Tag Archives: Oregon

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Arsenic with Austen: A Crime with the Classics Mystery by Katherine Bolger Hyde (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 312 pages)

Professor Emily Cavanaugh is a 21st Century woman who finds herself caught up in the dealings of a sleepy village on the Oregon coast. She’s been widowed for two years, is childless and growing restless with her duties in the Language and Literature Department of Reed College in Portland.

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As would be anticipated in a traditional British mystery by Agatha Christie, Emily receives a piece of formal correspondence from an attorney in Stony Beach, Oregon. It seems her dear Great Aunt Beatrice has died and left her a legacy. What follows is one of the most heart-warming murder mysteries this reviewer has read.

Emily Cavanaugh is summoned to Aunt Beatrice’s funeral and the reading of the will. It seems Emily was fantasizing a modest inheritance when she hoped that the extensive library filled with leather bound books would be hers. Emily spent many summers sitting in that same library reading with the encouragement of her aunt. Clearly, the Victorian mansion, half of the town of Stony Beach and millions of dollars was way beyond her hopeful anticipation.

Yes, there are villains scattered among the townsfolk. How else would there be a mystery for Emily to solve? She also reconnects with her former boyfriend who seemingly dumped her at the end of a summer romance. As with Dame Agatha’s stories, Ms. Hyde leads the reader around leaving a trail of tantalizing clues and misdirection.

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Author Hyde has hit all the right notes in this her debut mystery novel. She weaves in enough credible references to classic literature written by women such as Jane Austen and Emily Bronte to prove her in depth understanding of the genre. While Ms. Hyde is a resident of Santa Cruz County in California, she credits a writer’s retreat on the Oregon coast with inspiring the location of her tale. And, by the way, she is an alumna of Reed College. Let’s hope there will be more enjoyable mysteries from Ms. Hyde in the future.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Arsenic with Austen was released on July 12, 2016.

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Don’t Look Down

Never Look Down 2

Never Look Down: A Cal Claxton Mystery by Warren C. Easley (Poisoned Pen Press, $15.95, 312 pages)

Fans of Portland, Oregon will be delighted with author Warren Easley’s series set in and around the city. Never Look Down is the third in the series (Dead Float, Matters of Doubt) featuring Cal Claxton. Claxton is an attorney who balances his boutique winery clients in the country with his pro bono work in Old Town Portland for folks of all ages and persuasions that are down and out.

Easley has a smooth, natural writing style that works well in both the chapters narrated in the first person by Claxton and the third person narrative chapters – from the perspective of a teenage orphan whose street smarts are both instinctual and learned. The counterpoint to Claxton’s adult measured approach to life is Kelly Spence, whose father died in a mountain climbing accident leaving her to fend for herself along with her dad’s girlfriend Veronica.

The urgency created by a murder witnessed by Kelly brings the two together. Claxton’s best buddy, Hernando Mendoza, was collateral damage from the murder in that the woman he was going to marry was the victim. Kelly is a tagger whose work is anonymous and yet noted by the establishment in downtown Portland. Her anonymity is in jeopardy as she bounces around the city running from the murderers.

Never Look Down back cover

Anything beyond these storyline basics will give away too much of a well-crafted plot. To Easley’s credit, the story has an even balance of both Claxton’s and Kelly’s perspectives on life and living.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

Not Dead Enough

Not Dead Enough, the fourth book in the Cal Claxton Oregon Mystery series will be released by Poisoned Pen Press on June 7, 2016.

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Beer Review: Omission India Pale Ale (IPA)

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Generally, a taboo topic in the craft beer world is this notion of gluten-free beer. I mean, how could a beer brewed with barley and wheat substitutes honestly compete with counterparts using the real things?

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Well, Omission Beer doesn’t sacrifice their ingredients while crafting their beers. Omission is a brewery priding itself on creating beers with “traditional ingredients that everyone of legal drinking age can enjoy.” Recently I had the pleasure of trying Omission Beer’s IPA. I was told upfront that it was a gluten-free beer, and never having had one before I didn’t know what to expect.

Omission IPA crop

I poured this beer into a pint glass and was very pleased with what I saw. The IPA poured a deep golden color with a beautiful hazy-white, two finger-head with lacing to spare down the inside of the glass. Maybe I’m being picky, but my only complaint with the appearance is that I find a more copper color more appealing than gold. [Picky! Ed.] IPA receives a 4.75/5 on looks alone.

The nose on Omission’s IPA was wonderful, to say the least. IPA fills your nose with notes of fresh citrus and crisp pines; obviously influenced by its Pacific Northwest roots. This is just everything you could ask for – an IPA on the nose. The only thing lacking, for my preference, is a more juicy presence. Even though there is a pleasant citrus quality to the aroma, it does lack that juiciness I am fond of, and because of that its aroma gets a 4.25/5.

The lack of presence this beer brought to the mouth is what really hurts it. It is so thin that the moment you take a sip it is gone. Nothing lingers or coats the roof of your mouth like you’d expect and sometimes want from an IPA. I don’t know if this is the result of it being a gluten-free beer, but it just lacks some presence. I would have loved to get a longer taste out of this one, but it abandons the palate pretty fast. It’s not like this IPA delivers an unpleasant mouthfeel; rather, it does not give any mouth feel leading to its very neutral grade of 2.5/5.

The final piece of the puzzle is the beer’s taste. Omission IPA tastes exactly how it smells: fresh, bright, piney, and citrusy. But, just like the mouthfeel, that great taste dissipates immediately. Again, this does not mean that it is unpleasant, I just would have liked more out of it! Regardless of its short-lived life, it was very tasty and I believe it earns a respectable 4/5.

I didn’t quite know what to expect out of my first gluten-free beer. I’ve usually heard mostly negative reviews, so I was shocked and pleasantly surprised by how great this beer is. The only downfall to this beer is that it dies out pretty fast, but that is easily forgiven by its classic Pacific Northwest IPA taste. With a crisp pine and robust citrus nose and taste, IPA from Omission Beer easily receives a 3.88/5!

Well recommended.

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer is a graduate of Indiana University, who works and pays taxes.

Omission IPA is brewed by Widmer Brothers Brewing Company and contains 6.7% alcohol by volume. Widmer Brothers is based in Portland, Oregon.

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The Teddy Bears Picnic

Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)

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Hero bear

“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.

Hero bears and rabbits

The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.

Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.

Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Book Lovers

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $23.95, 384 pages)

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In My Bookstore, edited by Ronald Rice, numerous authors pay tribute to their favored bookstores, which are usually, but not always, the ones located near their homes. Eighty-one bookstores are examined, including three of the best, essential bookstores — Powell’s Books of Portland, Vroman’s Bookstore of Pasadena, and the University Book Store in Seattle (across from the University of Washington). Chuck Palahnuik explains that the city-block sized Powell’s is divided into color-coded rooms and “…each of these rooms is the size of most independent bookstores.”

Californians will be pleased to see that ten of the state’s bookstores, including two in San Francisco, are lovingly described here. (But San Franciscans will be shocked to find that both City Lights Books and Dog Eared Books are excluded.) Only 3 of these “favorite places to browse, read, and shop” happen to be in southern California. The underlying message of these accounts is that one-on-one service counts. These private businesses have thrived and survived the onslaughts of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and now-departed mega-chains.

This collection of essays will no doubt cause some to visit bookstores that they were previously unaware of. And perhaps at some point Mr. Rice will ask book reviewers to write about their favorite places, and this reader will shed a light on Orinda Books and Lyon Books of Chico.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: City Lights Books is located at 261 Columbus Avenue at Broadway in San Francisco. Dog Eared Books is located at 900 Valencia Street in the Mission District of The City. Both are worth paying a visit to.

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Run To You

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Running Shoe Review: Skora Core

Is the Skora Core simply a visual work of art, or a beauty on the feet and on the road?

Years ago at the Portland Marathon Expo, I found a pair of Puma Complete Aello II running shoes. This extremely lightweight radiant yellow running flat, with Goodyear tire rubber on the back, is a work of art. So much so that I’ve never had the heart to put them on my feet and run in them. They should be in a glass case in some type of industrial/manufacturing art and design museum.

I felt a sense of deja vu when I opened the box of new Core running shoes, provided by Skora of Portland, Oregon. These shoes are singularly beautiful in their design and manufacture. And, yes, they do look a bit like the classic flats from Puma. This time, however, I resolved to place the charcoal, black and green tinted shoes on my feet and run in them in order to produce this report.

Skora does not call the Core a minimalist running shoe, but it is a shoe that’s designed to facilitate a mid-foot/whole foot running style. When you first stand in the shoe, it feels quite flat, especially when compared to a standard American running shoe with a raised heel. On taking the initial steps in the Core, it literally feels like you’re walking in a pair of moccasin-style house slippers. This made me wonder, as an instinctive heel striker, whether the shoe would be able to provide enough support and cushioning on the streets and trails of suburbia.

Initiallly I jogged in the Core on a crushed gravel road and felt the shoe to be firm — something I usually like — and supportive. After a few miles, running in this non-traditional runner felt almost innate. I think my running form, in response to the shoe, very quickly changed. In my mind’s eye, a video would have shown me adopting Deena Kastor’s flat, mid-foot, relaxed landing pattern. (The brain seems to readily determine that there’s no pay-off in this model for heel strikers, thus directing the feet to stay lower to the ground.)

On hard concrete, the Core’s ride is surprisingly cushioned. On asphalt, the Core feels like a pair of racing flats, meaning that you definitely feel the ground but on a short to moderate distance run it’s not going to punish the feet. I did not expect to feel any energy return while jogging in the Core, but found it to be a nice unexpected dividend; however, I ran with the floating sockliner in place and I think that helped. Some will choose to remove the sockliner.

The Core was truly impressive when I found a hard-packed natural dirt trail. It felt as if the shoes were anticipating my every move and turn — I can only compare it to driving a Mini Cooper, knowing that you can easily drive that automobile at close to its full capacity. “If you’ve got it, use it!” The Core’s an excellent trail runner that provides the confidence a runner needs to go virtually all out on a twisty trail. (What could be more fun than that?)

I would not run in the Core on a trail consisting of medium-sized and large rocks, but that’s the only surface I would avoid in this shoe. Fit wise, the Core is nice and narrow in the rear and in the mid-foot, while providing plenty of room up front. Some might find the length a bit too long — which matches up with the laces — but that’s better for retaining one’s toe nails than being too short.

I found the Core to fit a half-size larger than standard walking shoes, which is a true fit for most running shoes. The flexible and comfortable upper of the Core uses leather with sheepskin lining, so animal lovers and vegans will want to look instead at the Phase model which uses man-made materials. The men’s version of the Core weighs 8.1 ounces; the women’s version comes in at just 6.7 ounces.

The folks at Skora will urge you to transition gradually into their shoes, which is good advice. I felt a slight twinge in my dominant left heel and a bit of ankle soreness on that side after runs in the Core. But I had no signs of hip soreness, something that can crop up when using seemingly protective shoes that displace impact forces away from the feet and knees.

In the Core my feet felt released to work naturally. These running shoes allow one to run in style while enhancing an organic running style. (The company’s motto is Run Real.)

The Skora Core advances the notion of running real. As attractive and distinctive as they are, they should be used on roads and trails and not displayed in a museum case.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

The Skora Core retails for $155.00.

This article earlier appeared on the Blogcritics Sports site:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-skora-core/

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I Am Woman

Death on Telegraph Hill (nook book)

Death on Telegraph Hill: A Sarah Woolson Mystery by Shirley Tallman (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 341 pages)

Author Shirley Tallman proves herself a true San Franciscan, even though she now resides in Eugene, Oregon. Period piece mysteries have a charm all their own with the absence of current-day electronics, modern modes of transportation and social mores. Tallman takes issue with the way women, especially accomplished women, were treated in the 1800s. Her main character, Sarah Woolson, is one of three women in California who have been admitted to practice before the State Bar. Ironically, both men and women discriminate against Sarah. Their efforts to keep her in her place and devalue her for lack of a husband and home are irritating but understandable considering the time in which the story is set.

Deep-seeted class issues also play a significant part in this mystery. Among the characters are a pompous wife and her meek husband, Oscar Wilde (yes, that Oscar Wilde), a young Jewish woman and two wealthy elderly women. The action takes place all over San Francisco; however, the initial murder victim succumbs on Telegraph Hill. The hill is a favorite place of artists, primarily writers, and a dalliance for Oscar Wilde is the prelude to mayhem on the hill.

The Telegraph Hill mystery is the fifth in a series. This reviewer found it easy to grasp the story line and the circumstances surrounding Sarah Woolson’s dedication to mankind and the downtrodden. Her father is a prominent member of the Bar and a notable figure in San Francisco. Sarah chooses not to trade on her connections unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lovers of The City and its history will enjoy this book in particular and most likely the series in general.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher. The prior books in the series are Murder on Nob Hill, Scandal on Rincon Hill, The Cliff House Strangler, and The Russian Hill Murders.

“A vibrant, intelligent mystery series.” RT Book Reviews

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