Do Something For Nothing
By: Joshua Coombes - Akashic Books, $18.30
Description: Through the simple act of a haircut, readers are taken on a geographical and emotional journey into the lives of humans experiencing homelessness in different cities across the world.
Verdict: From the very off I will implore you to purchase this book, as it not only make more people aware of the countless people living on the streets, let alone Joshuas movement itself, but all proceeds go to benefit charity.
A few years ago, the author found his calling. Placing his barber kit in his backpack, he hit the road. Since 2015, he has traveled across America, Europe, India and Australia, always engaging homeless people in conversations and offering them free haircuts. Most are surprised, a bit overwhelmed, but only too happy to submit to his scissors.
The men and women are often filthy, lice-ridden, and ashamed of their ragged clothing, but when he connects with them, they often tell him their stories They are eager to have their voices heard. So, he doesn’t just give them a haircut, he communicates with them, spends time with them, and often shares a cup of coffee with them.
Whenever possible, he offers help that he can provide, but mostly, he just listens to them. Most need a friend, even briefly. He treats them with respect.
Joshua, the author, never cared for school and marches to the beat of his own drummer, so he understands the pain, the needs and the quirks of the homeless people he meets. Sometimes they just want to be seen, something that Ibram X. Kendi complains about in his book, How To Be An Anti-Racist, which although it is on a different subject, his comment is relevant here. The homeless are just like everyone else, they are lonely, sometimes scared, sometimes preyed upon.
We ignore them, treat them as if they are invisible, as if they are simply shadows we can dismiss. Many, however, have fallen on hard times and never dreamed they would be on the street. Most are not there by choice, although some prefer to have no encumbrances, and some are addicts or alcoholics. Each has an individual story to explain their plight.
In truth, a reader will be hard-pressed to dismiss their stories. The author realizes that we often ignore the reasons that these people are on the street, always attributing it to their own poor choices, and by doing that, we are embracing and excusing our own rejection of them.
Some of the people on the street are beyond our help, but that does not justify our apathy. One woman described her inability to earn money during the Pandemic. Begging is not a job, but to her, it was. One man broke down completely after his wifes death and lost his job. Another got angry about his employers abuse and quit his job before getting another. One had epilepsy.
Sometimes events just piled up and there was no way out for them. Once homeless, how does one keep clean, provide a contact for an employer, even apply for work or use a bathroom without support from someone or some agency?
Many have learned to work the system, but none are living well. Are we all not just a hairs breadth away (sorry for the pun) from being in the same position? Some of those living on the street are actually unemployable, some are unable to navigate the system, some are runaways, and some are substance abusers, but there are also those that are simply victims of circumstance, of hard luck or illness, a tragedy or emotional breakdown, a fire, an eviction, a work problem, an unforgiving employer or intolerant landlord, and some may just really want to be on the street, but all deserve some recognition of their existence and are deserving of some respect.
So, if you went into this book with a hard heart, know that you will come out of it changed. These are not invisible people, they are real, living, breathing souls worthy of our concern. How we choose to support them is moot. We should support those in our society who can’t make it alone, no matter what their reason.
Joshua Coombes is a fine example of courage and compassion. He threw caution to the wind and attended to the needs of these people, sometimes filthy, sometimes resistant, sometimes really needy. He brought dry shampoo with him so they could feel and look clean. He was not afraid to get near them and to catch whatever they might be harboring.
He brought each one a bit of happiness, even if he did not change their lives, he did help to change some part of it. He brought them a day filled with unexpected pleasure.
Joshua will donate all of the profits from this book to charities that are created with the purpose of telling the world about these victims of homelessness, of giving them a voice, so they are visible and viable, hopefully to encourage programs to give these people the second chance in life they truly need, to inspire people to stop walking by them as if they are invisible, so they can come out of the shadows where they hide to seek some privacy and to escape the rejection.
He refers to them as unsheltered which is so much nicer sounding than homeless, but just as devastating for individuals, couples and families. [TWJ]
Joshua Coombes Coombes is a British hairstylist and founder of #DoSomethingForNothing ― a movement encouraging people to connect their skills and time to those who need it.
When Coombes launched the project in 2015, his intention was to positively impact peoples lives by offering free haircuts to those experiencing homelessness.
By posting transformative images on Instagram, his platform continues to grow as he amplifies the stories of many that go unheard. Coombes mission caught the attention of media outlets in Europe and has rippled worldwide.
Coverage includes appearing in National Geographics new series The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman, released on Netflix internationally.
Today, Coombes continues his efforts in new countries, humanizing this issue globally. He currently resides in London, UK.
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Speculative Los Angeles
By: Denise Hamilton (Editor) - Akashic Books, $16.95
Description: This debut title in a new city-based anthology series, features all-new stories with speculative, sci-fi, and paranormal themes - each using distinct neighborhood settings as a launching pad.
Verdict: As an incubator of the future, Los Angeles has long mesmerized writers from Aldous Huxley to Octavia E. Butler. With its natural disasters, Hollywood artifice, staggering wealth and poverty, and urban sprawl, one can argue that Los Angeles is already so weird, surreal, irrational, and mythic that any fiction emerging from this place should be considered speculative.
So, bestselling author Denise Hamilton commissioned fourteen stories (including one of her own) and did exactly that. In Speculative Los Angeles, some of the citys most prophetic and diverse voices reimagine the metropolis in very different ways.
In this totally enthralling, and of course, wholly speculative collection of tales set in, and around Los Angeles, CA, we get to delve into all manner of city wonderments.
Indeed, those overly familiar with the area might well be able to narrow in on some landscape they themselves are local too, but never had seen it in quite the same literary light as the ones being shone here.
That said, those very same city inhabitants might also find that not only has their current landscape changed from what it was before, but has also been somewhat changed to fit the narrative.
Regardless, and whether it be back in the day, the here and now or future envisions, set within alternate realities, there is something for everyone here, young and old, based in Los Angeles.
Indeed, within these pages you will encounter twenty-first-century changelings, dirigibles plying the suburban skies, black holes and jacaranda men lurking in deep suburbia, beachfront property in Century City, walled-off canyons and coastlines reserved for the wealthy, psychic death cults, robot nursemaids, and an alternate LA where Spanish land grants never gave way to urbanization.
My own personal favorite is the totally believable Where There are Cities, These Dissolve Too which sees a future where those less fortunate collect bits of garbage from a landfill by day, later turning it into fighting machines by night.
As with our city-based Akashic Noir Series, each story in Speculative Los Angeles is set in a distinct neighborhood filled with local color, landmarks, and flavor. Since the best speculative fiction provides a wormhole into other worlds while also commenting on our own, that is exactly what you will find here.
In closing, this book us highly recommended, especially for fans of Sci-Fi shorts and as much as it scans a lot of LA time and space, it always feel naturally grounded in the here and now, so to speak.
About the Author: Edgar Award finalist Denise Hamilton is the author of seven crime novels and the editor of the best-selling anthology Los Angeles Noir (which includes the Edgar Award-winning short story The Golden Gopher by Susan Straight) and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics.
She is a former Los Angeles Times journalist, a Fulbright Scholar, a noir and sci-fi/fantasy geek, and a proud LA native who refuses to speak only in English.
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Prayer for the Living
By: Ben Okri (Author) - Akashic Books, $24.95
Description: Playful, frightening, shocking these stories from a writer at the height of his power will make you think, or make you laugh. Sometimes they will make you want to look away, but they will always hold your gaze.
These are stories set in London, in Byzantium, in the ghetto, in the Andes, and in a printers shop in Lagos. Characters include a murderer, a writer, a detective, a woman in a dream, a man in a mirror, a little girl, a prison door, and the author himself.
Each one of these twenty-four stories will make you wonder if what you see in the world can really be all there is.
Verdict: Here in Prayer for the Living, renowned Nigerian author Ben Okri brings forth an examination of is what we take for granted really all there is out there; or can the relative boredom of our daily lives be changed if we only knew of the existence of some form of alternate reality?
This career-spanning story collection from the Booker Prize-winning writer is easily structured as a grouping of short fiction and contains 25 separate works, each one contemplating a diverse set of themes.
Such themes include the brutality of war and civil unrest, the longing to be somewhere else in the world, the power of the written word, the metaphysics of detective work, the travails of seeking a better life, and even the hidden horrors residing in a childs doll house and an evil mirror toboot!
At times a wee bit too brief - like, you are knee deep into his prose, loving every corner turn, every rut in the literary journey, but then he seemingly dead ends and just puts a cap on proceedings - but at others so engrossing, so alive that once read you do not move forward you simply re-read that last vignette, Prayer for the Living is a book that may well bring to light the harshness of the subject matter with both hands open, but always imbues it with just the right amount of bluntness and dreamlike state to ensure it remains engaging and thought-provoking.
About the Author: Ben Okri was born in Minna, Nigeria. His childhood was divided between Nigeria, where he saw firsthand the consequences of war, and London.
He won the Booker Prize in 1991 for The Famished Road, and his novel Astonishing the Gods was selected as one of the BBCs 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.
His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages. He also writes plays and screenplays. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a vice president of English PEN, and has been awarded the OBE as well as numerous international prizes and honorary doctorates.
His latest novel, The Freedom Artist, was published by Akashic Books.
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They Better Call Me Sugar
By: Sugar Rodgers - Black Sheep / Akashic Books, $14.15
Description: In unflinchingly honest prose, Sugar Rodgers shares her inspiring story of overcoming tremendous odds to become an all-star in the WNBA.
Verdict: Part of Akashic Books Black Sheep imprint for young readers, They Better Call Me Sugar tells the story of how growing up in dire poverty in Suffolk, Virginia, Sugar (born TaShauna) Rodgers never imagined that she would become an all-star player in the WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association).
Both of her siblings were in and out of prison throughout much of her childhood and shootings in her neighborhood were commonplace. For Sugar this was just a fact of life.
While academics was not a high priority for Sugar and many of her friends, athletics always played a prominent role. She mastered her three-point shot on a net her brother put up just outside their home, eventually becoming so good that she could hustle local drug dealers out of money in one-on-one contests.
With the love and support of her family and friends, Sugars performance on her high school basketball team led to her recruitment by the Georgetown Hoyas, and her eventual draft into the WNBA in 2013 by the Minnesota Lynx (who won the WNBA Finals in Sugar’s first year).
The first of her family to attend college, Sugar speaks of her struggles both academically and as an athlete with raw honesty.
Sugars road to a successful career as a professional basketball player is fraught with sadness and death — including her mothers death when she was just fourteen, which leaves Sugar essentially homeless.
Throughout it all, Sugar clings to basketball as a way to keep herself focused and sane.
And now Sugar shares her story as a message of hope and inspiration for young girls and boys everywhere, but especially those growing up in economically challenging conditions.
Never sugarcoating, if you will pardon the pun, her life experiences, she delivers a powerful message of discipline, perseverance, and always believing in oneself.
In all truth, I am not a fan of any form of basketball, but reading this heartwarming, gut-wrenchingly honest book most assuredly has got me wondering just what I have been missing on the hard court!
In what is a most enthusiastic memoir, and one told by the author with an unflinching directness, Rodgers obvious goal in writing this book was to share her story with others, hopefully inspiring them to always keep pushing forward.
Indeed, in the books she herself says that ... most people give back by donating money. I give back by talking to teenagers and adults in schools and communities, giving them guidance on how to stay on the right track.
Through sharing my stories of struggle, I hope others can relate to me and learn something. I want to open their eyes to a bigger picture so they can stop settling for less.
Inspirational not only for young girls, not only for young athletes, but for everyone, They Better Call Me Sugar is way much more than a slam dunk - it is a quite wondrous, buzzer-beating three-pointer from downtown for the win!
Sugar Rodgers Rodgers is a professional basketball player. Last year she made it to the WNBA finals with the Las Vegas Aces. She honed her skills as a young girl growing up in Suffolk, VA, by shooting hoops with neighborhood drug dealers before eventually being recruited by the Georgetown Hoyas, making her the first person in her family to attend college.
She graduated Georgetown as the leading scorer of all time, and was drafted by the Minnesota Lynx in 2013. She also played several seasons with the New York Liberty before being traded to Las Vegas in 2019. She was named to the WNBA All-Star team for her 2017 season with the New York Liberty.
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Face: One Square Foot of Skin
By: Justine Bateman - Akashic Books, $27.95
Description: Face is a book of fictional vignettes that examines the fear and vestigial evolutionary habits that have caused humans to cultivate the imagined reality that older womens faces are unattractive, undesirable, and something to be fixed.
Writer/director/producer/actor Justine Bateman examines the aggressive ways that society reacts to the aging of womens faces.
Verdict: Ms. Bateman was always known to me as an Actor, from a quite wonderful acting family, and not someone who I would expect to have the time to sit and write a book, in all truth.
But here in the totally enthralling and wholly engrossing from start to finish Face: One Square Foot of Skin, her distinctive voice can be heard throughout, delving into the fascinating psychology of present-day fame.
Via a series of fictional vignettes (which, for the record, once you start reading you immediately start to create faces and bodies for of those speaking), Bateman takes this topic for discussion back to its roots, where, within the injured psyche of every human, lies the perpetual need for an upgrade as they travel through this world.
In this book, Bateman gives many a sobering viewpoint, taken from many a differing social media landscape, about how the need for overlook has to be brought forth about most decisions we undertake as life moves on.
Seemingly encouraging herself to go deeper at all times, to exhibit some fearlessness within her own self-examination, Bateman undertakes what can only be described as some brutally honest, often times assumingly cathartic acts of illumination for us, in an attempt to navigate the trials and tribulations of being a celebrity.
In closing summary, based on older face experiences of the author, Bateman, and those of dozens of women and men she interviewed, the book presents the reader with the many root causes for societys often negative attitudes toward womens older faces.
In doing so, Bateman rejects those ingrained assumptions about the necessity of fixing older womens faces, suggesting that we move on from judging someones worth based on the condition of her face.
Justine Bateman is a writer/director/producer/author with an impressive acting resume that includes Family Ties, Satisfaction, Arrested Development, and many more.
She has earned a Golden Globe nomination and two Emmy nominations. Bateman wrote and produced her directorial film short debut Five Minutes, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival and was chosen by seven more festivals, including the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
Violet, Batemans directorial feature film debut of her own script, stars Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey, and Justin Theroux, and was an official selection at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.
Her best-selling first book, Fame: The Hijacking of Reality, explores societys need for its presence, and was published in 2018 by Akashic.
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By: Joel Selvin - House of Anansi Press, $25.20
Description: From the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean to the Byrds and the Mamas & the Papas, here in Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise, acclaimed music journalist Joel Selvin tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians who came together at the dawn of the 1960s to create the lasting myth of the California dream.
Verdict: Wow! Simply wow! In what is, for all intents and purposes, a detailed and storied look at an influential California music scene prior to the arrival of folk rock and psychedelic music, Joel Selvin has meticulously, and seamlessly threaded together months upon years of personal recounting and garnered colorful flashbacks within history of everything from surf music to sunny day pop, to the lush vibes of the Beach Boys through to the vocal pop folk of the Mamas & the Papas here in the thoroughly captivating Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise.
Lovingly managing to capture the early seeds sown that would eventually flower into becoming a new, young generation whose early 60s metamorphosis would fast become the welcome blanket for the whole concept of a California Paradise, what is undeniably true is that from the mid-60s to the early 70s some of the most melodic, atmospheric, and subtly political American popular music was written by residents of, or those associated with, Laurel Canyon.
Inclusive of names such as, but not restricted to, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn, J. D. Souther, Judee Sill, the Mamas and the Papas, Carole King, the Eagles, Richie Furay (in Buffalo Springfield and Poco), and such, the earlier models included such notables as Jan & Dean, Nancy Sinatra, and future members of the Beach Boys ― who came of age in Los Angeles at the dawn of a new golden era when anything seemed possible.
Inclusive of notes on those behind the artists and their recorded hits, such as Phil Spector, Herb Alpert, Lou Adler, an entire department at Columbia Records, and many, many more, Selvin manages to colorize those black and white images for us quite superbly with enticingly vibrant tales of glorious highs (reaching number one in the charts) and lows (band break ups and death) amongst the new In-Crowd.
Showcasing a generation that wholly created the magnificently colorful, and always sunny ideal of a modern California, with endless releases of joyous and uplifting music fit for all people, and with a high percentage of these dream makers having all gone to the same cluster of schools and universities at the time, from the Beach Boys California Girls to the Mamas & the Papas California Dreamin, their combined idyllic West Coast music craft was blossoming live for the entire world to see on a weekly basis.
A rock n roll opera loaded with violence, deceit, intrigue, low comedy, and high drama, Hollywood Eden: Electric Guitars, Fast Cars, and the Myth of the California Paradise tells the story of a group of young artists and musicians who bumped heads, crashed cars, and ultimately flew too close to the sun - all whilst the music played on.
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A River Called Time
By: Courttia Newland - Akashic Books, $28.95
Description: The Ark was built to save the lives of the many, but rapidly became a refuge for the elite, the entrance closed without warning.
Years after the Ark was cut off from the world a world much like our own, but in which slavery has never existed a chance of survival within the Arks confines is granted to a select few who can prove their worth.
Among their number is Markriss Denny, whose path to future excellence is marred only by a closely guarded secret: without warning, his spirit leaves his body, allowing him to see and experience a world far beyond his physical limitations.
Once inside the Ark, Denny learns of another with the same power, whose existence could spell catastrophe for humanity. He is forced into a desperate race to understand his abilities, and in doing so uncovers the truth about the Ark, himself, and the people he thought he once knew.
Verdict: Wow! Simply wow! The award-winning playwright and screenwriter for Steve McQueens Small Axe, Courttia Newland has created one of the Top 5 books (already) for me in 2021!
For what Newland has created here over the 462 pages is nothing short of a richly imagined, layered, textured, and magnificently ornate, parallel London where colonialism and slavery never existed; whilst exploring timely themes of social inequality and more.
A quite splendid tale, and at the same time, a rather intimate portrait, that embodies the spirits of both love and loss, his characters delve deep in the psyche of these magical visions of his unbounded past, present and future.
A wholly immersive, and totally mesmerizing reimagining of the city from a grown formidable British voice, A River Called Time not only features so much within it to love, to admire, to breathtakingly imagine as if it could really have happened, but at the same time brings forth a hero, an Everyman of the people, who discovers his abilities are anything but ordinary.
Someone to root for, no matter color or creed, with him thrown into the parallel cities drawn out before him, across a multiverse of colors and shapes and ordinances, African cosmology belief systems ahoy, for what the pages finally reveal are quite an amazingly inspired achievement.
In closing, A River Called Time perfectly showcases Newlands firm grip on the mystical, the magical, and that tiny spark of wonderment that lies within all of us to see what else is out there: real or imagined.
He is, simply out, a masterful storyteller of the highest order and has brought forth a quite extraordinary tale, not only of astonishing speculative fiction, but one that embodies interrogating social inequality, the complexities of truth and the very essence of what it is to be human, all under the same book cover!
Courttia Newland is the author of seven books including his much-lauded debut, The Scholar. His last novel, The Gospel According to Cane, was published by Akashic in 2013.
In 2016 he was awarded the Tayner Barbers Award for science fiction writing and the Roland Rees Bursary for playwriting.
As a screenwriter, he has written two episodes of the Steve McQueen BBC series Small Axe.
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The Third Mrs. Galway
By: Deirdre Sinnott - Akashic Books, $17.95
Description: Antislavery agitation is rocking Utica in 1835 when a young bride discovers an enslaved family hiding in her shed, setting in motion the exhumation of long-buried family secrets.
Verdict: It is 1835 in Utica, New York, and newlywed Helen Galway discovers a secret: two people who have escaped enslavement are hiding in the shack behind her husband’s house.
Suddenly, she is at the center of the eras greatest moral dilemma: Should she be a good wife and report the fugitives? Or will she defy convention and come to their aid?
Within her home, Helen is haunted by the previous Mrs. Galway, recently deceased but still an oppressive presence. Her husband, injured by a drunken tumble off his horse, is assisted by a doctor of questionable ambitions who keeps a close eye on Helen.
In charge of all things domestic is Maggie — formerly enslaved by the Galway family and freed when emancipation came to New York eight years earlier.
Abolitionists arriving in Utica to found the New York State Anti-Slavery Society are accused by the local papers of being traitors to the Constitution.
Everyone faces dangerous choices as they navigate this intensely heated personal and political landscape.
A quite mesmerizing tale chock full of fear, desire, terror, and love intertwined, this masterfully gripping work of historical fiction is a must-turn, keep-turn book and one that I personally, just could not put down!
A story expertly woven together using a cross-section of 1835 Utica, New York, bringing forth an engrossing narrative that contemplates race, class, history, let alone the search for justice and humanity, The Third Mrs. Galway is a book you simply must pick up (if only to better understand our current times a little more, perhaps).
In what is also a story that features a rather diverse cast of characters and which embodies the political, class, and racial upheavals of its time and milieu, The Third Mrs. Galway is an astonishingly powerful look at the prologue to Emancipation; and where one cannot fail to be swept into the uncertain, violent time of this era in New York.
Deirdre Sinnott Sinnott is an author, researcher, and activist for social change. She grew up in the region of Utica, New York, and graduated from Syracuse University. Sinnott speaks nationally about the role of Central New York’s residents in the abolition of slavery.
She was the originator of Uticas Abolition History Day Celebration and has directed two award-winning documentaries on mass incarceration/prison issues. She facilitated the program Resisting the New Jim Crow at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.
Sinnotts writing has appeared in newspapers, two anthologies, literary journals, and in various online resources. The Third Mrs. Galway is her first novel. She is a historical consultant for the Fort Stanwix Underground Railroad History Project, funded by the National Park Service.
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Palm Springs Noir
By: Barbara DeMarco-Barrett - Akashic Books, $16.95
Description: Palm Springs now joins Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley in Californias Noir Series arena.
Verdict: Akashic Books continues its award-winning series of original noir anthologies, launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir. Each book comprises all new stories, each one set in a distinct location within the geographic area of the book.
Palm Springs Noir features brand-new stories by: T. Jefferson Parker, Janet Fitch, Eric Beetner, Kelly Shire, Tod Goldberg, Michael Craft, Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, Rob Roberge, J.D. Horn, Eduardo Santiago, Rob Bowman, Chris J. Bahnsen, Ken Layne, and Alex Espinoza.
As I am sure we all know by now, the best noir writers make us feel the heat of the sun, the touch of a lover. Setting can be gritty but can also be sublime, no longer relegated to urban locales and seedy hotel rooms but also mansions and swimming pools.
Hence, Palm Springs, which may seem like an odd setting for a collection of dark short stories - it is so sunny and bright here. The quality of light is unlike anywhere else, and with an average of three hundred sunny days a year, what could go wrong?
The stories in this collection come on like the wicked dust storms common to the area. More than half are by writers who live here full-time; all have homes in Southern California.
They know this place in ways visitors and outsiders never will. These are not stories you will read in the glossy coffee-table books that feature Palm Springss good life.
There is indeed a lush life to be found here, but for the characters in these stories, it is often just out of reach.
Stand out stories here for me included the A Cold Girl by Kathy Shire, the story of Jessie, a seventeen year-old girl, who in the dark saw herself as a Stevie Nicks-esque ambiance, but who in the cold light of day has wants, needs, and a desire to learn more, before any thought of a return to where she came from is even considered.
Another good read is Tod Goldbergs A Career Spent Disappointing People, where it is a sweltering July day, and just three hours out of hospital (due to a foot issue), Shanes day is not getting any better as his car has now broken down.
Technically on the road out of Palm Springs, heading toward Arizona, his relocation plans would have to be placed on hold for the time being.
A story ready made for the noir genre, and one you can see playing out on the small screen as you read the pages, this tale involves motels, karaoke, cheap alcohol, cheap women, guns, a man called Gold Mike and the threaded theme of ... clowns!
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett DeMarco-Barrett spends time in the desert whenever she can. She hosts Writers on Writing on KUCI-FM, and her book Pen on Fire was a Los Angeles Times best seller. Her short story Crazy for You was published in USA Noir: Best of the Akashic Noir Series.
She has also published in the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Inlandia, Shotgun Honey, Crossing Borders, and The Literary Hatchet.
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Where Is My Mind? A Childrens Picture Book
By: Black Frank - Lyric Pop/Akashic Books, $16.29
Description: The Black Francis cult classic song from the Pixies album Surfer Rosa is brought to life as a whimsical adventure story in this vibrant picture book.
Verdict: Where Is My Mind? is an imaginative picture book based on the Black Francis lyrics to one of Pixies most beloved songs.
The song was released on their certified-gold album Surfer Rosa, and later appeared in the film Fight Club.
Parents and children alike will delight in following the story of a young girl who loses her mind when she falls off a skateboard, then travels to magical lands in search of it.
As for the story itself, well, not long before he formed the Pixies, Black Francis went scuba-diving in the Caribbean. Some of the fish chased him around the ocean and the experience freaked him out, and this Where Is My Mind? turned out to be a pretty straightforward retelling of the incident.
Brilliantly illustrated by Alex Eben Meyer, Where Is My Mind? is a celebration of creativity, both in song and story, and although there are not a lot of lyrics to be read here, the glossy and artfully beautiful pages most assuredly make up for that ten fold.
About the Author - Black Francis, aka Frank Black, was born Charles Thompson IV in 1965 in Boston, MA. He is the lead vocalist and guitarist for the indie rock band Pixies, which he formed in the mid-1980s while attending UMass Amherst.
Named one of VH1s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, Pixies disbanded in 1993 after four albums and one EP. Francis continued to have a successful solo career, and in 2004, Pixies reunited for their first tour in more than a decade, playing sold-out shows across North America and Europe.
Pixies remain one of the most important bands of the era, having influenced musicians such as Kurt Cobain, Thom Yorke, and many others.
Alex Eben Meyer (illustrator) lives in Brooklyn, and works in a studio that was formerly a pencil factory. He and his brain have a very nice relationship, and are virtually inseparable. He illustrated the picture books Hero vs. Villain and Creature vs. Teacher.
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The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin Groovy)
By: Paul Simon - Lyric Pop/Akashic Books, $16.55
Description: Paul Simons groovy anthem to New York City provides a joyful basis for this live-for-the-day picture book.
Verdict: The 59th Street Bridge Song is a lively picture book based on legendary songwriter Paul Simons classic hit, created when he was one half of the folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel.
The song first appeared on their 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. In the US, the album peaked at #4 on Billboards weekly Top 200 albums chart, and eventually went on to sell over three million copies in the US.
With song lyrics by Simon and illustrations by Keith Henry Brown, this picture book follows a rabbit cycling through town, going about his day, and pausing to admire the groovy and lovable aspects of his surroundings.
The 59th Street Bridge Song provides parents a perfect vehicle to teach kids an appreciation of lifes little gifts here in this totally gorgeous book.
The illustrations from Brown are not like many of these books that have already been published as they are of a more precise, more detailed nature than the quick freehand versions of that have gone by.
Indeed, they are more of a lazy, hazy flashback within our minds to the 70s and what we might have witnessed ourselves, without own eyes, had we been lucky enough to witness this cycling rabbit!
About the Author - Paul Simon has received many honors and prizes including twelve GRAMMY Awards, three of which―for Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Graceland―were albums of the year.
In 2003 he received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as half of the duo Simon & Garfunkel. He is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a recipient of their Johnny Mercer Award, and is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame both as a member of Simon & Garfunkel and as a solo artist.
His song Mrs. Robinson from the motion picture The Graduate was named in the top ten of the American Film Institutes 100 Years - 100 Songs list.
Keith Henry Brown (illustrator) worked briefly at Marvel before beginning a career as an art director, working for such notable spots as Jazz at Lincoln Center and Blue Note, as well as many music labels.
He recently illustrated his first childrens book, Birth of the Cool: How Jazz Great Miles Davis Found His Sound.
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By: Coldplay - Lyric Pop/Akashic Books, $16.95
Description: Coldplays warm and infectious hit song Strawberry Swing finds a perfect vessel in this gentle picture book for children.
Verdict: Strawberry Swing is a tenderly illustrated picture book of one of Coldplays best known songs.
It was the fifth single released from their hit album Viva la Vida, and gained widespread acclaim for its accompanying stop-motion animation music video.
With lyrics by Coldplay and illustrations by Mitch Miller, Strawberry Swing tells a sweet story of friendship, encapsulating the innocence, fun, and struggle of finding someone special ― and wanting to share every moment with them.
The book provides an excellent opportunity to introduce Coldplays irresistible melodies to children who will delight in both the music and the message.
In what has to be one of the more grounded story lines within these types of books - I mean, the last one I reviewed was about a rabbit cycling around New York, feeling groovy whilst he listened to Paul Simons song of the same name! - the illustrations from Miller are simply spot on perfect.
Drawn with a Lion King ambiance, the colors are bright, yet watercolor-esque and lay down the most beautiful of scenic blankets for us to feast our eyes upon as we read along to the also-beautiful Coldplay song.
About the Author - Coldplay are a British rock band that formed in 1996, and have since sold over 100 million records and won numerous accolades including seven GRAMMY Awards, nine BRIT Awards, and seven Billboard Music Awards.
The band consists of five members ― Chris Martin, Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman, Will Champion, and creative director Phil Harvey. They rose to fame when they released their hit song Yellow in 2000, and their song The Scientist was named as one of the 100 Greatest Songs of the Century by Rolling Stone.
The band continues to produce music that tops charts worldwide.
Mitch Miller is an illustrator and visual development artist. He has created work for companies including Yahoo! and Cricket Media. Miller lives in Pennsylvania with his border collie, Willem.
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I Will Survive: A Childrens Picture Book
By: Dino Fekaris and Frederick J. Perren - Lyric Pop/Akashic Books, $16.29
Description: Dino Fekaris and Frederick J. Perrens disco hit sensation I Will Survive — popularized by Gloria Gaynor — comes to life as an empowering picture book featuring an alien princess living life on her own terms.
Verdict: I Will Survive is an empowering picture book based on Dino Fekaris and Frederick J. Perrens #1 hit song. Gloria Gaynors recording in 1978 became her signature song and was a near-instant success, topping both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the UK Singles chart.
Considered one of the most important disco offerings ever and embraced by millions across the globe, it remains an anthem and inspiration for marginalized groups everywhere.
Kaitlyn Shea OConnors imaginative illustrations set I Will Survive in a futuristic alien landscape where our heroine demonstrates her strength and resilience by striking out on her own to a boundless future.
I Will Survive will inspire children to follow their dreams, while giving parents and grandparents everywhere a chance to show off some of their best disco moves.
In what has to be one of the most highly-envisioned and most left of center designed illustrated childrens books that I have seen in a long time, what OConnor has done is craft a sci-fi scene scape for one of the most iconic songs of any generation since it was released!
Not an easy thing to do, given all the designs and dance moves that have accompanied it since it was released, OConnors world where an alien princess is living her best life on her own terms, is still, without a shadow of a doubt, an incredibly awe inspiring message (both visually and audibly) for any and all ages to behold!
About the Illustrator - Kaitlyn Shea OConnor is an illustrator and designer hailing from Atlanta, Georgia. She combines traditional skills with digital media to create vibrant, whimsical worlds.
She is a rare hybrid of dog and cat lover, an avid whistler, and she enjoys exploring the great outdoors, trying new cheeses, and cozying up in a nook with a book.
OConnor illustrated the childrens picture books We Got the Beat, with song lyrics by Charlotte Caffey and (Sittin on) The Dock of the Bay, with song lyrics by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper.
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By: Gary Wright - Lyric Pop/Akashic Books, $16.30
Description: Gary Wrights hit song is reimagined as a fantastical picture book to delight dreamers of all ages.
Verdict: Dream Weaver is a vibrantly illustrated picture book based on Gary Wrights 1975 breakout single from his platinum-selling album The Dream Weaver, which has sold over two million copies.
Dream Weaver peaked at #2 on Billboards Hot 100 chart and reached #1 in Canada. The songs popularity continued long after its release, and in 1991, Wright recorded a new version for the Waynes World soundtrack; the soundtrack reached #1 on Billboards soundtrack album chart and also sold over two million copies.
Dream Weaver continues to appear in films and TV shows to this day.
With lyrics by Gary Wright and illustrations by Rob Sayegh Jr., this magical picture book follows a little boys dream of a train that takes him all the way to the moon.
Poised to become a bedtime classic, Dream Weaver is the perfect opportunity for parents to share this timeless song and will surely spark the imaginations of young and old alike.
A song that sticks in your head the moment you start to sing or hum its highly addictive, free flowing chorus (and yes, I am now doing it as I type these words!), what illustrator Sayegh Jr. has done it create his artwork for the book through a colorful dreamscape lens.
Meaning the colors are gently faded, the lines not overly sharp, the images of the characters of a single-dimension and thus has brought forth the most perfect 70s-esque vibe for the song that, even today, makes people close their eyes and dream; no matter where they are.
About the Author - Gary Wright is an American singer-songwriter, best known for his multiplatinum hits Dream Weaver and Love Is Alive.
Before his solo album The Dream Weaver was released in 1975, Wright played in the London music scene with the heavy rock band Spooky Tooth and also collaborated with both George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The Dream Weaver was certified platinum, with its hit single Dream Weaver reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Wright continues to perform live as a solo act, as well as with both Spooky Tooth and Ringo Starrs All-Starr Band. His autobiography, Dream Weaver: Music, Meditation, and My Friendship with George Harrison, was published in 2014.
Rob Sayegh Jr. is an author and illustrator who loves creating playful worlds with funny characters to make families giggle together. He is a professional snack taste-tester, falls in love with every dog he meets, and enjoys finding and creating new textures for his artwork.
Sayegh has spent most of his life designing toys to encourage kids to constantly play, learn, and imagine new possibilities. He currently lives with his family in San Francisco, California.
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Jesus Christ Movie Star
By: Phil Hall - BearManor Media, $22.00
Description: The life of Jesus Christ has challenged and inspired filmmakers from the pioneering works of the late 1890s through todays digital cinema.
No other life story has been the subject of so many films, with so many wildly different interpretations.
The big screen Jesus has traveled through multimillion dollar epics and microbudget underground films, recreating the miracles of the Gospels while also advocating for modern political issues.
Moviegoers have seen Jesus walk on water and conquer death, and also break into show tunes and play straight man to a zany Bette Midler.
Films about Jesus have inspired a diverse range of controversies, ranging from a groundbreaking copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Thomas Edison to an intellectual scandal that rocked the 1964/65 New York Worlds Fair to accusations of anti-Semitism against Mel Gibsons distinctive interpretation of the New Testament.
Phil Hall, author of the critically acclaimed books The History of Independent Cinema and In Search of Lost Films and host of the award-winning podcast The Online Movie Show, takes the reader on the most extraordinary odyssey in cinematic studies by tracing how filmmakers from across the years and around the world have sought to fill theaters with the story of Jesus.
Beloved classics and bizarre curios are part of this memorable journey as the light of the world brings illumination through the lens of a movie projector.
Verdict: OK, well, being a deeply religious Christian, which was also my main reason for reviewing this new book from Phil Hall, I was very intrigued by what this book had to offer - both from a religious aspect and a Hollywood slant too, of course.
Starting, as one should, with the main man himself, according to the majority of thoughts on the subject, let alone most all celluloid depictions, Jesus is the most famous blonde-hair, blue-eyed white man that there ever was!
That said, and as we quickly learn from this book, his physical appearance has been portrayed in various ways, but if we really want to take this discussion of his features seriously, we first have to examine his life.
I mean, Jesus does everything under the sun (quite literally, for the most part): walking, healing, among others, but within the Bible, and during these wondrous acts, he is rarely visually described.
Most likely resembling the typical Palestinian, a Jewish man of the 1st century, artists did not take into consideration the historical account of his appearance. Instead, they used their own creative thoughts, one early painting depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a beardless man with a lamb around his shoulders.
But after the Byzantine Era ended, the Greek-influenced portrayal of Jesus remained, becoming the universal image of Jesus. In the Renaissance Era, artists typically portrayed Jesus with more expressions, gestures, and a linear perspective. His appearance was also a lot more tridimensional, realistic, and colorful than in the Byzantine Era.
That all said, and based on archaeological artifacts, texts, and preserved human remains, researchers can infer these traits about Jesus’s physical appearance: 5 Feet 5 Inches Tall; Brown Eyes; Black Hair; Olive-Brown Skin; Short Hair and a Trimmed Beard.
So, what Jesus Christ Movie Star sets out to reveal is that although no one has actual true knowledge of what Jesus looks like, Hollywood has always opted for his portrayal to be by a Caucasian, speaking flawless English (for the most part).
None of this is could be historically correct, but as we learn from Halls new book, we have to keep in mind that movies are meant to entertain, not to teach history, and images of Christ in paintings or statues, are meant to show a beautiful image; also not to be historically correct.
The book - which one of Halls good friends inquired as to if he was familiar with a film carrying the unfortunate title Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist (First he nails you ... then he nails you!) - obviously had a lot of scope to contend with and so wisely limits its attention to Jesus-centric films created for theatrical exhibition and film festivals.
Also stepped over are those films where the lead believes himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus and those films that focus heavily on the actual birth of Jesus. And thus this quite magnificently written and highly revealing new book encompasses films from all over the globe, inclusive of (most likely) unknown titles from Latin American, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Opening on the fact that when the motion picture industry began to take shape in the 1890s, that many of the earliest productions were about Jesus Christ, it seems we have been viewing celluloid incarnations of the great man for well over a hundred years now.
To give you a quick rundown, the first talking Jesus motion picture arrived in 1933 and was called The Wandering Jew, the photo on the front cover of this book heralds from the 1935 film Golgotha, the first film made in the 1950s was the British production The Westminster Passion Play - Behold the Man, and amongst oh-so many more fascinating revelations revealed in this book, there were three Jesus musicals put on in 1973 alone!
Anyway, and coming full circle, anyone who claims to know what Jesus looked like probably deserves skepticism. His appearance is not really described in the New Testament, mainly because having any pictures of him at all was controversial in the beginnings of Christianity.
However, through this new book Jesus Christ Movie Star, we can examine how people (and by people, I obviously mean Hollywood and such) viewed the appearance of Jesus and thus how his very same appearance has decidedly changed over time.
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