Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Would You Do For Money

Eat What You Kill – Ted Scofield (St. Martin’s Press)

As I worked my way through Ted Scofield’s debut financial thriller, Eat What You Kill, I found myself humming along to Canadian rockers the Northern Pikes song The Things I do for Money and the line that goes “the things I do for money I’ll never understand.”

Scofield’s hero/villain Evan Stoess is a trailer park kid who pines for Wall Street riches and is willing to stop at nothing to make that happen. Scofield weaves a classic, familiar tale of as Stoess stands poised on precipice of scoring a solid first step towards his desires, only to have the rug and riches pulled out from under him.

Life is full of second chances and a mysterious Wall Street firm steps up to offer him not only a life line, but a second shot at the prize. What would he do for money? When things don’t go quick as he hoped, Stoess answers the question by taking out a video game developing, cash cow by recreating one of the video wiz’s graphic kill techniques…let’s just say it involves a nail gun and leave it at that.

Scofield knocks it out of the park with this inaugural effort that’s an entertaining mix of high end catalogs, the New York private, jet set and Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho with a greatly reduced kill count. High entertainment.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Music, Music, Music and More Music

A Man Called Destruction – The Life and Music of Alex Chilton… - Holly George Warren (Viking Books)

It’s difficult to believe the volume of words that have been generated in the range of music press, books; hell the Replacements even wrote a song about a musician who managed to score only one hit record over the course of what can only be described as legendary career.

That musician is Alex Chilton; and the latest entry into the massive collection of words written about his career is A Man Called Destruction – The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man. Author Holly George Warren has done an epic job of marshalling a HUGE volume of information, interviews and clippings about Chilton into a clear, cogent and comprehensive biography about a uniquely talented, yet mysterious artist.

Warren paints and intriguing picture and offers some insight into what made Chilton one of the most influential artists of his generation. List laundry list of musicians and bands that lay claim to his influence is a veritable hit parade that far exceeds Chilton’s own chart success.

Shining Star – Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind and Fire – Philip Bailey

Quick…who are the most influential artists/bands of all time? The easy response goes something like this; the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. It is easy to overlook the far reaching influence and seismic shift that was brought forth by legendary R & B artists, Earth, Wind and Fire.

In the new autobiography, Shining Star – Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind and Fire, singer/percussionist Philip Bailey retraces his career back to its start as a 21 year old who signs on EWF founder Maurice White and his second incarnation of a band who can lay claim to changing the face of not only R & B, but raising the bar when it came to live performances. In the book, Bailey details White’s vision for not only the music, but for “the Concept” a larger picture vision of what EWF was all about.

Bailey and his co-authors Keith and Kent Zimmerman, do a nice job of weaving inner workings and insights into the bands career, but also offers up personal detail and some of the great interactions with other celebrities that have been part and parcel of his life. Overall this a quick and entertaining read about a uniquely talented guy.

Get The Led Out – How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World – Denny Somach (Sterling Publishing)

Author Denny Somach ranks as one of the most prolific producers of music based content for syndicated radio and television in the history of the business. He maintains easily one of the largest archives of programs ever assembled, so he is uniquely qualified for the task at hand.

That gargantuan task is to assemble a book telling the story of legendary hard rockers Led Zeppelin and attempt to bring something new to the table and dozens of books have already told this tale again and again. Clearly this is a task that was poised to become and easy, but epic fail.

With Get The Led Out – How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World, now out in paperback, Somach avoids the musical black hole and scores a great entry into the over-crowded field of Zep books. He avoids the obvious error of trying to re-tell classic tales about the band’s on and offstage exploits and brings together an interesting series of insider perspectives from the band’s intimates and fellow artists. The books tasteful layout and design makes it easy to dip into and out of for a quick Zep fix.

The Time of My Life – A Righteous Brothers Memoir – Bill Medley (DaCapo Press)

The history of rock ‘n’ roll is dotted with unique and memorable voices; singers that stir emotion and raise goose bumps on your arms and send chills up your spine. Sure there have been great vocal combinations and magical harmonies along the way, but putting my mind to the task, I couldn’t come up with another example where the pairing of two unique voices have joined to have the impact of Bill Medley’s deep baritone and Bobby Hatfield’s soaring soprano in the Righteous Brothers.

Medley details his career and life in the new biography The Time of My Life – A Righteous Brothers Memoir and he delivers on one of the things I love the most about these kinds of bios, unique insights and stories from offstage and behind the scenes. His story about playing Las Vegas and meeting Frank Sinatra offered not only an insight into Ol’ Blue Eyes strong hold on the entertainment capital, but his generous offering of advice to the young upstarts.

While Medley details the ups and downs inherent in any music career, he avoids the formulaic Behind the Music roller coaster and focuses more on the positive. This a great read for fans of the Righteous Brothers or any music fan.




Saturday, April 26, 2014

Move Along…Nothing to See Here

The Price of Silence – The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite and the Corruption of Our Great Universities – William D. Cohan (Scribner)

The so-called “Duke Lacrosse Scandal” was one of those stories that instantly peaked my skeptical side. Having spent years as a journalist and talk show host, I had seen many stories come and go and had developed a highly skilled sensibility to detect bullshit, while much of the mainstream media jumped in with both feet or all too often head first only to scrape the egg off of their collective faces later.

While many rush to judge the “rich kids” who allegedly raped the black escort/stripper, hired for an out of control party, I sensed there was a whole lot more to the story. The finely honed sense bore out when the “case” against the Duke lacrosse player crumbled and the district attorney assigned to the case, Michael Nifong found himself the subject of investigation for his conduct in the case, which would later see him disbarred.

Now some eight years after the fact, writer William D. Cohan is out with The Price of Silence – The Duke Lacrosse Scandal, the Power of the Elite and the Corruption of Our Great Universities, and I have to admit am stumped as to what the goal is here. While Cohan is a Duke alum, I can’t say that he offers even the least bit of new information or insight into the case in the densely written, 650+ pages.

If Cohan is attempting to indict the actions of Duke University, he falls woefully short; while it is unfortunate, the University’s action make up an all too familiar story line of self-preservationist institutions of higher learning. On the other side of the story, the FACTS of the case really are not in dispute and Cohan certainly achieves nothing here to change that.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spy Novel Ripped From Today’s Headlines

The Cairo Affair – Olen Steinhauer (Macmillan Audio)

Novelist Olen Steinhauer offers up a standalone effort, not part of his Tourist series, with the complex novel, The Cairo Affair which features a ripped from today’s headlines back drop of the Arab Spring.

Steinhauer tells the story of a murdered diplomat, his traitorous wife and the inner workings and relationships involved in spy tradecraft from multiple perspectives. Like the layers of an onion, he skillfully peels back the details of the story, revealing new information as he serves up the same story from a variety of perspectives.

He drops the hammer early when a mild mannered American diplomat, Emmett Kohl confronts his wife about an affair in French restaurant in Hungary of all places when they are confronted by a large, dark figure who grunts to Kohl, that he is “here for you.” A couple of muted pistol blasts and the story is launched.

If you like your spy novels with a healthy dose of adrenaline laden action then you may find The Cairo Affair a bit plodding in its presentation, but I found Steinhauer’s crafty use of steadily chumming the water with new bits of story an interesting way to build tension into the story makes this a winning effort.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Robert Ludlum’s – The Janson Option – Paul Garrison (Grand Central Publishing)

Robert Ludlum’s writing career was marked with trailblazing, high thrills fiction; so it shouldn’t be surprising that his estate was one of the trailblazers of hiring skilled writers to continue to serve up his memorable characters in newly penned fiction.

Eric Van Lustbader and Kyle Mills, who have their own bestsellers, are among the writers who have taken on the challenge of continuing Ludlum cast of highly charged characters. Also in the mix is Paul Garrison who picked up the mantle of Ludlum’s Paul Janson character, a former CIA agent/assassin.

Garrison’s latest is The Janson Option, which has a ripped from today’s headlines storyline involving Somali pirates seizing a private yacht with hostages, warlords battling for control of not only the country, but of its valuable resources and oil company types who are as good at deception as they are business.

Tasked with rescuing the beautiful wife of oil man who becomes a pawn in the larger story, Janson utilizes a mix of pure cunning skills, high tech gadgets and a network of contacts second to none to propel the story forward at a steady pace. Throw into the mix a few mysterious players and some more than garden variety terrorists and you got one entertaining read on your hands. While none of these great writers can ever truly replace Ludlum, they can certainly continue to man the helm of classic characters on adventurous rides.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Freedom: What a Concept

Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto – Matt Kibbe (William Morrow)

The inscription on the Statue of Liberty, one of the great symbols of the United States of America reads in part; “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” You’ll find nowhere in the full text anything about those seeking a government hand out or those looking for others to pay their way, just a simple statement about the desire to be free from government shackles. FREEDOM…what a concept.

In his new book, Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff: A Libertarian Manifesto, Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of the grassroots organization Freedom Works makes the strong case for freedom and posits the concept that the answer probably does not lie with either of the two current parties.

Six Rules For Liberty  

Kibbe details a straight forward set of six basic rules for liberty; they are as follows:

1.   Don’t Hurt People – The concept seems pretty clear that it is wrong to use violence or the threat of violence against others.

2.   Don’t Take Their Stuff – Property rights, again seems like a pretty fundamental concept, but even recent Supreme Court decisions that should have been a pretty easy decision to make, have clouded the issue.

3.   Take Responsibility – Personal responsibility; shouldn’t we all be ultimately responsible for or lives and our actions?

4.   Work for It – As the size and scope of government grows, so to does the number of able bodied Americans who simply no longer get up and go to work!

5.   Mind Your Own Business – As long as you remain within the law, liberty means that everyone should be free to pursue happiness in their own way.

6.   Fight the Power – Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely; freedom comes with the price tag that includes the continuous need to stand up and fight against those that seek to usurp freedom.

There is an almost simple, fundamental quality to all of Kibbe’s rules and yet there seems to be an undeniable need to teach these basic concepts to a society that appears to have turned its back on what equates to some of this nation’s founding principles, that he bases them on. This is truly one of the most important books not only for 2014, but for the future of this once great country.   

Thrills Are No Accident

The Accident – Chris Pavone (Crown Books)

One of the most common axioms about writing is “write what you know.” So it should come as no surprise that author Chris Pavone, who spent much of his career working for a variety of publishing houses, in a variety of roles, most notably as an editor; would build the premise of his latest book, The Accident in the world of publishing.

An anonymously submitted, apparently true, crime thriller, that involves a high profile media mogul and that somewhat implausibly crosses paths with government spies, lands in the lap of a down on her luck agent. It doesn’t take long for Isabel Reed to realize the goldmine/ticking time bomb that is in her possession.

The race is on; can she stay alive long enough to get the story told in the face of the forces that want to keep it under wraps. Certainly an interesting concept, the difficulty is in the execution; with so many characters and so many parallel storylines it easy for the reader to get muddled down in the mix. A couple of the characters stories are non-starters and seem to be here just for window dressing.

There have been a few recent bestsellers that started slowly, with a bit of confusion, so it’s worth giving The Accident the benefit of time while the story gears up. With a bit of added concentration the story will hang tough.