Crazy From the Heat

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Blurb:

‘I WAS THERE WITH THESE TWO GIRLS ONCE; THEY WERE STRIPPERS. THEY SAID ‘DAVE, WE’D LIKE YOU TO GO UPSTAIRS, THE TWO OF US, WITH YOU. ‘ SO I SAID, ‘OKAY’. IT WAS AUGUST, AND IT WAS HOT AND SWEATY AND HUMID, AND WE COMMENCED TO DELIVER THE GROCERIES AT 138 BEATS PER MINUTE OR MORE. ONE OF THE GIRLS HAD $1500 IN SINGLES AND FIVES AND TENS, HER END-OF-THE-WEEK TIPS AND PAY AND EVERYTHING IN HER G-STRING. NOBODY NOTICED, YOU KNOW, WHEN THE G-STRING CAME UNDONE — WELL, I NOTICED — NOBODY NOTICED THE MONEY, LIKE, FLOATING AROUND. I WOKE UP AT SOME POINT AROUND DAWN, THE TWO OF THEM WERE ASLEEP, AND ALL THREE OF US WERE COVERED WITH MONEY, EVERY SQUARE INCH OF SKIN HAD A DOLLAR BILL PASTED TO IT — THERE WAS NOTHING BUT. THE WHOLE BED WAS COVERED WITH BILLS. OUR BODIES WERE COVERED WITH BILLS. THERE WAS BILLS IN MY UNDERWEAR. TAKE A LITTLE PICTURE OF THAT. ‘ So begins perhaps the ultimate rock autobiography. Throughout the late-seventies and eighties Van Halen were the archetypal American rock group. Whats more they were also the highest paid band in the history of show business, taking a cool $1 million for a night’s work at a festival in 1983 and making the Guiness Book of Records.

My Take:

I’m a big fan of rock and roll memoirs. They are always entertaining for one reason or another. Diamond David Lee Roth does not disappoint. This is a no-holds-barred look into the 1980’s hedonistic culture that once populated the pages of magazines like Circus and Hit Parader.

Roth, known for his rapid-fire linguistic reportage, shares snippets of his time traveling the globe both with and without the mighty Van Halen. From a glimpse into the childhood that formed the man, to his tumultuous years in one of the biggest bands ever, to his alone time, away from the rock and roll life, traveling through the jungles of South America, Dave lets us have just a peek into his wild and crazy world.

This is a fun read, to be sure. The only downside is, he barely scratches the surface when discussing studio time with Van Halen. As a fan of their music, I really hoped to learn more about the creative process of this amazing band. Overall, I recommend this book—especially if you’re looking for a few good laughs from the Diamond one.

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Slivers of Life

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Blurb:

These twenty short stories are a peek into individual lives caught up in spectacular moments in time. Children, teens, mothers, and the elderly each have stories to share. Readers witness tragedy and fulfillment, love and hate, loss and renewal. Historical events become backdrops in the lives of ordinary people, those souls forgotten with the passage of time. Beem Weeks tackles diverse issues running the gamut from Alzheimer’s disease to civil rights, abandonment to abuse, from young love to the death of a child. Long-hidden secrets and notions of revenge unfold at the promptings of rich and realistic characters; plot lines often lead readers into strange and dark corners. Within Slivers of Life, Weeks proves that everybody has a story to tell-and no two are ever exactly alike.

My Take:

This book is a nice sample platter of what a gifted artist can do with words and situations. There are twenty short stories in this collection, and each one offers a voyeuristic gaze into various lives and moments in time. These are mostly normal people caught in not-so-normal situations. There always seems to be a little twist at the end of each story. I love the way this author’s mind works. I am a huge fan. Get this one NOW!

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I Know This Much Is True

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Blurb:

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

One of the most acclaimed novels of our time, Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True is a story of alienation and connection, devastation and renewal, at once joyous, heartbreaking, poignant, mystical, and powerfully, profoundly human.

My Take:

Wally Lamb is a great American author telling amazing stories. I’ve been privileged to read a few of his works over the years. This one caught my attention because of the Oprah’s Book Club label. While I’m not a big fan of her former program, Oprah Winfrey sure can pick winners when it comes to books. I Know This Much Is True is one of a dozen or so I’ve read with the OBC designation attached. I’ve not been disappointed.

With this tale, Lamb takes on mental illness and twin brothers. His carefully constructed story is tight, deep, and fully developed. This story touches on alienation, religion, family, and reproduction. At 900+ pages, this book is long. But take my word, the journey is worth the time. I recommend pretty much anything from this author.

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The High Road: Memories From A Long Trip

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Blurb:

What drives a man to spend 26 years performing night after night? To persevere through a stifling tour bus, bad food, strange women, flared tempers, a plane nearly blown from the sky? Just how did that troubled military brat with a dream claw his way from dirt-floor dive-bar shows to the world’s biggest stages?

Aviator, author, and Country Music Hall of Fame drummer Mark Herndon lived that dream with one of the most popular and celebrated bands of all time. He learned some hard lessons about people and life, the music industry, the accolades and awards, how easy it is to lose it all . . . and how hard it is to survive, to embrace sobriety, to live even one more day.

Herndon’s poignant memoir offers a tale at once cautionary and inspirational, delightful and heartbreaking, funny yet deeply personal. From innocence to rebellion to acceptance, can a man still flourish when the spotlight dims? Are true forgiveness, redemption, and serenity even possible when the powerful say everything you achieved somehow doesn’t even count? That you’re not who you and everyone who matters thought you were?

Mark Herndon refuses to slow down. So look back, look ahead, and join him on the trip.

He’s taking The High Road.

My Take:

Mark Herndon played drums for the country band Alabama for nearly thirty years. So imagine his surprise when the three founding members of the group (all cousins, mind you) decided that he never really was an actual member. This despite the fact that the man appears on pretty much every one of their album covers over the years. He’s there in the videos as well. And let’s not forget he’s been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of, yes, Alabama.

You’d think Herndon would be bitter, having given so much of himself to this popular act. But that’s not his style. As the title suggests, Mark Herndon took the high road in telling his story. This memoir is really about his life, with glances inside the fame machine.

Herndon is a talented drummer, a father, a licensed pilot, and an author. He got his start as a heavy metal/hard rock drummer before getting the gig with the then-unknown Alabama. It was his sound that gave the group that little something extra that made them stand out from all the other country bands.

From what I’ve heard and read elsewhere, Herndon was the nice guy of the band, always staying late to sign autographs and meet fans. The others, according to many fans who’ve met them, had egos or attitudes. I’ve never met them, so I really can’t speak to that. What I can say is, this is one of the better memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Herndon is one of those guys who just has an interesting story to share.

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Mother of Pearl

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Blurb:

Capturing all the rueful irony and racial ambivalence of small-town Mississippi in the late 1950s, Melinda Haynes’ celebrated novel is a wholly unforgettable exploration of family, identity, and redemption. Mother of Pearl revolves around twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade, a black man who grew up an orphan, and Valuable Korner, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of the town whore and an unknown father. Both are passionately determined to discover the precious things neither experienced as children: human connection, enduring commitment, and, above all, unconditional love. A startlingly accomplished mixture of beauty, mystery, and tragedy, Mother of Pearl marks the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.

My Take:

I’m not a big Oprah Winfrey fan, but I will say this: The Oprah Book Club sure picked a lot of great novels. Mother of Pearl is one of those reads. I chose it based solely on the Oprah seal of approval on the cover.

What Melinda Haynes accomplished with her debut novel is nothing short of brilliance. There is a subtle undertone of sadness running through this story set in the deep south during the 1950s. Lives are never going to be what those who live them hope they’d be; expectations—unless negative—are usually unmet. Valuable Korner, a white girl and 15-year-old daughter of the town whore, finds her life intersecting with that of Even Grade, a black man just trying to live the life handed to him. Family secrets are unearthed, leaving young Valuable struggling against awful truths from the generations that came before.

This is a story of redemption. Love leads to commitment after tragedy, and empty lives find fulfillment. Haynes manages to pull this off without that sappy feeling. This is one of those books I have kept on my shelf long after reading. It is worth your time.

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The Ice Storm

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Blurb:

The year is 1973. As a freak winter storm bears down on an exclusive, affluent suburb in Connecticut, cars skid out of control, men and women swap partners, and their children experiment with sex, drugs, and even suicide. Here two families, the Hoods and the Williamses, come face-to-face with the seething emotions behind the well-clipped lawns of their lives – in a novel widely hailed as a funny, acerbic, and moving hymn to a dazed and confused era of American life.

My Take:

As the blurb states, this novel has a little of everything: sex, drugs, suicide, wife swapping, and tragedy. The 1970s were clearly a time of disappearing inhibitions. The author manages to encapsulate that wild and crazy decade into a compelling story featuring two families. Rick Moody’s brush strokes are magnificent, painting vivid images of family dysfunction. A solid piece of writing.

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The Kite Runner

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Blurb:

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.

My Take:

Another fantastic read steeped in darkness and quiet hope. Two young boys from different stations in Afghani caste society become close friends. A terrible incident pulls them apart. Years later, one of those boys—now a man—seeks to make amends for his lack of action. But is it too late? Can he really find absolution for what he sees as his own act of betrayal? A return to the country of his birth, now under Taliban rule, just might lead to his own end. Is this a chance he’s willing to take in an effort to make things right?

The storytelling here is superb. The author writes from a cultural point of view few have ever captured within the realms of a novel. If you’ve seen the film but never read the book, get this one and forget the film. A case of the-book-is-better-than-the-film!

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Jazz Baby

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Blurb:

While all of Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, sudden orphanhood wraps its icy embrace around pretty Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten, a young teen.

Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, Baby Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that brings church ladies to righteous tears, and makes both angels and devils take notice. “I’m going to New York City to sing jazz,” she brags to anybody who’ll listen. But the Big Apple—well, it’s an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she’d always called home.

So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all sorts of shortcuts, Emily Ann soon learns it’s the whorehouses and opium dens that can sidetrack a girl and dim a spotlight…and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out.

Jazz Baby just wants to sing—not fight to stay alive.

My Take:

Okay. So I’ll admit to being a bit of a book snob. I rarely ever give non-traditionally published books a chance. Then along comes Jazz Baby, a stunningly beautiful indie novel, and the rules are out the window. This book is solely responsible for my new and growing affection toward independently published novels.

The story is set in 1925 Mississippi—with forays into New Orleans—where Emily “Baby” Teegarten, our young teenage protagonist, seeks her fame and fortune singing jazz upon the stages of various speakeasies scattered throughout that part of the deep south. But New York is her ultimate destination. New York is where people go to become stars. The problem is, our girl is poor, orphaned, and naive to all those nefarious characters lining up with their own agendas for Baby.

There are some dark moments in this story—a rape, a couple of murders, and drug use—but there are also some very touching moments. Our girl is young, pretty, talented, bisexual, and curious about all those appetites in life she feels she’s been kept away from for too long. There are sex scenes—though they are not gratuitous.

To claim the characters here are vividly real is a major understatement. This writer really took his time in developing even the minor players. I’ve read this one three times already—at just 224 pages, it can be finished in a day or two. I’ve also returned to various scenes numerous times just to feel those delicious words against my tongue once again. I highly recommend this one to those who enjoy great storytellers. How this novel isn’t a worldwide best seller is mind boggling.

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Middlesex

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Blurb:

A dazzling triumph from the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides–the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek-American family and flowers in the body of a teenage girl.

In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls’ school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them—along with Callie’s failure to develop—leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbia—back before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City and Prohibition, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callie’s grandparents fled for their lives. Back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite.

Spanning eight decades—and one unusually awkward adolescence—Jeffrey Eugenides’s long-awaited second novel is a grand, utterly original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire. It marks the fulfillment of a huge talent, named one of America’s best young novelists by both Granta and The New Yorker.

Middlesex is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

My Take:

Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a firm grasp of the craft that is storytelling. This story follows three generations of a family built on a dark and disturbing secret. This secret may or may not have contributed to the heart-wrenching journey a third generation family member has to face. This one had me crying at certain points. This is NOT a transgender story—as some may wrongly assume.

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Boy Still Missing

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Blurb:

It is June 1971 and Dominick Pindle, a tenderhearted but aimless Massachusetts teenager, spends his nights driving around with his mother and dragging his wayward father out of bars. Late one evening Dominick’s search puts him face-to-face with his father’s seductive mistress, Edie Kramer. Instantly in lust, he begins a forbidden relationship with this beautiful, mysterious woman. Before long, though, their erotic entanglement leads to a shocking death, and Dominick discovers that the mother he betrayed had secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

Rapt with confusion and guilt as the startling facts about his family begin to emerge, Dominick heads to New York City in search of retribution and the truth about his mother’s disquieting past. He soon finds refuge with Jeanny Garvey, a young, soulful idealist who might save him from his dire fate, but not before he makes a desperate choice that endangers everything he holds clear — and puts both their lives at risk.

Charged with the exhilarating narrative pace of a thriller and set during a complicated and explosive era, “Boy Still Missing” is a stunning debut novel. It renders a deeply affecting portrait of a boy whose passage into adulthood proves as complex and impassioned as the history that unfolds before his eyes.

My Take:

This is one of those stories where the author allows you to believe you have certain parts all figured out, then pulls your house down one card at a time. A complex story involving complex characters. I felt yanked into the story from the first page. A solid read I’d need with me on that island.

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