Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Hunt for the Saladin

House of Spies: A Novel – Daniel Silva (Harper)

Elaborate. Set on a grand scale. Laced with insider detail. An intricately woven plot full of intrigue and bursts action. In short, House of Spies is everything you’ve come to expect from a Daniel Silva novel.
Set in the days following the largest (fictional) attack on the United States since 9/11, Silva’s collection of usual suspects, led by the mercurial Gabriel Alon are on the hunt for clues leading to the whereabouts of the elusive ISIS terror mastermind, the Saladin.

This is where Silva delvers proof of his masterful skills as a storyteller; those charged with tacking and hunting terrorists are not sitting around waiting for the terrorists to slip up and make a mistake, but rather they spend time looking for lose threads that they can follow that lead to a real clue.
In this case, the spies think that there may be more to the story of a flamboyant, French, jet-setting business tycoon when they stumble on his connection to dealers in drugs and arms. They pull on that thread and the fabric of his story unravels to reveal shady connection to a mysterious middle eastern type they soon deduce may be the man they are seeking.
This is storytelling that ranks among the best in the game and Silva deserves his place on any list of masters of the form. He lards on just enough twists to leave the shadow of doubt as the hunt ratchets up that extra thrilling notch.   

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Fresh Look at Classic Hemingway

A Fresh Look at Classic Hemingway

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Hemingway Library Edition – Ernest Hemingway – (Scribner)
There is something old-timey about Ernest Hemingway’s short story-telling style and it’s not just because the stories collected here were penned between 1916 and 1938.
There is a cinematic sense in that spare style, but it runs deeper than that. These aren’t traditionally visual stories; they read like old time radio dramas where you, the reader/listener is left to imagine the visual rather than having the setting, the locale and the visual space filled for you.

Hemingway builds a spare frame and allows you to fill in the blanks. I was left with an Orson Wells-y narration running through my head as I thumbed through these often familiar stories.
This collection features some nice additional bonus material including reproductions of the original typed manuscripts, illustrations of early draft versions of some of the stories and few first stabs at story ideas that would later evolve. It also features an introduction by Hemingway’s grandson, Sean and a foreword from Hemingway’s only surviving son, Patrick. This makes for both a great introduction to those new to Hemingway’s short stories and a nice addition to longtime fans of his work.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Proud Parent of a Geek

Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects – Derek Runberg and Brian Huang (No Starch Press)

I vividly remember the day that I attended my son’s freshman orientation program at his high school. The school was focused on offering a broad spectrum of learning opportunities to all of its students that stretched well beyond the classroom. When the presenters that day spoke about the opportunity to participate in the FIRST Robotics program, my son’s attention perked up; this was a kid who had been drawing robots, building Lego robots, cardboard robots and been fixated on robots since kindergarten.

I commented that the program sounded cool and that he should sign up. His response kind of stopped me in my tracks, “what if I can’t do it?” The “it” in question was the electronics portion of the robot building process. Naturally my response as an encouraging parent was, give it a try, you’ll learn how; hands on experience was the way to go.

That is what makes the Arduino Inventor’s Guide, Derek Runberg and Brian Huang so interesting. Runberg and Huang don’t just tell you how to utilize an Arduino controller to build nifty projects, they actually walk you through the process from start to finish on ten fun and real world projects that you can easily get the building blocks relatively cheaply and without needing an MIT engineering degree to make happen.

Speaking of robots, they show you how to build a motorized robot that draws with a pen. There are projects ranging in skill level from stoplight LEDs, to desk fans and even a playable mini piano. This makes for not only a fun hobby, but also a great learning experience in the best possible, hands on way. The good news is you can screw up and still start over and build a successful project.

So that hands on experience I encouraged my son to give a whirl…paid off quite nicely as he went on to college and then into the work world landing a career it IT. Clearly he’s smarter than his old man and the only credit I can take for his success was infusing him with a “what the heck, give it a try” attitude. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Perception vs. Reality

Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment – Angela J. Davis – (Pantheon Books)

Angela J. Davis is a law professor at American University who has written, edited and contributed to numerous books and articles focused on the legal system, prosecutorial power and racial disparities. Her latest effort, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment, is a collection of essays in which she attempts to point out among many things the perception of undue focus on black men when it comes to policing, prosecution and imprisonment in the United States.
Professor Davis brings to the topics an inherent bias where she takes her pre-established beliefs and doesn’t attempt to prove those beliefs by backing them up with facts, but rather merely spells out what she believes to be the case. That loses her big points, because in some instances where actual disparities may exist, emphasis on MAY exist, she can’t overcome her own built in bias to make a proper case.

Much of what she writes about here comes off as simply checking the box to remain inside the pre-existing parameters of racial identity politics. Professor Davis is certainly welcome to have and state her own set of perceptions or feelings; the first amendment of the Constitution guarantees her that right, but she can’t have her own set of facts.
Often, the hard and fast facts simply don’t support some of the assertions Davis makes in the book. These aren’t mysterious or locked away numbers that counter her take on things; they an easy Google search away and come from places like the Washington Post and New York Times, so any bias complaints about sources go out the window.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Mystery of Healthy Cooking

The New American Heart Association Cookbook, 9th Edition: Revised and Updated with More Than 100 All-New Recipes – American Heart Association – (Harmony Books)

Thumbing through the new updated and expanded, 9th Edition of The New American Heart Association Cookbook, 9th Edition: Revised and Updated with More Than 100 All-New Recipes, there are a couple of things that become abundantly clear, very quickly.                                                                         

    1. There is quite literally something for every type and variation of taste bud within the pages of this book. Like it sweet; you’re covered. Like it savory; you are good to go. Spicy is your thing; they bring the heat.

    2. It is highly unlikely that as you work your way through this compendium of over 800 recipes that you will ever get bored. This book covers the gamut literally from soups to nuts.

While I a member of the anti-pumpkin establishment, having grown weary with the everything pumpkin spice foodie movement, I have to say that I was intrigued by Creamy Pumpkin Soup recipe. Like most of the recipes throughout the book it is comprised of simple, readily available ingredients that won’t take a masters hand to whip together.

The one thing that is a bit of let down is the utter lack of photography that has become the cornerstone of so many cookbooks. While the recipes might seem pretty straight forward, I can help but wonder, being a visual guy in the kitchen, does this look like it’s supposed to when all is said and cooked? At the end of the day the folks at the heart association apparently didn’t want to sacrifice the sheer volume of recipes with some pretty pictures.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Breaking the Mold

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker – Stephen Galloway (Crown Archetype)

When Sherry Lansing made major headlines for landing as the first female head of a major motion picture studio, Paramount Pictures, it was in reality anything but a typical Hollywood story. Yet the tall and strikingly beautiful Lansing could shake the typical Hollywood stereotype; did she get there because of her good looks and by way of the executive casting couch?

Well over the course of her career Lansing proved beyond doubt that she was a skilled an operator as anyone else, leading a pair of major studios along the way and scoring big box office success with films like Titanic, Braveheart, Black Rain, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan among many others. These were not just successful movies, but films that became keystones of the American lexicon.

Lansing’s amazing career is the subject of the new biography, Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker. The book details Lansing’s transition from model and actress to behind the camera deal maker that moved in the same circles some of the biggest names in Tinsel Town.

Langsing earned a solid reputation for being a skilled negotiator and tough deal maker. Leading Lady, is a fairly typical Hollywood memoir that gives you just enough insider insight to keep things interesting without getting too deep in the dirt.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reach the Beach - Fiction

Trap the Devil: A Thriller – Ben Coes (St. Martin’s Press)

Given the current machinations floating around about the so-called deep state, there is a real feel, ripped from the headlines quality to Ben Coes’ seventh installment in the Dewey Andreas series, Trap the Devil.

Could a group of highly placed, high profile folks, in positions of trust be at the core of a long game, coup plot to over throw the U.S. government? The wheels of this deviously plotted takeover are starting to ratchet up and the intensity of the story gets slammed into high gear early and often in this break neck thriller.

While some may choose to quibble over realism of some of the turns in this story, I for one am a willing participant, in the one man stands in the way of this fiendish plot, suspension of reality. In the Dewey Andreas character, Ben Coes has long ago claimed his rightful place among the master agents provocateur, who ply the trade craft of thriller writing. Andreas is a tough guy for all seasons, not only a burly brut, but a guy who can think and move fast in dangerous situations.

Coes firmly grounds this ambitious story with just the right amount of head scratching, “hmm…could that really happen” reality to keep things plausible. Coes also knows how to draw the bad characters so well that he will keep you pulling for the good guys win the day. Loved the high velocity nature of the plot and Dewey’s never give up, never say die attitude in the face of growing odds.

Here and Gone – Haylen Beck – (Crown Books)

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. There is just a creeping sense of dread and doom the envelopes the opening passages of Haylen Beck’s debut, Here and Gone. Acclaimed crime writer Stuart Neville, uses the Beck pen name to craft this chillingly good story about a mother trying to escape her abusive husband, when on her cross country journey with her two kids, she gets pulled over on a desolate stretch of Arizona highway.
Arrested for pot possession, that creeping finger crawling up your spine is the sense that something isn’t quite right and while assured the kids will be “someplace safe” you just know that isn’t case.

Beck/Irwin masterfully crafts a dark story that is in one sense familiar and in another utterly terrifying. The pace gets ratcheted up as the clock ticks down in a desperate search for the children; the fires up with the chilling line, “what children?”

You’ve just gotta love a guy who crafts his pen name from his two favorite guitarists, Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Beck!

The Force – Don Winslow (William Morrow)

Don Winslow has penned a half a shelf full of novels over the course of his career with some recognizable titles sprinkled in along the way. In 2015 he stamped his name in bold letters as a writer to reckon with, with his book The Cartel finding its way onto countless lists of the best books of the year.

While I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Winslow’s work, I can tell you that there is something just flat out cool about Winslow’s style that he flexes to good effect with his latest, The Force. Winslow populates the pages of The Force with cops that seem to be a throwback to a different era; guys and gals married to the job who struggle mightily with a desire to do the right thing, but who all too often prey to the temptations of an easy score.

You get the sense that Winslow keeps a firm grip on reality when developing his characters, he’s not so much inventing these folks out of whole cloth as he is depicting real people that he has crossed paths with or down a shot and a beer with in a cop bar. There is a cinematic element to the words strung together so elegantly on these pages and it’s easy to see why a big screen auteur like Ridley Scott will be at the helm of the film version of The Cartel.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Evil X 4 Divided by 2

The Fourth Monkey – J D Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Hear No Evil…get a victim’s ear, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

See No Evil…get a victim’s eyes, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

Speak No Evil… get a victim’s tongue, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

Get The Fourth Monkey, by J D Barker and get the thriller of the year, thus far, delivered in the form of a book that divides the storyline into two neatly gripping sections.

The Four Monkey Killer (4MK) has been plying his evil trade for five years terrorizing Chicago and we get dropped right into the middle of a bubbling story with the arrival of the first neatly wrapped box, tied in black string and containing his latest victim’s ear. You know the old saw about the monkeys who hear, see, and speak no evil, but this troop comes with an extra member.

Author J D Barker spins out a twisted tale of an ultra-smart serial killer who is not only hell bent on yanking the chains of those trying to catch him, but along the way he has made the case and helped the cops to roll up some folks who were doing evil that they didn’t even know about.

Is 4MK dead…the victim of an apparent suicide or is this just another twist; a curve ball to keep the cops guessing? Barker drops a malicious clue in the form of the killer diary which details the killer’s twisted childhood and the making of a future serial killer.

While Barker alternates between the current chase and the killers diary, I defy you to try not to bounce ahead to see where the next twist in either tail leads. 

This is a great concept and the execution is spot on! Barker sets the hook early and the race is on with relentless pacing, great hairpin turns and enough twists to keep you guessing until the final pages. Hands down my favorite fiction of the year and I am ready for what’s next from the devious mind of J D Barker.   

Putting Things in Perspective

Perspective in Action: Creative Exercises for Depicting Spatial Representation from the Renaissance to the Digital Age – David Chelsea (Watson Guptil)

Despite all thoughts to the contrary, artists are not born; they may be gifted with some rudimentary or even advanced skills, but artists work hard to develop their skills over the course of time. Along the way most artists will seek out instruction, information or tools that they can add to their toolbelt to aid in improving their skills.

One of the myriad of skills that most artists seek to hone is the skill of adding perspective to their work. By representing space or depth in their work they can add life and realism to the work.

One of the undisputed masters in the area of training artists to improve their perspective skills is David Chelsea. Chelsea’s third book on perspective is, Perspective in Action: Creative Exercises for Depicting Spatial Representation from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. With this book, Chelsea seems a little more focused on the hands on approach to things showing a range of examples that covers a gamut of styles and artistic mediums.

Chelsea offers some very useful tools that can not only aid artists but are relatively simple to put into action right away. He doesn’t overlook how to best utilize perspective in the digital art age we find ourselves immersed in. This one belongs on the shelf of any artists who would like to take a step in the serious direction when it comes to their work.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Manga Crilley-style

Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator – Mark Crilley (Watson Guptil Publications)

How do I some up Manga style art? Think heavy Japanese influences, impossibly large eyed characters featuring a very youthful appearance and more often than not girlish qualities combined with overt sexual overtones. Most if not all of these female characters feature a bit sexual fantasy stereotype and like their eyes seemingly impossibly large or prominent breasts.

Among the very best at plying the craft of manga style art is American artist Mark Crilley, the author/artists behind more than 30 manga books. Crilley’s latest Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a combination art book and instruction manual so you can learn the techniques of manga style.

Crilley’s work is certainly eye catching with spikey haired boys, street kids, style mavens and super hero style looks dotting the landscape. While there is a striking similarity to much of manga art, Crilley displays a few stylistic flourishes that are all his own that stand out in his work.

The book makes a nice companion piece to Crilley’s YouTube channel where he loads up videos full of instruction and technique guidance.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Van Halen

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen – Noel Monk (Dey Street Books)

A little house keeping up front: I am a huge Van Halen fan, the band remains among my favorite bands of all time, with that said if you go into this book expecting a “typical” rock band book, then you will likely go away disappointed. This book really focuses on the quicksilver launch and meteoric rise of Van Halen to the highest ranks of rock superstar status, followed by the seemingly inevitable crash and burn that followed.

The author of Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, Noel Monk got started with the band as the tour manager for the band’s first tour of the States and later Europe. His hard work and steady hand through the pitfalls of such a jaunt lead to the band signing him up to become their fulltime manager. It is from the point of view the book takes its form; focusing on the ins and outs of the minefield that is the music business.

Monk does offer many insights into the inner workings of the band, as well as their larger than life personalities in some cases and their fragile grip on stardom in others. The book served as a reminder in some cases of the band’s exploits both on and off stage as well as shining a light of some of the things even fans would not know about the band. Having come of age as a radio personality and music journalist during the era that the book focuses on, the book offered an interesting perspective/confirmation of many things that were suspected about the band.

Monk delves deeply into the all but certain crash side of the story; the internal squabbles, the personality conflicts, and the massive chemical dependencies that contributed to the bands downfall. It was something that even the steadiest of hands on the wheel and the sheer brilliance of Edward Van Halen’s guitar pyrotechnics could not overcome.

While the band continued to churn out great music with Sammy Hager fronting the group, there is an element of wistfulness for what could have been if Van Halen had remained on the trajectory they had from their start. That “what if” only gets amplified, with the sideshow quality of the band’s recent reunion of sorts, with Eddie’s son (with Valarie Bertinelli), Wolfgang on bass; you just can’t capture the lightening in a bottle twice.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Wake Up Call

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance – Ben Sasse (St. Martin’s Press)

I recently got a call from my son complaining that he had hit something in the road that caused a tire to go flat on his three year old car. After continuing to drive the car home, he drove it a few blocks to a friend’s house, because his friend knew how to change a tire. My son was mad because he had to buy a new tire, because the damaged tire was beyond repair; I was mad because I hadn’t passed on the knowledge my father had imparted on me, the relatively simple task of changing a tire.

As Fall arrived in Buffalo, New York, my Dad would invariably point me to the back of the garage where he stored the snow tires for his and my Mom’s cars and I would roll them out and with his guidance I would jack up the car and break free the lugnuts and swap out the tires on both vehicles. I was a big, strong kid, all of 12 years old when I learned the task. My son, who is twenty-five, wouldn’t have the first clue how to tackle the job. Changing tires is done by some guy at the other end of a cell phone call.

To me that is a sad statement about my parenting skills and the state of this country. The numbers are quite frankly, staggering! Nearly 20% of working age males in the United States don’t get up in the morning and go to work. One third of 18-34 years live with their parents. An entire generation of young adults don’t have the first clue how to rely on themselves to survive. One look at a story about the trauma caused by Facebook being offline for a couple of hours and you’ll know what I say is true.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is sounding the alarm in his new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. Sasse makes the case that a combination of things has contributed to the sorry state of adulthood in this country. Parents have not imparted on their kids the value of hard work and the basic knowledge of how to do stuff. Instead the common sense lessons like how to change tires have been replaced by organized activities and participation trophies, because everyone is special.

Sasse also makes the case that this lack of basic knowledge has soaked into other sectors of our society like political correctness, childhood obesity, a lack of knowledge about how government works, and the detrimental impact it all has on our country and its future.

The prescription Sasse offers is not an easy one. He offers ideas on how parents can influence their children and improve their lives in the long haul. Many of these observations will undoubtedly be met with howls of pain and outcry by the parents of perfect little snowflakes, who may need Playdoh, puppies and a safe place to recover from the shock and awe of what Sasse proposes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Looking for Nostradamus

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes – Richard A. Clarke and R P Eddy (ECCO)

The old cliché that hindsight is 20/20, like most good clichés is because there is some truth to them. Two former White House National Security types who have moved on into the private sector, Richard A. Clarke and R P Eddy offer up the new book Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes in an apparent effort to sound the claxons of impending doom panoply of liberal thought.

It’s pretty easy to look at something in hindsight and make the circumstances or “facts” fit the storyline you are trying to sell. Clarke and Eddy set up the premise of the book by siting examples of what they believe were folks who played the proverbial canary in the coalmine; folks who tried to warn us of pending events of doom who somehow got ignored when they should not have been.
If you’re confused by the title, Greek mythology teaches us that Cassandra had the ability to predict impeding disaster but was cursed to be ignored by the Gods.

I find it more than a bit laughable that the author think that a so-called Cassandra was ignored in the case of the storm damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, as if man could have somehow prevented the damage caused by a natural disaster. But the Katrina case is a great example of how these master of foresight often get ignored because it boils down to politics. Google Ray Nagin (former New Orleans Mayor) and school buses if you need a fine example.

The authors also point to the Middle East ambassador who seemed to foretell the rise of ISIS and the so-called Arab spring, only to be ignored. You won’t need to bother with Google to remember Barack “Red Line” Obama and his utterly failed Middle East/War on Terror policy, which was more concerned with politics and campaign promises than doing what was right to prevent the “JV Team” from over running Syria and Iraq. I also find it a little difficult to take seriously a section on Arab Spring and terror that fails to even mention Benghazi.

For this go around it will be easy to understand why Cassandra will be ignored.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Real Deal Fiction

Over the course of the past few years there have been some interesting trends in fiction writing. I have encountered a number of books that seemed to take forever to get rolling; I found some VERY big bestsellers a little bit of a slog at the start, but hung with them because of the raves that seemed attached to them. In some cases it was worth the work…others, not so much.
I am a fan of those great books that waste no time, but grab you by the throat and take you off to the races. These are what I call real deal fiction, with authors who waste no time getting down to business. Here are three recent reads that fall firmly into that category.

Exit Strategy (A Nick Mason Novel) Steve Hamilton (G. P. Putnam)

I had known of Steve Hamilton’s books, but had never gotten around to reading one until the first book in the Nick Mason series dropped on my desk. Hamilton pulls together a story of desperation and of the desperate acts that go along with it. Nick Mason is freed from one box, in this case a prison cell and then locked into another; servitude to a vicious gangster with who holds sway over Mason and his family.
With Exit Strategy, Hamilton picks up the story of Chicago gangster Darius Cole as he executes his plot to free himself from prison by any means necessary, using the pawns that are within his grasp. Mason has become Cole’s Angel of Death, charged with taking out the witnesses who testified against Cole in his original trail, this time around it’s folks in the care and protection of the U.S. Marshall Service, witness protection program.

Mason isn’t always afforded the luxury of time to plan, so he flies by the seat of his pants. Mason is the ultimate anti-hero; a bad guy who you can’t help but root for as he sits firmly lodged between a rock and a hard place. While Mason goes about his unhealthy business, he is planning and plotting his long play, to find a way out from under Cole’s thumb.
Hamilton delivers the action at such a fast and furious pace that you will find yourself gulping for air just to keep up. His writing style is so cinematic that it’s easy to see way Nick Mason has been optioned for a stint on the big screen. Here’s hoping that Hollywood doesn’t screw things up like they did with the Jack Reacher series.

Since We Fell: A Novel – Dennis Lehane (ECCO)-
If you asked me for a list of my favorite authors, Dennis Lehane probably would not be among them. But in all honesty, I don’t know why. Lehane has made a nice career out of crafting not only great stories, but of creating some great character types. I can’t say that I could recall them by name, but he just has a knack for creating fictional people who you can recognize from your life or have crossed paths with along the way. Call them…relatable for lack a better term.
While some may be disappointed that Lehane’s latest, Since We Fell isn’t another entry in the Kenzie/Gennaro series, I think that Lehane is at his best when he’s off crafting stories about ordinary folks who get caught up in circumstances that are anything but ordinary. And that may be the magic of Dennis Lehane at his best; if you think about it, it is ordinary folks who end up in extraordinary situations, because that is what makes them extraordinary!

Lehane manages to weave you into the story of Rachel Childs, a former journalist who melts down on the air and then finds herself battling her personal demons, but living a relatively quiet life. That life begins to fray and unravel, leaving Childs to summon up the strength and courage to tackle her greatest fears.
This is Lehane at his best as he populates his stories with average, ordinary folks challenged with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

G-Man – A Bob Lee Swagger Novel – Stephen Hunter (Blue Rider Press)

It seems hard to believe that it’s been nearly 25 years since Stephen Hunter first introduced us to sniper Bob Lee Swagger with the book Point of Impact, a book chock full of double dealing, nefarious, government insiders and dirty dealers that it could be ripped from today’s headlines, or at the very least fake news. In the intervening time, Hunter has put Swagger into precarious situations and even introduced us to his small town Sheriff grandfather, Charles Swagger along the way.
Now in G-Man, Hunter deals out an almost Forrest Gumpian hand by dropping Charles into the mix of squaring off with infamous outlaws the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Now decades after the fact, Bob Lee is the recipient of a mysterious box unearthed on his family homestead. The contents of the box include a well preserved .45, a rusty badge, a stray gun part, a puzzling diagram and a healthy dose of mystery that fans of Bob Lee Swagger know he won’t be able to resist solving.

Hunter masterfully draws out the master snipers struggles with age and ghosts from his families past. Hunter has to carefully walk the tight rope between historical events and the present as he plays out the two storylines that intertwine to create G-Man. There is a level of precision to the way Hunter doles out the facts with a level of accuracy that we’ve come to expect in his stories.

Monday, May 22, 2017

One For the Reacher Creatures

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories – Lee Child (Dell)

One of the oldest of pieces of advice for writers is “write what you know.” While I am a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, I can’t say I am all that familiar with his Reacher short stories. So as I cracked open Child’s new, collection of Reacher short stories, No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories, I was pleasantly surprised to run through one that features a soon-to-be seventeen year old Reacher, not surprising on the road, traveling to meet his older brother at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Reacher is passing through New York City when he confronts a man who slapped a women in Central Park. The guy just happens to be a “made man” and promises to bring a world of hurt to Reacher. Much like the man he will later become in the series, teenage Reacher only sweats, because the Big Apple is in the midst of a heat wave. The story offers great insight into Child’s development of the Reacher character.

Clearly someone as complex and fully realized as Jack Reacher didn’t just happen, or evolve along the way; Child put serious thought into the background and the story arc for this character. Child clearly writes about what he knows. While fans hoping for a new full length Reacher outing, may be disappointed with this collection, I think it’s perfect that these stories have been collected under one cover.

The set does include one new piece, Too Much Time, which is Reacher on very familiar ground and putting his keen observational skills to good use, not mention his power of persuasion to convince a small town Maine cop to see things his way. Great story with a killer twist that will have long time Reacher creatures thinking they should have saw that coming.

Confirmed: John Boehner is a Dick!

Drain the Swam: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think – Congressman Ken Buck – (Regnery Publishing)

After reading Congressman Ken Buck’s (R-CO) new book Drain the Swam: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think, I can’t help but wonder why anybody would ever run for any U.S. Congressional seat. I can only conclude that as small children their parents dropped them on their head with some regularity.

Buck, a staunch conservative, lays bare what you have often suspected of those who clawed their way to the top and take on leadership positions in Congress. Buck discloses the pay to play fundraising schemes that party leaders have developed and the expectations that they put forth for folks that want to take committee leadership positions. These so-called “leaders” buy their positions by raising money to support leadership and party PACs. Is any wonder nothing gets done when these folks spend the preponderance of their time dialing for dollars to raise the money they need to hang onto committee positions.

Buck also spells out the expectations that people like former Speaker of the House John Boehner and his party Whips have when it comes to voting the way they call the shots. Buck offers a couple of examples that confirm what you always suspected of Boehner; this guy is a certified DICK! His tantrums and back biting are the stuff of legend and Buck adds confirmation.

So what are voters supposed to do? How can we possibly “Drain The Swamp”? Buck offers his thoughts and certainly backs up those ideas with action, when he votes his conscience and stands up to guys like Boehner. In the long haul can he make a noticeable dent? It will be a tall order, but sending likeminded folks to DC to build the team, while time consuming is really the only answer.

We have a document to guide the folks we elect; it’s called the U.S. Constitution and all we need is folks to get back to following that document and doing the right thing rather than the thing that keeps them in office. Buck’s book is eye opening in that he lays out how much of the discretionary spending is actually illegal; often spent on laws and regulations that have sunsetted and expired but continue to be supported by taxpayer dollars. Things like the endangered species act and even Obamacare have actually expired and not been re-upped by a vote, because like so much in Washington, the leadership has allowed our representatives to avoid at all costs any need to actually stand behind any difficult or what could be perceived as controversial votes, thereby making members of Congress eunuchs lacking any testicular fortitude.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spring Into Fiction

The Vinyl Detective – The Run Out Groove: Vinyl Detective 2 – Andrew Cartmel (Titan Books)

One of the most often used phrases when it comes to writing goes something like “write about what you know”. Seems like pretty logical advice for aspiring wordsmiths. In the case of The Vinyl Detective – The Run Out Groove: Vinyl Detective 2, novelist, playwright and screenwriter Andrew Cartmel, for me it may better be called, read about what you know.

There is just something so appealing, quirky and well, relatable about the cast of characters in the Vinyl Detective series, because I have spent many an hour hanging around with music obsessed folks just like this crew. While hunting down that rare Beatles 45 on the purple rather than black label you honestly can develop the keen eye it takes to hunt down information and clues that can solve the case.

This time around the Vinyl Detective and merry band of coffee fueled cohorts are seeking details on a very familiar storyline; the pop chanteuse who passed before her time, think Janis, who left behind a mystery train that includes a whodunit, a backup singing sister, who goes off the rails and troop of hangers on, band members and countless other rock ‘n’ roll circus types. The hunt is on and where it ends up is never where you even thought it might. This makes two for two for Cartmel and the Vinyl Detective, when it comes to an early entry in the my favorite book this year sweepstakes.

I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner)

Full confession up front: I have never read any of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American works. I have also never seen any of the various renditions of the movies based upon his writings. I have however binged upon the first season of Amazon Prime show Z: the Beginning of Everything which chronicles Fitzgerald’s whirlwind romance and marriage to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. It intrigued me to the point of interest in this collection of unfinished and “lost” works.

While the TV show eludes to Zelda’s apparent “influence” if not outright authorship of some of Fitzgerald’s work, I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories offers just the right amount of background detail as too the provenance of these works and some of the history behind the author and the times to lend it a bit of intrigue.

Anne Margaret Daniel, a New School literature professor and a bit of an expert on Fitzgerald and the era uses a judicious hand to edit and lend perspective on the on the story behind the stories. Clearly this collection wasn’t originally intended to hang together under the same cover; there is a loose ends feel to the proceedings, but clearly there is a level of skill on display here that varies along the way.

The Fix – David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)
David Baldacci is brilliant and spinning those stories that you get all caught up in and leave you wondering why it is that all is not exactly like it seems. Amos Decker is a guy who can’t forget any detail; and that may be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. Decker witnesses first hand a murder of his way into the office and just happened to work at the FBI.

While the murder makes no sense on its face; no connection between the killer and the victim, no apparent motive for the killing and two seemingly disparate people involved. Aptly named, The Fix, Baldacci’s latest will leave you alternately scratching your head and guessing what is coming next. Even veteran “case solving” readers will get thrown off the scent with the twists in this one.

Decker is one of those live in their own world quirky characters that make for a solid foundation for this series. While longtime Baldacci fans may have some quibbles, I think it’s a solid triple from an MVP writer.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Terrible Trifecta

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign – Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Crown)

Let me be perfectly clear right from the start; there are three reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election and they have nothing to do with Russia, James Comey, hacking or any of the other myriad excuses she has trotted out.

They are:
1. She is a TERRIBLE candidate – she and her billion dollar campaign failed to articulate one compelling reason to vote for her.

2.She ran a TERRIBLE campaign – with all of the money she had available she was done in by too many loyalties pulling her in too many directions

3. She is a TERRIBLE person – lies, corruption, secret deals, cover-ups, pandering, money grubbing for her and her families own ends, I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign – alleged journalists, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes easily surrendered any hint of integrity in exchange for access to the campaign. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the pair had a wholly different book in mind when they started this process, believing they would be able to offer up a firsthand account of “history”.

The first rule of running for office, whether you are running for dog catcher, school board, Congress or President, is that you need to be able to clearly and concisely articulate the reason why you are running and why people should vote for you. You need to be able to do this in 45-60 seconds; the classic elevator pitch, or you will not win. And the alleged “smartest women in the world” could not do this! It does work to say there are all kinds of wonky, white papers on my website that you can check out to learn more about me.

The book points out the fixation Hillary has with being first…with being the one to “break the glass ceiling”. This was a style over too much substance campaign highlighted by the fact that the campaign chose the three decades old Javits Center and its glass ceiling for its “celebration” on election night. The voters sent a clear message, that being a women, was simply not enough of a reason to put Hillary back into the White House.

The internal conflict of the campaign detailed in the book really highlights the torn loyalties that Hillary and the Clinton’s have to their sycophantic followers and insiders. She desperately wanted to run a more modern campaign so she gathered many of the folks involved with electing Barack Obama and brought them on board for this run. The problem was she kept around a lot of the old hands from Bill Clinton’s Presidency, her New York Senate run and her time at the State Department.

While the old guard could spout policy 24/7, they really didn’t have a clue how to run a national race, so conflict became the routine. Even the guy who is so often cited for his political campaign savvy, Bill Clinton showed that his instincts were two decades out of sync with running a campaign for the White House.

So take the awful combination of a terrible candidate, terrible campaign and terrible person; tack on the endless string of scandals; the do as I say not as I do big money speeches to Wall Street, the money grubbing, Benghazi lies, and on and on, and history gets thrown out the window! If you followed the election, there is much new here to wade through 482 pages of this stuff.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Choices and Consequences

Consequence: A Memoir - Eric Fair – (Picador)

The old saying goes something like; “life is full of choices.” What all too often gets left unsaid is the fact that most if not all of those choices come with some form of consequence attached to them. For me, that seems to be what I can boil Eric Fair’s book, Consequence: A Memoir, down to; while at times he certainly wrestles with the choices he made in his life, he seems to battle more with the regrets he has over the choices he and he alone made.

Fair’s story unfolds near the beginning of the Iraq war, but shifts to the public spotlight a few years later when he “goes public” with his regrets over the actions he took in his role as a contract interrogator, who plied his trade in garden spots of Iraq like Abu Ghraib prison and Fallujah. Fair went public with an article he authored in which he alluded to some of the interrogation techniques that were utilized in the pursuit information from those combatants being held in Iraq. Fair never quite had the testicular fortitude to throw himself into the things that he pointed out “others” had allegedly done.

This article and others that followed came at a point where I had stepped away from my broadcasting career and the hyper-consumption of news that went along with being a talk show host, so Fair’s story was new to me. While he believes that he and other contractors who worked with him, actively participated in torture, in my opinion I do not believe it rises anywhere near that level. Sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes and stress positions, pale in comparison to what is wrought on folks in the hands of terrorists.

Life is indeed about the choices we make. Eric Fair made those choices, no gun held to his head, no dire circumstances, aside from what appear to be his own uncertainties about his own life, contributed to those choices. Like any normal person who becomes unhappy about the choices they make, Fair has glaring regrets and his way of dealing with those choices/regrets seems to be throwing others under the bus while feeling sorry for himself.

While Fair speaks regularly about his Christian upbringing and passing attempts made at the seminary, he seems hell bent on seeking forgiveness for his sins in this life time, rather than the forgiveness most Christians seek.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What Was I Thinking?

The Whole Thing Together – Anne Brashears (Delecorte Press)

I get the whole young reader (YR) thing, but do people really read this stuff?

From the author who brought forth the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books Anne Brashears, comes her latest entry, The Whole Thing Together. I knew I was in trouble when I cracked open the book and was confront with something dubbed the The Thomas-Harrison Family in Brief, which I can best describe as either a an organizational chart or a road map to the book’s characters who populate the book.

Good rule of thumb, if you need to map to characters…you’re starting out in a hole. Sasha and Ray share a house, a bedroom and a bed…just not at the same time. Confused yet? That’s where the org chart comes in…clearly this is not my cup of Jello.

Obviously there is a huge following for Brashears books and this may be perfect for some readers…but I am clearly not a teenage girl.