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Randal

Randal

Required Reading!

Big Guns: A Novel - Steve Israel

Talk about a timely book! One city bans guns, and in reaction, a congressman introduces a bill to require all citizens to own a gun.  Israel covers the absolute insanity of both sides of the gun control debate, the incredible dysfunction of our government, and the people caught in the middle.  All while delivering a highly readable and enjoyable story.  The novel moves along rapidly, sucking you in the whole way. I can't wait for the next installment, but I understand that the issue is still developing, and no one can yet know what strange twists and turns will be taken. This book should be required reading for all American citizens, both pro gun, anti gun, and those who have no opinion.  It probably won't change anyone's core beliefs, but it would sure be helpful to be able to at least realize that there is more than one side to the story.  Highly recommend!

Out of the park home run!

Gods of Howl Mountain: A Novel - Taylor Brown

Wow! Just wow!  Brown has penned a masterpiece this time. I enjoyed his last book, "River of Kings", but this one....wow!  His ability to describe a scene; the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even the "aura" is incredible.  You cannot read this and not feel that you are there, in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1950's. The character development is strong and convincing. The moonshiners, the lawmen, the church members, the healers.  The suspense, the violence, the coming of age romances. The mystical, magical character of Granny is especially strong. And the plot is so believable and flows along at such a rapid rate that you cannot put the book aside, but find that you have to take breaks, otherwise you may find yourself actually swept away in the maelstrom!  Super highly recommend this book!

The Deceivers - Alex Berenson

A book that could be ripped out of today's headlines!  What if the Russians, in an attempt to control the American Presidential election, committed some terrorist acts here, and made it look like it was done by Islamic (and other) terrorists?  Super fast moving.  Lots of action.  Good character development, with believable characters.  As believable as most of this genre.  The ending was rather rushed, I would have preferred a bit more closure.  But, it sets up the next book well.  Give it a try!

The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery - Bill Fulton, Jeanne Devon

Fulton has delivered an outstanding book on his experiences in helping to shut down a group planning to start a war against the government. Working undercover, Fulton may have saved several lives. Google "Shaeffer Cox" and you will find lots of information. But....read the book and you will be enthralled with the behind the scenes action. I won't go into the entire story, it would ruin the book. Instead, I offer a very brief synopsis, and then some parts of the book that really impressed me. An Army veteran, Fulton left the military after being injured. He opened an army surplus store in Alaska. He employed a lot of other down-on-their-luck veterans. He discovered that he was good at helping people. Fulton was approached by a very far-right group to supply weapons to kill Federal Judges and law enforcement. To reveal anymore would spoil the book. Fulton reveals several great insights throughout the book. I applaud his reasoning, here discussing one of his employees, "being depended on again made him dependable. And it didn't happen from a therapy session or a new med-it was being part of something again, being of use. And being around a group of guys who didn't judge. Guys sitting around a fire has been some pretty legit therapy since there were guys and since there were fires". Brilliant! On the reasoning of the far-right..."We were on a steady march to a police state, and it was only a matter of time before they came for everyone's guns...I'd heard this a million times. Fear is a motivator, and people...use the fear of gun confiscation, the fear of government threat, to increase membership in militia groups". Man, does this speak to a large group of people I know! "And it reminded me that in a war, both sides believe equally that they are right". "Some dentally challenged lunatic who was mad he had to live by rules and pay some taxes and not get to do whatever the (...) he wanted. Some (....) "patriot"". "I could tell there would be no turning her. She was one of those "I've made up my mind, so don't confuse me with the facts" people. There were too goddamn many of those people." Don't we all know those people, on both sides of the aisle! And finally....."the political right wing has built a mythology: in order to be a patriot and a good American, you must embrace the military-industrial complex that has become our government and the (......) of foreign policy it has created....if you don't support everything we do militarily, then you aren't a true patriot.....patriotism is more than a bumper sticker on your car, or drinking a Budweiser and waving a flag....true patriotism means serving-actually doing something for you country and the people in it because it's the right thing to do." I will probably be flamed by trolls for this review. Before you do, do not write Fulton off as a left-wing ideologue. He is probably more conservative, and has done more to serve his country, than 90 percent of the rest. And before you claim that I am a liberal, know that I served my country honorably for 28 years, and my conservatism is rock solid. "The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it"...Norman Schwarzkopf.

Under a Croatian Sun - Anthony Stancomb

Under a Croatian Sun is a wonderful memoir of a British man who, along with his Croatian wife, give up the rat race in England and relocate/retire to Croatia. The author has an excellent ability to describe the numerous characters he meets in his new home, many times causing me to snort out loud in laughter. He also has the ability to poke fun at himself. Especially in his descriptions of trying to fit in and be accepted by the locals.
And, without even realizing it, the reader comes away with a bit of understanding about the troubles the area experienced in the war.
All in all, having read many ex-pat memoirs, I find this one to be of a higher standard. Funny, witty, engaging, and even educational. A sure win!

101 Things I Learned® in Advertising School - Matthew Frederick, Tracy Arrington

101 tips for advertising people.  Written in a simplistic manner, will most likely appeal to those who are either interested in, or beginning a career in advertising. 

Excellent Resource!

The Less Is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard - Susan Morrison

An excellent resource to gardeners like me, with smaller yards. While other books concentrate on grandiose plans for large, expansive yards, Morrison explains how "less is more" for the more common, urban sized yard.  She offers practical advice to design the smaller areas, without "busting the budget".  I will be using this book extensively for a long time! Wonderful photographs and ideas!

David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient - David Tanis

A wonderful cookbook, chock-full of easy to prepare dishes. Loaded with beautiful photographs.
Personally, having just recently returned from Italy, I was thrilled with the "Pasta Cacio e Pepe" (pasta, cheese and pepper), and the "Pizza Bianca". Upon making them both, my wife and I felt like we were back in Lombardy! A big fan of Asian food, I was happy with the simplicity and deliciousness of the "Spicy Peanut Noodles". And, being confronted with a barrage of fresh tomatoes from our garden, the tomato recipes will be very fun to experiment with.
This is a fun, unpretentious cookbook. Perfect for anyone who just wants to prepare simple, fresh, and delicious food!

The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown - Blaire Briody

Briody's book documents the rise (and fall) of America's latest "gold rush", fracking. The newfound ability to unlock formerly unattainable (financially and technically) oil reserves. She does this through telling the story of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota. The perfect place to explore this new technology, a relatively poor, unpopulated, and somewhat isolated area of the country. A place that really needed the financial gains that would be provided by the business. A place that wouldn't be readily under the eye of environmentalists or conservationists. A place where it seems a little money spread around would appease any government officials who grew concerned about the effects on the environment.
Briody explains the reasons why the newest "gold rush" was welcome. They are eerily similar to former get rich quick schemes in our past. Following the economic problems created by the housing collapse, there were a lot of "blue collar" workers who found themselves out of work, unable to find new jobs, or to afford the homes they were living in. As she points out, "manufacturing lost 6 million jobs between 2000 and 2009, and the construction industry shed another 2 million during the recession...the oil and gas industry, particularly in western North Dakota, emerged as a shining mecca". A large migration of these people began to the North Dakota oil field.
In her book, the author concentrates on the Williston, ND, area. Part of my territory in my career had been spent covering North Dakota. The Williston area, while having wonderful people living there, was not a booming metropolis. It was ill prepared for a large influx of people, most of whom were young men. It did not have housing, shopping, roads, hospitals, sanitation facilities, etc, etc, for an overnight influx of people. Yet, suddenly, there they were. Men were forced to live in camping trailers, tents, or worse. Suddenly confronted with a group of young men with no outlets for "recreation", Williston found itself inundated with strip joints, bars, drug use, and prostitution. Locals found themselves forced out of their housing because of astronomically rising rents. The author discovered that statewide, homicides were at the highest level in 20 years. Rapes were at the highest level in 10 years. Drug related arrests were up 64 percent since 2002. And alcohol was a factor in more than half of the deadly traffic accidents in the state in 2012.
Yet, the social impacts were not the worst of the problems Williston found itself facing. Environmentally, fracking was destroying the area. Oil and chemical spills abounded. Water quality went downhill. And no one was acting to protect the environment. As the author pointed out, "Back in 2005, when fracking for natural gas was growing rapidly, the Bush-Cheney administration passed a bill that exempted fracking operations from the Safe Drinking Water Act". Contracts were structured so that if any accidents happened on site, the big oil companies were insulated so that small companies were stuck with any fines or legal proceedings. State agencies, responsible for enforcing rules regarding spills and other violations, dropped the ball. In a three year period, the state issued fewer than 50 fines for all drilling violations, including thousands of spills. And the Federal Government was hamstrung. The EPA could only investigate spills on federal lands, it had to refer incidents on private property to the (nonexistant) state regulators.
As with all get-rich-quick schemes, eventually the boom crashed. Oil prices plummeted. By 2016, the price per barrel of oil was under $35, down from the peak of $145 eight years earlier. Some 10,000 jobs were cut over 2015 in North Dakota. For the most part, thousands of blue-collar workers were back where they started, struggling to survive.
The author pointed out an interesting side-note. "The worry and uncertainty oil workers felt during this time coincided with the rise of Donald Trump's popularity during the 2016 election. Trump campaigned heavily in oil patch regions and tapped into people's anger. He blamed the struggling oil industry on President Obama's regulatory policies and promised to use his business prowess to unleash a U.S. energy revolution". (Yeah, how's that working out for you?)
Please don't get the impression that this is a book filled with facts and figures. The author illustrates the issues by concentrating heavily on characters she meets in the oil fields. Middle-class people working in the area. She explores the effects of working the industry has on these people, their families, and their friends. She covers a 50-ish woman working the area, an alcoholic drifter, a young family man and his family, and a priest, amongst others.
If I had one issue with the book, it is that I wish Briody would have covered a larger segment of people in the area. Perhaps some people actually involved in the oil industry (above the common working people). Maybe some more of the people who were from the area prior to the boom, and their feelings and experiences. Some of the state representatives, and explored their opinions. I think the book would have been much better if the author had explored a wider range of characters.

Hmmm....maybe?

Cannabis for Chronic Pain: A Proven Prescription for Using Marijuana to Relieve Your Pain and Heal Your Life - Dr. Rav Ivker

I have to admit, this was a stretch for me. After 28 years in law enforcement, my experience with marijuana was of a whole different world. Strictly against it.
Enter retirement, and a major stroke in 2014. One that left me paralyzed for weeks. Finally, after 3+ years of hard work, I'm almost completely recovered. Except for my left leg, which is going to be messed up. The limp isn't so hard to reconcile, but the nightly spasms and pain are a different story. I've tried everything....exercise, PT, massage, and a whole range of medications. The meds help, but only to a certain extent.
Enter my neighbors. I'm fortunate (?) enough to live in Washington State, home of "legal weed". My neighbor also has damaged nerves, and recommended an ointment that is cannabis based. Before I dive into the nefarious world of "devil weed" and become a drug-addled zombie (I'm kidding, a bit), I determined to research this area thoroughly. But where? It's not like I can go to my GP or neurologist and say "hey, thanks, but this isn't working, can you recommend some good pot"?
Enter this book.
Ivker, as you might guess, is a big proponent of the use of cannabis for chronic pain. And he makes a strong argument for it. Including many case studies. Through the reading of this book, I learned that I don't have to "light up a doobie" or anything like that. There's smoking, vaping (neither for me), edibles, drops, and tinctures.
And he explained the differences between THC and CBD levels. Basically, one is to get high (THC), the other for pain relief. And that you can get marijuana specifically tailored to what you are seeking. What a concept! I could take an edible with a high CBD level, little or no THC, and not find myself running naked through the neighborhood baying at the moon (okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but come on, 28 years law enforcement!).
Will I do it? Take the plunge? Not sure yet, but if the pain keeps getting worse, yeah, sure. Maybe I'll venture into one of the dozens of marijuana stores flooding Washington and see what it's all about. It's good to have an option!

The Best American Magazine Writing 2017 - Sid Holt, The American Society of Magazine Editors

"The Best American Magazine Writing 2017" is, just as it says, a collection of great magazine articles written in 2017. Duh! Now, how to write a review based on a wide-ranging selection of stories.....
I found some of the articles to be fascinating. Jeffrey Goldbergs "The Obama Doctrine", written for the Atlantic, was one. It really brings the sometimes confusing style and thinking of President Obama into focus. A thorough examination, it's not one based on the 30 second sound bites we received from the national news. Rather, it appears to get through the hype and really explain Obama's reasoning. I only wish Obama himself could have explained himself better, to a wider audience, in language they could understand. Then, maybe, people would appreciate him more.
Another great article was by Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone. "President Trump, Seriously and "Appetite for Destruction" and the Fury and Failure of Donald Trump. A serious examination of how we (America) got to where we are today. The failure of the two party system. I'm going to quote some of the article, but it really helps to get the gist of it. "Lie No. 1 is that there are only two political ideas in the world, Republican and Democrat. Lie No. 2 is that the parties are violent ideological opposites, and that during campaign season we can only speak about the areas where they differ (abortion, guns, etc) an never the areas where there's typically consensus.....Lie No. 3 is that all problems are the fault of one party or the other, and never both. Assuming you watch the right channels, everything is always someone else's fault." How true!
My favorite article was written for Mother Jones, by Shane Bauer. It was called "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard". Bauer spent four months working for a private, for-profit prison. I, myself, worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 21 years. It was interesting to see the growth of Bauer as he worked as a correctional officer. I experienced many of the same emotions and questions, found myself at similar crossroads, and thought many times whether or not I was crazy for choosing this career. The author has a way of putting into words many disparate thoughts and ideas that he had. While his stint was for a pay-to-play company, and I think a much less "honorable" organization, he learned some valuable lessons about himself. There is one line in the article that really, really shows me that the author "got it". When he realized what an inmate told him was true, and could make his life in prison a lot easier...."Just know at the end of the day, how y'all conduct y'all selves determines how we conduct ourselves. You come wit' a shit attitude, we go' have a shit attitude". That ladies and gentlemen, is the one thing you need to learn is you want a career in corrections. Spot on!
There are many other articles in the book, some great, some good, some not-so-good. It all depends on your own perspectives. But there is something for everyone in here!

Miami Vice - The True Story!

— feeling amazing
Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami - Roben Farzad

What an excellent read! Hotel Scarface is the story of the "Mutiny Club", a hotel/club/restaurant in Miami. It's set in the 1980's, running up to the present day.
The Mutiny Club was the nucleus of the 80's cocaine scene, and of the "Cocaine Cowboys". Think "Miami Vice", "Scarface", and the "Godfather". Then add in anti-Castro patriots, the Marielitos from Cuba, the Columbians (including Pablo Escobar), the Iran-Contra fiasco, Manuel Noriega, Janet Reno, and a whole host of professional ball players, actors, and politicians. All of those frequented, or had connections to, the Mutiny Club.
It's just an amazing story. And handled so well. At times, just the amount of names and characters can seem overwhelming, but if you take a breath and think a bit, it's not hard to follow. You want to just keep plunging ahead, because it's such an exciting story, but you really need to slow down and savor it a bit to get the full effect.
Farzad fleshes out the characters well, so you get the sense that you are there with them (and that's a scary thought).
The story goes beyond the Mutiny Club itself, into broader settings, worldwide, but the author manages to keep tying the story back to the Club itself.
I was fortunate (????) enough to meet several of the characters myself, not on their level, but during my career in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The descriptions of the manner and bearing of the "drug lords" is spot on. As is his descriptions of the lesser players, and especially of the Mariel Cubans. I think I could write a book myself, just on my experiences with these people.
And, finally, the ending. Not to spoil it, but Farzad describes well the zeal with which the Federal government goes after these people in court. As they well learned, once the Fed's decide they want you, it's curtains for you. It's just a matter of time.
As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this book. More than most of the other 60-odd books that I have read and reviewed this year. I highly recommend this one!

Hunter's Jumped The Shark!

G-Man - Stephen Hunter

Years ago, I was a huge fan of the author's "Bob Lee Swagger" series of books. I can remember my father-in-law and I devouring them, and having spirited discussions about them. Then, along about the time Hunter began the "Earl Swagger" series, the author's plot lines devolved, and his verbiage became unbearable. So many obscure descriptions and dialogue that, rather than adding to the story, instead overwhelmed them. So I took a break from the author.
Enter his latest novel, "G-Man". I wanted to like it. I really tried. I made it halfway through the book, before becoming so exasperated that I had to quit. It had the thinnest of plot, based around crazy, imaginary encounters of an entire whos-who of 1930's era gangsters, and the shoehorning in of the main character. And, where I thought Hunter had gone overboard in his verbiage in the past, he takes it to an entirely different level here. So much unnecessary language! What possible reason is there to spend a page detailing a minor character's choice of soft drinks? Or the color of a woman's dress? It just went on and on. At the end, I thought that perhaps it was just me, that my tastes had changed. So I read a bit to my wife. She looked at me like I was insane. "Why would you and my father read such drivel?" she asked. "It sounds like someone trying to pad a school paper with words to meet the teacher's minimum standard".
At that point, I had to realize. Hunter has jumped the shark. He has taken a wonderful character in Bob Lee Swagger, and ruined it. That's it for me. No more Stephen Hunter!

Funny!

Should the Tent Be Burning Like That?: A Professional Amateur’s Guide to the Outdoors - Bill Heavey

A collection of the author's articles written for Field and Stream magazine. If you love hunting and fishing, you will really enjoy this book. Heavey is a very entertaining and funny writer. 

In serious need of a major rewrite!

The Last Chicago Boss: My Life with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club - Kerrie Droban, Peter 'Big Pete' James

I was looking forward to reading this book. My career required me to be aware of and fluent in different criminal gangs. I always found motorcycle gangs to be of the most interesting variety. Thus, a chance to get insight into the "Outlaws" appealed to me very much.
Unfortunately, this isn't the book for that. The writing is terrible. Hard to follow, disjointed, it reads like someone with ADD wrote it. The author will start one story, morph it into another unrelated story, or worse yet, just drop it midway through.
The book is seriously in need of a major rewrite. Disappointing!

Will make you dream

Garden Renovation: Transform Your Yard Into the Garden of Your Dreams - Bobbie Schwartz

The author has written an excellent text on gardening. Specifically, how to renovate your tired, old garden into the garden of your dreams. She does this by teaching you how to recognize what you have, how to know what needs updating, and how to begin your renovation. She explains to you about how to determine what your site can handle, be it the climate, soil, animals, usage, etc. The author then gives you ideas of what you can do with your site. She really likes to design interesting pathways in your garden. Schwartz doesn't give a lot of information on what plants to use, or how to plant them. For that, you might need a different book. There are many out there. The book concludes with some beautiful examples of what people have done.
The book is beautifully photographed. It's guaranteed to get you thinking about your own site, and how to improve it.