Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Getting the Band Together

Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet (A Jesse Stone Novel) - Reed Farrel Coleman – (G. P. Putnam)

The history of rock ‘n’ roll is dotted with enduring mysteries and myths; Paul is dead, Bobby Fuller found dead, battered and doused in gasoline in the front seat of his car, Jim Morrison, did he really die in the bath tub and did Kurt Cobain really die from suicide, are among the most legendary tales.
So why not create a mystery around a rock ‘n’ roll tale of a long lost studio session from a Bob Dylan-esque singer songwriter that featured alleged contributions and studio appearances by a cavalcade of star performers rumored to included numerous members of the Rock ‘n’ roll Hall of Fame?
That’s exactly what Reed Farrel Coleman has done as he continues to churn out novels based on the characters created by the late, great Robert B. Parker, with his latest entry in the Jesse Stone series, The Hangman’s Sonnet. This mystery is chock full of all of the elements for a great story; criss-crossed storylines that don’t make sense until you play out the entire storyline; plenty of curveballs and red herrings to throw you off the scent and even a couple of sympathetic characters who turn out to be driven by desperation to do bad things.
Add to the mix the fact that Coleman, in the great music tradition even takes a stab at putting the band together by spicing the storyline to include a visit with Parker’s most famous creation, Boston-based private investigator Spenser, who tosses a clue to Chief Stone that puts him on the scent of a long lost audio engineer who was a prime suspect in the case of the missing recordings, and who just happen to be related to the book’s first victim.
This is entertaining stuff all the way. Parker fans will always find something to quibble about, but for my money Coleman does a nice job of keeping on point, serving up a good read and breathing not just life, but new life into Parker’s creations. Heck he even makes mention of long lost Sunny Randall, who is long overdue for a re-visit by a skilled fiction hand.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Doodlers Unite!

Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go – Felix Scheinberger (Watson-Guptill)

A few years ago I read a line in novel extolling the virtues of writing with a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil. My wife will tell you that I have more than a passing obsession with writing implements and have acquired an outsized collection over the years; so the thought of using something as simple as an old school wooden pencil struck me as odd. I gave in and bought a ten pack of these skinny black sticks and something I can only call magical happened; words began to flow out of the tip of these oddly cool pencils, a stack of which lay within reach on my desk.
I have always been intrigued by these books and articles featuring marketing plans sketched out and illustrated, often on a white board. I had the thought that I would look for a more portable alternative to the white board, and began carrying a hardback sketch books to meetings. Soon the combination of the book and the pencils became an obsession; meeting doodles became illustrated plans to move marketing projects forward.

Of course every other page or so, also featured the odd, stray drawings of the things and people in the room at the time. So when I came across Felix Scheinberger’s new book, Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go, I was intrigued by what he might have to say on the topic. I was pleasantly surprised that Scheinberger a prolific designer and artist did take a hardline tone in the book and really just encouraged folks to have a go a putting implement to paper.
Scheinberger doesn’t really tell you what to do or how to do it; he takes a rather hands off, but supportive approach to getting people to take a swing at sketching. While he is clearly a skillful practitioner, Scheinberger’s work from his own sketchbook, that populates Dare to Sketch isn’t the artist perfect work you might expect from an art book. He showcases works with roughhewn edges and stray marks rather than artistic renderings of what’s in front on him at the time.
His take on the proprietary nature of the sketchbook, that it is a personal thing that the sketcher can choose to share or not; made me chuckle inwardly when I thought what the subjects of my renderings might think if they ever saw my take on things.

“Reprinted from DARE TO SKETCH Copyright © 2017 by Felix Scheinberger. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Felix Scheinberger. Published by Watson-Guptill, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Clipped Pieces

David Bowie: A Life – Dylan Jones (Crown Archetype)

In death as in life, David Bowie’s life has proven to be fertile ground for biographers looking to cash in on telling his life story and examine the width and breadth of his musical and artistic output.
David Bowie: A Life, from respected British music journalist Dylan Jones is an interesting entry in the posthumous Bowie bio derby. Jones pieces together material from a variety of sources, interview with the whole gang of in-laws and outlaws, friends and hangers-on from Bowie’s always colorful life, some 180 plus sit downs.

And therein, as the saying goes, lays the rub. The book reads like a kidnapper’s ransom letter, clipped pieces tapped together in an attempt at creating a narrative. Jones tries to pare down the task at hand by tackling Bowie’s story in a bit by bit, chunk by chunk fashion; doling things out in chronological fashion.
Juggling so many moving parts and placing a massive level of trust in the sometimes dodgy memories of some colorful folks, makes for a Herculean task at best and a damn-near impossible job to do well. Try as he might, Jones can’t avoid having David Bowie: A Life come off as a choppy and difficult to follow the logic mess. With so many entries in this crowded field of Bowie bios, the way to stand out is to bring new information to the party and Jones doesn’t seem to have that base covered here.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Best of Both Worlds

The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook: Fresh and Foolproof Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker – Coco Morante (Ten Speed Press)

Full disclosure up front: I am a huge fan of the crock pot or slow cooker and have used them regularly for over three decades in various shapes and sizes for a WIDE variety of dishes.

So when it came to the thought process of utilizing a pressure cooker or in this case Instant Pot, I admit to being a little puzzled by the speed at which these recipes could go from prep to table. I am a fan of soups, stews and chili so I naturally gravitated towards trying those kinds of recipes as a test run for the device.

Author Coco Morante has loaded up a range of things that cover an amazing spectrum of tasty delights in The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook: Fresh and Foolproof Recipes for Your Electric Pressure Cooker. I took a swing at the chili and carefully following the recipe I was pleased with the results. One thing I did notice as a tried a few more of these offering is that the pressure cooker is not quite as forgiving as the crockpot. If things are off a little bit with the crockpot, a couple of tweaks can turn things around flavor-wise. I did have quite the same success with the Instant Pot.

Armed with Morante’s collection, I will confidently create tasty meals at breakneck speed, but when it comes to throwing everything and the kitchen sink into making dinner, I will stick with the crockpot. 

The Dichotomy of Soul

Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green – Jimmy McDonough (DaCapo Press)

Dichotomya division or contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

The Rev. Al Green could be one of the true definitions of the word dichotomy. Over the course of his musical career he has amassed sales of more than 20 million albums and is almost universally recognized as one of the most soulful performers in music history. His discography included what are some of the most overtly sexy songs this side of Marvin Gaye and then stack that up against the fact that he has by-in-large walked away from music and dedicate his life to ministering his flock from the pulpit rather than the concert stage.

Despite his very public successes, up until now, Green has remained largely shrouded in mystery. That is where biographer Jimmy McDonough steps into the picture and turns his laser-like focus to delving deep into the story of Al Green life to flesh out what could be the definitive tale of his life and career.

McDonough does for al Green what he has done for the likes of other music legends including: Neil Young, John Fogarty, Tammy Wynette and filmmaker Russ Mayer. While Green continues to stridently avoid the spotlight, McDonough pieces together Green’s story from a seemingly endless collection of personal interviews with the soul master’s intimates and those who were around during his childhood, right up to his heyday at the top of the charts to draw the life story he details in Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green.

At times dark and at others joyous, in Soul Survivor, McDonough peels back the layer of a very complex and at times troubled life of a man who seemed forever poised to walk the razor edged tightrope between the world of gospel and the often wanton desires of popular, soul music. From the broad brush strokes to the fine pointillism, McDonough draws an intimate portrait of Green’s heretofore uncharted story.

Trouble is his Middle Name

A Promise to Kill: A Clyde Barr Novel – Erik Storey (Scribner)

Everybody knows one of those people who seem to manage to step in shit and come out smelling like a rose. Erik Storey’s lead character Clyde Barr…is not one of those guys. Clyde is not the kind of guy who needs to go look for trouble, because it will undoubtedly find him.

Storey’s second installment in the Clyde Barr series, A Promise to Kill, finds our every man hero attempting a return to civilization from a time spent recovering from his last go ‘round out in the wilderness, where he feels most at home. Hankering for a bit of human interaction Clyde drops headlong into what evolves into not only a strange friendship, but what could potentially be an international terror plot.

Action is not in short supply as Clyde confronts a biker gang, the Reapers, who seem to be more than a little out of place in a small Indian reservation town in the hills of Utah. The bikers have a secret they’d like to keep to themselves involving some misappropriated military hardware and they have a specific buyer in mind. Like a bull in a proverbial china shop, Clyde stumbles, rumbles and bumbles right into the middle of things. Think Sons of Anarchy meets 24.

Once again Storey does a masterful job of not only parceling out the story, but of keep the pace rolling along at a break neck speed. He also infuses Clyde with the innate ability to bring out the best and the worst in the folks around; ordinary, average folks are able to do amazing things and the bad guys are also able to kick the evil up a notch.

Storey manages to once again churn out one of my favorite novels of the year thus far and certainly has me looking forward to the net installment of the adventures of Clyde “Trouble” Barr.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So Much Promise…

South Pole Station: A Novel – Ashley Shelby – (Picador)

What would a Myers Briggs personality profile test look like for someone interested in spending time, or wintering over in the lexicon of the book, in Antarctica at the South Pole Station? It seems to revolve around where one’s affinity might lie; “would you rather be a florist or a truck driver?”

That is the jumping off point for the first novel from award-winning writer/journalist Ashley Shelby, South Pole Station. Shelby populates the point farthest south with a collection of quirky, misfits; a gather of square pegs who can’t seem to manage to fit into proverbial round holes of the so-called real world.

It is those quirks that make Shelby’s characters so compelling, but they almost reach the point where the characters outshine the storyline. What starts out as a great concept kind of gets a bit lost at the books mid-way point; you end up not quite being sure if this is a slice of odd humor, a global climate change/warming novel, a take on the Big Bang Theory, both the TV show and the theory itself, or could it be a love story?

I must admit that I kept slogging through the book to see if Shelby was able to pull all of these disparate storylines together to come to a grand conclusion. To be acutely honest, I admit to being left scratching my head. Shelby certainly displays some entertaining storytelling abilities, so I will be intrigued as to where she goes from here with her next slice of fiction.