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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Cry Eden

31hOnSQeKEL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Bourbon and Bullets: True Stories of Whiskey, War, and Military Service

Bourbon and Bullets: True Stories of Whiskey, War, and Military Service by John C. Tramazzo is a history of whiskey and the American military. Tramazzo is an active duty Army officer and veteran of several deployments in support of the Global War on Terror. He is also an American whiskey enthusiast, Kentucky Colonel, and the founder of the popular blog bourbonscout.com.

For all the Puritan roots of America, it certainly has ties to vice. Tobacco funded the revolution and whiskey help the soldiers keep up the fight. Rum was America’s first drink. America’s ports, Africa, and the Caribean made a self-feeding triangle. America bought the molasses for rum, which paid for the slaves, who worked the sugar plantations. English pressure on American ports caused America to look inward for its fermentable materials — corn and rye. America made whiskey and whiskey was the reason that a sitting president led American troops into battle– Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion. The Whiskey Tax was a large source of revenue for the new government and when distillers refused to pay the tax it created a financial crisis.

Whiskey was carried into every battle from the Revolution War to Vietnam. Middle East Wars had to rely on the cleverness of military members to sneak whiskey into that theater. Tramazzo presents the history of whiskey and its relation to the American military. There were times when food for troops was scarce but whiskey was still available. It was the one ration that no one wanted to lose. World War I troops returning from were one of the biggest groups and vocal groups against Prohibition. Marines in WWII strained hair tonic through bread to make their own battlefield whiskey.

Whiskey, Bourbon, was America’s drink; its roots were a tribute to France who was ruled by the House of Bourbon. Louisville, Kentucky was named after the king. Bourbon is a whiskey made from a minimum of 51% corn. Other whiskey’s use rye and wheat (Maker’s Mark) as primary ingredients. Whiskey was America’s liquor of choice from the revolution to Vietnam. Rebellion against the establishment turned many away from whiskey and to light liquors. Ironically in 1976 vodka sales exceded whiskey sales in the US. America’s celebration of 200 years of independence was marked by the embrace of our Cold War enemy’s drink. Whiskey made a comeback in the early 1980s with single barrel whiskeys.

Many popular brands have their ties back to veterans. Jack Daniels fought in the Civil War. Bulleitt, Van Winkle, and Stagg all experienced combat before becoming whiskeys. Civil War veteran Paul Jones is credited with Four Roses Whiskey. Veteran and American President Harry Truman began each day with a power walk and a shot of bourbon. His choice was Old Grand Dad. Navy veteran and President Jimmy Carter was visited by a wild turkey that just happened to fly into the White House grounds. The turkey was most likely from Dick Newman the marketing director for Wild Turkey.

In addition to the history of whiskey in the United States,  Tramazzo concentrates on the veterans who continue and continued the whiskey tradition. The US military purchases more Jack Daniels single barrel whiskey than any other group.  The tie between the men in uniform, and those who have served, and whiskey is undeniable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Capitalism on Campus: Sex Work, Academic Freedom, and the Market

In my day, people went to university in order to avoid this kind of life, but now they lead this kind of life in order to go to university
Female Massage Parlour Owner in Leeds


Capitalism on Campus: Sex Work, Academic Freedom, and the Market by Ron Roberts is an examination of the recent changes in British universities. Roberts is Chartered Psychologist with over thirty years experience in higher education. He has previously worked at King’s College, University College London, St Bartholomew’s Medical College, The Tavistock Institute, QMW, the University of Westminster, and Kingston University.

Higher education is making the news in the US and Britain seems to mirror the US example. In the US there is almost $1.5 Trillion in student debt the number is lower for Britain but the debt per student is higher, in fact, the highest in the world. In 1997 the average debt was under 5,000 Pounds today it is over 50,000 Pounds. The education process has become warped. No longer are universities places to encourage thinking and discovery but have become places where ratings override learning. It is seen in American public schools with standardized testing where teachers are pressed to teach students how to pass exams rather than learn. Colleges have a ranking system that is somewhat similar. The better your school the better your chances of landing a good job. The problems occur when students are coached into making the school appear better than encouraging learning. Schools are being administered by bureaucrats that care more for image than substance.

Although sex work takes the first position in the subtitle it is not the main concentration of the book. In 1970s movies occasionally a detective would be searching for the bad guy and end up in a strip club. He would talk to one of the girls and find out she was a university student, usually sociology, she would pass on the information and hint that tuition, job outlook, or some other reason forced her to work as a dancer, but she would conclude it is going to make a great thesis. Today that rarity has become much more common with an alarming amount of students who know someone involved in sex work. The internet makes it even easier today. Sex work offers a temporary, high paying job that takes less time than a traditional campus job. Also, students involved in sex work spend more time studying according to the research. Universities fight against sex work as immoral but really it has more to do with the school’s image than a students reputation.

Education has evolved from learning institutions to marketable products that care more about image and standing rather than the quality of the output. America boomed after WWII when returning GIs went to college. A higher education was the ticket out of the factory job. Today in the US education is costly and seen by many as a waste. To complicate that the factory jobs are also gone. What was once a large middle class is now an endangered species. The good paying jobs are gone and education is too expensive. Roberts’ look at the British example is scholarly. It is not light reading but more akin to a research paper. Documentation runs through the text which primary purpose is to present facts rather than deliver a smooth narrative.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — America and Other Fictions: On Radical Faith and Post-Religion

America and Other Fictions: On Radical Faith and Post-Religion by Ed Simon is a collection of essays about America and Religion. Simon is an Editor-at-Large with The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. A specialist in early modern literature and religion, he received a Ph.D. in English from Lehigh University.

Simon presents his views on a wide variety of subjects in this deep and dense collection of essays. Religion and America share many things in common. American History and Religious history has a take what you want and ignore what you want attitude. We think of George Washington as almost a mythical leader. Jefferson and inciteful writing are tarnished by his hypocrisy on freedom in his own life. Famous revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine wrote from a simpler “American” style that spread the revolutionary zeal. His place in history is less secure as he does not have a Monticello or monument in Washington. He died alone in Greenwich Village of cirrhosis with no fanfare or much remembrance.

The topics on religion are nicely tied to politics as Agustine believing men are evil in nature and Pelagius who believed that men were naturally good. This ties in nicely with the modern conservative and liberal theories. Crucifixion is discussed and the variations of the “cross” used to inflict the punishment.

America is more than a country it is an idea that crosses borders although Americans are themselves unlikely to think of Canadians, Chilians, Peruvians, or Mexicans as Americans. American Pie, American Beauty, and American Graffiti portray additional pleasure while American Psycho and American Terror add a deeper level of violence with the addition of “American”. For those old enough to remember the Soviet Union there was a demand for Levis, Dallas videotapes, and Voice of America form people who considered America their enemy. America meant different things in different contexts.

Whitman becomes the patron saint of nineteenth-century America. It is not only his words and appreciation for the American wilderness, Whitman was not Christian but still read the Bible to wounded troops on both sides of the Civil War.  The uniform color made no difference to Whitman as they were Americans.  Reading the Bible was not for Whitman’s benefit but for the benefit of those wounded and hurting.  Bob Dylan also makes an appearance as a poet and raises questions on his winning the Nobel Poetry Prize.  How is a singer a world-class poet?  He becomes one when he embodies the spirit of America.

Simon writes a complex mix of subject matter and thoughts.  It is not a light afternoon read but something that needs to be thought upon and processed.  The information is densely packed and takes much from philosophy, religious and otherwise, to present a picture of America and Christianity without combining the two.  A thought-provoking and interesting study of the two ideas.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review