PositiveThe Pittsburg Post-GazetteWhile not as entertaining as Lights, or as fly-on-the-wall intimate as A Prayer for the City,’The Mosquito Bowl’ adroitly resurrects a long-forgotten episode to explore American values across the generations.
RaveThe Pittsburg Post-Gazette... Cosby has crossed Elmore Leonard with Walter Mosley to produce the thrill ride of the summer. Razorblade Tears’ is a Dodge Super Bee Six-Pack blasting down an empty country road at twilight with the windows rolled down and \'Free Bird’\' cranking from the 8-track ... One of the problems with genre fiction, particularly crimes and mysteries, is that the stories don’t always live up to the promise of their titles. That’s not an issue with Cosby. Razorblade Tears’ and its predecessor, Blacktop Wasteland,’ more than fulfill the dark malevolence of their titles. They also demonstrate Cosby’s mastery of Leonard’s famous First Rule of Crime Writing: Cut out the parts that readers skip. Razorblade and Blacktop’ dispense with long-winded exposition and embroidered sunsets; they are stripped-down muscle cars built to run only one way, a wide open throttle ... While his fast-paced prose earns favorable comparisons to Leonard, it’s his Walter Mosley-like social conscience that makes Cosby something more than a genre writer ... Cosby is adept at bringing characters to life with minimal exposition. Ike and Buddy Lee are guys you want to root for despite their many flaws. Cosby devotees may be somewhat disappointed by a High Noon’-style showdown that seems to echo the finale from Blacktop Wasteland.’’ But that’s a quibble, like complaining about the bug splatters on your Super Bee’s windshield as the tach winds past 7,000. Razorblade Tears’ is an instant classic.
Michael Patrick F. Smith
MixedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette... ambitious ... Mr. Smith deftly flashes back to memories from his troubled childhood in central Maryland while dealing with the fear and despair he experienced living in a modern work camp that bordered on social anarchy ... Masquerading as a modern-day Guthrie in the newest Oil City may be a somewhat hoary idea, but considering the publishing world’s seemingly endless fascination with working-class voters in the Trump era, it’s understandable that a publisher greenlighted it ... Sadly, Guthrie’s weltanschauung is not the only thing that Mr. Smith appears to have borrowed. A central character in The Good Hand’ is Porkchop, a giant tattooed Native American who spent time in prison for murder. He sounds like Chief Bromden, a giant Native American imprisoned by the state, in Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’’ Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but in the acknowledgements Mr. Smith thanks his editor for \'the Ken Kesey stories.\' Hmmm ... Post-truth readers who take memoirists seriously but not literally will find much to like about The Good Hand. Mr. Smith writes empathetically but not sentimentally about working men and women scuffling paycheck to paycheck, and he does so in a Skid Row patois that would make Charles Bukowski proud. He may, at last, have found his calling.
Mark A Bradley
RaveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe author is a former Justice Department lawyer, and his writing style seldom deviates from a criminal affidavit’s dry recitation of dates and facts. But when the details are this lurid and grisly, a little understatement is probably a wise choice ... The Boyle-Yablonski rivalry unfolded like a biblical parable ... The murders sparked a grassroots rebellion that led to the union adopting almost all of Yablonski’s 1969 reform platform. Among the changes: a new constitution, free elections and improved health and pension benefits.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteMany of the columns aren\'t more than two or three pages long — less than the length of this review — but, collectively, they do add up to yet another heapin’ helpin’ of feel-good musings about mommas, and pickup trucks, and coon huntin’, and guns, and tomato sandwiches, and did I mention guns? The articles are loosely grouped according to subject — childhood, present-day irritations, holidays, and so on. Some are humorous, some are cranky, and many are sentimental ... While Where I Come From’ offers many well-crafted and charming diversions, they generally lack the emotional depth and memorable characters that populated Mr. Bragg’s best-selling memoirs about the red clay hills of northeastern Alabama. But if you’re seeking a respite from this year’s reality overload, and you think that blog entries are just about the ideal article length, then Where I Come From’ might just be your perfect getaway.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter shows how coal operators, politicians, lawyers and biased medical \'experts\' rigged the system to thwart the spirit if not the letter of congressional reform ... Mr. Hamby’s reporting is...intimate, and...heart-rending. His relationship with the principals transcends that of reporter-source; in most instances, he is a friend and confidant. With profound empathy, he evinces the miners’ suffering and death from breathing coal dust—which, according to one autopsy, makes diseased lungs resemble \'burnt steak.\'
Marie Mutsuki Mockett
MixedPittsburgh Post-GazetteAs a ground-level investigation of our fractured politics, American Harvest disappoints. Ms. Mockett seems to possess neither the skill nor the interest in conducting probing interviews ... But as a glimpse into a mixed-race woman’s search for identity in a homeland where she is made to feel alien, American Harvest is affecting ... While she frequently challenges their epistemology, Ms. Mockett never questions the sincerity of her companions’ religious beliefs ... American Harvest is yet another reminder that our nation is more polarized than at any point since the Civil War.
PositivePittsburgh Post-GazetteThe Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope’ is a clear-eyed and compelling look at the American probation and parole system ... Jason Hardy writes in a Dragnet, just-the-facts style, leavened with a dash of Raymond Chandler wit ... \'Solving a crime is a lot easier than solving a person,\'’ he says. His memoir is evidence.
PositivePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Mr. Rusbridger... spins a lively yarn from his 40 years in journalism. His memoir is particularly pertinent in revealing how he and his management team repurposed the Guardian for survival in a digital age.\
MixedPittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Clapton’s life has been a relentless cycle of traumas and self-inflicted wounds, from maternal abandonment to drug and alcohol and sex addictions to the tragic death of his 4-year-old son, Conor. Mr. Norman...details it all in this well-researched book ... Slowhand...is best appreciated as a complement to the film [documentary about Clapton, Life in 12 Bars]. It makes no attempt to analyze Mr. Clapton’s music or assess its cultural significance, but it does offer an intimate tour of his personal white room with black curtains.
RavePittsburgh Post-Gazette\"Master writer Deborah Eisenberg just may have given us the perfect fiction collection for these parlous times ... Your Duck Is My Duck’ is Ms. Eisenberg’s first new collection of short stories in 12 years, and it was worth the wait. Every story displays the off-kilter perspectives, rollicking sentences and barbed wit that made her a MacArthur fellow and a PEN/Faulkner Award winner ... Ms. Eisenberg usually takes her sweet old time to get to the punchline, but the journey is always worthwhile.\
Ryan H. Walsh
PanThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Walsh, a writer and musician, takes the thread of a promising idea — that Van Morrison wrote the backbone of Astral Weeks while hiding out in radical Boston — and spins pure dross. The book’s main problem is structural. It’s two or three reasonably entertaining chapters of original reporting about Mr. Morrison sandwiched around recycled newspaper stories about Boston’s counterculture ... Without the singer’s cooperation, Mr. Walsh tries to piece together Mr. Morrison’s Boston sojourn through interviews with his ex-wife and several local musicians. Their secondhand recollections, however, are a poor substitute for the musician’s personal insight.
PositiveThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteMr. Robertson glosses over some of the ugliness, such as his strained relationship with drummer Levon Helm ... Testimony shines in the opening chapters, as Robbie Robertson recounts his early years running down the Southern juke joints and Canadian supper clubs as a teen-age guitarist with Ronnie Hawkins, the Arkansas-based rockabilly star ... Robbie Robertson wisely chooses to end Testimony with reminiscences from The Last Waltz.