Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Kick Doodling Up a Notch

Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies – Christopher Hart (Watson-Guptill)

Whether you are business meeting doodler that fills notebook pages with random art and designs or casual spare time doodler or even a serious doodler looking to kick things up a notch, Christopher Hart is probably the go to guy if you want to take your doodles to the next level.

Hart has sold more than six million copies of his doodle art instruction books that give you the basics you need to evolve your personal art and really make it stand out.

Hart’s latest effort is Doodletopia Fairies: Draw, Design, and Color Your Own Super-Magical and Beautiful Fairies. Hart spells out the basics for developing your fairies from the ground up so to speak. Even if you’re a beginner or even a kid, he makes things easy to understand and will have you churning out nifty drawings in no time.

As your skills get better with practice, Hart will help you grow and develop from those basic into much more complex and detailed art and designs. Keep in mind, you won’t become a budding Leonardo DiVinci; we are talking cartoons and doodles here! This would make a great gift for you budding artist or even those folks who caught the adult coloring bug, but want to try their hand a something a little different.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Adult Arts and Crafts

I Modify Ikea® - Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers – (Ulysses Press)

What do you think of when you hear the word Ikea®?

Well if you’re like me then a couple of things come to mind; tasty meatballs and practical, simply made but sturdy furniture. So when I saw the title of this book, I Modify Ikea® by Elyse Majors and Charlotte Rivers, I envisioned nifty upgrades to useful furniture. Think the episode of Big Bang Theory where the nerds discuss plans to upgrade Penny’s entertainment center with fans and aircraft grade aluminum.

What I got, was a little more basic than that and what amounts to adult arts and crafts. Majors and Rivers dots page after page with easy to create pieces, both functional and arty alike, that would make great additions to your living space or even nice gifts with the holidays right around the corner. In fact if you have a handy crafter on your list, I Modify Ikea®, would make a great gift in and of itself.

The reality is, Majors and Rivers makes these DIY projects pretty simple and straightforward for those of us who are craft challenged. Each project comes with not only a list of what you’ll need to make these creations, but it offers up step by step illustrations that walk you through each project from beginning to end.

Since I don’t live anywhere near an Ikea outpost, while traveling for the holidays my plans include a sidetrack trip to pick up the stuff I’ll need to complete a book ledge, which covers both the practical, mount the book ledge within in reach of my work space, and the decorative; a neat way to display books I am using for research, without having them stacked on the floor next to my desk.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Insights of a Spy

The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life – John le Carre – (Viking)

Over the course of his career British spy novelist John le Carre has masterfully crafted some of fictions most memorable stories and characters. Right from the start, with The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, threaded his stories with insights acquired first hand from his time serving with British Intelligence during the cold war.

While many have speculated about the authenticity of le Carre’s characters being modeled after those he crossed paths with in his real life escapades, he has never confirmed nor denied that thought process, choosing to never really delve deeply into his experience. That is until now; with the release of his latest outing, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life, the elder statesman of spy fiction has lifted up the tent side and allowed us all to see snapshots of his time in her Majesties Secret Service.

le Carre is a true craftsman, has he skillfully presents vignettes, some as brief as a couple of pages, others more expansive, detailing his interactions with not only his colleagues in the service, but the diplomats, despots and deviants he crossed paths with. His recounting include where were you when it happened tales of historical events of the time, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the so-called Profumo affair.

le Carre’s life journey has been dotted with real life versions of the characters who are a hallmark of his fiction. His memories strike an interesting balance of clarity and at times self-admitted fog about the people, places and events that were part of the story. It is truly a remarkable gathering of stories about a remarkable man and a remarkable life and proves to be high entertainment for fans and non-fans alike.


How Did We Ever Survive

Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion – Danielle Walker – (Ten Speed Press)

How did we ever make it this far? How did our parents and grandparents survive and thrive into their 80s and 90s without the need to have paleo, grain-free, fill-in-the-blank-free diets? I feel like I should be the proud wearer of a I Survived Kindergarten T-shirt based on the number of my classmates that gobbled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis.

Yes, I realize that people are diagnosed with a variety of health and diet-based issues, but I think we have reached the point of silliness when we need a cookbook featuring a recipe for an AB&J Sandwich…that means almond butter and jelly. Enter author Danielle Walker who scored bestsellers with her against all grain approach to diets and recipes.

Walker’s latest entry is Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion, in which she posits a variety of recipes, notably for holiday based celebrations that are free, free, set them free of grains, dairy and would make a caveman happy. Gee wasn’t the average life expectancy of a caveman about twenty-something? Maybe it was a dinosaur thing.

The recipes in the book look amazing in the photos, but like all cookbooks the proof is in the pudding…oh wait, pudding probably has dairy…um the proof is in the arrowroot! While the meat, fish and seafood based recipes sound great, I just couldn’t bring myself to slap together the bread and baked goods that featured no grains. Oh and I’ll pass on the AB&J Sandwich; sorry but almond butter looks like wallpaper paste.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Inspiration for Passion

Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For – Craig Sager. Craig Sager II, Brian Curtis (Flatiron Books)

While there is some debate about the origin of the comment, there is a saying often attributed to Confucius that goes something like, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” When I’ve been asked about how to choose the best career path my response comes in the form of a question; What are you passionate about? I am always amazed how stumped people are by that question.

One guy who I know would NEVER be stumped by that question is legendary sportscaster Craig Sager. I have to admit two things; one I have never quite been able to wrap my arms around what is behind Sager’s flamboyant, often glow in the dark clothing choices and two after reading his biography, penned with his son, Living Out Loud: Sports, Cancer, and the Things Worth Fighting For, my respect and admiration for the man has been ratcheted up.

Sager is one of those guys who brings an unparalleled level of passion to everything he has pursued in the world of sports broadcasting. His heartfelt story recounts not only his career ups and downs, but also his family life and his battle with cancer. This is a rare character and it should be no surprise that he and his son, who has been by his side through much of his career, proved to be a rare bone marrow donor match. What an amazing story that is in and of itself that Craig Jr. was able to donate bone marrow to his father’s battle to beat cancer.

Whether you are a sports fan or not, Living Out Loud will inspire your passion and motivate you to be a bigger, better person. I think my new response to the career path question will be to simply hand the person asking a copy of Living Out Loud, that should provide all the guidance and direction anyone should need.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rock: The Definitive History

The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963 – Ed Ward (Flatiron Books)

Author Ed Ward is no stranger to the history of rock music. He has authored countless articles for a wide variety of music and popular culture magazines, definitive biographies of great artists, and is the co-author of Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, which dates back to a time when Rolling Stones actually meant something in the world of music. Ward also served as the longtime rock & roll historian for National Public Radio’s (NPR) Fresh Air program, which counts as listeners some 14 million folks.

So it’s a safe bet that Ward’s bona fides are firmly in place to tackle a massive, three-part project that traces the roots of rock & roll with a fervent complete-ists approach. In The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963 Ward goes deeper than just the roots of rock, but takes things down to the granular level, examining the DNA of the music.

If you are looking for an encyclopedia of rock, something you can whip out to settle arguments or fuel debates about the legends of rock, then this may not be your cup of tea. Ward is looking way beyond those simple thought processes; he uses a scientist’s eye toward how minstrel shows and vaudeville spliced their DNA into country, roots, R&B and gave birth to the behemoth that moved and influenced generations.

This, the first of what will become a three volume set be run a little off the beaten path for those casual rock fans. As it progresses you can start to see the direction Ward is heading in those future volumes. If you are a student or historian of the music, The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1 1920 – 1963, certainly deserves a place on your bookshelf. Has a fan of the minutiae of music, I found myself putting Ward’s theories to the test, revisiting music to trace the influences that he spells out long the way. Which for me makes this volume a success and has me primed for the future editions.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Songs: The Nuts and Bolts

Anatomy of A Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop – Marc Myers (Grove Press)

While I have written quite literally millions of words over the course of my career, I have always remained fascinated by the process of how songs get written. To me it seems like some sort of magic takes place in the minds of those who craft songs and the magic gets kicked up a notch for those who write songs that become hit records.

It may be the nuts and bolts of the interaction of words, music and recording. It is the magic of those nuts and bolts that writer Marc Myers focuses on in his new book, Anatomy of A Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop. Myers regularly contributes Anatomy of a Song features to the Wall Street Journal and this book is a collection of 45 of those stories culled from 2012 – 2016.

Myers has developed some amazing access to the folks who made these records/songs and from that access he collects in depth insights into not only the crafting of the words, but often the music and production side, which are the foundation on which these great songs are built. Myers writes with a music fans perspective, without falling over the edge to becoming a fanboy.

The successful songwriting duo of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil were tapped by producer Phil Specter to pen a song that would allow him to add a hit record by a male vocal group to add to his string of hits by female vocalists. The group was the Righteous Brothers and the song was You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Mann recounts a visit with Specter in the studio before heading to the legendary Chateau Marmont to begin the writing process. Tapping into his own memory of heartbreak, he threw out the line “you never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips,” and it was off to the charts.

It is that level of insight that Myers tracks down for a laundry list of great records. Now the actual list of songs may brew up some debate or discussion. While the songs and stories may be great, I am not certain they all live up to the title billing of being “iconic hits that changed rock, R&B and pop.” 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Something In The Water

The Twenty Three (Promise Falls Trilogy) – Linwood Barclay – (Berkley)

In what is the third and final installment of the Promise Falls Trilogy, The Twenty Three, bestselling author Linwood Barclay has readers ensnared in a multitude of characters, storylines and cliffhangers that he must somehow manage to pull all together.

Barclay has done a masterful job of building to this conclusion; starting with mysterious and seemingly bucolic little burg of Promise Falls in the suburbs of Albany and then adding layer after of interacting storylines and strange and wonderful characters.

This is not one of those sets that you can comfortably start anywhere that you feel; you really need to start and the beginning and work from there. That being said the sheer volume of people may leave you backtracking through pages (books?) to determine who is who. While Barclay has more in common with Steven King, the number of characters and storylines seems to be more like a Tom Clancy novel. I admit to looking around for a small white board to mind map the characters.

In The Twenty Three, the people Promise Falls are mysteriously dropping like flies on the first day of a long holiday weekend and just to spice things up on top of the dozens of sick and dying and murder victim is discovered; could it be the work of serial killer? Barclay has a tall order the bring these competing storylines to a satisfactory conclusion and some lose threads may not get clipped, leaving some fans in the lurch as he lards on the red herrings, seeming clues and dead end plot lines. Barclay it seems is some parts master storyteller and some parts frustrating, master manipulator.

Whatever your perspective on the events here, he will leave you screaming as you thunder along towards the conclusion.  

The Cocktail Beat

A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How A Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World – Robert Simonson (Ten Speed Press)

The New York Times has a cocktail writer. Yep you read that correctly; the so-called “Old Grey Lady” reportedly struggling to keep the doors open in the internet age, has a guy whose beat is cocktails. I can’t quite put my finger on whether that is the greatest job ever or the saddest job ever.

The writer in question is Robert Simonson, a bestselling author of books about cocktails. Yep you read that correctly. Maybe it’s my beer drinkers mentality, but books about cocktails…really? And no I am not talking about those handy little guide books that nearly everyone with a home bar, which now seems like an oddly 1970s concept, had tucked away for the occasion when a guest called for something off the beaten highball path.

It turns out that Simonson’s new book, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How A Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World, is a fine mix of travelogue and bartender tale, with just a splash of drink recipes. Simonson clearly knows his subject and is a fine tour guide on the journey through cocktail-land.

He skillfully mixes the characters, the locales and their concoctions into an entertaining brew. While it won’t shake me off my choice of brew, it was an interesting look at the hipsters and nerds that answer the siren call of alcohol.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Man Out of Time

Petty: The Biography – Warren Zanes (St. Martin’s/ Griffin)

I recently subjected myself to the four-hour Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers documentary on Netflix, a grueling endeavor if there ever was one, even for a fan. So I had many of the Tom Petty takes on the world stories fresh in my mind when I started to tackle Warren Zanes, Petty: The Biography.

Zanes, a rocker in his own right with his band the Del Fuegos, is the owner of a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester, so I guess I wasn’t surprised that this bio has a kind of documentarians feel to it. I have never been a fan of the “how the band got started” portions of these kinds of bios, I am more interested in the meat and potatoes of recording sessions and touring.

So much of who Tom Petty would become and remain was foundational in his in his youth that it’s almost like he hasn’t evolved with age. A large part of him remains rooted to that time. Zanes’ writing is a bit disjointed at times as he tries to walk a fine line between biographer and critical darling and yet he shows flashes of insight into crucial moments in Petty’s career; the Petty family Christmas party where Zanes stumbles upon George Harrison strumming a guitar while Petty and Jeff Lynne hang out, could that have been the genesis of the Traveling Wilburys?

The thing that Petty: The Biography, may do best is to really mark a place in the history of rock ’n’ roll for the greatness of Tom Petty. It’s easy to forget his contributions and interactions over the course of his career, everything from his own efforts to working with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan, the Wilburys and so many more. Zanes’ book deserves a place on the shelf of any Petty or rock fan in general. 

Friday, November 4, 2016


Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas – Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)

Full disclosure right up front; I am a beer drinker so the whole idea of cocktails based on bitter spirits was kind of foreign to me. When I think of people who drink bitters, I envision a bunch of old guys who look and smell like they just stepped off the boat from Europe.

That being said, I didn’t know quite what to expect when I cracked open Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas, by award winning author Brad Thomas Parsons. Contained within I found an interesting mix of the expected drink recipes, sidling alongside amari tinged food recipes and even a nifty bit of travel log tour through the bars, cafes and distilleries of Italy.

Parsons, the recipient of a Masters in Fine Arts from Columbia University writes with a stylistic flourish that makes it easy to understand how he cut his writing teeth for the likes of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel + Leisure and Lucky Peach. His loving descriptions had even this beer drinker building up a thirst and the courage to try something new.