Random Review: Hidden Order by Brad Thor

This review contains mild spoilers that will not affect enjoyment of the story.

Book Name: Hidden Order
Author: Brad Thor
Series: 12th in an ongoing series
Publisher(s): Atria/Emily Bestler Books, Pocket Books
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller/political thriller/mystery
Release Date: July 9, 2013

Rating: 7/10

I hate it when people who review books actually are reviewing the author (or more correctly, the author’s politics) instead of the book. I say that because you’re going to have to pardon me while I kind of do that same thing for just a couple sentences. Brad Thor and I do agree politically on a couple of things, but on the vast majority of stuff he far more conservative than I am. I knew this heading into Hidden Order, just as I have known this going into all of his previous works. It’s also a fact that’s generally true of most of the current crop of political thriller writers. I’m OK with that, provided the author writes a good book that doesn’t require absolute belief in his/her politics to enjoy. Thor pushes that envelope to the max in Hidden Order but in the end writes a reasonably good story.

In Hidden Order Thor takes on the Federal Reserve System in the guise of protagonist Scot Harvath investigating the disappearances of all the members of the shortlist to be named the new Fed chairman. What follows is a Dan Brown-esque story where Harvath is really taken out of his “action first” element and forced to turn investigator. Thor throws in the stereotypical hot sidekick in Boston police detective Lara Cordero for Harvath to play off of, with fairly predictable results. And yet, it works.

Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of action and Thor writes those passages as well as anyone. But unlike all of the other Harvath books instead of driving the story Thor has his main hero more along for the ride as other characters set the scene of the “hidden order” that the Fed is and the history behind the banking system in the United States. I kept expecting Robert Langdon to make an appearance as Thor winds his story through historical sites in Boston that the antagonist (who I shall not name in this review) uses as props. Although unlike Dan Brown nothing in Boston has been adapted for the story by Thor. All landmarks/locations are used exactly as they currently are or historically were in Hidden Order. That’s a huge plus in my book.

It being a Brad Thor book, we also have the almost required CIA black operations thrown in to help lead the reader down the wrong path a time or two. That’s one of two things I didn’t really like about Hidden Order. The side plot didn’t tie in well with the story and almost seemed forced into the story. I know Thor can, and has previously, done better there. It’s as if he felt compelled to add that in to keep his longtime fans happy. I think Thor could have added the required story information a different way that would have fit better.

The second thing I didn’t like, and it’s a total failure on Thor’s part: Harvath never asks who had access to the shortlist. You’d think a person investigating the disappearance of all the people on a single list would want to know who has seen that list. It certainly would narrow the list of suspects. But even if you go along with the idea that Harvath is not a seasoned investigator so that’s something he might not think of (and based on the previous eleven books, I’d debate that) you then have seasoned police detective Cordero not asking about it.

All in all, there’s enough in Hidden Order to make it a decent book. But Thor could have, and to be blunt should have, done much better. Thor either needs to learn some lessons about writing mysteries or stick to the thriller genre. Either would be fine by me.

More: Simon and Scuster have released a free prologue on their site. Not owning an e-reader I’ll have to read it on my phone, but in any case it’s not included in this review. There is also a free epilogue, which can be found right here on Scribd which also is not included in this review.

Week in review, week ending 9/28/14

Well, last week’s review post seemed to work out OK so we’ll try it again. This a list of the blog posts I made over the last week, a few of the postings from people I follow that I thought were pretty good, and then lastly other posts I’ve stumbled into that folks might like to take a look at. Presuming I did it right all links will open new windows/tabs.

From me this week there was…
On Monday I posted the most influential books for me, Wednesday I answered more booksh questions, on Thursday an unscheduled obligatory “Banned Books Week” post, and Friday saw a Random Review: Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton.

From the folks I follow…
Clownshoes posted the first part of his story Exodus.
The Credible Hulk takes a look at comic book history with his Comic Book History: DC’s Trinity War & Forever Evil posting.
Blondewritemore asks What do I have to do to persuade or beg a fellow blogger to do a guest post on my blog?
Jacke Wilson shows takes a look at their worst post of the year. Lots of good stuff there, so go look at the worst post and then read some good ones.
Dysfunctional Literacy has discovered The Word That Rhymes With Orange.

Some stuff I stumbled into…
Tintobear has declared their Project Read My Bookcase “has been almost utterly unsuccessful”.
Medusa’s Library asks Do You Wanna Build a Book Fort?.
Browsing Bookshelves is in a Book Slump.
From The Watershed Chronicle we have Agree to Disagree, another look at the Amazon/Hachette battle.

Links do not indicate an endorsement of the ideas presented, only that I thought the posting was worth taking a look at.

Random Review: Kinsey and Me: Stories by Sue Grafton

This review does not contain spoilers.

Book Name: Kinsey and Me: Stories
Author: Sue Grafton
Publisher(s): A Marian Wood Book/Putnam
Format(s): Hardcover/Trade and mass market paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Short stories/mysteries
Release Date: January 8, 2013

Rating: 5/10

Kinsey and Me: Stories is really two books in one with the first half or so being previously released short stories starring Sue Grafton’s best selling heroine Kinsey Milhone, and the second portion including several autobiographical short stories featuring Kit Blue at the main character. The Milhone stories are for the most part fantastic. The rest? Not so much.

Composing short story mystery is not an easy thing because following the “rules” of writing mysteries you really need to introduce the killer at some point, and in a 20 page story it doesn’t take much to figure everything out. So the key is often not the “who”, but the “why” and “how”. Grafton really handles those very well and does the reveal at the end in such a manner that you’re happy with the story despite figuring out the “who” early on. Because of the publications these stories were originally released in some have a theme where others are just straight short story mystery, and the editor has done a masterful job of making sure they all fit together in a nice mix. The last Milhone story is really a logic problem and not a mystery, but a nice twist at the end makes it a nice fit (this actually a pun, but to tell you why would spoil it).

The second portion of Kinsey and Me: Stories is Grafton writing as if Kit Blue was her, and were composed after Grafton’s mother passed away and are a mostly fictionalized account of the relationship Grafton had with her parents. They are, unfortunately, in my opinion not very good. I get the personal nature of the stories and I’m sure it took a lot emotionally to write them, but I could just never connect with the stories despite reading many of them a couple of times. Grafton would have done much better simply writing the section as a straight autobiography, although I can certainly understand if she was unable to do so.

If you’ve read Grafton’s “Alphabet series” Kinsey and Me: Stories is certainly worth checking out just for the fantastic opening stories, if not you’re better off making another selection.

My obligatory “Banned Books Week” post

How I usually plan posts for the blog here is on Saturday or Sunday I finish off the rough drafts of the three posts I’ve been working on to get them ready for posting during the week. Now that I’ve introduced a “week in review” post on Sundays I continue to update that as I do throughout the weekend.

To be honest, it never crossed my mind to do a banned books post this week mostly because everyone else in the blogging world is doing one and I didn’t think I had anything to really add to the subject. Plus, having blog posts not about Banned Books Week is likely good for views as I “counter program” against the current theme. Only yesterday two people told me they were looking forward to my post about banned books that was “obviously” coming on Friday.

Sigh. Well, here goes nothing…

In the vast, vast majority of cases I believe censorship is wrong. I love Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but it not appearing on a fourth grade reading list is probably a good idea. Disallowing eighth graders from reading it is a shame. Preventing high school students from doing so is tantamount to a crime. Could you call not having fourth graders reading it censorship? Technically yes, I guess, which is why I always say things like “in the vast majority of cases”. Sometimes making sure something is age appropriate is a good thing. But to prevent teenagers from reading some of the literary classics because you disagree with some of the language or subject matter? That is an issue for me.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, one of the greatest books ever written, was still banned in parts of the world into the late 1970s because of Hemingway’s portrayal of the brutality of civil war. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was thought to have too much profanity to be worthwhile. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was banned for being too sexual of a book despite it having no sex in it whatsoever. The list goes on and on. Yet none of those books are things high school kids shouldn’t be allowed to read.

I can say with certainty I’ve never once decided to read a book because someone banned it. It’s not something that’s ever been a determining factor in what I decide to read or not to read. I know for a fact there are a lot of folks out there that do intentionally read books that have been censored. That’s great for those folks, and I encourage them to use whatever method they want in determining what books to read. I think that many of the classics that appear on banned lists should be read, not because they were banned but because they are in general thought to be very good books. (Is this a good spot to mention I hate A Tale of Two Cities? It’s not? OK, then I won’t)

Whenever I hear of a school system banning books from their reading lists I tend to get a little annoyed; almost as annoyed as the people running those school systems would get if someone would dare suggest The Bible should be banned from their public schools. I’ve noticed that when a small group of people wish to decide for others what is good or bad for them that same small group hates it when others try to impart those same guidelines on their choices, and often screams the loudest that their rights are being violated.

You don’t want to read a particular book because it goes against your values, that’s fine. Let the rest of us decide for ourselves if we want to read it or not on our own. Besides, in the internet age we live in telling a young person they’re not allowed to read something only makes them want to go out and read it just to spite you.

Hmmm, on second thought, let me give you a list of books you can ban. That way lots of young folks will be making sure to read them. Which is the whole idea anyway…

(Click on the post banner to be directed to bannedbooksweek.org.)

Another book question post

Was sent these via Facebook messenger so no link as to where they came from. If this is your list let me know and I’ll gladly link back to you.

Question #1: Do you have a certain place at home for reading?
I have a nice Queen Anne chair in my office I like to read in, and I occasionally read while sitting on the love seat in our living room. I rarely read in my office chair, but if I’m waiting for something on the computer and I know it’s going to be a few minutes (like an update or the like) I’ll grab my book and start reading.

Question #2: Bookmark or a random piece of paper?
For years I used the same bookmark that was just a laminated square that was originally used as a season ticket holder identification card one year for Worcester Sharks games. At some time this past winter in cleaning off my desk I think I threw it away, so at that point I grabbed an index card off the desk just to mark my place until I could get a “real” bookmark. Several books later I’m still using that same index card.

Question #3: Can you stop reading anytime you want or do you have to stop at a certain page, chapter, part, etc.?
I prefer to stop at the end of chapters or section breaks in a chapter just for the ease of knowing where I left off, but if something requires me to stop I’m comfortable stopping anywhere.

Question #4: Do you eat or drink while reading?
I generally don’t eat while reading but I do enjoy a nice cup of coffee if it’s early enough in the day. The occasional soft drink too, I guess, but mostly if I do it’s coffee.

Question #6: One book at a time, or several at once?
One at a time. I’ve never understood people that read more than one book, although I guess it makes sense if you have books in a couple different places (like one at work, one at home, etc). But to be reading two different books at once just to do it has never made sense to me. If I have to read more than one I make sure they aren’t the same genre. Luckily the number of times I had to can be counted on one hand with several fingers left over.

Question #7: Reading at home or everywhere?
Anywhere I have my book and the time to read odds are I’m reading it. I often read in the car while waiting for my wife to get out of work.

Question #8: Reading out loud or silently in your head?
Silently, of course. Do adults read out loud to themselves? I’ve never seen (or, I guess, heard) someone doing that.

Question #9: Do you read ahead or skip pages?
I never skip ahead. The author wrote every word in the order they are for a reason. The anticipation of how a story ends is one of the great things about reading. Why ruin it? Now if the question had been “do you ever go back and read sections over again?”, I absolutely do that; especially if I think I may have missed a mention of something earlier that turned out to be important.

Question #10: Breaking the spine or keeping it new?
Breaking the spine of any book causes me extreme emotional discomfort. I try to keep books as pristine as they were new on the shelf.

Question #11: Do you write in books?
Not. A. Chance. The author’s words belong in that book, not mine.

The most influential books for me

So earlier I mentioned that friends Mike and Kile tagged me on Facebook within minutes of each other, with Mike asking for my ten favorite books while Kile wanted me to list which ten books were most influential to me. Listing my favorites took about 15 minutes, and most of that was writing a small blurb about each one. Suffice it to say that listing ten books that were most influential for me has taken a lot longer. In fact, I could only get to six. Again, in some cases I’ve put the first book of a series to indicate the whole series. So, in no particular order:

“The Hardy Boys” series by many writers under the nom de plume of Franklin W. Dixon. They are what inspired my love of reading. Each one of them was read multiple times, and I’m sure if I thought about it I could come up with the plots of each one. The original series is 58 books and I had over 40 of them. If I ever saw all 58 hardcovers for sale I would be very tempted to buy them.

On a Pale Horse by Piers Anthony, the first in his “Incarnations of Immortality” series was the first fantasy book I can recall reading, and from there I was hooked.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville was the first “classic” I reread after graduating high school after being forced to read them in school. Most of those books read in English class I thought totally sucked, but reading Moby Dick afterword I realized the teacher explaining the book really took away from the book itself. Since then I’ve reread all the ones we had to read in school and enjoyed many of them. For the record, A Tale of Two Cities sucked even when I tried to read it on my own.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, the first book in her “Kushiel’s Legacy” series is the first book I can recall reading being written by a woman. It wasn’t like I made a conscious choice before to not read female authors, I just wasn’t. Now I’d bet close to half the books I read are written by women. I suppose I could just click on the “reading lists” tab above and look, but I’m too lazy.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. I overheard a couple people talking about the book one day waiting for the bus, and when I saw it a few days later at the book store I bought it. I’ve been a huge Clancy fan, and of the thriller genre, since.

Well, eagle eyed readers will note that’s only five and I said I had six. The problem is I can’t recall the title of the book that absolutely influenced me the most. It’s not what happened in it that was influential, but what happened to it. When I was very young my family used to spend the entire month of August at a cottage on the shore of a pond in central Massachusetts. As was often the case we would be up very late outside and it wasn’t until one of the adults called us kids in for the night that we would stop playing. One night while I was eight or nine I left a book that I was reading outside on the picnic table, and it rained overnight and the book was ruined. To this day I can remember how upset I was, and just sitting here typing that has actually gotten me down a little. That incident has significantly influenced the way I handle books. I treat them all like gold. For years I have tried to figure out what that book was, with no luck.

Week in review, week ending 9/21/14

I’m going to try something new for Sunday afternoon/night and post a list of the blog posts I made over the last week, a few of the postings from people I follow that I thought were pretty good, and then lastly other posts I’ve stumbled into that folks might like to take a look at. If this falls flat I might not keep doing it, but we’ll try it for a few weeks and see what happens. Presuming I did it right all links will open new windows/tabs.

From me this week there was…
Apparently I’m a “binge-watcher” on Monday, my review of Warbound by Larry Correia on Wednesday, and Friday I told What I’m DVRing this fall.

From the folks I follow…
The Illustrated Page has nice review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. I’m a big Jemisin fan and agreed totally with the review.
MEMwrites has a nice review of Michael Connelly’s The Black Box.
New blogger Read2Breathe has some advice called The 4 R’s of Getting Over a Finished Book
Chrissi Reads tells us about her Week In The Life of a Primary PGCE Student: Induction.
Knit. Lit. Geek. posts about my favorite used book store, Annie’s Book Stop.
The Obsessive Bookseller with a nice review of the final book in one of my favorite series, Spirit’s End by Rachel Aaron.

Some stuff I stumbled into…
From the Washington Post, Why kids should choose their own books to read in school.
From Book Rhapsody, A Bit on Literary Snobbery.
It seems Ashleigh’s Musings loves a good bookshop.
Odds, Ends, and Allsorts asks To read or not to read?.
The Legend of Lotus talks about The Problem with the YA Genre.

Links do not indicate an endorsement of the ideas presented, only that I thought the posting was worth taking a look at.