"Haven" Novel (CreateSpace; 2016)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

I really thought I'd heard the last about Regi Sebastian, her friends and family, and her band The Pages. I mean, it'd been fourteen years since the last novel had been published. And then, lo and behold, there arrives a package in my mailbox. Sure enough, it's the latest (and reportedly final) chapter in the Head Case rock'n'roll series. It was like receiving a visit from an old friend.

When "Haven" begins, a lot has changed in the world of Regi and the gang (not the least of which is the author's name: Kathleen Strelow became Kathleen Stone). The band is trying to put together a comeback tour but Regi feels it'd be better for her to stay home with her children who are, in fact, her very life. What follows is a story of jealousy and uncertainty that sometimes will make you angry, and other times will bring tears of you to your eyes. There's people struggling with love (and lost love), children who are confused by their parents' unusual lifestyles, and the driving force throughout: Can The Pages return to to road without Regi back on the drums?

It's an entertaining read from beginning to end, although sometimes you might be angry with Regi for all the chaos she seems to bring. That will all go away when she goes to bat for an abused child, a story arc that deserves a book on all its own. I'd love to see a movie about just that part: A famous rock star hiding a child from her abusive father to keep her from harm. It's my second favorite part of "Haven." The first is the very last page which will have you pumping your fists in the air.

In the 13 years since "Whiplash" author Stone has shown a great deal of improvement. "Haven" holds your attention throughout and the cast and characters seem brighter and more real. Of course, this may have as much to do with the fact that is the third book featuring these same characters as much as anything else, but the result is a good one.

 If you haven't read the previous books, I don't think it's necessary to do so, but it would help. But if you're a fan of rock'n'roll and fiction, you can't do much better than "Haven."

For more information, please visit http://www.kathleenstone.org/.

"Whiplash" Novel (iUniverse; 2003)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

When last we left rocker Regi Sebastian (in Strelow's last novel, "Head Case") she and her husband Mickey were trying to pick up the pieces of their troubled marriage and get their lives back in order. When "Whiplash" begins, Regi and Mickey seem to have done it. They have a pair of perfectly happy and healthy young children, Mickey is back in the studio (Regi's content just being a mom) and everything seems to be going the way it should be.

But life isn't likely to give Regi an easy ride and, with the resurrection of an old love, the opening of Regi's own rock'n'roll club and the pressures of Mickey hitting the road on tour, everything soon becomes one big, cyclonic blur. Some friends die while others come back to life, love is won and lost, and decisions - both bad and good - are made that change the lives of everyone involved.

"Whiplash" is a sleeker, better-written novel than its predecessor. Novelist Strelow seems much more confident of herself this outing, telling her story with a fast pace that never falters and a clearness and crispness that makes the book a pleasant, easy read. Again, the characters are so fully drawn and realized that it's never a problem remembering who is who - despite the book's necessarily large cast of characters.

The story itself isn't nearly as sinister as the previous book. Murder was afoot in "Head Case" but "Whiplash" is all about life,  love, rock'n'roll and what could have been (and for what could be, for that matter). Still, there's plenty of suspense throughout "Whiplash," but here it's more about what Regi will do, not about who killed who.

One of the things that Regi does in the book is open her own rock'n'roll club and its presence in the novel is a welcome element. Regi is often at the club, being the type of person who likes to take things in her own hands, and the various bands and / or rock stars that Strelow name-drops are well-placed reminders of the real rock world - and enhance the novel's realness as well.

Yeah, sometimes Regi will drive you wild with the choices she makes, or doesn't make, or the hell she sometimes puts herself and others through. But that unpredictability not only keeps "Whiplash" interesting, it makes Regi more real.

I don't know who Strelow has in mind when she imagines Regi, but - as I read "Head Case" and "Whiplash" - I firmly envisioned Pat Benatar. Not because Strelow describes her in that image, but because Regi's artistic style and strong character remind me of Benatar. 

Anyway, fans of the previous Regi Sebastian novel will love "Whiplash" as well. I'd also say it's important - though not absolutely necessary - to read "Head Case" first. It'll give you a better feel for Strelow's world than if you just read "Whiplash" on its own.

For more information, please visit http://www.kathleenstone.org/.

"Head Case" Novel (iUniverse (2002)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

"Head Case" is the story of Regi Sebastian, the female drummer of the popular rock'n'roll band, Pages. As the book begins, Regi is just recovering from a motorcycle accident that nearly killed her and her husband, Mickey. Because the accident was Regi's fault, she's having a hard time dealing with it - and an equally hard time staying away from the booze that caused the accident. When her band goes back into the studio and her marriage begins to crack, Regi's temptations to return to her old ways are almost overwhelming.

A lot happens in "Head Case." Regi and her band record a new album, various videos are created, photo shoots, parties - the whole rock'n'roll she-bang. And novelist Kathleen Strelow tells the reader about these events with a smooth, enjoyable prose. "Head Case" is a very easy read. 

But calling the book an easy read is by no means saying it's shallow. On the contrary, despite Strelow's simple, flowing prose, by the time you've finished "Head Case" you feel as though you know the characters. Strelow has an almost magical style that allows the characters to grow before a reader's eyes in a sly yet efficient way. Obviously, in a rock'n'roll novel, there are going to be a lot of characters. Musicians, agents, producers, label execs, groupies, etc. Yet throughout "Head Case," you'll never find yourself wondering who is who. Strelow is that good at giving her characters dimension.

When all is said and done, however, "Head Case" is really a love story. It's the story of the stress and pressure that Regi and Mickey endure and how it nearly destroys not only them, but their hugely popular band. It's realistic in that way, too. There are many bumps and hurtles in the couple's path; it's not a "live happily ever after" marriage.

Some may dismiss "Head Case" as a soap opera set in the rock'n'roll world and, sometimes, it almost seems to be that. The characters sometimes jump in and out of bed as often as the cast of "Friends." But Strelow's ability to draw realistic characters and to keep her tale moving swiftly at all times, make it more than that. 

For more information, please visit http://www.kathleenstone.org/.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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