Tag Archives: New York Times Book Review

Do Unto Others

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Finding Jake: A Novel by Bryan Reardon (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 288 pages)

Bryan Reardon’s Finding Jake offers an unusual twist on a story that should never have to be told in the first place. Quick – school shooting. You didn’t even flinch, did you?

In Finding Jake, Simon is Jake’s father. At a young age he encourages Jake, an introvert, to befriend another boy, Doug, who is a loner, ostracized by his peers, angry, and – we unfortunately find out later, a sociopath.

Simon is a stay-at-home dad who grows distant from his attorney wife, Rachel, and mostly plays the role of “good dad,” as he is at once tolerant of and troubled by Jake’s relationship with Doug.

And then, it happens. Jake is implicated as an accomplice and, as the truth unfolds, Simon becomes obsessed with “finding” him. Is he dead or alive? Was he involved?

The story is mostly about perceptions and judgment. Simon is somewhat of an outcast in his home parent role, Jake is different from most kids, and Doug is bullied by his classmates. It turns out that people are eager to jump to conclusions about things in order to make themselves feel better. Simon himself is not immune to this as he draws conclusions based on his experiences; conclusions he must examine and re-examine throughout the novel.

And there is a hero in the story; a likely or unlikely one who speaks loudly via his silence.

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Finding Jake examines a tragedy from the point of view of innocent bystanders, the ones that must live on – not the perpetrator of evil; therein lies its uniqueness. The book is quite well-written in parts, but is somewhat inconsistent overall. Nevertheless, the reader is eager to get to the end, and author Reardon admirably and capably holds one’s attention from the first page to the final one.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“I devoured Finding Jake.” Alice LaPlante, author of Circle of Wives and Turn of Mind.

Finding Jake tells the harrowing tale of a deadly school shooting from a father’s perspective… The suspense is killing, but it’s nothing compared with this father’s anguish as he tries to find his son – the real boy, not the one he thought he knew.” New York Times Book Review

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in the greater Chicago area, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Proof Positive

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Proof Positive: A Joe Gunther Novel by Archer Mayor (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)

Proof Positive is Archer Mayor’s 25th novel (Three Can Keep A Secret). Mayor uses his expertise as Vermont’s medical examiner to paint effective pictures of good guys and bad guys and the setting in which they take place (i.e., Vermont).

The opening line of the novel is excellent: “It was the time of year when New England wobbles between fall and winter, as prone to Indian summer as to sudden, short-lived snowstorms.” The story is enticing from the start. The introductory pages are arguably the greatest strength of the book. Some of the writing that follows is less consistent (“Neil’s body collapses like a dropped sack of laundry,” p. 213, comes to mind).

Ben Kindall is a Vietnam vet and a hoarder, which is significant because it provides for the circumstances that mask the real causes of his death. Ben’s cousin, medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, alerts Vermont Bureau of Investigator and her flame, Joe Gunther, of Ben’s death. The mystery of missing negatives uncovers a trail of dead bodies and a list of potential targets. The suspense builds as a senator and hit men are discovered to be involved.

As is common in many crime novels, dialogue is the convention of choice, and the degree to which this is effective depends on the reader’s preference.

Proof Positive back

Fans of the series will be happy to know that immediately upon the conclusion of Proof Positive comes the first two chapters of novel 26, The Company She Kept, meaning that the next Joe Gunther fix is just around the corner.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “…a smoothly plotted and absorbing mystery.” Publishers Weekly “The best thing going!” Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

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

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Win Blind Man’s Alley

Thanks to Judy at Doubleday, we have a copy to give away of Blind Man’s Alley: A Novel by Justin Peacock, the author of A Cure for Night.   This book has a retail value of $26.95 and this is a first-run hardbound copy.   The novel is said to be “an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.”   Here is the official synopsis:

A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths.   The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including accusations of mob connections.   Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess.   Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and seasoned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the powerful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.

Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust.   One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the murder of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by…  Roth Properties.   Duncan Riley is now walking the knife-edge of legal ethics and personal morality.

Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self-preservation.   The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “(Peacock) heads toward Scott Turow country…  he’s got a good chance to make partner.”

In order to enter this book giveaway contest just post a comment here, with your name and e-mail address, or send that information via e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will be considered to be your first entry.   For a second entry, tell us who your favorite crime or courtroom drama author is – Scott Turow, John Grisham, Steve Martini, Julie Compton, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Rotenberg of Canada (City Hall), John Verdon (Think of a Number), David Baldacci or someone else?

You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   The winner will be drawn by Munchy the cat and will be contacted via e-mail.   In order to enter this contest you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!    

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Like A Tiger

If there’s one thing I know, as an “80 year old” and somewhat mature cat, it’s that children love felines.   They like to call out to us (“Here, kitty!”), pet us, hold us, pick us up and even carry us around.   Sometimes this results in bad consequences, but that’s a story for another day.   The point is, what animal would be better to teach kids about new words and new ideas?   (Quiet, you dogs.)

In the words of humans, this book is full of “illustrations of cats, along with rhyming couplets about them which require the reader to fill in words demonstrating opposites, like tall and short, nice and mean, young and old.”   Maybe they should have included furry and bald!   Up and down?   Anyway, this is a book meant to show the smaller humans – precisely those in the terrible 2 to loveable 5 age group – that some things are like other things and some things are different than other things.   Ouch – that made my head hurt to think about it!

Each page of the book shows all kinds of cats, including ones that look like friends of mine (nice) and ones that are my enemies (not so nice).   All the cats were wonderfully drawn by someone named Ami Rubinger, who may be a big cat himself.   Most little humans will love this book – I think – the way I love Purina’s Party Mix cat treats!   And a lot of big humans, too.   Don’t be surprised if this book turns your family into a bunch of Rhymin’ Simons!

Oh, I’m supposed to tell you that this would make a purr-fectly excellent baby shower gift.   I give this little big book a rating of four paws plus one tail.   Or is that tale?   I get confused, I know that one’s a story and one’s part of me that I use to balance my body with.   One of them, I know, comes in handy when I’m climbing fences.   Oh, sorry…   I’m supposed to be giving you a New York Times Book Review-ish chat-up about the book.   So I’ll pontificate long enough to say that this is one book as good as milk served with cream on top.   Tell your friends but not the dogs…   Yeowk!

Abbeville Kids, $13.95, 28 pages

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This review was written by Munchy the brown Norwegian Forest Cat.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Harmony: A Review of Rocket Man (the novel)

In June of 1995, Richard Ford released what one source called a “dull, jaded, satirical view of suburban life…”, a novel called Independence Day.   The New York Times’ overly serious review of Independence Day carried the weighty headline, “Afloat in the Turbulence of the American Dream.”

I loved Ford’s earlier (1986) novel, The Sportswriter, but I found Independence Day to be a bit too dry and slow of a read.   So when I saw that the novel Rocket Man also deals with suburban angst, I worried that it might be a long trek through its 377 pages.   This fear was groundless…

From the very first, I was hooked on this story by William (Bill) Elliot Hazelgrove and I made it straight through to page 370 before putting it down for the day.   Hazelgrove smartly starts the tale with some laugh-out-loud humor before settling into the more serious sections.   When it dawns on you that the story has become less amusing, it doesn’t matter – you just want to know what happens next.

I’m not a fan of book or movie reviews that give away the entire story, but a few things should be mentioned about the plot.   The lead character, Dale Hammer, is a former novelist – currently a mortgage broker – who has moved his family from the old, established, city of Oakland, Illinois to the “far west suburb” of Charleston, Illinois.   In one week his life goes from being on automatic pilot (“I feel the surprise of a man who occupies a life he is not familiar with.”) to one in which he faces multiple and substantive challenges.   His life, as Paul Simon, might have sung, is on fire and on the evening news.

The one positive in Hammer’s situation is that he’s been selected (or maybe simply volunteered) to be Rocket Man, the adult who supervises dozens and dozens of scouts on the day they meet in a public park to launch their working rockets.   Hammer is trained for the assignment by his predecessor Dale Heinrich, a man both highly intelligent and so strange that Hammer is unsure “whether to shake (his) hand or call for the boys in the while suits.”

Does Hammer meet and overcome the challenges in his life?   Does he, as a non-conformist, buckle down to succeed in his new role as the Rocket Man?

You’ll have to read the book yourself to find out, but for me the ending came together as smoothly as Elton John’s song Harmony.   I look forward to the next good read from Hazelgrove.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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