Not so Special

Special Deluxe Amazon

Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $32.00, 383 pages)

“I see cars as reflections of the American dream through the ages, a mirror of the culture. They are the art of their time, a mirror through which you can see American culture.”

Neil Young’s Special Deluxe might have been called Long May You Run: Cars, Drives and Life. While his earlier memoir, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, was an excellent work recalling Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, this is a weak collection of slight, random memories. These are stories you might have heard from Young during his drinking days.

In theory, this is a look back at the cars Young has owned. “In theory” because there’s not much detail about any of them, they’re simply stepping off platforms for him to write about his personal relationships, musical experiences, etc. And his dogs, for which – by his admission, he was not necessarily the most responsible pet owner.

Special Deluxe drawing

It quickly becomes tiring to read about old, rusted out, gas guzzling monsters. The one exception is when he comes into possession of the first Buick Skylark built back in 1953. (And he later tours the ancient, decaying plant where it was manufactured.)

Buick-Skylark-1953-hd

When it comes to music, Young revisits some ground he covered in Peace, while taking a slap at the “blown-out drug fueled” Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The Pono sound system? Yawn.

Young seeks redemption by transforming himself in these pages, from a person who has zero interest in and respect for the environment, to one who is seemingly now a courageous fighter against global warming. It’s not entirely convincing. However, it does explain how he happened to meet Darryl Hannah. References to his former wife and “best friend” Pegi come off as awkward.

special_deluxe_1414519232_600x275

While Young professes to be “thankful to be alive…,” he sounds old, tired and cranky in these pages. (You half expect him to yell at you to get off of his lawn!) The charm of Waging Heavy Peace is nowhere to be found. Apparently, the days of hippie dreams have come to an end.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I’m On Fire

Flame Out (nook book)

Flame Out: A Novel (The June Lyons Series) by M.P. Cooley (William Morrow, $24.99, 304 pages)

M.P. Cooley’s second novel Flame Out features police officer and former FBI agent, June Lyons.

When an old apparel factory burns down, a body is discovered, which initially is thought to be that of former owner Bernie Lawler’s wife, Luisa, who was murdered and whose body was never recovered. The incident takes the reader back to the original murder (covered in Cooley’s Ice Shear), which was originally investigated by June’s father.

Flame Out starts with June flirting with the idea of returning to the FBI, and – about a third of the way through – her parents split and the characters’ subsequent complicated relationships are introduced; something which does little to appreciably advance the story.

A line toward the end, “You do not need to kill your mother’s killer. I already did,” based on context and delivery is an example of the generally good writing found in this novel. The plot is carefully constructed and the story is told almost exclusively in dialogue. This can be a plus or a minus, depending on the reader. This reviewer would have preferred a bit more variety in the telling.

Flame Out (back cover)

Flame Out starts out with a great deal of promise, but mostly smolders. It is a good book; unfortunately, it is not a great one.

Recommended, based on the author’s potential.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Who Let the Dogs Out

Three Guys to Take Along on Vacation

Who let

Who Let the Dog Out?: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

And they’re off… Andy, Laurie, Rick and the two dogs are back with a strange dilemma at the Tara Foundation Shelter. Cheyenne, a lost dog, took up residence at Andy’s shelter only to be spirited away by a professional burglar.

David Rosenfelt is back to his funny and wise cracking self as he spins the tale of a murder and a missing pooch. This, the 13th Andy Carpenter mystery, is every bit as fresh and engaging as the ones that preceded it. Rosenfelt makes his characters vulnerable in a writing style that is easy to enjoy.

This is a book that’s an excellent read over a lazy weekend or during a week away on vacation.

Well recommended.

World gone by

World Gone: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.99, 320 pages)

Indeed, the world of his third book in a trilogy by Dennis Lehane has gone by. The time is World War II and the settings include Cuba and Tampa, Florida. The fact that a war is raging affects both the good and evil people who move through this tale. The notion that war takes the best men for duty thus leaving the less competent behind at home is applicable to gangs of criminals. This is an aspect of war that has never occurred to this reviewer before.

The location during Lehane’s chosen time frame is not one this reader considered particularly compelling or relevant for today. Perhaps with U.S.-Cuban relations resuming the connection between the main character, Joe Coughlin, and Cuba has some merit. Coughlin has business challenges not unlike his counterparts in the legitimate business world.

Dennis Lehane is a very well known author (12 books, four of which have been made into movies). He seasons this tale, World Gone By, with abundant background and biographical information about his characters – thieves, murderers, and extortionists. The pace is slow and a bit plodding. As the plot develops, the reader becomes aware of the human foibles and quirks of these “bad guys.” They should be despicable but Lehane sympathetically portrays the people behind their life situations.

Recommended for Lehane fans.

dead simple

Dead Simple: The First Thriller in the Acclaimed Roy Grace Series by Peter James (Minotaur Books, $9.99, 457 pages)

Claustrophobia warning! Author Peter James casts his story lines one by one to set up a race against the suffocation death of Mike Harrison, a bridegroom and prankster, who is being dealt some serious playback by his buddies just days prior to his wedding.

Crisp dialogue with the right balance of details and description keep the action going. A third person narrator leads the reader through the crash of the bachelor party van and the deadly aftermath. Readers will settle in with Detective Superintendent Roy Grace while he addresses the disappearance of Mike Harrison.

Dead Simple is the first in a nine volume series by James featuring Roy Grace. Clearly, this thriller has piqued this reviewer’s interest. Here’s hoping the rest of the series matches up with this splendid beginning.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Shining Star

Music Review: ‘Paper Stars’ by Ryan Calhoun

paper stars r calhoun

Does the new EP of five songs from Ryan Calhoun signal a musician on the rise?

CSF Music Group has released an EP of five new songs by Ryan Calhoun.   Let’s take a look at the tracks before arriving at a judgment about the release.

“Coffee” is a cute, bittersweet, song about a shy guy who’s mentally stalking a young woman that drops into the local coffee shop each morning.   “She’s the best part of my morning/And she don’t know me yet…/She’s an addiction like a shot of caffeine/She’s the reason why/Why I drink coffee.”   You can watch the video for this song on YouTube.   It’s got a touch of Justin Timberlake in the rhythm.   It’s the deserved single.

“Just as I approach her/She’s walking out the door/And I know that I’ll be back tomorrow.”   If Starbucks ever needs a theme for a TV commercial, this should be it.

Ryan Calhoun Paper Stars

“Paper Stars” combines more Timberlake-style pop-rock with a P. J. Pacifico-like sound.   This title song celebrates the simple joys of poverty, as experienced by a young couple.   “If you threw us a party for two/But the dinner you promised fell through/You ran out of time/We had burgers and wine on the floor/And we’d drink to a quarter to four/Till we pissed off the neighbors next door…/We will never be richer than being poor.”   This one should be popular with the college music crowd.

Ryan Calhoun If I Don't

“If I Don’t” is not rock or pop, it’s modern country.   This is a song that would fit perfectly on a Keith Urban or Darius Rucker album, and it’s spiced up with a trace of Tom Petty/Dwight Yoakum attitude.   “She’s the only thing I’ve ever really loved/Maybe nothing’s ever really good enough/She went left and I went right/There’s nothing left to decide.”   The singer knows he needs to propose to the woman he’s bought a ring for, but he can’t find enough courage to do so.   And if he doesn’t, someone else will take her down the aisle. (Listen to the track on YouTube and see if you agree that Keith Urban could sell a million downloads of this song.)

“Time and December” is pure Jim Croce, a variation of sorts on “Time in a Bottle.”   It channels Croce both in the lyrics and in the guitar-led melody.   “See, I thought I’d be something worth talking about/When I found myself coming back home/The more that I wander the more that I know/The more that I know I don’t know/So let’s raise up our glasses and toast to our dreams/I hope January will listen to me/Cause this year could be heaven or it could be hell/But I guess only time and December will tell.”   Very clever and satisfying.

“Stranger” might have fit well on Billy Joel’s The Stranger album.   It sounds like Joel backed by a U2ish wall of sound.   And the lyrics paint the portrait, as Joel often does, of a character that does not quite fit in:   “Everybody knows what nobody’s talking about/By the time we open up/It’s last call and they’re closing us down…/If I go and open up would you run/Or would you just let me be?/Let me be your stranger.”   Calhoun effectively borrows a line from George Harrison and incorporates it here: “If you don’t know where you’re going/Any road will take you there.”

Paper Stars is very well produced by Bill Lefler in Los Angeles.   There are no complaints about the sound.   The issue with Calhoun is evident if you watch several of his YouTube-posted videos.   He’s a musical chameleon.   Who he is varies with each song.   His versatility is a strength, but also a weakness that needs to be addressed.   After listening to many of Calhoun’s recordings, I’m not sure who he is as an artist and performer.   As an example, “Raise A Flag” from 2012 sounds nothing like the songs on Paper Stars.

ryan-calhoun-color-lo

Despite this minor critique, Calhoun’s a clearly talented musician.   Paper Stars is a fine release from a singer-songwriter about whom it can be said, the best is yet to come.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-ryan-calhoun-paper-stars-ep/

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It Takes Two

Writing Teams Present Prequels to Their Mystery Series

A Fine Summer’s Day: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd (HarperLuxe, $26.99, 368 pages)

A Fine Summer's Day

Just months before the outbreak of the Great War, Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard anticipates a wonderful future with a beautiful woman. The peril that his country will face isn’t yet a concern. His life as an inspector is satisfying and he uses his instincts while he chases after killers.

At the outset of the book, a series of events are presented to the reader in order to establish their gravity as they coalesce into the tale that unfolds thereafter. Rutledge is a 24-year-old who sees a great life ahead for himself, his fiance, Jean, and his beloved sister, Frances. Together they will become a new family after the loss of his parents. The notion of those left behind, surviving family members, runs through the book.

The mother and son writing team billed as Charles Todd has produced a prequel of sorts, or perhaps a reflection of the pre-World War I challenges and choices faced by Rutledge. Unique to this writing team is the balance between male and female points of view and characterizations.

The resulting tale reads not as neutral, but rather as a subtle balance between points of view. The plot is enriched by myriad details – be they scenery, modes of transportation, clothing, manners or class distinctions specific to the time period in which this complex English mystery occurs.

Highly recommended.

The Breaking Point: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $26.99, 373 pages)

Breaking Point cover

As the 10th novel in the series opens, Dr. Bill Brockton is in his element at the Body Farm located at the University of Tennessee. Offering wry humor to FBI agents studying decomposition to aid them in solving crimes. The time is June 18, 2004. This tells the reader that a flashback/prequel is about to unfold.

Brockton, for lovers of mysteries who have not yet discovered the series, is a warm, caring man whose unlikely expertise brings him into startling crime scene investigations as he assists law enforcement agencies all over the USA. He exhibits reverence and respect for the bodies entrusted to his first-of-its-kind research facility.

The crime scene this time around is a fiery private plane crash site in southern California. The victim is a philanthropist who Brockton and his equally talented wife, Kathleen Walker Brockton, Ph.D., have supported with both financial and personal time and effort donations. The loss of this man is not the only one to be endured in the tale.

The writing duo, Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, are head and shoulders above other writers of the same genre (i.e., Patricia Cornwell). This novel puts a lock on their ability to engage their readers with facts, gore (though tempered just this side of grossness) and compassion for the suffering of mankind.

The Breaking Point is a deeply moving tale that fills in the events in the years preceding the rest of the books in this fascinating and educational series. Family, trust, caring and civic duty make their presence notable in a struggle between good and evil of many sorts. No spoilers here out of respect for the talent this awesome twosome display in book after book.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gallows Pole

Hangman's Game Syken

Hangman’s Game: A Nick Gallow Mystery by Bill Syken (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages)

Former Sports Illustrated reporter and editor, Bill Syken, has presumably experienced his share of NFL locker rooms. In Hangman’s Game, his fiction debut, Syken takes us from Philadelphia to the Deep South and back through the lens of Nick Gallow, a punter (of all things). Considering that the murder mystery is subtitled A Nick Gallow Mystery, one can reasonably presume there are more coming. And, if I am correct and Nick enjoys the career of a typical NFL punter, Syken will have the opportunity to take us to all corners of America before Nick is done solving crimes!

The novel opens with Nick out to dinner with the team’s first round draft choice, Samuel Sault, and their shared agent, Cecil Wilson. It ends… Well, no spoiler here. But, on the way out of the restaurant, Samuel is murdered, Cecil shot, and teammate Jai Carson, who is at the scene partying with his entourage, falsely accused. Enter Nick.

It is a reasonable assumption that J.C., as Jai is called, was trying to eliminate the competition, but Nick, who comes across as being almost entirely concerned only about himself, is convinced Jai is innocent, plays the team loyalty card, and attempts to uncover the truth. Nick is swimming against the tide, mostly because Jai is a completely unlikeable jerk, who is even more self-absorbed than Nick, who isn’t really that likeable either.

Syken’s writing is solid. The reader is effectively led through the story. Interest in discovering who did what is maintained throughout. The contemporary theme of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the concussion thing) comes into play, though it is not truly developed to any great degree. Despite Nick’s faults, the reader is drawn to him. The only knock is that the story plays on some of the classic stereotypes of the narcissistic, womanizing, gun-toting athlete. However, with the preponderance of these issues in the NFL, perhaps it is truly closer to the norm than an aberration.

Syken has authored a good first novel. It will be interesting to see if he can, next time around, build on his craft and go into greater depth with some of the issues that appear to be floating around in his mind.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on August 18, 2015.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and is the author of the sports-oriented Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Coming Up Next…

Hangman's Game Amazon

An early look at Hangman’s Game: A Nick Gallow Mystery by Bill Sykes, which will be released by Minotaur Books on August 18, 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized