Thursday, December 4, 2008

CD Review: Melissa Etheridge - A New Thought For Christmas

As has become my custom, I am reviewing this year's best new buys in Christmas music. Here is the first (and best) of this year:

Melissa Etheridge - A New Thought For Christmas

In this new offering, Etheridge covers some tried and true Christmas standards on this CD, but her aim was to have a CD that focused on the theme of "Peace on Earth" and has included some original songs that I believe will immediately become holiday classics in their own right.

Etheridge's voice is as bluesy and as soulful as ever, and the arrangements are awesome. Guitar solo's by Phillip Sayce are a high point in a recording full of high points.

As much as I enjoyed all of the songs on the CD, the following songs really stand out:

Christmas in America; Glorious; Merry Christmas Baby; and Glorious.

As I said earlier, Etheridge covers some standards on this CD, but don't let that lead you to believe that she does the same old songs, the same old way... she doesn't.

Now, listen to your old friend Gunfighter... give this album a listen and I promise that you won't be disappointed. This recording is THE one not to miss this year.

Merry Christmas!


Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Review: Extreme Measures

Last year, I reviewed a Vince Flynn novel called Protect & Defend and told you all how much I enjoyed it. Well, author Vince Flynn has released his latest offering, and it doesn't disappoint.

In his newest novel, released October 21st, Flynn once again delves into not only the dirty, vile, morally indefensible world of radical Islamic terrorism, but also gets into the morass of Washington, DC politics.

Flynn's main character, Mitchell Rapp, is a clandestine CIA operator, a counter-terrorist operator who works out in the field, killing or capturing the avowed enemies of the United States, and he is good at what he does. When the novel opens, we find Rapp and another operator interrogating two senior Taliban/Al Qaeda prisoners about a terror operation that is about to take place inside the United States. Not surprisingly, the terrorists believe that they can hang tough and not answer questions due to post-Abu Ghraib political pressures.

They didn't count on meeting Mitch Rapp.

Rapp was having some success getting information from the prisoners, when the base commander, looking to protect his own ass, put a stop to the harsh interrogation, and had the Military Police arrest Rapp and hold him in custody.

The CIA get's Rapp out of jail and whisks him back to Washington, where he and operative Mike Nash have to do major damage control, appearing before Congress, taking heat from chair-warming bureaucrats etc... While all this is happening, the terrorist cell that is plotting an attack arrives in the United States and heads to Washington, DC.

I don't want to give too many spoilers here, so I'll end here... except to say that during the attacks, my favorite Capitol Hill watering hole, the Hawk 'n Dove was destroyed.

Anyway, in Rapp's inimitable fashion he goes about hunting down and killing as many of the perpetrators as possible, along the way, making a very high-powered ally out of a political enemy.

Look, Flynn's novels aren't heavy. They aren't politically correct, either. They are exceptionally violent (although not mindlessly so). The characters swear, they talk about sex, they kill people, and they take their kids to LaCrosse practice. Flynn's novels are not likely to win any fiction prizes, either, as they are fairly formulaic, but what they are mostly is a whole lot of fun.

I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Book Review: The Scourge of God

One of my favorite authors, S.M. Stirling is at it again, with his newest publication, The Scourge of God (A novel of The Change).

This new offering takes place in the year 2021, which is also known as CY (change year) 23. In this world that Stirling has crafted, there was a "Change" that took place in 1998, wherein all electricity, mysteriously ceased working. Internal combustion engines stopped firing, gunpowder no longer burned, and Nuclear power plants went dead. In this world, all at once, the lights went out, and a new age began.

In the first three installments of what will eventually be seven (I think) novels, we saw exactly what this loss of technology and power meant to the world in general, and the United States in particular, through several point-of-view characters: Mike Havel, former Marine and pilot who is transporting a wealthy man and his family on a private charter plane when "the lights went out"; Juniper McKenzie, a bard/busker who is a single mother as well as an active member of a group of Wiccans; and Norman Arminger, who is a not-very-nice member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

In these novels, Stirling shows us, in sometimes very stark detail, that despite our claims at "civilization", we are no further removed from what we would call barbarism, than a few missed meals, and a few dark nights. The characters in these novels not only survive, but thrive in a world very different than the one they knew.

In this newest installment, young Rudi McKenzie (the son of Mike Havel and Juniper McKenzie), and a band of young people from the various new nations that were born out of the chaos in the Pacific northwest, have set out on a quest to get to the center of the mystery of "The Change", which lies in the retrieval of a sword, from far-away Nantucket island. The problem is that in order for McKenzie and his friends have to get to Nantucket, they have to traverse most of what used to be the United States, which means crossing the territory of the very hostile United States of Boise, bands of un-friendly "neo-Sioux", and the Army of the Church Universal Triumphant (CUT)

Mind you, this is no sword and sorcery novel (well, maybe it is, I guess that depends on your view of science fiction), but it will certainly appeal to people who enjoy that genre as well as anyone who enjoys "time displacement" stories as well.

I won't give any spoilers, but if I were a science fiction reader who had never had the pleasure of reading anything by Stirling, I would run... run, not walk, to your nearest bookseller and start reading S.M. Stirling's stuff.

You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Mako Group T-Pod

The Mako Group T-Pod expandable bi-pod/vertical M-4 grip, at first blush, seems to be a very useful tool. Right from the beginning, I noticed that in the closed position, this product fit my hand much better than the issued vertical grip, which is manufactured by Knight’s Armament.

The T-Pod was very easy to install, and remained secure throughout my test. When used as a vertical grip, the T-pod suits me well. It is large enough to fit my hands, and didn’t slip at all. In this capacity I give it good marks.

When used as a bi-pod, the T-Pod is a very stable platform, but there, my kudos come to an end. As I said, the T-Pod is useful and stable as a vertical grip and in the open position, but the problems for this item begin when transitioning from one use to the other. The T-Pod is difficult to get into operation because you have two push two buttons to open it and extend the spring-loaded legs. The fact that the two buttons are close together helps some, but even with my big hands, I had to do some manipulating to get them open at the same time.

Once in the open position, the shooter isn’t able to use the grip itself, since it splits down the middle. In this configuration, the shooter must either grip one half of the open bi-pod or the front hand-guard of the rifle.

Another problem with this item occurs when the shooter transitions from the Bi-Pod configuration back to the vertical grip. In order to close the Bi-Pod, the shooter must squeeze the split parts together (being careful not to pinch the palm of the hand), then push both buttons, and press the legs against some sort of hard object to get them to load back into the grip.

If you were using this product for varmint hunting, I think it would serve just fine, but tactically, I don’t particularly care for it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Book Review: "A" is For Atticus

You know me, don't you?

You know about lots of things in my life, because in my narcissism, I love talking about myself sharing things with you. Not only do you know of my love for my family, you also know that I love some really crappy television shows, and politics. You know that I own several kilts, and that I have a few tattoos. You know what I do for a living, that I teach Sunday School and coach youth soccer.

You also know that I love to read.

I recently had the good fortune to review a new book from the Hachette Group called "A" is for Atticus, by Lorilee Craker.

I have had the pleasure of reviewing lots of books, but this is a new thing for me, because it is the first time because I have ever reviewed a baby name book. Truthfully, I had no real expectations from the book, because I figured that it would be another collection of names with some sort of focus. I was about to be surprised.

As you know, there are a huge number of baby name books out there, and many of them have a particular focus, giving parents an incredible wealth of potential names for their soon-to-be-born children. As you can imagine, all of these books start to look alike in a very short amount of time.

Those of you who have become parents since the dawn of the Internet, also know that there are innumerable resources for baby names online... and that there are computer models that track the popularity of names and identify trends in baby names.

This book is a different because it is all about names from great books. Think about that... how many times have you read a book and thought to yourself "THAT would be a great name for a child"? I have done that more than once, and if we, by some miracle of heaven, ever have a boy child, his name will be Hamish... the Scottish form of James (Bond... James Bond).

Thumbing through this book of names made me smile, alot. Seeing the names of so many familiar characters can't help but remind you of the joy of a lifetime of reading. If you are the reading sort and are planning to have children, you should give this book a try. If you are someone that reads, and you would like to have something of a reminder of your old "friends" from literature, this book is a must.


PS: Can you get better than Atticus Finch?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Review: The Tao of Fertility

When The Parent Blogger Network asked me if I wanted to review this book, I wasn't sure that I should. I was unsure for a couple of reasons, the first and foremost being that I'm male, and as such, I can't get pregnant... so why bother, I thought? Another reason that I had for not being sure that I should give it a gander is because Mrs Gunfighter and I are done having children.

In the end, I decided to review this book because I like to see things from points of view different than my own... and of course this is a seriously different view of pregnancy for me.

As you all know, I am an advocate of fully participatory fatherhood, and I tried as best as I could, to empathize with Mrs GF when she was pregnant. You know something? with all of the good intentions and sensitivity that I could muster, I CAN'T really imagine what it must be like to be pregnant. No way.

So. I decided to give this book a try.

First Impressions: "Oh, Lord... another touchy-feely, earthy-crunchy, new age, neo-hippie book on how to be spiritually holistic etc..." I figured that this would be another book that could be summed up by saying: "Watch what you eat, rest, drink water, exercise and all will be well"

I was wrong.

Clearly, I can't get pregnant, but there are things in this book that are beneficial to just about anyone... not just for women who want to have a baby.

The authors were kind enough not to fill the book with jargon that would leave my eyes bleeding and my head hurting. They wrote in plain speech, and didn't appear to try to dazzle the reader with flashy prose. On the contrary, this book is written so that a person with no knowledge of Traditional Chinese Medicine could understand it, and glean very helpful... and healthful information.

The information in the book even covers pre-pregnancy dietary information (including suggested menus and recipes), and self-applied accu-pressure, to promote health and fertility. By the way, I suggest accu-pressure with a partner. It's more fun. Yeah.

OK, so the book is good. The suggestions are good. The presentation is good.

Done, right?

Not yet.

There are other aspects of this book that I enjoy. The first being the stories of women about their journey toward pregnancy. Some of the stories were just heartbreaking. Other aspects that I enjoyed were post-partum suggestions on diet and exercise, as well as mom-specific nutrition.

I am going to be honest here and say that I thought I was fgoing to read this book and shoot it full of holes. I am rather pleased to report that this isn't the case here.

The authors, Daoshing Ni, Ph.D, and Dana Herko derserve full marks for their product.


This book review is sponsored by The Parent Blogger Network and HarperCollins Publishers. This review is cross-posted at my regular blog, Gunfighter: A Modern Warrior's Life.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review: Raised By Wolves, by Christie Mellor

At the very start of this book, author Christie Mellor did something that few authors do for me. She made me laugh. She made me laugh aloud.

In her own wonderful and very humorous way, Christie Mellor gives young people some very cogent advice, while not sounding at all preachy, dry, or boring. She takes less than 250 pages to tell all twenty-somethings things that it took me almost 40 years to learn. Just think of the possibilities if I had learned them early on.

Mellor gives advice on basic living practices, such as the importance of keeping your apartment clean, how to clean your bathroom, and why it is important to make your bed, and the myriad uses of baking soda. Baking soda! Did you know that you can remove coffee and tea stains with that stuff? I didn't. I didn't know that you could also use it to kill fleas. who knew? Well, Mellor knew enough to share it with all of us.

She goes on to give advanced life-lessons about the working world; from not being a "fawning bootlicker" to not sharing the intimate details of your love life with people you barely know. Mellor gives directions to the young in ways that will make you laugh aloud, AND make you think (or at least, nod your head sagely).

Reading this book at age 44 was like a trip down memory lane. When the author talks about drinking to excess, and how you care to be remembered, I immediately thought back to my hard-partying days in The Marines. It made me think about the several old friends of mine from those days whom, in my memory, will always be pictured as roaringly, life-of-the-party drunk... or violently vomiting in public places.

To be sure, this book has a lot of lessons in it that can be categorized as "What Not To Do When You Are An Adult", but it doesn't spend all of it's time as a humorous "Don't" list. There are other things that young folks in anything close to polite society ought to know. Dinner Party etiquette; visiting invitations; hosting a party; basic recipes for the novice cook; and how to make a proper Martini (yes, it IS important to know how to make a Martini). Get this, she'll also teach you how to draw a Martini... see? (I drew this 10 minutes before posting this review. Useful, see?)

One of the most important chapters is the one about finance. Look, in today's economy, things are tough for families... we already know that, but we shouldn't assume that things are free and easy for young adults, especially as they often start amassing horrendous debt early in life. Mellor's advice on money is sound. So, pay attention.

The bottom line on this book is that there is a lot of good information in it, and it would be useful to a young person who has just left or is about to leave his parent's home or graduate from school. It would also be every bit as useful to that person in their thirties or forties, you know the ones, who just don't have a clue.

It's a keeper... but not for me. I'm sending MY copy to my college freshman daughter (that is, after I copy that soup recipe!)


This review was sponsored by the Parent Blogger Network and the fine folks at HarperCollins Publishers

Friday, March 14, 2008

CD Review: Back to Black - Any Winehouse

Having listened to British soul singer Amy Winehouse's 2006 CD, I have to say that it isn't the unpleasant experience that I expected it to be... not at all.

Simply, the troubled Ms. Winehouse has talent. The songs are all done in the bluesy, early soul style that is very retro... reminiscent of the late 50's or the early 60's.

Just about every track is catchy and interesting to listen to, and the musicianship is great and Winehouse's vocal style is enjoyable.

There are tracks that you'll want to sing along with or even have a nice slow dance with someone that you are fond of.

Winehouse has fairly solid writing credentials as well. She wrote or co-wrote every track on the CD.

One song in particular stands out, and I'm not talking about Rehab, which is catchy, but not that special. No, I'm talking about track number seven, Tears Dry on Their Own. This song was written with Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson of Motown fame. This song samples a couple of musical phrases from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"... I really like it.

OK, enough love and kisses... even though the hooks are good, I have a bricks to throw, and here they are: Several of the songs have sex and drug references that I could do without. Yours truly is no prude, but, I suspect some of these lyrics were done just for shock value. I suppose one saving grace is that you either have to listen very closely to hear many of them, or read the lyrics to see them.

Amy Winehouse has talent, sure enough, and like so many talented people, she seems hell-bent of self-destruction. I hope she lives long enough to do another CD... I would like to see what she does next.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Review: The Sky Isn't Visible From Here

The scenes from Felicia Sullivan's book are heartbreaking.

Stories of her childhood as she watched her mother abuse drugs, and abused by often-violent men. Stories of a child who had to take her mother to the emergency room on a regular basis when the dope stopped feeling good. Stories of a nomadic youth. Stories that aren't filled with love, and don't have happy endings.

I didn't know where to start with my review. I really didn't. It isn't because I didn't get it, because I did. It isn't because the book isn't good, because it is. I didn't really know where to start, I think, because I am very aware of the fact that a lot of the author's childhood was like my own.

I too, lived in a home with a single, drug abusing parent, and sure as hell, it wasn't pretty.

Ms. Sullivan tells us about some of the minutiae of life with her mother, and her own struggles with addiction and it's aftermath. Anyone reading this very personal, powerful, and moving memoir, should come away knowing at least one thing for certain: That the wreckage of substance abuse isn't just physical, and it isn't just mental. The wreckage is emotional, and it's raw... and despite what you've been told, time doesn't heal all wounds.

Felicia Sullivan's well-written story is one of survival, not victory.


Sometimes survival is the best we can ask for.

This review is sponsored by the Parent Bloggers Network, and those fine folks at Algonquin books.

You can read Felicia Sullivan's blog here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Product Review: Cleanwell Antibacterial Wash

My kids are old enough that I don't have to get terribly involved in their biological dirt... and that's a good thing. The problem is that whether you have little kids or not, it's a dirty, germy, nasty world out there, folks, and most of those germs aren't airborne. No, they are right there on your keyboard, or the door knob, or the steering wheel, or on that dollar coin... or on any of the myriad surfaces that you and I touch every day.

Now, just because I don't have small kids doesn't mean that I don't get dirty... believe me, I do! I make my living as a tactical firearms instructor, and whether it is during training exercises, or during routine weapons maintenance, my hands get dirty. After a day of intense shooting, the last thing to do before finishing for the day is to clean all of my weapons. The problem is getting not only cleaning the burnt carbon and harsh chemicals and oil from my hands, but cleaning them with a soap that won't leave my skin dry dry and papery. As you can imagine, working in a government buliding, the soap in the men's room is usually that harsh, hard-core, skin-drying, industrial stuff that NOBODY wants to use.

In my home life, I do all of the cooking, and since I am a carnivore, and Mrs Gunfighter doesn't much care for beef, I use chicken in lots of the meals that I make. Now, boneless, skinless, chicken breasts aren't a major threat to your health, like a sub-machinegun... but Salmonella is.

So, whether I am at home or at work, I need my hands to be clean. Clean and disinfected, and I think that CleanWell's antibacterial wash will do exactly that. Whether I am in the kitchen, cutting up a chicken or at the range cleaning a sub-machinegun, shotgun, or pistol, when I use CleanWell, my hands get clean AND disinfected.

Here is the best part. CleanWell products won't hurt the environment. You see, the production of some of the chemicals in some other antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizer's find their way into the environment either during the manufacturing process, or via waste water. Not so, with CleanWell. The active ingredient in CleanWell's products in Ingenium, which, according to company reseaerch, is a botanically sourced plant oil (that utilizes Thyme), which kills %99.9 percent of the bacteria which will make you sick.

Lastly: Guys, sure this stuff is environmentally friendly and it doesn't smell like turpentine, but it isn't unmaly. Remember: Environmentally savvy is the new studly!

Hey folks! There is a contest going on... people want to know how you get dirty... it's a photo contest, and you can find it here. It's brought to you by ShutterSisters

This review is sponsored by the Parent Bloggers Network, and those fine, environmentally friendly folks at CleanWell.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Book Review: Sex Detox

Sex Detox: Recharge Desire. Revitalize Intimacy. Rejuvenate Your Love Life.

Author Ian Kerner, Ph.D, wastes no time in this book. He jumps right in and makes it plain that American sex lives are broken. According to Dr. Kerner, our lives and our culture are so oversexualized from the media, music, and online pornography, that our own sex lives have become unsatisfying. Our increasing lack of exercise has eroded what he calls our "sexual fitness". According to Kerner's research, sexual dissatisfaction has become the primary for divorce (a stupid reason, I think). This oversexualization, fostering unrealistic visions of Hollywood-perfect bodies, and surgically enhanced pornstars has hurt us. Well, he might be right, but the good thing is that he has an answer: The Sex Detox regimen.

Kerner posits that too many people in this country are engaging in unsatisfying sex (and that goes for singles involved in the "booty-call" life as much as it does for the married fuddy-duddies), and that sex can be greatly inproved by simply not having it.

That's what the man said: Have better sex by not having sex.

Sure, some of you are nodding sagely, and some of you a spewing your beverages while bellowing WTF? I found myself in the latter category... but reading on, I had to concede that Kerner has a point. Denying yourself something that you want, something that you really crave, while it is sitting right there on the couch with you... and probably thinking similarly randy thoughts about you, can really increase the mental aspect of sex... which has to be better than having sex just because you are supposed to every other Tuesday night.

The Detox plan is very detailed, and from reading it, it seems to make sense. By the way, you don't have to be in a committed relationship for this program to be effective. Singles have as much sexual toxicity as those in committed, long-term relationships... it's just different.

I'm not going to give you a detailed description of the plan, but I'll tell you, I think that Kerner is on to something. Reading his plan, I think that it would be good for anyone who thinks that there is anything toxic in their lives, from sex, to friendships, or even the beginnings of substance abuse problems.

Give it a read. Even if you don't use the plan, you'll probably learn something useful.

Full marks for Dr. Kerner.


This product review was sponsored by the Parent Bloggers Network, and the fine folks at Harper Collins books