Sunday, January 26, 2014

Photos From the Heart

Find It In Everything – Drew Barrymore (Little Brown)

Developing a new concept for a photo collection book is like looking for that proverbial needle in the farmer’s haystack. While I am almost certain of two things; 1 – there is likely another book of collected photographs of hearts that are naturally occurring as part of everyday life and 2 – the Find It In Everything may not have started out as a series of books, but with a rotating “It” this could end up being the first in a series of books for actress, producer, director and entrepreneur Drew Barrymore.

Barrymore, a self-professed fan of hearts has been snapping photos of hearts for a number of years and has spent ten gathering together the photos that make up this book. That casual approach has lent itself to this project in a couple of distinct ways; none of the photos seems overly staged and while some of the shots are very well done, other take on the quality, or lack there of, of a cellphone photo.

I would guess that photography enthusiasts and purists may balk at this set as some sort of a celebrity take on the photo book concept collection. Fans of Ms. Barrymore may be a tad more forgiving looking at this more as a fun collection that will make for an interesting gift for a certain upcoming, heart related holiday. It wouldn’t shock me if there ends up being more entries in a series of object related photography.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Execution – A Jeremy Fisk Novel - Dick Wolf (William Morrow)

Dick Wolf, the creator of the Law and Order television program and all of its spinoff series, is back with his second entry in the Jeremy Fisk series, The Execution. Fisk is a member of the NYPD Intel Division, charged with protecting the citizenry of the Big Apple from terrorist threats.

Like many of the characters he created for the small screen, the characters Wolf creates in print are smart and tough, yet flawed. It is those flaws that often make a character stand out; they create a level of uncertainty and tension in the plot line of the story.

Like the most entertaining episodes of the Law and Order series, Wolf manages to throw in a feints and hooks along the way to keep you guessing on which direction the story will turn next. The mix of UN Week and all of the world leaders and inherent mayhem, a shadowy killer dubbed the Chuprosa who leaves behind stacks of headless corpses and terror plot that is slow to develop combined with a tough, secretive Mexican Federale charged with the security of the Mexican president is enough to drive the story.

Unfortunately pacing becomes a problematic as Wolf balances the intersecting story lines, but stick to it, the payoff comes as the thrills accelerate to the payoff in the last 50 or so pages of the story. Clearly this sophomore effort hits a few bumps, but Fisk is the kind of character that could and should be around for the long haul and Wolf’s track record of success speaks for itself.    

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Party On Wayne!

101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die – Matador Network (St. Martins/Griffin)

There’s something about travel writing that holds great allure for those who dream or even romanticize about the thought of tossing a couple of changes of clothes, a Moleskine notebook, a pen and maybe a beat up copy of Hemingway into a backpack and taking off.

101 Places to Get F*cked Up Before You Die  by the contributors to the travel website is a great concept, combined neatly with great storytelling and splash of fun; think of it as a drinking bucket list wrapped in great, entertaining travel writing.  

Some of the choices included here seem a bit clich├ęd:

·         Octoberfest in Munich

·          Mardi Gras in New Orleans  

·         Carnival in Argentina

Really? Kinda been there done that feel…you can add the stinky folks at burning man to that list too.

Others offer some I would never have thought of that intrigue:

·         McMurdo Station, Antarctica

·         Katmandu, Nepal

·         Harare, Zimbabwe

Well at least you’d never run out of ice at McMurdo.

And would fall into the no thanks, I’ll pass category:

·         Tel Aviv, Israel

·         Goa, India

·         Phuket, Thailand

Sorry, but risking my life to hoist a few just isn’t on my to do list.

Serious travel guide…not so much, but it does offer an interesting look at the world from a different perspective than the “normal” itinerary…whatever that is.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Swing Time: Not so Much…

Swingland – Between the Sheets of the Secretive, Sometimes Messy, but Always Adventurous Swinging Lifestyle – Daniel Stern (Touchstone)

Billing himself as “the other Daniel Stern”; not to be confused with the actor from the Home Alone and City slickers movies, Hollywood screenwriter, Daniel Stern, sets out to pen an “insider” account of the of the so-called ‘swingers lifestyle.” What he ends up with is what amounts to a mix of user’s manual, letters Penthouse Forum, and drooling account of a guy with a wild imagination, who spends too much time watching internet porn.

Stern’s goal may have been titillation, but his descriptions of the participants in this “lifestyle” end up coming off as sad, desperate, delusional and twisted. The story reads like a psychologists dream; loaded with enablers who go out of their way to aid the often sick fantasies of those around them.

Stern’s talk about the rules and courtesies that participants live and act by seem supremely laughable where the swapping of bodily fluids is part and parcel of the acts these folks participate in. If Stern was hoping to recruit new participants into the flock, I can’t imagine that anyone would find this to be a welcoming sales brochure.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Tale of the No-Hit Wonders

Willin’ - the Story of Little Feat – Ben Fong-Torres (DaCapo Press)

For most bands to be recognized as having an influence on a wide and diverse scale most bands would have to have racked up an armload of certifiable hit records and sold a boatload of albums to have the necessary reach.

The simple fact that they were comprised of former members of Frank Zappa’s backing band, the Mother’s of Invention, may have been enough to give the band Little Feat the cache they would need to be influential, but at the end of the day they could be one of the few band’s that could wear the tag “no-hit wonders.”

Now, longtime Rolling Stone Magazine editor/contributor Ben Fong-Torres as taken on the overdue task to attempt to explain the phenomenon that is Little Feat; a band who’s artistic reach certainly exceeds it’s commercial success. In Willin’ - the Story of Little Feat, the all-to-familiar tale, an oddly typical rock bio, features many of the usual suspects that that negatively impact so many bands; the drugs, the romantic machinations, the in-fighting and of course the musical differences.

The wide breadth of musical styles the Little Feat incorporated into its sound, ranging from; rock to blues to R&B and jazz with dash of funk and country combined and delivered with a unique skill level can easily explain the impact the band had on it’s casual and fellow musician fans.

Fong-Torres does a nice job of unearthing some early childhood tidbits from frontman Lowell George’s family that offer insight into unique dynamic that was part and parcel of the band’s career.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Great American Success Story

Civilian Warriors – The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror – Erik Prince (Portfolio Press)

So much as been written and said about the private security and military training company, Blackwater, much of it negative, that I was interested to read the companies story from the perspective of its founder Erik Prince. In Civilian Warriors – The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror Prince attempts to set the record straight by offering up a point of view that is contradictory to most of the negatively slanted press the company has received from the mostly liberal and often lazy media.

Contrary to the media’s take, Blackwater wasn’t founded as some shoot first ask questions later band of gun crazy mercenaries for hire. In actuality, Blackwater, like many companies, was founded to fill a need; by creating a dedicated training facility for military special operations and police special response units. Prince, a former spec ops guy himself, saw the need for a facility that could be utilized for the intensive training needs of special operators. Along with a small group of fellow operators he set out to build just such a facility.

That facility filled a need and became successful and like many successful businesses, Blackwater continued to look for opportunities to fill new needs; including the need for special response training for police to tackle situations like the Columbine High School shooting. Unlike too many people who believe that government is set up to respond to these special military, security and law enforcement situations, the exact opposite is true. Rather than setting up a series of useless blue ribbon panels and commissions to study the problem and report, private enterprise, like Blackwater identifies the need and responds with solutions.

The War of Terror truly showcased how unprepared the government is to respond to the rapidly changing needs of the battlefield. Often flat-footed and slow to respond, the government needed to turn to much more nimble and responsive private sector. Prince clearly articulates the Blackwater can do attitude when it comes to developing new products and services to fill the need in a rapid, direct fashion. This part of the Blackwater story is one of a true American success story.

Critics point to the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent on private contractors to fight the war on terror, claiming that companies like Blackwater are getting rich on the taxpayers dime. I find it interesting that these same critics are the folks who claim that the government is the answer to all of our problems, which this book clearly proves is not the case.

While some may disagree with Prince’s accounts of actions on the battlefield, keep in mind that perspective everything and I think that Prince is even handed in presenting the mistakes as well as the successes of his company and his own choices.