Tag Archives: Joseph Arellano

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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/

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One Man’s Castle

This is an interview with J. Michael Major, author of the unique crime novel One Man’s Castle.  Joseph Arellano

1 man's castle major

In One Man’s Castle, you wrote a novel based upon a fascinating premise: A man kills people, but only criminals who break into his home.  How did you come up with this idea for the plotline?

It was a short story first.  Like most of my ideas, it was a combination of something I read or saw on the news combined with a “What if?” twist.  What could be another reason bodies are buried in a crawlspace?  And what is something personal that would make a person do this instead of calling the police? The characters stayed in my head even after the story was published, and several writer-friends encouraged me to expand it into a novel.

As I read Castle, I was sure that I knew exactly where the story was going.  I believed the story was going to conclude with an O.J. Simpson style trial.  But that’s not where the story went.  Did you have the ending planned out all along, or did the story just happen to take the path it did?

I’m glad I surprised you!  Yes, it was all pre-planned.  I am an outliner, even for short stories, and the core was already there.  After years of cut-cut for stories, the hard part was learning how to expand the idea without making it feel padded.  The novel gave me the freedom to show how Riehle and Capparelli initially met, get to know the backstory on Walter’s wife so the reader would care more, and explore Walter’s conflict in wanting justice for his wife’s murder without having to pay more of a price himself.

I describe the novel as “Death Wish meets The Fugitive,” and I had to figure out how to structure Castle to keep the tension and conflict while the reader was (hopefully) rooting for both Walter to get away and the police to catch him.  So, yes, I had to know where the story was going at all times.

Speaking of the end of the novel, I was reminded of Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow and Defending Jacob by William Landy.  Were these legal novels influences on you?

Absolutely!  In fact, Presumed Innocent is one of my favorite novels of all time, so I am incredibly flattered that my novel reminded you of it.  Thanks!

Most criminal justice system related novels are written by lawyers.  How did you, as a dentist, decide to tackle a legal novel?

I saw it more as a crime novel with legal issues, which allowed me to focus on the definition of the crime and its consequences, rather than having to follow strict legal structure.  But mostly, it was just the story that I wanted to tell.  “Write what you want to read” rather than “Write what you know.”

What steps did you take to research the criminal justice system to ensure that your novel was reasonably accurate and representative of the justice system?

In addition to friends, relatives and patients who were police officers, I also talked with a couple of lawyers in the State’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s office.  They not only answered my questions, but read early drafts of the novel and made helpful suggestions and corrections.  I am very grateful for their time and patience with me.

J. Michael Major

If you could press the reset button on your life is there something you would change?

Who wouldn’t want to go back and un-say/un-do some things, or do something you later regretted that you hadn’t?  But the truth is, I love my wife of 25+ years and I am so proud of the wonderful people that my son and daughter are, that I would not want to go back and jeopardize losing what I have with them.  Still, if I had to change anything, I would go back to when my children were younger and find a way to spend more time with them.  Though I was an involved father, they grew up so fast!  Where did the time go?

As with many legal novels, One Man’s Castle is in some sense a critique of the existing criminal justice system.  If you were made King of the Courts, is there something you would change about the system?

I would get rid of, or greatly reduce, the continued victimization of the victims.  While I understand the need for someone to be able to defend himself/herself against false accusations, the victims and their family and friends should not have to suffer through the torture and shaming they must endure during trials.  This seems like common sense and decency, but common sense and the law seem to follow non-intersecting paths these days.

Will your next novel be in the same vein?  Would you give us a preview of it in two or three sentences?

Sadly, when my publishing company decided that it was not going to publish mystery novels anymore, I had to scrap plans for sequels to Castle using the same detectives.  I wrote many short stories for a while, the most recent having been published in Weirdbook #34, until I got an idea for something different.  I just started writing the story of a rookie cop who descends into a hardened, shadowy vigilante over the course of three books.  I’m very excited about this project!

One final point, Carolyn Parkhurst stated, “The ending of a novel should feel inevitable.  You, the reader, shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming.”  I did not see the ending of One Man’s Castle coming, thus it passed her test.  Great job.  I certainly highly recommend the book.  Do you have any final comments?

First, thank you for this terrific interview.  Great questions!  I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book and greatly appreciate your recommending it.  Second, to all beginning writers, HANG IN THERE!  Life throws you curve balls, but as long as you keep writing and submitting your stories, you will persevere.  And read the screenwriting book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, because it will help you with structure and inspire you.  Good luck!

This interview was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/interview-j-michael-major-author-of-one-mans-castle/

It was also used by the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Interview-J-Michael-Major-Author-of-One-Man-s-11229481.php

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Rundown

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike (Crown, $25.00, 256 pages)

long run

In The Long Run, Catriona Menzies-Pike seeks to be inspirational when it comes to summarizing the healing power of running.  Unfortunately, the memoir comes across as flat and turgid.  The latter is the case when Menzies-Pike writes as a feminist.  It’s interesting but her heart does not seem to be in it.  The topical connection between the sport of running and social oppression is weak, to say the least.  Running appears to have empowered Menzies-Pike, so it’s unclear how the feminist complaints fit in.

“Women run when they are chased; women must run from predators to stay chaste.  It is not natural for women to run unless they’re chased; chaste women have no need to run.”

It’s troubling that Menzies-Pike gets some basic details wrong.  At one point she writes of “the weight shifting from the ball to the heel of my foot as I move forward.”  That’s not how people run; the heel hits the ground before one’s weight is transferred to the ball of the foot.  Was she running backwards?

This slim work may benefit a few by making the case that running can empower a person.  Menzies-Pike notes that there’s “nothing… as reliable as running for elevations of mood and emotion, for a sense of self-protection.”  Well and good, but there’s something removed and distant about her writing style.

A novice runner would be better off reading the modern classic What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.  Much better off.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.  This book was released on May 23, 2017.

Catriona Menzies-Pike is the editor of the Sydney Review of Books, a link to which can be found on our Blogroll.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T.

The Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. (F.K.T. stands for fastest known time) is an attractive, lightweight trail running shoe. Is it a shoe that also holds up as a daily trainer for those who run on hard city surfaces? See our verdict below.

columbia montrail fluidflex fkt running warehouse

One can almost tell by looking at a pair of the new Fluidflex F.K.T. that it has the soul of a fast shoe. It’s just 9.5 ounces in weight, and feels lighter on one’s feet. The shoe has a seamless upper and an outsole that is almost identical to the one on the bottom of the Montrail Fluidflex, circa 2013. According to Columbia Montrail – which provided a sample for review, the Fluidflex offers “enhanced mid-foot stability and a smooth ride on the trail.” Of this, there’s no doubt.

The Fluidflex has a minimal 4mm heel drop and a protective Trail (rock) Shield in the forefoot. The shoe appears to be semi-curved, is slip-lasted for comfort, and provides a snug fit. Notably, the shoe comes with a commercial grade, high quality, aftermarket-looking insole. It’s impressive and means that the runner who buys this shoe will not need to make a post-purchase drive to the local CVS or Walgreens.

The tongue on the Fluidflex is overly short, especially for a trail shoe, but this is a minor quibble. A second quibble has to do with the fit. My narrow feet wished for more headroom in the forefoot and a bit more space on the lateral side. My small toes were crying out for more space! Luckily, the upper loosens up with the passage of miles, so patience has its virtues with the Fluidflex.

columbia fluidflex fkt

On a dirt and rock covered trail one can feel the Fluidflex’s lugs dig in. These lugs may be relatively small but their strength becomes quite apparent on a newly mown grass trail. They dig in so well, so securely, that it feels like one’s running on clawed cat’s feet. Excellent!

On a hard-packed dirt trail, the shoe offers a B to B+ ride. The Fluidflex is just nimble enough to bring out the mountain goat in a runner. On a trail made up of large and small hard rocks the Fluidflex provides all gain and no pain.

Switching to an urban surface of concrete, the Fluidflex delivers straight ahead foot strikes with some bounce but not too much. It’s clear that this is a highly protective shoe, something that’s also apparent on asphalt. And this is a great tempo trainer; lock onto a pace and the shoe will stick to it like an auto set to cruise control. Nice.

The two flex grooves cut into the forefoot of the Fluidflex do indeed provide for a substantial amount of flexibility. This makes it a joy to use as an urban trainer. Whether you are a midfoot or forefoot striker, this shoe will accommodate your style. One caveat about this model is addressed to mild to moderate pronators: the current Fluidflex does not appear to be quite as stable as the earlier Fluidflex and Fluidfeel models – both of which I’ve run in.

This Fluidflex is consistent with earlier offerings from Montrail in terms of delivering on its promised smooth ride. If you ran in the La Sportiva Helios trail shoe, for example, and are looking for a similarly comfortable non-jarring ride, the Fluidflex is one to take out for a test spin.

One final and additional quibble before we arrive at the verdict. Because of the use of foam insoles, city and trail shoes are becoming increasingly soft. I would love to see a model from Columbia Montrail that offers additional firmness from the midfoot through the forefoot. Not a tremendous amount of firmness, but perhaps twenty to thirty percent more than is present in the current Fluidflex.

Verdict

At a price of $110, the Columbia Montrail Fluidflex F.K.T. is a high value shoe. Its build quality is clear and the company has gone above and beyond in terms of details like providing an upgraded insole. While the shoe works well on both country trails and city streets, I believe its pluses are most readily apparent when it is used as a daily townie trainer.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-columbia-montrail-fluidflex-f-k-t/

Image credits: Running Warehouse; Road Trail Run

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Running Shoe Review: Icebug Oribi M RB9X

Is the Icebug Oribi running shoe suitable for more than running on wet or slippery surfaces?

Icebug-Oribi-RB9X

On the box containing a pair of Icebug running shoes, you will find these words: “Safe grip, free mind.”  If this does not seem to be quite clear, the Swedish company also uses another motto: “The world leader for traction.”  Yes, this is the company that promises that on wet or slippery surfaces, its RB9X surface shoes grip “better than anything else on the market.”  You could walk across an ice rink in a pair of Iceburg shoes.  But how does one of their offerings work on the trails and roads of the U.S.?  See the verdict below.

icebug_OribiM small

The Oribi is named after an African antelope, an animal with “speed, grace and agility.”  This hybrid shoe weighs just 8.1 ounces – although one would think it was heavier due to the rather substantial rugged outsole, it offers a 7mm drop (versus a 4mm drop in the Icebug Acceleritas RB9X), and is said to to offer medium cushioning and flex.  The Oribi has a polyester mesh upper, a lightweight EVA midsole, a TPU mudguard upfront, and a rock plate in the center of the forefoot.  I ran in this striking beryl/cobalt colored shoe, provided by the company, on various surfaces.

The Icebug has a straight last and provides a snug fit.  However, there’s room on top of the foot – something I mention because several other trail shoes seem to be too low-cut these days.  Due to some toe issues, I requested a model one full size up.  This meant there was some initial space-caused slippage at the rear heel area of the shoe – a matter remedied by wearing a pair of mid-weight running socks.

On a dirt and gravel-covered trail, I quickly noticed that the Oribi delivers a straight-ahead ride.  This was made more evident when I ran on the same trail in another manufacturer’s shoe and found my feet moving around more than necessary.  The Oribi makes one feel like your feet are locked onto a rail.  This is good.  Less wasted movement equals less wasted energy.

On asphalt, the ride is surprisingly smooth and comfortable.  Not only is there no wasted energy, one feels the energy return from the responsive but not overly firm midsole.  One may look forward to mid-range and long training runs in the Oribi.

icebug oribi sole

The Oribi’s lugs allow one to dig in on a mowed grass trail.  There’s stability front and rear, as well as from side to side.  Because of these properties, I found myself running too fast and almost falling.  Thanks to the Oribi’s “torsional stability” system, I was able to remain upright.

The Oribi is 100% protective on concrete.  One can feel the ground but without punishment to the feet or sensitive metatarsals.  This model absolutely shines on a hard-packed dirt trail, offering – to use an automobile analogy – what feels like four-wheel drive.  For my feet, this felt like the best shoe ever on this type of surface!

On a trail loaded with large and small rocks, the Oribi offers just enough feel while protecting the feet from pain or discomfort.  Thanks, rock plate.  On a fire road, the shoe produced a B+ ride and offered some fun using the shoe’s moderate lugs to beat down high grass and brush to get there.

The clearest view of the Oribi’s nature came when I ran on the well-trampled down dirt and rock path around a city park.  This is when I realized that the Oribi allows the foot to move through its natural full range of motion – heel to midfoot to forefoot, on every step.  Initially in my mind, I thought that the Oribi provided the ride feel of a Nike trail shoe or of an early Asics Gel DS Trainer.  But then it hit me, “This feels like a Pearl Izumi trail shoe!”  Ah, yes, a number of movers loved the Pearl runners.  Sadly, Pearl Izumi withdrew from producing their running shoes at the end of 2016.  One can no longer purchase one of their exemplary models.  Fortunately, the Icebug Oribi is here to fill the void.

Verdict

At a list price of $149.95, the Icebug Oribi is not inexpensive.  But it’s a shoe that does everything well on almost every surface (including ice and snow), offers almost endless protection for tired and worn feet, and is durable enough to last for several hundred happy training miles on natural trails and city streets.  The Oribi will be a bargain for the runner who uses it to replace not one but two shoes in his or her rotation stable, as it can be used as both a trainer and race day shoe.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Note: Icebug USA is based in Bellingham, Washington.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/running-shoe-review-icebug-oribi-m-rb9x/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Grandma’s Hands

I love my grandma by Giles Andreae and Emma Dodd (Disney/Hyperion, $16.99, 32 pages)

i love my grandma

The relationship between a granddaughter and grandmother is cheerfully and joyously explored in I love my grandma by writer Giles Andreae and illustrator Emma Dodd.  The story’s text is easy for a child to understand: “We play all sorts of funny games, and give each other silly names. We really love to cook and bake, and eat the yummy things we make.”  It’s clear that in their interactions, grandma gets to act childlike, while granddaughter has fun pretending to be mature.

Animals and toys are featured on nearly every page, which helps young reader-listeners relax.  And it’s made clear that a grandchild is a source of pride for a grandparent.  What’s also made clear – in a gentle way – is that even the most loving and nurturing of grandmas can welcome the rest that comes at the end of a visit: “When it’s time to say good-bye, my grandma gives a little sigh…  And says, although we’ve had such fun, it’s nice to give me back to  mom.”

The bright and highly colorful illustrations by Dodd are the icing on the kid’s cake.  I love my grandma was given the perfect endorsement by our own granddaughter who said, “I love this book!”

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received by the publisher.

This book is recommended for children ages 2 through 6.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized