Tag Archives: hardbound book

The Unexplained

A Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere by Mikita Brottman (Henry Holt and Co., $28.00, 288 pages)

an unexplained death

Author Mikita Brottman lives at the Belvedere Hotel, a Baltimore landmark with a long history of strange occurrences, suicides, and mysterious deaths.  Brottman here professes her fascination with the occult, tarot cards, and suicide so the examination of the apparent 2006 suicide of Rey Rivera – a once-fellow resident of the Belvedere, would seem to be a perfect topic for her writing.

Brottman’s account of events, An Uexplained Death, provides numerous details surrounding Rivera’s death as well as a tremendous amount of conjecture on her part.  What it fails to do is to provide clarity or new information beyond what was already known or presumed. (The authorities found the death to be a suicide.)  Brottman goes on – in what seems like a stretch – to explore cultural attitudes about suicide from around the world, and she provides her personal views on various matters whether related or not.

Rey Rivera was a tall and attractive aspiring film maker who moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles with his new wife, Allison.  He joined with Porter Stansberry of Agora, publishing newsletters offering financial advice.  His death happened to come at the time when he had borrowed money to produce his own film, was getting ready to quit Agora – which was engulfed in an SEC investigation – and was about to move back to L.A.

Did Rivera jump from the roof of the Belvedere, falling through a skylight at the top of a space which once housed the hotel’s swimming pool, or was he running from someone intending to do him harm?  Brottman investigates various alternatives to suicide possibilities, but none of them seem either likely or probable.  She wonders aloud whether Rivera was depressed about the Agora investigation or whether he became entangled in a homosexual affair.  It’s all so much smoke and mirrors because each such alternate explanation is discarded shortly after being raised.  And Brottman’s conclusion of this strange, quasi-fictional investigation of a real-life death provides nothing of substance.

The story is slightly compelling during the few periods in which Brottman sticks to the subject matter at hand.  But she spends far too much time writing about herself, her life, and her obsessions.  Oh, but for an editor!

The typical reader is unlikely to find Brottman’s affinity for rats very endearing.  The same is true concerning her fascination with strangely committed murders, and the time she spends imagining herself in another person’s shoes (such as Allison Reyes’s).  All in all, this is a book of rambling distractions, which is as generally uninteresting as it is undisciplined.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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

Notes:

The Beaux Arts style Belvedere Hotel was opened as Baltimore’s first luxury hotel in 1903 and was converted to residential condos in 1991.

I read the book and wondered why the writer spent an obsessive amount of time attempting to solve a crime which the local authorities had already solved, resolved and literally closed the book on.  – Joseph Arellano

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Masters of Their Universe

Masters of Their Universe: Business (and Life) Secrets Taught by Four-Legged Professors by Robert B. Haas (Itasca Books Distribution, $24.95, 208 pages)

Masters of Their Universe (nook book)

There’s no beating around the bush for author Robert B. Haas. His direct specific advice for success in business and life often includes the kill or be killed aspects of life in the African wilds. Graphic and detailed information about lions, leopards and wild dogs comes from Haas’ years as an outstanding photographer for National Geographic Magazine. The animal kingdom analogy is served up alongside its human business world counterpart.

There are 12 secrets revealed in Masters of Their Universe, each begins with a quote that captures the essence of the secret. Chapter eight – Clothes Make the Man, reminds the reader that appearance counts. A leopard’s spots are every bit as important as the shirt and tie worn by a banker. The book is primarily male-oriented; although, there are references to females, both four-legged and two-legged.

Haas has an undeniable track record of financial success. However, his ongoing references to decades of experience can be off-putting, even confusing. Perhaps a timetable of his careers could serve the reader in a way that makes the point?

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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All She Wants to Do is Dance

Tulip Loves Rex

Tulip Loves Rex by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Sarah Massini (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Children’s Books, 32 pages, $17.99)

“From the moment she was born, Tulip loved to dance.”

This colorful children’s book charms the reader with illustrations that beautifully capture the engaging text by Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrator Sarah Massini uses swaths of soft colors and sparingly-applied dark lines to bring to life the little girl Tulip and Rex – a doggie she meets in the park.

Tulip expresses her joy by twirling and whirling from early morning until bedtime. Her parents are amazed by their daughter. One day the three of them go for a walk to the park. In the park Tulip sees a big yellow dog with a red tag hanging from his collar announcing that his name is Rex and that he is not like other dogs.

Rex doesn’t respond when Tulip tries playing the usual games that dogs respond to like fetch and tag. She tells him that it’s fine if he is not like other dogs. Tulip then dances and twirls around the grass. Rex joins her with much enthusiasm, matching her moves with his own version of dancing.

Tulip Loves Rex 2

When it’s time to go home, Tulip makes a discovery. Rex needs a home. Can you guess what happens next?

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book – which will be released on December 23, 2013 – is recommended for children who are in preschool and up to 3rd grade. “Perfect for bedtime and for any child who dances through life or dreams of having a pet as a best friend.” Amazon

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As Good as Dead

Inherit the Dead (nook book)

Inherit the Dead: A Novel by Lee Child, et al. (Touchstone, $25.99, 288 pages)

Twenty Thrilling Writers. One Chilling Mystery.

Mystery fans will be happy to know that the twenty writers who contributed to this serial novel are supporting a good cause, Safe Horizon — a charity in support of victims of violent crimes. Lisa Unger, Lawrence Block, Marcia Clark and John Connolly are this reviewer’s favorites in the mix. In a serial novel, each writer adds to the story thread in his or her own writing style (although each author was given an outline of the plot).

The plot twists and scenes follow along with these styles. Some chapters are all action and others are based on character conversations. Entries at the conclusion of several chapters are printed in a different type font — clearly originating from an unseen character who is either bonkers or a sociopath.

Pericles “Perry” Christo is hired to find a missing heiress named Angelina (Angel for short). Perry is a former New York Police Department homicide detective who is down on his luck but not defeated. Angel’s mom is fading fast and wants to reconnect with her daughter. The hunt for Angel takes Perry from New York City to the Hamptons and back.

Inherit the Dead is a good read with plenty of tension building to the reveal.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Inherit the Dead was released on October 8, 2013.

Here is an interview with Jonathan Santlofer, the Editor of the book:

http://blogcritics.org/interview-with-jonathan-santlofer-eeditor-of-inherit-the-dead/

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Color My World

Drawing on the Right (nook book)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards (Tarcher/Penguin Group, $19.95, 320 pages)

Just imagine, by following the text carefully and participating in the exercises in a book, you can learn to draw. This is not some huckster come-on or phony art school premise. Author and teacher Betty Edwards has expanded and updated the fourth edition of her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Ms. Edwards has carefully translated her thorough and patient teaching style into a truly worthwhile course in drawing. Moreover, she has taken the basic concepts, tools and philosophy behind the value of learning to draw and set forth a detailed and well-illustrated guide for everyone. If you can hold a pencil and are able to see, you can draw, not just ordinary stick figures, but rather, fully-developed and recognizable portraits.

Drawing on the Right Side includes ample historic context for the role that drawing and illustration have played over the last few centuries. As recently as the 1800s, the need for accurate drawings was critical to the success of newspapers, magazines and books. With the technological advancements associated with photography in the ensuing decades, the importance of drawing, and specifically the teaching of drawing, slipped into the background. With the transition to this invention, artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Georges Seurat were free to express themselves and explore artistic techniques without the expectation of producing accurate naturalistic pictures. That’s not to say that these artists skipped learning the skills required to render shapes and appealing compositions. In particular, van Gogh spent serious time and effort learning to draw.

Ms. Edwards sets the reader at ease by demystifying the process of drawing. She grounds her methodology in carefully researched neurological facts. The left side of the brain is vastly different than the right side. The left is the logical, sequential and verbal side; whereas, the right side is all about spacial and relational interpretation and sensing. Be assured it takes a bit of effort to override the over-developed left side in order to get to the creative, artistic ability we all possess.

As someone who participated in live classes based upon these techniques years ago, I know they produce truly gratifying results. There’s nothing missing here. Anyone who wants to know how to draw will be able to do so by committing to doing the exercises and reclaiming their youthful view of drawing and creating.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is also available in a hardcover edition, and as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.

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Coming Up Next…

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (updated)

A review of the classic drawing instruction book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, now expanded and updated.

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20th Century Fox

The Informationist: A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel by Taylor Stevens (Broadway, $14.00, 327 pages)

There’s a remarkable similarity to the opening scenes of The Informationist and Fever Dream by Preston and Child. Both tales begin in Africa and they contain some of the most electrifying examples of tension and suspense this reader has ever encountered.

The Informationist (nook book)

Vanessa Michael Munroe is the informationist. Her beauty and brains are surpassed by the cold-blooded determination she brings to each secret assignment that pays her well. Knowledge of many languages, national customs and human nature assist Michael, as she likes to be called, in succeeding on each job. Corporations, politicos and wealthy individuals have provided her with more than sufficient means to live a comfortable life; however, money and comfort do not motivate her. The assignment Michael accepts in this tale is to locate the missing daughter of a Texas billionaire. The daughter, Emily, was seen in the back country of Africa traveling with two young men seeking adventure.

As one might imagine there’s ever so much more to the assignment than travel to trace the path taken by Emily and her companions several years prior to the time of the novel. Michael visits parts of Africa where she grew up and learned quickly to fend for herself. Beauty, brains and agility mask the scars — both physical and emotional — that are at the heart of Michael’s very being. A woman as tough as Michael seems beyond the ability to feel love. Perhaps it was driven out of her by her mentor years ago.

Be prepared for a very quickly-paced adventure and be sure to sit in a corner where no one will be able to sneak up on you. Yes, The Informationist will pull you in and hold you to the very last page.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “…a protagonist as deadly as she is irresistible.” Vince Flynn, author of Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller.

James Cameron has bought the film rights to this female-driven novel, which he plans to produce and direct at some point in the future.

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Up Around the Bend

The Authors: Four Women and One Man

A Woman of Interest by Cindy Zimmerman (WIS Global, $24.95, 230 pages)

Sometimes a memoir can be so personal that the reader senses the author’s self-absorption on every page. A book that is not much more than a monologue begs the question, who is the intended reader?

Ken Rotcop, a Hollywood screenwriter pitchman, opens the book with his advice to Cindy Zimmerman to write her own story rather than use him as a biographer. Cindy’s ex-husband was murdered on the day their contentious divorce was finalized. She was, of course, considered a person of interest in the Phoenix, Arizona police investigation of Paul Zimmerman’s murder. Ken’s advice to Cindy is to write her side of the story in longhand, 20 pages at a time and send them along to him for compilation.

While there is a sensational aspect to Cindy’s story, she is not alone. A messy divorce from a controlling, competitive man who doesn’t like to work for others plays out pretty much the way hers does. Countless others will relate to her, but why re-live pain and suffering? There’s no payoff.

Fear in the Sunlight: A New Mystery Featuring Josephine Tey and Alfred Hitchcock (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99, 412 pages)

Clearly, Nicola Upson has strong ties to the theater and the mystery genre. Ms. Upson is a regular contributor to BBC radio, has reviewed crime novels and has years of theater experience as well. Her writing style combines traditional theater and motion picture cinematic techniques to draw the reader into a period with ties to the present day.

Fear in the Sunlight is one of Ms. Upson’s mystery series featuring real-life 1930s writer Josephine Tey. The story centers on a seemingly-idyllic weekend in Portmeirion, Wales. The location is a real place; however, the resort is the re-creation of a Mediterranean seaside resort created by a famous architect. Ms. Upson uses Alfred Hitchcock’s proclivity for playing tricks on his minions as the catalyst for several gruesome murders that take place during his resort party weekend.

Desire is the undercurrent – Josephine’s for Marta, a woman already in a relationship with a model/actress; a villager’s ex-husband for his ex-wife; Archie’s, a police chief inspector, for Josephine. Each of these characters has made choices based on their inability to step up and declare true feelings. Mr. Hitchcock’s desire for control and the admiration of his wife adds to the messiness. And to further muddy the plot, a seemingly-pivotal character, artist Bridget, connects Archie to his past.

Sadly, the layout of the book is confusing with gestures and observations inserted within paragraphs of dialogue. This has the unsettling effect of forcing the reader to reread to determine just who is doing the talking. There’s too much effort required for this reviewer to relax and enjoy the mystery.

A Medal for Murder: A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 424 pages)

The setting of A Medal for Murder is England in the 1920s, an idyllic time for crime solving. The right mix of mobility (motor cars) and technology (telephone and telegraph) keeps the story moving along at a pleasant place. Our detective, Kate Shackleton, is a well-bred lady who is a sleuth, complete with an ex-policeman assistant named Jim Sykes.

Women in the 1920s were beginning to emerge from their past roles as homebodies. To be sure some women had already moved in that direction, actresses in particular. Author Brody makes good use of the contrasts between ladies, gentlemen and other types. Mrs. Shackleton, who narrates this tale, drives her motor car while Sykes holds on for dear life.

A pawnshop burglary leads to a sleuthing job for Mrs. Shackleton. She meets a wide variety of people whose pawned items were stolen as she tracks them down for the pawnshop owner. The story line is enhanced by quips, fashion and social commentary and generally charming banter among the characters. Mystery fans not familiar with Ms. Brody’s mystery series are encouraged to catch up post haste!

Highly recommended.

A Medal for Murder (nook book)

Miss Dimple Suspects, A Mystery by Mignon F. Ballard (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 260 pages)

The World War II era and the sacrifices made by Americans form the backdrop of this tale. Miss Dimple, a small town school teacher of indeterminate age, appears in this, the third book in a series by prolific mystery writer Mignon Ballard. Author Ballard keeps it real by setting her story in rural Georgia where she grew up during the war. The local colloquialisms (like nattering) and culinary oddities (like piccalilli) remind the reader that we’re not in the big city.

Miss Dimple is a liberal character in an otherwise deeply-engrained closed community of southerners. The impact of the war is felt in the limitations of gasoline and sugar rationing when a young student of Miss Dimple’s goes missing. Xenophobia is woven throughout the story as are offensive attitudes held by the townspeople.

The story is quite engaging and holds the reader’s attention. What are confusing are the odd naming conventions used by author Ballard. (Miss Dimple is variously referred to as Dimple K, Miss Dimple and Dimple.)

Fans of small town drama and mystery will enjoy this cautionary tale.

Recommended.

Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach: A Jimm Juree Mystery by Colin Cotterill (Minotaur Books, $15.99, 324 pages)

A failing resort named Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant in Maprao, Thailand might as well be the main character in this highly-unusual mystery. The plot is based on a BBC article regarding the treatment of Burmese immigrants in Thailand. The narrator, Jimm Juree, is an investigative journalist whose loyalty to family and the loss of her newspaper job brings her to the resort owned by her mother.

Family, nationalism, corruption and man’s inhumanity to man propel Jimm into countless situations that a wiser woman in her mid-thirties would avoid at all cost. The story unfolds slowly and once the general theme is established, the reader is tossed to and fro like the flotsam on the beach where the resort perches precariously at the whim of violent storms.

Author Cotterill dances up to ugly visions like beheaded Burmese workers, oceanic erosion and police corruption while holding the reader hostage. For contrast and comic relief, he pulls back with outrageous quips and ridiculously funny double entendres. The scene shifts are well-executed and provide the reader with a sense of drama. Jimm Juree is both smart and reckless as she orchestrates the rescue of helpless Burmese workers.

The behind-the-scenes look at Thailand and its political climate was shocking to this reviewer. My experiences in Bangkok, Thailand were nothing like the ones brought out of the shadow in this mystery.

Recommended.

Grandad, there's a head

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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Coming Up Next…

Chill of Night (nook book)

A review of The Chill of Night: A Novel of Suspense by James Hayman.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Leader of the Pack: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt.

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