Archive for the 'Nonfiction' Category

New on the Shelves…

Friday, September 19th, 2014

I have heard a lot of great things about Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, so  I picked it up at the airport in New York (a little insurance policy, since Id already finished one book on the flight). Surprised one of my coworkers (he never did explain why he thought I wouldn’t be reading it), but I am looking forward to it.

flash boysFlash Boys is about a small group of Wall Street guys who figure out that the U.S. stock market has been rigged for the benefit of insiders and that, post–financial crisis, the markets have become not more free but less, and more controlled by the big Wall Street banks. Working at different firms, they come to this realization separately; but after they discover one another, the flash boys band together and set out to reform the financial markets. This they do by creating an exchange in which high-frequency trading—source of the most intractable problems—will have no advantage whatsoever.

The characters in Flash Boys are fabulous, each completely different from what you think of when you think “Wall Street guy.” Several have walked away from jobs in the financial sector that paid them millions of dollars a year. From their new vantage point they investigate the big banks, the world’s stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms as they have never been investigated, and expose the many strange new ways that Wall Street generates profits.

The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you. But in the end, Flash Boys is an uplifting read. Here are people who have somehow preserved a moral sense in an environment where you don’t get paid for that; they have perceived an institutionalized injustice and are willing to go to war to fix it.

Review: Lost Girls, an Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker

Monday, September 15th, 2014

lost girlsFirst off, let me say that Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker was not exactly the book I was expecting. I enjoy true crime novels and I have always been fascinated by the procedural part of the story – how the authorities track down their killer. In this case, the killer was never caught and it looks like the police threw the procedures out the window. This book is truly about the victims and while it is not what I normally look for in a true crime story, it was all the more fascinating for putting the crime on the back burner.

“Over the course of three years, each of these young women vanished without a trace: Maureen in 2007, Melissa and Megan in 2009, and Amber and Shannon in 2010. All but one of their bodies were discovered on Gilgo Beach, Long Island, an unsettled, overgrown, seven-mile stretch of shoreline on the string of barrier islands along South Oyster Bay.”

These young women are the center of this story. Some of them came from pretty troubled backgrounds. They had children, family and friends. They had pretty serious addiction problems. And they were all working as prostitutes, advertising on Craigslist.

What impressed me about the book is that these young women do not become stereotypes. They are not woman battered by a pimp or empowered feminists taking control of their bodies. They are young women who need money, who don’t have any great job prospects, and who find prostitution an easy way to make a lot of money in a short period of time. These women don’t deal with pimps. They advertise for themselves. They decide where and when to work (and the amount of work they can find with a simple Craigslist ad is astonishing), and while they make some provisions for their own safety, desperation can make people careless.

What infuriated me about the story is the way that authorities treated the disappearances: they didn’t care. A hooker disappeared – big deal. In some cases their families were unable to file missing person reports and it was clear that authorities did not consider these women to be worth looking for, at least not until the bodies started piling up. There were so many bureaucratic errors in these investigations, so many oddities, so many times where the police were clearly looking out for themselves and not really pushing these investigations that you can’t help but be frustrated for these women and their families. In the end, they still have no closure; they have lots of suspicions, but no definitive answers.

It takes a skilled author to write a compelling book without an ending, and I think Kolker did an excellent job. I certainly kept turning pages, alternately absorbed and furious, and I found myself very much engaged with these women and wanting justice for them. He doesn’t whitewash their stories, so you still get angry at them for putting themselves in so much danger for a few bucks, but you still wish for a better ending for them.

My copy of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: “We’re All Infected” – Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

infectedI am a huge Walking Dead fan and I was really looking to reading the essays in We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human. I have spent hours debating with friends, discussing the meaning of key points on the show, discussing what zombies have to say about our culture, what causes some supernatural entity – whether it’s zombies or vampires or werewolves – to become suddenly in vogue. Lots of great topics there and I was hoping for a great series of interesting essays.

This is a dense bit of reading. It’s less like reading an essay and more like reading someone’s dissertation. I knew as soon as I started coming across passages like this one in the second essay, “Burying the Living with the Dead: Security, Survival and the Sanction of Violence” by Steven Pokornowski, that this would not be easy to plow through:

Second, I propose that a multidisciplinary perspective informed by biopolitical, posthumanist, and critical race theories can offer a way to resist this representational problematic at the levels of both consumption and production – can offer, in fact, a political and ethical critique that takes into account the role of the social constructions of humanity and race in maintaining sovereignty.

I don’t even know what that means, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of fun and engaging discussion I was looking for.

There are a couple of high points. I particularly enjoyed P. Ivan Young’s essay, “Walking Tall or Walking Dead? The American Cowboy in the Zombie Apocalypse.” It goes into great detail comparing the tv show “The Walking Dead” to the 1953 film, Shane. I’ve never seen the film, but Young calls out instance after instance where the two Shanes (and Rick, as well) face similar circumstances and react in similar ways. There are too many similarities to be simple coincidence.

I also enjoyed “Zombie Time: Temporality and Living Death” by Gwyneth Peaty. It discusses the concept of time in the series – the ways in which time seems to have stopped, and just how important it is for civilized people to have a sense to time, to feel like they are moving forward. Various points in the series – Andrea planning to celebrate her sister’s birthday, the watch that Hershel gives to Glenn (and its later appearance in the opening montage), the big digital countdown clock at the CDC – all talk in their own way about the effect of time on the living characters. For the walkers, there is no time. Their death, which should mark the end of time for them, instead marks just a change of form. Although their time should be up, they keep on going, with no end in sight.

I have to say that overall, this was a disappointment. Someone with a more scholarly bent might appreciate it more, but I found most of the essays a real slog. There are many great ideas in this series to discuss and I have read some terrific articles on the various themes of the zombie apocalypse, but these are so weighted down with jargon and obscure references (do I think it is significant that Dale drove a Winnebago and Shane drove a Jeep Cherokee, both cars named after Indian tribes that are not native to the region? No, I do not) that I couldn’t really enjoy them.

My copy of We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human, edited by Dawn Keetley, was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) by Ken Sharp with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons

Monday, July 28th, 2014

kisslosebookI was a Kiss fan as a teenager, so I was really looking forward to reading Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). Author Ken Sharpe has pulled together an amazing series of interviews with former band members, roadies, industry and media people. In addition, there are a host of more recognizable names: Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Eric Bloom (Blue Oyster Cult), Neal Schon (Journey), Bob Seger, and Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Tommy Ramone. There are a lot of great quotes and interviews in the book – perhaps too many.

There are a number of things about this book that I loved. First, the interviews – it was fascinating to read the quotes from other musicians, people that liked Kiss and those who didn’t, bands who were more popular and those who were just starting out. Hearing what these bands had to say about Kiss, good and bad, gives you some context. Kiss was doing something very new and different, with the makeup and the theatrics. Some of their contemporaries embraced it, while others hated it; some were amused and others may have been a little jealous. But hearing them talk about the band – particularly those who said it was a gimmick and they would never make it – is definitely interesting.

The interviews with friends and industry people are a real look at what goes into launching a band. How difficult it is to get a label’s attention and then, once you have it, how to keep it. Getting signed certainly doesn’t guarantee success, and it is clear from each section of the book that if Kiss hadn’t had a few people who really believed in them, they’d have been doomed. Neil Bogart (Casablanca Records) and Bill Aucoin (their manager) did everything from manage, produce and promote the band to paying for their tours on their personal credit cards. Considering that they didn’t get a lot of radio airplay and they often had difficulty getting signed on as an opening act, they would never have gotten off the ground without their unflagging support. It was truly amazing to read just how much people invested in the band, and I don’t mean just the money involved to get an act like this rolling.

It’s also clear that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons shared a dream for their band and were willing to work very hard to make it  reality. There is a sort of single-minded devotion to the band and a refusal to believe that they would be anything other than huge stars that is, by turns, endearing and annoying.

For me, the downside of Nothin’ to Lose is that it sometimes got a little tedious. There is a definite “us against the world” vibe to the book, and it can get a little tiresome. Perhaps it’s accurate – perhaps there really were almost no supporters for the band in the early days – but it is reiterated so often that it seems like overkill.

I was also disappointed that the book really glosses over the departures of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. I was interested in reading about that, perhaps even getting some of the story right from the departed band members (a timely topic, considering the controversy surrounding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions). Unfortunately, their departures are covered only briefly on the last two pages of the book. Still, the book is an amazing look at a young band, on its way to stardom and all the ups and downs of that journey. There are some great stories here for anyone who was a member of the Kiss Army, and anyone interested in a slice of rock and roll history.

My copy of Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Christine’s Review: Confessions of a Casting Director by Jen Rudin

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

ConfessionsOfACastingDirector-pb-c-600wideDue to my background in Equity-eligible shows and a little movie work, I was keen to learn about auditioning from a casting director’s point of view. So often, performers are left in the dark about those tips for success that go beyond mere etiquette. Could Jen Rudin provide the resources to ace your next audition?  As a former casting director for Disney, Ms. Rudin does not disappoint.  Her sense of mentorship is displayed through an invitation to share her life on both sides of the casting table.  To supplement her experiences, working actors provide testimonials and anecdotes throughout the book.

Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room is information dense, but easy to read.  The book is an excellent primer or refresher for anyone wanting to get into the business.  Essential information on auditions and etiquette are helpful enough that even a veteran performer could obtain a few new tips.  Rudin’s commentary spans Broadway to film, pilot season to voice-overs.  Notably, there’s also an entire chapter on how to be a good stage mother. Rudin’s advice doesn’t stop with getting your foot in the door. She provides information on living conditions to look for in New York and LA along with having good work habits on the job. Bonus materials throughout include a section on headshots and resumes, “Dos and Don’ts” by industry, and useful websites.  Web resources are also correlated in a separate appendix.

The one problem I had with the text was that the anecdotes often seemed to turn into testimonials for Rudin.  I felt like this interfered with her warm, honest tone and hinted at shilling.  I would love to see a portion of them added to her casting website to enjoy in an appropriate context.

Overall, Confessions of a Casting Director would be an excellent choice for any actor’s library.  With paper and eBook versions available, you can review Rudin’s recommendations from your phone while waiting for your audition slot.  Her advice also applies to vocalists, Broadway babies, and classical singers.  If you want a glimpse into the real world of movies and TV, this is a superb starting point.

My copy of Confessions of a Casting Director was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

 

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net)

Christine’s Review: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings. by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

princess_final_300While the Kindle version is half the cover price, Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings is a hard-backed treasure you’ll want on your shelves for inspiration over the years to come.  Douglas Smith’s woodcut designs grace the header for each narrative, which ties the stories together.  McRobbie’s goal for this book is to make these “princesses” into people, so that they come alive on the page. I would say she has succeeded.

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explores the lives of women whose stories illustrate strong warrior, usurper, and survivor archetypes.  She saves room for the more notorious as well, including chapters on partiers and floozies.  Even Clara Ward’s sitting for Toulouse-Lautrec  along with her homely violinist husband, Rigo, is included. There’s a princess story in here for everyone’s taste.  These aren’t your grandmother’s versions of fairy tales. McRobbie takes a feminist perspective that is present from cover to cover. In her introduction, she takes on the Disney princesses. She wanted to provide in-depth role models for young girls.  Like all powerful women, princesses are a prime target for male subjugation.  McRobbie reminds the reader of the determination it takes to overcome the supposed limits of their gender.

The author also has a charming writing style.  One of my favorite quotes was about Pauline Bonaparte’s second husband-to-be, Prince Camillo Borghese, “The prince in question was handsome, rich, and well connected.  He was also as dumb as mittens on a cat.”. While the adventures of these women are fascinating, sometimes you feel like you’re reading more about Paris Hilton than Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.  According to this book, Pauline slept her way through any available men she could entrap, while Caroline of Brunswick Wolfenbüttel was known for low-cut dresses that showed her nipples.

The text is not sexually explicit, but there are discussions about both sexual frigidity and exploits of these princesses.   The book makes excellent bedtime reading, but I would not recommend it for children.  High-school aged young women and beyond will get a kick out of these enlightening tales.

This book would make the perfect gift for the grown-up princess or history lover on your holiday gift list. My copy of Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings is an advance reader copy, provided free of charge.

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net )

Lisa’s Review: Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp by Ann Kirschner

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Did you know that the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was really fought over a woman? That’s not entirely true, but it’s a big part of the story and one that I had never heard before. In Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp, Ann Kirschner tells a story of the Wild Wild West that was completely new to me. This is the story of the woman who hitched her wagon to one of the West’s most famous characters — and it’s not at all what I expected.

“Did you know Wyatt Earp was buried in a Jewish cemetery?”

I didn’t know that, and I completely understand why that tidbit drew Ann Kirschner into a place she called “Planet Earp” – the story of Wyatt Earp and his wife, Josephine Marcus Earp. Josephine was a Jewish girl from San Francisco who longed for adventure. Her sisters led pretty traditional lives – marrying and having children, remaining in the Jewish community – but Josephine ran away from home at 18 and traveled to Arizona looking for fame and fortune in the theater. By all accounts, she was a lovely young woman (the author compares her to a young Penelope Cruz), and she certainly got the attention of the men in Tombstone. For a time she lived with Johnny Behan, sheriff of Tombstone, and he introduced her as his wife. She shared his home and cared for his young son, but he never delivered on his promise of marriage. Her resentment of Johnny may have pushed her right into the arms of his biggest rival, Wyatt Earp.

One of the things I found interesting about Lady at the O.K. Corral is the view it presented of the Wild West. That’s a time I always think of as pretty puritanical; sure, there were prostitutes in the western boomtowns, but I expected more proper behavior from average citizens. Josephine lived with two men, without marriage, and while there were some social consequences those were due more to her husband’s involvement in saloons and liquor and prostitution than her lack of a wedding ring. Josephine left home at 18, lived to be 84 years old and in that time she never had a permanent address! She lived with Wyatt Earp for 47 years, traveling all over the West, up to Alaska, through the deserts of Arizona and down to Mexico. They ran saloons, sold liquor, drilled oil wells and panned for gold.  I particularly loved the stories of Wyatt and Josephine’s time in Alaska, when Nome was nothing but a stretch of beach and gold fever swept over the country. It was a thrilling time in our history and I have never seen the story told from that perspective, of a woman in the midst of it all, moved along by the tides of people and events, and thriving.

“The beach was barely visible beneath thousands of tents that almost touched each other, leaving the narrowest of passageways between them. Small mountains of worldly goods broke the line of tents, each pile challenging its owner to carry it away faster than a thief or a storm. Hundreds of dogs raced furiously about. Baggage and freight were piled high on the beach for a distance of several miles: a jumble of pianos, coal, narrow-gauge railway tracks, lumber, tents, stacks of hay, bar fixtures, washtubs, roulette wheels, stoves, liquor, sewing machines, and mining apparatus.”

Although their relationship seems to have been a very happy one, she was always haunted by her secrets and her status – no marriage (although they often lied about it, claiming to have been married on a friend’s yacht), and with the fear that people would find out about Wyatt’s first wife. In her later years, Josephine was a difficult woman; she was ferocious when it came to protecting Wyatt’s legend and reputation, and that made her more than a few enemies. She never inspired the love and affection that her famous husband did and Kirschner did a good job of bringing her to life for the reader. It’s hard to imagine a man and woman going from Wild West gunfights to working on Hollywood movie sets, but here it ties together easily, and I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for Josephine in her decline.

Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earpis a great book for those interested in the true story of our Wild Wild West. Most of those stories are told about the men of the West, but they weren’t living out there alone; I found the story a fresh angle on a well-known story.  My copy of Lady at the O.K. Corralwas an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

One final note: I went looking for photos of Josephine and I came across this picture (linked because it’s a bit racy). Not what I expected to see (and a bit more than I expected to see!), and there is an interesting story behind it. Check out the story here.

Lisa’s Review: Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

This is a book that delivered exactly what I was hoping for! Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household is full of details about living at the palace with the Queen, her husband and children. I really learned a lot about life in the royal household – the sort of interesting little details that aren’t salacious enough for the Daily Mail.

Did you know that a Queen’s “ladies in waiting” were actually noblewomen, paid to hang out at the palace and be the Queen’s BFFs? I had always assumed that the ladies in waiting were servants, and in a way I suppose they were, but they were minor noblewomen who received a salary and worked on a rotating basis. They generally lived at the palace for a month at a time, joining the Queen for rides in the country, visits to other nobles, playing cards and attending concerts. This was not always as exciting as it sounds:

“There were visits to the theater too, by no means an unmixed pleasure for the lady-in-waiting, who had to juggle Her Majesty’s many different wraps, her bouquet and bag and opera glasses, without being provided with the comfort of a seat. In June 1850, Charlotte [Canning] stood for four and a half hours behind the Queen’s chair at a command performance of As You Like It…

I really had no idea that the Queen had so much control over the lives of her court! She controlled when are where they ate dinner – right down to their seat at the table. She controlled whether they could take a walk, whether they could visit with their families, what colors the ladies were allowed to wear, even whether or not they could have a fire in their rooms. I am a freeze-baby; when everyone else is comfortable, I am chilly. I’ve gotten used to it and I dress accordingly — but what would it be like if you weren’t allowed to dress for your temperature?

The Queen firmly believed in the benefits of bracing temperatures, and in her palaces thermometers, set into ivory obelisks, sat on every mantelpiece to ensure the rooms remained healthily cool…After dinner, in the drawing room, jauntily upholstered in canary yellow and frequently no more than 40° Fahrenheit, the shoulders of the ladies turned quite blue.”

Can you imagine? Honestly, I shiver just thinking about it.

I’m not certain that it was intentional, but I definitely came away with a feeling that the Queen did not really connect with the people around her; that while she professed great love for them, she was completely insensitive to their basic comfort and happiness. Randall Davidson, Dean of Windsor late in the Queen’s life, said that she was “in many respects like a spoiled child, a nice child, but one who had not been properly handled or subjected to restraint and there is a good deal more difficulty in dealing with a spoilt child at the age of 60 or 70 than with a spoilt child of 6 or 7.” That was my impression in a nutshell, and while others talked about her “sound judgment,” I didn’t feel it in the text. She was not above using her influence to keep treasured courtiers from retiring, even when their health should have won them some respite, and separations from loved ones for months on end were a matter of course.

I did expect her to be more involved in the running of the country, but she seemed to prefer micro-managing the lives of her household – decreeing which windows could be opened and which must remain shut, who was allowed to ride which pony and the order in which her court could proceed into the dining room – all the while refusing to open Parliament or make public appearances because of her shattered nerves. Whether or not that is a fair impression, I really can’t say. I don’t have any innate respect for royalty that inclines me to give her the benefit of the doubt.

At the same time, she was prone to giggles, clearly had a crush on one of her Highland servants late in life, and played badminton in the hallways of the palace. That makes it difficult to be terribly hard on her.

The book occasionally gets bogged down in politics and the history and lineage of the court members. That’s not something that was of particular interest to me, although other readers might find it enlightening. I was really interested in all the little details of palace life – the huge entourages for trips abroad, the detailed arrangements for a simple dinner, the backstairs gossip and the infighting among the members of the court. Serving Victoria delivers plenty of that. I loved the way you not only got a feel for the character of Queen Victoria, but also for the personalities of her servants, through their letters and journals. They spoke their minds, at least in private, and that goes a long way toward giving us a true picture of the monarch.

This is a real gem for those who have an interest in the behind-the-scenes life of the royals. My copy of Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.
 

Guest Post: Ron Chepesiuk, author of Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of Frank Matthews, Kingpin

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Hey, it’s Friday and I am letting authors do the work today! I’ve got a great guest post from Ron Chepesiuk, author of Black Caesar: The Rise and Disappearance of Frank Matthews, Kingpin. I asked about what it was like to research a book like this – digging up old stories, talking to reluctant witnesses – and here’s what Ron had to say…

 

Researching Black Caesar

By Ron Chepesiuk

My first encounter with the urban legend, Frank Matthews, came in 2006 while I was researching my book, Gangsters of Harlem, and looking for kingpins to profile. It did not take me long to decide to include a chapter about Frank Matthews.

Matthews had operated out of Brooklyn but spent much time in Harlem, and the narcotics he peddled had a devastating impact on the neighborhood. In 1973, Frank Matthews jumped bail with $15-20 million and a beautiful woman named Cheryl Denise Brown and has never been seen again.

I knew the story was the biggest mystery in organized crime. Indeed, the more I researched the Matthews story, the more intrigued I became with him. He was certainly bigger than life—a country kid still in his teens who headed to the big city in search of fame and fortune and overcame many obstacles before becoming history’s first African-American drug kingpin. Matthews dominated the New York drug before other big name kingpins Nicky Barnes and Frank Lucas made their impact. His reputation as a gangster soared to such a level that people called—or hailed— him “Black Caesar.”

In researching a true crime story, the most importance source a writer can use is the court records. Matthews had fled but his crew was indicted two years later and a big trial ensued. Forty witnesses testified providing great material for the story. But when I checked with the National Archives, it could not find the records. The Archives did a thorough search, but never find the records. I had one hand behind my back, so to speak, as I began researching the book.

Over the next six years, as I looked for leads, documents and photos that could help flesh out Matthews’ remarkable story, I became, like everyone who delved into his life, obsessed. I thought surely there must be at least a few clues to tell us what happened to Black Caesar. Surely someone snitched for the reward and gave the authorities a credible lead on where he might be hiding. Surely, somebody must have bragged to authorities about having inside knowledge of Matthews’ fate. Yes, it was difficult to follow the money trail in the 1970s, but surely the authorities must have a lead to some of the $15-20 million Black Caesar was believed to have stashed away before jumping bond. Surely a young woman like Cheryl Denise Brown, the women Matthews ostensibly fled with, must have gotten a little homesick and tried to reach out to her family and friends. Surely,at least one time. And surely Matthews’ fingerprints, which are on file, must have shown up someplace, somewhere, sometime.

In researching the Matthews story, I got a good idea of the problems, frustrations and challenges that the DEA and USMS officials faced. Several sources I contacted thought, for whatever reason, that I was trying to find Matthews. I would explain I was merely documenting the Matthews story for the historical record while time allowed me to get access to the information, but many sources did not Some sources did have a good reason not talk to me. One source, for instance, had been a snitch and most likely he wants to forget about the past. When I approached his house to talk to him, he was on a walker and did not look particularly healthy. As he left the house and leaned on his walker, he kept repeating the mantra, “Dead man walking, dead man walking.” I don’t know if he was referring to me, the author, or to himself, the snitch.

Another potential source whom I approached through an intermediary and who reportedly had close ties to Matthews, refused to talk to me at first. Then a couple of weeks later, the intermediary told me the man was willing to talk now. I asked the intermediary why he had changed his mind. He explained that the man had received a phone call from Frank Matthews, who was supposedly calling from Chicago. The man told Black Caesar that a reporter (me) was snooping around and wanting to ask questions about him, but that he had told the reporter through an intermediary he didn’t want to talk to According to the intermediary, Mathews told the man, “You should talk to him. It’s about time my story was told.” Matthews must have changed his mind because the man who claimed to be in contact with Matthews never did talk to me. During my research, I heard my share of strange tales about Matthews’ appearances in Durham. One is the famous story about how, a few years ago, he appeared at a funeral dressed as a woman. Some local sources said that would be just like Pee Wee, the prankster, to dress like a woman and sneak into town. Other sources said, “Nah, Pee Wee was too macho to dress up as a woman, even for a joke.”

Two sources from Durham, North Carolina, Matthews’ hometown, even assured me that Matthews had had a sex change. A couple of homeboys claimed to have drunk booze and partied with Pee Wee at some of the liquor houses that still populate Durham, although how he could do something like that without it becoming common knowledge in a small town was never explained. And as one Durham source scoffed: “These dudes who claim to be with him weren’t close to Pee Wee. You never hear his home boys claiming to be in contact with him.”

When I finished the book I had to draw the sobering conclusion that no one really knows what has happened to Matthews. My guess is we will never know. With each passing year, it becomes less and less likely that any evidence will surface that tells for certain what happened to Frank Larry Matthews. The only sure thing we can count on is that the remarkable urban legend of Black Caesar will continue to grow and that we will not see a kingpin like him again.

————————————————————————————–

And there you have it! I love reading about how authors do their work, and this must have been a really fascinating case to research. A special thank you to Ron and the folks at Partners in Crime book tours for bringing this to us!

Review: The Best of Punk Magazine by John Holmstrom and Bridget Hurd

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Music history fans are gonna love this!

I admit that, small town girl that I am, I wasn’t  a big punk rock fan as a teenager. Many years later, I have more of an appreciation for it, although it will never be first on my playlist. But PUNK magazine was cool. It was something between a comic book and a music magazine, hand-lettered and full of great comic illustrations. It wasn’t a slick, commercial magazine, it was more like a fanzine – put together by people who loved and lived the music. Now, founder John Holmstrom has put together the story of the iconic magazine and the crazy scene that surrounded it in The Best of Punk Magazine.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about PUNK Magazine, but to me two stand out. One is that we invented the term punk rock. The other is that the magazine was started by three childhood friends from Connecticut who moved to the city to start a magazine together — so we could get free drinks, some people say.”

 

PUNK was started by three friends: our author, John Holmstrom; Ged Dunn, Jr.; and Eddie “Legs” McNeil. The story of how these guys managed to put together a
magazine makes for fun reading, and you pick up 
some interesting facts along the way. (The hand-lettering that I always thought was so cool? It wasn’t an artistic decision, but a financial one. They couldn’t afford typesetting. Remember, back in the olden days, there were no computers and desktop publishing programs to do all that.) Still, the best thing about the book is a chance to look over the illustrations, the pages from old PUNK issues. Holmstrom’s stories about each issue, the punk rock scene in New York City in the late ’70′s, and the people – both fans and stars – that populated the scene make for a really fun read.

I have to admit, the idea of a punk rock coffee table book seems…odd to me, but I really had fun scouring these pages, reading the trivia and laughing at the great photos.

My copy of The Best of Punk Magazine was a review copy, provided free of charge.