book review: Music for Wartime

music for wartime

Music for Wartime By Rebecca Makkai.
Viking| June 2015|223 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0-525-42669-1

Rating: *****/5*

“The last picture hurt her physically: Michael down on one knee, Vanessa’s hand in his, his mouth goofily open in what must have been song. Bridesmaids clapping and laughing, Vanessa’s eyes rolled back in embarrassment or ecstasy or both. Michael had never looked at Melanie with such silly abandon. She’d always found him hollow in a pleasant way, like a Greek urn. It was a silence and melancholy she’d attributed to his losing a wife.” [“The Museum of the Dearly Departed”]

What an exceptional, stunning and creative short-story collection. Rebecca Makkai seamlessly changes voice and point-of-view for her stories: male [“Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart”], female [“Couple of Lovers on a Red Background”], varied ages [“The Worst You Ever Feel” is told from a young boy’s perspective.], races [there’s Celine, the Asian musician in “Cross”] and sexual orientation. She transports to varied times and places with ease.

“The November Story” focuses on the producer for a reality dating show: “The casting directors are great at spotting borderline narcissistic personality disorder, the kind that makes you just crazy enough for great TV but not crazy enough to destroy a camera with a baseball bat.” In Peter Torrelli, Falling Apart,” Makkai utilizes dark humor: “As much as I didn’t believe his optimism, I was glad he wasn’t giving up. I constantly pictured him hanging himself from the closet rod of his cold little apartment, or drinking something medieval and poisonous.” A woman confronts betrayal in “The Museum of the Dearly Departed.” Makkai includes three stories about her family’s history in 1930s Hungary including “Other Brands of Poison (First Legend).”

Brilliantly written, the stories are dark, moody, atmospheric and completely engrossing. This is short-story writing at its best. Read slowly to truly savor this talent.

purchase at Amazon: Music for Wartime: Stories

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book review: Ana of California

ana of california

Ana of California By Andi Teran.
Penguin Original| June 30, 2015|256 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-312649-2

Rating: ***/5*

Fifteen-year-old orphan Ana survived a tough past. Her drug-dealing parents got shot to death and then the same happened to her beloved grandmother [seemingly a revenge plot] a few years later. Shuffled from foster home to foster home, deemed a difficult child, Ana spends a lot of time at the library pouring over films and music and books. That is her escape, her solace. Any child with that kind of traumatic background would have some issues and need a good therapist and definitely find it challenging to trust anyone. Her social worker gives her one last opportunity to live and work on a farm in Northern California.

“Ana Cortez didn’t need anyone to explain it to her: she understood the rhythm of repetitive work, knew all about aligning herself to the synergy of tedium. She was aware of all of the orphan clichés—the Pips, Pollyannas, and Pony boys whose optimism triumphed over difficult circumstances. She’d read all the books.”

This is a modern retelling of Anne of Green Gables. I know I read Anne of Green Gables. I’ve been an avid reader since I could read. My fondest youth literary memory remains for The Secret Garden by Frances Hodges Burnett. I don’t remember the story of Anne of Green Gables enough to compare Ana of California to it. Without that recollection I still enjoyed this novel.

Sister and brother pair Abbie and Emmett Garber operate their family farm. Abbie bakes, pickles and cooks while Emmett makes sure everything’s running on the farm. Ana befriends Rye who feels she’s somewhat of a misfit particularly as she’s come out as gay. She also meets a cute “bad boy” named Cole. Ana confronts her fears, learns a bit about getting along and becomes optimistic that she may be finally home. However a falling out with Rye and liaisons with Cole may threaten her comfortable situation in this rural northern California farm town.

Despite Ana’s unfortunate past there’s little pathos here. It’s light and breezy. Rather happy even. The novel progresses in an inevitable quaint manner at times but it’s a solid summer/weekend read. Ana is a spunky, spirited and extremely likable character. Ana’s grueling past receives the glossy treatment. Readers aren’t allowed to delve into it or truly feel Ana’s pain. The novel keeps a lighter tone which makes it a quick, light read.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

GIVEAWAY: Giving away a copy of Ana of California as well as a copy of Anne of Green Gables to a U.S. resident courtesy of Penguin Random House. If interested please comment below and include your email address. Winner will be selected on July 15.

purchase at Amazon: Ana of California: A Novel


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book review: Newport



<em>Newport</em> By Jill Morrow. William Morrow Trade Paperback| July 7, 2015|356 pages |$14.00| ISBN: 9780062375858

rating: 3.5/5*

Newport hooked me from page one as a page-turner in which to immerse oneself during a weekend or holiday. There’s the beautiful sepia cover with a blonde young woman with ringlet waves in deep thought in front of phonograph which drew me in. I wanted much more of what I saw on the cover. Newport and the 1920s. Two subjects with sophistication, flair and romantic nostalgia.

Dashing and successful Boston attorney Adrian de la Noye travels to Newport with his young associate/protégé Jim Reid to revise a client’s will. Bennett Chapman plans to marry the much-younger and stunning Catharine Walsh and his children aren’t thrilled over the marriage or their father’s plans to include her in his will. It’s been twenty years since Adrian last visited Newport and his story along with that of the secretive Catharine Walsh and her daughter Amy unfolds. Utilizing séances where Amy serves as a medium for Chapman’s departed wife’s messages to him, her children and others in the room. She declares that Catharine Walsh and Bennett Chapman must marry. She also exposes secrets about everyone. Is it a scam perpetrated by the grifter mother-daughter team or is Mrs. Chapman truly speaking from beyond? Morrow traverses from present day to twenty years earlier and includes several [fairly predictable] twists.

“For as long as Jim had known Adrian de la Noye—and that was practically all of Jim’s twenty-five years—the man had never seemed ruffled or out of place. Such ease was to be expected in the sanctified halls of Andover and Harvard, which Jim had attended on Adrian’s dime. Adrian had been born to fit into places like that, and he called both institutions his alma mater.”

Author Jill Morrow unfortunately does not sufficiently establish setting or time. It could have been nearly any time and any place in the past. If the book wasn’t called Newport I wouldn’t be able to guess where we were. First it was off-season and besides the main seaside mansion that the characters visit and a walk two characters take along the beach, Morrow didn’t really describe what I’ve come to understand about the Newport historical days with the Four Hundred—a group of old money families—holding elaborate and exclusive parties. It unfolds that the Chapman family is new money and therefore not well-regarded by the Newport set. Adrian de la Noye summered on Cape Cod although he partied with his friends in Newport often. This is a character-driven novel where mysterious, broken characters propel the story-lines. Once the reader starts she wants to know exactly what happened and what will happen. For genuine 1920s allure one is better off reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise or Erika Robuck’s Fallen Beauty or countless other novels set in the Jazz Age.

Visit Newport around the holidays to see the mansions decked out gorgeously in holiday decorations.

–review by Amy Steele

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

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music preview: Grammy-winner Soul Asylum at Middle East Club in Cambridge, Mass. tonight

Soul Asylum 2015

Soul Asylum 2015

Dave Pirner [vocals/guitar], Dan Murphy [guitar], Karl Mueller [bass], Grant Young [drums] formed alt-rock band Soul Asylum in Minneapolis, Minn. in 1883. After three album releases, Soul Asylum scored with triple-platinum album Grave Dancers Union in 1992 with the Grammy-winning song “Runaway Train.” The next year the band played the Bill Clinton inauguration.

Karl Mueller died of cancer a decade ago in 2015. Only Dave Pirner remains in the original line-up. There aren’t many bands who stay together from formation to retirement are there?



Say What You Will, Clarence . . . Karl Sold the Truck [1984]
Made to Be Broken [1986]
Hang Time [1988]
And the Horse They Rode in On [1990]
Grave Dancers Union [1992]
Let Your Dim Light Shine [1995]
Candy from a Stranger [1998]
The Silver Lining [2006]
Delayed Reaction [2012]

Soul Asylum will put out a new album later this year. The band launched a Pledge Music campaign. Some Pledge exclusives include signed copies of the new album, your name in the liner notes, live and rare Grave Dancers Union download, custom t-shirt designed for Pledgers only, Skype drum workshop with Michael Bland, side stage viewing at an upcoming show, guest list for life, signed acoustic guitar, private acoustic show, private full band concert, original Dave Pirner artwork and much more.

Tonight, Thursday, June 25, 2015 at Middle East Club Down with Meat Puppets

TOUR DATES [with Meat Puppets]:

June 25 The Middle East Cambridge, MA
June 26 Suffolk Theater Riverhead, NY
June 27 The Chance Poughkeepsie, NY
July 20 House of Blues West Hollywood, CA
July 21 House of Blues Anaheim, CA
July 23 House of Blues San Diego, CA
July 24 Santa Cruz Boardwalk Santa Cruz, CA —NO MEAT PUPPETS
July 25 The Independent San Francisco, CA
July 26 Uptown Theater Napa, CA
July 28 Knitting Factory Reno, NV
July 29 WOW Hall Eugene, OR
July 30 Revolution Hall Portland, OR
July 31 Clearwater Casino Suquamish, WA
Aug 2 Wild West Pizza West Yellowstone, MT
Aug 6 Summit Music Hall Denver, CO
Aug 8 Town Center Park Suwanee, GA -NO MEAT PUPPETS


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music preview: Shonen Knife and CJ Ramone close out U.S Tour Wednesday June 24 at The Middle East, Cambridge


Shonen Knife


Osaka, Japan’s all female pop-punk band Shonen Knife return for its second U.S. tour in support of its latest release Overdrive [Good Charamel Records]. Songs about ramen noodles, green tea, shopping make it a fun, upbeat album as always. Shonen Knife love happy happy things. The live shows exude positivity and energy tenfold. Vocalist/guitarist Naoko Yamano formed Shonen Knife formed 1981 with her sister bassist Atsuko and another friend.

The line-up has changed a few times in the past 30 years. Atsuko is filling in for bassist Ritsuko who is on maternity leave. After Shonen Knife’s upcoming June US Tour and July’s 712 Day performances in Japan, drummer Emi –who has been with the band since 2010–will leave the band. Emi no longer wants to participate in Shonen Knife’s extensive overseas touring. A replacement drummer will be announced on July 12.


Minna Tanoshiku [1982]
Burning Farm [1983]
Yama-no Attchan [1984]
Pretty Little Baka Guy [1986]
712 [1991]
Let’s Knife [1992]
Rock Animals [1994]
The Birds & the B-Sides [1996]
Brand New Knife [1997]
Happy Hour [1998]
Strawberry Sound [2000]
Heavy Songs [2002]
Candy Rock [2003]
Genki Shock! [2006]
fun! fun! fun! [2007]
Super Group [2008]
Free Time [2010]
Osaka Ramones [2011]
Pop Tune [2012]
Overdrive [2014]

CJ Ramone


Bassist CJ Ramone played with the legendary punk rock band the Ramones from 1989 until 1996. He’ll perform solo material in support of his latest release Last Chance to Dance [Fat Wreck Records] as well as some Ramones favorites.

Shonen Knife and CJ Ramone play The Middle East, Cambridge, Mass on Wednesday, June 24

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music review: The Singleman Affair



singleman affair

Mixing organs,  guitar and pedal steel definitely provides the aural hallucinogenic for this band. The songs sound like they’re from another era. And it works. The End of the Affair is trippy and expansive and a multi-patterned musical trip. Singer/songwriter Daniel Schneider’s vocals swing from eerie to lovely to brash. Adam Vida [drums], Gary Pyskacek [guitar and pedal steel], Jacob Smith [organ] and Sam Wagster [bass] round out the line-up.

The first track on this new album “Be This Way” with its elaborate organ arrangement and audacious vocals screams Britpop while the song “Gray Hairs” veers toward 70s psychedelic rock. “I am a Vagabond” is all folky and melodramatic. Super cool guitar riffs on “I Don’t Want to Go Back.” The orchestrations on “I Know a Witch” effectively and beautifully utilizes darker Chelsea Wolfe-type melodies. This could be an excellent live band. Also just cool for chilling out.


The Singleman Affair

The End of the Affair [Cardboard Sangria Records/Strange Weather Records]

Release date: June 16, 2015



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extended trailer: A Deadly Adoption starring Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell

Nicole Kidman on Lifetime in Grace of Monaco, not what the Oscar winner expected with that biopic. Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell spoofing the standard Lifetime movies sounds wickedly brilliant. You know the duo will go all in in this movie where a wealthy couple takes in a teenager during the last months of her pregnancy in hopes of adopting the child. What could go wrong? It’s Lifetime. Everything.

A Mar Vista Entertainment Production, A Deadly Adoption is produced by National Picture Show. Rachel Lee Goldenberg (Escape from Polygamy, Love at the Christmas Table) directs from a script written by Andrew Steele (Casa De Mi Padre, The Spoils of Babylon). The film is executive produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Sharon Bordas, Fernando Szew, Andrew Steele and Jessica Elbaum, and produced by Adam Silver, Fritz Manger and Max Osswald.

A Deadly Adoption premieres on Saturday, June 20 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.

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