Lost On The Journey

The Point Is

The Point Is: Making Sense of Birth, Death and Everything in Between by Lee Eisenberg (Twelve, $26.00, 279 pages)

Who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here? Is that all there is? What’s the point?

Over-promising and under-delivering.

Having spent years in college studying philosophy and religion – the very things meant to explain birth, death and everything in between, I was skeptical that Lee Eisenberg could supply these answers. I think I was right. This is a sometimes interesting, sometimes rambling, journal about various insights that dropped into Eisenberg’s mind as he attempted to give meaning to life.

Eisenberg is one of the people that he references as thinking too much about things in life. As such he often seems to miss the living forest while he’s wandering around writing about the trees.

Eisenberg is first and foremost a writer and he sees life and living from a writer’s perspective: “The point is to write the best story we can.” Fine, but being a diligent writer-detailer is not the same as understanding the deeper what and why of existence.

Eisenberg may have intended this to be a book of modern philosophy, but even here it falls short. One often-covered subject he tackles is happiness. The conclusion is best expressed by P.D. James: “…happiness is a gift not a right.”

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The Point Is might have been titled Random Thoughts and Ruminations. It’s less, far less, than satisfying.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Sounding the Alarm

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The Tolling of Mercedes Bell: A Novel (She Writes Press, $18.95, 416 pages)

In the style and spirit of P.D. James, author Jennifer Dwight captures the tough terrain of a psychological thriller. Presented through an unflinching panoramic vision, the reader soon is pulled into the harrowing six-year journey of Mercedes Bell, a thirty-four-year-old paralegal; a recent widow with a four-year-old daughter. She soon finds what she believes is her dream come true. This award winning book novel lays the groundwork for its shocking, blood-curdling climax with a careful, meticulously crafted build-up of subtle clues.

After the midpoint in the narrative, when the plot reaches a crescendo following an accumulation of very subtle descriptions foreshadowing doom, we are still treated to vivid emotional imagery:

she was trapped into a reality, as if she had stepped into an Escher illustration where the stairs that seemed to go up really went down; where the doors that seemed to open to the outside really opened inward, into dark places of suspicion and fear.

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This is a wonderful page-turner, with a number of of unpredictable subplots. I loved even the dastardly characters because I felt I could understand their insecurities and fears! In summary, this is a wonderful and astonishing page-turner and debut novel.

Highly recommended.

Diana Y. Paul

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on May 3, 2016.

Diana Y. Paul is the author of Things Unsaid: A Novel. You can read more of her entertainment and cultural reviews at the Unhealed Wound blog:

http://unhealedwound.com/

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Curiously Charming

Curious Charms

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper: A Novel by Phaedra Patrick (Mira, $24.99, 331 pages)

Arthur felt his heart dip. He hoped that she wouldn’t tell him about her husband. He didn’t want to trade stories of death. There seemed a strange one-upmanship among people who had lost spouses.

They talked about their loved ones as if they were objects. Miriam would always be a real person to him. He wouldn’t trade her memory like that.

Arthur Pepper is a mild-mannered British pensioner whose wife, Miriam, passed away a year earlier. Arthur has built a solitary life structured on keeping a schedule, tidying his small house and intermittently hiding from Bernadette, a well-meaning widow from across the street who brings him home-baked pies. Lucy and Dan, Arthur’s grown children, are distant from him, both geographically in the case of Dan and emotionally in the case of Lucy.

At this one-year anniversary, Arthur decides it is time to go through Miriam’s personal possessions – clothes, makeup, shoes, etc. He reaches into one of her boots to check for anything that might be hidden deep inside. To his amazement, Arthur’s hand closes around a heavy metal object, which proves to be a gold charm bracelet. As the book’s title announces, this is the beginning of an adventure for Arthur.

Author Phaedra Patrick has used a somewhat ordinary premise to create one of the most enduring and touching tales this reviewer has read. Although the physical book is only 331 pages in length, the story between its covers contains a series of encounters for Arthur Pepper that require and demand his emotional strength and willingness to be open to a shift in perspective regarding his 40-year marriage to Miriam.

Each of the disparate characters portrayed by Ms. Patrick evolves into a fully developed and believable person. She does not rely on gimmicks or magic to provide her reader with an enlightening experience. Moreover, the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” takes on multiple meanings as Arthur discovers the Miriam he never knew.

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Perhaps this reviewer’s similar age to Arthur may have contributed to the resonance and warmth felt for the situations and challenges he faces. Regardless, the tears that fell as the book came to its conclusion were produced by writing that reaches the emotions of a reader, regardless of age or gender.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Eccentric, charming and wise, this will illuminate your heart.” Nina George, author of The Little Paris Bookshop.

This book was released on May 3, 2016.

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Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright

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The Daylight Marriage: A Novel by Heidi Pitlor (Algonquin Paperbacks, $15.95, 254 pages)

“You could have done better but I don’t mind/You just kinda wasted my precious time/Don’t think twice, it’s alright.” Bob Dylan

I’ve noted in the past that the hardest type of book to review is one that’s not an “A” or “F’; it’s a “C.” Cs, of course, represent average work. This one’s about a C-.

The Daylight Marriage has a plot that’s oddly reminiscent of Gone Girl. The attractive wife of a nice guy leaves the house and never returns. Yes, she “disappears without a trace.”

In this novella – it only runs for 245 pages; the reader figures out the ending within the first few dozen pages and yet it’s advertised as being something of a thriller. The blurb from Stephen King states, “I turned the pages with increasing dread.” Maybe King was given a different galley; stranger things have happened.

Or maybe King was referring to the simple dread that accompanies predictability. (If you read Gone Girl, or saw the movie, you know that nice husbands don’t kill their wives. Pitlor claims to have been influenced in her writing by the headline story of Laci Peterson, so there may be exceptions to this rule.)

Oh, the back of the book is loaded with positive blurbs form the likes of King, Tom Perrotta, Geraldine Brooks, Entertainment Weekly (the gospel of entertainment), and the Los Angeles Review of Books. And yet, for once, I think the readers who order from Amazon have gotten it right. On Amazon, this book has a 3 out of 5 stars rating.

There’s more. Perhaps because of the disappointment that accompanies this read, Amazon is offering this $15.95 list price book for an astonishing 79% off of its list price, or $3.39. That probably tells you all you need to know.

daylight marriage

You might pick this one up if you are willing to gamble with $3.39 of your hard-earned savings. If not, it’s best to pass it up.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Remember this…

Inseparables amazon

The Inseparables: A Novel by Stuart Nadler (Little, Brown, $27.00, 339 pages)

This is a family novel that’s populated by several unique and interesting characters.

There’s Henrietta, a cross between Erica Jong and J.D. Salinger. Decades ago she wrote a then-scandalous novel, The Inseparables, which brought her instant notoriety. She’s sought to avoid the spotlight since then. However, after the sudden and unexpected death of her chef husband Harold – a man who ran his restaurant of meals cooked with butter, more butter and even more butter into the ground, she approves a re-release of the book as she desperately needs money.

Oona is Henrietta’s orthopedist doctor daughter, who’s separated from her husband and who unwisely decides to have an affair with her former marriage counselor.

Spencer, Oona’s soon to be ex-husband, is a lawyer who quit his job with a major firm after one year. He desired instead to be a house husband, taking care of his daughter and smoking marijuana. Smoking pot is basically the one thing that Spencer excels at.

Lydia, the teenage daughter of Oona and Spencer, is an extremely bright student who decides to leave her public high school for a private prep school, where she will manage to have herself suspended. That suspension causes Lydia to consider a self-expulsion from the institution.

All of these individuals have led less than perfect lives, but they’re all striving to find contentment even if it kills them. They will find that happiness is not a result of having a best seller or owning a restaurant or living in a fancy city high-rise. It’s about the simple things – the free things in life such as the time a grandmother and granddaughter spend together:

They had been together most of the morning… Henrietta had not done this enough. Been in a restaurant with just her granddaughter. Traveled on a train with her. In the beginning it was the kind of thing she had imagined would happen more. Decent grandmotherhood, she had always suspected, depended on being able to do this well – to dote, to dispense wisdom, to spoil an unruly precocious young person with gifts and irreverent humor… Had she written down her goals for being a grandmother, this kind of thing would have been part of her hopes.

This is also a story about what it means to be an American in a time of rapid change. A time when a failing fancy European restaurant is downtown one day, replaced by a thriving taqueria the next. But these are just businesses, just buildings – structures that can be renovated or rebuilt or destroyed. People go on, families survive; the earth somehow thrives and surrounds us with beauty and hope.

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Before she gets up to go, she turned to see it again. The flat earth. The hills. All the good acres and the wind in the trees.

Remember this.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This novel will be released on July 19, 2016.

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Beer Review: Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

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Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock

Before I begin sprouting my opinion, I find it necessary to mention that I am very uncultured in the world of bocks; I’ve only had two. The first bock I had was from Shiner. Shiner Bock was one of the first beers I enjoyed drinking, but as I sample it now I do not care for it. The other bock I had was from a brewery I cannot recall, though I do remember not being a fan of it. So I will note that I was a bit apprehensive about trying Gordon Biersch’s Blonde Bock, but I’m always up for experiencing new brews.

The appearance of this beer was quite standard. Most bocks are generally darker in color, but this one was definitely golden blonde in hue. It poured a 1-finger white head that dissipated within a couple of minutes and left next to no lacing on the glass. Again, it was average looking. It just did not seem to have anything going for it. It sits even on the scale at a 2.5/5.

The nose on this beer was incredibly malty right out of the bottle. I popped the cap and my nose was hit with a fresh bready/biscuit aroma. I was also getting small hints of fruit, maybe pears? It was very faint, but was a nice touch. There was almost no hop presence at all on the nose. While the aroma wasn’t a complete knockout, it wasn’t displeasing by any means; just very underwhelming which gives it a 2.75/5.

As with the nose, the taste was definitely bready, which was exemplified as the beer warmed. There wasn’t much of a hop profile to this brew. It was hard to pick out exactly what flavors the hops were trying to produce or enhance. I know bocks are more malt-driven, but you really got only a taste of hops at the back end. I found that my choice to snack on pretzels while drinking this was an excellent decision as the saltiness of the pretzels balanced the sweetness of the malts and provided a nice sweet taste. The taste was fine, but not extraordinary. I’d give it a 3.25/5.

Generally when drinking beers the mouthfeel has a tendency to change throughout the tasting. Blonde Bock, however, maintained a refreshing and crisp feel the entire session. It was so crisp, in fact, that it felt almost brittle. I don’t know if a liquid can be described as brittle, but that was the first word that came to mind when drinking this bock. It does not coat your mouth or throat; it just passes right through and does not sit in a heavy fashion. For me, this was enjoyable. I usually like my beers to feel somewhat thicker, but for its taste I think the feel matched it quite well, earning it a 3.75/5.

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Overall, this was by no means a bad beer, but I probably would not go out of my way to seek it out and would likely pass it by if other options were available. I’m glad to have tried an interesting bock variation, but it was simply not my cup of tea. No doubt this is a fine representation of the style, but it does not fall within my wheelhouse. Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock is alright, but not great. Final score: 3.1/5.

Ryan Moyer

Ryan is a graduate of Indiana University.

Note: Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock has an alcohol by volume (ABV) content of 7%. Gordon Biersch began its brewing activities in Palo Alto, California. The Gordon Biersch brewery and bottling plant is located in San Jose. Gordon Biersch is now headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado.

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Tattered Lives

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The Guise of Another: A Crime Novel by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 269 pages)

Allen Eskens’ The Guise of Another is indicative of a man with a future writing crime novels. Having reviewed many of these books, my experience indicates that writers can slip into many traps – rely solely on plot with no legitimate character development, rely almost exclusively on dialogue to tell the story, interject stray characters randomly to promulgate reader interest… (Insert your favorite criticism here.)

In Guise, Eskens’ delivery is so natural that it is read as a story with a crime element as a backdrop, and not as a stereotypical “crime novel.” A man with a stolen identity is murdered and Detective Alexander Rupert is handed what he perceives as a chance to salvage his sinking career. Big brother Max, also a cop, is called upon to perform heroic acts in the call of duty as he attempts to save Alex from himself. The story is set primarily in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Tattered lives hang in the balance and, of course, judgment is clouded when Alex falls under the spell of Ianna, who is enmeshed in the mystery and pursued by the evil Drago Basta. Just when the reader is convinced that she can predict the outcome, another subtle twist hits the story. While the ending is not quite perfect, it certainly satisfies.

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Guise, a quite excellent read, is a follow up to The Life We Bury. Congratulations to Eskens for conceiving of it!

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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