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Randal

Randal

Must Have For PNW Gardeners

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest: The Complete Homeowner's Guide - Paul Bonine

An excellent reference for any gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. The first part of the book is about understanding the climate differences in the PNW, and how one area just a few miles away from another can have a radically different climate. It provides a much more in-depth explanation that I have found anywhere else. The book then dives into soil types in the PNW, how they differ, and how to use what you have effectively.
The next section is about plant diseases and bugs in the area.
Followed by a very, very extensive discussion of the plants that you can grow in the PNW, and where they do the best.
And finally, a section on design tips for you own garden.
The book is very thorough, easy to read, and easily understandable. The photography is awesome! You could buy this book just for the photos, and would not be disappointed.
I have already put into effect several of the ideas from this book in my own garden outside of Seattle. And will be referring to it for many years.

Chilling

Bounty Hunter 4/3: My Life in Combat from Marine Scout Sniper to MARSOC - Chris Martin, Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado has penned an excellent book about his experiences growing up in the Bronx, becoming Marine, a sniper, his experiences in Iraq as a sniper, and about becoming an sniper instructor afterwards. While he leaves no doubt about his alpha male status, he does not shy away from describing many personal experiences, even the ones where he feels he has failed.
Where the book really shines is in his telling of his tours in Iraq. From his gung-ho, supremely driven first days there, to his awakening to the horrors of the war and his part in it. The battle scenes were extremely vivid, fast moving, and made you almost feel you were there. And afterwards, you could really feel his pain.
While sometimes I felt uneasy with his macho take on the world, and how the Marine Corp really promotes this sense of invincibility, I am aware that it is a world I will never understand, and cannot fault it for it's success in creating "supermen" like Delgado. Other times, I really felt bad for him, when he had to face up to the fact that the rest of the world (his relationships, for one) did not subscribe to the same outlook.
All in all, an excellent book. I just cannot get over the horrors he faced in Iraq, in battles that we here at home never were even told about. And I thank him for his service.

Will blow away your House Hunters International fantasy!

L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home - David Lebovitz

Lebovitz is an American chef and cookbook author who moved to Paris to advance his career. I have read his previous books, and he is a talented and engaging author. This particular book is about his search for, purchase of, and renovation of a home in Paris. And what a great story it is!
I found myself surprised at the difficulty in even locating a property for sale in Paris (House Hunters International makes it look so easy and fun on TV!). Upon finally finding the property, the author experienced the infamous Paris bureaucracy in the purchase of it. And then, just when you think it should all be smooth sailing, the real trouble begins in the renovation stage!
I cannot believe what Lebovitz went through. His stamina and perseverance are amazing. I am sure that I would have gave up many times, escaping back to the safety of the United States. Kudos to him for his overcoming of all the obstacles thrown at him.
I found the book to be fascinating, and could not put it down. I literally devoured it in two evenings. The author is very engaging, writes extremely well, and manages to keep the reader "pulling for" him. I highly recommend this book, even if it does lay to rest my "House Hunters International" fantasy of moving to France!

Confidential Source Ninety-Six: The Making of America's Preeminent Confidential Informant - C.S. 96, Rob Cea

The author is a former drug dealer who, when caught with a large amount of drugs, "sees the light" and decides to become an informant. In my career, I've seen dozens of men like the author, dealers who, when caught and facing a long sentence, sell out to receive lesser sentences. This guy seems different. I found myself actually believing that he really changed, that he was disgusted with the drug business (and himself) and wanted to make a difference. Plus, he was actually a likable guy. (Or, maybe the older me is just getting soft, and wants to see some good in the world?)
The author describes setting up his former bosses. After that turned out successful, he found that he actually enjoyed this kind of work. Through different law enforcement agencies, he works to take down several other drug dealers. He claims to have worked for the next seventeen years as an informant.
There were some weak parts in the book. Things that set off my internal radar as falsehoods. In the beginning, he claims to have three children, who appear to be around 3-5 years old. Later in the book, it's two, or four. And towards the end of the book, he describes tucking the children into bed. After 17 years, wouldn't the "children" have been in their late teens or early twenties? He also claims to have performed his own extensive surveillance of a neighborhood in which he was going to buy drugs; what law enforcement agency would allow their informant to set up in this way? And, the author claims he would pick and choose what drug organizations he would work against, and the law enforcement agencies would welcome this? It stretches my imagination too far.
However, despite these issues (and they could all be a result of a bad edit, or of my own overactive imagination), the book is highly enjoyable. It is a fast read, and moves along very well. The writing is good. It makes for a good, enjoyable book. I can definitely recommend it.

Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table - Langdon Cook
An excellent read on the history, biology, and current struggles to survive of salmon. Cook offers views of the fish through the eyes of fishermen, fish biologists, and everyday people. It left me surprised that there are any salmon left in the world. Very interesting!
 
 

 

Hurray For Bob Schieffer!

Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News - Bob Schieffer, H. Andrew Schwartz

First, let me state that I have the utmost respect for Bob Schieffer, his work and his life. I feel that the country would be greatly benefited if someone like he were to return to giving the news. With that confession out of the way, and admitting that my opinion of his work may be skewed, let me review his latest book.
Overload is about the state of the media today. Of how we, as consumers of the news, are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and coming at us, nonstop every hour of the day. Of how, being overwhelmed and not able to process all the information, we tend to find news sources that agree with how we see the world. "Some folks get one set of facts from one outlet and other folks get another set of facts from another outlet, no wonder they come to different conclusions". How "Americans choose their favorite channel (or website) not to get just the latest information but to get the ammo to back up their previously formed opinion. And it's getting harder to separate opinion from fact".
Schieffer explains his theory on the reason Trump ultimately won, and why Clinton lost. (It has to do with the ability to utilize the media more effectively).
He covers the phenomenom of "fake news", and the problems of combatting it (A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put it's pants on). And the pattern it follows; eye-catching headline, interesting first paragraph, relevant photos (often taken off the internet), a few quotes (often not real people), and a format that looks like a typical news site.
The fall of the traditional media and the rise of the new media. And he gives examples throughout the book.
He covers conspiracy theories, and why people fall for them.
I loved the book. I only wish Schieffer could be given a bigger platform to share his ideas. We need it!

Alien Space Bats and Unicorns!

The Trial of Prisoner 043: A Novel - Terry Jastrow

An interesting premise. George W Bush is attending a golf tournament in Scotland, when he is abducted by, and held for a war crimes trial, by the ICC. If one is willing to suspend disbelief that this could actually happen, and that the United States would stand blindly by and allow the trial to continue, the story could be interesting. However, it is wholly unrealistic.
Bush, rather than having the best legal team the US Government could put together, instead decides to let some old friends represent him. And the ICC legal team is made up of obviously prejudiced people. The lead prosecuting attorney quite unstable.
But, I continued on....amongst the chaff, there were many interesting points raised, in Bush's defense, as well as against him. I was looking forward to how the trial would end up.
That was until the end.......it completely and utterly ruins the book. I won't spoil it for anyone who decides to read it, but you might as well as had space aliens and unicorns at the end.
WHOLLY DISSATISFYING AND A WASTE OF TIME!

Cold Hearted River - Keith McCafferty
McCafferty has penned another great mystery. The series follows the adventures of Sean Stranahan, an artist/fly fisherman/private detective. This time, the story incorporates Ernest Hemingway into the fold. The author is a wonderful writer, his descriptions (especially of the rivers Stranahan is fishing) make you feel like you are there. The character development, even of the minor ones, is thorough, you are made to feel like you actually know the people. The stories flow very well, and I especially appreciate that McCafferty manages to wrap up all the loose ends in his books, and doesn't leave you hanging at the end. 
The only complaint I can make about this book is that the main character, after several books, is getting a bit stale. The eventual seduction of every interesting woman he meets is cliche, almost like the author wants him to be James Bond. Other than that observation, the book is very good. 
Cold Hearted River is the latest in the series, but it could be read as a stand-alone book. 
I received an advance copy of this book from "First To Read" in exchange for a fair review.
 
 

 

Intriguing!

The Parkhurst Years: My Time Locked Up with Britain’s Most Notorious Criminals - Bobby Cummines

Bobby Cummines is a British ex-con who, during the 1970's and 1980's, served twelve years in some of the UK's maximum security prisons. He has penned a memoir of his early years of crime, his time in prison, and how he used those experiences to turn his life around. Upon release from prison, he founded a company to help people with criminal convictions reintegrate into society. A program similar to whats being tried now in America, only 30 years earlier.
Cummines pulls no punches, he is very honest about his life of crime, and what he has done and seen. No "I'm a victim of a set-up", he accepts his actions wholeheartedly.
The book is full of interesting stories and characters. The author relates his dealings with the infamous British inmates of the time. I especially liked hearing his language, and some of the terms he used that were unfamiliar to me. Screws, banged up, a bit of work, loo, bird, bum smuggler, nicking, Old Bill; the list goes on and on.
After working in US Federal Prisons for 21 years, I found this story to be very engaging. Even as different as British and American prisons are, there were still times I found myself thinking, "yeah, that happened to me, too". Cummines has a way of pulling you into what he is experiencing.
All told, this is an interesting book. I recommend it.

Unsatisfying!

The Separatists - Lis Wiehl, Sebastian Stuart

A timely, interesting concept for a novel. What would happen if one of the states (in this case, North Dakota) attempted to secede from the United States? What with the red/blue divisions we are currently experiencing, I did not find the idea to be too "far-out-there".
And the author wrote a good story, for the most part. I found the main character development to be well thought out, and the writing "flowed" well.
But.....(spoilers ahead).
I found the idea that a small number (maybe 5) of people could overthrow a state's government and declare it's removal from the union to be unrealistic. Honestly, just because someone is elected governor means that all other government agencies are going to throw their lot in with her? The US Senators, US Congressmen, the Federal (and State and local) law enforcement agencies? And that the US President is just going to stand by as this group takes over military bases, makes globally reaching decisions, and threatens war? In fact, no one, not the FBI/CIA/Homeland Security, is able to root out any of this, but a simple news reporter could? Not hardly.
And then there are the sloppy mistakes, somethings that should have been caught in editing. "She also got a permit and bought a handgun-she refuses to touch an automatic, she considers them killing machines that should be banned" (uhh, handguns cannot be "automatic"?). And identifying the second in command of an important military base as a Corporal. And having to identify any (several) characters as being "black"; you didn't id the other characters as white/asian/etc, why does it matter if they are black? Or charging a Canadian citizen with treason against the US, is that really an option?
Despite the main character being kidnapped, threatened, having inside info on numerous murders, she blindly plunges forward, never alerting law enforcement. And despite her having knowledge about where nuclear missiles are being readied against the US in Canada, instead of calling out the calvary, she flies to Canada, where she single-handedly takes down the base where the missiles are, preventing their launch in the nick of time (where they were to be launched with the stereotypical red button).
And, finally, after approximately 330 pages, the entire "suspenseful" ending is done in about 3 pages. Very rushed and unsatisfying.
I would really like to see this concept rewritten in a more thought out, "believable" manner. That would be a good book!

Disappointing!

Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking - Marissa A. Ross

Disappointing. If you are looking for juvenile and profane writing, you may enjoy this book. Otherwise, there are many, many better introductions to wine. Let me quote just a few examples. "Or you can just pour it in a glass and let it chill out for a while, and boom, you just aerated that shit!" "Brut: Pretty fucking dry champagne". "It was easy to ignore that they were unemployed, only wanted blowjobs, and always smelled like cigarettes" (there are numerous wine/oral sex comparisons). "the finish is the flavor and sensation a wine leaves in your mouth after you've swallowed, insert innuendo of choice" (I warned you). "I should know the difference by now, just not when it's 9:00 am, and I'm totally stoned, which is the only way I go to the market".
So, if you want to equate your education in wine with profanity, unsatifactory sexual encounters, or abusing drugs, maybe this book is for you. Me, I'll stick with more mainstream literature.

Excellent Alternative Fiction!

All the Way With JFK? Britain, the US and the Vietnam War - Peter Busch

Finally! An excellent alternative fiction novel that is very plausible, and no "alien space-bats" or "time shifts". Schaefer has penned a serious, thoughtful, believable novel using the event of the Dallas JFK assassination as his vehicle. What if Oswald didn't succeed in his attempt? The author uses that assumption as his beginning. His tale involves the Kennedy's, the US Government, the Cubans, the Mafia, the Russians, the Iranians, the Vietnamese, and on and on. It is told through the viewpoints of multiple people, very effectively. I don't want to give any more away of the story, but it is fantastic. And Schaefer ends the book masterfully. I finished it feeling completely satisfied.
If you enjoy great alternative fiction, or even a great fiction/mystery/thriller, I cannot recommend this book enough!

I Am a Secret Service Agent: My Life Spent Protecting the President - Charles W. Maynard, Dan Emmett

Maynard has given an intelligently written, easily readable, and good book on his time as a Secret Service Agent. The dedication to his career, and the pride he took in it is very admirable. The non stop training, as well as the other sacrifices he made are admirable. I was told that this book was written for a younger audience, those hoping to follow in his career footsteps. It would be a valuable reference for them, and it reads very well to an adult audience also. 

Sad!

Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever - Patrick J. Buchanan

A view of the Nixon presidency, through the eyes of it's arch conservative member, Patrick Buchanan. The detail is amazing. The author must either have an incredible memory, or kept notes on everything he has done.
Throughout the book, the central theme is that Buchanan's ultra conservative beliefs are the only path to success for the United States. Everyone who has a differing opinion is just wrong, and is the enemy. (Sounds eerily familiar to the current administration). It must be something to be so sure of oneself, and to have never an inkling of doubt of one's beliefs, or that you may sometimes be wrong. However, I think it would be a sad and lonely existence. It makes me feel bad for Mr. Buchanan.

A Behind The Scenes Look

Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America - Michael Ruhlman

A behind the scenes peek at the operation of a grocery store. And of the overall management and strategies of grocery stores nationwide.
I have to confess, of all the jobs I held in my career, all the way up through the upper levels of a federal law enforcement agency, the one I loved the most was as a simple "bag boy"/clerk in my local grocery store while in high school. To this day, I get a feeling of satisfaction out of bagging my own groceries. In this, I felt a kinship with the author's father, who said "When I retire, I think I'm going to bag groceries".
There is so much information in this book, I don't know where to start! If you have ever wondered about where the food in your store comes from, Ruhlman explains it very well.

Awesome!

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency - Chris Whipple

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Whipple created an accounting of the White House Chiefs of Staff from Nixon through Obama. The successful and the not so successful. The successful ones were given the authority to actually control the fire hose of information coming into the President. And to prevent the people who attempted to go around them to reach the President with what they thought were unique and special needs. Similar to the military, a lieutenant does not jump the chain of command and go directly to the general, he goes through channels. Otherwise, the General (President) would be overwhelmed with opinions and subject to following the most influential talker, regardless of facts.
As I finished reading this book, I was left with a feeling of awe in how well some of the Chief of Staffs could "herd cats" successfully. It takes a real talent.
I read a lot of political history books, and this one ranks up there with the best. It fills in a lot of holes and explains a lot of actions that I wondered about in my reading of presidential memoirs.
Highly recommended!