All Summer Long – and longer

Beach Books – Good All Year Around

cocoa beach cover

Cocoa Beach: A Novel by Beatriz Williams (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Ms. Williams is the author of six previous novels.  If they are anywhere as well-crafted as Cocoa Beach, readers may have an entire vacation’s worth of adventures from this author alone.  The U.S. Prohibition Era brings the Florida coastal town of Cocoa Beach more than just exciting parties and illicit drinking.

The central character, Virginia Firzwilliam, has endured years of abandonment by her secretive husband only to be called to Florida after his death in a house fire.  Virginia learns the hard way that she and her little daughter are at the center of a deadly deception.

Highly recommended.

all summer long cover

All Summer Long: A Novel by Dorothea Benton Frank (William Morrow, $15.99, 374 pages)

Get ready for a study in contrasts.  A popular and successful interior designer finds herself held to the promise she made 14 years prior when she married a college professor.  Nick, the professor, has has long-awaited retirement dream fulfilled – a move back to Charlestown, South Carolina.  Olivia, who is a fourth-generation New Yorker, has quite a task ahead.  She must adapt to the cultural differences of her new home and keep her design business alive.

all summer long back cover

Ms. Benton Frank has a beguiling way with words, especially when she’s describing her beloved Low Country.  Readers who enjoy this novel will be happy to know that there are 16 published works by this prolific author.

Well recommended.

beach at painter's cove

 

The Beach at Painter’s Cove: A Novel by Shelley Noble (William Morrow, $15.99, 432 pages)

Way up north in Connecticut, family estrangement is the theme of this novel set at the run-down mansion known as Muses by the Sea.  The interplay among four generations of a most dysfunctional family can be confusing as there are proper names, nicknames and strange last names.  The original family name is Whitaker.  Long ago, Wesley and his wife Leonore hosted an artist’s colony on the property of their rambling home situated on Painter’s Cove.

The drama of four generations coming together to decide the fate of the house and property is at best hard to follow.  Author Noble uses breathless dialogue and much scurrying about to tell her tale of jealousy and misunderstanding.  A family tree at the front of the book would have been a useful addition.

beach at painter's cove back cover

Despite the drawbacks, readers will connect with the message of enduring love that unites the family.

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Bajada III

The Columbia Montrail Bajada III (hereinafter, Bajada) is said to be “a versatile trail running shoe that can handle a variety of trails…” due to its “reliable cushioning and traction.”  (Running Warehouse)  Do we agree?  See the verdict below.

CM Bajada III

The latest version of the Bajada from Columbia Montrail offers a great fit; it’s snug but roomy in the right places.  The shoe weighs 12 ounces but feels more like 10 ounces under the feet.  It has a FluidFoam midsole, a sticky Griptonite Trail outsole containing an immense number of small lugs providing multi-directional grip, a Trail Shield to protect one’s feet, horizontal and vertical flex grooves, and a 10mm drop.  As with most running shoes these days, it has a seamless “socklite” mesh upper.

Columbia Montrail generally includes an upgraded, deluxe commercial-grade sockliner in their trail shoes, and this is the case with the Bajada.  Another bonus feature of the shoe is the set of elastic laces which provide comfort and “give,” yet they can be securely tied for peace of mind.

While walking to nearby trails, one will note that the Bajada offers a soft, comfortable ride.  And the shoe feels like it is just the right height – not too high off the ground and not too low.

On a gravel and dirt trail the Bajada offers good proprioception (ground feel) while remaining protective.  On a mown grass fire trail the Bajada delivers fine grip and yaw control.  You can feel the shoe moving from side to side but it returns to center quickly.  On a hard-packed dirt trail the Bajada feels fast and light.  It’s like driving a roadster on a curvy country road.

The toughest test for a trail shoe tends to be how it handles a hard rock trail – with both large and small rocks underfoot.  The Bajada earns an A- grade for grip, and a B to B+ grade for both the absence of slippage and protection.  You know a shoe has passed with flying colors on a hard rock trail when no cuss words are emitted by the runner!

CM Bajada III sole

Although the grippy lugs on the Bajada appear to be relatively small they provide tremendous purchase for moving uphill.  This would be a nice shoe to use to run up the Ventana Canyon Trail in Tucson.

On city/suburban roads the Bajada demonstrates its credentials as a hybrid shoe.  It’s bouncy on asphalt, earning a B grade for responsiveness.  On sidewalks it proves to be as stable as earlier-year Montrail shoes, such as the Montrail Fluid Feel from 2013.  (The Bajada offers more stability than the Fluidflex F.K.T. or the Caldorado II models.)

On roads the Bajada delivers B level cushioning.  The springiness provided by its insole is not dissipated; energy builds up supporting forward motion momentum.  Speaking of momentum, one can get on one’s toes and/or high-step in the Bajada to engage in speed training.  Yes, it will deliver a fast response if and when you need it.

Verdict

The Bajada does most everything well.  It is quite likely the Columbia Montrail model that will work best for the average runner.  (While I found the Caldorado II to be excellent, it rests upon a level of firmness that works for only a certain percentage of individuals.)

At a price of $110, the Bajada provides exemplary levels of grip, protection, cushioning, and responsiveness.  It’s a hybrid model that can be used as both a trail runner and a road trainer, and it will prove to be more than satisfactory for mid-range and long-distance runs.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A sample pair was provided by Columbia Montrail for review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tinker Tailor

writer sailor

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s time as a spy and his involvement in politics on the world stage during the years 1935 through 1961.

As to credibility, Reynolds was a Marine for 30 years, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and eventually became the curator of the CIA Museum.  He references 107 primary sources and each chapter is replete with citations to support his claims.

While Writer, Sailor is almost certainly factually accurate, I am not certain this book entirely succeeds.

The book chronicles some aspects of Hemingway’s personal life such as his downward spiral into depression, his four wives, and his extremely excessive alcohol intake; though this is not news, nor is it the main point.  Reynolds also tries to tie some of Hemingway’s writing to his wartime experiences, particularly with For Whom the Bell Tolls and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then his final book, The Old Man and the Sea.  He also name drops quite a bit.  For example, correspondence with Archibald MacLeish and his friendship with John Dos Passos are frequently referenced.  The book tells of Hemingway’s love of Cuba and briefly alludes to some interactions with Batista and Castro.  But, again, there is not much new ground covered here.

What would be considered new ground for most is Hemingway’s dalliance with the Soviet NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and involvement with the American OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.  Hemingway was not a Communist, and perhaps not even a Socialist, but he hated Fascism and during the 1930s was disappointed in America’s lack of resolve to fight against it.  He was particularly upset with the Pearl Harbor attack, which he believed was due to complete negligence on the part of the American government.

Hemingway’s travels during this time are discussed.  How he managed to get around on both official and personal business is interesting at times.  One of the most interesting stories is the chapter on Pilar, Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, and its role as a spy ship in 1942 and 1943.  This would prove to be the most significant of Hemingway’s wartime adventures.

writer, sailor, soldier, spy back cover

Most Hemingway buffs and literary scholars would find nothing of interest in this work.  But while it succeeds in chronicling his adventures – and there are some interesting tidbits to be gleaned among the way, the truth is that Hemingway’s involvement as a spy did not seem to lead to any major intelligence that impacted the outcome of the war – or particular battles – in any way.  If so, it was not evident in the pages of this book.

Recommended, with the reservation that the book seems to promise more than it delivers.

Dave Moyer.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Beer Review: Sufferfest Epic Pilsner

SUMMERFEST FROM SUFFERFEST: Epic Pilsner

sufferfest beers

There are far too many whale hunters looking for the booziest barleywines, most robust imperial stouts, and the juiciest triple India Pale Ales in the country, sometimes paying several hundred dollars per bottle.  It is absurd.  Although I can never turn down a whale when the opportunity presents itself, lately I find myself gravitating more towards lower alcohol by volume (ABV) beers.

I find this especially true in the summer, where the last thing anyone wants to be drinking out on the patio with the sun beating down on them is a big-bodied boozy brew.  My general rule of thumb is the higher the temperature the lower ABV I prefer my beer to have.  Perfect examples of summer styles for me include Berliner weiss, kolsch, and, of course, the almighty pilsner.

sufferfest premium beer

Epic Pilsner from Sufferfest Beer Company seemed true to style in every regard until I discovered that it was “crafted to remove gluten.”  Upon seeing this on the can I went to their website and I found that all of their beers are void of gluten.  I’ve had few gluten free beers that could stand on their own two feet, but this one doesn’t merely stand on its own but runs.

sufferfest epic

This beer is a crystal clear, pale straw in appearance with a light, fluffy white head.  The beer leaves lacing that coats the glass.  This pilsner looks like every golden beer you see on TV.  Epic Pils has a very subtle nose.  There are slight lemon and grass tones.  The palate follows the nose almost exactly as the earthy tones of the Saaz hops gently cut through the layers of the sweet biscuit malt.  This beer is thin and leaves your mouth dry, begging you to have can after can, and at only 5.1% ABV it is easy to throw back a few without having to worry about getting overly buzzed or trashed.

Epic Pilsner shines through with its subtle complexity.  The delicate nose and clean, refreshing qualities pair perfectly with an easy-going summer afternoon on the back patio, the nearest worry miles away.

sufferfest-beer-company-epic-pilsner-beer-california-usa-10881996

Do not be turned off by the gluten free warning.  Summerfest Epic Pilsner is well worth seeking out!

Highly recommended.

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer, beer expert, is a graduate of Indiana University.

Note:  Sufferfest beers are brewed and canned in San Francisco.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Livin’ La Vida Loca

The Reason You’re Alive: A Novel by Matthew Quick (Harper, $25.99, 226 pages)

reason you're alive

Living the Crazy Life

The Reason You’re Alive is, supposedly, a novel about a Holden Caulfield-like character who has reached the age (68) at which he has a seven-year-old granddaughter.  He’s angry (of course) at the government that sent him to Vietnam in his youth, ultra-conservative (OK), and perhaps more than slightly deranged.  However, author Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook) begins the story with his version of charming writing.  There is, for example, a scene in which the main character, David Granger, sits down to an imaginary tea party with granddaughter Ella.  It’s sweet and cute.  And the reader is informed that it just so happens to be the case that Ella is the “spitting image” of Granger’s dead wife – by suicide (naturally).

Jessica Granger was a painter who apparently did little else with her life – David screamed at her on what proved to be her last night on earth, “You have to contribute SOMETHING!” – except for providing Granger with a son; a son which he did not father.  Quick, as Granger, writes beautifully about Jessica:

I feel like shedding a tear or two when I think about a nineteen-year-old Jessica looking up from a canvas as big as her, smiling at me with paint smudges all over her face, like camouflage.  Her long, brown hair is always braided with pigtails, and she is perpetually in overalls, as if she were a farmer riding on a tractor.  All she needed was a piece of hay hanging out of her mouth.  You could see the light in her eyes back then.  It was as bright as goddamn June moonbeams shimmering off ocean waves still warm from day’s sun.   

At this point in the novella, not a novel, the story is quirky with some parallels to the style of The Catcher in the Rye.  But this style on the part of the writer does not last, does not hold.  It’s not long after one’s approached the halfway point of the story that Quirk goes haywire on us.  The suspension of disbelief disappears as he relates events that ring as fully implausible.  The story goes from Catcher in the Rye to Catch-22; from simply quirky to fantastical, that is, odd and bizarre.

The outright crazy part of the book focuses on a bonkers Native American soldier, Clayton Fire Bear, who Granger served with in ‘Nam.  Fire Bear – who took scalps from dead Viet Cong soldiers, sounds like a character that one would have found in Catch-22.  Granger is determined to find Fire Bear in the U.S. and achieve some type of closure with him.  There are other inane things that the story focuses on – things which I won’t waste time relating.  Suffice it to say that, in the words of a Beatles song, it’s all too much.

There are two possible explanations for the author’s diversions.  Perhaps Quick decided to transform Granger from a more than slightly unstable individual to a fully insane unreliable narrator because he believed it was clever from an intellectual – “brilliant author,” standpoint.  If so, it’s too clever by half.  The other explanation is that Quick was simply enjoying himself at the reader’s expense, setting the reader up for what seemed like a serious journey only to drop him/her into the twilight zone.  If the latter is the case, then Quick has fashioned a work that is intentionally and illogically unrestrained.

At the least, this work is inconsistent and unsatisfying.  It starts off as an engaging look at a troubled human being – one the reader can partially relate to, and concludes as a work whose faults will be overlooked by those who prefer convoluted, strange literary forests to sensical, sensible trees.

Bottom line: This book is not The Catcher in the Rye and it’s quite far – incredibly far, from being enjoyable.  Do yourself a favor and pass on it.  You have better things to do with your time.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Little Girl Gone

Little Girl Gone: A Novel by Margaret Fenton (Create Space, $10.10, 266 pages)

Little Girl Gone

Margaret Fenton’s second novel – following Little Lamb Lost, takes the reader once more into the world of Birmingham, Alabama social worker Claire Conover.  As is typical for social workers, Claire is carrying a full caseload.  Her caring attitude is tempered with a realistic approach to dealing with runaway and discarded children.  A stony-faced young teen girl who was found sleeping in a cardboard box proves to be quite the challenge for Claire.

“Sandy,” at least that’s the name she reluctantly gives Claire, won’t provide any assistance with her details.  She’s very slim, not starving, but definitely willing to go out for breakfast when Claire offers to take her.  Thus begins the saga of reuniting “Sandy” with her family.  The story unfolds naturally as Claire does her job using the skills she has developed over years in the job.  Ms. Fenton infuses her characters with down-to-earth feelings to which the reader can easily relate.

The men in Claire’s life are Grant, her techie boyfriend and Kirk, a clever newspaper reporter.  There’s mutual attraction between Kirk and Claire; however, she knows better than to be caught up in a fling with a flirt when she has calm and reliable Grant in her life.  Kirk has provided helpful insights in past cases and is once again a source of information and strategic planning that brings him into a team-like relationship with Claire.

Little Girl Gone back cover

Ms. Fenton is a confident and strong writer who has lived the work she portrays.  Much like a police procedural, Little Girl Gone takes the reader behind the scenes into real life situations that are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Crisp dialogue coupled with excellent scene-setting descriptions make this a most satisfying read.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hard to Grip

Hard to Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball, and Chronic Illness by Emil DeAndreis (Schaffner Press, $16.95, 326 pages)

hard to grip

“You, see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”  – Jim Bouton (Ball Four)

Emil DeAndreis is an excellent high school baseball player in a weak conference.  He gets his chance at Division I baseball at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.  Hawaii at Hilo is far from a top tier program, but Division I is Division I.  DeAndreis is a borderline D-1 player, but he is a left-handed pitcher – always a commodity.

Hard to Grip is DeAndreis’s story, subtitled a memoir of youth, baseball, and chronic illness.  Shortly after he graduates from college, he signs a professional contract to play baseball in Belgium, only to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  There are flashes of promise in his writing.  He saves the best for last.

As a high school pitching coach, he tries to express to his players that everyone’s career ends one day, and closes the book with the line, “I tell them it’s like a disease you learn to live with.”

DeAndreis chronicles his passion for baseball, his disillusionment following his diagnosis, and his battle to come to grips with the fact that his life is irrevocably changed.  He does find love, and ultimately reconciles with his loss of having to prematurely let go of the game.

The book is good.  Those who have dreamed of playing and had their careers cut short for whatever reason can probably relate.  It is an honest telling from the get-go, and the parallel of his best friend Charlie – who is more talented, and his challenges in pro ball constitute another side of the story told by DeAndreis. (DeAndreis leaves it up to the reader to determine what happened to Charlie.)

Unfortunately, the book does not have many engaging moments.  Too much of the book is a retelling of events that fail to resonate with the reader.  DeAndreis might have done more to draw the reader in; to see that the events that happened in his life (“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon) are the types of unexpected things that happen with others.

hard to grip too

DeAndreis is currently working on a novel, and his fledgling talent may well make it a successful one.  There are high points in Hard to Grip, but not enough of them to sustain the typical reader’s interest from start to finish.  This is a niche book for hardcore baseball fans.  Perhaps the writing promise hinted at in Hard to Grip will fully manifest itself in his future work.

Recommended, for sports fans and/or one-time athletes.

Dave Moyer

Hard to Grip was published on April 1, 2017.  “A vibrant depiction of a ballplayer that finds his way (in life) despite losing his ability to play the game he loves.”  Mike Krukow

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent, a drummer who hopes to play on stage with The Who one day, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized