Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music by Judy Collins

My interest in Judy Collins’ autobiography Sweet Judy Blue Eyes came more from wanting to hear her stories of crossing paths with various folk and rock musicians during the sixties than an interest in her own life. (I don’t have anything against Judy Collins. I’m just not very familiar with her music.) The book is certainly full of Collins’ recollections about musicians ranging from immortals such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin to lesser known artists such as Phil Ochs and Dave Van Ronk. Collins even toured with bassist Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father, for a time. She has great anecdotes about all of these people.

I ended up finding Collins’ own story quite engaging as well. She suffered from alcoholism for over two decades and also had problems with developing long term relationships. Ironically, she went to a therapy group, the Sullivanians, who believed alcohol was good for relieving stress and monogamy was unhealthy. I guess that sums up the sixties. Collins eventually realizes many years later from a different therapist that she is an alcoholic and that it runs in her family. Her father drank for years and Collins’ son Clark struggled with and never fully overcame his substance abuse problems.

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is a consistently interesting memoir that will entertain both her fans and those not as familiar with her career.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Pinkerton's War by Jay Bonansinga

Cover imageLocal writer and filmmaker Bonansinga follows up his non-fiction debut on the sinking of the Eastland with another study of local history.  Pinkerton's War details the Chicago connection with the Civil War.  It tells the riveting spy story of Allan Pinkerton, a Scotsman who settled in Dundee and opened the state's first private detective agency in Chicago in 1852.  Through his work with Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan for the Illinois Central Railroad, McClellan developed political connections that would draw him to Washington.  Charged with foiling a plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way to Washington, Pinkerton earns the respect of the capitor's authorities and soon proposes the establishment of a secret intelligence service (the forerunner of our modern Secret Service.)  By managing military intelligence, Pinkerton becomes a key player in the war effort.  The book relies heavily on Pinkerton's own prolific writings to tell the story and quotes extensively from other historians.  Despite these interruptions in the narrative, the book draws the reader into its web of espionage and makes the reader marvel at Pinkerton's devotion to the Union Cause.


To check out Bonansinga's book on the Eastland, click here.

Yankee Doodle Dixie by Lisa Patton

Cover imageSpoiler alert***This is a sequel! LeeLee is back from Vermont and trying to get her life back together in Lisa Patton's newest, Yankee Doodle Dixie. While being a southern belle is all well and good, LeeLee must now find a new place to live and even more frightening - a job! Luckily she still has some friends in Memphis, and is able to land a position with a radio station doing, well, just about everything. LeeLee is then able to find a house to rent in a decent area, even though her next door neighbor is interesting to say the least. With her beloved Kissie and friends around, is it enough for LeeLee?


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore

Cover imageMichael Moore’s Here Comes Trouble is made up of twenty-four autobiographical vignettes, most of which focus on the author’s life from his childhood to the premiere of his award-winning documentary Roger & Me. There are many amusing and sad stories in the collection, and Moore is often able to find humor in rather bleak places. He spends a lot of the book on his youth in the 1950s and 1960s. While in some ways Moore seems to long for those days, particularly when it comes to the much better job prospects for the working class, he also shares less than ideal memories like the harassment of a gay kid in his neighborhood or discrimination at the local golf course.
It was also interesting to find out that Moore had once hoped to join the priesthood. He was eventually asked to leave the seminary, not because he misbehaved but because, as one priest tells him, “you upset the other boys by asking too many questions.” Before he leaves, Moore is at least able to get back at Dickie O’Malley, a bullying and not-too-bright fellow seminarian, by suggesting to one of the priests that he perform an exorcism on Dickie.  I found what followed to be the funniest scene in the book.
If you’ve never like Michael Moore or his movies, you probably won’t enjoy Here Comes Trouble. However, if you are even the most casual fan you will be entertained by these pieces.

Read-alike: Lonelyhearts: the Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney by Marion Meade


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter by Lisa Patton

Cover imageWhat a southern delight this novel was! Whistlin' Dixie in a Nor'easter tells the story of LeeLee (what else?) Satterfield, the epitomy of the Memphis Belle. Graduate of Ole Miss, daddy a cotton man, lunch at the members-only country club, etc. Imagine her surprise (and horror!) when her perfect husband Baker (what else?) decides that he wants to move the family to Vermont and buy a bed and breakfast. Oh my stars - Vermont! The north, where the Yankees are. But being a dutiful wife (as her mother insisted she should always be) she packs up their two little girls and their dog (Princess Grace Kelly, what else?) and leaves behind her beautiful home and her three best friends (Virginia, Alice,and Mary Jule, what else?), as well as her nanny Kissie (again, what else?) and makes the 1,437 mile trip to the backwoods. Talk about a fish out of water! And then the fun begins...

There is a sequel that I cannot wait to read! I will let y'all know if it is as good as this one!


Good read-alike author: Linda Francis Lee

Defending Jacob by William Landay

District Attorney Andy Barber is called to the scene of a murder. The victim is a classmate of Andy’s son, Jacob, and the investigation leads to Jacob Barber’s arrest. This shocks both of Jacob’s parents, and Andy is convinced throughout the book that his son is innocent. Jacob’s mother, Laurie, however, isn’t so sure. The charges against Jacob are eventually dropped, but that doesn’t end anyone’s suspicions, including mine. Did Jacob kill his classmate? Is he truly innocent?

At first, I thought the book was predictable. I did keep reading, because I had to know how it ended. I thought I knew how the book was going to end, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  If you like suspense, and twists and turns, try Defending Jacob by William Landay.

If you like legal mysteries, try books by John Grisham


Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Cover imageThere’s nothing like a killer with ethics! Dr. Peter Brown, formerly mafia hitman, Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwa, is in the witness protection program and interning at a Manhattan Hospital when he is recognized by a former acquaintance from the mob. The day hasn’t started well and it spirals downward from there. His evolution from normal human being into hitman is revealed in alternating passages with his present day chaotic actions as a doctor and a man trying desperately to stay alive.

Beat the Reaper is equal parts TV's "House" and "The Sopranos," with a bit of "Jaws" thrown in for good measure.  

The action is over-the-top, the humor is dark, and has a habit of catching you unaware, and the language is pretty rough. But, if you're sick of the same old thriller plots and devices, I prescribe that you get some rest, drink plenty of fluids and read a couple "hyperactive" chapters of "Beat the Reaper."
If that doesn't get your epinephrine and acetylcholine racing, you'd better call your doctor in the morning to make sure you have a heartbeat.

I listened to the audio and the narrator, Robert Petkoff, was excellent.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow

OK, this review of "Through My Eyes" would be more timely if it had been written in January when the Broncos were in the postseason, but since the book is still on on the best-seller list, here it goes.  Mary Americans (myself included) first heard of Tim Tebow two years ago when his commercial aired during the Superbowl.  At that time he had just finished a standout career at the University of Florida and had been drafted by the Denver Broncos.  This book fills in all the details that those of us who don't follow the NFL too closely may have missed.  The book is a spiritual memoir in the style of "Quiet Strength" by Tony Dungy (and writer Nathan Whitaker co-wrote both of them).  It introduces us to the Tebow family and recounts the dramatic story of Tim's birth in the Philippines while his parrents were missionaries.  It recounts Tim's childhood on a farm near Jacksonville, FL, his years of playing high school football while being homeschooled, and his decision to play college football at the Swamp in Florida.  There are plenty of play-by-play recounts of the college football games (as the Gators won two confernence championships), but it also gives Tim a chance to share his faith.  Those who admire Christian athletes will certainly want to read this book, as it provides an intimate look at the life of an up-and-coming player (and preacher).

Those who would like to read Tony Dungy's books may click here.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McComas

Cover imageWhat Happened to Hannah is one of those novels that you pretty much know from the start what is going to happen, but it is so well written that you don't mind. Hannah Benson has returned to her hometown after 20 years to settle her mother's estate as well as take custody of her niece. Now, Clearfield Virginia is the last place that Hannah wants to be, as it brings back nothing but very dark and disturbing memories. Not only that, but some very dark and disturbing secrets may be uncovered. Throw in the fact that Hannah's high school sweetheart is now the town sheriff, and well, you can just imagine...


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox

Cover image
In the deserts of eastern Turkey, archaeologists are unearthing a stone temple, the world's most ancient building. When Journalist Rob Luttrell is sent to report on the dig, he is intrigued to learn that someone deliberately buried the site 10,000 years ago. Why? Meanwhile, in London, a bizarre attack is baffling the police. When a weird killing takes place on the Isle of Man, followed by another in rural Dorset, DC Mark Forrester begins to discern a curious pattern in these apparently random murders. What weaves together these two stories is the Genesis Secret: a revelation so shocking it may threaten the social structure of the world.

The story is compelling and the characters well-drawn, but I almost couldn’t finish this book. The killings are gruesome, described in great detail, and escalate in both areas as the story unfolds. The killer’s personality, when revealed, makes it all plausible, but that doesn’t change the fact that I found the amplified depictions gratuitous.

This is obviously a mixed review, but I wanted to share both sides. The Genesis Secret is a good read for those with strong stomachs or the ability to skim.


Paganini's Ghost by Paul Adam

Cover imageA priceless violin once owned by composer-violinist Paganini, a young Russian prodigy who plays it at a special concert, and a dead Parisian art dealer found with an antique gold box and a torn scrap of the piece played the night before at the concert: what better setting could there be?

In Paganini's Ghost, Paul Adam’s second novel (after The Rainaldi Quartet), we are once again transported to Cremona, Italy to the home of luthier (violin-maker) Gianni Castiglione. Gianni is pulled into the mystery by his friend, Detective Guastafeste, because of his expertise in musical history and violins. The two travel across Europe tracking clues to both the current murder and also a century old mystery tied to Paganini, the Bonapartes, and Russian Empress Catherine the Great.

History, mystery, music, and likeable characters – download some of Paganini’s works to play in the background and settle in with this great read!