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Twisted Prey - John Sandford

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John LeCarre

UNSUB - Meg Gardiner

A Spy Named Orphan by Roland Philipps

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

The Word Is Murder - Anthony Horowitz

Star of the North - D.B. John

The Sinners - Ace Atkins

The Outsider - Stephen King

Spymaster - Brad Thor

The Other Woman - Daniel Silva

The Man Between - Charles Cumming 

Operation Mincemeat - Ben Macintyre 

Berlin: Caught in the Mousetrap by Paul Grant 

Berlin Game - Len Deighton (for the Spybrary book club)

Desolation Mountain - William Kent Krueger

Podcast Favorites . (The life and Legacy of Ian Fleming, with author and historian Jeremy Duns, always an excellent and entertaining interview) . (the true story of Oleg Penkovsky, regarded by many as the greatest spy of the Cold War era - with Jeremy Duns, whose book on the topic, Dead Drop, is a classic) (wonderful history of Ian Fleming's involvement at Bletchley Park during WWII, and Anthony Horowitz making a presentation about his new James Bond novel, Forever And A Day. "How I Nearly Started World War III" with Mark Valley, host of the Live Drop Espionage podcast



Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison by Gary Tillery 

Growing up a Beatles fan, I was frustrated by how rarely George Harrison let his guitar howl. He seemed to have a good rock’n’roll heart, but I wanted “the sensitive Beatle” to rock out. George seemed to be in charge of the Beatles’ trips to India, their meetings with spiritualists and Ravi Shankar and exposure to Hinduism. Photos of the group with their entourage meeting the Maharishi, for example, featured cranky looking Ringo and Paul, John amused by it all, and George blissed out. All I knew as a teenage rock fan was The Beatles’ music changed, and most of the time wasn’t better rock’n’roll.

Working Class Mystic explains all this, and now in 2011, I’m not too concerned. After all, the group broke up 43 years ago and George Harrison is sadly dead. Gary Tillery does a fine job helping all of this make sense to me today. I’ll admit I’ve paid little attention to the spiritual side of Harrison through the years, as it just didn’t interest me. 

It still doesn’t, but I admire George Harrison and appreciate his music. Working Class Mystic uses the lyrics of Harrison to reveal his spiritual discoveries and developments. Tillery draws conclusions about Harrison’s life and works in this manner. If this type of thing interests you, I recommend this book.

Quest Books, $15.95

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The Dunwells - I Could Be King

What a thrilling montage of historical moments. Great song, amazing compilation of footage. I teared up!


The Cut by George Pelecaos and Shock Wave by John Sandford 

Know that feeling you get when you begin a book that from the outset you were unsure of, but you continue reading out of some weird sense of duty? That’s how I felt with Sandford’s Shock Wave. I’m familiar with his best-selling reputation and the Prey series, but I’ve not read much of his work, actually. He’s one of those popular authors whose books line the shelves of used bookstores, that I associate with summer novels.  

I began Shock Wave in a tired frame of mind, ready for a thriller, some easy reading, after wading through some tough non-fiction reading. Sandford and Shock Wave seemed like a natural choice. Unfortunately, even one third of the way through, I didn’t care enough about Virgil Flowers, the plot, or frankly anyone else in the book to pick it up again. One night I had it in my hands, was going to sit down with a glass of wine and an uninterrupted hour or so of reading time, and found myself saying “no.” I wanted more, felt I was settling. It was easy to not find out what happened next, with no second thoughts. So I’m done with Shock Wave. (Putnam's)

George Pelecanos, on the other hand, reaches out of the page, grips my throat, and dares me to stop reading! I’ve consumed enough of his books to know that when he’s on his game, I’m all-in and will look for every opportunity to read a few pages. The Cut is in that category; I read it in a couple of days, and didn’t want it to end.

From a couple of pages in, I was interested in Spero Lucas and involved. Pelecanos has a style of description that borrows a bit from hard-boiled literature without laying it on thickly. He moves narrative along. The Cut is certainly a thriller, but as when I read Lee Child and a few other masters of the genre, I feel like I’m engaging with “serious” fiction. Whatever that is. 

Lucas is outside of the law on occasion; his adventurous background and non-traditional interests and friends mean he’s ideal for his profession. But that turns out to be a bit of a murky deal, as what he does is help people, and find things. Kinda vague, isn’t it? Open to interpretation, for certain.

Pelecanos has created a new recurring character I’m eager to read more about; his friends are interesting as well, as his attitude proves to be. Lucas isn’t an anti-hero, he’s not a macho fool, he’s actually pretty difficult to pigeonhole. Taking place in Washington, D.C., I enjoy the familiarity with the city, landmarks and culture exhibited by Lucas, friends, and bad guys (and by extension, author Pelecanos). Featuring sudden, unexpected violence, surprising twists and turns, morality potholes, memorable characters - The Cut is a compelling, dramatic novel. 

$25.99, ReaganArthurBooks

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Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller 

I got angry early into my reading of Extra Virginity, and nothing that author Mueller came up with in this fine work did a thing to mitigate my frustration and overall feeling of being taken advantage of. Olive oil has been a part of my life for years; long ago I learned to discontinue cooking with it, that I should drizzle it on food after it’s prepared. I shop at olive oil specialty stores; less and less over the years has supermarket olive oil made its way into the pantry of my home. But now I wonder whether I’ve been truly consuming extra-virgin olive oil all these years, and whether some of that relatively inexpensive stuff from the grocery store was even olive oil of any grade. I’m so frustrated after reading Extra Virginity. And becoming angrier at yet another food-related industry, one I thought didn’t have these modern problems.

Turns out corruption, fakery, counterfeiting, and out-and-out deception has been a staple of the olive oil world forever. Who knew? I’m the guy who used to assume that if the label sounded or looked Italian, I was buying “the good stuff.” I learned differently a few years ago, but now I find myself wondering where the expensive oil is coming from that’s poured for me from shiny bulk containers in specialty shops. As Mueller states, “odds are that most, if not all, of the oils marked “extra virgin” in your local supermarket are imposters, harlots masquerading in virgins’ clothing.”

Extra Virginity reads like a detective novel; different chapters find author Mueller digging into the stories, businesses and families of olive-oil growing and producing areas of the world. Most critically, it’s the people, their histories, traditions and attitudes that control the quality of the product that does or doesn’t make it’s way to us, especially here in the United States. He interacts with fascinating growers around the world; I’m continually reminded of grape growers and wine-makers by the passion of these olive people.

I found myself wondering, as I read the book, about why I’d not paid more attention to olive oil years ago. This magical substance has been taken for granted, and I’ll bet most people have little understanding of where it really comes from, how it’s harvested and processed, and why the real thing is so important for our bodies and health.

Above and beyond that Mueller uncovers for the reader the passion, love and virtually life-long immersion generations of families have for olives and the best olive oil. The images of people adding it to everything they eat, using it on their skin and in their hair, the aromas he describes, brought alive this staple food. After completing Extra Virginity I went right to my local high-end olive oil shop, talked to the owner about the book (which he was familiar with and wanted to sell in his store), and bought a bottle of a new (to me) variety with a strong nose and pepper blast of flavor.

Know what olive oil you are purchasing, and demand of your seller that they know where it came from and what olives it was produced from. Extra Virginity is an important, readable and entertaining, book.

$25.95, WW Norton

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The Great Leader by Jim Harrison

Harrison is on my short list of writers to pay always attention to. Years ago he penned a wonderfully entertaining food column that ran in the late and lamented Smart Magazine, and Esquire. Jim brought enjoyment of food and drink to an enjoyable, interesting level I’ve not seen anywhere since, other than Anthony Bourdain’s work. I miss those columns.

The Great Leader was unusually compelling for me, as Harrison places the primary character, a fairly messed-up, recently retired police detective named Sunderson, in our shared stomping grounds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Call me easy, but having this back-and-forth storyline spotlighting restaurants, bars, towns and people in and around Marquette and the Lake Superior shoreline kept the pages turning and me smiling.

To call The Great Leader “character driven” would be an understatement. Yes, there’s a plot involving crooked cult leaders, exploitation of innocents, and police procedural elements, but it’s unimportant. I found myself caught up in the thoughts of Sunderson as he processed his life post-career, after a divorce from a woman he sometimes thinks he still loves, as he tries to find himself again in the world. An unlikely pairing takes place as Sunderson gains an accomplice in his journey to stop the evil doings of the cult leader.

There’s much to learn from life at all ages and in every instance; the reader will do so at the same time Sunderson does. Jim Harrison evokes beauty and tragedy alike with ease; often I find myself re-reading a paragraph so i can enjoy his wording and the mental pictures his writing builds for me. Somehow Sunderson’s broken, alcoholic, perhaps wasted life doesn’t depress and comes full circle to be meaningful. 

 Grove Press, $24

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