Tag Archives: new books

Friend of the Devil

Past Crimes Hamilton

Past Crimes: A Novel by Glen Erik Hamilton (William Morrow, $26.99, 321 pages)

They drill politeness into the Seattle cops with six-inch galvanized screws. It always amused Dono, and I was starting to get the joke.

When Guerin spoke again, his voice was level and hard enough to skate on. “If you go around looking for your grandfather’s associates, firing off any question that comes into your head, then we could lose a chance to build a case against someone. He could walk.”

This first novel by author Glen Erik Hamilton is semi-autobiographical. The early life of the narrator, Van Shaw, mirrors that of the author. Seattle, boating and bad behavior are what they have in common. Van Shaw is a wounded Army veteran on leave back home in Seattle. His experience in Afghanistan put him into a special class of soldier, one who has endured combat situations far more disturbing than most guys could handle.

Shaw has a complicated past that includes a broken family with long-standing grudges. He has received a letter from his grandfather, Dono. The two of them have been estranged for a while. The backstory is complicated and the author uses flashbacks to lead the reader through Shaw’s apprentice years at his grandfather’s side pulling burglary jobs, all the while learning the tricks of thievery, large and small.

The story line meanders bit as it picks up threads that form a general fabric of Shaw’s and Dono’s lives. As threads are added, the momentum builds. The reader is pulled into a messy set of situations. (Suffice it to say that Shaw becomes a prime suspect in a crime.) Hamilton keeps his end game in focus and delivers a satisfying read.

This is the promised first of a series of Van Shaw novels. Hamilton has laid the groundwork for a complex character who is likeable but troubling. (A friend of the devil, if you will.) Lee Child’s Jack Reacher comes to mind.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Angels of Mercy

The Nurses (Nook Book)

The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with The Heroes of the Hospital by Alexandra Robbins (Workman Publishing, $24.95, 360 pages)

My mother worked in a hospital and I often wondered what went on during one of her nursing shifts. Alexandra Robbins (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities) has answered that question in The Nurses, in which she covers every aspect of the workers she calls “the heroes of the hospital.” Nurses are, of course, the staff members that patients interact with the most.

This nonfiction account is based on actual events in three urban hospitals – possibly three based in Los Angeles – during one year. The reader learns about nursing cliques, the positive and negative relationships between doctors and nurses, the attachment that can form between patients and their caregivers, and the unique status of the male nurse. Problem patients – those who sabotage their own care via demanding attitudes and criticisms of hospital staff members, are examined in detail. It turns out that there are many ways in which the hospital workers can get a dose of revenge! (Fair warning to all.)

Robbins delivers the message that whatever hardships members of the nursing profession encounter – and there are many (including being burdened with tasks that physicians feel are beneath them and compassion fatigue) – nurses tend to feel quite satisfied with their line of work.

To her credit, Robbins helpfully identifies a list of issues that need to be fixed in the profession, and also supplies her ideas as to how this can be done. This eye-opening book should appeal to future and current nurses, their family members, and anyone who may potentially be in need of hospital care at some point in their lives.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Nurses will be released on April 21, 2015.

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Coming Up Next…

The Nurses

A preview-review of The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital by Alexandra Robbins, which will be released on April 21, 2015.

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Leaving Nothing to Jance

Two Series and One Author

Fans of prolific author J. A. Jance – whose books can be found in every airport gift shop, will be entertained by either or both of her series installments reviewed here. The first, Second Watch, is the 10th in the J. P. Beaumont series set in Seattle, Washington. Coincidentally, Ms. Jance maintains a residence in that city. There’s a certain comfort that comes with a story set in a locale where the author feels right at home – literally.

Second Watch (nook book)

Second Watch: A J. P. Beaumont Novel by J. A. Jance (William Morrow, $26.99, 368 pages; mass market paperback version, $9.99)

Tough cop J. P. Beaumont has finally agreed to double knee replacement surgery. He’s been hobbling around in pain for far too long. His hallucination in the post-op recovery room kicks off a tale involving a 40-year-old unsolved murder case in Seattle. Readers will sense a familiarity to the television show, Cold Case, where victims appear to a cop who cares.

The vision is of a young blond wearing a Washington State University sweatshirt sitting at Beaumont’s bedside while filing her brightly polished red fingernails. The characters are believable with crisp dialogue bantered between them.

The story moves along in stages, including some flashbacks. As J. P. works through his need to figure out why he’s seen the girl, more dead people come into the tale, along with some frustrating dead ends. He sorts out the sparse clues. It helps that he and wife, Mel, are with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. They make a team of bright folks who are two of a kind – out to bring justice to bear.

Highly recommended.

Remains of Innocence (nook book)

Remains of Innocence: A Brady Novel of Suspense by J. A. Jance (William Morrow, $26.99, 400 pages)

Joanna Brady is the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona in this, the 17th novel featuring her life and career. The lives of two half-siblings are unfolded across several chapters. The first is Liza Machette, a hard-working 29-year-old restaurant manager in Massachusetts. Liza’s mother, Selma, is a bipolar chain-smoking harridan who has hoarded junk for all of Liza’s life. As Selma’s life comes to its end, Liza goes to see Selma in the hospital. Liza left home at age 18 and has not returned in 11 years. Her task is to clear out the trash and rubble of Selma’s house and life.

The startling discover of a fortune in one hundred dollar bills amid the foul-smelling debris prompts Liza to do some checking up on its source. As Liza looks into her family’s past, she realizes that she needs to hide out. Naturally, Liza makes an escape to Bisbee, Arizona where her half-brother, Guy, is the medical examiner. Oh, and Joanna Brady is the county sheriff with problems of her own. These characters are well developed and even though this is the 17th book of a series, the story line is smooth, making this an easy-to-read stand-alone mystery novel. By the way, Ms. Jance was brought up in Bisbee and now has a home in Tucson where she spends time when not enjoying her Seattle abode. Both are pretty nice choices for living arrangements, and, yes, Ms. Jance has earned her lovely surroundings!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

Remains of Innocence will be published on April 28, 2015.

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Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Crown Business, $30.00, 464 pages)

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” Steve Jobs

Schlender and Tetzeli Connect the Dots

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” These words from Maxwell Scott seemed to have come to life in Walter Isaacson’s earlier-released biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson’s version of Jobs’ story relied on commonly stated “facts” about Jobs, which have become the stuff of legend. And these facts strongly emphasized the less desirable aspects of Jobs’ personality and aggressive leadership style.

This new bio by Brent Schendler and Rick Tetzeli presents a kinder, gentler account of the man who co-founded and led Apple Computer; it seeks to get past “The cliche that Steve Jobs was half genius, half a–hole.” And it largely succeeds by emphasizing that any shortcomings on Jobs’ part were due to his dedication to Apple Computer: “He put the needs of the company ahead of any (personal or) work relationship.” That dedication produced the most successful technology company in the world. (It may also have led Jobs to delay cancer surgery that might have spared his life. When he later had the surgery, he was given only a “50-50” chance of living for five years; he survived for seven post-surgery years.)

This excellent account allows one to get to know Jobs as a living, breathing human being – an imperfect, fully goal-oriented man full of “deep restlessness.” Becoming Steve Jobs is such an effective telling of Jobs’ life story that at the conclusion of the book the reader will grieve his death – the world’s loss, all over again.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Becoming Steve Jobs was released on March 24, 2015.

“In this deeply researched book, you’ll find the most truthful portrait of the real Steve Jobs.” Marc Andreessen

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Bossa Nova Baby

The Hormone Reset Diet (nook book)

The Hormone Reset Diet: Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Up to 15 Pounds in 21 Days by Sara Gottfried, M.D. (HarperOne, $27,99, 322 pages)

Dr. Gottfried is a well-qualified and well-educated physician who has developed her own methodology for achieving hormone balance for women who have had trouble in the past with shedding and keeping off excess weight.

Dr. Sara, as she is called in the glowing forward by Mark Hyman, M.D., is a Harvard-educated gynecologist. She has had her own bouts of stubborn weight gain and her body’s resistance to its loss. Dr. Sara seems like a buddy who can walk the reader through a helpful self-diagnosis. Ever the professional, she reminds her reader to check with their personal physician to assure proper oversight of the reset process.

A self-help author, who is friendly, yet not patronizing or dictatorial, is just what a woman needs when confronting unyielding pounds and inches. Dr. Sara strikes a comfortable balance between medical professional and helper. Readers are walked through each of seven phases of what she calls “hormone reset.”

Although there are ample citations for the conclusions and methodology Dr. Sara provides, at times she can be more than a bit repetitive. The result at first was confusion for this reader-reviewer. By the sixth chapter, it became obvious that a single reading would not be adequate prior to embarking on the 21-day plan.

Readers should note that while the plan is less costly than using a personalized plan developed by a diet doctor or endocrinologist, it does require expenditures of money, time and emotional commitment. This is serious business, not your usual cheerleading and gimmicks found in many self-help diet books.

Hormone Reset Diet book (rear cover)

Meal plans for each of the seven hormone resets and the recipes are provided at the back of the book. All in all, this appears to be a comprehensive and most likely useful approach for women who want to achieve a “normal weight” – a weight appropriate for their body size and frame; women who have not yet succeeded with meeting the goal through healthy eating and exercise.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 15, 2015.

Dr. Mark Hyman is the author of The Blood Sugar Solution.

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Welcome to the Boomtown

Epitaph

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral by Maria Doria Russell (Ecco, $27.95, 581 pages)

“He upheld the law until he took it into his own hands and crushed it.”

It was all over in 30 seconds. Such was the case with the infamous 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. This novel both explains and dramatizes the events leading up to the death of three outlaws, killed by the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. It is also a detailed biography of Wyatt Earp, a man who was a paragon of the law before he became as much a criminal as those he hunted down and killed.

What Mary Doria Russell makes crystal clear in her account is that Wyatt Earp was far from the noble, perfect human being portrayed by actor Hugh O’Brien in the TV show The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (1955-1961). However, in fairness, Russell helps us understand how few could have withstood the pressures that Earp was under in his time – living in a once-prosperous town going under. Tombstone was a mining and gambling former boom town ruled by Cow Boys – real-life villains, who took pleasure in harassing good people. Today, the Cow Boys might be considered violent gang members or domestic terrorists.

Wyatt Earp eventually lost the right to wear a badge and white hat. This is the engaging, fascinating and sometimes depressing story of a flawed – deeply flawed, American legend.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on March 3, 2015.

Maria Doria Russell also wrote Doc: A Novel, a fictional biography of Doc Holliday.

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(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

1965

1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music by Andrew Grant Jackson (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99, 352 pages)

1965 could have been a direct, engaging and entertaining account of that year’s music. Instead, this nonfiction story begins with Acknowledgements, a Selected Time Line, an Introduction, and a Prologue before it actually starts. The ending is, naturally, followed by an Epilogue. And instead of simply discussing the music of the 12-month period, Andrew Grant Jackson proceeds to attempt to cover all of the political and social developments of the time, with far too much attention paid to psychedelic drugs. (Boring, “oft-covered” territory.)

One or two factual errors might be excusable, as Jackson was not alive when these events occurred. But there are far too many in 1965. Jackson writes that the Beatles tried to out-jingle-jangle the Byrds with the song “Nowhere Man.” No, it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone.” He lists the Beatles’ “Think For Yourself” as a song about politics and free expression. No, it was a break-up song. He writes that the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Daydream” was a remake of “Baby Love” by the Supremes. Not even close. And he cites “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys as a drug song. It was a remake of a West Indies traditional folk song earlier recorded by the rather benign, innocent Kingston Trio.

There are other statements that are questionable. Jackson writes, for example, that the Rolling Stones based their single “Paint It Black” on “My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes. Maybe, maybe not. One of the highly doubtful statements made by Jackson is that Brian Wilson based his classic song “God Only Knows” on the lightweight song “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” by the Spoonful. C’mon, now.

1965 is also plagued with no small amount of repetition. Jackson often makes the claim that specific rock song introductions were based on Bach’s classical music. In a couple of instances, he is likely right, but he goes on to state that this is the case for a large number of songs. Again, this is questionable.

beatles-1965-granger

Every now and then Jackson does uncover something of interest. He may have discovered the song that Paul McCartney heard as a very young boy in the early 50s, which subconsciously inspired him to write “Yesterday.” Well, maybe.

aftermath-usa

The book’s subtitle claims that 1965 was the most revolutionary year in rock music. Really? Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde and Aftermath were released in 1966, and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band followed in 1967. I’d argue that these were the most significant, revolutionary years in rock music.

One final point is that Jackson often attempts to connect one type of music to everything else, musically and otherwise. You can love the music that Frank Sinatra recorded in the 60s without tying it to what the Beatles, Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones were doing at the time. There are different types of music, and some music is created without reference to the political struggles or happenings of the time.

1965 is a book that had a lot of potential. Due to its strangely formal structure and its errors, the potential was largely wasted.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on February 3, 2015.

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Baltimore Blues

Hush Hush TM

Hush Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $14.99, 303 pages)

Can an author maintain reader loyalty and enthusiasm for her work encompassing 12 volumes released over 18 years? Moreover, can that author thrill her readers with tales peppered with suspense and more than just a hint of anxiety? After all, mystery readers come to expect the challenge of a tale with danger lurking in each chapter. If not, why bother with mysteries at all?

Laura Lippman scores another success with her latest novel, an episode in the Tess Monaghan series. Lippman has made good use of her intimate knowledge of Baltimore. Each scene brings the reader into the physical locale and sweetens the experience with the unique attitude of its inhabitants. Her characters are certainly down-to-earth. There are no super hero, matinee idol types to coax the story into a bit of unrealistic passion.

The past murder of a child by its mother, money and that mother’s need to reconnect to the children she left behind form the basis of the tale. Lippman jumps right into the scene, literally, with the opening chapter laid out as the script for an on camera interview of Carolyn Sanders, a former summer day camp worker who was the last person to witness the murderer as she tried to pick up her older two children at the school where the camp was conducted.

After the set-up, loyal readers are treated to some catching up with the people in Tess’s life, like Aunt Kitty and retired Baltimore Police Department homicide detective Sandy Sanchez. Each of them has matured in their own way and this maturity provides the tale with continuity and commitment.

There are complex interwoven plot lines, a signature of Lippman’s writing style. Tess, herself the mom of a three-year-old toddle, has to reconcile loyalty to her old friend and mentor, Tyner Gray, with the distaste of providing security for his client, Melisandre Harris Dawes, the baby murderer who has returned to Baltimore. Of course, no Lippman novel would be complete without a basic misunderstanding, or two or three. This book has just the right amount.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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I Shall Be Released

I’m beginning to hear voices and there’s no one around…/ Reality has always had too many heads. Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound.”

Forgetting Place

The Forgetting Place: A Novel by John Burley (William Morrow, $14.99, 344 pages)

Wow.

John Burley’s second novel, The Forgetting Place, is a worthy successor to Absence of Mercy. At first it did not appear as if that would be the case, as the story seemed to meander for a while. But, Burley’s managed to do it again.

Dr. Lise Shields arrives at Menaker, a correctional psychiatric facility in Maryland and becomes embroiled in a massive “cover up” – or does she? That is the question readers are left with when they finish the book. Who exactly are the victims in this story?

The plot is well conceived, but pulling this story off was no easy task. Fortunately, Burley did pull it off. So much so that one cannot be sure with any absolute certainty what did or did not happen. This brilliantly parallels the confusion evident in the minds of the mentally ill that Dr. Shields is or is not treating.

One of the main male characters has a lover, who is a suspected terrorist; the latter winds up being murdered. That’s about all one can say for certain. To go into much greater detail would create too many spoilers for prospective readers of this work.

This is a fine novel, Mr. Burley! If you can keep this going, you’ll wind up with a cult following and perhaps much more.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book will be released on February 10, 2015.

“The Forgetting Place is a deep dive into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. Surprises wait at every turn.” Lisa Unger

“Layered and evocative – an intelligent, powerful read.” Sophie Littlefield

“Will send chills down your spine. A taut psychological thriller.” Alice LaPlante, author of A Circle of Wives.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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