Book Review: The Last Mile (Amos Decker #2)

I finished this book a few weeks ago (October 9 according to Goodreads), but I haven't had time to write this review. I first picked up this book just because it was the second one in the Amos Decker series, but I was immediately intrigued because it was a case about a former football player who was wrongly convicted and on death row before someone else confessed to the crime he was convicted of, the murder of his parents.

The most interesting thing to me here was how are you going to use Decker's strengths (his inability to forget anything) in a case that happened 20-plus years ago and he didn't have any witness to whatsoever. Baldacci was able to weave it in with current events and then reading of case files and the like.

But where this book really stood up is that it used the wrongful conviction to venture into some other topics that were really poignant given the political environment in the United States today. The book was published in April 2016, so there was definitely a knowledge of the current environment, but not as much as has been evident since Trump received the Republican nomination for President.

Quick Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Start Spoilers

I don't know how to talk through the rest without going into spoilers. So the spoilers start now.

I thought Baldacci's ability to weave into the story the Civil Rights Era of the South into the 1960s and a modern story today was great. He made sure it was played pretty close to the vest on everything, so when you find out that Melvin Mars' dad is still alive and the one that framed him for his and his wife's death. He never thought his son would be executed because he didn't do it, and he made sure of it by paying to have someone confess to the crime to get Melvin out of jail. From there, the ability to weave into the storyline a church bombing from the 1960s to prominant members of today's Southern political, economic, and law enforcement elite was done extremely well and believable, including how people's motivations and thought processes have now changed.

All in all, I felt the book's ability to weave a political message into a thriller was done very well and had me wanting to continue to read more than just on my subway ride or before I go to sleep which doesn't always happen.

Book Review: Make Me

Another book in the Jack Reacher series. Another solid paced mystery / thriller that works with the formula we've already been given, embraces it, and makes a fun fast-paced story. That pretty much sums up this book. I liked it, but there wasn't much new to the formula from Lee Child on this one, but if I had perfected something like he has, I wouldn't change it either. It works.

The most interesting thing to me in this book was this is the second mystery / thriller book in a row that has dealt with the seedy underbelly of the Internet, and specifically suicides. In this instance, the reason the villains had money and killed another private investigator wasn't really important. But I found it just weird that two straight books I read dealt with this topic with this one coming out in summer 2015 and the Windermere and Stevens novel coming out in 2016. I guess I am more curious as to what drove this topic to be something both of these authors wanted to delve into at around the same time?

Quick Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Sourdough

I was a huge fan of Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, so when I saw this book was by the same author on Amazon, that jumped this book to the top of the list. Add on to that, the fact that it was set in the world of technology and food (two of my favorite things), that made this book jump right to the top of the queue. And I am glad it did.

The book is well written, was digestible in quick bites and entertaining throughout. If I have one issue with the book it is that the ending seems abrupt. There is a lot of time spent in building up the final act and then when it happens, it sort of ends quickly and the book is over. I felt Sloan could have explored the fall out from the final act instead of wrapping it up so quickly. Maybe just another chapter or two that added in some background and motivations to the way things ended, but unforuntately that wasn't there.

But back to the good stuff:

  • Writing

  • Topic

  • Weaving of technology and food

  • Honest depiction of technology and its workplace environment

It's sort of amazing to me that a book entitled Sourdough was able to capture just how I have felt at different times while working. The "why am I doing this?" feeling and thinking there are other things I could be doing that I would enjoy more. In this novel, the protagonist (Lois) finds a "restaurant" that provides some great bread and spicy soup and starts eating that and feeling better versus eating the slurry drink (think Soylent) that has no flavor but allows her to work more. After that restaurant owners are deported (maybe a political commentary in there, but it wasn't played out heavily and felt more like a way to move the plot forward) they provide Lois with their sourdough starter.

This sourdough starter is the beginning of Lois' journey into learning about how to bake bread. But this sourdough starter is weird, and probably mystic. The bread's crust always ends up with faces on it; sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes neutral. Lois brings this bread into the office where her co-workers love it and even the four-star chef who is now the corporate chef for her tech company. This chef asks Lois how many loaves she can make and offers to buy it from her every morning. Lois now has a bread baking business, and her life takes on a dual role, software developer by day and bread backer by night and morning. She loves it.

Eventually, she tries out for the Ferry Building's Farmers' Market, but isn't selected. Though she is picked for an expirimental market which seems to be pushing the advance in food technology. Lois' bread is great, but the proprieter wants to see how she can integrate her tech work in building out alogorithms and skills for a robotic hands to do every day tasks. The rest of the novel continues in a quick pace as Lois learns more about herself, technology, the sourdough culture, and the people around her leading up to a finale that probably highlights so much of the San Francisco (actually any business) culture it is just a perfect conclusion.

Quick Review: 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Watcher in the Wall (Stevens and Windermere #5)

I started reading this series before I even knew that it was a series. I found the premise of the first novel (The Professionals) to be very interesting so I picked up the book just over a month after it was released. Then I followed quickly with each of the others. But getting to this one took me a while, not because of a dwindling interest, but because things changed and I wasn't reading as much as I was in the past. But once I realized this was out, I picked it up and wanted to power through it.

The first thing that I got from this book was that it was going to end up even darker than the previous book which dealt with the topic of sex trafficking. Laukkanen seemed to think that wasn't dark enough, and has now jumped into the topic of teen suicide and the places on the Internet that they go. As a new father, this is definitely something that freaks me out, but it is something that I also know happens and is sad. Combine this with Dear Evan Hansen (an absolutely amazing show, fwiw, but I would say see it with the Broadway cast if you can), and you have some modern entertainment for me revolving around this topic. While Dear Evan Hansen brought me and my wife to tears, this used the topic to drive some additional character development in the series while also having great pacing and action.

The novel starts with a suicide at Stevens' daughter's high school. And with that there is a police investigation which leads Stevens and Windermere into the seedy underbelly of the Internet. And that is when we learn the antagonist of this story, a man named Randall Gruber who spends his time on these forums pushing these teens into suicide in order to sell the footage to make money. Gruber does all of this because he was abused as a teen and this is how he takes control of his life.

After discovering this, Stevens and Windermere end up able to convince their boss that this is a federal crime. There was a lot of questions as to whether this is something they could even investigate given that it may be considered free speech under, but given the nature of the beast as Windermere's drive to solve this, their boss let them investigate this case deeply. Why is Windermere so driven to solve this? We find out that she feels responsible for not stopping one of her friends from committing suicide in high school. This drive pushes the team through many times when they could have just stopped and it takes Windermere up to the edge and maybe over it in the pursuit of Gruber.

From a non-plot line perspective, I loved the pacing of this book. Quick, bite sized chapters that lasted probaly at the most five minutes. Laukkanen's ability to write this way is great for a subway reader as I never have to leave the story in the middle, and I appreciate that. It also has me on the "just one more chapter" mindset at night that keeps me reading and pushing through a novel.

Quick Review: 4 stars out of 5

Book Review: The Innocent (Will Robie #1)

I have been on a kick of reading mystery and thriller novels recently. I have found that I am able to get into the stories that much more and actually want to continue to read them. Since I read mostly on the subway and before bed, one of the big things I want to be able to do is finish my reading section on a hard chapter block. It makes me feel like I accomplished something and that I am not thinking about what is coming next as I am doing something else. When it comes to mysteries, I think David Baldacci is one of the best at a quick and simple chapter block. His chapters are normally between 1 and 6 minutes (per Kindle read time) and they let me finish in a subway ride or just pull down a chapter or two as I wind down at night. This led me to The Innocent.

The Innocent starts out simply enough by introducing us to a new character, United States Government assassin Will Robie. It takes us through a prologue assassination mission and then one more mission with a great set piece involving an aircraft hanger. *(I think that would end up looking really cool in a well-done movie).* These set pieces introduce us to how Will performs his job as one of the best and how he always has an exit plan in place even if things do not go his way initially. Character building in short, quick action-packed chapters which I always like. If you can build character and keep the action moving, I can guarantee I will not be putting down the book.

With the character building done, Will gets his next assignment. This kicks off the course of events in the novel. He is assigned to kill a government worker, but when he gets into her room Will discovers that she has a child in bed with her and is unable to shoot her. BUT then a sniper from across the way ends up putting a bullet through her and her young child, starting into action one of the novel's main mysteries: Who killed this woman?

On his escape route, Will ends up in a bus terminal and ready to take that to New York. One of the last passengers to get on the bus is a teenage girl who we already know from some previous chapters as a foster child who ran away from her foster parents after getting a note from her parents. She then witnessed them killed right in front of her with her mom saying at the end: "She doesn't know anything". She was followed onto the bus by a man who attempts to kill her and she is saved by Robie. They get off the bus, and soon after it explodes, intertwining their lives together.

From here the story takes us on an interesting weave through Robie not trusting any one, even the teenager (Julie), and working with the FBI to solve the crime he was meant to carry out. The interplay between Robie, Agent Vance of the FBI, and Julie highlighted well-written characters whose motivation you understood and questioned at the same time.

A great quick read, but a great introduction to a character I know is the start of a series.

Quick Review: 5 stars out of 5.

Book Review: House of Secrets

One of the nice things that adding a commute back into my life has provided is the ability to read about thirty minutes a day, fifteen minutes each way. This has brought me back to reading, and I am thankful for it. It even has me reading at night before going to bed again which had slowed to a crawl as I was doing more and more work on my side project.

The reason I picked up House of Secrets is that I had read Brad Thor's book series the Culper Ring, and this seemed like it had an interesting premise: the search for Benedict Arnold's Bibles.

The book started with Jack Nash telling his daughter, Hazel, a riddle about a dead man with a bible in his chest. Then after the prologue quickly jumping into modern day where we are introduced once again to Jack and Hazel in modern day with a quick introduction to her brother Skip, too. As their father is talking to them, a car accident occurs and he passes, and Hazel is injured and loses her memories. Hazel becomes the main protagonist in the story as she is trying to remember the mysteries that she followed as an anthropologist and what she was like as a person. Each interaction brought her more rememberance of something new. I liked this mechanism from Thor to keep the reader as in the dark as his protagonist.

I always find writing these reviews a bit tough as I don't like giving away any of the plots. In this instance, to me what made this book was it's pacing -- quick chapters which could be consumed on a train ride, and an interesting hook with Benedict Arnold's Bibles, and consistent flash backs into Jack Nash's TV show about conspiracy theories.

Final Summary: If you're a fan of quick paced mysteries using historical conspiracies, this will be a fun book for you to read. If you read the Culper Ring Series, you will also get a nice cameo at one point in the novel.