Just another in the onslaught of rock bios and memoirs—a disappointing follow-up to the author’s excellent Dreams to...

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SWEET DREAMS AND FLYING MACHINES

THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF JAMES TAYLOR

A biography that confirms both the best and the worst that fans have heard about the archetypal 1970s singer/songwriter.

Ribowsky (Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul, 2015, etc.) offers little new in this overwritten, underreported biography of James Taylor (b. 1948), which mainly draws from what others have written about him and from detailed analyses of his albums by the author. Assessing a mostly forgotten album from 35 years ago, the author writes, “while the album was easy listening comfort food, its creator was his usual mess,” an assessment that pretty much summarizes the biography’s perspective on his subject. Though Taylor remained addicted to heroin even through his troubled marriage to Carly Simon—“two broken people waiting for a merciful end” to their union—the addiction was less a disease than a symptom of a troubled soul. Privileged and self-centered, he sang of himself as a sensitive soul yet he treated women in particular as disposable, and it was not until his final marriage that he seemed committed to any sort of monogamy. The author depicts him as some sort of sex addict as well, with Oedipal undertones, in the sort of psychobiography that would benefit from the support of primary sources. Yet the firsthand interviewing seems minimal and inconsequential in a book that leans heavily on Rolling Stone interviews, previous books on Taylor, and Carly Simon’s recent autobiography. Ribowsky does a better job of putting Taylor’s achievements in the context of the soft-rock Los Angeles of the 1970s and recognizing their durability, though his claim that “Taylor is the nearest thing to rock royalty in America” is the kind of hyperbole one writes to justify a biography with little new in it.

Just another in the onslaught of rock bios and memoirs—a disappointing follow-up to the author’s excellent Dreams to Remember.

Pub Date: June 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61373-376-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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