A preview-review of Mean Business on North Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler, which will be released on September 30, 2014.
All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship by Kathryn Miles (Simon & Schuster, $16.00, 256 pages)
All Standing, Kathryn Miles’ third book (Superstorm, Adventures with Air), tells the story of the Jeanie Johnston, an Irish famine ship that completed 11 passages across the Atlantic without a single passenger death. This is remarkable considering that 100,000 lives were lost on the voyages of five comparable “coffin ships.”
This factually-based account is brought to life as the story of Nicholas Reilly, a baby born on the ship’s maiden voyage. This may sound like a James Michener novel, but it is far from it; far from it in that the story concludes after 226 pages. A Michener novel would be at least three times that length. Also, Michener would have loaded up the telling with numerous characters, while Miles settles for comparative simplicity.
The writer’s brevity is something to be appreciated. Her Hemingway-style sentences highlight the harsh reality of these people – they faced brutal life and death choices. (That’s a matter that needs little embellishment.) People were dying, they were desperate to salvage some semblance of a life, and many elected to take their chances on a dangerous – often fatal, voyage across a vast expanse of ocean.
The writer is meticulous about citing sources to support the facts covered in the book. She writes about the famine itself, the political decision-makers of the day, the shipping industry, the crew of the ship, and what the ocean journey was like.
All Standing is enjoyable and well written, although I suspect that the book would have been stronger if Miles had given some additional attention to the people of the time; she has sacrificed some human emotion for factual accuracy. Still, All Standing rewards the reader with a fascinating true tale of human sacrifice, courage and survival.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Well researched and engagingly written, Kathryn Miles’ All Standing is full of compelling characters – including the Jeanie Johnston herself. The ship becomes a beacon of hope….” Ginger Strand, author of Killer on the Road and Inventing Niagra.
Dave Moyer is an educator based in the Mid-West, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.
Music Review: “Breathe Air” by the Plastic Yellow Band
The name Plastic Yellow Band (PYB) practically screams “Beatles.” By the time one has listened to the first third of the album, Breathe Air, any remaining doubt is resolved. PYB’s founder, Gerry Jennings, admits to modeling the band after John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Plastic Ono Band.
The first song, “Lonely Place,” sounds a bit like Paul McCartney on piano while also being reminiscent of a late ’70s/early ’80s arena rock band’s power ballad. The second cut “She’s My Woman,” resembles a Beatles song with a Southern Fried rock twist. “Nowhere” features a sitar and George Harrison sound. “Nervous Stuff,” the fourth track, possesses the spirit of the Beatles’s “Helter Skelter”; it just so happens that the repeated lyrics might sound a bit familiar: “All you need is love.”
The album shifts gears a bit on “I Want to Feel Your Love” with Dana Rideout on lead vocals. “Love” has the countrified flavor of an Emilylou Harris song from the early ’70s.
“She Let It Down” is simply filler, while “Oil Kings” initiates the political overtones that are found throughout the rest of the album. Interestingly, “Oil Kings” sounds similar to “Nervous Stuff.” “Alone (It’s Hard)” is a mid-’80s-style pop song that I didn’t care for much. It’s notable that the lead vocal mimics the Lennon/McCartney sound to an almost greater-than-acceptable (or necessary) level.
The ninth track, “Climate Change,” clocks in at 4:45 and seems to be the band’s attempt to fashion a traditional popular single. The song has some of the dreariness, harmonies and production found on early Pink Floyd albums. And the lyrics are interesting: “Thirty years from now I’ll be just a memory/And you’ll still be around, not sure what your temperature will be.”
The Pink Floyd theme continues and deepens as Breathe Air closes with a trilogy of instrumental tracks – “Sunlight I,” “Sunlight II,” and “Sunlight III.” “Sunlight II” includes the line, “Say hello to sunlight and breathe air.” I was reminded of both Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here while listening to these closing numbers. Unfortunately, the trilogy – while creative and perhaps a bit pretentious, if not bland – threatens to lose the listener’s interest.
All in all, Breathe Air is a decently strong first effort. It runs a full 57 minutes, which makes up for the weak closing tracks. I’m hopeful that on PYB’s next release, the music will display a bit more punch, with leader Gerry Jennings more up-front, and fewer references to Jennings’s musical influences. (Imitation is not always flattery or tribute. Sometimes it’s just imitation.)
A review copy was downloaded from the band’s website: http://plasticyellowband.com/
Dave Moyer is a public school administrator, a drummer, and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.
Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses: A Mystery by Catronia McPherson (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 304 pages)
‘Alec?’ I said, sitting down in the chair at the desk. It was an oak and leather affair, one leg and four little castored feet, and it was set very low to the floor for Miss Shank’s short stature. I twirled it around and around a few times to make myself comfortable and by the time I had undone the ensuing tangle with the telephone cord, Alec had roused himself and was talking.
The narrator is Dandy Gilver, a fortyish lady detective who lives on a “farm” in Scotland, is happily married and has two sons. Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne are hot on the trail of an English teacher at St. Columba’s School for Girls who has gone incommunicado. The instructor, Fleur Lipscott, happens to be a girlhood friend of Dandy’s. Fleur’s sisters are frantically looking for her, as they have not been in contact for too long a time. This disappearance is not a first. Some deep dark family secrets are being withheld from the detectives making their job difficult.
The era is post-World War I and the school is located in Portpatrick, Scotland. The author, Catronia McPherson, assures her reader that Portpatrick is indeed a real place as are the other cities and towns in this charming and well-paced mystery. The school is fictional; as well it should be given the remarkable activities and events that take place there.
While seeking assurances that Fleur is well, Dandy and Alec are drawn into the workings of St. Columba’s. Their first bothersome corpse has washed up on shore and the local police aren’t able to identify her. The fishes have made quick work of her face and fingers.
What begins as a picturesque period piece, morphs into a murder mystery that might well take place today. The language, clothing, prejudices and references to the great war keep it grounded in the past but the use of telephones makes it modern.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie lives!” John Lescroart
You can read a review of Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder: A Mystery here: