jfine@northshire.com's blog

The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe - Book Review

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ISBN: 9781250207579
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Published: St. Martin's Press - February 19th, 2019

When former Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe was fired by then Attorney General Jeff Session, Donald Trump tweeted that McCabe "knew all about the corruption and lies going on at the highest levels of the FBI". Anyone can of course lie in print, but the reader of McCabe's memoir/FBI primer will come away with an unmistakable impression that Andrew McCabe is "on the level", a sober and dedicated public servant committed to serving his agency and his country. A detailed look at an important topic, covering not just his recent experiences with Trump but his entire career and the modern trajectory and challenges of the FBI in combating the unique threats of our day. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

The Wind in the Willows: The Centennial Anniversary Edition by Kenneth Grahame - Book Review

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By Kenneth Grahame, Ernest H. Shepard (Illustrator), Margaret Hodges (Preface by)
ISBN: 9780684179575
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Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers - September 1st, 1983

True story: A few months before I got around to rereading The Wind In The Willows, a coworker, nearly out of nowhere as I recall, dropped a reference to a specific chapter of this classic childrens' book as being “quite a chapter”(Piper At The Gates of Dawn). “How strange,” thought I, “to name drop the chapter of a childrens' book!” I had already been planning to reread this book which I had treasured from childhood and had recently come across a free copy. Kenneth Grahame's famous animal adventure has a bit of everything from rollicking adventure to the joys of high tea and sumptuous feasting in one's underground, furnished, lair and his cast of woodland characters carry on with the highest levels of anthropomorphic personage any animal could ever aspire to! But on full display here beyond the high adventure is a sumptuous feast of verdant prose and lush imagery (and yes, most strikingly in the above named chapter) that ranks Grahame as one of our most gifted writers, for any age. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

The Power of One: A Novel by Bryce Courtenay - Book Review

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ISBN: 9780345410054
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Published: Ballantine Books - September 29th, 1996

The Power of One carried with it by way of recommendation a reputation for being inspirational, for living up to its title and theme of the absolute power of the individual to impact the world and those around them. And it frequently does that through a uniquely unvarnished tale of a young boy's tortured boarding school upbringing in South Africa amidst the cruel political, ethnic and racial divisions there in the post-Boer War, early WWII era that it inhabits. The violence is immediate and disturbing, the protagonist's rise to prominence both inspiring and occasionally fantastical. The racism depicted is brutal, cruel and disturbing; the narrator's (or could it be the author's?) occasional unintended racism, in perpetuating notions of assumed intellectual inferiority and servility amongst the black South African people, can be somewhat horrifying as well. ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul, and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll by Ian S. Port - Book Review

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ISBN: 9781501141652
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Published: Scribner - January 15th, 2019

This is so much more than just another history of the birth of the electric guitar. Port's masterwork covers it all, not just the minutiae of the cultural influences, technical innovations and inventors' personal lives/travails/aspirations (on which he does do remarkable work) but even more entertainingly, his research masterpiece strikes countless rich pockets of tasty anecdotes in the fertile young soil of rock and roll's formative years and the myriad Gods who shaped it. Dick Dale, The Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Hendrix and more and, of course, the unstoppable creative forces that were Leo Fender and Les Paul. An overflowing gold mine of amplified, electrified, rock and roll treasure awaits here- highest recommend! ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine

The Seas by Samantha Hunt - Book Review

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By Samantha Hunt, Maggie Nelson (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781941040959
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Published: Tin House Books - July 10th, 2018

It would be easy to write off Samantha Hunt's nineteen year old female narrator as unreliable and delusional, drowning in her own solitude and sorrow in her soggy, salty northern coastal home. Submersing herself into the whole mermaid mythos, after all, would be a fairly logical madness given the grey-blue existence that has consumed her remote world since her father walked into the sea twelve years prior. Of course he may not have walked into the sea, per se, from the aqua-marine perspective of our heroine; he simply, unavoidably, returned to it. Which of course is fate fulfilled if that's where he came from.

From the beginnings of this love and pain-racked little gem of a novel, Hunt weaves a dual reality that leaves the reader enthralled. We do not need to know if our water-logged young guide is truly a maiden of fantasy or simply living in her own crazed mind; both realities are truth. There is no need to explain away all of her wet visions, preoccupations and fantasies; they are every bit as real as the dry “rational” explanations the world may offer. The submersive, hopelessness of her impossible love scenario with the older, war-wrecked fisherman Jude is a salt-stained watercolor portrait of the wrathful power, ridiculousness and abject suffering of unrequited love.

Bring an open mind, an open heart and... a towel. Hunt's "The Seas", a re-release from 2005, will saturate you with its imagery and its longing.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates - Book Review

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ISBN: 9780812993547
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Published: One World - July 14th, 2015

This is one of those “buzz books” that anyone with any interest whatsoever in the history and current state of race relations and police-minority relations knows they eventually have to read.

Coates' very language and attitude towards his topic can, at first, be off-putting or even hard to grasp for those in the racial majority who have, through location and life experience, much safe distance from the danger and struggles of being dark-skinned in America. He even refers to “those who think they are white” and the illusions of whiteness and blackness in a way that wholly transforms the readers assumptions and presumed knowledge of race and racial history. He succeeds, like few authors I've encountered, in revealing the ultimate truth as regards to “having a black body” in our nation and the devastating realities of police brutality, frequently lethal, carried out against this population both day to day in modern times and throughout history with little to no repercussion.

This can be a daunting read. Coates pulls no punches and softens not a drop of his ire towards those in the “white” power structure as well as those of us who live lives of privilege while still in denial of the true historical and human costs of the “American Dream”. There is no quarter offered for those who would presume to push the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and ongoing institutional racism​- as well as the continuing endangerment and destruction of black bodies by contemporary police forces-​ into the past or to deny its valid presence in the future. As American citizens we all own it, the history, the reality, the ongoing struggles and the endless racial prejudice and Coates is, quite rightly, quite vividly and most brilliantly unwilling to buy into America's material-wealth-at-all-costs “dream”. It is a dream built on a tortured history, a dream that can only be a dream when viewed with the blinders of ignorance or racial intolerance in place.

A must read ~ Reviewed by Jon Fine


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