Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saddam and the Keystone Cops

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein – John Nixon (Blue Rider Press)

The United States, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was founded in 1947; since that time they have had a history dotted with major failures and misses. Things ranging from the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks are some of the highest profile fails.

So I guess I was wasn’t too surprised when reading former CIA analyst John Nixon’s account of his time questioning captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein, that the CIA comes off like the Keystone Cops. Nixon details the internal squabbles, the ill-prepared nature of their questioning of Hussein and what amounts to an utter failure to gain much in the way of valuable insights from the tyrant.

Nixon spends much of his time point fingers at CIA director George Tenet, the George W. Bush administration and his take on ranging from the intel leading up to the war in Iraq, his belief the waterboarding and other stress based interrogation techniques don’t produce results and the high cost of the war. This from a so-called “Saddam expert” who was an analyst, not a field officer partaking in enhanced interrogations, who apparently didn’t have a prepared list of questions at the ready in the event of a Saddam capture.

An example of how unprepared Nixon and his cohorts where to interrogate Saddam was showcased when Nixon recounts how he was introduced by his boss (“Mr. Jack”) in Iraq as “Mr. Steve” but then during a later session Hussein spotted Nixon’s Coalition ID badge hanging around his neck and demanded “who are you?!” An amateur mistake at best.

Liberals will gravitate towards this book because in reinforces their beliefs about the wasted cost of the war and the George W Bush administration. Any clear headed examination however reveals this to be a jumbled mess of crossed timelines, ill-prepared career employees and a real indictment of how the Congress and it’s often ax grinding oversight has truly hamstrung and crippled the U.S. intelligence services since the mid-1970s when the so-called Church Committee, led by Senator Frank Church (D-ID) clamped down on the tools available to the CIA to actually do their job. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Kitchen Consequential

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line – Eric Ripert - Read by Peter Ganim (Random House Audio Books)

Aside from the occasional Julia Child, My Life in France, it is rare for even a so-called “celebrity chef” to become known for their biography. Traditionally chef’s sold collections of recipes dubbed cookbooks. Then along came Anthony Bourdain and his book Kitchen Confidential, a mix of tell all and inside stories from the kitchen and the celebrity chef world was set on its collective ear and soon everybody wanted to serve up a chef bio.

One that fits that mode is the multi-award winning, executive chef at the renowned New York restaurant Le Bernadine, Eric Ripert and his bio 32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line. Ripert delivers and emotional, tale of lonely childhood and memories of the role food played in his life to the transition to making food/cooking his life’s pursuit.

For this audiobook version of the book, read by Peter Ganim, the story remains and times raw and moving, but may lose a bit of its original impact by not being told in the author’s voice. In the like all great biographical books, it is the story that separates 32 Yolks from the rest of the chef bio pack; it is a truly engaging and entertaining tale that offers insight into not only the food world but into one it’s great masters

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Go To Guide to Life

Tools of Titans: the Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World Class Performers – Tim Ferriss (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

To put things in the proper perspective; while I am familiar with Tim Ferriss based on articles and reviews regarding his prior books and his podcast, I have not read his previous books and have never listened to the podcast. So you can say that I bring a different perspective to the table than the average raving fan or Ferriss-head when it comes to my thoughts on this book.

That being said and knowing I put a premium on usefulness when it comes to business and personal development books; I found Tools of Titans: the Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World Class Performers to be a highly engaging and useful toolbox of tactics and a collection of ideas that caused me to learn more about the people Ferriss interacts with on the podcast.

Folks familiar with Ferriss’ work may find this to be kind of like a greatest hits CD from a favorite band; familiar territory repackaged and re-released. I found it a great entry point for delving into his thoughts and it allowed me to wade into the podcast for areas that I was most interested in, rather than having to go at it in stops and starts, I could cut to the chase.

This is a true reference book; if you think by reading these brief segments that you will have all of the answers, or even some of the answers, you will be sadly disappointed. If you are looking for a starting point for a massive array of topics, this is a book for you; perfect to whet your appetite and build upon.

A great example is, I had read Jocko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership, and garnered some knowledge and insight into his approach, but with a brief piece from Ferriss, I became engaged enough to seek out not on his podcast with Willink, but moved over to Jocko podcast to delve even deeper. This is very useful stuff.

Topping out at over 700 pages, some may find this book a bit overwhelming and the fluid approach to organization may throw some off, but I liked the ability to bounce around and be selective in what interested me most and then move on from there. Ferriss also does an nice job of trying to draw together similarities and ties between the thought processes of many of the folks profiled in the book. This one is HIGHLY useful and certainly can find a place on your go to shelf.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Setting the Table for the Second Act

The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act – Alex Prud’Homme (Author/Reader)(Random House Audiobooks)

Author and reader Alex Prud’homme is the great-nephew of Julia Child and co-authored her book, My Life in France and is now back with the follow up installment of her life story, The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act.

It is clear from the writing that Prud’homme has an intimate first-hand knowledge of the subject matter and has spent hours interviewing Child and combing through her voluminous notes, writing, correspondence and other ephemera.

While I tend to lean more towards reading book books rather than biographies of chefs, it is hard not to be attracted to Child’s story which has been well chronicled on a number of occasions and in a variety of formats. Prud’homme does a nice job of delivering that story for the audiobook form of this story.

Clearly the relationship and familial ties lend themselves well to this intimate and intriguing look at Child’s later years until her passing. 

Ramble On

18 and Life on Skid Row – Sebastian Bach (Dey Street Books)

To borrow a popular internet headline…These Facts about Sebastian Bach will Shock You!
  •      As sold over 20 million albums as the lead singer of Skid Row and as a solo artist. 
  •     Skid Row was the first hard rock band to have an album (Slave to the Grind) debut at Number 1 on the Billboard Top 200.
  •     He starred on Broadway in productions of Jekyll & Hyde, Jesus Christ Superstar and the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Thumbing through the pages of Bach’s new autobiography 18 and Life on Skid Row you will pick up on these facts in the midst of seemingly endless tales of debauchery and excess, which is not a shocking turn of events in the average rock star bio.

It’s easy to write Bach as long-haired pretty boy, but there seems to be something that you can pick up on if not in the lines of the book then between the lines. If you’re paying attention you will pick up on Bach’s seemingly single-minded purpose and desire to be successful. It becomes pretty clear that this guy was driven to become a star and truly focused his boundless energy in that direction.

While he is focused on success, I can’t say the same about his writing. 18 and Life on Skid Row reads like a rambling, disjointed meander through Bach’s life. At times it causes the stories to roll into one another and leave you wondering where one begins and the other ends.

While I tend to gravitate towards rock bios, even for bands/artists I don’t necessarily listen too, like Skid Row, I think this one is better suited to those who are fans of Bach and the band.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Block Squared

Sinner Man – Hard Case Crime Series – Lawrence Block (Titan Books)

Lawrence Block is easily one of the most prolific writers of his generation cranking out not only a mountain of words but in the process creating some of fictions more memorable characters like; PI Matthew Scudder, burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr and hit man Keller among many others.

When he was first stringing together words for a living Block penned a hard boiled crime novel featuring a mild mannered insurance salesman who accidentally offs in wife when he slaps her one night and she dies after crackling her skull. Panicked and trying to avoid a run in with the cops the guy stashes her body and sets out to reinvent himself. A quick train ride to Buffalo and said insurance man goes through the motions of setting himself up to be a gangster, quickly garnering the attention of the local mob.

That book, dubbed by Block as Sinner Man made the rounds with publishers who uniformly professed to like the writing, just not enough to publish the work. Block continued his journey into writing a few years later, it seems the book did get sold, he just never could remember seeing it in print. A few years back a publisher mentioned the seemingly long lost novel and encouraged Block to try to track it down so it could be re-packaged and re-released. That journey garnered some interest, but never proved fruitful in tracking down a published copy of the book, until an innocent Facebook post by a fan cross-referenced the details of the story with a book Block had self-published for wannabe writers.

Block tracked down a copy of the book which had been published under another title and brought it to Titan Books, publishers of the Hard Case Crime series of hard boiled fiction. Sinner Man is a perfect fit for the series and for this fellow Buffalo-nian (Block was born in the Queen City) the references to actual and strikingly familiar “fictional” landmarks make the book extra fun.

In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper – Edited by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books)

Growing up in an era way before the explosion of video games, the kids in my neighborhood actually spent lots of time outdoors running around playing sports, riding our bikes and generally getting into mischief. When Mother Nature threw us a curve ball and it rained we headed into the subterranean world known as the basement and pulled out a stack of board games. These games called for a mix of skill, reasoning and a bit of luck. One of my all-time favorite games was Masterpiece, which featured auctions for the works of the great masters and the challenge of which “paintings” were real and which were fakes.

One of my favorite paintings in the game was the Edward Hopper classic Nighthawks featuring a handful of folks in a lonely diner on a darkened street. I can’t say for sure what about the painting it was that appealed to me, but one look and you had to wonder what the story was behind these folks hanging out in the diner.

It is those folks and their stories that are at the root of the new short story collection In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper edited by Lawrence Block and featuring 17 new short stories by the likes of Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Jeffery Deaver. Each writer was given a work by Hopper to base their story on.

The result is an amazing, diverse collection of stories that are equal to the masterful strokes of Hopper’s brush. No two of these stories take the same approach which makes them really stand up as they stand alone. Match these stories with beautifully printed renditions of the Hopper paintings and you get the perfect mix of art and words and it makes for a great gift for fans of either genre.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Art of Prediction

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction – Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner (Broadway Books)

If the 2016 presidential election proved anything it proved that the game of prediction is hard…very hard.

Liberal polling and predicting guru Nate Silver and his website often hailed as the go to source had Hillary Clinton’s chance of winning the presidency pegged at 71% to Donald Tump’s 28%. stated that “forecasters predict solid Clinton victory. Going against the whitewater rush of predictions going in Hilary Clinton’s direction was the professor who utilized a primary turnout model to factor his presidential pick, Donald Trump. Of course the professor faced an equal onslaught of criticism from those who ready to anoint Clinton.

So what was the root cause of this MASSIVE failure on the part of forecasters? The answer is a simple one. In Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction, authors Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner offer prescient insight with their straight forward and handy Ten Commandments of Superforecasting, which turns out to be 11 commandments long. The simple answer comes in the form of number 2, “unpack problems to expose assumptions, catch mistakes and correct for biases.”

BINGO! It was the assumptions and biases that tripped up all of these so-called experts when it came to the presidential election. I found Tetlock and Gardner’s  Ten Commandments to be the most useful part of the book, which I think focused much more on the forecasters than it did on forecasting.

A Life Forged in the Heat of Battle

All The Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor- Donald Stratton with Ken Gire (William Morrow)

With the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor upon us; as I read the story of Seaman 1st Class Donald Stratton’s miraculous tale of survival and heroism and later his comeback to fight another day, I couldn’t help but be struck by the uncommon valor that is this fin man’s hallmark.

Tom Brokaw labeled them the “greatest generation” and no better evidence exists than by comparing 19 year old Stratton to today’s perfect snowflake 19 year olds who need safe rooms, crying towels and Playdoh because Donald Trump won the election. It was at the ripe old age of 19 that Stratton raced to man his battle station on the U. S. S. Arizona amid a hail of machine gun fire and dropping bombs.

In All the Gallant Men – An American Sailor’s First Hand Account of Pearl Harbor, Stratton and co-author Ken Gire chillingly describe the chaos that was the Arizona on that infamous day, as a 1760 pound armor-piercing bomb hit the ship, detonating a million pounds of munitions and igniting 180,000 gallons of aviation fuel that was onboard the craft. So powerful was the explosion that the massive warship was actually lifted out of the water, buckling the deck in an inferno of death and destruction.

Stratton and his gunnery team suffered horrific injuries and burns, yet somehow managed to muster the strength to traverse a rope stretched over forty five seemingly endless feet over a burning slick of oil to the relative safety of the U.S.S. Vestal. That day Stratton counted himself among 334 survivors of the Arizona, and at this writing he is 1 of 5 survivors alive today.

That in and of itself would have been an amazing story, but Stratton was just getting started. Severely burned over 2/3 of his body, Stratton spent an arduous year recovering from those injuries. His recovery included refusing a surgeon’s advice to have his legs amputated and learning to walk again. If that wasn’t enough, following a medical discharge, Stratton continued his recovery with the goal of reenlisting and reentering the fight.

The Navy, unsure of his ability and fitness for battle, made Stratton go through basic training a second time and in the summer of 1944 he cruised through the challenge and was assigned to the U.S.S. Stark. Who among us ordinary people could say they would climb aboard another ship, let alone return to battle following what Stratton endured?

Stratton and the Stark would count themselves among some of the war in the Pacific’s most crucial battles including that War’s final battle on Okinawa. Stratton’s is a truly amazing story and one that should be required reading for millennial in need of a firm grip on reality.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kick Doodling Up a Notch

Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies – Christopher Hart (Watson-Guptill)

Whether you are business meeting doodler that fills notebook pages with random art and designs or casual spare time doodler or even a serious doodler looking to kick things up a notch, Christopher Hart is probably the go to guy if you want to take your doodles to the next level.

Hart has sold more than six million copies of his doodle art instruction books that give you the basics you need to evolve your personal art and really make it stand out.

Hart’s latest effort is Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies. Hart spells out the basics for developing your fairies from the ground up so to speak. Even if you’re a beginner or even a kid, he makes things easy to understand and will have you churning out nifty drawings in no time.

As your skills get better with practice, Hart will help you grow and develop from those basic into much more complex and detailed art and designs. Keep in mind, you won’t become a budding Leonardo DiVinci; we are talking cartoons and doodles here! This would make a great gift for you budding artist or even those folks who caught the adult coloring bug, but want to try their hand a something a little different.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Adult Arts and Crafts

I Modify Ikea® - Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers – (Ulysses Press)

What do you think of when you hear the word Ikea®?

Well if you’re like me then a couple of things come to mind; tasty meatballs and practical, simply made but sturdy furniture. So when I saw the title of this book, I Modify Ikea® by Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers, I envisioned nifty upgrades to useful furniture. Think the episode of Big Bang Theory where the nerds discuss plans to upgrade Penny’s entertainment center with fans and aircraft grade aluminum.

What I got, was a little more basic than that and what amounts to adult arts and crafts. Majors and Rivers dots page after page with easy to create pieces, both functional and arty alike, that would make great additions to your living space or even nice gifts with the holidays right around the corner. In fact if you have a handy crafter on your list, I Modify Ikea®, would make a great gift in and of itself.

The reality is, Majors and Rivers makes these DIY projects pretty simple and straightforward for those of us who are craft challenged. Each project comes with not only a list of what you’ll need to make these creations, but it offers up step by step illustrations that walk you through each project from beginning to end.

Since I don’t live anywhere near an Ikea outpost, while traveling for the holidays my plans include a sidetrack trip to pick up the stuff I’ll need to complete a book ledge, which covers both the practical, mount the book ledge within in reach of my work space, and the decorative; a neat way to display books I am using for research, without having them stacked on the floor next to my desk.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Insights of a Spy

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carre – (Viking)

Over the course of his career British spy novelist John le Carre has masterfully crafted some of fictions most memorable stories and characters. Right from the start, with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, threaded his stories with insights acquired first hand from his time serving with British Intelligence during the cold war.

While many have speculated about the authenticity of le Carre’s characters being modeled after those he crossed paths with in his real life escapades, he has never confirmed nor denied that thought process, choosing to never really delve deeply into his experience. That is until now; with the release of his latest outing, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, the elder statesman of spy fiction has lifted up the tent side and allowed us all to see snapshots of his time in her Majesties Secret Service.

le Carre is a true craftsman, has he skillfully presents vignettes, some as brief as a couple of pages, others more expansive, detailing his interactions with not only his colleagues in the service, but the diplomats, despots and deviants he crossed paths with. His recounting include where were you when it happened tales of historical events of the time, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the so-called Profumo affair.

le Carre’s life journey has been dotted with real life versions of the characters who are a hallmark of his fiction. His memories strike an interesting balance of clarity and at times self-admitted fog about the people, places and events that were part of the story. It is truly a remarkable gathering of stories about a remarkable man and a remarkable life and proves to be high entertainment for fans and non-fans alike.


How Did We Ever Survive

Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion – Danielle Walker – (Ten Speed Press)

How did we ever make it this far? How did our parents and grandparents survive and thrive into their 80s and 90s without the need to have paleo, grain-free, fill-in-the-blank-free diets? I feel like I should be the proud wearer of a I Survived Kindergarten T-shirt based on the number of my classmates that gobbled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis.

Yes, I realize that people are diagnosed with a variety of health and diet-based issues, but I think we have reached the point of silliness when we need a cookbook featuring a recipe for an AB&J Sandwich…that means almond butter and jelly. Enter author Danielle Walker who scored bestsellers with her against all grain approach to diets and recipes.

Walker’s latest entry is Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion, in which she posits a variety of recipes, notably for holiday based celebrations that are free, free, set them free of grains, dairy and would make a caveman happy. Gee wasn’t the average life expectancy of a caveman about twenty-something? Maybe it was a dinosaur thing.

The recipes in the book look amazing in the photos, but like all cookbooks the proof is in the pudding…oh wait, pudding probably has dairy…um the proof is in the arrowroot! While the meat, fish and seafood based recipes sound great, I just couldn’t bring myself to slap together the bread and baked goods that featured no grains. Oh and I’ll pass on the AB&J Sandwich; sorry but almond butter looks like wallpaper paste.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Inspiration for Passion

Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For – Craig Sager. Craig Sager II, Brian Curtis (Flatiron Books)

While there is some debate about the origin of the comment, there is a saying often attributed to Confucius that goes something like, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” When I’ve been asked about how to choose the best career path my response comes in the form of a question; What are you passionate about? I am always amazed how stumped people are by that question.

One guy who I know would NEVER be stumped by that question is legendary sportscaster Craig Sager. I have to admit two things; one I have never quite been able to wrap my arms around what is behind Sager’s flamboyant, often glow in the dark clothing choices and two after reading his biography, penned with his son, Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For, my respect and admiration for the man has been ratcheted up.

Sager is one of those guys who brings an unparalleled level of passion to everything he has pursued in the world of sports broadcasting. His heartfelt story recounts not only his career ups and downs, but also his family life and his battle with cancer. This is a rare character and it should be no surprise that he and his son, who has been by his side through much of his career, proved to be a rare bone marrow donor match. What an amazing story that is in and of itself that Craig Jr. was able to donate bone marrow to his father’s battle to beat cancer.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, Living Out Loud will inspire your passion and motivate you to be a bigger, better person. I think my new response to the career path question will be to simply hand the person asking a copy of Living Out Loud, that should provide all the guidance and direction anyone should need.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rock: The Definitive History

The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963 – Ed Ward (Flatiron Books)

Author Ed Ward is no stranger to the history of rock music. He has authored countless articles for a wide variety of music and popular culture magazines, definitive biographies of great artists, and is the co-author of Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, which dates back to a time when Rolling Stones actually meant something in the world of music. Ward also served as the longtime rock & roll historian for National Public Radio’s (NPR) Fresh Air program, which counts as listeners some 14 million folks.

So it’s a safe bet that Ward’s bona fides are firmly in place to tackle a massive, three-part project that traces the roots of rock & roll with a fervent complete-ists approach. In The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963 Ward goes deeper than just the roots of rock, but takes things down to the granular level, examining the DNA of the music.

If you are looking for an encyclopedia of rock, something you can whip out to settle arguments or fuel debates about the legends of rock, then this may not be your cup of tea. Ward is looking way beyond those simple thought processes; he uses a scientist’s eye toward how minstrel shows and vaudeville spliced their DNA into country, roots, R&B and gave birth to the behemoth that moved and influenced generations.

This, the first of what will become a three volume set be run a little off the beaten path for those casual rock fans. As it progresses you can start to see the direction Ward is heading in those future volumes. If you are a student or historian of the music, The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963, certainly deserves a place on your bookshelf. Has a fan of the minutiae of music, I found myself putting Ward’s theories to the test, revisiting music to trace the influences that he spells out long the way. Which for me makes this volume a success and has me primed for the future editions.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Songs: The Nuts and Bolts

Anatomy of A Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop – Marc Myers (Grove Press)

While I have written quite literally millions of words over the course of my career, I have always remained fascinated by the process of how songs get written. To me it seems like some sort of magic takes place in the minds of those who craft songs and the magic gets kicked up a notch for those who write songs that become hit records.

It may be the nuts and bolts of the interaction of words, music and recording. It is the magic of those nuts and bolts that writer Marc Myers focuses on in his new book, Anatomy of A Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop. Myers regularly contributes Anatomy of a Song features to the Wall Street Journal and this book is a collection of 45 of those stories culled from 2012 – 2016.

Myers has developed some amazing access to the folks who made these records/songs and from that access he collects in depth insights into not only the crafting of the words, but often the music and production side, which are the foundation on which these great songs are built. Myers writes with a music fans perspective, without falling over the edge to becoming a fanboy.

The successful songwriting duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were tapped by producer Phil Specter to pen a song that would allow him to add a hit record by a male vocal group to add to his string of hits by female vocalists. The group was the Righteous Brothers and the song was You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Mann recounts a visit with Specter in the studio before heading to the legendary Chateau Marmont to begin the writing process. Tapping into his own memory of heartbreak, he threw out the line “you never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips,” and it was off to the charts.

It is that level of insight that Myers tracks down for a laundry list of great records. Now the actual list of songs may brew up some debate or discussion. While the songs and stories may be great, I am not certain they all live up to the title billing of being “iconic hits that changed rock, R&B and pop.” 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Something In The Water

The Twenty Three (Promise Falls Trilogy) – Linwood Barclay – (Berkley)

In what is the third and final installment of the Promise Falls Trilogy, The Twenty Three, bestselling author Linwood Barclay has readers ensnared in a multitude of characters, storylines and cliffhangers that he must somehow manage to pull all together.

Barclay has done a masterful job of building to this conclusion; starting with mysterious and seemingly bucolic little burg of Promise Falls in the suburbs of Albany and then adding layer after of interacting storylines and strange and wonderful characters.

This is not one of those sets that you can comfortably start anywhere that you feel; you really need to start and the beginning and work from there. That being said the sheer volume of people may leave you backtracking through pages (books?) to determine who is who. While Barclay has more in common with Steven King, the number of characters and storylines seems to be more like a Tom Clancy novel. I admit to looking around for a small white board to mind map the characters.

In The Twenty Three, the people Promise Falls are mysteriously dropping like flies on the first day of a long holiday weekend and just to spice things up on top of the dozens of sick and dying and murder victim is discovered; could it be the work of serial killer? Barclay has a tall order the bring these competing storylines to a satisfactory conclusion and some lose threads may not get clipped, leaving some fans in the lurch as he lards on the red herrings, seeming clues and dead end plot lines. Barclay it seems is some parts master storyteller and some parts frustrating, master manipulator.

Whatever your perspective on the events here, he will leave you screaming as you thunder along towards the conclusion.  

The Cocktail Beat

A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How A Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World – Robert Simonson (Ten Speed Press)

The New York Times has a cocktail writer. Yep you read that correctly; the so-called “Old Grey Lady” reportedly struggling to keep the doors open in the internet age, has a guy whose beat is cocktails. I can’t quite put my finger on whether that is the greatest job ever or the saddest job ever.

The writer in question is Robert Simonson, a bestselling author of books about cocktails. Yep you read that correctly. Maybe it’s my beer drinkers mentality, but books about cocktails…really? And no I am not talking about those handy little guide books that nearly everyone with a home bar, which now seems like an oddly 1970s concept, had tucked away for the occasion when a guest called for something off the beaten highball path.

It turns out that Simonson’s new book, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How A Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World, is a fine mix of travelogue and bartender tale, with just a splash of drink recipes. Simonson clearly knows his subject and is a fine tour guide on the journey through cocktail-land.

He skillfully mixes the characters, the locales and their concoctions into an entertaining brew. While it won’t shake me off my choice of brew, it was an interesting look at the hipsters and nerds that answer the siren call of alcohol.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Man Out of Time

Petty: The Biography – Warren Zanes (St. Martin’s/ Griffin)

I recently subjected myself to the four-hour Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers documentary on Netflix, a grueling endeavor if there ever was one, even for a fan. So I had many of the Tom Petty takes on the world stories fresh in my mind when I started to tackle Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography.

Zanes, a rocker in his own right with his band the Del Fuegos, is the owner of a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, so I guess I wasn’t surprised that this bio has a kind of documentarians feel to it. I have never been a fan of the “how the band got started” portions of these kinds of bios, I am more interested in the meat and potatoes of recording sessions and touring.

So much of who Tom Petty would become and remain was foundational in his in his youth that it’s almost like he hasn’t evolved with age. A large part of him remains rooted to that time. Zanes’ writing is a bit disjointed at times as he tries to walk a fine line between biographer and critical darling and yet he shows flashes of insight into crucial moments in Petty’s career; the Petty family Christmas party where Zanes stumbles upon George Harrison strumming a guitar while Petty and Jeff Lynne hang out, could that have been the genesis of the Traveling Wilburys?

The thing that Petty: The Biography, may do best is to really mark a place in the history of rock ’n’ roll for the greatness of Tom Petty. It’s easy to forget his contributions and interactions over the course of his career, everything from his own efforts to working with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, the Wilburys and so many more. Zanes’ book deserves a place on the shelf of any Petty or rock fan in general. 

Friday, November 4, 2016


Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas – Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)

Full disclosure right up front; I am a beer drinker so the whole idea of cocktails based on bitter spirits was kind of foreign to me. When I think of people who drink bitters, I envision a bunch of old guys who look and smell like they just stepped off the boat from Europe.

That being said, I didn’t know quite what to expect when I cracked open Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas, by award winning author Brad Thomas Parsons. Contained within I found an interesting mix of the expected drink recipes, sidling alongside amari tinged food recipes and even a nifty bit of travel log tour through the bars, cafes and distilleries of Italy.

Parsons, the recipient of a Masters in Fine Arts from Columbia University writes with a stylistic flourish that makes it easy to understand how he cut his writing teeth for the likes of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure and Lucky Peach. His loving descriptions had even this beer drinker building up a thirst and the courage to try something new.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Guy Fieri: The Tim Tebow of Cooking

Guy Fieri Family Food: 125 Real-Deal Recipes – Kitchen Tested, Home Approved – Guy Fieri and Marah Stets (William Morrow Cookbooks)

What is it about spikey haired chef Guy Fieri? For some unknown (to me) reason, people feel the need to go out of their way to look for things to dislike about this guy. He has been the subject of ongoing ridicule and derision from the dopes on Twitter and other online outposts. For me he is almost the cooking world’s equivalent of Tim Tebow; a guy people love to hate.

And like Tebow, Fieri just continues to do what he does, go out and be successful! His latest endeavor is Guy Fieri Family Food: 125 Real-Deal Recipes – Kitchen Tested, Home Approved. Just like the title says, the book is chock full of flavor focused recipes, many of which seem to gravitate towards the family joining into the cooking process.

As a confirmed member of the Triple D club (Fieri’s Food Network Hit Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives) I am a fan of simple, tasty food that does take a degree from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to bang out. Fieri draws a simple road map that will get you to his fabled “flavor town.”

Flipping through the pages I found my mouth watering, my head nodding and my feet gravitating towards the kitchen. Hey Thanksgiving is right around the corner, Bacon Roasted Turkey? Yes! Please. Grilled Asparagus with bacon, brie and crunchy quinoa? I’m in! Bacon mac and cheese burger; Am I noticing a trend here? Bacon rules!

While some home cooks may complain that many of the recipes here call for a pretty long list of ingredients; for me the journey to get there is worth the destination. Fieri also lays out the basics when it comes to the sauces, stocks and building blocks not only for the recipes in this book but stuff you can use to improve your own book of food favorites.

A Fish Out of Water Serves Up Cold Plate of Revenge

A Soldier’s Revenge: A Will Cochrane Novel – Matthew Dunn (William Morrow)

Take one chilled plate of revenge add a pinch of fish out of water and the chase is on! That is the best single line I can muster to describe the latest installment in the ongoing Will Cochrane series by former MI6 spy master Matthew Dunn, A Soldier’s Revenge.

Cochrane thinks he turn the page on his career as a spy/killer and is looking forward to the next chapter; adopting a pair of little boys, the sons of a former mate who was brutally murdered and whos Mother was caught in the crossfire of his last mission. As idyllic as that sounds, it all comes to a screeching halt when Cochrane wakes up covered in the blood of a mysterious dead women in his New York hotel room.

Then the chase is on; Cochrane’s skills are put to the test in the strange environments, moving from urban to rural settings in quick order. A pair of New York’s finest detectives are on his tail along with a cadre of local police officers and some mysterious players from Federal law enforcement and the unseen hand of someone from Cochrane’s past hell bent on revenge.

Dunn is a man possessed of a particular set of skills from his hands on experience in the field that he puts to use in driving the action sequences of the story. You’ll find yourself muttering, “I did not see that coming,” as Dunn mixes things up with just the right amount of twists and turns along the way. The Cochrane series gets better with each installment.

Sherlock For Millennials

Sherlock: The Essential Arthur Conan Doyle Adventures – Selected and Introduced by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Pegasus Crime)

For an entire generation Sherlock Holmes never existed outside of Benedict Cumberbatch and Netflix. The great portrayals by Basil Rathbone and the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle generated nary a thought from the millennial generation that latched onto the modern day incarnation brought to the small screen by the BBC.

Now the show’s producers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have made a run at trying to breathe life into Doyle’s classic renderings of Sherlock Holmes by collecting their favorite Sherlockian tales between the covers of the new book, Sherlock: The Essential Arthur Conan Doyle. The pair billed the book as their favorite selections with a brief introduction to each of the choices. Brief being the optimum word here with each treated with a single line synopsis of what follows.

This was a missed opportunity for the duo to offer up deeper insight into why they made the selection, along with if/how it impacted on their rendering of Holmes. This may struck some as just another opportunity to cash in on Doyle’s creation.

With so many writers/publishers trying to latch onto Holmes and Doyle’s other characters, there is at least a purity to Gatiss and Moffat’s version; given their brilliant and varied selctions. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes in the original written form and as the father of a millennial how is a diehard fan of the TV show, it gives me the opportunity to share Doyle’s masterful storytelling with my son and give him of dose of Homes in the purist form.

The Real Deal

Rich Man – Doyle Bramhall II (Concord Records)

Doyle Bramhall II first came on my radar with the release of his band the Arc Angels debut album in 1992. Paired with fellow Austin-ite Charlie Sexton and the Double Trouble rhythm section I was immediately drawn to the raw, sonic intensity of their sound.

It is that sonic intensity that has carried through all of his music moving forward from that point; this is a guy who truly leans into his music. His latest, Rich Man, features a broad based blend of musical styles that may be a bit jarring for Bramhall purists, I think these songs truly hand well together.

Lots of people try to lay claim to being soul singers, but for me, there is a quality to not only the voice, but the musical approach that truly separates real soul singers from those who don’t quite make the cut. Doyle Bramhall II is one of those true soulful singers. Right from the first listen I picked up on real Lenny Kravitz vibe in the grooves of Rich Man, a driving rock power topped with Bramhall’s soulful croon. By the third or fourth spin, I was reaching for Kravitz’s, 5 CD.

Right from the opening riffs of The Veil, I was hooked by the cascading production, vocal driven feel, topped with classic Hammond B3 and layers of guitar. Your Mama Can’t Help, brings a modern feel to a classic blues meter. There is a mystical, Indian feel to My People which features the interesting opening pairing of a Harmonium pump organ and a saranji, which is a traditional stringed, bowed instrument and the chanted salutation refrain, “namaskar, inshallah, pranamasana.” Bramhall displays just the right of reverence to his roots on his cover of Jimi Hendrix, Hear My Train A Comin.

Rich Man, makes it easy to understand why such a diverse array of artists ranging from Eric Clapton to Roger Waters and Treseshi Trucks to Sheryl Crow have tapped Bramhall for studio, writing, live and production gigs. In an era chock full of forgettable, Auto-Tuned pabulum puke, passed off as important music, it’s nice to be served up an occasional dose of the real deal. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jump The Shark

David Bowie – Retrospective and Coloring Book – Mel Elliott (Watson-Guptill Publications)

The season five premiere of Happy Days featured a scene that would become a cultural icon as the always hip Fonzi, decked out in swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket water skis and in an effort to prove his manhood jumps over a confined shark. Forever enshrined in the lexicon, “jump the shark” became synonymous with something coming to a fateful end or signifying a downhill slide that something will not recover from.

So why tell that story here you ask? Well it appears to me that David Bowie – Retrospective and Coloring Book by Mel Elliott may be the jump the shark moment for the whole adult coloring book phenomenon. Described as a retrospective of Bowie’s career…and a coloring book; this fails to deliver on either front. The fact that a drawing of a pair of platform shoes is included to mark a significant point in Bowie’s career arc should be all you need to know about this one.

While Bowie was easily one of rock music’s most significant innovators and most colorful showman, this should not be considered a significant milepost in remembering his greatness.