June 12, 2016

An musical afternoon with the band Laila Belle in Hector

TWO GOATS BREWERY, Hector, NY - With the wind howling a steady 25 knots and a slight bite of cold air with it, taking refuge at Two Goats seemed like a great idea Sunday afternoon.

Plus, the up-and-coming Trumansburg, NY band Laila Belle was on stage at Two Goats for a three-hour gig.

Laila Belle band
I've followed this group since they cut their premier CD and today got to meet lead singer Amy Puryear. And even though they have been very active in the area I haven't made it to a single performance.

Until today.

The music was toe-tapping great. And Amy's voice rang true even over the sound of the chatter in the crowded saloon, filled with people enjoying the soft sounds of Laila Belle's country music.

I may have to start following Amy and her band around, the same way I like to keep tabs on Scott Adams and Brett Beardslee as they make their musical rounds. Always a good time wherever those guys are playing.

And now it seems like Laila Belle, too.

Here's a short video same of what the appreciative crowd at Two Goats heard today.

March 25, 2016

Popping up on the energy industry's political radar

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Since publishing The Fracking War in 2014, followed by Fracking Justice last year, I wondered how long it would take the energy industry to discover that there were a couple of novels out there that take a very dim view of their activities.

Then this morning's email (and Twitter feed) came with a notice that an outfit called Energy In Depth is now following me on Twitter.

They found me!!!

If Energy In Depth sounds familiar, it should. This national natural gas industry-funded website has been putting out propaganda for years, most of it not only purposefully misleading, but downright nasty in a personal way. It's associated with Marcellus Drilling News, another industry-based web publication. MDN goes off the deep end - rhetorically speaking - on a daily basis. (Here's a sentence from today's MND: "The EPA is a lawless organization, out of control and drunk on its own power."

At first, I was puzzled by by EID's sudden interest in following me on Twitter. Then I remembered I had a lengthy email back-and-forth with the editor of the Marcellus Drilling News (Jim Willis) over a piece he published.

In that piece he said this:

"Everything in fracking fluid is stuff you find under your kitchen sink 
or in your bathroom medicine cabinet."


I emailed him back, pointing out that I didn't have benzene or toulene under my sink (or in any medicine chests) and that led to an exchange that ended with these two emails:

Marcellus Drilling News:
"Look, I know you're a radical anti-driller. 
Why do you subscribe when you disagree with what I write? 
Feel free to unsubscribe at any time. 
 I'm not interested in promoting your fictional book. - JIM"

Michael Fitzgerald:
"I disagree with the label radical anti-driller, Jim. I just want drilling done safely. 
And statements like you made about frack fluid ingredients all being found 
underneath a kitchen sink - or in a medicine chest? 
Come on. If that was really true, there would not be so much secrecy. 
 And the Halliburton loophole, would not be necessary. 
Keep pumping those stories out there pardner."

Why did I encourage him to keep pumping out his sometimes off-the-wall stories? Well, it's great fodder for future novels... Great stuff!

And for the record, I don't subscribe. I get a free daily feed of his "stories."

March 9, 2016

'Ninteen Minutes', a novel by Jodi Picoult that's full of surprises

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Somehow Jodi Picoult's 2007 novel, Nineteen Minutes slipped past my reading radar.

I honestly don't know how that happened. Ms. Picoult's books are usually in my hands shortly after they are released.

But this book fairly jumped off the shelf into my hands at the Point Richmond Public Library a few rainy days ago.

Yes, it's been raining here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Really!

In Nineteen Minutes, there's not much weather to speak of. But there is a hail of bullets at a high school (nearly 200 rounds), dead and injured students, enough bullying to give almost anyone nightmares, and a thriller/mystery plot told in flashbacks and flash forwards.

When you read Nineteen Minutes, "flashbacks and flash forwards" will make a lot more sense.

Jodi Picoult
Like all of Jodi Picoult's novels the research that went into it shows on nearly every page. She captures the essence of teenage life in American high schools, the angst of teens and parents alike, the flaws in the judicial system and the way-too cavalier manner in which we deal with bullies.

If you were seriously bullied as a child, this book may be disturbing. On the other hand, it will also be compelling.

Nineteen Minutes is absolutely recommended reading. And if your library doesn't have it, you can get it through Amazon quite quickly.

January 21, 2016

'M Train' by Patti Smith takes you on a ride

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - National Book Award winner Patti Smith takes readers on a journey around the globe in her 2015 book, M Train.

Written in a series of vignettes and remembrances, M Train walks the reader through Smith's life in New York, trips to Spain, Japan and elsewhere.

And through it all, Smith is either gulping coffee - or looking for a cup, somewhere. Anywhere.

Patti Smith's talents as a writer, performer and visual artist span decades. And in M Train, she moves around in time, using her life to paint a portrait of the world through her very unusual lens. She carries an old Polaroid camera through much of the book, shooting photos, then meticulously peeling off the back to reveal the created image. If that image seems odd, you never owed a Polaroid.

Patti Smith
Besides the coffee habit, Smith manages to lose things here and there - a notebook on a plane, a favorite coat, even once her camera. She is quite sanguine about these losses often faintly linking them to the death of her husband Fred. Fred is a specter in the book, but friendly one.

Perhaps the most rewarding parts of M Train come in the form of snippets of languid language  peppered with occasional aphorisms, all waiting to be discovered.

My favorite? "Not all dreams need to be realized..."

M Train is a dreamy book that triggers emotions and memories. Highly recommended, especially for writers.

December 21, 2015

A hero makes mistakes in 'The Crossing' by Michael Connelly

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - Michael Connelly's popular detective series featuring Detective Harry Bosch keeps up the tradition of suspense and fast action in Connelly's latest novel, The Crossing.

In this best-seller,  (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) Detective Bosch is retired and in a dilemma over whether to work as investigator to help clear a man wrongly accused of murder. He's in a dilemma because he has spent his entire career fighting against slimey defense attorneys.

In this case, however, he's related to the attorney (who doesn't seem slimey at all).

The story is fast-paced with plenty of the action you want to see in a detective novel.

In this book however, the mistakes made by the detective seem more glaring than in most such novels. And these mistakes actually make the Bosch character much more believable.

Harry Bosch is kind of a prickly character, too, but still lovable. An Amazon TV show is worth watching if you need to put a video image to the book.

The TV Harry Bosch
The Crossing is recommended reading.

If you are out west, the book is available at the Point Richmond Public Library. But I suspect my home library in Watkins Glen, NY has a copy (or two!) also.

December 13, 2015

Latest 'Jack Reacher' novel is another big winner

POINT RICHMOND, Calif. - My friend John Miles in New York is a huge Jack Reacher novel fan.

I believe he has read all the novels in the Reacher series.

If you are not a follower of author Lee Child's work, the character Jack Reacher has been dishing out justice for 20 books. Twenty! And my amigo John has read every one of them.

And so when I got done reading Reacher Novel No. 20 - titled Make Me - I emailed him right away to tell him how impressed I was with the book. He congratulated me on finally getting around to reading a Reacher novel, then told me to go back to the very first Jack Reacher tome, Killing Floor.

If the Jack Reacher name seems familiar, it could be because of the 2012 movie by the same name or the movie about to come out this month, titled Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Both star veteran actor Tom Cruise, who actually bears a slight resemblance to novel author Lee Childs.

Author Lee Childs
The Reacher character is complex with a military police background. He's a drifter. He's dangerous. And he has a strong sense of right and wrong.

At one point in Make Me, after a blazing gunfight, a gangster-murderer who has tried to kill Reacher is gurgling in his own blood, dying on the floor. If he lives, he will put Reacher, a former female FBI agent and a family in danger. When Reacher goes to finish off the bad guy on the floor, the FBI agent stops him.

"You can't do that," the former FBI agent says.
"What," Reacher says. "It was ok to murder him the first time, but not the second time?"
"It's wrong," the former FBI agent said again.
"It was right the first time, when he was a piece of shit who was about to rape you at gunpoint. Did he change? Did he suddenly become some kind of saintly martyr we should rush straight to the hospital. When did that part happen?"

You might think you can imagine what happened. You would be wrong.

This most recent Jack Reacher novel comes highly recommended. In the coming weeks, I'll be reading more of them (provided the Point Richmond library cooperates).

I will let you know if they measure up - or are even better than Make Me.
Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher in the 2012 film, 'Jack Reacher' Yes, a fight is breaking out...

October 24, 2015

'The Heart Goes Last' - a winner of a novel by Margaret Atwood

WATKINS GLEN, New York - All of Margaret Atwood's books have a certain weirdness about them.

The Heart Goes Last is no exception.

Set in a near semi-dystopian future, it starts out calmly, with a couple living in their car. It's almost pedestrian in the way the tale unfolds. But like all of Atwood's works, you get hooked into the lives of the characters quickly.

A handful pages later, there is no way to put this book down.

The Heart Goes Last critiques how we deal with problems - personal and cultural - in society, today and maybe tomorrow. If there is a tomorrow.

And like most Atwood tomes, the good people and the bad people shift roles back and forth, sometimes several times. It's not hard to follow, or swallow. But when the shifts come, they are unexpected.

The novel takes a dim view of our computerized lives, how easily we can be manipulated by authority, and how in the end, most people opt for safety and security over freedom.

Margaret Atwood
But in the process readers get to meet Marilyn Monroe and Elvis impersonators, criminals, oversexed couples and a charismatic leader named Ed.

Really, his name is Ed. Not grand wizard, just plain old Ed.

The Heart Goes Last is a good read, fast-paced, and offers lots of interesting life lessons/observations and cultural critiques.

It's on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

October 5, 2015

'The Martian' - a movie for the 21st Century

ACIDALIA PLANITIA, Mars - Okay, a dateline is supposed to be indicative of where the author wrote the story (or in this case blog). But, admittedly, I did not visit this off-planet location, where most of the action in the movie, The Martian takes place.

It's a whopper of an action-packed science fiction tale. But unlike Star Trek or Star Wars, this is based on real NASA-style science with enough special effects and drama to keep you in your seat for the more than 2 hours of running time for this film. 


The basic story and plot is simple enough. If you watch the movie trailer, you will get the drift. Unfortunately, the trailer gives away way too much. But I won't do that here.
Jeff Daniels

What I will say is that this movie is full of humor with the drama. And just when you think it is going to be predictable, it surprises.

The acting by Matt Damon and the balance of cast is superb. You should recognize most of the faces - even Jeff Daniels, who, I swear, is wearing the same suit he did as TV Anchor Will McAvoy on HBO's The Newsroom.

Matt Damon
The timing of the release of the movie at almost the same moment as scientists discovered water on Mars is as creepy as it is uncanny. As teenager I was steeped in novels by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.  I dreamed of being an astronaut and going to Mars. I missed that spaceship a long time ago. 

But perhaps The Martian will help reignite space exploration by the U.S. Certainly the Chinese and other nations are passing us by. Or already have.

Interestingly, the Chinese space program plays a big role in this movie.

Recommended without reservation - a good movie and worth seeing on the big screen.

August 28, 2015

'Where All Light Tends to Go' - a novel about the dark side

WATKINS GLEN, New York - David Joy's first novel, Where All Light Tends to Go, races along at times like a detective potboiler, at others it's as descriptive as a novel by veteran novelist James Lee Burke.

Joy has a talent for keeping the reader's pulse pounding while creating vivid scenes that stick in the mind - sometimes in very uncomfortable ways.

His description of country thugs using acid on the face of a tied-up victim comes to mind.

The book takes place in North Carolina, following a high school dropout who is traveling in his father's crime-ridden footsteps. There are fights, drugs, fights over drugs, more drugs, guns and drugs, and enough petty criminality to make many readers turn away from the tale.

But the story was so compelling, turning away was never option for me.

Author David Joy, sporting a North Carolina look

As the final chapters unfold, there are two relatively clear plot lines for the balance of the book. I would not describe either as being potentially happy endings. But it does end (of course) with several twists that kept me on edge right through the final scene.

Don't give up on this book as you read it.

Where All Light Tends to Go is a powerful book that might give you some troubling dreams. But it's worth the read.

And it's on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

August 25, 2015

Biblio TECH argues how important libraries still are

WATKINS GLEN, New York - John Palfrey's 2015 book, Biblio TECH: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google is not a page turner in the usual sense.

But Palfrey forcefully refutes the notion that libraries - and librarians - are dinosaurs in the face of Google and Internet search engines.

That point might be obvious to anyone reading a book review like this. But he talks at length about that it's not so obvious, particularly to young people who view libraries as anachronisms and see the libraries they have access to falling apart.

The downsizing and de-funding of libraries has been one of the great tragedies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the U.S., largely because libraries are sooooo bloody important to democracy. But Palfrey makes a persuasive case on behalf of libraries and explains their changing role well.

Palfrey runs through the history of public libraries, cloud computing, the importance of copyright, and the human networking of librarians - among many other topics.

It's the kind of book in which you can cherry pick sections to study and still get a good overall sense of what he is trying to get across.
John Palfrey

In his concluding chapter, he struck a deep chord with me about the importance of serendipity in the library experience. I picked up his book, along with two others, from a shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library a few days ago. I would never have picked his book out of some Amazon catalog or stumbled on it while doing some bit of Internet searching.

"For some people, it is impossible to come out of the stacks without armfuls of books, even if they went 
into the stacks seeking just one." (Page 208)

Amen to that, John Palfrey. Amen.

 Biblio TECH: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google is on the new book/browsing shelf at the Watkins Glen Public Library.

Right where it belongs, unless you check it out to read it.