Friday, August 8, 2014

I'm Movin' On - the Life and Legacy of Hank Snow by Vernon Oickle

Published by Nimbus

Hank Snow, a man who certainly has 'been everywhere'...a Canadian and international legend in his time and on through his legacy of country music. This biography by Vernon Oikle is a bit of an eye opener. We watched his burgeoning career, having been too young to see his beginnings. Born in 1914, his early life brutal and difficult, a life that began in the years of WW1, the Spanish 'flu, starvation and desperation in the small town of Brooklyn in Nova Scotia, Canada. This book follows his life from birth past death on to his post-mortem accolades. He may have been 'movin' on' but what he accomplished in his lifetime will fortunately remain with us. There are some wonderful old photos in the book, too.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves country music, ambition, accomplishment, and determination to succeed. Learn how one man accomplished so many dreams. I thought I knew Hank Snow's music, but soon discovered I didn't know much of anything. I knew his voice, but never understood his instrumental skills. Nor did I realize just how many hit songs he wrote that became huge hits for other vocalists of the '40s to '60s in particular, some who were in a completely different genre.

His legacy is not just his music, his fame, nor his name. His legacy includes the societies he set up and backed up for abused children. This, perhaps, was his biggest focus outside of music. As an abused child himself, he wanted to make a difference in the treatment of children. If he could have, he would have ended child abuse. That is how important this was to his life.

Hank Snow began his career as Jack Snow, regardless of the fact that his name was actually Clarence. This is just one of many strange facts scattered throughout this book. I wonder how many people living today remember that he began his career as a trick rider and yodeler. I wonder how many know that he wrote and recorded that still remain as best sellers. Today, in the digital world, this is a man who would have been in the forefront of writing songs for today’s country stars. He has so many awards, accolades, a museum and yearly festival in New Brunswick, where he was born, and inducted into so many Halls of Fame. A man who came from nothing but never gave up his dream. A man whose music goes on today, even 100 years after his birth.

The Hollywood Detective by Martha Steinway

Published by Venatrix

Quirky and entertaining take on the hard-boiled detectives of the '40s

Kind of a cheeky, fun version of the old '40s-type detective stories. Certainly not noir, but it has its moments. This detective with the messy office finds that the secretary he thinks he has hired is much better at being an associate investigator. More than a match for our 'hero'. A missing girl is the focus, but what happens to her is not only a mystery but with a wild rampage going on in the city it becomes very difficult to get close enough to solve the case. The book has unique moments and I quite enjoyed it as such. A fast, lighter read but the ending is definitely scary and surprising. I'm quite interested to find out what these two get up to in the next installment.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

Published by Simon & Schuster Canada

A story of exploitation, broken trust, secrets and changes to come
A very unusual book, told from two main sources. Yes, there is a museum and it is fascinating, but there are dark secrets hidden here. The museum is owned by a refugee who lives alone on Coney Island with his young daughter, who tells one part of the story, and a housekeeper. Both are called monsters, though they are the most caring in the story. The girl is very young at the beginning of her story, and one hundred percent under the control of her father, though she is not aware of it. Nor is she aware of what his plan for her future is.

The second storyteller is an Orthodox Jew, a refugee from the Ukraine who lives with his father and both work in the textile mills in Boston. A young boy on the verge of rebellion at the beginning. He renounces his faith when he believes his father tried to commit suicide.

It is a time in New York when men were in charge and women were treated as possessions, a time when class distinction was not only strongly defined but often corrupt and hidden crime was rampant, a time when 'hired' help was more often than not mistreated. Also a time of workhouses where children and women were forced to work for a pittance and often accidents occurred. Such is the case when a fire breaks out while the workers are locked within. You thought this happened only in other countries? Murders and assaults occur while eyes remain closed. This is New York in the 1800s and early 1900s. Manhattan was not much more than a swamp at certain times of the year. Coney Island was just becoming the famous park and beach it would one day be. For the boy who renounced his faith he has found beauty in nature. For the girl living at the museum, she has found horror. Will the two ever be able to find each other in time?

Through all the brutality of the times, this story is beautiful in many ways. It flows between two sides, much like the Hudson River, featured so often in the story and integral to it in many ways. It is a story of betrayal, but also a love story of two storytellers. There is connection between many of the characters, and the spark of life, love and humanity exists and blooms against all odds. Alice Hoffman has not only captured the essence of early New York, she has integrated two historical events seamlessly, and recreated the crises so vividly you can almost feel the heat. Though the characters are fictional, the events are real. This is a wonderful story of compassion within a nightmare world. This story I will carry with me for a long time.