Monthly Archives: November 2013

Book Review: Bohemians

Bohemians by Paul Buhle

Bohemians edited by Paul Buhle is a history of bohemian lifestyle and the key players in a graphic novel form. Buhle earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975. He has been involved in a variety of organizations like Students for a Democratic Society (anti-war), civil rights and the Socialist Labor Party. He was a founding member of the New Students for a Democratic Society and a leader in the Movement for a Democratic Society. He has written for many liberal and leftist publications. Before you let the editor’s background turn you off, would you really want to read a history of the bohemian movement written by Bill O’Reilly? 

Bohemians covers the Unites States for a period from the utopia societies of the mid-nineteenth century through the Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. This graphic novel is more than a comic book. The artwork adds to the written word…more than adding it multiplies the information. The “free love” movement to the mid-nineteenth century begins the book. Yes, mid-nineteenth not mid-twentieth century. Walt Whitman’s “Crossing the Brooklyn Ferry” is presented with art merging 1850 New York with modern times. There are all the heavy hitters covering art, literature, dance, jazz, interracial couples, homosexuality, and labor. Beside Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Woody Guthrie, Josephine Baker, Henry Miller, and for people in my age group, Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar. There are many lesser known people. 

Bohemians is a nice collection of individual chapters covering different sections of history and different people. The graphic work is done by different artists in chapter so there is a variety of style to help in the transition of time. The history is interesting too. The people who are outside of society are paving the way the rest us us will follow. What was once cutting edge or just considered improper or immoral then, is accepted now. It is not acceptance of “bad” things, but women’s rights, civil rights, and of course art, dance, and music. Bohemians provides the reader with a good mix of education and entertainment.

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Book Review: Night Raiders of the Air

Night Raiders of the Air by A.R. Kingsford

Night Raiders of the Air by A. R. Kingsford is the story of a New Zealander’s answer to the call of duty in World War I. Kinsford enlisted in the Medical Corps and survived the sinking of HMS Marquette in route to Europe. Eventually, he successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was assigned to the 100 Squadron as a lieutenant. 100 Squadron was the first squadron to drop a bomb on Germany and also the last. 

War stories are best told by the people who were there giving first hand insight into the events and the human feelings that are recorded. We are usually appalled by senseless deaths, but the person there has seen it often enough that it doesn’t raise much concern above “he is no longer with us.” Witnessing the execution of a spy, however, was far more traumatic than battle field losses. 

Kinsford flew the rather unique looking F.E.2B a pusher biplane bomber. He describes the flying, the learning, and the very frequent crashes. Crashing seems have been much more common than I have read in other histories and memoirs. There is frustration about not being able to reach the altitude to stop the Zeppelin bombers. Zeppelin and planes would fly over the airfield and town and literally drop bombs. Most were released over the side, by hand, without the benefit of bomb sites or calculations. Kingsford’s 100 Squadron would conduct night raids over Germany would be much more precise and at lower altitudes. Some missions went smoothly and other ran into the flood lights and anti-aircraft fire. 

During the whole of its active service career on the Western Front, no less than two hundred and thirteen raids were carried out, with a total of one hundred and eighty-five tons of bombs dropped. Approximately 450,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition was expended during these raids. 

Night Raiders gives a personal look at the airwar. Written a little more than ten years after the war, Kingsford had time to give an objective narrative of his experiences. It is more common to have second or third hand accounts of the war. When first hand accounts are given they are usually used for emphasis or even a bit of sensationalism. Here is a mature, first hand account of the war. The writing is clear and concise. Kinsford’s thoughts are well organized and very readable. It may just be me but there seems to be no hatred Kingsford. He does call the Germans, Huns. But things seem more sporting than vicious. World War I was a mistake. Nations that were warring were, with the exception of Austria and Serbia, really didn’t have a reason to fight. France was not seeking justice for is loss of Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Britain had more profitable things to do. The Kaiser was on vacation. Russia had its own internal problems to work out. Granted there was paranoia, but that could have been overcome. People went to war with a romantic idea in their heads and once it was seen not to be a quick little war they probably questioned who and why they were fighting. A very worthwhile read.

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Book Review: Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk

You hear a lot of stores in twelve-step meetings—shocking narratives of brutal childhoods, shattered families, hard falls from grace, harrowing descents into degradation, desperate time spent in detox, emergency rooms, psychiatric units, and jail cells. After awhile you begin to think you’ve heard it all, that nothing will ever surprise you again about human behavior under the influence of drugs and alcohol, or about the human spirit’s ability to recover…

Dreadnaught by D. H. Peligro

Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk by D.H. Peligro is the memoir of one of the very few African-American punk rockers to make it big. Peligro is from St. Louis and had a pretty hard childhood in the projects and ghettos. Thanks in part to mandatory busing, his musical preferences were much different than what would be expected: Metal, like Judas Priest. Peligro was the drummer for the Dead Kennedys from 1981 through the breakup in 1986 and since the 2001 Jello-less reunion. He also played for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1988. 

I glanced at this book quickly and was ready to pass it by when I saw Dead Kennedys. That caught my attention. I had been a bit of a DK fan and still am. I am much more a fan of the New York punk movement and the West Coast music never appealed to me except for the Dead Kennedys. They seem much more mature and political in their music. Not the typical west coast, whiny, suburban kids singing about how bad things are. I have some respect for the Dead Kennedys. 

Dreadnaught is your typical rock and roll memoir. Good times, bad, times, lots of drugs, and many failed chances to get straight. There is nothing new in that. What is new is finding out that the Dead Kennedys were not a drug band and found Peligro’s drug use problematic. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had is share of drug problems, but here again Peligro’s drug use caused problems. Flea although not a saint, as described by Peligro, did not abuse drugs and did not tolerate abuse. Insights into the bands made up some of the most interesting parts of the story.

Although this is your typical drug abuse memoir, Peligro is an interesting person. His rise from the ghetto, his taste in music, and the people he worked with is impressive. He mentions race growing up and the problems that caused, but he never used it as an excuse once he moved out to California. Peligro does mention a skin head yelling out to “send all the blacks back to Africa” before a concert. But Peligro plays it off as the skin head’s ignorance of the band. Few people knew the Dead Kennedys had a black drummer; there were never any pictures of the band members on the albums. If you would have asked me last week to name a black punk rock band member, I would have drawn a blank. (I have since seen the documentary on the band Death.) A few more bits of information on Peligro are that he is vegan/vegetarian, even when on hard drugs, and was once a bicycle messenger. Despite the typical plot, Peligro does tell an interesting story. Recommended for Dead Kennedys’ fans and fans of general rock memoirs.

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November 26, 2013 · 01:17

Book Review: Savage Roads (Where Griffons Feed)

Savage Roads (Where Griffons Feed) by Erich Penoff brings back something to contemporary fiction that has been missing since the end of the Cold War. Penoff, from the biography supplied, is a world traveler, originally from Canada, well traveled in the Americas as well as the hot spots of the world. Other than that the man is pretty much a mystery, like his main character, Marco. 

As a kid, I spent a great deal of time reading in the 1970s. Not the usual kid stuff, but something like by J.G. Ballard, books of movies I couldn’t see, or spy stories. Spy books were the best, I think. They came either as trashy, James Bond-ish, gadgety action stories with larger than life characters or the really good ones, the more realistic ones. Smart, sometimes cocky, lead characters that planned, set things up, and survived by their plans and their wits when the plans didn’t work out. The story is what is important and not the action and gadgets. Penoff creates that same type of great story. It is no longer the Soviets, KGB, or the NKDV, but international finance and instability in Africa. There is a learning curve with what is going on in Africa. My one trip to Khartoum, Sudan and a graduate class in African security policy made me realize how out of date I was with the current situation. Things change fast and violently in Africa. 

Marco is a wildlife photographer, or that is what he tells people and he has the pictures to back it up. Sometimes his pictures are more than Chechen wolves, like a ambush of a Russian military convoy. He has been in and out of jails, rough situations, and the best hotels in Europe. He works freelance and although in his sixties he still has another mission in him. His former colleague Karl calls him up with a problem. Karl is an investment banker whose problem is now Marco’s too. He needs to get an investment of $30 million in gold out of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Part of that investment belongs to Marco’s daughter. Marco starts planning a mission to get the gold. It’s not as easy as it sounds. There is some corruption involved, the Europol to deal with, logistics, team building, an attractive French agent, and a murder attempt, and Marco hasn’t left Western Europe yet. 

This book is about the story and the characters. Although there is some action in the story, do not expect 007 toys or deus ex machina . There is very little suspension of disbelief needed when reading the book, it reads like real life. The characters are all very real and extremely well developed. The plot follows a definite pattern and order. It is executed with the precision of a Marine Corps’ Five Paragraph Order. The information on Africa is current and offers a realistic setting as well as the parties involved: Hutus and Tutsis, Christians and Muslims, government and rebels, runaway corruption and the ability to buy whatever you need…for a price. 

Savage Roads took me back to the days of complex spy novels. The players and the arena may have changed, but the heroes and the excellent storytelling remain. This is the reincarnation of the classic spy novel for the post cold war era. This is the literary version of Cabernet Sauvignon in a Mad Dog world. A fine read with a bottle of Krug or Camus. 

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Book Review: The First of July

The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

The First of July by Elizabeth Speller is a novel that examines the lives of four men leading up to the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Speller has lived throughout western Europe and currently splits her time between Gloucestershire and Greece. She has written for The Independent, Financial Times, Vogue, and Big Issue. This is her third novel. 

I spend quite a bit of time reading World War I books, from Ernest K Gann’s In the Company of Eagles which started me in my early teens to Paul Jankowski’s Verdun in my current to read pile. I find it an extremely interesting subject and something that has driven almost everything in the twentieth century. I have stayed away from World War I fiction because I found it too easy to nit-pick and there is plenty of poetry to show the more human side of the war. Nevertheless, I gave The First of July a try. 

The story follows four men starting in July 1913, three years before the start of the Battle of the Somme. Jean-Baptiste Mallet is a blacksmith leaves his home of Corbie, France before before the war; he is disenchanted with recent events in his town. Frank Stanton found his way to London when he was nineteen. He is a carpenter and made coffins before arriving in London. Frank becomes a store clerk and dreams of owning a quality bicycle. He has follows the Tour d’ France and the racers. Frank and his friend dream about bicycle touring. Benedict Chatto is from Gloucester is a music man and spends time with his friend Theo. Harry Sydenham lives in New York and is marrying Marina. Harry is British and has fled his home land keeping with him secrets he chooses not to share, even with his wife. 

Speller takes these four men and shows the reader how the war will change the lives of all classes of people as the characters lives intertwine. Theo convinces Benedict to join the artillery with him, but no sooner does Benedict sign up, Theo signs on to be a pilot. Frank has no real desire to fight in a war once his friend Dick, who owns a fine Hercules bicycle, dies in the war. Benedict, meets Frank and suggest he join a cyclist brigade. That seemed to be a perfect tribute to his departed friend. On a personal level I was drawn in by Frank and his love of bicycles. The men’s stories are interesting and provide a realistic look into their personal lives and the personal issues their faced or kept secret. The book also gives a feel for the general feeling of the populations in France, Britain, and the United States. 

The First of July is an excellent World War I novel. It focuses on the main characters and their families and give a nice human element to the war. The novel ends on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. This was the bloodiest battle of the war. For five months the battle went on and produced a million casualties. The British alone suffered 60,000 casualties on a single day, the July 1st. The story is interesting enough so I never had a chance to nit-pic or notice any historical inaccuracies. It is truly enjoyable to find a work of fiction that fits so well into an area of study mine.

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Book Review: The Blood and the Life

The Blood and the Life by Donald K. Chapman

The Blood and the Life by Donald K. Chapman is his first novel. Chapman was born and raised in Colorado and earned his BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Evansville in Indiana. He currently resides in Denver with his wife and three children.

We all have own little prejudices when it comes to reading material, and I thought for sure I ran into mine in the prologue. The start of the first chapter quickly changed my opinion. Down on his luck, wrongly accused, severely beaten, and thrown out of his village in disgrace, Feranos enters the world alone. Looking to belong to something, he falls in with a blood cult. This cult seems to be a non-supernatural vampire cult that lives in a cave away from society. Feranos sees potential in the cult. He sees and feels the advantage of drinking the blood of the strong and the power it brings him. He sees the flaws in the cult, rebels against the leadership, and is evicted. Again, nearly dead, he is thrown out into the world. He arrives at a village market and resorts to petty crimes until he meets a woman with a sick sister. They are heading to Palestine to see a healer named Jesus. Feranos follows along and witnesses some of the events of the last days of Jesus. His concern, however, is getting Jesus’ blood for the power he thinks it contains. Feranos gets his wish, a drop of Jesus’ dying blood and that blood transforms him. 

What happens next is a little like the Casca series of the 1980s. Not the eternal soldier, Feranos becomes a vampire. Much like Casca, the fictional Roman soldier who speared Christ’s side, he faces an eternity of wandering, loneliness, emptiness, and for Feranos, unquenchable thirst for blood. I did find it interesting that the blood of Jesus would lead to vampirism. The historical settings are a little light outside of the Biblical versions of Palestine. There is travel covers two continents and the plot easily holds the reader’s interest. Feranos, himself, is very well developed and although a vampire, he is a likeable antihero in much the same way as Satan in Paradise Lost. You know he is evil, but there is something about him that captures and holds your interest. 

Chapman can tell a great story. There were some twists that I was not expecting. The writing is clear and flows smoothly. The story moves along at a quick pace. It is well thought out and not at all what I was expecting. It is not Twilight meets the Bible or a book to convert straying goth youth back to the path. In fact, I am reminded almost of Richard Bach’s Illusions. The name or pantheon is not as important as the presence of a supreme being in the story to bring the completeness of life that people. It brings great balance to the story. On the other side of the story, Chapman does a great job at explaining many of the traditional vampire myths in his book. All my hesitations and preconceived ideas were unfounded. I found this to be a very enjoyable. A really great and well written story.

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Book Review: Writing the Town Read

Writing the town Read by Katharine E. Smith

Writing the Town Read is written by Katharine E. Smith. Smith lives in Shropshire, England although she has fond holiday memories of Cornwall where the story takes place. She holds a degree in philosophy and has previously worked in the IT and charity sectors. She now runs a small publishing company.

July 7th, 2005 was the date of a terrorist attack in London fifty-two were killed by four suicide bombers in the London subway and a bus during morning rush hour. That is a true event and occurred the day after London was selected for the 2012 Olympics. Jamie Calder loses her boy friend in the chaos of the London bombings. She is a journalist at a small newspaper in Cornwall. Now, I was expecting a story about a small town journalist making it big with the story of what happened to her boy friend. This is something right my alley then I ran across this on the publisher’s page”

Writing the Town Read will appeal primarily to young women, in the 20 – 40 age group but, whilst not a great literary masterpiece, neither is it your average chick lit novel.” Book for young women, 20-40, and almost chic lit. Well that puts me at zero for three. So I guess Jamie is not going to be the groundbreaking investigative reporter. Well, manly man and all, I have read and enjoyed Virginia Woolf and the Bronte sisters maybe there is a hook in this story to catch me.

There was a hook for me very early on Jamie is a vegetarian, a quite outspoken vegetarian. I particularly liked the way she pointed out the hypocrisy of the local farmer cuddling up to a piglet for a photo op. She definitely has her mettle. She is almost instantly likeable. Not perfect, but her flaws are minor and help in making her likeable. She makes her opinions known, but sometimes it is with quiet sarcasm. In the face of the tragedies and challenges she experiences, she remains strong but not unbreakable; she is very human. She loses her boyfriend in the terrorist attack and finds out that death may not be the worst thing. There are also day to day issues she faces. The possibility of losing her job, friendships that are stressed, and dealing with co-workers are a few of her challenges. I don’t think I have been taken in by a female character like Jamie, since Dagny Taggart years ago.

Smith has a smooth and flowing writing style and creates very realistic characters. There were several times I had to remind myself that this is fiction and not a memoir. It reads that well. I didn’t find any of the little slips in the story or logical errors that occur in fiction. The story played out like real life. As an American I also liked the British English. There is nothing will confuse Americans in the book but, I found myself reading/hearing Jamie with a British accent. It seemed to add something extra for me. Sharp tongued sarcasm with a British accent just has so much more effect. Although I fail miserably as being part of the target audience, I really enjoyed this book and hope that Smith continues writing. She has a much bigger audience than the book was targeted for.

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