Elevate Difference

Reviews by Karen Duda

Elizabeth Packard: A Noble Fight

In 1860, it was legal for a man to send his wife to an insane asylum against her will, based on his word and that of one or two witnesses. The asylum could deny patients the right to legal representation as well as visits and uncensored correspondence with friends. And a man could sell his property and take his children across the country without consulting his wife, because the property and children were considered his, even if her inheritance and income had contributed to that property. This was the world in which Elizabeth Parsons Packard lived.

Morning Haiku

In her introduction, Sanchez—a member of the “Broadside Quartet” who published her first volume of poetry in 1969 and is most often associated with the Black Arts Movement—recalls her discovery of haiku at the 8th Street Bookshop in New York at the age of twenty-one. “I slid down onto the floor and cried and was changed. I had found me.” It may seem hard to sum up a person in three lines and seventeen syllables; Sanchez solves the problem by writing poems composed of groups of haiku. These poems certainly feel like personal reflections on people and places that have impacted the poet.

Love Will Find a Way

Lola Bleu, aka twenty-two-year-old R&B singer Janell McCracken, has a fine voice, so it’s a shame she doesn’t have better material to showcase it on her debut album, Love Will Find a Way. While some of the songs have catchy melodies, excessive instrumentation detracts from and sometimes obscures Bleu’s voice.

The Panicking

The Los Angeles-based hard rock band Million Dollar Mouth channel groups including The Clash, Alice in Chains, and Radiohead (vocalist Mike Biscotti even sounds a bit like Thom Yorke), while giving a nod to less obvious influences such as Lenny Kravitz, Dire Straits, and The Cars. Heavy, grungy guitar and bass anchor most tracks, with keyboards and drum adding texture; the sound varies from distorted and harsh on “1-4-3” to echoing and expansive, as on “Space Out.” Biscotti often chant-sings the lyrics, but occasionally, as on “Second Skin,” his voice veers into a beautiful falsetto.


Hangman, the nineteenth entry in Faye Kellerman's Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, has a double mystery. Who killed young party-hearty nurse Adrianna Blanc, found hanging at a construction site? And what happened to Theresa McLaughlin, an old acquaintance of Decker, who has disappeared after a tense confrontation with her hit man husband?

Electric Green

Fiddler Cady Finlayson and guitarist Vita Tanga bring two disparate locations (Brooklyn and Paris) and musical styles (traditional Celtic music and world music/electronica) together on Electric Green, a ten-song collection of mostly traditional Irish songs, with a distinctive modern twist. In most cases the violin carries the melody while the guitar, acoustic or electric, adds depth and texture.

Images of Women, Volume 2

Several years ago, native New Yorker Robin Greenstein issued Images of Women, Volume 1, which delivered fourteen folk songs about women’s depiction in the genre, based on her concert-lecture on the topic. Images of Women, Volume 2 delivers fourteen more numbers about women, mostly traditional in musical style.

Making the Hook-up: Edgy Sex with Soul

What business does a White woman like me have reviewing a collection of erotica by African American authors? I figure when it comes to erotica, it's matter of whether the story turns you on or doesn’t, and I can’t see that race has much to do with that.

The Lesser Tragedy of Death

The Lesser Tragedy of Death is the first collection of poems by novelist Christina García, author of the superb Dreaming in Cuban. The poems offers an anguished narrative detailing García's brother’s lifelong struggle with drug addiction.


Blink and you might miss one of the twelve short, sparsely instrumented songs on Elyse Miller’s new disc, as most last two minutes or less. But Miller packs a lot of punch into these brief, slow-paced numbers, usually accompanied only by acoustic guitar.

Dancing on the Moon

Lisa Bell delivers the goods on her third album, mixing blues, jazz, pop, and roots into a bright, sparkling mix.

Banana Sandwich

The Astonishment is the moniker of Russian-born Marianna Limno, but although it’s her stage name and image on the cover and she delivers the poems on this spoken word album, the words were written by James Crippa, an expatriate Brit residing in Los Angeles. I found this surprising as most spoken word artists perform and record their own pieces, and also because a few of the tracks deal with sex and dating from a female point of view. Limno’s distinctive Russian-inflected voice is both a blessing and occasionally a curse.

Cooper Cobra

Rock & roll, baby!!! That’s what you’ll find on Cooper Cobra, the debut EP of New York band Lily Sparks. No samples, loops, or weird electronica, just guitar-heavy, punk-influenced songs about having a good time. The tried and true formula works like a dream.

Delancey Street

On her ninth record, Delancey Street, Rachael Sage once again embraces and pushes the boundaries of her signature sound: lush piano-based pop with plenty of passion and insightful lyrics. Each song tells a distinct story, capturing a moment in time (even if the meanings are sometimes ambiguous). The enigmatic “Everything Was Red” is one of my favorite tracks, although I’d be hard pressed to tell you what it’s about.

Never a Long Way Home

Confession: I don’t know much about country music, and I don’t listen to much country music. But I know what I like, and Steff Mahan’s Never a Long Way Home is damn good music. The opening track, “If I Let You Go,” starts things off rockin’. Mahan bangs away on a distorted guitar while belting out the lyrics. The song is upbeat, but the story isn’t; the narrator can’t let go of a past relationship even though her former lover is with someone new.

American Thighs: The Sweet Potato Queens' Guide to Preserving Your Assets

Jill Connor Browne, the self-proclaimed Sweet Potato Queen, is fifty-five and lives in Jackson, Mississippi. Her newest book, American Thighs, is an amusing but lightweight look at aging from an older Southern woman's point of view.

Broken Cookies

While there are plenty of catchy numbers on Broken Cookies, the second full-length album from Ohio native Annie Dinerman, it is her lyrics that set her apart from her peers in the folk-pop category and make her songs memorable.

Louder Than Words: Chelsey

Chelsey is a thin volume dealing with a heavy topic: it's the first-person account of a teenager in Cincinnati, Ohio who loses her father to violence and her journey of grief, adjustment, and self-discovery over the ensuing few years. Chelsey Shannon is a week shy of her fourteenth birthday when she learns that her father, who'd been working and vacationing in the Caribbean with his girlfriend, has been shot and killed by a would-be burglar who broke into h

Anna In-Between

The premise of Anna In-Between is simple: Anna Sinclair, a thirty-nine-year-old editor at a big book publishing company in New York City returns to the (unnamed) Caribbean nation where she was born and raised in order to visit her parents, Beatrice and John Sinclair. While there, she learns her mother has advanced breast cancer, but refuses to go to the United States, which has better hospitals and equipment, for the operation that could save her life.

Letter from New Virginia

Did you know that one of iTunes musical categories is “unclassifiable”? Such a description is apt for the music of Donny Hue and the Colors. The group uses many unusual instruments, including autoharp, melodica, glockenspiel, and theremin, as well as guitar and organ on an album that can alternately be described as psychedelic, minimalist, and orchestral. The instrumental “Into the Woods” plays like the opening of a movie, setting the tone for the album.

Truth Be Told

Ronda Matson delivers a solid collection of songs on her second outing, Truth Be Told, and her traditional folk approach, heavy on strumming guitar and harmonica, will please purists. Her plaintive, husky voice sets her apart from other singers, and it’s refreshing to listen to a record that doesn’t rely primarily on love songs.

Atmospheric Disturbances

In some cases, you may be midway through a story, novel, or film before realizing you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator. He or she is biased, withholding information, or mentally unstable. (Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s disturbing story “The Yellow Wallpaper” springs to mind as just one example.) In Atmospheric Disturbances, the debut novel by Rivka Galchen, it is apparent early on that the main character, psychiatrist Dr.

Bridge and Tunnel

Linda Draper makes folk music of the best sort: lighthearted and charming with firmly grounded melodies and honest, straightforward lyrics with a poetic yet realistic slant. Bridge and Tunnel's opening track, “Limbo,” is a good indication of what’s to come.

First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

Before reading First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War, I didn’t even know to whom Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861-1865, was married. The book is certainly educational, and was interesting to read about the war from a Southern perspective rather than the Union point of view I received in my U.S.

Look Ahead

Chrissy Coughlin’s sound is an amalgamation of pop, indie, and folk, but overall it’s good songwriting, and she switches styles with aplomb. “Back to You” starts the album out kicking; it’s a peppy, upbeat tune marked by a strong beat and understated organ. The lyrics of this toe-tapping power rock song are somewhat trite (“If I don’t turn around and stay I would be a fool/I’m coming back to you”), but it’s absolutely fun nevertheless.

From the Heart

There are several good songs on From the Heart, but by the end of the album, I was sick of the slow, languorous ballads that Babyface does so well. There’s nothing wrong with most of the songs; they’re just bland, and the delivery becomes monotonous after sixteen tracks.

The Off Season

This book, the sequel to Murdock’s Dairy Queen, may be marketed for young adults, but it’s not the equivalent of Sweet Valley High or The Princess Diaries, as both the book and heroine D.J. Schwenk have their feet planted firmly in reality. D.J.

June Rain

This slim novel set in the 1960s concerns a quiet, studious Italian-American teenager, Dante, and his courtship and growing relationship with Helen, a fellow high school senior. The reserved Dante has silently admired Helen from across the classroom for several months when an unexpected rainstorm gives him the chance walk her home with his umbrella and get to know her. Knightley makes it clear that this is not your typical boy-meets-girl story. Dante is attracted as much by Helen’s calm, assured demeanor and her sense of connection with her family as by her looks.

Premium Cinnamon Cookies

Vegans, those who cannot have gluten, and other health-conscious consumers will be happy to hear about Sun Flour Baking Company (based in Sacramento, California), which offers a variety of products that, like these cinnamon cookies, are wheat and gluten-free, contain no cholesterol or refined sugar, and are egg and dairy free. In addition, this particular variety has no trans fat or hydrogenated oil, and twenty-two percent of the ingredients used are organic.

Fay Grim

Fay Grim is the sequel to Hal Hartley’s 1997 film Henry Fool, in which Queens garbage man Simon Fool (James Urbaniak) was befriended by the eponymous hero (Thomas Jay Ryan), who encouraged his literary ambitions. Simon wins the Nobel Prize for his poetry, Henry marries Simon’s sister Fay (Parker Posey) and they have a son, but at the film’s conclusion Henry flees the country to avoid arrest, leaving Simon to take the rap for aiding him. This back story is skillfully established in the first 20 minutes of the film, which is set seven years after Henry’s disappearance.