Trouble in the Heartland

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Schuster, $32.50, 528 pages)

“It’s a town full of losers/I’m pulling out of here to win…”  Thunder Road

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run (what else?) is not for the faint of heart.   But, then, neither is his music.

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Springsteen fans have heard many of these tales before, but not directly from The Boss, and not in this format.   The stories of his complex relationship with his father and his battle with depression are quite gripping.   The coming of age tales of his early days trying to break in to the music business are more engaging than his tales of the E Street Band, though many of those are interesting.   (Note for the current generation – there was a day before The Voice).

Springsteen essentially lived as a vagabond for a decade, including after he signed his recording contract with Columbia.   It is hard to believe that after Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town he was not in the clear financially until after The River tour.   This was due to many things – not making much money at first, signing a very one-sided contract, legal fees, and studio time.   It is still rather hard to imagine.

One can hear the song in his prose, and it compels the reader to go back and listen to his records.   Springsteen had a vision.   He put himself on the line until this vision was all he had left; he relentlessly pursued it until it became a reality.   This book reminds us that Springsteen and the E Street Band were singularly unique.   The concert I saw in April of 1984 was the greatest performance I have ever witnessed.

Springsteen impresses with his candor.   Although careful at times, he comes across as genuine and forthright.   Springsteen did not set out to write a fluff book of nostalgia; rather, in his words: “I fought my whole life, studied, played, worked, because I wanted to hear and know the whole story…  I wanted to understand in order to free myself of its most damaging influences, its malevolent forces… and its power.”   This is some undertaking.

Though his personal relationships were often tumultuous, he views the E Street Band as his family.   He professes his love for wife Patti Scialfa.   And he admits that he did not always treat everyone as he could or should have.

Springsteen speaks with reverence of those that have passed.   He writes of the death of organ player Danny Federici – who asked to play “Sandy” on the accordion at his final concert.   He also writes of Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, who had to sit on his last tour and be helped on and off the stage.   Springsteen may be driven, but one comes to like this book because of his honesty.   If he’s not honest here, he may be the biggest con man of all time.

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One thing that does not quite jibe with me is Springsteen’s commentary on drummer Max Weinberg, whom he categorizes as both a great timekeeper and soloist.   I’ve never viewed Weinberg as being in the class of innovative drummers like Keith Moon. But, then, who am I to question The Boss?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was delivered to the reviewer by Santa Claus.

Dave Moyer is an educator, the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, and a drummer who has yet to be asked to join The Who.

 

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Three for the Read

fallout

Fallout: A V.I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow, $27.99, 448 pages)

The latest V.I. Warshawski mystery (the 21st in the series) moves away from V.I.’s usual stomping grounds in and around Chicago to Lawrence, Kansas in the heart of the Midwest.   As the tale begins, V.I. has been hired to find two missing persons, a former movie star and a trainer at the local gym who also happens to be a videographer.   Emerald Ferring and August Veriden disappeared the week prior without leaving an itinerary or contact information.   August’s cousin, Angela Creedy, and V.I.’s young friend, Bernardine Fouchard, are adamant that something awful has happened.

Author Paretsky explores the racial and regional biases within the area surrounding Lawrence.   She takes a 360-degree view that includes the clergy, the military, university cell biologists, and private industry.   There are flashbacks to the mid 1980s when protest by local militants included encampments at a Minuteman missile silo.   Paretsky lets fly with her views on the cruel actions taken to cover up the serious harm inflicted on innocent civilians.   V.I. and Paretsky are on the case!

Well recommended.

Fallout will be released on April 18, 2017.

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No Place to Die: A Novel by Clare Donoghue (Minotaur Books, $27.99, 372 pages)

Clare Donoghue has developed a relatively new mystery series featuring London police officers Jane Bennett and Mike Lockyer.   No Place to Die is the second installment in this classic British police procedural set in present day London.   Bennett is the featured character in this tale.   The way she is portrayed brings to mind Maeve Kerrigan in Jane Casey’s crime novels.   The diabolical nature of the crimes to be solved by Bennett is reminiscent of Peter James’ Roy Grace series.   There are the typical British words and phrases liberally used throughout the text – bottom of the garden, fringe (hair bangs), etc.

No Place to Die includes victims buried alive that need rescuing in very short order.   Each chapter examines the action from various characters’ viewpoints.   Jane Bennett is dealing with her absentee boss, Mike Lockyer, who was traumatized by their prior case.   Jane’s son, Peter, is autistic.   Jane must rely on the assistance of her somewhat helpful mother who steps in to care for Peter when casework calls Jane away after school hours.   Life is not easy!

Well recommended.

poisonous

Poisonous: A Novel by Allison Brennan (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 354 pages)

Back in the USA on the west coast we meet Maxine Revere, an investigative reporter who is contacted by an 18-year-old developmentally disabled boy named Tommy.   His half-sister died as the result of a fall from a cliff in Corte Madera, California more than a year ago.   Ms. Revere, or Max as she is known, becomes entangled in the issues of a very dysfunctional family.   There are the usual matters of jealousy and bickering that happen among teens.   When you add divorce and remarriage by the dad to a woman who has her own teenager, there’s bound to be trouble.

Allison Brennan has had over 20 novels published since 2005.   Poisonous is her latest.   Clearly, Ms. Brennan is very good at character development as well as weaving plot threads.   The book is engaging if not a bit challenging.   Perhaps the array of relationships that sometimes confused this reviewer could have been simplified with a chart of the characters.   That aside, I’m unable to resist enumerating the parallels between Ms. Brennan and myself.   They are threefold: we both reside in the same community; each of us has worked in government; and we share an astrological sign.

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I look forward to reading more of her books.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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West Coast Showdown (Beer Review)

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Do you remember when India Pale Ales (IPAs) weren’t confused for juice?   Do you remember when they actually had at least an ounce of bitterness?   What about when they were not all hazy and distorted as to be confused with dirty dishwasher. Do you remember those days?   Well, as much as I enjoy a fruity New England haze bomb of an IPA every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded of the classic American IPA.   I was recently fortunate enough to try both Go West! IPA and Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco.   This took me down memory lane to what IPAs tasted like when I first got into the world of craft beer years ago.   So with two IPAs from Anchor at hand, I decided to do a beer battle and see which brew came out on top.

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We’ve all heard the cliche “never judge a book by its cover,” but in beer it is an acceptable category to judge.   Go West! poured a clear golden hue with respectable off-white head.   In contrast, Liberty was a bit darker, but only slightly.   Liberty poured somewhere between a deep gold and very light amber, but was still clear.   As with Go West!, Liberty also had a nice off-white, pillow-y head.   So far, the edge goes to Go West! with a score of 4/5 while Liberty receives a 3.5/5.

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As far as aroma is concerned, I was more impressed by Go West! due to its more complex character.   Go West! was dry hopped with 4 hops: Citra, Equinox, Caypso, and Eureka!   I am a sucker for Eureka!, with its huge herbaceous character, also imparting subtle notes of mint and tropical fruits.   Liberty, however, is a single hop beer brewed exclusively with Cascade hops, which are an excellent tool for bittering and can add some citrus and floral notes.   In the aroma category, again, I give the edge to Go West! with 4.25/5 while Liberty again takes a 3.5/5.

Even with distinct hop profiles, both screamed West Coast IPA to me.   Go West! had a citrus profile and packed a punch loaded with pine, resin, and herbal goodness.   Liberty was much more straightforward.   Liberty had that classic grapefruit rind character, was dank, and was nice and bitter.   Both had the classic 2-row pale malt to add a little sweetness and a little balance to these bitter brews.   Although I enjoyed it, I felt like Go West! didn’t live up to its nose and so it receives a 3.5/5, whereas I felt Liberty gave everything it promised and thus earns a 3.75/5.

As far as body/mouthfeel goes, it’s a wash for me.   It’s not the most important category for me so I don’t have much to say other than both had fair carbonation and were medium light.   I’d put both at a 3.5/5.

Although Go West! started to dominate the early categories, this edition of Battle Beers went right down to the wire with Go West! barely overcoming Liberty with a ranking of 3.63 compared to 3.56.

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Overall, it was a nice change of pace to try some classic West Coast IPAs oozing with hops, resin, and bitterness while the rest of the world is obsessing over and adding to the New England juice bomb trend.   Although Anchor Brewing out of San Francisco may not have any highly sought after whales, they are a brewery dedicated to history and tradition, which is evident in both Go West! IPA and Liberty Ale.   Cheers!

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer is a graduate of Indiana University.

Go West! contains 6.7% alcohol by volume (ABV).   Liberty Ale is 5.9% ABV.

 

 

 

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Fakin’ It

paul-simon-hb

Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon by Peter Ames Carlin (Henry Holt, $32.00, 415 pages)

An ambitious attempt that fails because in the end we don’t know who Paul Simon is.

Paul Simon singing at the Jacquard Club in Norwich in the 1960s. EDP staff photograph. Ref: M1298-33A

Paul Simon singing at the Jacquard Club in Norwich in the 1960s.
EDP staff photograph. Ref: M1298-33A

I apply a key test to biographies of public figures. Does the book help the reader to understand who the subject is… What he thinks, what he values, what he seeks to accomplish through his work or art? Does the bio make you feel as if you’ve spent time with the subject? In this sense, Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon fails. Writer Peter Ames Carlin presents two quite different – often contradictory, portraits of Simon.

One Paul Simon is brilliantly creative, generous (he pays studio musicians two or three times their usual fees), open to helping others, and quite proud of his craft. The other Paul Simon must borrow from the music of others – what some might term stealing, is spiteful and/or vindictive, is a loner know-it-all, and is the son who failed to meet the role assigned to him by his father. (Louis Simon wanted his son to be a teacher rather than a musician.)

Unfortunately, Carlin does not take the initiative to tell us which Simon is the most real to him. Instead, he relies on a “fair and balanced” approach that tells us almost everything about the musician in 415 pages while revealing virtually nothing. It’s akin to reading a murder-mystery in which the author concludes the work without solving the crime. Thus, this is a frustrating work.

Carlin was hampered by the fact that Simon would not cooperate with this book, which is an unauthorized biography. Near its conclusion, Carlin presents a scene in which Simon – on stage to give a lecture, glares at him. Yes, Simon knows who Carlin is and clearly dislikes what he’s attempting to do.

This being said, the biographer of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Brian Wilson offers some fine insights. We learn about the influence that Simon’s working musician father had on him, and there are parallels with the relationship between Paul McCartney and his father. It’s through Louis Simon that Paul was exposed to the Latin rhythms that he has often used in his music:

Paul could hear the echoes of the Latin dance bands he’d seen sharing the stage with (his father’s orchestra) at the Roseland Ballroom and the Latin rhythms and voices coming from the fringes of his radio dial, the sound of his youth, the essence of the New York that had created him and then, like his youth, slipped away.

As with his prior bios, Carlin examines in detail various recording sessions, songs and the inspiration for particular albums. But there are flaws. Carlin refers to Simon and Garfunkel’s performance in New York City’s Central Park as “a long day of rock ‘n roll communion.” Rock and roll? Paul Simon has produced a great amount of memorable music, but it’s a stretch to call it rock.

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There’s far too much included about the decades-long feuds and arguments between Art Garfunkel and Simon; so much so that it’s overblown and intensely boring. (Simon himself seems to wonder why on earth people care at this point.) And the case for Simon’s theft of music is pretty much non-existent. Let’s see, he borrowed a cassette tape with African music on it from a young woman who wanted Simon to assist her in recording similar music. She sought to borrow from – or embellish – the sounds of African musicians and was incensed when Simon did so himself. That’s not much of a scandal.

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A number of readers will undoubtedly find interesting the details that Carlin provides on Simon’s relationship with the late Carrie Fisher:

The divorce from Carrie hadn’t taken. They spent a few months apart, then started talking again, then seeing each other. Then they were back living together… There had always been something perfect about them when they were getting along: the way they huddled together, the way he grounded her, the way she could make him laugh so easily. And he loved her, with a desperation that sometimes frightened him… Carrie had taken herself to rehab to shed her drug habits, but drugs were only symptomatic of the manic-depression she’d suffered her entire adult life… Her depths were unimaginably deep, and Paul’s were nothing to sneeze at, either, so they clung to each other with a passion that could both soothe and abrade.

Beautiful words, but without Simon’s cooperation in telling his story, we have no way to judge their accuracy. One certainly has to wonder how this biography would have turned out if it had been authorized, and written with Simon’s assistance. Sadly, we will never know.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Homeward Bound was released on October 11, 2016.

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Lying in Wait

marriage-lie

The Marriage Lie: A Novel by Kimberly Belle (Mira, $15.99, 334 pages)

Synopsis:

Iris and Will have been married for seven years, and life is as close to perfect as it can be. But on the morning Will flies out for a business trip to Florida, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt: another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers.

Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding.

Review:

Iris Griffith always thought that her marriage to Will was secure. Together they are celebrating seven years of marriage and are trying to start a family. Will is a guest speaker in a business conference and leaves in the morning for Orlando. Later that afternoon, Iris is notified that her husband has been killed aboard a plane that crashed en route to Seattle. Iris refuses to believe that Will is dead and is adamant that he never boarded that flight.

As the days pass, Iris still cannot believe that Will would lie about his travel plans. She decides to investigate to find out the truth, Iris begins to uncover inconsistencies in Will’s past and feels betrayed. Along the way, she meets a friend of Will’s that he has never mentioned. As her journey continues, she learns much more about Will’s past.

This psychological thriller is an addictive read because of the gradual momentum that builds throughout the story. The characters introduced in this third novel by Belle are engaging. In fact, I was not sure who to trust. It was quite the page turner!

Well recommended.

Suzanne Leopold

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Marriage Lie was released on December 27, 2016. Kimberly Belle’s prior novels were The Last Breath and The Ones We Trust.

You can read more reviews by Suzanne Leopold at Suzy Approved!:

https://suzyapproved.wordpress.com

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Don’t You (Forget About Me)

searching-for-john-hughes

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned From Watching ’80s Movies by Jason Diamond (William Morrow, $15.99, 285 pages)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

“It was time to start paying attention, because I didn’t want to miss anything else. I didn’t find John Hughes, but instead I found the things I really needed.” – Jason Diamond

It’s rare to read a book about someone’s unsuccessful attempt to write a book. But that’s what this memoir is about. Jason Diamond spent years researching and writing a book about 80s film director and producer John Hughes. He eventually gave up his quest – which took most of his twenties – literally a couple of days before he believed he would meet Hughes in person. Then, to make things ever more tragic and dramatic, he learned that Hughes had died of a heart attack.

Hughes died not in Chicago, where Diamond was headed at the time, but in New York City. Diamond lived in Brooklyn. So the gods had clearly determined that Diamond’s hip biography of Hughes would never be published.

This would seem to mean that there’s not much of a story for Diamond to tell here. Oh, but there is. It’s the story of a person – all too common these days – overflowing with self-effacing feelings. All Diamond ever wanted to do was write, but his efforts never seemed to pan out. So he placed all his hopes and fears into producing “the book” that was to turn his life around. Of course, there were a few problems and obstacles along the way – chiefly that neither Hughes nor any of the actors in his films ever agreed to meet or be interviewed by Diamond. (As might occur in a bad film, Diamond did come into awkward contact with some of these actors in New York City.)

There was also the fact that the man who said he would be Diamond’s book agent never signed a contract to fulfill that commitment, never did any actual work on Diamond’s behalf, and left the business before Diamond’s bio draft was completed.

Diamond had to learn the hard way that one cannot spend one’s entire life waiting for something that may never arrive. It was only when he erased all of his work on the ever-unfinished Hughes bio that his life actually began. And, yes, this was a good thing.

While Searching for John Hughes does not in fact live up to its ambitious subtitle – it may have been more properly subtitled as My Search for the Ghost of John Hughes – kudos go to Diamond for summarizing the philosophy of Hughes’s work in brief fashion:

Life is full of constant sadness and the world can be a cruel place. Yet what Hughes offers in his films is the idea that one single day can be great, and that’s all you need if you live in the moment. That one day can turn into a second, and third, and many more consecutive great days. There will be pitfalls here and there, chemicals in your brain, tragedy that you can’t prepare yourself for, or tyrannical vice principals trying to hold you down, but the trick is to open yourself up to the idea that great things can just happen, that the good is just as much a part of life as the bad.

And Diamond summarized his own early adult life in this succinct way:

One day you think you have a great idea, then five minutes, hours, days – or in my case – years later you finally realize that it’s time to put it away. Sometimes you have to fail in order to succeed. If you don’t slow down, if you let your obsessions and anger and fear stop you from looking around, you could miss some really important things.

This is a quite enjoyable work by writer Jason Diamond. I very much look forward to reading his next release.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Searching for John Hughes was released on November 29, 2016.

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Home Field Advantage

home-field

Home Field: A Novel by Hannah Gersen (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 432 pages)

One of the joys of reviewing books is when one comes across a new book or writer that was not previously on the radar screen. That is what happened to me with Hannah Gersen’s novel Home Field. Plain and simple, Gersen delivers the goods.

Gersen tells a touching story of loss and redemption that engages and avoids sentimentality. Her ability to craft meaningful and natural dialogue among characters, which is difficult for many writers, is impressive.

In Home Field, Dean Renner is a revered small town football coach in rural Maryland. However, his personal life is not as orderly or successful as his disciplined routine as that of a head coach (amid the excitement of Friday night lights).

Dean’s wife Nicole, whose first husband died young, suffers from depression and ultimately commits suicide in the most unsettling of ways. His stepdaughter, Stephanie, wrestles with the loss of a father she never knew followed by her mother’s untimely death. Dean battles his own troubles as years of emotional isolation during his marriage took its toll. Was Nicole’s unhappiness due to Dean’s obsession with coaching, or did he absorb himself in coaching to fill the void that her mental illness created in his life? Or, is it just the way of things that the unscripted complexities of life do not lend themselves to executing a plan in the way that X’s and O’s on a chalkboard equal success on the field?

On top of it, Dean must play single father to his two boys, one of whom – Robbie, is a mystery to him. Robbie’s attraction to the theater and his extreme sensitivity are foreign to Dean’s practical, tactical approach to life. It is Robbie who holds the mirror up to the characters’ souls; it’s his actions that bring the events in the story to a head, and bring the hearts of the community together.

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Coach Renner appears to achieve some peace of mind as the story comes to a close. But, one question remains. He could not save his wife from herself. So while he works miracles with other people’s kids, can he save his own?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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