Weekend Reads: “Yellow Jack”

Yellow JackYellow Jack by Josh Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: the daguerreotypes referred to in the text of this book are entirely fictional (I suppose the fact that there are no actual plates to go with the plate numbers should have been a clue, but I presumed it was a decision made for the eBook edition of the novel). This bugged the hell out of me, to be honest, because the story is interspersed with these allegedly scholarly discussions of the subject matter that sent me looking for more information. That’s time I’ll never get back again.

Now, maybe you think this is a selling point … and maybe it is. The author has so cleverly convinced the reader of scholarship that at least one person went haring off to learn more. Instead, I found that it pulled me right out of the story.

And what a story it is. Claude Marchand steals his mentor’s equipment and his friend’s name … and leaves Paris for New Orleans to become a daguerreotypist or, as he calls himself, a soliotypist. He has a free woman of color as a mistress, and is something of a libertine.

He becomes obsessed with Vivian, whose picture he first takes when she is an 8-year-old child … and follows her life story from the fringes throughout the entire book. The obsession begins when he hears she has succumbed to the titular “yellow jack,” as yellow fever was sometimes called … and then survives a disease that kills many.

This is a story about civil rights, the roles of women, the history of photography, and the history of New Orleans from a medical perspective. It’s well told and the characters are engaging. Still, the faux scholarship in between chapters served solely to jerk me out of the story and make it hard to get back in. You’ve been warned.

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Weekend Reads: “Unconquered” … with a Bonus Track

Hi, everyone.  Today is Jerry Lee Lewis’ 82nd birthday.  He is quite literally the last man standing from Sun Records:  the only person still alive who recorded for the legendary Memphis label.  Both this week’s book review and the bonus track are in Jerry Lee’s honor.

Unconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey GilleyUnconquered: The Saga of Cousins Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley by J.D. Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an interesting, and often challenging, look at three cousins from a small Louisiana town who each found success in their own ways.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Swaggart, and Mickey Gilley all had rough and impoverished childhoods … and each of them used their talents as pianists to come through in different ways.

In this book, we see their strict Pentacostal upbringings, rebellions, differing personalities and challenges … and their widely varying downfalls (because each of them had one).

The book was written in an engaging authorial voice; it’s clear that J.D. Davis admires all three men for different reasons. He also did his homework; there are first-person interviews, a long bibliography, and discussions that would not be out of place in a musicology classroom.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to other fans of early rock and roll.

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Enjoy Jerry Lee’s first Sun Record, “Crazy Arms.”


Weekend Reads: “The Austen Escape”

The Austen EscapeThe Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things at Mary’s job aren’t going great. The project on which she’s chief engineer is being shelved. The cute contractor she has a crush on is moving on to another assignment. She’s pretty miserable.

Enter her childhood friend, Isabel. Wealthy and gorgeous, Isabel is finishing her doctoral thesis on Jane Austen … and she’s offering Mary a chance to do an immersive experience in Bath, all expenses paid. Mary turns it down flat; she just can’t imagine that it would be any fun. Then, Isabel gets Mary’s inventor father to help wheedle her into going along.

Just when Mary thinks the trip might be okay, something strange happens to Isabel. She wakes up after not feeling well, and really believes she’s in Regency England. Her entire personality changes from the haughty demeanor she displayed at home to someone fun-loving and kind. Mary’s in constant contact with her family and Isabel’s doctor … because this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

The book was entertaining and lively, with well-drawn characters throughout. Some of the plot twists were obvious but others were not. I enjoyed the read and would consider it light chick-lit with overtones that will make the Janeites happy.

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Weekend Reads … With a Twist

I was just going through my blog roll, and Carrie Rubin had a post in which she shared some indie and traditionally published books that she enjoyed.  She then invited authors in her readership to share a link to their latest work.  So, I’m paying that idea forward in this post.

If you’ve read something that you really enjoyed, please share in the comments.  Also, please share your latest work if you’re an author.  Only one link per post, please; otherwise, you will wind up in spam.

I won’t see your responses right away because I’m on my way home from Memphis, but I’ll look forward to reading them when I’ve landed.  Thanks!

Weekend Reads: “Good Rockin’ Tonight”

I leave for my Memphis research trip on Monday, so I’m cramming in materials left and right.  I’m sure I’ll pick up more books in the course of my travels.  Anyway, this look at the history of Sun Records was at the top of my list.

Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock 'N' RollGood Rockin’ Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll by Colin Escott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good Rockin’ Tonight, which takes its name from one of the most seminal rock-n-roll records, is an intimate look at the ups and downs of Sun Records and founder Sam Phillips.

While it’s true that rock-n-roll found its beginnings in the Memphis studio, the same risk-taking that made Phillips pay attention to Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash (whose contracts were sold to keep the studio afloat) meant that he recorded some real stinkers and lost money in the process.

Still, there are chapters about the big names from Sun, including Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, as well as lesser-known players like Bill Justis and Little Walter. Furthermore, we get a look into Phillips’ techniques as the very first record producer (previously, people just recorded acts rather than looking at how the room or the use of unusual methods like a sheet of paper between the guitar strings might make the record more interesting).

Highly recommended for music lovers.

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