Tasty as a Buddy Guy guitar lick, but seldom revelatory.

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WHEN I LEFT HOME

MY STORY

One of the last survivors of Chicago blues’ golden age of the 1950s and ’60s, Guy retravels a familiar route in this ingratiating but disappointingly slim as-told-to autobiography.

The son of rural sharecroppers, he became fixated with playing the guitar after hearing John Lee Hooker’s 1949 hit “Boogie Chillen.” He caught firsthand glimpses of such Louisiana stars as Lightnin’ Slim and Guitar Slim, the latter of whom supplied the blueprint for Guy’s flamboyant performing style. He lyrically recalls his 1957 train trip to Chicago, a Mecca for émigré musicians from the South. After an arduous period, he began to burn up the South Side’s bars; his local stardom led to record dates at Chess Records, then home to blues giants like Muddy Waters, who encouraged him in his early days, and the forbidding Howlin’ Wolf, who wanted to hire him. (Wary of Wolf’s harsh treatment of his sidemen, he declined.) Work ultimately became so scarce that Guy drove a tow truck to make ends meet, but he finally found success in the ’60s on the European festival scene and then in the rock ballrooms. Guy has a wealth of entertaining, occasionally raunchy stories about the contemporaries he revered, including Muddy, Wolf, Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Big Mama Thornton and B.B King. Sometimes he takes a jab: Songwriter Willie Dixon was stingy about sharing credit, guitarist Albert King was a tightwad, label owner Leonard Chess never paid royalties or recorded him at his extroverted best. He has fonder memories of the young white performers—especially Brits like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and the Rolling Stones—who helped shine a spotlight on his work. He saves his best stuff for longtime musical partner Junior Wells, the pugnacious, oft-incarcerated harmonica ace. At most junctures, the material about Guy’s fellow bluesmen is so choice it pushes the book’s purported subject into the background. And there’s little about the major renewal of Guy’s career after the 1991 release of his Grammy-winning Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues.

Tasty as a Buddy Guy guitar lick, but seldom revelatory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-81957-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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