Tag Archives: Joseph Arellano

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck

scoopScoop the Ice Cream Truck by Patricia Keeler (Sky Pony Press, $16.99, 32 pages)

Scoop the Ice Cream Truck is a fine, entertaining message book for children aged 3 to 6.  It tells the story of Scoop, a failure as an aging ice cream truck who attempts to remake himself into something he is not.  Scoop’s reinvention sadly results in a different type of failure.

The takeaway message for very young readers is that it’s perfectly OK to be what and who you are.  You don’t have to change yourself to be like other people in order to be popular or to “fit in.”  Being yourself and wanting the things you want will ultimately lead to happiness and fulfillment.

scoop the ice cream two

The illustrations by Patricia Keller are charming and her artwork has a uniquely individual style that assists in bringing home the small book’s message.  My granddaughter loves this book for a simple reason: Unlike many children’s books, the storyline is not predictable.  In fact, this mature reader found the ending of Scoop to be totally unexpected.

Keeler does not patronize the intelligence of young readers; instead she trusts them to stretch their minds a bit.  It works.  I believe the book would be wholly appropriate for children up to the age of 8.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

 

 

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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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Brownout

The Browns of California: The Family Dynasty That Transformed a State and Shaped a Nation by Miriam Pawell (Bloomsbury, $35.00, 496 pages)

browns of california

The Browns of California is an interesting, sometimes engaging look at a unique California political family that produced two governors (Edmund G. and Jerry) and a state treasurer (Kathleen).  The work appears to be well edited and contains no evident factual errors.  Yet the book lacks something.

We get a hint of what’s lacking when Pawell references, on seven different pages, former California historian, state librarian, and USC professor Kevin Starr. Starr wrote an impressive multi-volume history of the state under the series title, “Americans and the California Dream.”  The most impressive of these works may have been Material Dreams: Southern California Through the 1920s.  Each volume soared in flight because of Starr’s uniquely impressive writing style which reflected his childlike wonderment over the miracle that is California.  By contrast, Pawel’s style is competent, but flat.  This vehicle never leaves the runway.

Another issue is that while Pawel addresses Jerry Brown’s uniqueness, she never stops to reflect on how very strange his ideas appeared at the time he arrived at them.  Yes, he may have been – to his credit, ahead of his time but he was never of his time.

The Browns is a seemingly credible, but just passable, account that never quite comes to life.  For this reason, it is not recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  This book was released on September 4, 2018.

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30 Years in the Hole

30 years

30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor by Karen Gedney, M.D. (DRG Consulting Company, $14.95, 384 pages)

30 Years Behind Bars: Trials of a Prison Doctor is an engaging and seemingly highly factual account of the work of a prison physician. I say this because I worked for doctors in a state’s prison system. As Doctor Karen Gedney makes abundantly clear, one never knows what one will encounter each day behind bars. One day inside a prison may be as quiet and reserved as a Catholic mass. The next day, all hell can, and will, break out.

Dr. Gedney intended to work for just four years under the National Health Corps in order to pay back her medical school scholarship. But the work was so fascinating to her that she stayed for three full decades. And she saw it as her mission to not just treat physical medical issues but also hearts and minds: “It was clear to me that as long as these men viewed themselves as victims, they had little chance of doing well on the outside. I had to help them perceive themselves not as victims, but as people who had what it takes to be responsible for the choices they made in life.”

And so, Dr. Gedney wound up bringing life skills classes to a high-security prison. An intriguing twist in her story is that Gedney, who is white, has a husband who is African-American. He wound up working with her to develop classes for inmates, the type intended to provide them with a “second chance.”

Dr. Gedney’s perspective is best summarized in these words: “I was always a sucker for the underdog.”

Of course,  no good deed goes unpunished, so Gedney often had to deal with wardens who either did not support her rehabilitation efforts or dismantled them. Even physicians are bound by the chains of bureaucracy. Luckily for Gedney, she encountered inmate success stories, such as the inmate she assisted who received a pardon after serving fifty years in prison. “Fifty years in prison. How does one survive that so well? How did he manage to walk out with confidence, into a world that was so different than the one he knew?”

Sometimes Dr. Gedney gets a bit too deep into attempting to cure the world as when she states: “The only thing that made sense to me was trying to gain an understanding of why someone commits a crime, and what could be done to prevent or stop the behavior.” Some would argue that this mission is not the role of a doctor in the correctional system. And this raises the one issue with 30 Years Behind Bars. At times, it becomes a political polemic, and this can distract from the story of Dr. Gedney’s medical career. And I suspect that it may, to some extent, limit the audience for the book.

Dr. Gedney might have avoided the sections of the book that deal with changing the system and the world. But then it would not have been her true account.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book is available as an eBook and as a trade paperback book.

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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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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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