The blues master emerges more as a cliché than a living artist.

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MOJO HAND

THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LIGHTNIN' HOPKINS

Unsatisfying biography of the Texas blues original.

Journalist Ensminger (Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, 2011, etc.) completed the work of his colleague O’Brien after the latter’s death in 2011. Singer/guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins’ (1912–1982) prolific recorded output revealed one of the most distinctive of blues talents. Born Sam Hopkins into a rural sharecropping family, he began playing guitar at the age of 8, picking up his older brother’s instrument. He lit out from home early and was an itinerant musician by his teens, learning at the feet of legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander. He settled in Houston’s rough Third Ward; the ghetto neighborhood remained his home until he died. The trajectory of Hopkins’ career was similar to those of many of his blues contemporaries. After years of local renown, he recorded for a number of independent R&B labels in the late 1940s and ’50s. As the ’60s turned, he cut records for folk labels catering to the growing white folk-blues market; by late in the decade, he was playing Europe, colleges and the rock ballroom circuit. Hopkins’ enormous discography and improvisatory, stream-of-consciousness style led to his lionization before his death. The authors interviewed some 130 subjects and compiled a mountain of research, but Hopkins’ essence proves elusive. The authors detail the illiterate and mistrustful musician’s affection for liquor, gambling and hard cash, but they fail to plumb his inner life. Too often, the book settles into a frustrating pileup of concert itineraries and reviews, descriptions of recording sessions, nightclub back stories, musings on Southern race relations and long-winded source quotes in need of serious pruning. Hopkins’ combative relationship with his longtime producer, manager and agent, Mack McCormick, is the only interpersonal tale spun in any depth. The interior source of his remarkable and poetic gifts remains a mystery.

The blues master emerges more as a cliché than a living artist.

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0292745155

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Univ. of Texas

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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