Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Manga Crilley-style

Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator – Mark Crilley (Watson Guptil Publications)

How do I some up Manga style art? Think heavy Japanese influences, impossibly large eyed characters featuring a very youthful appearance and more often than not girlish qualities combined with overt sexual overtones. Most if not all of these female characters feature a bit sexual fantasy stereotype and like their eyes seemingly impossibly large or prominent breasts.

Among the very best at plying the craft of manga style art is American artist Mark Crilley, the author/artists behind more than 30 manga books. Crilley’s latest Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a combination art book and instruction manual so you can learn the techniques of manga style.

Crilley’s work is certainly eye catching with spikey haired boys, street kids, style mavens and super hero style looks dotting the landscape. While there is a striking similarity to much of manga art, Crilley displays a few stylistic flourishes that are all his own that stand out in his work.

The book makes a nice companion piece to Crilley’s YouTube channel where he loads up videos full of instruction and technique guidance.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Van Halen

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen – Noel Monk (Dey Street Books)

A little house keeping up front: I am a huge Van Halen fan, the band remains among my favorite bands of all time, with that said if you go into this book expecting a “typical” rock band book, then you will likely go away disappointed. This book really focuses on the quicksilver launch and meteoric rise of Van Halen to the highest ranks of rock superstar status, followed by the seemingly inevitable crash and burn that followed.

The author of Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, Noel Monk got started with the band as the tour manager for the band’s first tour of the States and later Europe. His hard work and steady hand through the pitfalls of such a jaunt lead to the band signing him up to become their fulltime manager. It is from the point of view the book takes its form; focusing on the ins and outs of the minefield that is the music business.

Monk does offer many insights into the inner workings of the band, as well as their larger than life personalities in some cases and their fragile grip on stardom in others. The book served as a reminder in some cases of the band’s exploits both on and off stage as well as shining a light of some of the things even fans would not know about the band. Having come of age as a radio personality and music journalist during the era that the book focuses on, the book offered an interesting perspective/confirmation of many things that were suspected about the band.

Monk delves deeply into the all but certain crash side of the story; the internal squabbles, the personality conflicts, and the massive chemical dependencies that contributed to the bands downfall. It was something that even the steadiest of hands on the wheel and the sheer brilliance of Edward Van Halen’s guitar pyrotechnics could not overcome.

While the band continued to churn out great music with Sammy Hager fronting the group, there is an element of wistfulness for what could have been if Van Halen had remained on the trajectory they had from their start. That “what if” only gets amplified, with the sideshow quality of the band’s recent reunion of sorts, with Eddie’s son (with Valarie Bertinelli), Wolfgang on bass; you just can’t capture the lightening in a bottle twice.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Wake Up Call

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance – Ben Sasse (St. Martin’s Press)

I recently got a call from my son complaining that he had hit something in the road that caused a tire to go flat on his three year old car. After continuing to drive the car home, he drove it a few blocks to a friend’s house, because his friend knew how to change a tire. My son was mad because he had to buy a new tire, because the damaged tire was beyond repair; I was mad because I hadn’t passed on the knowledge my father had imparted on me, the relatively simple task of changing a tire.

As Fall arrived in Buffalo, New York, my Dad would invariably point me to the back of the garage where he stored the snow tires for his and my Mom’s cars and I would roll them out and with his guidance I would jack up the car and break free the lugnuts and swap out the tires on both vehicles. I was a big, strong kid, all of 12 years old when I learned the task. My son, who is twenty-five, wouldn’t have the first clue how to tackle the job. Changing tires is done by some guy at the other end of a cell phone call.

To me that is a sad statement about my parenting skills and the state of this country. The numbers are quite frankly, staggering! Nearly 20% of working age males in the United States don’t get up in the morning and go to work. One third of 18-34 years live with their parents. An entire generation of young adults don’t have the first clue how to rely on themselves to survive. One look at a story about the trauma caused by Facebook being offline for a couple of hours and you’ll know what I say is true.

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is sounding the alarm in his new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance. Sasse makes the case that a combination of things has contributed to the sorry state of adulthood in this country. Parents have not imparted on their kids the value of hard work and the basic knowledge of how to do stuff. Instead the common sense lessons like how to change tires have been replaced by organized activities and participation trophies, because everyone is special.

Sasse also makes the case that this lack of basic knowledge has soaked into other sectors of our society like political correctness, childhood obesity, a lack of knowledge about how government works, and the detrimental impact it all has on our country and its future.

The prescription Sasse offers is not an easy one. He offers ideas on how parents can influence their children and improve their lives in the long haul. Many of these observations will undoubtedly be met with howls of pain and outcry by the parents of perfect little snowflakes, who may need Playdoh, puppies and a safe place to recover from the shock and awe of what Sasse proposes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Looking for Nostradamus

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes – Richard A. Clarke and R P Eddy (ECCO)

The old cliché that hindsight is 20/20, like most good clichés is because there is some truth to them. Two former White House National Security types who have moved on into the private sector, Richard A. Clarke and R P Eddy offer up the new book Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes in an apparent effort to sound the claxons of impending doom panoply of liberal thought.

It’s pretty easy to look at something in hindsight and make the circumstances or “facts” fit the storyline you are trying to sell. Clarke and Eddy set up the premise of the book by siting examples of what they believe were folks who played the proverbial canary in the coalmine; folks who tried to warn us of pending events of doom who somehow got ignored when they should not have been.
If you’re confused by the title, Greek mythology teaches us that Cassandra had the ability to predict impeding disaster but was cursed to be ignored by the Gods.

I find it more than a bit laughable that the author think that a so-called Cassandra was ignored in the case of the storm damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, as if man could have somehow prevented the damage caused by a natural disaster. But the Katrina case is a great example of how these master of foresight often get ignored because it boils down to politics. Google Ray Nagin (former New Orleans Mayor) and school buses if you need a fine example.

The authors also point to the Middle East ambassador who seemed to foretell the rise of ISIS and the so-called Arab spring, only to be ignored. You won’t need to bother with Google to remember Barack “Red Line” Obama and his utterly failed Middle East/War on Terror policy, which was more concerned with politics and campaign promises than doing what was right to prevent the “JV Team” from over running Syria and Iraq. I also find it a little difficult to take seriously a section on Arab Spring and terror that fails to even mention Benghazi.

For this go around it will be easy to understand why Cassandra will be ignored.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Real Deal Fiction

Over the course of the past few years there have been some interesting trends in fiction writing. I have encountered a number of books that seemed to take forever to get rolling; I found some VERY big bestsellers a little bit of a slog at the start, but hung with them because of the raves that seemed attached to them. In some cases it was worth the work…others, not so much.
I am a fan of those great books that waste no time, but grab you by the throat and take you off to the races. These are what I call real deal fiction, with authors who waste no time getting down to business. Here are three recent reads that fall firmly into that category.

Exit Strategy (A Nick Mason Novel) Steve Hamilton (G. P. Putnam)

I had known of Steve Hamilton’s books, but had never gotten around to reading one until the first book in the Nick Mason series dropped on my desk. Hamilton pulls together a story of desperation and of the desperate acts that go along with it. Nick Mason is freed from one box, in this case a prison cell and then locked into another; servitude to a vicious gangster with who holds sway over Mason and his family.
With Exit Strategy, Hamilton picks up the story of Chicago gangster Darius Cole as he executes his plot to free himself from prison by any means necessary, using the pawns that are within his grasp. Mason has become Cole’s Angel of Death, charged with taking out the witnesses who testified against Cole in his original trail, this time around it’s folks in the care and protection of the U.S. Marshall Service, witness protection program.

Mason isn’t always afforded the luxury of time to plan, so he flies by the seat of his pants. Mason is the ultimate anti-hero; a bad guy who you can’t help but root for as he sits firmly lodged between a rock and a hard place. While Mason goes about his unhealthy business, he is planning and plotting his long play, to find a way out from under Cole’s thumb.
Hamilton delivers the action at such a fast and furious pace that you will find yourself gulping for air just to keep up. His writing style is so cinematic that it’s easy to see way Nick Mason has been optioned for a stint on the big screen. Here’s hoping that Hollywood doesn’t screw things up like they did with the Jack Reacher series.

Since We Fell: A Novel – Dennis Lehane (ECCO)-
If you asked me for a list of my favorite authors, Dennis Lehane probably would not be among them. But in all honesty, I don’t know why. Lehane has made a nice career out of crafting not only great stories, but of creating some great character types. I can’t say that I could recall them by name, but he just has a knack for creating fictional people who you can recognize from your life or have crossed paths with along the way. Call them…relatable for lack a better term.
While some may be disappointed that Lehane’s latest, Since We Fell isn’t another entry in the Kenzie/Gennaro series, I think that Lehane is at his best when he’s off crafting stories about ordinary folks who get caught up in circumstances that are anything but ordinary. And that may be the magic of Dennis Lehane at his best; if you think about it, it is ordinary folks who end up in extraordinary situations, because that is what makes them extraordinary!

Lehane manages to weave you into the story of Rachel Childs, a former journalist who melts down on the air and then finds herself battling her personal demons, but living a relatively quiet life. That life begins to fray and unravel, leaving Childs to summon up the strength and courage to tackle her greatest fears.
This is Lehane at his best as he populates his stories with average, ordinary folks challenged with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

G-Man – A Bob Lee Swagger Novel – Stephen Hunter (Blue Rider Press)

It seems hard to believe that it’s been nearly 25 years since Stephen Hunter first introduced us to sniper Bob Lee Swagger with the book Point of Impact, a book chock full of double dealing, nefarious, government insiders and dirty dealers that it could be ripped from today’s headlines, or at the very least fake news. In the intervening time, Hunter has put Swagger into precarious situations and even introduced us to his small town Sheriff grandfather, Charles Swagger along the way.
Now in G-Man, Hunter deals out an almost Forrest Gumpian hand by dropping Charles into the mix of squaring off with infamous outlaws the likes of Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson. Now decades after the fact, Bob Lee is the recipient of a mysterious box unearthed on his family homestead. The contents of the box include a well preserved .45, a rusty badge, a stray gun part, a puzzling diagram and a healthy dose of mystery that fans of Bob Lee Swagger know he won’t be able to resist solving.

Hunter masterfully draws out the master snipers struggles with age and ghosts from his families past. Hunter has to carefully walk the tight rope between historical events and the present as he plays out the two storylines that intertwine to create G-Man. There is a level of precision to the way Hunter doles out the facts with a level of accuracy that we’ve come to expect in his stories.