For music fans who must read everything about James or who have never read anything about him.

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SUPER FREAK

THE LIFE OF RICK JAMES

Benjaminson (Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar, 2012, etc.) delivers a matter-of-fact biography of a musician whose extremes—both the highs and the lows—defy belief.

Has popular music ever spawned a more unlikely superstar than Rick James (1948-2004)? Incorrigible at school and at home, sexually active since the age of 9, he was an unlikely and underage Navy enlistee and then a deserter while still in his midteens. He fled across the border to Toronto, where he found himself in a musical hotbed that led to connections with Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and future members of Steppenwolf but also to all sorts of criminal activity that led him to be deported at least twice. Any hope for a musical career depended on America, where he would be subject to military justice if he returned. Then there was the fact that he really wasn’t much of a musician. “Although Rick would occasionally boast about being a great instrumentalist,” writes the author, “no musician who ever heard him play any instrument for more than a couple minutes ever believed him”—and he was only serviceable as a singer. Yet he was always an outsized personality, a flamboyant figure, and a gifted mimic (“Rick Jagger” in his Toronto days), someone whose ambition was exceeded only by the appetites that eventually destroyed him. It’s a good story, but one that has been told often and generally better than in the pedestrian fashion found here; each chapter is short and heavily reliant on previously written accounts. For those who know James only through the hit that gives this biography its title and from comedian Dave Chappelle’s killer caricature of “an obnoxious, coked-up lunatic” the book suggests how much more there was to both the artistry and the insanity. However, any suggestion that his legacy matches those of George Clinton, Sly Stone, Prince, and others among his influences and contemporaries is misguided.

For music fans who must read everything about James or who have never read anything about him.

Pub Date: March 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61374-957-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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