9 Following



Everything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid - Sergey Grechishkin

An amazing story of growing up in the Soviet Union during the 1970-80's. The author very capably describes what it was like to be a child and teenager during this time.
I was surprised to read that his childhood was much like mine (in the U.S.) in some ways. School, friends, crazy hijinks. But different in so many other ways. Shortages of food and other goods, standing in lines, and limited news to mention a few. He describes how the country dealt with the death of Brezhnev, and on through the next several short lived rulers, to the freshness of Gorbachev.
For example, a few lines stood out to me.....
"She got me an awesome present: a piece of chewing gum. Had I been given such a thing several years later, I would have squirreled it away to share with my friends on some meaningful occasion".
"Many foodstuffs Westerners take for granted didn't exist in the Soviet universe even as a concept. There was no such thing as breakfast cereal, peanut butter, or ready-made-and-eat meals of any kind. We had never heard of yogurt, burgers, french fries, marshmallows, tea bags, popcorn, cookies with fillings, or a hundred other delicious items".
I was surprised at the rigors of their schooling. "In fifth grade, we began to study organic and inorganic chemistry, astromony, physics and ever more advanced math. These were mutli-year courses, and none of them were optional".
There was also "basic military training", taught in grade school. It was taught in the classroom, and "taught us simple and useful life skills, such as how to assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov, an AK-47 assault rifle, in less than thirty seconds".
As far as basic rights, the author described it well when he stated, "In the Soviet Union, there is freedom of speech. But it's not written anywhere that one should be free after his speech".
I found this book to be fascinating, enlightening, and easy to read. I really hope that it is a big success, so others can learn about what it was like growing up in the Soviet Union.

Everything You Love Will Burn: Inside the Rebirth of White Nationalism in America - Vegas Tenold

I have to admit, I could not finish this book. It was just too disturbing, and too much for me to handle, the fact that there are still people in the world who think and believe the things the author discovered. The white supremacy groups, who once appeared relegated to the trashbin of history, have found new life in their belief that Donald Trump is their savior. It was just sickening.
The writing is good. Perhaps others will be able to power through the wretchedness of these people, but I just could not.
I'm left fearful for what is happening to us. And wondering how in the world did the author persevere through witnessing this?

The Search For The Meaning Of Life

— feeling amazing
Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In - Anjali Kumar

The author, a successful business person and mother, came to the decision that she had to find the answer to THE BIG QUESTIONS in order to explain them rationally to her young daughter. The four big questions of life. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? And is there a God? Shouldn't be hard for a rational, driven, very intelligent person to answer, right? One should be able to do it in less that a year. I really like her reasoning on why she had to search. "Religiously and spiritually speaking, nothing I had experienced thus far was a perfect fit. I was walking barefoot, so to speak. Not because I wanted to, but because I had a closet full of uncomfortable shoes."
Kumar gives it her all. She examines SO many different religions and beliefs, traveling all over the world in her search. And it takes longer than she initially thought, years longer.
She tries faith healers, Wiccans, sweat lodges, crazy hallucinogenic drugs, yoga, even the Burning Man festival. And, rather than finding the "right" answer, she finds a little bit of knowledge in each one. To quote her again, "I started thinking about how one of the big product attributes of religion is that it gives us hope. That hope is firmly embedded in the thought that if there is more, then we actually matter." Combining all her findings, she comes to a sense of peace.
In the end, she comes back to one of her original religions, Jainism. Which states that no single person can have ownership or knowledge of absolute truth. You have no choice but to respect differences. And respect for differences leads to greater harmony.
I like that. And until the time we come to the end of our lives and find out what, if anything, is next, that is a good principle to live by.
I received this book from NetGalley, in return for a fair and honest review. This one was easy. Out of a hundred or so books that I have read and reviewed this year, it is absolutely in my top five. And it will be sticking with me for a long, long time!

Strange but True Tales of Car Collecting - Keith Martin, Linda Clark, SportsCarMarket.com

A fun book. Can you imagine, inheriting some property from a relative, opening the garage door and finding an old car worth millions of dollars? This book has that story, plus many, many others that are just plain fun to read.
I would suggest this book for serious car buffs. There is a lot of detail that just plain went over my head.
My only complaint on the book is the lack of good photographs. Perhaps it is because I received it as an ebook from NetGalley, and future hard copies of the actual book will have them?

Will History Repeat Itself So Soon?

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein - John Nixon

The author was one of the people assigned to debrief Saddam Hussein after his capture. The insights he provides give a unique insight into Hussein's mind. Far from the "madman" that the government and media claimed, Hussein was a complex individual. Flawed, but he had reasons for the way he acted. I found myself angered at the level of incompetence the Bush administration displayed regarding the situation. Only wanting to receive intelligence that confirmed or added to their preconceived opinions. And of the CIA, which let themselves be roped into going along with the Bush administration, rather than putting the country's interest ahead of their own careers.
What really worries me is our current situation with North Korea. Once again we seem to have an administration hell bent on having their own glorious war. Cherry picking intelligence information, disregarding attempts at diplomacy ("wasting his time" is the way Trump put it, regarding Secretary Tillerson's efforts). Not letting other countries weigh in or help. And what do we do when the "little rocketman" is removed? Is there a plan for North Korea's future? It all sounds so familiar, the past repeating itself again. I can see another Iraq, with our soldiers being there for years and years.

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World's Rarest Species - Carlos Magdalena

The author is a botanist at the Pew Gardens in London.  This is his life story of his efforts to save plants that are on the verge of extinction.  He has traveled the world to find, collect, and propagate these plants.  The book reads like a fiction novel, it's exciting to hear about his adventures. After finishing reading the book, I came away with a sense of disappointment at how fast the earth is changing, and a thankfulness that there are people like the author working hard to preserve our heritage.  

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.


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!