Tag Archives: Joseph’s Reviews

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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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.

 

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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

 

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Ten Years After

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki (Norton, $21.95, 259 pages)

goodbye things

Goodbye, Things was a good read.  Although I anticipated yet another primer on how to clear out the clutter in one’s life, it was also a memoir detailing author Fumio Sasaki’s discovery that his value in the world was not his possessions.  Sasaki had created a persona for himself that was a deep thinker who read tons of books, a connoisseur of food and wine, and a collector of rare, antique cameras.  He realized that he had been living for ten years in an apartment crammed full of stuff that he didn’t use.

Hundreds of books lined the shelves of the hallway and were piled up in the rest of the place and yet they went unread.  Sasaki knew the titles and authors’ names, but not much else.  An increasing number of CDs and DVDs were also part of the mix.  Antique cameras languished on shelves.  He didn’t even touch them.

By Sasaki’s own admission, the apartment was a dirty mess.  Food also played a part in his overstuffed life.  He gained weight by eating and drinking in excess while surrounded by stuff.  The weight gain led to increased feelings of worthlessness.  Sasaki constantly compared himself and his life situation to others he had known since college.  His value diminished when he did so.

As an editor for a small publisher, Sasaki had the basics of writing.  The publishing business was suffering because it relied upon blockbuster sales.  His livelihood was fading away.  At the same time, he became aware of the booming minimalist movement, and in particular author Marie Kondo.

Sasaki became energized by his need to change, both himself and his career.  He embraced minimalism and documented his process.  After whittling down his possessions to a drastic few, he’s now rethinking the idea of having almost nothing.  He had a terrible inferiority complex.  The stuff he hoarded was protecting him from the deep-seated fear he had of being judged by others.  The goofiest outcome was the realization that he was living in a filthy mess!

goodbye things sasaki

Goodbye, Things is divided into distinct parts.  While the natural inclination is to read a book from beginning to end, Sasaki encourages his reader to explore the chapters based on whatever topic seems appealing.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: Fumio Sasaki lives in a 215-square-foot apartment in Tokyo, Japan.

 

 

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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/

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Law and Order

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay (Random House/Bantam, $16.00, 437 pages)

If you loved Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, read this.

defending jacob amazon

One of my favorite films is the Al Pacino classic And Justice for All, which might as well have been titled And Justice for No One.  In my time as a reviewer for Joseph’s Reviews, I have reviewed many crime/suspense/mystery/call them what you will novels, because many people enjoy reading these books.  Most, in my opinion, are average at best.  They appeal to a certain readership, and they get published.

The ones that distinguish themselves stand out for reasons that can sometimes be explained – for example, they actually tell a story, the reader cares about the characters, and they defy the formulaic conventions that permeate run-of-the-mill books.  Other times the reasons are more subtle.  A writer can just plain write – simple as that, and the book stands on its own, independent of any pre-conceived convention.  In those cases, things become a bit more subjective.

William Landay’s Defending Jacob succeeds on both accounts and is one heckuva book, period.  For people who enjoy the genre, it is an absolute must read.  Landy tells the story of Ben Rifkin’s murder in the first person, which is a brilliant decision.  This point of view adds to the suspense and human dilemma faced by the main character, Andy Barber, and his family.  A less skillful writer might not have pulled this off, but as it stands, the decision perfectly advances the story.  The reader suspends judgment and is pulled in multiple directions throughout the entire novel.

Barber is the town’s assistant district attorney and the initial investigator on the Rifkin case.  Ben is brutally stabbed in a park on his way to school.  Eventually, Andy’s son, Jacob, a socially awkward teen who was bullied by Ben, is accused of the murder.  This creates further complications, including politics in the D.A.’s office.  On top of that, Andy’s conscience may not be the most reliable barometer, as he has spent his life trying to bury the fact that his father is serving a life sentence for murder.  Is there such a thing as a murder gene, a propensity for violence?

Jacob’s internet proclivities and childhood indiscretions don’t help him.  But do they add up to murder?

In the end, a second incident and the preponderance of the evidence appears to lead to a certain direction, but the plot is so carefully constructed that empathy for the narrator still tempers judgment, and – like in And Justice for All, sometimes justice is not absolute.  Sometimes the criminal justice system is only as good as the flawed humans who are entrusted to administer it.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

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

Note: Defending Jacob is used as a textbook in Criminal Justice  introductory classes at California State University, Sacramento as it provides insight into the complexities of the criminal justice system.

 

 

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Sisters of the Moon

Almost Sisters: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson (William Morrow, $26.99, 352 pages)

almost sisters

Every family has secrets that persist over generations.  When a family happens to have its roots in a small town in Alabama, long-standing Southern mores bring added depth to its history.  Author Joshilyn Jackson has written a family tale worthy of high praise, The Almost Sisters.  Her main character, cartoonist Leia Birch, is the family outlier.  Her stepsister, Rachel, is the conventional, perfectionist Southern wife who resides in a faux-Tara home with her husband, Jake, and daughter, Lavender.

Leia Birch is not just a cartoonist; she’s the artist behind a DC Comics limited series, Violence in Violet.  The success of the series brought Leia to a comic-book convention in Atlanta where she was the featured artist.  Months later Leia has a secret that she knows will only be met with acceptance by her beloved grandmother, Miss Birchie.

Miss Birchie has her own secrets; although, if she can’t stay quiet in church, at least half of Birchville will find out.  The town, founded by her family, retains many vestiges of the old South.  There is the white neighborhood and the colored one.  People have their places in society and the ridged structure rarely bends to accommodate modern beliefs from outside.

Leia not only has a secret, she has a contract to write and illustrate the prequel for her Violence in Violet series.  The pressure is on as she drives to Birchville to confide in her grandmother.  Little does she suspect that what awaits her may be beyond what she’s able to handle.  There is more than one set of sisters.

Readers will be drawn into the fascinating threads of Author Jackson’s tale.  This book may be fiction but it could also be drawn from real life.  Ms. Jackson is that good at conveying the humanity of each of her unforgettable characters.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.  Almost Sisters will be released on July 11, 2017.

 

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