Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Journey to the Center of the Mind

Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Working with Traumatic Memory – Peter A. Levine, PhD (North Atlantic Books)

“I have this terrible headache and I’m seeing flashing lights” with that I sat up and reached for my office phone as I spoke with my wife on my cell and she began to slur her words. I had an assistant who had vividly described what she experienced when she had a stroke; so I suspected that’s what was happening to my wife. I quickly dialed 9 1 1 and started on a journey to try and understand what happens when someone suffers a traumatic brain injury.

It’s nearly impossible to pick up a newspaper or visit a website and not be confronted by stories of professional athletes, military personnel or average folks who are confronted by a traumatic injury involving the brain. Yet based on even the most advanced science our hard knowledge of the how the brain works is relatively uncharted territory. The impact of disease, injury, and drugs remains unclear and how to treat these injuries and chemical incursions into the cranium are still by in large guess work.

So it was with personal experience through my wife and a curiosity to learn more about the brain that I gravitated towards Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Working with Traumatic Memory by Peter A. Levine, PhD. While Levine doesn’t directly address the impact of stroke on the brain, he did offer insight into the functioning of memories and the role they can play in the treatment of trauma to the brain.

Certainly not something for the casual reader, Trauma and Memory, covers a wide range of traumatic injuries and their impact on functional memory. It is perfect for clinical professionals and those who want to garner a better, deeper understanding of what they or a loved one may be going through in the wake of brain injury or illness.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Sum of Its Parts

The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting: Techniques for Rendering Sky, Terrain, Trees, and Water – Suzanne Brooker (Watson-Guptill)

The late, great, and very mellow Bob Ross amazed a generation of PBS viewers with his ability to dab, daub and swipe color on canvas and seemingly magically transform that blank slate into a beautiful painting. At the heart of the Ross “magic” was breaking down the overall painting into its most basic elements and in the end it is the sum of those elements that end up in the final painting.

Artist, teacher and author Suzanne Brooker offers up insights into how to break landscapes down to the basics and build things up step by step to the finished project in The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting: Techniques for Rendering Sky, Terrain, Trees, and Water.
Brooker certainly has the skillset to demonstrate the techniques she describes with her own brush, but she delves deeper into demonstrating the  skill by utilizes other artists work as examples. By stripping things down Brooker can help the beginner to develop basic skills and the more advanced painter to refine and hone their skills.

Both beautiful and useful, The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting: Techniques for Rendering Sky, Terrain, Trees, and Water makes for a great choice for painters at all levels of skill.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Life Lessons of the Navy SEALs

Unbreakable – A Navy SEAL’s Way of Life – Thom Shea (Little Brown)

As I delved into Unbreakable – A Navy SEAL’s Way of Life, by retired Navy SEAL Thom Shea I could quite shake the feeling of familiarity that the book brought to mind. There was just something about Shea offering up not only stories of his life in battle, but his desire to tell his story to his children why he chose the path he did and why he fought the battles he did to keep not only his children, but all of us safe.

And then it struck me, Shea had authored a Navy SEAL’s version of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. While Pausch was dying from terminal cancer and wanted to leave behind life guidance for his kids, Shea was a warrior on the frontlines of war, facing not only enemies with total disregard for human life, but also the very real possibility that he might not return.
Shea not only takes us inside those frontline battles in a memoir, but he offers personal insights into his thought process and the things he did to protect the men in his command, but to offer advice to his children and us all how we could apply his training and actions to our life. The result is a very personal story and a great insight into the mind and actions of a warrior and what makes them tick.

The Making of a Navy SEAL - Brandon Webb (Griffin/St. Martin’s)

Retired Navy SEAL Brandon Webb has literally been the man who tells the story of the Navy SEALs. While many other former operators have taken up the pen, Webb has truly told the story of these special men from just about every possible angle; personal, historical, and clearly insider in action and in training some of the deadliest snipers in the history of warfare.

Now, he re-visits his personal story that he first told in The Red Circle, which was part autobiography and part story of his training of SEAL snipers; in The Making of a Navy SEAL, which he adapted for the young adult reader.

Webb writes with economy and delivers a sense of adventure that is sure to appeal to the young reader. His story of overcoming hardship and setting/achieving goals could easily inspire not only the next generation of warriors, but translates well to setting a path to a successful life, without coming off preachy or like a bad self-help book. If you have a young adult in need of direction in your life, I can’t think of a better Christmas gift.

Extreme Ownership – How the U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (St. Martin’s Press)

For me, the goal of any leadership book should be to impart not only practical, but also actionable information that I can put into play today. The question posed by Extreme Ownership – How the U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, a pair of former SEAL commanders is can the battle hardened leadership skills of been there done that warriors, translate to the to the work place?

Anyone who has ever tackled a leadership book (and I have shelves full) will know that it is easy for these books to stray off course and end up in the weeds of minutiae. Not the case here; Willink and Babin set the table for a series of leadership principles by relating a real life (at least their real life) battle field tale, the decision making process they went through in the moment and how you as a leader can apply that to your team/business.

The result is a very impactful approach to leadership and team building. The good news is you don’t have to go through the hell on earth of the Battle of Ramadi to apply these processes, Willink and Babin have done that for you; you gain from their experience, no body armor necessary.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Total Package

Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out – Giada De Laurentiis (Pam Krauss Books)

I have developed a simple, fool proof way to judge a cookbook; it boils down to one simple question, would I actually eat that? The question takes into account a variety of variables:

·       Is it something I can make?

·       Food is a very visual experience, so how does it look; which takes into account the photography and design of the book.

·       Are the recipes clear, understandable and executable?

·       Is the book fun? Cooking (and eating for that matter) what I do for fun to get away from the day to day work grind, so I have to enjoy the experience or why bother doing it.

Happy Cooking: Make Every Meal Count…Without Stressing Out by Food Network celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis really hits high marks on all of those fronts. Giada is one of those folks who consistently churns out cookbooks and recipes on her TV shows that are actual things that I would make and eat.

She truly gets it when it comes to the fun part of cooking; there is a level of authenticity that you can get from the way she cooks and the way she explains the process of making the recipes in the book. I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t mention that it doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely an ultimate women; a gorgeous lady who can cook. In my book, the total package!

Happy Cooking covers a lot of ground, serving up everything from tasty, healthy breakfast ideas, main course meals and even special occasion tips. She also offers up ways to de-stress holiday and special event meals so that anyone can deliver the goods that will get rave reviews.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The cliché “familiarity breeds contempt” has been thrown around for years indicating that with the passage and repetition of time, sooner or later even things that you like will take on an air of being tired, shop worn, threadbare and deserving of scorn. Writers who dabble in the ongoing series run the risk of storylines becoming a bit too familiar or even reaching the point of being so redundant that you swear you’ve read this story before.

The Golem of Paris – Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman – (Putnam)

I have to admit, I tried to read and like the first outing in what apparently will be a series of books from the father and son pairing of Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, The Golem of Hollywood, but it left me a bit flat and more than a little confused. After reading the new installment, The Golem of Paris I find myself pondering dusting off the first to have another go.

This became a more intriguing prospect due to the fact that this is truly a genre busting read. There is a crackling level of suspense that is injected into the storyline and LAPD special Projects Detective, Jacob Lev is every bit as dark and possessed of a whole bag full of issues all his own that you can’t help but be drawn into character.

Don’t feel that you have to start at the beginning, because The Golem of Paris truly does stand on its own and will be a solid change of pace from the very familiar characters of the gentlemen Kellerman.

Depraved Heart – A Scarpetta Novel – Patricia Cornwell (William Morrow)

Depraved Heart is the 23rd installment in Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. While 23 books based on a long running character is certainly an almost unparalleled achievement, only Sue Grafton’s alphabet series comes to mind, this series has started to take on lived in, been there done that feel.

While Scarpetta’s medical examiner solving crimes evolved into some amazing and classic psychological thrillers, recently for me they have become a little too similar, a little too familiar and bordering on redundant.

For a book billed with the line “In the most terrifying 24 hours of her life” the storyline here moves at a ploddingly slow pace. With that billing you’d expect things to move with a little more velocity.

It certainly raises the question, at what point do you put even a successful character to rest and move on in a new direction? Or will diehard fans continue to gravitate towards the tried and true.

One Killer Force – Dalton Fury (St. Martin’s Press)

While from a distinctly different genre than the other two, One Killer Force by former Delta Force commander Dalton Fury, a guy with all the been there done that credibility of a warrior who was among the ranking officers at the battle of Tora Bora; there is one thing that drives me nuts about Fury’s ongoing series featuring Kolt Raynor, the ongoing, inter-service rivalry gags and comments.

Alright already, we get it. The Delta gang thinks the SEA/Ls are a bunch of wet behind the ears swimmers. The snide remarks and “inside” jokes really don’t add anything to the storyline, especially when the plot includes the Joint Chiefs pondering the unthinkable and combining the special forces into one…you guessed it…Killer Force.

It’s easy to see why Raynor earned the nickname “Racer” as the story moves a break neck pace. One Killer Force is the perfect mix of authentic feel action, brazen fly by the seat of your pants and worry about picking up the pieces later, that might drive traditional military discipline types over the edge. But hey, that’s what this great fiction is all about!




Monday, November 9, 2015

The Sixties Comes Alive

On the Road with Janis Joplin – John Byrne Cooke (Berkley Books)

Live at the Fillmore East and West: Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legends – John Glatt (Lyons Press)

Just when you thought that the 60s rock era has been examined from every possible perspective along comes another author who dusts off a different perspective on a familiar story line.

On the Road with Janis Joplin penned by John Byrne Cooke who acted as tour manager for Joplin from 1967 until her untimely passing at the ripe old age of 27. Cooke first crossed paths with Joplin when he was part of the film crew assembled by D A Pennebaker to capture the historic Monterey International Pop music festival and the legendary performances of not only Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, but the landmark Jimi Hendrix set. Six months later, Cooke signed on to manage the group’s tours.

Joplin had moved on from Big Brother to strike out on a solo career by the time Woodstock rolled around and he offers an amazingly intimate portrait of life on the road with one of rock’s most legendary performers. It is from that close up perspective that Cooke offers up the amazing cast of characters, both musicians and music business types that were in Joplin’s orbit at a heady time period in music history.

It is that cross pollination that is the focus of John Glatt’s Live at the Fillmore East and West: Getting Backstage and Personal with Rock’s Greatest Legends. Glatt weaves the tales of legendary music impresario Bill Graham, one of the most bombastic and combative figures in the history of the music business, with the likes of Carlos Santana, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead at the genesis of their careers.

Aside from outsized personalities, Glatt also details the historic Fillmore venues in New York City and San Francisco, which became synonymous with landmark performances. These two halls play a huge, star-making role in so many future hall of fame performer’s careers, that it can’t be understated.

In the end it is those outsized, over the top personalities that Glatt captures so well the propels the entertaining tale. While Graham is either beloved of outright hated, Glatt captures the promoters enterprising genius, and willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. Along the way it amounted to stellar successes, world famous tantrums, and rock bottom lows.  


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Shinning a Light, Before the Lights Go Out

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath – Ted Koppel (Crown Books)

It has been called a warning, a wakeup call, a must read and the scariest story of 2015.  Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, by veteran newsman Ted Koppel is all of those things, plus an education about exactly how hooked we are on the power grid teat and how unprepared we are as a nation at many levels should the plug get pulled.

Think about your house and your life; one minor disruption, say a storm causing the power to go out for even a couple hours or even less, something your internet connection to unexpectedly go offline and how quick we and our families are to overreact. Seemingly minor inconveniences become, cue REM here; the end of the world as we know it.

Koppel delves much deeper in to the not if, but when scenario of a cyberattack or electro-magnetic pulse (EPM) knocking out the power grid. Suddenly we aren’t just in the dark, we’ve lost the ability to communicate, in many instances to cook, to have potable water, to commute, to in the worst cases to be safe in our own homes. How will you react? Your family members, your neighbors as the recovery stretches on to days, or weeks, or months?

Store shelves quickly empty, drinking water is in short supply, sanitation is a pleasant memory. Koppel does an in depth examination of the multiple layers of the problem in both the personal and public sectors; along the way illuminating how woefully unprepared the government, that so many have become dependent on, to take useful action to offer assistance.

Koppel also takes a look at folks who are preparing themselves and their families for this type of disaster and many other form of disaster that could come our way. If you came here hoping that Koppel might offer up some sort of prepper handbook, you will be disappointed; there are plenty of useful books on that topic available if you choose to pursue that route.

Like any good warning shots, Lights Out in the end is only as useful as those who take the wakeup call and actually do something with it. Unfortunately for our sakes I have my doubts about the government/politicians looking beyond their own self-interests and I know that the reality TV and selfie obsessed general public are likely to end up the first victims of any disaster that comes our way.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fruits, Nuts and Seeds Oh My

Everyday Super Food – Jamie Oliver (Ecco/Harper Collins)

Jamie Oliver hit the food world like a bolt of lightning just a few short years ago and he quickly became a worldwide sensation and a massive success with his popular cooking shows and his bestselling cookbooks.

Success and acclaim gave Oliver the high profile platform he thought he needed to launch the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and begin to campaign against obesity and for healthier eating habits. In the process he became the British equivalent to Michelle Obama, evangelizing healthy eating. The impact was probably on par with the first lady; insert the sound of crickets chirping here.

I’ll at least give Oliver credit to taking his own advice to heart as part of what he describes as a personal journey to explore his relationship with food, which resulted in his latest book, Everyday Super Food. Oliver’s stated goal was to explore recipes for a healthier, happier you.

Having started out cooking at a very early age, I think of myself as an adventurous eater and since I do the vast majority of my families cooking, I have dragged the gang along on being willing test subjects. While I tend to dabble in cookbooks, I have been known to stray from the exact recipes and varying ingredients along the way. I have also become a very visually oriented eater/cook; so my starting point is often “does this look like something I would eat?”

Based on that, I had to dig deep into Everyday Super Food before I found something I found visually appealing enough to try. Much of the book leans heavily on nuts, seeds, fruits and grains, which is fine, but often the results have a rustic, rough look. It may be my heartfelt status as a protein guy and not a bunny rabbit. Many of these recipes take on the visual look of a deconstructed casserole, with ingredients mixed and matched in a interesting pile on the plate.