Review: “Dirty Ground: The Tricky Space Between Sport And Combat” By Kris Wilder & Lawrence A. Kane

This book was made available by YMAA Publication Center through NetGalley, and I requested a copy for the purposes of reading it and providing a review.

OK, all the necessary stuff out of the way, how cool is it that you find a book you were willing to pay good money for available for review at no cost? Indeed. Life. Is. Sweet.

This book works off the premise that ground fighting, which is cool in the MMA ring or other competition arena, has to be played by different rules, or no rules at all, when it’s a violent encounter. Or, in the middle space between sport and combat, what the authors refer to as a “Drunkle”, the example being your drunk Uncle Albert at a family reunion. You’re asked to corral him and get him to settle down, but you can’t put the hammer down on him like Anderson Silva or use lethal force. He is, after all, family, like it or not.

The authors do a great job of clearly delineating, as much as possible, the difference between sport, drunkles and combat. They also cover the concepts of what you need to consider before getting involved in a violent encounter, namely Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy and Preclusion (different sources use different terms and acronyms, but the concepts are the same):

  • Ability – Is the threat able to hurt you? An armed teen with a knife certainly is. An unarmed toddler isn’t (unless they’re dropping Legos in the hallway, to be found in the middle of the night).
  • Opportunity – Does the threat have the opportunity to hurt you? The same teen standing forty feet away with the knife wouldn’t have the opportunity. Once that teen gets within that magical 21 feet, he certainly does.
  • Jeopardy – Are you in what a reasonable person would call jeopardy? Even if the armed teen is cussing and telling you he’s going to kill and describing in detail how he’s going to do it, if he’s walking away from you while doing so, you’re not in jeopardy.
  • Preclusion – Did you, absolutely, have to fight and not have any escape avenues preceding or during the encounter? If a guy is in the car next to you waving a gun, telling you what he’s going to do to you, and you get out of your car and put a beat down on him, you may have the first three points on your side, but not the last. You could have avoided the encounter by simply putting pedal to metal.

This is just an example of what the authors cover. They spend a great deal of time talking about what ifs and wherefores and whys of violent encounters, giving you many things to think about. While they rightfully stop short of giving legal advice, they do make sure you understand there is much more going on that what might be going on in your head. Also addressed briefly, but in a solid manner, is the difference between social and asocial violence.

They also cover in detail some popular grappling styles through the centuries and how they fit into the sport, drunkle or combat spectrum.

Finally, they show several judo techniques, not because of superiority of that art, but because of the accessibility of terminology because of the popularity of the art, and put each one into the sport, drunkle and combat spectrum, giving examples of how those techniques might be applied. They also provide pictures of each of these examples, demonstrating how the force applied in each would differ.

Overall, I was very pleased with this book. It definitely covered the continuum I was hoping it would, speaking to the differences between each area, the gray areas in between, and how to tell which part of the continuum the encounter falls into. Not only that, but they also try to give you pointers on identifying when the encounter shifts from one area to the other, such as when drunk Uncle Albert suddenly has his three sober, armed brothers coming to his aid (my example, not theirs).

If you have any interest in protecting yourself and those you love in a violent encounter that could end up on the ground, this book is definitely for you.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Commitment Criteria”, Volumes I & II By Kirsten Anderberg

Run away. Run away, run away, run away.

If you are on Amazon‘s website hovering over the “Buy” button, don’t do it. I rarely completely pan a book, much less two, but in this case, it’s deserved.

First, let’s look at the title of each of these: “Commitment Criteria”. The presumption is that you will be given an insight into what led these women to be committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. But that’s only true in a handful of cases. Most of these stories reference CSMH, but only in passing. Perhaps the women or young ladies spent some time there, but often times it was prior to the crime or incident they were involved in. Or perhaps the mention to CSMH is brief as part of a greater story.

Now, let’s look at the rest of the title: “A Look Inside One of America’s Most Infamous Mental Institutions”. Awesome! We get a clue as to what actually happened to these ladies while they were in CSMH. Uh, no. Very few of them actually give any details about the lives of these women while they were actually patients. A scant few mention women who were assaulted or killed while there, but even those are merely paragraph references. An actual look at day-to-day life or anything of any depth? Nope. Not here.

While we’re talking about the stories themselves, let’s analyze them, shall we? The first book contains 23 stories, which in a book about 126 pages long should average almost six pages per story, allowing plenty of detail, right? True… on average. Unfortunately, the first book is hogged by the story of Elizabeth Ann
“Ma” Duncan, who hired a couple of guys to kill her daughter-in-law. And when I say hogged, I mean hogged. This story takes up a full 50% of the book, leaving about 60 pages for the remaining 22 stories. It would be excellent coverage of Duncan’s stay in Camarillo, if that’s what this epic detailed, but it didn’t. Most of it is coverage of Duncan’s, as well as those of the men she hired, trials and execution. Very few references to CSMH, other than in passing, and certainly no details about the stay itself.

Unfortunately, I bought both books at the same time, so I felt compelled to read the second one, hoping any constructive feedback from the first volume could help the author produce a better second volume.

No such luck.

The second volume is essentially a continuation of the content of the first, although the formatting seemed to be better. But at least it was longer (173 pages) with more stories (30). On the plus side, there wasn’t a single story dominating half of the book. However, one story accounted for almost 25% of the book and another accounted for almost 33%. And, oh yeah, the story of four women is encompassed in a single paragraph, with no names mentioned, in reporting their escape from CSMH.

As for the lengthy stories in the second volume, one was about actress Dorothy Comingore, who found fame starring in “Citizen Kane“. While Comingore did spend some time in CSMH, the vast majority of the entry in Anderberg’s book reads as a professional biography of the actress, not her time in the institution.

The worst story in this book was unfortunately the longest: Mary Alice Meza. In 1948, she was raped by Caryl Chessman, and as a result she was committed to and spent the rest of of her life in various institutions. While this would have been a perfect opportunity to delve into the life of Mary Alice Meza post-commitment, the entry for her instead details the trial, conviction, incarceration, and eventual execution of Chessman. Heck, it even mentions the books he wrote while in prison, including a picture of the cover of one, noting it’s still available on Amazon.

The author, with advanced degrees in History and Archiving, does do an outstanding job of documenting her sources, which under normal circumstances would be a tremendous resource for the reader to acquire for future reading. However, almost all of the sources cited are from the archives of the L.A. Times. While that may have been an outstanding primary source, it shouldn’t have been the almost exclusive source.

One thing I can commend the author on without equivocation is her photography. The shots she provides of the CMSH site, which is now occupied by California State University, Channel Islands, are very well posed and poignant. I hope that eventually her writing will reach that level and she will we be well-received in both areas.

Rating: 1 star (out of 5)

Review: “Finding Sheba” By H.B. Moore

I received a copy of this book via a blog tour promotion sponsored by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer for the purposes of reading it and giving it an honest review. The final book is not in publication yet, so this should be considered a review of an advance copy of the book.

Ancient history has always fascinated me, to the point that for a while as a youth I wanted to become an Egyptologist, even learning a fair amount of hieroglyphics. So when I had the opportunity to read a book alternately set in the tenth century B.C. as well as modern times, trying to uncover the past, I definitely jumped at it.

The author, having earned a major in Fashion Merchandising and a minor in Business Management at BYU, might not seem the best qualified to write such a novel. But she actually lived in the Middle East for several years. Combine that with being raised by a biblical scholar, and this story likely had quite a bit of time to germinate.

The basic premise is very simple: various factions are in a race to find the true resting place of the Queen Of Sheba, who makes an appearance in various historical texts, including the Bible, Qur’an, the writings of the Roman historian Josephus, who specialized in Jewish history, not to mention Yemeni and Ethiopian texts. Each country represented as possible burial sites for the Queen have a stake in the matter. And each country has some representative involved in the search for the truth. Add in a group of pirates interested in monetary rewards rather than national pride, and the plot thickens. Throw in a murder or two, a human sacrifice, and an assassination attempt on the Coptic pope, and it gets really interesting.

Moore drops in a couple romances to smooth out the rough edges from all the political intrigue, and they seem to flow fairly naturally, albeit predictably. They do provide a foundation for future novels involving the protagonist, Omar Zagouri, as well as some of his supporting cast.

There are a couple of continuity questions I have, especially a “Why didn’t…” question, but it’s not one that breaks down the whole story. Also, if you’re familiar with the historical Queen Of Sheba, some early details about her contemporary story are very telling about which direction the author will take the Queen. But for the average person, I presume that tell will be overlooked.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. A true indicator for how much I like a story is if I’m willing to keep trying to read it, even when I’m dozing off and dropping my eReader on my face. Eventually the pain and re-reading gets frustrating enough that I will reluctantly continue reading the next day. 🙂

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Keeper Of The Keys” By Nadine Scolla

I was actually led to this book, which was published in 1976, by some research I was doing on Camarillo State Hospital in California. While the time period I’m researching is the middle of the twentieth century, and these events take place in the mid-seventies, I couldn’t pass it up.

Why? Well, first, I worked in healthcare (albeit in the information systems department) for 15 years, so healthcare is very much a part of me. Many loved ones are also involved in healthcare, I love watching shows like “E.R.”, “Grey’s Anatomy”, and heck, even “Scrubs”… Well, you get the idea.

Second, since junior high, mental health has always been fascinating to me. Many people who know me would say it’s because it’s like looking in a mirror, but what do they know. I really believe if I hadn’t gotten into computers and martial arts, I would have studied abnormal psychology. It’s all so fascinating.

Finally, I despise folks who take advantage of others, and that’s exactly what this book set out to expose, specifically at Camarillo State Hospital.

During the time frame I’m researching, mental healthcare was nothing like it is today, especially in the understanding of what is and isn’t a mental illness. Not to mention that many physically or developmentally disabled people were put in institutions, where today societal mainstreaming is much more common.

By the time this book was necessary, running mental institutions had become a business. Since the hospital was paid per patient, they would do anything they could to get and keep patients in their care. That, combined with overcrowding and employees with little or no training, led to a snowball effect of patient maltreatment. But who would do anything about it? The people doing the work often times weren’t qualified for the position, but they were paid well, so why rock the boat? Administrators certainly didn’t want to kill the golden goose. Unfortunately, those employees who did care, like Scolla and others she identifies in the book, could be blackballed with negative employee reviews in their records, so they were afraid to make waves for fear it could ruin their careers.

Enter Nadine Scolla, fresh from nursing school, where she was apparently taught very well the right way to treat patients and their families. During nursing school she kept a diary, and naturally she continued to keep it as she excitedly joined her profession of choice at Camarillo State Hospital.

She is shocked early on by what she sees as what passes for patient care: Ignoring patients experiencing seizures. Pulling gold fillings from a new patient’s teeth. Rape and physical abuse of patients. Adjusting or denying medication without doctors’ orders. And the list goes on.

Scolla finally cannot stand by anymore and, knowing that reporting problems to authorities won’t do any good since it will just be glossed over by those in power, takes other steps. She contacts a publisher about the issue, offering her diary as evidence. Therein lies the genesis of this book, the publication of which led to a grand jury investigation of CSH, a reformation of mental institution practices in California and, ultimately, the closing of CSH itself as its patient count declined over the next 15 years.

I really enjoyed this book, in many ways. It might appear that Scolla might have sanitized some of her entries, but I believe that was just her being a professional, a lady, and a woman of faith. But what she outlines in the book is detailed and to the point. It’s a fascinating look into not just this particular mental institution, but the standards of nursing at the time, when all nurses wore white, etc.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in the mental healthcare during the seventies, nursing, or just a memoir by a young lady who risked her career by going against the grain.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Bird: The Life And Music Of Charlie Parker” By Chuck Haddix

Via NetGalley, I received a copy of this book from University of Illinois Press for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Note this book is not scheduled for publication until September 16, 2013, so this should be considered a review of an advanced copy, not a finished product.

So much has been written about Charlie Parker, it would seem that unless some previously undiscovered diary maintained by The Bird shows up, there can’t be much more to tell. I’ve read several books about Parker, perused many outstanding online sites dedicated to him, listened to his music literally for decades, and generally have been a fan for some time. So with that in mind, I decided to approach this book as though I knew nothing about Parker other than his music. It didn’t seem fair to penalize the author for my prior readings.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the way this book was put together. It covers not just Bird’s life, but the life of his parents leading up to and following his birth. It certainly pulls no punches, but at the same time was a fair account of the enigma that was Charlie Parker. At times he was unfailingly kind to others, telling up-and-coming musicians to avoid drugs (as Parker himself had been addicted to heroin, originally for pain management, since a car accident in his teens) and to do as he says, not as he does. Other times, he is inexplicably distant and cold, and not always are the drugs to blame.

As a fan of his music, I really loved reading about the evolution of Parker’s style as well as his affiliation and, sadly, alienation of his musical peers. I was also left with a sense of wonder at how, when the rubber met the road, Parker could create incredible music, even when high or drunk. I’m left to wonder whether he would have been the same musician and creative genius without his addiction or, in some bizarre way, it helped define who he was musically.

The only area I wish Haddix had delved into more was the months or years following Parker’s death and maybe a glance at what happened to his wives and children.

I definitely recommend this book as a great source for fans of Parker, music, and biographies in general. The bibliography and end notes are worth gold by themselves.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Way Of The Warrior In Business” By Donald Wayne Hendon

I received a copy of this book from Independent Book Publishers Association, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and providing a review.

I must confess that when I first saw this title was available, I wasn’t that thrilled about it. Having read many Art Of War interpretations as related to business, I suspected this would be in a similar vein.

I actually was pleasantly surprised to find this book is almost exclusively focused on the marketing aspects of business and how they relate to The Way of The Warrior, so to speak. I was pleased to find Hendon references not only Sun Tzu in this text but other notable military leaders such as Napoleon and generals Douglas MacArthur and George Patton.

Also good to discover was Hendon’s assertion at various times that his book wasn’t for everyone. After laying out the different types of business leaders, classified from Falcon to Dodo Bird, Hendon specifically says that if you find yourself a passive business leader (Chicken or Dodo Bird), this book probably isn’t for you as you likely don’t have the personality to change from one end of the spectrum to another.

That said, if you are one who believes in aggressive marketing, this book is most definitely for you. The author explains many facets important to a marketer, such as types of attacks, risk / reward assessment, and how to take on and act like the big dogs. In that way, the author succeeds admirably.

My only beef is Hendon’s habit of plugging his website (one more time won’t hurt, right?) throughout the book. Sure, I get it, you need to feed business your way. But the author drops reference to his website, usually as an innocuous Web Alert sidebar, no less than 15 times in the book. Again, I get it, aggressive marketing. But Hendon also states in the book you should never under-estimate the intelligence of your customers / prospects or your competitors. If you’re giving your prospects due respect for their intelligence and tenacity in researching potential resources, why beat them over the head with one?

The author does, however, provide a nice list of resources besides his website, which the wise marketer will be sure to dig into.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader” Edited By Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan IV & Anita Mannur

This book was received from NYU Press, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and providing a review. The book is scheduled for publication on September 3, 2013, so note this review is on an advance copy of the book, not the final product.

Before I begin the review proper, let me run through a checklist identifying why I was looking forward to this read:

  1. I love Asian food: Check
  2. I love history: Check
  3. The book was provided at no cost: Check

With that in mind, I certainly dug into, pun intended, this offering. Many facets of cuisine in America and how it has been influenced by different Asian cultures were covered in this book. Everything from food trucks in Los Angeles and Austin to Cambodian Donut Shops In Los Angeles to Mess Halls in World War II Japanese Internment Camps to the Transnational Queer Kitchen as well as many other topics

My favorite likely was the mess halls of World War II Japanese Internment camps and how they affected core family life of the Japanese families, who were accustomed to eating meals around a single table as a single family. Mess halls certainly changed that, and the article certainly addresses how this change in dining habits affected the families, and youths in particular, not only during but after the war.

Another favorite was how the Kogi BBQ Truck altered the landscape and perception of food trucks in Los Angeles. The article not only discusses how the cuisine offered by the trucks are a mirror image of the mixed cultures of the Los Angeles area, it also addresses the history of where the truck has appeared and, possibly as telling, where it hasn’t.

Overall, I found the book very fascinating. I did find it a bit heavy on Japanese and Chinese cuisine, but seeing as how they are certainly the two most common Asian cuisines in America, that’s not surprising. However, it also had several articles on Filipino cuisine, which is not as common as those that were not covered as heavily, such as Thai and Vietnamese. That said, it was a great collection of scholarly articles, well-documented with footnotes and a bibliography.  I will probably spend more time hunting down referenced books and articles than what I actually spent on this book itself.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Favorite Brand Name Recipe Cookbook” By The Editors Of Consumer Guide (1981)

Sometimes it’s fun just to pull a random book off the shelves or out of a box, dig into it and enjoy it for what it is. This was just such an adventure. I had actually found this book in an abandoned storage building several years ago. Being one who believes no book should be an orphan, I grabbed it, along with some others, and squirreled them away to read in a few days.

Well, a few days ended up being a few years. I was digging through a box of books and ran across this again and decided to give it a look-through.

First, this is the original 1981 version of the book. It’s not high-quality paper, and it’s definitely shown the wear and tear of its presumed years in storage: torn and bent pages, plenty of spine and cover wear and tear, and even a spattering of roach droppings inside the front cover. So maybe that storage building wasn’t completely abandoned after all…….

Whoever picked up this book obviously didn’t invest a lot in it. But at least we know where they picked it up:


Alright, enough humor and such for now. This cookbook is essentially a collection of recipes gathered from various manufacturer-approved sources: product boxes, recipe books, inserts in products, what have you. As each recipe promotes a particular product, I’m sure the manufacturers didn’t mind the inclusion of the recipe in this cookbook as it would essentially be free advertising.

While there are plenty of recipes from major players and products in the food market (Nabisco, Jell-O, Keebler, Liptop, Pillsbury, Smucker’s, Hunt’s, etc.), I was also pleased to see other surprising products included. Perhaps the most surprising? Johnny Walker Red. Yeah, like any of that actually ended up in the recipe.

There are also plenty of local or smaller products I wasn’t familiar with, either due to them being regional or international, or simply something I didn’t encounter growing up in Arkansas.

They even have several plates of photos of finished products in the center of the book, although this is certainly a very small sampling of the recipes included:




Overall, I really enjoyed this. There are, as with any cookbook of this size, countless recipes I want to check out. I’m sure some will be popping up on the menu in the near future.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir Of Food And Longing” By Anya Von Bremzen

I received this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing the title. The publication date shown on NetGalley as September 17, 2013, so note this review is on an advanced copy, not the final published work.

First, note this is a memoir, not a cookbook. I was hoping for the latter, but ended up being no less disappointed. The primary reason for that is Bremzen takes us on a tour through her family and Soviet history for the last hundred years or so. The common thread throughout this history is, not surprisingly, food. Lack of food. Excess food. Strange food. Common food. You name it.

Being a history buff, I found the entire book quite fascinating. I’ve never really read much of Soviet history as told by an expatriate, so I thoroughly enjoyed this offering. The book tells of two generations preceding the author up through modern-day times. Covered are her families struggles before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Cold War, and even the breakup of the USSR. Bremzen also discussed her and her mother’s struggles after their emigration from Russia, as each struggled in different ways to adapt to American culture. Americans who view our country as the top of the heap will be very interested in the author’s take on supermarkets and other such American cultural icons, as when she first arrives in America, the Land Of Plenty seems entirely too, well, foreign to her.

Bremzen also discusses the end of the Cold War and her family’s ability to travel to and from Russia following the advent of glasnost and perestroÄ­ka. It’s very interesting to see how her views of Russia both alter and remain the same as she is further and further removed from her 1974 immigration to America.

And finally, the last chapter of the book includes one recipe for each decade covered in the book. Bremzen and her mother chose the recipe they believed was most representative of that decade, for inclusion in the book. I was pleased to find the recipes I was most interested in included, so I was definitely a happy camper.

Overall, this is a wonderful telling of life in and out of Russia over the last hundred-plus years. Fans of memoirs, American immigrants and Soviet history in the 20th century will all find this engaging.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Grimm & Grimmer Volume 1” And “Grimm & Grimmer, Volume 2”, Edited By Theresa Derwin

I’m going to combine both of these in one review since they are very similar and share the same editor and publisher.

I actually tracked these down because a friend of mine, Matthew Sylvester, wrote one of the stories in Volume Two. They both looked enticing, and the price was right, so I grabbed both volumes.

The premise for both books are the same: the original tales as told by the Brothers Grimm were a lot darker than the sterilized versions we see in Disney movies now. Prospective authors were tasked with writing stories which returned to the stories of old, telling stories that were either harsher, more stark or even, in a couple of cases, simply a little off-kilter.

I must say these stories deliver. Having a warped sense of humor myself and a having grown up watching Fractured Fairy Tales as a kid, most of these were right up my alley.

My favorites from Volume One were “Building The Dream” by Lynda Collins and “Pork, Hammy And Chop” by William Meikle.

Collins’ story is told from the perspective of the person responsible for the building of various structures in fairy tales, most notably, the tower in the story of Rapunzel. Fans of fairy tales of all sorts will love subtle references to other characters in her story. While more humorous than dark, it’s still quite entertaining.

The yarn Meikle spins for us is a retelling of the story of The Three Pigs. And, oh yeah, the Big Bad Wolf is actually a zombie. Twisted and hilarious, this one was absolutely one I wish I had thought of telling. Outstanding.

In Volume Two, my favorites were “One Hundred Lost Years” by Jennifer Loring and “Death’s Messengers” by Matthew Sylvester.

“One Hundred” is a mishmosh of a couple of stories, primarily that of Sleeping Beauty. Loring takes the tack of trying to find out why Sleeping Beauty was in such a slumber, the resulting direction definitely a dark path.

As I mentioned in the opening portion of this review, I was turned onto these books by my friendship with Matthew Sylvester, so I feel obligated to note that calling his story one of my favorites is not just glad-handing a fellow author to help promote his work.

I found “Death’s Messengers” quite original, being the story of the Grim Reaper told in a futuristic / sci-fi world. In this world, the Grim Reaper is actually one of many individuals, enhanced by combat suits which aid them in attack, defense and healing, who are contracted to eliminate people when their time is due. The story takes a twist when the Messenger’s primary hit unknowingly saves the Messenger’s life following an unplanned battle. Where the story goes from there is what gives it its depth.

Overall, the tales by Loring and Sylvester aside, I found Volume Two less original than Volume One. But both still contain quality writing.


5 stars (out of 5) for Volume One

4 stars (out of 5) for Volume Two