Tag Archives: Neil Sedaka

Stairway to Heaven (Sedaka)

No Rest for the Dead: A Novel by Sandra Brown, R. L. Stine, Alexander McCall Smith, J.A. Jance, Diana Gabeldon, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, John Lescoart, Kathy Reichs, et al.   (Touchstone, $24.99, 256 pages)

Twenty-Six Writers.   One Mystery.

“The lineup of writers who have contributed to this mystery is akin to the Murderer’s Row of the 1927 New York Yankees.   There is not a weak spot in the bunch.”   David Baldacci

Can there be synergy when it comes to writing?   If 26 well-known and admired mystery writers collaborate on one story, can it be as good as, or better than, the work  of just one of them?   That’s the question behind the creation of No Rest for the Dead.   Each chapter or segment was written by one of the twenty-six writers or a combination of them.  

The book includes police reports of the crime in question (by Kathy Reichs) and journal entries by the cop who would not go of an old death penalty case (by Andrew F. Gulli).   The tragedy was that a wife who was the mother of two young children was executed for the murder of her husband, and the cop had serious doubts he ignored at the time of the investigation.

While there are no obvious disconnects among the chapters, there are perspective shifts and slight changes in attitude as each writer adds his or her voice to the mix.   The tone may go from cunning to bullying or from scene description to dialogue.   For example, Faye Kellerman’s penchant for details marks her contribution and Lisa Scottoline’s snappy, terse dialogue is present in hers.

The typical plot elements include super locations in San Francisco that are accurately described and a sinister observer who is designated by an alternate font/typeface.   He/she is puzzling but  not quite menacing.   Moreover, there are shifts from characters that are clearly cerebral to ones who are driven by emotions and actions.

Readers of Joseph’s Reviews may have noted that this reviewer is quite fond of the mystery genre.   Several of the authors who contributed to this book have provided a bedtime lights out that stretched into the early hours of the morning because their stories truly kept this reviewer engaged up to the final page.   Now, together, they provide a bit of magic!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…except for funds allocated to author payments, all of our profits from No Rest for the Dead are going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”   Lamia J. Gulli   

 

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Women of Heart and Mind

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller (Washington Square Press; $17.00; 608 pages)

This is, quite simply, a fabulous book about the careers of three key singer-songwriter-musicians of the ’60s and ’70s and beyond; the three just happened to be women.   There was a big surprise for me in the reading, as I had earlier read that author Weller interviewed both Carly Simon and Carole King.   She did not have the opportunity to directly interact with Joni Mitchell.

Based on this, I fully expected this to be a book strong in details about Carly and Carole, and weak on information about Joni.   This was not the case…  As someone else said, Weller spoke to virtually every musician, friend and intimate in Joni’s life and it shows!

The next surprise is that I was sure the tales of Carly and Joni would sizzle like steak fajitas, while Carole’s life story would sit to the side like a bland order of re-fried beans.   Instead, both Joni and Carole come off as fascinating early hippie-earth mothers, who were blessed with both tremendous intelligence and natural musical skills.   (Despite my initial doubts, Weller fully and effectively makes the case for Carole’s stature in modern rock and music history.)

Carly, sadly, comes off as a patrician – daughter of the extremely wealthy founder of Simon and Schuster – who married a fellow patrician.   This, of course, was James Taylor, whose father ran the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.   “James was a…  lifelong-privilege man.”

Here, Carly’s career appears to be a product of social connections, luck (she was often said to be the least talented of the singing Simon Sisters trio) and blatant use of her long-legged sex appeal.   “(There was) a sex-teasing leitmotif in every one of Carly’s early albums.”

Also, a lot of Carly’s story is devoted to James’ drug use and abuse; a topic that simply does not make for interesting reading.   The days of wine and roses, this is not.   Concerning Carly’s patrician status, Jac Holzman, founder and president of Electra Records said that he and the singer “were from similar backgrounds – haute Jewish New York, although she was certainly more Brahmin.”

Further, Weller notes that Stephen Holden of Rolling Stone wrote of Carly with faint-praise-turned-full:  “She has the whitest of white voices and uses it well, singing…  with her fearless enunciation.   Her almost literal note-for-note phrasing of songs is…  ingenuous.”

Weller has to be given props for finding the fascinating details you won’t find in other musician/band bios.   I’ll provide just one example here…

Weller writes of a young man who cleaned apartments in the Bronx in return for using the occupants’ pianos.   While most immigrant families managed to scrimp and save enough to purchase a piano, this young Italian immigrant’s family was just too poor to do so.   We came to know him as Bobby Darin, and one of the tenement flats he regularly cleaned belonged to the parents of a young woman who came to be called Connie Francis!

Weller may not be quite as talented when it comes to describing the turbulent culture and times of the ’60s and ’70s, but then this is still a rock and folk-music tale after all and not a pure historical overview.   All in all, this is a fabulous read that adds heft to the musical reputations of Joni Mitchell and Carole King, as it somewhat diminishes the career of one Carly Simon.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer at Orinda Books.   Girls Like Us will be adapted by writer John Sayles into a screenplay for a Sony Pictures film.

 

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