Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Echo Burning - by Lee Child

This is book #5 in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  Reacher is in Texas and needs to get out of town quickly. Luckily, as a hitchhiker, he almost immediately gets picked up by Carmen Greer.  As it turns out, this was not so random an event and ends up being most fortunate for Mrs. Greer.  Her husband, who she claims beats her, is getting out of jail in a few days, and she hopes to pick-up someone who will kill him and solve her problems.   While Reacher is no assassin for hire, he ends up immersing himself in the situation and ultimately solving the mystery of what is really going on.  As usual, no one truly understands what they are up against.

In my opinion, this is nowhere near the best of the Reacher tales.  The action is less and I found myself somewhat conflicted about many of the other characters.  In the end, however, there is still a lot of the classic Reacher formula in this story to like.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Die Trying - by Lee Child

This is the second book of the Jack Reacher series and was written back in 1998.  Fate places Reacher on a Chicago street at the same time that a woman is being abducted.  Kidnapped along with her, Reacher slowly learns who she is and works with her to deduce what is happening to them and why.  Then he must take the situation under control as only he can do.

I have read quite a few of the books in Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  Although this was not my favorite, it has the pace and the feel of the other thrillers in the series.  I better appreciate how Reacher has grown as a character because I have now experienced this early volume of the series.  If you like the genre, I think you'll find this a worthwhile read.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Deliver Us From Evil - by David Baldacci

This is a sequel to The Whole Truth, featuring Shaw, the premier operative of an unnamed agency sent to beautiful Provence, where he plans to abduct Evan Waller, a very bad man made wealthy by selling young girls into the sex trade and now dealing with Arab terrorists over the sale of enriched uranium. There, he crosses paths with Reggie Campion, a Nazi hunter who is after Fadir Kuchin, a cold-blooded Ukrainian psychopath known as the "Butcher of Kiev" who is now known as Evan Waller.

While I like David Baldacci's books, this was not one of my favorites.  Shaw is not my favorite of his protagonists.  While I did not dislike this story, when I reached the end I was somewhat glad that it was over.  This thriller was not short on suspense, action, and violence, but for me personally, it did not totally grip and engage me.  That said, it was a decent story and your results may differ.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Black Box - by Michael Connelly

Detective Harry Bosch is back in his stint as part of the open and unsolved (cold case) unit (he has a limited term contract under the LAPDs Deferred Retirement Option Plan). He is working a murder case from back in 1992, during the L.A. riots, that he originally investigated but because of the situation in the city was forced to quickly move on and hand it off to a task force that was unable to solve it. As usual, as soon as Harry gains a little momentum, he quickly runs up against departmental politics.

If you are not familiar with Bosch, this is the 18th book of the series that features him. I find Harry to be one of the more realistic protagonists of the crime thriller genre. He is smart and tough, but certainly no genius or para-military freak of nature. He makes mistakes sometimes, he struggles with guilt, he can be gruff and he sometimes deals poorly with his emotions and relationships. He is dedicated to his police work, however, and does what it takes to close his cases and obtain justice. He follows his moral code, even if that means bending a few rules or making decisions that jeopardize himself and/or his career.

The title of the book was highlighted from two aspects. First, Bosch mentions knowledge passed down to him that the key to investigation is finding the "black box."  Just as the wreckage is combed after a plane crash to find the aircraft's black box, the key to criminal investigation is to find the one piece of evidence that will pull the case together.  Second, the time of the murder in this book preceded the widespread use of digital storage technologies common today.  Back then, handwritten notes were jotted on index cards and stored in little black boxes.  An old-school cop like Harry is comfortable and even a little nostalgic about things like this.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Because I Said So! - by Ken Jennings

74-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings gives the real scoop on much of the conventional wisdom passed down from parents.

Ken unveils the truth behind parental guidance such as "Don't talk to strangers!"; "Don’t crack your knuckles, you’ll get arthritis!"; "Don't cross your eyes—they'll get stuck like that!"; "Stay away from the poinsettia! The leaves are poisonous."; "No swimming for an hour after lunch. You'll cramp up." "When you start shaving, the hair will grow in thicker.";"Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day."; " "Most of your body heat escapes through your head!"; "If you pick up a baby bird, its mommy will reject it."; "Take off the Band-Aid to let your cut air out."; and many more of the things we probably all heard while growing up and now likely pass on to our own kids.

This is a fun, entertaining, informative, and downright delightful book.  I learned a lot from this quick read and had a few nostalgic chuckles with about my personal experiences with the subject matter and Jenning's sometimes witty explanations.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Racketeer - by John Grisham

Malcolm Bannister is an incarcerated former lawyer who tells his story of getting caught in the net of a zealous federal prosecution of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act violations. He is currently a resident of the Federal Prison Camp near Frostburg, Maryland.

When Judge Raymond Fawcett and his secretary are murdered at his lakeside Virginia cabin, the FBI investigation quickly stalls. Malcolm claims to have the information they need to close the case. Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows for a prisoner to be pardoned or have their sentence reduced if they can solve another crime and Malcolm wants a deal based on this. As you probably expect, however, the situation is not as straightforward as it may appear.

This story does not follow the traditional Grisham formula. It is, however, an intriguing tale about the execution of a complex and well planned scheme. There a plenty of surprising twists and turns. I was a little conflicted about Malcolm. I wanted to like him, and generally did, but also found him a little cocky and even annoying at times. If you demand uncompromised realism, you may have issues with the storyline. For me, personally, though, I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mad River - by John Sandford

Mad River is book #6 in John Sandford's Virgil Flowers series.  In southwest Minnesota, not far from Virgil's hometown, a trio of youngsters is terrorizing the community.  As part of an apparent armed robbery, they kill a young woman in her parents home.  Their attempts to run result in a crime spree with innocent victims piling up rather quickly.  Virgil is a somewhat unorthodox state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) investigator who joins in the hunt.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, Flowers is a rather unconventional super-cop.  Although he doesn't shy away from dangerous situations, he is not a macho mercenary type and does not like carrying a gun.  While very intelligent and often innovative, he's a talented but normal guy who employs effective police work and just gets the job done.  He's very likable and loves the outdoors (his fishing boat is probably his most prized possession).  He enjoys beer, women, burgers, and conversation, but also spends a good amount of time pondering God (though he is the son of a Lutheran minister).  He is a kind and thoughtful person, but has had problems with long-term relationships (he's already been divorced three times).  Like most of Sandford's characters, he is an interesting, somewhat quirky, and well-developed personality.

This book is not a mystery.  While Virgil is a good investigator, this is about a case where Virigil is, for the most part, forced to deal with events as they play out.  This is a criminal thriller, of sorts, and the plot has a number of suspenseful moments.  The storyline, however, is also about Virgil's rationalization and handling of the situations and emotions that surround the case as it plays out beyond his control and he must deal with the ethics of improper and unattainable justice.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Litigators - by John Grisham

David Zinc is a 31-year-old Harvard Law graduate who is burnt out from working long hours underwriting bonds for the high-powered law-firm of Rogan Rothberg. This story starts with his anxiety attack, causing him to flee his lucrative job, escaping to an all-day bender that indirectly lands him with the "boutique" firm of Finley and Figg.  Showing up drunk on their doorstep, he ultimately convinces them to take him into their firm as an almost unpaid associate.  David is refreshed by the change, but shocked by the often questionable ethics of his new firm.  When Wally Fig, the junior partner, stumbles across the possibility that Krayoxx, an anti-cholesterol drug, might lead to heart attacks and strokes, he sees a chance to move beyond the divorce, personal injury, and other "street law" staples of his ambulance chasing firm.  Partnering with highly profitable tort firms, the plan is to accumulate clients for the almost guaranteed settlement.  With a title of "The Litigators," you can easily speculate how that turned out for this set of lawyers with almost zero trial experience and a lawsuit that turns out to be pretty shaky.

While this was not my favorite Grisham book, that's not necessarily a bad review.  Grisham is the king of the legal thriller.  Although I would consider this less of a thriller, I really enjoyed this book and found much of it humorous.  While the underlying plot was pretty predictable, the story was told in a way that really engaged me and kept my interest.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hostage - by Robert Crais

Jeff Talley used to be a negotiator for the LAPD SWAT team. After the death of a young hostage, however, he left the LAPD and opted for a position as the Chief of Police for a small California town with little to no violent crime.  Now, however, three punks rob a grocery store, kill its owner, and in the process of fleeing, end up taking Walter Smith and his two children hostage in their own home.  This was the nightmare that Talley had run from.  It turns out to be even more personal than he could imagine.

I love Rober Crais' Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series.  This was similarly a very enjoyable thriller that kept me turning pages.  I have since discovered that this book was turned into a 2005 Bruce Willis action movie that I now plan to watch.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Enemy - by Lee Child

This is the eighth book of Lee Child's Jack Reacher series.  It takes the reader back to the start of the last decade in the twentieth century.  The Berlin Wall is coming down and the military is facing changes.  It is New Year's Eve and Major Reacher has just been transferred from Panama to Fort Bird, North Carolina, where he is working the night shift to give his staff the holiday.  He takes the call about a two-star general found dead in a nearby hotel room.  This quickly evolves into a case, however, that threatens his then promising military career.

As I have probably mentioned many times, I am a Jack Reacher fan.  I read this book not too long after watching the recent Tom Cruise movie, "Jack Reacher."  This book fills in some of his past that is alluded to in other installments of this series.  This is not my favorite of the Reacher volumes that I have thus far consumed, but I enjoyed it.  If you have similar interest, I would suggest that you give it a try.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Calico Joe - by John Grisham

In Calico Joe, John Grisham weaves a fictional baseball tale inspired by the 1920 beaning of Ray Chapman, the only baseball player ever killed by a pitch.

In 1973, Paul Tracey is an 11-year-old boy who loves baseball.  His father, who pitches for the New York Mets, drinks, chases women, and abuses his wife and kids.  Paul is a pretty good Little League pitcher, himself.

Paul is enamored with Joe Castle, a young phenom brought up mid-season by the Chicago Cubs, who is re-writing the rookie record book.  As the reader easily surmises from the very beginning, the young and talented Calico Joe and the aging journeyman pitcher Warren Tracy are on a tragic collision course.

The story is narrated by a grown-up Paul Tracey who has since abandoned the game of baseball and is estranged from his father.  When he receives the news that his father is dying of cancer, however, he decides that there is something he must do.

At just over 200 pages, this is a pretty quick read.  For me, the baseball stories took me back to my childhood.  I grew up watching many of the players mentioned in this book.  This book is about more than baseball, though.  It is about excitement, disappointment, tragedy, conflicted feelings, regrets and ultimately the power of forgiveness.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steve Jobs - by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs was an American icon of ingenuity and creativity.  His entrepreneurial skill and product vision revolutionized the personal computer, animated movie, music, phone, tablet computing, and digital publishing industries.

This book provides insight into his background, his personality, his passion, and his values. It attempts to be fair and candid, and Jobs did not even request the right to read it before it was published.  This book includes a good number of stories that will not endear readers to him.  There are plenty of inspirational stories about his ability to build teams and companies that produced amazing products.

This book is nearly 600 pages long.  Therefore, it is not a quick read.  I liked some parts better than others, but, in general, was fascinated.  I felt like this biography provided a significant glimpse into who Steve Jobs was, what drove him, and how he lived his life.  It provides some perspective into how much of our everyday lives have, in one way or another, been touched by him.