Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jerry Blavat – You Only Rock Once

Anyone who is an aficionado of music, the early days of rock ‘n’ roll radio or is just a fans of the 1950s will want to check out Jerry Blavat’s You Only Rock Once.

Blavat’s legend was made in the early days of rock radio and TV in the city that launched Dick Clark into the national spotlight with American Bandstand. Blavat’s story reads like a slice of the classic movie Bronx Tale; his Dad was Jewish numbers runner and mobster and his early life found him running the streets of Philadelphia.

An under-aged Blavat danced his way onto Bob Horn’s Bandstand (which would later find fill in host Clark taking the show national as American Bandstand.) Blavat’s tale is laced with his love of music, that remains in place to this day. He became a member of Horn’s music advisory panel, helping to pick the hits that would make it onto the TV show.

One of the early signs of Blavat’s rebellious side came when Horn ran into some legal troubles and Clark was brought into the host Bandstand and he launched an ill-fated protest to return the troubled Horn to host duties. This also was an early example of Blavat’s single-mindedness when it came to business.

Blavat runs down not only his wild-child approach to his teens; including colorful business and precocious sexual exploits. Before he was out of high school, Blavat became the road manager for early rockers Danny and the Juniors, later becoming a promo pitchman for record companies and then landing his first radio gig.

Blavat mingles great stories the book of his brushes with fame and the famous like a young start up comedian Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, Frankie Avalon and Sammy Davis Jr. among many others. To call Blavat colorful is an understatement.

The most amazing thing about You Only rock Once is the absolute clarity of Blavat’s passion for the music that he promoted, played and lives right to this day. His is a truly fascinating story.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Joseph Finder – Buried Secrets

How do you mix an over-privileged socialite with a troubled past, Washington power brokers, high flying Wall Street hedge fund traders, Russian mobsters, a sadistic enforcer and a skilled former spy into one storyline? Start with a skilled storyteller like Joseph Finder and mix in a strong focal point character like Nick Heller and you’re off to the races.

Finder’s latest Nick Heller novel, Buried Secrets, is a classic beat the clock thriller. A troubled daughter of a billionaire disappears, an e-mailed link to a web cam lights the fuse and the race is on to get her back.

Finder does a masterful job of describing the claustrophobic terror that the kidnap victim experiences as she discovers that she is literally buried alive and her only connection to the outside world and reality is a web cam mounted in her underground coffin. You may find yourself gasping for air as he describes the waves of fear that overtake the victim.

Buried Secrets is the second, in what I hope will become a series, of Nick Heller novels. Heller is a private investigator with skillset more than a few pay grades above the average fictional PI. Heller is a former spy with a background in private, for hire, intelligence. As finder weaves the story, Heller showcases the ability to pick up threads that the average investigators might miss.

He also excels at dropping himself into dangerous situations and utilizing his training to escape unscathed. Along the way Heller mixes it up with Russian mobster, who’s bent on looking legitimate, a handful of hardcases and a particularly nasty enforcer who comes packaged with a psychotic killing streak and a stylish prison gang tattoo of an owl that gives him “eyes in the back of his head.”

Buried Secrets is terrific follow up to the first Heller adventure, Vanished; he is a character that can join the likes of Lee Child’s, Jack Reacher; Stephen Hunter’s, Bob Lee Swagger; Brad Thor’s, Scot Harvath; and Vince Flynn’s, Mitch Rapp.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

George Pelecanos – The Cut

Some writers have the ability to draw great characters; vivid portraits of the players who drive storylines. Others have the ability to paint great settings; the gritty underbellies of inner cities, the wide open spaces of suburban sprawl or even the tumbledown backwoods homestead.

Then there is the rare writer, who has the ability to capture not only great characters and locations but also the feel and the vibe that is the real heartbeat of the story. Think Elmore Leonard cool.

Or George Pelecanos.

His latest, The Cut, has its own cool vibe; a real, lived in, comfortable style. When Pelecanos writes about Washington, DC and surrounding communities, his economy of words reads as if he is leading you through a familiar, easy-going, but edgy hood.

Pelecanos’ characters, is this case, “investigator” Spero Lucas brings his own rhythm to the pacing of the story. The fact that the former Marine grooves to cool reggae and is even known to mix in a little percussive DC go go music and kick it old school, just seem to work with this complex, multi-layered character.

Lucas does his thing, working more like a modern day tracker, both people and things, more so than a typical fictional PI. The concept is simple; Lucas agrees to track down a clients stolen item in exchange for a 40% piece of the action…The Cut.

In this instance, the client is a drug dealer facing trial, the item are a series of missing FEDEXed drug shipments. Lucas tracks down the cash from the sale of the goods, takes his cuts and passes along the rest. And that’s where the story takes an interesting turn.

Pelecanos attracted a legion of new fans for his writing and producing of the HBO Series, The Wire; those fans and those of his Derek Strange series will want to submerge themselves in this very quick read.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Douglas Edwards – I’m Feeling Lucky- Confessions of Google Employee #59

Based on the title, it might be easy to have some misperceptions about Douglas Edwards book, I’m Feeling Lucky- Confessions of Google Employee #59.

I can tell you this about the book:

It is not a business book that pontificates about the way things ought to be done if you want to succeed in business.

It is not a biography of a dot com business insider who struck gold, bought a Gulfstream and now spends his days trying to solve the world’s problems.

Despite the word confessions being included in the title, it is not a hatchet job; tell all about Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, penned by a disgruntled former employee.

What it is, is and interesting and entertaining ride through the flying by the seat of their pants start up of what would become one of the true titans of the tech world.

Edwards background was more of a traditional marketer, focused on product development, market share and how to grow a business. I’m Feeling Lucky focuses a lot on how he had to learn a new approach to marketing that was counter to all he had learned and done previously.

Edwards offers some interesting insights that will be very relatable to anyone who has ever been involved in a start up. The long hours, the wearing of multiple hats, the silliness that can overtake a sleep deprived, caffeine fueled existence of the start up workplace.

Edwards sprinkles enough insider tales throughout the book to keep the pace moving forward at a steady clip. The only quibble is the fact that at times the book gets chronologically challenged; bouncing back and forth between dates and events rather than a steady build forward through the development and growth of the Google behemoth.