Pop quiz music fans, what do the songs "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "Viva Las Vegas" have in common? It's the songwriter, Doc Pomus also known as Jerome Felder. The biopic "AKA Doc Pomus" has rough production values, but it's an inspirational gem. Pomus was born to immigrant parents. His father was a bitter, broken failure. The family was always in debt. Already at the low ebb of society, disaster struck young Jerome when he contracted polio. While poverty and a crippling illness could have meant a life of obscurity, Pomus was enthralled by the blues music he heard on the radio. Showing up at the blues clubs, sometimes as the only white and Jewish attendee, Pomus bluffed his way onto a stage one night. His brash, beefy voice impressed the musicians and he was invited back. He changed his name to Doc Pomus so his mother wouldn't know he was playing clubs.
Chris Bohjalian's latest, "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands" presents the harrowing story of Emily Shephard, a smart teenager obsessed with Emily Dickinson whose biggest problem is a growing concern about her parents' drinking until an accident at a nuclear power plant changes everything. When Emily learns that her father has been blamed for the nuclear meltdown, she runs away to avoid questions. Soon she is homeless, scrounging for shelter and food, and surprising herself with what she is willing to do to survive.
My time ran out for listening to the CD recording of "A Tale for the Time Being," fiction by Ruth Ozeki, and I had to return it. Other readers were waiting for it. Yet, I did not want to let loose of this story about the intertwining of a writer with an unknown, unknowable reader, and the realm of the written word they share. Yet, unlike the Japanese teenager's diary washed up on the Pacific shore of Canada, this novel endowed me with no ownership rights as its finder.
Michael Kahn reports that he began writing the Rachel Gold mystery series after his wife grew tired of him saying he could write a better mystery than the one he just read. She encouraged him to stop complaining and start writing. Since his first book was published in 1988, readers have enjoyed Kahn's clever plots and breezy style.
Kahn's latest book "Face Value" is the ninth novel featuring Rachel Gold, a St. Louis attorney with plenty of street smarts and quirky friends. The mystery involves the apparent suicide of a young lawyer. When a mailroom clerk with Asperger's Syndrome explains to Gold why he knows the death was actually a homicide, she agrees to investigate.
The quirky cartoonist for the New Yorker, Roz Chast, has a new book out called "Can't we talk about something more pleasant?" It's a graphic novel of her parents' decline that is touching, funny, sad and all too familiar. An only child, Chast bore the brunt of her parents' transition from independence to complete dependence, indignity and death.
Both a mystery and a musician, Rodriguez was a folk singer/songwriter and the subject of "Searching for Sugar Man." Despite cutting two albums of high quality with songs that left lasting impressions on the producers, he vanished into obscurity. Far off in the country of South Africa, his music took hold and a legend began. Still in the days of vinyl, record stores were selling millions of his albums. Rodriguez was as big as Elvis and The Beatles. Many of his lyrics were gritty and hit hard like "This system's gonna fall soon/To an angry young tune/and that's a concrete cold fact." Thanks in part to the South African government banning his songs, he became a hero to those oppressed by apartheid and liberal Afrikaners. His fans found precious little about him in the liner notes of the albums, but they knew the tales of his tragic death where he set himself on fire. Where did Rodriguez come from and why did he commit suicide in such a way?
Paul Rodgers, one of rock n roll's most soulful voices, has released a CD of classics. In the liner notes for "The Royal Sessions" Rodgers mentions he was fortunate to have some of the same session musicians who performed the original versions of gems like "I Thank You" and "That's How Strong My Love Is." Apparently some of those studio musicians were unfamiliar with Rodgers, the singer/songwriter/keyboardist/guitarist who performed "All Right Now" and "Wishing Well" with Free and "Can't Get Enough" and "Good Lovin' Gone Bad" with Bad Company. The rich, velvety texture of Rodgers's voice is well-suited to both the gritty blues of "Born Under a Bad Sign" and the smooth "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long" included on "Royal Sessions." Most interesting is his spin on "Walk on By," made famous by Dionne Warwick. On "Royal Sessions" the heavy polish of the production is rubbed away exposing more of the emotional pain.
Readers meet a wide variety of protagonists in these stories including a man on safari with his terminally ill sister, a middle-aged couple on their first weekend trip together, and a lonely landlord hoping to get to know his new tenant. What the characters have in common is difficulty with human connections. They each face challenges with people in their lives, whether it be a mother, a former colleague, or a wayward son. And they each have their own internal problems that make relationships difficult.
If you are lucky enough to have more reading time during the summer, you may want to reserve a copy of one of these new books today.
Janet Evanovich continues her wildly popular series featuring New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum with "Top Secret Twenty-One." In this caper Plum juggles several dangerous assignments while helping her Grandma Mazur with her bucket list.
You may remember that Robert Galbraith's "The Cuckoo's Calling" received good reviews but little attention until it was revealed that Robert Galbraith was actually J. K. Rowling. The new Galbraith book "The Silkworm" features the same detective now investigating the murder of a novelist.