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Beer Review: Los Gigantes Lager from Anchor Brewing

los gigantes beerStyle(s): Mexican lager, light session beer

Alcohol by Volume: 4.5%

Anchor-Los-Gigantes-Mexican-Style-Lager

Very few things scream summer as much as tailgating at a baseball game. The beer does not need to be anything crazy or special. More times than not, fancier beers distort the idea of a tailgate. The ability to sit back and session away a few beers is key. Bud, Miller, and Coors – among others – tend to dominate the tailgating scene. But if you’re looking for a craft alternative, Los Gigantes – a Mexican style lager from Anchor Brewing, is a great option.

Appearance is as expected. Los Gigantes pours a clear straw gold with a HUGE fluffy white head. Small aggressive bubbles stream up the glass. The beer looks almost cartoonish in that it looks just like a beer in a Macrobrew advertisement!

The nose was faint, which is to be expected with a lighter lager. Subtle wispy wheat/grain qualities were most dominant. It does not have the most pleasant or aggressive aroma, but it’s not off-putting. It is simply standard.

Los Gigantes delivers a crisp  punch on the tongue. This is a highly carbonated beer which goes down smoothly. It also has a spritz-y vibe that makes it super refreshing.

On the palate the beer followed the nose almost exactly. There is a strong wheat backbone with very subtle citrus notes. Though most of the qualities of the beer remind me of macro lagers like Bud, Miller and Coors, there is a little more depth to Los Gigantes. I am not one to add fruit to my beer, but a small slice of lime would take this beer miles farther.

los gigantes beer 2

Compared to all other craft beers, this is not what would be considered to be a hot commodity. It’s not eccentric or clever enough, but that’s OK; it doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day simplicity is key, especially when it comes to lower alcohol beers. Though I may not be well versed in Mexican lagers, I feel fully confident saying this is a great brew to crush before, during or after a ball game.

Well recommended.

Ryan Moyer

 

Anchor-Brewing-Los-Gigantes

Los Gigantes (The Giants) is a joint product of Anchor Brewing and the San Francisco Giants baseball team.

Ryan Moyer is a graduate of Indiana University. His mission is to make the Midwest a safe haven of quality beers.

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Running Shoe Review: Salming Distance D5 performance trainer

Salming 3According to Running Warehouse, “The Salming Distance D5 is a standard daily running shoe for a neutral foot motion.” This is quite true, but is it actually a distance shoe? See the verdict below.

The Brand

First, let’s be clear about the brand. The Distance D5 is a shoe produced by Salming. Salming, a company based in Sweden, also has offices in the United States (U.S.). Salming is not Salomon. I point this out because a couple of times I’ve been asked about these shoes and when I tell the interested person that they’re Salming shoes the response is, “Oh, yes, I know Salomon.” No. They are two different companies.

Salming 4 profile

The Shoe

The Distance D5 weighs 7.4 ounces, which is quite light for a trainer. Version 5 of the New Balance 1500 racing flat also weighed 7.4 ounces. The Asics Lyte Racer TS 7 flat weighs all of 8.2 ounces.

The Distance D5 is slip-lasted and built on a curved last. It is said to have a 5mm drop but it may in fact be slightly over 6mm. There’s a midfoot brace in the blown rubber sole which is reminiscent of the stability web once found in New Balance running shoes.

The Distance D5 has a gusseted tongue (a bit unusual for a trainer), a mid-weight and size insole, and what I consider to be a 90s-era fit. It is not what I would term a medium volume shoe, instead it feels secure but not snug or tight. The exo-skeleton upper provides for some “hold” over the midfoot. There is, initially, some pressure over the top of the foot in the Distance D5 but this eases; the upper relaxes with time and miles on the road.

Upfront the toes have room in which to splay. The shoe strings are flat and inflexible. Regrettably, they tend to not stay tied. (They might need to be double-tied before a crucial road race.)

Salming 6 rear

A firm heel counter on the Distance D5 enhances what is a stable ride for a shoe that does not contain a medial post.

When I put the Distance D5 on for the first time, I was struck by how much it looked, felt and fit like a Zoot Sports triathlon/running shoe from the period 2013-2015. The Salming shoe feels low to the ground, like a triathlon shoe, and it is quite comfortable to walk in.

Salming 10 color

Appearance

The striking Gecko Green colorway upper on the Distance D5 draws a lot of comments – almost unanimously positive ones from other runners, especially younger ones. This also happens to be the case with the Salming Speed 6 shoes in Safety Yellow and Black. The moral of the story is that Salming produces exemplary shoes for those who don’t mind a little attention. Contra, those enrolled in a Witness Protection Program may wish to seek out another brand.

The Ride

The Distance D5 is a great, steady pace trainer on asphalt. You get road feel and a touch of bounce balanced with a nice sense of protection. The shoe is also protective on concrete, with the bonus that foot turnover is fast. If the Distance D5 was simply a city trainer I would stop here. But it’s more than that.

Salming 7 sole too

Because there’s a good amount of rubber on the sole of the Distance D5 and decent grip, I decided to test these shoes on smooth trails. The shoe provides an excellent ride on a gravel trail, without slippage and with good side-to-side movement control. Again, road feel is balanced with protection and responsiveness.

It’s on hard-packed dirt trails and fire roads that the Distance D5 is just OK. This is not a complete surprise as this was not designed to be a trail shoe, but in a pinch – such as on a vacation trip – it would get the job done.

Sadly, I was not able to run in the Distance D5 on the local school track which is in the process of being replaced and upgraded. But I have little doubt that this shoe would make for an excellent, fast lap shoe.

Flexibility

At first the forefoot on the Distance D5 seems to have surprisingly minimal flexibility. However, one can feel the flex increase in the front third of the shoe with increased usage. This allows a runner – especially a forefoot or midfoot striker, to feel like he/she is in control rather than vice-versa.

The Heel Strike

A problematic issue with the Distance D5 is the overly-soft heel strike. It kills some of the “pop” in what is otherwise a responsive shoe. I wondered if I was the only one who might hold this perspective until I happened to come across some comments that Sam Winebaum of Road Trail Run made about the Salming EnRoute: “[The shoe] is held back somewhat by heel softness. The EnRoute would benefit from more and firmer heel rubber to liven things up.” Exactly!

All in all, I’d prefer an overly soft heel to an overly-firm, stiff or hard one. This is because the latter type of heel surface can punish one’s heel bone over time. However, I’d like to see Salming move from their currently quite soft heels to at least semi-firm/semi-soft ones. And, yes, there should be more rubber present at the rear of a not-inexpensive shoe like the Distance D5. I found that my heel landed on the rear lateral edge of the shoe, which was awkward and sometimes produced a “falling off” feeling.

Salming 9 sharp

A Four-in-One Model

It eventually dawned on me that the Distance D5 has aspects of four different shoes in one. At low speeds it feels cushioned, if a touch dull. At medium  speed levels, it’s a very consistent, reliable pace shoe. And from there it ramps up pretty fast – like a Volkswagen Golf GTI with a dual-clutch transmission, to become a lightweight shoe that’s as fast as you want it to be, as quickly as you need it to be fast.

This is a trainer with the heart of a racing flat.

Oh, wait, there’s a fourth aspect, which is that this road trainer-racer is a capably decent performer on smooth trail surfaces.

Salming 8 Distance sharp

The Verdict

The Salming Distance D5 delivers a fine amount of quality, as it should for a premium-priced shoe. It’s an “A”-level trainer – rating 93 out of 100 points – which can also deliver the goods on race day. But is it a true distance shoe? I’m not sure about that.

I think most runners will do well using the shoe for distances from a 5K to a half-marathon. And gifted light, small, quick runners will be able to draw out its best features for distances between 10K and  50K to 50 mile distances.

Perhaps the best compliment that can be paid to the D5 is to say this: Careful, because once you know this shoe is in your closet, it’s one you will want to take out and run in on most training days. With this shoe and a new puppy, you might never take a rest day!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note: Salming has recently released the Distance D6 running shoe, which is extremely similar except that, “Minor tweaks were made to (the) upper overlays in order to enhance the fit.” It can be ordered ($130.00) in the U.S. from Running Warehouse.

A media sample was provided for review by Salming Running.

 

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Murder, She Cooked

death al fresco

Death al Fresco: A Sally Solari Mystery by Leslie Karst (Crooked Lane Books, $26.99, 320 pages)

Death al Fresco is the third Sally Solari novel by Leslie Karst.  When I first received the book to review and saw on the cover a plug that the book includes recipes, I was immediately skeptical.  I was proven wrong.  Death is a very enjoyable read and Karst manages to deliver a book that allows the reader to read it in big chunks because it breezes along nicely and sustains interest.  Or one can elect to put it down for a while and return to it without having missed a beat.

Solari’s is an Italian restaurant owned by Sally’s father on Monterey Bay in Santa Cruz, California.  Much to her chagrin, she finds herself supporting her father’s endeavors more than she would care to.  She dates a member of the District Attorney’s office and – in addition to her restaurant pursuits, takes up painting as a hobby.

Most importantly, Sally is an accomplished amateur sleuth, which comes in handy when Gino, a renowned Santa Cruz fisherman is found dead (by Sally’s dog) after an evening at Solari’s.  Early in the novel, a local accuses her of being the next Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote), which, by the way her character is drawn is the exact analogy I had in mind while reading the story.  The unfortunate death compromises a major event planned for the restaurant; an event for which Sally was the unwitting chief organizer.

Sally’s father becomes a suspect in the crime and in order to salvage both the restaurant and her father’s reputation, she becomes the chief busybody and lead investigator in Gino’s death.  Sally is too sweet to be perceived as precocious, but just barely.  She is far too nice to be disliked, even when she is covering up evidence.  She is also, apparently, too cute to upset her boyfriend with all of her meddling.  All of which somehow – and surprisingly – makes for a story that works extremely well.

There are various iterations of possibilities introduced as the circumstances of Gino’s death come to light, from his having imbibed too much before he dined at the restaurant, to an interest in his boat upon his death, and – which is perhaps a bit too much, to lead or copper poisoning.  But in the end, Sally gets it right and the series should continue for at least a fourth novel.

At the conclusion of Death al Fresco, I was a satisfied reader as I put the book down.  I think most readers will arrive at a similar verdict.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

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

 

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Any Major Dude Will Tell You

Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Compendium, edited by Barney Hoskyns (Overlook, $27.95, 352 pages)

“We both liked recording studios. As much as anything else, it was just the coolest place to be on a hot afternoon.” Walter Becker

“We grew up with a certain natural ironic stance that later became the norm in society.” Donald Fagen

major dudes

The enigmatic band Steely Dan has been popular – and mysterious, since the 1970s. Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Compendium demythologizes the group while at the same time adding a new layer of mystery.  Editor Barney Hoskyns has compiled a collection of previously published articles, interviews, and record reviews about the work of Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker – both as Steely Dan and as solo recording artists.

It’s made clear in these pieces that Fagen and Becker viewed themselves as clever hipsters; ones who were far too cool for the college they attended, Bard – “One of your basic beatnik colleges.”  In a sense, Steely Dan’s lyrics and music moved the ball forward in the genre of being cool.  In the process, they were among the progenitors of progressive album rock and smooth jazz.

In Major Dudes, Fagen and Becker come off as quite likeable.  However, they were always in character in the same manner as Bob Dylan is.  One is never going to fully understand what made them tick.  Their goal, perhaps, was to simply produce popular but uniquely intelligent music.

This compendium could have been better edited by Hoskyns.  It’s quite repetitive. But for fans of The Dan, it’s close to essential reading.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  This book will be released on June 5, 2018.

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The Rest of the Story

no one ever asked

No One Ever Asked: A Novel by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook, $14.99, 368 pages)

Sometimes a promising novel is destroyed by the story telling structure selected by the author.  I found this to be the case with No One Ever Asked.  The fictional tale, about racism and socio-economic differences that affect two public school districts in Missouri, is a worthwhile one.  Ganshert well illustrates how racism impacts everyone – rich and poor, majority race or minority – whether it is overt, covert, deliberately hurtful, or inadvertent.  And this would have been a relevant read for these times if only she had written the tale in standard chronological form.  She did not.

No One starts with a dramatic event.  The event covered in the Prologue – something a novel almost never needs, takes place near the end of the events covered in this book.  Thus, the next 300 or more pages take the reader back in time to see what preceded the climactic event.  The reader’s patience might not have been tried if Ganshert had taken 10, 20 or even 30 pages to “set up” the non-linear story in this unexpected way.  Unfortunately, and regrettably, she used 300 or more pages to do so.  Not only this, she often refers to events that, in legal terms, “are not in evidence.”  For example, an incident that occurred in a boy’s high school locker room is referenced multiple times.  But the reader is never informed, until near the very end of the telling, as to what exactly was involved in this incident.

Hiding the ball from the reader in this fashion builds up fatigue and frustration.  I was ready to put the book down many times, for good.

There’s also the distressing fact that No One has so many characters – white and black, prosperous and poor, that you would need to keep a spread sheet in order to keep track of them.  And the author’s style is not only confusing and sometimes bewildering, but often choppy.

By the end of No One Ever Asked, I realized that Ganshert had written a decent story which might have been enjoyable had she simply kept it straight (chronological) and simple.  She did not.  I am hopeful that an editor will advise her to follow the common path of storytelling in her next effort.  Cleverness for its own sake is rarely a reward for the reader.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

No One Ever Asked was published on April 3, 2018.

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The Hardest Part

“You take it on faith, you take it from the heart/ The waiting is the hardest part.”  Tom Petty

C.L. Taylor’s The Missing is an intriguing mixed bag.

The Missing: A Novel by C.L. Taylor (William Morrow Paperbacks, $15.99, 496 pages)

missing taylor

Claire, the mother of a missing child, Billy, suffers through the mental anguish of trying to determine if he is actually still alive when she loses hope in the authorities.  This has a tragic impact on all of her relationships, including her mother, best friend, her other son, Jake, his live-in girlfriend Kira, and husband Mark.

All of the tricks of enticing the reader in, choppy scenes that attempt to accentuate the characters’ minds and the turmoil of the story itself, work – sometimes.  And then they become tiresome and tiring.  Just when the reader begins to become attached to the story and plot – interested in trying to figure out what is actually going on, things get to be too much.

In all novels one must suspend reality and in the suspense/intrigue genre, this is even more paramount.  In The Missing I found myself rooting for Taylor to pull it off.  (There’s a story to be told here that should be worth the time and energy.)  There are personal stories and interrelationships that come close to making this a special novel.  But it does not quite get there.

At over 450 pages, the telling is too long.  The story drags on and this diminishes the impact of the conclusion when the truth is revealed to the intrepid reader.

There is some very good writing in The Missing and there are sections where one’s interest is definitely heightened.  At times the story moves along nicely and pulls the reader in.  But it’s not consistent enough to be viewed as a top notch suspense novel.  Let’s hope that Morrow assigns a diligent editor to work with Taylor on her next release.

missing taylor 2

Despite these reservations, there will be readers who will enjoy the book.

Recommended, for a less demanding audience.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a professional educator and sometime drummer.  He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

 

 

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A Death in the Sunshine State

Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Crime by Cutter Wood (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $26.99, 225 pages)

love and death

This book arrived at the right time.  I had just finished reading a true crime book and found it to be sadly disappointing.  The writer put down all the facts about a triple murderer and his trial but seemingly without context.  When one sentence follows another in this manner – without drama, suspense or the seeming presence of actual people, it’s far less than engaging.

Cutter Wood’s book, Love and Death in the Sunshine State, is like the antidote to the typical true crime story.  Wood, an MFA graduate in nonfiction from the University of Iowa, touched base with all of the principals about a murder that he felt somewhat connected with.  You see, after graduating from Brown he felt directionless – like Benjamin in The Graduate, so he spent months at a secluded hotel in Florida.  The woman who ran the hotel with her husband later disappeared and Wood was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Wood knew some of the principals involved and was also given access to law enforcement officials and the man suspected of killing the missing woman.  But once the crime was solved, Wood felt that little was resolved.  The facts did not seem to add up to a whole, complete story.  Therefore, he elected to pursue a unique option.

Instead of writing a dry nonfiction account of the crime, Wood decided to write a fictional version of a relationship between a former criminal and a successful married businesswoman whose lives intersected.  It’s a story of an unlikely attraction, a loving relationship, and a tragic ending.  Wood never attempts to explain the crime or the murderer’s mind, but paints the events – both real and imaginary – as something that was fated to occur.

As Wood is free to explore events and scenarios that may or may not have played out, he develops a story that feels fully real.  This is not Law and Order – a stereotypical version of crime and justice, nor is it a fly-over account of a crime developed for a one hour cable TV network show.  It is a story of two imperfect people who were drawn to each other for all of the wrong reasons.

By leaving out some of the seemingly critical crime details and facts that would be highlighted in the standard true crime book sold in an airport gift shop, Wood proves again that less is more.  His “story of a crime” focuses on the small yet significant aspects of the lives of two people.  In doing so, he brings the individuals to life and causes us to mourn – in a quiet, dignified way, the loss of one of them.

It’s a sad, tough story but Cutter Wood takes the reader to the heart of the matter.  His is a respectful approach to human imperfection and frailty.

I look forward to reading Wood’s future works.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Love and Death in the Sunshine State will be released on April 17, 2018.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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