Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Small Town Saturday Night

Deep Freeze (A Virgil Flowers Novel) – John Sandford - (G P Putnam)

There’s just something different about a small town…quirky, parochial, and vindictive. While a number of writers do a good job of capturing that small town ethos, for my small town guy money, no one does it better than John Sandford, in his backwoods Minnesota books featuring Virgil Flowers as he pursues bad guys in his guise of investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Sandford’s latest Flower’s outing, Deep Freeze perfectly captures that small town infighting based on the socio-economic hierarchy that got it’s genesis way back in high school. So it’s perfect that the backdrop for the murder Virgil is tasked to solve is a planning meeting for a 20th high school reunion.

The cast of characters includes the haves and the have nots or the in crowd and the outsiders, but Sandford never stops there; he mixes in a parade of misfits that includes; the victim’s sexually confused ex-husband, an S&M sex “therapist” with a criminal record who services a handful of the local ladies and an odd assortment of drunks and bowlers who aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Add to the mix a passel of folks just trying to get by who are customizing Barbie dolls by adding features Mattel never intended and are in the crosshairs of a fish out of water private investigator from Los Angeles in a rental Prius and you’ve got makings of clever whodunit John Sandford style. After years of reading my way through his Prey series of books, I find the Virgil Flowers books to be a perfect break and easy, fun to read series. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Timeless Beauty

Sophia Loren Turner Classic Movies: Movie Star Italian Style –
Cindy De La Hoz – (Running Press)

In this ridiculous era of talentless celebrity, disposable actresses and selfie-superstars, it’s a good idea to every once in a while remind yourself of the golden age of the movie star, when actresses became celebrities for their beauty and the acting ability, not the number of Instagram followers they had or porn pics that got hacked or “leaked”.

One of those truly timeless beauty and talents is the subject of prolific film writer Cindy De La Hoz’s new book, Sophia Loren Turner Classic Movies: Movie Star Italian Style. Breathtaking is the only word that can truly come close to describing Loren’s beauty. This collection of photographs and stories does a nice job of setting not only her career in perspective, but of capturing the arc of her lengthy and successful career.

While other big screen beauties of Loren’s era, faded into the sunset her remarkable career spanned decades and her beauty never faded. Right from the smoldering, sexy cover shot through all 261 pages, Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style, offers an insider’s glimpse at Loren’s life and film career.

While the film set and beauty shots are great, some of the most revealing photos are those of Loren’s personal life. The shot of her in a hospital gallery, surrounded by the press, shortly after giving birth was photo seemingly every women has had a nightmare about, yet she appears calm and full of grace and joy of new motherhood. It may speak volumes about her Academy Award winning acting ability.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties: TV and Radio History As It Happened – Richard Havers – (Harper Design)

For certain bands, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones come to mind, there has been so much written, recorded and said about the band over the course of time, that it becomes darn near impossible to put out something new or different, without the diehard fans of the band questioning accuracy or nitpicking even relatively minor details.

I am certain that will be the case for even a veteran Stones chronicler like Richard Havers and his new tome, Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties: TV and Radio History As It Happened. The fanatics will pick nits with set lists or other seemingly minor details. The reality is this is a very cool collection, that offers a glimpse at not only never before seen archival photos, but facsimile documents that offer a peek behind the curtain of what was involved in the band’s sixties broadcast appearances.

Havers is the author/editor/compiler of a half a dozen other Stones and Stones related books, so he certainly brings a level of insider knowledge to the table when it comes to detailing the band’s story. The pictures truly add some amazing depth to the story, as the bands quickly transitions from mop topped, matching suits and nervous grins to, too cool for the room, edgy rockers full of energy.

Rolling Stones on Air in the Sixties: TV and Radio History As It Happened, is a great accompaniment to a proposed DVD release that features archival footage culled from the vaults of the BBC and other broadcast sources, that will tie the story together in great detail.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Studio Stories

I am a self-admitted liner note nerd. At its peak, my vinyl collection topped out at around 10,000 pieces; sadly career changes and multiple moves foced me to come to grips with the reality that holding onto the shear massiveness of the collection was becoming more and more impossible, so I started the sad and often painful process of selling off my collection.

The thing I miss the most is not the music, my CD and digital collection is ridiculously large; no what I truly miss is the tidbits of information on the jackets and sleeves of albums. The liner notes served as a roadmap of sorts to the producers and players that gave us so many musical memories. Often music from a given scene of geographic locale would see familiar names popping up over and over on session after session.

It is those studio stories that are the focus of a pair of new books:

Goodnight, L.A.: The Rise and Fall of Classic Rock – The Untold Story from Inside the Legendary Recording Studios – Kent Hartman (DaCapo)
Kent Hartman does for the studios, producers, and players of the classic rock era of the late sixties and into the 1970s what he did for the cadre of musical geniuses who cranked out hit after hit in the early to late sixties known as part of the studio musician collective dubbed the Wrecking Crew; with his new book Goodnight, L.A.: The Rise and Fall of Classic Rock – The Untold Story from Inside the Legendary Recording Studios.

Hartman has a loose and laidback writing style that is perfect for detailing the L.A. music scene in that era; the criss-crossing of paths, personalities and players that were responsible for some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest hits. He also offers up insights into insider stories about the personalities that contributed to huge successes of the era.

Hartman really highlights the heavy duty desire bordering on desperation that folks like producer Keith Olsen, Richard Dashut, and guitarist Waddy Wachtel put into their pursuit of musical success. These guys truly lived for the music and it often shows in the results they enjoyed.

The parade of folks making appearances reads like a who’s who of classic rock including Fleetwood Mac, Loggins and Messina, Chicago, Carole King, The Doobie Brothers, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Heart, The Eagles and more. This one is perfect if you’re a liner note nerd or not.

Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926 – 1966 – Kenneth Womack (Chicago Review Press)

Over the course of time the appellation of “the fifth Beatle” has been applied to an array of folks from disc jockeys, to side men who played with the band at various times, managers and sundry hangers on. The one person that can truly lay claim to that title in my opinion is the band’s producer George Martin.

Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926 – 1966, the first of two installments covering the impresario’s incredible career as a knob twiddler, covers Martin’s earliest interactions with the Fab Four. 
Author Kenneth Womack conducts a deep dive that results in an almost encyclopedic accounting of the bands ventures into the recording studio.

Whether you are a Beatlemaniac, a casual fan or newcomer to the bands music, Womack offers some amazing insider tales about how the band’s earliest tracks were captured on two track audio tape and how Martin worked his magic within the confines of those limitations, to spectacular result.

For a guy who came to the world of production by recording comedy programs, Martin proved to be a legitimate genius in a world where that term is thrown around much too freely. Womack slips in great stories about Martin adding little bits of instrumentation to even those early, simple tracks, that will have you pulling out the album or CD to pick up on these aural flavorings to see how they impacted the final results. This one perfectly sets up the next installment of a set that should be on the bookshelf of any Beatles fan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shooting Straight

Taking Aim: Daring to Be Different, Happier, and Healthier in the Great Outdoors – Eva Shockey (Convergent Books)

Hunting and hunters could be the most mis-understood activity and people on the planet. Anti-hunting types are famous for rolling out tired tropes that go something like this; “How could anyone shoot such a beautiful creature” or “I hope you enjoy having that beautiful creatures – head, skin, antlers, on your wall”.

In this day and age of the Twit-iot, short for Twitter idiot, and high profile hunters it has become all the more easy and vicious to attack something that you don’t understand. One of those high profile hunting celebrities is Eva Shockey, co-host of her father’s Outdoor Channel program, Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures. Eva is out with a new book, Taking Aim: Daring to Be Different, Happier, and Healthier in the Great Outdoors, in which she details her life transition from being the daughter of a high profile hunter, to becoming a skilled practitioner and successful, professional adventurer in her own right.

She outlines the reasons why the preponderance of hunters are focused conservation and enjoying the great outdoors and all that they have to offer. Shockey has been on the receiving end of some brutal pushback by anti-hunting types, and like most idiots who can’t win in the war of ideas, they resort to vicious name calling and threats. While she just has easily ignored this crap or pulled down social media sites, Eva lays out the case why she chose to respond head on and educate this drooling morons about what hunters do what they do and how the multitude of folks involved in the sport actually contribute millions of dollars to conservation efforts and millions of pounds of food to help feed the hungry every year.

While hunting may not be your thing, Taking Aim is a positive bit of roll modeling for anyone, but notably young girls on how they can deal with the challenges that our society throws at them every day.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Getting the Band Together

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Doodlers Unite!

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Clipped Pieces

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Best of Both Worlds

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

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

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

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

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

The Dichotomy of Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trouble is his Middle Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

So Much Promise…

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Portrait of an Era

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek – Howard Markel (Pantheon Books)

I love these kinds of books because they paint a portrait not just of the subject of the story, but also the era in which the subject came from. It is as much a story of the time as it is of the Kellogg brothers that make their unprecedented success even possible.

In The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, physician, scholar and bestselling author Howard Markel, perfectly captures the era that plays the setting for John Harvey Kellogg, a nationally renowned physician, publisher, bestselling author and speaker and his brother Will, the founder of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company and food production revolutionary to rise to a level of success that placed them in national prominence.

It is unlikely that two gentlemen could rise to that stature without the era in which they found success playing a major role; a sign of the times if you will. John Harvey attracted a celebrity following to his medically based spa/hotel dubbed the Battle Creek Sanitarium where he focused of curing the symptoms of indigestion and brought the religious fervor to the Seventh Day Adventist pursuit of sound body, mind and hygiene. His following included some of the biggest names in business; Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and self-help guru Dale Carnegie. He also played the role of advisor to Presidents; Taft, Harding and FDR.

Markel also turns an eye toward the incessant, competitive nature of the relationship between the two brothers. The one up man ship and the striving for advantage was a cornerstone that their less than familial relationship was built upon.  If you are a fan of things like the History Channel’s, The Men Who Built America, then The Kelloggs, will be right up your alley.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Hamilton Redux

Alexander Hamilton: the Graphic History of an American Founding Father – Jonathan Hennessey (Author) Justin Greenwood (Illustrator) (Ten Speed Press)
Alexander Hamilton may be the most wide ranging media star of the founding fathers. Hamilton has been the subject of countless history books, a pile of biographies and most recently and famously a successful Broadway musical and its accompanying soundtrack. So after all of this coverage, why would we have Hamilton be the subject of a graphic novel?

Alexander Hamilton: the Graphic History of an American Founding Father by the team of Jonathan Hennessey (Author) Justin Greenwood (Illustrator) runs down the details of the life of the founding father, Revolutionary War hero and our nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

For those history purists out there, Alexander Hamilton: the Graphic History of an American Founding Father, probably doesn’t go deep enough into his story to make this a worthwhile addition to their Hamilton bookshelf. But then again, I doubt that is the target audience they are trying to reach with this book; those fans of graphic novels will probably be able to scratch their Hamilton inch with this well done outing.

Richly drawn and clearly well researched this one hits the spot and you can take it home for less than a couple of Hamiltons. If you’re puzzled by that last line, you may want to get your hand on the book or check out the ten dollar bill.

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.