Tag Archives: human nature

In the Mood

Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke (Prometheus Books, $18.95, 275 pages)

Mood

Mood (nook book)

Patrick Burke has written a straightforward and detailed layman’s textbook that explains the importance of recognizing behavioral problems early in life. Before emotions and feelings there is mood. Typically, we think of observable signs like irritability, hostility and withdrawal as key elements associated with psychological issues. What we don’t take into account is that one’s mood is always – for better or for worse – present. For example, it can be happy or anxious. We usually aren’t aware of our mood until it begins to shift.

Mood sets out the scientific explanation of the brain’s structure and the interactions of the physical and chemical elements that allow it to function. There are diagrams and ample text to support the hypothesis that mood exists within us even before we are born. It is the combination of genetic material and environmental influences with mood that are observable as behavior. The accompanying narrative provides the reader with useful, practical information contained within scenarios.

Mood supplies parents and caregivers with valuable guidance that can demystify the difference between occasional behavioral issues in children and/or adults and mental problems that need attention.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. Mood was released on November 11, 2013.

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Coming Up Next…

Mood (nook book)

A review of Mood: The Key to Understanding Ourselves and Others by Patrick M. Burke. “A reader-friendly yet in-depth overview of the latest research on mood as the way we are tuned to the world.”

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Heart of a Killer

Heart of a Killer: A Thriller by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 304 pages)

Author David Rosenfelt has added another winner to his long lists of credits with his latest effort, Heart of a Killer.   This reviewer has written about two of his Andy Carpenter mystery novels.   This time out, there is a different and unlikely hero.

The main character, Jamie Wagner, is a Harvard Law School graduate working as an associate at a corporate firm whose office is located in New Jersey.   Wagner, something of a contrarian, chooses to live in Manhattan on the west side where the atmosphere is urban and enjoyable.  Pro bono cases are often assigned to attorneys who are working their way toward a partnership in the firm.   This is precisely the position Wagner is in when the story opens; however, he sees little hope for attaining partner status.

The pro bono case Wagner is working centers around a woman who pled guilty to the murder of her nasty, evil husband six years prior to the time of the story.   Sheryl has been sitting in a New Jersey prison quietly doing time as a model prisoner while her mother takes care of granddaughter Karen.   Karen has a failing heart and her health has taken a turn for the worse.   She needs a transplant or she will die.   Yes, Sheryl has herself tested and is found to be an ideal match.   The confusion around whether Sheryl has the right to donate her heart provides ample motivation for Wagner to bring his Harvard education and well-honed brief writing skills into the picture.

The mystery revolves around some very seedy and brilliant characters that lack a conscience, hence, the proliferation of deaths by nefarious means.   Rosenfelt is a master of understatement and dry wit.   He aptly displays both in Heart of a Killer.   Rather than a straightforward mystery, this one is an in-depth examination of human nature and personal values.

After three wonderful reads, this reviewer is considering delving into past works by Rosenfelt.   It’s like betting on a sure thing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Heart of a Killer was released on February 14, 2012.   Click on this link to read the opening pages:   http://www.davidrosenfelt.com/heart-of-a-killer-first-chapter/

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At the Zoo

Did Not Survive: A Zoo Mystery by Ann Littlewood (Poisoned Pen Press; $14.95; 250 pages)

This second novel from former zookeeper Ann Littlewood, pits human nature against the honesty of zoo animals for a compelling read.   A fictitious zoo in the Pacific Northwest provides the location for a unique spin on an age-old tale of a heroine in peril.   The main character is Iris Oakley who is not only a recently widowed zoo employee, but also pregnant with her deceased husband’s baby.

In this story there are actually two heroines in peril, Iris Oakley and an aged elephant named Damrey.   Damrey has been a favorite of local families who visit her at the zoo.   Author Littlewood makes a case for the depth of knowledge required of zoo personnel.   It’s not just sweeping up after the animals and making sure they have their favorite foods.   Behavior, instincts and training are well documented for a wide range of the zoo’s inhabitants.   There are births and deaths that tear at the hearts of the staff.

Littlewood opens the mystery with the death of the zoo superintendent, a fellow who was good at his job but not well liked.   He’s discovered in Damrey’s enclosure being menaced by the very agitated elephant.   Iris is the first on the scene and it falls to her to assist in determining who is responsible for the super’s death.

Along the way we get to know the elephants.   They have not been part of her job until the discovery of the body in their enclosure.   Her regular charges are the big cats; however, pregnant women must not empty cat pans, big or small.   Iris is a remarkable character who captured this reviewer’s sympathies.

Well recommended. Let’s hope Ms. Littlewood keeps writing about what she knows so well as she provides entertainment bundled with fascinating learning.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Judgement of the Moon and Stars

The Impression

Recently, I was communicating with an author when he happened to reference the “judgment” contained in book reviews.   And that’s when it dawned on me that I don’t see reviews as necessarily being judgmental; instead, I see them as impressions.   A review reflects the way in which a reader-reviewer perceives the book at a particular point in time in his/her life.   As with everything in life, this is subject to change.   It may be, for example, that a novel that a reviewer could not get into while battling an illness would be highly enjoyable at another time.   Many of us have had the experience of reading a particular book years ago and labeling it as a favorite, only to be surprised when we return to that book and find it flat and dull.   Did the book change in any way in the interim?   No, our life – the reader’s life – changed in such a way as to change our perspective of the book.

Let’s think about this in terms of a physical landmark.   Let’s say that I view the Golden Gate Bridge on four occasions – firstly in the middle of the afternoon on a warm and sunny day, next during a rainstorm, then while the bridge is bathed in fog, and lastly on a moonlit night.   Each time the bridge will appear to be different, and I would likely describe the bridge in different terms if I were writing about it.   The bridge itself never changes, but my view of it – my impression – will change based on external factors.

So, one thing to keep in mind while reading a review is that it’s a point-in-time statement.   It’s also something that’s subject to revision.   The reviewer who slammed a book with a negative review might find, to his surprise, that he enjoys it when he looks at it months later.   And the reviewer who loved a book and added it to her personal collection might wonder a year or two later why she loved it – something she’ll ponder while putting it on the giveaway stack.

What does this mean for an author?   Simply that both positive and negative reviews can be discounted.   The book that one reviewer perceived as a flop may be a hit later, and vice versa.   Life changes and so do impressions.

The Choice

The author of a recent survey book noted something interesting about how film and book reviewers are perceived.   According to a study referenced in the book, the authors of generally negative reviews are viewed as more intelligent than reviewers who almost always draft positive reviews.   This is due to the perception that “anyone can say nice things,” while the negative reviewer is seen as a person who must have an extensive in-depth background – otherwise, how would he/she know what to nitpick and criticize?   This does not mean, however, that the average person prefers to read the reviews of a generally negative reviewer.

When given a choice between reading mostly negative or positive reviews, the typical person will more often select the positive ones.   And when asked about the people who write the reviews, most people will select the positive one as the nicer person – the nicer person is, therefore, the one whose reviews are read more.   So this leads to a choice among limited options for the book reviewer.   Do you want to be perceived as smart and well-read, or as the less smart writer whose reviews are more often read?

The appropriate response may be to write a mix of positive and not so positive reviews, so that one is viewed as both smart and nice, if not both at the same time.

Joseph Arellano

Pictured – The Other Life: A Novel by Ellen Meister ($24.95, 320 pages) which will be released by Putnam Adult Books on February 17, 2011.

Note:  After writing this article, I happened to come across the following statement from Robert Christgau, music critic for the Village Voice:  “I don’t usually fluctuate wildly with what I initially thought about an album because I wait to write the review until I know what I think…  My first judgment is solid and secure.   But records do tend to either gain or lose aura as decades pass.”

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Dead Man’s Curve

Cat Coming Home by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (William Morrow; $19.99; 354 pages)

This latest Joe Grey mystery oozes with picturesque Carmel charm.   Shirley Rousseau Murphy extolls the architectural beauty of her coastal hometown in the thinly veiled story location, Molina Point.   The plot revolves around Joe, Dulcie and Kit – three cats who speak to their pet parents and sometimes unsuspecting people.   The characters in the mystery that the cats solve are a grandma named Maudie, her six-year-old grandson Benny and, of course, the evil doers.   It’s not fair to describe the villains as their identities are the key to the mystery.   Keep in mind that appearances can be very deceiving!

The story opens with a ghastly double murder that devastates a perfectly lovely family.   Benny’s dad, his new wife, her two children, Benny and his grandma are driving up a mountain road on their way to an Easter weekend of relaxation at Lake Arrowhead when a vehicle pulls up alongside them and shoots the dad and stepmom.   Chaos follows as their car tumbles off the road and everyone is tossed about.   After being rescued, Maudie becomes so distraught that she decides to leave her home in Los Angeles, bringing Benny with her to Molina Point, her childhood home.

Joe Grey and his buddies become part of the story when a series of home invasion crimes occur in Molina Point not long after Maudie and Benny arrive in town.   Added to the intrigue is the presence of an older yellow tom cat that lurks nearby and seems to have something important in mind.   Kit is fascinated by this stranger and makes it her business to find out what he’s doing in town.   Kit’s need for a focus in her life seems to be a continuing thread in these books.

The home invasions are targeted at ladies who are home alone.   They are being viciously attacked by intruders, the interiors of their homes are trashed, but not much is stolen.   One of the home invasions happens on Maddie’s block.   To make matters worse, Molina Point’s dedicated chief of police, Max Harper, is being singled out in the local newspaper for failing to bring the crime wave to a halt.   As usual, the cats are quick-witted and fleet of foot as they race around town just a paw or two behind the villains.

Whether the setting for a mystery novel is a big city or a small town, human frailties are usually at the core of the story.   This tale (or tail) is no exception.   Author Murphy does a wonderful job of developing her characters and providing insight into human nature and feline nature as well.   She refrains from rehashing the premise of her Joe Grey series which allows for more action and intrigue.

Highly recommended.  

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased for the reviewer.

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