Baltimore Blues

Hush Hush TM

Hush Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $26.99, 320 pages)

Can an author maintain reader loyalty and enthusiasm for her work encompassing 12 volumes released over 18 years? Moreover, can that author thrill her readers with tales peppered with suspense and more than just a hint of anxiety? After all, mystery readers come to expect the challenge of a tale with danger lurking in each chapter. If not, why bother with mysteries at all?

Laura Lippman scores another success with her latest novel, an episode in the Tess Monaghan series. Lippman has made good use of her intimate knowledge of Baltimore. Each scene brings the reader into the physical locale and sweetens the experience with the unique attitude of its inhabitants. Her characters are certainly down-to-earth. There are no super hero, matinee idol types to coax the story into a bit of unrealistic passion.

The past murder of a child by its mother, money and that mother’s need to reconnect to the children she left behind form the basis of the tale. Lippman jumps right into the scene, literally, with the opening chapter laid out as the script for an on camera interview of Carolyn Sanders, a former summer day camp worker who was the last person to witness the murderer as she tried to pick up her older two children at the school where the camp was conducted.

After the set-up, loyal readers are treated to some catching up with the people in Tess’s life, like Aunt Kitty and retired Baltimore Police Department homicide detective Sandy Sanchez. Each of them has matured in their own way and this maturity provides the tale with continuity and commitment.

There are complex interwoven plot lines, a signature of Lippman’s writing style. Tess, herself the mom of a three-year-old toddle, has to reconcile loyalty to her old friend and mentor, Tyner Gray, with the distaste of providing security for his client, Melisandre Harris Dawes, the baby murderer who has returned to Baltimore. Of course, no Lippman novel would be complete without a basic misunderstanding, or two or three. This book has just the right amount.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 24, 2015.

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Running Shoe Review: Pearl Izumi EM Road N2

Has Pearl Izumi produced a well-balanced running shoe in the latest version of the EM Road N2?

Having had a positive experience running in the Pearl Izumi E:Motion (EM) Road N1 racer-trainer running shoe, I looked forward to having a go in another of their models. Fortunately, the company provided the EM Road N2 model – technically the second version of this shoe, the Road N2v2. For simplicity, I will refer to it as the Road N2.

Pearl Izumi states that this neutral model provides “the perfect balance of light and fast with just enough cushioning and durability.” Is this true? You can see the verdict below.

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The first thing noticeable about the EM Road N2 is the nice low-to-the-ground feel. As for the fit, while the shoe initially feels snug – a bit like a tennis shoe – it loosens up after some break-in miles. There’s enough room for the toes to splay naturally up front, but the forefoot appears to be a bit firmer than on the Road N1 model. In fact, the forefoot firmness seems to fall midway between that on the Road 1 (more flexible) and the Trail N2 (less flexible). For most, it should be just about right in terms of protecting sore toes and feet.

The Road N2 weighs 9.1 ounces, the same as the Trail N2, but it’s heavier than the N1’s 7.7 or so ounces (the forthcoming version of the N1 will weigh 8.6 ounces). In today’s running world, it’s a mid-weight shoe.

The fact that Pearl Izumi pays attention to the small details is reflected in the shoelaces. They’re just the right length, not too short or long.

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Upon hitting asphalt and concrete roads in the Road N2, one feels a pleasing amount of spring and energy return. Although it’s a relatively low shoe, heel strikers can pound away at will thanks to the brand’s dynamic (variable) offset midsole. The dynamic offset midsole eliminates forefoot slap and provides a light rocker panel feel, which easily transitions the foot from heel to mid-foot and on to the forefoot. This is a shoe that can be used by any type of runner, but mid-foot strikers will likely feel the most at home in it.

The heel cushioning on the Road N2 is not too soft, nor hard (more New Balance than Mizuno). The overall underfoot cushioning is what I would describe as soft-landing but firm in movement. Had I been blindfolded, I might have guessed that I was running in either the New Balance 890v3 or a pair of Asics Gel-DS Trainers. The key point is that my feet never felt beat up after runs in the Road N2.

What’s quite impressive about the Road N2 is the shoe’s excellent directional stability. This is not a floppy, sloppy, running shoe. You need not worry about your feet hitting each other, and there’s no sense of wasted sideways motion. Although the Road N2 does not feel fast like the Road N1, it’s a great tempo trainer. Set a pace and the shoe lets you almost effortlessly lock onto it and stick with it. And there’s a comforting uniformity in that each footfall feels the same and the ride feels the same on both feet. (It’s sometimes disturbing to run in a pair of running shoes in which the left and right shoes seem to have been manufactured in different factories.)

On a gravel-covered dirt trail, the Road N2 feels protective like the Road N1, but is less slippery due to a more traditional sole pattern. Using this shoe on a rainy day would not be a problem – something that’s not necessarily true in the Road N1.

It’s off-road where one realizes that the Road N2 provides an excellent mid-foot fit and support. On a hard-packed dirt trail the shoe feels limber but stable – and it winds up being a fine runner on a hard rock trail. You don’t feel the rocks underfoot and there’s virtually no slippage.

The Road N2 is a hybrid running shoe that would be a good choice for travel, especially when one does not know what type of surface the traveler will be running on at their destination, or whether the surface will be wet or dry. This shoe will pretty much have things covered whether you’re landing in Milwaukee, Seattle, or San Diego.

Verdict:

The Pearl Izumi Road N2 should work well for the person seeking a durable, protective shoe that can be used for slow, moderate or aggressive training runs on roads and trails. The shoe may work especially well for those who prefer to put in their miles on tracks, running at a rock-steady pace. The Road N2 can serve as a type of metronome for those oval runners.

Most runners will find the Road N2 to be a very competent 5K, 10K or half-marathon shoe, and some will find it protective and stable enough to run a full marathon. The Road N2 is not the flashiest shoe on the market – and perhaps not in Pearl Izumi’s own catalog – but it does most everything quite well.

Yes, this is a well-balanced shoe. All in all, it’s another clear water pearl from this brand.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Pearl Izumi EM Road N2v2 retails for $120.00.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-pearl-izumi-road-n2/

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Change the World

Four young men decided to take a bite out of the world. The world bit back.

More Awesome (Nook Book)

More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Heroic Quest to Save Your Privacy from Facebook by Jim Dwyer (Viking, $27.95, 374 pages)

diaspora

This is a true story about four young men, from prosperous families (upper middle-class to one percenters), who decided to come up with a program that would take on and possibly destroy Facebook. Their creation, Diaspora, at one time seemed so promising that an intrigued Mark Zuckerberg sent them a donation of $1,000. What would set Diaspora apart from Facebook is the user’s ability to protect their personal information, keeping it from the clutches of advertisers. As the Los Angeles Times noted, the users of Facebook “are not the sites’ customers; they’re the merchandize. The real customers are the advertisers and aggregators who suck up the (personal) data on the users and use it to target commercial come-ons more effectively.”

More+Awesome+Than+Money+Jim+dwyer+Book

The efforts of the young Diaspora founders – who were in their late teens to early 20s – would fail largely because they had no business experience and made horrible decisions. For example, when they approached the Sand Hill Road venture capital firm, Kliener Perkins (KP), they were advised to not request a certain amount of money (KP was prepared to offer an investment of $750,000). They asked for $10 million and came away with nothing. This was close to, and eventually was, a fatal decision.

The stresses upon their effort were to lead to short and long-term dropouts among the leadership, and result in a suicide. This is, to a great extent, the story of Ilya Zhitomirsky, the brilliant self-taught programmer who suffered from depression. However, the telling incorporates the viewpoints of each of the founders. All of the founders suffered from inexperience and the sweet arrogance (and ignorance) of youth.

Dwyer, co-author of the excellent account of the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, 102 Minutes, provides the reader with a cinematic story. This might make a fine film in the style of The Social Network, which detailed the founding of Facebook.

While engaging, this book suffers from a couple of flaws. The first is that multiple accounts of the same incidents result in sometimes-annoying repetition. This can lead the reader to feel like he/she is watching The Norman Conquests. Also, although Dwyer takes two stabs at wrapping up the story, in the final chapter and an epilogue, it comes to a sudden end – the book ends not with a bang but with a whimper.

If More Awesome Than Money is a true-to-life morality play, then Dwyer appears to be unsure of the lesson to be learned. Perhaps it’s that yesterday’s technological revolutionaries (Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison) became today’s establishment figures. They and their creations are to be attacked at one’s own risk.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The original subtitle of this book, as listed in the inside pages, was Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World from Facebook. I do not know why it was changed.

Note: While finishing this review, I happened to read that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife provided a donation of $75 million to San Francisco General Hospital. “Make of that what you will.” (A.C. Newman, “There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve…”)

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Coming Up Next…

More Awesome Than Money (Amazon)

A review of More Awesome Than Money: Four Boys and Their Quest to Save the World from Facebook by Jim Dwyer (Viking, $27.95, 374 pages).

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A Whiter Shade of Pale

Bacchae Robin Robertson

Bacchae by Euripides: A New Translation by Robin Robertson (Ecco, $19.99, 128 pages)

The final work by one of the three greatest Athenian playwrights and poets might have been on the list of required reading assignments for a serious 19th century student. Not so for this mid-20th century university student whose classics exposure was confined to the statues, temples and artifacts of the era in which Euripides lived.

Bacchae: A New Translation arrived in the mail unbidden, a slender advance review copy that proclaimed its relevance in today’s world. Feeling a need to round out my classical education with a sampling of literature, I worked my way through the book, devoting ample time to the play as well as the most helpful ancillary material.

The book’s elements included a well-developed preface written by Daniel Mendelsohn that provided ample contextual and historical information for the novice reader of Greek tragedies. The introduction by Scottish writer and translator Robin Robertson further set the reader on a path toward comprehending the play. A family tree of the main characters set forth the relationships in a graphic. And lastly, a glossary complete with pronunciation guide appeared after the body of the text. It is assumed that these key elements remained as parts of the final, published version.

As to the take away, alas, most of the insightful and relevant themes touted on the cover flew over this reviewer’s head. Perhaps the extreme drama and graphic nature of the violence contained in the play was just too much. Alternatively, the silent statues, temples and painted vases of the same era held immense appeal nearly five decades after the captivating lectures presented by Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt, Jr. have nearly faded from memory.

Recommended for students of the classics.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by Ecco/HarperCollins.

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I Shall Be Released

I’m beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around…/ Reality has always had too many heads. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound.”

Forgetting Place

The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley (William Morrow, $14.99, 344 pages)

Wow.

John Burley’s second novel, The Forgetting Place, is a worthy successor to Absence of Mercy. At first it did not appear as if that would be the case, as the story seemed to meander for a while. But, Burley’s managed to do it again.

Dr. Lise Shields arrives at Menaker, a correctional psychiatric facility in Maryland and becomes embroiled in a massive “cover up” – or does she? That is the question readers are left with when they finish the book. Who exactly are the victims in this story?

The plot is well conceived, but pulling this story off was no easy task. Fortunately, Burley did pull it off. So much so that one cannot be sure with any absolute certainty what did or did not happen. This brilliantly parallels the confusion evident in the minds of the mentally ill that Dr. Shields is or is not treating.

One of the main male characters has a lover, who is a suspected terrorist; the latter winds up being murdered. That’s about all one can say for certain. To go into much greater detail would create too many spoilers for prospective readers of this work.

This is a fine novel, Mr. Burley! If you can keep this going, you’ll wind up with a cult following and perhaps much more.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 10, 2015.

“The Forgetting Place is a deep dive into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Surprises wait at every turn.” Lisa Unger

“Layered and evocative – an intelligent, powerful read.” Sophie Littlefield

“Will send chills down your spine. A taut psychological thriller.” Alice LaPlante, author of A Circle of Wives.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Coming Up Next…

Forgetting Place

A review of The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley, which will be released on February 10, 2015.

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