Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Retro-perspective of Kiss

Nothing to Lose: The Making of Kiss 1972 – 1975 – Ken Sharp with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (IT Books)

I make a full admission upfront; call it a guilty pleasure or an attempt to hold onto my youth, but I have Kiss music on my Ipod…a lot of it. That may not be the coolest thing to admit, but then again I never claimed to be the coolest guy. That being said, I am not now, nor was I ever, a card carrying member of the Kiss Army, the band’s enthusiastic, over the top (would you expect anything less) fan club.

So that is the perspective that I take going into Nothing to Lose: The Making of Kiss 1972 – 1975 from author Ken Sharp and the band’s Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the latest entry on the shelf full of books that try to tackle the Kiss story. Given the time parameters of the title, it’s a safe bet that there is more of the story to be told. Having muddled through some of the prior books, I wasn’t surprised that much of the tale was familiar.

Nothing to Lose is delivered in a similar fashion to Steve Miller’s book Detroit Rock City with numerous participants delivering their take on the same subject. You may find yourself flipping back and forth in an attempt to follow who the person is that is offering up their take given the fact that many of those quoted are unknown, early fans, roadies, promoters, bar owners and fellow musicians. After awhile this approach takes on a beating a dead horse quality; you’d have to really be a die-hard to care about the perspective of the bar owner, the bar owner’s son, the bar owners daughter, the regular bar patrons, and the regular bar patrons best friend. You get the picture, it becomes what I call a Tom Petty Moment; to borrow his album title Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough!

While it clearly details the early struggles, the book also captures the band’s meteoric rise from dinky, dingy clubs to huge arenas; from early striped down efforts to full blown pyrotechnics, lights and elevating stages. It is clearly the original lineup of Kiss that remains the one that matters most to their diehard fans and Nothing to Lose does an amazing job of telling that story and telling it again and again and again. Not sure that this one is for the casual fan or guilty pleasure seeker.




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kitchen Revelry: A Year of Festive Menus From My Home to Yours – Ali Larter (St. Martin’s Press)

The old saying is that you can’t judge a book the cover. I’d like to take a little artistic license and change it up a bit and say; you can’t judge a cook by her look. One look at the attractive, slim, actress Ali Larter on the cover of her first foray into the world of cookbooks and you might assume that she’s offering up a load of Hollywood vegan or vegetarian delights. You couldn’t be more wrong. I mean you really could NOT be more wrong.

The opening salvos in Kitchen Revelry features a photo of Larter decked out in PJs knoshing on a gooey breakfast sandwich and then bang comes her take on Charcuterie 101 a platter well stocked with a variety of cheeses, delectable meats, breads and crackers. She had me at the line “I could live my life on a Charcuterie plate.”

The gist of the book is presented as a year’s worth of dinner parties that run the gamut from laid back fun and easy, to full blown formal affairs and classic holidays. It also ranges from the gang’s all here to much more intimate functions.

Chock full of wonderful photos, the book breaks things down by season, with an emphasis on in season, fresh ingredients. She’s tackled everything from high school football players to zombies and aliens, how hard could it be to knock out a winning dinner party. It wouldn’t shock me to see Larter tackle a TV cooking show, she’s off to a winning start in the foodie world with this book.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

5 In 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners – Michael Symon (Clarkson Potter)

I have an admission to make…I have a guilty pleasure…I like to watch Food Network and cooking shows on television. Since I do the bulk of the cooking in my house, I am always on the hunt for new things to try and new ways to make dinner easier.

So I was intrigued by Chef Michael Symon’s new book, 5 In 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners. Symon is a co-host of a god awful daytime show called The Chew, which I would never have seen if my parents didn’t watch it religiously and had on when I visited. Symon is better known to me as an Iron Chef and Cleveland, Ohio restaurant owner.

The one thing I have always liked about Symon is that much of the staff I have seen him make is stuff I would actually eat. He doesn’t come off as chef-y for the sake of being chef-y; he makes stuff that is fresh and flavorful, but never highbrow.

The concept is pretty straight forward; take five fresh ingredients, add some staples from the pantry and basically in 5 minutes you’ve got a simple, but delicious meal. Granted, I think the 5 minutes may strain credulity just a bit, but most of the 120 meals can be put together in a pretty short period of time if you use a few tricks to shortcut the process. Any number of the pasta dishes can be cut down to size by pre-cooking a batch of pasta and keeping it handy in the refrigerator.

Most of what’s in the book seems pretty easy to assemble; nothing worse that some gizmo or device heavy cookbook that requires you to visit the local kitchen accessory store to buy something you’ll use once then place on the pantry shelf for the next year. I also like the fact that Symon seems to get the fact that most people who actually want to try to cook using the cookbook, (C’mon admit it, most folks have a pile of these things sitting on a shelf in the kitchen and most have never been cracked open) are not going to run out and buy parchment paper to try packet cooking. I loved the fact that he says in the book that there is nothing wrong with good old tin foil! That scored him points with me and I scored points with the family when I whipped up a packet on the grill.

If you’re looking for something simple, fresh and tasty, check out this book and give it a whirl tonight.    

Holy Orders: A Quirke Novel – Benjamin Black (Macmillan Audio)

I have always been intrigued by authors who take side journeys, a busman’s holiday is the phrase that is often used, and take up writing books under another name, often in a departure from the style and character type that they are best known for. Is it just the itch of a muse that drives them or is the style switch really the direction they’d rather be taking?

 Holy Orders: A Quirke Novel is the sixth installment on the ongoing series by Irish author John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. In this audiobook version of the tale, reader John Keating does an admirable job of bringing voice to the range of characters. While this is my first foray into the Quirke series, I found myself taking some leaps in logic to fill in for my lack of knowledge of what has gone before, because Black doesn’t spend a lot of time on backfilling the storyline.

Holy Orders is a deeply dark and brooding tale on many levels; there is the main storyline of the mystery surrounding the death of newspaper reporter Jimmy Minor, who boyish corpse is fished out of the river, leading Quirke and company to investigate an allegedly do-gooder priest, that runs parallel to the often alcohol fueled psychological meltdown that Quirke seems to be experiencing played of the background of his abusive upbringing in a Catholic orphanage.

Black/Banville do an amazing job of capturing the gloomy loam of the Emerald Isle, sprinkling in descriptive settings that have a lived in feel and just enough quirky characters to keep the reader/listener guessing where things will turn next. It’s clear that the author is not done with Quirke’s psychological torment based on the dangling story that gets left unresolved.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just Because Your Paranoid…Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Out to Get You

Makeup to Breakup – Peter Criss (Scribner)

The old saying is there are two sides to every story. In the case of the band Kiss, it seems there are at least four sides to every story. In Makeup to Breakup Kiss drummer Peter Criss takes his turn to tell his version of events of the saga of one of the world’s most successful bands.

Typical of most rock bios, Criss talks of his childhood, his early influences, and his initial forays into the music business. Sprinkled generously throughout these early tales are Criss’s first brushes with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It is when he answers an ad looking for a drummer that he lands with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley in an early incarnation of the band dubbed Wicked Lester.

From there it’s off to the races as the bands evolves into a Caligula-like circus and becomes a behemoth; churning out not only hit albums, selling mounds of concert tickets and literally tens of millions of dollars of merchandise. Almost inevitably the egos, the drugs and the overall excesses take their toll and the cracks that form become full blown divisions.

Criss details his spiral into addiction, which either spurred or expands his paranoia and pettiness. Even has self-describes his tendencies towards being an asshole, he still seems hell bent to blame most of his problems on Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, or colorfully labels them, the “two fucks.”

Criss writes with a level of bitterness, as if he didn’t have a hand in his departure from what at the time was the biggest band in the world. While he claims to have become musically disenchanted and disconcerted by the commercial excesses, he seems wholly disconnected to what Kiss really was. While they were and are an entertainment extravaganza, I find it hard to believe that anyone would mistake Kiss for being a great band musically.

When you work your way through the rest of the story of addiction, reunion, disease and the clichéd “I found my true love” and redemption, it’s easy to understand the book’s opening line which asks the question, “have you ever tasted the barrel of a .357 Magnum that’s halfway down your throat?”

While I won’t pick sides as to who’s right or wrong, it’s pretty clear that Criss is his own worst enemy and it’s equally clear that no one in their right mind would walk away from the moneymaking machine that Kiss was.      

Summer’s Last Gasp – Beach Read Bonus Time

Jeff Abbott – Downfall  (Grand Central)

Brad Taylor – The Widow’s Strike: A Pike Logan Thriller (Dutton)

David Ellis – The Last Alibi (Putnam)

As the pigskin starts to fly and the sun sets a little earlier each day, the fall season looms large and summer wind’s down to its last gasp, there is still a chance to snag some quality beach read time with a set of ongoing, character driven thrillers.

Jeff Abbott roles out the latest in his Sam Capra series, Downfall that finds the former CIA operative turned high end bar owner continuing to try to balance fatherhood, business and working for the mysterious, shadowy group of rich powerbrokers known as the Round Table.

As usual Capra seems to find himself at a crossroads of either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being in the right place at the right time, depending on your perspective. He ends up in the middle of high stakes action that gets rolling with a high profile PR executive who is a Mom caught squarely between a rock and a hard place. Capra is a great mix of highly trained operative and American Ninja Warrior contestant as he puts his high flying parkour, free running skills to use.

The action is always front and center, but doesn’t dominate the storyline’s steady drumbeat pacing.

Brad Taylor makes no makes no bones about the fact that his stories are character driven, putting his lead Pike Logan front and center in the title of his latest; The Widow’s Strike: A Pike Logan Thriller. Like all good thriller writers, Taylor puts the tinge of ripped from today’s headlines fear in the plot of his story.

With recent chatter about implantable bombs being developed by terrorists in an attempt to get them past screening devices; it certainly makes scary sense that someone might try to develop human bio-weapon bombs. Just imagine walking human delivery systems that could deposit their deadly strike with a simple cough or sneeze on public transport.

Imagine no further…because Taylor has already done the work for us. In the pursuit of a vaccine for a deadly strain of bird flu, a rogue pharmaceutical company discovers that inoculated women can survive the virus, but become carriers for the deadly strain. Despite mothballing the procedure, one deadly sample survived and the race is on to try to prevent a deadly plague from wrecking havoc.

David Ellis is one of a stable of author’s who work with the mega-bestselling machine known as James Patterson and he is back with another installment in the Jason Kolarich legal thriller series, The Last Alibi. Ellis once again display’s the masterful ability to deliver twists and turns in the plot with more than a few unexpected plot threads along the way.

A legal eagle who has worked both sides of the courtroom aisle, this time out Kolarich finds himself in the unexpected location of being in the defendants chair, accused of murder. Sure it’s a setup…the question becomes how does extract himself from this precarious perch. The answer will have you gripping the edge of your chosen seating arrangement for the end of summer.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Jodi Arias Trial Rehashed

Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias – Jane Velez Mitchell (William Morrow)

Picture Perfect: The Jodi Arias Story – Shana Hogan (St. Martin’s Press)

What is it about some stories that capture the imagination of television viewers in this country? People go missing everyday and their story doesn’t generate the kind of press attention over the long haul that the Natalie Holloway case had for so long. Jon Benet Ramsey was sadly just another child on an all too long list of murdered children, yet her story remained in heavy rotation on news programs.

The latest entry into the media coverage bonanza sweepstakes is the murder trial of Jodi Arias. The 24 hours news channels served up heaping helpings of non-stop coverage of this pretty little bleach blonde who suddenly became the mousy little brunette when she was accused of murdering her estranged boyfriend Travis Alexander.

To be honest, just like the other cases I mentioned, I could not have cared less about this case and the non-stop trial coverage. You can add this case to the list that includes murderer Scott Peterson; murderer Drew Peterson; adulterer Tiger Woods and so many others. I can’t quite put my finger on what draws people like flies to honey and generates a level of interest in the American public. With so many other real issues and real stories that we should be concerned about, it all strikes me as just another distraction for the romance novel reading, 50 Shades of Gray, loving, nitwits who voted for Obama…twice.

So I guess I am not surprised that there is a cottage industry of books, often best sellers that pop up around these cases. The painfully annoying Jane Velez Mitchell (the 70s called, they want their shag haircut back) of HLN who supplied much of the wall to wall coverage is out with Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias, which like all books of this ilk lays claim to having never before heard or seen “bombshells” and insider details.

Same holds true for Arizona based journalist Shanna Hogan’s Picture Perfect: The Jodi Arias Story. While admittedly I gave both of these books a quick thumb through read, I’d say Hogan’s background as a print journalist gave her the edge on stringing together a more coherent version of the story. Mitchell, true to her HLN show, seems more hell bent on inserting herself into the story.

Has far as the bombshells? You got me. Having not spent even one minute watching the night and day coverage of the trial I don’t know what the latest and greatest break through bits might be. My best guess is that neither of these tomes really break any new ground and tend towards rehashing the facts laid out at trial with a healthy dose of speculation thrown in for good measure.

An Old Dog, Armed With New Tricks

The Kill List – Frederick Forsyth (Putnam Books)

The cliché is that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While I am generally of the belief that clichés become clichés because they are true. In the case of veteran thriller author Frederick Forsyth that couldn’t be further from the truth.

When Forsyth scored a hit with his first outing in the thriller realm 42 years ago with 1971’s The Day of the Jackal, the unmanned drone was a thing of science fiction. In his latest entry, The Kill List, Forsyth seamlessly weaves not only modern warfare techniques, but modern technology through out the thriller that works at break neck speed.


While the current crop of thriller maestros like Brad Thor, the late Vince Flynn and Ben Coes serve up character’s that drive their stories and that readers can wrap their arms around, Forsyth relies on the story to drive the bus.

Forsyth introduces the us to The Tracker, a man who’s sole job is to, like his name suggests, track down and then eradicate the enemies of the state. His target this go ‘round is a Jihadist extremist dubbed the Preacher for his online sermonizing, exhorting his internet legion to kill high profile citizens around the globe, not in high profile events, but an anytime, anyplace, anywhere, approach to terror.

The Tracker enlists some high tech support of his own to first locate, then isolate the Preacher before getting down to the task at hand. Like the hope most have that there exists heroes who are out there to protect us, I hope we arm them with the kinds of tools Forsyth details in these pages of this winning thriller.


Elysium: The Art of the Film - Mark Salisbury (Titan Books)

This could be a first for me.

As a huge fan of fiction, I am more often than not, disappointed by movies based on a book. I think I can come up with a very small handful of titles where the movie was equal to the book and even less where the movie was better than the book.

Jonathan Demme’s celluloid take was the equal of Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs is probably most often my go to choice when the question comes up. What makes this is unique, is the fact that Elysium: The Art of the Film a book about a movie is way better than the film itself!


While the film wallows and drowns in director Neil Blomkamp’s flaming, liberal mindset, the design and concepts laid out in the book are sci-fi sleek. The designs often include the range from conceptual art to full blown graphic depictions and modeling.

Blomkamp once again teams with his District 9 production design cohort Phil Ivey and the WETA Workshop crew to develop the full blown look and feel of robots, spacecraft, weapons and even the environments of Elysium and Earth.

Elysium: The Art of the Film is not your mother’s coffee table book but is guaranteed to spawn jealous reactions from all of your geek friends once they get a gander.