Review: “The Psychology of Time Travel” by Kate Mascarenhas

THIS PREVIEW MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

In 1967, time travel ceases to be a theory and becomes reality, a triumphant success for a project spearheaded by four female scientists. Soon enough, the pioneers, Margaret, Barbara, Lucille, and Grace, hop between present and future as if they’ve never done anything else. Unfortunately, Barbara soon begins to show signs of mental instability, a side effect of time travel. To prevent any stigma to fall upon the project, the remaining pioneers decide to force Barbara into resigning.

Some fifty years later, a student finds a badly disfigured body in a locked room in the basement of the museum where she volunteers. Who is the dead woman, and why was she murdered? In order to find the answers she desperately needs to regain her equilibrium, Odette decides to join the Conclave, the organization regulating and facilitating time travel.

There is a lot to like about this novel: all the primary characters are women, which is a refreshing change of pace. The premise of the book is certainly intriguing, and the setting unique. These are the strong points of “The Psychology of Time Travel.”

The story is interesting enough to easily allow the reader to pick up what part of the plot takes place in which timeline, but all throughout, I never connected to any of the characters. While I wanted to follow their exploits until the conclusion, it was like looking into live-action panorama box from the outside, which made the experience somewhat less than satisfying.

A plot point that bothered me incessantly was the flippant way in which time travelers reveal the future to other characters and even meet their older and younger selves. Considering the rigorous selection and training process potential time travelers have to go through before joining the Conclave, it would be downright dangerous to simply spring someone’s future on them, not to mention that apparently in this story, too, you can’t really change anything about it, just as you cannot change past events.

Furthermore, the book could have benefited from vigorous editing. The writing style reads very much like the original intent was to submit a short story that kept getting longer and longer, and even as short story, this would have looked like a decent second draft at best.

Ms Mascarenhas clearly has a passion for story-telling and some refreshingly unusual ideas about alternate realities. I look forward to reading more tightly crafted novels by her in future.

“The Psychology of Time Travel” is published by Crooked Lane Books. I received an ARC via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

psychology time travel

Author Interview: Emilia Bernhard of “Death in Paris”

In September, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Emilia Bernhard, whose book “Death in Paris” I had reviewed not long before (see my review here). We spoke about inspiration, creating characters, and future plans for Rachel and Magda. Ms Bernhard hails from the US, but is now living and teaching in the UK.

Stop and Smell the Pages:  So, how did you end up in the UK?

Emilia Bernhard: The simple answer is, I just wanted to be here.  I had some connections at Cambridge, so I got a job teaching writing there, and that was enough to live on until I got a real job teaching English Literature.

SSTP: You’re living in Bristol now, right?

EB: Actually, I live in Exeter.

SSTP: Oh, right! Did your cat move there with you or did you get him later? I noticed you named him after a son of the city (English poet  Robert Southey, England’s poet laureate for 30 years. He wrote a children’s story, The Story of the Three Bears, which served as inspiration for Goldilocks)

EB: Robert Southey, who is indeed a Bristolian, really, really, really loved cats; he was a huge lover of cats. He’s a terrible poet, really terrible, but I’ve always been fond of him because of his love of cats. So when I knew I was going to get a cat, I decided to call him Robert Southey – he’s just called Bob, actually.

And now he’s got a companion cat who’s named Humphry Davy. Humphry Davy was a scientist of the same era as Robert Southey, so I thought I’d keep it in the family. (Humphry Davy invented, among other things, electrochemistry, and nitrous oxide owes its nickname, Laughing Gas, to him. While living in Bristol, he became friends with Southey)

SSTP: I like that! So, one interesting thing about your novel is that as an American living in England, you chose Paris as the setting for the book. How did that happen?

EB: I have hypothesis that everybody has another country that’s not the country they were born in and not the country that they live in, and when I went to Paris, I was just very comfortable there. I used to spend a lot of time there; in the summers, when I would come to England for research, I would stop over in Paris for a couple of days. So I knew enough when I started writing the novel to set the novel there, but I did have to go back and spend more time there.

SSTP: I think you mention in the back of the book that you had to go and do a lot of research for the street layouts and those kinds of things.

EB: (laughs) I did! I have zero geographical sense; I always tell people I could get lost walking around the block! I would go to Paris and I’d walk, like I walked the First Arrondissement. When I got home, I’d be able to tell you where I had walked and the whole path, but I had no idea what the street names were, so I had to use Google Satellite. That thing is an author’s gift! It’s weird, you can get so close. It’s not like you forget you’re not there, but you can get so close that it’s weird that you’re not there.

SSTP: Another thing I liked about the novel was that your protagonists are just two regular women. There’s not the usual cop with a chip on his shoulder or anything like that. How did that come about?

EB:  That was a conscious choice. I’m 50 and I wanted the people in the book to be an age that I could write with some understanding, but also an age you almost never see in books. You see women who are fifty and above, and you see women who are maybe in their thirties, but you don’t see women who are in their forties. There aren’t a lot of women in books, generally, who don’t have children. I don’t have children, and so I wanted them not to have children. They are based very loosely on me and my best friend. I knew I wanted the heroine to be married, to have somebody to kind of balance her out, but I also knew that I wanted her to have a very specific kind of equal marriage. I didn’t want her to have his last name, I wanted to show a kind of woman that, at least at the time, which was three years ago, and I think still now, you just didn’t see very much of in books.

SSTP: Yes, that is true. I was also happy to see that you kind of hinted at possibly writing a continuation of your Death in Paris series. Are they going to be the same people in a similar setting?

EB: Oh yes! It’s planned as a whole series of books, at least three, and I would hope more. It’s planned , for example, that Rachel’s husband, who only comes in and out in the first one, plays a larger role in the second one, and people who appear in this first book will also appear in later ones. The idea is to build a kind of a world, like Agatha Christie with Hastings. It’s not just Poirot, he also comes with various other characters.

A very big part of that is, when I got an agent and it looked like the book was going to be a real thing, I decided that throughout the series every person who was in a position of power would be female. With the exception of the police detective- it was too late to change that- in this mystery and all forthcoming mysteries, anybody that they have to deal with who has a power role will also be a woman.

SSTP:  That was another point I really enjoyed, a lot of strong women characters who aren’t bystanders to the whole plot.

EB: You know, just recently in England a couple of women, I think it was newspaper critics, got together and started offering an award for Best Mystery in which no woman is killed or raped or assaulted, because they felt that the women that you see in mysteries, that’s basically what they do, they’re the victim.

SSTP: You kind of hinted at where the idea for the murder came from. It isn’t, as Law and Order used to say, “ripped from the headlines,” but it is based on a real instance, isn’t it?

EB: Sort of. Not the specificity of the murder, but that murder just seemed so weird. I understand why you would kill someone if you weren’t in their will, you’d be overcome with rage and then you’d do that, but if you were thinking at all rationally, it just seems like a weird choice. I’m working on the second novel right now, and in both cases, the solution to the mystery has been about emotion.

SSTP: How did you come up with the means of your murder, though? Chucking someone off a balcony may not be that unusual, but drowning in a vichyssoise certainly is.

EB: That happened because I wanted to make the joke! That he’d died in his sleep, when he’d actually died in his soup.  The real difficulty was figuring out how someone could actually die in their soup, so the joke kind of forced all the rest of it. [One of the other murders], I just wanted to write a scene where someone had been bashed over the head. I’d read an article about different kinds of mysteries: cozy, light, thriller, suspense, there’s all these different categories. And it said that in the cozy mystery, they never really describe the body, so I was like, “well, mine is not a cozy mystery, so I will describe the body!” As a writer, there’s just some things that you want to write. And the soup thing just made me laugh every time I read it.

There was an episode of CSI where a woman dry-drowns. And that is why there is a scene in the novel where Rachel calculates how much soup is in the bowl.

SSTP:  I’m assuming you probably did more research on this than going back to old television shows.

EB: Well, I did a lot of research at various points, things like, how deep is a soup bowl. I actually measured soup bowls. I took a deliberate trip to Paris to figure out the area. But I did a lot of research backwards. For example, when I was in Paris, I didn’t know there’d be a scene where they take a taxi cab. When I got home and wrote that scene, I had no idea what a cab in Paris looked like. The internet was my best friend. I don’t think I could have written this without the internet.

SSTP: For your police inspector, did you have anyone you talked to about police work? Or was he going to be a minor character so that you could just say ‘we’ll have him come in when we need him to’?

EB: Basically! To be honest, I’m pretty sure I got some stuff wrong. I just have to hope that nobody who actually knows anything about French police work reads the book. I’ll have to try and get that right in future. He’s just a generic policeman in this book. And also, the women are very excitable. They can’t believe their luck, having watched all those true crime shows, that something strolls along.  I needed to have somebody who sort of knew what was actually plausible, and somebody who was just very calm, and he was designed to do that.

I really love the scene where he makes Rachel another cup of tea, because up until that point, I was like “I don’t really know what this guy is here for”, and then he was there to kind of take her seriously in a way that maybe she doesn’t even take herself seriously.

SSTP: Now that we’ve talked about it, it’s more noticeable that there aren’t many male characters in there that have much of a role, but it still feels like a very balanced book. Alan being there to ground Rachel a bit and perhaps to stifle her enthusiasm about the murder, and the policeman coming in and saying “this isn’t really how we can go about things,” I think that worked out really well in the novel.

EB: Well, thank you, first of all. And second of all, that’s partially down to my editor because she noticed that in the unrevised version, Alan is actually a lot more unpleasant. That’s odd, because in life, I socialize more with men than women, but apparently, on paper I have trouble capturing men. I could really only make them sort of patronizing. If it weren’t for my editor, I don’t think Alan would be a calming influence. There’s not much to him, but he’d be even less rounded. He comes into more prominence in the next book, he takes a more active role, so he gets a little more fleshed out there. I need to write a lot more men to get used to writing men.

SSTP: Since you are teaching at the moment, I would imagine that for a good chunk of the year you’re fairly busy anyway; how do make sure you have time for writing? Do you have a routine or do you just try to fit it in whenever you can?

EB: A bit of both. As I said, I don’t have any children and I don’t have a partner, and I think it’s important to recognize how much free time that leaves you with. I don’t want people to think that I have some fantastically organized schedule because I don’t; I just don’t have anything else to do. But at the same time, you make a good point because when I’m teaching, I can’t do writing. So what I try to do, and I’m trying to do even more this time, is complete a first draft during the summer. Then while I teach, I can revise.

What also makes it easy is, I try to write 1000 words a day. Graham Greene did this, he did it all in one sitting. You just sit down and then you don’t get up until you’ve finished. That I cannot do, but I try to write a thousand words a day. I try to do a rolling outline, meaning I know where a story’s going to go up to a certain point, and that makes it much easier to write it. I’ll write up to the point that I know, then I’ll take two days off and have an idea for the next part and I’ll write that. I think Julian Barnes once said that the only things writers like better than writing is finding excuses not to write, and in my case that’s certainly true. Up until adulthood, I never really stuck at anything, so this is a change for me. I really do stick at this, and I think it’s because it’s the thing I’ve always wanted to do.

SSTP: How long was “Death in Paris” in the making?

EB: As Mr Monk would say: here’s what happened… I got dumped. Right before I got dumped, I had this novel that I had been holding on to for years and years, and I sent it out to every agent in England. Then I went to America – I was there visiting- and when I returned to England, I got broken up with. A couple of days later I got this email from the woman who would become my agent, Laura MacDougall, and the email said ‘this novel is good enough to make me want to see whatever it is you’re working on now.’ I wrote to her and I said, ‘here’s ten pages (which was all that I had) of this mystery that I’ve just started to write.’ She wrote back and said ‘I would like to see the rest of this.’ And I said… ‘there is no rest of this.’ Then I thought to myself, well, I just got broken up with, it hasn’t destroyed my life, but it’s not something I really want to think about, so I could just focus on writing the rest of this book. So, I wrote back to her and said, if you give me six weeks, I’ll give you a first draft. That’s how long the first draft took. But after that… it was not a good first draft. I feel like anybody who is a writer should know that: all first drafts are terrible. In my experience, all you’re doing is to write the first draft so you can finish the first draft and revise it. It’s the revision where all the fun stuff happens. So after that, it took basically two to two-and-a-half years to revise it. I’ve never been good with plot. I’m really good with characters and description, but the long bit in the middle where stuff has to happen, I’ve never been good at that. I’m still not good at it! There was a period where we sent it out and nobody wanted it. I said to Laura, send me all the comments, which she did, and everybody said ‘it really doesn’t have much plot.’ That was pretty close to the end of the two-and-a-half years. For a while, it seemed to be done, and then it needed to be revised. They still sit around and talk an awful lot.

SSTP: I felt that it still had a very good pace, though. Even if they sit around and talk, the reader gets to know the characters, and now that you’ve said you’re working on the next book, the reader will already know what these people are about before you get there.

EB: That is a good point. If it wasn’t billed as a mystery, it wouldn’t be such a big deal that they talk so much. But when something’s a mystery, people have certain expectations. Publisher’s Weekly called it ‘a comedy of manners’.

SSTP: For future books, should we eventually expect one of those this-time-it’s-personal novels, or is that a road you don’t necessarily want to go down? Even though, since Rachel used to know Edgar quite intimately, that has already happened in a way.

EB: I think of it this way: like you’ve said, these are just two ordinary women, there is no earthly reason why they should get involved in detection if it wasn’t someone that they knew. Now that they’re involved, they really like it. In the next one, they do get involved accidentally, but it’s not because they know someone. Essentially, Rachel just happens along right as there’s been a murder. In the third one, I’m not really sure, but I know that I want to have a firm base in which they progress as detectives, and then maybe bring it back to something more personal. It’s difficult. Are you familiar with “Midsomer Murders”?

SSTP: Yes.

EB: You’ve probably thought to yourself, the streets of that town must just be littered with corpses! I don’t want it to be that every friend Rachel ever had is murdered!

SSTP: Now that you’re published and you’ve started on the second novel, are you on a schedule when it should be finished?

EB: It should be finished by February, but the whole process takes much longer than anybody thinks. It will be out next October, I know that for sure. The first one is out in October of this year, the second one is out in October of 2019. You learn all sorts of fascinating things; my agent told me that there is this whole timetable for publishing. It just so happened that my book was accepted at a time that meant it would be published in autumn, and then they wanted a quick follow-up. And then of course when they have an author, they want to grow a following, so they like to get the first and the second [book] out quickly, and then there’s a breather.

SSTP: Are they going to send you on a reading tour?

EB: I would love that! I’ve always yearned to be a celebrity, so I would adore a reading tour. The difficulty is, if you’re a first-time author, you get two people in a bookstore as your audience. I don’t have the self-confidence to do that. The way the world of publishing has changed, there’s a lot more stuff online. They might want me to do some online publicity.

SSTP: How important IS a well-made cup of tea in the writing process?

EB: Extremely important! I would say a well-made cup of tea is essential to the living process. Not only that, but I’ll tell you how to make it, because I know that a lot of your readers will be American. Here’s the first thing: I’m sorry, America, but you’re getting it wrong. Bag first, then the water. I don’t know why, but that’s all that works. Ideally, the water should be boiling; you don’t put it in the microwave, you didn’t get it out of one those little spigots. Put the bag in the cup, add the water, leave it for ideally five minutes, although three minutes is good. Then add milk, if you happen to be a milk person. Ideally, you would add whole milk. In the UK, everywhere they’ve started using semi-skimmed, because people are fooling themselves into believing that that way they’re losing weight – so, whole milk, and you want it to turn a kind of fawn color. And you want to sit down with it and drink it slowly!

SSTP: How do you feel about lemon in the tea, though?

EB: I’m pro lemon! You obviously don’t want lemon AND milk, but it is especially good with Earl Grey.

SSTP: Thank you very much, I really enjoyed talking with you today!

EB: Oh, it was a joy!

Emilia Bernhard’s Facebook page

Emilia Bernhard Amazon author page

Review: “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” by Stuart Turton

Having a debut novel published must be a nerve-wracking event. Will readers and critics love it? Hate it? Who will they compare you to? Well, Stuart Turton certainly has nothing to worry about, and the writer he has to live up is Agatha Christie (which is, as much as I love her work, a somewhat tired comparison and probably primarily done because Christie and Turton are both British). “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” is nothing short of brilliant, a dazzling piece of creative fiction with a few excellent twists thrown in.

Aiden Bishop awakes in a strange house and a strange body, although this first strange morning ends rather soon. When next he wakes, the house looks familiar, but the body is different again. The reader finds himself as confused as the struggling Aiden, both desperate and curious to figure out what is going on. In bits and pieces, the other occupants of the house are introduced, and soon the reader shares the main characters curious ability to observe a scene both from within and without. Apparently, there is a murder to be solved, complete with a deadline. As if that doesn’t add enough pressure, there is also a conspiracy, and a menacing figure in the form of a deadly footman. Who are Aiden’s foes, and is there anyone he can consider an ally? The suspense never lets up as Turton skillfully unravels the mystery thread by thread and throws in a wonderful surprise at the very end. This is the kind of book the term “page-turner” was invented for!

Seems a bit skimpy on detail? If you really must know more, enough reviews have been written about this novel, but most of them contain, in my opinion, a spoiler so obvious, they may as well spell out the conclusion. As this is my top pick for Book of the Year at this point, I am unwilling to give away too much and ruin the fun for you. The only thing I did not like about “The 7 1/2 Deaths” was that the publisher asked readers not to post reviews too soon (I read the ARC in April)!

If you love a good mystery, do yourself a favor and get this novel.

“The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle” is published by Sourcebooks Landmark. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are most definitely my own.

evelyn hardcastle

 

Author Interview: Joe Milliken of “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars”

When the Cars burst onto the music scene in the late 1970s, they were rock’n’rollers in a vast sea of disco dancers, new wavers, and punk rockers, but that wasn’t the only unusual thing about them. All band members but one were in their 30s, most of them had quite a few years of experience as musicians under their belts. Although lanky lead singer Ric Ocasek may be the most prominent face of The Cars, he frequently shared vocalist’s duties with bassist Benjamin Orr, whom he had met in Cleveland, Ohio, a decade earlier. After The Cars broke up in the late 1980s, most of the band pursued other projects, drummer David Robinson leaving the music biz behind entirely. Benjamin Orr sadly passed away in 2000, from pancreatic cancer. Consequently, he did not appear on the one-off album, “Move Like This,” released in 2011, nor was he present when The Cars were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in April 2018. Ric Ocasek remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine: “I think it’s kind of a big thing for me and the band. I know Ben would have been flipped out by it. … It’s certainly a very positive thing.”

Like many fans, I am tickled that in only a couple of months, on November 11, to be exact, Rowman & Littlefield is releasing a brand new biography titled “Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars.” The book is a labor of love by journalist Joe Milliken, who graciously answered a few questions for me.

Stop and Smell the Pages: The Cars are a band that most rock aficionados of a certain age will be familiar with on some level. Yet, the forthcoming book, “Let’s Go! A Biography of the Cars’ Benjamin Orr” obviously focuses primarily on Benjamin. Why did you decide to put him in the spotlight, and who is your target audience?

Joe Milliken: When I was contemplating what music subject my first book would be about, admittedly Benjamin Orr and even The Cars were not at the top of my list even though they are one of my seminal favorite bands. Truth be told, a fan contacted me out of the blue and suggested I write a biography specifically about Orr.

I was unsure but curious, but when I did some research I discovered this whole other aspect of his life that I didn’t realize, and figured a lot of other Cars’ fans didn’t know either. Ben growing up in Cleveland (home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) as a “young celebrity musician” if you will, over a decade before he ever became world famous with The Cars, was the hook I needed to make this book come alive. And did it ever!

My target audience is not only The Cars fans around the world, but rock, new wave and pop music fans alike. There is also special interest in Cleveland where Orr grew up, as well as the Boston area where The Cars signed their first record deal and launched their careers.

SSTP: You’ve already done quite a bit of campaigning for the book release, which is coming up fast. How has the feedback been from the media and music fans?

JM:  We have really gotten some great feedback from the fans who’ve discovered the book and in fact, some fans have been loyal to this project since I started it a decade ago. Our book mailing list has grown to nearly 1,000 fans, my Public Relations Coordinator, Donna Neale, and I have been promoting the book for months and the select media we have contacted so far has been positive. Pre-orders for the book is growing every week and the momentum is building towards the November release.

SSTP: In April, the Cars were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and you attended the event. If you had a free hand and no fund limits, how would you have liked to put together the Cars’ part of the inductee exhibit?

JM: The Cars’ exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was very cool, it was just presented in a very limited space. If I had it my way, there would have been an entire room dedicated to exhibiting “Cars artifacts” and I would have searched out and invited “Cars collectors” around the world to display their treasures for all to enjoy.

SSTP: While Ric Ocasek’s musical style always seems to have a flamboyant edge to it, Benjamin’s style, especially in his solo work, seems far more grounded in traditional rock’n’roll, both musically and lyrically. By this I mean that Ric’s lyrics are often very much open to interpretation, whereas the lyrics to the songs on Benjamin’s solo album, The Lace, seem more like personal vignettes in the vein of traditional storytelling. How do you think his having grown up in Cleveland may have influenced his musical development?

JM: Cleveland (obviously) has a rich rock-and-roll history and it surely influenced Benjamin during his formative years. One of his early bandmates said to me in an interview: “Benny was influenced by Elvis, the Beatles and the British Invasion, and he always loved to play rock-and-roll!”

As for the songs on The Lace being of a personal nature, even though some of the lyrics may pertain to personal feelings, it is not meant to be any kind of narrative of his life, if you will. The songs could be about anyone’s relationships and feelings, and actually can be open for one’s own interpretation.

SSTP: Are there any plans for an international release of the book?

JM: We are lucky to be backed by a major publisher in Rowman & Littlefield, who markets their book releases internationally. Additionally, Donna and I have been working hard to promote the book and have launched a website, a Facebook page (over 1,500 “likes”), and have assembled a growing “promotional team” of enthusiastic fans who are helping to promote the book globally by reaching out to their local medias on our behalf. We currently have promo team members in roughly 30 states, plus Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and England.

SSTP: And finally: If you had the chance to ask Benjamin one question, what would it be?

JM: I’m going to cheat and mention a few questions I would ask Benjamin. On a music level, I would ask him what his top five bands/artists are, what his favorite Cars’ song, and album is, and what was his favorite bass to play. On a personal level I would ask him what the significance is of a modest bracelet he wore for most of his life, and who really was the true love of his life.

Considering the madcap round of interviews Joe has been giving to promote the book release, I very much appreciate his taking the time to answer yet more questions. You can stay up to date on book news on the Let’s Go Facebook page. Scroll down to the official press release below to find even more details on the book, its author, and how to stay in touch!

book cover

Press Release:

Vermont Writer Milliken Has Book Deal to Publish Biography of The Cars’ Benjamin Orr
BELLOWS FALLS, VERMONT – Veteran music journalist Joe Milliken recently announced a publishing deal with the Lanham, Maryland-based publisher Rowman & Littlefield Publishers to produce his first book, a biography about the late Benjamin Orr. Orr was the co-founder, co-lead singer, and bassist for the platinum-selling rock band The Cars. Titled Let’s Go! Benjamin Orr and The Cars, a release date is set for November 11, 2018.
Often considered the band’s heartthrob, Orr possessed an incredible voice, diverse musical talent and rare stage presence, all balanced by a magnetic, yet enigmatic personality, striking good looks, and a relentless determination to reach rock stardom. Born Benjamin Orzechowski (aka “Benny Eleven Letters”) and raised in the Cleveland suburb of Parma Heights, Orr was, prior to becoming a worldfamous rock star with The Cars, a “teen star” as a house band musician for the nationally syndicated television show Upbeat.

A few years later Ben met his musical partner and future Cars’ bandleader, Ric Ocasek, and by 1976 their quest for the perfect blend of songs, bandmates, and musical landscape finally materialized as The Cars. They would go on to sell over 30 million albums worldwide resulting in 15 “Top 40” hits.

From his early success in Cleveland through his stardom with The Cars, to his solo band efforts and eventual rebirth with the emerging supergroup Big People, this definitive account of Orr’s rock-and-roll life is not a backstage ‘tell all,’ but the story of a charismatic musician with a vision, a sense of adventure, and unwavering perseverance. Orr passed away much too young at 53, but he achieved his dream through hard work and determination, a long road that began in Cleveland and culminated with The Cars coming back to his hometown to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in April of 2018.

This first-ever biography about Orr spans 11 years in the making, as Milliken draws together interviews with over 120 family members, friends, bandmates, and music associates from Orr’s life, as well as many unpublished and never before seen photos from private collections, to reveal an intimate portrait of one of classic rock’s great talents.

About the Author: Joe Milliken has been a music journalist, editor and website publisher for two decades. A die-hard music fan with a degree in visual arts, Joe turned to writing as his creative outlet, first as a local reporter, then a sports/arts & entertainment editor and freelancer. In 2014, he launched Standing Room Only, a website dedicated to promoting music and the arts on a local (New England) and national level. Originally from Boston, Milliken now resides in southern Vermont with his wife, Kelly, and his children, Nate and Erin.

Learn more about upcoming book-related announcements, events, discounts and author interviews online at http://www.benorrbook.com and http://www.facebook.com/BenOrrBook, by email at benorrbook@gmail.com, or follow @benorrbook on Twitter. Let’s Go! is available for presale at http://www.benorrbook.com.

 

Review: “Victoria of England” by Edith Sitwell

Dame Edith Sitwell was an interesting character. Due to an extremely unhappy relationship with her parents, she lived with her governess for a long time, until that lady’s death of cancer in the late 1930s. She fell in love with a gay artist and never married. As a tall woman who liked to dress in unusual garb, she certainly stood out. Like her younger brothers, Dame Edith had literary leanings and began publishing poetry before the first World War. She also wrote books on poetry, as well as biographies. “Victoria of England” was first published in 1936.

This fact presents one of the major problems with this work: its wording is often somewhat archaic, which younger readers may find tedious. It is also somewhat repetitive: after all, we do not need reminding that Victoria disliked a certain politician or presented herself as a grieving widow after the early death of husband Albert in every single chapter following the event. If you can look beyond those faults, you’ll be delighted to discover a sprightly, slightly gossipy narrative about Victoria’s early life, her ascension to the English throne, and her adult years, occasionally peppered with personal notes from Dame Edith. Most chapters are augmented with quotes from letters to or from the Queen, excerpts from her diaries, and quotations from contemporary biographers. Unfortunately, we find the sovereign such a private person that her daily routine remains largely unexplained; we do, however, learn that she loved her family, never got over her beloved husband’s death, apparently managed to remain quite diplomatic when dealing with foreign powers, and strongly disapproved of women’s suffrage, somewhat ironic considering that she herself was a woman in charge of a nation and a Commonwealth.

Two chapters seem odd among the rest: Edith Sitwell spends a very thorough bit of time enlightening the reader on the plight of the British laborer of the Victorian age, which is certainly interesting, but entirely out of character from the rest of the biography in tone. The same goes for the odd, rambling listing of fashions of the time, inserted after the French Queen’s visit to London.

As an extra, the new edition of “Victoria of England” also includes 1933’s “The English Eccentrics,” which must have been a very short book indeed, considering it barely seems to take up room at the end of the biography.

“Victoria of England” is published by Agora Books. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are, as always, my own.

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Review: “Simply Bento” by Yuko Yagi and Noriko Yura

It’s been more quiet than usual around here this week, and that has two reasons. For one, I’ve started my new job, which is cutting into both reading and writing time (as jobs tend to do). Secondly, I’m a bit under the weather at the moment. The queue doesn’t simply read itself, however, and there is already another little surprise for my readers in the making, so stuff needs to get done.

I thought “Simply Bento” would be a great title for review, since I’ve been looking for easy lunch options to take with me. Authors Noriko and Yuko also run the popular blog Japanese Cooking 101, which features a huge variety of recipes, many with videos. Their new cookbook begins reasonably with an explanation of what bento is and its history. It turns out that as a meal, bento has been enjoyed for far longer than I would have thought! The seven key points in “How to Make Bento” reemphasize the fact that you are taking a meal for the senses, something that should be prepared with a bit more care than a baloney sandwich wrapped in cellophane, while keeping in mind as well that raw meats or fish and dairy require certain food safety practices.

Next, you learn about essential utensils and accessories for bento, like choices for containers, then move on to find out which staples make regular appearances in Japanese cooking. Finally, as bento aims to provide a balanced meal, there are some notes on how to create exactly that. Now you’re ready to delve into the recipes!

Altogether, there are twelve recipe chapters that cover topics like Classic Japanese Bento, Noodle Bento, Low-Carb Bento, Bento for Special Occasions, Bento at Home, and even Side Dishes. There is even a separate section on Vegan Bento, although I don’t need a whole cookbook to tell me to pack a falafel lunch. On average, the sections feature seven recipes each, some a few more, some a few less. Every recipe is laid out the same way: after a brief recipe introduction, there is a box titled “How to Make this Bento” in which you find a main dish, plus suggested side dishes. The next line tells you the estimated prep time, cooking time, and number of servings for the main dish, immediately followed by the recipe for the main. For people frequently finding themselves in a time crush, there is a very helpful box titled “Plan Ahead” to make quick assembly a snap. This layout makes the book very easy to use. The recipes are accompanied by full-page color photos.

Overall, I think this is a great book for omnivores who are curious about Japanese food. There certainly is a great variety of different dishes in here. Personally, I find it disappointing and, frankly, a bit lazy to say that a lot of the dishes can be adjusted to fit a vegan diet without concrete tips on how to do so, and that is why I would not get this book for myself. The only cookbook I have come across so far that actually tries and succeeds quite well in providing both vegetarian and vegan variations of the vast majority of recipes included, is Kathryne Taylor’s “Love Real Food.” Still, I am at least motivated to check out Yuko and Noriko’s blog for ideas.

“Simply Bento” is published by Race Point Publishing. I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “The Vegan 8” by Brandi Doming

This past week has been a bit stop and go. Fortunately, the go bits were pretty good, if I say so myself; I have an exciting surprise coming up for you guys, and I just finished two very different but equally interesting cookbooks. One of them is what I’m reviewing today.

If you’ve been in the vegan scene in the US at all, chances are that you have at least had fleeting contact with Brandi Doming’s blog, The Vegan 8. The premise is to create easy, delicious recipes with eight or fewer ingredients, which makes them ideal for beginners and busy people. It seems almost the norm now that when a blog is successful enough, a cookbook is sure to follow (not that I’m complaining), and voila!, here we are.

It’s very hard to dislike this book, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, Ms Doming just comes across as so darn likeable. She went vegetarian, then vegan, in order to optimize her husband’s diet (based on medical recommendations) to alleviate his gout, without having to sacrifice the enjoyment that comes from a good meal. Secondly, the first chapter, The Vegan 8 Kitchen, is a thorough introduction to tips, tricks, techniques, and ingredients to assure you get the most out of the recipes every time. I love that she starts out with a reminder to read the recipe ahead of time! You would not believe how many people criticize cookbooks again and again for recipes that “take too long,” have “exotic ingredients,” or require some planning-ahead. It’s called organization; hop to it and do it, people!

The recipe section is organized in a familiar manner according to meal type. Apparently, grouping recipes into meals for, let’s say, specific holidays, creates stress for more cooks than I would have guessed (read some reviews of Bryant Terry’s books if you don’t believe me), so again, for beginners and people who want to pick a meal rather than an occasion, this is just perfect! The individual chapters are: Breakfast, Scrumptious Snacks & Appetizers, Time-Crunch Lunches, Sauces & Dressings, Easy Entrees, Comforting Soups & Stews, Sides & Dips, Crowd-Pleasing Desserts, and Staples.

Every recipe has a header, telling you whether it is oil-, gluten-, and/or nut-free. Each comes with a short introduction and ends with -unusual these days, but surely much appreciated by some cooks – nutritional information. There is a useful tip or note alongside each dish, and each and every one is accompanied by a full page, gorgeous color photo that’ll make you want to zip into the kitchen and get cooking right now!

Ms. Doming loves all things barbecue, and so this particular flavor profile appears in several dishes. She’s also not very big on fruit in desserts, and so that chapter is stuffed to the gills with chocolatey yumminess. If you feel bothered by this, this may not be the cookbook for your kitchen shelf.

I have already bookmarked several recipes to try before my preview copy expires, and I have a strong feeling this might make it onto the wishlist.

“The Vegan 8” is published by Oxmoor House. I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Drink Me!” by Nick Perry and Paul Rosser

We all have a favorite childhood story, don’t we? One whose magic draws us in irresistibly, puts our hair on end or curls our toes, or maybe just makes us feel all warm and fuzzy for the memories connected with it. Generations of children have come to know the magic of “Alice in Wonderland” (even if Tim Burton has tried his best to ruin it), and many continue to love the story of the girl who goes down to rabbit hole -and later, behind the looking-glass- well into adulthood. “Drink It!” is directed at these grown up fans, now old enough to not only enjoy a well crafted tale, but also some well crafted tipple. Each and every cocktail in this book is inspired by an event or a character from the Alice books, like the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar’s Hookah, Pig and Pepper, or Off With Her Head.

So far, so intriguing. The book actually begins with a short introduction into the bits and bobs of cocktail mixing, from common alcoholic ingredients to handy tools and the best glassware. Then we mix. Alas, this is where “Drink Me!” immediately runs into problems. Firstly, the introduction points out that great pains were taken to create unusual cocktails, but there are no pictures of any of them. Zero! Zilch! Which I could have dismissed as an oversight, were it not for the totally redundant photographs in the third part, Batch Recipes, where you also get to create your own syrups, liqueurs, and spirits used specifically in these cocktails! I know what a silly sugar cube looks like; show me the Bread-and-Butterfly Pudding instead!

Another problem is that the authors live in London, where it is easy to purchase a specific, recommended alcohol selection. Of course, if you have a favorite whiskey or vodka, you may be good to go, but in gin-based drinks, different brands can lead to vastly different flavor profiles. I, for example, live in northern Indiana. Here, selection is rather limited, to put it politely. We are also a state that does not allow you to have alcohol shipped to you: no beer clubs, no wine subscriptions, no nothing. And if that isn’t enough, requiring different bitters for every other recipe is a bit out of my budget. Making my own turkey-flavored vodka would be merely the tiniest bit of help (actually, it wouldn’t, because as a vegan, I don’t do turkey flavor, but you get the idea).

Alas, unlike “Death & Co.,” “Drink Me!” would be one bar book that would primarily look cute and gather dust in my house instead of getting proper use. But if the above-mentioned issues are really non-issues for you, if you love “Alice in Wonderland” more than your childhood best friend, and/or you are always looking for the next far-out cocktail idea, this book is for you. I’ll clink my glass to that!

“Drink Me!” is published by Rock Point, part of the Quarto Publishing Group. I received a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are most definitely my own.

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Review: “Death in Paris” by Emilia Bernhard

Some books require serious commitment before you really get into them. Some require a bit of a warmup. And some start off like being dropped into someone’s cozy living-room with a cup of joe and a cookie. “Death in Paris” is definitely a coffee and cookie book!

In this utterly charming, well-paced novel, two American ex-pats in Paris find themselves suddenly entangled in a murder investigation when Rachel’s former lover ends up face first in his soup bowl. The only clue: a bottle of wine that the dead man was unlikely to have chosen to drink. When Rachel attends the reading of the will, she is presented with an entire set of possible suspects. She and her friend, Magda, decide to follow their hunches to the thrilling conclusion.

There are so many things I love about this book: the characters are well defined and thought out. The pace of the narrative feels like a comfortably brisk walk in a rainy park smelling of wet leaves (what? I for one rather enjoy rambles like that).  The events have an internal logic, something that is not a given, even in crime fiction. And there are no grammatical or spelling errors, and yes, that is so rare that it is worth mentioning. I realize that advance copies are just that and usually not yet finalized, but mistakes are distracting to me, occasionally to the point where I no longer want to finish the book.

Author Emilia Bernhard is an American living in the UK, something that accidentally spills over into the book. At one point, there is a scene describing the utter lack of decent options for a good cup of tea in Paris, something that the vast majority of my American acquaintances wouldn’t give a hoot about. Someone well familiar with the beloved British ritual of tea preparation, however, would.

All in all, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and suspenseful read which I do not hesitate to recommend to you, my dear readers. Hopefully, this will not be the last time we’ve heard from Ms. Bernhard.

“Death in Paris” is published by Thistle Publishing. I received a free copy in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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Review: “Happily Healthy” by Lea Lou (Lea Lüdemann)

I still don’t have a start date for the new job, so while I wait, I have time to… clean the house… sleep in… run 5 miles a day… read… yeah, ok, let’s go with read! And this is why you get three days of reviews in a row. Cool!

I had waffled about this particular book for a few weeks. Checked Amazon.com and .de. Waffled some more. Then decided to download the English language Kindle version (German Amazon has so much more selection!). Got mad while previewing: there were far too many errors in the text to make it worth keeping, so I returned it. Waffled some more. Then the price for the German Kindle version dropped six euros, and we were in business. I am happy to report that there are no repeats of the errors of the English version. Text is where it’s supposed to be. The arrangement of photos and text makes sense. There are no odd italics where none should be. This one’s a keeper.

What had appealed to me in this particular book was Lea’s attitude. Having overcome an eating disorder, she now enjoys food, does not believe in punishing yourself through your diet (rather, she subscribes to the oft-quoted notion of 80/20, namely, that if you eat clean -read: fresh and unprocessed- foods 80% of the time, you get to treat yourself the other 20%), has a good attitude towards exercise, and incorporates mental wellness into the package. Her writing style is easy going, never preachy. She encourages her readers to listen to their bodies’ needs and act accordingly. Nowadays, a lot of people seem to have unlearned that essential skill.

Lea begins with a chapter about food: her pantry staples, where to shop for which ingredients, eating seasonally, how you can eat healthy on a budget. The next chapter is about fitness and includes a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session as an example of how to get started. From there, we move on to mindfulness and yoga, complete with a vinyasa sequence that even beginners without major mobility issues should be able to follow. There are tips on breathing techniques that can be quite helpful for stress reduction. The chapter on Happiness gives tips and tricks on cultivating a positive mindset, not as a cure-all but rather another pillar to build a happy, fulfilled life on. Each chapter up to this point includes a quickie checklist of things you can do right now to support your goals.

Finally, we delve into the recipe section. Lea is a pescatarian, but all recipes are vegetarian. Although she promises in the introduction to food to add ways to veganize the recipes, the only two times this happens are rather silly. I don’t need to be told to simply omit the egg or leave out the cheese! Luckily, if you have a little experience with vegan cooking, you’ll quickly find that all the recipes can modified without difficulty. Use chia or flax eggs in baking, substitute non-dairy milk and butter, or add commercial vegan cheeze or flavored tofu in other recipes. We just had the shakshuka for lunch, the husband got his with two eggs, I had mine with tofu simmered in the sauce. THAT is modification.

Alas, I also found a mistake in this particular recipe: it calls for a red (bell) pepper cut in thin strips, but the pepper never makes an appearance again beyond the ingredient list! Add it with the onion and garlic, and be sure to read all recipes completely before getting stumped in the middle later! Oh, and how was it? Very fast, very easy, very tasty. I’ve also had a breakfast smoothie from the book, which I enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to incorporating more recipes in the meal plan in future. There are no “weird” or hard to get ingredients in these dishes; your local supermarket should be able to supply all of them.

There are plenty of photos in this book, but not every recipe has one, so bear that in mind if this is important to you. The photos for the HIIT and yoga sections are very good and helpful.

The English version is called “Happily Healthy by Lea Lou: A Guide to Food, Fitness, Health & Happiness.” It is self-published by Lea Lüdemann. In German, the book is called “Happily Healthy: Mit Rezepten, Fitness und Yoga zum gesunden und glücklichen Leben.” It is published by ZS Verlag GmbH. Lea speaks English and German and did her own translation. She grew up in Germany and now lives in London. To learn more, also visit her blog.

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