Gray Mountain

Gray Mountain: A NovelGray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is billed as a “legal thriller.” Legal, yes. Thriller? Not my usual genre, but this isn’t what I expected at all. Also my first Grisham book. I thought I would be on the edge of my seat. But no. Is it just me, or is this not a typical John Grisham book? It’s not a bad story. Young NY lawyer gets laid off and finds herself doing pro bono work in the middle of coal country – rural Appalachia – where she learns about the realities of poverty, drug addiction, spousal abuse, the health and environmental effects of coal mining, and the plights of poor coal miners and their families against the powerful and corrupt coal and insurance industries. Her former boss tries to lure her back to New York with a job in a new and promising law firm, but maybe, just maybe, by the end of the novel she will decide that helping people who need her is ultimately more rewarding and “thrilling” than working 100 hours a week at a drudge job and making scads of money. Yes, there is a murder, but it isn’t proven. And the set-up for a heck of a battle lawsuit against the corrupt coal company doesn’t go anywhere. Unless this is going to be a new series….

Book Description: The year is 2008 and Samantha Kofer’s career at a huge Wall Street law firm is on the fast track—until the recession hits and she gets downsized, furloughed, escorted out of the building. Samantha, though, is one of the “lucky” associates. She’s offered an opportunity to work at a legal aid clinic for one year without pay, after which there would be a slim chance that she’d get her old job back. In a matter of days Samantha moves from Manhattan to Brady, Virginia, population 2,200, in the heart of Appalachia, a part of the world she has only read about. Mattie Wyatt, lifelong Brady resident and head of the town’s legal aid clinic, is there to teach her how to “help real people with real problems.” For the first time in her career, Samantha prepares a lawsuit, sees the inside of an actual courtroom, gets scolded by a judge, and receives threats from locals who aren’t so thrilled to have a big-city lawyer in town. And she learns that Brady, like most small towns, harbors some big secrets. Her new job takes Samantha into the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks Samantha finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die by Ian Buxton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, I admit it – I drink whisky (or whiskey) and I have enjoyed the whole process of learning about and trying different varieties, and have established a (very) small whisky collection at home. This does cause some raised eyebrows among my library colleagues, and some surprised liquor store clerks that a white-haired, middle-aged woman maybe knows at least a thing or two about various whiskies.

This is a nice, concise guide to whisky without a lot of gibberish about the history and making of whisky. Just a page (and a picture) for each of Ian Buxton’s choices, with some basic facts (often humorous and occasionally snarky). I liked the variety. It includes not just single malt Scotch, but blends, American ryes and bourbons, Japanese and other world whiskies. I doubt I will ever try all 101, but I found a few recommendations that I do want to try. Clearly written for a UK market, so I don’t know what the general US availability is on these.

4 stars for the book, but only 2 for the Kindle version that I read. The font was muddy, with some very faint letters making it difficult to read, and I could not enlarge the font. What you see is what you get. Buy the book.

Book Description: Avoiding the deliberately obscure, the ridiculously limited, and the absurdly expensive, whiskey expert Ian Buxton has scoured the shelves of the world’s whiskey warehouses to recommend an eclectic selection of old favorites, stellar newcomers, and mystifyingly unknown drams that simply have to be drunk. This witty, focused, and practical guide is not an awards list or a list of the 101 “Best” whiskies in the world in the opinion of some self-appointed whiskey guru. It’s simply a guide to 101 whiskies that enthusiasts really must seek out and try—love them or hate them—to complete their whiskey education. What’s more, it’s both practical and realistic as it cuts through the clutter, decodes the marketing hype, and gets straight to the point; whether from India or America, Sweden or Ireland, Japan or the hills, glens, and islands of Scotland—here are the 101 whiskies that every whiskey enthusiast needs to try.

The Lightkeeper’s Wife

The Lightkeeper's WifeThe Lightkeeper’s Wife by Karen Viggers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book for its depiction of unique and remote places – Tasmania and Antarctica. The story alternates between Mary and her son Tom. I expected more interaction between the two. Their stories were connected, but separate. There is also the story of the young ranger on Bruny who looks in on Mary and is coerced into spending time with her driving her around the island. I liked the way their relationship was developed, though again, I felt it could have been more tightly connected to the overall story. Their stories still feel separate at the end. The secret that Mary has kept until her death, wasn’t really much of a revelation at the end. So, a nice story – I liked it – but it wasn’t compelling. The best part for me was the depiction of the island, and I kept wanting to stop reading and look up pictures of these places on the internet.

Book description: Elderly and in poor health, Mary fulfills her wish to herself to live out her last days on Bruny Island off of Tasmania, with only her regrets and memories for company. Her late husband was the lighthousekeeper on Bruny, and she’d raised a family on the wild windswept island, until terrible circumstances forced them back to civilization. The long-buried secret that has haunted her for decades now threatens to break free, and she hopes to banish it in the time she has left. Mary’s youngest son Tom loves Bruny as much as she does, and understands her primal connection to the island. Years before he spent a winter working in Antarctica, and returned from that empty loneliness to find his marriage over and his life destroyed. Still wounded, Tom lives a simple life, unable and unwilling to make real connections with people in case he gets hurt again—but then he meets Emma, newly returned from Antarctica and as open and welcoming as Tom is not. As Mary’s time winds down, both she and Tom must face their pasts in ways they cannot even begin to imagine, and Mary finds that the script she’s written to the end of her life has taken on a few twists of its own.

People of the Book

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I have to get this off my chest first of all: do not get the audiobook! I got through it, but I would have enjoyed it much more without the narrator’s very annoying accents that made every foreigner (except Australian) sound stupid and drunken. Do Hebrew/Yiddish speakers really pronounce every single English word beginning with H as aspirated? I also had a very hard time following each shift backwards in time. I’m not sure that would have been easier in a print version. I simply could not get an overall picture of the travels of this remarkable haggadah (the telling of the Passover story) from place to place, and owner to owner. Much of that is probably supposition. I did enjoy the individual vignettes of each time period. I also liked the description of the modern-day researcher, Hanna Heath, as she puzzled over the tiny artifacts found in the manuscript. However, the other side-plots did nothing for me. The love story went nowhere. The relationship with her mother went no where. A good book, but I have read better ones from Geraldine Brooks.

Book Description: Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force” by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century S pain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.