Tag Archives: Virginia

Yes, Virginia…

There Is a Real Santa Claus

Real Santa

Real Santa: A Novel by William Hazelgrove (Koehler Books, $16.95, 244 pages)

“While the merry bells keep ringin’
May your every wish come true…
Happy holidays to you.” – Irving Berlin

William Hazelgrove again delivers the goods with Real Santa, which is, on a very superficial level, the story of a Dad and a daughter; or, at a deeper level, the story of a mid-life crisis; or, at what is presumed to be the author’s intent, a story in which the great tradition of Santa is the vehicle to enter into a much larger conversation about the current state of the human condition and – as is Hargrove’s specialty, a further glimpse into human dysfunction.

Real Santa Hazelgrove

In Real Santa, George Kronenfeldt, a self-proclaimed Santa freak, harbors the pain of his childhood and attempts to reconcile his perceived child-rearing errors from his first marriage. His wife took off with an old high school flame, and George, who is portrayed as a difficult person (which seems to be an inherited trait from his father), has a distant and troubled relationship with his two oldest children.

As the story begins, George is let go from his job as Christmas approaches and simultaneously vows to preserve one additional year of his daughter’s childhood by prolonging her belief in Santa Claus. He blows his savings to create an elaborate ruse that escalates beyond even his intentions. And, while George makes his play as the true Santa, the real Santa – of course – actually makes an appearance.

This is all either completely psychotic or rather charming, depending on one’s perspective. But, the larger themes of second chances, love, forgiveness, positive values, parenthood, childhood, and hope transform this story into one that resonates. While it may end up on the Hallmark Channel someday, it is not a cheesy made-for-TV Christmas story. It is, rather, a “real” novel about everyday people who are doing their best to overcome their weaknesses, survive, and occasionally do the right thing amid circumstances that do not always cooperate.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Dave Moyer is an education administrator in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Real Santa blurb

You can read the first chapter of Real Santa here:

http://williamhazelgrove.com/read-the-first-chapter-of-real-santa

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Tailgating

Tail Gait (Amazon)

Tail Gait: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown (Bantam, $26.00, 307 pages)

“Smartest thing we ever did, separation of church and state, and we can thank Madison for drawing up those Articles for Virginia when we were a colony.” Ginger’s tone brooked no interference, but then the rest agreed on this issue.

Professor Greg “Ginger” McConnell, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Virginia is a tenacious researcher who has been digging into land ownership matters that must be sensitive to someone who wants to keep the past buried. Ginger is the victim of that someone and he’s found dead in the rough of a golf course by several of his former students.

Tail Gait follows two story threads, one set in the Revolutionary War and the other in 2015. The plight of a brave young British soldier captured by the Americans is contrasted with the murder of the history professor. The locale is Rita Mae Brown’s home turf, Virginia.

Typical of Ms. Brown, there are many teaching moments inserted here and there. Readers familiar with the Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries may be disappointed that the feline Mrs. Murphy and her furry friends are not more prominently featured in the solution to Ginger’s murder.

The two story threads seem unrelated until more than halfway through the book. The reader is left wondering when, if ever, Ms. Brown will get to the point. The writing in both threads is sadly uneven. This reviewer needed to reread passages for clarification. This work is far below the standard earlier set by Brown; thus, it’s not engaging or entertaining. If there’s another book in the series, let’s hope that Mrs. Murphy is returned to her starring role!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

You can read a review of Cat Striking Back: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/cat-striking-back/

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Strong As You

Music Review: James McCartney – Me

Me James McCartneyMe

It’s not often that a musician releases his first full album at the age of 35, but that’s the case with James McCartney. James is not related to the pop rocker Jesse McCartney, but his father once wrote a catchy tune called “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It’s said that the senior McCartney also wrote a few other songs that have been played on the radio.

Me is an album about a person facing adversity in his life. He’s not sure about his love life, his career, his familial relationships, but he tries to display a stiff upper lip: “We’re on our own and we’ve got to go on….”; “I am strong enough to make it through / I am strong enough as strong as you….”; “You think I’m going to lose / But I will win in the end….” Still, he has his doubts, “…we’ve got to go but we can’t go on forever.”

Here’s a look at the lyrics and songs on McCartney’s Me:

“Strong As You” – “It’s hard for me to say how happy I am / Happy man….” On this single from the album, James sounds like Julian Lennon and the lead guitar part that he plays will remind some of George Harrison. Badfinger also comes to mind.

“Butterfly” – “Little bird you don’t quite understand / Everything is lying in the sand….” Here James sounds more like John Lennon, especially in the phrasing, than Julian. It’s a song that might have fit on the Imagine album and there’s a trace of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You” in the melody.

“You And Me Individually” – “You and me are different / You and me were different individually….” It’s acoustic guitar opening is reminiscent of “Blackbird” from The Beatles White Album and reflects the fact that James and his father reacted in different ways to the death of Linda McCartney. The lighter than air quality of the song shows that James may have listened to Harry Nilsson’s sui generis compositions.

“Snap Out of It” – “You know that I’m not here / The candle’s burning at both ends… And I know that I can make it / And I think that I can take it / I’m not going to fake it anymore….” This is a song that’s very much in the style of George Harrison, who often mixed fear and self-doubt with grit in his compositions.

“Bluebell” – “Something pulls me close to you / Like a moth to a flame like a music box / Unwinding rewinding / I’m on my own / I’ve got to go on but I can’t go on forever….” This melodic piece sounds like a cross between two of John Lennon’s songs, “Across the Universe” and “Beautiful Boy.” It’s nicely done although the slow pace of the music to this point begins to feel plodding. A change is on its way.

“Life’s A Pill” – “…now I’m bleeding still / I know the pain will leave / When troubles disappear… Life’s a pill give it to me now.” Now the rocking begins. “Pill” sounds like a merger of “Things We Said Today,” “Running On Empty,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and it’s just a warm-up for the next track.

“Home” – “I kind of heard it on the radio / Oh my god what am I to do….” James and his musicians kick out the jams on a song that’s a melding of Wings’ “Helen Wheels,” “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The drummer kicks, punches and violently pounds on the drum kit until it’s destroyed. Yes, some serious behind is kicked!

“Thinking About Rock & Roll” – “Walking around Disneyland / It’s so pretty me and Mickey the Mouse / And he turns and says / It’s so fine and it’s going to be mine / Life’s so fine and it’s already mine.” This is the “Silly Love Songs”-style track on the album. It’s a song about celebrating life and living and appreciating what one already has (rather than what one wants and desires). A bit silly, but fun.

“Wisteria” – “Baby if you know what love is for / Let me know what it means to you….” This one’s like a track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. It’s pure energy. Wisteria is apparently a woman’s name, although it might refer to Wisteria Lane.

“Mexico” – “Moving down to Mexico where the women treat you right / Moving down to Mexico where no one gives a shite….” A celebration of the joys of living in Mexico; it’s no threat to James Taylor’s song of the same name and theme.

“Snow” – “Nighttime falls on Manhattan city / New York like white snow / I’m on the fence for you / I’m in the zone glancing at you / Dancing with you for the very first time / Dance for the first time….” James channels John Lennon in a stunningly beautiful piano-based composition about love and winter in New York City. It’s like a lost love song written for Yoko Ono.

“Virginia” – “…my baby’s gone and left me… She left me at the station / And I don’t give a toss….” This is a non-essential bonus track that displays the McCartneys’ wry sense of humor. It would have fit well on the Wings Wild Life album.

Me is definitely a good album, but the question is where does James McCartney go from here? He is so clearly fascinated with the Lennon sound that it might make sense for him to join with 50-year-old Julian Lennon to jointly write and record a collection of songs together.

What would they call such an album? That’s easy, Lennon & McCartney.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by ECR Music Group.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-mccartney-me/

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

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-James-McCartney-Me-4637098.php

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Knew You When

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 400 pages)

As with her prior novels, Laura Lippman does not disappoint as she again demonstrates her skill at writing crime fiction in the recent novel I’d Know You Anywhere.

To the outsider, Eliza Benedict appears to be a normal suburban stay-at-home mother of two with a loving, financially secure husband.   However, when she receives a letter from Walter Bowman, she’s instantly forced to relive her past.   Kidnapped by Walter at age fifteen, she was held hostage for almost 6 weeks.   Bowman, now on death row in Virginia, has found Eliza and reaches out to make amends.   As he presses her for increased contact, she begins to wonder what his real motivation is for contacting her.   She also wonders if she, too, may need something in return to secure full and complete closure on her past.

Lippman’s literary gift is in presenting interesting characters that the reader connects with.   By employing detailed descriptions and natural dialogue, she enables us to know each character in the story personally and intimately.

In I’d Know You Anywhere, Lippman’s writing is detailed and believable even when alternating between Eliza’s confident, yet conflicted (challenging yet clinging) teenager, to the delusional thought processes of Bowman.   Lippman provides fascinating insight into what it would be like to be abducted and the impact on the victim and family members as they subsequently attempt to resume their lives.

In this novel, Lippman not only presents an entertaining read, she also encourages the reader to contemplate the political dilemmas of the death penalty and debate whether death row meets its presumed function of bringing justice to the families of crime victims.   She further provides insight into the mind of someone with a mental illness; someone with twisted justifications of right versus wrong, and warped views on how his actions impact others.   My only critique is that I would have liked to see a bit more depth in Eliza – the main character – whose passivity in life becomes daunting at times.   However, the unique storyline and the  detailed personalities of Lippman’s characters provides for an intriguing, engaging and interesting story.

Well recommended.

Kelly Monson

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   I’d Know You Anywhere was released in trade paper form on May 3, 2011.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Reeling in the Years

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

There are writers who, like certain songwriters, can be admired more than they can be enjoyed.   In the field of songwriting, the team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – collectively known as Steely Dan – has often been praised for their tunes steeped in irony even if their songs are more clever (more intellectual) than charmingly fun.   I kept thinking of Steely Dan and, especially, the song “Reeling in the Years” as I read this latest novel from the prolific writer Laura Lippman.

Lippman’s skills are to be recognized as she persuades a reader to turn over 370 pages of a story that does not amount to a lot.   There are two protagonists.   There’s the now-38-year-old Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped and raped and held for 39 days by Walter Bowman, who sits on death row in Virginia awaiting his execution.   Bowman is a spree-killer convicted of two murders in two states, but he may have killed as many as eight young girls.   Why he didn’t kill Eliza (then known as Elizabeth) when she was 15 is supposed to be a question that puzzles everyone.   Except that Bowman was captured after a simple traffic stop.   The notion that he might have killed Eliza had he not been taken into custody when he was seems to elude everyone here.

Although Lippman gives her readers a lot of twists and turns and feints, there’s not much drama in this crime drama, and not much thrill in this psychological thriller.   It is interesting enough, but just enough.

Eliza never comes to life, especially as she displays no anger against Bowman.   When Bowman contacts her just weeks before his scheduled death, she becomes his strangely witting accomplice without much effort.   Eliza is a character that’s simply not present in her own life:  “Her time with Walter – it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory or not memory.   It was like a story she knew about someone else.”

A character in the book, a hack writer who wrote a “fact crime” book about Bowman, complains that he’s just simply not as interesting a criminal as, say, Ted Bundy.   That’s certainly the case as we never come to know what it is that made Bowman a killer, nor how it is that this man with a said-to-be just average IQ is suddenly cunning enough to use his victim Eliza in a last-minute plan to gain his freedom.   Something key is missing here as the author admits:  “(Her) mother had long believed that Walter had experienced something particularly wounding in his youth.”

Since neither of the two characters ever becomes fully realized, it’s hard to care about whether Eliza will, in the end, forgive Walter and/or help him avoid execution.   The reader will, however, wonder why this now happily married woman is willing to risk her contented life for someone who harmed her.   Since Eliza does not know herself, she certainly will never come to know or constructively forgive her former captor.

A significant flaw in this crime drama is that the interactions with participants in the criminal justice system feel like flyovers, neither grounded nor concrete.   The lawyers seem to be portrayed more as actors (attention being given to how they look and dress) than as advisors.

In the end, this reader admires Lippman’s skills, her persistence and her success.   However, reading this novel was a bit like trying to listen to that Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” as it plays in another room, down the hall, too far removed to be heard clearly.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Split Second Timing

Capitol Betrayal by William Bernhardt (Ballantine Books, $26.00, 336 pages)

“You can tell us what the hell is going on,” Cartwright barked.   “You’re the president, not a damned flight attendant!”

The security force of the District of Columbia and its most prominent resident, the leader of the free world, are in serious peril.   Hotheaded terrorists and foreign governments are the obvious villains in this tale of gunshots, missiles and threats.   Although the premise may not be a new one, thanks to the masterful split-second timing of author William Bernhardt, it becomes fresh and vibrant.

The entire story takes place in less than a day.   Bernhardt builds the plot using one of his mainstay characters, Ben Kincaid.   Rather than having Kincaid be the featured player, Seamus McKay, a U.S. undercover operative who is nearing retirement age, provides the action and the fireworks.   Kincaid is the perfect intellectual lawyer counterpart to McKay’s clever MacGyver-like tricks and ploys.   The folks rounding out the cast of characters include some slippery and self-serving Washington insiders.

This reviewer has noted that a plot device that uses one scene depicted from the perspective of several different characters is often employed by novelists to build dramatic tension.   Bernhardt takes this device and builds the pace as though he’s smoothly double clutching in a Porsche.   Resist the temptation to peek at the ending and your self-control will be rewarded.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized