Tag Archives: New York Times Bestseller

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To Your Health

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying) by Bill Gifford (Grand Central Publishing, $16.99, 366 pages)

spring chicken cover Amazon

Spring Chicken is a book with an intended audience. You should read this book only if you are interested in living longer.

bill gifford

Bill Gifford is a rather average guy, with a receding hairline and a bit of a beer gut, who decides to investigate how to live to and past the age of 100. It’s pretty tricky stuff, especially since “your risk of dying doubles roughly every eight years.” What?

When we’re young, the risk (of dying) is fairly minimal; there isn’t much difference between age twenty-five and, say, thirty-five. But thirty-five to forty-five is a big jump, and by fifty our peers are popping up with breast cancers and colon cancers and high blood pressure and other scary ailments.

Yes, this death business is pretty scary stuff. But Gifford handles it with a great deal of humor and more than a dab of self-deprecation. The surprising thing is that, other than being born with good genes (such as the writer’s grandmother in her late 90s who eats an unhealthy serving of rich pastry each and every morning) and doing one of two things, he finds that there are no magic bullets to avoid aging. The key – how simple is this? – is not to avoid aging but to avoid aging as quickly as others in your peer group.

Gifford notes a harsh reality, that at a high school or college reunion of individuals the same age, some will appear to be older than their classmates and some will appear to be younger. This is, to some extent, the luck of the genetic draw but is also a reflection of lifestyle. (The individual who appears to be younger – such as the old friend who has retained a full head of hair, bright eyes and sparkling nails, may in fact be healthier; although this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Gifford’s self-assigned job was to find out what factors result in a person living a longer and, more importantly, a healthier life. He discovers that there has not been much substantive progress in this venture. Why haven’t we devoted as much time and energy to improving and extending human life as to, say, putting a man on the moon? To be sure, science and medicine are working to eliminate deadly diseases but whenever one is conquered another one pops up to take its place. (Gifford provides a logical explanation of why we age and die. Some of it has to do with the fact that the resources of our planet are limited. But the key is that human life is tied to the survival of the species, not the individual. Aging, in fact, is a visible signal to the world that we’ve moved beyond our essential, critical breeding years.)

If there’s no magic to aging slowly and extending life, what things can be done? First, as a research scientist-physician tells Gifford, “It’s very simple. Get off the couch.” Exercise is the drug. And it need not be strenous, back-breaking exercise. You can walk, jog, swim, or play tennis or golf. Almost anything done regularly which involves movement helps to extend health and life. (However, sports that involve stress and torque, like tennis and golf, are highly problematic for aging backs.)

Exercise is key because mobility is essential. Without mobility – and this is true in humans as well as for animals in general, disease and death are never far away. In Spring Chicken, Gifford includes practical tests that one can use to self-measure mobility.

So, exercise is one key factor in terms of longevity. Remember that Gifford discovered two important factors. However, no spoiler alert is needed as I’m not going to disclose the second factor here. You will need to purchase the book to learn that rather surprising “secret.”

spring chicken alternate cover

Read this book and stay young forever! Or, die trying.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

“Gifford’s survey of those who study aging and those who claim they can slow it down or stop it makes for a great read.” The Washington Post

Vitamania

If you read and enjoy Spring Chicken, you may also want to consider Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection by Catherine Price.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Low Spark of Organized Joy

spark joy

Spark Joy: an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, $18.99, 291 pages)

It’s Time to Pick It Up and Put It Away

Are you ready? Here’s part deux of Marie Kondo’s worldwide take on tidying up. You’d have to have been living off the grid not to have heard about Ms. Kondo’s methods for living a comfortable, streamlined life surrounded only by the items that bring you joy.

kondo 2

kondo-book_0

Spark Joy is a handbook, literally. The volume is small enough to carry with you while working through the steps outlined and illustrated to bring peace to the unruly spaces in our homes. Book one, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, focused on the philosophy that Ms. Kondo has honed and practiced since she was a pre-teen in Japan. Spark Joy puts method to the magic.

Yes, this subject, clearing out the clutter, has been around for at least a decade on TV shows and in books. No, Ms. Kondo’s readers are not encouraged to get rid of anything that’s not in use daily. Rather, we are advised to surround ourselves with the things that are useful and joyful for us, not what others consider to be appropriate to have in our closets and rooms.

This book is well written and easy to understand. There’s no awkwardness in the translation from Ms. Kondo’s native language, Japanese, into English. I extend Kudos to Cathy Hirano, the translator of Spark Joy.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Reflex

Lasers, Wi-Fi and Bribes, Oh my!

The Enemy Inside 2

The Enemy Inside: A Paul Madriani Novel by Steve Martini (William Morrow, $27.99, 384 pages)

Cars were stopped on the road ahead of her. Ana didn’t care. She drove up onto the sidewalk to get around them. She kept going, one eye on the bleeping signal still emitting on her laptop as she approached the location.

Steve Martini outdoes himself in this, the 16th Paul Madriani novel. Paul and his law partner, Harry Hinds, have been keeping a low profile in recent years. Running from a drug lord who they brought to justice was only half of the problem. Their client base of criminal defendants thinned out when the cops called Madriani and Hines crime fighting heroes. Paul’s daughter, Sarah, asks her dad to represent her friend, Alex Ives, is a seemingly odd DUI vehicular manslaughter case. Paul eagerly gets right to work.

Each time Alex tries to remember just what happened prior to waking up in the desert next to his parent’s burned out car and the wrecked car containing a dead mystery woman, another piece of the puzzle is revealed. Readers who enjoy high tech trickery mixed with politics and murder for hire will thoroughly enjoy this book. Author Martini includes ample background on how national political deals are made inside the Washington, D.C. beltway. When he adds the latest advances in weaponry and electronics, the mix is compelling.

Even long-time Madriani fans will not be able to figure out the twists and turns that lead to the very satisfying conclusion.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Enemy Inside

The Enemy Inside will be released as a mass market paperback (William Morrow, $9.99, 515 pages) on December 29, 2015.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Noble Life

James Madison Lynne Cheney

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney (Penguin Books, $18.00, 576 pages)

Every law student begins his or her studies by reading the case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the U.S. Supreme Court invoked its right to strike down governmental actions which violate the law. As James Marshall strongly stated, “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” It was a decision that the then-defendant and Secretary of State James Madison – later the fourth president of the U.S. – was to disagree with: “This makes the judiciary department paramount in fact to the legislature, which was never intended and can never be proper”

The average person is not likely familiar with the life and political career of president Madison, something which is remedied by reading James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney. Cheney’s book builds a fine case for the greatness of the man known as the “Father of the (U.S.) Constitution.”

He had used his remarkable gifts in one of the most important ways a man could, by playing a key role – the key role, one might say – in creating a framework for laws and establishing institutions that would secure liberty and happiness for generations (of Americans) to come.

Madison may not have been as charismatic or attractive a figure as others of his time, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, or Thomas Jefferson, but he was clearly – along with Jefferson – one of the most intelligent humans alive at the time. Madison was to join with Jefferson in giving birth to a new form of democratic government.

Each was probably the brightest person the other ever knew, and both were well schooled, giving them a vast fund of common learning on which to draw as they talked and planned. Both continued to study throughout life and considered books of mighty importance. Each was known to buy them whether he had ready cash or not.

It was the team of Madison and Jefferson – as Cheney clearly details in her account – that was largely responsible for creating the Constitution of the United States. And Madison, who was initially opposed to the Bill of Rights, was later to play a key role in its enactment. Madison was, as one speaker stated, a man who produced “Power and national glory… without the sacrifice of civil or political liberty.” He was to die as the final living signer of the Declaration of Independence.

There are some fascinating details supplied by Cheney, such as when she describes the secret code that Madison and Jefferson used to communicate with each other. Since mail was often lost or misdelivered in those days, they developed a system in which they assigned telephone number-like digits to each major figure they came in contact with. This meant that if anyone got hold of their correspondence, they would not be able to determine who the writers were referring to when they made less than complimentary remarks about an individual. And Cheney turns the rivalry between Aaron Burr, Jefferson, and Madison on one side and Hamilton on the other into something so dramatic, it reads like one of Gore Vidal’s history-based novels.

A major concern about this nonfiction work never comes into play, the fear that Mrs. Cheney – the wife of Richard (Dick) Cheney, would bring modern day politics into the telling. This is never an issue; there’s not a single instance in which she attempts to analogize between the past and present, or in which she is critical of a modern day political figure. Cheney on occasion does use academic language, such as the term “inquietude” (physical or mental restlessness or disturbance), but this is easily remedied by access to an online dictionary.

For the majority of readers, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered will be James Madison: A Great Life Encountered.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released in a trade paper version on May 5, 2015.

James-Madison-Lynne-Cheney-150x150

“Compelling, elegant, original… Lynne Cheney brings the great, elusive James Madison back to life.” Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage.

This review was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-james-madison-a-life-reconsidered-by-lynne-cheney/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

If you loved this book…

Sometimes you read a book and then think, “I wish I could find another book like that!” Well, here’s a visual representation of recommended books for your consideration. Joseph Arellano

If you loved this book…

The Other Wes Moore (nook book)

Read this one…

The Short and Tragic Life (nook book)

If you loved this book…

The Devil in the White City (nook book)

Read this one…

Dead Wake (nook book)

If you loved this book…

steve-jobs-nook-book

Read this one…

Becoming Steve Jobs

If you loved this book…

The Immortal Life

Read these…

The Cancer Chronicles

emperor-of-all

If you loved this book…

one day (nook book)

Read these…

US (nook book)

The Fault in Our Stars (nook book)

If you loved this book…

Hotel on the Corner of (nook book)

Read these…

Blackberry Winter (nook book)

How to Be An American Housewife

If you loved this book…

Everything I Never Told You (trade paper)

Read this one…

The Year She Left Us

If you liked this book…

Into Thin Air

Read these…

Buried in the Sky (nook book)

The Climb (nook book)

If you liked this book…

Born to Run (nook book)

Read these…

What I Talk About (nook book)

Running and Being (nook book)

PRE book

If you loved this book…

Hounded

Read this one…

David Rosenfelt dog

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Amazing Amy Tan

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement: A Novel by Amy Tan (HarperCollins, $16.99, 608 pages)

“…the night is always brighter than the day.” Bob Dylan (“Seven Days”)

Amy Tan’s seventh adult novel, The Valley of Amazement, is a triumph. In Valley, Tan, most noted for her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, comes back with a vengeance after an eight-year hiatus.

As the story opens in 1905, main character Violet Minturn is a petulant child living with her mother, Lulu Mimi, who runs the courtesan house Hidden Jade Path. The title is rife with meaning and comes from a mysterious painting, the origins of which are revealed at the end of the story. It is Violet’s prized memory of her mother, who is coerced into abandoning Violet for her home country of America by corrupt Chinese gangsters.

As a result, Violet is forced into the courtesan lifestyle, losing her freedom and dignity. She becomes hardened
when her first love does not work out. She goes on to experience love again, only to endure more unthinkable tragedy. Only the most optimistic of sorts could hope for a happy ending after this, through there is closure.

In the bizarre reality of the courtesan culture, at least according to this novel, these women consider themselves noble with a higher status than ordinary prostitutes. Perhaps this is because they sign long-term contracts with one man, who, of course, possesses other courtesans in addition to his wife. Perhaps it is because they live a relatively comfortable lifestyle or can aspire to become a second or third wife. Most of them eventually do end up as prostitutes in their early 20s, at which point they are considered to be “old.” It’s not too difficult to make sense of it when one considers that Chinese women had to train their feet – through binding – to be not too big; something that was thought to be unattractive. Obviously, the culture was highly oppressive to women.

Chapter Four, in which Violet is trained in the nuances of her profession, is entitled “Etiquette for Beauties of Boudoir.” It reads like “Proverb for Courtesans,” which would have been highly interesting if it wasn’t seemingly so demented.

There are many examples of outstanding writing throughout the book. One example: “Those were the reasons we both know how deep love was, the shared pain that would outlast any pain we caused each other.” Tan is a master storyteller who, in this unique, troubling and amazing novel, lives up to her billing.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an educator, a sometime musician, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hey, Hey, Hey…

Big Fat Surprise (nook book)

The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz (Simon & Schuster, $27.99, 479 pages)

The dietary message from health authorities over the past 50 years has mainly been focused on reducing heart attacks – to the exclusion of acknowledgement of the rise in other diseases (obesity and diabetes in particular). The Big Fat Surprise is a startling account of the origins of the decades-long single-minded attitude about saturated fat, red meat, eggs and butter that has been crammed down the throat of Americans and the world. Author Nina Teicholz has broad, well-established credentials having written for Gourmet, The New Yorker, The Economist, The New York Times and The Washington Post. She has covered Latin America for National Public Radio.

As an investigative journalist, Ms. Teicholz approached the subject of low-fat nutrition from an attitude of curiosity in light of the staggering health problems currently plaguing millions of people. As an individual she experienced a dietary shock after a stint writing newspaper reviews of restaurants in New York City. Previously, she had been following the low-fat optimal health diet that our physicians, the government, and the press have admonished us is the only way to avoid heart trouble. Surprisingly, eating the meals sent out by chefs for review that featured “rich, earthy dishes” – not in any way part of the diet Ms. Teicholz had followed most of her life, resulted in a 10-pound weight loss and a true enjoyment of dining!

Big Fat nutrition label

The book is the result of dedicated research, a thorough review of thousands of existing studies and literature, and hundreds of interviews with most of the surviving scientists, politicians and food industry insiders who have touted or doubted the association of dietary fat and fatal heart attacks. Ms. Teicholz spent nine years working on the book and her work is well documented. Poorly conducted research into the dietary habits of statistically invalid numbers of study participants were used by “the experts” to substantiate the supposed correlation between a “heart healthy” low-fat diet and reduced fatal heart attacks. Teicholz provides data and, by virtue of her footnotes and bibliography, enables any skeptical readers to see for themselves the basis of her conclusions.

The book leads this reader to accept that the basis for the low-fat diet is shaky at best and its outcomes are decidedly harmful. Moreover, its perpetuation is the work of a few politically minded individuals who have used nasty tactics and millions of food industry dollars to prop up their claims. We’ve been advised that man does not thrive on meat and saturated fats; all LDL Cholesterol is our enemy; and the best sources of vitamins and minerals are fruits and vegetables. Well, get ready to be educated about food, both historically and scientifically. Our American forefathers were not proponents of veggies and fruit, nor were the African Maasai people or the Inuit people of the far Northern Hemisphere.

Early American settlers were “indifferent” farmers, according to many accounts. They were fairly lazy in their efforts at both animal husbandry and agriculture, with “the grain fields, the meadows, the forests, the cattle, etc. treated with equal carelessness,” as one eighteenth-century Swedish visitor described. And there was little point in farming since meat was so readily available.

The Big Fat Surprise is a must-read for young and old alike. Sadly, some folks are deeply committed to the “wisdom” fed to them over the last 50 years and will resist the message Ms. Teicholz has so thoughtfully crafted. “You’re never too old to learn”, I was advised by my 90-year-old mom this past weekend. Now, if only I can persuade her to read this book, she can begin to enjoy eating real cheese instead of her low-fat cheese substitute!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Patriarch

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Tubulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy by David Nasaw (Penguin Books Reprint Edition, $20.00, 896 pages)

The Patriarch paper

“If this was fiction, no one would believe it,” historian David Nasaw quipped on NPR’s Fresh Air about the extraordinary life of Joseph P. Kennedy, the subject of this biography, which is now available in a trade paperback.

In this 800-page tome [this refers to the hardbound edition], The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, Nasaw, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s Arthur M. Schlesinger Professor of History, captured one of the most enigmatic figures of the twentieth century. Although the length of the book might turn away readers, this Shakespearean tale – which was six years in the making – is surprisingly a page-turner. As he did with another larger-than-life twentieth century character, William Randolph Hearst in The Chief, Nasaw goes into depths previously not explored about Kennedy’s strengths and weaknesses.

Nasaw puts to rest many of the lingering myths about the patriarch. As the first biographer to be granted full acess to Kennedy’s papers, Nasaw left no rock unturned. What one gleans from The Patriarch is that Joseph P. Kennedy was a complicated man, full of contradictions.

Joe Kennedy and sons

He was an attentive, loving father, anxious to meet the needs of his nine children. Whether it was a school assignment or a common cold, Kennedy was engaged and quick to offer help, but he was hardly present in any of their lives. He was either off conducting business in Hollywood, serving in Washington and later in London, or vacationing in Palm Beach.

Kennedy adored his devoted wife, Rose, though he was unfaithful even when he was courting her. The infidelities would not let up until he had his stroke.

His view of Jews varied. On the one hand, he was ambivalent about saving the Jews from Nazi Germany and always had an anti-Semitic joke at the ready. On the other, some of Kennedy’s closest confidantes were Jewish, including his chief liaison to the media, New York Times columnist Arthur Krock (whom Nasaw discovered had an unusually close relationship with Kennedy, which for a journalist was borderline unethical).

Austere in his personal life, Kennedy rarely drank, exercised regularly, took few financial risks once his wealth was established and attended mass as often as he could given his hectic schedule. But in public life he was unable to restrain himself and could be viewed at times as self-destructive. Kennedy had little regard for social etiquette or political deference. Against the wishes of the FDR administration, he aired his opinions before they could be vetted, views that eventually had an adverse effect on the political futures of his sons.

In the same vein as David McCullough’s Truman or A. Scott Berg’s Lindbergh, Nasaw has produced a book that will appeal to the scholar, the book critic, and more importantly the general reader. The book’s scholarship is unmatched and its prose flows effortlessly. For those infatuated followers of the Kennedy family or interested in twentieth century American history, I could not recommend a more gratifying read – just make sure (due to its weight) it’s the electronic version.

Highly recommended.

Adam Henig

Adam Henig is a biographer, blogger and book reviewer. You can read more of his work at:

http://www.adamhenig.com/

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-patriarch-the-remarkable-life-and-turbulent-times-of-joseph-p-kennedy-by-david-nasaw/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Night Chicago Died

City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist (Broadway Books, $14.95, 384 pages)

“Oh, the winds of Chicago have torn me to shreds….” Bob Dylan, “Cold Irons Bound”

City of Scoundrels (nook book)

Those who have gone on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise will never again look at the city’s buildings the same way. There are many cities in America (New York, with an aura all its own, and Los Angeles with its own unique vibe) that typically rule the pop culture landscape. But there is one city in this country so uniquely American that it is better experienced than described or imagined — particularly when it is paradoxically and arguably the most corrupt city in our nation’s history.

Yes, there is the blue-collar folklore, The Jungle, and everything else, all of which is either true or has elements of truth to it. But Chicago is, and always has been, a mystery of wonder — simultaneously brilliant, politically corrupt, awe-inspiring and bad at baseball.

Gary Krist’s City of Scoundrels attempts to capture the essence of Chicago through the lens of twelve particularly challenging days in 1919. The book starts with a blimp crashing into a bank and then, after it gets our attention, chronicles several events, circling back to this tragic event. A racial incident, transit strike (oh, the unions in this great state), and senseless murder of a six-year-old transpire in rapid succession. These events allow the author to paint a picture of a city and its leaders, including the iconoclastic mayor, William “Big Bill” Thompson, who dreamed of making the city the architectural gem of the world.

In the meantime, for the baseball fans among us, references to the Black Sox scandal are sprinkled in, and the even more corrupt decade of the 20s and Al Capone foreshadowed in the Epilogue.

The factually accurate City of Scoundrels features meticulous research. It is interesting, though this is likely more confined to those who have some existing knowledge of or personal interest in Chicago. It would be less interesting for general readers.

It is a very good book, but despite the shocking events described, it does not capture the raw emotion inspired by the true experience of Chicago — getting off at the train station and being pressurized out of the building into the sights and sounds of the city, seeing the sun over a brick outfield wall as the latest edition of a terrible team attempts to play baseball on a weekly afternoon, or seeing the juices of a barely edible pizza run down the side of the cheek of another innocent victim.

The book feels like an essay. It would be better if it were an essay that felt like the Windy City.

Recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized