The Low Spark of Organized Joy

spark joy

Spark Joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, $18.99, 291 pages)

It’s Time to Pick It Up and Put It Away

Are you ready? Here’s part deux of Marie Kondo’s worldwide take on tidying up. You’d have to have been living off the grid not to have heard about Ms. Kondo’s methods for living a comfortable, streamlined life surrounded only by the items that bring you joy.

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Spark Joy is a handbook, literally. The volume is small enough to carry with you while working through the steps outlined and illustrated to bring peace to the unruly spaces in our homes. Book one, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, focused on the philosophy that Ms. Kondo has honed and practiced since she was a pre-teen in Japan. Spark Joy puts method to the magic.

Yes, this subject, clearing out the clutter, has been around for at least a decade on TV shows and in books. No, Ms. Kondo’s readers are not encouraged to get rid of anything that’s not in use daily. Rather, we are advised to surround ourselves with the things that are useful and joyful for us, not what others consider to be appropriate to have in our closets and rooms.

This book is well written and easy to understand. There’s no awkwardness in the translation from Ms. Kondo’s native language, Japanese, into English. I extend Kudos to Cathy Hirano, the translator of Spark Joy.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Sea of Madness

Baseball Dads

Baseball Dads: Sex. Drugs. Murder. Children’s Baseball. by Matthew S. Hiley (Greenleaf Book Group Press, $15.99, 320 pages)

“Holy Travel Ball, Batman”

What do you do when you live in an affluent suburb, your kid is a talented baseball player but ends up playing on a team with a “daddy ball” coach, and your wife is sleeping with half the males in the state of Texas? Why, the answer is obvious. You spend 90% of your waking hours high as a kite, orchestrating a killing spree, have sex constantly, assume you can get away with it because you are a superhero, win over the cops, and – at the same time – get the reader to root for you because every other character in the novel is even more reprehensible than you.

At least that is Dwayne Devero’s solution in Matthew S. Hiley’s masterpiece Baseball Dads.

Every page gets more absurd than the last until just when you think it can’t get any more ridiculous, it does. If you have to wear glasses to read, as I do, good luck. It is hard to imagine when you are crying your eyes out with laughter. Baseball Dads is Family Guy on steroids.

It is a farce, certainly. But it is extremely well-written. And, it is so far out there that one is forced to reflect on the moral negativity of egocentric lives without realizing that Hiley is holding the mirror up to us all – until it’s not as funny anymore when the realization comes that that is exactly what he is doing.

Baseball Dads back cover

The Real Housewives of Fort Worth, or the reality of your own suburban backyard, your attitude about your kid’s participation in organized sport, and the absolute certainty that he or she is surely on the cusp of a college Division I scholarship – before they’ve even reached puberty? Well, you will have to decide for yourself.

Priceless.

Highly recommended.

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 about love, baseball, and Bob Dylan.

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Good Night

night night

Night, Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, $14.99, 320 pages)

The setting is Los Angeles, California, and the time is May 1985. Deidre Unger, a woman whose life was forever altered by an event that took place 22 years earlier, finds her father, screenwriter Arthur Unger, drowned in the swimming pool at his sadly neglected house. Deirdre has come from her home in San Diego to assist in readying the house for sale. Her father’s untimely death appears to be an accident but that might not be the case. Deirdre can’t rely on her brother Henry who lives at the house to help her make sense of what has happened. Henry is a slacker and he lives a hazy existence.

Much of Deirdre’s life has been spent limping along on the leg and foot that were crushed in the wreck of Arthur’s Austin Healy convertible back in 1963. The circumstances surrounding the middle of the night drive and subsequent crash are a bit cloudy for her due, in no small part, to the trauma she suffered as a result. As she works to uncover the reason her father has died, Deirdre encounters people from her childhood – a neighbor boy, Tyler Corrigan, and Realtor Joelen Nichol, her best friend.

night night sleep tight wide

Author Hallie Ephron uses her childhood in Beverly Hills and a true-life spectacular only-in-Hollywood event that fascinated her as a pre-teen to underpin this memorable suspense novel. That event was the stabbing death of super glamorous actress Lana Turner’s boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato. This was no ordinary lover’s spat; Turner’s daughter Cheryl Crane was the killer.

Although characters Joelen Nichol and her mother, Bunny, have a past not unlike Turner and Crane, the similarity ends there. Ephron uses her considerable writing skills to draw the reader into a cleverly woven plot while maintaining a tone that places this book in the category of literature. The treatment of the scenes is cinematic and yet subtle. Readers who are familiar with southern California will easily see the places and scenes in their minds.

Hallie Ephron

The initial attraction to this Ephron’s work was spurred by this reviewer’s enjoyment of her sister Nora’s writing; however, Hallie now has a new fan. I look forward to reading her past and future works.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Life in the Slow Lane

All Men Fear Me

All Men Fear Me: An Alafair Tucker Mystery by Donis Casey (Poisoned Pen Press, $26.95, 302 pages)

Well, now, Charlie, just because I disapprove of this war doesn’t mean I’m a traitor. I think of myself as a patriot, and a patriot of the real kind. This is my big, messy country. I love it. I want for it to be the best country there is. If it suffer ills, I want to cure them. I want for every citizen to enjoy all its rights and privileges, and I believe it is my duty to try and help that happen.

One part history lesson, one part family drama and two parts man’s inhumanity to man is the recipe for Donis Casey’s eighth installment of life in rural Oklahoma in 1917. Alafair Tucker is the center of her large family – 10 children ranging in age from 25 to four years of age, husband Shaw, and her brother Robin. Robin, a labor organizer, is visiting after being away for ten years. The rabid fans of war and nationalism in the small town of Boynton view Robin’s organizing efforts as Socialist-leaning and contrary to the ways of true Americans.

The country has recently entered World War I and a draft has been set in place to raise an army. Alafair is trying mightily to balance her love of her brother with the fervent longings of her 16-year-old son, Charlie, who desperately wants to enlist in the military. The townspeople of Boynton are divided between being suspicious of anyone perceived as “foreign” and their loyalty to long-time friends and neighbors. Kurt Lukenbach, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Germany is married to one of Alafair’s daughters. The more rabid patriots in town regard Kurt with suspicion and hostility.

There is trouble all around in Oklahoma. It’s as though the wood for a fire has been laid and along comes a man with a can of gasoline and a match to hasten the process. The stranger in the bowler hat who arrives in town at the start of the story is literally the catalyst that brings latent hate and fear to a flash point.

Author Casey takes her sweet time setting up the action in this book. Although it is considered a mystery novel, it is more of a history lesson with a covert mystery imbedded within the text. Readers who enjoy a slowly paced and thoroughly detailed story will enjoy this installment of the Tucker family goings on.

As with many books that feature the daily diet of the characters, All Men Fear Me has at the back several recipes featured in the story. Additionally, a calendar of the war rules pertaining to food is listed for readers who curiously enjoy details with their murders.

Recommended to readers fond of life in the slow lane.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on November 3, 2015.

You can read a review of Hell With The Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery here:

We’re Off to See the Wizard

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Over The Top and Far Away

Tribal

The player accepts, even welcomes, the pain he will suffer, a sacrifice for the good of the team. Just like Jesus, come to think of it.

Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America by Diane Roberts (Harper, $25.99, 246 pages)

This book might well have been titled Fear and Loathing in Tallahassee. In theory, this is a book about a person’s love and hate relationship with college football (“A great game or a waste of money…”), specifically Florida State University football. I say in theory because the writer’s Gonzo-style of journalism means that she’s all over the place – as if there’s no filter between her mind and what she places on a page. For example, Roberts spends some time on the topic of football and religion. Oh, yes. After quoting from Saint Paul in Corinthians 6:19 she writes:

“…the (football) player begins to use his body to inflict pain. Not like Jesus… The First Church of Christ Linebacker doesn’t hold with gentle Jesus meek and mild. The Lord is a tough, manly dude, and football is an allegory of the soul’s struggle against evil.”

Wow. Seriously?

Doak 5

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It’s hard to tell if Roberts is putting everyone on – in the style of Hunter S. Thompson (Thompson once accused a major party’s presidential candidate of being an ibogaine addict), or if she’s simply being provocative for the sake of being so. This is a silly work which might have made for a mildly entertaining airline magazine article. But it’s not for the serious, grounded reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 27, 2015.

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Visions of Johanna

Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial. – Bob Dylan from 1966’s “Visions of Johanna”

Cutting Edge 5

Fourteen Months

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It took Bob Dylan, his lyrics, his voice, his imagination, and his various ensembles 14 months to create some of the most unbelievable music and three of the all-time greatest albums in history.

The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Bob Dylan 1965-66 The Very Best of the Cutting Edge is one of three versions of the recording sessions that changed the music world and redefined art in the 20th Century. Those of you who do not have children in college might opt for the more deluxe versions and spend over $100 for the bells and whistles – and more power to you – but, for most of us, this two-disc version is plenty sufficient to remind us why we originally fell in love with this sound and these songs and why they turned the music world topsy-turvy.

Included here are 36 out-takes, alternate versions, and works in progress that morphed into the second holy trilogy of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited (“…one of those albums that, quite simply, changed everything.” Rolling Stone), and Blonde on Blonde.

The original working titles, that were at times jokes, are a part of the story, as is the experimentation of enormous talent in the room, as they aimed for the precision of sound and style that was floating around in Bob’s head.

Along the lines of “You had me with hello,” one of the most underrated love songs of all time, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” kicks it off and there is no looking back. The rest is an endless stream of fun. “She Belongs to Me” is a keeper, and it is interesting that, 5 decades later, this is the second song of the most recent set live set lists, and current drummer, George Recile, employs mallets to move the band along, almost as if it is a march. There is so much texture to this music that the sound continues to evolve, seemingly without end.

Cutting Edge back

Back to 1965.

Some of the drum work of Bobby Gregg, particularly on “Mr. Tambourine Man,” is quite interesting, as is some of the guitar work of Robbie Robertson, although The Hawk’s (soon to be The Band) studio work did not mesh with Bob’s perspective for these albums, and none of these takes made it to vinyl.

But one could go on and on. Favorites will be in the eye – or, rather, the ears – of the beholder, and there are many, many to be had. It is all most interesting, and the gems included here are too numerous to mention in a track by track format.

The liner notes are also intriguing. While for the diehard Bob-Heads much of it is familiar territory, the take and telling of the stories is absorbing. Longtime Dylan chronicler Sean Wilentz adds his take, and it goes without saying that Al Kooper must again remind us that he snuck on the Highway 61 album after recognizing his inferiority to guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Kooper was informed that he was not an adequate organ player yet, despite all of this, Dylan instructed producer Tom Wilson to turn that famous organ mix up on the timeless “Like A Rolling Stone.” Listening to the evolution of this song alone, from waltz to classic is probably enough to justify a purchase.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

The reviewer received a copy of this release from Santa Claus.

Mr. Moyer is a public school district superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel. He remains employed and married despite having seen Bob Dylan perform live 36 times.

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You’ll Lose A Good Thing

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Flesh and Blood Cornwell (Amazon)

Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #22 of the Series (William Morrow, $15.99, 369 pages)

Kay Scarpetta and her husband, Benton Wesley, are readying for a Florida vacation. She’s a medical examiner in Massachusetts and he’s an FBI profiler. Kay is called to a murder scene less than a mile from their 1800s home in Cambridge near the Harvard campus.

Kay and Benton manage to take their trip but the time they spend in Florida is anything but relaxing. Work interferes, as usual, and Detective Pete Marino of the Cambridge Police Department is drawn into the scary events that follow. There are terse conversations between Kay and Pete, which is par for this series ever since Pete quit his job at Kay’s crime lab. Loyalty seems to be the issue.

Long established grudges and proclivities on the part of all the main characters often get in the way of the crime solving. This book is consistent with the prior installments of the series. The story line has progressed over time; however, the mistrust and anger felt by the characters can be off-putting. When you add Carrie Grethen, the ultimate personification of twisted evil, pain and suffering are the outcome.

Author Cornwell’s stream of consciousness writing is sometimes difficult to follow. Her need to show off for readers with criminal and medical procedural details may be fascinating for first-time readers. After a few books it can be more than a bit boring.

Flesh and Blood back cover

Recommended strictly for highly loyal Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Depraved Heart Cornwell

Depraved Heart: A Scarpetta Novel by Patricia Cornwell, Book #23 of the Series (William Morrow, $28.99, 466 pages)

A heavy-duty autobiography introducing Dr. Kay Scarpetta hits the reader in the opening pages of this book. The story line picks up two months after the conclusion of Flesh and Blood. Kay is back on the job in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The housekeeper has found the naked body of a Hollywood celebrity’s daughter on the marble floor of an impressive home not far from where Kay and Benton live. It could be an accidental fall from a ladder, but who changes light bulbs when they’re naked? Perhaps it’s a staged scene to cover up a murder. As usual there are plenty of gory details elaborately described by Kay as she sifts through possible clues in the house.

Thus begins another agonizing trek through Kay’s tortured relationships with Detective Pete Marino, niece Lucy and super villain, Carrie Grethen. Lucy, genius inventor and tech wizard, and her partner Janet have settled into an enormous estate with their adopted son. The place is loaded with enough electronic spy equipment to make a tech-loving reader drool.

Lucy, ever the rebel, is the target of FBI scrutiny and harassment. She is sure that Carrie is behind the full-on invasion of the estate that, surprise, occurs in tandem with the discovery of the naked young woman. A series of flashbacks experienced by Kay via videos sent to her cell phone connects the reader to the time when Lucy and Carrie were at the FBI Academy. It’s complicated and sometimes difficult to follow.

By now, you might have caught on that this reviewer won’t be jumping on the next installment in the series. Sometimes more is too much!

Patricia Cornwell

Recommended strictly for Patricia Cornwell fans and medical mystery enthusiasts.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Flesh and Blood was released in a trade paperback version on January 5, 2016.

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