Tag Archives: Joseph Arellano

Murder in the Library

murder manuscript roomMurder in the Manuscript Room: A 42nd Street Library Mystery by Con Lehane (Minotaur Books, 320 pages, $25.99)

I tend to avoid mysteries for a number of reasons.  Let me go over them here:

  1. Most mysteries tend to feature too many characters.  One needs a flow chart to keep track of them.
  2. Most mysteries have too many quirky characters.  Why are these characters stranger than the ones in most novels?
  3. Most mysteries have too many red herrings.
  4. Most mysteries go on too long before the mystery in question is solved.  And then it happens far too quickly (e.g., 305 pages detailing the story, which is wrapped up at warp speed in the last 10 to 15 pages).
  5. Most mysteries have too much dialogue and not enough narrative exposition (scene setting and action).

Despite all of this, I found Murder in the Manuscript Room to be quite engaging.  Con Lehane offers a unique premise – someone is not only killing in the New York City Public Library, but in the rare manuscripts room.  Why?  Why there?  Why in that room?

I often find myself not caring about the solution to the crime at the center of a mystery novel.  However, this time I wanted to know the outcome.  What made the read more enjoyable than most mysteries for me is that author Lehane has a bit of a clipped style.  He does not overload the reader with facts and details; instead, I found that sometimes he leaves things out.  Every now and then, in fact, I wondered if I had skipped a page or two because of his conciseness.  (He sometimes, to use a legal phrase, assumes facts that are not in evidence.)

Lehane also throws in a bit of a romance and a variation on the hard-boiled New York City cop.  Well done!

Lehane basically has a unique tone as a writer.  I like it.

Now I look forward to reading the earlier book in the series, Murder at the 42nd Street Library, and I hope I’m sent a copy of Lehane’s next work.

Me, looking forward to reading a mystery…  Imagine that.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.  This book was released on November 21, 2017.

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Don’t Look Back

Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul by Jeremiah Moss (Dey St., $28.99, 480 pages)

An initially interesting work about missing the places from the past that have disappeared – something we can all relate to – devolves into a screed.

It was hard to see in 1993, but 42nd Street, aka the Deuce, was already in the midst of “renewal.”  I had, again, arrived too late.

vanishing new york

Vanishing New York by Jeremiah Moss (not the writer’s real name) is an initially engaging but ultimately frustrating look at the effects of hyper-gentrification on New York City.  The first hundred pages or so are fascinating,  like a good magazine article about places that once existed at a tourist destination.  But once the reader has passed the 400-page mark, the charm of the work is completely absent.

I broke into tears, trying to hold back my grief for that place [Cafe Edison] and its people, but also for all of Times Square, and for the whole lost city.  As I wept over blueberry blintzes, I asked myself, as I often did, What is left to love about New York?

“Moss” – who acknowledges in the book’s opening that he may soon disappear “like the New York I love” – is an individual who would have been praised in graduate school for his issue spotting skills.  If he had devoted 50 to 60 percent of the book to identifying the problems with gentrification, and 40 to 50 percent to proposed legislative or social solutions the work might have been uplifting.  Instead, it’s 95+ percent devoted to kvetching about what’s been lost.  This gets boring quickly.  Very quickly.

And, make no mistake, Moss – or whoever he is, goes quite overboard in his language about the Big Apple:  “I stay because I need New York.  I can’t live anywhere else.”  Of course, he could live somewhere else but he elects to stay and complain rather aimlessly about the changing and evolving face of a major city.

Everything changes, Moss.  Get over it.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Logic of Balance

Moreau Business

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau (CreateSpace, 188 pages, $9.95)

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance by Gary Moreau is an engaging work.  Moreau focuses on the point that business leaders tend to be guided either by their heard or their hearts (guts).  Most see it as a choice between, say, the colors blue (head) or red (heart).  But leadership may be purple; that is, it must rely on a balance between logical thoughts and instincts.

In Moreau’s words, “this book is all about context.”  The business environment, its context, is rarely solely about reason or logic.  It’s a blend of the two.

Moreau spends equal time illustrating the benefits as well as the weaknesses of relying on data-driven decision making and instinct-driven decisions.  Both will work at some points, but will fail if relied upon to the exclusion of all else.

One of the fascinating points made by Moreau is that many of the visionary individuals that our society holds up as models of business and societal leadership – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King, Jr. – had significant ideas (the “what”).  However, they had no specific plans (the “how”) for implementing their ideas.  That’s because sky-viewing visionaries must rely upon ground-based planners.

A great leader, as Moreau notes, follows his or her conscience.  This “sits at the crossroads of deduction and reduction.”  Yes, true leadership, in implementation of great ideas, requires balance.

Another key point made by Moreau, a valuable one for business managers, is that the world is a very big and tough place.  We tend to give too much credit to individuals for business successes and too much blame for failures.  The truth is that business leaders – CEOs or managers, cannot control the world.  A business failure may rest upon poor timing, poor global conditions, or many other factors.

There are a couple of issues with this work.  Firstly, Moreau engages in political discussions that are out of place and simply do not belong in the book.  In this, he fails to subscribe to his rule that context is key.  (Since he mentions Trump and Clinton, it’s surprising that he does not use them as examples of contrasting leadership styles.)

Secondly, like Joshua Wolf Shenk, the author of Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (2014), Moreau tends to go too far in separating matters into one camp or the other.  In Shenk’s book, every artist was separated between being either a John Lennon (an instinctive artist) or a Paul McCartney (a hardworking artist).  But the world is more complicated than that.

In Understanding Business, Moreau is like the proverbial hammer that sees everything as a nail.  Everything is either mind or gut.  I suspect that at some point a writer will produce a book about successful business leaders and artists who fall into the in-between category.  (Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a musician who is equally instinctive and highly rational/logical/detail-oriented.)

Still, Moreau’s book provides valuable points for business executives.  For example, at one point he notes that a business leader should make a deductive decision using logic, but then test this decision using instinct.  That executive should ask, “Does it feel right?”  Excellent.

Finally, Understanding Business drives home one major point in these stressful times.  This is that business leaders must value and respect their staff members.  Executives cannot just talk the talk, they must walk the walk,  It does not take long for workers to realize that they are simply cogs in the machinery of their company.  When this realization hits, the company they work for can and will suffer.

Moreau Business 2

If you own or operate a business, large or small, you may wish to read Understanding Business.  It will serve you well.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

 

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Running Shoe Review: Columbia Montrail Bajada III

The Columbia Montrail Bajada III (hereinafter, Bajada) is said to be “a versatile trail running shoe that can handle a variety of trails…” due to its “reliable cushioning and traction.”  (Running Warehouse)  Do we agree?  See the verdict below.

CM Bajada III

The latest version of the Bajada from Columbia Montrail offers a great fit; it’s snug but roomy in the right places.  The shoe weighs 12 ounces but feels more like 10 ounces under the feet.  It has a FluidFoam midsole, a sticky Griptonite Trail outsole containing an immense number of small lugs providing multi-directional grip, a Trail Shield to protect one’s feet, horizontal and vertical flex grooves, and a 10mm drop.  As with most running shoes these days, it has a seamless “socklite” mesh upper.

Columbia Montrail generally includes an upgraded, deluxe commercial-grade sockliner in their trail shoes, and this is the case with the Bajada.  Another bonus feature of the shoe is the set of elastic laces which provide comfort and “give,” yet they can be securely tied for peace of mind.

While walking to nearby trails, one will note that the Bajada offers a soft, comfortable ride.  And the shoe feels like it is just the right height – not too high off the ground and not too low.

On a gravel and dirt trail the Bajada offers good proprioception (ground feel) while remaining protective.  On a mown grass fire trail the Bajada delivers fine grip and yaw control.  You can feel the shoe moving from side to side but it returns to center quickly.  On a hard-packed dirt trail the Bajada feels fast and light.  It’s like driving a roadster on a curvy country road.

The toughest test for a trail shoe tends to be how it handles a hard rock trail – with both large and small rocks underfoot.  The Bajada earns an A- grade for grip, and a B to B+ grade for both the absence of slippage and protection.  You know a shoe has passed with flying colors on a hard rock trail when no cuss words are emitted by the runner!

CM Bajada III sole

Although the grippy lugs on the Bajada appear to be relatively small they provide tremendous purchase for moving uphill.  This would be a nice shoe to use to run up the Ventana Canyon Trail in Tucson.

On city/suburban roads the Bajada demonstrates its credentials as a hybrid shoe.  It’s bouncy on asphalt, earning a B grade for responsiveness.  On sidewalks it proves to be as stable as earlier-year Montrail shoes, such as the Montrail Fluid Feel from 2013.  (The Bajada offers more stability than the Fluidflex F.K.T. or the Caldorado II models.)

On roads the Bajada delivers B level cushioning.  The springiness provided by its insole is not dissipated; energy builds up supporting forward motion momentum.  Speaking of momentum, one can get on one’s toes and/or high-step in the Bajada to engage in speed training.  Yes, it will deliver a fast response if and when you need it.

Verdict

The Bajada does most everything well.  It is quite likely the Columbia Montrail model that will work best for the average runner.  (While I found the Caldorado II to be excellent, it rests upon a level of firmness that works for only a certain percentage of individuals.)

At a price of $110, the Bajada provides exemplary levels of grip, protection, cushioning, and responsiveness.  It’s a hybrid model that can be used as both a trail runner and a road trainer, and it will prove to be more than satisfactory for mid-range and long-distance runs.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A sample pair was provided by Columbia Montrail for review.

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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.

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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/

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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