Spring Tour Dates: Azealia Banks

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hip-hop sensation Azealia Banks will be touring the U.S. in support of her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste. She’ll also perform at Coachella Festival in Indio, Calif.

Initially released digitally in November 2014, Broke With Expensive Tasteis available on CD via Prospect Park Records today.

NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES

04/10 – Coachella Festival – Indio, CA
04/16 – Club Nokia – Los Angeles, CA
04/17- Coachella Festival – Indio, CA
05/11 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY
05/15 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, IL
05/19 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA

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book review: The Half Brother

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The Half Brother By Holly LeCraw.
Doubleday| February 2015.|272 pages |$25.95| ISBN: 978-0-385-53195-5

Rating: ***/5*

Harvard graduate and former Atlanta resident Charlie Garrett takes a position as English teacher at Abbott School. A few years into teaching, Charlie falls for the chaplain’s daughter, May Bankhead, a former student. When he discovers a shocking secret Charlie ends the affair and breaks her 20-year-old heart. “I saw that if I told May I would become a victim, like her, of this stomach-churning fate. But what if I were the villain instead. Then the villainy would be the consolation.” May moves away from him and the school, teaching down south. A decade later, May returns to teach French and Charlie’s half-brother Nick arrives to teach math. Charlie introduces Nick to May and encourages it when they start dating.

The Half Brother contains all elements of a Gothic novel—including the main southerner protagonists– set at a Massachusetts prep school. May admits at one point that she’s in love with both brothers. Old son Charlie traveled a safe path from Harvard to teacher. He’s rather comfortable residing in an old fix-up house in this small town surrounding the private school. Nick has always been described as the “golden boy” with model looks and winning southern charm. He attracts both men and women and lives a life fueled by wanderlust. After college he volunteers in Haiti then Afghanistan until an IED attack sends him home. Nick and Charlie’s mother convinces Charlie to get Nick up to Abbott, figuring he will be safe and never be hurt again. Not so easy for the sensitive son of an alcoholic father. On the wealthy alcoholic stepfather: “He was such a gentle drunk, never ugly or belligerent; he would just gradually disappear, over the course of an evening, the smile on his face delicate as paper, and half an hour, an hour after he slid away you’d finally notice he was gone.”

Despite the seemingly predictability—teacher falls for (former) student among the copse of trees, rolling lawns and brick buildings of a private school—author Holly LeCraw kept me reading when I questioned why. It’s not her first foray into family secrets and affairs. Her page-turning debut The Swimming Pool revolved around similar themes. She creates layered intriguing characters and writes with eloquent phrasing. She describes the school campus thus: “A month later Nicky was back home and I walked up the hill to the headmaster’s house, to the Labor Day tea, and I walked under the arbor, petals of the late roses falling like confetti, and got a gin and tonic and mingled in the seersucker and the summer dresses and the civilized glow, all of us held there in the garden within the old, low piled-stone walls.” I was curious to see how everything would unfold. Once Nick and Charlie’s ailing mother arrives for a visit and takes a turn it grows quite compelling as family secrets emerge and family bonds get tested.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

Holly LeCraw will be reading at Brookline Booksmith on March 31

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purchase at Amazon: The Half Brother: A Novel

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book review: Girl in a Band

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Girl in a Band By Kim Gordon.
Dey Street Books| February 24, 2015.|276 pages |$27.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-229589-7

Rating: 3.5/5*

“It is because knowing what I know now, it’s hard to write a love story with a broken heart.”

Kim Gordon. A California girl who grew to be synonymous with the New York scene despite moving to Northampton, Mass. years ago for quieter place for her daughter with then-husband Thurston Moore. Kim and Thurston met [Gordon says: “Our relationship felt more like an intersection of two separate lines.”] and formed legendary alternative band Sonic Youth in the 80s. Thurston Moore became the face and spokesperson for the band. Seemingly unapproachable and aloof, Gordon opens up with her memoir Girl in a Band. Explaining her demeanor, Gordon writes: “Onstage, people have told me I’m opaque or mysterious or even cold. But more than any of those things, I’m extremely shy and sensitive, as if I can feel all the emotions swirling around a room. And believe me when I say that once you push past my persona, there aren’t any defenses there at all.”

In Girl in a Band, Gordon writes about many things ranging from her band and its music to her marriage to her childhood. She writes about Sonic Youth which she formed in 1981 with guitarist Thurston Moore and guitarist Lee Renaldo and recalls seminal albums and videos and songs. She writes about her long-term relationship with husband Thurston Moore, the music business and feminism. She delves into growing up in California with her progressive parents, the difficult relationship with her older schizophrenic brother, becoming part of the New York art scene in the 80s and 90s and about being a mother.

On one’s twenties, Gordon has opposing views. In one chapter she writes: “Questioning things fit in with “becoming” which in turn brought me closer to living in the present and farther away from the idea that you’re done, ready, formed, or cooked at some present age like your early twenties.” She says that she understands why Lena Dunham’s show Girls resonates with many. Then two chapters later she writes: “I find it strange when people don’t know what they want to do in life.” Really? That seems diametrically opposed to your earlier remark. I think that one’s twenties should be when one explores both professional and personal goals. Not everyone knows her career path at 21.

Sonic Youth signed with major label Geffen Records in the late 80s after releasing five albums on independent labels. The major label wanted the focus to be on Gordon. The sole “girl” in the band. This never appealed to Gordon. She didn’t want to be the focal point, the sex symbol or any symbol for that matter. Gordon wanted the music to be the focal point. She states: “In general, women aren’t really allowed to be kick-ass. It’s like the famous distinction between art and craft: Art, and wildness, and pushing against the edges, is a male thing. Craft, and control, and polish, is for women. Culturally we don’t allow women to be as free as they would like, because that is frightening.”

After three decades together, Gordon discovered– in the usual predictable ways—texts and emails–that her partner Thurston Moore cheated on her with another woman. She felt naturally overwhelmed and deceived. She notes: “I wonder whether you can truly love, or be loved back by someone who hides who they are. It’s made me question my whole life and all my other relationships.” One can only imagination the devastation. So much time. So many years together and perhaps one’s partner wasn’t completely invested. Wasn’t really there? She adds: “Thurston would do his thing, including assorted side project, and I had side projects of my own. No marriage can maintain the thrilling-ness of the early days, and over time, in spite of what my friend said, and as creative as our relationship was, our marriage got progressively lonely, too.” Some of Gordon’s side-projects included a fashion line and some acting roles including one in Gus Van Sant’s fantastic film about Kurt Cobain, Last Days.

Although she never wanted to be the face and the leader of Sonic Youth, Gordon recognized the dynamics and wrote a magazine piece entitled “Trash Drugs and Male Bonding” that catapulted her throughout the indie community. A woman writing about men and their interpersonal relationships related to music seemed subversive. She explains: “By writing about men locking into one another onstage, I indirectly pushed myself inside the triangle, and whatever doubts I had about pursuing a career in art commingled to create a forward wave of momentum, noise, and motion.”

She became close with Kurt Cobain but never really liked Courtney Love despite producing Hole’s first album. She says Love manipulated her into it. Gordon recalls: “At first I said no. I could tell she was either a borderline personality or had some other kind of crazy, contagious energy, and I try to avoid that kind of drama in my life.” As the sister of a mentally ill-brother, this surprised me. This almost anti-reaction to someone with mental illness disappoints me. People don’t develop mental illness because they choose it. She shares a few recollections about Cobain and writes: “I think about Kurt quite often. As with many people who die violently, and too young, there is never any resolution or closure. Kurt still moves along inside me, and outside too, with his music.”

Gordon writes rather quite a free-form drifting from subject to subject and playing around with chronology. A reader can easily skip around and not be confused. The sections with vivid descriptions of New York in the 1980s and 1980s stand-out for authenticity and color. There’s plenty of awesomeness in this memoir. Insecurity combined with risk taking. Deconstructing one’s experiences.Throughout this memoir, the feminist, artist and musician provides readers coolness, the detachment and strong opinions. Gordon removes herself from personal situations and provides a detached observer’s perspective. At other times she’s a bit warmer. While rambling and occasionally disjointed, it works.

Some other revelations from Girl in a Band:

Recently I read that after selling her home in Northampton she might move to Brooklyn. However, Gordon writes: “Now that I no longer live in New York, I don’t know if I could ever move back. All that young-girl idealism is someone else’s now. That city I know doesn’t exist anymore, and it’s more alive in my head than it is when I’m there.”

On being an artist: “Maybe that’s why for me the page, the gallery, and the stage become the only places my emotions could be expressed and acted out comfortably. There were the venues where I could exhibit sexuality, anger, a lack of concern for what people thought.”

On high school: “High school was a dark period for me—I never felt that I fit in, and the other kids seemed alien to me, because, in fact, they were—but I got through.” She did date composer Danny Elfman and they remain friendly.

Gordon and her family lived in Hawaii one year and Hong Kong another while her father taught sociology.

On Courtney Love: “Later on, Courtney Love would take up the role that the press was always fishing for—a punk princess, thrilling and dark, refusing to play by the rules. No one ever questions the disorder behind her tarantula L.A. glamour—sociopathy, narcissism—because it’s rock and roll, good entertainment.”

She’s a fan of Madonna, 1960s groups The Shangri-Las and 1970s brother-sister duo The Carpenters. “Karen Carpenter had interested me for a long time. The Carpenters were such a sun-drenched American dream, such a feel-good family success story like the Beach Boys, but with the same roiling darkness going on underneath.” On Goo is the song “Tunic (Song for Karen)” and later Sonic Youth awesomely and hauntingly covered “Superstar” for the The Carpenters tribute album If I Were a Carpenter in 1994.

Daisy Cafritz and Kim Gordon launched a clothing line called X-Girl girl in 1993. They sold it to a Japanese company years later for a nice profit.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

Book Tour:

Unfortunately no Boston dates.

02-24 New York, NY – The Strand (with Elissa Schappell)
02-25 Chapel Hill, NC – Flyleaf/Cat’s Cradle (with Jon Wurster)
02-26 Chicago, IL – Chicago Humanities Festival (with Alison Cuddy)
02-27 Austin, TX – BookPeople (with Terry Lickona)
03-01 Albuquerque, NM – Bookworks/University of New Mexico (with Samantha Anne Carrillo)
03-02 Seattle, WA – Elliott Bay Books/The Neptune (with Bruce Pavitt)
03-03 Portland, OR – Powell’s Books (with Jon Raymond)
03-04 San Francisco, CA – JCC San Francisco (with Carrie Brownstein)
03-05 Santa Monica, CA – Live Talks LA (with Aimee Mann)
03-07 Los Angeles, CA – MOCAtv (Bennett Simpson)

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book review: A Touch of Stardust

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A Touch of Stardust By Kate Alcott.
Doubleday|February 2015.|296 pages|$25.00|ISBN: 978-0-385-53904-3

Rating: *****/5*

Kate Alcott writes spectacularly strong feminist female characters in historical fiction. Women who want to have careers and love. Women who juggle and manage both. Or learn from their decisions. They’re smart protagonists and Alcott has quickly become a must-read favorite author for me. She intermingles her fictional characters in real-life historical settings and it works.

Last year Alcott’s The Daring Ladies of Lowell – a superb story about the Lowell mill girls based on actual events–made my 12 Best Fiction Books of 2014 list. A Touch of Stardust finds Midwesterner Julie Crawford on the set of Gone with the Wind. It’s 1938 and the young woman dreams of being a screenwriter like Frances Marion who wrote scripts for the legendary Mary Pickwick. Crawford works in the publicity office of producer David O. Selznick like her rooming house mate Rose, who dreams of being an actress like many young women who venture to Los Angeles.

This is the perfect historical fiction novel to dip into before the Academy Awards. It’s an ideal way to spend a winter weekend day. Hollywood. Old glamour. Vintage dreams. The era when stars and screenwriters contracted with specific studios. Alcott writes about the filming of Gone with the Wind and its many difficulties as well as the romance between leading man Clark Gable [Rhett Butler] and free-spirited Carole Lombard, known for her slapstick comedies. At the beginning it’s scandalous because Gable’s still married and Lombard doesn’t keep the relationship a secret. She’s bold and delightful. You’ll want to read much more about this short-lived romance and marriage. Meticulously researched, Alcott includes wonderful details about the Gone with the Wind set and filming as well as the relationship between Lombard and Gable

Alcott describes the film set: “Each morning, she pulled herself from bed and joined the cleaning ladies and plumbers and other sleepy travelers on the 5:00 a.m. bus to get to the studio early. That way, she could step onto the back lot alone and be in the old South and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. In front of Tara, the trees that had been fashioned over telephone poles looked real, and if she hadn’t known the dogwood blossoms were made of white paper, the illusion would have been complete.”

Plucky, determined Julie Crawford bumps into Lombard on set and the Smith College graduate impresses Lombard who asks her to work as her personal assistant. Crawford soon becomes part of Lombard and Gable’s rather glamorous lifestyle. Through a few introductions, she works her way to screenwriting. Lombard becomes a dear friend, confidant, older sister and advisor. By year’s end she’s rewriting scripts and quite content in her new profession and new city. In the meantime she becomes involved with an older associate producer, Andy Weinstein. They start slow but soon fall for each other. Complications arise due to the age difference, his being Jewish and their varied careers. As WWII intensifies Weinstein, who has family in Germany and France, feels compelled to enlist in the American Red Cross. Until then he’s working diligently on Gone with the Wind and supports his new girlfriend’s screenwriting endeavors.

Kate Alcott’s father-in-law Herman Mankiewicz won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with Orson Welles for Citizen Kane. He also wrote Cleopatra and All About Eve. This is one area in which she has some insider insight. And it’s fantastic.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: A Touch of Stardust: A Novel

Gone with the Wind

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book review: The Home Front

home front

The Home Front By Margaret Vandenburg.
The Permanent Press| February 2015.|212 pages |$28.00| ISBN: 978-1-57962-386-9

Rating: ***/5*

Todd Barron works as a drone pilot stationed in Nevada. He drops bombs on Afghanistan in video-game style during the day and attempts to reach his autistic son when he gets home. His wife Rose found an online support network. She’s feeding the family a vegan diet, has read everything she can on autism, hired a behavioral therapist and calls in to her online guru with increasing frequency, until her credit card maxes out. Max’s autism creates an immense amount of tension in this family. He doesn’t speak. He’ll only eat round brown food. Max’s sister functions virtually unnoticed by the rest of the family. She’s hardly mentioned throughout this novel.

There’s a distinctly masculine tone to The Home Front despite being written by a female author. Perhaps because it deals with the drone program and the U.S. military, author Margaret Vandenburg felt it required this macho-ness. I found Todd too gruff, too impatient and too pessimistic. And I thrive on darkness. This just didn’t bode well for a family story about juggling a military assignment with the extra responsibility required by a child with autism. Todd met his wife while she worked in used car sales, a male-dominated environment. One in which Rose must be competitive and assertive. That attracted him. Now her New Agey-ness turns him off. He’s becoming distant and considers redeployment.

“He called her Polyanna behind her back, muttering to himself to bolster his own more pragmatic approach. In turn, Rose accused Todd of being negative. She and her Facebook friends complained about their husbands almost as much as they compared notes on treatment options.”

While told in the third person, it seems to be Todd’s story. Maybe opening with Todd grumbling about the vegan diet made me wary: “Eating organically was like sucking meals through a straw, and his jaws ached for something more substantial than tofu and quinoa. At this rate his family would starve to death.” Unlikely. Not going to get into the misconceptions on a vegan diet but it’s all wrong. Todd’s distain for his wife’s attempts to make the family healthier in body and mind sets a negativity that carries throughout the novel.

Shortly after, he’s grumbling about the futility of his job: “Todd had spent the afternoon floating from one virtual cockpit to the next, feeling more like a systems analyst than an air force officer. The army may have been willing to let Nintendo nerds fly armed Predators, but USAF drone squads were supervised by seasoned pilots like himself.” His wife is the good military wife holding the fort at home. Keeping everything simple for him. When she begins to drift off into her Facebook friends and takes advice from this online guru as part of something called The Source, the couple doesn’t fare well.

Then there’s how Todd feels about reading books to his daughter, Maureen: “Maureen always wanted him to read another story, but he hated children’s books. They were either saccharine or preachy.” What a guy. How will this family remain a unit?

It’s a short novel and Vandenburg excels at writing about the military and the drone program– how it functions, what’s required of the participants. She details several missions. The autism information didn’t intrigue me as much. The telling too academic, lacking compassion. She creates a solid comparison by utilizing the drone program. That’s targeted, precise and finite. Autism treatment is vast, malleable and uncertain. The book falls a bit flat in traversing between the head and the heart. Detailing Todd and Rose’s faltering relationship and the complexities in dealing with a child with autism. What cure is there? It’s all open-ended.

–review by Amy Steele

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

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purchase at Amazon: The Home Front

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music review: Mishka Shubaly

PRESS SHOT_MISHKA SHUBALY

Known as Amazon’s most frequently published Kindle Singles author, Miksha Shubaly can boast four bestsellers: a first-hand account of a disaster at sea, “Shipwrecked;” a mini-memoir detailing Shubaly’s transition from “drunk-and-drugged gutter dweller to sober ultra-marathoner “ called “The Long Run;” a true tale of online love gone wrong, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and “Bachelor Number One” about reality TV.

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The third full-length album Coward’s Path [In Music We Trust] from Shubaly features dark, bittersweet songs and a wondrously layered journey through the depths of Shubaly’s psyche. It’s the perfect antidote to the forced fuzzy warmth and overindulgence of Valentine’s Day. He’s a superb wordsmith writing dark, bittersweet, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, sometimes brooding songs. The music and vox sound like The Pogues, Pavement and Lou Reed mixed together.

“Frankenstein Heart” is a bold and super-charged biting song about the devastation from years of drug abuse. “Taxes and Jail” is a detached, amusing anti-love song –“you won’t hear from me you’re beautiful/ because it’s your insecurity that keeps you around/ because baby you can always depend on me when you need someone to let you down.” Propelled by a grooving beat, “I Can’t Remember When You Were Mine” includes lines like “boxes and boxes of unlabeled crap/ if I die now they will never get unpacked” sung with deep dissonance. Dramatic, expansive string arrangements make “Ohio” a gloomy treasure. This might be another go-to for me on moody days.

“The title refers to a time in my life where I took the path of least resistance to the end of the line,” explains Shubaly. “In one of the first copyrighted blues songs from 1912, Lee Roy White says ‘the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad.’ Coward’s Path is the sound of a bad man feeling bad.”

Coward’s Path
In Music We Trust
out now

RECOMMENDATION: BUY

purchase at Amazon: The Long Run & Other True Stories: foreword by Jeff Bezos

purchase at Amazon: Bachelor Number One (Kindle Single)

purchase at Amazon: Thanks for Letting Me Crash

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DMITRY SHOLOKHOV wins Project Runway All-Stars S4

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Current New York resident and Belarus native Dmitry Sholokhov and Project Runway Season 10 winner beat out fellow finalists Helen Castillo and Sonjia Williams with a final collection created in only four days.

Dmitry had several memorable quotes about being an All-Star throughout the show:

“To be an all-star you need to know exactly who you are.”

“Winning All-Stars rockets your career hopefully.”

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The final three created an eight piece collection representing all four seasons.

Dmitry designed for “a collector who loves special pieces. timeless but have an edge about it. fluid and fragile.” Helen went for “a couture Wednesday Adams.” She called her collection “Coco on Wednesday.” Sonjia, whose father passed away in January, designed for herself. She called her collection “Urban Egyptian.” “She knows who she is and she owns it,” she explained.

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Project Runway All-Stars S4 finale show was at Diamond Horseshoe at the Paramount Hotel. While all three collections impressed, Dmitry won over Runway All-Stars host Alyssa Milano, judges Isaac Mizrahi and Georgina Chapman, mentor Zanna Roberts and guest judges Zac Posen and Mira Sorvino.

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winner Dmitry

“Amazing job. This collection shows total control of your ascetic.” –Alyssa Milano

“You are the master of technique.” –Georgina Chapman

“I love the confidence, the consistency and the strength of your looks.” –guest judge Mira Sorvino

“You understand architecture and form.” –guest judge Zac Posen

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Guest judges Zac Posen and Oscar winner and all-around talented and fabulous Mira Sorvino:

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runner-up Sonjia

“You have the ability to redefine proportions of a woman’s body.” –Isaac Mizrahi

“The was something regal.” –guest judge Mira Sorvino

“The gown didn’t have the modernity where we started. The red lace dress is market-ready.” –guest judge Zac Posen

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first runner-up Helen

“I see some very contemporary looking clothing.” –guest judge Zac Posen

“I love the black. It’s very edgy. The first dress is very Chanel-y. I’d love to wear that.” –guest judge Mira Sorvino

“You can’t tell if she’s flirting or pushing you away.” –guest judge Isaac Mizrahi

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host Alyssa Milano

host Alyssa Milano

As the winner of Project Runway All-Stars season four, Sholokhov receives:
–chance to create his own capsule collection with QVC and appear during QVC’s Spring Fashion Week programming
— a fashion spread in Marie Claire and a position at the magazine as Contributing Editor for one year
— CHI® Haircare will send Sholokhov to stay in a luxury spa resort as a special guest at its International conference in Cancun, Mexico, plus product and staff for entire year of runway shows
— an entire year’s worth of beauty products from Mary Kay for fashion shows and professional makeup artist services for Sholokhov’s debut show
— cash prize of $150,000
— complete custom sewing studio from Brother Sewing and Embroidery to launch his winning line.

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