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My Book Reading

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly  (completed)

Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis

   (in progress)

Killing Floor by Lee Child   (completed)

   (1997, Reacher's first appearance)

Sticky Fingers - The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan


The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone (Dey St. Books, just completed, full review just published)

Double Agent Celery: MI5's Crooked Hero by Carolinda Witt (pen-and-sword books)

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (1980, the book that started the franchise, just completerd)

The Take by Christopher Reich (Mulholland Books)

Podcast Favorites

Kara Swisher's Recode Decode this week is an interesting conversation with Tina Brown. Using the publication of her new Vanity Fair Diaries as a starting point, they examine Brown's publishing career, notably her wonderful runs with Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Then they dive into the internet age, how it's changing the publishing world, Brown's start-up of The Daily Beast, followed by venting about Facebook today. Swisher puts together the best intervierw/talk with Brown I've heard since her book was published. Brown was consistently creating some of the best magazines in the world, at a time when that mattered.

Rich Roll's podcast is one I've discovered recently, and I'm working to catch up. Here are two don't-miss episodes:

Fogel is the star of, the producer of, the man behind Icarus. If you've not watched this documentary, exclusively streaming on Netflix, get to it! Of all the interviews I've read and heard with Fogel, Roll brings out the most interesting perspective. It's a fabulous listening experience.


Lance Armstrong needs no introduction. I don't care whether you admire or dislike him, his wealth of experience and new perspective on many matters is worth listening to. Me, I think he's one of the finest athletes ever.


Spies and Chasing Spies

Just completed the excellent Woman Who Smashed Codes, Jason Fagone's biography of the unsung hero of cryptography, Elizebeth Friedman.


Newly arriving from the U.K. is Double Agent Celery, MI5's Crooked Hero, by Carolinda Witt. Looking forward to this espionage tale. From a spy-chaser to a spy.

@penswordbooks, @jfagone, #womanwhosmashedcodes#doubleagentcelery,@CarolindaWitt


American Assassin - Vince Flynn (Mitch Rapp origin)

Continuing my exercise in revisiting the first appearances of some of today’s most popular adventure heroes (last week it was Lee Child’s Killing Floor, the first Reacher tale), I just read Vince Flynn’s American Assassin. Of course, the recently released movie based on this book also brings new attention to Mitch Rapp and his origin story.

Published seven years ago, American Assassin recounts the long, tangled journey of Mitch Rapp the college athlete to the guy on the way to becoming the most feared spy/assassin in the world. Never mind he’s (most of the time) employed by the CIA - most of them don’t like or trust him, either. 

A brutal six months of intense training, including some tense relationship issues (no surprise to Rapp fans), finds our neophyte undercover operative in Istanbul. Mitch quickly turns a reconnaissance mission into a dramatic assassination, displaying the talent and directness that will divide his friends and foes alike. 

Events move quickly, terrorist groups are on the move, and Rapp finds himself having to make tough decisions about how to best maneuver himself and his fellow operatives. His decision to go undercover, in a sense, makes for dramatic reading, as good as Vince Flynn gets.

American Assassin is a gripping, all-too-believable tale of adventure. If this was the first Flynn novel I was reading, I’d be all-in on Mitch Rapp, eager to follow him to the next stop. Author Flynn is an effective writer, as good with characterization as plot points. It would have been easy to create a cartoonish, too-good-to-be-true figure out of Rapp, but on some level he comes across as someone I could have a beer with. I’m always impressed with Flynn.

2010, Atria Books

#vinceflynn, #mitchrapp, @mitchrappfans


Killing Floor - Lee Child (first Reacher novel)

Celebrating the publication of Lee Child’s new novel The Midnight Line, featuring Jack Reacher, (Nov. 7), I thought it would be fun to read his first Reacher work, Killing Floor, and compare it to his writing about Reacher 22 books later. 

Last month I found this beautiful condition hardcover of Killing Floor at a charity sale and quickly scooped it up. At the time I wasn’t aware it was Child’s first Reacher novel, only that I didn’t own it and hadn’t read it. Last week in a BBC interview, Child revealed the title of his upcoming 2018 Reacher novel, Yesterday, and revealed something of his writing and plotting style. He works hard on the opening sentence of each book, and writes and rewrites and polishes the initial paragraph. When Child is happy with the first paragraph, he begins what he terms a “free-wheeling descent into the plot.” He claims to have little or no idea where the story is heading. I’d call this a brave and confident writing style. 

Killing Floor is top-notch. If you’ve read anything by Lee Child you know he combines sudden, often unexpected action scenes with mysteries and exciting plots. Elements of what has made Reacher popular resonate throughout Killing Floor. He falls into a quick yet plausible relationship with a woman involved in the situation (I was going to say “the case” but everything Reacher becomes involved with is unlike a traditional police case). That happens right away in Killing Floor, with officer Roscoe. Reacher ends up remaining somewhere he had no plans to spend appreciable time in - yes. A small town in Georgia he almost accidentally got off the bus in. It was a whim. 

Reacher carries no luggage. In this first adventure he doesn’t immediately throw his old clothing away when he buys some new things, but soon enough he does. I missed mention of his toothbrush, but I’ll assume he carried one. 

The presence of Reacher’s brother Joe changes the tone of some of Killing Floor. I won’t worry about spoiling anyone’s reading enjoyment by revealing Joe is dead by the time Reacher finds out about his involvement, but revenge proves to be good fuel for Jack Reacher.

Reacher is recently discharged from the Army in this first novel, on his initial roam around the country. He doesn’t seem disillusioned about anything - it’s more that he’s curious about the country and states and wants to roam and be free, even if he’s not certain why.

On some level I found Child’s writing in Killing Floor to be as good as anything I’ve read by him (I probably own half or more of the Reacher novels and have read all I have). His tone and pace seem a bit more relaxed, wordier than later books in the series are. Against this backdrop, Reacher’s violence takes on a more urgent and surprising tone. He’s completely at peace with ending someone’s life when they deserve it, and a couple of times goes about it with more planning and cold-blooded nerve than I expected from him. In the context of both the story and his now well-developed character, it makes sense. A couple of times I found myself take aback either by Reacher’s sudden, take-no-prisoners actions, or his infallible instincts.

I enjoyed the hell out of Killing Floor. Child’s plot and storyline are complex enough that I was guessing about events at times, so I was on my toes. That challenge is enjoyable. Characters are fully developed, and a couple of major plot turns were unexpected and certainly changed how I was thinking of events and where the action was headed. The motion picture in my brain was rolling every time I opened the book - that’s what I’m looking for in a great adventure novel. I wonder if Child wrote this book in the same manner he says he is now, with the first paragraph leading to the books writing themselves.  It seems to me that would be difficult with a first novel featuring such a strong character.

Killing Floor is terrific and ranks with Lee Child’s best Reacher work.

@LeeChildReacher, #killingfloor, #leechild




Exceptional New Music Histories 

I've read Rolling Stone magazine since the beginning. In my high school years Rolling Stone was only available via a hippie underground newspaper salesman who moved from town to town selling Stone, Creem, Berkley Barb, Chicago Seed, Ann Arbor's Argus, and other such lifelines to the counterculture. For decades, Rolling Stone was the Bible for music, movies, books, and everything that counted. If the paper liked a new album, that was important news. Everything critical to my life, for years, passed through the pages of Rolling Stone, it seems to me.

Sticky Fingers (The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine) by Joe Hagan is a newly published biography of the man who co-founded Rolling Stone, and helms it to this day. To say this book is receiving a great deal of publicity since its publication would be a nice understatement. I bought my copy today, and am looking forward to digging in. A full review will follow. 

Anthony DeCurtis has been an editor at Rolling Stone for 35 years. His most excellent writing has accompanied my life all this time. Much like Rolling Stone itself, I've been reading his work for what I assume is most of his career. Lou Reed: A Life, is his new biography of the great songwriter/poet/musician. I'm about a quarter of the way through Lou Reed, and there is no exaggeration in my saying this is already showing itself as one of the premier books I've read about somebody of the stature of the great Lou Reed. It's also not an overstatement for me to say I've read a hell of a lot of music biographies in my life and my thirty years publishing magazines and articles about musuic. Again, an in-depth writeup will come your way.

I'm glad I've lived long enough to witness such well executed perspective on the world of rock'n'roll, which has played such a important role in my life.

@littlebrown, #loureedalife, @AdeCurtis, @joehagansays, #stickyfingers, @carieeneill, @AAknopf


Keto Essentials - Vanessa Spina & Paleo Principles by Sarah Ballantyne

As if further proof that Keto and Paleo aren’t the biggest nutritional buzzwords of the past decade wasn’t necessary, here’s more weighty evidence. On poundage and page count alone, these two volumes lend credence to those believing that one of these two dietary “lifestyles” is the singular best way to go.

Vanessa Spina, author of Keto Essentials, is a living, breathing advocate for the long-term health benefits of embracing a ketogenic diet as a keystone for life. Combining intermittent fasting with keto reverses damage done to people by their unhealthy, high carb, low fat eating, in Spina’s opinion. Reducing disease and enhancing the diet of anyone who will listen is her mission.

I find nothing to argue with here. Through her site Spina has counseled and advocated healthy change for thousands of people, leading through example. Along the way she provides the tools for change and success. Telling people what they’re doing is bad or unhealthy doesn’t make much difference. Providing information and resources and mapping out a course of action truly assists in positive change. 

Keto Essentials is all about that. This big book is much more than the 150 keto recipes. Sure, they’ll help “revitalize, heal and shed weight” (I took that phrase from the cover), but Spina wants to help others build their own lifestyle based around ketogenic eating and principles. Keto Essentials is a solid roadmap to the ketogenic diet.

Paleo Principles - Sarah Ballantyne

There’s no shortage of blogs and books and podcasts advocating Paleo this and that. The world doesn’t need another bookshelf of Paleo titles. I thought I had enough books on the topic. Who knew years ago what a powerful movement Robb Wolf was unleashing with The Paleo Solution?

Paleo Principles is the finest examination of why the Paleo diet and lifestyle (there’s that word again) makes sense from a scientific viewpoint. I’ve been reading most Paleo-themed books since the beginning (of the movement, (not since the Paleolithic era), have lived strictly Paleo for long periods of time, and have been active in CrossFit, weight-training and other fitness activities throughout. Bookcases in my house creak under the weight of all the Paleo cookbooks and lifestyle volumes.

But I’ll clear out space on a bottom shelf for Sarah Ballantyne’s Paleo Principles, that’s for certain. I may spend the next two years fully reading and comprehending everything in here, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it. Author Ballantyne must have spent most of two years of her life writing and assembling this information, then creating a template for creating a usable, readable encyclopedia from her research. 

So just what’s in this massive book? Why are there nearly 700 pages? What can I do with 225 recipes? Should I sell or give away all my other Paleo-themed books?

Everything relevant to the world of Paleo eating and living and embracing your health in a Paleo way is contained within these pages. Sarah Ballantyne is a great believer in the truth and magic of science, refreshingly so. Embracing the Paleo movement and scientific validity at the same time is part of what sets Paleo Principles apart from other books on the topic. 

General health is a constant theme throughout Paleo Principles. Never losing sight of this, Ballantyne provides boxes and sidebars and visual aids everywhere throughout the pages, helping readers assimilate her flood of useful information. Everyone, no matter their background and interest in Paleo, will find much to dig into relevant to their needs. Health, losing body fat and weight, athletic endeavors, food choices, shopping guides, how-to-prepare meals… endless options await anyone who opens the pages of this book.

Should you have specific food allergen sensitivities, she covers your options (with recipes). I could go on, but I’ll trot out an old cliche: you’ve got to see this book to believe it.

Sarah Ballantyne wants Paleo Principles to be regarded as a one-stop-shop resource, the most comprehensive Paleo guidebook ever written. You should get your hands on a copy, live with it, spatter food on the pages, and find out for yourself. I can’t think of a better way to invest in a healthy lifestyle.

#paleoprinciples, @thepaleomom, @victorybeltinc, @ketogenicgirl, #vanessaspina, #ketogenicgirl, #ketoessentials