#9: A Book with a Color in the Title

Gray Mountain

By John Grisham


Samantha Kofer is on the fast track to partnership in a 1000-lawyer-strong NYC law firm. She works 80-hour weeks, but the recession of 2008 hits hard and all those hours amount to nothing as far as job security is concerned. In exchange for keeping health benefits, Samantha’s firm offers a furlough option: 12 months of volunteer work rewarded with a slim possibility of rejoining the Big Law boys after a year. As a result, Samantha finds herself in the small Appalachian town of Brady, Virginia where she learns more about lawyering in three weeks than she had in three years in New York. Mattie Wyatt runs a free law clinic that handles civil cases for the poor Appalachian people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation. Samantha befriends Mattie’s nephews, Donovan and Jeff Gray, and finds herself in the middle of a less-than-desirable scheme to bring down big coal companies who have exploited their workers and the residents of the coal-rich mountains. The truth about coal mining, its dangers and underhanded attorneys comes to light as Samantha fights for people who otherwise would have no voice.

Why You Should Read a Grisham Novel (or two):

1. Grisham’s novels are fairly quick and easy reads without being boring or too cliche.

Grisham has a way of choosing topics that captivate the reader. While they have some common threads (focusing on the law, for one), the stories are unique. They also focus on a high-interest–and usually highly emotional–legal issue about which the reader has/will develop a strong opinion. In the case of Gray Mountain, the impoverished, exploited coal miners and residents of Appalachia who develop black lung disease, cancer, or otherwise lead lives shortened by exposure to toxic chemicals. The reader’s journey through the novel mirrors Samantha’s gradual discovery of the horrors of daily life in the mountains.

2. Everyone needs a good dose of cynicism now and then.

Every time I read one of John Grisham’s books, I find myself looking at the world rather pessimistically for a while. Grisham definitely focuses at the bad side of people rather than the good. While having a negative view of the world isn’t the best way to live, I do think that having a realistic view is important. Having a glimpse into seedy characters and less-than-moral companies, demonstrates the need to look at things beyond appearances, and to check into politicians before voting for them. 😉

3. They are chock-full of good legalese.

Grisham throws around the words tort, appeal, and judiciary review like he knows what he’s talking about (which he does!). After reading one of his books, I feel like I could run a pretty good trial. But despite all the legal jargon thrown around, the books don’t alienate those (like me) who have no legal background. It’s good for vocabulary expansion, right?

4. The characters are interesting and well-developed.

From the get-go, Samantha’s predicament pulls the reader into the story. She gains sympathy since she loses her job in the first few pages, and her decision to go to work for a non-profit only add to her appeal. Even if the reader doesn’t agree with the author’s opinion of the coal companies, Samantha’s sympathetic character allows the reader to overlook difference of beliefs, political persuasion, or ideology. Other characters, such as the charismatic Donovan Gray and his brother Jeff Gray have a mysterious past; Grisham reveals bits of their history slowly to build the reader’s curiosity and interest. There is a reason for their vendetta against the coal companies and the law firms that protect them. Samantha’s parents even come to have importance in the storyline as their pasts intersect with Samantha’s present.

5. They are just good stories with universal appeal.

If you need a book to binge-read, Gray Mountain is a good one. It reads quick, and the story pulls the reader in from the very beginning. There are no slow points, Grisham manages a couple of good surprises, and the story is compelling. This has been true for each of the Grisham novels I have read. And that is why John Grisham novels are always at the top of the best-seller lists!

Final Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Gray Mountain as it revealed some “dirty secrets” in our culture of which I was previously unaware. Some parts did get a little preachy and environmentalist-esque, but overall, the arguments made in the novel make sense. Grisham obviously has figured out how to write interesting books that appeal to a wide range of readers, and I expect he will continue to publish a novel a year for as long as people will read his books. Most people would enjoy reading this book, even those who don’t necessarily see themselves as readers. I would be interested, though, to hear an attorney’s take on it!

Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:

  • My Rating: B+
    • interesting, compelling story
    • likeable characters
    • no “wow” factor though
  • Clean Factor: C-
    • some language
    • a couple of sex scenes (not graphic, though)
  • Book Clubbishness: B
    • I could see some interesting discussions about the coal-mining aspect
    • but the rest is pretty cut-and-dry


Reading this book reminded me that I prefer much more literary-type reading material. I like to have to think about what I read!


(Photo Credit/Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Gray-Mountain-Novel-John-Grisham/dp/038553714X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424577753&sr=8-1&keywords=gray+mountain )


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