Mini-Reviews: Gray Mountain, Afterworlds, Playing It Safe

Gray MountainGray Mountain by John Grisham

When her rising career with a prominent and high profile New York law firm is put on hold for a year, Samantha Kofer is given the option to spend a year working as a volunteer with a legal aid society and return to work in a year without sacrificing her career status. Scrambling to find a position, Samantha chooses a legal aide society in rural Virginia.

The community of Brady is one that depends heavily on strip mining and its related industries. But that isn’t stopping local crusading attorney, Matthew Wyatt from going after the coal mining companies. Samantha finds herself draw to Matthew and his crusade, learning more about the tactics coal mining companies use to avoid lawsuits and legislation in the process.

Despite a promising premise and a couple of intriguing characters, Gray Mountain unfortunately quickly descend into a political statement by John Grisham that’s about as subtle as a two-by-four upside the head. The initial hook of the big-city lawyer coming to the rural area and discovering things about life and the legal issues there held a lot of promise. But once Grisham gets readers to a certain plot twist (I won’t give it away here, but I believe the book jacket does. You have been warned), Samantha goes all-in on the crusade against the mining companies and the book loses any early momentum it had.

Grisham has shown he can tell a political parable and offer social commentary without necessarily being readers over the head with his message. That isn’t the case with Gray Mountain. It mars what otherwise could have been a better than average Grisham novel. 

AfterworldsAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Reading Afterworlds, I kept wanting to like it more than I did.

Scott Westerfeld looks to deconstruct the supernatural teen romance novels with his latest book, but unfortunately the end result is less than the sum of its parts. Told in alternating chapters, Westerfeld relates the story of Darcy Patel who has written what could be the next big thing in the supernatural romance world. What makes Darcy’s story interesting is that she wrote the novel during her last few years of high school and secretly sent the manuscript to publishers to see what would happen. When it sells, she puts college on hold to move to New York and write the follow-up installment.

The chapters centering on Darcy’s storyline and her entry into the world of publishing and growing up are among the more interesting in the novel. It’s the alternating chapters that let us peek inside what Darcy wrote that offer less interest.

At close to five-hundred pages, Afterworlds wore out its welcome long before I reached the final pages. Westerfeld had a good idea here, but I’m not sure the execution necessarily lived up it.

Playing It SafePlaying It Safe by Barbie Bohrman

Every once in a while, my wife and I like to recommend a book to each other that’s outside our usual reading comfort zone. She tends to try and get me to read a novel from one of her favorite genres — the world of romance.
And while this one isn’t quite the supernatural romance I’m sure she was hoping I’d read, I have to admit it was fairly satisfying.

Julia Boyd is a bit jaded when it comes to love. Spurned by her college boyfriend, Julia has found a lot of frogs and no prince. But maybe her friend Alex could be that knight in shining armor who breaks down her sarcastic barriers and finally wins her heart.

Barbie Bohrman does a nice job of giving Julia and Alex a slow burn, building up the sexual tension between the two. It also helps that for the first half of the novel, Julia has a nice cast of supporting characters to give her advice and to serve as a sounding board for her frustrations at her attraction to Alex (turns out Alex was once the object of interest for her best friend, who is now happy in a different romantic relationship). The flirting eventually leads to something more between she and Alex — and it’s once the two get together that I feel the novel lost something of its edge.

I will admit I listened to this one as an audio book and that may not have helped things necessarily. Chapters of steamy romance may not not be best experienced in the audio book format. But it’s kind of a trade-off since the reader gives the first-person narration of Julie such a flair up to that point.

Another part of it could be that once Julia and Alex give in to their feelings, the supporting cast virtually vanishes into the background. And maybe that’s meant to mirror how new couples can disappear into each other when they first get together, but I couldn’t help but hope the supporting cast might get more page time in the novel’s last half than they did.

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