Monday, December 15, 2014

Revival by Stephen King

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Stephen King starts off strong with his latest work, Revival.  Jamie Morton is the central character of this novel. We first meet him when he is a pre-schooler, and follow him through a long and bumpy life.  Along the journey, Jamie keeps running into Charles Jacobs.  First, Jacobs comes to Jamie's small town as the new minister.  He, his beautiful wife, and their adorable son become central to Jamie's and his siblings' world.  Rev. Jacobs, in addition to being a minister, is a serious amateur scientist who is fascinated with electricity.  When one of Jamie's brothers is injured in a skiing accident, the reverend seemingly cures him using electricity.  It is not long after that that the reverend is also touched by a freak accident.  His wife and child are killed in a horrific traffic accident. Jacobs is inconsolable after the loss and completely loses his faith.  He gives a sermon which causes him to be immediately fired, and Jamie thinks he is out of his life for good.

Jamie's own fascination is the guitar.  He picks up one belonging to his brother and, before long, he finds himself playing with a band. He loves the way girls react to him as a musician, and he loves being onstage.  This leads him to a life with different bands, travelling from town to town.  Eventually, he finds himself with a serious heroin addition, down and out in Tulsa, OK. (As a resident of Tulsa, by the way, I have to mention that King's portrayal of my town is less than flattering and exaggerates stereotypes about the state.) He goes to the state fair, hoping to buy drugs, and runs into Charles Jacobs.  Jacobs saves his life by breaking his addiction and helps him get a job at a recording school in Colorado.

Jamie thinks Jacobs is out of his life for good, but, of course, he isn't.  Jamie and Jacobs reconnect which leads to a horrifying ending to the novel.  The ending, unfortunately, is where I think the novel lost its way. This is a story about faith, science, and magic.  It is the story of a man obsessed with finding our what happens after we die.  The ending, although it supplies an answer to the question, is neither horrifying enough to satisfy nor anticlimactic enough to give the novel an ironic twist.  I really like the first 80 percent of this book, but the ending left a lot to be desired.
John Grisham is Back with Gray Mountain

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John Grisham has been churning out legal thrillers on a regular basis for years.  Although I have liked some of them, I haven't really loved a Grisham novel since A Time to Die.  Finally, he has written another really great novel.

It's 2008, and Samantha Kofer is pulling in the big bucks in a high-pressure job with a huge Wall Street firm.  Her work is mind-numbingly dull, but she believes there is real opportunity for advancement if she keeps working nights and weekends.  Then, the world of finance comes tumbling down.  Samantha is one of hundreds of young attorneys laid off due to the financial collapse.  Her firm makes her an offer: if she will work for free for one year for a non-profit, they will hold her job and reinstate her when the economy turns around.  Samantha isn't too worried; she has saved quite a bit.  She half-heartedly applies for some of the positions with non-profits recommended by her firm.  Time after time, she is told that the position has already been filled.  Finally, she gets an opportunity with a small legal aid group in a tiny town in the heart of Appalachia.

Samantha's new firm deals mainly with trying to help miners and their families.  Simple divorces, wills, and other legal paperwork take up a great deal of their time, but the true heart of the firm is trying to help miners receive the black lung benefits they are entitled to.  Samantha becomes friends with a young attorney who is fighting the mining companies who are strip mining, destroying the land, and poisoning the water for miles around.  When he dies under suspicious circumstances, she finds herself in a life or death battle with big corporations.

The thriller part is as good as anything Grisham has written before.  What sets this book aside from his usual work is the complex character at the center of the story.  Samantha grows, changes, and becomes a better human being through her experiences in rural Virginia.  She learns a great deal about the law and life.  I hope she will appear in another Grisham novel sometime soon.
I Really Wanted to Hate These Books; Unfortunately, They Were Great: 
The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

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J.K. Rowling's first foray into fiction after the Harry Potter series was The Casual Vacancy.  I read this book as soon as it was released, hoping for some of the fabulous writing and imaginative storytelling in the Harry Potter series.  I was hugely disappointed, and I really disliked the book.  So, when Rowling published The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym, I expected to hate it too.  It was only after rave reviews from a friend with similar taste, that I finally broke down and read it.  Boy, am I glad I did.

The main characters in both novels are detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary Robin.  When Cuckoo's Calling begins, Strike is down on his luck.  He is down to two clients, living in his office, and only able to hire a temporary secretary.  In fact, he nearly sends Robin away on the morning she shows up since he really doesn't have the money to pay her.  A wealthy client soon arrives, however, and retains Cormoran to find out what really happened to his sister, superstar model Lula Landry.  Her death has been ruled a suicide, but her brother doesn't believe that is the case.

Cormoran, along with Robin, begins to delve into the lives of the rich and famous, trying to determine the real facts behind Lula's death.  As they investigate, we find out more about them as individuals.  These two characters are what makes these novels so engrossing.  As soon as I finished the first novel, I began The Silkworm.  Although it is a little grittier, it is also a fascinating mystery.  This time, Cormoran and Robin end up immersed in the literary scene in London.

Both novels are excellent mysteries with characters that you learn to really care about.  I can hardly wait for installment three of what I hope will be a long series.
Terminal City by Linda Fairstein

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Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper is back, trying to find a killer linked in some way to Grand Central Terminal before he kills again.  As with all of Fairstein's Alex Cooper books, this one gives you history and trivia about New York City along with a rip-roaring mystery. Alex, along with detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, are on the trail of a serial killer.  The first body is found in the Waldorf Astoria but strange marks, resembling train tracks, have been carved into the body.  The second corpse moves the investigation closer to Grand Central, and the third actually takes place in the subterranean city beneath the station.  Adding to the urgency of stopping a killer is the fact that the President of the United States will be arriving at Grand Central in only a few days. Alex's relationship with Mike Chapman, which began in the last novel, is a sub-conflict throughout the book.

Fairstein's rock solid research brings Grand Central Terminal alive for the reader, and the mystery keeps you turning the pages.  I highly recommend this book.