Friday, December 16, 2011

Year End Book Reviews

There is nothing quite so demanding as the urgency of now. Every day something comes up which has to be done now, and thus it is that weeks have passed since last I posted. Not that I had nothing to share, mind you, or circumstances upon which commentary may have been warranted, or even some new story or poem with which to bemuse; but instead pedestrian life intervened and I just haven't had the time until now.

Since I last wrote, several things important to me have occurred. My second novel, Rising Son, has been released for e-readers and is currently available for $3.99. Through the auspices of my publicist I have even managed to attract the attention of the local newspaper. You may link to the article here . They were generous with their coverage and in the physical paper I got a picture and headline above the fold on the front page, and about one third of the inside front page.

My spouse and I are also in the throes of selling our abode and combining households with her 92 year old mother, who is just beginning to reach that point where independent living is becoming too much. In this market it is a grueling process with false starts and dashed hopes offering the larger portion to date. But, in God's time and will it will all end up the way it is meant for us all, even if I can't quite see that horizon just this moment.

Meanwhile, I continue to voraciously consume books, and will take a moment to comment here on some notable tales which you may wish to read.

"We are coming, Greek." With those words Chris Humphreys begins an extravagant and delicious fictional chronicle of the people and events surrounding the siege and eventual fall of the fabled title city. Once the heart of the Byzantine Empire, the Red Apple--as it is known to the Turks--is ripe for plucking. With brilliant command of his craft, Humphreys weaves a tale of Emperors and mercenaries, Sultans and sinners, connivers, diplomats, seductresses, mystics and murderers into a powerful and compelling narrative where readers can almost smell the sweat and fear, cordite and courage, and duplicity and faithfulness as a huge army surrounds the walls that have withstood a millennium of assaults, and--outnumbered ten to one--prepares to defend itself one more time. "This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can."  Lovers of historical fiction will be immersed and gratified with this book, I couldn't stop reading, and can't sing enough praise for this fabulous contribution to my bookshelf.

A Place Called Armageddon-Constantinople 1453 by C. C. Humphreys.
Available through

We all have secrets. Big secrets, little ones; ones we disclose freely because they have little value, and some of us have secrets we willingly take to the grave. What secret did the famous printer Johannes Gutenberg--whose revolutionary bible that bears his name--have that was so important he was willing to sacrifice his new printing operation to maintain? This question leads the brilliant but eccentric professor Keith Drucker and rare books librarian Madeline Zayne on a transcontinental search for clues about who might be bombing the rare book libraries of the world, what an encoded rubric and stolen manuscript reveal about arcane rituals and biblio-terrorism and what fabulous treasure is at the end of the search. And if they find it, will they survive to tell the tale?
Nathan Everett crafts an intriguing story of just what it might mean when a pressman says he has 'ink running in his veins', and pushes us through an entertaining labyrinth of leads to a satisfying  and surprising end. Highly recommended, think Dan Brown (though better crafted) for the bibliophile.  Who says librarians are dull?

The Gutenberg Rubric by Nathan Everett
ISBN 978-0-9833691-2-7
Available at bookstores, through his website, and 

What if Cleopatra didn't die. Ever.

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley is one of those books. A book I enjoyed thoroughly, recommend highly and hate trying to review. Not because it is somehow deficient--quite the opposite--it is an ambrosial mix of piquant characters familiar to us all. How could you go wrong with Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Octavian and a fulsome cast of Egyptian, Roman and Pagan gods and their mortal minions? You can't, or at least Headley doesn't. What makes this genre-bending morsel so difficult to review is that almost anything I write has the potential to be a spoiler and I so do not want that to happen. So I will say this: If you are a fan of historical fiction there is much to love in this scrupulously researched book. If a fan of Egyptology or ancient Rome, again, lots to admire in these pages. Perhaps you enjoy well-imagined and sublimely crafted fantasy or mythology. You will find a home among her words and worlds. The fact that she can satisfy across this spectrum leaves me bereft of superlatives, except to simply say, Wow, can this lady write! 
I might bargain with Hades just to get a couple of hours inside her brain to see the wonder of it. And that is the only clue I'll give you. Read for yourself and embrace the ride! 

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley
ISBN  978-0-525-95217-6
Widely available at bookstores, Amazon and Barnes &

What do all these authors have in common-including me? We all live in the Pacific Northwest, and as time becomes an increasingly precious commodity to me you will find my reviews will increasingly be devoted to the talent flourishing in our region. I hope you continue to join me in reading local authors, buying at independent bookstores, and giving writers laboring in the electronic world, like myself, an opportunity as well. Thanks for the reads.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Final Days of Hubert Loessing

I have been away from this blog for a month. My apologies to my readers, but I have been spending time working diligently on my novel trilogy, trying to expand my marketing skills (with limited success) and hone my writing skills. I spent Saturday last among friends, colleagues and fellow toilers in the vineyard of words.  This is a short story, the idea of which occurred to me just Friday, and with the time allowed at the workshop this is what I crafted.  I hope you enjoy my effort.

The first streaks of dawn tinted the horizon when Hubert heard the chainsaws in the forest across the way.  As they whined, he could imagine the chips flying; visualize the notch—followed by the back-cut—that would fell the tree.  Saws went silent and what seemed an eternity later, a one-hundred-twenty-foot red cedar hit the ground, rumbling an earthquake through the house, crashing Ella’s best china to the floor.  Hubert, to his agony, had lost his Ella to age and disease: her dishes’ going, as well, was just too much. He peered across the way in time to see another giant stumble from the skyline in their woods and a new torture set upon him. There would be after-shocks; not all of them from falling trees.
For fifty-two years he and Ella had lived in the little home Hubert had constructed with his own hands.  He had built the barn and the corral; the chicken coop and the studio where they made folk art sold in galleries around the world; even the outhouse, before the septic was built.  It was a good life, lived simply, as far from civilization as practical.  They raised two boys to adulthood and grew most of their own food. A lifetime had trickled through the hourglass watching the forest across the way transform from saplings to towering spires ascending skyward astride the hills of the horizon.  Now the boy’s children were starting families of their own. His dear bride was a twinkle among the stars and the only remaining links to the life he so long had cherished were now tumbling like broken relics of a failed civilization.
As he hitched on his overhauls and cinched up the laces of his boots, the earth would tremble; then still.  The pungent stink of exhaust fumes clashed harshly with the sweet-sharp aroma of pine and spruce carried by the wind of falling branches. 
Transported in time, to long-ago afternoons, Hubert was wandering—in his mind—among his verdant neighbors.  Each reverberation from a collapsing cellulose sentinel evoked reminiscences of the clean redolence of their trees. Ella had called them their Hundred-Acre-Wood and the memories burned his mind as brightly as the morning sun.  He recalled pine straw—soft beneath their sandals—and the cool whisper of sword ferns clutching at them as they passed. Even the drenching winter rains fell softly, transformed into mist; hushed in reverence of so special a place.
The parcel across the way wasn’t really their—or his—woods, of course, but Hubert and Ella had always treated them as their own private front yard. Twenty-plus generations of bald eagles had fledged from the aerie atop Old Snag, a lightning-blasted noble fir at the crest of the ridge.  Endless generations of pileated woodpeckers had rat-a-tat-tatted countless trunks, tattooing irregular holes to lure unsuspecting insects to their doom in sap traps.  The acreage provided winter heat from deadfall bucked into firewood. Much of the muse evident in their art was mirrored in the architecture of the nature at hand.  Even their supper table had been graced by a bounty of fiddle-leaf ferns, chanterelle mushrooms and salmonberries.
 Those trees falling to earth, while the shards of the broken dishes were swept up, were more than just neighbors—they were family members. Hubert Loessing had always been a man to protect his family.
A good deal of the morning was spent watching some of his grove fall as the sun rose high into the sky.  About noon the devouring dragons fell silent, replaced by the rumble of rigs arriving to carry away the copse corpses.  His watching was replaced by listening. The small retinue of farm animals he still kept—disquieted by the unfolding deforestation—were tended and soothed: a few weeds were unceremoniously yanked from the garden and an idea began to take root in Hubert’s universe.
Something like this had been coming.  When he and the missus started their little homestead it was a two mile drive on dirt to get to the forty mile rumble on the rutted gravel road to arrive in the closest town.  Thirty-some years ago a crew had transformed the old road to a smooth ribbon of asphalt and the short track of dirt was widened, smoothed and layered with gravel, then drenched in used oil.  Now there was a mini-mart just six miles away where you could buy beer and chips and pump expensive gas into your deluxe SUV.
Not long after the paving of the path, someone had bought a parcel just a mile away and pretty soon mail started coming right to the property line twice a week.  Hubert had mail-ordered a book on wiring and electricity and he and the boys strung copper cables throughout the house and barn electrifying their lives; oh, about a quarter of a century ago.  Now, even the two miles of oiled gravel had been paved, and that strip of tarmac was what separated Hubert’s homestead from The-Hundred-Acre Wood.
In the barn it took nearly an hour to rummage through boxes stored in the stalls before he found what he was sought.  He poked around some more, collecting everything he thought he would need; then carried it all to the back porch dumping it in a disheveled heap.
Hubert spent a quiet evening after supper writing.  His hand—for his age—was still remarkably fluid and strong, clearly legible on the long-overdue letters he composed.  Upon completion he rested himself by the crackling fire, the warmth emanating from the hearth he had set fifty years ago.  He made a few phone calls—telephones came along with electricity—then retired, setting his alarm and snuggling under Ella’s quilts on the bed.
The whine of the saws shattered the peaceful dawn revving up to rain down destruction in the forest once again.  Neighbors, invited by phone last night, stood in the space at the front of Ella and Hubert’s home comparing conversations.  When saws were suddenly replaced with shouts and frantic activity surrounding a single tree in The-Hundred-Acre-Wood the coterie of friends on the porch began to comprehend their tasks and set about to complete the obligations to which they had agreed.
The Coroner’s Report concluded the Hubert Loessing had died as a result of massive crushing trauma when a fir tree being felled in a logging zone landed on him.  His body was clad in old forest camouflage, something a hunter might have worn years ago and his boots had spiked insteps.  He couldn’t be certain, but the doctor thought it possible that the deceased may have actually climbed into the tree for reasons unknown.  The ruling was accidental death.  The case was closed.
As Hubert intended, logging had been shut down—but only for a week—to accommodate the investigation.  The neighbors had taken his livestock to their homes.  The boys were settling affairs, selling household goods and hiring a Realtor to dispose of the property.  Hubert was a twinkling star with Ella.
It took two years to finish the infrastructure. Construction began when logging had been completed, making way for the subdivision of luxury homes.  As a result of the earlier tragedy, and the colorful pioneer from across the street, it was named Loessing Landing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From Fact to Historical Fiction - Book Reviews

Among the wide-reaching arc of genres that populate fiction, historical fiction is particularly broad, offering both readers--and writers--the opportunity to explore what was real through the eyes of fictional characters, imagine what might have been real by fictionalizing accounts of real people, or bending both to suit the needs of the story.

My own work Island Dawn, for example, begins the story of a fictional Japanese immigrant and his family through the late 19th century into the post WWII era. In my case I have characters buffeted by the real-world events and circumstances of the times over the course of a trilogy.

Such an approach is also taken in Guernica, the debut novel for Seattle journalist Dave Boling.  Set in the moments before the outbreak of WWII in the Basque region straddling southwestern France and northwestern Spain, this novel is a beautiful meditation on the power of love and a heart-wrenching exploration of the devastation the machinery of war visits upon the innocents of all ages.  While this book tells the tale of the people at the heart of Basque culture in Guernica, it paints on a canvas even larger than Picasso did for his epic mural. This intimate portrait paradoxically sprawls across the sweeping events of the era and illuminates--through fiction--the horror of war, the heroism of living a meaningful life in the face of unimaginable heartache, and the dignity of doing the best you can in the worst of circumstances.  This was a five-star read for me, and is a fine example of how fiction at its best illuminates and informs the best and the worst in us.

Guernica, A novel by Dave Boling
Published by Bloomsbury, New York City.
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-59691-637-1

Stepping back five centuries Saltspring Island resident C.C. Humphreys uses a different approach by taking a historical figure shrouded in myth and legend and imagines what the life of the real person might have been in Vlad - The Last Confession.  Within these pages is an epic novel that gathers historical data and casts Vlad Dracul--the real Dracula--as the reviled impaler to his enemies, the Dragon's Son to his people and ultimately the hero of his homeland.  This richly textured narrative, as told by those who knew him best (remember, this is fiction), casts the cartoonish figure of Stoker's novel in an entirely different light. It brilliantly brings into sharp focus the twists of fate, political and theological machinations and external forces that may have driven Vlad to the intense and excruciating means so vividly depicted by Humphreys.  The rich characterizations and exquisite eye for detail make this an epic read, though not for the faint of heart. As Vlad Dracul learned the hard way in the 15th century, 'we torture so that we will not be tortured'.

Vlad - The Last Confession, a novel by C.C. Humphreys
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark Naperville, Ill.
Paperback ISBN: 13: 978-1-4022-5351-5

Taking yet another avenue in Blood of the Reich, Anacortes based William Dietrich takes a peculiar true historical incident, in this case a Himmler sponsored expedition of German scientists to Tibet--the roof of the world--and combines it with a fictional power supposedly left by the ancients in a remote monastery awaiting the 'blood key' to unlock the secrets.  Convinced of their Aryan superiority the Nazi expedition treks treacherously to the forbidden gates and discovers 'Vril' only to have its power denied them by the interdiction of an intrepid American archeologist and an adventurous lady pilot, presumably saving the world from Nazi domination--for now.  Dietrich cleverly switches to and from pre-war German obsessions and a modern day thrill ride as destinies separated by seven decades race toward a breath-taking collision.  Here the elements of history, fiction and the supernatural are blended seamlessly with the peculiar world of sub-atomic physics to produce an exciting page turning adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat right till the last page.  A great read, and I will note for the record, Bill's work is among my favorite reading.  His scholarship is evident, but always serves the story well without distraction.  When you finish this one, try Hadrian's Wall or the Ethan Gage series.  I promise you won't be disappointed!

Blood of the Reich, a novel by William Dietrich
Published by Harper Collins New York City
Hardback ISBN: 976-0-06-198918-6

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When She Flew - A Novel by Jennie Shortridge, Book Review

Since the beginning of the year I've read forty-seven novels, a dozen or so non-fiction tomes, countless magazine, newspaper and web articles, blogs, cereal boxes, instruction manuals, salsa jars, deodorizer get the idea, I read a lot.  Most writers are insatiable readers and I am no exception in that regard.

On this blog this year, I have reviewed seven books, mostly mysteries or thrillers.  That means I haven't written reviews for forty books.  Mostly because more than a few have been classics revisited or first visited.  Some have been back lists of writers whose work I have discovered and come to respect but that may not currently be widely available.  A few that just weren't particularly good and I just don't want to waste my-or your-time with them.  Some were published that shouldn't have been and a couple that haven't been that should be.

Recently I finished a book--When She Flew--by Jennie Shortridge that should be on everyone's must-read list.  This richly woven tapestry explores the human condition through the eyes of a 13 year old girl suddenly snatched from her home--albeit it an unconventional one--and a female cop pushing 40 looking back at a life of lost opportunities and regrets.  A cop who tried so hard to protect her own now-estranged daughter that she forgot she sometimes just needed to be mom.

At the unlikely intersection of these lives a haunted war veteran struggles to maintain his own grip on normality while providing a life for his daughter.  A handful of cops each weigh their legal obligations with what their hearts and experience tell them is the right thing to do, and a compassionate intercessor makes the unthinkable a possibility.

This is a sensitive and revealing portrait of how we treat our veterans--no just of wars on distant shores--but also in our neighborhoods and streets.  But it is also a searing assessment of how impersonal bureaucracies and an ever increasing sensation-driven media grind up real lives in their unfeeling machinery.

When She Flew is a talisman for our times and deserves a space in our consciousness reserved for books that so poignantly define an era that they forever change hearts and minds.  So long as books are read, this one ought to live among the giants.

Widely available including electronically at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

When She Flew  by Jennie Shortridge
New American Library ( A Penguin Imprint )
ISBN: 978-0-451-22798-0

Monday, August 8, 2011

Babies and Bathwater

Like so many congresses before it, the 112th Congress has kicked the can on the budget down the road a few years, but not before Speaker Boehner was mugged by the recalcitrant Tea Party-ers throwing a tantrum worthy of the most leather-lunged three year old.  Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor was busy cutting the legs out from under his own leader by pandering to this mob with calculating ambitions of his own for the Speaker's office.  All this hissy-fitting by the no-new-taxes-compromise-is-a-dirty-word crowd was playing out against a backdrop of exasperated voters, shell-shocked investors and worried governments world wide.

The difference this time, however, is that the real world consequences of this doomsday approach have been plastered on the news as investors around the world panicked and dropped markets by huge margins.  At least one investment rating company downgraded U.S. Treasuries from their AAA rating for the first time since Andrew Jackson issued debt obligations on behalf of the fledgling United States of America.

Real world results?  By refusing to consider all the options on the table, the Tea Party has emasculated party leadership and sent the economy on a roller coaster ride that will almost certainly kill any near-term job creation in this country, and likely will put us into the second half of a double-dip recession.  So, what do we have to show for it?

No serious effort to reduce the deficit was achieved.  We are still trying to drain Lake Superior with a teaspoon.  The much ballyhooed concession of getting a vote on a balanced budget amendment was political theatre from the start.  Super majority voting requirements in both houses of Congress and all the states doomed this before birth and even with a successful vote in Congress it would take years of wrangling in the states before any decision was reached.  I haven't even touched on the scary notion that in a time of national emergency, the ability to raise money by borrowing from friendly nations would be constitutionally foreclosed, likely with devastating results.

The right-wing, to which I proudly belonged not too long ago, is fond of describing taxes as job-killing.  To put not too fine a point on it--that's just crap.  Really.

The tax code of the United States has been successfully manipulated by special interest lobbyists almost since income tax was imposed in the early twentieth century and thus we see a set of laws that has been bent to serve business--big and small.  Everywhere you look the law is riddled with deductions, exclusions and exemptions for starting and owning a business.  For example, capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income.  Stamps and phone lines, office supplies and advertising, employee benefits and 401Ks and thousands more, all designed to allow business to re-invest in the economy and still be profitable.  The truth is, business knows exactly how to avoid higher taxes:  They invest more in the business.

It isn't new or higher taxes business really fears, it's uncertainty.  People like a level of predictability in the ordering of their lives and businesses-being owned and operated by people for people-like exactly the same thing.  Predictable, responsible action in Congress and the White House begets confidence in leadership.  The feeling that there is a reliable hand on the tiller of the ship of state leaves the electorate free to do what we do best-innovate, grow and outstrip the world in creativity and productivity.

Instead we find ourselves held hostage by a super-minority of mal-contented neer-do-wells struggling to wrest the tiller from calmer and more experienced shipmates as we veer madly toward the rocks.  This is not healthy debate, this is throwing not only the baby out with the bath water, but the soap, towel and tub right along with it.  At the core, the uber-rich don't want new taxes because an uncertain future clouds the vision of new business growth so they want to squirrel away their cache against further calamities.  An altogether reasonable response in uncertain times, however unfair it might seem to those of us with modest means.

Meaningful debt reduction can only begin when we re-evaluate how and where we choose to project military force and start making defense budget begin to look proportionate to the actual needs rather than having an enormous standing military in anticipation of what might happen.  I'd like to have a million bucks in the bank in anticipation of what might happen but in order to achieve that goal I have to increase my income and decrease my expenditures--substantially.  In governmental terms, I need to raise taxes and cut spending.  Slashing one without the other just leaves a bloody stump.

I heard a Tea Party Republican on a talking heads Sunday news show make the following statement:  "I don't think all these bad things are going to happen like they say they are.  It's a bunch of hooey."

The three most salient words in that sentence?   I don't think..

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I've neglected this blog for too long, but I have an excuse.  I spent the last month putting all the pieces in place to e publish my book 'Island Dawn'.  It's up and available for Kindle and Nook for just $3.99, so I invite my followers and friends to give it a download and then send me some feedback.  I'm planning some new posts very soon, so stay tuned.

As an aside, I spent the last week at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in Bellevue, Washington rubbing elbows with NY Times bestselling authors and senior agents from major literary representation firms.  My work has been well enough received that several want to take a look.  So wish me luck, perhaps I might find print with a publisher and actually have something to autograph for fans in the future.  I remain hopeful, particularly with so many wonderful fans rooting for me.  Thanks to you all.

Friday, July 1, 2011

'Deed To Death' a novel by D.B. Henson--Book Review

With the launch of my own first novel, 'Island Dawn' on the electronic horizon for August 1st, it seemed appropriate to review a debut novel that became a national bestseller electronically before a publisher came calling and offered a contract to the author.

D.B. Henson first released her novel 'Deed to Death' in April 2010, and by word-of-mouth alone sold 100,000 e-copies, becoming one of the few self-published authors to make Amazon's "Best of 2010 Customer's Favorites" list.  The release date for this edition is July 5.

Her principal character, Toni Matthews is a top-end real estate agent in Nashville about to be married to the man of her dreams, a successful architect partnered in a thriving practice.

Inexplicably, her fiance' throws himself to his death from the top floor of a hotel he is building.  Toni, grief-stricken, finds herself graveside burying her beloved Scott on what would have been their wedding day.

Toni is convinced that all is not what is seems, and despite what the police rule as a clear case of suicide after a perfunctory investigation, she believes it wasn't suicide or an accident--it was murder.  And she has a suspect in mind; Scott's brother, Brian.

Her friends think she is in denial, but Toni presses on, launching her own investigation which peels back layers like an onion, revealing Scott may not have been everything she thought he was and puts her own life at risk as she begins opening doors wherein skeletons are becoming restless.

This is a great way to introduce yourself to a new genre of fiction with which you might be unfamiliar.  If you have concentrated on romance, fantasy or even non-fiction and want to try your hand at figuring out who-dunnits this is a good place to start.  It has all the thrills, plot twists and unexpected u-turns necessary to keep a novice mystery reader fully engaged.

Written with a decidedly feminine voice, this first-time author should find great success with first time readers in the genre.

If you would like a free copy of this book send an email to  Put 'Deed to Death Giveaway' in the subject line.  I will select two names at random and contact them for shipping information.

This caveat for veteran readers of murder mysteries is in order:  Choose a book from a more experienced writer.  Some of my recent reviews would suggest authors you might consider if unfamiliar with their work.  You'll think you have this one mostly figured out at the halfway mark, and you'll be mostly correct.

Trade paperback, order from most sources.  Use a local independent bookseller, help keep them alive and well.

Deed to Death
Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
ISBN 978-1-4516-4960-4

Disclaimer--This book was provided to me in advance of publication at no charge by Simon & Schuster for review purposes.

Monday, June 27, 2011

'Disturbed' A Novel by Kevin O'Brien--Book Review

Molly Dennehy is a new bride and she has a secret; and so, it seems, do the old neighbors that came attached to her new husband and his two kids.  But then, don't we all have a few secrets?  Perhaps, but hers and theirs are becoming dangerous, in fact downright deadly and unlikely coincidences are piling up faster than the brutally murdered bodies.

Kevin O'Brien's latest NY Times bestseller, 'Disturbed', will have veteran thriller readers assuring themselves they have the who-dunnit figured out by the half way point.  You will be wrong, happily.  Completely wrong.

All the major players have their own motives, means and opportunities--but just when you think you know who the culprit is--the character just might get bumped off!

A merciless serial killer is haunting the cul-de-sacs of the metropolitan Seattle area, and local readers will enjoy the area tour as he weaves his web of deception and duplicity.

A misunderstanding at a school leaves a family shattered.  Unwanted shadows from the past haunt the present, and, of course, there is an ex-wife and her neighborhood gal-pals with which to contend.

O Brien plaits an intricate plot that will keep you guessing, literally to the last page, in this knuckle-biting, page turning, twisted, psychological killer-thriller.

If well crafted downright scary murder thrillers are part of your reading game, then Kevin O'Brien is a name that should be a regular on your reading list.

Paperback, widely available.  Support a local independent bookseller, help keep them in business!

Pinnacle (Kensington Press)
ISBN-13: 978-07680-2137-6         or
ISBN-10: 0-7860-2137-3

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Becoming Dad

Becoming a father is an easy thing:  Find a willing, fertile female, engage in unsafe and unprotected sexual activity, repeat as often as opportunity presents itself, and voila', you're a father.  It's easy, and it happens literally millions of times a year around the globe.  We are a remarkably fecund species.

Becoming a dad, on the other hand, requires some indoctrination.  It helps if you had a good example in your own life to use as a reference point, or missing that, knew someone who did.  I learned a little about being a dad from my own father, and dozens of other strong, faithful, giving men.  Men grown up from boys by the acceptance of responsibility, and the willingness to bear its weight.  My own dad wasn't a sophisticated man or well educated, but he and my mom worked hard and gave me every advantage they could.  Now, in retrospect, I understand how often this commitment was sacrificial in scope.

I was an adopted child, as long time readers of this blog will know, yet I was absolutely his son, no question, no doubt, no discussion.  Sometime in the future I will likely write the story of how I spent my summer vacation last year, when I met my natural mother, a brother and two sisters, and talk about the kind of forfeit that mother made, and the courage it takes to make such a decision.  But that is for a later time when my thoughts are more centered.  Today is about dads.

I became a father, well, step-father, in June of 1983.  I approached it from the inside-out.  I married a woman with three children, ranging from six to fourteen, and skipped the whole diaper-changing, bottle feeding, toddler-proofing era of fatherhood.  Sweet!  I got along with the ex, the in-laws liked me, this fatherhood thing was a snap.  Oh, to be sure, there were the cultural conflicts--I was a conservative Republican, they were all tree-hugging Commies, well, Democrats anyway.  They had different familial traditions, and the kids had the temerity to take the chicken breast portion at the dinner table without even asking.  I was eighteen before I got the chicken breast.  I ate the wings, gizzards, legs and thighs.  That was an adjustment.  Truth was, I didn't really like the breast meat all that much, it was just that I was the grown up and I was entitled.

Becoming Dad turned out to be mostly about passing tests.  For the fourteen year old boy, who had spent three years as the 'man of the house', I had to pass the sticky test.  Was I going to be there when it mattered?  Was I trustworthy?  Would I try to rigidly impose a new set of values contradicting their own?  (Yes; yes; the jury is still out.)

For the middle daughter some of the questions were similar, but less sophisticated.  Who was I and what was I doing living in her house?  Did she have to do what I said?

The youngest probably just wondered where the stability would come from in his life.

It is a truism that kids learn and take their cues from the influential adults in their lives, and fortunately for me, acceptance by grandparents, and even the divorced father, gave me a little extra leeway to make mistakes, adjustments and atonements, and over time I became accepted.

People who know me well, and more than a few that have crossed swords with me, know that I am fiercely loyal to my family and friends.  I had opportunities to demonstrate those loyalties, and the kids learned that they could call me any time of the day or night, for any reason and I would knock down the gates of Hell if need be to get to them with help.  What's more important is they know it is still true today.

My kids grew up & got married, I grew grey (not necessarily a cause and effect) and they became adults and parents of their own.  I was honored when they came to me in times of crisis, and I got my chance at changing diapers, feeding bottles, watching sitting up become crawling, then doodle-bugging, then walking, and just last Wednesday, graduating from eighth grade.  This is about where I came in.

My kids make me proud every day.  They slay dragons for their children, they shoulder the burdens willingly, they sacrifice themselves for their children, they touch my heart.  They worry about me and their mother and their ninety-two year old grandmother.  If only a pinch of this caring came from me, I am fulfilled.

Becoming Dad was about learning how to share love, instill faith and hope and a sense of duty and honor. Becoming Dad was also about learning to accept differences, respecting other opinions, and keeping my mouth shut when I desperately wanted to shout a warning that would not be heeded.  Becoming Dad is about understanding that there are lessons that cannot be taught, but can only be learned, even by a dad.

Thanks, kids, for the education.  I wouldn't change a single minute, for it is through the trials and triumphs we all have become who we are  I love you all, each and every one--not from the ties of blood--but the strings of my heart.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

So Faithful A Heart--by K. Lynette Erwin - Book Review

The full title of this book is, 'So Faithful A Heart:  The Love Story of Nancy Storace and Wolfgang Mozart', but it wouldn't fit in the header space.  In some ways this was groundbreaking for me technically.  I read this book via an Amazon Kindle app for my PC initially, and finished reading it using a similar app (both free) for my phone.  Yep, 150 pages or so read on my Droid.  Ain't technology grand?

If your idea of great music is 'Lynyrd Skynyrd' and great romance is 'The Batchelorette' you may stop reading here.  In fact it's possible you may have stopped reading altogether.  If, on the other hand, the soaring notes of Mozart's Requiem leave you breathless, as they do me, and the plight of Madama Butterfly in Puccini's opera brings tears to your eyes, then this is a book you want to read.

Writers of historical fiction usually take one of two paths; they put fictitious characters into real situations, or they have historical characters do things in an alternate reality.  K. Lynette Erwin, a noted Storace and Mozart historian, and a lyric soprano herself, chose a much more difficult path.  Part history sleuth, part imagineer, a she chose to portray what may very well have happened between these two rich historical figures.  She uses all the evidence she can muster and then creates a completely plausible story that brings dry facts to vivid life.

Mostly the public is aware of the sanitized version of Mozart's life, and perhaps a few myths or half-truths suggested by 'Amadeus', but Erwin leads us to a much deeper understanding of what was more likely, and her scholarship and research is evident on every page.

Make no mistake, this is a romance.  There are liaisons aplently that will raise the heart rate of fans of the genre, but sex is only a small part of the story.  What sets this apart from the crowded field of bodice rippers is two-fold.  First, these are real people, not the fantasy of some paint-by-numbers author cranking out another formula page-turner.  Second is the attention to detail and a sophisticated and nuanced approach to help us understand the time in which these people lived and the heart-wrenching sacrifices each made for the other.  Perhaps most importantly, this book reveals that true love triumphs over time and circumstance and lives on, even if only in the heart.

I spent years as a classical music broadcaster on radio (it's what you do when you have no musical talent, but love it nonetheless) so I am familiar with Mozart's work and story, yet time after time I was surprised and delighted by some new fact that illuminated such a storied life and glorious music.

Lovers of romance should be swept away by the scope and sensitivity of the portrayals in this book.  Lovers of great music and some of the forces that inform the work of composers touched by genius will find much to admire in this work.  Readers of an historical bent will relish with satisfaction the fine detail, and those who are touched by portrayals of the titanic forces of love, duty, honor and sacrifice will perhaps feel a tear or two slide silently down their cheek.  Open your heart and find a place for this book and it will open its heart to you.

Available in just about every format, including Kindle, Nook, Smashwords and as a trade paperback from  Should be easier to find than your car keys!

ISBN 978-0-557-35652-2
Copyright K. Lynette Erwin (Standard Copyright License)
Edition Second Edition
Publisher Alla Breve

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

'House Divided' a Joe DeMarco Thriller by Mike Lawson--Book Review

Joe DeMarco has a week off.  His boss, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is out of town, and Joe wants to play golf.  As the shadowy 'fixer' for the Speaker, the guy that gets things done that shouldn't see the light of day, this rare opportunity is not to be missed.  His gal pal, a CIA operative, is on assignment too, so nothing should come between his pitching wedge and a bucket of balls-except murder.  Specifically the murder of his nephew, an innocuous hospice nurse in Washington D.C.

The Deputy Director of the NSA, after politically embarrassing revelations of illegal wiretaps on U.S. citizens forces changes in public policy, concludes that the only patriotic solution is to ignore the law and create a black-op division hidden in plain sight (as much as the NSA is ever in plain sight).  During an illegal surveillance they intercept communications that implicate another U.S. entity with military connections.  It may be responsible for a murder, or murders, and it might just be led by someone very powerful at the Pentagon, who seems to be tasking members of the army 'Old Guard'--sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns--for an illicit agenda of his own.  Being illegal themselves, they can't very well just turn it over to the Justice Department, so NSA sets up a black-op sting operation of it's own.

Joe, meanwhile, trying to quickly tie up the loose ends of his nephew's affairs finds himself drawn deeper into a scenario that just doesn't pass the smell test.  Ordinary nurses don't usually draw the scrutiny of the FBI within minutes of discovery of the crime.  As he tries to sort out the mystery, the web of conspiracies deepens and he's soon inextricably enmeshed in a titanic struggle of egos and agencies all trying to prevail while remaining cloaked in a shroud of secrecy.

DeMarco knows full well that in any fishing trip being the bait is never a winning strategy,  nonetheless he finds himself helplessly forced into the role, with the NSA as the fishers, and the Pentagon as the lunker.  House Divided races inexorably, with gathering speed and action-packed excitement, toward an unnerving conclusion loaded with tightly plotted twists, memorable sinister characters and a singularly disquieting imagination of just how vulnerable we all are in this age of electronic eavesdropping and satellite tracking, no matter how well informed or connected we think we may be.

Mike Lawson, in his sixth installment of the Joe DeMarco series, has demonstrated once again his mastery of the political thriller and an enviable ability to make believable characters jump off the pages and into our own adrenaline rush to turn the pages to find out what happens next.  Buy and read this book thriller junkies, it won't disappoint.

House Divided  (tentative release date July 2011)
by Mike Lawson  (click for FB link)

Atlantic Monthly Press (Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)
ISBN -13:  978-0-8021-1978-0

Friday, May 27, 2011

Love the Game--A short story about baseball by R.L. Pace

I've been busy reading, then writing reviews for other books and occasionally opining on dining and politics.  It occurs to me that it has been some time since I posted any short stories from my own collection for my readers.  In celebrating my attendance at Safeco Field to watch the Mariners vs the Yankees today, I thought I would share this story.  Remember, of course, that I reserve all rights, so don't be reposting this without attribution please.

So this is where it ends, he thought:  In a hotel room.  No valedictory last season touring all the parks.  No streets named after me or statues in front of stadiums, just a sore back in a cookie-cutter bedroom.

Jim Freedson stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, then, reluctantly swung his legs around to get to a sitting position at the edge of the bed.  He surveyed his surroundings; beige walls with a couple of boring landscape paintings screwed into place, medium gray institutional carpeting with a thread of red and blue running throughout.  In one corner sat an all-purpose table with a lamp, a cardboard tent touting ‘free wi-fi’, and a phone.  The red light in the lower left hand blinked rhythmically indicated messages waiting.  With a groan, he heaved himself to a standing position, wincing as he walked over to pick up the receiver and called the front desk.

“Good morning, Mr. Freedson.  I hope you slept well.  We have some messages for you.”  The disembodied voice at the other end was altogether too damn chipper.

“What city am I in?”  Freedson asked, trying to stretch out the persistent pain in his lower back.

“Uh, Kansas City, sir,” the voice responded uncertainly.  A pregnant pause ensued, then finally the desk clerk said, “would you care for your messages?”

“Sure,” Freedson grunted.  Gawd, he thought, a hotel room in Kansas City, can it get any more prosaic than that?  He stared at the room while absently listening to the usual collection of messages.  Requests for interviews with the media came as he inspected the fake mahogany TV cabinet; adoring fans were wishing him well while he sat on a chair with a tiny table next to it, gushy girls that would sleep with him just to say they had seemed to holographically appear on the spare bed in the room.  All the usual suspects no matter where he went.

“Thanks, connect me to room service, will you?”

“Certainly, sir:  Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

“I’ll try,” he replied, trying to muster some enthusiasm.  He ordered a rare steak, two eggs over easy on hash browns, whole wheat toast, orange juice and milk.  Coffee made him jittery and threw off his timing.  He never drank it.  It was the same breakfast he had ordered a thousand times before.  Call it habit; call it superstition or maybe just tradition.

Little Jimmy could not remember a time when baseball wasn’t a passion.  His father had been a promising prospect, but a lost limb in Vietnam had dashed his dream, but not his passion.  When his son was born, Frank Freedson had poured all his own ambitions and goals into his child.  By the time he was six Jimmy knew most of the rules of baseball, could spot a curve ball or a slider on TV and by ten had the fundamentals about fielding in a good position to return the ball from the outfield with blazing speed and accuracy.  He adored his father, enjoyed the game and was good at it.  He was a natural.  

In Little League his batting average was .566.  In high school it was .431, in college .392.  He was drafted as a sophomore in the first round, spent half a season in AA ball, where he hit .388 and had sixteen home runs and forty two RBIs in only nineteen games.  In his first major league at bat at age twenty, he hit a ringing double into right-center field off a Bud Black curveball, plating his first two RBIs against the Cleveland Indians.  He was the real deal.  Mickey Tettleton, the starting catcher, immediately dubbed him the Freak and it had stuck ever since.

He spent most of that year riding the pine for the Baltimore Orioles, pinch hitting and giving the starting outfielders days off.  By his third year he was starting, and when free agency came he signed a huge contract, got a big bonus, and settled into an All-Star career.

“Hey, Freak!”  Eddie was pounding on his hotel room door.  “Let’s get a move-on.  Bus leaves in half an hour!”

“I’m coming, earwax.  Don’t get a hard-on.”  Freedson looked at the room service cart.  He didn’t remember it arriving and didn’t remember eating, but there it was, steak fat hardening, egg yolks congealing in the remains of his breakfast.  He was dressed, had his tie on, his blazer waiting on a hangar.

“Hey Eddie,” he yelled at the door.  “How many more games we got here in KC?”

“Just this one, Freak, then its three sweet days off for the All Star break.  Hey, you okay all by your lonesome in there?”

“What makes you think I’m alone?  I could have dancing girls in here.”

“Nah, you got too much of a jones for your wife for that.  You’re one of the good guys.”

“Fat lot you know,” was the only rejoinder Jim could come up with.  “Meet you in the lobby in ten.”  He had had his agent put a private room clause in his last contract.  He had earned the right to a little privacy for his aches and pains.

The All Star break:  Freak had been an All Star seven times in his career, won the Home Run Derby one year.  He also had three Silver Slugger awards, four Gold Gloves, an MVP in a Division Playoff series, a .296 career batting average, three hundred forty two home runs, twelve hundred sixty six RBIs, one hundred ninety five stolen bases and not once had he appeared in a World Series.  It was the blemish on his career that would keep him out of the Hall.

I’m tired of hearing the word ‘still’ when sportscasters talk about me as a ‘feared’ hitter.  Left field wasn’t so bad from center, but I’m spending more time as a DH now.  I won’t go to first base.  Who am I kidding?  I can barely bend over to pick up a towel.  What in the hell am I gonna do with myself?

In the lobby he signed a few autographs, shook a few hands and posed with some fat conventioneers for a photo, then made his way to the team bus.  This was the major leagues; someone else would handle his luggage.  All he carried with him was his wallet, his cell phone and his sunglasses.  He took his customary seat and studied the scene around him.  Young bucks were playing tunes or games on their electronics.  Journeymen were hoping to catch on with this team, to find a spark in their career that had waned in the last city.  Veterans, like him, just settled in for the ride.  Hitters were imagining their at-bats against today’s opposing pitcher.  The starting pitcher was left alone with his thoughts.  It was all so familiar, so comfortable it ached.

Managers used to walk me with one on and nobody out.  I could see the fear in pitcher’s eyes.  Now they whistle a fastball right down the middle.  Here you go Pops, see if you can still find the ball.  No?  Too bad, you had your turn.  Runners used to stop at first when the ball came my way.  Now they challenge my arm all the time.  This isn’t fun anymore.

That was the first time he had allowed himself to actually put that thought in his head.  He wasn’t having fun.  It’s a kid’s game, and he wasn’t a kid any more.

Clichés, everything is clichés.  I’ve lost a step, I can’t reach the curveball, can’t catch up to the fastball, can’t track down the deep fly ball.

“Come on, Freak, you’re holdin’ up the parade.”  Eddie was punching him in the arm.  He looked around and realized the bus had stopped inside the perimeter of the stadium.  The door was open and the Manager had already stepped off.  Everyone was waiting for the senior veteran to get a move-on.

“Sorry, you guys lousy music musta lulled me to sleep.  No wonder you’re only hitting a buck seventy five.”

Jim Freedson stepped off the bus.  The usual gaggle of home town hecklers, ex-pat fans and wide-eyed kids lined the perimeter fence.  Again, he went over to the fence and signed autographs.  He could afford the time today, and besides, even cheap seats could set a family of four back a couple of hundred bucks by the time they had dogs and drinks.  It seemed like the least he could do for the people that had made him a multi-millionaire.  He never forgot it was the fans, not his agent or the teams that had made him rich.  No fans, no dough, no question.  He had always been as loyal to them as they had been to him.  

He took a baseball, scuffed and covered with grass stains held with outstretched arms by a kid that looked to be about ten.  He was wearing a Tee shirt with the name of a local hardware store emblazoned across the front, and a cap with the KC logo on it.  There was a faded marking on the ball indicating it was of Official Little League origin.  He wrote on the surface, ‘love the game, play by the rules’, the date and his name, handed it back to the kid and headed down the runway to the locker room.

As he walked past his locker, he could see his uniform, road gray with a number seven prominently displayed, hanging there.  Clean, in good repair, ready for another day in the majors.  It was the Mick’s number, Mickey Mantle.  The best switch-hitter to ever play the game and Freedson’s idol, even though Mantle had retired before he was born, because it had been his father Frank’s favorite player as a child.  He breathed in the talcum and sweat and steamy aroma of the locker room as he knocked on the Manager’s office and let himself in.

Fans were just beginning to pour into the stadium to watch batting practice as his taxi pulled away and swam upstream against the flow.  It was about thirty minutes to the airport where his Gulfstream 5 was waiting in the hangar.  He didn’t remember the cab ride, or the flight.  His agent would issue a statement, the team would have a press conference, eventually he would do a few interviews, but not today.

“Hi, Honey.  I’m back.”

His wife, her eyes brimming, held her husband tightly for many minutes until finally he gently broke her hold and wiped away her tears with his thumbs.

“No tears.  It was time.  Everybody knew it but me.  Ted Williams was right.”

“Ted Williams?”

“It’s time for me to go fishing, he said; time for me too.”

“If we leave now, we can just make it,” his wife said.  “Let’s go.”

They drove in silence through the exclusive neighborhood where they lived, past an older development of homes needing paint and new roofs.  Beyond a few weed-covered, boarded up factories until finally they reached the miniature fields where local baseball teams played.  The dugouts were wooden benches behind a screen and there were a few creaky old bleachers behind the backstop and about halfway down each baseline.  There was no grass in the infield, no chalk lines to mark batter’s boxes or foul lines, no luxury boxes or mezzanines and no toilets except two Porta-Pottys, one marked for boys, the other for girls.

“Frank doesn’t know you’re coming.  He thinks you won’t be home till tomorrow.”
“It’s okay; I’d like to surprise him.  Let’s just sit in the bleachers for a while”

Freedson acknowledged a few parents he knew, choosing not to notice the surprise registering on several faces when he took his seat.  It took about twenty minutes, but finally Frank found his mom as he expected and a big grin split his face when he spotted his dad next to her.

“Hey, Dad, come here!”  His son motioned to him vigorously and the Freak made his way down to the bench.

“You’re early, didja get an earlier flight?”

“You might say that, son.  I retired.”

His son studied his father’s face for a few moments.  Freedson could see the wheels turning behind his son’s eyes, then his son's face lit up again with another broad smile.

“That’s great, Dad!” he enthused.  “Billy Carter’s father got transferred, again.  C’mere guys, my dad is gonna be home now, whaddya say?”

The youngsters gathered around the All Star, their dirty faces smiling up at him, anxious, full of energy, full of life and anticipation.  Finally one of the kids tugged at his jacket sleeve.

“Come on, Coach.  We gotta game to play.  You gonna help or not?”

“Yeah,” Freedson managed to choke out.  “I am.  I surely am.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Murder One-Robert Dugoni Book Review

"Time may heal all wounds--but it leaves deep scars.  Just ask David Sloane, the doesn't lose lawyer in Robert Dugoni's latest legal thriller, Murder One, set for wide release June 7th.  (Yes, I actually have a review done in advance of a book's release!)

More than a year after the murder of his wife, Sloane is finally, reluctantly, re-emerging into the land of the living.  Tragedy hangs heavy in his heart, but he manages a good effort at a black-tie dinner as a featured speaker, where he unexpectedly runs into the opposing counsel in the case which brought so much grief  to his life.  Barclay Reid has also suffered; the cruel loss of her only child to a drug overdose.  As a result, she has become a crusader against the Russian drug-trafficker she holds responsible.

Despite being adversaries in the past, Sloane is attracted to Reid and her zeal for justice.  When the Russian drug dealer is found murdered, Sloane is inexorably drawn into defending his first criminally accused client:  Barclay Reid.

Dugoni is at his screw-tightening best here, weaving a plot that is intricate and as tightly wound as a tiger about to pounce. It is also fair to the readers.  All the evidence is in play and we gets to try to figure things out right along with David Sloane.  It's an E-ticket roller-coaster ride sure to keep you turning the pages.  I read it in a single sitting, I just couldn't wait to match wits with the famous lawyer and see if I was right.  I wasn't, completely, but it made the journey all the more enjoyable.

Murder One treads a path between Presumed Innocent and Basic Instinct with shocking twists and armchair gripping tension right to the stunning climax that, for me, make this an overall better read.  With his attention to detail, and keen sense of mood, timing and language, there is no question Dugoni is the new king of legal thrillers, and one day soon I can well imagine a banner across one of his books that says:  Soon to be a Major Motion Picture.

I can dream, can't I?

 Murder One by Robert Dugoni


ISBN: 978-1-4516-0669-0

I threw in the E-ticket ride for the benefit of us snow-capped readers that can actually remember what that meant. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

For Blood or Money and Law of Attraction, Book Reviews

The landscape is littered with new literary voices waiting to find an audience, mine among them.  The industry is in the throes of reinvention and the distinction between being 'published' and being a truly bright talent has become blurred.

While access to being published has grown exponentially, there has not been a correspondingly satisfactory increase in material worth reading.  The gatekeepers of the old dominion of traditional publishing, and their editing and proofreading expertise has been swamped by a boatload of self-published manure, some of which would make a fourth-grader cringe.  Finding a good read by an unknown self-published author has become akin to reading tea leaves in a flood.  Having said that, there are definitely pearls amongst the swine and Nathan Everett is worth a read.

Everett deserves a shout-out.  His quirky private detective yarn For Blood or Money deftly combines the hard-boiled gumshoe prototypes like Sam Spade and Nero Wolfe with a cutting edge cyber-tech sleuth.

Dag Hamar is a detective with a problem, and while I won't spoil the fun with a recitation of the plot points, this book has everything a mystery-thriller needs.  Plot twists, trusty sidekicks, beautiful dames, unexpected complications and a nice mix of old-school P.I. melded with high-tech gadgets, dead bodies and a race to the finish line make this very readable and highly recommended.

He honors language and ends with a graceful poignancy that has me thinking about it weeks later.  Given how many books I read, one that lingers as his does is a rare and special treat.

Self-published under his brand Long Tail Press, it is available in print and as an ebook.
ISBN: 978-0-9817249-6-6

ISBN: 978-0-9817249-9-7

Another new author--published through traditional means--is Alison Leotta, whose real-life job is as a federal prosecutor in Washington D.C. specializing in felony sex crimes and domestic violence.  Leotta has found a compelling niche in the crime thriller category, and she doesn't stray far from her roots by introducing us to Assistant U.S. Attorney, Anna Curtis in her debut novel Means of Attraction.  Curtis is a wide-eyed rookie serving to find justice for what society often ignores as just another battered woman.  Something about one of her clients resonates with her own past though, and complications follow when our heroine's boyfriend--an attorney himself--defends the assailant who now stands accused of murder, just days following his release based on recanted testimony by the victim.  Sadly, fiction here reflects real-life all to often.

Torn between her legal duties and her personal life, Anna makes career threatening choices that jeopardizes everything--including her life.  She uncovers the shocking truth behind the crime in a compelling and dramatic conclusion.

It is an excellent debut novel in a crowded field.  It twists through the gritty alleys, both real and metaphorical of our nations Capitol to the polished glass and steel enclaves of Washington's most elite Ivy League lawyers.  Pick it up and read it, highly recommended.

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9384-6

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sixteen Tons and Whaddya Get?

A battle is being waged here in Whatcom County featuring that classic match-up of Business vs Enviromentalist, with a supporting Greek chorus of one-issue kibitzers.  While a thoroughly local topic, it speaks to a larger debate ongoing world wide.

'Business' wants to develop a deep-water cargo shipping facility in what is literally the last space available on the continental west coast of the U.S. where such a port can be built.  While it's capability would include handling containerized cargo, developers have their eye on, with the enthusiastic support of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, building a bulk coal shipping site--destination China.  Currently, soft coal mined in the western United States generally goes to a similar port about forty miles north, in Canada.

'Business' accurately points out such an effort would create hundreds of high-paying construction jobs early, then hundreds more permanent high-wages jobs when the area becomes operational.  Tax revenues would remain local, as well as port fees.  Many local business would see increased income by providing support materials and services.  New businesses would likely spring up for similar reasons.  All this sorely-needed cash would buoy the economy of the entire region.  A textbook example of trickle-down economics.

'Environmentalists' correctly notes that the proposed site is prime real estate for breeding an already diminishing stock of herring, which are among the principal prey of the Pacific salmon runs, some of which are now on the threatened list.  Those salmon, in turn, are the meal of choice for the local population of orcas (killer whales), recently showing signs of malnutrition themselves.  A textbook example of a hiccup in the food chain.

At its peak, anywhere from ten to sixteen additional mile-long coal car trains would whistle their way along the tracks overlooking the waterfront each day.  Anyone living, working nearby or even strolling through a bay side park has spent time counting the trains of one hundred plus cars already plying the rails as they rumble slowly by, or worse, grind to a halt across rights-of-way to allow another train to pass or to switch out cars headed elsewhere.

Also of concern is the dust that is sure to accumulate incrementally across the region from all that coal traveling through our parks, adjacent to and across our waterways, and past our homes and schools.  Tourism related business could be devastated.

'Business' counters by touting a promise to cover the cars to mitigate dust, 'Environmentalists' are suspicious and see such a covenant as the camel merely trying to get his nose in the tent.

To be sure, the Amtrak Cascade is a novelty--picturesque even--as it's dozen or so car breeze through, but all those heavy, ponderous coal cars would be coming back empty too.  That could mean as many as thirty or more added transits daily.  Almost certainly not an hour of the day or night would pass without bellowing whistles and the clacking, groaning, grinding and squealing that attaches.

The sheen of that shiny new revenue could tarnish quickly under such an onslaught.  Diminished home values, reduced desirability as a tourist destination and the certainty of increased death and injury tolls on motorists and pedestrians weigh heavily as well.

These are the central tenants of the argument from both sides--the nuts and bolts of the negotiation process--but at some point it begs a larger question:  Is a short-term gain in jobs and money worth trading for an accelerating catastrophe looming over the horizon?

While important, for me, it isn't really the means of transportation that lies at the core of this controversy.  It's the cargo.

On a fragile planet where destructive and disruptive effects of climate change are pushing entire ecosystems toward the chasm of collapse, and all but the most knuckle-headed deniers and apologists see the danger at hand, do we really want to be shipping millions of tons of this stuff to a country with lax environmental rules and virtually non-existent enforcement, only to see it returned to us as airborne soot, acid rain and cheap goods?

Do we seriously wish to fuel the power plants of the largest economic juggernaut threatening America's ability to compete for the future?

Even more fundamentally, do we want to ship this toxicity anywhere?  Or even dig it up in the first place, knowing what we know-despite the oxymoronic commercials touting 'clean coal'?  It seems like selling something like 'harmless smallpox'.

Bellingham and Whatcom County are routinely listed among the best areas to live, recreate and retire in the nation and it seems unlikely that having millions of tons of coal arriving via an endless parade of coal trains would enhance our reputation or improve our quality of life.  Let's think locally and act globally by rejecting this clinker of a proposal.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fino and The Fork, Restaurant Reviews

Fino and The Fork At Agate Bay are miles apart, in distance and style, but in their hearts it is all about the food.  Fortunate for diners, to be sure.  Fino, perches over Bellingham Bay nestled inside the Chrysalis Spa near Fairhaven boasting stunning views and an opportunity to indulge in a glass of fine wine while watching one of our best kept summer secrets, a spectacular sunset, fade away in a blaze of color.  Unlike so many restaurants with fab views, Fino resists the temptation to trade looks for substance.  With an eclectic Continental/Mediterranean menu and options allowing for varying appetites Fino is a delight, and a serious wine bar with a large and well chosen cellar.

In my case I began with french salad: heart of tomato, warm chevre cake, baby greens & champagne vinaigrette.  It was perfectly prepared and set the stage for what was to come.  I was charmed and amazed with my charcuterie sampler featuring chicken liver pate', country pork terrine, duck rillettes, pickled vegetables and an olive medley.  Often I shy away from such offerings, since producing a truly fine pate' has seemed beyond the scope of Whatcom County restaraunts (Tivoli duly noted as an exception), and because the olives commonly selected are too briny for my taste.  I screwed up my courage, though, and was well rewarded with a plate carefully selected and executed with true mastery.  This sampler and a glass of red was nothing short of a culinary miracle for me and I enjoyed every morsel.
My dining companion enjoyed the seafood risotto featuring salmon, halibut, crab & citrus gremolata.  I was so engaged by my plate I neglected to snitch a sample, but was assured it was expertly prepared and more than generous.  Trusting her judgement is good enough for me and you can count on it yourself.  

The varied and changing menu and excellent wine and beer selection will have me coming back regularly for a touch of luxury close to home.  I recommend you do the same, often.

The Fork At Agate Bay, by contrast, is tucked away far along the north shore of Lake Whatcom overlooking a gravel parking lot at the fork in the road--literally.  The Fork instead, charms from the inside, having created an intimate, comfortable space away from the distractions of life where a limited, but carefully chosen, wine list and beer selection and a spectacular menu allow the cares of the day to melt away.  Having risen from the metaphorical ashes of a burgers & brewskies/general store that just couldn't find sufficient traction with locals to stay alive, it has transformed into a dining destination that merits serious attention, (you can check out the menu by clicking on their name highlighted above).  The first, best, way to discover if any restaurant knows what they are doing is to try an entree featuring game.  Venison, duck or most other game tends to be extremely lean (all the fat in a duck is in the skin) and it takes real skill to avoid the 'rubber ball' experience of overcooking.  I should also note that it takes a patron with an educated palate and an understanding that 'well-done' are words that should be banished from every dining facility in America.

Having said that, The Forks presented me with a perfectly prepared Muscovy duck breast with a traditional and amazingly flavorful serving of lentils.  They cheerfully substituted a brilliant Brussels sprout hash for broccolini (which I just plain don't like) finished with a port current gastrique, the latter being a perfect counterpoint while deftly avoiding the predictable syrupy sweet sauce commonly sloshed over a duck breast.  Kudos duly awarded.

My dining companion enjoyed another notoriously difficult dish to prepare--seared fresh halibut.  Oh, I know, halibut is served damn near everywhere in the Pacific N.W., but rarely is it done correctly, again mostly suffering from overcooking, over saucing (frequently the disguise of choice for unskilled chefs), or often both.  This generous serving was perfectly seasoned (which means minimally), seared very hot and very quickly and accompanied by a Meyer lemon & marscapone risotto and some yummy seasonal vegetables.

This experience vaulted The Forks to the top 5 list of places I will go when I want a great meal, and I didn't even get to the fabulous preparation of the steamer clams appetizer or not-to-sweet but ever so luscious bread pudding dessert.  Take a drive along the North Shore, you can ooh and ahh over the pricey houses along the lakefront along the way, but the real treat is waiting for you at the fork in the road!

Friday, April 8, 2011

We've Been Here Before

As inexorable as the tides, as relentless as wolves chasing a wounded elk and as predictable as sunrise, another silly season is about to get under way in the form of Elections 2012.

Already declared is Barack Obama, seeking a second term as President.  On the right, jockeying to see who can be the farthest right, are such luminaries and lunkheads as Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour and pizza king Herman Cain.  Lurking in the shadows are Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Tim Pawlenty and--unbelievably--the Donald (Trump, that is).  Rest assured, there are others waiting to wax and wane in the coming months as ambition trumps common sense in the hinterlands.

The Republicans have been playing a game of chicken with the government again, the actual shutdown of government, which played out so well for them the last go round, in the hope that no one will notice how willfully stupid is such a game.  Worse yet is that this isn't even an effort to save taxpayer dollars.  Repubs have already extracted the entire amount they wanted in this round of negotiations with regard to money.

This transparent political ploy leaves one breathless.  Not satisfied with the economic concessions, hard-liners on the right in the House of Representatives are holding out (and threatening to shut down the government) on issues as far-ranging as defunding Planned Parenthood and NPR to taking the enforcement teeth out of the EPA.  The hope here is that the Dems will either blink first and cave, which would be catastrophic to the party principles, or that by holding firm the liberals will somehow end up taking the bullet in public perception.  Don't fall for it.  

First, at some point a compromise will be reached that will not achieve all their stated goals.  If this occurs without significant support from Republican House membership then Boehner will find himself presiding over a fractured party and his Speakership will have failed.  Bad news for Republicans with an election on the horizon.  Second, unbudgeted money will have to be spent to re-start what was shut down, not to mention pay additional interest for debts deferred during the dispute.  The notion of savings are purely an illusion, exactly the sort of smoke-and-mirrors showpiece conservatives hope will turn the tide for them come election day next year.

Don't be afraid to look behind the curtain.  You will discover the Great and Powerful Oz is really just the same tired old men, bemoaning how badly done to the business community is and how overpaid and under worked are union members and the middle-class.  Alongside are the same social demands that the radical right has been pushing unsuccessfully for three decades.  Lift the lid and uncover the machinery hidden behind and you will see the same culprits.  Look for huge donations from corporations, the Koch brothers, the National Chamber of Commerce (with a much different agenda than the friendly folks pitching for your local hardware store) and Big Oil.  Made much more convenient when the Supreme Court concluded that corporations were 'people'.  At some point in the future another court will revisit the ruling and conclude that this ranks right up there with Dred Scott as one of the worst decisions in court history.

These are watershed times for the United States.  We can fall back to the fear that has led us down the path of intolerance, suspicion and hate.  There are plenty of examples to use as guideposts.  Recall your history, remember McCarthyism?  How about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII?  Go back a little further to Father Coughlin, or the Chinese Exclusion Act, or even as far back as when we were still a freshly minted country with the Alien & Sedition Act.  Or, we can buck up and do the right thing.  Lincoln freed the slaves, Teddy Roosevelt busted the Trusts (we call them cartels these days, or in some cases Too Big To Fail), FDR created a program to stem the tide of retirement poverty, LBJ forced the Voting Rights Act, and, ironically enough, Richard Nixon created the EPA.

We can do the right thing when we need to.  And we really need to now.