Category Archives: Books

“We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers”

Sean Lewis

Beer geeks like me will enjoy this behind-the-fermenter look at a number of craft breweries. Lewis has the advantage of having worked as an intern in a brewery. While his visits to breweries and interviews with their owners and brewers provides the structure of the book, it’s obvious that he’s done a lot of research as well, research he weaves seamlessly into the interviews and tasting accounts.

“The Invisible Man”

H. G. Wells

The first part of the book — the invisible man’s stay at a small town inn — is mostly played for laughs. The second, in which we learn the invisible man’s back story, is much more grim. I wouldn’t put this among Wells’ best works (perhaps the impact is spoiled by having seen the surprisingly good 1933 movie version), but it was fun to read Wells’ exploration of the pitfalls of invisibility.

“Firestorm”

Taylor Anderson

This follows “Rising Tides” in the “Destroyermen” series. There’s plenty of action as the war continues on several fronts and technology advances by leaps and bounds. I only wish Anderson wasn’t so fond of endless lists: list of characters at a meeting, lists of ships in a fleet, etc. The detail can be smothering and doesn’t usually help to move the story along.

“2017 War With Russia: An Urgent Warning From Senior Military Command”

Richard Shirreff

This was written by a former NATO/British general as a warning bout NATO unpreparedness and as a critique of British military spending cuts. It’s presented as a novel but rather than being an action-oriented techno-thriller like the similar “The Third World War” of 1979, Sherreff seems to have cast it as fiction solely to provide fictional mouths to state his opinions. It’s an interesting book but would have benefited from more show and less tell; more action and less exposition.

“Days of Cain”

J. R. Dunn

This is an unusual time travel book that I could barely put down. The idea of people assigned to insure that time travel doesn’t change history isn’t a new one, but here it’s given some interesting twists: the time crime perpetrator chooses to insert herself in Auschwitz and the time travel police, who are themselves from different eras, operate under the direction of evolved humans from millennia in the future.

The Auschwitz scenes are chilling and well-researched and the characters — particularly one Nazi guard — are interesting.

“Kingdom of Shadows”

Alan Furst

This is another atmospheric historical spy novel in Furst’s “Night Soldiers” series (it follows “Red Gold“). The hero is an aristocratic Hungarian advertising executive who, in 1938 and 1939 Paris, becomes involved in helping people escape the Nazis and in schemes to head off war. The events are loosley strung together: this is more a novel of character and setting than of plot.

“The King of Skid Row: John Bacich and the Twilight Years of Old Minneapolis”

James Eli Shiffer

John Bacich, known as “Johnny Rex”, owned a bar, liquor store, and cage hotel in Minneapolis’ infamous “Gateway District” until urban renewal destroyed it in the early 1960s. Shiffer uses his stories and photos, along with contemporary sociological studies, to describe this lost era and place and the men (mostly) who inhabited it.

(This book makes a good companion to “Augie‚Äôs Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip“, whose subject, Augie Ratner, did business only a few blocks — though not in skid row — from Bacich.)

“The Flame Bearer”

Bernard Cornwell

Finally, Cornwell’s aging warrior protagonist Uthred gets his chance to recover Bebbanburg, his ancestral home. This, the sequel to “Warriors of the Storm” is yet another great book in the “Saxon Tales” series.

Shortly before reading this, I tried watching the second season of “The Last Kingdom“, the BBC adaptation of the series. I gave up, partly because it portrayed Uhtred is just too pretty. The TV Uhtred’s flowing locks clashed with my image of books’ tough, scarred hero. Thus I laughed when, in the first two pages of “The Flame Bearer”, Cornwell has Uhtred mocking one of his soldiers for his long hair which, he says, just provides a convenient handle for his enemies.