Tag Archives: audiobook

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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Nobody But Me

The Nobodies Album (nook book)

Is The Nobodies Album a better read the second time around?

The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Anchor, $15.00, 320 pages)

The plane rises. We achieve liftoff, and in that mysterious, hanging moment I say a prayer – as I always do – to help keep us aloft. In my more idealistic days, I used to add a phrase of benediction for all the other people on the airplane, which eventually stretched into a wish for every soul who found himself away from home that day… I stopped doing that a long time ago. Because if you think about it, when has there ever been a day when all the world’s travelers have been returned safely to their homes, to sleep untroubled in their beds? That’s not the way it works. Better to keep your focus on yourself and leave the others to sort it out. Better to say a prayer for your own well-being and hope that today, at least, you’ll be one of the lucky ones.

There are music albums that we listen to repeatedly, sometimes finding that they have a different impact on us – major or minor – depending on when you experience them. The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (author of the unique and bizarre bestseller The Dogs of Babel) is a book that I read before. I did not connect with it at the time; fortunately, I decided to give the book a second chance and I’m glad I did.

This is the story of a San Francisco-based musician, Milo Frost, who has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend, Bettina Moffett. His estranged mother, Octavia Frost, a one-time bestselling novelist, decides to reconcile with him to give him moral and legal support. Milo’s problem is that he was so drunk the night of his girlfriend’s death that he cannot remember what he did that evening. He does not believe that he killed Bettina but admits that he could have been involved. (On the night in question, Bettina first accepted Milo’s proposal of marriage, and then rejected it.)

Parkhurst adds a twist to the telling, as the writer Octavia is at the point where she’s elected to rewrite the conclusions of her bestselling novels. It’s not something that pleases her publisher; but, Octavia is determined to follow-through with her idea. (This may have been based on an instance in which Joan Didion rewrote one of her short stories decades after it was written. Note that the title of this novel, The Nobodies Album, is connected to The White Album by The Beatles early on. It just so happens that Didion wrote a collection of bestselling essays called The White Album.)

I suppose you could say I’d been thinking about endings.

It does not take long for Octavia, and the readers, to realize that she’s toying with the notion of changing the endings to her book in hopes that it might lead to some changes in her own life. As she states to a musician, “I’ve thought it might be interesting to change the endings. Find out how things might have worked out differently for the characters.” Naturally, one has to wonder how much of bestselling author Parkhurst can be found in the character of Octavia Frost. (Will she rewrite the ending of The Nobodies Album in twenty, thirty or forty years?)

To her credit, Parkhurst brings Octavia Frost’s writing to life by providing the endings of several of Frost’s novels before showing us the rewritten endings. The latter are generally simpler, more concise, and neater; perhaps resulting in neater, better outcomes for the characters involved.

The Nobodies Album multiple

Parkhust writes somewhat in the style of Didion – there’s an icy coolness/coldness present as well as toughness and brutal honesty: “Now that the moment is here, it’s not what I expected at all. That’s the fundamental flaw in in the illusions that writers like to maintain, the idea that we can craft anything approaching the truth. No matter how vividly we set the scene, we never come close to the unambiguous realness of the moment itself. Here’s how I feel, faced with my child’s confession that he has committed murder: I don’t believe it’s true. Not for a single minute.”

Those with some knowledge of the music and publishing industries will appreciate the realistic stage upon which Parkhurst’s story is set. The less said about the outcome of the murder mystery, the better. No spoilers here. But be prepared to be impressed by The Nobodies Album, whether you read it once or twice – or more often.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on June 15, 2010.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site as an Editor’s Pick:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-nobodies-album-by-carolyn-parkhurst/

It also appeared here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Book-Review-The-Nobodies-Album-by-Carolyn-5760693.php

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How Can I Tell You

Everything I Never Told You (nook book)

Everything I Never Told You Ng

Everything I Never Told You: A Novel by Celeste Ng (The Penguin Press, $26.95, 292 pages)

“James is all too familiar with this kind of forgetting. From Lloyd Academy to Harvard to Middlewood, he has felt it every day – that short-lived lull, then the sharp edge to the ribs that reminded you that you didn’t belong.”

Celeste Ng’s novel is about a Chinese-American family in the truest sense of the words; James Lee is a Chinese-American professor married to an Anglo woman. Although born in the U.S., “(James) had never felt he belonged here….” James has consistently experienced discrimination as a minority resident of Ohio – an experience his wife Marilyn has largely been exempted from, and his sense of bitterness has been building up. Matters come to a head when his fifteen-year-old daughter Lydia goes missing, and is eventually found dead.

The loss of Lydia threatens to destroy the Lees’ marriage as Lydia was the favorite of their three children, a daughter in whom their hopes for a perfect future had been placed. This family novel is also a mystery as the circumstances of Lydia’s death are largely unknown. Marilyn Lee makes it her mission to “figure out what happened… She will find out who is responsible. She will find out what went wrong.”

Everything Ng

Ng’s thought-provoking tale informs us that a sudden tragedy can either destroy individuals or give them the chance to start anew. And this unique, engaging novel reminds us that “the great American melting pot” operates haphazardly and imperfectly.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Everything is Broken

Everything to Lose (nook book)

Everything to Lose (alternate cover)

Everything to Lose: A Novel by Andrew Gross (William Morrow, $26.99, 336 pages)

Hilary Jeanine Cantor’s fall from grace is steep and rapid in Andrew Gross’s eighth novel (not counting those he co-wrote with James Patterson) Everything to Lose. She handles things in such a matter-of-fact manner that one wonders if this is her first experience dealing with a handicapped child, a divorce, job loss, money laundering, international mafia, prison, kidnapping, bankruptcy, and the death of a potential beau.

In the midst of losing her job, and with no help from her husband in sight, she stumbles upon a car accident that sets into motion a series of events. At the crash site, she makes a quick and desperate decision to take a briefcase that contains a half million dollars in cash. This action leads to her entanglement with Russian gangsters, a corrupt politician, several unsolved murders, and families whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

The impetus for her is a desire to help her son, Brandon – who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, remain in a private school. The bad guys trace her, as the reader will no doubt predict (there’s not much of a story, otherwise), and Hilary manages to stay one step ahead of every other character in the book; most of whom are dying almost as fast as one can say Prince Charming. A policeman named Patrick Kelty makes an attempt to serve as Hilary’s protector.

The story is written in a crisp fashion that keeps the reader turning the page. It’s enjoyable on its face, but has some problems. It is quite hard to feel sorry for the rich divorcee when her world begins to crumble, and it takes a pretty good imagination to stick with her as she morphs from from comptroller for a marketing firm to sleuth extraordinaire. Also, while there are novels that shift perspective – in which the story is told from multiple points of view – it seems a bit awkward and amateurish here. A writer as seemingly accomplished as Gross should be able to pick and stick with a single narrative voice.

Compared to other suspense/thriller/crime mystery novels I’ve read, this one is above average.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

You can read a review of Eyes Wide Open: A Novel by Andrew Gross here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/these-eyes/

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Coming Up Next…

Everything to Lose (audiobook)

A review of Everything to Lose: A Novel by Andrew Gross.

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Le Freak

Think Like a Freak (nook book)

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner (William Morrow, $28.99, 268 pages)

The key to learning is feedback.

The two Freakonomics authors are at it again! Levitt and Dubner have synthesized their ability to think in unconventional ways into nine chapters of charming, breezy and sometimes fascinating tutorials. This book is extensively annotated which adds to its credibility.

After a quick primer on how a freak thinks – unconventionally, to say the least, Levitt and Dubner launch into the basics of problem solving using their techniques. Basically, it comes down to teaching folks how to fish rather than feeding them answers. Of course, the approach is based on data, and the authors are well qualified to present the material as Levitt is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago and Dubner is a journalist and media personality based in New York City.

Readers are provided with the basics of change through a look back in history to determine the root causes of present day conditions and beliefs. The text contains many witty accounts worded in a conversational tone. This reviewer likens Think Like a Freak to a survey book or a series of clever lectures along the lines of the highly entertaining PBS TV show, Connections with James Burke.

Some of the examples cited by Levitt and Dubner are widely known such as one about the awesome web purveyor of shoes and fashion, Zappos. Zappos is willing to pay employees to quit if they aren’t on board with the company’s mission of providing outstanding customer service. Although this practice has been referenced elsewhere, Levitt and Dubner give it their own spin.

The most surprising chapter is the last – The Upside of Quitting. It may be worth the price of the book. Readers will have to be the judge of that. No, you won’t find a spoiler here!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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