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review 2017-08-01 01:06
Turning Angel by Greg Iles - My Thoughts
Turning Angel (Penn Cage #2) - Greg Iles

As this is a DNF, I rated it 1/2 a star.

I tried.  I made it 70% of the way through this book before calling it a day.  I really wanted to like it.  I wasn't counting on another joyful find like the Armand Gamache books, but I was hoping to at least like the guy.  Sadly, it didn't happen.

I found this book to be filled with what I have come to understand as white man privilege, I guess.  All I know is that I found the tone of the book to be racist, both overtly and subtext as well as misogynistic.  For the latter, there is just too much what I might call Marty-Sueism having to do with the man in his 40s being beguiled, seduced, attracted to the sensual, not as innocent as she looks, 17 year old school girl.  Poor, helpless men.  *eyeroll*

And the portrayal of black people in this book?  SO very stereotypical in every way.  The only thing we're missing is the wise, loyal black housekeeper who basically brought up the children.  But then I checked some info on the first book in the series and it looks like she was murdered then.  These are attitudes I would expect to find in a book about the 1950s south and while things maybe haven't changed a lot down there since then - I don't expect the upright hero of the book to have those attitudes.

I just did not like the way this book was making me feel.  I found myself making that ... "Huh?  What?" face on more than one occasion.  It felt ugly.

I hate DNFing a book, it feels like a failure, but I have to remember, it's the book's failure, not mine.  I have book 3 in my e-TBR pile, but I don't know if I'll ever get to it. 

I am disappointed. 

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review 2017-06-06 02:38
The Bone Tree Review
The Bone Tree - Greg Iles

1.5 stars rounded up. It was, in parts, "okay".

First and foremost, thank FUCK that is over. I started reading this on April 23 and I am just now, today, June 5, finished reading it. Considering I finished the other books in ten days or less, I gotta say my pace here is telling.

This book is a padded mess of inconsequential bullshit, and I would be the worst kind of fanboy if I ignored the hundreds of pages of filler here and five-starred this train wreck of a novel. But I think the WHY of the matter is the most interesting subject here, so let's discuss why I feel that Greg Iles stuffed this book to bursting with filler in order to create (or force) some kind of legacy.

Many years ago (2011, I believe), Greg Iles was in a car accident in which he almost died. He lost a leg and had a long recovery ahead of him. Before the accident, he'd written almost to completion a book called Unwritten Laws, which can still be found on Goodreads. The novel looked to be a direct follow-up of Iles's novel The Devil's Punchbowl because he mentions at the end of PUNCHBOWL that Cage's story will continue in 2011. Great. Wonderful.

Unfortunately for Iles fans, we will never get to read Unwritten Laws.

So what the fuck happened to Unwritten Laws? My theory is this: Greg Iles, fresh off almost dying, decided to chop the book up into three novels and pad them with some insane JFK subplot. If you were to strip the JFK nonsense from Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree you'd have a very tight, albeit lengthy literary thriller. I can only imagine that Mississippi Blood will lend further evidence to my theory, should I ever choose to read it. The JFK stuff is nothing but expositional dumps that are a fucking BORE to read. Had I not read and loved the previous four books in this series, I would have tossed this pile of overstuffed nothing out the window.

But why would Iles do such a thing? Because near-death experiences make people do weird shit. Look at Stephen King. After getting ran over in 1999, and the long recovery he suffered, we got the utterly garbage Dreamcatcher. But we also got the final three Dark Tower books. Nothing lights a fire under your ass like the realization your ass won't be around forever. So Iles came back to Unwritten Laws, butchered it, and added a bunch of JFK conspiracy theory nonsense in order to create, in his words, his "magnum opus".

Spoiler alert: It's never a good idea for an author to go into a project expecting it to be the greatest achievement of their career. I don't care how good you are, it never works out well. You end up coming off as a try-hard.

And Greg Iles tried too hard. This storyline did not need the JFK subplot. There is some terrific shit in this book, but it's all overshadowed by Greg Iles's attempts to create a literary legacy. You can pinpoint every scene that is tacked on because they feel exactly like that--tacked on. Every scene that doesn't mention JFK is superbly written, while every chapter that mentions the assassination feels like someone else wrote them. Someone drastically less talented than Iles has proved himself to be with previous books. The plot becomes so absurd that even the characters start commenting on it. Toward the end of the novel, Penn Cage says "Unbelievable" in response to another asinine and obviously forced plot twist. This is because, deep down, Iles knew how badly he was fucking up, but he wanted so much for it to work. So much, in fact, that the desperation drips from the page. "Please, believe this, dear reader! PLEASE!"

Iles drones on and on trying to make his theory plausible, but it never takes hold. By the end of the book, I was defeated and dejected. I'm seriously contemplating not reading the final book. I'm so goddamned disappointed. Because there is a good story in here. Somewhere.

FInally, we lose some cherished fan favorites, but their passing is tainted by the thriller-filler bullshit of the JFK subplot. I wasn't remotely affected by their passing, even though the scenes were well written. I remember how hard I took a major character's death in The Quiet Game and I can't help but feel like Iles failed the characters in this book. They deserved so much better than to be bookended by an insane subplot and cheesy thriller elements.

Why, man? Why?

Sometimes, authors are their own worst enemy. That's why.

In summation: No doubt the weakest book in the series, and definitely the worst Greg Iles book I've read. Nowhere near his usually high quality. A perfect example of an artist wanting too badly to be taken seriously when they were already fine the way they were. Super disappointed and unsure if I'll carry on to complete the series.

Final Judgment: NOTICE ME, SENPAI!

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review 2017-03-30 19:11
Mississippi Blood (Penn Cage #6) by Greg Iles
Mississippi Blood: A Novel (Natchez Burning) - Greg Iles

Friends, I am winded from the epic sprint that Greg Iles sent me on with this book. I tell you, I was already eagerly awaiting this final installment in Penn Cage's family saga. What I wasn't prepared for though, was how much Iles was going to throw at me all at once. This book is a rapid fire rush to the finish the line. It sweeps you off your feet, and all you can do is hang on for dear life as everything that you've been waiting for unfolds in this maniacally beautiful fashion. This book right here, more than anything else, has proven to me what an expert writer Greg Iles is, and I happily bow down to that expertise.

First off, let me say that I was originally a bit put off by courtroom melodrama that started in Mississippi Blood. Admittedly, I wasn't sure I actually wanted to read a whole murder case laid out on the page. I worried that it would slow things down. That is, of course, until I realized that even these portions of the book were utterly riveting. Watching Shad Johnson and Quentin Avery go at it soon became something that I looked forward to. Iles wrote two brilliant lawyers who, despite any flaws they might have otherwise had, were masters of the judiciary art. I felt like a part of the jury, as surprise witnesses were thrown into the mix and tantalizing details were unearthed. I felt like a part of Penn's family, as I watched them struggle to keep themselves together while dealing with what everyone around them was terming the "case of the century". In other words, I was completely engrossed. I've never run through a 700+ page book more quickly in my whole life. If I could have lived without sleeping for the three days I read this, I would have. I needed to know what happened next.

More than that though, was the fact that Iles didn't let go of a bit of the character development that he'd been nursing throughout this whole series. Despite the trial, and all the violence surrounding it, he didn't stop at all in his quest to make the reader actually care about these characters. I admit, I teared up more than a few times during this book. I hadn't realized how much I actually empathized with Penn and his family until everything was ramping up to a conclusion. It amazed me how quickly I fell in step with even the new characters who were put in place, and how much I wanted them to succeed. It's no secret that I was a little angry after the last book, where Iles took something away from Penn that I really thought was unfair and unnecessary. Reading this installment though, I understood. I saw the reason. It didn't mend the hole in my heart, but I saw Penn in a new a light. A man who has been through hell and back, but still has a heart as big as anything. It's tough not to love a man like that, even when his decisions seem insane.

Look, the point of this rambling review is to fairly confess that I started out this book with a bit of doubt as to whether or not I was going to fully enjoy it. I expected over the top courtroom melodrama, and worried that the climax might not be what I expected it to be. I'm happy to report that I was wrong. I was so very wrong. This book is amazing. Mississippi Blood is not only the ending that Penn Cage deserved, but the type of ending that any author should be damn proud of. My heart is still pounding from what happened, even after the epilogue tried to assuage my fears. This is mastery, plain and simple, and Greg Iles quite rightly has my heart.

Am I sad that there won't be anymore Penn Cage? Yes. Will I happily read anything else that Greg Iles puts out into the world? Absolutely. If you haven't started this series yet, please do. This is a genre that I all but never read, and so you can trust me when I say that this is worth your time. 2,100 pages later, and I'm not even the least bit sorry that I put in the time.

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review 2016-10-12 18:18
The Bone Tree (Penn Cage #5) by Greg Iles
The Bone Tree - Greg Iles

I finished Natchez Burning with sense of excitement over what was to come. Iles ended that book on a high note, with the kind of climax that leaves you breathless. I couldn't wait to see what Penn would find himself involved in once I started The Bone Tree. I admit that I've found a bit of a soft spot in my heart for Penn Cage and his little family. They have so much passion for doing the right thing, even when it's dangerous, that it's intoxicating.

So, it was a little disappointing that I didn't love this book as much as the first. I didn't feel that same sense of urgency, where I had to read at a rapid pace to keep up with the action. Where I praised the first book for avoiding the dreaded info dump, The Bone Tree didn't seem to take that same road. While the premise here is fascinating, tying all the way back into the JFK assassination, the only way to keep that story line going is to throw down a ton of historical knowledge. There are dense portions of explanation into histories of past characters, and how they tie into the ones we are dealing with today. It does slow things down.

Now, on a happy note, there's definitely the same amount of attention to detail that there was in the first book. Newly introduced characters are rich, and have deep history surrounding them. Which comes in handy, especially the further that things delve into the past. Natchez, as well as its surrounding cities, gets the same kind of love that it did before. The setting here has its own kind of special magic, managing to set it apart from the rest of the world in a way. It's like a place set back in time, and it makes for an excellent jumping off point into Penn's newest adventure.

The action here is just as fast paced as before, putting Penn and his family in the face of danger at every turn. I swear, I've never simultaneously wanted to cheer on and punch a character as often as I have during these books. There are some decisions made that, had I been able to, I would have smacked some of these characters for. The only downside to this particular book is that some of the action feels forced. Like it was put there simply to pick up the pace after a long dialogue or back story portion. The Bone Tree flowed, but just not as beautifully as its predecessor.

So, it comes down to the fact that I think The Bone Tree suffers from "middle book syndrome". It's the mid point in this particular story arc, and there's a lot packed into it because of that. It just unfortunately doesn't read as smoothly as the first in the series. The good news is that there's enough here, and the ending is solid enough, that it doesn't keep me from wanting to move on with the series. I'm still really excited to see what happens next.

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review 2016-09-26 01:48
Natchez Burning (Penn Cage #4) by Greg Iles
Natchez Burning - Greg Iles

As you might have noticed, this is actually the fourth book in a series. Natchez Burning is, however, the beginning of a brand new story arc that readers can start at. I came into this story knowing nothing about Penn Cage and his family. What I left with? Well, I can absolutely attest to the fact that Greg Iles has mastered the art of the tie in. With no information dumps, and virtually no flashbacks, I quickly came up to speed with Penn, his family, and Natchez as a whole. It felt like home after only a few chapters, and the story that was spun for me has me extremely eager to see what comes next.

I admit that Natchez Burning had me a little wary at the beginning. This book is a tome. At 816 pages in paperback, it's definitely not a light read. Somehow though, Iles manages to use up every bit of that page count without a second of down time. Every sentence is perfectly placed. Each moment, each event, expertly situated to make this book read at a breakneck pace throughout the entire story. Suffice it to say, I was highly impressed. I was worried that this book would be a chore. Afraid that I might have to read through pages of police procedures and information dumps. That wasn't so, I'm happy to report. While this definitely took me time to finish, it was worth every page.

Penn Cage is one of those characters that you can't help but root for. His heart is huge, his motives pure, and he's willing to throw himself into any kind of terrible situation that comes his way if it means protecting his family and his town. It's tough not to fall for him. I figured out very quickly that Iles knew this, because he threw Penn into the fire and dragged him through hell and back. I found myself gripping the pages, white knuckled, as Penn and those he cared about were put into yet another terrifying encounter. This book has it all. Murders, drug deals, mafia bosses, and the types of "bad guys" who make your skin crawl because they're so wholly evil. Which, in truth, is true of every personality that Iles pens into this book. Each character is treated lovingly, and fully developed. Which means the reader is allowed to love, and to hate, as the case calls for. These are real people, and it makes the story all the more compulsively readable.

If I had one small gripe it would be that, ironically, the ending felt a little rushed. I know that it seems ridiculous coming from a person who as worried about reading 800+ pages originally. Truth be told though, the climax was built up so well that I couldn't wait to see what happened. Which is probably why the ending felt a little quick, and the cliffhanger at the end left me breathless. Luckily, I know that there are more books in this series. So I'll have my hands on the next one very soon. This series is well worth your time! Don't be afraid to start with Natchez Burning.

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