The End of the Innocence

Swing (nook book)

Swing: A Novel by Philip Beard (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, $14.95, 324 pages)

John Kosta befriends Henry Graham, even though it is more the other way around. Then, Henry’s sister, Ruthie, takes a liking to John as well. Next, Henry shows up at an awkward moment on New Year’s Eve, following the death of the Pittsburg Pirate’s great right fielder Roberto Clemente and, before you know it, you have the foundation for a novel. But, like all great novels that use baseball as a backdrop, Philip Beard’s third novel Swing is actually not about baseball.

John has no legs, and Henry is a 10-year-old boy trying to deal with his father’s need to move from one woman to the next through his love of baseball and the Pirates. Not coincidentally, both Henry’s father and John share in Henry’s passion. John serves to fill a void for Henry, establishing a relationship that takes the reader all the way to the final pages of the story.

Father-son, male-female, brother-sister, husband-wife, friend-friend, co-worker to co-worker – no relationship is without complication. This novel is as much about lost innocence and regret as it is about anything. And it is about continuing to find a way to move forward and live one’s life amid the inevitable disappointments and challenges that pop up.

Swing is reminiscent of a John Irving novel, with the obligatory oddball character(s), themes of missing fathers, and the characters’ obsessions with sex. In fact, while some Irving novels run too long, and while this reviewer prefers the condensed version in most cases, Beard could have provided us with more.

The novel shifts back and forth in time between Henry’s adult and childhood years. If somehow the author could have avoided this technique, it probably would have been an even stronger and more impactful story. That being said, it is well worth one’s time to read Swing. It is one of the better stories this reader-reviewer has encountered in a while.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an educator, and the author of a book about baseball, love and Bob Dylan, Life and Life Only.

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Angels of Mercy

The Nurses (Nook Book)

The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with The Heroes of the Hospital by Alexandra Robbins (Workman Publishing, $24.95, 360 pages)

My mother worked in a hospital and I often wondered what went on during one of her nursing shifts. Alexandra Robbins (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities) has answered that question in The Nurses, in which she covers every aspect of the workers she calls “the heroes of the hospital.” Nurses are, of course, the staff members that patients interact with the most.

This nonfiction account is based on actual events in three urban hospitals – possibly three based in Los Angeles – during one year. The reader learns about nursing cliques, the positive and negative relationships between doctors and nurses, the attachment that can form between patients and their caregivers, and the unique status of the male nurse. Problem patients – those who sabotage their own care via demanding attitudes and criticisms of hospital staff members, are examined in detail. It turns out that there are many ways in which the hospital workers can get a dose of revenge! (Fair warning to all.)

Robbins delivers the message that whatever hardships members of the nursing profession encounter – and there are many (including being burdened with tasks that physicians feel are beneath them and compassion fatigue) – nurses tend to feel quite satisfied with their line of work.

To her credit, Robbins helpfully identifies a list of issues that need to be fixed in the profession, and also supplies her ideas as to how this can be done. This eye-opening book should appeal to future and current nurses, their family members, and anyone who may potentially be in need of hospital care at some point in their lives.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Nurses will be released on April 21, 2015.

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Coming Up Next…

The Nurses

A preview-review of The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital by Alexandra Robbins, which will be released on April 21, 2015.

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Life in a Minor Key

Saving Grace (Amazon)

Saving Grace: A Novel by Jane Green (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 320 pages)

Take one bratty American husband and pair him with an English wife who walks on eggshells. Next, stir in a sense of impending doom. Jane Green, a prolific author (Tempting Fate: A Novel), casts an easily believable couple in this, her 16th novel. As one who has, in a past marriage, known the atmosphere in which Grace Chapman lives, this reviewer was initially hesitant to read through the novel.

The slightly off-kilter telling builds a sense of gloom and has a hint of the Ingrid Bergman movie, Gaslight. Ted Chapman, an aging author, takes on a new assistant named Beth. Beth quickly takes over the household and pretty much shoves wife Grace to the side.

By page 150, there is a strong question bound to pop up in the reader’s mind, “Is this entertainment?” If not, it might drag the reader into a past best forgotten. As it is, the tale has many lessons to teach, the best of them is to take care of yourself! Being who you are is a reward!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Leaving Nothing to Jance

Two Series and One Author

Fans of prolific author J. A. Jance – whose books can be found in every airport gift shop, will be entertained by either or both of her series installments reviewed here. The first, Second Watch, is the 10th in the J. P. Beaumont series set in Seattle, Washington. Coincidentally, Ms. Jance maintains a residence in that city. There’s a certain comfort that comes with a story set in a locale where the author feels right at home – literally.

Second Watch (nook book)

Second Watch: A J. P. Beaumont Novel by J. A. Jance (William Morrow, $26.99, 368 pages; mass market paperback version, $9.99)

Tough cop J. P. Beaumont has finally agreed to double knee replacement surgery. He’s been hobbling around in pain for far too long. His hallucination in the post-op recovery room kicks off a tale involving a 40-year-old unsolved murder case in Seattle. Readers will sense a familiarity to the television show, Cold Case, where victims appear to a cop who cares.

The vision is of a young blond wearing a Washington State University sweatshirt sitting at Beaumont’s bedside while filing her brightly polished red fingernails. The characters are believable with crisp dialogue bantered between them.

The story moves along in stages, including some flashbacks. As J. P. works through his need to figure out why he’s seen the girl, more dead people come into the tale, along with some frustrating dead ends. He sorts out the sparse clues. It helps that he and wife, Mel, are with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. They make a team of bright folks who are two of a kind – out to bring justice to bear.

Highly recommended.

Remains of Innocence (nook book)

Remains of Innocence: A Brady Novel of Suspense by J. A. Jance (William Morrow, $26.99, 400 pages)

Joanna Brady is the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona in this, the 17th novel featuring her life and career. The lives of two half-siblings are unfolded across several chapters. The first is Liza Machette, a hard-working 29-year-old restaurant manager in Massachusetts. Liza’s mother, Selma, is a bipolar chain-smoking harridan who has hoarded junk for all of Liza’s life. As Selma’s life comes to its end, Liza goes to see Selma in the hospital. Liza left home at age 18 and has not returned in 11 years. Her task is to clear out the trash and rubble of Selma’s house and life.

The startling discover of a fortune in one hundred dollar bills amid the foul-smelling debris prompts Liza to do some checking up on its source. As Liza looks into her family’s past, she realizes that she needs to hide out. Naturally, Liza makes an escape to Bisbee, Arizona where her half-brother, Guy, is the medical examiner. Oh, and Joanna Brady is the county sheriff with problems of her own. These characters are well developed and even though this is the 17th book of a series, the story line is smooth, making this an easy-to-read stand-alone mystery novel. By the way, Ms. Jance was brought up in Bisbee and now has a home in Tucson where she spends time when not enjoying her Seattle abode. Both are pretty nice choices for living arrangements, and, yes, Ms. Jance has earned her lovely surroundings!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Remains of Innocence will be published on April 28, 2015.

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Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Crown Business, $30.00, 464 pages)

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” Steve Jobs

Schlender and Tetzeli Connect the Dots

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” These words from Maxwell Scott seemed to have come to life in Walter Isaacson’s earlier-released biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s version of Jobs’ story relied on commonly stated “facts” about Jobs, which have become the stuff of legend. And these facts strongly emphasized the less desirable aspects of Jobs’ personality and aggressive leadership style.

This new bio by Brent Schendler and Rick Tetzeli presents a kinder, gentler account of the man who co-founded and led Apple Computer; it seeks to get past “The cliche that Steve Jobs was half genius, half a–hole.” And it largely succeeds by emphasizing that any shortcomings on Jobs’ part were due to his dedication to Apple Computer: “He put the needs of the company ahead of any (personal or) work relationship.” That dedication produced the most successful technology company in the world. (It may also have led Jobs to delay cancer surgery that might have spared his life. When he later had the surgery, he was given only a “50-50″ chance of living for five years; he survived for seven post-surgery years.)

This excellent account allows one to get to know Jobs as a living, breathing human being – an imperfect, fully goal-oriented man full of “deep restlessness.” Becoming Steve Jobs is such an effective telling of Jobs’ life story that at the conclusion of the book the reader will grieve his death – the world’s loss, all over again.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Becoming Steve Jobs was released on March 24, 2015.

“In this deeply researched book, you’ll find the most truthful portrait of the real Steve Jobs.” Marc Andreessen

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Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

The Good Boy (nook book)

The Good Boy: A Novel by Theresa Schwegel (St. Martin’s Press, $15.99, 368 pages)

“And they tell me you are crooked and I answer; Yes it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.” Chicago, Carl Sandburg

A Solid Writer Delivers an Average Book

The Good Boy is Theresa Schwegel’s fifth novel. The Chicago native won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel for Officer Down. In her latest, Officer Pete Murphy and his partner, the dog Butchie, get caught up in a traffic stop gone bad that involves bad people with whom he has a not-so-pleasant past. This leads to a police cover up, revelations of an alleged affair between Pete and a judge he was assigned to protect during an ugly trial, and a civil suit against him.

Pete’s strained marriage and problem child daughter, McKenna, take center stage soon enough, and before one can say, “Freeze,” Joel – Pete’s young son, takes Butchie on an escapade related to McKenna’s shenanigans. This compulsive act takes him through virtually every Chicago neighborhood as he becomes mired in the middle of a revenge plot against Pete.

It seems that most contemporary novels requite some form of family dysfunction and troubled children, so that formulaic prerequisite aside, the writing is pretty good. However, despite being well constructed, the plot fails to be compelling enough to make this more than a run-of-the-mill cop story. This being said, readers who favor stories of this genre will likely find it to be an enjoyable read.

Longtime fans of author Schwegel – used to reading her award winning caliber books may, however, be disappointed in this C-level release.

Recommended, for some.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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