Saturday, November 28, 2009

You've Been Warned - by James Patterson & Howard Roughan

Although thoroughly engaging and enjoyable, this book was a little bit on the "weird" side.  After finishing this book, I'm still not exactly sure what happened. While reading it, however, I was thoroughly captivated.

Kristin Burns is a young aspiring photographer living in New York and on the cusp of a successful career. Her current day job is nanny for Michael and Penley Turnbull's two young children. Kristin is very personable and likable.  Her boss, Penley, is not so much. As her boyfriend is Penley's husband Michael, however, she is not completely objective on the matter.

Although Kristin considers herself one of the sanest people she knows, her life has become a succession of very strange and scary episodes. She is haunted by a recurring nightmare of murder and death. The line between her dreams and reality become increasingly blurred. Some of her pictures exhibit a peculiar transparency. She sees people from her past, who have been dead. Hostilities between herself and her neighbor intensify. Other unexplained weird and frightening things happen to her. In summary, she is losing her grip on the life she has chosen and is being warned to abandon it.

The ending of this book is probably its most controversial part. Some may find it ingenious. Some may find it deep and meaningful. Some may find it disappointing. Personally, I find it a little of all of these things. As I mentioned up front, I'm still not sure exactly what happened at the very end. This did not ruin the story for me, however. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride up to and through the end of this story. Although it may or may not have been the author's intent, I have obtained closure by applying my own interpretation.

In summary, I highly recommend this book. If you regularly read James Patterson, however, "you've been warned." This book is unlike any other James Patterson novel I have read. In my opinion, though, that is a great reason to read it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dead Time - by Stephen White

This was not one of my favorite reads. I didn't hate the book and don't regret my time spent with it, but I was somewhat distracted by what I perceived as a jumble of many simultaneous tales.  In addition, it is told from the viewpoint of both  Colorado psychologist Alan Gregory and his ex-wife Meredith.  My first reaction to this was a little bit of annoyance of sitting through the same story twice from multiple viewpoints.  After finding out more about the author and the series, however, I softened significantly on these initial reactions.

The primary storyline ties the disappearance of a young woman, pregnant as a surrogate for Meredith and her fiance, to a yet unsolved series of events from a Grand Canyon camping trip, during a record-breaking heatwave, many years earlier.  Meredith asks for Alan's help with this while a lot of other things are going on in his life.  Prior to this, their friend Adrienne, has just died and Alan and his wife Lauren, were granted custody of her son.  As a background to the main plot, Alan has taken his stepson to New York, to re-unite with his mother's family and Lauren and their daughter have flown to Holland to reconnect with a daughter she gave up long ago.  With Alan's help, Meredith hires Sam Purdy, Alan's detective friend with his own troubled past.  Alan ends up in Los Angeles, to question his friend's daughter about the Grand Canyon camping trip.  In addition to unraveling the secrets from the past, he confronts potential cracks in his own relationships.

As I indicated at the beginning of this review I thought that the book was, in general, quite captivating, but, at times seemed somewhat unfocused.  I think part of my problem, however, was that I jumped, completely uninitiated, into the sixteenth novel of Stephen White's Dr. Alan Gregory series.  When I started this book, I was not even aware that it was part of a series, let alone such a well developed one.  The fifteen earlier series thrillers, ranging from Privileged Information (1991) to  Dry Ice (2007) probably provide a lot of history and background that would probably make many of the things that I found distracting much more meaningful.  I did find the characters in this book very complex and interesting.  For the most part, I like the author's writing style.  I will definitely try another book in this series.

As a final, somewhat trivial, note, I expected the title "Dead Time", in the traditional murder mystery mindset, to refer to some event of murder or death.  While that might be part of an intended "double meaning," I was kind of surprised at the numerous references throughout the book to "dead time" in a conversational sense.  There were also several references to cleavage (the other kind) and on Stephen White's web site, he indicates that Cleavage was a working title that didn't survive the publishing process.  Not sure why I find this kind of stuff so interesting -- I just do.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Words That Work - by Dr. Frank Luntz

Now I'm not a very political person. When I picked up this book from my library, it wasn't because I knew who Frank Luntz is. Well, I quickly learned that he helped develop the language for the Republican Contract with America that led to an election of the first Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in forty years. Dr. Luntz also worked for Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani and seems to be identified by most as a Republican pollster. From the stories in this book, however, he seems to have consulted an extensive but quite diverse set of political and corporate clients on winning word choices. Luntz's fundamental advice is the subtitle of this book: "It's not what you say, it's what people hear."

This book does deliver on its promise to deliver useful guidelines for crafting "words that work." It also contains examples to illustrate his points which are interesting, often insightful, and even entertaining. In some ways, the topic of this book and its examples seem manipulative -- the same message delivered with a different set of words can have much different results. In reality, though, the use of language to impart the desired meaning is a powerful tool that we all should learn to better utilize. It is encouraging to me that, as this book shows, the simpler and more direct approach usually wins out over attempts to utilize an impressive vocabulary or unnecessary eloquence. I enjoyed this book and learned some things. I am skeptical, however, that I would be able to easily spot and recognize such significant perception differences between, say, "estate tax" and "death tax". This book was, hopefully, a good first start though.