Wednesday, October 29, 2014

'Gray Mountain' by John Grisham

I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive about this book when I heard that John Grisham was penning a female lead. Not because it was a female lead, but because he was SPECIFICALLY writing for a female lead. It seemed that instead of penning the damn story and letting the characters reveal themselves, he was trying to appease the spineless “everything must be equal” PC crowd. I don’t mind have a female as a lead character, but if it is meant to be then it will be. Don’t force it. The last time Grisham set out to base a book on a specific character was ‘The Racketeer’ and, in my humble opinion, that book was just… ‘good’.

So I started this book with a bit of trepidation because I didn’t want it to be a book written to appease a certain group. Happily it was not. ‘Gray Mountain’ was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed from a man whom I enjoy reading. 60% legal thriller, 40% thriller-thriller. That means this book had the classic Grisham legal dance, but there was also a lot of action that took place in the wild. The wild in this case being Appalachia. A beautiful and pristine part of the Eastern United States. Well… parts of it are beautiful and pristine. Other parts are… well… not much. The reasons why fuel the conflict wages within these pages.

The coal companies have wages war on this land and the casualties are wide and plenty. Man, beast, land, air, and water have all felt the shame of being stripped, spread eagle, and violated all with the blessing of those meant to protect them. Now if you feel that last sentence was coarse you aren’t ready for this book. Grisham holds back nothing when it comes to describing the rape of the land by the coal companies. Nothing. Now I’m no tree hugger by a long shot. I think there are few things better than getting in a Jeep, finding an off-road trail, watching your passengers boobies jiggle, while having a good time. But any Jeeper will tell you (the responsible ones anyway) to ALWAYS “Jeep responsibly.” Have fun but don’t destroy the damn place.

Apparently the coal companies didn’t get that memo. Or maybe they did get it and summarily ignored it like they have everything else having to do with the law, regulations, codes, or ethics. This fight over coal has been going on for a long time and our girl, Samantha Kofer, is about to go in. Samantha is a New York lawyer who has lived the good life since she was born. The product of two very ambitious parents who worked extremely hard and brought in a lot of money. It was interesting to watch Grisham write about her mom and dad. Workaholics that were neither negligent or attentive. I actually liked reading about the relationship Samantha had with her father. Interesting man with an entertaining life. Anyway…

Samantha loses her $100,000+ a year (not including bonuses) job and is given the choice to work a year with a non-profit FOR FREE, with the possibility of maybe getting her job back. Unfortunately that possibility is slimmer than Stacey Dash jumping out of my birthday cake this year. She lands in Brady, Virginia a town with a population of 2,200 that is host to some of the most beautiful country this side of Eden. Coming from a background of D.C. and New York, Samantha not only experiences a culture shock, but a work shock as well. No longer dealing with the piles of paperwork that come from her job in big-law, she must immerses herself amongst everyday people who have everyday problems.

She’s not snobby, just privileged. And in the course of learning new positions, new clients, new first world problems, and new cases she finds herself learning about the dark (hahahaha) world of coal. A classic case of catch-22. The coal companies bring in steady work and tons of money to the poor parts of the world. Life is good is only getting better. Unfortunately the bad side is bad. Dangerous working conditions, long hours, long term medical problems, and the worst of all, complete decimation of the surrounding environment.

Samantha’s new employers have been veteran’s in this fight for a while but welcome an extra hand. Enter Donovan. Donovan is the catalyst for some much needed sexual tension, but it doesn’t turn out quite like you would expect. You see, Donovan is a quite the litigious rockstar with the locals yet quite the pariah with the local coal consortium. He’s a fighter but he doesn’t fight clean. By his logic if the coal mafia aren’t going to play by the rules, then neither will he. And while he might not have the typical groupies of a rockstar, he does stir passion with certain women. That sub-plot was fun. And like I said, it turns out like you wouldn’t expect and THAT was quite the twist.

The ongoing litigation exposes a lot of the casualties of this war and they are not pretty. Grisham’s storytelling here is blunt as well. He delves into the medical history of the coal miners, their painful lives, their senseless deaths, the impact on the families, and the cruel aloofness and villainous acts of the coal companies. It may seem that reading about a fired lawyer taking on a coal company in the mountains of Appalachia may seem a bit boring. Motions, briefs, objections, judges, paperwork, billable hours, non-billable hours, clerks, and courtrooms all sound like the start of a snooze lecture for ‘Law 101’. Not so here. I finished this book in quick order for good reason. It’s Grisham telling a story, and I will never pass that up. While not being a heavyweight like ‘Sycamore Row’ (holy cow!) ‘Gray Mountain’ is a solid addition to the living storyteller legend that is John Grisham.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

'Addicted' (movie score) by Aaron Zigman

One thing I enjoy doing after watching a movie is hanging out to see who composed the music. Not only can you have a resolution phase after the movie, but you get a chance to hear more of the score minus that annoying movie dialogue. One of the first things that noticed immediately as I was watching ‘Addicted’ was the piano music. It wasn’t just ordinary piano music, it really stood out. The type of score you immediately train your brain to soak up as you watch the movie. 

The main title sets up this score of perfectly, and I do mean perfectly. (I’m listening to it now). It sound like ‘Addicted’ would sound if ‘Addicted’ were to sing. Or hum. Each movement is a beautifully orchestrated voice of the piece it is named after. The first thing I did after leaving the movie theater was search Google Play-Music to see if they had this score. They did. 

The second thing I did was add it to my playlists.

And since October 10th I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t listened to this score, sometimes back to back. Now… as far as soundtracks go, this IS a pretty short one, coming in at just under forty-five minutes. It kind of makes sense because the movie is also a short one (1:40) as well. I don’t have a favorite movement because I sincerely love them all. As will you. I’m not sure how I managed to miss Aaron Zigman all this time, but it’s a mistake easily, and happily fixed. 

At the time of this review Amazon isn’t showing a track list so I’ve added one below. 

1. Main Titles (1:43)
2. Happy Family (1:05)
3. Round Three (1:18)
4. The Museum (1:24)
5. I Think That’s My Favorite (1:17)
6. Did We Have Plans? (1:43)
7. I’ll Make It Up To You (1:47)
8. A Terrible Path (1:09)
9. I Want To Paint You (2:34)
10. Scrubbing Clean (1:03)
11. I Can’t Do This (1:14)
12. Warehouse (0:53)
13. I Can’t Help It (1:47)
14. Painting Zoe (0:56)
15. Other Women (3:53)
16. I Think We Should Talk (1:11)
17. Take A Walk (1:09)
18. Unveiling (1:53)
19. A New Client (1:01)
20. Special Delivery (1:12)
21. You’re Not Leaving Me (3:49)
22. Jason Knows (2:33)
23. Welcome Home (1:52)
24. Brochure (1:02)
25. Our Love Is Forever (3:43)

Friday, October 17, 2014

'Sharkman' by Steve Alten

Brilliant high school kid gets paralyzed. He discovers that shark DNA could help repair his injuries. He steals some, injects himself, and becomes a 2014 version of Aquaman. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ meets HGH meets great white meets puberty.

Sometimes it’s the books with the weirdest premises that turn out to be the best ones. This one certainly is. Steve Alten serves up another of his fast-paced thrill rides that is so good, it makes it impossible to do anything else. In the two days it took me to read this book I

1.    Burned dinner.
2.    Didn’t get to bed until after 12:30 AM.
3.    Was late for work once.
4.    Lied to a customer (and friend) so that I could get this book before him.
5.     Gave my little one a forty-five minute bath (normally it’s ten).
6.    Skipped my daily dose of “you ARE NOT the father” just so I could finish it.

It’s a magnificent feeling to find a book that you hate to put down. Then again, Steve’s writing has always done that for me. In this story we meet Kwan. An assimilated Asian-American who is paralyzed, due to a spinal injury caused by an accident. Kwan is smart guy, but he’s also a paralyzed teenager with an extremely rigorous military father, aka sperm donor. And when you add the always present teenage male angst with a number of other incidents, you get the perfect storm.

Most people (including me) would welcome having had their high school years in Florida. South Florida at that. But to Kwan it’s like a prison sentence having to adjust to a new high school in a wheelchair surrounded by other hormone induced angst ridden humans. His saving graces are a girl named Anya and the DNA of a bull shark.

Kwan’s high school works with an aquatics genetics lab that specialized in stem cell research involving sharks. At first Kwan has zero interest until finds out that Anya is involved. Then hormones take over because, lets be honest, they always do, and he volunteers to becomes an intern in the program as well.

Unfortunately nothing is as it seems and a story in the hands of Mr. Alten, even less so. There is a very dark underlying plot in this story that once I figured out, I wondered how the hell Steve was going to pull it off in such a short book.

How foolish of me to doubt him.

While the genetic facility IS doing edge-of-technology-science with shark stem cells, that is only a part of the whole. Our illustrious government has dug her claws in and you know when that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the fertilizer hits the fan. But let’s get back to Kwan… he’s fascinated at how far the science to cure people has come. It’s exciting, it’s cutting edge, and it’s within his reach. But he can also see and hear. He can see and hear the lab rats. The deformed, hurting, bleeding, squealing, grotesquely disfigured rats.

You can’t make an omelet with breaking a few eggs right? Well you can’t experiment with something as radical as using shark stem cells without breaking a few spines or liquefying a few skulls.

But in spite of seeing the rats, our modern-day Charlie Gordon decides that he wants to be whole again. There are some pretty extraordinary events that lead him to this decision, the least of which is feeling Anya’s breath or skin against his. With the help of an enemy (yeah I know, but read the book) Kwan sets his plan in motion. What happens is just FREAKING FREAKY! It’s also DAMN COOL! Steve can write y’all and I was just gone while I was reading this book!

There are also a number of side-plots and characters that add fuel to this fire under the water. The sexy Sabeen - The assassin with a tortured soul and a lithe body. The Admiral – a father with a heart like Cordilleran. Rachel – the calming force. (I really liked her.) Joe – the crass scientist with insatiable lust for the female flesh (I REALLY liked him). And the star of the show… bull shark DNA.

The science is uber-complex but Steve makes it understandable and fun on a layman’s level. The way he describes it I’d imagine he would be one hell of a fun teacher. From reading the ‘Meg’ series I understood some of the science, but everything else I learned on the fly and it didn’t slow the story down one bit. Anyway… once Kwan gets a taste of shark DNA his life takes a drastic turn. He’s surfing through it on cloud 9 fully unaware of the storm he’s causing.

If you put a gun to my head and said, “Jason, say one bad thing about this book.” Well… after I disarmed you and put two in your kneecaps, I would say “it’s too short.” But not “too short” in a bad way. “Too short” in an ‘Omega Project’ sort of way.

Don’t pass this book up because it’s ‘something that you would not normally read’. If you do then you are missing out on an author who has that “grab the reader” gift that so many claim, yet few actually possess. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

'The Secrets of Silk' by Allison Hobbs

One day I would like to interview Allison Hobbs and find out exactly where she gets the inspiration for her female characters. I just scanned her bibliography and yep, they’re all deranged. So it’s no surprise that the Lamda Nu chapter of Crazy Phi Nuts sorority is about to welcome a new member.

And her name is Silk.

Silk is a Louisiana born, light-skinned, sultry courtesan that seeps sexuality. Her caregiver, Big Mama, uses the voodoo power of the swamps to cast her spells. Silk uses the power of her snappy nappy. Actually… it’s not that nappy because she’s the devils’ mix of a white girl who enjoys the illicit desires of colored boys. Yeah I said colored. That’s because this novel takes place in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Allison writes about juke joints, bus depots, Cadillac’s, special schools for colored children, and ice delivery. Ice delivery? WTH!? They used to deliver frikkin’ ice!? Unfortunately the payment that this iceman wanted was not paper. Or even copper or silver. And it damn sure wasn’t green. But let’s back up for a bit…

Like I mentioned earlier, Silk was a walking sexual honeypot. At that time, light-skinned women in the deep South were usually light-skinned because of a soiled past. After dark and after the misses of the house was asleep, Massa became the sneaky white man who enjoyed forbidden sex with black girls. Most of that sex wasn’t consensual. Silk’s existence started with perversion somewhat like this and it only got worse. A few people are born with a natural depravity to all things moral, everyone else learns it. Silk learned from Professor Big Mama and Big Mama teaches at the University of Poontang. Baton Rogue campus.

Their relationship is abnormal, their relationship is depraved, and their relationship is pervy. And I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s not hard to see where Silk learned her vile sexuality. She’s an evil and mean seductress. Men love her, women hate her, and I can’t believe God had the nerve to create her.

After some murderous sexual adventures in the… swamp…where she lives, Silk takes her show on the road. The story she uses to get over on people is classic! Now Allison has written about some pretty sick women over the years, but there was something especially sick with Silk. It’s bad enough to have the thoughts she has, but to actually act out on them is another thing entirely.

And no one is spared.

Not the family she shacks up with, not the men she has fun with… not even the children. Silk works her demon like charms on everyone in this book (lord please help Ed the drivers Ed guy) and I can’t think of one person who didn’t fall for her charms. But while Silk may have the vagina from heaven, her soul is blacker than Wesley Snipes covered in oil at midnight on Halloween with his eyes closed.

Allison’s ladies are sexual firecrackers that would make ANY man trade his blood for a taste of what they have. Unfortunately, her ladies are also devoid of the most basics of morals and will do anything or anyONE to get what they want. So… enter at your own risk. Haha, get it? “Enter at your own risk…?” Nevermind.

Allison writes the way I love to read, with characters I love reading about. Going back and skimming this book to make sure I included what I wanted in this review, I found myself reading and looking for certain passages. THAT, dear people, is when you know you’ve found a good book. THIS is a good book.