Brown’s passionate, über-detailed study of pop’s scariest visionary is just about as good as a music bio can get.

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TEARING DOWN THE WALL OF SOUND

THE RISE AND FALL OF PHIL SPECTOR

Shining the spotlight on one of modern music’s most shadowy—and, frankly, most nutty—figures.

Alone and adrift in his California high school, an asthmatic, 98-pound outcast named Harvey Phillip Spector decides that the way to gain popularity amongst his peers is to drop the “Harvey,” learn guitar and start a rock band called the Teddy Bears. Next thing you know, it’s 1958, and, thanks in part to the Phil Spector-penned hit “To Know Him is to Love Him,” the slender savant is a piping hot, sought-after composer and producer. Over the next four decades, Spector went on to write and/or produce dozens of classic three-minute pop symphonettes for, among others, Tina Turner (“River Deep-Mountain High”), the Ronettes (“Be My Baby”) and the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”), as well as albums for John Lennon and the Ramones. The majority of Spector’s work was immediately recognizable thanks to his use of instrumental layering, a technique that was ultimately dubbed “The Wall of Sound.” But Spector was a high-strung, paranoid train wreck who would just as soon pull a gun on you—just ask Dee Dee Ramone—as he would mix down your record—and truth be told, his personal instability is the primary reason that his life merits a 500-plus page dissection. In terms of his hit-to-miss ratio, Spector wasn’t exactly Ty Cobb—George Martin, Leiber & Stoller and Dr. Dre all arguably had better batting averages—but U.K.-based journalist Brown, a keen analyst, rightfully makes a case that Spector’s most important and influential work was unbelievably important and influential. Research-wise, Brown went above and beyond, at one point spending a fascinating, creepy day interviewing the reclusive Spector at his castle in Alhambra—an interview during which the subject wore a wig, a bathrobe and heels—and, later on, was questioned by the LAPD about Spector’s role in the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. It’s this combination of dogged reportage and music savvy that makes this one of the most compelling, memorable rock-’n’-roll biographies in recent memory.

Brown’s passionate, über-detailed study of pop’s scariest visionary is just about as good as a music bio can get.

Pub Date: June 6, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4219-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2007

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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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