book review: The Big Rewind

big rewind

The Big Rewind by Libby Cudmore. William Morrow| February 2016| 241 pages | $14.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-240353-7

RATING: ***/5*

“We never had to lose touch with anybody; our Facebooks were filled with people we hadn’t spoken to in years, just in case we ever needed to find out how many kids our best friend from nursery school had or whether the guy who sat in front of us in Earth Science had ever come out as gay.”

Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young—one of my favorite 2015 films– features two GenXers who meet two hipster millennials obsessed with anything retro i.e. skateboards, vinyl, Atari. Things from the GenXers 20s and teens. No tapes or even Laser Disc players. Remember those? Wave of the future. This novel reminded me of that. The married couple spends time with the younger couple and becomes detached from their current lives. Turns out regression doesn’t solve anything. Appreciating one’s age and the past remains vital to being in the moment. That’s what I’ve learned from therapy and social media.

Jett moved to Brooklyn with plans to pursue a career in music journalism [tough field to be in, I should know]. She’s temping and living in her grandmother’s apartment. Jett finds her neighbor KitKat dead when she brings a mis-delivered mix tape to her apartment “I had the honor and the horror of finding her body. Not the cleaning lady or the cops, just a neighbor with a mistaken piece of mail.” Jett and her best friend Sid[obvious 80s reference] play records and watch old television programs while lamenting their dating lives. We get it Libby Cudmore, you like the 80s and this mystery/romance follows a standard rom-com blueprint [think When Harry Met Sally meets any Nicholas Sparks novel].

Chapter titles are song titles: Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now; Watching the Detectives; Everyday is Like Sunday; This Charming Man [lots of Morrissey and The Smiths]; The Impression That I Get; A Girl in Trouble [Is a Temporary Thing]; Smile Like You Mean It; Only the Good Die Young. You get it.

Determined to find out who killed KitKat, Jett embarks on an investigation that begins by analyzing KitKat’s collection of mix tapes. Why tapes? The sound isn’t great. Difficult to grasp that anyone would make actual tapes these days. I spent many a Saturday afternoon making mix tapes in the 80s. It’s time consuming. There’s a college professor that may be KitKat’s romantic interest instead of her under-suspicion current boyfriend Bronco, who is gay and doesn’t want anyone to know despite living in New York where things generally go over well. On KitKat: “She was a party on a purple ten-speed, a neat-banged brunette who baked red velvet cupcakes and pot brownies, read tarot, and had both an NES and a Sega Genesis.”

By digging into her neighbor’s relationships, not surprisingly Jett examines her past relationships and in the process makes a realization about her present. At first I couldn’t figure out the age of main character Jett and that bothered me. Finally there’s a mention that made me pinpoint her age at 28. Not many want to read about struggling 40somethings. This strong concept falls flat and becomes formulaic and cliché at times. If you’re looking for a sentimental light read, this should fit.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from William Morrow.

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purchase at Amazon: The Big Rewind: A Novel

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book review: Willful Disregard

willful disregard

Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson. Other Press| February 2016| 196 pages | $15.95| ISBN: 978-1-59051-761-1

RATING: ****/5*

“Since realizing at the age of eighteen that life ultimately consisted of dispelling melancholy, and discovering language and ideas all by herself, Ester Nilsson had not felt any sense of unhappiness with life, nor even any normal, everyday depression.”

Another wonderful, challenging novel that’s difficult to adequately describe. This witty, novel delves into a careful examination of Esther Nilsson after she meets artist Hugo Rask. Quite the intellectual, existential read about unrequited love. It should be quite relatable to many readers. We envision certain situations in our minds. We misinterpret signals. In this modern age everything and anything remains open to interpretation. The course of love doesn’t travel a straight path. Swedish Author and journalist Lena Andersson won the 2014 August Prize for Willful Disregard, her ninth novel.

Ester is quite a meticulous academic while Hugo Rask is a laid-back artist and long-standing bachelor who surrounds himself with young admirers. Of Ester, Andersson writes: “She would rather endure torment than tedium, would rather be alone than in a group of people making small talk. Not because she disliked the small-talkers, but because they absorbed too much energy. Small talk drained her.” When Ester lectures on Hugo, they get together a few times to talk and that progresses into a physical relationship. Ester latches on to this more than Hugo. She doesn’t embark on sexual dalliances lightly. Now she’s questioning the minutiae of their connection. Are they dating? Does he care for her? Should she make any assumptions about anything?

An early indication that it was purely a sexual tryst: “Hugo never followed up anything Ester said. Ester always followed up what Hugo said. Neither of them was really interested in her but they were both interested in him.” At another times there’s this: “They asked each other what they had planned for the day, in the way you do when you don’t belong together even though you are sleeping with each other, that is, when one party has decided how things are to be on that score but not said so openly, believing it is meant to be inferred.” Also this: “But why did he want to be physically intimate with her if he did not want to be close? And why those long, intense conversations over the proceeding months?”

I found myself marking many sections due to the sparse impressive phrasing and strong meditative nature. It’s fascinating to follow how Ester navigates her relationship with Hugo as well with her disposition and desires. A thoughtful novel about love’s consequences and perceptions.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Other Press.

purchase at Amazon: Willful Disregard: A Novel About Love

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book review: On Love

bukowski_on love

On Love by Charles Bukowski. Ecco| February 2, 2016| 224 pages | $24.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-239603-7

RATING: ****/5*

 “I’ve done the town, I’ve drunk the city. I’ve fucked the country, I’ve pissed on the universe. there’s little left to do but consolidate and ease out.”

–from “the trashing of the dildo”

I’ve come to appreciate poet Charles Bukowski recently. I read mostly Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver. On Love is the third Charles Bukowski anthology from Ecco—the first two are On Writing and On Cats. I’m missing On Writing so hoping someone will gift it to me.

This poetry collection is perfect for both the Bukowski fan and the neophyte. Love becomes broadly defined to include: writing [in the poem “Carson McCullers,” Bukowski writes: “all her books of terrified loneliness/ all her books about cruelty/ of the loveless lover/ were all that were left of her.”; a typewriter [“we get along”]; books [“the first love:” “they brought me chance and hope and feeling in a place of no chance, no hope, no feeling.”]; his daughter [“poem for my daughter”]; sex [“the shower”]; lust; and commitment. In “I can hear the sound of human lives being ripped to pieces,” Bukowski says of creativity: “I don’t know why people think effort and energy have anything to do with creation.”

Writing for Bukowski means slitting his veins. He’s realistic and open. He relishes his experiences. He carefully contemplates then shares with his readers. He writes candidly and with full emotion always. He doesn’t censor or make anything especially pretty but he makes everything brim with feelings.

In “raw with love [for N.W.]:” “I will remember the hours of kisses our lips raw with love and how you offered me your cunt your soul your insides and how I answered offering you whatever was left of me.” It’s dirty and visceral and brash and honest. Bukowski writes: “I care for you, darling, I love you, the only reason I fucked L. is because you fucked Z. and then you fucked R. and you fucked N. and because you fucked N, I had to fuck Y.” Yes this from “blue moon, oh bleweeww mooooon how I adore you!” One of my favorite poems in this compilation is “a definition” in which he broadly, specifically and uniquely defines love—“love is what happens one day a year one year in ten” and “love is betrayal” and “love is what you think the other person has destroyed” and “love is everything we said it wasn’t” and “love is an old woman pinching a loaf of bread.”

The un-Valentine’s Day gift to give to that special someone. Or read it aloud to a friend or a lover. Read it by yourself in bed, in the tub, in the sun, in a snow storm. Soak it in.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Collins.

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new music: Sophie and the Bom Boms; Childbirth

nothing better than women singing empowering, thoughtful and cool songs. Grrl power every day!

Sophie and the Bom Boms, “Big Girls”

–catchy, cool and strong. Los Angeles synthpop duo with 80s influences plans to release a new track each month for the next 12 months.


Childbirth, “Breast Coast”

–power punk with amusing lyrics. The Seattle punk trio tackles feminist issues with humor. sophomore album Women’s Rights is out now–subject matter includes a trashy friend bringing coke to a baby shower (“Baby Bump”) characteristics that warrant an instant “swipe left” on Tinder (“Siri, Open Tinder”) and dating vapid IT douches (“Tech Bro.”) Lyrics on Women’s Rights are highly quotable—from “Tech Bro:” “I’ll let you explain feminism to me/If I can use your HD TV.” The band is inspired by Riot Grrl and 90s alternative.  Childbirth is Julia Shapiro of Chastity Belt, Bree McKenna of Tacocat, Stacy Peck of Pony Time.

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on tour: Tortoise


creating impressive eclectic arrangements for 25 years, the instrumenatl band Tortoise released a new album–its first since 2009– The Catastrophist [THRILL JOCKEY RECORDS] on January 22, 2016 and will begin a North American tour in Minneapolis in March.


Wed. March 9 – Minneapolis, MN @ The Cedar Cultural Center
Fri. March 11 – Ann Arbor, MI @ The Blind Pig
Sat. March 12 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
Sun. March 13 – Montreal, QC @ Fairmount
Mon. March 14 – Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse
Tue. March 15 – Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
Wed. March 16 – New York, NY @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
Thu. March 17 – Brooklyn, NY @ Littlefield
Fri. March 18 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
Sat. March 19 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
Sun. March 20 – Charlottesville, VA @ The Southern
Mon. March 21 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
Tue. March 22 – Louisville, KY @ Headliners Music Hall

Wed. March 23 – Newport, KY @ Southgate House Revival

Thu. March 24 – Indianapolis, IN @ Radio Radio

Tue. April 26 – Boise, ID @ Radio Boise Tuesday

Wed. April 27 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile

Thu. April 28 – Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
Fri. April 29 – Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall

Sat. April 30 – Sonoma, CA @ Sonoma Winery / Redwood Barn

Sun. May 1 – San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall

Mon. May 2 – Los Angeles, CA @ Teragram Ballroom

Tue. May 3 – Solana Beach @ Belly Up

Wed. May 4 – Phoenix AZ @ Desert Daze Phoenix at Crescent Ballroom
Fri. May 6 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk

Sun. May 8 – Dallas, TX @ Dada

Mon. May 9 – St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room

Tue. May 10 – Chicago, IL @ Metro

Wed. May 11 – Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theater

Thu. May 12 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird

Fri. May 13 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge

Sat. May 14 – Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad

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music review: Lauren Marsh

lauren marsh

Opening track “Promise” features evocative, potent vocals, an upbeat melody and a catchy chorus–“and we’ll be rocking like a rolling stone/ cruising through time zones/ I promise I, I promise I won’t let you stand alone”– that stays in your head in a positive way. Singer/songwriter Lauren Marsh’s impressive and distinctive vocals make this EP a stand-out. She reminds me of Rachel Platten with the combination of powerful vocals and memorable arrangements. Marsh utilizes major vocal range in a pretty, confident, emotional manner.

Veracity means a devotion to the truth and Marsh absolutely remains true to herself and her talents. Many of us have overcome tragedy and faced challenges but can we all write gorgeous, meaningful songs that stem from these experiences? 24-year-old Marsh faced a hostile stalker, recovered from a severe car accident in 2013 as well as a night in NYC, which ended in the hospital ER when someone deliberately drugged her drink. She started writing songs at age 14 using her poetry. It’s natural that she’d continue to write songs and use songwriting to cope with these anxiety-inducing incidents.

“Wildfire” resonates in a more subdued manner. It’s softer and gentle. It sways although Marsh’s voice generates as much sentiment. Retro influences propel the beautiful “We Hit the Ground.” The vocals plead–“You take my time, my heart and my mind, spinning round and around, we hit the ground “– while the song’s arrangement transports the listener back to another decade. Soaring vocals effectively persuade on “Never Let You Go.” Finally the gentle “Dear Love” features a delicate harmony and contemplative vocals–“in this life we’ll never know what to expect.” Marsh remains thoughtful with her lyrics and consistent with her vocal style. Add this to your must-listen list.

–review by Amy Steele

Lauren Marsh
Veracity EP
Release date: January 22, 2016

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new music: ARO; Parson James

ARO, “I Can Change”

–lovely cover of the LCD Soundsystem original with gorgeous, haunting vocals and a beautiful arrangement. I’m a fan. She embraces the darker side while retaining a vulnerability. ARO is British-born singer and daughter of Ozzy Osbourne and Sharon Osbourne, Aimee Osbourne. Aimee avoided the family spotlight at age 16, choosing not to be part of the family’s reality series. She says: “It’s natural to want to rebel against what your parents do. Once I accepted music was my path, I rebelled by wanting to do it my own way. I also didn’t think it was respectful to my father’s career and creativity to assume that I could jump on the back of all he had worked his entire life for.” ARO will perform at SXSW in March. She divides her time between Los Angeles and London.

Parson James, “Waiting Game”

–born in the Bible belt, bi-racial and gay singer/songwriter Parson James faced numerous prejudices and challenges. He wrote music to escape and to express himself as many artists do. the result: bluesy, heartfelt songs on the The Temple EP out February 5, 2016. In this short documentary features the song “Waiting Game” as well as James speaking about growing up in a conservative town.


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