Monthly Archives: December 2011

Booking Through Thursday — Plot or Characters

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What’s more important to you? Real, three-dimensional, fleshed-out fascinating characters? Or an amazing, page-turning plot?

(Yes, I know, they are both important. But if you had to pick one as being more important than the other?)

Ideally, I’d like to have both.

But when it comes down to it, I’m going to take the easy way out and say it really depends on my mood and/or reading circumstances.  If I’m working out and reading (whether via physical book or audio book), I want something with a good plot that’s going to keep those pages turning and help me focus on something else besides how hard I’m working or how much longer I have left on the particular machine I’m using or exercise I’m doing.

However, there are also times when I want to care more about the characters and see them grow and develop.  I don’t necessarily want every motivation or detail spelled out, but sometimes you just want a good character piece.

I will say that more often than not, I tend to go more for plot and world building than characters.  But in some cases, it’s characters who keep me coming back to a universe or series for each new installment.   In my mind, the author who has the most ideal blend of both is Elizabeth George, who crafts superlative mysteries but has her on-going cast of Lynley and Havers who keep me coming back to each new novel to check in on the latest developments in their lives.


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Review: The Litigators

The Litigators
The Litigators by John Grisham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s interesting that I’d read John Grisham’s latest novel The Litigators just as the promotional blitz for the NBC series based on his first huge bestseller The Firm is kicking into gear. Based on what I recall of The Firm and having read the latest Grisham offering, I honestly think the premise of The Litigators has far more promise and potential as a weekly television series than The Firm does. (Of course, The Firm has name recognition and a Tom Cruise movie in its favor, so I can see why NBC might go for that over this one.)

With Grisham, it seems like every other novel these days is great and then the next one is kind of a disappointment. Unfortunately, it appears The Litigators is that next one that was kind of a disappointment.

It’s certainly not due to a lack of trying by Grisham. At this point, it’d be easy for him to go on auto-pilot and churn out a legal thriller a year following a standard formula as many big-name best selling authors are content to do (I’m looking at you James Patterson). Instead, Grisham seems willing to push new boundaries with his novels. In the case of The Litigators that push is toward a more satirical and humorous novel than many of his previous installments. And while that take works in the first several chapters, it begins to wear a bit thin by the middle third of the book and I rapidly found myself losing patience with the story down the home stretch.

It’s the story of a Finley & Figg, a lower scale firm that could best described as ambulance chasers. Wally Figg has always dreamed of the high risk, high reward work of class action law suits and when he stumbles onto a potential one involving a cholesterol drug from a pharmaceutical company with a history of settling before the trial hits the courtroom, he eagerly begins signing up cases. He also casts his lot with a big name litigation firm to try and put some fear into the company.

Onto the scene of Finley & Figg comes David Zinc, a young lawyer at a corporate firm. Riding the elevator to his 97th floor cubicle one morning, David decides he’s had enough and walks away. After a day spent drinking in a bar, he stumbles into Finley & Figg and takes a job there to find out the other side of being a lawyer.

Of course, there’s an inevitable worlds-colliding conflict from the two sides, from which much of the humor stems. But Grisham offers up more than just a bit of humor from his eccentric characters. He offers some real insight and commentary on the world of mass tort litigation and the positive and negative impacts of it. During the story, David stumbles across a potential lawsuit where someone has genuinely been harmed by corporate negligence and the world of litigation will have a positive impact on a family and the community instead of just being done for the sake of a quick profit via settlement. Those portions of the story are far more effective and interesting that the world of mass tort as seen through the drug company storyline. (And it’s also abundantly clear where Grisham’s sympathies are).

It’s just too bad that the novel isn’t better than the sum of its parts. During the middle and last third of the novel, I couldn’t’ help but wonder if this premise might be better served as a short story or novella.

It’s not a terrible book, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not quite up to the level we’ve seen from Grisham in his better works.

But the good news is that given his recent pattern, his next book should be a lot better.

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Review: Hexed

Hexed by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Following up on the success of “Hounded,” Kevin Hearne offers the second installment in the Iron Druid Chronicles.

The good news is that everyone I enjoyed from the first novel is back. After dispatching with a god in the past book, Atticus might think he’s entitled to a bit of a breather. It’s too bad the rest of the supernatural world doesn’t agree with him. His vampire lawyer wants him to take out Thor, there’s a new Bacchus cult running around town and then there’s the matter of Atticus being caught in a tug of war between two supernatural women. Add in trying to train his new Druid apprentice and making sure Oberon has enough sausages and you’ve got all the makings of fun urban fantasy novel.

With “Hexed” you can see Hearne opening up the universe he introduced us to in “Hounded” a bit more. With a third book already in stores and a fourth yet to come, I’m hoping that we’ll have several more years of exploring and expanding this universe. It really does feel like Hearne is putting some pieces on the board to come back to later.

“Hexed” is fast-paced, witty and a lot of fun to read. It won’t revolutionize the urban fantasy genre, but it will keep you turning the pages. It’s one of those books that I enjoyed every moment of, but ended up kicking myself because I consumed it too quickly. The good news is there’s a third novel out there and I’ve already picked it up. The bad news is that once I’ve finished that one, it’s a long wait until April for more.

On a side note, I will admit that while I love the series, the cover chosen aren’t exactly the most reflective of what’s inside. I want to see this series reach a wider audience (it’s far preferable to the glut of vampire romance books out there thinly disguised as sci-fi and fantasy), but I’m afraid the covers may be a bit off-putting for fans browsing their local bookstore or library.

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Review: Hounded

Hounded by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in a while as I browse the new releases area of the sci-fi and fantasy section of my local bookstore, I get depressed that a lot of it these days is probably better defined as paranormal romance rather than actual sci-fi and/or fantasy novels. It seems like more and more if I want to find something truly new, unique and worth my time, recommendations from friends, rather real world or on-line, are far more fruitful and promising than anything the big-box book retailers are pushing these days.

Case in point–Kevin Hearne’s “Hounded.”

An urban fantasy in the tradition of the Dresden Files, “Hounded” is a fun, refreshing story about the last of the Druids, Atticus O’Sullivan. Atticus lives in Arizona, where he runs an occult used book store and runs with his shape-shifting friend Oberon. Atticus has in his possession a certain sword that a certain other ancient god would like back and the novel chronicles the attempt to retrieve it and the battle over it.

“Hounded” hooked me in from the first page with its sense of humor, style and wit and kept me turning the pages for the compelling story, well thought out universe and Oberon. Atticus is able to talk to Oberon telepathically and the conversations between the two (many centering on Oberon’s love of sausage and his desire for French Poodles) are the highlight of the book.

Reading “Hounded” reminded me of the first installments of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Atticus is a compelling, flawed hero and the novel feels like it’s putting some elements into play for a larger universe that could unfold in future installments. The fact that three novels hit shelves in three months speaks well of the publisher’s view of how well this series could go over. Easily one of the best urban fantasy novels of the year, “Hounded” is a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to more installments.

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Review: Snuff

Snuff by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With the news of Terry Pratchett’s declining health, it feels as if each new Discworld novel could be his last. It also made you want to savor each entry a bit more.

Unfortunately, the last couple of entries haven’t been quite among Pratchett’s best.

Thankfully, Snuff is a return to form for Pratchett and while I hope we get more, if this is the last Discworld entry we get, it will be a solid, entertaining high note for the series to go out on.

As I’ve said in other Pratchett reviews, Pratchett makes looking witty, funny and satirical look easy when he’s on the top of his game. And he does that hear. The story of Sam Vines being forced to take a vacation to the countryside with his wife only to find a foul plot unfolding there is well done and keeps the story moving. Part of what makes it work is the constant running gag of how husbands have to defer to their wives on whether they enjoy consuming certain things like bacon, cigars and other products that may shorten the lifespan but are still eminently enjoyable. Add in a bit of social commentary and you’ve got the makings of one of the better Discworld novels in recent memory.

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