Quick Review: UNREQUITED INFATUATIONS by Stevie Van Zandt (Hachette)

VanZandtS-UnrequitedInfatuationsUSHCA fascinating and fun memoir from one of rock’s great guitarists and characters

Uncover never-before-told stories in this epic tale of self-discovery by a Rock n Roll disciple and member of the E Street Band.

What story begins in a bedroom in suburban New Jersey in the early ’60s, unfolds on some of the country’s largest stages, and then ranges across the globe, demonstrating over and over again how Rock and Roll has the power to change the world for the better? This story.

The first true heartbeat of Unrequited Infatuations  is the moment when Stevie Van Zandt trades in his devotion to the Baptist religion for an obsession with Rock and Roll. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones created new ideas of community, creative risk, and principled rebellion. They changed him forever. While still a teenager, he met Bruce Springsteen, a like-minded outcast/true believer who became one of his most important friends and bandmates. As Miami Steve, Van Zandt anchored the E Street Band as they conquered the Rock and Roll world.

And then, in the early ’80s, Van Zandt stepped away from E Street to embark on his own odyssey. He refashioned himself as Little Steven, a political songwriter and performer, fell in love with Maureen Santoro who greatly expanded his artistic palette, and visited the world’s hot spots as an artist/journalist to not just better understand them, but to help change them. Most famously, he masterminded the recording of “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid anthem that sped the demise of South Africa’s institutionalized racism and helped get Nelson Mandela out of prison.

By the ’90s, Van Zandt had lived at least two lives — one as a mainstream rocker, one as a hardcore activist. It was time for a third. David Chase invited Van Zandt to be a part of his new television show, the Sopranos — as Silvio Dante, he was the unconditionally loyal consiglieri who sat at the right hand of Tony Soprano (a relationship that oddly mirrored his real-life relationship with Bruce Springsteen).

Underlying all of Van Zandt’s various incarnations was a devotion to preserving the centrality of the arts, especially the endangered species of Rock. In the twenty-first century, Van Zandt founded a groundbreaking radio show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), created the first two 24/7 branded music channels on SiriusXM (Underground Garage and Outlaw Country), started a fiercely independent record label (Wicked Cool), and developed a curriculum to teach students of all ages through the medium of music history. He also rejoined the E Street Band for what has now been a twenty-year victory lap.

Guitarist in the E Street Band, long-time friend of Bruce Springsteen, Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, political activist, standard bearer for rock ‘n’ roll. Stevie Van Zandt has been, and still is, many things. As evidenced by this memoir, he is also a great storyteller. I had high hopes for Unrequited Infatuations, but it absolutely exceeded them. Fascinating and fun, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: JUDAS 62 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-2-Judas62UKHCThe (excellent) second Lachlan Kite novel

A spy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth…

1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his groundbreaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite’s mission soon goes wrong and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his trail.

An old enemy looking for revenge…

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the ‘JUDAS’ list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite’s fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on…

Who will come out on top in this deadly game of cat and mouse?

The announcement of this novel was a very nice surprise — it arrived much sooner than expected after the release of the first book, BOX 88. A long-time fan of Cumming’s novels, I eagerly sought out a review copy and was lucky enough to get my mitts on one. I’m happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Another excellent novel from a modern master of spy fiction. Continue reading

Quick Review: OUR AMERICAN FRIEND by Anna Pitoniak (Simon & Schuster)

PitoniakA-OurAmericanFriendUSHCAn engaging political mystery

A mysterious first lady.
The intrepid journalist writing her biography.
And the secret that could destroy them both.

Tired of covering the grating dysfunction of Washington and the increasingly outrageous antics of President Henry Caine, White House correspondent Sofie Morse quits her job and plans to leave politics behind. But when she gets a call from the office of First Lady Lara Caine, asking Sofie to come in for a private meeting with Lara, her curiosity is piqued. Sofie, like the rest of the world, knows little about Lara — only that Lara was born in Soviet Russia, raised in Paris, and worked as a model before moving to America and marrying the notoriously brash future president.

When Lara asks Sofie to write her official biography, and to finally fill in the gaps of her history, Sofie’s curiosity gets the better of her. She begins to spend more and more time in the White House, slowly developing a bond with Lara — and eventually a deep and surprising friendship with her.

Even more surprising to Sofie is the fact that Lara is entirely candid about her mysterious past. The First Lady doesn’t hesitate to speak about her beloved father’s work as an undercover KGB officer in Paris — and how he wasn’t the only person in her family working undercover during the Cold War.

As Lara’s story unfolds, Sofie can’t help but wonder why Lara is rehashing such sensitive information. Why to her? And why now? Suddenly Sofie is in the middle of a game of cat and mouse that could have explosive ramifications.

I’ve been a fan of Anna Pitoniak’s novels for quite a while (I read an ARC of her debut, The Futures, quite early), and so was very interested in reading this novel. The premise is undoubtedly going to grab attention, given recent political events in the US. Our American Friend is an engaging, well-written Cold War and political mystery. I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE ANTISOCIAL NETWORK by Ben Mezrich (Grand Central)

MezrichB-AntisocialNetworkUSHC“The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees”

The definitive take on the wildest story of the year — the David-vs.-Goliath GameStop short squeeze, a tale of fortunes won and lost overnight that may end up changing Wall Street forever.

Bestselling author Ben Mezrich offers a gripping, beat-by-beat account of how a loosely affiliate group of private investors and internet trolls on a subreddit called WallStreetBets took down one of the biggest hedge funds on Wall Street, firing the first shot in a revolution that threatens to upend the establishment.

It’s the story of financial titans like Gabe Plotkin of hedge fund Melvin Capital, one of the most respected and staid funds on the Street, billionaires like Elon Musk, Steve Cohen, Mark Cuban, Robinhood co-CEOs Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, and Ken Griffin of Citadel Securities. Over the course of four incredible days, each in their own way must reckon with a formidable force they barely understand, let alone saw coming: everyday men and women on WallStreetBets like nurse Kim Campbell, college student Jeremy Poe, and the enigmatic Keith “RoaringKitty” Gill, whose unfiltered livestream videos captivated a new generation of stock market enthusiasts.

The unlikely focus of the battle: GameStop, a flailing brick-and-mortar dinosaur catering to teenagers and outsiders that had somehow held on as the world rapidly moved online. At first, WallStreetBets was a joke — a meme-filled, freewheeling place to share shoot-the-moon investment tips, laugh about big losses, and post diamond hand emojis. Until some members noticed an opportunity in GameStop — and rode a rocket ship to tens of millions of dollars in earnings overnight.

Like many readers, I was first introduced to Mezrich’s work with the excellent The Accidental Billionaires, the story of how Zuckerberg et al founded, launched and grew Facebook. Since then, he’s published a number of interesting and timely books, and The Antisocial Network is no different. A fascinating and well-told narrative of the GameStop drama of last year, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE MAID by Nita Prose (Harper/Ballantine)

ProseN-MaidUKHCAn intriguing mystery, starring an engaging protagonist

I am your maid.
I know about your secrets. Your dirty laundry.
But what do you know about me?

Molly the maid is all alone in the world. A nobody. She’s used to being invisible in her job at the Regency Grand Hotel, plumping pillows and wiping away the grime, dust and secrets of the guests passing through. She’s just a maid – why should anyone take notice?

But Molly is thrown into the spotlight when she discovers an infamous guest, Mr Black, very dead in his bed. This isn’t a mess that can be easily cleaned up. And as Molly becomes embroiled in the hunt for the truth, following the clues whispering in the hallways of the Regency Grand, she discovers a power she never knew was there. She’s just a maid – but what can she see that others overlook?

Escapist, charming and introducing a truly original heroine, The Maid is a story about how everyone deserves to be seen. And how the truth isn’t always black and white – it’s found in the dirtier, grey areas in between…

Molly is a dedicated, utterly focused maid at a boutique, exclusive hotel. Someone who struggles with social cues and reading others, she unwittingly becomes entangled in the strange goings-on at the Regency Grand Hotel. Through her eyes, we get an engaging, interesting view of society, relationships, and the motivations for murder. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: DOUBLE SOLITAIRE by Craig Nova (Arcade Crimewise)

NovaC-DoubleSolitaireUSIntroducing Quinn Farrell: Hollywood fixer

Quinn Farrell is a modern-day fixer in Los Angeles — he cleans up other people’s messes. Rich people’s messes. For a lot of money. He’s so good that he’s become indispensable to Hollywood moguls and he’s managed to construct a working moral framework so that he can live with himself. That is until a new neighbor moves next door, Rose Marie, who works with terminally ill teens. Against all his survival instincts, Farrell falls in love with Rose Marie and then her uncanny patients, who shine a spotlight into his soul.

When a client steps over the line and Farrell is hired to clean up after a reprehensible crime, his carefully constructed ethical house of cards comes crashing down. 

This is Craig Nova’s first crime novel, which introduces us to Hollywood/LA fixer, Quinn Farrell. Making a living cleaning up the (self-inflicted) messes made by the rich and famous, in Double Solitaire he’s introduced to the absolute worst that Hollywood can produce. An interesting introduction to a complicated new protagonist, this is a pretty good novel. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE 6TH EXTINCTION by James Rollins (William Morrow)

RollinsJ-SF10-6thExtinctionUSPBThe tenth Sigma Force novel

A remote military research station broadcasts a frantic distress call that ends with a chilling message: Kill us all. When soldiers arrive to investigate, they discover everyone in the lab is dead — not just the scientists, but every living thing for fifty square miles is annihilated: every animal, plant, and insect, even bacteria. The land is completely sterile — and the blight is spreading.

To prevent the inevitable, Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma must decipher a threat that rises out of the distant past, a time when Antarctica was green and Earth’s life balanced on a knife edge. Following clues from an ancient map rescued from the lost Library of Alexandria, Sigma will make a shocking discovery involving a prehistoric continent, and a new form of death buried under miles of ice.

From millennia-old secrets out of the frozen past to mysteries buried deep in the darkest jungles of today, Sigma will face its greatest challenge yet: stopping the coming extinction of mankind.

But is it already too late?

I’ve been a long-time fan of James Rollins’s Sigma Force novels. I fell behind for a bit, though, and recently decided that it was time for me to get caught up. And so, I eagerly dove in to The 6th Extinction, hoping for some action-packed mystery and globe-trotting adventure. I was not at all disappointed. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE GUIDE by Peter Heller (Knopf)

HellerP-GuideUSA new guide stumbles across a dark mystery at the heart of an elite retreat

A heart-racing thriller about a young man who is hired by an elite fishing lodge in Colorado, where he uncovers a plot of shocking menace amid the natural beauty of sun-drenched streams and forests.

Kingfisher Lodge, nestled in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet, is known by locals as “Billionaire’s Mile” and is locked behind a heavy gate. Sandwiched between barbed wire and a meadow with a sign that reads “Don’t Get Shot!” the resort boasts boutique fishing at its finest. Safe from viruses that have plagued America for years, Kingfisher offers a respite for wealthy clients. Now it also promises a second chance for Jack, a return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss. When he is assigned to guide a well-known singer, his only job is to rig her line, carry her gear, and steer her to the best trout he can find.

But then a human scream pierces the night, and Jack soon realizes that this idyllic fishing lodge may be merely a cover for a far more sinister operation.

I’ve been reading Peter Heller’s work since The Dog Stars, and each of his books has been an enjoyable, well-written read that offers a twist on a new genre. The Guide is no different: this time, it’s a mystery set during a pandemic at a retreat for the wealthy and famous. Well-written, I quite enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: SHARDS OF EARTH by Adrian Tchaikovksy (Orbit/Tor UK)

TchaikovskyA-FA1-ShardsOfEarthUSHCAn excellent start to a new space opera series

The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery…

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared — and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects — but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time is one of my favourite science fiction novel of the past decade or so (probably true for many others — it justifiably won the Arthur C. Clarke Award). Shards of Earth is the first novel in a new science fiction series from the author, and it’s quite the opening salvo: expansive, action-packed, and populated by varied and engaging characters. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: WHERE TOMORROWS AREN’T PROMISED by Carmelo Anthony & D. Watkins (Gallery)

AnthonyC-WhereTomorrowsArentPromisedUSHCAn interesting memoir about family, struggle, and basketball

A raw and inspirational memoir about growing up in the housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore — a brutal world Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

For a long time, Carmelo Anthony’s world wasn’t any larger than the view of the hoopers and hustlers he watched from the side window of his family’s first-floor project apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He couldn’t dream any bigger than emulating his older brothers and cousin, much less going on to become a basketball champion on the world stage.

He faced palpable dangers growing up in the housing projects in Red Hook and West Baltimore’s Murphy Homes (a.k.a. Murder Homes, subject of HBO’s The Wire). He navigated an education system that ignored, exploited, or ostracized him. He suffered the untimely deaths of his closely held loved ones. He struggled to survive physically and emotionally. But with the strength of family and the guidance of key mentors on the streets and on the court, he pushed past lethal odds to endure and thrive.

By the time Carmelo found himself at the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in 2003 preparing to embark on his legendary career, he wondered: How did a kid who’d had so many hopes, dreams, and expectations beaten out of him by a world of violence, poverty, and racism make it here at all?

Carmelo’s story is one of perseverance and determination; of dribbling past players bigger and tougher than him, while also weaving around vial caps and needles strewn across the court; where dealers and junkies lined one side of the asphalt and kids playing jacks and Double Dutch lined the other; where rims had no nets, and you better not call a foul — a place Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

I didn’t know that much about Carmelo Anthony before reading Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised. As someone who follows the NBA, I’d of course heard his name and that he was a star. In January 2020, shortly before the pandemic rolled in, he snatched victory away from the Toronto Raptors in the last live game I saw. (It was a superb, albeit frustrating, shot.) So, when I had the opportunity to read his new memoir, I jumped at the chance. And I’m glad I did — this wasn’t the memoir I was expecting, but it it is an excellent glimpse into the mind and early life of a basketball All-Star. Continue reading