Posts Tagged by Amy Steele

STEELE INTERVIEWS: Beth Bombara

Credit: Nate Burrell

Credit: Nate Burrell

St. Louis, Missouri-based musician Beth Bombara creates Americana/folk songs with bluesy undertones and earthy vocals. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., Bombara played in a punk band in high school The 32-year-old singer/songwriter moved from Michigan to St. Louis in 2007 to embark on a solo music career. Her musician/producer husband Kit Hamon collaborated on her moving and diverse self-titled fifth album. The recurring themes are existentialism and travel. Quite thoughtful and provocative. She’s currently on tour and plays Club Passim in Harvard Square tonight.

I spoke with Beth Bombara during one of her days off.

Amy Steele: How’s the tour going?

Beth Bombara: It’s been a lot of fun so far.

Amy Steele: How did you get into music and singing and playing instruments?

Beth Bombara: There were always instruments around my house. We had a piano and my mom had a guitar. I was just really into music and teaching myself how to play guitar. I met some kids that wanted to start bands and it was something I always remembered doing.

Amy Steele: What do you like about being a solo artist?

Beth Bombara: I like both but I like playing with a band, in terms of having more band members to play with. In some ways it’s more fun because I don’t have to carry as much weight. I can just focus on singing more and maybe move around stage a little more. I like both. They’re just different. The band aspect there’s more collaboration. Solo. I’m rarely just playing me alone. Usually I have at least my husband playing bass with me.

Amy Steele: You moved to St. Louis in 2007. How has the music scene had an influence on your music now?

Before I moved to St. Louis I was in rock bands and went to a lot of sweaty basement shows and it was fun. I guess that can tie back into why I got into playing music in the first place. It was so fun to go see live music as a teenager. There’s a raw energy and getting to be part of that was fun. I was enamored with instruments and melody. When I moved to St. Louis, I really started experiencing music in the Americana roots music genre and even some blues. It was this perfect evolution of these things coming together. Moving to this place that roots and blues and heritage. A lot of folk coming out of the Ozark mountains. Banjo players and things like that. It definitely had a big influence. Examples of bands that played a part in my evolution after moving to St. Louis: Wilco; Uncle Tupelo; and more underground bands like The Rum Drum Ramblers (who are now a part of Pokey LaFarge’s band); and the Hooten Hallers.

Amy Steele: What makes you work well with your husband, to produce and collaborate on the album?

We have different ideas about things. We come at things from different perspectives. We might not always agree but we realize each perspective is valid. Having a certain respect enables us to use that different perspectives to find the best thing for the song.

Amy Steele: What do you think makes a good song?

Beth Bombara: I feel like the best songs are deceivingly simple if that makes sense. It can’t seem too forced. Simplicity makes good songs. Lyrics that are simple and a melody that is simple but also says something in a brief way .

Amy Steele: Let’s talk about some songs. What they’re about or what the writing process was like.

Amy Steele: “Promised Land”

Beth Bombara: It describes a point in life where I thought that a lot of things are unknown. It’s kinda scary when you don’t know, to plan things, to get a vision for what you’re doing. That definitely came from a place of uncertainty. Feeling this is kind of scary but we have to go into this darkness, unknown and it’s good to do with someone who supports you.

Amy Steele: “Give Me Something”

Beth Bombara: The writing of that was interesting: I did that as a writing experiment where I gave myself only a couple of days to write and record it. It’s kind of an anomaly in my songwriting. I didn’t have a specific idea. It was more stream of consciousness. It speaks to that whole cycle of getting to know somebody and feeling like you’re close and then that’s gone and navigating that.

Amy Steele: “Great the Day”

Beth Bombara: It kind of embodies my mantra. My philosophy. My life philosophy. So many things happen in life that we can’t control. We’re going to experience happiness, we’re going to experience sadness and you have to take that all with a grain of salt and support each other.

Amy Steele: “It Slips Away”

Beth Bombara: I feel like I was in the same emotional state with that song as I was when I wrote “Promised Land.” You’re on a journey and things are a little bit uncertain. Questioning yourself. Did I do the right thing? Am I headed in the right direction?

Amy Steele: What are your greatest challenges?

Beth Bombara: It’s challenging to be a singer/songwriter but not to get stuck in that box. Especially as a female singer/songwriter people have expectations about that. I’m going to show up to a gig with an acoustic guitar or a piano. And those stereotypes are hard to shake off. It’s only hard for me in my mindset. I don’t think it effects how I write songs. It’s just something I run into sometimes.

Amy Steele: What do you like best about being a musician?

Beth Bombara: I like the spontaneity. There are a lot of different areas where being a musician is spontaneous whether on stage playing a song and something happens you didn’t expect to happen. Collaborating with other musicians. I always enjoy that. Getting to meet a lot of people.

I enjoy creating songs. I think that speaks to my personality. I think I’m a maker. I like to make things. I like to garden. I like to screen-print. All these things I like to do have to do with building things. Creating something from nothing.

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Comparing and contrasting Bad Feminist and Unspeakable Things: feminist essays by two generations of feminists

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“No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.”
—Roxanne Gay

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“Feminism is not a set of rules. It is not about taking rights away from men, as if there were a finite amount of liberty to go around. There is an abundance of liberty to be had if we have the guts to grasp it for everyone. Feminism is a social revolution, and a sexual revolution, and feminism is in no way content with a missionary position. It is about work, and about love, and about how one depends very much on the other. Feminism is about asking questions, and carrying on asking them even when the questions get uncomfortable.”
–Laurie Penny

Two well-known feminist authors/columnists, Roxanne Gay and Laurie Penny, released essay collections. Roxanne Gay is a GenXer and has much more life-experience than 27-year-old Laurie Penny. Although with all her protest and underground movement experience, Penny might think she has more life experience. Gay is American and makes her living as a cultural critic and teacher. She grew up in a mostly white town with a middle-class upbringing. Penny is British with a career as a political reporter. She’s a contributing editor at New Statesman and editor at large at the New Inquiry. Penny seems to do a lot of protesting, squatting and couch surfing.

Both women write essays on what it means to be a feminist, on various women’s issues such as contraception and pay equity and a feminist perspective on various news and pop culture items. Both are serious about being feminist and about the importance of feminism in today’s world. With different writing styles—Gay tends to write with humor and a cheerier flair while Penny utilizes a more aggressive approach– they both present a clear message about the urgency facing feminists today. Read both works. They’re well-crafted, dynamic and provocative particularly for any woman who’s ever heard a man say “Oh you must be some kind of feminist.”

Being close in age to Gay, I could relate to nearly everything she said– except that I never read Sweet Valley High. I was reading other books. I was riding ponies and horses. Penny represents the newer generation of feminists who embrace lifestyles and methodology that I’m not used to. In fact, Penny had this to say: “The young women of today know far better than their slightly-older sisters who came of age in the listless 1990s how much work is still to be done, and how unglamorous much of it is. They know how bloody important it is to talk about power, and class, and work, and love, race, poverty and gender identity.” I could’ve stopped reading right there. Listless 1990s? I was in my 20s and it was a fantastic time. I’ve identified as a feminist since 5th grade and have been active and outspoken about my feminism all along. I found this a bit dismissive and offensive. What happened to sisters supporting sisters? Gay writes in “How to Be Friends with Another Woman”: “Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses—pretty but designed to SLOW women down.”

Gay breaks down Bad Feminist with these sections: ME; GENDER & SEXUALITY; RACE & ENTERTAINMENT; POLITICS, GENDER & RACE; BACK TO ME. Essays within each section. Penny has five chapters in Unspeakable Things: Fucked-Up Girls; Lost Boys; Anticlimax; Cybersexism; Love and Lies.

“I get angry when women disavow feminism and shun the feminist label but say they support all the advances born of feminism because I see a disconnect that does not need to be there. I get angry but I understand and hope someday we will live in a culture where we don’t need to distance ourselves from the feminist label, where the label doesn’t make us afraid of being alone, of being too different, of wanting too much.” —Roxanne Gay

Gay has a penchant for pop culture and some feminine frippery, thus she labels herself a bad feminist. Can you be a feminine feminist? Can you like looking pretty and favor the color pink. Is a feminist a sell-out if she wants to be taken care of by a man. If she wants the support and constant of a serious relationship. If she doesn’t want to know how her car functions, sometimes fakes orgasms and closes her office door for a good cry? Gay likes watching reality shows, listening to questionable hip-hop and picking apart cultural phenomena. In clear, strong words she thoughtfully writes about Chris Brown, the song “Blurred Lines,” The Hunger Games, The Help, Django Unchained and Fifty Shades of Gray.

“A culture that treats women as objects, that gleefully supports entertainment that is more often demeaning toward women than it is not, that encourages the erosion of a woman’s autonomy and personal space, is the same culture that elects state lawmakers who work tirelessly to enact restrictive abortion legislation.”

In the essay “Girls, Girls, Girls” she discusses the Lena Dunham vehicle Girls as well as women on television. “Girls have been written and represented in popular culture in many different ways. Most of these representations have been largely unsatisfying because they never get girlhood quite right. It is not possible for girlhood to be represented wholly—girlhood is too vast and too individual an experience.” She also adds: “There are so many terrible shows on television representing women in sexist, stupid, silly ways. Movies are even worse. Movies take one or two anemic ideas about women, caricature them, and shove those caricatures down our throats. Indie films provide the most expansive and feminist representations of women. Unfortunately Hollywood’s a sexist environment and there are less female writers, directors and producers making films and television programs than men.

Gay writes about serious matters such as violence against women in “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence” where she addresses society’s desensitization. “While there are many people who understand rape and the damage of rape, we also live in a time that necessitates the phrase “rape culture.”) As I read about her dislike for the term triggers in the “Illusion of Safety/The Safety of Illusion,” I fervently nodded in agreement. “Trigger warnings also, when used in excess, start to feel like censorship. They suggest that there are experiences or perspectives to inappropriate, too explicit, too bare to be voiced publicly.” In “When Twitter Does What Journalism Cannot,” Gay says: “Social networks are more than just infinite repositories for trivial, snap judgments; they are more than merely convenient outlets for mindless joy and outrage. They offer more than the common ground and the solace we may find during culturally significant movements. Social networks also provide us with something of a flawed but necessary conscience, a constant reminder that commitment, compassion, and advocacy neither can nor ever should be finite.”

In the essay “The Alienable Rights of Women,” Gay accentuates all the issues with birth control and women’s constant fear that we’ll lose every personal right for sexual freedom we possess. “Birth control is a pain in the ass. It’s a medical marvel, but it is also an imperfect marvel. Most of the time, women have to put something into their bodies that alters their bodies’ natural functions just so they can have a sexual life and prevent unwanted pregnancies.” Penny too tackles the attack on women’s bodies. She writes in “Anticlimax:” “The backlash against abortion access and contraceptive availability is a sexist backlash, rooted in fear of female autonomy and hatred of women’s sexuality.”

Both women are avid readers and both women like Kate Zambreno. I have Green Girl sitting here and must read it soon. Of Green Girl, Gay writes: “She wants to put her fist through a window but doesn’t because she knows that’s not what is expected of a green girl. She knows she is beautiful but does not necessarily feel her beauty inside. Throughout the novel, these tensions are brightly exposed over and over. At times, the novel makes it seem that to be a green girl is to be in a rather hopeless predicament.” Of Heroines, Gay writes: “They say that every writer has an obsession, and in Heroines, that obsession is reclamation or, perhaps breaking new ground where women can be feminist and feminine and resist the labels and forces that too often marginalize, silence, or erase female experiences.” And in explaining how her career intimidates men, Penny writes: “I would have understood what Kate Zambreno means when she says, in her marvelous book Heroines, I do not want to be an ugly woman, and when I write, I am an ugly woman.”

Women must be likeable which usually means not being terribly outspoken, loud or opinionated. And who wants to be like that? Both Gay and Penny often felt like (and sometimes still do) outcasts for various choices, career goals and how they express themselves. From “Not Here to Make Friends”: “As a writer and a person who has struggled with likeability—being likable, wanted to be liked, wanting to belong—I have spent a great deal of time thinking about likeability in the stories I read and those I write.” An unlikeable man in literature becomes intriguing, dark, compelling. An unlikable woman on the page remains perplexing, a complete outcast and rather hopeless. In her essay “Fucked-Up Girls,” Penny discusses her struggles with an eating disorder and the rampant desire for perfection combined with society’s unrealistic expectations for women. Penny writes: “Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love. If we have desires, we are expected to conceal them, to control them, to keep ourselves in check. We are supposed to be objects of desire, not desiring beings.” Dark prospects indeed. The pressures of being female. She adds: “The perfect girl is a blank slate, with just enough personality to make her interesting enough to take to bed.”

Penny has been a young activist in various political movements such as Occupy and she pays careful attention to address gender, race, sexuality and class structure. She focuses on her activism and the underground cultural movement. The radical methods to address conflict and issues in our culture. She elicits a call to action for men to become involved in the feminist movement in “Lost Boys.” As someone who’s been cyberharassed for four years, I took solace in a kindred soul in Penny. In “Cybersexism” she boldly and rightly states: “The Internet creates offline prejudices and changes them, twists them, makes them voyeuristic, and anonymity and physical distance makes it easier for some individuals to treat other people as less than human.” She adds: “Freedom of speech does not include the freedom to abuse and silence others with impunity.”

The veracity of Penny’s ideas on independence and not giving in to societal expectations to couple up, have a monogamous relationship are poignant and quite how I feel as a never-married, childfree by choice feminist of 45. The entire chapter “Love and Lies” is a brilliant turn-about on societal expectations for coupling, for love to be the ultimate goal for everyone’s happiness and to sustain one’s own self and one’s own interests to be satisfied. This IS OKAY. Penny writes: “But I refuse to burn my energy adding extra magic and sparkle to other people’s lives to get them to love me. I’m busy casting spells for myself. Everyone who was ever told a fairy tale knows what happens to women who do their own magic.” And this: “We are all encouraged to feel sorry for ourselves if we are single, to consider ourselves incomplete, but women in particular are urged to consider themselves inferior if their time is not spent comforting and cosseting a man, and ideally children too.” What a sad sad thing. You’re still single? How about people’s obsession with Renee Zellweger, Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Aniston finding the “right” man, get married and procreating. It’s revolting and we need to revolt against it. Fight. Speak up. Be yourself and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re less than.

Laurie Penny reads at Harvard Book Store on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 7pm.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay. Publisher: Harper Perennial [August 2014]. Feminism. Essays. Paperback. 320 pages.

RATING: ****/5*

Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny. Publisher: Bloomsbury USA [September 2014]. Feminism. Essays. Paperback. 288 pages.

RATING: ****/5*

Review by Amy Steele

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book review: Ghost Waltz

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The Ghost Waltz by Ingeborg Day. Publisher: Harper Perennial (June 2014). Memoir. Paperback.  232 pages. ISBN13: 9780062310002.

“It was simple. If I detested anti-Semitism with my brain and soul, I had to distance myself from my parents to a degree unbearable for me. So I detested anti-Semitism with my brain alone.”

An editor at Ms. Magazine, Ingeborg Day published both Nine and a Half Weeks and Ghost Waltz in the 1980s under a pseudonym. Born in Austria in the midst of World War II, Day didn’t hear about Nazis, Hitler or the Holocaust until she moved to the United States in 1957. However she already retains a hatred for Jews, Jewishness and Israel ingrained into her psyche from an early age. She recognizes that she works with many Jewish people and counts many Jews as her friends. This memoir recounts memories of her Nazi father as well as retracing her mother’s ancestry to Vienna.

“To say, ‘My father was a Nazi,’ is bad enough. To say, “He belonged to the SS,’ and to say it in Manhattan, today means that every listener assumes my father pushed bodies into gas chambers, spend quiet evenings stretching skin into lampshades.”

Day traverses between her past in Austria to her present in New York. She explains the differences between Austria and Germany during WWII and that many people don’t distinguish between the two countries. She provides immense historical background about Austria and the Nazi party. She somewhat comes to terms with her own degree of anti-Semitism as much as a New York magazine editor can. Day connects a dark past, her parents’ even darker existence with her present. She recalls the time she slept with a Jewish guy who thought it rather reckless, even bemusing, that he was having sex with a Nazi’s daughter. He only wished she could dress the part. Ghost Waltz is detailed and somewhat provocative. It’s also indulgent. A glimpse into one’s soul-searching that proves absorbing at parts and tedious at others.

RATING: ***/5

<em>FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Harper Perennial/Harper. </em>

purchase at Amazon: Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir (P.S.)

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book review: Fourth of July Creek

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FOURTH OF JULY CREEK by Smith Henderson. Publisher: Ecco (May 2014). fiction. Hardcover. 480 pages. ISBN 978-0-06-228644-4.

“The mother collected unemployment but her full-time occupation was self-pity. She slippered around the house in sweatpants and smoked a lot of weed and took speed and tugged her hair over her face in a shape pleasing and temporary and dumped forth her old bosom and smiled prettily for herself and discovered nothing in the mirror to recommend her to anybody for anything.”

Fitting title for a painstakingly detailed novel about a social worker tasked to cover a rural, impoverished area in western Montana who encounters a survivalist battling everyone including the FBI. Sad, forlorn. Set in the 1980s. Provides insight into a social worker’s challenges and stressful existence.

Not surprisingly Pete Snow’s personal life is in near shambles. Pete drinks heavily as soon as his day ends. He has almost no relationship with his teen daughter and then his ex-wife moves off to Texas. Soon after, the estranged thirteen-year-old daughter runs away after a debauched party. Snow begins dating another social worker who lives in Missoula. She’s a product of the system herself, grew up in foster homes shuffled around and then decided to become someone who ideally helps others with lives as difficult as hers. Of course that’s the goal.

“Sexual deviancy came as little surprise anymore. Nymphomania, satyriasis, pedophilia, coprophilia, telephone scatologia—there wasn’t a particular paraphiliac that hadn’t crossed Pet’s path at one time or another.”

Smith Henderson writes the darkest, harshest, extreme scenarios. The central focus remains the erratic, strange Jeremiah Pearl—secluded in a wooded area. He’s stockpiled and barricaded and waits for some sign, some end of everything, the apocalypse. Pearl harbors strange ideologies and remains averse to any government intervention including when Snow tries to assist Pearl’s son. Jeremiah pushes Snow away repeatedly but Snow keeps coming back undeterred.

“He drove his Corolla with the windows down, but pumped them back when mammatus clouds popcorned over the Flathead Valley and gumdrops of rain began to splash his windows. He turned onto Highway 28 and the clouds quit raining altogether and shortly thereafter broke up like a crowd after a fistfight.”

Excellent writing but I struggled through large chunks. While initially pulled in by impressive descriptions and turns of phrase, the story lagged and side-plots drew me astray. I mainly just wanted to find out what would happen with the survivalist. Would there be a Waco-style ending?

RATING: 3.5/5

–review by Amy Steele

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

purchase at Amazon: Fourth of July Creek: A Novel

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book review: Dancing Fish and Ammonites

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Dancing Fish and Ammonites by Penelope Lively. Publisher: Viking (February 10, 2014). Memoir. Hardcover. 234 pages. ISBN 9780670016556.

“A lifetime is embedded; it does not float free, it is tethered—to certain decades, to places, to people. It has a context; each departure leaves a person-shaped void—the absence within a family, the presence lost within a house, in a community, in society itself.”

Penelope Lively begins “This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age.” And that’s exactly right. Aging happens to almost everyone. It’s unavoidable and inevitable unless of course you die young. Lively reminisces quite a bit in this memoir but strikes a balance, not dwelling too much on one subject or another. Lively spent her childhood in Egypt, attended boarding school, then college in England and wrote dozens of novels [for which she won many awards— including the Booker Prize]. The writing itself isn’t terribly organized or edited although she divides her memoir into sections: Old Age; Life and Times; Memory; Reading and Writing; and Six Things. At 80-years-old, Lively makes astute observations though can wander off on rambling tangents too often.

I simply didn’t care for several sections in this pithy memoir—one which dealt two much on her WWII memories and one from which she chose her title. She describes several objects which hold special meaning for her. It fell a bit flat particularly after an intriguing portion on reading and writing. In the best parts she describes what influenced writing many novels as well as favorite books and authors. She humorously writes about the technology gap as someone gets disappointed when the smart phone purchase is for her not her grandchild or her granddaughter asked her to put a ribbon into her “vintage” typewriter. Also most times she discussed [non-wartime] London delighted me. Perhaps I’d have appreciated this memoir if I’d been better acquainted with Lively’s fiction writing and I’m apologetic that I’ve only read Moon Tiger. I have several others like Consequences on my bookshelves, waiting to be read. Since it’s a quick read, it’s worth reading, particularly for avid readers and writers, as Lively provides some interesting anecdotes and meditations.

On aging:

“We have to get used to being the person we are, the person we have always been, but encumbered now, with various indignities and disabilities, shoved as it were into some new incarnation.”

On writing:

“I am a diarist. It is a working diary, mainly, in which I jot down stuff that might possibly come in useful at some point.”

On reading:

“I can measure my life out in books. They stand along the way like signposts: the moments of absorption and empathy and direction and enlightenment and sheer pleasure.

“We read to bond, to oblige, to discover how someone else reads. And read to persuade, to agree or disagree.”

RATING: ***/5

–review by Amy Steele

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

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Bride of New France: book review

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Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers. Publisher: W.W. Norton (2013). Historical Fiction. Paperback. 294 pages. ISBN: 9780143173380.

I’m pretty sure the gorgeous cover drew me to this novel. That and the Paris/ “New France” connection of the 17th century, something I’ve read little about. This title doesn’t suit it at all. The main character, a young strong-willed woman name Laure, doesn’t become a bride in Canada well until the final third of the novel. It’s hardly about that at all. I found the subject matter fascinating but the writing difficult perhaps too academic. Author Suzanne Desrochers says she based the novel on a thesis idea. She’s a PhD student. At times the novel dragged along. Clearly the author found her subject matter completely enthralling and couldn’t decide what to include and what to withhold in this fictional account of an 18-year-old orphan’s journey from Paris to the uncharted wilds north of Quebec.

At the time, the King of France wanted to keep men in Canada so shipped women over there and would reward those who bore children. Many men endured the three years required service in the harsh Canadian wilderness and jumped onto a boat back to France, others stayed when given their own land knowing they had nothing better to return to in their homeland. For the women they had no idea what to expect as the men were living on their own for such a long time. They’d become used to that lifestyle as well as seeking companionship with the local native American women, known as “savage women,” who unlike the French women would put up with almost anything from the Canadian men.

“Because most of the men only stay a short while in the colony before returning to France, there seems to be less concern for respecting superiors. There also seems to be little protection for women from foul-mouthed men like this fur trader. “

When Desrochers kept calling the Iroquois Indian (he’d been kidnapped by an Algonquin tribe as a child) who Laure ends up having an affair with ugly without providing a physical description of him it truly bothered me. She only said that he was uglier than Laure’s husband. Most of her descriptions were pretty decent up to that point so I was quite disappointed and almost stopped reading but I wanted to see how it ended. Laure found herself pregnant with the Indian’s daughter and forced to give her up to be raised by the Indian tribe. Lucky for her, the husband, who himself had been sleeping with Indian women all along, died en route home to see the birth of what he thought was his child.

Laure showed resilience throughout her tribulations though proved to be a mostly quiet, reflective character. The details about the orphaned women in Paris homes run by religious orders, comprising the novel’s first third, could be its own novel. The journey to Quebec, the second third, a harrowing trip at that time and finally dropping these women off in parts unknown and wedding them off to men they’d never met. What a nightmare! This isn’t the best historical fiction for its characters but for introducing readers to rare subject matter and the author deserves some credit for her efforts.

RATING: ***/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from W.W. Norton.

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The Wrong Girl: book review

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The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Publisher: Forge (September 2013). Suspense/Thriller. Hardcover. 368 pages. ISBN 978-0-7653-3258-5.

“Jane kept up her smile. She was tired of explaining why she’d been fired, and even more tired of accepting sympathy and support because she had protected a source. It was over, she had a new job, she was happy happy happy. And as she so often heard, nobody watched local TV anymore. Which, truth be told, made her even happier.”

Thrillers might be the most popular genre in fiction after romance novels. So what makes this one stand out? A smart protagonist, Jane Ryland, works as a print journalist, not a medical examiner or private investigator or federal agent or police officer. She’s attractive yet not look-obsessed, relationship-obsessed or baby-obsessed. Her number one source is a police detective. Jake Brogan’s super-smart (Ivy-league educated) and handsome. There’s certainly a spark between Jane and Jake yet they’ve not done anything for fear it’ll jeopardize their careers. Author Hank Phillippi Ryan vividly describes Boston using her targeted knowledge of the city’s neighborhoods and intricate workings that keep the municipalities running day to day.

An ex-colleague at Jane’s newspaper arrives at her apartment in distress. She feels that the adoption agency sent her to a woman who can’t possibly be her birth mother. After taking a few steps back to consider the familiarly of their relationship (it’s strictly a working one), Jane decides it could be a possible story and decides to tag along with Tucker to find out more information about what might be going on. It turns out that Tucker may have been right to question her uneasiness at the meeting with her supposed birth mother. As Jane delves deeper into this adoption agency, she finds something menacing behind the beneficence.

Meanwhile Jake’s caught not one but two murders. One, a single mother of two children. He also finds a crib at the apartment where she’s murdered which completely befuddles him and leads the case in an unusual direction. The other case finds him crossing paths with Jane. A woman murdered, staged to look like a suicide, runs the private adoption agency that placed Tucker so many years ago.

Weaving together people and places by providing the ideal details and twists to keep questions flowing and keeping you wondering what exactly might be going on, Phillippi Ryan wrote a winner. She’s an amazing investigative journalist demonstrated by the creative manner in which she creates fascinating characters and concocts a disconcerting, riveting mystery. The Wrong Girl is an absolute page-turner that’ll keep you up late into the night.

RATING: ****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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Lifetime TV movie review: A Sister’s Nightmare

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Cassidy (Natasha Henstridge) spent 15 years hospitalized for being criminally insane and on release shows up at her younger sister Jane’s house. Jane’s a police officer living with her teenage daughter (Peyton List) and fiancé (Matthew Settle). From the look on Jane’s face she seems doubtful she can trust Cassidy or that she’s been fully rehabilitated even after more than a decade. I’m always wary when films portray the mentally ill as too dangerous. Yes, there are those mentally ill who cannot interact with society and need to be under constant care and supervision a hospital wouldn’t release a woman after 15 years if it didn’t believe she’d be okay as long as she took her medication and continued therapy. There are double-checks. Of course then there wouldn’t be these Lifetime films. I’m dubious about this film.

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“It’s so private here. You could do whatever you wanted and nobody would know,” Cassidy says when she sees the beautifully open living room in her younger sister Jane’s home.

Jane keeps having flashbacks to whatever it is that occurred so many years ago that landed Cassidy in the psychiatric facility. They’re very tense with each other. Cassidy also flirts with Jane’s fiancé and cozies up to her daughter which she doesn’t appreciate at all. Jane tells her fiancé that she’s had regular calls with Cassidy’s doctor and he’s never once indicated that she’d be released any time soon. He told her about mood swings and memory loss. Jane travels to the hospital to investigate. Cassidy’s psychiatrist retired. A letter indicated that she should be released and continue her treatment as an outpatient. Jane remains suspicious.

“I cut my sister out of my life for good reason. Cassidy is mentally unstable,” Jane tells her daughter.
“Like me?” [her daughter has water phobia]
“No. You’ll grow out of that.”

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Natasha Henstridge plays the mysterious, potentially still volatile Cassidy really well. Sometimes blank faced, confused, sad, distraught. Often jealous, confused and trying to fit in. Occasionally hopefully. She shows so much in her eyes and her delivery truly effective for this wounded character. While Kelly Rutherford (who I’ve only seen on Gossip Girl) acts the perfect foil to her older sister who scares her so much.

She says that her sister’s bipolar with a borderline personality who murdered her husband. Jane explains everything that happened early on to her fiancé. Although mental illness doesn’t truly manifest until mid-to-late 20s. There’s another twist that I don’t want to reveal.

I DO want to stress, if you have a mental illness don’t go off your meds without medical supervision.

There’s an intense twist at the end of A Sister’s Nightmare.

–review by Amy Steele

A Sister’s Nightmare debuts September 7, 2013 at 8pm on Lifetime.

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NEWS: Chelsea Wolfe, new album and FALL TOUR

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Chelsea Wolfe has quickly become one of my top three favorite artists in the past year. Her intense vocal range cuts through you as she expresses depth and intense emotions on every song. She carefully crafts each song with intricate compositions which combine classical, goth and experimental instrumentation. She utilizes soft vocals, sometimes stark without any musical accompaniment, soaring melodies, or a whispery vocal depending on what emotions she intends to convey. Every Chelsea Wolfe song leads the listener though a personal emotional journey. . A beautiful, haunting escape. Pain is Beauty is yet another near perfect album for a superbly talented singer/songwriter who should be getting far more attention than she does.

–review by Amy Steele

purchase album at Amazon: Pain Is Beauty

Fall Tour Dates

09.06 – Mohawk – Austin, TX *
09.07 – Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX *
09.08 – One Eyed Jacks – New Orleans, LA *
09.09- The Earl – Atlanta, GA *
09.10 – Local 506 – Chapel Hill, NC *
09.11 – Rock and Roll Hotel – Washington, DC *
09.13 – Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY *
09.14 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA *
09.15 – The Sinclair – Boston, MA *
09.17 – Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – Toronto, ON
09.19 – The Pike Room at Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, MA *
09.20 – Boomslang Festival – Lexington, KY *
09.21 – The Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL *
09.22 – Cedar Cultural Center – Minneapolis, MN *
09.24 – Larimer Lounge – Denver, CO *
09.25 – Urban Lounge – Salt Lake City, UT *
09.26 – The Venue – Caldwell, ID *
09.27- Barboza – Seattle, WA *
09.28 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR *
09.30 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA *

* with True Widow

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Luray: music review

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This Washington, D.C.-based bluegrassy, ethereal [banjo-driven folk]/ Americana band revolves around singer/songwriter Shannon Carey’s gentle, sun-kissed vocals and diverse banjo playing. On the magical, glorious title track Carey sings in subdued style then hits an exquisite high note at the chorus. This song sounds the mellowest and most electric at the same time, keyboards and guitar being central instruments. “Kalorama” [a section of D.C.’s Adams Morgan] sounds distinctly alt-country while “Already There” shimmers with a sweet banjo twang and kicky beat. “Tidalground” features a more atmospheric sound and swirly vocals. From the first note of “Crying,” you’ll feel like you’ve hit the road in cowboy boots. When something seems inherently simple it can’t possibly be. Carey possesses the songwriting abilities and vocal range for Luray to straddle several genres while maintaining its own sound. Even though her brother Sean (S. Carey of Bon Iver—a more brooding indie band) produced the album, Shannon clearly prefers singing and writing songs with happier vibes. Think fresh air, blue skies, paddles dipping into cool water, trail mixes, reading on a hammock and long winding hikes.

–by Amy Steele

The Wilder
Release date: August 27, 2013

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