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Pop reviews — Week of Feb. 16

Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image

Joshua Zeitz

John Nicolay and John Hay were working in Springfield, Ill., when they became involved with the political life of Abraham Lincoln before his 1860 presidential campaign. Tireless and smart, the friends, still in their 20s, proved themselves indispensable to Lincoln, who brought them along with him to the White House as his personal secretaries.

In Lincoln’s Boys, author Joshua Zeitz skillfully recounts what were heady days for Nicolay and Hay, even as they were tragic for the nation. The friends lived in the White House and wielded considerable power as advisers and conduits of Lincoln’s orders. They had as good a view of the unfolding Civil War battles — both military and political — as Lincoln himself.

And after the assassination, the friends tasked themselves with chronicling Lincoln’s life, leading to publication of the 10-volume Lincoln: A History. The series and the related Abraham Lincoln: Complete Works co-edited by the two men remain part of the foundation for how modern Americans view the nation’s 16th president. Or, as Zeitz phrases it, the creation of the “Lincoln Memorial Lincoln.”

Zeitz builds on known sources and known histories but turns the glass a bit to give us a different view of an already deeply mined era. So this isn’t a book of revelations but a series of interconnected stories about friendship, political and economic forces that made war over the morality of slavery and about the transformation of personal experience and written records into definitive history.

— Scott Martelle

Los Angeles Times

Dizzy Heights

Neil Finn

Neil Finn has written effortless pop songs since the 1970s, both in Split Enz and, especially, in Crowded House. He also has a penchant for working with family: with brother Tim in Split Enz and the Finn Brothers; with wife Sharon in the Pajama Club; and, on Dizzy Heights, his third solo album, with sons Liam (a successful singer-songwriter in his own right) and Elroy as well as his wife.

Dizzy Heights steps away from the perfectly crafted guitar pop that has usually been Finn’s specialty. At times, it’s more abstract and experimental (the grandiose, falsetto Divebomber and the ominous White Lies and Alibis, with its disruptive electronics), and these tracks display the fingerprints of producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev).

Elsewhere, Finn tries his hand at blue-eyed soul (the slinky, string-kissed title track and the Hall & Oates-like Flying in the Face of Love). The latter style works better than the former, but Finn too often sounds like he’s working hard to stretch outside of what he does best.

— Steve Klinge

Philadelphia Inquirer

After I’m Gone

Laura Lippman

Few of us ever completely recover from the loss of a loved one. Life, of course, goes on and can be rich and fulfilling. But that loss never entirely disappears.

Laura Lippman explores how a disappearance affects a family for decades in the enthralling After I’m Gone. In her eighth stand-alone — and 19th — novel, Lippman tracks the history of five women united by the betrayal of one man. After I’m Gone is a quiet mystery — no car chases, barely a gun in sight — that derives its tension from the delicate balance that affects each woman.

After I’m Gone works well as a story of misplaced love, of consequences and the fragility of memory, as well as a solid private detective story. After I’m Gone also explores a history of women through the decades, from the late 1950s through 2012, wrapped around the rituals such as weddings, baby showers, bat mitzvahs that define and unite people, and sometimes pull them apart.

Lippman insightfully delves into each character, showing how each woman matures or falters through the years. The tension-filled After I’m Gone succinctly examines the greatest mystery of all — crimes of the heart.

— Oline H. Cogdill

Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel


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