Category Archives: Featured Articles
In my review of last year’s “Foreign Influence” by Brad Thor, I said the following:
If I have one criticism of the book it is that it reads like what it really is – a prologue. The story is engaging, fast paced, and well written – but you can tell that it is essentially the foundation for a deeper and more far reaching narrative.
Tomorrow marks the release of that more far reaching narrative. With “Full Black”, Thor pays off the promises found in “Foreign Influence” and delivers a thinking man’s thriller. There’s plenty of action, military insight, and even more action – but there’s also a cogent political, social, and economic story woven into the fabric of the book. Taking a step back and looking to the horizon, we find that while still dangerous, radical Islam is not the only enemy we face. At times nuanced and at other times blunt, Thor pulls no punches in deconstructing the broader adversaries aligned against us in the world today. It’s a story about layers, and serves to lay the foundation for the continued evolution of both Thor as a storyteller and Scot Harvath as a character.
A few months back, my brother recorded a song he had written about our Granny. It perfectly captures those trips up to Kentucky when we were kids, and later when we went up to visit her with kids of our own.
There’s a reason the music of your youth is the music that follows you throughout your life. When you’re stumbling through the transition from adolescence to adulthood you make strong, immediate connections to things around you. It’s the reason your first love is always so intense. It’s the reason you feel invincible when you’re out with your friends. It’s the foundation that leads to that nostalgic look back at “the good old days” in later years. Those moments and memories that surround you during that time of your life become an integral part of who you are. For me, one of those moments was with “Les Miserables”.
I came of musical age during the 80’s – hair metal, the birth of MTV, The King of Pop, and the advent of the “mega” Broadway musical. For my money (and with no apology to “Phantom of the Opera” fans – I just never liked that show), there was none bigger than “Les Miserables”. Debuting on Broadway in 1986, it became one of the most successful musicals of all time.
During my senior year in high school, we did a musical review. The closing number was a medley of songs from “Les Miserables”. I played the part of Marius. We defended the barricades, Eponine died in my arms, and everyone dreamed of one day more. It was the perfect exclamation point to that year and, in many ways, it was a much larger, if more subtle, metaphor for my entire high school experience (but that’s a story for another day). It made a deep impression on me, and the music from the show would follow me and continue to fill me with wonder for the next 20 plus years.
Birthdays are a time for celebration. Once a year your family and friends come together to celebrate the simple fact that you exist. Gifts are given, food is eaten, candles are lit and blown out, and of course, there is cake. It’s a special day, no matter who you are or how old.
For me, birthdays are also a time of reflection, a time to think about the prior year and speculate on the year to come. This year is no different, but it also marks a milestone for me. This is the year I complete my 40th trip around the sun. As the old saying goes, “40 is just a number”, and it’s true; but society still places a premium on each decade we mark off on this earth, so I feel I should, at least in some small way, do the same.
I am, by no means, a wise man. I’ve made my way through these 40 years the best I could. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I’ve also had my fair share of moments in the sun. Through it all, I’ve learned a lot of things – many, the hard way. To mark today’s passing, I’ve decided to share some of those things with you – the 40 most important lessons in my life. I can only hope they help my children navigate the way through their first 40 trips around the sun, to a place as good as I have.
- Your first love is not the same as your true love. Both will linger with you your entire life, but true love is the only thing capable of filling the hole in your heart.
- Mascara doesn’t come easily out of hair that’s been teased and shellacked with Aquanet hairspray.
- Process is the last refuge of a weak mind. It has its place and purpose, but action with thought is wasteful and lazy.
- Family is forever – no matter where you go; they’re always with you.
- Any man who can’t share his love of “Star Wars” with his children is a poor parent.
It’s been a really long week. One of those weeks were it’s easy to sit back and focus on just how stressful and infuriating life can be sometimes. I had to fly cross-country, so I had plenty of time to sit on planes and think. I was crammed into seat 37E between a morbidly obese Panamanian woman and a John Waters look-alike who smelled like Doritos and Band-Aids, when I had an epiphany somewhere over New Mexico. As trying as my week had been, it could have been far worse. I could have had to deal with some of the things that really annoy me. I could have been put in one of those situations that really set my teeth on edge. I could have been trapped in one of what I call, “My Own Personal 7 Circles of Hell”.
#1: Having a cashier ask for my credit card after I’ve already swiped it through the reader
Automation can be a good thing (just don’t tell Obama…). It allows companies and businesses to be more efficient. It can speed up simple transactions and save you valuable time during your day. It can also drive you crazy.
One of the biggest changes at retail in the last few years has been the ubiquitous addition of credit card terminals at the register. They’re everwhere – Walmart, Kmart, Carmart, Stuffyoudontneedmart – everyone has added the ability for you to swipe your credit card and pay your bill. Put like that, it sounds great – and in most cases it is. Most, but not all.
Here’s what chaps my recently slimmed down posterior. If they are going to give you an automated machine to swipe your card through, why do they still insist you then hand them your card for inspection. If I’m going to hand it to Skippy the cashier anyway, shouldn’t he just go ahead and swipe it himself? Why even give me the illusion of control over my own destiny? It’s like a cruel joke: he allows me to swipe my card, put it back in my wallet, put my wallet back in my pocket, and THEN Skippy needs to see the card – or I can’t buy my fresh vine ripened tomatoes, can of turpentine, and Kittens with Mittens sticker book.
Really? You just have to see the card? You just have to let me have one brief moment of retail freedom, then bring it all crashing down on my head like a twig house under the onslaught of Ye Olde Big Bad Wolf? Thanks for nothing. Just keep your credit card machines and false promises of manifest destiny in the hair care products aisle. It’s almost enough to make me start using cash…
When I finish a book, I usually like to let it sit for a few days before I start crafting my review. I like to let it marinate, as it were, and bounce around unencumbered in the empty bell tower of my subconscious. Not so with “Deadline”. I just finished it seven minutes ago and felt compelled to grab the laptop, head out to the back porch, and start writing. Why the rush? Quite simply, I was blown away by the story and I have to share it with you.
“Deadline” is the second book in the Newsflesh trilogy from author Mira Grant. The first book in the series, “Feed”, came out last year and landed the fifth spot on my “Top 11 of 2010” list. As I said about it at the time –
“Mira Grant constructs a world filled with characters and zombies that allow us to see not only what the zombie apocalypse might look like, but also forces us to ask the question – in a world full of danger, loss, and fear; how important is the truth?”
With “Deadline”, Grant dives headlong back into the world of “Feed” and shows us that some truths are more true than others.
Faithful readers will remember that I am a fan of “end of the world” stories. I read them regularly and enjoy them immensely. Always on the lookout for something I haven’t read in the genre, I came across “Level 7” by Mordecai Roshwald while exploring a string of “other customers also bought” recommendations on Amazon. I took the plunge, punched the button, and decided to give the book a try.
“Level 7” was first published in 1959. It is constructed as the diary of Officer X-127 – a military officer who is part of his country’s nuclear weapons program. X-127 is deployed to the 7th level of a vast underground complex – the level responsible for the offensive capabilities of their nuclear arsenal (Level 6 is defensive, Level 5 is living quarters for the elite and political classes, etc.). Through his journal entries, you learn about life underground, the eventual start of a full-scale nuclear war, and the aftermath for the survivors.
Sometimes you find a story that’s more than a story, and other times you read a book that’s only a collection of words. Sometimes you get a glimpse into someone else’s life and other times you take a step back and look at your own. Sometimes you learn something profound and other times simplicity confounds you. Sometimes you enjoy the journey and other times you only see the destination. Sometimes you read a book like “Austin Nights” by herocious.
“Austin Nights” is a book that defies easy description, but delivers a potent impact to the self aware reader. It tells the story of Michael and Bridget, a couple moving from Miami to Austin, TX, within the construct of a series of journal entries. The chapters have been shuffled together in seemingly random order, jumping back in forth in time and location, leaving you with an experience akin to tuning an old dial radio through someone’s mind; sliding from station to station, moment to moment, memory to memory – impossible to hear an entire song, but inescapable in it’s mood and atmosphere.
If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of “The Undertakers: Rise of The Corpses”, you can find it here. It’s a great new addition to the young adult genre – both because it’s an incredibly entertaining story, and because it’s about zombies. I had a chance to chat with the Ty Drago, the author of “The Undertakers” recently. We talked about everything from his inspiration for the novel, to the role his son played in helping him get the characters’ voices to ring true, to – of course – the (real) pending zombie apocalypse.
Once again, I find myself falling far behind on my book reviews. I wish it wasn’t so – but 5 months of wishing hasn’t changed anything, so I’ve come to a conclusion. It’s time for another installment of “5 books, 5 minutes, 500 words or less” (you can read the first installment here). Let’s review the rules – I’ll review 5 books, with each review clocking in at 100 words or less, that hopefully you can read in 5 minutes or less. (I guess that’s really kind of self evident, based on the title, huh?) Think of it as speed dating for bok reviews. It’s much harder than it sounds, constraining my brilliance and formidable insights to only 100 words per book, but it’s a great exercise in efficiency. Hope you enjoy!