Review: King’s Captive

tl;dr: fast-paced sexy thriller that keeps you guessing

The story:

Some books, you need to just hold on to your hat and go in for the ride. This is such a book. Every twist and turn I kept chortling and saying “this is nuts!” but I couldn’t stop reading. I was 100% sucked in to this story, and devoured it with near obsession.

The story begins with our main character, having suffered a traumatic experience at her 18th birthday party, now the hostage of some shadowy figure who is apparently incredibly skilled at carving up animals for dinner. He stinks of sex appeal, and this woman is torn between a desire to keep her senses intact and to jump him. She keeps waffling about whether she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, plotting her escape.

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Review: The Girl on the Train

I the-girl-on-the-train-coverwent into this book not knowing a thing about it, and I think that played in its favor. I wasn’t expecting any of the twists and turns, and so I was just along for the ride.

This book is from the perspective of 3 women whose lives become intertwined. Rachel is the alcoholic woman scorned, who is still hanging on to the hope that she will be reunited with her ex-husband. Megan is the neighbor that Rachel watches on her daily commute on the train, imagining the rich life that she is leading and the husband that dotes on her. Anna is the other woman, trying to pursue her own happily ever after while being pulled between the narratives surrounding each of the first two.

Without giving much away, the story builds through the variety of viewpoints and time periods to build a really interesting mystery. I did find the ebook format to be not conducive to being able to follow the timeline though. In a print book, it would be easy to flip back and see where we left off time wise with each narrator, and even to the beginning of the story. After awhile, I tried to ignore the time stamps, but there are pretty important to the way that the story is constructed. I think this would be even worse on audio. Particularly confusing is when the story jumps from the present to the past and back to the present, and I was confused about how much time had passed between the two present day chapters. Each chapter is broken into days, and those days are broken into morning and evening, or sometimes morning and afternoon, or some combination. There was a lot of going back and forth that disrupts the flow of the reading experience, as I was trying to place where I was in the timeline.

This book uses the red herring device a lot. I can see how some readers would be put off by this, but I thought it added a lot of layers to the story and they weren’t too disruptive. It was good to see the viewpoints of the same events from three sides, also.

This is a layered, complicated story that I really enjoyed. This review is purposely vague because most of the enjoyment that I got from it was the experience of peeling away those layers and building upon the story in order to get to the final reveal. The ending itself was just okay. Sometimes I can imagine a better way for the story to end, but in this instance it may be the best that it could be. The way that I thought it was going to go would have been really melodramatic and cringe-worthy, and I’m glad it didn’t go that way.

5 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: You’ve Been Warned


When I set out to find a badly reviewed book for this challenge, I was anticipating a doozy. I have to admit, it could have been worse. Probably an unpopular opinion, but this isn’t any worse than Twilight. In fact, in this book’s defense, I actually finished it in about 3 days. So, it at least intrigued me enough to keep going at a fairly rapid pace.

But make no mistake, this is not a good book. Apparently Mr. Patterson churned out 6 other books the same year this one came out (2007), so his mind wasn’t exactly on crafting a work of art. And it’s not clear who actually wrote it, or how the work was otherwise divided by two authors.

The basic plot is that Kristin Burns is a photographer who has apparently made some bad choices and had a lot of trauma in her life. She takes some photos of a police scene outside of a hotel and notices that her photos are developing weirdly. Specifically, certain portions have a translucent quality. After awhile, strange people start interacting with her, including people she knows are dead. They keep trying to warn her to stay away from the married man she is sleeping with. But it turns out she’s been dead too this whole time … I think. Maybe. She might be dead. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell.

There are a lot of problems with this book. Let’s start with superficial nitpicks. The author is constantly name-dropping brands in a way that make it sound like product placement. The phrasing is rough. Sometimes I needed to re-read sentences a few times to understand the meaning. Kristin’s decent into madness seems bizarre and hard to follow. If she was dead the whole time, the book didn’t do a good job of explaining that. Kristin’s interior monologue is ridiculous. When the other woman is introduced, she is given a mafia nickname – Penley “the Pencil”. All the chapters (which are all about 3-4 pages) end on a cliffhanger.

But my biggest problem is how the book seems to blame Kristin for being a scared teenager, giving birth in a hotel, and losing her baby. The book could have gone into some interesting territory. She was molested as a child by her pediatrician. Her father committed suicide after her mother told him he was worthless. Then she gets pregnant and gives birth without assistance in a hotel, after which the baby dies? (I kinda want to know what happened to the boyfriend there, it’s never clear if they break up or he just disappears.) By this point, Kristin is probably all kinds of messed up. Maybe she thinks she is a garbage person and only deserves a married man. But the book never addresses those interesting threads it could have taken. The character of Kristin instead seems like a master of completely distancing herself from her past, and acting like since Michael and Penley don’t have a perfect marriage, then the affair is completely justified. She even admonishes herself for “cheating” by going on a blind date. How’s that for cognitive dissonance? You are already cheating lady, by sleeping with a married man.

This book would have been way better if it was completely dismantled and rewritten. I felt like I was reading it that I couldn’t really get at the character of Kristin, and my initial thought is that two men just don’t know how to write the experience of a woman convincingly. Maybe that’s not totally fair, but it does seem to not really encapsulate the female experience. Poor writing is poor writing, however, so maybe it would have been less noticeable in a better crafted book.

1 star

This book fulfills the book with bad reviews requirement for the challenge.


Review: Sycamore Row

The writing style between this and A Time To Kill are very similar, but Sycamore Row is so much more polished, if a little less interesting. Part of that is the overall plot is just not as attention-grabbing as the plot to A Time To Kill. It answers a lot fewer “big questions” (is it okay to take the law into your own hands, etc), and becomes mired in a somewhat boring dispute over an estate. It only begins to get interesting when there is a BIG SECRET. Several of Grisham’s writing “tics” are present here as they were in the first novel, but not as overused. One of the biggest differences I noticed was a huge lack of the n-word. It was liberally sprinkled over A Time To Kill, but Sycamore Row is much more reigned in. He engages in a lot of telling rather than showing, which is not only a good rule for visual entertainment, but is also good with books. Near the end, he actually writes “As seasoned lawyers, they should have known better than to plan the rest of the trial” which is such a huge dun dun DUNNNN.

Essentially, the plot is that an old man who is estranged from his family commits suicide, leaving all of his sizable estate to a black housekeeper he had only known for 3 years. His surviving family is outraged, and so they hire some big guns and take it to court. The deceased has a long-lost and presumed dead brother who is found, and tapes a shocking deposition that illuminates exactly why this man left 24 million dollars to this woman. Being able to boil it down so concisely is part of its downfall. There just wasn’t much there to fill all 447 pages.

In contrast to A Time To Kill, I felt like the racial aspects were better, although not perfect. It was still exceedingly sexist. I was somewhat bothered that Ellen Roark doesn’t exist at all in this novel, even after in the conclusion to A Time To Kill she had been brutally beaten by the KKK and left to die, and that is basically how her story ends. It would have been nice for her to even make a cameo in this novel, at least so we know that she is doing okay. (I realize that most people wouldn’t have read both stories back-to-back, but she was a major character in the first!) Jake’s secretary at the beginning of the book is just as belittled as Ethel Twitty was, except instead of being old and ugly, she’s a lazy housewife. (C’mon, John…) It’s like he wants to emphasize that he is such a moral man because he is NOT TEMPTED BY HIS SECRETARY. Because there’s no way an ugly, old, or lazy woman would ever be tempting, am I right? The stand-in for Paralegal Ellen Roark in this book is Portia Lang, the black housekeeper Lettie’s daughter, who has just returned from being abroad and in the military, and now is interested in studying the law. How cool would it have been for Portia and Ellen to work together, and learn from each other? (Ok, I’ll drop it.)

I’m sure that my declarations of the sexism in this book are being scoffed by the two people reading this. So I have a selection of excerpts to share.

“I got the impression she’s a fairly typical black woman for these parts.” […] “Is she attractive?”

Jake and Dewayne exchanged a nervous handshake while shapely Kamila watched close by.

“Tell Carla I love her and lust after her body.” “She knows it. Later.”

Portia found her to be polite, gracious, and seemingly comfortable with another black female in the house.

The last one kind of is shockingly terrible. Why on earth would a woman be uncomfortable with another woman’s presence, whether they share a skin color or not? Are they dogs, sniffing each other and growling over territory? I kind of wish I had notated some of the even more terrible lines throughout A Time To Kill. Rest assured, it can be worse.

There is some minor fallout for Jake with regards to the Hailey trial, which is referenced quite a bit. Grisham doesn’t pretend that Jake isn’t an arrogant jerk (although, supposedly a moralistic arrogant jerk), and the troubles he is having collecting the insurance money on his charboiled house is due to that. His slimey divorce lawyer pal fixes that up for him rather conveniently, but there are lingering problems with the arsonists going free and many having not been charged at all. The KKK hasn’t returned, but there are mutterings that maybe they haven’t finished with Jake and so he carries a loaded gun in his briefcase to protect himself and his family. I did appreciate that small sliver of continuity.

My takeaway from this book is that is it okay. It’s fine. Nothing special. It’s much better as a piece of writing than A Time To Kill in many ways, but part of its problems began in that book and carry over to this one. The sensibility of the town is actually pretty good, and it may be both novel’s most fully developed character.

3 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: A Time To Kill


I’m as surprised as anyone by how much I absolutely hated this book. It really doesn’t have that much to redeem it. I’ve read some other Grisham books before, and I don’t recall them being this terrible. Almost every page had something new to make me irritated.

First, the plot was decent. So it has that going for it. But getting to the bones of the plot was this strange meandering journey, filled with random asides that were flushed out way more than needed and then completely discarded. I wondered why we had to know so much about Dell, the waitress at The Coffee Shop, when it wasn’t necessary at all to the plot or main characters. Certain aspects that were brought up would have aided in world building if they had come up earlier, and then referenced again later, but I felt like a bunch of things (like this really long aside about the secretaries getting lunch at 11:50 sharp in the square) completely stupid and unnecessary, and pushed back actually interesting things. Details are invented and then discarded, some things seem to contradict, and some are just downright confusing.

The book was also pretty offensive. Things like rape and racism need a gentle touch, and maybe the same story in another writer’s hands would have been amazing, but in Grisham’s hands it surely wasn’t. This is a story where a young black girl is raped and her father shoots the rapists and is on trial, but the protagonist is a white male lawyer. We are supposed to sympathize with him, as the womens and the blacks are all brushed off as intellectually subpar. But Jake Brigance is an arrogant jerk who is pretty unlikable. Really, he seems to be the definition of a douchebag. He treats his wife like a child, his clients like pests, and the law clerk that offers her services for free as a seductress, not to mention a bleeding heart liberal that doesn’t wear bras (it’s apparently very important to know that she DOESN’T WEAR A BRA – as it is repeated at least 4 times). The n-word is used so many times I felt like it was just randomly inserted as much as possible. I just feel kind of icky that these topics are being handled by a white man and without much grace.

I was amazed at the amount of typos there were in a book that is more than 25 years old, which has likely undergone several revisions. Some of it could be attributed to the transfer from page to ebook, as that is how I read it, but others where definitely spelling errors (venear isn’t a word). I was also jarred by the use of the term “Kluxer” instead of Klansman, which is what I’m used to seeing. A quick Google search shows that is has been in use before, but not much. So I’ll let that slide, but it’s a strange way to see it written. More than half of the chapters begins with the name of a random character, introducing that character, and going on to the main plot again. This device wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t keep happening over and over. It got to be really noticeable.

And the resolution. Generally, in a courtroom novel, the case builds and comes to a rising conclusion, typically with a major breakthrough or amazing closing argument. The main action of this lands “off screen”, and seems to be a non-sensical random chance. The reason the jury decides as they do almost makes no sense. It only ends that way because it is the best possible outcome. A lot of the loose ends just don’t get tied up or even mentioned, particularly in reference to the KKK. They just … leave? Well, okay then, I guess they weren’t serious about being a threat.

I plan to follow this up with a review of the film version (which is on its way) and a review of the follow-up novel by Grisham, entitled Sycamore Row. It was published in the past few years, so I want to see if it still is as terrible as this one, or if this one is just bad because it is the first book he ever wrote. For now, I’m left with a not very pleasant picture of Mr. Grisham.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the first book by a popular author requirement for the challenge.


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