Synopsis: Someone might be killing communists, right as artist/amateur detective Rowland Sinclair finds himself volunteering along with three friends to help deliver journalist Egon Kisch to the Movement Against War and Fascism.
I adored this book. It’s got all the qualities of a perfect madcap mystery, from a loyal quartet of artistic friends, nefarious political operatives, and a good family name that needs to stay out of the muck. Rowland Sinclair wouldn’t feel out of place in the midst of a good Agatha Christie mystery.
I’ll admit that I may be a bit biased, since I’m currently living in Australia, but it was an absolute delight to read a book which takes place in the Australia of the 1930s. There were so many developments (such as the communist/fascist conflicts) that I remained completely ignorant about and that this book did a brilliant job of introducing. Historical fact is masterfully blended with fiction. More than a few historical figures, from Egon Kisch to Stanley Bruce, grace the pages. None of the historical context feels didactic – it all feels startlingly pertinent to the characters’ lives.
Even though I started with the eighth book in the series, I was able to pick right up and understand what was going on. The characters felt fully realized, each with their own little idiosyncrasies and attitudes (poor, long suffering Mary Brown!). The events of prior books were referenced in a way that provided context and more than a little intrigue without merely summarizing the series.
It is the relationships between the four main characters that drives the book. From Milton, the communist and poet (albeit one who spends more time quoting others than writing his own), to painter and handyman Clyde, to the irrepressible Edna, to the wealthy not-a-communist-but-maybe-a-sympathizer painter Rowly all feel honest. You can’t help but root for them.
Synopsis: Famous writer Shelby Truman is forced to recall her past and five-decade long relationship to death row inmate Eddie Newcott during a trip home.
Content Notes: Child abuse, graphic violence, and murder
Recommended for: fans of thrillers, pseudo-mysteries, crime novels, gothic (Texan?) Americana
Continue reading Book Review: Secrets on Chicory Lane by Raymond Benson
Petal Pusher is part rock memoir, road book, and coming-of-age story. The book sort of meanders between descriptions of life on the road, the demands of the music industry, and anecdotes about Lindeen’s early years and the influence of her family and friends. The present-tense, stream of consciousness narration propel the book along.
I completely missed the early 90s rock scene, so the majority of the names and bands (L7, Soul Asylum) that make an appearance in this book were lost on me. While I at times failed to grasp the real-world significance of these artists, it didn’t make the book any less entertaining or engrossing. They appear as aspirations or contemporaries in a way that feels incredibly relatable.
Most of Petal Pusher is like that: an all-encompassing, honest look at what it means to achieve a dream and then to re-evaluate it once the reality sets in. The author’s voice is talkative, casual, and straightforward. She never tries to make herself appear softer or kinder or any less flawed than she is, which means that, even as I found her attitude difficult to understand on occasion (you’re on tour! Finally living out the dream you’ve just spent the last hundred pages working towards! Stop worrying!), the book never stopped being engaging.
My understanding of 90s grunge is centered around Nirvana and the Riot Grrrl movement: the Pacific Northwest, feminism, and rebellion are the three things which come to mind. Of course, they all make appearances here, but in a far more intimate and far more concrete fashion: less the stuff of rock mythos and more the stuff of contemporaries who are sorta doing something similar. Bands like Bikini Kill are trying to make a political statement, Zuzu’s Petals are just trying to make good music.
Petal Pusher subverts the classic Hollywood trajectory where a small-town kid is transformed into a world famous rockstar, and in doing so raises questions about how ‘following your dreams’ is never really a static matter.
I initially assumed that The Girl in the Show was going to be more of a funny girl-esque memoir that really emphasized the ‘comedy’ aspect of being a young woman in entertainment. Instead, it’s much more of an analytical look at the evolution of “comedians-who-happen-to-be-women” , or as Fields calls them (and this is my new favorite term) “comedienne-ballerinas”. Fields includes interviews from an incredible array of comedians – I cannot imagine the sheer amount of research that went into this book. There’s Mo Collins, Lisa Lampanelli, Abbi Jacobson and so, so many more, all in their own words discussing their comedy and their lives. It’s far more insightful and wider reaching than I was expecting, but also feels deeply personal.
This book is not just an academic exercise in the rise of feminism and fight for equal representation in comedy (and the world of entertainment in general). It makes wider cultural and political movements intensely personal through the words of the comedienne-ballerinas themselves. Reading about Marga Gomez’s experiences as a young woman confronting homophobia drives home the point that the political is personal. The arguments driving the political discourse are not far-off, abstract ideas but rather have very real implications for the people living them.
The Girl in the Show is at its best when it is presenting the powerful anecdotes from its comedienne-ballerinas. There is one particularly poignant moment when Judy Carter discusses how Gilda Radner helped comfort her in a bathroom stall of all places – it drives home a deep sense of heart and community not often seen at the forefront of comedy.
These were not notions typically associated with comedy, and when they do appear, they tend to be relegated into niche issues. The Girl in the Show provided a new perspective for watching comedy, from I Love Lucy to Saturday Night Live to Broad City and the deep underlying emotional work that accompanies it. Fields challenges the typical paradigm of “women comedians” and completely transforms it by demonstrating just how the personal and the political intersect for both the comedienne-ballerinas themselves and the audience watching at home.
I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review