NEW MUSIC: Bright Like The Sun; PJ Bond

Bright Like The Sun, “Smile Wide and Look Alive”

soothing, enticing, laid-back track from the San Antonio, Texas band.

Smile Wide [Sun Sea Sky Productions] out April 21st

PJ Bond, “The Better Option”

nostalgic, retro, mellow Americana-twinged pop from Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Bond.

Where Were You? [Black Numbers & Xtra Mile] out May 4, 2015

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book review: Master Thieves

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Master Thieves By Stephen Kurkjian.
Public Affairs| March 2015|272 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-1-610394239

Rating: ***/5*

“In many ways, the trail I followed in the Gardner case was uniquely Boston, a historic but small city where bank robber and bank president can live side by side in the same neighborhood, or, as with the infamous Bulger family, where the notorious gang leader and Senate president were brothers.”

In the winter of 1990 when thieves posed as police officers and stole thirteen works of art with a value of $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum [ISGM]. I was merely blocks away immersed in my junior year at Simmons College. Not only sad for the Boston arts community but for the world this theft remains unsolved. Author Stephen Kurkjian writes: “Twenty-five years later the artwork remains missing, and the empty frames and unfilled spaces on antique desks at the museum still stand as grim reminders of the poor security and futile investigative work that followed the theft.” Now the ISGM bears a new wing and new entrance. Not sure if Ms. Gardner would approve of this extension. However to its beautiful construction, gorgeous views of Boston and the ability to showcase new artists undoubtedly Ms. Gardner, an ardent patron of the arts, would approve.

The ISGM is truly a hidden gem in the Fens. While it’s right around the corner from the Museum of Fine Arts it’s not visited as often or known as well sometimes I think the development and marketing for the museum could use great improvement but they’ve failed to hire me in a development communications role though I’ve applied. Kurkjian writes: “One option [Gardner director] Hawley hasn’t tried is using the Internet and social media to maximize awareness of the specific pieces that are missing and encouraging the public’s involvement in the search.” This is true. I’ve never seen the Gardner museum tweeting information. This year on its Instagram account there was a hashtag #GardnerTheft25 and pictures of the rooms with empty frames but no pictures of the missing artwork. However if you go to the museum website, there’s an in-depth feature on the missing thirteen pieces.

“Thirteen pieces of artwork were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum on March 18, 1990, and many weren’t well known to the public at large. For twenty-three years there had been no “proof of life” of a single piece, and while people might recall what the two most valuable pieces—Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert—looked like, the lesser works were largely unknown.”

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and former The Boston Globe investigative reporter Kurkjian writes about the most likely theory for the theft: it was carried out by Boston gangsters and the art remains somewhere on the East Coast. He and others believe that Bobby Guarente, David Turner and Robert Gentile carried out the heist. It’s now been 25 years since the theft and while several years ago the FBI announced it was close to making an arrest and recovery, nothing’s occurred. Ms. Gardner’s art remains at large. I wrote a children’s book about Isabella Stewart Gardner and having completed extensive research for the project I know what she went through to curate her collection and create the one-of-a-kind private museum in the Fens.

Kurkjian chronicles his role in covering the theft as a journalist as well as in doing research for the book. He interviewed countless mob associates as well as museum security and FBI. Thoroughly researched, Kurkjian sufficiently corroborates the theory that it was a gang job. Back as far as 1981 gangsters such as Louis Royce knew about the weak security system in the Gardner museum. In fact as a child, Royce slept overnight in the museum. “During his ensuing years as a criminal, Royce had hatched a plan to rob the Gardner of some of its most precious artifacts.” However Royce didn’t need the paintings for a trade like some gangsters use art to secure the release of associates. “Instead, he had riches in mind. Royce and his fellow gangsters put the word out, seeking a commission from a wealthy art collector connected to the underworld.”

The opposing gangs and gangsters confused me. Who is connected to whom and who works for whom unfortunately bogs down reading. While there’s a cast of characters at the start it gets complicated to keep referring to it. Also Kurkjian repeats theories as if each chapter serves as a stand-alone piece but they don’t quite read that way. It’s not a longform news article. Or I’d just read that as I have. I’ve read nearly everything about ISGM and the theft. Not sure why anyone, even a gangster, would want paintings ripped out of the frames hanging on the walls. Even private art dealers I don’t quite understand unless they lend their art for others to view. Isabella Stewart Gardner created this museum to share her art with the masses.

Some interesting information culled from Master Thieves:

–The FBI has never sought assistance from the Boston Police or the Massachusetts State Police. Many officers would know Boston’s crime world rather well.

–Being close to the museum entrance, the Yellow and Blue Room galleries were easiest rooms to steal paintings from.

–After the theft an art critic for the Boston Globe wrote about Gardner’s inability to raise enough funds during the 1980s—“The trustees, traditionally a self-perpetuating Brahmin board of seven Harvard-educated men, acted as if fund-raising were tantamount to begging.”

–In 1989 it was reported that only two police officers in the United States investigated art thefts full-time. One in Los Angeles, the other in New York. On the other hand, Italy’s art theft unity has eighty agents.

–A Cezanne stolen in 1978 from Stockbridge, Mass. was recovered twenty-one years later.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Public Affairs.

purchase at Amazon: Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist

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Summer Tour: Culture Club

emh6_CultureClublores_4

Culture Club will embark on a summer tour in the states starting on July 20 in Denver.

NORTH AMERICAN TOUR DATES
07/20 – Denver Botanic Gardens – Denver, CO
07/24 – Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
07/25 – The Greek Theatre UC Berkeley – Berkeley, CA
07/27 – Beacon Theatre – New York, NY
07/28 – Beacon Theatre – New York, NY
07/31 – MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods – Mashantucket, CT
08/01 – Etess Arena – Atlantic City, NJ
08/02 – Blue Hills Bank Pavilion – Boston, MA
08/04 – NJPAC – Newark, NJ
08/06 – Casino Rama – Rama, ON
08/07 – The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor – Windsor, ON
08/08 – MusikFest Main Stage – Bethlehem, PA
08/10 – Wolf Trap – Vienna, VA
08/11 – Booth Amphitheatre – Cary, NC
08/12 – Fox Theatre – Atlanta, GA
08/14 – Klipsch Amp at Bayfront Park – Miami, FL
08/15 – Madeira Beach Waterfront Park – Tampa, FL
08/16 – Hard Rock Live – Orlando, FL

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Hallie Ephron

night night

When she discovers her screenwriter father dead in his swimming pool, Deirdre Unger finds herself at the center of the suspicious death. It’s 1985 and old Hollywood secrets resurface. Decades ago Deirdre’s best friend killed her mom’s boyfriend and a terrible accident left Unger walking with a limp and crutch. Deirdre now lives in San Diego and runs an art gallery. She and her brother drifted apart years ago. He dropped out of school, lives at the family estate and runs a motorcycle dealership. Their mother took off to join a cultish monastic life. When Deirdre begins sorting through her father’s papers the past swings back in full force. Hallie Ephron’s newest novel Night Night Sleep Tight weaves together present day-1985 with the 60s with fierce suspense and superb details. She delves into the anachronisms of Hollywood celebrity and the fame that many want and few realize. Ephron grew up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents so this covers familiar territory. A New York Times bestselling author, Ephron also wrote Never Tell a Lie, Find Me and There Was an Old Woman.

Night Night Sleep Tight By Hallie Ephron.
William Morrow| March 24, 2015.|287 pages |$26.99| ISBN: 978-0-0062117632.

Hallie Ephron took the time to answer a few questions.

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

author Hallie Ephron; photo by Lynn Wayne

Amy Steele: I really enjoyed the new novel Night Night, Sleep Tight. How did you come up with the characters?

Hallie Ephron: The book is a hybrid, one part based on my own experiences growing up in Beverly Hills, and another part riffing on the Lana Turner/Johnny Stompanato murder scandal. So, for instance, Deirdre Unger’s screenwriter father (Arthur) who gets murdered in the opening chapter is inspired by my dad; Deirdre’s old friend Joelen Nichol who turns up is based on my best friend in junior high, but her situation (her mother, mother’s Latin gangster boyfriend) is, as they say, ripped form some very old headlines.

Amy Steele: Why did you want to focus on a brother-sister relationship?

Hallie Ephron: Good question. I don’t have a brother, so I guess giving Deirdre a brother freed me to make stuff up. And I’m interested in how two people who grow up in the same family end up feeling as if they grew up in alternate universes.

Amy Steele: Do you generally start with characters or a story idea?

Hallie Ephron: It’s really both. Which is why my process is so messy. As I write the story the characters shift under me.

Amy Steele: You said that you used Lana Turner’s boyfriend’s murder by her daughter as a jump-off point. What appeals to you about that case?

Hallie Ephron: It happened when I was 10 years old (Cheryl Crane was 14) and the house was around the corner from where I lived. I pored over the pictures in the paper. I identified with Cheryl, sympathized with her enormously.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about your central character Deirdre?

Hallie Ephron: She’s a survivor. She had a terrible accident that left her crippled but she hasn’t an ounce (well, maybe an ounce) of self pity. And more than anything she wants to know the truth.

Amy Steele: Why did you decide to set this novel in 1985 and the 60s? Was it challenging to go back and forth time-wise?

Hallie Ephron: I was interested in writing about what was happening in Hollywood in the ‘60s – the studio my screenwriter parents worked at nearly went bankrupt and writers who had been on contract for decades were suddenly out on the street. I wanted the characters to be teenagers in the ‘60s, as I was, and then revisit the place twenty years later to see how it had changed. To keep myself sane, I had kept separate timelines for past and present for each of the characters. The writing itself was the easy part.

Amy Steele: What do you think is the best part of the earlier days of the entertainment industry versus today? Why do believe people like to read about it?

Hallie Ephron: So much glamour! It was before Facebook. The tabloids had barely gotten started. So it was a kinder, gentler time and the stars were protected by the studio system. So as far as the world at large was concerned, they lived a sort of fantasy existence.

Amy Steele: How did growing up in Beverly Hills with screenwriter parents influence your writing career?

Hallie Ephron: I’m a child of the movies, and though I don’t write screenplays my novels are very cinematic. When I write a scene, I imagine I’m writing from the viewpoint of a camera anchored in one of the character’s heads, but with access to that character’s thoughts and feelings and senses.

Amy Steele: How did you start writing?

Hallie Ephron: My first attempts were memoir. In fact, chunks of an early unfinished manuscript (full of lovely little episodes but no overarching story arc) found their way into Night Night, Sleep Tight. I always tell writers: Never throw anything away!

Amy Steele: Why do you like the mystery/thriller/suspense genre?

Hallie Ephron: I love reading the genre and it plays to my strengths as a writer. I’m good at creating a sense of place, building tension, and suggesting what’s going on with subtext. I love the intricacies of plotting out a mystery.

Amy Steele: What kind of research did you have to do?

Hallie Ephron: Hollywood and Beverly Hills in the 60s and 80s are so well documented – so many old pictures are found on the Internet and there are the movies that defined the styles of the times (Sandra Dee Gidget hair in the ‘60s; Jennifer Beals Flashdance hair in the ‘80s.) Between that and newspaper archives and my own memory, it was one of the easiest novels I’ve ever researched.

Amy Steele: Do you have any particular writing habits—time you write, place, outlines etc.—that you could share?

Hallie Ephron: I write every day, in my home office, on the computer, and I do create an outline though I never follow it. The outline is like training wheels that give me permission to write. As I write I revise the outline and make a feeble attempt to get ahead of myself, planning-wise. But it usually turns out to be hopeless and I constantly find myself second guessing myself and circling back. Along the way it’s a mess, but I’ve surrendered to the chaos. I’ve learned that if I keep at it long enough, eventually it comes together.

Amy Steele: Thank you so much Hallie! Tell Delia and Amy I send my regards.

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purchase at Amazon: Night Night, Sleep Tight: A Novel of Suspense

BOOK EVENTS

Tuesday, March 24 at 7pm
Brookline Booksmith
Launch event

Wednesday, March 25 at pm
Milton Public Library

Thursday, March 26 at 7pm
Wellesley Books

Saturday, March 28 at 2pm
Newport Public Library
Newport, RI

Tuesday, March 31 at 7:30 pm
Melrose Public Library
Melrose, Mass.

Thursday, April 2 at 7pm
BOOKENDS
Winchester, Mass.

Saturday, April 4 at 2pm
Brookline Public Library
Brookline, Mass.

Monday, April 6 at 7pm
Tufts Library
Weymouth, Mass.

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music review: Wind Burial

wind burial

Favoring female vox atop swirling melodies anytime any day and gravitating toward darkness, Wind Burial immediately caught my attention as it manages to convey intensity, danger and beauty.Varied instrumentation combined with sweeping arrangements resonates with atmospheric moodiness. It’s a compelling folk, alternative, psychedelic mélange that the Seattle band dubs desert-psyche.

Vocalist/Moog player Kat Terran provides a sonic depth with vulnerable and bold vocals. Her vocals sound similar to Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe and Valerie Forgione. from my favorite 90s band Mistle Thrush. “Sleeping Giant” gloriously spirals and shimmies and immediately reminded me of Mistle Thrush. “Crown of Bones” features ominous lyrics and dazzles, twists and rocks a bit. Into the depths for the exquisitely wistful “A Story from the Sea.” The band effectively starts with gentle melodica and churns to a heart-pumping crescendo on “We Used to Be Hunters.” Terran showcases her stunning vocals yet again on the slower emotional “Traveler.”

The band recorded the album in an old wooden church in the historic seaport of Anacortes. Sounds like a cool setting. This is an album to play on repeat. Wind Burial quickly became my new favorite band.

RECOMMENDATION: BUY

Wind Burial
We Used to Be Hunters
Release date: March 17, 2015

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book review: Ongoingness

ongoingness

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary By Sarah Manguso.
Graywolf Press| March 2015.|95 pages |$20.00| ISBN: 978-1-55597-703-0

Rating: *****/5*

“Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws.”

In this riveting pithy memoir, author Sarah Manguso writes about her experience writing daily in a journal for 25 years. It arrived on my doorstep one evening. I opened the memoir the next morning and read straight through before I needed to shower and head to an appointment. On moments. On being. On mindfulness and awareness. What has she learned? Why does she do it? She describes one goal: “My behavior was an attempt to stop time before it swept me up. It was an attempt to stay safe, free to detach before life and time became too intertwined for me to write down, as a detached observer, what had happened.”

Manguso soon realizes, particularly after the birth of her son, that living in the moment might be best and need not be written. By analyzing her journal she could detach from the past and center herself: “All I could see in the world were beginnings and endings: moments to survive, record, and, once recorded, safely forgot.” Manguso writes: “I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination—so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it.” That’s a positive. Then: “Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.” That’s problematic. She went through her journal at one point and eliminated an entire year because she felt nothing of interest occurred. Would think that would drive up her anxiety level.

Many of us keep journals to record our thoughts and activities. We keep mood journals to record our moods. Some people scrapbook to have things to look back on at a later date. Remember all the concerts we went to. Remember the people we dated. Remember various decades, specific years, turmoil and triumphs. But is that the only reason we write things down. And does one keep the journal, keep recording or does one get rid of the journals? I found myself involved from the first page. It’s a gorgeous reflection on time and record keeping.

–review by Amy Steele

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

Sarah Manguso reads at Harvard Book Store tonight at 7pm.

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book review: Aquarium

aquarium

Aquarium By David Vann.
Grove Atlantic| March 2015.|266 pages |$24.00| ISBN: 978-0-8012-2352-7

Rating: ****/5*

David Vann writes dark and introspective in an appealing, engrossing manner. He’s one of my favorite authors. I interviewed him for his last novel Goat Mountain. His characters struggle with complex yet simple issues involving families and quiet brutality. There’s a brutal hunting accident in Goat Mountain, suicide in Caribou Island, unimaginable family tragedy and matricide in Dirt (my favorite of his works) or getting into the psyche of a school shooter in Last Day on Earth. His collection of stories Legend of a Suicide introduced readers to his darker themes and potent writing style. Dark beautiful writing isn’t for everyone. I tend to gravitate toward dark music and prefer darker themed, well-written novels and memoirs.

This is Vann’s first novel centered on a female protagonist. Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives in Seattle with her dockworker single mother. Older now, Caitlin looks back on this time with the wisdom one gains through age and experience. There’s a lighter tone than previous works until events draw to a boiling point for Caitlin and her mother. Every day after school Caitlin visits the aquarium to study the fish while waiting for her mom to finish work and retrieve her. She finds the various fish and sea life fascinating and allows herself contemplation and solitude.

“At twelve, I had only the sense of pressure, some premonition, riding each surge and waiting for the counterpull, believing, perhaps, that all would release at some point. Each day was longer than the days now, and my own end not yet possible. It was a simpler mind, more direct and responsive. We live through evolution ourselves, each of us, progressing through different apprehensions of the world, at each age forgetting the last age, every previous mind erased. We no longer see the same world at all.”

The aquarium becomes synonymous to real life. What Caitlin sees in the tanks she can directly relate to her emotions, her relationships and the girl she is now. At home Caitlin finds herself as stuck as the aquatic life in the aquarium. Vann writes: “Back in our aquarium, as territorial and easily found as any fish. We had only four places to hide in this tank: the couch, the bed, the table, and the bathroom.” When you’re young you might have some hopes for the future but you also remain tempered in your reality. Particularly if your reality is subsidized housing, ramen noodles, single parent no siblings bleak. When Caitlin wants something new or wants to go somewhere, her mother reminds her that she’s working so that Caitlin can survive. She’ll say: “It doesn’t make any sense. Welcome to the adult world, coming soon. I work so I can work more. I try not to want anything so maybe I’ll get something. I starve so I can be less and more. I try to be free so I can be alone. There’s no point to any of it. They left out that part.” She gets a real guilt trip. That’s a lot to endure. The mom also has a boyfriend and when he’s around Caitlin’s often quickly consigned to the background.

An old man befriends Caitlin at the aquarium. Her extensive knowledge and interest impresses him and they chat about everything. Then one day he wants to take her to introduce him to her mother. This involves an unraveling to an already precarious lifestyle. Turns out he’s her grandfather who took off on her mom over 15 years ago and left her to care for her dying mother alone. Her mom had to drop out of school. She tells Caitlin: “And now I have the worst jobs a person can have, with no money and no future. We’ll be okay, and you don’t need to worry, but I won’t be able to become anything.” Caitlin quickly learns that childhood isn’t always easy. But she’s not grown-up enough to realize that in time memories fade. Past traumas heal. Or there’s that possibility. In one alarming scene, Caitlin’s mother wants Caitlin to suffer the same indignity and hard work she did when she cared for her mother. She’s fed up that her father wants a relationship with his granddaughter. So vivid and disturbing. What is the end game? Why? There’s a resolution but the most important message might be: “The worst part of childhood is not knowing that bad things pass, that time passes. A terrible moment in childhood hovers with a kind of eternity, unbearable.”

Currently a professor at the University of Warwick in England and honorary professor at University of Franche-Comte in France, Ivy-educated Vann lives the ex-pat life and might be more popular abroad than in the states. For one thing, many readers only want to read likeable characters and one finds many awful characters in Vann’s work. His dark, meditative writing likely won’t be discussed with a bottle of wine at a book club. Everything he writes compels me to keep reading because he’s such an impressive writer. His ability to fabricate stories about the most unimaginable events and catastrophes with grace and clarity impresses me.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Grove Atlantic.

purchase at Amazon: Aquarium

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