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Review: The Fix (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 428 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker, the man who forgets nothing and who has just about managed to bring his life back on track, is walking along outside the FBI Headquarters. In front of him is Walter Dabney, a well-respected family man, and patriot who has built a successful business consulting on government projects. Everything seems normal. Until Dabney shoots Anne Berkshire, a high school substitute teacher in the head, and then himself.

The special FBI team of which Decker is a part is assigned the case. But they can find no connection between the killer and victim. And yet Decker can’t believe that anything about the shooting was random. Then Agent Harper Brown of the Defense Intelligence Agency orders Decker and his team off the case; the murder is part of an ongoing DIA investigation for which they aren’t cleared and which has now become an urgent matter of national security.

Unfortunately for Brown, Decker doesn’t care about rules. He only cares about finding the truth. Forced into a shaky alliance, Decker, his team, and Brown work against the clock to discover the truth behind the shooting and the connection between Dabney and Berkshire. The right steps will help them save the nation from an impending attack of unprecedented proportions. A wrong or delayed step leaves the nation vulnerable to an unknown but dangerous and armed enemy. Time and luck are against them; and this time, even Decker’s famous abilities may not be enough to solve the case.

The Bottom Line:

A compelling read that keeps you turning more for the combination of individual story and continuing (personal) story arc than just the story of Dabney and Berkshire themselves.

My review:

The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series. And it’s as good as its prequels. For more info on those, check out my review of Memory Man here, and The Last Mile here.

As with many of Baldacci’s works, The Fix takes a seemingly isolated incident and merges it with matters national and political angles. The book tackles the mystery of why Dabney killed Berkshire really well, slowly developing one angle into an elaborate story with an interesting political angle.

The characters are well fleshed out. They are very real, their human-ness being at the very core of everything that happens, and yet being something that isn’t made very obvious. That is what allows the story to unfold in the way that it does – the randomness and unpredictability that is inherent in people. And, this is more shown than told, making it seem all the more relatable.

The Fix introduces us to some new characters and re-introduces us to old ones too. One of the most appealing parts of the book was the development of the relationships between the characters, with each one really coming into their own. There is inevitable conflict, but there is also growth achieved by accepting and showcasing both vulnerabilities and strengths.

At the center of it all lies Amos Decker. A haunted hero if there ever was one, Decker is one of my favorite Baldacci characters. It can sometimes get annoying as to how much people expect from him. Or how much he takes on himself. But as the characters grow, the reasoning for this is also depicted. And it makes things a lot easier to understand and accept. In fact, it manages to give you new insight into a character who you may have considered easy to figure out, a character who can be painfully simply and oddly complex at the same time. But all within reason.

Overall, The Fix shows a lot of development in the arc continued across the series. The individual story is also very interesting. It does come across as a bit over the top at times. In retrospect, I realize that it’s not really about those seemingly fantastic parts. The story is about repercussions. And as a whole, it plays out well and makes for a difficult-to-put-down read.

I’d recommend The Fix to:

  • fans of Baldacci (this has enough background to be a standalone, but you may have a better experience if you read Memory Man and The Last Mile first)
  • anyone interested in getting started on a new series (The Amos Decker one is interesting, to say the least)
  • fans of political thrillers and crime fiction

Let us know what you thought about The Fix and why you love or hate Baldacci and/or Amos Decker. Shout out in the comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Width of the World (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 455 pages

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Vega Jane, her best friend Delph, her dog Harry Two, and their new companion Petra Sonnet finally escape the Quag and its nightmare experience. But the place they end up in is much worse. Monsters don’t roam the peaceful streets. Instead, the people of the town they’re in are blissfully happy. When Vega Jane and her friends dig a little deeper, they discover that those very people are unaware of their true lives – their memories have been taken away, their lives erased, and their existences left as little more than blissful enslavement. The desire to help them and discover the reality behind all the lies she’s been told all her life drives Vega Jane to investigate what is happening in the strange town. But it isn’t going to be that easy. Danger lies at every turn; and the enemies against whom the people of Wormwood were protected by the Quag, the enemies that were little more than legend, suddenly become very real. History is about to repeat itself. War is inevitable. And Vega Jane is at the helm of it all. But how can she win a war that even her very powerful ancestors had lost, so many centuries ago? Can she find a way to face the enemy, when she has almost no hope of victory… or even survival?

The Bottom Line:

An entertaining read that is more similar in pace, style, and intrigue to the first part of the series than the less impressive second part.

My review:

The Width of the World is Book Three in the Vega Jane and The Finisher series. It is almost as good as the first book in the series, which has thus far been the best. It has similar elements of intrigue, fantasy, and the reckless but good-hearted actions of a very determined heroine.

It is fast paced and keeps you turning the pages, keen to know what happens next. It also brings together a lot of aspects of the first two books, tying many things up quite neatly. At the same time, it offers enough suspense and intrigue to mimic what the first book had achieved and take you into an interesting fantasy world.

A lot of the childishness that was existent in Book Two is, thankfully, missing from The Width of the World. There are childish elements, but there are also clear indicators that the characters are growing up, with the responsibilities they carry gaining prominence and the childishness diminishing. That growth is actually very refreshing and fits well with the storyline too.

The story itself is quite interesting and adds quite a few new angles to the fantasy world that Baldacci has built. It’s not the most unique of worlds, but definitely has its charms, making for an immersive read.

The book does have some problem areas though; one of the biggest ones being the parts where the otherwise very likable Vega Jane seemed a little too self-absorbed and obnoxious. She began to take herself a little too seriously as the leader whereas, until now, she had the utmost faith in her comrades. She definitely needed to be the leader, but there were times where her approach to the role didn’t seem to fit in with the character we’d seen until then.

In spite of its pace, the book does come across as a bit too long. There are sections – of introspection mainly – that could have been cut down. If it had been a finale, the length could be explained and even understood. But (and this really caught me by surprise) it isn’t the end of what I’d assumed to be a trilogy. It is more of a ‘preparation for the end’ kind of story. And definitely too long for that.

All in all, the book manages to keep you intrigued about the story of Vega Jane and its many other characters. It definitely keeps you interested enough to want to read the next book (whenever that may release). I’d recommend it to:

  • fans of young adult (young and adult, alike)
  • anyone looking for a quick read in the young adult genre (be prepared for some childishness)
  • anyone interested in fantasy (and doesn’t mind a little teenage drama)

Read, liked, or hated The Width of the World? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And, as always, thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

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Review: The Last Mile (By David Baldacci)

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

Length: 417 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Melvin Mars was a twenty-year-old football star with a promising NFL career before him. But fate had other plans. Convicted for the gruesome murder of his parents, he spends twenty years in jail on Death Row. Except, minutes before his execution, another man confesses to the killings. The case hits too close to home for Amos Decker, now on the way to begin the next phase of his life as a part of a special team of the FBI. He convinces his team to take up Mars’ case. But the case is far from being simple.

As the investigation deepens, Decker finds himself in an intricately designed web of deceit, whose roots lie in a time of American history that most people want to forget. But that isn’t easy for the Memory Man. Decker refuses to back down even as he faces enemies at the highest levels of power who will do anything it takes to keep the truth from surfacing. Committed to finding the truth, Decker finds his new career, his life, and the lives of those he has grown to care about, threatened. Now, Decker can only hope that his unique talents and his team’s persistence are enough to solve the case, even if that means changing his and Mars’ lives forever.

My take:

Amos Decker returns in The Last Mile and becomes part of another great read by David Baldacci.

The book covers many sensitive topics including racism and hate crimes. At the same time, it shows the progression of thought that has led to better times, while also depicting the lack of that advancement in some cases. It derives from very real times and makes for great fiction.

You revisit the characters from Memory Man and find new ones – all of whom manage to make their mark. The progress of the characters is shown really well, especially that of Amos Decker. You learn more about the effects of his conditions and watch him try and fit into the new life he has, with the past having concluded as much as it possibly could for him. You also get to see the development of his relationship with the people he works with, and of his team as a whole, all of which makes every character seem familiar and known. But the primary focus remains on Decker and Mars, and their most unlikely of relationships.

Baldacci made a great protagonist in Amos Decker – he’s likable, easy to associate with in spite of his unique personality, and really pulls you in with his perseverance of the truth. Although wired in a complicated manner, Decker is oddly simple and straightforward, making you wish that you (and others) could be like him – where the only thing that matters is how things really are, and not how they’re convoluted or manipulated to be. Decker drives the entire plot and story, and although you do end up wishing for more participation from the others, the story moves ahead relentlessly.

The Last Mile has good suspense, amazing twists, an intriguing story line, and an insight into the best and worst of human beings. It doesn’t try to put things and people into how they should be, but just into how they are – and that means accepting that people can be good and bad, sometimes at the same time. The book is an edge of the seat read, leaving you turning page after page, and keeping you hooked from the get-go. Unsurprisingly, it matches its prequel in impact and enjoyment, and leaves you wanting to read more of Baldacci’s work. I’m definitely going to be reading the third in the Decker series sometime soon. And also picking up the other Baldacci books in my TBR pile.

Recommended to:

  • thriller aficionados
  • crime fiction lovers
  • fans of crime and thriller novels with a multi-angle approach that are more than a whodunit

Let us know what you thought of The Last Mile and this review in the comments below!

– Rishika

PS: If you haven’t read any of the Decker books yet, you should probably start with Memory Man. My review here tells you what to expect from the first book of the series.

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Review: Memory Man (By David Baldacci)

 

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Source: Pan Macmillan

 

Length: 403 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

An injury suffered during his first professional game ended Amos Decker’s football career before it had a chance to begin. It also gave him the incredible ability to never forget anything. The ability was a gift for twenty years as it made him the great cop and Detective he was. But the day he returned home to find his wife and daughter murdered, that gift turned into a curse. The killer was never caught and the motive remained unknown.

Unable to forget any detail of the night, Decker lost everything and wound up homeless on the streets of Burlington. Sixteen months after the incident, he’d barely picked himself up, taking up a few jobs as a PI, when his old partner tells him that a man has confessed to the murder of his wife and child. Decker barely has a chance to come to terms with the news when tragedy strikes the town yet again. The local high school is attacked by a shooter. Teenagers are shot dead, and the killer slips away. The cops enlist Decker’s help because they believe that his ability could help them. But as the investigation progresses, the cops, FBI, and Decker discover that the shootings were related to the murder of sixteen months ago. And Decker is at the center of a dangerous game orchestrated by a killer who’s not done with his list yet.

My take:

Memory Man has been on my to-read list for a while now. And now I’m wondering why exactly I hadn’t picked it up sooner.

Like with all of Baldacci’s work, Memory Man is a complex story with numerous angles that are interwoven masterfully. The story isn’t your run-of-the-mill vengeance thriller. It’s more complex, deeper, and plays over a much larger picture. Interesting twists, some predictable but more not so, keep you turning the pages furiously. It touches upon conditions such as hyperthymesia and the information (while mostly molded to suit the requirements of the story) is presented in a way that gives you great insight into what the persons who may have such conditions actually go through.

What I loved about the book, though, was not its story, but its characters. Memory Man has complex characters that have a number of layers. Each character holds its own and pulls you into his or her story – this is equally true of the protagonist and antagonist, and evreryone else too. Baldacci doesn’t paint a hero versus villain story. He tells the story of people who are simply human and who have been shaped into whatever they are by the events of their life. He shows how empathy, anger, hatred, and love may never be found where most required and anticipated, and yet may be existent where least expected. And he tells the story of people so realistically that a part of you is forced to wonder whether human beings are really human at all.

The story moves along briskly, with no breathers. You’ll be turning pages long into the night because it is difficult to put Memory Man down. And at the end of it, what stays with you is not the story, but the complicated and deep characters that made it. To wrap up, all I can say is that I’ve read only his young adult work recently, and I am so very glad that I picked up Memory Man. It’s more along the lines of what I’ve always loved about Baldacci’s story-telling prowess and made me realize just how much I missed reading his books.

Don’t miss out on Memory Man if you:

  • have enjoyed any of Baldacci’s previous work (it’s one of his better ones)
  • like intricately designed and neatly interwoven thrillers/mysteries with numerous angles
  • want to try out Baldacci for the first time (it’s a great place to start)

Have you read Memory Man? Let us know what you thought about it in the comments below.

P.S: I think this could make a good movie. What do you think?

– Rishika

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Review: The Keeper (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 459 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The moment she stepped into the Quag with her best friend and her dog, Vega Jane knew that the journey ahead was going to be nothing short of a nightmare. But, as she soon realizes, a nightmare is only the beginning. Because the Quag holds much more than the terrors that are meant to keep Wugs away – it holds the secrets of an age-old legend, lost over time. An organism that has a life of its own, it holds the truth about the world and life that, as Vega Jane had discovered, was nothing short of a lie. It holds the truth for which Vega Jane so desperately searched.

But some truths are better left buried. What Vega Jane discovers, strengthens and weakens her at the same time. But the Quag wants more – it wants to break her. Can Vega Jane survive the Quag? Or will she, and the only two beings she can truly lean and rely on, pay the price for disobeying the laws of Wormwood?

My take:

The Keeper is Book 2 of the Vega Jane trilogy and follows The Finisher. Unfortunately, it falls quite short of its prequel, leaving you with a book that you don’t hate, but wish you could like more.

The Keeper has some things really going for it, such as the creativity of the very concept of the Quag itself. It also has some very interesting characters, creatures, and scenarios. The main characters that you really liked in The Finisher return with the determination, strength, and warmth that works for them. The story itself moves at a relatively brisk pace and keeps you turning the pages.

But that’s about where the good part ends.

The most annoying thing about The Keeper is its convenience. Everything is altogether too convenient and, oddly enough, easy. Bad things happen, somebody has a realization, and then things are rectified. And the cycle continues. I’m not saying I want people to die every time something goes wrong; but I did expect things in the infamous Quag to put up more of a challenge than they did.

Then there was the excessive… (let’s say) flattery towards other fantasies including Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and (unsurprisingly) The Lord of the Rings. Names, actions, backgrounds – they all seemed to be a result of a concoction of these series. Given that it’s a fantasy, you can literally create new things. So when Baldacci chooses to rely on tried and tested aspects of fantasy, the result is a bit repetitive and unoriginal. But some really unique and original aspects which come from Book 1 and stay in the background manage to reduce the negative impact this has on the entire reading experience.

Yet, it doesn’t save the book from one major problem – it is extremely childish!

Although under the genre of young adult, the first book had a more mature, rounded feel to it. That’s what made it readable even for people who were more adult and less ‘young adult’. The Keeper, however, goes in the opposite direction. Some aspects were too annoyingly kiddish and made you turn the pages faster just to get back to the real story. Characters that have, so far, shown maturity and strength, show traits that are very uncharacteristic. And that puts a dampener on the reading experience that should have (and could have) been so much better. Somehow, in all that chaos, you lose a large part of the charm and thrill that brought you to the book in the first place.

But one thing The Keeper definitely keeps alive and thriving is the mystery, as introduced by its prequel. You’re often left wondering about the evasive truth. And that is what ensures that, in spite of its shortcomings, The Keeper didn’t turn me off the series entirely. I’m definitely reading Book 3 whenever it’s out (next year, I think) because I want to know how this story progresses and ends. But I will keep my fingers crossed that it leans more towards Book 1 instead of 2 in its story and execution.

So, should you read The Keeper? Yes, if you’ve read (and liked) the first book in the series (just don’t go in expecting too much), or if you’re a die-hard fan of young adult. But it’s definitely not something you have to read just because you like fantasy. So if you haven’t begun the series, then hold off until the final part. And take a call on whether to read The Keeper (and its prequel) on that basis of the series review.

– Rishika

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Review: The Finisher (By David Baldacci)

The Finisher Source: Goodreads

The Finisher
Source: Goodreads

Length: 506 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Vega Jane is a fourteen year old Wug – one of the many Wugs who live in Wormwood. Her village is surrounded by the Quag where dangerous beasts live and beyond which, nothing exists. She lives a difficult life, working hard for every coin earned and looking after her younger brother. But Vega Jane is not like the other Wugs – she has curiosity. When circumstances force Vega to confront everything she believed to be true about Wormwood, she finds herself fighting not only the people who want to keep the truth hidden, but her own limitations as well. Forces beyond her understanding begin to make themselves known and Vega is thrown into a pit of confusion as she tries to make sense of it all. And soon, she finds that the chaos is the least of her problems. Vega Jane is put into the midst of a competition so fierce that she has little hope of survival. But Vega has seen, heard and felt enough to know that there is something that she needs to discover, a truth that she needs to unearth, and freedom that she needs to attain. Without choice or option, Vega is forced to fight for her life, and her freedom. But at the end of it all stands one question – what price will she pay for that freedom and where will it take her?

My take:

The Finisher is David Baldacci’s foray into the genre of young adult fantasy. I have read a lot of his other books and am quite fond of his stories and style. So when I discovered that he’d written something so unlike his usual stuff, I knew that I would have to give it a shot; and so, The Finisher was my own foray into reading this genre.

The Finisher has many things going for it and some against it, all dependent on how much of this new Baldacci you are willing to accept. To begin with, the style is poles apart from his usual. In fact, even the language is more Scottish and English than the usual American style. Then there’s the fact that it is a young adult book and caters to a slightly different audience than for whom Baldacci normally writes. So you can either choose to dapple in young adult because you like Baldacci or in Baldacci’s work because you like young adult. Either way, it won’t be a loss.

The story was reminiscent of Hunger Games – I’ve seen the first movie and have not read the books, but the feeling I got from The Finisher were similar to the feelings the movie evoked. So if you liked Hunger Games, you will probably enjoy The Finisher, even if not to the same extent. The story also had a lot of twists and turns, throwing things that you really would not normally expect at you, and kept going at a really good pace. There was no dull moment as such and I found myself waiting for moments when I could get back to discovering things with Vega Jane.

The character development is consistent, doesn’t go through abrupt changes that could hamper the story line, and any changes in the lives of the characters happen in a manner that is easy to associate with and seemingly realistic. I found myself hating some characters while loving others, wishing that things would go a certain way in many scenarios; and that really made the reading experience, fun.

What I especially liked about the book was the language. I found the entire Scottish and English influenced lingo charming and thought it really added to the setting and brought the story out really well. The book describes something akin to a parallel world where concepts are very normal, but their names and understandings are different. One example would be how Vega is almost fifteen sessions year old, implying that a session is a year. So while you can draw parallels, you still have to get used to the odd names for time, people, animals and other such, regular aspects of life.

On the negative side, the story starts off being a little difficult to follow. With all those new words being tossed about, it can get a bit confusing to build a clear picture. But a few pages in and that sorts itself out as you get used to the lingo and the new concepts. The odd effect of the first few pages may be exaggerated because you don’t exactly expect something like that from David Baldacci. So if you haven’t read his work previously, it should take even less time to slip into comfortable reading.

All in all, I thought that the book was really good. It flows at an excellent pace, it keeps you turning the pages with the desire to know what happens next, the language adds to the charm, and the characters pull you into their own lives, making it all very personal. The plot twists were interesting, leaving you wanting more, part of which is satiated by the rest of the story and the left has probably been left unanswered intentionally. The Finisher seems to only introduce Vega and her world and it does a great job at leaving you waiting for the sequel.

If you’ve been a Baldacci fan, then you should probably give this a shot to just see his varied sides and styles, if nothing else. If you like young adult fantasy, this book is one you should definitely read. It may not become your favorite given the many options out there, but it has its own charm that shouldn’t be missed. And if you’re wondering whether to try the genre out for the first time, regardless of your age, The Finisher is a good option to take that first step. All in all, a great, fun, fast aced read that leaves you waiting for the sequel and the movie!

– Rishika

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