Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A New, New Thing

Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World For Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles – Julia L. Kay (Watson – Guptill)

Full admission up front; With the world ratcheting up based on political differences, when I first saw this book’s title, I have to admit that I thought this was a book of art comprised of portraits of revolutionaries.

What is revolutionary is not the specific subjects, but the styles, techniques and mediums utilized to create the portraits contained therein. So what makes these portraits revolutionary? Let’s start by boiling down the meanings of this two words:

Portrait - a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.

Revolution - a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.

In Portrait Revolution: Inspiration from Around the World For Creating Art in Multiple Mediums and Styles painter, printmaker, photographer and digital artist Julia L. Kay compiles art from around the globe in the widest array of mediums imaginable. This skillfully assembled collection includes many standard mediums; acrylics, oils, pastels, watercolors, pen and ink, pencils and more.

It gets really interesting when your see portraits on rocks and portraits made of rocks. What makes this revolutionary and educational is that for artists it will open up the possibilities for trying new things.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Intrigue: Real Live Adventure

Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935 – 1961 – Nicholas Reynolds (William Morrow)

I can’t say exactly why, but I can’t shake the feeling of intrigue surrounding the fact that author Nicholas Reynolds was working as the historian at the CIA Museum when he stumbled upon documents regarding Pulitzer prize-winning author, reporter and adventurist Ernest Hemingway. Like any curious historian, Reynolds continued to follow his nose and the documents lead to other files and more documents.

As he worked his way through the ever-growing pile of research, Reynolds began to see the makings of a book, telling the story of Hemingway’s globetrotting adventures through foreign lands, wars and crossing paths with all kinds of interesting and nefarious characters. That book comes in the form of Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures 1935 – 1961.

Reynolds plies his background as a veteran intelligence officer, U.S. Marine and Oxford trained historian (!) to carefully craft, in amazing detail, a side of the almost universally revered and respected author that most have never been privy to. In the process Reynolds creates a sensational story without being sensational. The connections he draws and the inductive leaps he takes are deeply seated in his stellar research. This is clearly not a flight of fancy, as Reynolds connects the dots with the research, the words Hemingway committed to paper and the newspapers and magazines went to press with.

Reynolds also draws parallels between the real life characters Hemingway crossed paths with and those who populate the stories he tells in his books. One of the oldest and most often cited saws about writing is write what you know and clearly Hemingway practiced in that realm.

While some may howl at the thought the beloved author could somehow have ties to nefarious things and people, Reynolds really tells an intriguing story and lets the reader decide to connect the often obvious dots along the way. Truly and entertaining read from beginning to end.

Battling the JV Team

Without Mercy: A Novel – Col. David Hunt and R J Pineiro (Forge Books)

ISIS, the so-called JV Team, has managed to spin up a concerted attack on the heavily fortified U. S. Military installation at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, bursting through the heavy walls and distracting those tasked with guarding the base so a tactical nuclear weapon can be detonated on the base from a separate entry point.

And that is just the opening salvo from long time, tough talking Fox News contributor Col. David Hunt and his writing partner R J Pineiro in the new book Without Mercy. With a little help from their friends in Pakistan, the ISIS thugs have acquired a handful of tactical nukes and while America reacts to that first nuclear attack, a separate cabal of terrorist cells are on their way to try to deliver a death blow on our home shores.

This scenario reads like something out of the CIA's Red Cell program, where after 9/11 they brought in folks from varied backgrounds, including thriller writers, to dream up potential terrorists plots to see how well the U.S. was prepared to prevent or react to a given attack. The terrorists smuggling the nukes aboard oil tankers while masquerading as security forces is a plausible plotline and so too is the political correctness run amok that has those charged with protecting us spun off target.

Some Tom Clancy fans may get turned off by the technical issues and flaws that pop up, if you’re not distracted by the nuts and bolts of things and are simply in it for the adventure, than Without Mercy serves up the goods. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Grit and Girl Power

Lola – A Novel – Melissa Scrivner Love (Crown)

The Crenshaw Six are a gang of rookie bangers, looking to make their mark, and the way to measure your place in the underworld is based on how many corners you get to control and peddle your wares from. Garcia the nascent gang’s leader gets hooked up with an opportunity to expand his base of operations, but with the Cartel that’s dangling the “opportunity” screwing up comes with a high price tag attached.

That tag is a target, firmly attached to the life of his girlfriend, and the books namesake Lola. The debut novel from television dram writer Melissa Scrivner Love, who's credits include CSI: Miami and Person of Interest, among others; offers a gritty look at life inside the reality of a drug gang.

Love paints and honest and edgy picture with broad strokes of the pecking order not only within the gangs but within the neighborhoods they populate. Backstabbing, threats, betrayal and death are the coin of the realm that she leavens with Lola’s smarts and oddly tenders, caring actions set against that back drop.

There is a true sense of girl power that pings through this book, but it never overwhelms the action and thrills of the story. A solid debut that marks what I hope we be on ongoing career path for this word scribbler.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fiction: With a Different Spin

Zodiac: A Novel - Sam Wilson (Pegasus)

In San Celeste, “What’s your sign?” isn’t just a bad 1970s pick up line, it truly is a way of life; the determining factor on what your life will be like. That is the backdrop for the startling good new thriller, Zodiac: A Novel, by South African writer Sam Wilson. A television writer and program developer, this is Wilson’s first foray into novels

Wilson does a wonderful job of setting the setting of the story, where birth determines your place in society and is binding for life. Utopia spins off its axis when a serial killer starts to perpetrate brutal crimes that ignore the societal set up by crossing all boundaries. Wilson gets a little new age CSI with the introduction of astrological profiler Lindi Childs working side by side with detective Jerome Burton to unlock the mystery and solve these heinous murders. While clearly bound to fantasy, Zodiac delivers some very realistic and entertaining goods.

I See You – Clare Mackintosh (Berkley)
Imagine…you ritual commute home includes perusing the local paper and things take a different turn, when suddenly you find yourself staring at a picture of yourself in the classifieds. Then things get really strange when different women pop up in the advertisements and the common thread is they all are victims of crime.

That is the set up for British novelist Clare Mackintosh’s second psychological thriller, I See You. Mackintosh puts to good use her experience as a police officer and criminal investigator by lacing the story with just the right amount of realistic police work, but she doesn’t let it get in the way of driving the story’s suspense. She does a masterful job of keeping you guessing right to the end.

Clownfish Blues: A Novel – Tim Dorsey
What is it about the state of Florida? Is it something in the water? Is the combination of salt water, sand and heat that goes into the cooking up of the gathering of quirky, entertaining writers that the state has spawned? You can count Tim Dorsey among that gang of folks who spin not only twisty-turny yarns, but also know how to deliver characters from the different side, mixed with a healthy dose of laughs.

Dorsey’s latest, Clownfish Blues delves once again into the sun soaked mind of Serge Storms as he and sidekick, the perpetually fatty stoke Coleman along for the ride as they retrace “Route 66” (don’t let the fact that that famous motorway doesn’t actually find its way to F-L-A) as Storms learns that the iconic 60s TV show filmed a series of episodes in the Sunshine State. The duo, along with usual cast of colorful characters, flames and thugs are along for the thoroughly quixotic ride.

The Lost Book of the Grail: A Novel – Charlie Lovett (Viking Books)
For those of us who love to read, there is just something special about holding a book and turning the pages as you delve into the story. With apologies to the folks at Amazon and other tablet purveyors, that feeling will never be a part of clutching an electronic device like a Kindle. It is that love affair with books, set against the digital age that is the stage for Charlie Lovett’s latest book, The Lost Book of the Grail.

To say that Arthur Prescott is old school, may be a sizable understatement. Prescott chafes at the thought of a college level Harry Potter course in an era when the Bard is all but a memory. When a young American girl, Bethany Davis arrives at Prescott’s beloved Barchester Cathedral Library to begin the process of digitizing the library’s collection of manuscripts he is more than a little put off.

Then comes the twist of a search for a missing manuscript. That adventure is truly befitting the grail-like hunt. While the pace starts out on the glacial side, understand up front that the set up is worth the wait as the adventure is worthy of a book lover like Lovett.   

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life – Peter Walsh (Rodale Books)

There is a thin line between collector and hoarder…or at least I have been trying to convince my wife that for nearly thirty years.

We lost my Mother-in-law last year and so began a process of clearing and cleaning out her house that became a much larger and more daunting task then any of us had expected. Here was this frail, kind old lady, who knew that she was hiding a life time of STUFF in her four bedroom split level. First as her power of attorney and later as the executor of her estate I was charged with tackling the finite details of her STUFF; the mounds of paperwork dealing with her healthcare and her finances alone was a challenge. Tax returns dating back to the 1960s, bank statements or accounts at banks that no longer exist, countless investment vehicle statements that had long since been moved to new accounts.

Hey you never know when you’re going to need the instructions for the vacuum you bought back in 1970…that broke, but you couldn’t quite find the strength to take to the curb. Are you getting the picture here? I could have desperately used a copy of Peter Walsh’s new book, Let It Go: Downsizing Your Way to a Richer, Happier Life. Walsh eloquently outlines the emotions that we attach to our STUFF and helps explain how we can break down the self-erected barriers that we place around these things that prevent us from letting them go to find new homes.

The greatest examples came from my wife, who had so many memories that connect these items, this STUFF that we found ourselves sorting through. Some was easy STUFF; the four packed tight filing cabinets full of detailed files of instruction manuals, receipts, paper work and documents that had absolutely no value. That STUFF and a lot of broken down old items found their way into what would quickly become a 30 cubic yard dumpster full bound for the land fill. Then came the challenge of what we wanted to keep balanced against what we had room for in our home.

Walsh offers insight into not only way we gather all this STUFF, but how to break the attachment, the “I might need_______ someday” mindset that we use as an excuse to keep things in our possession. Walsh has developed such great insights into our mindsets that he is able to offer up guideposts and encouraging processes to help us get over those ties that bind us to our STUFF.

With the baby boomer generation aging with each passing day, more and more folks will be confronted with the difficult choices of downsizing either their parent’s homes or their own. Walsh offers great advice for both scenarios to help ease your way into these always difficult transitions. As someone who was dropped into that process, I recommend picking up a copy of Let It Go now before you are confronted with the task.

You will quickly start to examine your own life and the choices you make. As a writer, I love really nice pens and leather bound notebooks for more projects. With Walsh’s help I have determined it’s time to ponder the downsizing for my collection of both…maybe tomorrow. Hey Walsh is great and offers outstanding advice, but this is my STUFF.

Open-minded Look at Death

Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife – Leslie Kean (Crown Arcetype)

Up front, here’s how I approached Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife by Leslie Kean with an open mind with my position on the afterlife going something like this; I don’t know exactly what the afterlife looks like, but I am not so self-centered to believe that this is all there is.

Kean, who made her bones by delving into the phenomena of UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record, her NY Times bestselling exploration of the unexplained. She continues down the natural path by looking at near-death experiences, verifiable past lives, apparitions and mediums who “contact” those who have crossed over.

Here is where the problem starts; there is such a long and checkered history of frauds, charlatans, and scammers that even those who appear to have legitimate stories are doubted because of the snake oil salesman, who have gone before them.

Kean appears to not have a horse in the race as she takes a journalistic approach to things, trying to look for holes in the stories people tell her and to identify facts to tell her story. Quite frankly, there are things here that I would found hard to debunk and others that raise red flags for me. Hence the open mind I brought to the table at the start of the book. 

Legend…In Every Sense of the Word

Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon – Marc Eliot (Dey St.)

The call came in from the NRA press office, with the question, would I host a local rally, introduce Wayne LaPierre and Mr. Heston would be available to record and interview. Wait…what? Mr. Heston? As in Moses…Ben Hur! The NRA road show was coming through town to rally Second Amendment supporters to get out and vote for George W. Bush.

The local hall was jammed with 3000 proud gun owners, enthusiastically cheering on the NRA team. After firing up the crowd and starting the festivities, I was escorted back to a dusty storage room, converted for the occasion into a “green room” where Heston waited for his introduction. I was going to interview Moses! As I stepped into the room I was a bit startled by what I encountered. Here was a man who was a true Hollywood legend; a man who had played larger than life historical figures and yet here was an almost fragile, slightly frail version of Heston.

He stood, in stocking feet, and beamed a thousand watt smile and grasped my hand with a firm grip and with the voice of Moses welcomed me like an old friend. He explained how his feet bothered him, hence the lack of shoes and we began the interview. Later when he took the stage, raised the rifle above his head and uttered his trademark phrase “from my cold dead hand” to shouts from the throng.

That was my interaction with a man author Marc Eliot writes about and dubs Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon. In the book Eliot explores not only the man, but Hollywood itself in a different era; an era of real stars, who earned their status, not expected it. Heston was a star with real star power, that very few can generate today.

Eliot describes Heston’s transition to the conservative, NRA stalwart that he would become in his later years. He also reminds us of the glaring deferences between stars from Heston’s era and those of this generation, who stooped to insult Heston after he publically revealed his battle with dementia, because they disagreed with his stance on guns in a era of Columbine. It really boils down to the difference between being classy and a low life, loser, scumbag like Michael Moore.

Like he did with, Jimmy Stewart, Steve McQueen, John Wayne, and Clint Eastwood, Eliot does a masterful job of cover the real breadth of Heston’s life and career. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

March Fiction Madness

Shining City – A Novel – Tom Rosenstiel (Ecco)

WOW! That was my first reaction to diving into the debut novel, Shining City, from veteran political and media observer and longtime journalist Tom Rosenstiel. Not only does Rosenstiel put to good use his years of insider knowledge of the political process, he delivers the goods with an easy, free flowing writing style.

Rosenstiel, along with Bill Kovach has authored some of the seminal books on journalism and reportage, so it is in no way surprising that Shining City has a ripped from today’s headlines feel about it. There is a sudden vacancy on the Supreme Court, (sound familiar?) and the President sees not only the opportunity to fill that slot, but to fundamentally impact the highest court in the land.

The story involves the very real feeling character Peter Rena, a political fixer, you know the guy who gets things done and his partner, Randi Brooks, a lawyer on the other side of the political aisle, or is it better side on the other side of the political divide. Rosenstiel serve up some insight into what the vetting process for a SCOTUS nominee is like. While this a slick insider’s viewpoint, it doesn’t slide off into the silliness of the TV show Scandal that can fix all the world’s problems in a 48 minute TV script.

Now throw in the curveball of a seemingly random series of murders that ratchet things up a notch and have Rena scrambling not only for answers, but to keep the nominee safe and sound. Like I said, WOW! This is a great debut and I can’t wait for Rosenstiel to hang up the reporter’s notebook and to delve full bore into being a novelist. Well done!

The Prisoner – A John Wells Novel – Alex Berenson (Putnam)

Some writers hit on a great concept, and then have the concept overwhelm the story. A great concept in the hands of other writers becomes the foundation on which that story and all future stories are built upon. NY Times reporter, Alex Berenson hit upon the simple, yet brilliant idea of a character that is an undercover agent who fights alongside the belligerents of Osama bin Laden.
That jumping off point has never overwhelmed the John Wells character, but has provided an interesting and ongoing tension to the plotlines of Berenson’s ongoing series of Wells books.

The latest entry in the series, The Prisoner finds Wells trying his hand at stepping away from his role with the CIA and even going so far as to try his hand at the domestic life and a surprise fatherhood. But like Al Pacino’s Godfather 3, just when he’s trying to get out they drag him back into the action. While Wells doesn’t dwell on his conversion to Islam while undercover, it is part of his existence. Can’t help but conjure the image of Damian Lewis’s character on the prayer rug in the garage, in the early seasons of the stellar Homeland series.

Berenson doesn’t overplay the bin Laden connection, but masterfully utilizes the internal questioning that the Wells character goes through as he tries to balance his faith with his allegiance to country. There is a great energy that propels the story forward.

Gunmetal Gray – A Gray Man Novel – Mark Greaney (Berkley)

So you think you’re having a bad day…just imagine how the Gray Man feels. The minute he steps off the plane in Hong Kong for seemed to be a pretty straight forward assignment to collect a rogue Chinese master hacker, he ends up with a couple of Chinese secret police attached to him like a magnet. His hand forced, Court Gentry has to eliminate the duo including sending one out the window of luxury hotel and that’s just the first day of this trek.

Gunmetal Gray is the sixth installment in Mark Greaney Gray Man series and it bustles along a steady, breakneck pace. Greaney gives these stories a lived in feel, playing on his international studies background and his training alongside members of the military and law enforcement.

Gentry has a history of being a one man battle group, but he’s up against apparently stacked odds with two teams of folks sent to round up the scrawny hacker have been sent, but never heard from again. Gentry has his work cut out for him; he has to get the job done and in the process free his friend Don Fitzroy from the clutches of Chinese secret police.

Toss in a couple of femme fatales to make things interesting and Greaney has spun one of his best Gray Man outings yet. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Trump Is Right

United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists – Peter Bergen (Crown Books)

Peter Bergen is the go to guy when it comes to understanding the mindset of Jihadist terrorists. Bergen has authored or co-authored a shelf full of must read books on the subject; his latest, United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists, tries to delve into the minds and actions of terrorist actors who have signed on to the Islamic Jihad either on our shores our exported themselves to take part in terror overseas.

Bergen tries to help us understand what makes these people tick, what motivates them act out as lone wolves or to travel to far flung places to plan and or participate in mass murder or suicide attacks. Along the Bergen is careful to examine what actions law enforcement and homeland security have taken to try to identify these budding Jihadis and prevent them from taking action.

Bergen makes the case that the multi-billion dollar National Security Agency program undertaken by the Obama administration, of spying on our phone calls and e-mail in an effort to sweep up Jihadist planning has been an abject failure and despite the administrations claims that the program derailed many terrorist attacks before they started, that simply doesn’t match the reality.

Bergen lays out the threads of commonality that many of these angry, losers who sign on to the Jihad share. His chapter on the Boston Marathon bombing Tsarnaev brothers had me concluding that they were the participation trophy winners of the terrorist world; two losers who had everything handed to them when they relocated to the U.S. and yet always managed to come up short—then blame everybody but themselves for their failures.

As with Bergen’s prior books, United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists, is a thoroughly research and well crafted examination of not only the history of these homegrown Jihadis, but also the current and future state of what will be an important focus for the war on terror.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Trump: How We Got Here, Where We Are Going

At this writing, the Trump Presidency is well into its first 100 days and is in full swing of knocking down things that are on his agenda. It is at this time that it makes sense to take a look at two new books, one that focuses on how we got here and one that offers us insight into where we are headed.

The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated A Revolution – Roger Stone (Skyhorse Publishing)

Journalist and historian Theodore White made his mark when he penned the classic look at John F Kennedy’s historic, successful White House run in 1960 with his book, The Making of the President 1960. White would later continue that tradition, penning tomes examining the Presidential runs in 1964 and 1968. Each of these books looked not only at the Presidential campaigns, but also marked the historic nature of the times.

While certainly not falling into the more scholarly vein of White’s works, longtime political strategist and campaign consultant Roger Stone takes a whack at writing about the Presidential campaign and an equally historic nature of the election in The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated A Revolution.

Ever the iconoclast, Stone made for the perfect choice to lead business mogul Donald Trump’s nascent Presidential campaign in its earliest days. Stone cut his political teeth during the election of Richard Nixon, played key roles in the elections of Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush; as well has parachuting into Florida to lead the recount the elected George W Bush in 2000.

Stones relationship with Trump dates back to the businessman’s first flirtation with Presidential politics under the banner of the Reform Party in 2000. That toe in the water effort, set much of the foundation of what would become Trump’s 2016 run; the ultimate outsider, running for an insider’s nomination. Stone offers interesting insider knowledge on the struggle that the Republican establishment had with the Trump candidacy and the fact that veteran 

Republicans truly underestimated strength of his campaign.
Stone lifts the tent flap and offers a glance inside many of the storylines that became part and parcel of the 2016 campaign. Stone offers up his thoughts on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, any connection between the leaked emails and the Russians, insiders knowledge of the Clinton cabal including characters, crackpots and criminals like Huma Abedin, Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner, Jeffrey Epstein and the heads of the criminal enterprise, Bill Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.

Big Agenda – President Trump’s Plan to Save America – David Horowitz (Humanix Books)

Okay, so we won the battle (Republican primary) and then the War (general election) and to the victor go the spoils. Now what? That is the simple, direct question that conservative commentator and bestselling author David Horowitz attempts to tackle in his new book Big Agenda – President Trump’s Plan to Save America.

Anyone familiar with Horowitz’s background and story, moving from the far left, coming to the realization that liberalism is a lie and his transition to becoming a conservative icon; it is that back story that gives him the credibility and insight into what is at stake and what needs to be corrected. Horowitz rightly predicts that Trump will have to start out, focused on repairing the damage done to the country over the course of the past eight misguided years of Obama.

Horowitz not only outlines some of the issues Trump will have to address to right the ship of government he also delivers some common sense approaches to not only take the additional steps to move the country forward, but also to drive the proverbial wooden stake into the democrat vampires.

Based on the first moments of the Trump Presidency, it is obvious the Democrats game plan is to disparage Trump, question Trumps integrity, raise silly questions about things like Russians and taxes; you know the stupid things that their less then best and brightest followers will gravitate toward. Horowitz posits that Trump needs to club these clowns like the frothing, rabid dogs they are. And based on what we’ve seen up to this point they are rocked back on their heels, trying to figure out what’s next.

This Book Should Scare the Crap Out of You

The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data – Kevin Mitnick (Little Brown)

It is absolutely astounding how many people don’t realize exactly how exposed their life and their personal information is when they surf the internet and the wild wild web. Now kick that exposure up a notch by reaching in your pocket and pulling out that so-called “smart phone”.

Former criminal hacker and now widely recognized computer security expert Kevin Mitnick is out with his latest book, The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, in which he details the plethora of ways that we unwittingly or seemingly willingly expose ourselves and our most important personal data by what amounts to the most stupid of ways.

Mitnick makes a solid case siting example after example of the dangers inherent in the web. He also pretty clearly spells out the options we can use to try to protect of information and our identity. Utilizing things like standalone laptops, burner cellphones and separate online personas that we put a Chinese wall between our real selves and our online selves.

He will shock you with his insights into danger points like wireless printers, cell phones self-facing cameras, cloud storage, public Wi-Fi hot spots, and notably for all you folks still detailing your every move on Facebook and other social media outposts.

For a guy who has a firsthand knowledge of law enforcement and computers, Mitnick even offers up a pack of useful suggestions on where your rights are when it comes to the law and privacy. While The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, really just scratches the surface, it does amount to a master class in privacy.