Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham

I… ugh. I don’t usually regret reading books, but this one? This one I do. I have never read a John Grisham novel, so I don’t know how this compares, but on its own? It’s not good.

So why did I listen to it? Well, I’ve got five hours of tedious work everyday that is made better by the presence of audiobooks and podcasts. And I was out of podcasts. And audiobooks. And I knew that a friend had read and at least moderately liked this, so I figured it would be okay.

Well, I guess it had its okay moments. Let me think of them. … Um. …

Okay, let me take a different tack. Here’s why it should have been good: I adore Veronica Mars, which is about a high-schooler that kicks some butt in the private investigation department. Theodore Boone is about a middle-schooler who kicks some butt in the law department, and throughout the book I felt a distinct VM vibe from the story, with fellow students and even adults coming to Theodore with their problems and Theo solving them right quick.

But it turns out that the conceit doesn’t actually carry over very well. For starters, I’m pretty sure it’s not completely illegal to practice private investigation without a license, and even when it is, the nature of being a PI lends itself to a little rule-breaking. Theo Boone apparently thinks it is totally okay to practice law without a license as long as he doesn’t charge for it (very very wrong), and when he’s all hacking into computer systems and lying to school staff and whatnot I am like, “ARE YOU SURE IT IS A LAWYER YOU ARE TRYING TO BE.” I know lawyers are not all fine upstanding citizens, but the ones in Grisham’s novel here at least try to be, so all of this shenaniganizing kills me.

Other things I did not like: the central bit of the story is this big murder trial, and the prosecution has absolutely no case but everyone thinks the guy is guilty anyway but it doesn’t matter because reasonable doubt blah blah blah. And a convenient way for the guy to be convicted would be for a surprise witness to show up, like they do on TV. So when several characters informed me that a surprise witness NEVER happens because it is NOT ALLOWED… I figured there was going to be a surprise witness. And (spoiler!) there is, and he blurts his whole story to Theo (OF COURSE), and much of the book has Theo dithering about whether and how to get this dude into the trial.

And it’s just so… tiresome. I didn’t really care whether this guy’s testimony could or would be used, and I really didn’t care about the seventy million other legal troubles Theo helped in, but I was curious to see how it would all turn out and then the ending just does something else entirely!

On the plus side? It’s not Castle.

Recommendation: I think that if you are more willing than I am to suspend your disbelief and/or you are a precocious 7-year-old who thinks that law is pretty neat and wants to read books about kids and law, you will like this book.

Rating: 2/10
(A to Z Challenge)

Top Producer, by Norb Vonnegut (16 November — 17 November)

Mary: Don’t read this. I don’t care what Google Reader tells you to do!

So. I, um, I really didn’t like this book. To reference my least favorite book ever one more time, because it’s just really useful for comparisons: Castle I kept reading because even though the writing hurt my brain, the plot line seemed to be going somewhere. Of course, then the plot line went somewhere worse than I could ever have imagined and then I was rather upset that I’d bothered to read on.

Top Producer, on the other hand… the writing hurt my brain (examples to follow), and the “plot line” was tenuous at best, but I soldiered on because it was a book club book and I was not going to let it defeat me. Then the solution to the mystery was actually pretty okay, and I was not terribly upset about having read the book, and then the end bit was crap and now I’m just feeling incredibly ambivalent about the whole thing.

Right. Story. Grove O’Rourke is a “top producer” (shocking), which I promise you you will never forget because I’m pretty sure those words are placed together at least twice on every page. Ahem. Sorry. A top producer, apparently, works at a… brokerage firm? I’m not clear on that part… and helps people manage their money possibly by trading stocks but also possibly by putting it into funds, but also possibly by swearing at people a lot. Or something. Anyway. Grove’s friend Charlie Kelemen throws this big birthday bash for his wife at the New England Aquarium at the beginning of the novel, and pretty soon a bunch of men are wearing burqas and Kelemen is swimming with the sharks. And then eaten by them. Mmmm, finance guru is delicious in the evening.

Grove is understandably upset, as his wife and child were killed in a car accident 18 months earlier. I would call this a spoiler, but as soon as he started being vague about that thing that happened 18 months ago (which continues for many pages before resolving, and then for many pages after that) I knew that his wife had died. Right. So when Charlie’s wife Sam phones up saying that she’s somehow got just $600 to her name (as opposed to the $53,000 she claims that her husband could spend in a month), Grove naturally dives in to help, both because Sam is a friend and because he has apparently decided that he’s a detective. I don’t know.

And, of course, as these money things go, not everything is as it seems and suddenly — wait, no, wrong book — very slowly Grove finds out that maybe Charlie isn’t the person everyone thought he was. Goody.

I think that the biggest problem with this book, the biggest, is that the finance and lingo in it is really really really dumbed down, to the point where Vonnegut feels the need to explain that “sitch” means “situation” or that holding your hands six inches apart and palms in is a nonverbal indication of size or even (and often) that top producers make so much money because their jobs are stressful and difficult.

Oh, and Vonnegut throws in gems like this, which make me hope beyond hope that he wrote this as a satire: “Brevity was a time-honored tradition on Wall Street. A one-name greeting spoke volumes. It said in effect, I’m really fucking busy. So quit screwing around and get to the point. Time is money, and I’m not here for my health or your small talk. Now, what do you have?” -twitch-

Things I liked about this novel: the end was okay. Vonnegut doesn’t really do that red herring thing where everyone is a suspect and then they aren’t; he just sort of builds up to the reveal and then the reveal is more than you expect, and I appreciated that. But then he does that thing I hate where he does the “Now, slightly into the future, here’s what all of my characters are doing!” rundown, and throws in a completely unneccesary and not fully realized love story that serves no purpose but to help make this book about 200 pages longer than it really should have been. Brevity, my right foot.

Mary: I told you not to read this! No complaining at me, you still have to read the book.

Rating: 2/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2009)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Castle, by J. Robert Lennon (28 July)

This. Book. Was. Awful. Do not read this book. Do not pick up this book, because you will think that maybe it can redeem itself and you will be wrong but you will finish the book and then your brain will hurt and you will have nothing to say except that this book is awful.

I have no idea where I heard about this book. I searched my Google Reader archives — nothing. I checked a couple of non-RSS book review sites I read. Nothing. But somehow, sometime, I thought this book would be good. In fact, there are lots of glowing reviews of this book around the internets. They are wrong. I will now spoil the whole book for you so that you will not be tempted to read it.

From the beginning, this book was iffy for me. Lennon writes such sentences as, “It would please me to be able to say that I felt, upon my return to the house, a reprise of the confidence and enthusiasm that had braced me the previous day, when I announced to Jennifer that I wished to buy it.” And he writes such sentences with alarming frequency. The narrator is basically that jerk in your freshman comp class who wanted to prove that he knew big words and as such threw them into his speech and papers all willy-nilly. But Lennon, a writing instructor himself (really), at least uses the big words correctly.

But I was at the beach, and it was the only book I had, and I knew that for whatever reason I had wanted to read the book, so I continued.

The premise is, at first, possibly interesting. Jerk-face Eric Loesch comes back to his childhood hometown and buys some land and a house. Yay. He then smugly fixes it up with his apparent expertise in all areas. Whatever. But then he’s looking at the history of the house and notices that the previous owner’s name is blacked out and also that there’s a bit of land in the middle of his still owned by Redacted Man. He’s curious. He bitches at some people to find out who this owner is, and eventually someone comes through for him with a name; Avery Stiles.

Loesch goes to the library (yay!) to find out more about Stiles; he finds out that Stiles’s family is dead and that he used to work at a nearby university. Loesch then, for whatever reason, goes to the university to talk to a woman who wrote an article that mentioned Stiles to find out more about the man. He leaves. Also, he explores his giant 612-acre property to get to some giant rock formation in the middle but gets lost, which is an affront to his spectacular directional skillz. I hate Loesch.

Then some stupid stuff happens, and Loesch ends up back in the woods, searching for Stiles at Stiles’s castle in his property in the middle of Loesch’s property, and finds him, and gets all tied up by him, and then we find out that Loesch totally knows Stiles (uh, okay) because Stiles trained (read: tortured) Loesch for many years when Loesch was a kid, teaching him to only do what he was told and no more and leaving him naked in the same forest, at the same castle, and why on earth did Loesch ever act like he didn’t know who owned this property???

And then Loesch escapes, sort of, and climbs the giant rock from before and Stiles is up there and then there’s some sort of message passed between them that I don’t understand, and then Stiles jumps off the rock but also Loesch looses an arrow at him that goes through his heart, so Stiles is totally dead. And then Loesch is suddenly terrified of the woods for whatever reason and tries to run back to his house but falls in a giant pit and then sees himself leaning over the rim and then flashes back to the time he was an officer at Abu Ghraib (well, not really, but a similar place) and he killed a kid prisoner and then he was indefinitely furloughed and then he came back to his childhood hometown.

And then we’re back in the present, and Loesch is rescued from the woods and goes to the hospital and gets all fixed up and then he packs his duffel and then is picked up by someone who’s probably a soldier and is off on a mission and then the book is done. The end.

If you can explain this book to me, please do. But I don’t care enough to figure it out for myself.

Rating: 1/10