Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Woods - by Harlen Coben

From the beginning of this novel, you quickly understand that Paul Copeland, a New Jersey prosecutor, was forever scarred from a tragic and traumatic past.  The story opens with the death of his father, and Paul's reflection of how, as a youth, he had followed him repeatedly into the woods to witness him grieving over and "digging for" his sister.  Twenty years earlier, four teenagers at a summer camp were victims in the woods.  Two were found murdered and two had disappeared.  Paul had been at that camp and his sister had been one of the teens that was never found.  The lives of the teens from that summer and their families had been significantly changed and deeply affected by the events of that night.  Just a few months after burying his father, however, Paul is dragged back into the search for his sister and the truth about what happened that night, when a seemingly unrelated homicide connects back to the horror of those woods.

Harlen Coben does a skillful job of parceling out details of Paul's history, the events of that night, and how those attached to the tragedy were deeply affected by it.  He completes the picture at a pace that keeps the story intriguing but suspenseful.  Paul is warned to leave the past alone, but he persists and uncovers secrets that neither he nor the reader expect to find.

Paul's journey back into his past is accompanied by his current efforts to prosecute a group of fraternity boys for the rape of a poor young black stripper.  He seeks justice and must battle the attempts by a rich and powerful father to protect his son.  Paul's black and white perspective of right and wrong in this case is contrasted against what the father of his teenage friend, the father of his girlfriend from summer camp, his own father, and ultimately himself are willing to do for their children.

I very much enjoyed this book.  The storyline was interesting and engaging and the plot twists kept surprising me until the very end.  I highly recommend this novel.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Why We Want You to Be Rich -- by Donald J. Trump and Robert T. Kiyosaki

Donald Trump is an icon -- I think that I have watched every season of "The Apprentice" and likely read and hear about him elsewhere from various news or American pop culture sources. Several years ago, I read one of Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad books.  Therefore, I consider myself somewhat familiar with these two authors and what they stand for.  Nonetheless, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump partnering with millionaire and top personal finance author Robert Kiyosaki on a book about being rich.  It certainly isn't a "how-to" book, but I didn't expect that.  It discusses their shared passion for real estate, but it doesn't really offer any advice specific to that field.  They both share personal stories about family, friends, and their own experiences (failures and successes), but it is not auto-biographical.  While there is much in this book that is inspirational, I wouldn't say that is the focus of the book either.  Instead, I would categorize this book as "applied philosophy" discussions in which Donald and Robert share their viewpoints on core values and principles that make people wealthy, successful, and happy.  As you might expect from these two, this book thinks big.  They discuss their viewpoints on the global economy, America's financial problems, and how by becoming rich, people can become part of the solution.  Donald and Robert both point out that the world of today is not what the typical baby-boomer, say, was educated to achieve in.  They both seem truly committed to financial education and I sensed a genuine desire to help others through teaching.
If you are looking for a blueprint for becoming rich, this is not your book.  If you are expecting a business textbook, you will likewise be disappointed.  If you want some insight into Trump's and Kiyosaki's guiding principles and values, as well as how and why they differ from commonly understood and practiced financial approaches, then I think you will be glad you read this book.  In the end, this book educated me, it helped me try to think bigger, it forced me to reflect introspectively, it inspired me, it scared me, and it encouraged me.  Above all, it reinforced that, in the end, I am the one ultimately responsible for my financial (and other) success and failure.  I found this book a "page-turner" just as I might a good novel.  I now want to dedicate more energy towards the types of financial and business education and experiences discussed in this book.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Whole Truth - by David Baldacci

I am a fan of David Baldacci's novels.  I have read many from his Camel Club series, his Sean King and Michelle Maxwell series, and others.  I picked up this book, then, with a well defined set of expectations.

In many ways, this book was indeed what I expected.  This was a political thriller pitting a powerful man, and his abuse of power, against an exceptionally skilled hero with a very complex past.  Nicholas Creel, heading the world's largest defense contractor, is a very wealthy man with very grand financial and socio-political goals.  His ambitions lead him to work with a perception management firm to manipulate world events.  Shaw is in many ways an indentured servant, who has been railroaded into helping con, trap, capture, or kill very bad terrorists, drug dealers, international weapons dealers, and the like.  His life is a series of dangerous assignments that help keep the world safe.  As he is incredibly good at what he does, he has somehow managed to survive situations that few (maybe no) others could.  Shaw's girlfriend, Anna, is a genius mind, working in a political think-tank, who somewhat inadvertently involves herself within Creel's sinister plot.  Katie James, a journalist with a complex past of her own crosses paths with first Shaw and then an unexpected chance at a story that could rejuvenate her career.

In other ways, this book surprised me.  Shaw is deeply in love with Anna and gets engaged.  He wants to retire, but that may not be allowed.  After the engagement, Anna and her parents learn much more about his secret life.  Can their relationship survive?  I didn't expect this type of emotional depth.

This setup leads to a very interesting and page-turning storyline evoking a wide range of emotions.  Many of the plot twists were predictable, but some were truly surprising.  The characters were complex and interesting.  The bad guys weren't pure evil and the good guys weren't unblemished.  I found it a captivating and truly enjoyable story.  As I probably enjoy the thriller and murder mystery genres most, I may be somewhat biased, but I would recommend this novel.