Monthly Archives: September 2018

Book Review — The Devil’s Fingers

The Devil’s Fingers is the third book in the One Sized Eats All series. I have previously read and enjoyed Rattus New York. Shea has a talent for taking the shock of a 1950s horror movie and transposing it into the present. Here, like in a 1950s horror movie, there is a group of young adult friends in the forest to release the ashes of one of characters father. They notice some strange “plants” that one character, who happens to take botany in college, recognizes as Austrailain Clathrus Archeri or Devil’s fingers — a fungus. Things then get very strange as the fungus seems to be much more than run of the mill Devil Fingers. It is a creepy enough fungus, and the reader can see it in action on YouTube.  The videos of the fungus hatching from their spores are no doubt horror-inspiring, but the mutated version in the story is far worse.

Shea weaves together a great horror tale from something quite harmless although relatively foul smelling and transforms it into terror.   Very well done and a surprisingly a short and easy read.

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Book Review — The Harley-Davidson Story: Tales from the Archives

The Harley-Davidson Story: Tales from the Archives by Aaron Frank is a history of Harley-Davidson inspired by the companies museum. Frank is a Milwaukee-based writer and former staffer at Motorcyclist magazine. He is known for his insightful and clear writing. He has ridden–and written about–everything from 200-horsepower superbikes to 200-plus-mph land-speed racers to 12-foot-long choppers to century-old antique bikes.

Harley-Davidson is a company built on mystique, legend, and lore. It is the machine of choice for motorcycle clubs, outlaws, and Hollywood badasses. It is a company that went from shops in the wrong part of town to modern designed retail establishments. South East Harley-Davidson used to be in my neighborhood in Cleveland. Everything in the area let you know that this is where bikers lived, and I felt pretty cool having them as a customer on my paper route. The shop has since moved to the suburbs and into a neighborhood, unlike its previous one. In Texas, I worked the parts counter and later became a mechanic at the local shop that was transitioning to its new image. It was a great experience and helped pay my way through grad school.

Frank covers quite a bit of ground from the search for the mythical serial number 1 Harley through Toppers, rockets (yes rockets), and the latest Serengeti and Live Wire models. There is the cycling culture that grew from the Wrecking Crew, early women riders, and 1%ers. Harley-Davidson is about evolution and dealer networks. The slow and progressive change in engines — Flathead, Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead, and Evolution engines is being met by fast-changing designs of foreign motorcycle companies. Harley evolves only when it needs to and not just to create new models. The modern-day “tractor engine” jokes, however, do go against the racing history of the company.

The Harley-Davidson Story is different than most histories because it is based on the company’s own records and museum.   Richly illustrated with old photographs and relics of the company’s past this book brings the history alive. Harley Davidson itself is also responsible for the detailed documentation of its own history by keeping complete bikes as well as notebooks, dealer and Enthusiast magazines, and its lifestyle promotions.  The Motor Company has a century of success and is a brand known around the world.  It is also a brand that people want to be associated with even if one does not ride motorcycles.  T-Shirts, bumper stickers, jackets, and other branded paraphernalia remain in high demand.  It is not only consumers but also manufacturers that desire part of the image.  All four major Japanese brands sell V-Twin cruisers made to mimic Harley-Davidson.

Today, Harley-Davidson faces a new challenge.  The middle age professional customers of the 1990s are dwindling.  The Millennial crowd is not interested in tradition, or perhaps it is more attracted to new and different motorcycles than traditional American bikes.   The last two chapters cover vehicles that are not even on the market yet.  The Harley-Davidson Story is not only the history of the brand but also the doorstep to its next evolution.

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Book Review — A Ladder to the Sky

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne

A Ladder to the Sky is the first John Boyne book I have read and was unsure what to expect. At the start, I almost put the book down thinking that somehow I picked up a gay romance novel. It is not and turned into an engaging story. Maurice Swift is a man of great ambition and little talent but aspires to be a novelist. He leaches on to talented people and tosses them away when he is finished. Swift builds his career and lives on the creativity of others. There is no real action of excitement in the book, but it flows seamlessly cover to cover. Maurice is cold and calculating, and although it is told by several points of view, it reads like a confession. A Ladder to the Sky is a book that is difficult to put down and hard to classify.

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Book Review — Cry Eden

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Cry Eden by Harold Gershowitz is the third book in the Eden Series.  This edition is a novel with two parallel storylines–  one on an international level and another on a family level. Athough it is part of a series, the book stands well on its own.

It is the fall of 1973, and the Arab countries of Syria and Egypt are about to invade an unsuspecting Israel. Israel has grown complacent with its superior air force and its version of the Maginot Line — a compressed sand barrier built on the Eastern bank of the Suez Canal. The conflict will almost crush Israel and bring the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of war.

While the world faces war, the Greenspan’s lives continue in the United States. Noah, a successful businessman, has been chosen as the Chairman of the Jewish Council of Washington, D.C. His wife, Alexandra Salaman, is a columnist at the Washington Evening Star. She is also a Palestinian. Their child Amos, named after the Mossad agent who helped save his mother’s life, is being raised Jewish. The Greenspans’ marriage contrast the events of the Middle East.  What is a happy marriage is about to be challenged by outside events.

The players in both lines of the story do not control their own destiny.  Israel and the Arab States are influenced or controlled by the US and USSR.   Likewise, the Greenspans, find themselves affected by forces beyond their control.  A tertiary level of characters tie the two plot lines together seamlessly and bring the story to a dramatic conclusion.  Moving from history to thriller and back again Gershowitz creates a fast-moving and exciting reading experience.

 

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Poetry Review — Blackbird Song

Blackbird Song by Randy Lundy is the poet’s third collection of poetry.  Lundy is a member of the Barren Lands (Cree) First Nation. He has published two previous collections of poetry, Under the Night Sun and Gift of the Hawk. His work has been widely anthologized.

Lundy’s poetry does something very unique.  He is able to capture the Native American experience and culture and insert it into Western poetry without compromising either tradition or form.  He recreatess a familiar past and common memories with the reader.

Remember the butter glazed, golden
crust of bread fresh from the oven
Remember the oven door
creaking, heat blasting
your six year old face

The first section of poetry is in a traditional style and frequently include a crow on the fringes of the poetry.  The second section is prose poetry with a connection to the earth and the seasons.  The collection closes with more traditional poetry. An outstanding collection of North American poetry.

 

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Book Review — Skills of the Warramunga

Skills of the Warramunga by Greg Kater is the third book in the Warramunga series although it is more than fine as a stand-alone novel.  The story takes place in Malaysia in 1946 immediately preceding the Malayan Union. Kater captures the turmoil of the region shortly after the Second World War.  Some areas saw the expulsion of the British by the Japanese as liberation, but others were disappointed by the ease that the Japanese defeated the British forces.  Some did not welcome the return of the British after the war. Britain hoped for a peaceful return to the administration of the region while MI6 worried about communist agitation from the Chinese. However, something more nefarious is brewing.

MI6 Colonel John Cook is kidnapped in the jungles on Malaysia and held captive.  Word of his captivity reaches Jamie Munro of the Australian Commonwealth Investigative Service, and he springs into action with Jack O’Brien (Jacko).  Both men served under the colonel in the Syrian campaign a few years ago. Jacko, who is half aboriginal, enlists the help of his full aboriginal half-sister, Sarah, to aid in the jungle tracking and in locating the colonel.  The rescue of their friend and former commander, however, is just the beginning of the story.

Kater fully develops the good guys’ characters in a smooth and even way for readers who have not read the other books in the series.  The bad guys remain mysterious with just enough information to produce a villainous shadow. The post-war era, Kuala Lumpur, and the jungle are captured brilliantly.  The historical fiction presented will not disappoint the historian and the flow of the novel will not disappoint the adventure reader. Extremely well done.

 

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Book Review — Buddhism for Western Children

Buddhism for Western Children by Kirstin Allio is a novel about ten-year-old Daniel and his family and life following a guru. Allio is the author of Clothed, Female Figure and Garner, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for first fiction. Her honors include the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and a PEN/O. Henry Prize.

The story is told through the eyes of Daniel, a ten-year-old boy, and their family’s quest into spirituality. The guru and living god is Avadhoot Master King Ivanovich a Russian who plays piano and speaks to his followers in crude poetry. The confusion about the attraction to cults is reflected in the writing. The prose is excellent, a bit surreal and sometimes confusing. It seems to signal that the difference in what is seen and heard inside the cult and what the outsider (reader) sees and hears. The guru seems to speak to a deeper level to his followers and what the reader sees seems somewhat crass.

Allio weaves together a story of the cult mindset, the perseverance of the young mind, absurdity, and beautifully written lyrical poetry.   Her writing style is enough to draw in the reader looking to escape the modern simplistic prose that defines today’s society.  The style and fluidity of this book are reminiscent to Modernism and even the writing style of Virginia Woolf. Buddhism for Western Children is rewarding on several levels.

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