Petty, by Warren Zanes*****

pettyOh my my, oh hell yes! If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a band that lights your fire, you have to read this biography, which comes out Tuesday, November 10. You’ll be happiest if you can do it near a source of music, and the very best of all is to be near a desktop or other screen where you can view and hear the music videos as you read about their inception. Petty made it big just as I graduated from high school. By the time my first-born entered elementary school, I had a backseat full of little kids who bounced their heads along to the unquestionable rhythm of his music playing on the radio. And right about now I am supposed to tell you that I got this DRC free for an honest review, courtesy of Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers.

Zanes has really done his homework here, interviewing Petty extensively, and also interviewing members of the band past and present, as well as other musicians (Stevie Nicks foremost among them) with whom he occasionally partnered. This was my first exposure to the Traveling Wilburys, a superstar group formed just for the sheer joy of it and consisting of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Jim Keltner. Well, here:

and after Orbison died, his chair was represented in the circle, with his guitar (I assume it’s his anyway):

Petty’s story is one of the ultimate success in spite of everything. Born into the kind of messed up, abusive, impoverished Southern home that America’s shot-to-hell social work system can’t even begin to repair, with a father that got along better with alligators than children and a mother who was stricken with both cancer and epilepsy, Petty was ready to get the hell away from the swampland and Florida immediately if not sooner. Petty tried school several times, but English (oh yeah, poetry right?) and art were the only courses that held any magic for him. He had one marketable skill, and unlimited ambition. As it happens, that was plenty.

If you want to read his story, this is the place to get it. Zanes has filled it with lots of vignettes, some of which are very funny. When a particular episode or situation is remembered differently by different musicians, producers and what have you, he tells what each has to say.

What you won’t find much here is his family, and that is oddly appropriate. Petty himself recognizes that when a guy is a professional musician doing the album cycle—write the songs, record the songs, make whatever changes need to get made, release the album, then go on tour to promote the album, and come back and do it all over again—family just gets left out. His first wife Jane developed some serious problems with chemical dependency and mental illness, and he experienced serious guilt over leaving their two daughters with her, but what else was there to do? Taking them on the road wouldn’t exactly be a healthy environment. Even if he quit making music, who’d pay the bills then? And so it went. So his elder daughter Adria puts in her two cents here and there, but mostly this is a story of Tom’s life as a musician. But reading about Jane’s addiction issues and then watching this video gave me chills (not great for small children, if you have them near you):

There aren’t really any slow parts to this biography; the least interesting to me were the various bands he formed or joined prior to his success as a soloist and then as the leader of the Heartbreakers.

That much said, this is the first, the VERY first time this reviewer (and all the reviews on this site are mine) has ever gone back to read a galley a second time before reviewing it, not because I didn’t get enough notes (oy, the notes!) but because it was just so much fun to follow Petty’s music and read the stories behind the songs.

If you don’t like Tom Petty, I question why you are even still reading my review. But if you’re a fan, this is a great bio to read, intimate without being tawdry or prurient, carefully researched, tightly organized. I am glad I didn’t have to edit it, because he probably had a mountain of extra information that was either cut or not included in the first place. But from anyone that loves good rock and roll, it’s uplifting and absorbing.

The ultimate holiday gift for someone close to you that loves Petty’s music would be his giant discography, the Traveling Wilburys DVD and CD, perhaps the documentary (which is on my own Christmas list), and this book. Rock and roll forever!

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd*****

theinventionofwingsTwo of today’s hottest political topics have to do with equality. As we follow and sometimes participate in the Black Lives Matter movement, along with the fight to keep Planned Parenthood funded and maintain a woman’s right to own her body and say what happens to it, this elegantly crafted work of historical fiction could not, strangely enough, be more timely. The Invention of Wings is a fictional biography of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists, the first to make screaming headlines by speaking out publicly decades before women would see the right to vote, and decades before the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. As is essential in dealing with the rights of then-enslaved African-Americans in the south, Kidd adds an additional character, a slave named Hetty, written alternately with the Sarah’s story. I say it is essential to do so; this is because it is wrong to write about the marginalization and subjugation of an entire people, and then not include a representative of that group into the plot. As usual, Kidd doesn’t disappoint.

Much as I love historical fiction, one thing that makes me a little crazy is wondering where the research ends and fiction commences. In her afterword, the author lets us know specifically what is true and what isn’t. She even gives us a brief bibliography to pursue if we feel moved to do so; the only other historical fiction writer I know of that does this is Laurence Yep, my hands-down favorite YA author. Thus, Kidd places herself in outstanding company.

The Grimke sisters were born into the elite planter class, a tiny minority among Caucasians in the South, and in the very belly of the beast: Charleston, South Carolina. Partially because of the tremendous brutality meted out to the plantation’s slaves right before her tiny eyes there at home, Sarah Grimke grew up opposed to slavery. As a much older sister, she had a formative role helping her mother raise Angelina, who also became a fierce, uncompromising abolitionist.

It is one thing to take up a cause that is small but in which one has a support base. For the Grimkes, there was nothing. Eventually both had to move north for their own safety. And although, as a history major and a feminist of the 1970’s I had read about the Grimke sisters many times, it is within the well-crafted, deeply thoughtful, well researched pages of this novel that they first came to life for me.

Hetty, the slave depicted within these pages, actually existed, but the story Kidd writes for her is entirely fictional. The real Hetty died before Sarah was grown. Still, her character felt as real to me, and was easily as well developed as either of the Grimke sisters. Hetty is not passive, not waiting to be “set” free. She understands that the only freedom she is likely to receive will be what she can do for herself. A nice touch Kidd adds is in making Hetty one of the children of Denmark Vesey, the free African-American that attempted to organize and lead a slave revolt.

Everything here is carefully constructed and absorbing. Kidd has long demonstrated formidable talent in constructing well developed characters and vivid settings; the difference here (as opposed to The Secret Life of Bees and The Mermaid’s Chair, the two others of hers I have read) is the research involved. As with everything else, she blends fact and detail into a well spun tale.

I should add here that the literacy level required to deal with this text is higher than most. Don’t toss it out there for your average middle schooler to read, because it will prove too difficult. Because of the way she builds her story, brick by brick, the pace doesn’t really pick up until about halfway into the book. This isn’t a rip-roaring page turner; it’s a series of quiet nights by the fire, or curled up on your favorite window seat, or by the side of your bed. Give it the time it deserves.
Though I got my copy from the Seattle Public Library, I consider this title worth the cover price. Highly recommended.

Finders Keepers, by Stephen King *****

finderskeepers“For your family, you do all that you can.”

When I read that one, simple sentence, it occurred to me that this common thread runs through a lot of Stephen King’s work, and it’s one reason he has developed such an easy simpatico with much of his readership, despite the murky waters his books bob into. It’s about our family, and about our common humanity, and the bad guys are the ones that can’t be tapped into, that violate that sacred reality.

As the book opens, we have our killer—or one of them—from Mr. Mercedes. And at this point, I have to tell you that if you haven’t read Mr. Mercedes yet, do that before you do this. (Mr. Mercedes is reviewed by me here: Seriously. I’ve seen clueless-seeming individuals out there on social media wondering if it makes a difference, and oh my stars. Why, why, why.

I suppose if you are just stone flat broke and have no access to a public library, and by some stroke of luck you have a free copy of this book but cannot get the first in the series, then yes, King gives you just enough of the back story here to enable you to start midstream. But if at all possible, you really ought to read the first book first. There were so many little poignant moments—for example when Hodges thinks about Janey—that just made my insides do a back flip, and if you plunge into this story first, you’re going to miss so much of that. And in the end, you’re going to want to hunt down Mr. Mercedes and read it anyway, so why not try to do it in order?

All righty. So as our story opens, Morris, one of the murdering thieves from Mr. Mercedes, is an old man now, and he’s just getting out of prison. He’s been waiting a long, long time for this, because he has buried a whole lot of money as well as the last, hand-scribed novels of John Rothstein, a now-dead author whose work he has loved his whole life. He isn’t sure what he wants more, the money—well yeah—or oh my god, those notebooks! To read them! He knows the sensible thing to do is try to sell them, because they’re doubtless worth a small fortune, but first, just to read them. And now he’s out.

What he doesn’t know is that all those buried goodies have been found by a kid who happens to live and play in the area where Morris buried all of that. Nature has changed the contours of the woods where the trunk was interred, and a corner was revealed, just enough to make a naturally bright, curious kid want to know what it was. So that money is gone. It’s gone. In fact, it’s all gone.

The tension in this story builds a lot more slowly than most of King’s work, and at first I thought it was a sign that our author was slowing down. Au contraire, Pierre. Because really, it’s more about the pacing of the genre. When King writes his supernatural baskets o’spiders, he puts that pedal down on the floor, sometimes on the very first page, and it’s like the world’s most terrifying roller coaster until after the climax. The reader’s heart won’t stop slamming till the problem is essentially solved, at least for the moment—I’m talking about his horror novels here, not his mysteries, including this one—until that brief period at the end in which the loose ends are tied up, and the protagonists can laugh about the whole thing over coffee, or whatever.

The tension in a mystery like this one, on the other hand, is a much more gradual climb. It’s supposed to be that way. We get the tingle of dread, the near-misses, but instead of going from zero to eighty in chapter one, it’s more of a traditional hill, building, building, building. It never gets dull, but the reader will actually be able to put the book down to go make dinner, to do homework, to answer the phone. And that doesn’t make it weaker writing; it’s just a different type of story.

Once King gets to the top of that hill somewhere close to the 80% mark, we really have to stay with the book and finish it. Just finish it.

I did not read this as a galley; it was a Mother’s Day gift from one of my sons. They never miss a year, my boys, and they almost always get me one of my most coveted titles. I don’t put a lot of books on my wish list these days because I can get so many outstanding books free, but I had to have this one, and am glad my eagle-eyed son ferreted it out of my list and ordered it for me. Thanks, Benj.

Is it worth your hard-earned dollars? If you like really good mysteries and thrillers, absolutely, positively yes. BUT. You have to read Mr. Mercedes first!

Live From Death Row, by Mumia Abu-Jamal*****

livefromdeathrowMumia is a former Black Panther. The facts support his having been framed in the murder of the cop, a crime for which he was nearly executed.

Live from Death Row, written before his sentence was commuted, is not, however, a vehicle he uses to advocate for himself or plead his own case to the public. He has written other books I haven’t read, and I don’t know if he did that there.

Instead, here he uses his own situation to discuss the racism inherent both in the U.S. court system; he also talks about racism on death row.

The mandatory fresh-air time, prized and treasured by men who rarely see the clear blue sky, is an Apartheid one, at least in Supermax, RHU,SMU, and SHU (ultimate maximum security prisons, which he says have swelled since jailhouse overcrowding has made prisons tenser places and more people are tossed into “the hole”). The vast majority of prisoners are Black, though they are a minority of the population at large, and in the Pennsylvania prison he describes, 80% of those maximum security cases, those who wear Black skin, are crowded into a courtyard. They can’t see green grass or the outdoors, only four brick walls and way up there, blue sky. Why? And where are the other prisoners going?

The other prisoners (who are also maximum security) who are not Black have a SEPARATE courtyard, which is surrounded by chain=link fencing with razor-wire, but has the view. The 20% have the perk of a much less crowded space and the capacity to see Mother Earth during their treasured time outside prison walls.

As to the racist system that places Blacks on death row at such a startlingly high rate, he offers the following statistics and footnotes all of them like the scholar he was before being incarcerated, and continues to be behind prison walls. He uses a Georgia case because it is one which caused the Supreme Court to recognize the following facts:

*defendants charged w killing Caucasian victims are 4.3 times as likely to be sent to death row as those charged w/killing Blacks;

*the race of the victim determines whether or not a death penalty is returned;

*nearly 6 of 11 defendants who received the death penalty for killing Caucasians would not have received the death penalty if their victims had been Black;

*20 of every 34 defendants sentenced to death would not have been given the death sentence if their victims had not been Caucasian.

He continues to pound one damning fact upon another, and cites court cases to back them up; those above come from McClesky vs. Kemp (1987). If the case sounds old, I would argue that precedents are set by very old cases indeed, and of course, this book was published early into the 2000 decade. I doubt a more recent gathering of data would return more favorable information; in the case of jail overcrowding, I suspect the recession has made it worse.

A person would have to be hiding under a rock or in a coma not to be aware of the level of violence visited upon African-Americans by cops and vigilantes within the past year.

I applaud Mumia for using his well-known case to set the facts before us, rather than trying to build momentum to save himself. There was a considerable amount of public pressure NOT to execute him, and I do think that had to do with his sentence being commuted; as it was, my kids’ urban U.S. high school was “barely holding together”, according to a counselor I knew there, the day that Mumia’s case was turned away by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you are interested in reading about social justice issues, this relatively slender volume holds an astounding amount of really critical information. I appreciate Mumia’s relentless effort to make the public, both in the US and internationally, aware of the atrocities that continue to visit Black prisoners in the USA, and it’s more relevant now than ever!

Trust No One, by Paul Cleave *****

trustnooneMany times my daughter has come upon me reading a book and asked, “How is it?” And almost every time I have said, “I don’t know. I haven’t read the end yet.” This is completely true for this one. And oh my my my, what an ending. No, stop worrying, I have no intention of giving away anything.

But I will thank Net Galley and Atria Books. I appreciate the opportunity to read a free DRC in exchange for this honest review.

You can purchase this book Tuesday, August 4, or you could save the hassle and order it now.

Above all…you don’t want to forget. If you forget this, you might be forgetting other things, too. That’s a slippery slope that nobody wants to slide down.

Jerry is just 49 years old, and he has Alzheimer’s. After the diagnosis, he starts a journal, partially with the idea of recording all the things he doesn’t want to forget so that he can come back and find them later. But fate has other ideas for our protagonist, and for his nom de plume, Henry Cutter–a cute play on the actual author’s name…or is it his pen name?

As we find ourselves gradually creeping down that long dark tunnel with poor Jerry, the journal becomes more and more confused. Is he a killer? If so, how many people has he killed? Why can’t he remember doing any of it?

But then, he can’t remember much of anything these days…

Trust No One is a brilliantly paced, tautly written piece of psychological fiction, and it is proof that, contrary to the old saying, not all stories have already been written. And the title answers his question, a very good question: who can he trust?

The problem here is that someone in Jerry’s position has to be able to trust someone. And as the plot moves further along, the reader can’t help wondering whether all of the characters in the story actually exist.

Those searching for an absorbing vacation read—or even one to curl up with at home, hunkered under the air conditioner or fan on a dog-hot day—can’t really ask for anything better than this. Cleave gives the reader every possible frisson in this impossibly complex, yet strangely accessible novel.

Highly recommended.