Category Archives: reviews

My Review of Comes this Time to Float by @StephenGeez

Rating: ★★★★★

Author Stephen Geez possesses a talent for crafting tales that draw readers into the unique and vivid worlds he creates. This collection of 19 short stories offers a smorgasbord of genres, characters, lives, and situations with which everyday people can and will identify. From the very first story to the last, Geez has a way of keeping the reader enthralled and entertained.

“Halfway House” tells a sad tale of loss and the search for redemption. “Vapor Girl” is trippy and far out, and one that will surely remain with you. “Family Treed” sprinkles the weird and humorous on this wonderful word salad. “Tailwind” is a thoughtful piece about a pair of aging friends in the latter stages of life. “The Age Eater” carries a note of science fiction and a hint of creepy. But my favorite is a story entitled “Holler Song”. This story harkens to the Ozark Mountains of Daniel Woodrell’s modern classic Winter’s Bone, where poor people caught up in impossible circumstances will do whatever it takes just to survive the lives handed to them.

There isn’t a bad story in the entire collect. Stephen Geez has been a favorite of mine since I first read his novel What Sara Saw many years ago. If you’re a reader with a keen eye for the literary, this is one you’ll want on your bookshelf.

My Review of SCENES OF A RECLUSIVE WRITER & READER OF MUMBAI

Rating: ★★★★★

“I am a recluse and I love books more than I love people.” – It’s a line from the author herself. And she means it, too. In Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai, author Fiza Pathan opens the door and allows readers just a glimpse inside of her life. These essays introduce us to her world, her family, her many loves. Her loves being books and characters, of course.

I won’t say Pathan has had a difficult life, though it couldn’t have been easy, either. Her father rejected her based solely on the fact that he didn’t want a daughter. But it is through this rejection that the author is shaped into the person she is today. See, while the father may have been absent, her mother, grandmother, and uncles were very much present. As were those who worked in the libraries of Mumbai. These are the rich cast of lives that aided Pathan during her childhood and beyond. One can fully appreciate her family simply by reading these essays. Her words come from her heart–which is what makes this collection so wonderful.

Pathan’s love for the written word, for storytelling, began with Archie and Jughead, and carries on through Dracula, Bollywood, and the classics. Social issues rank high on her list of priorities, often showing up within her writing, whether it’s essays, short stories, or novels.

As a writer, Fiza Pathan skillfully weaves her words into beautiful tapestries that tell tales in vivid colors and textures. Though her culture is different from my own, I am easily transported into her world, able to feel what she wants readers to feel. This is one trip I truly enjoyed taking.

A Solid Collection of Essays!

The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra: Essays

Rating: ★★★★★

The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra: Essays by Fiza Pathan is at once heartbreaking and uplifting. The author shows within this wonderful collection of personal essays that life can be whatever you make of it. Through rejection by her father for the sin of being born female, to her own discovery of new friends found in the pages of books, Pathan shares the course she plotted for herself in this world.

These essays offer snippets from the life of the author. The reader is invited to tag along for the coming of age of a young woman dealing with a reality so many of us couldn’t possibly comprehend in our own insulated little corners of the world.

Pathan is an overcomer. She found her refuge in the bookstores and libraries of Mumbai, India. It is between the covers of many books that she found who she really can be—her true identity. And it is here, in this collection, that she lures us readers in for a glimpse of her world.

This book is beautifully crafted by an accomplished storyteller. Fiza Pathan’s style puts the reader right there beside her, listening to an incredible woman telling her own stories as only a true author can.

Get your copy HERE

Grace VanderWaal: New Music, New Video, New Tour!

Rating: ★★★★★

Grace VanderWaal is a busy young lady these days. The 15-year-old songstress has recently released her fourth single this year, filmed three new videos, spent part of June opening shows for Florence and the Machine, and has just kicked off her own headlining tour across the United States.

“Waste My Time” is VanderWaal’s latest single. The track is quite a departure from the indie-pop sound cultivated on her debut album, Just the Beginning. The vibe here is more in line with the synth-pop sound that is common with dozens of other singers today. That could be dangerous for a performer looking to stand out from the crowd. But it’s the voice that sets “Waste My Time” apart from everything else on the radio today. VanderWaal, simply put, is a gifted vocalist. Her tone is rich and melodic, easily identifiable within the first word or two, and carries an honesty that cannot be faked. And her lower ranges are just incredible!

If I’m being truthful, this one took a couple of listens to grow on me—though it is now on repeat on my iPod. The change in sound is something I (and other FanderWaals I’ve heard from) didn’t expect. And that’s a good thing. Grace VanderWaal will never be accused of growing predictable or complacent with her music. My two favorite bands (Led Zeppelin and Metallica) never recorded two albums that sounded alike. This is what sparks longevity with music fans. It’s what creates classic songs that generations will continue to appreciate.

The accompanying video for “Waste My Time” is quirky and funny and sweet—much like the singer herself. She wanders through an empty convenience store after stepping out of a late-night rain. The only other person in the store is a lifeless clerk named Miguel. Grace is often the brains behind, not just her music, but also the videos. I’m guessing that’s the case with this one as well.

VanderWaal is not yet a superstar—at least not on the Katy Perry/Taylor Swift/Ariana Grande level. Again, I believe that’s a good thing. She seems to be well-grounded and able to handle the success that has come her way thus far. Time is on her side. Grace VanderWaal hasn’t even hit her stride. Her best music has yet to be created. If you have the opportunity to catch her on the “Ur So Beautiful” tour, I highly recommend you do so.

 

Grace VanderWaal’s Ur So Beautiful Tour Dates

 

August 10 – Lexington, KY @ Railbird Festival
August 11 – Asheville, NC @ The Orange Peel
August 13 – Nashville, TN @ Cannery Ballroom
August 14 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
August 16 – Dallas, TX @ The Granada Theater
August 17 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
August 18 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live
August 21 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren
August 25 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory – Orange County
August 27 – Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
August 29 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
September 1 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot
September 3 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater
September 6 – Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theater
September 7 – Chicago, IL @ Park West
September 9 – Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
September 11 – Toronto, ONT @ The Opera House
September 13 – Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
September 14 – New Haven, CT @ College Street Music Hall
September 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theater of the Living Arts
September 17 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
September 20 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
November 22-24 – San Diego, CA @ Wonderfront Music and Arts Festival

 

 

The Celebration of Life! (Book Review)

Rating: ★★★★★

This is the true story of a five year old boy named Sammy. Though Sammy is the story’s narrator, it is told through the eyes of his mother and older brother. Sammy had cancer, the disease he succumbed to at age five.

The first part of the story shares insight into the daily life of a typical American family, detailing the goings-on with Sammy, his brother, and his mother. Readers get to know Sammy and his budding personality. Most American boys will recognize the activities of riding Big Wheels, messing with snakes, and sneaking off to forbidden areas. There are some humorous stories here, like the older brother, Gene, accidentally locking Mom out of the house. A neighbor had to bring a ladder, allowing Mom to climb in through the attic to unlock the door.

The second part is entitled Cancer Arrived. Sammy began to be sick—all the time. Sinus infections, inner and middle ear infections, mononucleosis, and upper respiratory disease took over Sammy’s body. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint a cause and medicines didn’t clear things up. A radiologist even misread the x-ray. Because of this, he missed the tumor mass in Sammy’s neck and head. The cancer diagnosis left the family reeling. No parent wants to hear that awful disease pronounced on their child. The battle against Rhabdomyosarcoma became a family fight.

To a young boy, this would be a scary situation to be in. Sammy certainly had those moments. But what we learn from this personal story is the wisdom and courage this boy gained in his all-too-brief time in this world. While cancer is a dark subject, this book is anything but dark. I found in these pages a celebration of a life that is still touching others, even nearly thirty years after his departure. As long as his mother, brother, family, and friends are here in this world, Sammy will be here too.

Eclectic and Intriguing, Grace VanderWaal Returns with New Music!

Rating: ★★★★★

 ec·lec·tic   /əˈklektik/

adjective

  1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.

▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱▰▱

Eclectic. It’s a word that distills the very essence of singer/songwriter Grace VanderWaal into a single definition—if that’s even possible. To those who have followed this young lady since her rise from YouTube vid kid to international musical acclaim, she’s simply a breath of fresh air in a world of sound-alike pop pablum.

“Stray,” VanderWaal’s latest single and video, pairs Grace’s raspy vocal with a lush, jangly guitar riff that sends this new music in a direction much different from her previous work. And this is a good thing. It’s a sign of maturity and of a fresh approach—rather than an attempted re-capturing of what has already been accomplished.

Her words are poetic and cautionary, filled with real and raw emotion. An undertow of fear and urgency is detectable just below the surface of her mournful voice. The anxiety of growing into an adult and facing a world of uncertainty is a central theme the singer has discussed in recent interviews.

“’Stray’ is close to me,” she explained. “Not because it’s the re-start of my continuing path, but because it explains the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up. Growing up feels like a storm you weren’t prepared for. But how do you prepare? By practicing and appreciating you.”

Her lyrics in “Stray” illustrate a fear of losing that one thing that has brought her this far: songwriting.

I gotta write a song

But I wanna feel my words

And I keep getting it all wrong

Think it out, write it out, rip it out

Throw it all to the wall

To be certain, this fear is unfounded. She hasn’t lost a step in the songwriting process. If anything, she’s unveiled a greater prowess in crafting melodies and moods and words within her music.

The video for “Stray” is a gorgeous visual steeped in creamy, earthy tones splashed across a canvas of loneliness, longing, and desperation. The desert setting finds Grace, garbed in a long flowing dress and barefoot, searching for something elusive and undefined—a yearning common to human beings since the beginning of time. Symbolism adds to the rich scenery, with VanderWaal riding a bike through desert scrub while blindfolded, adding to the narrative of, not only the song, but of its creator, and her incredible journey in just under three short years.

Director Blythe Thomas skillfully captures mood and vibe and real feeling with an artistry one would expect from a master filmmaker. Her partnership with Grace routinely produces stark and unforgettable results. If you aren’t familiar with the director’s work, I recommend you visit her website. CLICK HERE

The song itself is a haunting piece of guitar-driven beauty—which is something we don’t normally hear in Grace VanderWaal’s music. It is this driving guitar that adds an indie-rock element throughout the track. It stands in contrast to the “Clearly” single, released last March. And “Stray” would show out as markedly different among the tracks on her brilliant Just the Beginning album. This is what elevates her above the mechanical, formulaic pop singers inhabiting today’s musical landscape.

Grace’s music has soul. It has life. It sounds the way music is meant to sound—alive.

Bold and Empowering, “Clearly” is Grace VanderWaal’s Latest Triumph

Rating: ★★★★★

Grace VanderWaal’s latest single, “Clearly,” is finally available. This re-imagining of Johnny Nash’s classic 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now” became a staple in the fourteen-year-old singer/songwriter’s concerts during the second leg of her Just the Beginning tour over the winter.

One listen to VanderWaal’s rendition, and those familiar with Nash’s version can tell this is a completely different song. In fact, only the chorus remains from the original. Speaking of the track, Grace says, “It’s about hope, and having the courage to face the world, which can be pretty tough sometimes.”

VanderWaal’s voice is always her strongest asset, a gorgeous instrument full of all sorts of lush tones and textures. But those who follow her career—FanderWaals, if you will—know her secret weapon lies in her lyrical prowess. “Clearly” is a fantastic example of this power on full display. Her words have meaning. There’s never a stray verse that lacks cohesion with the rest of the song. She doesn’t drop lines into the mix just because they rhyme or sound cool. Grace is a storyteller. She paints vivid pictures with the poetic beauty of a true artist.

The song and accompanying video go hand in hand—this, too, a hallmark of the genius that is Grace VanderWaal. These are her ideas, her visions, her gifts that she has chosen to share with the world.

“Clearly” is catchy and addictive—as is all of Grace’s music. A gentle acoustic guitar opens the track, ambling along on warm currents of air. VanderWaal’s voice sways with the music in a delicate dance, slowly building from soft desperation to soaring determination. Between the lows and highs, there is a point where her vocals reach that sweet spot that gives even the most jaded among us goosebumps.

The video for this song is a visual feast for the eyes. It opens under a blue sky with just a notion of a cloud. Birds can be heard singing in the trees. Jumpcut to Grace, in a darkened room, dressed in gray sweats, strikingly beautiful in an almost fragile sort of way. A hint of tears gives her the weariness of a struggling soul. And just as VanderWaal’s lyrics paint meaning into the music, so, too, does each and every image captured within this story. As she sings the line “Gone are the dark clouds, the dawn has come,” she frantically wipes away her freshly applied makeup. Down the stairs she goes, ever cautious, wearing a flowing white dress with pale pink accents. She wanders through the kitchen, eyeing herself in a mirror, singing, “Take a breath and say a prayer, find the strength in my despair, it’s not gonna take me down.” Soon she is bursting from the darkness into the sunshiny day. Behind her is the house, its windows filled with singers from a gospel choir—an unexpected and touching scene. The camera play has brilliantly captured the sunshine at just the right moment and at just the right angles.

Nothing is wasted with this young lady. There’s no room for cheap gimmicks. She brings a message of optimism, of hope for a better life—for everybody.

Grace explains, “My favorite lyric from the song is ‘I accept all the things that I cannot change’. As much as we try to change ourselves, we will always be the same person deep down. We should embrace what makes us different and love that about ourselves.”

I’ll happily confess to being a FanderWaal; I have been one since her audition on America’s Got Talent two years ago. Grace’s music has had a profound effect on my view of life and the day to day living it requires. I am at a loss to attempt an explanation. I just know that I want to be a better person when I hear her music. Maybe it’s that voice. Or those lyrics. Perhaps it’s her beautiful melodies. I’m guessing it’s a combination of each. And it’s the girl herself. She is proving to me—and to the rest of the world—that kindness remains a beautiful thing.