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review 2017-07-19 23:01
Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans.
Zero Day - David Baldacci

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publisher, MacMillan, for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

David Baldacci is one of these authors whose names a reader (and even a non-reader) cannot escape. His books are widely distributed and he always seems to have a volume or two in the bestsellers list (no, not the Amazon one on a little-known genre, but the real thing). Despite all that (or perhaps because of it, as sometimes some names seem so familiar that I feel as if I had already read/watched or whatever it is they do, them before) I had never read any of his books. I saw that coinciding with a book launch, NetGalley was offering a copy of the first book in the John Puller series, and I decided perhaps it was time I read him. (I don’t have any specific opinions on best sellers as such and I don’t necessarily avoid them as a matter of principle but I do prefer to discover them early on, so I can make my own mind up).

The story, narrated in the third person, mostly follows John Puller, a military investigator that is all you probably would wish for in such a character. He has complex family relations (including a genius brother imprisoned for life for treason), he has seen his share of combat and has the medals and the scars to prove them, he is as skilled at fighting as he is at investigating, and although usually he works as part of a team, he can be a one-man-band when required (as is the case here).  There are some moments (like the first chapter) when we follow other characters, but this is for a very good reason, and we, by and far, experience the events from Puller’s perspective. Of course, that does not mean we know everything he knows, because the book hides information at times and that means there are some surprises (the number of surprises might depend on how close your attention and on how many books of the genre you have read).  The story is a combination of a spy story with highly skilled military investigator/hero in charge, and a more standard police procedural, with big secrets, conspiracies, and environmental issues thrown in for good measure. There are hints of a possible romance, but nobody is up to the task, and the time frame is very tight for such developments.

The investigation is very detailed, and we get to know quite a few of the characters in the small West Virginian town of Drake, a coal mining place that has become almost a ghost town due to the environmental and economic consequences of the exploitation and depletion of its resources by the sole industry in the area. Baldacci shares as much loving detail on the way the coal industry works (or at least some far-from-exemplary companies), as he does on everything else: the way the military works, the different roles of the investigating and security agencies and how they interact, the equipment used, the weaponry… This might be too much for some readers, but I am sure it will make others very happy. I did enjoy more the discussions of the environmental issues and the socio-economic effects of the coal-extracting industry than the details about the equipment, but there is plenty of action and intrigue to keep readers of mystery, and also spy novels, entertained.

My favourite character is Sam Cole, the female police officer in charge of the investigation. She has problems of her own and also a difficult relationship with her family, and seems the perfect match for Puller. I would probably have preferred the novel to be about her, but that is not the genre or the focus of it. In many ways, her character is the one that makes us see Puller as something more than a perfect fighting and investigating machine, all professional, and efficient. Yes, he has a cat, some sort of relationships with his father, and an interesting dynamic with his brother, but she is the only person who is not a relative he seems to relate to at a level beyond the casual, and it is not only because it is helpful to his mission.  

I agree with comments that the novel is formulaic in many ways (Puller survives several attempts on his life, has to subvert orders and get inventive to save the day and manages to pull an incredible feat at the end), although as I haven’t read other Baldacci’s books, I cannot comment on how much better or worse Puller is compared to some of his other heroes (Reacher is mentioned often in the reviews, sometimes agreeing he’s as good, others denying it). I imagine once you have such a following as an author, you know what your public wants and expects, so it is perhaps disingenuous to accuse him of writing to a formula. It is not a genre I read often, and I prefer something more distinctive, less heroic, and with a bit of humour.

The book is well paced, the writing supports the story rather than calling attention to itself (as I said, some readers might find there is too much detail, but I doubt his fans will, and after reading the acknowledgements, it is clear that he is well-informed and has had access to first-hand information not many would have), and if you like lone heroes with a conscience, John Puller makes a pretty decent one. Recommended to those who enjoy action novels, spy novels, thrillers, and definitely to Baldacci fans. I am not sure I’d say I’ve become one of them, but I might try another one of his stories at some point.


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review 2017-06-26 16:19
This House is a Home: A story of coal mining, family and the Sengers of Stiritz - Philip Nork

This House is a Home by Phil Nork
Enriching and heartwarming story!
Last class assignment for the year and Pete has to find out about his ancestors and what better way then to go visit and talk to them.
Family, uncles and grandparents load up the car and lead to southern IL where other parts of the family live. Treasure the history of this one family and how it's portrayed to those of todays age.
Love how the author also explains what mining terms mean and how they were done.
Mining accidents and telling the time by the sun so much to this book.
Loved hearing how they use everything growing on the land.
Received this review copy from the author and this is my honest opinion.

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review 2015-11-13 19:19
The Coal River
Coal River - Ellen Marie Wiseman

By: Ellen Marie Wiseman

ISBN: 9781617734472

Publisher: Kensington 

Publication Date: 11/24/2015 

Format: Paperback 

My Rating:  5 Stars 


A special thank you to Kensington and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Ellen Marie Wiseman returns following What She Left Behind with COAL RIVER, set in the backdrop of a poor Pennsylvania mining town in the early 1900s, a powerful portrait of grief, fear, and courage--infused with historical significance. A remarkable story, of one woman’s determination; fierce and compelling—the suspense does not let up until the last page is, breathtakingly, turned.

Set in 1912, Nineteen-year-old Emma Malloy has limited choices. Get on the next train to Coal River, Pennsylvania, or be sent to a Brooklyn poorhouse. The doctor had released her from the Manhattan hospital, and all she had to her name was the small donated suitcase from the church with a few items of clothing. No time to grieve her loss. Her aunt and uncle sent money for a ticket. She only had an hour to decide, and mournfully, walked to the train station in a trance.

She escaped a deadly theater fire and was lucky to be alive, or so everyone says. She is officially now an orphan. She is in between a child and a woman. She is alone. Her mom and dad were gone, and her sweet eight-year- old brother, Albert drowned so long along in the river trying to help save her pendant. There was no escaping this wretched grief, and the pain. She could still hear her brother’s cry washed away by the cold current. Haunting her. She was only ten at the time—maybe she is being punished.

Two days later she finds herself in Coal River, the town she swore she would never return. A town holding nightmares, and constant reminders of another day she would give her life to forget. With little choice she now is stuck living with her horrible aunt and uncle. To think her Uncle Otis will be different is crazy and her cousin Percy, controlled by his parents. Her Aunt Ida is all about denial and putting on a perfect face for the town to see. Basically, she will be treated like a slave. Someone to provide free labor.

She and her brother had spent four miserable months here with her aunt and uncle while her parents were in Manhattan looking for jobs. She knows how bad it will be. After Albert died and her parents had taken her back home to Manhattan, where they worked with the theatre group. She wants nothing to do with this mining town. The Bleak Mountain Mining Company was like an enormous monster created, with black nostrils spewing its darkness through the lives of those in the village.

The Flint Mansion sits high on the mountain, with an evil man who controls the town. A curse. The scandal and death connected with the mansion over the years before her birth; however, a constant reminder of the tragic tale, passed down from generation from generation. Hazard Flint and his wife Viviane –an arranged marriage. Their oldest son Levi and then another child. Hazard took over the operations of the mine, treating everyone unfairly. Then the nursemaid and the stable hand kidnapped the six year old infant, with a ransom note. The money was paid and the baby was not returned. Vivian committed suicide, and could not go on without her baby. Of course, the town thinks she is cursed, with death following her.

Even with the miserable dark town she wants to escape, Emma soon finds herself drawn into the personal lives of the people of the town. The coal mining town with illegal working conditions. Controlled by a cruel evil man. While working between being a slave for her aunt and uncle, she also works at The Company Store with Percy. She has to find a way to help those who cannot help themselves.

She soon learns these poor families cannot feed their families. The child labor laws; children are working as Breaker boys in the mine in extremely, poor and dangerous working conditions. Their lives are in danger working ten hour days, six days a week, without gloves. The husbands suffer from health issues from the coal; poor ventilation, low wages, unfair treatment, and unsafe equipment. They are threatened. The women lived in horrific conditions, with no money for healthcare, or means to feed their children. They have little options. Someone has to help them escape from this nightmare. The corruption. Injustice. Violence. Death. Murder.

The children are not educated and no schools. Everyone has to survive. If they do not work, they will have no home. They are forced to buy their supplies at the Company Store. Emma’s heart breaks for these people and their children. She soon begins stealing food from her aunt and marks bills paid at the Company Store. She even tries to help them read. She is fearless. She has to help the poor men and boys in the mine---Conflicts of fair wages, underground safety and above-ground social justice for the working families.

From the ongoing tension and strive between the mine owners, the corrupt police—Frank which she does not trust, and the workers, Emma meets Clayton. A man she is unsure she can trust. She is attracted to him. Her aunt and uncle warn her to stay away from him and the mine. However, she sees him taking in orphans and trying to help the men. Then there is Michael, a deaf breaker boy without a leg…she is sure her late brother Albert is speaking through him.

When she has an opportunity to escape, the people continue to pull on her heartstrings. Who will help them, if she leaves? They have no one.

Fighting against all odds and danger, Emma finds the courage and strength to uncover the injustice and help those who cannot help themselves. A haunting and disturbing tale, yet a beautiful portrayal of how desperate circumstances, despair, and obstacles can provide a young woman, the courage and strength; to take dangerous chances, a David and Goliath. One person who makes a difference, changing hundreds of lives.

A town of injustice. With mystery, suspense, twists, turns, and some nice surprises, Wiseman delivers an exceptional story with emotions, secrets, redemption and history.

Wiseman’s writing shines, with an engaging gripping mystery with vivid descriptions of despair, and hope--a nice balance. My first book by the author– highly impressed with her writing style; have purchased What She Left Behind; currently listening to the audio.

I loved Emma’s tenacity, her resilience, even though sometimes she took crazy risks, she reminds me a little of myself (a former whistleblower). Even though I have read many fiction and non-fiction works of the horrific conditions of the coal mining industry, the author creates a more human interest side, showcasing the decency of the village people, children,and the real suffering inflicted on those people by mining companies ---the politicians who use them for their own greed. Good versus evil. The one part about the mystery surrounding the mansion, reminded me of The Lake House by Kate Morton (no spoilers here---read and find out)

Thought-provoking, an utterly heart-wrenching mystery. So compelling, I found it impossible to put down...incredibly complex and intriguing novel with a well-developed and diverse set of characters. Equal parts tense, thrilling mystery and heartbreaking drama. A gripping tale of hardship, deceit, hidden secrets, and an ending you will find satisfying.

In my other readings of the coal mining industry (find fascinating), in various areas of the country (fiction and non-fiction) there is a common thread: Too often families and communities mourned for fathers, brothers, and sons crushed in a tunnel collapse or burned to death in an explosion. People ask why stay? Sometimes unions cannot help. Yet the mine workers found dignity in their work and in providing for their families, a pride that was sometimes ignored, belittled or deemed radical by mine owners and those far away from the coal fields.

These feelings of pride, dignity, and injustice led the workers to risk their jobs and their lives again and again in unionizing efforts that at times turned violent. Unfortunately, the owners of the mine had their own greed and interests at heart, similar to the corporate giants of today. (NFL, tobacco, pharmaceutical, financial, food, and environmental industries). They asserted their right to manage their property as they pleased, and demanded their workers be subservient to the business. 



Watch Book Trailer


Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/#!Coal-River/cmoa/56232d850cf2c3a4a713b8d1
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review 2014-10-22 22:03
Gray Mountain
Gray Mountain: A Novel - John Grisham,Catherine Taber

By:  John Grisham

Narrated by: Catherine Taber
Length: 14 hrs and 46 mins

Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 10/21/2014
Format: Audiobook
My Rating: 4 Stars


John Grisham’s GRAY MOUNTAIN, a suspenseful and powerful legal thriller of a young city girl, heading south; lands in rural Virginia, in the middle of Big Coal evil corruption, and a community left defenseless under their control.

Samantha Kofer (29 yr. old) loses her Wall Street job in commercial real estate law with a top firm, after the collapse, during the 2008 recession. Washington native, graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Law, she was a third-year associate at a huge New York law firm, working around the clock, making the big bucks; however, she finds herself unsatisfied, her lifestyle eating up her income, and no savings to tide her over for the next year.

In order to retain her status for a year at the firm, and maintain her health insurance, she needs to take on a year legal aid internship for a non-profit. She finds herself getting one reject after another, and just as she is about to give up, she accepts a position with Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in Brady, VA, population 2,200 in the middle of a poor Appalachian coal mining town.

Definitely a culture shock; however, she quickly finds there are some deep problems and a great need for legal assistance, in this community. Many lives have been destroyed by the coal mining business - every kind of cancer and contamination, and sickness you can list. However, no one seems to be able to win as they try and fight the Goliath giant.

Samantha is no stranger to the law business, as her father is still a high-profile consultant, having served time with playing on the fence—a fine line between good and evil. However, he knows the players and may be able to help pull together some financing of some of these cases which take a lot of money to prepare before the payout, that the smaller firms are not able to withstand.

Mattie, is her new boss at the legal aid clinic and has worked diligently for over 25 years to offer help to those who cannot afford legal assistance. Samantha is helping with her first case, and quickly moves on to a case of black lung problems.

No one seems to protect the interest of the miners, ones who have breathed in the chemicals and are entitled to disability payments. Of course, as most big corporate giants, they have the funds to tie up legal cases for years in court and the system; thereby delaying funds until they die or give up the fight, or wear them down, not having the funds to continue.

Of course, the doctors, prosecutors, judges, politicians, and regulators are all in the back pocket of these big players, furthermore making it difficult to fight for their rights.

One of the big cases involved two little boy which died in a trailer from the fault of the Big Coal, and there is much suspense as to holding out for more money for this family for a settlement, as they go up against the big boys, or go to trial (like playing the stock market with many risks).

Sam soon finds she has much to learn and is subjected to sensitive and confidential information. She now has to prepare a lawsuit and handle things she has never done, with high stakes, obstacles, and challenges which threaten lives. In the process she finds there are secrets, threats, and people who will kill in order to keep them buried.

Mattie’s nephew a good-looking young lawyer named Donovan, a one-man trailblazer; and driven attorney in pursuit of taking down Big Coal, for strip mining/mountaintop removal, which is cheaper and more cost efficient for them to remove the tops of mountains than to dig for it underground, which in turn does damage to the environment, streams, valleys and humans.

To further complicate, Donovan is also holding some secret documents, which have been stolen (brilliantly); which prove the mining company knew that chemicals it used in mountaintop removal have for a decade been polluting the wells of a small town nearby, giving it one of the highest cancer rates in America.

Samantha finds herself drawn to the fight, and to the people, as she gets personally involved with assisting the team in a legal capacity, as they fight for their rights against the powerful and evil Big Coal business. In the process, she learns more about herself, and finds her purpose in life, without the frills of the big city.

GRAY MOUNTAIN is much more than a legal thriller, as offers a human interest side and dynamics with the victims, the families, the community, the beauty of the area, the poverty, and the lives of the attorneys and families fighting to protect them.

Wow, was excited to get back to Grisham! I was an avid reader of Grisham before 2010 and read every book by this talented author (as one of my favorite genres) and enjoyed the movies; however, noticed have none of these books marked as “read” on Goodreads, as it was "pre-Goodreads' time; so I see I have a lot of reviews to catch up.

I enjoy this type of legal thriller; bringing down the big boys, with justice for the victims in a David versus Goliath story. I have recently read some great books regarding law and justice. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson 10/21/14 (non-fiction), a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

In addition, another recent fiction book about the coal mining business: The Missing Place (10/14/2014) by Sophie Littlefield , (set in North Dakota) when two boys go missing in the coal mining business and two mothers go in search of their sons, fighting against a town of secrets and corruption.

GRAY MOUNTAIN is a captivating and engaging read; highly recommend. I listened to the audiobook and the performer,Catherine Taber was an excellent voice for Sam. Welcome back, John, you have been missed!



Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1082051309
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review 2014-05-09 03:34
Coal Miner's Daughter
The Hollow Ground - Natalie S. Harnett

The Hollow Ground follows Brigid, an Irish coal miner’s daughter who is running from a hundred year old curse. In the debut novel, the environmental catastrophe of underground mine fires in Pennsylvania coal country mirror the devastation in Brigid’s dysfunctional family. When the ground caves beneath the Howleys and swallows up their favorite auntie and whatever small amount of stability they had left, Brigid, her brother, mother, and disabled father are forced to return to live with her paternal grandparents and confront a mess of lies, murders, and buried hard feelings.


The strength of this book lies in the 1960s mining town settings and in the characterization of the girl at the center of the action. Some of the plot devices seem contrived (such as the use of the supernatural in the Barrentown setting) and formulaic, as do some of the characters. This book was a quick read, and fun while it lasted, but not particularly memorable afterwards. A good airplane book.

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