Sunday, April 26, 2015

It’s All About That Beat, ‘Bout That Beat

Born To Drum – Tony Barrell (Dey Street Books)

What’s the best way to get a drummer off your front porch? Pay him for the pizza! Cue Rim Shot…bah, dump bump. There’s something different about drummers and veteran British music journalist Tony Barrell has set out with the goal of determining what exactly it is that makes drummer tick in his new book Born To Drum.

Barrell litters the book with interviews and insights about a range of drummers ranging from veteran classic rockers like John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) Keith Moon (The Who) Ginger Baker (Cream), Phil Collins (Genesis) Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Joey Kramer (Aerosmith) to a new generation of stickmen like Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters/Nirvana) and Butch Vig (Garbage).
Barrell explores this interesting cast of characters from a variety of perspectives including whether or not some of these guys shouldn’t be in residence at a local asylum or be fitted out for a straight jacket. Based on the actions and proclivities of so many of these guys, it’s not a wild stretch to say that the answer to the question of these guys sanity is an unequivocal YES!

Throughout the book Barrell makes a clear case that drummers are a breed cut from a different cloth. They display an amazing ability to multi-task as both hands and feet become a blur of sound. Deeply comprehensive, Barrell covers a range of players that is staggering; as a long time music fan, he had me dipping back into music that I hadn’t dusted off in years which gave this book a new layer of depth.  

Been There, Done That…or Maybe Not

Gray Work – Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy (William Morrow)

At times it reads like the best of the late Vince Flynn’s thrillers; chock full of action and high adventure. At others it offers up a veritable catalog of cool high end, high priced gear for the action junkie. And then there is the insiders tidbits that take you to the nitty gritty details of clandestine meetings, life or death border crossings and strap your bullet proof vest a little tighter situations. In the end…it turns out to be nothing but a steaming pile of bullshit.

My radar was cued early on when I started working my way through Jamie Smith’s Gray Work – Confessions of an American Paramilitary Spy, when he bad-mouthed his former employer the military contractor Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince. Granted, people have strong opinions about Prince and Blackwater, but an acquaintance of mine who worked for the company has a high regard and speaks approvingly of his time working there, so I find it a little harder to believe Smith’s criticisms and claims that he was lied to.

Back in the early 90s, Brett Easton Ellis dropped the book American Psycho about a high flying Wall Streeter who dabbled in serial killing. The book read at times like a Sharper Image catalog, detailing all of the high end crap that the character, Patrick Bateman collected and put to use. My bullshit meter was clicking to high when Smith started to detail all of the gear he packed for a “mission” right down to the make and model. It sounded has if Smith was trying to gain some semblance of credibility by mentioning these spiffy gadgets and doodads. When he whipped out his Moleskine ® notebook to record details of a clandestine meeting I knew something wasn’t right here.

Curiosity peaked; and a quick Google search later and Smith “story” completely unraveled, laid bare by 8000+ word Outside Magazine article by Ace Atkins and Michael Fechter entitled TheSpy Who Scammed Us, which I can only describe as a total take down. Turns out Smith is a pathological liar ala Jon Lovitz character on Saturday Night Live. I haven’t come across any efforts on Smith’s part to defend his story or respond to the charges. Maybe he is too busy with his wife…Morgan Fairchild…yeah that’s the ticket!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

All The Old Knives – Olen Steinhauer (Macmilan Audiobooks)

They were spies. They were lovers. Now they are separated by time and tragedy, but the story between the lines of the tragedy continues to haunt them and a new player is in the mix, ready to stir up the long dormant ashes to see a fire can be sparked.

Bestselling author Olen Steinhauer is a master at weaving a twisty tale that will keep you guessing right to the end and lacing the story with a sense of realism that comes off as an insider’s knowledge of not only the settings, but also the spy operations.

All The Old Knives pits former lovers Celia and Henry in a tale steeped in deception, cover ups and a secretive nemesis. The pair get together for dinner to hash things out once and for all. Add to the mix some back door dealing that pits the former lovers against one another with the help of secretive hit men on standby.

Steinhauer uses a steady hand to parcel out bits and pieces of the storyline in a manner that just when you think you’ve got things figured out will get your head spinning. Voice talents Ari Fliakos and Juliana Francis Kelly do a nice job of capturing the dueling characters desperation giving added life to the story.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Country Cookin’

Oh Gussie! – Cooking and Visiting in Kimberly Southern Kitchen – Kimberly Schlapman with Martha Foose (William Morrow Cookbooks)

There must be something in the water down in the boondocks, cause the country ladies sure do know how to cook. Kimberly Schlapman, the blonde half of the ladies who make up half of the country quartet Little Big Town is out with her first ever collection of down home cookin’ recipes.

She divides Oh Gussie! – Cooking and Visiting in Kimberly Southern Kitchen into five sections; family, friends, music, home and away. Along the way she covers the gamut from soups/stews to deserts and snacks and dips to main meals.

You won’t be forced to search high and low to find some exotic ingredients, herbs or spices; what you’ve got here is simple down home cooking. Flavor takes the lead throughout with tons of fresh ingredients front and center.

Schlapman adds some interesting twists to the recipes offering up recipe post scripts that offer up simple steps, lower calorie alternatives, and kids tips that she labels with tags like, “Southern Simple,” “Southern Skinny,” and “Southern Mother.”

She had my mouth watering throughout, but she put me over the edge when slipped in the “Southern Simple” tip that here cheese laden Vidalia Onion Dip made a great filling for a grilled cheese sandwich…YUM! fire up the frying pan!

Hacking Warfare = Scary

Empire Rising – Rick Campbell (Macmillan Audiobooks)

Rick Campbell is a retired U.S. Navy commander with over 20 years experience in submarine warfare. He is also one scary SOB! It doesn’t seem that a day goes by that we don’t read or see a story about hackers penetrating some supposedly secure computer network and reeking so sort of havoc or potential privacy breech. Often it is foreign governments that are the funding source for those hackers and their nasty work.

Often times it is the Chinese, hell bent on not so much privacy attacks, but on corporate espionage or the theft of research and development projects. Now imagine that Chinese hackers have not just breeched the computer systems of the U.S. Navy, but they’ve left behind a little gift in the form of a virus that eliminates control over radar and missile systems that leaves U.S. warships sitting ducks for attack.

Well, you don’t have to imagine it, because Rick Campbell has done it for you in his new book, Empire Rising. The scramble is on the control energy resources and when China gets boxed out they decide to put a plan years in the making into play and make the United States pay. When America comes to the aide of Taiwan following a Chinese invasion, the Pacific Fleet is devastated after multiple computer systems are attacked by hacker viruses.

With thousands dead, multiple assets damaged or at the bottom of the Pacific, The U.S. scrambles to find a way back into the fight and turnabout is fair play when the Navy comes up with their own bit of counter cyber attack. Campbell paints a scary storyline and desperation fuels the pulse pounding pace. Empire Rising has a real been there, done that feel that only a guy like Campbell can deliver. Voice actor Jeff Gurner does his usual first class work in deliver the story.

They Sold Their Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll

Black Sabbath – Symptoms of the Universe – Mick Wall (St. Martin’s Press)

British rock writer Mick Wall has penned a shelf full of rock bios including a handful on his current focus Black Sabbath and their erstwhile front man Ozzy Osbourne. Like many books in the genre Black Sabbath – Symptoms of the Universe focuses on the band’s colorful history; all of the ups and more often than not the downs.

Much of the trials and tribulations have centered on Ozzy’s departure from the band, fired by his mates and the seemingly endless revolving door of singers, bassists, drummers and keyboardists that have come and gone. At times it seems like Wall spends pages and pages trying to recount the endless lineup changes; it’s truly a case of you can’t tell the players without a score card.

One of the most striking things about Black Sabbath – Symptoms of the Universe is the staggering egos of not only the individual members of the band, but so many of the folks in the band’s universe like Ozzy’s wife/manager and master manipulator Sharon (Arden) Osbourne. Wall’s own seemingly Titanic ego also plays a featured role throughout the book. While admittedly not a huge Sabbath fan, I think I would have difficulty picking drummer Bill Ward out of a lineup, yet he regularly positions himself as an integral commodity due an exorbitant payday in any of the many failed reunion attempts.

Wall weaves a tale of depravity and desperation. These guys were so wrapped up in being famous that they are indifferent to their own well being and so desperate to cling tightly to fame that they truly sold their souls for rock ‘n’ roll.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Butter Churning Bad Boy

Amish Confidential – “Lebanon” Levi Stoltzfus (Gallery Books)

Who Knew?! Would anyone have ever guessed that black clothes with snaps and brimmed hats or for the ladies long skirts and bonnets would be all the rage. While many focus on glitter, glitz and cleavage, for many the simple, quiet life has become a hot topic. Enter “Lebannon” Levi Stoltzfus of the hit television show Amish Mafia which purports to deliver a look at the dark side of simple Amish life.

Now Stoltzfus, along with pen wielder for hire Ellis Henican, is out with a deeper look not only into his life story, but also the underbelly of Amish life and his take on some of the higher profile cases that made headlines not only in that community, but also around the country like; the Nickel Mines school shootings, and Amish sisters kidnapping.

I live not far from Amish communities and farmsteads and have done business with many members of those communities, Stoltzfus confirms what I have long suspected; that the multi-billion dollar industry that has cropped up around Amish tourism and goods is really a front for cheap goods not even made by the Amish. Hey I still think my kitchen bench is pretty nice and my “Amish-Made” bookshelf is still sturdy enough to hold a pile of books.

If you come to this book seeking stories similar to the TV show you may be a bit disappointed, but there is still plenty of sex, drugs and rumspringa to go around. Stoltzfus makes it clear that the perception is that the Amish lead a simple life, the reality proves to be a whole lot more complex.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Short Takes

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity – Norman Doidge, M.D. (Viking Books)

As the spouse of a stroke survivor I admit to having a bias towards wanting to learn more about the brain and how it functions, it “re-wires” and “heals”. It is astonishing the variety of brain injuries and ailments ranging from stroke to concussion to the range of dementia including Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, autism and ADHD to name but a few; and equally astounding how little we truly know about the brain.

In The Brain’s Way of Healing – Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Dr. Norman Doidge spells out a variety of therapies that have been utilized to treat and repair brain injuries and aid suffering patients to return to either normal or increasing levels of activity. In some cases these treatment programs have worked and in other to limited extents or not at all.

Some medical professionals may disagree with or discount the approaches and efficacy the treatment Doidge writes about, but in many cases, patients did see marked improvement. Certainly these therapies are not one size fits all, cure all, but for frustrated patients and their families they offer a ray of hope.

The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom – David Boaz

I find this book oddly mistitled; with The Libertarian Mind conjuring up a very high-brow publication, which is diametrically the opposite of this eminently readable tome. Even the parenthetical title; A Manifesto for Freedom conjures up an image of a scruffy bearded, former college professor, living off the grid, in a shack by the river and thousands upon thousands of single-spaced typewritten pages.

Boaz, the executive vice president at the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, offers up an interesting overview of the libertarian mindset in a straight forward, easy to digest manner. Boaz explains how the freedom cornerstones of life, liberty and property worked not only historically, but can continue to work today if they are allowed to take root and prosper.

This one should be required reading for anyone in favor of smaller, less intrusive, government or better yet those mind-numbed folks who believe that government has all the answers. There truly is a reason why freedom works every time it’s been tried.

Iran: A Reminder of Who We Are Dealing With

Off The Radar – A Father’s Secret, a Mother’s Heroism, and a Son’s Quest – Cyrus Copeland (Blue Rider Press)

1979. The Shah has been overthrown and flees Iran. In Tehran, Iran. Islamic militants storm the U.S. Embassy and take more than 60 U.S. diplomats and citizens hostage and for 444 days the American people are gripped by the story that spawned what would become ABC News, Nightline.

The story of one Iranian hostage, not among those famously taken at the embassy, slips away from the public scrutiny; as an American, employed by Westinghouse Corporation to help liquidate possessions and homes of their employees who quickly fled the country in the midst of the turmoil. Under the guise of a Christmas vacation that saw the company hiring private jetliners to ferry their employees and families home to U.S. soil, leaving behind households and chaos.

In Off The Radar – A Father’s Secret, a Mother’s Heroism, and a Son’s Quest,  author Cyrus Copeland delivers and amazing tale of his life as a child in Iran and his father being seized; accused of being in the employ of the CIA, and his Mother, a U.S. trained, Iranian lawyer’s legal intervention on her husband’s behalf. I think at some point in our lives we all wonder about our parents and their lives before we came along; some who have parents with interesting careers may raise out right questions.

It is that niggling doubt and lingering questions like; could my Father really have been a spy for the CIA that drove Copeland to delve into and tell the story of his Dad’s incarceration and trial. While the story of the embassy hostages was certainly engrossing, this is a story that clearly needed to be told.

Given the current state of U.S. and Iranian relations and the negotiations of nuclear deals Off The Radar also serves as a useful reminder of who we are dealing with and just how far off base Democrat leaders have been when it comes to Iran. Copeland writes that “just a few months after President Carter pronounced Iran an island of stability in the Middle East, the country descended into the maelstrom.”

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Information Age Thriller

The Stranger – Harlan Coben (Dutton Books)

Harlan Coben is evil. If you ever bought something online that you’re not proud of, or maybe have an online secret that you don’t want to admit or would prefer to keep under cover then the latest from Harlan Coben, The Stranger will send a chill up your spine.

Welcome to the information age thriller ala Coben. Leading a seemingly vanilla suburban life, attorney Adam Price and his family get plunged headlong into life and death tale when a mysterious stranger tips him off to his wife’s bizarre deception; in which she faked a pregnancy with the aid of an online prank website.

What starts out as a group of supposed do-gooders trying to “right wrongs” quickly escalates to blackmail and worse. Coben spins another masterful tale that will keep you guessing right to the end. Like all good mysteries, the story has elements of reality that make the story more believable and given the recent spate of high profile data breaches, identity theft and online privacy intrusions, The Stranger packs a realistic bite.

Coben adds a dose of reality with ultracompetitive suburban sports parents, the unemployment impact of the economic downturn, and banks foreclosing on upside down homes.