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Stacy's Book Reviews

With Stacy Harris

(author of Comedians of Country Music, The Carter Family: Country Music's First Family, Classic Country and The Best of Country: The Official CD Guide and contributor to Country Music Stars and the Supernatural  and The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture) 

Tennessee Encyclopedia History & Culture Edited by Carroll Van West with entries by Stacy Harris  (November 15, 2002)

Classic Country by STACY HARRIS (January 1, 2000) 

Country Music Stars and The Supernatural Edited by Cliff Linedecker with chapters by Stacy Harris (1979)

You are So Nashville If... Edited by Bruce Dobie with entries by Stacy Harris (April 1, 1998)

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A self-help book for a media-transfixed, 21st century sedentary society, Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life is a breezy read that accommodates short attention spans.

Surprisingly, media-savvy author, and "talking head" fan favorite, Nancy Mramor Kajuth, Ph. D.,  manages to cover a lot of ground in this 214-page paperback.  Exploring the role of TV, movies and other Internet age forms of social connection in shaping us, Kajuth advocates readers take charge, resist the manipulation of passivity and fine-tune these multimedia influences as agents of self-empowerment and self-actualization.

With apologies to Tom Cruise, Nancy had me at her mention of Queen For A Day, a dubious teaching tool perhaps only she, I and a few other of her readers are old enough to remember.   More familiar- and classic- TV and film titles predominate as the backdrop for Kajuth's cajoling readers toward a conscious consumption synonymous with true choice.  Nancy's path to getting there is (in)formed by a series of pop quizzes, sprinkled throughout the book, to be used at the self-inventory that will help readers get the most out of these insights by learning new tools to unlocking the secrets of what makes us our unique, best selves.

This is not Joe Bonsall’s first book.  Neither is it Bonsall’s first autobiographical turn.  It is, however, Bonsall’s first book in a while written with a focus about life on (and sometimes off) the road with the Oak Ridge Boys.

Written from the perspective of the tenor voice of an historic gospel-turned-country-music quartet, initially Bonsall wasn’t sold on the project.

Joe, whose gregarious personality has often posited him as group spokesperson during the countless interviews the Oaks have done over the decades of their sustained popularity, thought that between the media ops, his own books and fan meet-and-greets he had exhausted the topic.

But that was before Joe’s wife, Mary convinced Joe the “phenomenon” that is the Oak Ridge Boys is, by definition, of limitless interest.

While it is Bonsall’s book (though, strangely- or perhaps not, given the state of book publishing in the age of disappearing book stores- Harvest House, Joe’s publisher, holds the copyright) On the Road… is dedicated to the late mothers of each of the Oak Ridge Boys.

Joe’s book begins in October 1973.  Joe is singing with the Keystones gospel band and is married his pregnant first wife, Barbara when opportunity knocks in the form of an opportunity to pay his bills while filling a vacancy with the already-prestigious Oak Ridge Boys.

Luck (“…from age 15 to 16 I went from being a street hood to being the president of the Frankford High School Bible Club.) quickly became gratitude; a constant theme of Bonsall’s book.

To be sure, life as an Oak has not been perfect, but Bonsall doesn’t complain.  He suggests the less pleasant aspects of the job (such as photo sessions) are no more than that; what he signed up for and what make him appreciative of the opportunity to perform- which he still  loves.

Like most successful groups, the Oaks turned down songs that later turned out to be hits.  Joe shares some of those chart-toppers, as well as list of what he regards as the five best concerts he’s seen- and why he’s chosen them.

Readers will variously learn about “the ORB Doctrine,” that Grand Ole Opry backup singer Norah Lee Allen (Duane Allen’s wife) is also a songwriter, and Joe’s commentary on today’s country music.

They will also learn while the Oaks, now in their 60s and 70s, have not aged out of the business of filling concert venues

Along the way it will be readily apparent why every consecutive president from Gerald Ford through “Bush 43” has welcomed the Oak Ridge Boys as entertainers at presidential events, though as Joe adds, with typical candor, diplomacy and humor, “As for President Obama, we’re still waiting for the call.”


Though it references Kenny Rogers, Gloriana, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Diamond Rio, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Gretchen Wilson, George Strait, Sugarland, Pat Green, Sara Evans, Zac Brown Band, Kenny Chesney, Joe Nichols, Faith Hill, Townes Van Zandt, The Marshall Tucker Band, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley and Jo Dee Messina, Tia Shurina’s memoir is hardly a country-music book-or, as Shurina speculates, even any of the various types of books readers might otherwise assume.

 An uplifting book, with an uplifting title, Tia Shurina’s compulsion to write it began as a form of self-help to get her though a “painful year.”

 A breast cancer scare amid other health-related issues- those of her own and the author’s terminally-ill boss- and the death of  her beloved father (former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Stephen Shurina- “we bonded like super glue”), all arguably part of life, imposed a heavier-than-normal burden to bear, coming as they did in such proximity.

 Tia (her given name is Patricia) indicates she has “been called Wiccan by someone who doesn’t know any better,” due to the ways in which she exhibits her spirituality.

 Readers will follow Tia’s ongoing journey toward enlightenment. We cheer her on as she runs the New York City Marathon and tries to find the balance between the men in her life (which grew to include her husband and sons) and her work as a “mover and shaker’s” personal assistant.

 Family photos enhance Shurina’s descriptions of those who have meant the most to her and the time- some of it happy, some challenging- spent together.

 If personal growth is on your agenda, Tia Shurina’s memoir comes highly recommended.

April Kirkwood’s brief (146 pages) memoir, while linking its title (the final line from The Four Seasons’ 1962 smash Big Girls Don’t Cry) to its subtitle, My Love Affair with Frankie Valli, is just that: the author’s memoir.

The Four Seasons’ falsetto-voiced lead singer (who continues to tour on the strength of, not only the vocal blends that made him and his fellow Jersey Boys famous, but also Valli’s solo success), while the obsessive focus of much of Kirkwood’s life, is but one of several strong influences referenced in April’s memoir.

All that is prologue to a paperback that is probably not what the reader expected if the reader cannot distinguish between a personal memoir and a celebrity biography. 

April was six years old when she first heard The Four Seasons’ music.  She met the quartet’s diminutive lead singer two years later.

The backstage meeting would be the first of many, sporadic (and arguably more eventful) meetings between April and Frankie over a period of decades.  (By the time Kirkwood formally ended the affair, in 2008, prompted by circumstances that made the timing as appropriate as ever, she writes she had been Valli’s sex partner for more than 20 years.)

On her way to becoming Miss Ohio Teenage (1975), April lost her virginity at age 17 to the then-39-year-old married singer (whose given name is Francesco Stephen Castelluccio) in a burst of underage passion in Valli’s hotel room.

Suffice to say April quickly learned the ways of a “successful” groupie and, while happy to provide a few pointers to concert fans in search of a meeting with their singing idol(s)  (“Go early when sound check is about to happen”), Kirkwood’s story, with Valli as its backdrop, is by her own admission a cautionary tale.

When not bouncing back-and-forth between actualizing her fantasy life (“I wasn’t stupid; I was trusting.”) and reality (including the “Pentecostal brainwashing resonating in my head”), the beauty queen sought a degree from Oral Roberts University.

Too questioning and rebellious to remain at ORU for very long, April parlayed her interest in astrology into more secular educational pursuits, obtaining two masters degrees in counseling that she has put to use as a social worker, guidance counselor and public speaker.

Not to say that the author, who borrows titles from hits popularized by Frankie Valli and/or The Four Seasons to separate the chapters in her memoir, has it all together: Twice married before meeting and beginning a 15-year-long affair with her then-married lover, Ron (whom April describes as “the only guy who could replace Frankie in my life”), Kirkwood calls both Frankie and Ron (whom, we suspect, will not answer if April calls him Ronnie) “uneducated” and “narcissistic.”

Further, the mother of the late “serial cheater” Billy Kirkwood’s two children (daughter Dana Nicole and son, Grant) calls Dana (thankfully not named Sherry, Dawn, etc.), not Ron, her “soulmate.”

While I’m a big Four Seasons fan, as a published author I’m well aware of the differences between memoir and biography.  As such, I wasn’t expecting to learn much more about Frankie Valli than I already know.

What struck me, however, is April’s failure to realize that she never got to know (and maybe never cared to know) Francesco Castelluccio.  The emotional component of what Kirkwood hoped to have with Valli, even absent the sex that, given her availability, set the tone for their interaction early on, never transpired for reasons other than that murky, though in another context, fundamental foundation.

While April, at 58, may still love Frankie (now age 81), her references to him (and her other Italian lovers) as a “dago," to name yet another of her uncomplimentary descriptions, suggests a love-hate relationship that never transcended the physicality of what Valli embodies and the persona of his celebrity.

A reader finishes the book feeling that, during their time together, if Valli wanted to talk about current events, his childhood friends, illnesses (his own or those he cares about), his favorite sports team, if any, and the like (in short, subjects that might speak more to whom Frankie is than whom April wanted him to be), April, bored to tears, would have been out of his hotel room in a heartbeat!    


Subtitled The Man Who Bailed Out The Beatles, Made The Stones, and Transformed Rock & Roll, Fred Goodman’s biography of famed but controversial business manager Allen Klein is a somewhat sympathetic portrait of an often vilified music mogul Goodman calls an “unapologetic hustler.”

Klein began his career as an accountant whose clients included Bobby VintonBobby Darin and Sam Cooke and, as his business interests expanded, Allen was asked to assist in audits of music publishers and records labels.

An early advocate of underpaid music artists (the rabbi’s grandson was also  a supporter of the United Negro College Fund), Klein launched a successful charm offensive against the equally abrasive and, in Alan’s opinion, equally charming when necessary, infamous music mobster Morris Levy.

Vinton, who became one of Klein’s early management clients, believes that Klein’s misunderstanding with Hullaballoo producers Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, at the height of Bobby’s popularity, resulted in Vinton’s effectively being “blackballed from television for five years.”

As part of the Yiddish Invasion that preceded the British Invasion, the street-brawling, coarse Klein networked his way to introductions to Beatles’ (and Rolling Stones) publicist Andrew Oldham and Fab Four impresario Brian Epstein. 

When, as the group’s business manager, Klein negotiated a better deal for Stones than Epstein could command for the Beatles, Paul McCartney was particularly “frustrated.”

That frustration was matched by Klein’s obsession to manage the Beatles.  Even as Paul became an impediment, attaining that goal was Allen’s self-validation. (Summarizing what followed, the admonition “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind.)

Goodman gives readers a front row seat to the wheeling and dealing that Klein thrived on in a book that belongs in every music historian’s and dedicated music trivia fan’s library. 


The Masterpiece Within: Five Key Lifestyles To Becoming a Living Work of Art is a collaboration between Guy Scholz, (a "three-time Canadian  bestselling author, award-winning journalist and U.S. National Arena
Curling Champion") and Claudia Church (whose credits include ABC-TV's Nashville series and the 2015  film, Captive, starring David Oylowo and Kate Mara).

The actress and the athlete have chosen;an artistic metaphor, blending it with narratives of  personal experience, quotable quotes from famous figures and an exercise workbook, to motivate readers toward  self-actualization.

By counteracting "demotivators" with "remotivators," recognizing "major life barriers" as excuses, employing filters, action plans and "life bliss tools," the authors seek to restore balance to the mind, spirit, body and emotions.

It's a tall order and its success will be measured by the extent to which readers find the workbook challenges useful.

Review copies;(as mine was) of books usually contain "cheat sheets" written by publicists to assist reviewers too lazy to read the books we are sent,  The irony of that circumstance is a book in itself, however in this instance the joke is on the book's publicist
who identifies Claudia as being "married to singer/songwriter Randy Crowell."

Claudia's spouse is, of course, Rodney Crowell.  Though the gaffe was confined to publicity materials, there appears to be at least one error in the book itself: a reference (on page 318) to "The ABC News show, Lifeline..." 

Perhaps a spell checker changed an intended reference to Nightline?

The Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books has proven to be a literary staple among non-fiction book lovers who love the realism of stories built around certain themes that resonate as only the tales of contributors drawing upon their unique, personal life experiences are able to do as they share those heartfelt experiences.

The latest in the series, a paperback of "101 Stories of Gratitude, Love and Lessons," offered in "Thanks to My Mom," is no exception.    

Compiled by nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist Amy Newmark and Grammy-nominated country singer Jo Dee Messina,  this collection delivers, as promised, featuring tributes to moms lauded as role models to profiles of mothers known for their maternal mischief- and all of the motherly teachers and cheerleaders who reared us in between.

Country-music fans will be especially drawn to the paperback's first essay: The String that Binds Our Hearts.  Written by Jo Dee Messina, the reminiscence, running less than four pages, takes Messina from her reluctant release from Mom's apron strings on Jo Dee's first day of kindergarten to a grown-up challenges that, thanks to a mother's wisdom, gave Messina a "lifeline."

A short (51 pages) but gripping (and important) account of a decorated (Silver Star, Purple Heart) Vietnam veteran's service to his country and the rejection he (and too many other vets) experienced upon returning home, Across the Pond is a Marine's memoir, raw and unfiltered.

With a foreward by Ron KovicReport reader Michael McCormick dedicates his novella "to the veterans of the Vietnam era," who, it is hoped, can prevail as McCormick has been able to do.

McCormick, who left his home in Jackson, Ohio to face the uncertain fortunes of a marine sergeant, persevered after leaving the military for civilian life.  Michael completed his education (a B.A. degree in psychology followed by a master's in clinical psychology) and today he and his wife, Gina make their home in Oakland, California.

Stacy's earlier online book reviews are archived.  Click here for more information.