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.

The Robert B. Parker Cookbook

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies – A Spenser Novel – Ace Atkins (Putnam)

Tasked with the difficult job of continuing the popular Robert B. Parker character, Boston based private detective, Spenser, bestselling author Ace Atkins has continued to hone his grasp on the voice of this classic character over the course of half a dozen books.

The latest, Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies, features ingredients right out of the Robert B. Parker Spenser cookbook. Take one damsel in distress, mix with a handful of shady characters and shysters, add a couple of tough guys and a pinch of “true” love and yield one entertaining story.

Parker was truly one of my favorite authors and I looked forward to what became the annual rite of passage with the dropping of new Spenser book with a good deal of zeal. Towards the end of his career/life, if I am being honest, I found the Spenser series to be waning a bit and I find similar issues with Little White Lies. While the story is solid, when it winds down to the ending I found it to be a bit empty and a little too neatly wrapped up.

For longtime Parker fans the moving of Hawk back to the front and center of the story and playing a larger (than life) role is a great move on Atkins part. While it may not be a home runs in every sense, even a Spenser triple is better than a strike out.

Bring It On!

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class – Elizabeth Warren (Metropolitan Books)

“It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, referring to watching the 2016 Presidential election results. Now she knows what it was like for conservatives during the eight years of Obama.

When it comes to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new book This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class, there is so much to work with that I almost don’t know where to start. For someone who is alleged to be an intelligent, respected researcher and professor before joining the Senate, Warren really doesn’t have a grasp on the basic concepts of how things work.

She claims to be a champion of the Middle Class and wants to offer up her prescription for “saving” that group of folks. But clearly she doesn’t have a basis for understanding the middle class. The Senator writes about the country coming out of World War II and how the middle class grew exponentially and she attempts to credit the government for that growth. Anyone with even a minimal grasp on history will know that the preponderance of manufacturing during the war was dedicated to supplying the military; consumer goods were practically unheard of. With the war over, growth and demand for those consumer goods would be off the charts and the economy couldn’t grow fast enough.

For someone who has been pegged as a rising star within her party and a potential 2020 Presidential candidate, This Fight is Our Fight, is a sorry recap of the same tired, class warfare politics that have been part and parcel of the Democrat agenda for decades.

Warren bemoans the pay gap but, neglects to mention it grew worse during the Obama years. She thinks that raising the minimum wage will help low skill workers, as if it a zero sum gain; companies will dole out the cash without raising prices, right? But that is the mindset of the Democrat party which thinks that they fixed healthcare with Obamacare, which gave us HIGH deductible plans and curbs access to care not eases it, so people end up with LESS healthcare.

Warren complains about trade deals that make it cheaper for Nabisco to make Oreos in Mexico and ship them here, than making them in Chicago. Just as a reminder, who did that? Democrat President Bill Clinton! Perhaps Ms. Warren needs to take off her political blinders and take a look at what President Trump is saying about NAFTA and the need to renegotiate that flawed deal.

Like so many clueless Democrats, Warren snipes at Ronald Reagan, “dubious theory of trickle-down economics.” The hard facts for Warren and other liberals to swallow is that the revenues collected from federal income taxes during every year of the Reagan administration, were higher than the revenues collected from federal income taxes during any year of any previous administration.

Christ Unified

The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels – David Limbaugh (Regnery)

“Divinity: the state or quality of being divine”
They say confession is good for the soul…so full confession; I have tried on and off for a number of years to work my way through The Bible. I have attempted it in many forms and editions. I have found some of it to be easy and some a bit more difficult.

In reading David Limbaugh’s latest book, The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels, I have found myself more engaged and I have taken more away from the experience of not only reading Limbaugh’s book, but by pairing it with re-reading the referenced sections of the Bible.

I have had the good fortune to speak with David on a number of occasions, including some of his original forays into being interviewed on talk radio, and I always found him to be a thoughtful, intelligent guy who could take complex topics and make them understandable. And that is what I feel he has done with The True Jesus, by examining events in the Bible from the multiple, occasionally divergent perspectives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Limbaugh does an amazing job of fusing these varied views of events into a deeper understanding of the life of Jesus Christ. This is not a book to be taken lightly and it is not likely to find its way into the beach bag for a summer vacation read, but it will make a wonderful tool for those who want to delve deeper into their spiritual studies.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Freedom Defended

The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEL Team Warrior – Robert O’Neill (Scribner)

“Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward. And freedom will be defended,” – President George W. Bush.
And so it was…freedom, and by extension America, was defended, by countless brave heroes who stepped into the breach and took on that task. While most remain anonymous, some even in death; others have gone onto exemplify what it is to be hero, more often than not unwillingly be dragged into the spotlight for what they consider merely doing their job.

One such hero, was a seemingly ordinary guy from Butte, Montana who seemed to fill the bill when it came to the old saying, “great battles are only given to great warriors.” Robert “Rob” O’Neill seems to have a knack to being around when big things are about to happen. He counts among his 400 combat missions; the search and rescue mission trying track down “the lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell, the rescue mission for Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips, the search for traitorous deserter Bowe Bergdahl and perhaps most famously the three shots he took to take out terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

In, The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEL Team Warrior  O’Neill recounts his story in great detail, from growing up in Butte, to entering the Navy and pursuing entry into the Navy SEALs and through the brutal BUDS qualifying program. O’Neill is a perfect example of the non-Hollywood stereotype for a Special Forces warrior; if he was part of a lineup, you likely wouldn’t pick him as the badass operator. But, countless times it was O’Neill, who like many of his SF brothers in arms, rose to the challenges that were placed in front of him.

You can’t help but get a bit of an adrenaline rush as he details the mission to the Abbottabad, Pakistan compound where bin Laden was holed up. He details the lead up, training, preparations for any and all possibilities. Then the briefings, the flight in country and onto the actual mission; it didn’t take long for the unexpected to rear up, when one of the transport helicopters, the one O’Neill was riding in, dropped to the ground.

Has he makes his way into the compound, near the back of the line that made an entry into the multi-level structure that housed the world’s most wanted man, the tale becomes absolutely pulse pounding. Up and up they climbed, scattering as they went, until O’Neill finds himself second in line. The potential for suicide vests was front and center in the minds of these well trained warriors, so when the lead man dives on top of a pair of shrieking women, O’Neill is the clear for the ultimate target. There, with his youngest wife standing in front of him is Osama bin Laden and without hesitation, The Operator dispatches evil with three quick rounds to the head.

In the aftermath, O’Neill has come to wonder, was this the best or the worst day of his life? Despite all of the weight that this carries, he should rest assured, it was his best day. With all of his experience tackling difficult challenges he will move forward and do even bigger and better things. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Golden Return

Golden Prey – John Sandford (Putnam)

It seems funny now given that I read quite literally tons of books, but there was a point where I didn’t read very much. My best friend suggested that I check out three writers; the legendary John D. McDonald and the Travis McGee novels, Robert B. Parker and the Spenser books and John Sandford and his Prey series featuring Lucas Davenport. I very quickly became hooked and worked my way through all of these series.

Years later Sandford remains one of my favorite authors, but I have to admit that while I really enjoy the Virgil Flowers books, I sensed a sameness to the storylines in the ongoing Prey series and began to drift away. When the latest in that series, Golden Prey appeared, I decided to take it out for a spin and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Davenport has moved on from the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (MBCA) to take on a gig with the U.S. Marshall’s Service. In the new role, Davenport is given a wide berth and takes on cases almost as a freelancer; taking on the cases that pique his interest and going wherever they may lead. This makes for a freewheeling style of storytelling and allows Sandford to get back into the groove.

Davenport is hot on the trail of stick up men, the Dixie Hicks and their leader Garvin Poole, a guy with a shoot first and ask questions later kind of attitude, who knocked off a drug cartel “counting house” leaving behind a trail of blood and victims. Along the way as Davenport hunts down his target, he is dogged by a pair of cartel hitters out to recover the stolen money. The pair, a shooter and a power tool enthusiast, is either one step ahead, one step behind, or right in lock step with Davenport.

“I just want to hunt” is a classic Sandford line, uttered by Davenport as he tracks down his prey and delivers solid pacing, piles of action and just the right amount of Davenport ‘tude to make this a golden return.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The History of Helter Skelter

The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer – Skip Hollandsworth (Picador)

I don’t know why, it’s certainly not based on any logical reasoning, but I had come to think that the concept of a serial murderer was a more modern, recent vintage. Logically, these twisted souls could have existed at any point in our collective histories and easily one of the most infamous serial killer’s, Jack the Ripper dates back to the late 1880s.

Could a contemporary of Jack’s or even Jack himself that became the person suspected of being America’s first serial killer and panicked the citizens of Austin, Texas in the late 1880s? That is the premise that author, journalist, editor and screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth explores in The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer.

If you think about the folks who ply their writer trade and purveyors of true crime, non-fiction writers, they tend to focus on current or recent stories that they can blow up into full blown books. Think of the likes of Truman Capote, In Cold Blood and Ann Rule The Stranger Beside Me who write about current, nefarious, characters, who offered either direct access or a mountain of recent information to utilize in the penning of their books.

Hollandsworth on the other hand had to embark on the equivalent of a dumpster dive into historical news clips and historical accounts about not only the murders, but the era in which they took place. He does a masterful job of not only telling the often gruesome tale, but also setting the scene for the dynamics of the era; with insight into the politics, the rapid expansion of the Austin area, and the state of race in the 1880s.

In an age when we are all armchair crime scene investigators, his research into the crime fighters and the techniques, they used in that era is also very illuminating. To say the capabilities were limited is a grand understatement. Hollandsworth truly stiches this story together with a master storyteller’s eye, making it a great read for both true crime and history fans.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Die Hard Sports Fans Explained

This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can learn from the T-Shirt Cannon- L Jon Wertheim and Sam Sommers (Crown Archetype)

Quick show of hands…
1.  When you refer to your favorite sports team, do you use the pronoun “We” even if you now nor ever where a member of said team? IE: “We need a touchdown” or “We need a defensive stop here.”
    2. When your favorite team has a game versus a rival, you’ve been known to evoke a visceral “hatred” for the opposition? IE: “I hate the Dolphins” (or Patriots) if you are a long suffering Bills fan
    3.   Despite losing a (sad) record four straight Super Bowls and not making a post season appearance in this century, you remain a dedicated (or is it medicated) Bills fan and remember fondly the “good old days of Kelly, Thurman, Bruce and Andre? But hey, at least they made it to four straight!

So, what could possibly explain this seeming insanity? That is at least in part what L Jon Wertheim, executive editor of Sports Illustrated and Sam Sommers, a psychologist and sports fan attempt to explain in This is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can learn from the T-Shirt Cannon.

Wertheim and Sommers serve up some easily relatable, nod your head things, that sports fans will find difficult to deny they “suffer” from. This is Your Brain on Sports is at turns very funny, in an admittedly sad sort of way, and also nudges up against the at times scary.

The pair hit it right on the head in the chapter about the participation trophy world that we find ourselves in. They make the right point, that it’s never a bad thing to offer praise to our kids, but it is fair to question exactly what form that praise takes. Guess what, it’s okay to lose…just ask a Bills fan.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Bernie Gunther: Ready for His Closeup

Prussian Blue (A Bernie Gunther Novel) – Philip Kerr – (Marian Wood Books/Putnam)

While I hesitate to say it, there is a certain elegance to bestselling author Philip Kerr’s prose that you don’t normally find in the spy mystery genre. The reason I hesitate is that I don’t want to make it seem limp and artsy-fartsy because it is anything but that; his use of narrative, setting and character meld seamlessly together to take the reader back into the time and place of the story.

In the case of the latest installment of what has been dubbed by some as Berlin Noir, entitled Prussian Blue, Kerr drops former detective Bernie Gunther into 1956, post World War II as he struggles to get by on the French Riviera in the employ of a hotel. Gunther palpably yearns for the a return to Germany, but given his checkered history that is not a viable choice. Gunther’s past comes knocking in the form of a deputy from the East German secret police, a former Nazi, Ernst Mielke and a former colleague Friedrich Korsch.

Mielke offers a chance at a return, if not at redemption when he lures Gunther to a decadent dinner, where the Stasi officer prods Gunther into murdering a British female agent, Anne French, (who debuted in Kerr’s The Other Side of Silence) against whom Bernie would dearly like to exact revenge. Gunther’s interactions with Korsch can’t help but dredge up his past and Kerr skillfully blends the narrative between the current and the past, in this case a wartime investigation dating back to 1939.

As he has done consistently throughout the Gunther series, Kerr is a master at weaving his fictional characters into stories involving real life historical figures like Reinhard Heydrich, Martin Borrman and even Adolf Hitler along with locals and infrastructure from the era. Kerr has the unfailing ability to wrench skillful prose out even the most pedestrian of violence and paint a picture of winter in Germany is a series of gray tones you can almost feel.

Prussian Blue offers up great pacing and a steady drumbeat of turns to propel the story forward. There is an almost cinematic aspect to the writing that make me wonder why, to the best of my knowledge, Gunther has never made it to the big screen.