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Retail woes and boys with the ‘right stuff’

By Staff | Oct 31, 2012

Several new memoirs and biographies give you an inside look into the world of pop stardom, retail and a soldier’s life.

First there’s the funny and relatable (at least for anyone who’s ever worked in retail) memoir, “Return to the Big Fancy” by Freeman Hall.

Hall thought he had gotten out of the handbag selling business for good by pursuing his dreams of being a screenwriter. But when work dries up, he finds himself back in The Big Fancy in order to pay the bills. There he deals with customer-stealing co-workers and corporate policies that are unreasonable involving returns and quotas. There are plenty of crazy customers to deal with, fistfights on the salesfloor and forced donations. But there are also some laughs with friends.

Hall’s stories of life in The Big Fancy will resonate with readers who have worked in retail. He is the author of “Retail Hell” and maintains a website, www.retailhellunderground.com, where fellow workers can swap stories of crazy customers.

“Return to the Big Fancy” is published by Adams Media. It is $22.95 and is 272 pages long.

Get the scoop on one of the most popular boy bands of all time as they make it to fame and back again in “New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters” by Nikki Van Noy.

In this authorized biography, the author follows the story through the boys’ childhoods, the creation of the group by Maurice Starr, their first concerts and appearances in small Boston clubs and their breakneck tour schedule and creation of albums on the road. She writes of childhood fights and tempers (these were young teenagers forced to live together for several years) and the boys’ gratefulness for the fame, that also a toll it took on them.

Then came the 90s where the tide turned, their popularity waned, and the boys were spit back out into “normal” life, but now as adults.

Van Noy writes about what they did in the interim years and their lives both in and out of the spotlight on their own until they came together again in 2008 and made a new album, reconnecting with their grown-up fans and starting up several tours again.

Interspersed with stories from the boys’ lives is stories of how they impacted the fans. The book deftly shows the sense of community the group has with its fans, the genuine love and affection both sides feel, and how five young boys from Boston became a cultural phenomenon.

Fans of the group will want to get this inside look into their life on and off the road.


The story of one soldier’s life before and after the horrendous injury that left him forever changed is told in “Full of Heart” by J.R. Martinez with Alexandra Rockey Fleming.

Martinez grew up the son of a single mother from El Salvador who was also sending money home to his two sisters and grandmother. He tells of ever-changing “father” figures in his life and of several moves with his mother as a child and a young teen. Martinez decided to join the Army and was sent to Iraq to serve. There, at the age of 19, the Humvee he was driving hit a roadside bomb and he was covered in burns over one-third of his body, including his face. Through this painful ordeal, Martinez found courage and strength to perservere, spending 34 months in recovery and suffering a terrible depression after seeing how the burns had disfigured him, especially his face. His life was changed when he was asked to speak to another young burn victim, which lead to his public speaking career. This, in turn, lead to a role on “All My Children” and eventually, as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

This is a story about heart, courage and acceptance. Martinez’s story is truly an inspirational one.

“Full of Heart” is published by Hyperion. It is $23.99 and 233 pages long.