Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Light That Never Goes Out by Tony Fletcher

I was initially reluctant to read Tony Fletcher’s A Light that Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths. This reluctance mainly stemmed from the fact that The Smiths were together for about six years and Fletcher’s biography of them is over six-hundred pages. That’s roughly one-hundred pages per year. But like most good biographers, Fletcher starts long before the four members of The Smiths ever played together. He even gives a brief history of Manchester, the city The Smiths and other bands such as New Order and Oasis hailed from.

Fletcher gives the backgrounds of all four members of The Smiths but focuses mainly on lead singer and lyricist Morrissey and guitarist and music composer Johnny Marr. It’s in fleshing out stories like the fabled meeting of the singer and the guitarist that really makes A Light That Never Goes Out a success. Fletcher examines every step leading up to and during the time The Smiths were together in a way that keeps the book from becoming just a detailed timeline.

The book does end rather abruptly after Fletcher tries to sort out why The Smiths broke up in 1987. Since then, Morrissey has released plenty of solo material and continues to tour, and Marr has been involved with a number of different bands. Including their careers after The Smiths would likely have put A Light that Never Goes Out over the one-thousand page mark. As far as whether or not this book might appeal to people who aren’t familiar with or big fans of The Smiths, it probably won’t. Unlike a lot of the biographies that have come out on classic rock era musicians recently, most of the other bands and solo acts mentioned in the book are even more obscure than The Smiths. Fletcher is clearly writing for fans who want a better understanding of the band’s history and music.


Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark by Bill Dedman

Empty Mansions is the biography of Huguette Clark, an heiress that really no one has heard about! She was the daughter of W. A. Clark, a multi-millionaire that earned his fortune in the copper mines in Montana.
W. A. Clark was also a state senator, but again, no one really knows much about him.

When Huguette Clark died at the age of 104 in a Manhattan hospital in 2011, she was worth millions. She was virtually a recluse, living in her hospital room for over 20 years. She would only agree to see a small number of people; a friend or two and her nurse. Attorneys and accountants that worked for her for years never once laid eyes on her. They did not even have her telephone number, as she always contacted them. Same thing with friends and relatives. When she died, most people did not even know where she was. She had kept and maintained several million-dollar estates all over the country, but had not been inside any of them for decades.

And she gave away millions and millions of dollars. And in her will, wanted to give away even more.

Was she crazy, or just a nice woman that became a prisoner of her own wealth? Find out in this fascinating story that reads more like a novel.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Shakespeare's Restless World : a Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor

I've been hesitant to pick up one of these "history in objects" books because of my concern that it would be too disjointed, but since we are celebrating Shakespeare's 450th birthday this month, I figured I would give it a go.  Shakespeare's Restless World is not, in fact, a linear history.  However, it is so fascinating that I really didn't care.  It's like wandering through the Tudor/Jacobean wing of the British Museum and marveling at all the memorabilia on display.  That memorabilia includes a Rapier and Dagger from the Foreshore of the Thames, the Funeral Achievements of Henry V, and a Model of a Bewitched Ship.  MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, puts each object into its historical context and explores its connection to one or more of Shakespeare's plays.  As a reader with a fair knowledge of the plays and the period, I was able to contexualize the information. However, readers without that background might have some difficulty with the text.  All in all this is a great tribute to Shakespeare and a study of how British history and contemporary Elizabethan life impacted his plays.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Missing You by Harlan Coben

Missing You is Coben’s 25th novel for adults, and it kills me to say that I didn’t like it. Kat Donovan is an NYPD detective whose father was killed 18 years ago. Right after that, Kat’s fiancé leaves her. In the present day, Kat finds him on an online dating site. Meanwhile, Kat is approached by a college student whose mother has disappeared. Is Kat’s fiancé involved? Keep reading to find out.

Part of the appeal of Harlan Coben is that separate story lines weave together in such good detail. The story lines in Missing You did weave together, but didn’t have the appeal as his previous books. 

Coben is still one of my favorite authors. Try some of his earlier novels.


Friday, March 28, 2014

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

Hmmm...talk about a quirky, unusual novel.

Bartholomew Neil's mother has just died of brain cancer. In his thirty-eight years, Bartholomew has never lived alone, never held a job, never had a date with a woman or a beer with a buddy. He doesn't know how to pay a bill, drive, or anything else that most of us learn how to do by that time. In other words, Bartholomew does not know how to live on his own. When he discovers a form letter from Richard Gere (his mother's favorite actor) in her underwear drawer, he starts writing to the actor as a way of dealing with his grief. Sounds strange, right? Well, that is just the beginning.

Let's begin with the people that are currently in Bartholomew's life. There is Father McNamee, a defrocked, bipolar, alcoholic Catholic priest; Wendy, a grief counselor with her own problems; Max, an F-bomb dropping cat lover, and Max's sister, a damaged "Girlbrarian," who claims to have been abducted by aliens.

Next, there is how they all end up together. Let's just say - fate.

Finally, there is an ill-fated trip to Canada in a rented Ford Taurus. To visit the Cat Parliament. Yes, Cat Parliament. And from there, the story soon ends.

Matthew Quick manages in The Good Luck of Right Now to have his readers not only understand this  very different story, but end up liking these characters so much that you root for them all the way. There is a  lot of grief and pain, but even more friendship and hope.

If you are in the mood to read something totally "out of the box", then this is highly recommended.


Read-alike: The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Revenge by Sharon Osbourne

Cover imageYes, that Sharon Osbourne. I was a little skeptical about reading this, thinking what does she know about writing. As it turns out, I liked it very much! This is a cross between Jackie Collins and Tara Hyland, two authors whose books I really enjoy. Revenge is the story of two sisters and their rise (and fall) to fame. Full of backstabbing, lies, and secrets, this is an easy read with just enough spice to keep you interested.


The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Japanese author Higashino won Japan’s Naoki Prize for Best Novel with this gripping and unpredictable mystery. After Yasuko and her daughter end up unexpectedly killing her violent and manipulative ex-husband, they find out that Ishigami, their neighbor, is eager to help them cover up the murder. Yasuko previously thought of Ishigami as a shy neighbor who taught high school math and kept to himself. When it comes to covering up the murder, Ishigami assures Yasuko that he has everything under control. Initially this seems to be the case. Even the two detectives assigned to the case come close to dismissing Yasuko and her daughter as suspects. But Kusanagi, the senior detective on the case, still suspects something is not right and seeks help from his friend Yukawa, a physics professor who has offered Kusanagi advice on past cases.
Don’t be intimidated if you were never good at math and science.  The constant twists and turns as well as the unexpected loyalties and connections between the main characters make The Devotion of Suspect X a mystery you are likely to read quickly and then ponder for some time after the last page.