The Soles


A Rising Star Feature

by Melissa Minners
 

            My first introduction to music from the Canadian band known as The Soles came in the form of a promotional CD containing four songs.  I discovered that lead singer and songwriter Dean Jalonen (aka: D.I.N.) used very personal topics to create the lyrics found on this CD.  His vocals could be very haunting, especially when dealing with topics especially close to his heart.  I had eenjoyed the CD and was extremely happy to receive You Burst Into Fire Again, a finished album from The Soles featuring all of the songs on the EP and several other songs I had yet to hear.  As I listened to this album, I realized that The Soles were performing songs that gave us glimpses into the depths of their souls (no pun intended).  Their sound was exciting and I wanted to learn more about them – how they created their songs, what message they wanted to get across to their listeners, what more we could expect from them in the future.  All of these questions and more were answered when I was given the opportunity to interview Dean Jalonen.

When did you begin to realize that you wanted to have a career in music? 

When I was very little (like 3 to 10 years old) two of my favourite things to do were to a) listen to records in stereo on my headphones – stereo music always fascinated me, b) imagining that I was singing to stadiums in my room – I’d turn my room into an imaginary stadium, and I clearly remember singing that 60-70’s song, “Joy to the world, all the boys ‘n’ girls, joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea.”  My Dad raised me on a whole lotta 60’s and 70’s music – from Steve Miller to The Beatles

At age 15 I remember finding U2’s The Joshua Tree, and even stole a copy of Rattle ‘n’ Hum from a music store (I had no money but knew I needed the tape). Note: I don’t steal, and that was the only thing I ever have stolen! 

At 16, I saw a Tragically Hip video (New Orleans Is Sinking) and at a time of mostly Hair Metal music, this band made me fall in love with Rock ‘n’ Roll, in a pure, direct and honest way, for some reasons I connected to the four regular looking guys who were igniting my TV screen.  The gritty voice, the warm natural guitar tones, all spoke to me of the essence of rock.  Soon after I went to see them at an early show at The Consert Hall (Masonic Temple) Toronto, and I decided that night, that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was to write songs and sing in a rock band. Also, NIRVANA and grunge broke soon after and these bands also did the same for me. Since then, I knew what I wanted to do and have never looked back. 

I took 5 years off music from 20-25 to focus on my Ontario College of Design Fine Art studies, knowing that as soon as I graduated (graduating/ an education was very important to me). So, since about 25 years old my number one priority has been music.  The Soles were formed February 16, 2001 at Free Time Café.

What made you decide to form the group The Soles, rather than going solo with your work? 

Well, playing music with others can be way more of joy than solo.  Also, the album You Burst Into Fire Again [Reprise] had Nadjiwan on about half the songs. The Soles were actually formed Feb 16, 2001, but I took a hiatus and worked on the cd for 3 years.  When it was completed, I realized it was in fact a group effort, and therefore a The Soles release.  We are now playing as a four-piece, with a Canadian tour in the works for the summer.  Of course, I seriously want to get to the US – New York and even LA, seeing as how we are getting some good National US radio play based out of LA.

What other interests do you have besides music? 

Art would my by other major interest: and you could say that I live my life by what I call The Way Of The Artist – no matter what, my main priority every day is to create what I know I can’t live without creating.  This attitude was tempered and sculpted at OCAD and has carried over into my music.  I graduated with honours from Fine Art and have sold a wide variety of artworks and have done a few prominent commissions (see Art by Din).  Aside from that, I love the movies – the cinematic art from combines so many of the arts I love: Theatre, Music, Art, Martial Arts, Design, Architecture etc).  I have also moonlighted as a part-time activist; in the recent years my focus has been First Nations of Canada.  The reason for this is that this social justice issue is one I am actually a part of in a direct way.  Meaning, my ancestors have betrayed our First Nations in many ways (stolen land, residential schools etc) and I want to be part of the healing and justice process – This is what Sky (In The Name Of You) is about. 

What is your preferred instrument of expression – music, art, the written word? 

Music all the way!  Picasso once said of himself, “Why do birds sing?  Because they have a song.”  This is how I feel, I have never written a good song just to write one.  It doesn’t work that way for me, the good songs just happen, then I feel I have to express them to an audience.  Last night I played this new song at an open-mic, Were All Sand In The Sun (next cd) and everyone turned silent, heads towards me and listened to every word.  When this happens, when a musician can make a room feel like ‘one’ through music – by the whole room being engaged in the performance, this is an experience so direct that I could never feel that way by people just looking at one of my paintings.  It’s a sort of communion actually, in the literal sense of the word… a coming together, a community of listeners. 

What musical instruments can you play and which is your instrument of preference? 

I play guitar and sing.  I do think of my voice as an instrument, and have even taken years of weekly vocal lessons.  However, I just may love the piano as much, but I have yet to learn how to play it.  Thankfully, Evan plays it very well (you’ll here a lot of piano on the next record, by the way). 

What sort of message do you hope to send with your music? 

The message of You Burst Into Fire Again [Reprise] was that there is always some hope and light to be found even in our darkest moments.  This record expressed my dealing with and healing my 10 year depression.  I am now cured/healed and I hope that others listening to it would find that message (Songs: Coals, Sunburst, Pain, Desert Star, etc).  Our next record (of which we’ve already recorded demos) moves to the next step of healing: finding joy in every aspect of your life.  I have done this through finding a spirituality of living daily life – one that is not specific to a specific Faith – but can be in harmony with any of the world Major Faiths.  The sub-themes on the next record also deal with Nature and traveling.  Ultimately, my message is only really one message: That The Darkness can and will be turned to Light with one’s willingness to commit to that journey. 

Out of all the songs you have written over the years, which one holds the most meaning for you and why? 

Sky (In The Name Of You), Coals and Hey Old Man. To me, Sky is a great example of the spirit collaboration.  Marc Nadjiwan helped be re-write the song. Seeing how it is about a First Nations blockade of an illegal mine on their land, and seeing as how in Canada, it is maintained by Native’s that we should share the land equally, it’s fitting that this is a 50/50% co-write between Nadjiwan and I.  With Nadjiwan, this song wouldn’t song as good.  Hey Old Man – I’m really starting to love it; more and more people come up to me, especially performers who can relate to being ‘put down’ especially by older generations.  It seems to me that most people out there see thing negatively instead of positively.  The song is a mission statement, saying no matter what I’m gonna see what’s good about me, and ‘round myself up’, metaphorically speaking.  In my experience, if you round yourself up, you eventually get there.  Some reviewers love it, some hate it and attack the song – and at one point it saddened me but now I realize that That kind of power in a song is what you want.  I love Coals…I always wanted to write a universal Love song that many could relate to, and this one worked.  The angle of the tale is unique, that a bad relationship can aid one’s depression, and that for healing, one often must move on.  I don’t know if there are many song out there that specifically deal with depression/love/health. 

Is there anything that you think we should know about you or The Soles that we might not know already?  What upcoming events would you like me to make your fans aware of? 

We’re working on a few things: a) A new record is in the works for the not-so-distant- future (12 demos are already done), b) we are planning a Canadian summer tour (we are available to consider booking opportunities in your town – we are hoping to find a way to get through the USA as well, c) We’ll have an EP of Sky (In The Name Of You) with Coals + remix , Hey Old Man + remix, plus a live track to promote Sky as a single – as well as to have a cheaper CD to offer people. Most importantly, I think we are at our best live, so I want people to keep coming see us play.

The Phenomenon of Nadjiwan


Artist: Nadjiwan

CD Title: Begin

 Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            Nadjiwan consists of Marc Nadjiwan (guitar, vocals, piano, Hammond B3, and bass), Adam Makarenko (bass), Gord Fynes (drums and percussion), Debashis Sinha (drums and percussion).  Marc Nadjiwan, Canadian artist and front-man of the band, was born in northern Manitoba and was raised to appreciate the untamed beauty of Northern Ontario.  Keeping in touch with his Ojibway roots, Nadjiwan attended pow-wows to listen to traditional Native American storytelling.  He also kept himself musically fed on a steady diet of traditional Native American music as well as Canadian icons such as Gordon Lightfoot.  Later, he became intrigued by the pop music culture.  An intertwining of all of these arts and influences is what produced Nadjiwan’s first albums, Brother and Awake, which combined traditional storytelling and Native American music with a pop feel.

            Begin, is the perfect follow-up to the award-nominated Awake.  Most of the album’s songs were conceived during Marc Nadjiwan’s extensive travels throughout his time touring both Canada and the United States.  The lyrics of each song tell a story that, whether politically conceived or personally driven, any listener can relate to.  Easier, the third track of the album, is perfect for the current times with its look at those coming into power and how, somewhere along the rise to power, they lose touch with those they are supposed to be representing.  The lyrics are poignant and powerful: “Listen to their meetings and discussions, pads of paper and pens in hand / Mapping out our future and drawing up their plans / Do they know what we’re thinking? Do they know wrong from right? / Somehow I don’t think so, their motives kept from sight.”   The guitars and percussion give the listener a feel for the Native American culture and assist in weaving the tale.

            Nadjiwan’s blending of traditional Native American sound and pop music is a marriage made in heaven.  The lyrics of Begin are a storybook worth perusing.  In short, Nadjiwan’s Begin is a musical phenomenon you do not want to miss!

Buy Nadjiwan’s Begin at Amazon!

Have You Seen Luis Velez?


Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               Have you ever watched that show What Would You Do?  Would you be the one with enough guts to stand up for someone being swindled or abused?  Would you help someone in need?  Or would you just walk away?  We would like to think we would do the valiant thing, but if faced with a real situation, how would we react?

               When Raymond Jaffe is posed with one of these situations, he can’t just walk away.  Raymond is a teenager who feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere.  His mother is remarried and he doesn’t feel he fits in with the new family dynamic.  His father’s girlfriend certainly doesn’t like him.  His one and only friend in the world is moving across the continent.  But when an elderly blind woman stops him in the hallway of his building asking if he has seen a man named Luis Velez, instead of walking away like his friend, he sees a woman in need of help and goes to her.

               It seems Luis has been Mildred’s caretaker for some time now, helping her to the store and the bank and just spending quality time with her.  But Luis has been missing for some time now and Mildred is not only worried about him, she is running out of money and food.  Raymond decides he must help Mildred.  But he doesn’t just help her to get supplies, he finds her a companion in a cat he rescues but cannot keep.  And he decides that he will find Luis Velez.

               Raymond’s quest to find Luis Velez an area as big as New York City leads him on quite the journey and puts him in touch with a diverse group of people – all with the same name.  But most importantly, it pulls him out of his shell, helping him to find himself and just where he fits in.  His friendship with Mildred and his various adventures leading to a surprising discovery about the man he is searching for help both Raymond and Mildred grow, both in mind and spirit. 

               Catherine Ryan Hyde is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.  A gifted storyteller, Catherine Ryan Hyde has a way of captivating the reader, presenting them with a character they can relate to and root for and placing them in situations that present an opportunity for growth.  In Have You Seen Luis Velez?, Raymond learns to revel in all the ways he is different from others.  As his journey to find Luis Velez continues, we can see Raymond grow.  Whereas in the past, disappointments would drive Raymond further into his shell, we watch Raymond realize that these setbacks are only challenges to be overcome.  We witness a beautiful friendship grow between Mildred and Raymond that surpasses age, race and religion – a tale we could use in the hard times we have been experiencing of late.

               Have You Seen Luis Velez? is an uplifting coming of age tale, but it is also a tale about hope, community and love.  Definitely a must-read!


Buy Have You Seen Luis Velez? at Amazon

The Wake Up


Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Published By: Lake Union Publishing

Reviewed by Melissa Minners
 

               After reading Say Goodbye for Now, I was taken by Catherine Ryan Hyde’s writing and couldn’t wait to read more of her books.  So, when the author reported that her latest novel, The Wake Up, would be available on Netgalley.com, I rushed over to download a copy.  With my busy schedule, it took me some time to get to read it, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

                Cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte thought he had it made, with a successful ranch and a hot girlfriend, but something happened shortly after he turned forty, something that would leave him wondering just what does he have after all.  Suddenly, Aiden is hypersensitive to everything every animal he encounters goes through.  He can’t ride his horses, because he feels their pain.  He can’t go hunting, because he feels his prey’s pain once he shoots it.  He can’t handle his cattle, because he feels their fear and the pain they go through during castration.  He can’t handle the fear and dread that course through him every time his neighbor kills one of the rabbits he raises for food.

                Aiden feels like he is losing his mind…until he meets Gwen.  Just recently moved to this small town, Gwen works at the local supermarket and, the minute she speaks to him, Aiden feels like everything will be alright.  When he eventually tells her about his heightened empathy with animals, she doesn’t run away.  In fact, she makes Aiden feel like it’s a good thing.  So, when it finally comes time to meet her children, Aiden is a little excited…and a little worried he might mess things up.  From all accounts, Gwen’s daughter, Elizabeth, is great.  It’s her son, Milo, who will present a challenge…at least that is what he keeps hearing.

                When Aiden finally interacts with Milo, he finally realizes what people were talking about, but he is determined to make this work.  Milo reminds Aiden of him when he was little, just meeting the man who would become his stepfather for the first time.  Unfortunately, Milo is even more determined to push him away.  An unfortunate incident involving Aiden’s animals and Milo leads to a broken arm and Aiden seeking help from a therapist.  As Aiden works with his new doctor, he begins to remember things about his childhood – things that help him understand the way Milo is lashing out and how to deal with it. 

               But once Aiden learns just what it is that Milo has been through to cause his behavior, will Aiden be able to handle it.  And when Aiden’s empathy grows, will it help his relationship with Gwen and her children or will it tear them apart?

               Catherine Ryan Hyde is an amazing writer.  She creates characters that we can relate to and root for, then wraps a storyline around them that is so captivating, you don’t want to put the book down until you know what happens next.  I read The Wake Up in a couple of days, so engrossed was I in the storyline and so vested in the characters of Aiden and Milo.  While some may find the idea of Aiden’s animal empathy to be a bit far-fetched, I have heard of such things before, just not on such an extreme level.  I thought it interesting to discover the origins of this empathy and the interesting things that Aiden had forgotten about his childhood which are brought back to him while examining both himself and his relationship with Milo in therapy.

               I loved the way the therapy sessions were approached in this novel.  Aiden was not exactly happy going to a therapist, but once he got there, he was willing to let things play out with further sessions.  By giving the sessions a chance, he began to unearth memories from his past that he had suppressed, giving him insight into how to handle his forgotten abilities and how to deal with Milo’s issues.  Too often, there is a stigma attached to therapy causing many to shy away from its benefits.  I thank Catherine Ryan Hyde for writing these therapy sessions in such a way as to convey those benefits to her readers.

               Catherine Ryan Hyde does it again with a tale you will definitely find hard to put down.  If you are a fan of her writing, The Wake Up is another one of her novels you won’t want to miss.  For all those who have never read anything by this author, this is a good place to start.


Buy The Wake Up at Amazon!

Say Goodbye For Now


Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Published By: Lake Union Publishing

Reviewed by Melissa Minners 

            Some books catch your attention with a glance at the cover.  Now, I know that the old adage goes: you can’t judge a book by its cover.  But it was the cover, featuring a dog with two boys on either side of it, that caused me to read the description of Say Goodbye for Now.  The cover and the description combined told me that I might be interested in reading this book.

                Say Goodbye for Now is set in 1959 rural Texas, where we meet Pete Solomon, a twelve-year-old boy with a high sense of morals.  When Pete and his friend Jake come across a large dog that has been hit by a car lying on the side of the road, Pete instantly knows he must get this dog help.  His friend continues on to fish in the lake, but Pete runs home to get a wagon to tote the dog in and brings it to the local vet.  The vet, seeing that this animal is more of a wolf/dog hybrid, refuses to care for the animal, but his assistant sends him to the home of Dr. Lucy.

                On his way to the isolated ranch where Dr. Lucy lives, Pete meets Justin, a young boy who has the misfortune of moving into the neighborhood during summer, so he hasn’t had the chance to meet a lot of people.  Pete and Justin become instant friends, but Pete can’t stay – he has to get help for this animal.  He continues on to Dr. Lucy’s house where he finds a woman who is somewhat cold towards humans, but rather caring towards animals.  She has a number of dogs, horses and exotic animals she has rescued over the years at her ranch and is more than willing to help Pete’s canine friend.

                Dr. Lucy has been somewhat of a recluse since her divorce and really has no use for most people, but she sees something in the selflessness of Pete and decides to allow him to return to look after the wolf-dog he has named Prince, reminding him that he is a wild animal and will eventually have to be returned to the wild. 

                It’s been a tough day for Pete, but things seem to be looking up – he’s made a new friend and saved an animal’s life – until he gets home and has to deal with his abusive father’s wrath.  Not only has Pete returned home late, but he was seen with a boy who is “not of their kind.”  Pete can’t understand why his father would be mad at him making friends with a boy simply because he has a different color skin and he resolves to stay friends with Justin.  But when he comes across Justin after he has been severely beaten by grown men, he realizes just how evil adults can be.  He takes Justin to the only person he knows that has shown him they can be trusted, caring and compassionate – Dr. Lucy.

                It soon becomes apparent that the reason for Justin’s beating is the color of his skin.  As she is caring for him, Dr. Lucy becomes close to Justin’s father Calvin.  She, too, becomes the target of some wrath as people assume she might be having relations with Calvin, an act that would be against the law in Texas at the time.  Forced to say goodbye for now, Dr. Lucy, Pete, Calvin and Justin can only hope that the world can catch up to them and accept the feelings of family they share with one another.

                What a beautiful story!  It is horrible to think that there was once a time in this world when the color of one’s skin was used to judge one’s character and that, if your skin wasn’t white, you were subject to deep discrimination.  The color of your skin determined how well you would do in life, what jobs you could get, where you could eat and sleep and who you could marry.  It’s terrible to realize that there are still those who discriminate just as deeply as they would have had they lived in 1959.  Thus, the book is still relevant today, reminding readers that no matter the color of your skin, there are bad folks and there are good folks and nobody should be discriminated against based on color or creed or orientation.

                I loved that the reclusive Dr. Lucy rescued animals, feeling happier amongst discarded Thoroughbreds and dogs, and injured pigs, eagles and owls.  Loss and broken hearts drove her to a point where she could no longer trust people, but knew that she never had to worry about being double-crossed by an animal.  Fortunately, Pete, Justin and Calvin wandered into her life to teach her trust and even love again.

                Pete is somewhat the tragic hero of the novel, bringing all of the characters together and suffering great pains (literally and figuratively) because of it.  Though he doesn’t have much in the way of book smarts, Pete has strong convictions regarding what is right and what is wrong, quick wit, loyalty and other great qualities that makes him very special to the reader.  We hope for great things for Pete and celebrate every accomplishment.  We also can’t help but love Prince..who is actually the reason all of these folks came together in the first place.

                Say Goodbye for Now is a captivating story filled with emotion and social relevance.  The book is well-written and the main characters are extremely likeable and believable.  I loved the references to the Loving court case – history is one of my favorite subjects and I believe it is important for people to learn from this country’s past mistakes.  Tolerance is something I believe in strongly and this novel is definitely a good teaching tool for tolerance.  This novel shows that some love is worth waiting for and that love, hope and perseverance will always conquer hate.  And it’s just plain enjoyable – definitely worth the read!

Get Say Goodbye for Now on Amazon!

Rebel


               You may have noticed that I just posted a Turn Back the Clock review of the movie Erin Brockovich and asked yourself why?  That’s because I was leading up to my review of Rebel, a new television series based on the life of Erin Brockovich: 

               When I first heard about this new series, written by and inspired by the life of Erin Brockovich, I was intrigued.  Then, I saw that Katey Sagal had been chosen to play the lead role and I just knew I would be seated in front of the television on Thursday nights, 10pm EST, to watch Rebel.

               Annie “Rebel” Bello is a legal advocate with a heart of gold.  Once Rebel sinks her teeth into a cause she believes is worth fighting for, she is relentless, much to the dismay of her adversaries and often to the dismay of her family and friends.  This first season of Rebel pits Annie against Stonemore Medical, a heart valve manufacturer whose refusal to admit to serious problems with their valves has put many of their recipients at severe risk.  At the heart of this battle is Helen Peterson (Mary McDonnell), a recipient of the heart valve who is dying and her pregnant daughter whose child is not expected to live due to a defect caused by her own heart valve implant.

               While convincing her best friend’s lawyer husband, Julian Cruz (Andy Garcia) to take up the case against Stonemore Medical, Rebel must also balance her family life, something she has never been any good at if one can tell by the number of failed marriages she has been through.  Making it all the more complicated is the fact that her ex-husband, Benji Ray (James Lesure), has lured their daughter Cass (Lex Scott Davis) over to his law firm…his biggest client: Stonemore Medical.  Well, Rebel has lost one to the dark side, but she has two more willing to help her fight.  Her son, Nate (Kevin Zegers) is a OB Gyn who is willing to use his connections at the hospital to conduct a clinical study of the valve and daughter Ziggy (Ariela Barer) is a recovering addict interning at Cruz’s law firm.

               Along the way, Rebel finds herself drawn into other battles, helping a victim of domestic abuse get away from her dangerous drug-dealing boyfriend, helping a woman who was evicted from her apartment after complaining about the lead content in her water and an old friend whose dying husband is being rooked by the local funeral home.

               I have to say, I love this show!  Any show that makes me stay up past 10pm to watch it must be golden and I have found Rebel to be well worth the sleep loss.  Katey Sagal has been terrific in everything she has ever committed herself to and she plays this role perfectly – a little bit of badass, a little bit of pitbull, a tiny morsel of frazzled with a side of pure compassion.  Her interactions with Andy Garcia are terrific – they play off each other well.  The writing is superb and this show will definitely pull at your heartstrings.  But it will also make you laugh uncontrollably at Rebel’s overboard antics.  The storyline will draw just about anyone in – greedy companies profiting despite the damage they cause are something every individual out there can understand.  In fact, some of us may have fallen victim to one such company.  To see that company get its due thanks to a blue-collar character we can relate to and cheer for is just what the doctor ordered! 

               The best thing about this series is that it keeps you coming back for more.  I, want to see Stonemore get what it deserves, but I also want to see what other messes Rebel can get herself into.  And so, I, for one will continue to find myself seated in front of my TV tuned to ABC every Thursday for another episode of Rebel.

Watch Rebel at Amazon!

Erin Brockovich


            The other day, I was flipping through the television channels when I noticed that Erin Brockovich was on.  I stopped searching for something to watch, settling on watching Erin Brockovich for what must be the fiftieth time.  I wasn’t fortunate enough to see this film when it originally aired in March of the year 2000.  Instead, I plucked it off of a video rental shelf about a year later.  I’d heard some good things about the movie.  It looked interesting, but I had no idea how much I would love this movie.

            The movie is based upon a true story about an unemployed single mother who finds work as a legal assistant.  Her job is somewhat of a charity case, having been offered to her by an attorney who failed her, losing a personal injury lawsuit she had been counting on winning.  Thus, when Ed Masry (Albert Finney) first offers Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) the job, he isn’t expecting much.  After all, the smart-talking, foul-mouthed single mother of three hadn’t really displayed any particular skills on their prior meetings. 

            Much to the chagrin of some of the employees at the firm, Erin is determined to keep this job.  Her determination and attention to detail lead her to a pro bono case against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, otherwise known as PG&E.  Extremely interested in the particulars of the case, Erin discovers that PG&E has covered up the fact that the company had poisoned the water supply of the town of Hinkley.  The company made every attempt to buy off land from the residents of Hinkley, only disclosing that a substance had been accidentally leaked into the water supply.  However, as Erin soon discovers, PG&E never disclosed the fact that the particular agent that entered the water supply would be deadly to the residents over a period of time, causing various sorts of cancers and other chronic, life-threatening illnesses.

            Adamant that this company be brought to justice, Erin Brockovich stirs her boss into action and the rest is history.  Her constant involvement in the case, attention to detail, honesty and devotion helped the residents of Hinkley earn a $333 million dollar settlement.  The amount paid out by PG&E was unheard of at the time and Brockovich became something of a local hero, earning her a permanent position with Ed Masry.  She continued in her tireless crusade, working on countless anti-pollution lawsuits.

            What I love about Erin Brockovich is that we get to see the good and the bad about the main character.  Hollywood has a habit of putting heroes on a pedestal, but the creators of this movie chose to portray Erin in a more realistic light.  Thus, we get to see a version of Erin Brockovich that is closer to the truth, faults and all.  And yet, this is an incredibly uplifting film as, despite all of her faults and her lack of legal training, Erin rises above and wins against a powerful company.  The fact that this David versus Goliath film is actually a true story is a plus. 

            When we first meet Erin in the film, she is obviously falling apart, a former beauty queen struggling to survive as a single mom.  She lacks style and grace, wearing clothing that is inappropriate and cursing like a truck driver.  Her love life is a complete mess.  Yet, this very same woman becomes a powerful dynamo; an activist sought out by many an anti-pollution group for her skill as a legal assistant as well as her ability to speak to people.  The story of Erin Brockovich is empowering.  Everyone I’ve ever watched the movie with has the same reaction – Wow!  It just gives you an idea of what some hard work and devotion can get you.  It also reminds you of that old adage about judging a book by its cover.

            Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich.  I feel that this is one of the finest dramatic roles in Roberts’ career.  Her portrayal of Erin Brockovich was so believable that one has trouble forgetting that this is a role she is playing and that there actually is a real Erin Brockovich out there.  Albert Finney is adorable as the fumbling, soft-hearted attorney who is drawn into this case and becomes somewhat of a hero himself.  Other noteworthy performances include Marg Helgenberger as Donna Jenson, one of the Hinkley residents involved in the lawsuit; Scott Leavenworth who portrays Erin’s son; and Aaron Eckhart as George, Erin’s boyfriend at the time.  However, I do the cast an injustice by only mentioning these few actors – the entire cast did an amazing job.  Even the real Erin Brockovich made a cameo appearance as a waitress.

            Cinematography in this film was wonderful.  It’s hard to explain just how effective the lighting was in certain scenes, accenting the harshness of the PG&E Company and its operations plant.  Especially ill residents of Hinkley were filmed in lighting that would accentuate the pallor created by make-up.  Erin’s hectic schedule was reflected in quick camera pans.

            The music was extremely effective throughout every scene of the movie, but one song in particular stood out against the rest.  It was a song I have long toted as one of Sheryl Crow’s best – Redemption Day.  The lyrics of this song, which plays in the background as Erin conducts her investigation, seem as though they were tailor made for the subject matter: “I’ve wept for those who suffer long / But how I weep for those who’ve gone / Into rooms of grief and questioned wrong / But keep on killing / It’s in the soul to feel such things / But weak to watch without speaking / Oh what mercy sadness brings /
If God be willing.”

            I would love to discuss the many different scenes I enjoyed scattered throughout the movie, but I’ll settle for one.  It involves a discussion between the PE&G lawyers and Ed Masry and Erin Brockovich (plus two members of the office crew that Masry presented as attorneys of the firm).  Toward the end of the discussion with the smug PG&E attorneys, one reaches for a glass of water.  Erin calmly tells the woman that the water was brought in especially for their visit.  She states that the water is from the Hinkley Plant.  The woman quickly puts the glass down, a look of worry clouding her features.

            Now, I can go on and on about what a great movie Erin Brockovich is, but wouldn’t you like to see it for yourself?

Buy Erin Brockovich at Amazon!

Just As I Am: A Memoir


Just As I Am: A Memoir

By Cicely Tyson with Michelle Burford

Published By: HarperCollins

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

I’ve been a fan of Cicely Tyson’s work since I watched The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman on television when I was a child.  Since then, I’ve seen a great many of her works, including Roots, Fried Green Tomatoes, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea’s Family Reunion, The Help, How to Get Away With Murder and more.  On and off “the stage,” Cicely Tyson always seemed to be such a class act and I was saddened by her death early this year.  When I found out that she had written a memoir, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. 

Just As I Am: A Memoir opens with an introduction by another great actress and fan of Cicely Tyson, Viola Davis.  In her introduction, I learned that she, too, had first set eyes on Tyson in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and that her performance was what inspired Davis to become an actress.  After the introduction by Viola Davis, there is a short intro by Cicely Tyson herself in which she talks about how long she has put off writing her memoir.  A woman who has let her spiritual connection with God as well has her self-proclaimed “sight” guide her in life, it should come as no surprise that she would decide to publish her memoir just two days before her death.

I enjoyed reading about Cicely Tyson’s parents and their beginnings in Nevis.  Their journey to America brought them to places I knew well in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I also loved reading that Cicely was extremely shy in her youth, content to be by herself.  Not only could I relate to this, but I found it amazing that such a shy child could turn into such an amazing performer as an adult.  I found it interesting that she suffered similar angst and difficulties in her relationship with her mother as a teenager, something many women can relate to. 

Once she starts discussing her modeling and acting career, we begin to see the strength and determination that propelled Tyson to stardom.  And yet, when she discusses her relationship with Miles Davis, we are reminded that she is still human, still flawed.  She is unapologetic in her discussion of how she handled Miles’ womanizing and drug abuse, but it is easy to see that she truly loved the man.  Just as easy as it is to see that she loved her daughter, so much so that, although she must talk about her as she is a big inspiration for many of the decisions in her life, she was determined to keep her daughter’s real name out of the memoir and thus protect her privacy.  

Now, I have read many memoirs and some folks are quite content to talk about their pasts without really revealing anything about themselves.  Just As I Am is not one of those memoirs.  In this book, Cicely Tyson doesn’t just talk about her past, she talks about those who molded her into the person she became.  She also talks about her beliefs, political, personal and more.  Just As I Am is a well-rounded view of an amazing individual whose integrity and powerful belief in herself propelled her to the top and allowed her to be a mentor and inspiration.  This is definitely a must read for Cicely Tyson fans everywhere!

Buy Just as I Am: A Memoir at Amazon

Three Dreamers


Written By: Lorenzo Carcaterra

Published By: Ballantine Books

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I recently was offered the opportunity to check out an advanced copy of Three Dreamers by Lorenzo Carcaterra.  I’ve read many of Carcaterra’s books, fiction and non-fiction, and enjoyed them all, so of course, I accepted the offer.

               Three Dreamers is a memoir of sorts.  It’s an ode to the three women who had the most influence in Carcaterra’s life – his grandmother, his mother and his wife.  For those of you who know nothing about Lorenzo Carcaterra, life was not always kind to the author.  As a young boy, he lived in a volatile household rife with verbal and physical abuse.  His father had killed his first wife and was almost equally intent on killing his second wife.  When he wasn’t beating on her, he was gambling away what little money he earned, leading to more arguments and more physical abuse.

               As a teenager, Lorenzo was sent to spend the summer with his Italian grandmother.  Nonna Maria gave him a sense of stability and life in Italy offered him a sense of what home life should be like with no stress and no angry words or fists.  In addition to the love and kindness he experienced with his grandmother, Lorenzo learned just what kind of woman Nonna Maria really was.  During World War II, Nonna Maria was a driving force on the island of Ischia, showing strength and fortitude while making daily trips for food and supplies in Nazi-occupied territory.  She lost people close to her, but never turned bitter and always showed a strength that made her a pillar in her community.

               Lorenzo did not have the same relationship with his mother Raffaela.  Though he confesses that he loves the woman, theirs was a relationship filled with anger, resentment, and regret.  Raffaela was tricked into marriage with Lorenzo’s father.  World War II left Raffaela a widow with a young boy to take care of and her father’s side of the family matched her to an American.  It was only when she moved to America that she learned the mistake she had made.  Her new husband was a drinker, a gambler and physically abusive.  She would later learn that he killed his first wife when she threatened to leave him.  When Lorenzo was born, she felt trapped.  Her oldest son had to move away to be safe from his stepfather’s tirades and all she ever saw when she looked at Lorenzo was the trap she could never get out of.  And yet, it was his mother who made him determined to make something of his life.

               Lorenzo met his wife Susan while working at the Daily News.  She was the first person who wasn’t family who believed in his dream of becoming a writer.  Throughout their marriage she pushed him to tell the stories he had within him to tell.  She always believed in him and stood by him through it all, even while struggling with her own demon – cancer.  Before she died, she made Lorenzo promise her one thing – that he would keep writing.

               Three Dreamers is a beautiful tale of how three very different women shaped Lorenzo Carcaterra into the man and the author he is today.  Nonna Maria showed him strength and love and the gift of storytelling.  Raffaela helped nurture that stubborn streak and his anger at his mother fed his desire to better himself.  Susan nurtured the writer inside while giving him the loving family he had always hoped for.  Lorenzo’s gift for storytelling allows you to see everything vividly through his eyes.  His descriptiveness makes the scenes in the book come alive and his love for each woman will leave you looking for a tissue box in the end.  A great addition to Carcaterra’s nonfiction work!

Buy Three Dreamers at Amazon!

Thief of Souls

Author: Brian Klingborg

Published By: St. Martin’s Press

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               I love reading books set in different locales, so when I was offered an opportunity to review Thief of Souls, I found myself quite interested.  Not only did it have a pretty cool title, but it was a murder mystery set in China, centering on a rural town cop and his determination to solve it.  I have a bit of perspective on how crime is handled by law enforcement in America, but it would be very interesting to read how law enforcement handles these things in China.  I couldn’t wait to read this book, and once I got started, I couldn’t put it down.

               Thief of Souls centers around Inspector Lu Fei, once a cop in the big city of Harbin and now an Inspector in Raven Valley, a small backwater village where nothing big ever happens.  That is, until now – Lu Fei has been called to the crime scene of a murder.  At first look, the murder appears to be a routine strangulation coupled with a possible rape.  But as CID soon discovers, there is nothing ordinary about this murder. 

Very similar to America’s CSI, CID collects evidence and runs an autopsy.  They soon discover that the murder at hand was ritualistic – her organs were removed and joss paper has been stuffed in her mouth to clear her passage to the other world.  Their first suspect is a local butcher, but though the man was infatuated with this victim, Lu doesn’t feel he is intelligent to have committed this crime.  That coupled with the fact that his young victim seemed to be living well beyond her means in the city of Harbin (she was only in Raven Village to observe the passing of her mother), leaves Lu wondering if money may not have more to do with this murder.

Though he feels stymied at every turn, Lu keeps digging until he discovers that his victim is not the only one to have been killed in this ritualistic fashion. The closer Lu gets to finding this serial killer, the closer to danger he finds himself…and this mysterious killer is closer to Lu Fei than he can imagine!

As soon as I began reading Thief of Souls, I found myself firmly entrenched in Brian Klingborg’s descriptive and captivating writing.  Lu Fei is one of those characters that you can’t help but enjoy – he’s flawed, but the flaws make him human; he cares deeply for those he feels worthy, but can’t seem to express his feelings, a relatable trait for many; and he is a bit of a rebel, something we all seem to love when reading crime stories.  The murder itself is quite intriguing as it gives the reader insight into the customs of The People’s Republic of China, as well as insight into how investigations and arrests are conducted in that country.

There wasn’t an incredible amount of action – this was more of a cerebral experience than a car chasing, explosion of an action drama – but the action that was there added to the intensity of the novel.  There was an edge-of-your-seat intensity to this book.  The reader becomes so invested that they can’t put the book down until they know who the murderer is.  Once the murderer is revealed, it is actually quite the plot twist.  I truly enjoyed this read and I hope that Brian Klingborg decides to continue writing more Lu Fei mysteries.  This is one character that I would love to see again!

Buy Thief of Souls at Amazon

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