Monthly Archives: January 2014

Book Review: Red Wind Howl

in the drifting wind is the perfect moment and the 
moment goes on and on

“The Space Sublime”

Red Winds Howl by Peter Standish Evans

Red Winds Howl by Peter Standish Evans is a short collection of modern poetry. Evans was born in Worcester, UK. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Natal University and his MBA from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, He has previously published the novel Omnibus: Borders: Coffee.

Over the last few years I have developed a strong appreciation for poetry– from the classic forms to free verse. I also came to find out that poetry has had its effects in my early musical preferences. My favorite singers were (and still are) poets: Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan. Red Wind Howls is advertised as something outside the mold of contemporary and historical poetry. It is described as a blend of 303 bullets and tequila, and from the “neo-metallic realist” school of poetry. I immediately thought this could be the punk rock of poetry: sharp, jagged edges, powerful, and raw. I would soon find that I was not disappointed. 

I received the book in the mail and removing it from the envelope my first thoughts were “Huh, a used book. How long has this been sitting around on a back shelf.” It took me a minute to realized that this was not a used book. The cover art (something I usually never talk about) is distressed. It looks like something you would pick up on the California desert blown around for years by the Santa Anna winds (Red Winds of Philip Marlowe). 

This collection covers a broad range of topics. From a machine gunner to a sniper and from Africa to a million, million pixels through the solitude of retinas, Evans looks beneath the veneer of our seamless world. There is a halting roughness to the words that breaks in mid thought to a new line or stanza. It gives the feeling that things are not necessarily the way we perceive them; we take things for granted and give no more than a moments notice. The Red Winds Howl is what exists beyond the sound bites and simple explanations. There is something disturbing, something the mad man sees and tries to explain to the conformist. 

“Johnny’s Locker” is about a boxer who likes dancing with knives and breaking heads on Sundays, but Johnny is more than what people see he is a poet and runs deep, deep inside the wind. “The Extremist” tells of the view and patience of a vulture circling high above Mogadishu riding the thermals waiting for its moment. There is rebellion too. “Turning Faces” begins:

out of the mighty side streets sirens fly,
window mouthing obscenities 
forced through loud hailers 
firmly between thumb and Jupiter
decision and ambition fixated on the eye of the target
like a dart posed in flight
powered, pulsing, probing
endlessly racing, seeking victory
chasing the tail feathers down the alleys of time

Red Wind Howl is a very readable collection of poetry with a modern twist. Evans has captured the modern world with raw and powerful imagery. This is a collection for the modern urban man who sees the cracks in the foundation of modern society and is not afraid to express those thoughts. This is the punk rock of modern poetry.

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Book Review: The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944

The Royal Navy Officer's Pocket-Book by Brian Lavery

The Royal Navy Officer’s Pocket-Book, 1944 with introduction, compiled by Brian Lavery is a reprint of the World War II naval officers pocket-book. Lavery is a leading British naval historian he has also published Churchill’s Navy (2006). 

As a former US Marine, I have read the tomes that are the Marine Corps’ non-commissioned officers and officers handbook and guide. Although it has been well over twenty years since I looked at either book, I remember a great deal from them that applied to my time in the Marines and afterwards. As a student of history and formerly serving under the Department of the Navy, I thought this British naval hand-book would be an make a nice comparison to that I have learned. 

After the introduction by Captain J. N. Pelly, the book begins:

Leadership is the one attribute which is common and necessary to all who wear the uniform of an officer in His Majesty’s Forces, whatever their technical qualifications. 

It is followed by Bearing and Example, Knowledge, Firmness and Fairness, Loyalty, and Smartness. This is much of what I expected; what makes a leader a leader and more importantly an effective leader. This first section of the book is a fairly detailed coverage of what it takes to be an effective leader. Know you men, by name. No one likes to be called “Hey, you.” Address your non-commissioned officers by rank and name. It shows respect for what they have earned and your faith in their abilities. Don’t raise men’s hope of leave or liberty, unless you are one hundred percent sure you can deliver on it. Disappointment makes for poor morale. There is several mentions about conduct of the men and more than a few mentions of dealing with drunkenness (but also the importance of maintaining adequate rum rations for the men). 

The book goes on to more ship related matters and spends a great deal of time on the ship’s medical officers. There is a section on correcting courses, converting magnetic compass readings to true compass readings, and correcting for drift. The ship’s medical officer section is disproportionately large, primarily because doctors serving on ships during the war were civilian doctors and not naval trained doctors. They had a major adjustment to make. Doctors are also told that the navy cannot afford x-ray machine and microscopes for all the ships in the navy and doctors must make use of the medical training and not rely only on technology. The final chapter starts with the warning that this book is to remain locked up when not in use then proceeds to cover the subject of mutiny. I saw that as a little odd to find in a modern democratic nations naval hand-book, but it was on the minds of leaders. WWII pulled many men into the navy who would much rather being doing something else than fighting a global war. There was a realistic concern that some would choose to rebel. The solution basically boils down to good leadership. 

It is interesting to see all the changes in the modern military and how much of this hand-book is now obsolete. One thing that never changes though is leadership and being an effective leader. That leadership also plays a role in the civilian world today’s leaders and supervisors could learn much from this short hand-book. Military leadership is not yelling and screaming. It is building a team, setting the example, and motivating people to complete a task. Militaries know this and it has remained effective over the years. This hand-book may be more in more in line for military historians and naval historians, but it has great advice for all leaders. 

No star rating because this is a historic training manual written for a specific purpose and time, but well worth the read. 

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Book Review: How to be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More

How to be Vegan: Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Cruelty-Free Eating, Living, Dating, Travel, Decorating, and More by Elizabeth Castoria is an introduction and guide to the vegan lifestyle. Castoria is the former editorial director of VegNews. 

One of my biggest peeves with vegans stems from definitions. In this book I see the same thing. Vegans do not eat or use any animal products which is clear and concise. However vegetarians eat eggs and dairy according to Castoria. As a vegetarian, that is news to me. Vegetarians are by definition herbivores. There are hyphenated exceptions such as lacto-vegetarians who eat dairy and ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs. Castoria sees no difference. What separates vegetarians from vegans is the use of animal products, which is rather a blurry area. Vegans won’t eat honey because bees are animals, but very few would think twice about fumigating their house to get rid of termites. There is a sliding scale of acceptability. 

The book on the whole provides good information on why giving up the consumption of animal products is a worthwhile endeavour. There are personal benefits for your health and environmental benefits. Cattle rank as the greatest greenhouse gas emitters in the world. There is also the animal rights portion too. There is an overall loss in food production by raising animals for slaughter. Animals require much more food than they provide. And, yes, you can get all your protein through plants. 

There are also useful “pro-tips” and celebrity tidbits throughout the book. Most aspects of everyday life are covered from being vegan while traveling, what to eat at the airport, and how to order vegan meals when the options are not on the menu. There is a chapter on household and beauty item and a list some that are vegan. Most aspects of life are covered with the exception of automobiles. Our car society impacts animals a great deal from road kill, destroying habitats for new roads, sprawling suburbia destroying any meaningful wildlife refuge. Not to mention the destruction of the environment from oil spills and pollution. But, giving up a car is harder than giving up meat, I guess. 

All in all a decent introduction to veganism. The recipes at the end of the book are an added bonus, and from reading through them, they seem like they would taste good and look easy to make. I would recommend this book to anyone looking at changing their life to a healthier one and one that is gentler on the planet. Even with what this book lacks it does give an encouraging boost to those interested in veganism (or vegetarianism).

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Book Review: Achievement: The Righting of a Great Wrong 1914-1918

Achievement The Righting of a Great Wrong 1914-1918

Achievement: Righting the Great Wrong 1914-1918 by Ian W. Hall gives a contemporary look back at the First World War in plain language. Hall was born in northern England in 1935 and served as a junior officer in the Royal Signals. After the military, he worked for thirty years in personnel management in the chemical, engineering, and construction industries. Since retiring, he has concentrated on writing.

Achievement presents a different history of the war from the British perspective. Instead of a chronological listing of events, Hall is topic driven. In “The Approach March” he takes us back in time to set the stage for the war: politically and militarily. Another chapter discusses army organization and the operations, and another the German perspective of the war.

In Achievement the overwhelming point was how unprepared everyone was for the war. Britain an island nation put its military spending into its navy. It needed to protect itself from European aggressions and protect its far flung empire. It did not have a real standing army in country. The author jokes that the British loved their army because it was overseas and not causing problems inside the country. Kaiser William (Willie as the author calls him) was doomed by buying into the idea of a naval arms race with Britain and the Schlieffen Plan. The naval race because it was planned on the idea that Britain would not react to the growing German navy, and the Schlieffen plan because no plan ever lasts beyond initial contact with the enemy.

There is some humor in the book like describing Russia’s value to France as an ally: Russia was a basket case nation in terminal decline; as an ally no more use than a busted flush to a blind poker player. 

He also makes light of the Czarina’s military experience in her convincing the Czar to take charge of the military. In England, the King or Queen was in command of the navy and parliament in charge of the army. That explains why the army was so ill prepared equipment wise for the war . There was a point that each artillery gun was limited to firing four shells a day. British logistics also takes up an entire chapter in the book and gives an good look at its evolution. Meanwhile, the navy was all dressed up with no place to go in this war. Just as confusing to the outsider was that America’s military is lead by the president, but only congress can declare war.

One item that was repeated a few times in the book was one advantage the British soldiers had over the Germans: grenades. Although the German potato masher grenades looked cool, they were awkward. The British grenades, Mills bomb, were fairly close to a modern grenade. A steel shell filled with explosives. Once detonated, the steel shell became shrapnel and had a ten meter kill zone. What gave the British the extra advantage was the grenade was roughly ball shaped. Most British soldiers played cricket at one time or another and learned to throw a ball accurately (the same can be said of forces of the empire too). Throwing a grenade accurately was the same skill, unlike the Germans trying to throw a can with a stick attached to it.

In this year of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I many books have been published and luckily I have been able to read a fair number of them. This book is different because it is the first that has not been written by someone with a PhD or even a master’s degree. The only education listed in the author’s short biography is grammar school. This is an educational and enjoyable book on World War I. The fresh perspective and plain language make it easy to read and understand. A good book for any war historian and an excellent book for the interested, non-historian.


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Book Review: The Killing Depths

The Killing Depths by Martin Roy Hill

The Killing Depths by Martin Roy Hill is a military mystery novel set in an American submarine. Hill has a long history as a reporter and editor for newspapers and magazines before he became a military analyst. He is a sixteen year veteran of the US Navy and Coast Guard. Hill has also written several short stories and novels many earning recognition.

Initially The Killing Depths appealed to me because it takes place on a submarine. As a former Marine I know a bit of naval traditions and the day to day life in the naval service. However, except for a visit to the USS Nautilus museum, I have never been close to a submarine. Secondly, the (still fictional) idea of women serving on an attack submarine seemed to be a historic landmark; women being allowed to enter into the last “men only club” in the military. The novel coincidentally fell into my hands shortly after the Marine Corps graduated the first two enlisted women from Infantry School, since then ten more women have graduated. Considering recent events, having women serve on the attack submarine Encinitas suddenly did not seem so far fetched. The story also involves the North Koreans and the Iranians in a plausible real world scenario.

The USS Encinitas has a problem. A female sailor who was thought to have committed suicide on the submarine is found to have been murdered. NCIS Agent Linus Schag is airlifted to the sub in mid-mission to solve the murder. The Executive Officer Paul Culver is surprised to see his former classmate, Schag. Captain Johnson is less pleased. First having to surface in mid-mission and second he too knows Schag and is not happy to see him officially or unofficially. These three men have a history that the reader will begin to understand as the story evolves.
Hill also weaves relevant naval history into the story. The incident with the USS Iowa and the fiasco of the investigation concerning the torrent explosion in 1989 is mentioned more than once. The USS Thresher and Scorpion disasters are also mentioned. Life on a submarine and problems of living on the sub are covered for the general reader. This allows the reader the basic understanding of living life underwater in a metal tube: dealing with stale air, no privacy, monotonous food, and claustrophobia. The added challenges of integrating women into the crew is explained from living in cramped quarters to segregating sleeping areas.

Schag begins his investigation in a hostile environment. No one wants to believe there is a killer among those in this close knit crew, and no one appreciates the intrusion. On a submarine you need to count on every member to pull their weight. The idea of a killer in the mix is unthinkable until there is another murder. Finding the killer is no easy task. The crew and officers are defensive and do not appreciate the disruption in their mission. The Captain Johnson is unyielding in keeping to his mission: sinking the former Soviet Charlie class submarine, the Crescent Moon. The Crescent Moon has been refitted and armed by the North Koreans and purchased by Iran. The captain’s orders are clear sink the sub at all costs. The captain is in a tough position of needing to complete his mission and saving his crew from what appears to be a serial killer on his submarine.

The friction between the characters against the back drop of completing the mission or safety of the crew makes for a great story. Limiting the scope of the story to the submarine and its very limited ability to communicate to the outside world without compromising its location or mission adds to the challenge. More than a military story, more than a mystery, and more than a thriller, Hill weaves together all three in an exciting story that will keep you in suspense through out the book. The twin stories of a possible serial killer and the mission to destroy the Crescent Moon make for excellent reading. I have a hard time remembering the last time I got this caught up in a thriller. I was even more so surprised to see that it is independently published. The quality of the book and the story is outstanding

Book Review by Joseph Spuckler
4 Stars

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Book Review: Moonchild’s Smile


Moonchild’s Smile by Marat M’saev Daan (translated by Tanja Mitric) is a collection of Serbian poetry. There is little information on the web, in English, about the author. His official biography simple states that he is Serbian and describes life, people, and events in unusual ways. He sees things as one would view a chess board with different strategies that better transfer his thoughts and feelings.

To set the stage for Moonchild’s Smile a word or two on free verse and poetry in general for the non-poetry reading public. Poetry is something you get or you don’t and not to worry it isn’t for everyone. It is alright to like some poems and dislike others even in the same collection. Poetry is comes in many fashions far exceeding the rhyming couplets or iambic meter drilled into your head in high school. Years ago I probably would have looked at at Moonchilds Smile and said Poetry? Really? Free verse has a reputation of being on the outside looking in on poetry. Robert Frost said free verse was like playing tennis without a net. However times change and poetry has grown to accept free verse, but many people outside the scholarly circles may be hesitant to recognize it. Poetry also is about more than pastoral scenes or Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome. It has evolved to speak of politics, life, and the problems of the urban environment. We don’t have to look much farther than Bob Dylan and Hip-Hop to see free verse in our everyday life.

My copy of Moonchild’s Smile has been translated from Serbian. Probably the only job harder than writing poetry is translating it. Not only are you translating the words, you are translating vision and emotion. Recently the new English translation of Camus’ The Stranger came under some controversy over the use of the imformal mamam instead of mother. That one word’s translation caused a huge change in meaning and understanding the main character’s mindset. Scholars have studied it for years and still seem to be at odds. In Moonchild’s Smile we have a single translation so no comparisons can be made. Regardless of the expertise of the translator, to convey the poet’s original thoughts in another language and remain true to the poet’s vision it a monumental task.

Marks in the sand, slowly vanishing with new waves. A walk on the
beach, as a reminder of the disappearing past and the future bound
to leave its marks yet.

Moonchild’s Smile overcomes the difficulties of translation and the doubts over free verse. This is poetry and this is good. Daan captures the essence of poetry and leaves little doubt of the legitimacy of free verse. Mitric’s translation leaves no doubt in her ability to relay the author’s vision in English. “Smiles in a Mirror” captures the little things in life. Daan captures the little things in life and with many things he also sees cycles. Cycles of life and death, cycles like the waves erasing marks on the beach, cycles of the devil and good. Some of his work also reflects the violence his country experienced in the 1990s and the effect it had on the children.

Moonchild’s Smile is a short collection of poems, but it is a detailed read. The lines are meant to be read slowly, absorbed, and visualized. There is a difficulty level with this poetry that will take a commitment from the reader. The author’s use of a chess board as an example of how he sees his thought process plays true to his writing. It is complex and much more cerebral than most contemporary poetry. Daan does live up to the expectations of a poet and the translation seems to convey the his feelings to another culture. Very well done.

Author Alliance Book Reviewer Joseph Spuckler gives this book 4 Stars!

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Book Review: The Living Hunger


The Living Hunger

The Living Hunger by Dennis Larsen is a post apocalyptic novel. Larsen grew up in the shadow of Hill Air Force Base. He has worked as an optometrist for the past twenty-six years. This is his third novel.

The Living Hunger is a realistic post-apocalypse adventure, meaning no zombies which is a refreshing change of pace. War was worldwide and complete. Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons were used. People now live in little pocket communities scraping together and trying to survive. Some people have not settled into communities and look to join or just continue on their way. Most communities are out for their survival and hope to peacefully exist with others. In Utah, one community in particular run by Don Bullock is out for more. He wants control and supplies and will stop at nothing to get them. Bullock has a professional killer in Solomon, an African who has been killing since he was a teen, and a group of soldiers who, for a rather gruesome reason, earned the title of “Harvesters”. The good guys are lead by army veteran Sergeant Farrell Jenson a veteran of the next Korean conflict, and he provides the leadership example for the people of Bear River High School community. Jenson’s brother Rodney, Mel Ghostkeeper their medic, Clayton and Cory, who provide some comic relief, and remains of the Allen family make up the core characters.

The effects of the war have caused problems for the survivors. One of the biggest problems they face is the future survival of mankind. There have been no live, or rather survivable births in the last three years. There is hope from a lab in Colorado that the aftereffects of the chemical and biological warfare might be cured. Now it becomes a matter of which side will get the cure and which side will prevail in the war for freedom or for power.

Larsen writes a believable story of a possible future war. The effects of the warfare seem plausible. Most readers will not have a problem with suspension of disbelief in the story. As a Marine veteran, I did find a detail or two caught my attention, but they either worked well in the story or were not important enough to effect the story. The characters work well together and are all very well developed. The reader may not like the character, but the reader will understand the character and the reason for his actions. The times are grim and there is no “off time”. If you let your guard down, you may not live to regret it. The survivors face real world problems and have real world setbacks. There are no Deus ex machina in this novel.

There are plenty of action novels on the market and most try to go over the top or create super human heroes to carry out the story. Here the people are all very human and all have their failings. Some actions may be seen as heroic, but nothing that is unbelievable. The story is well written and flows smoothly without any jumps in logic. The Living Hunger has all that you would expect in this type of novel. There is plenty of action, strategy, and twists. There is also the day to day dealings of the characters that help keep the story realistic and interesting. A very good read for fans of realistic post-apocalyptic novels.

Book Review by Joseph Spuckler

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