Turns bleak family secrets and struggles into one hilarious, witty joy ride after another.




Laws’ memoir focuses on the wild and varied situations she finds herself in while seeking her biological parents.

As the adopted child of an upper-class family in Atlanta, Laws (Devil in the Basement, 2018, etc.) had always felt like a “B-flat while [her] peers…had been C-sharps.” Laws’ demanding father dismissed everything that wasn’t money, and her distant mother’s suicide attempt left her in a vegetative state. The author’s quirky worldview and dark sense of humor were always at odds with her rigid, depressing childhood environment. Fleeing west as soon as she could, she moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. She worked as a bodyguard, a backup singer for an Elvis imitator, a maid, and a live-in caretaker in a mobile home. She encountered some of the strangest characters the West Coast had to offer along the way and found herself in a few genuinely harrowing situations that she recounts in riveting detail. In leveraging her greatest skill as a party crasher, Laws got a handle on the sprawling metropolis of LA and found pieces to the puzzle of her past. When she eventually met her biological father and heard the story of her birth, she mused to herself that, “Even as a zygote, I was on track to be a TV movie.” Questions of family and heritage come into play with each new profession and zany escapade as Laws writes of single motherhood and struggling to make it in the city of Angels. Like David Sedaris’ wry personal essays, Laws’ chapters feel like self-contained short stories that mine any given situation for personal confessions and comical observations. She does tend to veer off course, and some editing of the more tangential episodes would have made for a tighter exploration of the pitch-black comedy that is Laws’ family history. But even when the memoir strays from the primary storyline into tales of sex dungeons, glitzy celebrity parties, or dating service mishaps, Laws punctuates every moment with an extraordinary sense of comedic timing and a sharp eye for twisted details.

Turns bleak family secrets and struggles into one hilarious, witty joy ride after another.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9961335-6-2

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Stroud House Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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