Thursday, December 20, 2018

Music Music Music

There are those great universal questions that people will ask during a variety of social situations that are the great level setters that measure our commonalities. You might ask a new acquaintance in a business networking setting “what do you do for a living?” Or in a more fun social setting, you might ask “what kind of music do you listen to?” It was a question that I either love or hated, because my tastes run a wide gamut and if I went on a dissertation it often results in an eye-glazing stare or I would go generic and say “say I listen to everything and anything.”

The simple fact that there is so much music out there and the fact while it’s so different there is still an inherent connection that ties it all together. Three excellent new books celebrate not only the diversity of music, but the commonality that ties it all together.

Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond – The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager – Mark Blake (Da Capo Press)

As I started this book the thought occurred to me, How many managers of rock bands, people behind the scenes and not in the spotlight by design, are the subject of biographies? On reflection, I could come up with Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles who was dubbed “the fifth Beatle” was an obvious one. Then there are what I can best describe the outrage merchants, like; Malcolm McLaren, of the Sex Pistols and Kim Fowley who managed and abused the teen girls who made up the Runaways.

So what qualifies a rock band manager – a job that doesn’t really come with a job description- to have a biography detailing their story written? A book detailing the inner-workings of running the day to day operations of even a huge, world famous rock band would be a bore. I think the magic ingredient is having a veritable mountain of larger than life stories that are just outrageous enough to stretch credulity. Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant clearly qualifies!

The new book, Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond – The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager, from London based rock writer Mark Blake, does an amazing job of capturing the extravagant, flamboyant man who not only managed Led Zeppelin, but became the band’s most strident and dedicated advocates. Grant’s zealous representation made him one of the most feared men in an industry that is chock full of power players. In the process he truly became one of those folks never to be trifled with in the business.

Blake offers up great insight into the behind the scenes machinations and some of the infamous stories about the comings and goings of Led Zeppelin that will make this a must read for the band’s fans. Bring It On Home, cements Grant’s status as a true legend and may rank among the most entertaining bios of a band manager.

Smash!: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and The 90s Punk Explosion – Ian Winwood – (Da Capo Press)
One of the things I love about discussing and debating music with friends are those friendly throw downs about band’s and genres. One of the more entertaining ones revolves around whether or not the so-called 90s punks were truly…well…punks? It is that 90s era that is in the spotlight in the new book Smash!: Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, NOFX and The 90s Punk Explosion, by veteran Brit rock writer Ian Winwood.

I think the quote from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, “Woodstock [94] was about the closest thing to anarchy I’ve ever seen in my whole life. And I didn’t like it,” really tells you all you need to know about these punk wannabes. I think that true punks like Johnny “Rotten” Lydon of the Sex Pistols or the Ramones would have reveled in the raucous outbreak of rioting that occurred at the pre-fab, over-commercialized version of the original organic event. Highlighting the dramatic difference between authentic punks and those who play outsized festivals featuring $10 bottles of water.

While my personal thoughts are that these 90s era guys are not true punks…that does not diminish their place in music history. Smash! delivers the goods on what amounts to some of the most important bands of the genre, in that era. It is a balanced mix of the success these band’s enjoyed and the impact they had on that and future generations. It really paints a picture of the evolution of the hard driving punk sound, with for lack of a better term, a more enlightened attitude.

Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, The Blacklist and the Battle for the Soul of America – Jesse Jarnow – (DaCapo Press)

No matter what the era, music has always been the vehicle for the voice of the time. Sometimes it played as the soundtrack that backed the times, while at others it moved squarely to the forefront and drove change through social commentary. Some of the greatest songs in music history have spurred a social evolution/revolution.   

In Wasn’t That a Time: The Weavers, The Blacklist and the Battle for the Soul of America, Jesse Jarnow, who writes on a diverse range of topics including music and technology, turns an almost historians eye to the subject of not only the band, the Weavers, which featured the legendary Pete Seeger, but their place beyond just music but in society as a whole.

Jarnow paints a vivid portrait of the time against the backdrop of the so-called Communist Red Scare. While bands from all eras and styles have engaged in a fight the power type struggle, The Weavers personal lives and beliefs were the foundation on which their music was based. There was no playing a part/role; these were true believers who often ran contrary to the popular beliefs of the time/country and they stuck to their guns with no concerns about being Dixie Chicked. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

007 and Friends

Forever and a Day – Anthony Horowitz – (Harper)

I can’t imagine what a daunting task it must be to be tapped by any writer’s estate to pick up the mantle and continue the life of a signature character; the expectations of fans have to be off the charts. It happens with some regularity nowadays with cornerstone characters like Boston PI Spenser, CIA tough guys Mitch Rapp and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne continuing to live on after the passing of their creators.

I can’t think of a more difficult task than continuing the life and adventures of legendary British spy, Agent 007, James Bond. Bond has been part of the literary and film lexicon since Ian Fleming debuted him in 1953’s Casino Royale. Since Fleming’s passing, no less than eleven writers have taken on the task of continuing the Bond saga, if you include a Bond biography and the series of so-called “Young Bond” books.

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz is the latest to take on Bond – first with 2015’s Trigger Mortis and now with the audacious, prequel to Casino Royale – Forever and a Day. Horowitz skillfully sets the table and gives us the roots of not only Bond’s earning his license to kill, but also the source of his preference for bruised alcohol; shaken, not stirred.

Horowitz also had the benefit of some original material from Ian Fleming, which helps him ratchet up the excitement from what is a pretty straight forward storyline. As with most Bond stories, Horowitz succeeds by creating memorable characters that move through the Bond-sphere, including the femme-fatale, Sixtine. Horowitz is a master and Forever and a Day ranks among the year’s best.

The Moscow Sleepers – Stella Rimington – (Bloomsbury)

Not so much Bond here; strikes me a bit more from the world of John leCarre. Stella Rimington spent her professional career working for MI-5, the British internal security service. She worked the range from counter-espionage, subversion and terrorism; becoming the service’s first ever female director general.

It is from that base of experience that she builds her Liz Carlyle novel series and lends the stories a sense of realism. In her latest, The Moscow Sleepers, Rimington’s characters are realistically vivid to the point that I am certain her former colleagues must see more than small bits of themselves in her portrayals.

The international spy game is on full display, with a taste of intrigue on the side and with plots and conspiracies unfolding on both sides of the pond. Carlyle and her side kick Peggy Kinsolving pull on the loose threads to try to unravel a Russian plot to destabilize the German government with a rotating band of under-deep-cover operatives.

While it’s hard to communicate in the written word the intensity of say the “sleepers” on the TV program The Americans, Rimington does a nice job of imparting the hunt to track down the folks in play and give it a realistic feel.

The Spy Who Was Left Behind – Michael Pullara – (Scribner)

If you prefer your spy stories with more than just a dose of reality, with healthy pinch of murder mystery and a splash of tenacious, ballsy lawyer than, The Spy Who Was Left Behind, from Michael Pullara, the aforementioned testicular fortitude laden attorney, might be right up your alley.

To say that Pullara became obsessed with trying to track down the truth behind the 1993 murder of CIA branch chief Freddie Woodruff, in the crumbling former Soviet state of Georgia. At its heart this is a tale built on a frightening number of layers including the unraveling of the USSR, the U.S. trying to figure their place in the new world order, a ham fisted cover up and one man’s search for the truth.

With 20 years of material, countless interviews with KBG and CIA spies, government officials from both sides and even some newly uncovered witnesses, Pulara does a wonderful job of coherently working the story so it hangs together and moves forward at a steady pace – miraculous for a first time author.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Classy Rustic Baking

Red Truck Bakery Cookbook – Brian Noyes with Nevin Martell (Clarkson Potter)

There is an interesting story (maybe a bit too much) about the launch of the Red Truck Bakery, how a city mouse, became a country mouse and found success serving up classic, rustic baked goods and more. Brian Noyes is a newspaper man at heart, but turned his second love, baking into a successful business.

The business, Red Truck Bakery, takes its name from the lovingly restored, classic, 1954 Ford D-100 pickup truck that was purchased from designer Tommy Hilfiger, and was utilized to deliver Noyes initial forays into selling his wares. There is a heartland feel and flavor to the story and the recipes contained in the Red Truck Bakery Cookbook, that Noyes compiled with Nevin Martell.
I thought it was a nice touch that Noyes gives you the lay of the land up front, spelling out the specifics of his ingredient choices and tools of the trade; mixers, knives, cutters, etc. He also doles out some useful kitchen advice upfront, before you get too far along in the proceedings.

When you do finally bust into the goods, it runs the gamut from breakfast goodies to pies, cookies, bars, cakes and even buckles. While I can hold my own in the kitchen when it comes to main courses, I fully admit to struggling on the baking side of things, so a buckle, a streusel toped fruit-based desert was a new one for me.

By in large, I found most of the recipes pretty easy to follow and none of the ingredients were so far off the reservation that they would not be in easy reach for most bakers, with no need to special order from far flung places. The photography that accompanies the recipes are rich and beautiful. A couple of the recipes I tested won me thumbs up reviews from friends and family at the Thanksgiving festivities, so it’s likely I will be back to delve deeper into the Red Truck Bakery Cookbook.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Master of Puppets

Hangman – Daniel Cole – (ECCO)

You never know quite what to expect when you crack open a novel from a new or new to you author. I missed Daniel Cole’s, Ragdoll – so the follow up, Hangman, it’s cast of characters and storyline was totally new to me. When I delved in, there was a a not unfamiliar chill that ran up my spine. I quickly concluded that it was the same chill I felt when I cracked open Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the book that first introduced us to the Hannibal Lecter character and the precursor to Silence of the Lambs.

This is not to say that Cole has copped a Lecter-like character as much as to say that he has spun a twisted, psychological thriller that is intricate and engrossing, and is bound to have you guessing every step of the way. Cole does a masterful job of delivering devastatingly unexpected twists. Bodies begin to appear, strung up in very public places, each etched with messages carved into their chests that proclaim “Bait” or “Puppet.” The question gets posited, is the Ragdoll killer back in action or a copycat, or is it a twisted new killer.

The carnage soon moves from London to New York City with a kicked up element of terror. Irascible and cranky, Detective Emily Baxter is back in a lead role in the investigation on both sides of the Atlantic. This time she gets paired with a British expat – CIA officer – Rouche, a mysterious character chock full of contradictions and nuances. At points I was convinced that he was behind the growing body count based on his loner quality. Cole plays out just enough of his personal life, to make Rouche to be just the right amount of sympathetic.

The story plays out in twists and turns, has Cole offers up red herrings and wrong turns as to who the master of puppets really is. Things get ratcheted up with each step along the way to the very frantic close. Even experienced mystery solvers and thriller fans will be left second guessing their deductions. Cole even manages to re-bait the hook and the end, for wherever the story is going next.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Run With the Big Dogs

The Corrosion of Conservatism - Why I Left the Right - Max Boot - (Liveright Publishing)

Max Boot is a self-alleged conservative, who with the rise of then candidate and now President Donald Trump coupled with the publication of this, his latest book, The Corrosion of Conservatism; Why I Left the Right, has declared his departure from the conservative side of politics due to what he  feels is a major departure truly conservative principles. He has boldly proclaimed himself to be "A man without a party."

Boot is one of  those guys; you know the type, the one's who are so self-aware and so much smarter than you and for that matter so much smarter than anyone else. He takes a mighty swing at trying to explain his reasoning, but ends up falling drastically short. Where he does succeed is in adding his name to the seemingly never ending list  of insufferable, never-Trumper assholes like: Bill Kristol, Jeff Flake, Rick Wilson, Joe Scarborough, Ben Sasse, Jeb Bush, Bob Corker, Evan McMullen, Steve Schmidt, and on and on. Take a close look at that list and what do these clowns have in common? Aside from an astounding lack of pragmatism (seriously do they think Hilary Clinton was a better alternative?) the other commonality is they are all capital L - LOSERS. You've got to ask yourself, why would anyone seek to add their name to that list?

In play here are a couple of unrealistic viewpoints; that we just need to work in a bipartisan fashion and get along with Democrats and we will get things done and be liked by the media. It is that ridiculous, wrong, mindset that kept Republicans shackled in the minority for decades!

Boot and his fellow losers can't seem to come to grips with the fact that politics is a blood sport that needs to  be played to win and that Trump is is current holder of the equivalent of the world championship belt. It boils down to  the difference to running with the big dogs or staying on the front porch. Boot can soothe his sore feelings with invites to liberal cocktail parties, safe in the knowledge that NO one sees his multiple appearances on CNN and MSNBC. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Swap Draining Made Easy!

Donald Drains the Swamp - Eric Metaxas and Tim Raglin (Regnery Publishing)

It is a singular concept so simple, so basic to the very foundation that our country was built upon, that even a liberal should be able to understand it. Sadly they probably won't, because they will play party politics ahead of country.

In his new (children's?) book, Eric Metaxas and cartoonist Tim Raglin give  us their take on the roots of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump with, Donald Drains the Swamp, by using a parable that takes us back to the roots of our country and the immortal words of President Abraham Lincoln that ours, is a "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Metaxas sets the story against the backdrop of a group of cavemen and their King, who goes off to live in an actual swamp and while he leads, he ignores the cave-people that he rules and does his own thing, his own way. The story continues that the people he rules, rise up and bring forth a new leader to speak to the King and try to get him to understand the needs of the people.

This new intermediary is a cave builder, named Donald who builds caves envied by everyone in the land. when Donald gets gets frustrated about being ignored, he sets about digging a "huge" trench to drain the swamp. Donald he goes as far as to assure that the trench will "even come in below budget." It's a this point the people join him and help dig the trench, speeding the process of draining the swamp and in the process getting the attention of the aloof King.

This will be a fun book for your kids, but it may make the perfect gift for your annoying liberal friend who just can't quite get over the fact that Hilary Clinton lost. Bringing them to their knees and howling at the sky by slipping them a gift wrapped copy is my definition of FUN! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Don't Miss Fiction

Alright, I admit it, every once in a while I get a little behind in my reading, so I have to play catch up and so I can pass along tips on what I dub can't miss fiction. This batch of four great books certainly lives up to that mantle.

Second Strike - Peter Kirsanow (Dutton) 

Second Strike is the follow up to Peter Kirsanow's debut Target Omega which introduced hero Mike Garin to the world of thriller fiction. To say that Garin is a breast could be the definition of a beast; a hardened and well honed one man wrecking crew. Fresh off the effort to thwart a terrorist attack in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that paired Russian and Iranian evil doers, Garin tops the list of those targeted by terrorists for reprisal, placing him square in the gun sights of Russian killer Taras Bor.

Kirsanow, who has held high level federal positions, writes with a inherent insider feel that ratchets up the thrills. Garin is aided and abetted by a couple of highly trained and tough operators, Congo Knox and sniper Dan Dwyer in taking the fight to the to the  terrorists. These are the kinds of folks that will directly appeal to fans of the late Vince Flynn's, Mitch Rapp and Brad Thor's, Scot Harvath. Add to the mix the assets of a Blackwater-like military contractor and a high level national security advisor and the  book crackles with with energy. 

Nomad - James Swallow - (Forge Books) 

Countless authors and film makers have tapped into the storyline involving poor aggrieved Middle Eastern types seeking revenge against the evil west. Now add to the mix the equally familiar mole/spy in the security service and you're getting close to  the plot line of what is described as the first in the Mark Dane Series, Nomad. Dane is an interesting combination of veteran, skilled, military operator combined with a full Monty of high tech skills that has him taking a technical support role with the the MI-6 Nomad special operations team.

When an operation goes south leaving the entire Nomad team goes south, save for Dane, fingers and suspicions aimed directly at him, have him on the run trying to not only survive but to figure out who the mole inside MI-6 is. The race is on and the story moves with a solid, steady velocity once the initial ground work is laid. Swallow is a skilled British scriptwriter and this character debut slots him in as a thriller writer to reckon with. 

Add to the mix the mysterious Rubicon Group and tough as nails "security" operator Lucy Keyes, who ride to the rescue to save and aide Dane and this one sets the table for a long, happy, exciting relationship.

The Fifth to Die: A 4MK Thriller - J. D. Barker - (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) -

The mind of author J D Barker, is a dark and scary place. Back in 2017 Barker was responsible for what became one of my favorite books of the year, The Fourth Monkey. As a follow up, The Fifth To Die, Barker teases out enough bits a pieces of the one who got away, the 4MK killer to thread throughout the hunt for a new, equally devious and deranged killer.

Barker brings a level of skill at adding twist after twist to the story that you will find yourself second-guessing everything you think you have figured out. Barker skillfully engineers and hones each bit of the story line to fit perfectly together. It's easy to see why the Bram Stoker family selected Barker to pen a prequel to Dracula; this guy is that dark. If you are a veteran thriller reader who revels in the chase, trying to figure out how things come to a conclusion, then this one is right up your alley and will keep your guessing.

The Vinyl Detective: Victory Disc - Andrew Cartmel - (Titan Books) -

I love Andrew Cartmel's, Vinyl Detective Series because it appeals to everything I love to do; reading great mysteries and collecting music! This time out, the self-described Vinyl Detective and his band of lovable characters are on the hunt once again, trying to track down a World War II era Victory Disc, by the British, Flare Path Orchestra, the equivalent of the military Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Naturally there is a mysterious benefactor who hires on the VD and friends to track down these rare records and soon the hunt is on and the aging musicians from the  from the band, a prime source for tracking down the discs, start dropping like flies. Twists, turns and plenty of colorful and in some cases disturbing characters dot the landscape throughout. If you thought that WWII was over, think again, some battles are still in progress and who knew vinyl would be at the root of the fight. If you like your mysteries with a healthy dose of fun, this one is  for you.


Life In Pieces

Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life - Michael Katakis (Scribner)

I have always loved books like, Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life, the ones that tell a story not just of written words, but by weaving together photographs, letters and telegrams, notes and snippets collected over the course of a lifetime. 

I have always believed there is a thin line between a collector and a hoarder. A collector can truly live in a world of the marvelous and magical, while a hoarder lives in a world of sickness and decay. Thank God that someone had the foresight to gather this ephemera, which could have easily been discarded along the way of Hemingway's rambling, roaming life; and put together this magical collection in a way that offers new insight into the writer/adventurers life.

Given the current state of thinking on the keeping of journals among the writer community, I was struck by the fact the Hemingway did not keep a journal or diary;  he seemed like the perfect candidate for the practice. That being said, it raises the value  of the work done curating this collection by Michael Katakis, the manager of  the Hemingway estate. Katakis does a wonderful job of utilizing two way communications to detail the story in these pages; letters, notes and  telegrams to and from Hemingway, often dashed off on whatever was handy when he jotted of a note. A formal telegram from President-elect Kennedy invited Hemingway to inauguration events, coupled with the scrawled, back of steno notebook page reply of regrets due to health issues.

This book also made me a bit sad for future generations; like many I don't have a large collection of photographs, letters or cards to gather memories. To put together a collection of this type in the future we may need to package copies of SD cards, jump drives and outdated smartphones, complete with cracked screens to tell our story. We live in such a mobile, disposable society that we will lose so much of our personal history in the futile search for the next meme or viral video. Then again it got me to ponder the endless stacks of journals and notebooks in which I have scrawled millions of words on every topic imaginable and what my family would make of them as they thumbed through the pages. 

For now I will have  to be content with this amazing collection and the insights it gives this Hemingway fan, into the storied history and ramblings, both real life and on paper.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Smooth and Easy Miss

The Man Who Came Uptown - George Pelecanos - (Mullholland)

There is something smooth and easy about the lived in feel of a George Pelecanos book - no matter if it's the first time you're taking a ride with him or if you've been down this road before.

The latest outing from the Emmy nominated writer and producer; The Wire and HBO's The Deuce - and bestselling author - The Man Who Came Uptown - melds a handful of characters diverse life tales and the intersections and crossing of paths. Pelecanos is a master of an easy style of describing the settings that he places his equally comfortable characters in. Once again he treads on familiar ground dropping his folks into the neighborhoods in and around Washington DC.

As he has done in past outings, Pelecanos delivers a depth to even the bit players in every scene, that will have you wondering if there is more than meets the eye to their given piece of the story. Unfortunately here, Pelecanos' writing skills outweigh the story.

The Man Who Came Uptown, has all of the makings of something great; a heady brew of the once gritty streets of DC moving through gentrification, mixed with a crime story set against the back drop of redemption, revenge and unrequited love. At times it comes off as a series of short individual stories that Pelecanos tried to weave together to form a full length novel. The ending falls short, seeming like something that was tacked on in an effort  to pull everything together.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Humble Rock God

Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest -K. K. Downing - (DaCapo Press)

As I worked my way through Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest the bio from guitarist/founder K. K. Downing, I couldn’t help but be struck by the dichotomy of this leather and spikes clad, sneering, blonde rocker, with his guitar slung low. On one hand he is all that larger than life rock God and on the other a seemingly mild-mannered, humble guy who can’t hide the broad grin, spurred by his good fortune of being a rock star.

Naturally Downing ticks all of the boxes you’d expect; touching on his childhood, the genesis of his music aspiration, the start of the band, the slog of the early days, onto bigger and better things and of course the women. Downing also serves up something interesting insights into his creative process of not only writing the songs, building out the production, but also his often internal struggle with trying to build a coherent overall vision for the band’s look and feel, including everything from what they did onstage, on video, album covers and look. As the story progresses, you can see he never quite reached his level of comfort.

My coming of age in rock radio, paralleled Downing’s rise to rock stardom, so many of the episodes he writes about served as a great reminder of milestone moments for Judas Priest. He details the tale of the band being dragged into court, their music blamed as the cause of the suicide death of one fan and the failed attempt of another. He describes the pain he felt at the conflict of having to defend the band contrasted by the tragedy of the actions of what were clearly hardcore fans of the band’s music. I couldn’t help but remember the image of lead vocalist, Rob Halford uncharacteristically dressed in a suit, testifying in court.

When it comes to Halford coming out of the closet as gay, Downing is strikingly frank; claiming that he and fellow bandmates had always suspected Halford’ predilections and didn’t really care. It was almost as if Halford’s standard stage gear of leathers and a bullwhip was a caricature of his reality; an inside joke that everyone was in on.

Diehard Priest fans may quibble over some of the internal disagreements that Downing details, flying in the face of the united rock front the band presented to the public. Let’s face it, when you put a bunch of guys in close proximity and nearly non-stop recording and touring for decades and conflict is only natural and the details only make this more realistic. In the end it is Downing’s firm grip on reality that makes Heavy Duty an entertaining read.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Obscure World In the Palm of Your Hand

The Atlas Obscurra Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid – Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco (Workman Publishing)

Atlas Obscurra: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders – Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton (Workman Publishing)

A year or so ago I was doing some research for a book, and when it came to the book’s setting/geography, I realized I was lacking the basic knowledge I needed to properly tell the story. So, I did what has become natural and I turned to Google. The results I received to my queries did not to erase my information deficit, so I decide to go old school and round up an atlas from a local used book store.

There is just something about opening the heavy book and over-sized pages of an atlas that can transport you to the locale you are researching. One of my first thoughts was how kids raised in the era of the internet would never learn this handy research skill of delving into the colorful pages and dense type of a good atlas. Shortly after I started thumbing through the atlas, I came across Atlas Obscurra: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton, in a book store, completely oblivious to the website that launched this phenomenon.

Packed with tales, photos and maps on 700 strange and curious locales and things that populate the world out there, Atlas Obscurra, is a treasure trove of out-there stuff. To me, this fascinating blend of the bizarre is just the thing to capture the imagination of even the most jaded of web surfers. Instead of simply doling out pictures and information Atlas Obscurra, fuels the imagination and fires a long-dormant sense of adventure.

Now the perfect companion to the original, comes in the form of The Atlas Obscurra Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid. Once again Dylan Thuras helms the project, teamed with Rosemary Mosco. This brightly illustrated (by Joy Ang) collection is a perfect keeper to fire the interest of any explorer, young and old alike.

The Atlas Obscurra Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, circles the globe, touching on every continent and expounding on the virtues of caves and the creepy crawlies that in habit them, bodies of water and land masses of every shape and size. This is the perfect appetizer to feed the imagination of the would-be explorer. I love the fact that Thuras and Mosco include a packing list for the well-prepared adventurer and don’t forget to pack a sack of goat treats, “just in case you run into some adorable, hungry goats…” Hey, you never know.

Maybe I’m getting old or showcasing my old school tendencies, but think these books are just what we are missing out on in today’s all too fast paced world; rather than being spoon fed someone else’s answers we are served up something to stoke our imagination, fire our curiosity and our own search for the answers.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Three Quarterbacks, One Path

Believe It – My Journey of Success, Failure and Overcoming the Odds – Nick Foles (Tyndale Press)

Playing For More – Trust Beyond What You See – Case Keenum – (B&H Books)

This is the Day – Reclaim Your Dream, Ignite Your Passion, Live Your Purpose – Tim Tebow – (Waterbrook Press)

It is a sad statement about the current state of the world we live in that there is a question or stigma attached to the role of faith, Christianity in particular, by folks who can’t seem to come to grips with people who live with a higher purpose.

When it comes to high profile, often high maintenance professional athletes, that stigma gets magnified by, more often than not, liberal leaning sports broadcasters who have shifted focus from sports to social issues. These clowns thump their chests and proclaim that sports in and of themselves are embedded in the social fabric of society, while discounting or maligning Christian athletes and the role of religion in enacting positive change in the world.

Three new books, by three professional football quarterbacks spell out the positive impact that their faith had on their life and careers. In the case of the books by Nick Foles, Believe It – My Journey of Success, Failure and Overcoming the Odds and Case Keenum, Playing For More – Trust Beyond What You See mark a great intersection of biography and inspiration.

Tim Tebow has covered his story in other bestselling books and turns to not only delivering inspiration and encouragement, but also illustrating the concepts he espouses, with real world examples of how faith and purpose can change your life in This is the Day – Reclaim Your Dream, Ignite Your Passion, Live Your Purpose. While Tebow clearly leans heavily on his faith, I really think this is a truly inspiring, motivational book that your kids or anyone you think could use a boost or nudge in the right direction will benefit from.

I have driven my family to the brink of their sanity many times by proclaiming “you get out what you put in” and I CLEARLY get that message in the pages of Tebow’s book. He understands the value of hard work and effort and of striving every day to be the best. He uses phrases like “going back to the well,” and “playing through the pain,” to offer motivation to strive for more. I loved his thoughts on instant gratification and empty celebrity/fame for no reason, that has become part of or daily lives.

Tebow does a great job of showing examples of how faith and living with a purpose can make dramatic improvements in our lives. He also levels the playing field with great stories; just when you think your life so hard, he shows you that there are folks whose mountainous struggles make yours seem miniscule in comparison. If you can’t be inspired by This is the Day, then you may want to check your pulse or your humanity.

In Believe It, Foles details his amazing journey from college star to struggling NFL backup to pondering moving on with his life outside football to a one more chance story of leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a super Bowl victory and winning the MVP of the big game. The one constant throughout this life journey was Foles faith that his path was guided by a higher power.

If you’re looking for a football story or collectible to add to your shelf, you’ll certainly get that here, but the bigger message is the hang tough, keep strong and God will present you with the opportunity; from there it is up to you what you do with it. Foles stick to it attitude was clearly forged in the fires of hard work, faith and stepping up when he got the call.

In the case of Case Keenum’s, Playing For More, this is truly a rags to riches tale. Keenum, a working man’s quarterback, recruited by only one college, Houston, he went onto cost the NCAA a ton of money to by ink to rewrite the record books, only to go undrafted by an NFL team. His free agent career saw him cut by three teams over the course of time and in the end he became a journeyman backup.

All the while his family and his faith kept him focused and much like Foles, opportunity presented itself and Keenum answered the call, leading the Minnesota Vikings to an NFC North title. He has since gone on to sign a massive contract with the Denver Broncos, the ultimate payoff for his hard work.

Just imagine if Keenum or Foles had not had their faith to lean on, to keep them focused and centered, what opportunity may have been squandered? These are heroic and inspirational stories, not about quarterbacks or professional athletes, but about three men who understand that someone else is calling the plays for them and how they can claim victory in His honor.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Arm Yourself

Duped: How the Anti-Gun Lobby Exploits the Parkland School Shooting – and How Gun Owners Can Fight Back – Mark W. Smith (Bombardier Books)

I have mentioned here before that I am a recovering radio talk show host. While my thirst for debate has slackened, it never really goes away. I am (still) always on the lookout for concise, direct and powerful tools that will help me win the war of words.

Mark W. Smith’s latest book Duped: How the Anti-Gun Lobby Exploits the Parkland School Shooting – and How Gun Owners Can Fight Back, certainly lives up to and exceeds those three descriptors. A practicing trial lawyer and vice president of the New York Federalist Society, Smith clearly has the necessary legal chops to lay out the case; taking the often hyperbolic anti-gunner claims and then methodically shredding them step by step, point by point.

Smith makes the case that the anti-gun drivel spewed by looney left has brainwashed the unfortunate victims/survivors of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting and turned them into useful idiots to further their agenda. He skillfully utilizes relatable stories to knock down anti-gun arguments from the likes of hypocritical liberal nitwits like Rosie O’Donnell and Alyssa Milano, who appeared at an anti-gun rally trailed by security guards armed to the teeth.

Then there is the do as I say not as I do ridiculousness of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to take away your guns, while spending $20,000 per day on armed personal security for himself and his family. What? You don’t have an extra $3.7 million per year laying around to protect your family 24/7?

I still remember when the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, named after President Reagan’s aide James Brady who was caught in the crossfire during the 1981 assassination attempt on the President, which I think was still called Hand Gun Control Inc at the time; brought their brainwashing road show to a local university. I had requested the opportunity to debate their rep and he flat out refused, telling the college’s PR flak that he would not debate, because they knew I was too well prepared.

My gun control debate has been boiled down to two simple questions:
     1. Anti-gun type love to claim (wrongly) that private gun ownership does nothing to prevent or reduce crime or make you safer. My first question is, would they be willing to place a small sign on their front door that proclaims, “No Guns on Premises”. These are similar to the gun free zone signs that are on the doors of most U. S. schools that make those inside the schools prime sitting targets.
     2. What specifically does an “effective” and “common sense” gun control bill look like, that will prevent school or other mass shootings? It’s likely you will get the standard load of hooey that includes something about “closing the gun show loophole” and “banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.” None of these will do the first thing toward preventing a mass shooting

This is why arming yourself and arming yourself with the knowledge Smith imparts are the best way to protect your family and your right to choose.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Music Business, From the Inside

Anything for a Hit: An A & R Women’s Story of Surviving the Music Industry – Dorothy Carvello – (Chicago Review Press)

What I call the music phase of my radio career came at a time that paralleled the author of Anything for a Hit: An A & R Women’s Story of Surviving the Music Industry, Dorothy Carvello was wending her way through the incestuous world of the record company/music industry.

As I worked my way through the often salacious and at times scandalous, (even by today’s standards) pages of Carvello’s story, I was amazed at the number of folks of common lineage that we both crossed paths with. On the radio side, as an air personality and host of a music magazine format interview program, I often interacted with national promotions reps, A & R types and record company execs trying to break baby bands and established stars alike.

Carvello’s sometimes caustic descriptions of these guys ranged from not far off the mark to direct hits on what often amounted to a group of man/child types. I found myself laughing out loud as she tried to find a kinder, gentler way to call out what I can only describe as self-centered assholes. One of Carvello’s apt targets came from her days with RCA Records and then label president Joe Galante. I remember this half-pint big shot touring around the country with a guy that I can only describe as blonde haired rock God type, Mitch Malloy, promoting his debut RCA album and wondering why the heck this Napoleonic little clown was along for the ride? Carvello perfectly described not only his stature and room sized ‘tude.

Almost as long as there as been a music industry, fans have wondered how even massive stars who have sold tons of records and sold out barn sized arenas could end up in the poor house. Carvello courageously gives us a look under the tent flap and outlines some of the under-handed tactics record labels and executives use(d) to hose artists out of royalties and profits to enrich themselves or add to the bottom line. She claims that only savvy managers and agents who demanded audits that they had to foot the bill for, ever got a truly accurate financial picture.

Anything for a Hit, is an intimate look at the music industry that offers an insider’s view of an industry that has undergone monumental changes in the past couple of decades, not all for the better. 

Live Fast, Play Hard

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities - Wayne Kramer (DaCapo)

The Detroit, Michigan based MC5 is quite possibly the most influential rock ‘n’ roll band that never managed to score a hit record. The band is known for their shear, raw intensity and their influence can be heard in a riff ready legion of bands/genre ranging from punk to hard rock and heavy metal.

Guitarist and founder Wayne Kramer recounts his and the band’s story in the new bio, The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities. Almost surprisingly coherent, given the details Kramer divulges, and well written, The Hard Stuff, steeps you in the sites and sounds from the band’s earliest inklings and the street level chaos of the time.

You can really get a great sense of the band’s live fast and play hard ethos; they truly exemplify what garage rock is all about. They literally banged out three major label albums in the span of a couple years and were gone. Aside from influencing a generation of musicians to come, Kramer and the MC5 – vitriolic left wingers – provided the perfect soundtrack for their times in the late 60s and early 70s.

While illicit drugs were a staple for Kramer and the band, that alone was not a reason why they often and consistently found themselves on the radar of not only local,Detroit police, but also an investigative subject of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. In the The Hard Stuff, Kramer describes an often harrowing tale of self-destruction coupled with pure joy and agression of the music and later redemption and recognition. Much like the music it is delivered with a raw intensity.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Immigration Reality Check: Earn It

Dear America – Notes of an Undocumented Citizen – Jose Antonio Vargas (Dey Street)

“Yes I am lying, but I am going to earn this box.” The box in question is the one next to the line that reads “A citizen or national of the United States” on an employment application. With the flick of a pen Jose Antonio Vargas claims he committed his first lie about his citizen status at the age of 19. What he brushes over is the fact that in the process, he knowingly committed a crime.

In his new book Dear America – Notes of an Undocumented Citizen, Vargas, a native of the Philippines, details how he came to be in the United States and the struggles and quite frankly his triumphs during his time here. A respected and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Vargas claims that we are living in “the most anti-immigrant period in modern American history” which is complete and utter bullshit.

This is nothing more than the usual journalist’s hyperbole about immigration. While certainly there are pockets of virulent anti-immigrant folks, the vast majority of Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are not against immigration. However that vast majority is against illegal immigration; follow the rules and you won’t have a problem, it’s really that simple.

Vargas has already admitted to being a liar, so I guess I wasn’t surprised to read him spread the outright LIE that “everyday at least 34,000 immigrants are locked up, at enormous cost to American taxpayers.” First off, “immigrants” are not “locked up” any that are, are here illegally, yes they have broken the law. Second, liberals love to claim that there is a Congressional mandate that at least 34,000 illegal aliens be locked up in a daily quota. This is a flat out LIE. The mandate is for the number of beds that must be available to house the illegal immigrants on a daily basis. Just imagine the outcry from Mr. Vargas and his ilk if there was a shortage of beds for this purpose and an excess of people. 

Another bullshit stat that gets floated is that “immigrants” commit crime at about half the rate of the native-born population, 1.6% to 3.3%. This is a not so clever mixing of metaphors when you consider that fully 100% of illegal aliens commit a crime just by being here. Most compound that crime by committing fraud by lying on applications and claiming to be legal and/or identity theft when it comes to false social security records or fake identification.

Vargas details his 2014 visit to the Texas, Mexico border at McAllen, Texas to document the so-called “immigration crisis” and his detention by authorities. He claims this is the first time he was ever the recipient of legal documents from the U.S. Government. I find it amusing that for all of his teeth gnashing about President Trump and his illegal immigration policies, his arrest occurred during the Presidency of Barack Obama.

I must admit that I may have missed the part of the book where Vargas details how he has a gun held to his head forcing him to remain in the United States. If things are so hard for him here, why not accept the largess of the U.S. government in the form of a one way ticket home? He claims his life would be in danger from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte due to his crack down on journalists. Maybe life in the U.S. isn’t so bad. I would think that Mr. Vargas has the wherewithal to quickly pass through his native country and on to anywhere in the world he would like to plan his next steps.

Problems and Solutions   

Like so many problems/issues we face, liberals tend to think that the solution has to be BIG – as in big government. We really don’t need a massive immigration overhaul, to match say the EPIC FAIL of Obamacare. It’s time to look at the real issues and break them down piece by piece instead of throwing a massive blanket over it, why not try using a laser to pick away at the problem areas.

In healthcare it was pre-existing conditions; why not address that relatively small issue in the grand scheme of a multi-trillion dollar healthcare system and take care of that need instead of blowing up the whole system? The so-called Dreamers who were brought here illegally when they were kids; why not develop a system to identify these folks and get them legal, without the baggage of creating anchor families or the radical leftist thoughts of no borders. There clearly is a solution that can be developed without using a nuclear weapon.

The issue of Middle East refugees is different and separate from immigration and should be treated as such. One look at the utter mess in European countries that threw open the gates and who knows who is walking in and creating a national security nightmare. By controlling and limiting the number of folks is the only way possible to avoid a massive problem that we could live to regret down the road. See Germany and France. We need to work to develop a system to provide a closer screening process that keeps us safe. Is this a perfect or fool-proof system? NO! No system ever is, but it’s better than what currently exists and what Europe has in place. Will that delay or slow the process? YES, but isn’t a little inconvenience worth the risk involved if we don’t do it?

To Mr. Vargas, I like most United States Citizens would be more than happy to have you “earn the box.” Sorry if we are not willing to scrap our system just to help you or anyone else in your situation out. You have to EARN it.