Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer Reads Make Me Feels Fine…Part 2

Black Widow – Daniel Silva (Harper)

As a writer, I hate Daniel Silva. As a reader, I think Daniel Silva is among one of the masters. This is not a coincidence; I am of the belief that Daniel Silva is one of those true skillful wordsmiths who make the art of storytelling look easy as he weaves familiar characters and locales into a storyline that appears to be ripped from the headlines.

Just knowing the timeline for publishing a book, I know that is not case; that somehow Silva has divined from the world the potential for events to happen that later materialized. At work on the manuscript for his latest book, Black Widow when events occurred in France, he pondered scrapping the work because it cut too close to reality. It is that rare skill of taking raw elements of the world around them and honing them into a story that separates the artisans from the pretenders.

Gabriel Allon, Silva’s master art restorer, assassin and spy is back to battle the forces of ISIS, armed with his cadre of usual suspects and a mysterious newcomer he injects into the fray. Thought provoking and with just the right amount of tension to keep things moving along at a powerful clip, Black Widow will keep you guessing until the end. Great read.

Guilty Minds – Joseph Finder – (Dutton)

The third installment in the Nick Heller series, Guilty Minds, finds Heller, the private spy for hire, tasked with trying to unravel an assault on the reputation of the chief justice of the Supreme Court by a low life website dubbed The Scandal Sheet. Heller has just 48 hours before the story goes live and the clock is ticking.

Utilizing cunning and high tech skills, Heller makes quick work of debunking the story, toppling the website and the reporter. But was it all too quick? With shady characters around every corner and mysterious, high stakes powerbrokers around every corner and the high class call girl at the center of the story ending up dead, Heller knows their more to the story than he’s uncovered so far.
As always, Finder shows a word magician’s deft, sleight of hand to keep your focus off the prize. Add to that the fact that nothing in Washington, DC is ever what is really seems and you’ve got the makings of a tasty thrill ride.

Panacea – F Paul Wilson (Tor Books)

In his first outing since wrapping the Repairman Jack series with 2014’s Fear City veteran novelist F Paul Wilson brews up Panacea, which is a fine cocktail of one part medical thriller, mixed with three parts shadowy characters, a dash of good old fashioned murder and a shaker of religious fanaticism, just to keep things interesting.

Is there an ultimate cure for what ails you? Does this panacea exist? A terminally ill hires medical examiner Laura fanning to investigate and track down the miracle cure. The high stakes race is on, but Fanning is not just playing beat the clock, she finds herself thrusts into a life and death struggle with two secret societies that are battling for control of this secret.

Wilson serves up his classic mix of high octane thrills, fully developed, likable characters and a break neck pacing that will keep you spinning. After churning out a shelf full of great books, Wilson proves he’s still got it.    

Unrealized Potential

Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, A Trial and the Fight Over Controlling Nature - Jordan Fisher Smith (Crown)

“In 1972, a young man named Harry Walker left his home on a farm in Alabama to find himself. Nineteen days later, he was killed by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park.” That is the back drop for the story of Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, A Trial and the Fight Over Controlling Nature by author and former park ranger Jordan Fisher Smith.

Therein lies the problem…the story about Walker’s death and the subsequent trial/lawsuit are just that; a potentially great story, not necessarily a great book. Smith tries mightily to inject the story about Walker’s demise and the deaths and injuries of others in the seemingly ages old argument about the attempt to control/manage wild life in America’s National Parks.

It is the effort to strike a balance between nature and wild life and the desire to create an atmosphere that is tourism friendly and attracts visitors to the parks that is at the crux of the argument. It is an almost silly notion to think that you can exert any level of true control over nature and wildlife. Visitors want to see and have access to things like bears, at the same time they don’t want to have to deal with the danger that is inherent in the relationship between man and beast.

Smith ends up with a multi-faceted book that is more than a little disjointed. While each of the books story tracks; Walker’s grizzly death, the trail, the infighting between biologists and the best approach for controlling nature, all make for interesting stories. The problem here is trying to mold these stories in to a coherent book, which unfortunately does not happen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Great Liberal Deception

The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy – Zachary Roth – (Crown Books)

Just off the top of my head, I was able to compile the following list of things that in order to do, you would need to present some form of legal, photo identification:

Buy alcohol

Buy cigarettes

Apply for welfare

Apply for food stamps

Cash a check

Purchase a firearm

Open a bank account

Rent an apartment

Be admitted to a hospital

Visit a Physician’s office

Get a marriage license

Get on an airplane

Adopt a pet

Purchase a home

Purchase a car

Obtain a passport

Write a check

Make a credit card purchase…if you don’t sign the back of the card

Purchase insurance for anything

Get a job

Rent a Post Office Box

Pick up a package at the post office

Get a hunting license

Get a fishing license

Get a business license

Rent a hotel room

Rent a car

Rent furniture

Rent tools/equipment

Receive Social Security

Buy a cell phone/service

Buy some over the counter cold/allergy medicines

Go into a casino

Go to college

Get electric service

Get natural gas service

Get cable TV service

Pick up a prescription at a pharmacy

I am certain that I missed many other examples, but it is a pretty complete list. In his book, The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy, author Zachary Roth would have you believe that mean spirited Conservatives want to prevent poor, disenfranchised groups from voting because they have no legal, photo ID. My response is where is Mr. Roth’s outrage over the fact that these poor, disenfranchised folks are forced to ID up if they want to do any of the things I have listed above?

The answer is quite simple; Roth and all of the other Liberals feigned outrage is utter and complete bullshit! There is NO legitimate reason why anyone who wants to vote cannot present some form of valid, legal, government issued identification.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Clinton Conspiracy – TWA 800

TWA 800: The Crash, the Cover-Up, and the Conspiracy – Jack Cashill (Regnery Publishing)

It’s hard to believe that this week will mark the 20th anniversary of the downing of TWA Flight 800. I remember it vividly; returning home from some family event or other and flipping on the television to catch the news and being confronted by the images of burning wreckage of a passenger jet that had crashed into the Atlantic soon after takeoff. Dialing in CNN, (Fox News had launched just a few months prior and MSNBC was literally only 2 days into its 24 hours news schedule, so CNN was the go to choice for news) I was confronted with a pretty boy anchor absurdly asking a member of one of the search and rescue agencies on the scene if darkness was hindering the search and if in the morning, daylight would make things easier?!

From that point forward I was deeply intrigued by the story; the recovery of the shattered pieces of the plane, the nascent investigation and what quickly became clear to me, the larger forces that were at play when it came to getting at the truth of what happened to TWA 800. It didn’t take long for folks with either a level of curiosity or a level of expertise to start to raise questions about the direction of the investigation and the conclusion that fumes in a center fuel tank caused the plane to explode.

Among the list of folks that included James Sanders and Lt. Col. William Donaldson, Ret., was writer, researcher and later filmmaker Jack Cashill. I had the opportunity to interview Cashill a couple of times and he seemed to be coming at this from a similar perspective to mine; the way the government was handling this and telling the story, just did not add up.

Cashill is one of the most reasoned voices when it comes to spelling out what some have dubbed the conspiracy theory of TWA 800 and 20 years on he has collected thousands of documents, interviewed countless eye witnesses, and compiled a thorough timeline of the events following the crash in the form of his new book, TWA 800: The Crash, the Cover-Up, and the Conspiracy.

Cashill clearly details example, after example, after example, of how countless witnesses clearly spelled out what they saw that fateful night, only to be ignored, misrepresented, wrongfully discredited and in a number of cases outright lied about by the people who were tasked to investigate the event. Instead of allowing the folks with the expertise to handle the investigation, the Clinton administration, choose to turn the investigation over to the FBI and even more oddly the CIA. Cashill cites chapter and verse where the lack of knowledge of airline operations and technology resulted in facts being missed, questions being left unasked/answered, and the overall bungling of witness interviews.

He also dismantles the ridiculous animation the CIA tried to pawn off as to what “really happened” to TWA 800. Cashill ties together so much information that points to and raises questions about so many moving parts of this story that clearly point to a desperate Clinton White House flailing to cover up a terrorist attack or military exercise gone bad in an attempt to retain the Presidency.

Cashill writes in great detail about the parade of usual suspects that a part and parcel of so many Clinton scandals. He raises questions about fingerprints of folks like Clinton Lawyer Jamie Gorelick, who erected a so-called “Chinese Wall” between security agencies that would come back to bite us on the ass in the events leading up to 9-11. Cashill properly raise the question how Gorelick later ended up on the 9-11 Commission panel rather than being questioned by it and how with NO level of experience she was handed the plum job (pay off) by Clinton, of running Fannie Mae with a multi-million dollar salary.

Cashill also raises questions about Clinton National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, who was intimately involved in the TWA 800 debacle and who later got in legal hot water for “accidently’ stuffing classified documents into his pants at the national archives, while prepping for the 9-11 Commission. Was he attempting to remove documents that referenced plots to use airplanes to commit terrorist attacks? We will never know, since Berger illegally destroyed classified materials.

While Cashill draws no conclusions in the course of TWA 800, he simply stings together mountains of evidence that paint a wildly different picture of what happened on July 17, 1996 than what the government would have you believe.

All Those Zeros

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley – Antonio Garcia Martinez (Harper)

Self-admission up front- I am not a tech-weasel. I have never been an early adopter, my personal cell-phone would be considered and antique by most, I carry a Blackberry for work, and I have studiously avoided all things Facebook since 2012. I have been mildly intrigued by the so-called tech bubble and all of the acquisitions and chitter-chatter about multi-million or billion dollar deals that seem to pop up in Silicon Valley on a daily basis almost in spite of a lack of any real products being produced.

That being said, I was interested in getting an insider’s low down on the world of startups and deal making from somebody who had been there and done that. It is promised in the form of Antonio Garcia Martinez’s book, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Billed as doing to the tech world what Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker, did for Wall Street and investment banks, in Chaos Monkeys, Martinez walks the reader through getting started in Silicon Valley and then busting out with a couple of partners to start hacking on their own project, the dash for cash and working towards the big payoff in the form of a buyout deal featuring lots of zeros.
Martinez comes off like a smarmy, self-important, dickhead who likes to point fingers at other smarmy, self-important, dickheads. He drops names like the Kardashian sisters drop their clothes; the problem is the folks outside the insular world of Silicon Valley don’t know who these people are much less care. Aside from high profile tech-weasels like Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, most people could pick these guys out of a lineup.

If you wade carefully through all of the name dropping and unwarranted self-importance, Martinez does drop a few crumbs of insight into the startup process. Most interesting among the crumbs is the fact that while talk of big dollar deals abounds the reality is those big bucks come with lots of strings attached, employment contracts and vesting before the big payoff comes down. Skip any of those little steps and all those zeros end up in the ether.

In end, Martinez may not reveal a whole lot of the dirt you may have been hoping for on guys like Zuckerberg other than to possibly confirm your suspicions of the Facebook founder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comprehensive Cobain

Cobain on Cobain – Interviews and Encounters – Edited by Nick Soulsby (Chicago Review Press)

There are quite literally dozens and dozens of books, e-books, photo books and more that have been penned about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. Most of them saw the light of day after Cobain’s untimely passing at the age of 27 and at the seeming height of his popularity. With all of those tomes piled up on bookshelves, one has to wonder; do we need another Cobain book?

The simple and short answer is probably not; the longer answer is if it is the lovingly compiled and utterly exhaustive work entitled, Cobain on Cobain – Interviews and Encounters, edited by FOB (friend of band) and confidant Nick Soulsby then the answer is yes.

Soulsby does a masterful job with curating a dynamic and diverse range of interviews that allows Cobain to tell the band’s story in his own words. There is a level of intimacy that this brings to the story that Soulsby weaves together. By removing the speculative nature of so much post-demise music journalism about Cobain, it leaves in place a raw, emotional, and seemingly legitimate take on things Nirvana.

The fact that Soulsby made such of concerted, complete-ist, run at this; gather a wide range of print, broadcast and even foreign language interviews, elevates this to a new level of being in-depth.  While admittedly not a huge Nirvana fan, I did find this book’s comprehensive nature to be all the more intriguing even to the casual fan.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Life of the Party...Not So Much

Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs – Dave Holmes (Crown Archetype)

I read this book and I am left wondering…what exactly is it? It says right there in the title, “A Memoir in 21 Songs.” But is it a memoir? Is it a coming of age tale? Is it a guide book for personal discovery? Is it a pop culture book or a music book? I gotta be honest, I am not quite sure.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to Dave Holmes, Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs, it’s a little bit of all of those things, but none of them is really well done. Holmes serves it all up with an easy going style, the same easy going style that he used when he was a MTV VJ; he writes like he speaks, which is generally a pretty good rule of thumb.

The problem, even for a music fan like me, is it just doesn’t hold my attention. Holmes seems fixated on his gay-ness even from its earliest indications and he strings that thread through the whole book. Okay, you’re gay, we get it, now talk about the music stuff.

Holmes now works as a writer, comedian and TV performer and is generally a pretty funny guy and while the book shows flashes of that humor, it just wasn’t enough to keep me locked in the story.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Romantic Notion of Hemingway

Everybody Behaves Badly – The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises – Lesley M. M. Blume (Houghton Miflin Harcourt)

To me, there has always been a sort of romantic notion about writer Ernest Hemingway and his mater works. It seems to have been spawned by his larger than life approach to life; throwing himself headlong into dangerous liaisons with war, women, alcohol and pretty much life itself. All the while he scribbled and banged out page after page of things we as readers finally got around to not getting enough of.

In Everybody Behaves Badly – The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises, journalist, author and historian Lesley M. M. Blume, attempts to lift the shroud of not so much mystery, but more of the persona that surrounds Hemingway, by delving deep into the sights, sounds, settings and characters that he interacted with at the time of his authoring of that legendary book.

Blume reveals the layers of the tempest that swirled around Hemingway and his struggles to find the voice he would use throughout the book. She paints a clear picture of how those around him at the time ended up being part and parcel of the captivating tale he would eventually weave. While I admit to having never been caught up in the whirlwind of Hemingway’s saga, Blume manages to cut close to the bone and deliver a story that has inspired me to seek out Hemingway’s books for another read.

Blume not only constructs an intriguing tale of Hemingway, she managed to paint a vivid picture of the era and the lifestyle of the denizens that where active participants in the fray. In the process she delivers what is among my favorite non-fiction reads thus far this year.

The Art of Empty

The Art of Tough –Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life – Barbara Boxer (Hachette Books)

California Democrat Senator Barbara Boxer serves up a memoir of her 40 years in government. It is a perfect slice of life from the women who delivered such memorable lines as:

“Those who survived the San Francisco earthquake said ‘thank God, I’m still alive.’ But, of course those who died, their lives will never be the same again.”

Then apparently missing the fact that she is a carbon life form…Boxer stated; “Carbon could cost us the planet…the least we could do is put a little charge on it so people move to clean energy.”

Boxer, a tireless partisan liberal doles out a heaping helping of self-aggrandizement in The Art of Tough –Fearlessly Facing Politics and Life. Boxer paints a portrait of someone who had a tough childhood and grew to be an advocate for the little guy…interesting for someone who finds herself among the richest half of the members of Congress.

For someone who will retire from Congress after 40 years, Boxer’s list of actual accomplishments reads like something typical of most long running democrats; she has managed to start committees and task forces to look at and talk about issues, but has really managed to actually do much to actually address the issues. Which at the end of the day is really what democrats are good at; talking about things but never really fixing anything.