrassment that I hadn't. Well, my days of feeling guilt are over.

I read "The Century Trilogy" as it was being published and I really enjoyed it, so I knew eventually I'd get around to reading his "Kingsbridge Series," of which this is book one. But I think I was putting it off for a couple reasons. First, the books are each doorstops at around 1,000 pages, so it requires a significant level of commitment to begin. Second, the summary on the cover flap and the description of it given by all those who recommended it doesn't make it sound all that interesting. Why would I care to read a book about the building of a cathedral in England in the middle of the 12th century?

Now I know. And to be fair to the book's publisher, and all those who tried to describe it to me, there's really no way to do the book justice in a synopsis (so I'm not going to try myself). It's so much more than a story about the building of a cathedral though (which, by the way, did turn out to be pretty interesting itself in its own right). The cathedral serves as the hub in a fascinating and compelling wheel of a story, which includes a cast of well-developed and engaging characters. I was sucked in by the plot from the very beginning, and it didn't let up until I had finished.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Great Alone

by Kristin Hannah
438 pgs

The Great Alone is the first book published by Kristin Hannah since The Nightingale by far her most successful book to date. It's the story of the Allbright family, who relocate to the Alaskan wilderness in 1974, after an old war buddy from Vietnam leaves Ernt, the father, his family's cabin. Ernt, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old daughter Leni, looking for a fresh start, decide to pack up their Volkswagen bus an drive from Seattle to the small, dilapidated cabin outside of Homer Alaska.

Ernt, once a doting and loving husband and father, hasn't been the same since he returned from the war in Vietnam. he struggles to hold down a job, he drinks too much, and when he does, he can become violent. Cora and Leni hope the "simple life" in Alaska, away from the pressures and struggles of living in a big city, will be just what Ernt needs to return to the type of man he once was.

But Alaska is a harsh and unforgiving place, with its own struggles and challenges, which have to be overcome on a constant basis in order to survive. Those, combined with the long, dark winter months, prove to be just what Ernt doesn't need, and Cora and Leni soon find themselves isolated from the rest of the world, and in fear for their lives.

The Great Alone turned out to be a tale of two books for me. On the one hand, the first half of the book is tremendously promising. I found myself repeatedly thinking about the Torrance family, isolated at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining as Cora and Leni's situation gradually deteriorates. But as the book progressed, I found myself less and less sympathetic to Cora, and more and more irritated with some of the decisions--or lack of decisions--made by her.

Overall, The Great Alone is a pretty good book, good enough that I'll likely read more by Kristin Hannah down the road. It's just unfortunate that the second half of the book didn't deliver on the promises made by the first half. If it had, I'd consider it the best book I had read in quite a while.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Gone World

by Tom Sweterlitsch
388 pgs

In Tom Sweterlitsch's book The Gone World, mankind is not limited in its ability to travel across both space and time. The Naval Space Command runs a covert space and time-traveling program that sends Navy personnel across the galaxy and across time.

A world-ending phenomenon called Terminus has been discovered, and Naval Space Command is working nonstop to find a way to prevent it. Navy personnel who have witnessed Terminus are forever changed. Among those is Shannon Moss, an NCIS agent who experienced the Terminus first hadn't during a mission to the year 2199. During that mission she saw a version of herself, crucified mid-air in a wasteland of a world. She She was able to return to the present (1997), but no unscathed.

Once back, Shannon is assigned to a team of agents trying to find a missing girl. The girl's family was brutally murdered in their home, and it appears the person who committed the murders was a naval officer who had been participating in the time-travel program. Moss begins jumping back and forth between 1997 and 2015, trying to solve the murders and hopefully learn something that will help the team find the girl back in 1997. But Moss also learns that there's a connection between the Terminus and the missing girl and her family. A connection that is becoming more and more important to discover, since the Terminus appears to be getting closer to the present timeline of earth every time it's encountered.

The mystery part of Sweterlitsch's story is interesting, but where the story really stands out is with his exploration of the potential consequences of time travel. Each time Moss comes back to 1997 and acts on information she learned in 2015, things have changed the next time she returns to 2015--sometimes inexplicably and drastically. It makes for a complicated story that if you're not very attentive to, can easily become confusing.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book a lot, almost enough to start over as soon as I finished it to pick up on all of the things I'm sure I missed the first time around.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, May 14, 2018

Before They are Hanged

by Joe Abercrombie
570 pgs  (First Law series #2)

Before They are Hanged is the second book int Joe Abercrombie's "First Law" trilogy, which began with The Blade Itself, and concludes with The Last Argument of Kings (although there are a few other standalone books and short stories, which also take place in The World of the First Law). The book successfully accomplishes what the middle book in any trilogy is supposed to do, and does it as well as any.

The Union is involved in a war on two fronts. To the north, the ruthless Northmen have invaded the province of Angland, where Colonel West has allied himself with Logen Ninefingers' former band of cutthroat warriors. To the south, Superior Glokta, the crippled torturer must try to rally forces and prepare them against the imminent invasion by the Gurkish Empire.

Meanwhile, Jezal dan Luthar, accompanied by Bayaz the Magician, Ninefingers, and others are on a quest to find The Seed, an ancient magical relic from The Other Side, which enables whoever possesses it to access the immense power from The Other Side.

There's a lot going on in this book, let alone the entire series, and at time it can get a little confusing, as the story skips back and forth from the three different locations. But it is worth it. Abercrombie has created a world that rivals Middle-earth and Westeros in their magnitude and complexity. His characters are fantastic and memorable, and there's enough action to maintain the attention of someone with ADD.

I waited a couple of years before reading book II. i don't plan to wait as long before reading book III.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆