Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dana Stabenow – Bad Blood (Macmillan Audiobooks)

While I live surrounded by rolling hills of green and endless skies, I firmly believe that everyone should make the trek to visit our 49th State. Alaska is by far one of the most beautiful, natural settings I have ever seen and offers an endless supply of photo opportunities that almost defy description.

With her 20th book in the Kate Shugak series, Bad Blood Alaska based author Dana Stabenow readily displays her ability to tackle the challenge of describing her home states beauty. She follows native Alaskan private investigator, Shugak, around here 160 acre spread that is nestled in a State park with a practiced eye for details.

Aside from capturing the setting, Stabenow is on point with her ability to deliver the quirkiness of the unique folks who call Alaska home. While many corners of the United States have their own combination of linguistic phrasing and lifestyle traits, Alaska mixes rough concoction of wild edged survival and native charm.

Marguerite Gavin returns to narrate the audiobook version of Bad Blood and does a fine job of capturing the Alaskan patois. While it’s always difficult to jump into a long running series and pick up the disparate characters, as a first-timer to the Shugak books, I felt the back story that can prove annoying to long time readers was unnaturally thin here. It left me feel like I was playing catch up piecing the story threads of what should have been familiar characters together. Many series authors do a better job of filling in the blanks than what Stabenow does here.

Bad Blood pushes the story to the limits and the ending will leave many long time fans of the Shugak series with questions and fears.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Max Allan Collins – Seduction of the Innocent (Hard Case Crime)

It appears everything old, is new again. Not only does Max Allan Collins third installment of the Maggie and Jack Starr series, Seduction of the Innocent, take us back to the days of dames and dolls, but gives us the 50s era version of evil things bent on destroying our children and society, the comic book! Where today we have Facebook and video games, things were much simpler back then.

As with the first two in the set, Collins gives us the full pulp treatment of this tale from a bygone era of fiction that was once the domain of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Collins has a knack for capturing not only the voice but also the gritty feel of the setting, he captures the edge, without going over it.

Those new to the series may struggle with the languid pace that Collins uses to set up the storyline, by the half way point the hook will be firmly set and you’ll be looking for a firm handhold as the story takes on breakneck pace. The magic is in the mystery and the hunt for answers.

While many of the masters of the genre have seen a cyclical be-birth of interest in their work with re-releases of Chandler and Hammett classics every few years, what Collins and his cohorts at Hard Case Crime have managed to do is breathe new life into the form with slick writing and even slicker packaging.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Julie Languille – Meals in a Jar (Ulysses Press)

As a kid, I can remember visiting my grandparents during summer vacations and being amazed by the pantry shelves full of home canned foods ranging from vegetables and sauces to jellies and dried beans that my grandmother had “put up.” It is a tradition that has by and large gone by the wayside. Nowadays when you mention “canning” or pantry it’s the storage cupboards that are stacked with awful food in metal tins and stashed in stacks on shelves.

With a struggling economy and a pattern of thought pointing to much more difficult times ahead, many are starting to revisit or learn the skills necessary to can and store food for future use. One of those skills is to plan for simple to prepare, all-in-one meals; add water, heat and eat. Meals in a Jar by Julie Languille is an easy to understand and use guide to the basics of preparing foods for future use.

Bulk is the theme here; the recipes are geared toward quantity as well as quality. Makes 8, 12 or 16 is a common thread here. The recipes cover breakfast, lunch and dinner with an emphasis on proper measurements, proper storage and each comes with a reminder to clearly label each container or storage bag.

While the focus is on quick and easy, there is a level of expense and sophistication involved in some of the equipment that is need to process and prepare these meals. Some rookies may be confounded by terminology or what is needed to maximize the effectiveness of these recipes, but the bottom line is the need to prepare and the focus on getting started.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Michael Savage – A Time For War (St. Martins Press)

If you like your thrillers with a dose of conservative doctrine served between the lines straight up, no chaser, then the latest from controversial radio host Michael Savage, A Time For War could be just the ticket.
While Savage’s hero, straight talking, truth seeking, hard edge reporter Jack Hatfield is back for another go ’round with the bad guys. While Hatfield tangled with stereotypical, Middle Eastern terror types in Abuse of Power, this time around Savage raises the stakes in the tilt between the United States and China, in the process breaking new ground.

Savage does a wonderful job of balancing and weaving the political debate into the storyline; walking up to, but never crossing over the line that separates a political screed from a political based thriller. The thriller fan in this conservative loved every minute of it!

Savage has made a career out ruffling the feathers of liberals and I have no doubt that while the mainstream media love to tout stories of the growth of the Chinese marketplace and the alleged cultural shift, A Time For War with it’s story of Chinese underhandedness will push some libs over the edge.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Melanie Warner – Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal (Scribner)

There’s an old saw that says hot dogs taste great, but you wouldn’t want to see how they are made. While working as a PR flack for a business association I helped businesses to celebrate major anniversaries by pitching stories to the media. I took a TV crew through a local meat product producer’s plant to learn more about how hot dogs are made.

Decked out in lab coat, shoe covers, head covering and even a facial hair mask, I got the full tour; from grinding, to stuffing to the smokehouse. While the TV crew couldn’t film everything due to proprietary processes, we got to see the whole story. While the gelatinous glop that gets stuffed into the casings was a pretty scary, it didn’t cause to stop eating and enjoying tube steaks on a regular basis.

The question becomes, if you know how the food you consume is made and what it contains, would you continue to eat it? In Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal author Melanie Warner explores the process and ingredients that go into processed foods. If you are at all curious about what it is that you are putting into your body, this is a great concept.

I went into reading this book with an open mind, but I have to admit that I chafe when food nannies like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and alleged “experts” from organizations from groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest try to jam laws down people’s throats trying to limit people’s freedoms when it comes to what they put in their mouths.

While the concept is a good one and the subject is important, it’s the delivery where it falls apart. It may be an attitude thing; with these food police taking a superior, holier than though, I’m better than you stance. Yes, the food industry is a BIG BUSINESS and like any business profit is important. Yet many comments that lace this book, like the “food processing industrial complex” and the denigration of profit tend to overshadow what could be important information.

To approach this concept from the point of view of the way things used to be, when Mom made things from scratch just isn’t realistic. With population growth and a shift in our daily lives, the good days of local markets and farms could not supply the demand. Processing of foods became a necessity to get things to the marketplace and in a volume to meet demand.

Price is an important factor. While U.S. residents are paying a smaller percentage of their disposable income for food, 9.8% currently, compared to 20.6% in 1950, the cost of other necessities has continued to spiral upward. The fact that food stamp usage is at a record high, in excess of 48 million Americans should put those numbers in a different perspective. There’s the ideal and then there is reality.

Whether it’s vegan’s, global warming alarmists, Prius drivers or food police, liberals lose the what can be important messages when they put their nose in the air and look down upon the lowly masses and in the process they lose the real story.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Joel Rosenberg - Damascus Countdown (Tyndale House Publishing)

Is author Joel Rosenberg a modern day Nostradamus, able to accurately predict the future before it happens? If you are a fan of his work and have followed his books you know that he has an almost uncanny ability to target world events by offering in fictional accounts previews of what is to come

That ability coupled with his skill in crafting well written and engrossing books has made him a regular visitor to the bestsellers list. In his latest entry, The Damascus Countdown, Rosenberg continues the story arc of David Shirazi, has he plays beat the clock in a harrowing race to hunt down a pair of nuclear warheads, gone missing from Iran’s arsenal.

Rosenberg’s writing has a ripped from today’s headlines quality that lends to the authentic feel of the writing. He mixes the right amount of back story between the action segments to give depth and avoid coming off like some cheap, slam bang, car chase movie.

While Rosenberg’s day job as a communications advisor in Washington, DC has allowed him to rub elbows with many world leaders; while I am not certain how much access he has had to the corridors of power, the detail of his writing takes on a very realistic, been there done that quality. Here’s hoping he remains a successful author and not a prescient predictor of things to come.

A complimentary copy of Damascus Countdown was provided to me by Tyndale publishers. All opinions and comments regarding the book are my own, and have not been influenced in any way.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brandi Glanville – Drinking and Tweeting and Other Brandi Blunders (Gallery Books)

The pain starts right around the temples then spreads above your eyes and comes to rest squarely in the center of your forehead. After nestling there for a few minutes it starts a rhythmic throb and continues to pulse outward. At times light can cause pain that becomes unbearable and finally sound will start to hit you like shockwaves that just don’t seem to ever stop.

Are these signs you’re having a stroke or aneurism? No. Is this pain signs of a hangover left behind by too much of a good time? Nope. These symptoms are a clear sign that you can proudly lay claim to an IQ north of 100 and that you have mistakenly opened and possibly even read from the literary debut from “Real” Housewife, Brandi Glanville entitled, Drinking and Tweeting and Other Brandi Blunders.

I took a look at this from the purely from the anthropological perspective to try to understand the attraction to these garish, plastic, often unhinged and mostly talentless women that America has made into celebrities. Glanville is a prime example; not sure what claim she has to fame other than her role as the jilted, bitter, wife of a C-list actor who had a dalliance with troubled country singer Leann Rimes.

Not sure I gained any clarity on what the attraction is to Ms. Glanville or her cohorts but clearly there is an appetite for the details of her cheating ex, her steady diet of plastic surgery and serial one-night stands. I can’t claim to understand it, not sure I want to and my only real level of disappointment can likely be traced to the utter lack of photos and the fact that I am out of Advil.