Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hints, Lies and Allegations

Unlikeable – The Problem With Hillary – Edward Klein (Regnery Publishing)

Bestselling investigative journalist Edward Klein has pulled together another collection of stories about Hillary and Bill Clinton, Unlikeable – The Problem With Hillary, that while focused on Mrs. Clinton, really raise the same question about this interchangeable duo. That question is best summed up in a quote from NBC News correspondent Leslie McFadden’s interview with Bill Clinton where he insisted, “All I’m saying is the idea that there’s one set of rules for us and another set for everybody else is true”

While even Klein contends that Bill was off his game and mis-spoke, I contend that he actually spoke the truth and I have to ask why that is? Klein while offering up numerous examples of hints at what goes on behind the scenes with the Clinton’s; the outright lies the Clinton’s continue to get a pass on and the clear allegations at wrong doings by the Clinton’s that need to be investigated and would preclude practically anybody else from public life if not take away their freedom; as it stands today Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democrat nomination for the Presidency of the United States.

I’m not sure even someone as deft as Klein at tracking down answers can explain why the American people continue to give the Clinton’s a free pass. Klein details that while Hillary continues to campaign as a women of the people, fighting for the little guy, she and her family live the exact opposite. The Clinton’s are a shining example of the so-called 1%, with all the mansions, penthouses, private jets and cash that goes along with it. Accept, as Klein spells out, the questionable way they got to that lofty status.

While Klein certainly serves the information up in easily digestible chunks, that even a liberal should be able to understand, Unlikeable is really just a digest of what of what so many other books, including many of his own, has already served up. Here’s hoping that Klein’s contention of deep hated for the Clinton’s by the current resident of the White House leads to an indictment or ten for the Clinton’s.

Friday, October 30, 2015

6 Million Doodlers Can’t Be Wrong

Doodletopia: Cartoons: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Fun Cartoon Creations - Christopher Hart (Watson Guptill)

Christopher Hart has sold over 6 million copies of his books on cartooning and doodling. 6 Million! If that doesn’t make him the reigning master of cartooning instruction I don’t know what would.

It’s easy to see what Hart is so popular with the doodling set after a quick flip through the pages of his latest effort, Doodletopia: Cartoons: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Fun Cartoon Creations. Hart has an easy to follow teaching style that work for many levels of experience with drawing; whether you’re just starting out or have already developed some skills, Doodletopia will offer great guidance, but also serve up some direction on refining already existing skills.

Doodletopia offers a hands on, (or maybe pencil on is a better way to put it) experience as Hart offers a series of what I can only describe as half drawings, that allow you to follow his guidance while completing the other half of a drawing. This gives an easy to follow method for using similar techniques and lines based on what he starts you off with. For beginers this a great way to develop a steady hand and some basic skills.

While so much of cartooning and animation has moved over to the digital realm, Doodletopia will offer you the ability to develop some great basic skills that you can grow and expand over time.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Skills for the Average Joe

100 Deadly Skills – The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation – Clint Emerson (Touchstone Books)

Okay…let’s get something straight right from the start; no you will not come away from reading this book with the skillset of a Navy SEAL. No the 100 situational skills that retired Navy SEAL Clint Emerson lays out in the book, 100 Deadly Skills, are not all deadly. Can you learn some pretty cool things that will help you if you encounter some difficult or dangerous situations; heck yeah!

As you work your way through these 100 skills a pattern starts to emerge; Emerson seems more focused on getting to think, rather than get physical. Many of these skills train you to utilize common items that you might find around the house to create tools or weapons that you can use for self defense, to elude dangerous situations or protect your family.

Will you put to use newly acquired skills to steal a car? Probably not, but if you happen to lock yourself out of the car or your house or need to disconnect an electric garage door opener so you can enter the garage during a power outage; Emerson gives you an introduction to the skills you need.

Given the seemingly regular news of active shooter situations, Emerson offers up some skills and insights into how to not only survive one of those scenarios, but also how to safely take to the offensive and take down the shooter. This is a real world skill for a real world situation.

While some wannabe super secret agents who live on a steady diet of Bond films and action thrillers may find 100 Deadly Skills “too basic” I found the skills to be useful and Emerson delivers them in an entertaining fashion.



Sunday, October 18, 2015

Rustic Cooking Classic

This is Camino – Russell Moore, Allison Hopelain, and Chris Colin

In the evolution of cooking we have reached a point where disruptive thought is to take us back in time, to the roots of scratch cooking. We have reached the point where the simple process of thinking about how we use ingredients has somehow become revolutionary.

Enter Camino, a Northern California favorite; a restaurant know for it’s rustic approach to cooking and it’s big flavors. Russell Moore, Allison Hopelain, and Chris Colin, serve up This is Camino that walks you through not only a recipe, but extols the virtues of thinking about how we use ingredients and food.

It used to be that our grandmothers spent has much time canning and preparing ingredients for future use as they did actually making the family meal; this was real, pre-Wonderbread stuff and the trio from Camino point to the economic collapse of 2008 for inspiring them to spend time and effort to develop a back to basic approach to cooking.

There’s a bit of self-admitted hippie in these folks, but also a nothing goes to waste bit of old school cooking. They detail everything from butchering to building that pantry chalk full of great things for future reference. Add to the mix that they cook everything in a giant wood fired hearth and you can almost taste the huge flavors jumping off the pages.

While you may not be blessed with a giant, open hearth cooking surface, they do offer up what I’ll call campfire alternatives that you can use at home, even offering up details on building a good fire and how it’s the hot coals where the magic happens. They offer up a true soup to nuts gamut covering every possible main dish meat right on through to cocktails and dessert.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Fall Fiction Finds

Duplicity – A Novel – Newt Gingrich with Pete Earley (Center Street)

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, even if you disagree with his politics, there is no denying that former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich is a smart guy. The consistent bestseller has done it again delivering an intelligent thriller in, Duplicity.

Long time Washington Post reporter Pete Earley lends a hand and may have infused a bit of the ripped from today’s headline quality to the outing. Duplicity is an interesting bit of fact-ion as Gingrich laces not only real world actions and players into the story, but also takes the Koran and Hadith ( a collection of narratives that supposedly quote the Prophet Muhammed verbatim) at face value.

Based on the classic invisible, controlling, hand story model, Duplicity has a chilling, worst fears realized quality that will have you burning through pages.

Patriot – An Alex Hawke Novel - Ted Bell (William Morrow)

Ted Bell serves up the ninth installment in the Alex Hawke series; which finds Hawke at odds with some guys who want to do him harm…in fact they want him dead. While so many thriller writers have moved on from the Cold War, in Patriot Bell heats things up with some bad guys courtesy of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

While the cognoscenti may scoff at the thought of Russia being one of our most difficult threats (see the reaction to Mitt Romney’s Presidential debate comment to that effect) Bell delivers a convincing fictional case that Putin would dearly love to elevate Russian back to superpower status.

Spies are dying all over the world. Hawke is on the hunt trying to tie these seemingly disparate events together with a common thread. If you are one of those folks who feel the need to latch on with a death grip to reality, the you may find this tale wholly unbelievable. For those that are so tightly bound to reality and just want to be entertained, then release the grip and enjoy the ride.

Mycroft Holmes – Kareem Abdul Jabbar with Anna Waterhouse (Titan Books)

Yes it is that Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Some may forget that the NBA Hall of Famer, multi-time MVP and Champion actually earned his degree in English and history at UCLA; perhaps it was the guidance of legendary coach John Wooden.

Jabbar is a bestselling author of numerous non-fiction books and a lifelong aficionado of Sherlock Holmes, so it’s not such a stretch that he would take a shot at telling the untold tale of Sherlock Holmes older brother Mycroft, in his fiction debut Mycroft Holmes.

Jabbar has a clear grasp on not only the period in history that book is set, but also in the style storytelling and setting of the day in which it takes place. While Mycroft played a role in many of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes tales, Jabbar adds much more meat to the more bare bones, government official in the Doyle stories.

While it is certainly a daunting task to dip into the realm of one of the most admired fictional characters of all time, Jabbar does an admirable job of spinning an entertaining tale that even Sherlockian purists will find entertaining.

Front Runner – A Dick Francis Novel – Felix Francis (G P Putnam & Sons)

Speaking of daunting tasks…imagine the challenge of taking the reins of one of the most successful mystery/thriller writer’s catalogs and continuing those series. Now add to by ratcheting it up a notch and make that masterful writer your father. That is the task faced by bestselling author Felix Francis who picked up where his father Dick Francis, the author of more than 40 books left off.

The one benefit that Felix had was the opportunity to work side by side with his legendary father, co-authoring several books before his father passed. While they are big shoes, Felix continues to do an admirable job of carrying on the family name.

While Dick Francis developed a very lean approach and spare writing style Felix does a nice job of weaving a nice level of detail into what have become a dependably entertaining series of books. He does a nice job of telling Jeff Hinkley’s story and mixing in some familiar Francis faces along the way.

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander Novel – David Lagercrantz (Knopf)

A few years back, Steig Larsson burst onto or depending on who you believe created the thriving Swedish fiction scene and rocketed to worldwide acclaim first with the book The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and a couple of bestselling follow ups. The wave in his wake included Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Ake Edwardson and a handful of others who spun fantastic, intriguing tales.

The Lisabeth Salander trilogy went on to sell a reported 80 million copies worldwide and almost as quickly as he became successful, Larsson died of a heart attack at the age of 50, with a legion of fans hungry for more of adrenaline fueled tales. Into the proverbial breach stepped David Lagencrantz, to take the mantle and carry on the saga.

While many authors have been tasked with continuing storylines and characters by the likes of Robert Ludlum, Robert B. Parker, Clive Cussler, Vince Flynn and many others; those prolific writers had a much larger catalog than three books for a writer to better know the characters and style, which can be an advantage or possibly a disadvantage.
Lagencrantz does a spectacular job of locking into the tone, style and steady pacing of the storyline for The Girl in the Spider’s Web, ala Larsson’s handy work in the trilogy. Like Larsson, Lagencrantz does not grip you by the throat right from the first page, but builds the foundation of the characters and the story until you can’t stop turning pages. He perfectly meshes the new players in the story to the usual suspects from the prior books and just enough twisty turns to keep you guessing.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Spiritualism vs. Houdini

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jahar (Crown Books)

What is at the root of our fascination with Harry Houdini? We have had a number of biopics; the original Tony Curtis classic, a handful of made of TV versions featuring Wil Wheaton (?), Paul Michael Glasser (of Starsky and Hutch fame) Artie Johnson (Laugh In!) and more recently Adrien Brody in a well done mini-series. Add to the mix a shelf full of biographies and we still can’t get enough of the mysterious magician and escape artist.

Enter David Jahar and his debut outing, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, which is a fascinating account of Houdini’s encounters with the beautiful wife of a high profile Boston surgeon who had become the focus of what would become a national debate of spiritualism.

While the Brody mini-series touched on this story, Jahar delves deeply into not only the history of the story, but also into the topic of spiritualism in the setting of the era post-World War I. He does a spectacular job of drawing the characters, the settings and the scenes with an amazing clarity and focus that will draw you into the story.

Jahar captures the legend of Houdini and propels it forward by building enough of the history of Houdini for context, but without losing site of the story he sets out to tell. The cast of folks he touches on along the way including the known, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the unknown alike, to add to the context of the era.

Missing the Point…Personal Responsibility

Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America's Prison Crisis – Jeff Smith (St. Martin’s Press)

After reading former Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith’s account of his time behind bars, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America's Prison Crisis, I can only conclude one of two things; that most of the people who are incarcerated in the United States did absolutely nothing wrong or that Smith has never heard of personal responsibility.

I choose to conclude that Smith, a self-confessed (in the book; liar and thief) must have missed school the day they taught personal responsibility. Smith is typical of so many iron-clad liberals who believe that someone or something else is at fault for people’s individual problems; society has held those behind bars down, the “prison industrial complex” perpetuates the recidivism of those behind bars and no one is responsible for the bad choices they have made.
Smith appears to think that he is really only guilty of getting caught breaking federal election laws and lying about it. In the book Smith admits that he “borrowed” copy-righted material from Kaplan Test Prep, a former employer of his, in an effort to assist talented athletes who struggled to make the academic qualifications to earn a college scholarship. Smith reasons that he only charged $50 to the jocks while Kaplan wanted $1000 and justifies it by claiming “Kaplan was doing just fine” and “Kaplan wasn’t losing business, no one was getting hurt.” In other words, the ends, justifies the means.    

Smith can’t even bring himself to admit that he did anything wrong. Late in the book he recounts a visit from his parents and when his mother confronts him about being reckless he concludes “it definitely wasn’t the time to say so, ‘Look, Mom, I didn’t actually do anything wrong…

So based upon his extensive experience with the United States justice system, one year and one day behind bars, what is Smith’s plan to reform that system? Smith reasons that taxpayers could save billions of dollars annually if instead of incarcerating non-violent offenders we simply tracked them via electronic monitoring. Smith neglects to detail exactly what the costs would be for the monitoring and who would do that monitoring. In most current instances the offender is charged the cost of the monitoring; is that what he proposes for the criminals he expresses such deep concern for now? He worries about offenders who get jailed for not meeting their parental responsibilities of paying to support their children, and now he wants to add the cost of ankle bracelet monitoring?

Perhaps a better way to break the cycle of generational imprisonment would be to prevent liberals from perpetuating failed social programs that once purported to give a hand up and have now become a business. Perhaps by placing a time limit on these social programs folks will be motivated to earn a living and take care of themselves and their families. It seems that welfare reform programs pushed by Republicans were working and the poverty pimps on the left felt they were more compassionate by foisting perpetual “benefits” and Obama phones on the poor. Is it any wonder that folks lack the motivation to do the right thing like get an education and earn a living?

While Smith tries to describe how awful life in prison was for him, perhaps if it was made to be the worst possible experience you could imagine, then people would be motivated to never ever wanting to go back. Just a thought.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The NSA on Steroids

Zeroes: A Novel – Chuck Wendig (Harper Voyager)

Nearly fifty years ago counter culture guru and LSD advocate Timothy Leary popularized the phrase “turn on, tune in and drop out.” In the current era of hyper-connectivity that phrase might need some altering and updating to something like “turn on, plug in and lock in.” It is our seemingly shear dependence on our devices; smart phones, tablets, laptop and now even watches to run our daily lives that helps to ratchet up the fear factor in author Chuck Wendig’s latest outing Zeroes: A Novel.

This one takes a dash on Phillip K. Dick, (think Minority Report) shakes it vigorously with some William Gibson and add a pinch of Terminator and you on your well to a scary, high tech thrill ride. Imagine the National Security Agency (NSA) spying scandal juiced on steroids.

A group of seemingly disparate hackers are snatched off the streets, are coerced with threats of jail time into going to work for the government on a super secret project, the details of which they know nothing about. Wendig doles out the bits and pieces of the storyline like a master chef reveals a prized recipe. Slowly but surely the group slaps the puzzle pieces in place and that’s when all hell breaks loose and it’s a battle save not only themselves, but also the rest of the country.

This would boil down to entertaining sci-fi if it were not for the simple fact that given the rallying cry of our overgrown government doing so much in the name of “protecting” us by any means possible, that it cuts a little too close to reality. It is that ring of the truth that makes this one a winner.