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Without Mercy: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $26.99, 342 pages)

As we headed to the Anthropology Department’s pickup truck, the back loaded with body bags, shovels, rakes, cameras, and anything else we might need to work a death scene, I felt a surge of energy – excitement, even – and for the moment, at least, I forgot to be morose about the prospect of Miranda’s graduation and departure.

Faithful readers of the celebrated Body Farm novels will delight in the measured pace taken by the authors to gently move into a tale bound to contain ghastly examples of man’s inhumanity to man. Before the shocking jolt brought on by the remains of a crime, there are the beautiful descriptions of the locale, usually on or near the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Along with the botany and geography, one can expect information regarding the sociologic background of the region where the tale takes place.

A call for assistance has come to Dr. Bill Brockton from Jim O’Conner, sheriff of Cooke County. As with many of the past requests for assistance received by the UT Anthropology Department, the remains of a crime discovered long past its commission pose a difficult challenge for Sheriff O’Conner and his deputy, Waylon. Dr. Brockton and his PhD candidate/assistant, Miranda Lovelady, drop what they are doing and get on the road to help their friends.

What makes this, the tenth book in the Body Farm series, unique is that it ties together a new plot line with an old one that has been revived with a twist. Moreover, there’s a surprise ending. Rather than posting a spoiler alert, this reviewer encourages loyal readers to consider the time, effort and painstaking care that goes into the creation of these books. The authors provide well-written, well-researched and heartfelt novels worthy of the praise that they have earned.

A world in which fiction characters live out their destiny is all the more enjoyable when the basic foundation is located in the real world. On a recent weekend, this reviewer and her husband were having an early Saturday dinner at a local restaurant. Of course there were televisions mounted in the corners of the dining room playing the afternoon college football games one expects to see. The game nearest our table featured the University of Tennessee Volunteers. The game held no fascination for me; however, when the camera pulled away from the field for a long view of the stadium, I nearly screamed, “OMG, it’s Neyland! Dr. Brockton’s office is underneath it!” That’s a real testament to the fascination and connection the Body Farm novels have created for me.

Thank you Jon Jefferson and Dr. Bill Bass.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

This book was released on October 4, 2016.

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Modern Blue

Music Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’

river and the thread front

Rosanne Cash’s latest release illustrates how the label of country singer is far too limiting for a person of her talents. Perhaps she can be called a modern musician.

Here’s a look at the songs on The River & The Thread, which was produced and arranged by her husband, John Leventhal.

River_And_The_Thread-back basic

“A Feather’s Not a Bird” is a fine opening, as a Bonnie Raitt style attitude meets Creedence Clearwater Revival type instrumentation. It’s clear that there’s nothing tentative about Cash. She’s confident and in charge as she sings, “…a river runs through me.” “Sunken Lands” is unique as a blend of classic and modern country built upon a Johnny Cash pulse.

“Etta’s Tune” is an introspective love song that might have been written by Jackson Browne: “We’re just a mile or two from Memphis/And the rhythm of our lives.” One can easily visualize Tom Petty singing Cash’s rocker, “Modern Blue”: “I went to Barcelona on the midnight train/I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain/I flew across an island in the northern sea/I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee….” There’s also a touch of the Eagles in the lyrics: “Everybody around here moves too fast/It feels so good but it’s never going to last/Everything I had is twice what I knew….”

“Tell Heaven” is an unplugged song about faith. The Judds would have loved to have sung this. “The Long Way Home” is an angst-filled song about lost love that calls to mind Don Henley, Mark Knopfler and Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”). It’s beautifully realized: “You thought you left it all behind/You thought you’d up and gone/But all you did was figure out how to take the long way home….”

“World of Strange Design” is a song about differences and discrimination, with a musical presentation that channels Dire Straits. “Night School” is a Tori Amos style ballad: “I’d give anything to be lying next to you/In night school.” The uplifting “50,000 Watts” is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”: “To be who we are/And not just who we were/A sister to him, a brother to her/We live like kings/without any sin/Redemption will come, just tune it on in….”

“When the Master Calls” is a touching song about the Civil War which would have fit well on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album. “Money Road” is the relaxing closing song about a dream, but the standard eleven-track edition of this album is only 38 minutes long. Consider purchasing the Limited Edition Deluxe version, which adds three additional songs and 10-plus more minutes of music.

River and the thread back

“Two Girls” is the first bonus track on the Limited Edition, and it sounds like a song from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. “Biloxi” is one of the great songs written by the late Jesse Winchester: “Beautiful girls are swimming in the sea/Oh, they look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will find his path with salted water/And the storms will blow off toward New Orleans.”

“Southern Heart” is a short, 2 minute long, song with plucked violin strings that would have been a great single in the 1960s; it’s a song very much in the style of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”

river and the thread rosanne

Cash has laid out her musical skills for the world to see on this release. It’s a highly recommended masterpiece or very close to it. But forget the ratings, just think of this as a near priceless gift delivered by Cash to her fans, current and prospective.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Blue Note Records.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-rosanne-cash-the-river-the-thread/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Rosanne-Cash-The-River-The-5411097.php

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The Heart of A Lion

On These Courts: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash (Touchstone, $26.00, 267 pages)

“A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on Elvis Presley as the icon of Memphis, but I put mine on Anfernee Hardaway… He’s a great person and he cares… Anything that he can do for anybody, he will do it.”

On These Courts (nook book)

On These Courts demonstrates that the Bad News Bears exist in real life. This is the story of the Lester Middle School Lions, based in the crime ridden Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis. The goal of this team was to win the state championship for their age group. To qualify they would have to beat the one school they lost to earlier (they did). And they would find themselves down by 14 points with 5 minutes to go in the big game.

Did the Lions come back to win? Well, life is not a Disney movie. You will need to read this book to find out.

The team’s coach was struck by cancer, and a former professional basketball player worth $200 million — Anfernee (“Penny”) Hardaway — stepped in to help. This sometimes-moving account of a special season shows how important courage, determination and grit are in the face of social and economic adversity. A group of kids with nothing to lose gave it all they had in order to bring a small measure of glory and acceptance to their downtrodden community.

This book reminds us that one person can change the world; all it takes is a dream.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

On These Courts (400)

A review of On These Courts: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash.

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Running Shoe Review: The New Balance 880 v2

New Balance 880v2

The New Balance (NB) 880 v2 (v2 stands for version two) is a modern classic cushioned running shoe that will help some avoid the agony of the feet. The shoe presents itself with a nice medium-wide fit, and a better fit in the arch area. Heel strikers will love the exemplary build-up of solid padding in the rear; more than a bit reminiscent of the Nike Air Max running shoes of the ’90s. The raised heel will please traditionalists who aren’t rushing out the door to pick up a pair of minimalist running shoes.

The NB 880 v2 forefoot is extremely flexible which can help to prevent toe cramping in some runners with relatively inflexible (read, flat) feet. The insole allows the toes to lie flat, and there’s no apparent metatarsal pad bump – something that can actually irritate those with existing metatarsal issues. And there’s a midfoot stability under arch wedge plate which fortunately does not interfere with one’s normal running style, neutral or otherwise.

The underfoot cushioning seems to be of the Goldilocks “just right” variety – enough to protect against rough road surfaces but not enough to deaden the enjoyment of the ride. Even better, while the sole returns some energy to the active runner it does not create a distracting bounce.

The lacing of the 880 v2 is off-center which reduces pressure on the sometimes sensitive upper-foot area.

This particular running shoe may be a bit hard to find as New Balance has begun to release some of its v3 (version three) models such as the NB 890 v3. I ordered my pair with the assistance of a local running store offering a discount on special orders. The good news is that once the NB 880 v3 is released, you should be able to order the 880 v2 – as an “endangered” shoe – via several discount online running shoe purveyors. However, you may want to order a pair right now to ensure that you can get it in your size.

The NB 880 v2 is a running shoe that provides a significant amount of protection for the feet while not attempting to modify one’s natural running style. This makes it a bit of a rarity these days. It’s also a running shoe that comes in nice, not garish, colors and it’s made in the U.S.A. (in either Boston or Lawrence, Massachusetts or Norridgewock, Maine).

If the NB 880 v2 was a car, it might well be a cozy, comfortable and smooth riding Nissan Ultima – an automobile that’s made in the U.S.A. (Smyrna, Tennessee). No complaints here.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

These shoes were purchased at The Running Zone in Elk Grove, California.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics Sports website:

http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/running-shoe-review-the-new-balance/

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Brand New Key

The Inquisitor’s Key by Jefferson Bass (William Morrow, $25.99, 350 pages)

“I had never stayed in a place this fancy, and surely never would – the rooms start at eight hundred dollars a night – but how could I pass up a chance to take Miranda to a swanky restaurant that bore her name?”

Dr. Bill Brockton is back on the trail of a historic mystery in this, the seventh book in the Body Farm series.   Authors, Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, who together write as Jefferson Bass, have produced several novels based on the work of Dr. Bass – a highly-respected forensic anthropologist.   (See a review of The Bone Yard posted earlier on this site.)   As is their custom, the authors put Dr. Brockton in the role of narrator.   The action in The Inquisitor’s Key takes place primarily in Avignon, France.   Dr. B’s assistant, Miranda Lovelady, puts out a medical distress call to him from her post in Avignon and he drops everything he’s working on in Tennessee to fly to her side.

Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, seems to have made an impression on the authors as there are some thematic similarities to this story.   The Catholic Church made Avignon the home of the Papacy during the span of years between 1309 and 1376.   The cruelty of one pope in particular, the commercial value of religious artifacts and the Inquisition are the focal points of the tale.   As a fan of the Body Farm mysteries might guess, there are bones to be authenticated and Dr. Brockton is the expert who is called upon to lead the analysis.

The technique of alternating between time periods at the same location is one used by the authors in The Bone Yard and it’s put to good use in this novel as well.   Charming cross references between present day spiritualist Eckhart Tolle and Meister Johannes Eckhart of the early 14th century create a bridge between the widely separated periods in time.

Dr. Brockton’s view on death has broadened in this book and so has his take on what he wants from life.   The underlying philosophical journey brings him and Miranda to a thrilling and deadly conclusion.   Ah, but wait, there are bound to be more books forthcoming from the Jefferson Bass duo.   This reviewer is counting on more, please!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Here is a review of The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/monster-mash/

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