Monday, May 22, 2017

One For the Reacher Creatures

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories – Lee Child (Dell)

One of the oldest of pieces of advice for writers is “write what you know.” While I am a fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, I can’t say I am all that familiar with his Reacher short stories. So as I cracked open Child’s new, collection of Reacher short stories, No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories, I was pleasantly surprised to run through one that features a soon-to-be seventeen year old Reacher, not surprising on the road, traveling to meet his older brother at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Reacher is passing through New York City when he confronts a man who slapped a women in Central Park. The guy just happens to be a “made man” and promises to bring a world of hurt to Reacher. Much like the man he will later become in the series, teenage Reacher only sweats, because the Big Apple is in the midst of a heat wave. The story offers great insight into Child’s development of the Reacher character.

Clearly someone as complex and fully realized as Jack Reacher didn’t just happen, or evolve along the way; Child put serious thought into the background and the story arc for this character. Child clearly writes about what he knows. While fans hoping for a new full length Reacher outing, may be disappointed with this collection, I think it’s perfect that these stories have been collected under one cover.

The set does include one new piece, Too Much Time, which is Reacher on very familiar ground and putting his keen observational skills to good use, not mention his power of persuasion to convince a small town Maine cop to see things his way. Great story with a killer twist that will have long time Reacher creatures thinking they should have saw that coming.

Confirmed: John Boehner is a Dick!

Drain the Swam: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think – Congressman Ken Buck – (Regnery Publishing)

After reading Congressman Ken Buck’s (R-CO) new book Drain the Swam: How Washington Corruption is Worse Than You Think, I can’t help but wonder why anybody would ever run for any U.S. Congressional seat. I can only conclude that as small children their parents dropped them on their head with some regularity.

Buck, a staunch conservative, lays bare what you have often suspected of those who clawed their way to the top and take on leadership positions in Congress. Buck discloses the pay to play fundraising schemes that party leaders have developed and the expectations that they put forth for folks that want to take committee leadership positions. These so-called “leaders” buy their positions by raising money to support leadership and party PACs. Is any wonder nothing gets done when these folks spend the preponderance of their time dialing for dollars to raise the money they need to hang onto committee positions.

Buck also spells out the expectations that people like former Speaker of the House John Boehner and his party Whips have when it comes to voting the way they call the shots. Buck offers a couple of examples that confirm what you always suspected of Boehner; this guy is a certified DICK! His tantrums and back biting are the stuff of legend and Buck adds confirmation.

So what are voters supposed to do? How can we possibly “Drain The Swamp”? Buck offers his thoughts and certainly backs up those ideas with action, when he votes his conscience and stands up to guys like Boehner. In the long haul can he make a noticeable dent? It will be a tall order, but sending likeminded folks to DC to build the team, while time consuming is really the only answer.

We have a document to guide the folks we elect; it’s called the U.S. Constitution and all we need is folks to get back to following that document and doing the right thing rather than the thing that keeps them in office. Buck’s book is eye opening in that he lays out how much of the discretionary spending is actually illegal; often spent on laws and regulations that have sunsetted and expired but continue to be supported by taxpayer dollars. Things like the endangered species act and even Obamacare have actually expired and not been re-upped by a vote, because like so much in Washington, the leadership has allowed our representatives to avoid at all costs any need to actually stand behind any difficult or what could be perceived as controversial votes, thereby making members of Congress eunuchs lacking any testicular fortitude.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spring Into Fiction

The Vinyl Detective – The Run Out Groove: Vinyl Detective 2 – Andrew Cartmel (Titan Books)

One of the most often used phrases when it comes to writing goes something like “write about what you know”. Seems like pretty logical advice for aspiring wordsmiths. In the case of The Vinyl Detective – The Run Out Groove: Vinyl Detective 2, novelist, playwright and screenwriter Andrew Cartmel, for me it may better be called, read about what you know.

There is just something so appealing, quirky and well, relatable about the cast of characters in the Vinyl Detective series, because I have spent many an hour hanging around with music obsessed folks just like this crew. While hunting down that rare Beatles 45 on the purple rather than black label you honestly can develop the keen eye it takes to hunt down information and clues that can solve the case.

This time around the Vinyl Detective and merry band of coffee fueled cohorts are seeking details on a very familiar storyline; the pop chanteuse who passed before her time, think Janis, who left behind a mystery train that includes a whodunit, a backup singing sister, who goes off the rails and troop of hangers on, band members and countless other rock ‘n’ roll circus types. The hunt is on and where it ends up is never where you even thought it might. This makes two for two for Cartmel and the Vinyl Detective, when it comes to an early entry in the my favorite book this year sweepstakes.

I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner)

Full confession up front: I have never read any of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American works. I have also never seen any of the various renditions of the movies based upon his writings. I have however binged upon the first season of Amazon Prime show Z: the Beginning of Everything which chronicles Fitzgerald’s whirlwind romance and marriage to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. It intrigued me to the point of interest in this collection of unfinished and “lost” works.

While the TV show eludes to Zelda’s apparent “influence” if not outright authorship of some of Fitzgerald’s work, I’d Die For You: And Other Lost Stories offers just the right amount of background detail as too the provenance of these works and some of the history behind the author and the times to lend it a bit of intrigue.

Anne Margaret Daniel, a New School literature professor and a bit of an expert on Fitzgerald and the era uses a judicious hand to edit and lend perspective on the on the story behind the stories. Clearly this collection wasn’t originally intended to hang together under the same cover; there is a loose ends feel to the proceedings, but clearly there is a level of skill on display here that varies along the way.

The Fix – David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing)
David Baldacci is brilliant and spinning those stories that you get all caught up in and leave you wondering why it is that all is not exactly like it seems. Amos Decker is a guy who can’t forget any detail; and that may be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. Decker witnesses first hand a murder of his way into the office and just happened to work at the FBI.

While the murder makes no sense on its face; no connection between the killer and the victim, no apparent motive for the killing and two seemingly disparate people involved. Aptly named, The Fix, Baldacci’s latest will leave you alternately scratching your head and guessing what is coming next. Even veteran “case solving” readers will get thrown off the scent with the twists in this one.

Decker is one of those live in their own world quirky characters that make for a solid foundation for this series. While longtime Baldacci fans may have some quibbles, I think it’s a solid triple from an MVP writer.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Terrible Trifecta

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign – Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes (Crown)

Let me be perfectly clear right from the start; there are three reasons why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election and they have nothing to do with Russia, James Comey, hacking or any of the other myriad excuses she has trotted out.

They are:
1. She is a TERRIBLE candidate – she and her billion dollar campaign failed to articulate one compelling reason to vote for her.

2.She ran a TERRIBLE campaign – with all of the money she had available she was done in by too many loyalties pulling her in too many directions

3. She is a TERRIBLE person – lies, corruption, secret deals, cover-ups, pandering, money grubbing for her and her families own ends, I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

The authors of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign – alleged journalists, Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes easily surrendered any hint of integrity in exchange for access to the campaign. I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the pair had a wholly different book in mind when they started this process, believing they would be able to offer up a firsthand account of “history”.

The first rule of running for office, whether you are running for dog catcher, school board, Congress or President, is that you need to be able to clearly and concisely articulate the reason why you are running and why people should vote for you. You need to be able to do this in 45-60 seconds; the classic elevator pitch, or you will not win. And the alleged “smartest women in the world” could not do this! It does work to say there are all kinds of wonky, white papers on my website that you can check out to learn more about me.

The book points out the fixation Hillary has with being first…with being the one to “break the glass ceiling”. This was a style over too much substance campaign highlighted by the fact that the campaign chose the three decades old Javits Center and its glass ceiling for its “celebration” on election night. The voters sent a clear message, that being a women, was simply not enough of a reason to put Hillary back into the White House.

The internal conflict of the campaign detailed in the book really highlights the torn loyalties that Hillary and the Clinton’s have to their sycophantic followers and insiders. She desperately wanted to run a more modern campaign so she gathered many of the folks involved with electing Barack Obama and brought them on board for this run. The problem was she kept around a lot of the old hands from Bill Clinton’s Presidency, her New York Senate run and her time at the State Department.

While the old guard could spout policy 24/7, they really didn’t have a clue how to run a national race, so conflict became the routine. Even the guy who is so often cited for his political campaign savvy, Bill Clinton showed that his instincts were two decades out of sync with running a campaign for the White House.

So take the awful combination of a terrible candidate, terrible campaign and terrible person; tack on the endless string of scandals; the do as I say not as I do big money speeches to Wall Street, the money grubbing, Benghazi lies, and on and on, and history gets thrown out the window! If you followed the election, there is much new here to wade through 482 pages of this stuff.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Choices and Consequences

Consequence: A Memoir - Eric Fair – (Picador)

The old saying goes something like; “life is full of choices.” What all too often gets left unsaid is the fact that most if not all of those choices come with some form of consequence attached to them. For me, that seems to be what I can boil Eric Fair’s book, Consequence: A Memoir, down to; while at times he certainly wrestles with the choices he made in his life, he seems to battle more with the regrets he has over the choices he and he alone made.

Fair’s story unfolds near the beginning of the Iraq war, but shifts to the public spotlight a few years later when he “goes public” with his regrets over the actions he took in his role as a contract interrogator, who plied his trade in garden spots of Iraq like Abu Ghraib prison and Fallujah. Fair went public with an article he authored in which he alluded to some of the interrogation techniques that were utilized in the pursuit information from those combatants being held in Iraq. Fair never quite had the testicular fortitude to throw himself into the things that he pointed out “others” had allegedly done.

This article and others that followed came at a point where I had stepped away from my broadcasting career and the hyper-consumption of news that went along with being a talk show host, so Fair’s story was new to me. While he believes that he and other contractors who worked with him, actively participated in torture, in my opinion I do not believe it rises anywhere near that level. Sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes and stress positions, pale in comparison to what is wrought on folks in the hands of terrorists.

Life is indeed about the choices we make. Eric Fair made those choices, no gun held to his head, no dire circumstances, aside from what appear to be his own uncertainties about his own life, contributed to those choices. Like any normal person who becomes unhappy about the choices they make, Fair has glaring regrets and his way of dealing with those choices/regrets seems to be throwing others under the bus while feeling sorry for himself.

While Fair speaks regularly about his Christian upbringing and passing attempts made at the seminary, he seems hell bent on seeking forgiveness for his sins in this life time, rather than the forgiveness most Christians seek.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What Was I Thinking?

The Whole Thing Together – Anne Brashears (Delecorte Press)

I get the whole young reader (YR) thing, but do people really read this stuff?

From the author who brought forth the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books Anne Brashears, comes her latest entry, The Whole Thing Together. I knew I was in trouble when I cracked open the book and was confront with something dubbed the The Thomas-Harrison Family in Brief, which I can best describe as either a an organizational chart or a road map to the book’s characters who populate the book.

Good rule of thumb, if you need to map to characters…you’re starting out in a hole. Sasha and Ray share a house, a bedroom and a bed…just not at the same time. Confused yet? That’s where the org chart comes in…clearly this is not my cup of Jello.

Obviously there is a huge following for Brashears books and this may be perfect for some readers…but I am clearly not a teenage girl.

The Robert B. Parker Cookbook

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies – A Spenser Novel – Ace Atkins (Putnam)

Tasked with the difficult job of continuing the popular Robert B. Parker character, Boston based private detective, Spenser, bestselling author Ace Atkins has continued to hone his grasp on the voice of this classic character over the course of half a dozen books.

The latest, Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies, features ingredients right out of the Robert B. Parker Spenser cookbook. Take one damsel in distress, mix with a handful of shady characters and shysters, add a couple of tough guys and a pinch of “true” love and yield one entertaining story.

Parker was truly one of my favorite authors and I looked forward to what became the annual rite of passage with the dropping of new Spenser book with a good deal of zeal. Towards the end of his career/life, if I am being honest, I found the Spenser series to be waning a bit and I find similar issues with Little White Lies. While the story is solid, when it winds down to the ending I found it to be a bit empty and a little too neatly wrapped up.

For longtime Parker fans the moving of Hawk back to the front and center of the story and playing a larger (than life) role is a great move on Atkins part. While it may not be a home runs in every sense, even a Spenser triple is better than a strike out.

Bring It On!

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class – Elizabeth Warren (Metropolitan Books)

“It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, referring to watching the 2016 Presidential election results. Now she knows what it was like for conservatives during the eight years of Obama.

When it comes to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) new book This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class, there is so much to work with that I almost don’t know where to start. For someone who is alleged to be an intelligent, respected researcher and professor before joining the Senate, Warren really doesn’t have a grasp on the basic concepts of how things work.

She claims to be a champion of the Middle Class and wants to offer up her prescription for “saving” that group of folks. But clearly she doesn’t have a basis for understanding the middle class. The Senator writes about the country coming out of World War II and how the middle class grew exponentially and she attempts to credit the government for that growth. Anyone with even a minimal grasp on history will know that the preponderance of manufacturing during the war was dedicated to supplying the military; consumer goods were practically unheard of. With the war over, growth and demand for those consumer goods would be off the charts and the economy couldn’t grow fast enough.

For someone who has been pegged as a rising star within her party and a potential 2020 Presidential candidate, This Fight is Our Fight, is a sorry recap of the same tired, class warfare politics that have been part and parcel of the Democrat agenda for decades.

Warren bemoans the pay gap but, neglects to mention it grew worse during the Obama years. She thinks that raising the minimum wage will help low skill workers, as if it a zero sum gain; companies will dole out the cash without raising prices, right? But that is the mindset of the Democrat party which thinks that they fixed healthcare with Obamacare, which gave us HIGH deductible plans and curbs access to care not eases it, so people end up with LESS healthcare.

Warren complains about trade deals that make it cheaper for Nabisco to make Oreos in Mexico and ship them here, than making them in Chicago. Just as a reminder, who did that? Democrat President Bill Clinton! Perhaps Ms. Warren needs to take off her political blinders and take a look at what President Trump is saying about NAFTA and the need to renegotiate that flawed deal.

Like so many clueless Democrats, Warren snipes at Ronald Reagan, “dubious theory of trickle-down economics.” The hard facts for Warren and other liberals to swallow is that the revenues collected from federal income taxes during every year of the Reagan administration, were higher than the revenues collected from federal income taxes during any year of any previous administration.

Christ Unified

The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels – David Limbaugh (Regnery)

“Divinity: the state or quality of being divine”
They say confession is good for the soul…so full confession; I have tried on and off for a number of years to work my way through The Bible. I have attempted it in many forms and editions. I have found some of it to be easy and some a bit more difficult.

In reading David Limbaugh’s latest book, The True Jesus: Uncovering the Divinity of Christ in the Gospels, I have found myself more engaged and I have taken more away from the experience of not only reading Limbaugh’s book, but by pairing it with re-reading the referenced sections of the Bible.

I have had the good fortune to speak with David on a number of occasions, including some of his original forays into being interviewed on talk radio, and I always found him to be a thoughtful, intelligent guy who could take complex topics and make them understandable. And that is what I feel he has done with The True Jesus, by examining events in the Bible from the multiple, occasionally divergent perspectives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Limbaugh does an amazing job of fusing these varied views of events into a deeper understanding of the life of Jesus Christ. This is not a book to be taken lightly and it is not likely to find its way into the beach bag for a summer vacation read, but it will make a wonderful tool for those who want to delve deeper into their spiritual studies.