Weekend Reads: March Forward, Girl

March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock NineMarch Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Melba Pattillo Beals was a very little girl when she came to realize that people of color were treated differently from white folks in Little Rock — and not in a good way.

In this volume, aimed at middle grade students, Beals writes clearly and honestly about what life was like before Brown v. Board of Education for people of color in the deep South. Separate facilities that were never really equal. A lynching within the walls of her church. Her abduction by the KKK at age 11 — and the kind woman who helped her escape. The unwritten rules that governed behavior for people of color vis a vis white people.

Beals eventually becomes one of the Little Rock Nine, integrating Central High School under the force of Federal law and protection. Her honesty about the experiences she had growing up in the deep segregated South were disturbing and enlightening. In view of today’s political climate, I feel as though this book should be mandatory reading in classrooms across the country.

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Weekend Reads: Let Darkness Bury the Dead

Let Darkness Bury the Dead (Murdoch Mysteries)Let Darkness Bury the Dead by Maureen Jennings

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been a decade since the last William Murdoch mystery was published, and this return to the series is first-rate. Author Maureen Jennings brings us into the year 1917. Murdoch is widowed, now a senior detective at downtown’s police headquarters, and his son returning from World War I. Young Jack is only 20, and dealing with demons of his own.

I’m not going to lie; I wasn’t fond of Amy, the woman Murdoch married in the previous book. So, I wasn’t disappointed at him being widowed. He is also feeling the stirrings of middle age interest in a woman named Madge Curnoe, who seems far better suited to both his temperament and his beliefs. This was a good thing, from my perspective; other fans of the series may well disagree.

Jennings presents us with not only an excellent police procedural, as seemingly unconnected murders happen all over Toronto … with the evidence pointing to Jack as the culprit … but also into the experience of soldiers experiencing PTSD (or shell shock, as it was then known). She draws on contemporary publications and reports for some of her sourcing, and this makes the tale all the richer.

This is a fine addition to a delightful series of historical mysteries. Highly recommended.

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Weekend Reads: Christmas with Tucker

What better way to start off Blogmas than with a wonderful book to read during the holiday season!

Christmas with Tucker (A Dog Named Christmas #0.5)Christmas with Tucker by Greg Kincaid

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Greg Kincaid’s “Christmas with Tucker” is, on the surface, a story about coming of age. Once you get into it further, it’s far more complex than that.

The book ‘s primary action takes place in 1962. Thirteen-year-old George McCray lives with his grandparents on a Kansas dairy. His father has been killed in an accident, and his mother and sisters have moved away to Minnesota. George asks for a little more time on the farm.

During the course of the book, George starts to take care of Tucker. Tucker belongs to a neighbor, Frank Thorne, who was a friend of George’s late father. Thorne is arrested for drunk-and-disorderly, and Grandpa Bo agrees to care for the dog while Thorne is in jail. George and Tucker soon become inseparable.

The harsh Kansas winter brings many lessons for George, about responsibility, neighborliness and even prejudice as he confronts some of his own misconceptions and learns to grow as a result.

The ending was not at all what I expected, and brought a tear to my eye. An absolutely beautiful book to read during the holiday season.

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Weekend Reads: “The Million Dollar Quartet” … Plus a Kitten Update and a Bonus Track

Hi, everyone.  Before I post my review, I wanted to let you know that our Elvis Purrsley kitten has been safely caught and taken in for veterinary care and adoption.  Three more to go!

So, since we’re talking about the Million Dollar Quartet, this review seemed appropriate.

The Million Dollar QuartetThe Million Dollar Quartet by Stephen Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’re looking for a basic introduction to the players and participants involved in the Million Dollar Quartet session, this book will do the job. Where it really shines is the analysis of the available recorded material, giving composition information and the history of the songwriters. Since much of the available material is religious work sometimes only noted as “Trad.,” this makes the extensive song notes a real treat.

A lot of the other material is a sort of mile-wide, inch-deep look at Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sam Phillips. If you’re entirely unfamiliar with their histories, this would be a good place to begin. Otherwise, it’s very much a case of “yeah, yeah, I know.”

Still, it was a worthwhile read and I would recommend it to fans of roots rock.

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I hope your Thanksgiving holiday weekend is proceeding pleasantly.  I’m grateful for all of you reading my words.  I’ll leave you with one of the religious songs from the Million Dollar Quartet session.  Marion Keisker asks the “rover boys trio” to sing “Farther Along.”  Here are Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis doing just that.  Enjoy!

Weekend Reads: “Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley” … with Bonus Track

Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis PresleyCareless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second half of what most people consider the definitive Elvis Presley biography (you will find my review of the first half under Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley). Unlike the first volume, which deals with the unprecedented rise of a shy but optimistic young man from Tupelo, this volume shows us the excesses and pain that came with fame.

The thing that is hinted at in this book but never outright stated is that Presley had no idea how to deal with the sudden, hard-hitting fame he achieved … because no one had ever seen anything like it before. Going from a shy, stammering kid who only wanted to earn enough money to buy his parents their own house to a paranoid recluse who never knew who his real friends were is a painful journey.

In this volume, we see Elvis getting home from his two-year hitch in the Army and going back to making movies. We also get a look inside his peculiar courtship with Priscilla Beaulieu … and the girls he had on the side. Not too surprisingly, women threw themselves at Presley … and often times he caught them We also see the Svengali-like hold that Colonel Tom Parker had on Presley, with both Elvis and his father Vernon believing that Parker would always do right by them. Even at Presley’s funeral, Parker was wheeling and dealing in ways that were best for *him,* until a probate court intervened on behalf of Lisa Marie two years after Elvis’ passing.

But I digress.

Guralnick shows us the physicians, girlfriends (and their pushy mamas who saw dollar signs in the air), and other hangers-on who were eagerly surrounding Presley with their hands out … and Elvis doling out the goodies because he was afraid to be alone. His belief that if a doctor gave you a medication it must be okay led to health problems from prolonged use of opiates, and a never-ending parade of uppers and downers in order to be awake or asleep as necessary. One physician began to slip placebos into the mix to try to wean Elvis from the various prescriptions, but it was actually too late by that time.

I said in one of my updates that I had reached a point where I wanted to slap everyone who was around Elvis Presley during the last couple of years of his life. What happened to one of the most amazing talents of our time was an entirely avoidable tragedy, and the greedy people around him didn’t care as long as the gravy train kept running.

This two-book set is a must-read for fans of Elvis Presley and roots rock in general. Be advised, though, that it is not for the faint of heart.

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