Review: The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw + Giveaway

dismantling by brian deleeuwFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: thriller
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Plume
Date Released: April 28, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Brian DeLeeuw hits that sweet spot between literary and commercial suspense with his brilliantly adept, ingeniously plotted novel—a chilling, fast-paced drama that urges readers to question the meaning of atonement and whether revenge might sometimes be the only way we can liberate ourselves from our past.
Twenty-five-year-old med school dropout Simon Worth is an organ broker, buying kidneys and livers from cash-strapped donors and selling them to recipients whose time on the waitlist is running out. When a seemingly straightforward liver transplant has an unexpectedly dangerous outcome, Simon finds himself on the run. In order to survive, he must put aside his better moral judgment and place his trust in a stranger who has a shocking secret.

My Review:

There are a lot of things that get dismantled in this suspense thriller. A career, a life or two, a criminal enterprise and a cadaver.

It all starts with the cadaver. Medical school dropout Simon Worth dropped out over that cadaver. As he and his study group dissected the anonymous donor, he kept seeing the face of his dead sister in place of the corpse. He couldn’t take the nightmares, and he ran away.

That he still feels responsible for his sister’s death (he isn’t, not really) is what makes his nightmares so peculiarly devastating. Not that his next choice is much better.

He finds himself, with the help of one of his very, very few medical school friends, in a new job where his medical knowledge, incomplete as it is, comes in very handy. Simon is the new face of Health Solutions Inc., a company that matches poor but willing organ donors with recipients who are willing to pay to get moved to the top of the transplant list.

Which is all completely illegal. But Simon is able to elide the moral issues by telling himself that everyone involved, including the highly compensated donors, knows exactly what they are getting into when they game the system.

As long as everybody in the chain of illegalities has something to lose, the delicate balance of crime stays under the radar. Of course, it can’t possibly last forever, and everyone seems to get that except poor Simon, who gets caught actually caring for the people in this chain of questionable practice.

It all falls apart when one retired football player needs a liver, and one of his friends decides to buy one for him. Not that Leonard Pellegrini really wants a new liver or a new lease on life, but his friend Howard Crewes is trying to buy himself atonement for an entirely different event. Leonard was perfectly content (happy never comes into this thing) drinking himself to death, and understands completely that his liver is just the first and most vulnerable organ to pay the price of his oblivion.

But Crewes wants absolution, Leonard’s wife and kids want him to stick around a few more years, and Peter DaSilva, the actual head of Health Solutions Inc., just gets greedy. So everyone ignores the warning signs.

The donor, Maria Campos, just wants a new life with enough money to set herself up far away from her old life. There are plenty of warning signs on her side of this particular equation, too.

Although the system is successfully gamed, it all falls apart when Lenny commits suicide, and Maria runs instead of showing up for her followup care and finds herself admitted to a hospital with obvious signs of being an off-the-books organ donor.

As the investigations coincide, all the players start trying to clean up any collateral damage, and any potential witnesses.

Simon and Maria run for their lives, still arguing over how much danger they are really in. When the entire structure completely dismantles, it is just barely possible that they might be able to start over again. If they can get past the mess that got them there.

Escape Rating B-: This is a book where I have a lot of mixed feelings. For some reason, I found it difficult to care a lot about Simon or even Maria. Simon just seems to be an emotional mess who has gotten himself in way over his head. It’s not that what happened with his sister isn’t terribly sad, it’s that Simon is so good at suppressing his own emotional reactions to everything that I didn’t get enough of a feel for him to, well, feel for him.

On that other hand, the case that brings down the whole house of cards did connect to a lot of my feel buttons, probably because it was so real. Although it isn’t named specifically, Leonard Pellegrini and a lot of the other ex-football players who are in the support group he doesn’t want to be a part of are suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is very, very real.

(Without spoiling it completely, Leonard’s ultimate fate mirrors the real-life case of Dave Duerson, a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl Championship Team. Which explains why I remembered the case.)

(It is also possible that the on field hit that is responsible for Crewes’ guilt, which gets all of them into this mess, is intended to represent the case of Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed in an helmet to helmet hit during an exhibition game between the Oakland Raiders and the New England Patriots.)

Leonard is suffering from CTE, and he’s been drinking in order to make the pain, and the headaches, mood swings and general depression, stop. He doesn’t want to go on living. But he also isn’t willing to fight all the people around him who want him to. There are plenty of warning signs, but Health Solutions Inc. is greedy and his family is desperate. It is a recipe for disaster on every side.

For me, the football tie-in gave me a lot more feels, and a lot more sympathy, for the reasons why everyone got themselves into this mess than anything to do with Simon or the donor Maria. The football references gave the story a real-life grounding that Simon and Maria’s story did not.

However, the football connection made the rest of the story all too plausible. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the concept of organ brokering, it is all too easy to believe that some variation of this is probably happening.

And that does give me the chills.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY~~~~~~

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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen

Monsters by Rich CohenFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Sports history
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date Released: October 29, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

For Rich Cohen and millions of other fans, the 1985 Chicago Bears were more than a football team: they were the greatest football team ever—a gang of colorful nuts, dancing and pounding their way to victory. They won a Super Bowl and saved a city.

It was not just that the Monsters of the Midway won, but how they did it. On offense, there was high-stepping running back Walter Payton and Punky QB Jim McMahon, who had a knack for pissing off Coach Mike Ditka as he made his way to the end zone. On defense, there was the 46: a revolutionary, quarterback-concussing scheme cooked up by Buddy Ryan and ruthlessly implemented by Hall of Famers such as Dan “Danimal” Hampton and “Samurai” Mike Singletary. On the sidelines, in the locker rooms, and in bars, there was the never-ending soap opera: the coach and the quarterback bickering on TV, Ditka and Ryan nearly coming to blows in the Orange Bowl, the players recording the “Super Bowl Shuffle” video the morning after the season’s only loss.

Cohen tracked down the coaches and players from this iconic team and asked them everything he has always wanted to know: What’s it like to win? What’s it like to lose? Do you really hate the guys on the other side? Were you ever scared? What do you think as you lie broken on the field? How do you go on after you have lived your dream but life has not ended?

The result is Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football, a portrait not merely of a team but of a city and a game: its history, its future, its fallen men, its immortal heroes. But mostly it’s about being a fan—about loving too much. This is a book about America at its most nonsensical, delirious, and joyful.

My Review:

That I loved this book probably says as much about me as it does about the book.

These monsters aren’t the kind of monsters I usually read about, and this isn’t the type of book I usually review, but like the author, I, too was young in 1985 in Chicago when the Bears played that iconic, marvelous season. In 1985 I was in my mid-20s, about the same age as most of the players on the team, and early in my own career. When I look back at the Bears’ championship season, I see their youthful exuberance, but after reading Rich Cohen’s book, I know that one of the reasons that the season shines so brightly in my memories is because it reflects a bit of my own bright, shiny dreams.

Chicago loved them because they were us. You could walk into any public place in Chicago in the fall and winter of 1985 and say “How about them Bears?” and start a conversation with a complete stranger, no matter how far apart you were in age, race, class or possibly even language–unless the Bears were actually playing at that moment. If there was a game on, the entire city was watching. Those three hours every Sunday were a great time to go shopping–if you could stand to miss the game. And most of us couldn’t.

About the book…Cohen does deliver a more than readable account of the history of the Chicago Bears from the NFL’s grubby inception in a Hupmobile showroom in Canton Ohio all the way to the 1985 glory season, going from “Papa Bear” Halas to Mike Ditka to Doug Plank to Jim McMahon.

For a fan, it starts out as a story of larger than life personalities, and moves through a familiar history lesson. Then it lays out the marvelous building blocks of just how the Bears became the team that we all knew and loved.

But while it tells that story well, a lot of other books have gone over that field. After the 1985 season, it seemed like nearly every member of the team wrote a book. Sometimes two.

The special gift, and curse, of Monsters is that this book keeps going. Unlike a fairy tale, Cohen tells us what happened after “they lived happily ever after”. Because they didn’t. The 1985 Chicago Bears didn’t just win, they dominated. But after you’ve achieved it all, what do you do next?

Now we know that playing the game takes even more of a toll than anyone suspected at the time. We might as well hang a sign outside the stadium, like the Roman gladiator contests, “those who are about to die salute us”. The cost, CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), appears to be the same, just slower.

We, all of us in Chicago that year, loved watching them play. Seeing the game from a TV screen, listening to, and watching, the Super Bowl Shuffle, it looked like they were having enough fun to last a lifetime, both theirs and ours. Maybe even in spite of the cost. In an interview, the author asked Jim McMahon if it had all been worth it.

“Knowing what we know, about the injuries and the brain and CTE?”
He [McMahon] smiled and said, “I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”

And we’d all watch. The question the author asks is whether or not we should.

Reality Rating A: Monsters isn’t just a football history, although it certainly is that. For those of us who lived through the Bears’ Super Bowl season, it’s a trip down memory lane, but that’s not all it is either. I’ve tried more than once to explain to someone what made the Bears not just awesome that year, but special, and I’ve never been able to capture the essence. That’s part of what Monsters does.

In between the history and strategy lesson, it builds up the Bears team and shows why they were not just great, but why they were so damn much fun to watch. And then tells the story of why it all went smash. They did not live happily ever after.

Every dog, and Bear, had their day, but they did not go gentle into that good night. Unfortunately, they are going just the same, and we do know why. Has anyone else noticed that players from the very early eras of the game live longer and seemingly healthier than the more recent players? Has the game with its heavier, high-tech equipment become even more damaging, or is it just my imagination?

Football, as a sport to watch, has stopped being fun for me in the years since the Bears lost this group of misfits. Rich Cohen reminded me why they were great.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 1-13-13

Does that date look weird to anyone else? I think it’s the 13-13 that threw me for a loop.

Talk about being thrown for a loop…we just moved to Seattle from Atlanta, and, the Seattle Seahawks are playing the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC playoffs, today. As I’m writing this, the Seahawks just pulled ahead by one point, and there’s only 25 seconds left in the game. I’m afraid to watch.

Since everyone at work knows I just moved here from Atlanta, I’ve had way too many conversations at work explaining that I’m NOT rooting for the Falcons. No way. Now if the Cincinnati Bengals were still in it, we might have to talk, but it takes a lot longer than 18 months to get a piece of my heart. Which means I also still root for the Chicago Bears. (I lived in Chicago a long, long time)

And oh crap, the Falcons are in Field Goal range. And they made it. Damn it. I don’t think there’s going to be any joy in Mudville tonight. Mighty Casey just struck out. (Yes, I totally mixed my sports metaphors.)

The Seahawks may have just lost their playoff berth, but there was a winner here at Reading Reality. Tin Ong won the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the New Year’s Blog Hop this week!

Besides the last gasp of that New Year’s Blog Hop, what else happened last week?

B Review: Backstage Pass by Olivia Cunning
B+ Review: Perfection Unleashed by Jade Kerrion
Interview with Jade Kerrion + Giveaway!
B Review: Immortally Yours by Angie Fox
B+ Review: Enchanting the Lady by Kathryne Kennedy
C- Review: Rock Hard by Olivia Cunning
Stacking the Shelves (30)

There’s a new week coming up, which means new treats for everyone!

On Monday I’ll be reviewing Tiffany Allee’s new superhero romance, Heels & Heroes. Let’s just say that the “Heels” involved in the title are the fashionable kind, but that the “Heroes” in the title are both super and yummy. As part of the tour for this book, Tiffany is giving away 3 copies.

Tuesday I’ll have a guest post from Blair McDowell, as part of her tour for her latest romance/suspense title, Sonata. I always love seeing Blair’s books come up on tour, because I enjoy her work so much, and Sonata was no except. I’ll have a review on Tuesday, and Blair will also have a giveaway.

Wednesday and Thursday I’m reviewing Olivia Cunning’s Double Time and Elisabeth Staab’s King of Darkness. Completist me, both of those reviews (as well as last week’s Enchanting the Lady by Kathryne Kennedy) were to get ready to review the latest books in those series. On Thursday at Book Lovers Inc. I’ll be reviewing Elisabeth Staab’s Prince of Power, if you want to “collect the set” for yourself.

Friday’s review is a treat for me. I’m reviewing The Killings at Badger’s Drift. It’s the first in  Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby series. I’ve enjoyed Midsomer Murders so much, that I couldn’t resist reading the books. And sharing them.

Last, but very definitely not least, the Happy Endings Blog Hop starts on Saturday, January 19. It will certainly be a Happy Ending for the winners of all the lovely bookish prizes at the hop participants!

And the week after next will be another busy week! I’ll be hosting tours for Waterfall by Lacy Danes, Nobody’s Angel by Stacy Gail and The Cat’s Meow by Stacey Kennedy. With giveaways!

Who said cats and water don’t mix?