Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mozart Conspiracy by Scott Mariani

Mariani3.5/5

Every guy loves a good action story — I am no exception. So when I was browsing through my local library I couldn’t help but find myself drawn to a book such as The Mozart Conspiracy. I had never heard of Scott Mariani before and from the little research I’ve done, it appears that he has only relatively recently been published in the U.S. Hopefully, his books continue to be published over seas because, despite a few minute problems, The Mozart Conspiracy is one of the better action thrillers I have read in some time.

Like every good book, The Mozart Conspiracy relies heavily on its characters to intrigue the reader. Readers will perhaps find no better cast of characters in the genre than can be found here. Benedict Hope, the primary protagonist in this series, is one of the best characters I have ever read — and that is not a statement made lightly. Ex-theologian and ex-special forces, Hope is now a vigilante who fights to protect the innocent from the perverse and the corrupt. Replacing the likes of Jason Bourne and Jack Ryan — Ben Hope is the new action hero on the block. The character has such an appeal that I would be shocked if you don’t see him on the big screen in the next five years.  Yet, Hope would be nothing without strong supporting characters which Mariani does not skimp on. Every single character is beautifully crafted and well developed to give the novel a depth that is not necessarily expected.

Being largely character based, the plot line is great but not spectacular. The basic premise is this: a rogue group of Freemasons assassinated Mozart over 200 years ago and is still active — and still dangerous. Yet, what makes the story interesting is that the attack hits very close to home as Hope’s friend is murdered by the conspirators and now his first love’s life is also in danger. Overall, the plot-line is intriguing though certainly far fetched. It would seem as if these ex-Freemasons have absolute power and control over several European governments and no one can be trusted. While interesting, one will have to have some suspension of disbelief to fully buy in to many of the novel’s events.

The other weakness in the plot is the ending. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad ending in the way you may think; however, readers can probably skip the last 30 pages or so and avoid an unnecessary plot twist that doesn’t go anywhere and allows everything to fall back to how it was before the twist. Odd, I know, but Mariani can be forgiven considering how strong the rest of the work was.

The writing itself is rather simplistic and at times downright choppy. One does not expect to read Shakespeare when picking up an action thriller but that does not excuse what can come across as poor writing. That said, Mariani is very skilled at making his work cinematic. The reader cannot help but visualize these scenes occurring on the big screen with an amazing score by the likes of Hans Zimmer. It is fast paced and hard to put down. To be honest, this book is just fun.

When the smoke clears, there are few thrillers as exciting as The Mozart Conspiracy and very few characters as interesting as Ben Hope. The work is certainly not perfect as it includes unnecessary plot twists and choppy writing; however, the characters and excitement make the work a must read for fans of good action and conspiracy stories. Add Mariani, and particularly Ben Hope (as this is part of a larger series), to your must read list.

Content: R for Language as well as strong and, at times, graphic violence.


Book Review — The Confession by John Grisham

4.5/5

Despite the fact that John Grisham is one of the most famous writers of our time, he is still incredibly underrated. I would hope that 20 years from now the world will look back and look at Grisham as one of the greatest writers of the late 20th century and early 21st century. Every single book of his is beautifully written and crafted and always has a compelling message. One of Grisham’s most recent works, The Confession, is evidence that this gifted writer is not slowing down. If anything, he is getting better.

The basic premise for The Confession is that the state of Texas is about to execute an innocent man for the rape and murder of a high school cheerleader. The real perpetrator, a convicted rapist and all around bad guy, is beginning to feel something like guilt. He confesses his crime to Keith Schroeder, a Lutheran minister. Keith now has to find a way to get this guy to Texas and try to stop an execution. But its an election year, and the Texas governor is not going to let some wacko halt an execution. He can’t be looking soft when the polls open of course.

The characters in this thriller are some of the best Grisham has crafted. For myself, as one studying for ministry, I could relate extremely well to Keith, the primary antagonist. But other characters were strong as well. Travis, the convicted rapist and real criminal, is scary believable. Robbie, the defense attorney is a fun and diverse character as well. In fact, there is not a weak member of this cast.

The premise of The Confession hooked me instantly. John Grisham’s brilliant writing carried me a long. There are few books where I have hung on every word the way that I was able to with The Confession. The plot was brilliant and well executed. But it was the writing that stole the show. I’ll probably gain criticism for making the comparison but Grisham’s writing is at times comparable to that of the great John Steinbeck. And not only is the plot exciting and the writing brilliant but the message hits strong. There is no doubt where Grisham stands on the death penalty debate and I cannot argue that he brings up some strong points that need to be thought about.

Honestly, the only weakness in this book is that the final pages somewhat end up dragging on. The plot slows down dramatically with only 1/3 of the book left to go. However, this isn’t a major problem thanks to Grisham’s strong writing.

In conclusion, I have nothing but praise for this terrific thriller. Its entertaining, brilliant, and powerful all in one. It is everything that great novels were intended to be. Every John Grisham fan needs to pick up a copy of this book. And for those who have yet to give Mr. Grisham a try, there has never been a better place to begin.

Content: R for strong thematic elements

 


Book Review — Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

4/5

I’ve never read a Star Wars book that I could say was truly great. Sure, I’ve read plenty of good Star Wars novels, but never something that really stuck out. That said, Dark Force Rising is about as close as a Star Wars book comes to being great. Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn Trilogy” changed the game for the Star Wars expanded universe. The first book of the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, sparked a new interest in Star Wars novels making it one of the most significant science fiction books of the 1990’s. However, the quality of the work was nothing to write home about. Zahn followed up his bestseller with Dark Force Rising which tells the story of a race between the New Republic and the Empire to find the “Dark Force” — a mysteriously lost starship fleet. While the Empire is currently only a shell of what it used to be, if they get their hands on the Dark Force, it could spell doom for the New Republic.

Zahn avoids many of the mistakes that he made in his previous novel. This is first seen in the far superior story of Dark Force Rising. The book honestly feels like a good Tom Clancy novel set in space. The book is political but maintains a fast pace, its suspenseful but isn’t bogged down by mystery, its exciting but isn’t  merely a series of long action sequences. While the plot to Heir to the Empire is rather dull, its sequel goes in a totally new direction and tells the story of a race to find a lost fleet. Despite the relatively simple premise, Zahn is able to make the plot complex — at times feeling like a Christopher Nolan movie (ending plot twist and everything).  The only complaint would be that the plot of the previous book is pretty much left alone, further showing the poor story of that book.

Zahn adds few new characters in this novel which is fine. Its Star Wars, it doesn’t need a whole new cast of characters. Zahn successfully builds on the characters we love, which he failed to do in the previous work. He also manages to avoid recycling dialogue from the films and shows a bit of his own creativity — which apparently does exist. However, that does not mean that his writing style has improved. Zahn continues to be overly repetitive in his descriptions and at times the reader will wonder if he or she is reading the words of a high school student. That said, it isn’t as noticeable as his previous Star Wars book thanks to a better, more engaging story and a better handling of characters.

All in all, Dark Force Rising is a successful follow up to a disappointing, though significant, Heir to the Empire. Although Zahn avoids many of the mistakes he made in his last effort, he still does not show much strength as a writer. Still, all Star Wars fans need to pick up a copy of this book as, in all honesty, its one of the best Star Wars  novels ever written. Had the quality of writing been better, Dark Force Rising could have been have been the one Star Wars book that was truly great.


Book Review — The Dark Knight Rises by Greg Cox

4/5

I’ve never been a fan of novelizations. Mainly because I’ve never read one that was particularly good. I’ve always found them to be a bit pointless seeing as its basically the screenplay word for word with a little extra added detail. I’ve seen them as just being about making more money off a good film. But, after being so impressed by Christopher Nolan’slatest Batman movie, I decided to pick up a copy of the novelization, The Dark Knight Rises by Greg Cox. Yet, doing so only further illustrated my viewpoint of why novelizations are pretty much pointless.

The story is excellent, there’s no doubt about that. Its 100% the same story told in the film — the story that I felt was the strongest in Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. And so despite the fact that Cox doesn’t do anything to further the story, Nolan’s work is good enough to where it doesn’t even matter. I was hoping that Cox would give the readers a little more backstory that couldn’t fit into the film’s 2 hr 45 min run time but was sadly disappointed.

The characters are strong; however, other than giving us a few obvious thoughts that the characters have, Cox doesn’t take advantage of the fact that a writer can do so much more with characters than a filmmaker can — in my opinion. I really had hoped that since Cox had such a great source to draw from that he could really expand on the character depth but sadly he doesn’t even try.

the writing itself is poor — very poor. I have never read anything by Cox before and probably won’t after reading this. Sure, its easy to read and easy to follow but that doesn’t excuse spelling errors and just downright poor writing. That being said, the dialogue — what was actually taken directly from the screenplay — was absolutely brilliant. Its almost comical to read the brilliant dialogue pieces next the ridiculously poor and simplistic narrative. The only comparison I could think of would be to have a high school student take a Shakespeare play and write it into a novel. It just doesn’t work.

You might notice that I actually gave this book a good score. That does not reflect on my opinion of the book itself. The story, characters, and dialogue are so brilliant that a “4” was the lowest score I could give it. The book itself really is totally unnecessary. So if you were thinking of trying this novelization out, pass and use the money to watch the film another time. Its a better use of your time and money.

Content: PG-13 for violence and some language and sensuality


Book Review — Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

3/5

Heir to the Empire was the very first novel I ever read. I was in the second grade and was tired of reading Dr. Seuss and other children’s books. So I browsed through my dad’s collection and picked up this book simply because it said “Star Wars” on it. As a kid I loved the book and ended up reading Zahn’s whole Star Wars trilogy. If you are unfamiliar with these books, the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn changed the game for the Star Wars expanded universe. Since Heir to the Empire, probably hundreds of Star Wars books and comic books have been released that expand on the stories told in the six films. While I didn’t realize it at the time, the first novel I ever read is arguably the most significant Star Wars novel of all time.

The premise for this trilogy begins 5 years after the events of The Return of the Jedi. The empire has been fought back to the corners of the galaxy and is all but defeated. The alliance is now forming the New Republic. Yet, the empire has a new leader — Grand Admiral Thrawn. And Thrawn is looking for a fight. Overall, the story for Heir to the Empire is compelling and interesting; however, nothing of great significance occurs. The empire is the underdog at the beginning of the book and they are still the underdog at the end. Even though Thrawn has lain some groundwork for a potential reemergence, him and his army are pretty much in the same position at the end of the book that they were at the beginning. I felt that the trilogy would have started off much stronger if Thrawn was a bit more successful in this first book. Its hard for this kind of story to work when its the bad guys that are the underdogs.

The characters in this book, of course, are spectacular. After all, they’re the same characters that we’ve grown to love from the original Star Wars trilogy. Even characters that are new to the universe such as Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and Mara Jade fit right in and are great additions to the cast. However, Zahn fails to do as much with the original Star Wars characters as he could of. Instead of further developing them, Zahn seems to have simply cloned them from the films — Zahn even copies and pastes a multitude of quotes from the movies and puts them in the book. Its as if Luke, Han, and Leia haven’t grown or changed at all in 5 years.

While Zahn has crafted a decent story, he does not show much strength as a writer. He uses too many lines over and over again. His wording is simple and repetitive and just simply boring at times. Being a Hugo award winner, I would expect more out of Zahn than this. His writing isn’t bad to the point where its distracting, but its definitely not as good as it should be.

Heir to the Empire most certainly isn’t a bad book. But setting aside its significance in the Star Wars universe, its just overly average. The story is good but it feels much more like an overlong prologue to the rest of the trilogy than a complete installment itself. Zahn’s new characters are compelling but he fails to develop the characters that we love. And worst of all, Zahn’s writing is rather weak. All this being said, every Star Wars fan needs to read this book. Heir to the Empire is far from flawless but it is not remembered because it is a great book. It is remembered because without it, there wouldn’t be the Star Wars expanded universe that we know that has given us some of the greatest sci-fi stories of our time.

Content: PG for sci-fi violence


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