Monday, December 26, 2011

The Litigators, by John Grisham

I think I have read every one of John Grisham's novels.  Some are better than others, but I have enjoyed them all.  The Litigators has some of the elements that make Grisham fun to read: the idealistic young lawyer, the bashing of big firms and big companies, the little guy getting the win.  But I have to say, even though I enjoyed it, I kept asking myself why.

I don't know if this is a criticism or an observation, but after the first few chapters, The Litigators reads more like an account of an actual case.  You know, one of those readable but ultimately pretty dry nonfiction works that tell the story of a case from the news or from history?  It starts out on an entertaining note.  David Zinc, sick of working 80 hours a week in a big firm making deals on foreign fixed income instruments, flips out, gets drunk, and, after seeing an ad on a bus for an ambulance-chasing law firm, shows up there looking for a job.  He, along with the two colorful and ethically-challenged partners, gets involved in a class action suit against a giant pharmaceutical company.

Once that case, which fills most of the book, gets going, Grisham's lawyer takes over for his storyteller.  This certainly may be his intent.  If there's a good case in real life, with a good story behind it, I would want Grisham to write that book.  It's generally considered a good thing when a work of non-fiction reads like a work of fiction.  But I would counter that when a work of fiction sounds like a work of non-fiction, perhaps a bit more life needed to be injected into the story.

Yeah, I know, that sounds pretty shallow and petty, but that's my opinion.  Two things: Grisham fans will like The Litigators, and, in spite of my criticism, I'll probably read his next book as soon as it's released.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Fourth Fisherman, by Joe Kissack

You may vaguely recall the stories a few years ago about some Mexican fisherman who drifted across the Pacific for months, ending up 5500 miles from home.  The story of their survival made them into celebrities for a brief time, but came and went from the attention of Americans, like last year's rescued Chilean coal miners.  Their story did not, however, escape the attention of Joe Kissack, a former TV executive whose life was falling apart.  The Fourth Fisherman tells the fishermen's story, but mostly turns out to be the story of Kissack's struggles with addiction and workaholism, and his pursuit of the rights to tell the story of the three fisherman.

I like a good survival story as much as the next guy.  The three fisherman struck a chord with Joe because of the fact that they said they read the Bible continually throughout their 9 month voyage and said they relied on their faith in God to help them survive.  The facts of their survival are provided, with a bit of descriptive color, but I didn't get a real sense of the passage of time.  They drifted a long, long way.
The four fisherman. (Three plus Joe.)
Their survival story ended up taking second fiddle to Joe's story.  And his story sort of annoyed me.  It's not his fault.  I just get sort of tired of this type of story: the self-absorbed, materialistic businessman, making a ton of money, begins to get stressed out and reassesses his life.  He quits his job to pursue his dream.  That's what Joe does, spending years of his life and all of his savings to meet the three fishermen and tell their story.  After spending all his money, selling his lake house and his wife's Lexus (feel sorry for him yet?) he's not much closer to getting a movie made.

Ultimately, we have here a pretty nice story about some fishermen who got lost at sea, and the impact they had on an American struggling in life.  I like the way one lady summarized his story after Joe spoke at her church.  The fishermen looked lost, floating in the middle of the ocean, while Joe had everything, but Joe was the lost one.  "The fishermen were not lost at all--they had God."  Maybe Joe will reach his goal of making a movie about the Tres Pescadores.  I'll watch it.  In the meantime, while I'm happy he got his life straightened out, I'm not that happy with this book.

This book is to be released on March 13, 2012.  I received a complementary pre-release review copy from WaterBrook Multnomah.  Thanks!

Please rate my review of this book here:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Robopocalypse, by Daniel H. Wilson

You know that cool remote engine starting feature of your car?  How about the computer controlled traffic light system?  Or the drones the military is using?  What if a malicious artificial intelligence entity managed to gain control of all that--and more?  That's the scenario Daniel Wilson lays out in Robopocalypse.  In his near-future novel, we don't just have remote start but auto drive; not only traffic lights but emergency vehicles are computer-controlled; and most actual combat is done by robots.  A lone scientist has perfected the creation of a complete thinking, reasoning artificial intelligence.  He took safeguards to keep the AI contained, but it learned so quickly that it was able to "escape" and slowly take over the computers of the world.

The problem is that Archos, as the AI calls itself, has apparently been reading Al Gore's books.  It is disgusted with the way humans treat their environment, and begins to eliminate the human virus from the earth.  His program of extermination begins with small acts, like a domestic robot who attacks humans, a peacekeeping robot who overcomes its nonviolent programming to kill civilians and soldiers, a robotic doll who attacks the child owner, the elevators that take building residents to their deaths.  (Uh, oh, maybe it's beginning!  This happened in NYC!  Story here.)  This is where Robopocalypse is strongest: telling the stories of these episodes of technology turning on us, where people are no longer the master, being mastered by their tools and toys.  Imagine the horror of being behind the wheel of your cool new car with all the bells and whistles, then losing control as the autodrive takes over, mowing down pedestrians, then drives you into the lake where you slowly drown with your family.

With so much of human life relying on computerized and robotic controls, civilization quickly crumbles once the robots really get going.  Here's where the weaker part of the book.  Not that the second half of the book is bad; it's certainly entertaining.  But it becomes a little cliched: if you've seen one post-alien invasion or post-nuclear war movie, you've seen them all.  People flee, they learn how to survive in adverse conditions, unlikely heroes arise, and they unite to fight a common foe.  This will make a fun, special-effects filled movie.  In fact, the book reads like that, cutting from one scene to another, playing out like a screenplay.

There's not a ton of depth here, but it's a fun read, like the summer blockbuster it's destined to be.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

To Be Perfectly Honest, by Phil Callaway

He's a funny guy!
I have never met Phil Callaway, but after reading To Be Perfectly Honest, I almost feel like I know him.  Callaway brings his sense of humor and perceptive view of life to bear on the question, Can I go a whole year without telling a lie?  Truth-telling is the thread that holds the diary-like narrative together, but he offers insight and encouragement for lots of areas of life.

To Be Perfectly Honest is like a bag of potato chips, only it's not bad for you and doesn't leave your fingers greasy.  I found it hard to put down, not like a page-turning thriller, but like a snack that you keep on eating until all of a sudden you're at the bottom of the bag.  Callaway is a great story teller, and manages to mix humorous anecdotes, touching moments, and even some challenging, convicting passages.

I particularly enjoyed Callaway's self-deprecating humor and humility (he is being honest, after all).  Under the guise of humor, the reader can relate to his confessions, laughing along with an "I resemble that remark!"  To Be Perfectly Honest is good fun and might even make you think a bit about how you're living your life.  I think you'll enjoy it--no lie!

Check out his web site,, or go to YouTube for some funny videos.

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah for this complementary review copy.