Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: “Once There Was A Way: What if The Beatles stayed together?” by Bryce Zabel

Where to start with Once There Was a Way: What If The Beatles Stayed Together? by Bryce Zabel? I think maybe first I need to write the definitions of “historical fiction” and “alternative history” since it is the later category that Mr. Zabel uses for this novel.

From Wikipedia:

An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the period depicted. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.

Alternate history or alternative history sometimes abbreviated as AH, is a genre of fiction consisting of stories in which one or more historical events occur differently. These stories usually contain “what if” scenarios at crucial points in history and present outcomes other than those in the historical record. The stories are conjectural, but are sometimes based on fact.

There is also fan fiction which I define as complete works of fiction using real life people as characters.

I know these categories are very similar, but the best way for me to describe the difference is on a personal level. I love historical fiction novels about Edgar Allan Poe. The authors of these books (click to see the Poe books I’m talking about) use real life events in Poe’s life and build a story around it with minimal, if any, changes to Poe’s history. Fan fiction would take Poe and put him into situations that he would have never been in, altering the outcome of his life completely. Another example of historical fiction would be Can’t Buy Me Love by Dan McNeil in which he wrote a great mystery novel around the night that the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show without changing their story.

So, given the definitions above, I would put this book in the Fan Fiction category because the author doesn’t start the story at the end of the Beatles story when the band officially broke up. Mr. Zabel went back to the year 1968 and changed the history of the Fab Four including the title and song list of several of their albums. Imagine, if you will, if songs that were released on each of the their solo albums were part a group album. Imagine #9 Dream without May Pang saying “John….John…” Imagine Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney as friends, and Allen Klein and Lee Eastman all working together to keep the Beatles together. The Beatles win Oscars for their work in Stanley Kubrick’s The Lord of the Rings. They star in a remake of Murder on the Orient Express. John is kidnapped by the politically far-left group the Weather Underground and eventually pardoned by Gerald Ford. A nineteen year old Steve Jobs befriends George Harrison and becomes the head of Apple Computers…a division of Apple Corp. Could this things have happened if the Beatles broke up in 1975? Can you dig it?

The fans of fan fiction are going to love this book. The writing is exceptional and despite my dislike for fan fiction, there was a point where I found myself caught up in the kidnapping of Lennon. But I believe that the true Beatles fans who are purists are going to roll their eyes and toss this book aside before finishing the first chapter. This makes my job as a reviewer very tough since I need to figure out if I’m reviewing this book for Beatles fan fiction lovers or Beatles purists (and I hope the three winners of this book will comment after reading it)…so for that reason, I went middle of the road…

I rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “David Bowie: A Life” by Dylan Jones

David Bowie A Life Dylan JonesI’d love to say I’ve been loving this book and speeding through it’s pages, but that would just be an outright lie because I’ve been laboring to read it for over a month! I choose this book free as part of the Blogging for Books program because I was a (late to the game) fan of Bowie’s music in the 80’s. I couldn’t get enough of Jazzin’ for Blue Jean.

David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones is a 521 page biography of…well…David Bowie. But it’s not your typical biography. Dylan Jones interviewed over 180 friends, family, colleagues, lovers and rivals of David Bowie. The list of contributors appears at the end of the book as the ultimate who’s who list of the rock and music industry, including Angie Bowie, Tony Visconti, Ricky Gervais, Paul McCartney and even Bowie himself. All the interviews were then broken down and placed in chronological order and presented as an oral history of the life and death of the man born as David Jones on January 8, 1947 in Brixton, U.K..

Though I started out enthusiastically reading this book, about a third of the way through it I got the feeling that a lot of the people interviewed for this book were the ultimate Bowie fans. The praising of everything he wore, sang, said or designed became overwhelming. Occasionally, the author throws in a quote from someone that pretty much amounts to, “David Bowie was a self-centered asshole!” and then the praise would start all over again. For me, it got to be too much.

At the same time, I can’t completely knock this book. This is one of the most complete and informative biographies that I’ve ever read and it really gets at the heart and soul of who David Bowie was and you will learn a lot about him in between the constant adulation of his genius and his sexual prowess.

I haven’t given up on this book yet and I will continue to read it until the end. I’m especially anxious to get to the part about his association with John Lennon and the writing of the song, “Fame“. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Imagine” by John Lennon

Imagine my surprise when I got a 20% off coupon in the mail for one item at Barnes & Noble. All I could think was, “How generous of them considering you usually don’t get any discount unless you PAY to join their club!” So I headed off to my local Barnes & Noble store, but I didn’t have to walk far before I found exactly what I wanted!

Imagine was published in partnership with Amnesty International by Clarion Books and released in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia on September 21, 2017, the International Day of Peace and in 10 other countries at later dates. The Foreword is by Yoko Ono and it’s illustrated by French artist Jean Jullien.

“In Partnership” – interesting terminology, but what exactly does it mean? The back cover says, “Published in partnership with Amnesty International in support of their work to protect human rights.” So does that mean that Amnesty is getting all the profits from this book? 50% of the profits? Some articles I’ve read talk about this book drawing attention to human rights. Does that mean Amnesty is getting nothing but their name associated with this book? These are all questions I can’t answer because no one at Amnesty, Clarion Books or at the Dakota will answer the emails I sent them asking (this explains why I’m late posting this review). Does it matter? Yes…

This book is beautiful! With it’s iridescent feathers on the a pigeon on the cover and the gorgeous artwork inside, it would make a great addition to any Beatles book collector’s bookshelf…for $18.99 for 32 pages of the lyrics to the song Imagine. When it comes to being a children’s book, I feel it’s a bit pricey (unless you have money to burn for such things) and it may be a hard lesson to children when you say to them, “Imagine there’s no heaven…” We as adults understand the meaning behind those words, but a small child may not. At the same time, the book would make a great easy reader for a young child.

It’s a tough call. I probably won’t be reading this to my grand-daughters, but it will make a nice addition to my collection. I’d love to know that all the profits are going to Amnesty. The last page of the book is a thank you from Amnesty to the illustrator and Yoko for letting them use John’s song, so one could ass.u.me that they get the proceeds. And for that reason…or until I hear otherwise…

I rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “The Beatles: Fifty Fabulous Years” by Robert Rodriguez

The Beatles Fifty Fabulous Years Robert RodriguezThis week, I buried my head in The Beatles: Fifty Fabulous Years by Robert Rodriguez. Though I’ve known Robert for several years and I own a couple of his books, this is the first of them that I’ve actually sat down and read. Truth be told, I tend to shy away from my friends books when it comes to reviews. It’s really not fair to either of us.

As I’ve already alluded to, Robert is the author of several books about the Beatles. He is also the host of the very popular Something About The Beatles podcast. To call him a Beatles expert, historian, enthusiast, etc. is being simplistic at best! He is additionally a well known figure around the Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago and New York.

The Beatles: Fifty Fabulous Years was published in 2010. I admit that when I bought it, I assumed it was from 2014 and celebrated the Beatles fifty years in America, but it’s actually starts their story in 1960 when they first acquired the name…The Beatles! It’s filled with beautiful pictures of the Fab Four, including pictures with Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best and Jimmy Nicol. There are also colorful pictures of posters, albums, fans, and other trending bands of the day, along with quotes and ‘Fab Facts’ in the margins on almost every page.

This is a really fun book to own. It’s larger than most books (9″x 9.5″) but not quite as a large as most coffee table books. Robert Rodriguez did a great job making this a smooth an easy read as he tells the complete story of the Beatles without getting hung up on the controversies or filling up the pages with a lot of jibber-jabber to increase his page count.

The only problem I can say I have with this book is…the DVD that’s included with it. The DVD – “Beatles – Their Golden Age” a documentary by Les Krantz was produced especially for this book. It reminded me of a lot of the free movies about the Beatles that are available on Amazon Prime. Though it does provide some never before seen footage, it’s most repetitive scenes of screaming fans and news reel footage set to somewhat annoying music that is actually recycled Beatles tunes that have been altered just enough to not get sued by Apple (My husband actually commented on the poor choice of music).

Yeah, the DVD is a bonus with the book and if you buy a used copy of the book, I would recommend you get a copy with the DVD if you’re a collector. The book, on the other hand, I would highly recommend for collectors or adults/children/teens who are new to the Beatles. As I said, it’s beautifully written without all the hype or controversy that any amateur Beatles fan can dive into later when they want to learn more about the Fab Four.

The book on it’s own, easily rates as a 4 Beetle book, but because of the amateurish work on the DVD, I’m going to have to take it down a notch. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs” by Joe Goodden

Riding so High the beatles and drugs Joe GooddenRiding So High: The Beatles and Drugs by Joe Goodden is another book I came across on the Facebook group ‘Beatles Book Collectors’. This time the author himself posted about it, so there was no expectations on my part from a glowing reader’s review.

As most of you regular readers may know by now, I’m not a fan of the Beatles’ drug use. I know it happened because between their interviews, busts and lyrics, there really is no way to not know. Despite all this, I tried to go into this book with an open mind and will try to write the fairest review I can.

From Amazon:

Joe Goodden is a journalist, blogger and paperback writer living in south Wales. Formerly a senior online producer at the BBC, he is a music lover and founder of the Beatles Bible website (www.beatlesbible.com – “Not quite as popular as Jesus…”). Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs is his first book.

Mr. Goodden did his homework for this book. His bibliography and footnotes are extensive and impressive, making the reader aware that this is not just another book to get his share of the Beatles’ pie! The author starts with the story that I had never heard of in all my reading, that occurred at the early days of the Fab Fours history when they were introduced to ingesting the Benzedrine strip inside a nasal inhaler in June 1960 by Royston Ellis. Goodden continues throughout this 3 part, 351 page book, hashes out the sometimes familiar and sometimes unknown stories of the Beatles (and their wives) ups and downs with various drugs throughout their early days, Beatles years, and solo careers. Also included is the story of Brian Epstein’s substance abuse battle and death from an overdose.

This book is very, very well written with few (if any) typos and an easy reading experience, but at first, I was easily bored and was having a hard time sticking with it. I felt like I was just reading a lot of the already over told drug stories (prezzies, Dylan introducing them to pot, etc.) and having to just force myself to continue. But like so many books before it, by the second half, the story and words seems to become their own telling and I felt like I was finally reading a new story…not just the same old, same old. And for that reason…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: “Dirty Hippies” by Scott Paulsen

Dirty Hippies Scott PaulsenDirty Hippies by Scott Paulsen was recommended to me by a friend and former colleague of the author Dennis Benson. Author Scott Paulsen has spent most of his working life as a radio personality in the Pittsburgh, PA area, but he’s also written several books which I can’t seem to find online. He’s also the author of a daily column about LPs which you can find by checking him out on Facebook.

Dirty Hippies is a fictional story set in Chester, West Virginia in 1974 and is built around the premise that a large entertainment company that owns the local horse track has built an amphitheater in their little town. The problems arise when they schedule a large rock music festival with four bands that summer. The old town folk spend their summer worrying about their small town being invade by….you guessed it…dirty hippies, while the younger residents look forward to seeing their favorite bands when they come to town.

This book is both funny and touching at the same time, but I do wonder how much of it is actually fiction and how much is based on the author’s real life. Scott Paulsen is originally from Chester, West Virgina and was formerly a dishwasher at Waterford Inn just like one of the main characters Jay Mastro. A lot of the characters seem very familiar as if the author pulled them from life experiences, while at the same time creating a his own personal childhood dream experience of girls, guitars and rock concerts. And in case you’re wondering…yes, the word ‘Beatles’ does appear in this book!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this 444 page self-published book, but it really could have used one more set of eyes to scan over it for typos before taking it to print. As a publicist, it’s one of my pet peeves to see a book rushed to print before it’s ready, when one more day and one more edit could have made it right. And even though I doled out that $20 for the paperback, I do think it was a bit pricey and would probably recommend that if you’re interested in reading this fine book, you get the e-book at just $9.99. But since I don’t base my reviews on price, but on content…

I rate this book, 3 out of 4 Beetles!

 

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Book Review: “Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926-1966” by Kenneth Womack

Maximum Volume George Martin Kenneth WomackI met Kenneth Womack, the author of Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Early Years, 1926–1966in 2013 when he was the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and a professor at Penn State (Altoona). Ken has written three books about the Beatles: Long and Winding Roads: The Evolving Artistry of the Beatles; The Cambridge Companion to the Beatles; and The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four. In February of 2014, Ken organized and hosted “It was 50 Years Ago Today – An International Beatles Celebration” – a 4 day Beatles conference at Penn State in Altoona, PA. He also holds a PhD. in 20th-Century British Literature and has written three novels. Pretty impressive, huh?

I remember attending a lecture on the Beatles a couple years ago and sitting down next to Ken in the auditorium as he was typing away at this book, the first book in a two volume set. I was really amazed at how he was doing it with no notes, just his fingers frantically beating away at the keyboard. After chatting with him briefly about what he was creating, I began really looking forward to reading it since everything else I’ve read about George Martin just seems to skim the surface of his life beyond the Beatles.

This book isn’t a simple read as it took me two weeks to take it all in even though it’s only 314 pages. The first half of the book is really intense, but unfortunately, the second half seemed to lose its gusto. No longer is the reader reading much about George’s personal life outside the studio (all the stuff I was looking forward to hearing about). Except for a couple paragraphs thrown in here and there about his divorce from his first wife was being final, and a spattering of paragraphs about the other artists he was working with, the second half of the book reads like a combination of George’s autobiography and Geoff Emerick’s book “Here, There and Everywhere”. The book seems to become just a daily log of recording the Beatles, what tracks were used for which instruments or vocals and techniques used for each song.

And then there is page 85! Whoa! *shakes head in utter disbelief*

The day before the meeting, which had been set for 11:30 AM on May 9 at Abbey Road, Brian asked Derek Taylor, a Liverpool journalist and his close friend and confidant, “What’s the point? Should I even bother going?” He then turned to Derek’s brother Alistair, his colleague at NEMS…”

WHAT?! Derek and Alistair were brothers? Why am I just hearing this now? How could I have read Derek’s book, Alistair’s book and Brian’s book…let alone all the other books I’ve read and never have heard that they were brothers? Did Kenneth Womack uncover some deep dark Beatles secret in his research? Ten pages later, I was still wondering about it, so I text a Beatles expert and friend and asked him about it. He said he’d get back to me and sure enough a couple hours later, after he consulted with a couple other Beatles experts and confirmed….it’s an error!

OMG…it’s a glaring error by the guy who wrote The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four.

I’m still looking forward to reading the second volume in this set when it’s released, but for all the above reasons…

I regretfully rate this book, 2 out of 4 Beetles!

UPDATE (Oct 2, 2017): After reading this review, Kenneth Womack contacted me via email to say: “Thanks for the review. The error has been corrected in the eBook and new edition, which is being published next week.” Thanks for the update, Ken!

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