Tinker Tailor

writer sailor

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 by Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy by Nicholas Reynolds chronicles Ernest Hemingway’s time as a spy and his involvement in politics on the world stage during the years 1935 through 1961.

As to credibility, Reynolds was a Marine for 30 years, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and eventually became the curator of the CIA Museum.  He references 107 primary sources and each chapter is replete with citations to support his claims.

While Writer, Sailor is almost certainly factually accurate, I am not certain this book entirely succeeds.

The book chronicles some aspects of Hemingway’s personal life such as his downward spiral into depression, his four wives, and his extremely excessive alcohol intake; though this is not news, nor is it the main point.  Reynolds also tries to tie some of Hemingway’s writing to his wartime experiences, particularly with For Whom the Bell Tolls and his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and then his final book, The Old Man and the Sea.  He also name drops quite a bit.  For example, correspondence with Archibald MacLeish and his friendship with John Dos Passos are frequently referenced.  The book tells of Hemingway’s love of Cuba and briefly alludes to some interactions with Batista and Castro.  But, again, there is not much new ground covered here.

What would be considered new ground for most is Hemingway’s dalliance with the Soviet NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, and involvement with the American OSS, the predecessor of the CIA.  Hemingway was not a Communist, and perhaps not even a Socialist, but he hated Fascism and during the 1930s was disappointed in America’s lack of resolve to fight against it.  He was particularly upset with the Pearl Harbor attack, which he believed was due to complete negligence on the part of the American government.

Hemingway’s travels during this time are discussed.  How he managed to get around on both official and personal business is interesting at times.  One of the most interesting stories is the chapter on Pilar, Hemingway’s cabin cruiser, and its role as a spy ship in 1942 and 1943.  This would prove to be the most significant of Hemingway’s wartime adventures.

writer, sailor, soldier, spy back cover

Most Hemingway buffs and literary scholars would find nothing of interest in this work.  But while it succeeds in chronicling his adventures – and there are some interesting tidbits to be gleaned among the way, the truth is that Hemingway’s involvement as a spy did not seem to lead to any major intelligence that impacted the outcome of the war – or particular battles – in any way.  If so, it was not evident in the pages of this book.

Recommended, with the reservation that the book seems to promise more than it delivers.

Dave Moyer.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Beer Review: Sufferfest Epic Pilsner

SUMMERFEST FROM SUFFERFEST: Epic Pilsner

sufferfest beers

There are far too many whale hunters looking for the booziest barleywines, most robust imperial stouts, and the juiciest triple India Pale Ales in the country, sometimes paying several hundred dollars per bottle.  It is absurd.  Although I can never turn down a whale when the opportunity presents itself, lately I find myself gravitating more towards lower alcohol by volume (ABV) beers.

I find this especially true in the summer, where the last thing anyone wants to be drinking out on the patio with the sun beating down on them is a big-bodied boozy brew.  My general rule of thumb is the higher the temperature the lower ABV I prefer my beer to have.  Perfect examples of summer styles for me include Berliner weiss, kolsch, and, of course, the almighty pilsner.

sufferfest premium beer

Epic Pilsner from Sufferfest Beer Company seemed true to style in every regard until I discovered that it was “crafted to remove gluten.”  Upon seeing this on the can I went to their website and I found that all of their beers are void of gluten.  I’ve had few gluten free beers that could stand on their own two feet, but this one doesn’t merely stand on its own but runs.

sufferfest epic

This beer is a crystal clear, pale straw in appearance with a light, fluffy white head.  The beer leaves lacing that coats the glass.  This pilsner looks like every golden beer you see on TV.  Epic Pils has a very subtle nose.  There are slight lemon and grass tones.  The palate follows the nose almost exactly as the earthy tones of the Saaz hops gently cut through the layers of the sweet biscuit malt.  This beer is thin and leaves your mouth dry, begging you to have can after can, and at only 5.1% ABV it is easy to throw back a few without having to worry about getting overly buzzed or trashed.

Epic Pilsner shines through with its subtle complexity.  The delicate nose and clean, refreshing qualities pair perfectly with an easy-going summer afternoon on the back patio, the nearest worry miles away.

sufferfest-beer-company-epic-pilsner-beer-california-usa-10881996

Do not be turned off by the gluten free warning.  Summerfest Epic Pilsner is well worth seeking out!

Highly recommended.

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer, beer expert, is a graduate of Indiana University.

Note:  Sufferfest beers are brewed and canned in San Francisco.

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Livin’ La Vida Loca

The Reason You’re Alive: A Novel by Matthew Quick (Harper, $25.99, 226 pages)

reason you're alive

Living the Crazy Life

The Reason You’re Alive is, supposedly, a novel about a Holden Caulfield-like character who has reached the age (68) at which he has a seven-year-old granddaughter.  He’s angry (of course) at the government that sent him to Vietnam in his youth, ultra-conservative (OK), and perhaps more than slightly deranged.  However, author Quick (The Silver Linings Playbook) begins the story with his version of charming writing.  There is, for example, a scene in which the main character, David Granger, sits down to an imaginary tea party with granddaughter Ella.  It’s sweet and cute.  And the reader is informed that it just so happens to be the case that Ella is the “spitting image” of Granger’s dead wife – by suicide (naturally).

Jessica Granger was a painter who apparently did little else with her life – David screamed at her on what proved to be her last night on earth, “You have to contribute SOMETHING!” – except for providing Granger with a son; a son which he did not father.  Quick, as Granger, writes beautifully about Jessica:

I feel like shedding a tear or two when I think about a nineteen-year-old Jessica looking up from a canvas as big as her, smiling at me with paint smudges all over her face, like camouflage.  Her long, brown hair is always braided with pigtails, and she is perpetually in overalls, as if she were a farmer riding on a tractor.  All she needed was a piece of hay hanging out of her mouth.  You could see the light in her eyes back then.  It was as bright as goddamn June moonbeams shimmering off ocean waves still warm from day’s sun.   

At this point in the novella, not a novel, the story is quirky with some parallels to the style of The Catcher in the Rye.  But this style on the part of the writer does not last, does not hold.  It’s not long after one’s approached the halfway point of the story that Quirk goes haywire on us.  The suspension of disbelief disappears as he relates events that ring as fully implausible.  The story goes from Catcher in the Rye to Catch-22; from simply quirky to fantastical, that is, odd and bizarre.

The outright crazy part of the book focuses on a bonkers Native American soldier, Clayton Fire Bear, who Granger served with in ‘Nam.  Fire Bear – who took scalps from dead Viet Cong soldiers, sounds like a character that one would have found in Catch-22.  Granger is determined to find Fire Bear in the U.S. and achieve some type of closure with him.  There are other inane things that the story focuses on – things which I won’t waste time relating.  Suffice it to say that, in the words of a Beatles song, it’s all too much.

There are two possible explanations for the author’s diversions.  Perhaps Quick decided to transform Granger from a more than slightly unstable individual to a fully insane unreliable narrator because he believed it was clever from an intellectual – “brilliant author,” standpoint.  If so, it’s too clever by half.  The other explanation is that Quick was simply enjoying himself at the reader’s expense, setting the reader up for what seemed like a serious journey only to drop him/her into the twilight zone.  If the latter is the case, then Quick has fashioned a work that is intentionally and illogically unrestrained.

At the least, this work is inconsistent and unsatisfying.  It starts off as an engaging look at a troubled human being – one the reader can partially relate to, and concludes as a work whose faults will be overlooked by those who prefer convoluted, strange literary forests to sensical, sensible trees.

Bottom line: This book is not The Catcher in the Rye and it’s quite far – incredibly far, from being enjoyable.  Do yourself a favor and pass on it.  You have better things to do with your time.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Little Girl Gone

Little Girl Gone: A Novel by Margaret Fenton (Create Space, $10.10, 266 pages)

Little Girl Gone

Margaret Fenton’s second novel – following Little Lamb Lost, takes the reader once more into the world of Birmingham, Alabama social worker Claire Conover.  As is typical for social workers, Claire is carrying a full caseload.  Her caring attitude is tempered with a realistic approach to dealing with runaway and discarded children.  A stony-faced young teen girl who was found sleeping in a cardboard box proves to be quite the challenge for Claire.

“Sandy,” at least that’s the name she reluctantly gives Claire, won’t provide any assistance with her details.  She’s very slim, not starving, but definitely willing to go out for breakfast when Claire offers to take her.  Thus begins the saga of reuniting “Sandy” with her family.  The story unfolds naturally as Claire does her job using the skills she has developed over years in the job.  Ms. Fenton infuses her characters with down-to-earth feelings to which the reader can easily relate.

The men in Claire’s life are Grant, her techie boyfriend and Kirk, a clever newspaper reporter.  There’s mutual attraction between Kirk and Claire; however, she knows better than to be caught up in a fling with a flirt when she has calm and reliable Grant in her life.  Kirk has provided helpful insights in past cases and is once again a source of information and strategic planning that brings him into a team-like relationship with Claire.

Little Girl Gone back cover

Ms. Fenton is a confident and strong writer who has lived the work she portrays.  Much like a police procedural, Little Girl Gone takes the reader behind the scenes into real life situations that are both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  Crisp dialogue coupled with excellent scene-setting descriptions make this a most satisfying read.

Highly recommended.

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

 

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Hard to Grip

Hard to Grip: A Memoir of Youth, Baseball, and Chronic Illness by Emil DeAndreis (Schaffner Press, $16.95, 326 pages)

hard to grip

“You, see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”  – Jim Bouton (Ball Four)

Emil DeAndreis is an excellent high school baseball player in a weak conference.  He gets his chance at Division I baseball at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.  Hawaii at Hilo is far from a top tier program, but Division I is Division I.  DeAndreis is a borderline D-1 player, but he is a left-handed pitcher – always a commodity.

Hard to Grip is DeAndreis’s story, subtitled a memoir of youth, baseball, and chronic illness.  Shortly after he graduates from college, he signs a professional contract to play baseball in Belgium, only to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.  There are flashes of promise in his writing.  He saves the best for last.

As a high school pitching coach, he tries to express to his players that everyone’s career ends one day, and closes the book with the line, “I tell them it’s like a disease you learn to live with.”

DeAndreis chronicles his passion for baseball, his disillusionment following his diagnosis, and his battle to come to grips with the fact that his life is irrevocably changed.  He does find love, and ultimately reconciles with his loss of having to prematurely let go of the game.

The book is good.  Those who have dreamed of playing and had their careers cut short for whatever reason can probably relate.  It is an honest telling from the get-go, and the parallel of his best friend Charlie – who is more talented, and his challenges in pro ball constitute another side of the story told by DeAndreis. (DeAndreis leaves it up to the reader to determine what happened to Charlie.)

Unfortunately, the book does not have many engaging moments.  Too much of the book is a retelling of events that fail to resonate with the reader.  DeAndreis might have done more to draw the reader in; to see that the events that happened in his life (“Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” John Lennon) are the types of unexpected things that happen with others.

hard to grip too

DeAndreis is currently working on a novel, and his fledgling talent may well make it a successful one.  There are high points in Hard to Grip, but not enough of them to sustain the typical reader’s interest from start to finish.  This is a niche book for hardcore baseball fans.  Perhaps the writing promise hinted at in Hard to Grip will fully manifest itself in his future work.

Recommended, for sports fans and/or one-time athletes.

Dave Moyer

Hard to Grip was published on April 1, 2017.  “A vibrant depiction of a ballplayer that finds his way (in life) despite losing his ability to play the game he loves.”  Mike Krukow

Dave Moyer is a public school district superintendent, a drummer who hopes to play on stage with The Who one day, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

 

 

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Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Caldorado II

The Columbia Montrail Caldorado II trail running shoe is said to be “a responsive varied trail running shoe” that offers “a responsive versatile blend of cushioning and traction to take on any surface” (Running Warehouse).  Does it deliver on these advertised promises?  See the verdict below.

CM Caldorado II

When I reviewed the Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. trail running shoe, I stated: “I would love to see a model from Columbia Montrail that offers additional firmness through the forefoot… twenty to thirty percent more than is present in the Fluidflex.”  Well, it appears that the company has produced such a shoe and it’s the Columbia Montrail Caldorado II.  This model offers plenty of firmness for those who worried that some of the FluidFoam cushioned shoes might be getting a bit too soft.

The Caldorado II is an attractive trail running shoe with an 8mm drop.  It weighs 10.2 ounces, slightly heavier than the 9.5 ounces of the Fluidflex F.K.T., but that’s not a difference you’ll feel on your feet.  One retailer has noted that the Caldorado II fits large.  I’m not in total agreement with this statement.  I think this shoe offers a comfortable fit with plenty of room up front for one’s toes – all 10 of them.  The fit is basically retro in nature – reminiscent of how running shoes fit from the late 70s to the early 90s.  (A few will recall the very generous fit of the original Adidas Supernova.)  However, the Caldorado II does fit snugly around the mid-foot.

Let me state early on that this is a hybrid running shoe.  Anyone who runs on city streets or sidewalks to get to a natural trail will appreciate the versatility of the Caldorado II.  The shoe is stable on asphalt and concrete, if not quite as stable as earlier Montrail Fluidflex and Fluidfeel models.  No worries, it does just fine in accommodating mild to moderate pronators.

On a dirt and gravel covered trail, the Caldorado II provides a secure feel.  The shoe gets a B+ grade on a hard-packed dirt trail.  It offers nimbleness and the FluidGlide technology – intended to provide “a smooth ride on uneven trail surfaces”, delivers exemplary side-to-side control.  (If this were an automobile, one would praise its drifting capacity.)

On a hard rock trail the Caldorado II’s studs produce great grip and the Forefoot Trail Shield rock plate means that one’s feet never undergo punishment.

Caldorado II

As good as the Caldorado II is on trails, is it also suitable as a trainer on hard city surfaces?  The short answer is “yes.”  On tough urban surfaces, the Caldorado II earns a solid B grade in terms of responsiveness.  It may not be as springy as some other running shoes but it comes through in terms of bounce back.

One can do some fast training runs in the shoe as it facilitates quick feet turnover and some high-stepping.  Unlike some other trail runners, the Caldorado II does not keep one’s feet glued to the ground.  This brings to mind something that can be said of all of Columbia Montrail’s models:  They may be labeled as trail running shoes, but each model possesses the soul of a racing flat.

The level of cushioning on the Caldorado II is excellent.  One’s feet are not going to feel beaten up after a short to mid-distance training or long slow distance run.  The key feature of the shoe is its supportive firmness.  Runners concerned about the growing reliance on compliant foam midsoles will experience peace of mind with the Caldorado II.

Caldorado II women's

Verdict

During my initial experiences in the Caldorado II, supplied by Columbia Montrail, I feared that the shoe would be too firm to provide relaxed training runs.  But that unique firmness though the mid-foot and forefoot – something I had wished for that was delivered – is the shoe’s best feature.  This is a model that can be used every day as a secure, supportive trainer and also as an endurance event shoe.

The Caldorado II, which retails for $120.00, will deliver the goods for runners seeking a reliable, durable daily trainer that can also be worn for a 10K or 10 miler, a half or full marathon, or an ultra.  I firmly believe this is the best shoe yet from Columbia Montrail.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-columbia-montrail-caldorado-ii/

 

 

 

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You’ll Never Know

hallie ephron dear

You’ll Never Know, Dear: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, $26.99, 304 pages)

This is the year that two of my favorite authors have published books about sisters whose roots are in the South.  Joshilyn Jackson’s The Almost Sisters is an excellent novel that explores the deep-seated social rules that have persisted through generations.  You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron (Night Night, Sleep Tight) explores the haunting, mysterious disappearance of a little girl and the impact of that tragedy on her mother, older sister and law enforcement.

Seven-year-old Lissie was entrusted to look out for her four-year-old sister Janey.  Granted, the disappearance took place forty years ago in the front yard of a home in a sleepy, small town in South Carolina.  Perhaps even today a mom in a similar setting might do the same, maybe.  That same house is still occupied by the aging mom, Miss Sorrel.  Lissie (now Lis) is the divorced mother of Vanessa, a post-graduate student.  Lis cares for her mother and broods over the terrible time she was distracted by her imagination and wandered off into the woods near the house.  Her failed marriage and subsequent lack of support prompted Lis to return to South Carolina years ago.

Each year since Janey’s disappearance, a classified ad placed in the newspaper by Miss Sorrel marks the date.  A reward is offered for the return of Janey’s porcelain doll that vanished along with the little girl.  The suspense builds after a woman with a Harley-Davidson tattoo answers the ad.  Clearly, she is not the sort of person who possesses a hand-painted china doll.

Miss Sorrel and her next-door neighbor, Evelyn Dumont have a decades-long friendship centered around restoring antique dolls, including the personalized china dolls Miss Sorrel created in years past.  Each doll’s hair and features were fashioned to resemble the lucky girl whose parents commissioned Miss Sorrel to create the one-of-a-kind treasure.

Hallie Ephron provides readers with an in-depth look at the art of doll making.  The marvelous details include references to Madame Alexander dolls.  This reviewer has a modest collection of these lovely dolls that began with a much-loved eighth birthday present.  The book’s targeted audience is first and foremost ladies of middle age and older who have a fondness for the dolls of their youth.

Suspense and mystery novel lovers will appreciate the twisting story line that includes more than a few family secrets.  Ms. Ephron has written another spellbinding tale that does more than rest on the laurels of her past fine works.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  This book was released on June 6, 2017.

Click here to read a review of The Almost Sisters: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/sisters-of-the-moon/

 

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