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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hrs
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Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, begins in school with Georgina, who is voted most likely to succeed, struggling to stay just popular enough and not as popular as other kids in her class. When her teacher realizes she is not trying as hard as she should, she pairs her with Lucas McCarthy, who sits in the front of class and is incredibly quiet. They soon fall in love over literature and Wuthering Heights. While they are clearly smitten and spend every moment together, neither makes an effort to be public with their love or share their relationship with their parents.

Fast forward to when they are adults, they meet again at a newly renovated pub where Georgina is the barmaid and Lucas is the owner. For 12 years, she’s moved from job to job and man to man since school; is it because she lost her father to an unexpected death or is there something more? Top it all off, Lucas doesn’t seem to remember her at all, which signals to her that their relationship was not that memorable.

Everything begins to unravel when her new employer offers space for writing competition about moments of shame. Georgina has been harboring a big secret from everyone and trying to blame all that is wrong in her life on the wrong thing. Unless she strives to deal with her past, her life will plummet even further.

This is the first book I’ve read written by McFarlane, and I wasn’t disappointed by the character development, pacing, or story. Georgina’s boyfriend at the start of the novel, Robin, will make you so angry and fed up with her, but clues throughout the book will have you cheering her on as she strives to put him off and keep him away. Her friends are quirky and definitely British, but they are loyal. Her roommate is a bit gruff, but her advice redeems her. Don’t You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane, narrated by Madeline Gould, is not as fluffy a read as I expected, but it was certainly worth it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Mhairi was born in Scotland in 1976 and her unnecessarily confusing name is pronounced Vah-Ree. After some efforts at journalism, she started writing novels. It’s Not Me, It’s You is her third book. She lives in Nottingham, with a man and a cat.

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 368 pgs.
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Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner is set in post-war England when women are looking to hold onto the freedoms they’ve gained as the men became soldiers. Evie Stone, from her previous book The Jane Austen Society (check out my review), is one of the women working at the rare book store, Bloomsbury Books. She’s working in the background on her own project after a disappointment at Cambridge. Vivien Lowry, who works at the cash, has a list of grievances about the men who run the shop, particularly the Head of Fiction Alec McDonough, the golden boy of the manager Mr. Dutton, who has more than 50 rules that need to be followed without question by his employees. Meanwhile, Grace Perkins helps keep the ledgers for the bookstore and is a calming force. Her time at the bookstore is a source of solace from a turbulent home life where her husband has lost his job and she becomes the sole breadwinner and caregiver for her two sons and husband. These women appear to have little in common other than their jobs.

Jenner is fast becoming an automatic pre-order buy for me. Bloomsbury Girls is another historical fiction novel that takes real-life people like Samuel Beckett and others and breathes life back into them as they interact with Jenner’s own characters. Vivien has such a chip on her shoulder given how she was treated by her fiance’s family after his death in WWII, but she also sees the world of men in the shop as stifling. She wants everyone to see the world through her eyes, but Grace has her own ghosts to deal with and her approach is more conciliatory. Meanwhile, Evie prefers to fly under the radar as much as she can, although her work at Cambridge did gain recognition, though not the kind she wanted.

This little bookshop is a microcosm for the post-war world around them. Evie, Grace, and Vivien may be working women, but there is a little bit of distrust or hesitancy in trusting others on the part of all three women, until they realize that they need to come together to create the world they wish to see. I don’t want to giveaway anything in Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner. I absolutely loved the characters and their foibles, and I loved how these women came together with the help of some famous women who paved their way behind the scenes of other men. Don’t miss this gem of a novel.

RATING: Cinquain

Bloomsbury Girls is on sale on 5/17, check out this excerpt from the audiobook.

About the Author:

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

A Message from Author Natalie Jenner:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved.

But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team).

Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

Check out the Book Trailer:

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire

Source: NetGalley
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a collection that pushes readers to their limits with her beautiful, tragic poems. Their dark beauty with their sometimes violent images reach inside us, pull out our hearts, and ring them until there is little left but open love and empathy.

In the opening poem, “Extreme Girlhood,” the birth of a girl is a sign that suffering is to come, whether it is from parental expectation, abuse from within the home, and other malodorous events. But “Mama, I made it/out of your home/alive, raised by/the voices/in my head.//” the narrator reminds readers that there is another side to that dark tunnel. In this poem, Shire has set up the reader for a wild, emotional ride, but if we can just hold onto that hope, we’ll be OK.

Part poetry collection about abuses and darkness, part collection about accepting the people we are, Shire is unafraid to call out our platitudes and attitudes:

From "Assimilation"

...
The refugee's heart has six chambers.
In the first is your mother's unpacked suitcase.
In the second, your father cries into his hands.
The third room is an immigration office, 
your severed legs in the fourth,
in the fifth a uterus -- yours?
The sixth opens with the right papers.

I can't get the refugee out of my body,

There is always that push and pull between the homeland of the past (a home nostalgia tells us is placid) and the new home refugees are seeking (a home that is not as welcoming as expected, if at all). Shire tells us in “Home” to remember that “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. You only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” and “No one would leave home unless home chased you.” When times are troubling, refugees sometimes would love to return home, but “home is the mouth of a shark. Home is the barrel of a gun.”

Unbearable Weight of Staying

I don't know when love became elusive.
My mother's laughter in a dark room.

What I know is that no one I knew had it.
My father's arms around my mother's neck.

A door halfway open.
Fruit too ripe to eat.

Shire infuses her poems with her Somali culture, paying homage to rituals and loved ones, while at the same time exploring the struggles of her homeland with famine, the murder of women, kidnappings, and more.

 Filial Cannibalism

From time to time
mothers in the wild
devour their young,
an appetite born of
pure, bright need.
Occasionally,
mothers from ordinary
homes, much like our
own, feed on the viscid
shame their daughters
are forced to secrete
from glands formed
in the favor of men.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire is a stunning collection in which “the trapdoor to heaven/opens its mouth” and “girlhood an incubation for madness.” There are so many themes in these poems from racism to gender bias, but is Shire’s search for grace that holds these poems together.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer and educator based in London. Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, North America and Kenya- and her début book, ‘TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011. Her poems have been published in Wasafiri, Magma and Poetry Review and in the anthology ‘The Salt Book of Younger Poets’ (Salt, 2011). She is the current poetry editor at SPOOK magazine. In 2012 she represented Somalia at the Poetry Parnassus, the festival of the world poets at the Southbank, London. She is a Complete Works II poet. Her poetry has been translated into Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Warsan is also the unanimous winner of the 2013 Inaugural Brunel University African Poetry Prize.

Will by Will Smith (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 16+ hrs.
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Will by Will Smith, narrated by the author, is a phenomenal memoir about his family, his rise to fame, his will to be the best rapper and movie star, and his struggles with emotions. Narrated by Smith himself is like a trip and Audible has me at go when the music of these icons is included for listening. Smith still has those rapping chops — don’t think he doesn’t. But even with his struggles, it is clear that he’s in a place where he is still projecting a little bit of that personal, rather than actual self that he seems to be still searching for. After all, this is a memoir that he hopes will entertain and sell a lot of books.

There were things I already knew in this book from the Fresh Prince Reunion and from conversations during Jada Pinkett’s Red Table Talks. But I will say this, it is clear from Will’s point of view that he does what he does because he loves his family and he wants to give them the life that he didn’t feel like he had, but what he failed to see is that they are not him — they have different needs and desires. Even with Jada, he clearly wanted to create memories as he believed they should be — much of what he does is to create cinematic movies of his memories. He wants to will things into being to reach some sort of ideal. Jada, for her part, clearly loves him and all his faults, but she failed (at least from what I could tell) to express her wants/needs/desires in a way that he heard her and acknowledged them.

But this book is not about just his relationship with Jada. Like many creatives, there are visions we want to achieve and sometimes they work as we see them and sometimes we need to adjust to how those visions can actually be achieved. Gigi, his grandmother, was a wise woman. She believed in being kind and helping others no matter what, and this is something Will took to heart. You can see that in how he helps his friends, family, and even strangers get a leg up and achieve their own dreams, but one piece of advice from his mother that he forgot to embody was only speaking when it improved on silence.

Will clearly loves to talk and joke, but there is something that scares him about silence. This can be traced to those memories of domestic violence by his father against his mother. He stood in silence as his mother was hurt by his father – that inaction shaped him into the boisterous, charismatic clown he is.

Will by Will Smith is vulnerable, reflective, and harsh as Smith examines his past, present, and future. Like many of us who seek to be better and learn from mistakes, he is still on that journey. Is there stuff for the gossip rags? Yes. Will it be exploited? Probably. But was this journey cathartic for Smith and the reader? Definitely. We’re all deeply flawed, and Smith shows us that even our flaws can be channeled to make ourselves successful at least financially, but is that enough? Or should we be learning to adjust our lives and lead richer experiences with those we love?

RATING: Cinquain

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 336 pgs.
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Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is like Nancy Drew set during the time of Jane Austen’s life. Part of the title is inspired by the historic eruption of Mount Tambora, which caused some series climate effects, including crop failures, and led to the “Year Without a Summer” in 1816. I loved that Barron stayed true to the whereabouts (based on historic record) of Austen and her sister, Cassandra, when they took a trip to Cheltenham Spa in Gloucestershire.

Things in the Austen household are not all roses, but even as uncertainty lays claim to the family’s fortunes and to the reputation of Austen’s brother Charles, Jane and her sister take the time to travel to the waters, hoping to improve Jane’s health. Once there, the ladies encounter some very dull and dark characters who many of the other guests seem to be avoiding. The spas themselves are not at all what either lady expects, and in fact, they begin to wonder if the waters are bad for people’s health.

When a young lady in a basket chair turns up at Mrs. Potter’s where they are staying, Austen and her sister are even more intrigued. A captain, a devoted friend who protects her friend in the chair, and a mysterious theater dialect coach all add to the mystery when a Viscount shows up claiming the woman in the basket chair is his wife! When a pug ends up dead at Mrs. Potter’s and later a murder occurs at the local masquerade, Austen and the smitten Mr. West work together to uncover the truth of the murder.

Jane and the Year Without a Summer by Stephanie Barron is a delightful who-done-it mystery whose main protagonist is one of the great observers of human nature, Jane Austen. I loved that Austen used her keen observation skills to unearth the truth of the mysteries within these pages. All of the characters have their own secrets, and there is even a bit of romance for Jane herself. Highly recommend for Jane Austen readers and those who love a good mystery!

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the pen name, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Pinterest, and GoodReads.

When Your Wife Has Tommy John Surgery and Other Baseball Stories by E. Ethelbert Miller

Source: GBF
Paperback, 96 pgs.
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When Your Wife Has Tommy John Surgery and Other Baseball Stories by E. Ethelbert Miller is a collection that spans not only the love of baseball, but also wider themes of racism, gender issues, and loss. The collection opens with “Hit This” in which a ball curves after falling off a table. What a metaphor for life and baseball! Isn’t that just the way of things, we assume life is headed in one direction and then it takes a turn.

From "Roberto" (pg. 6)

We had gloves. Cheap gloves. Gloves
with no pockets no matter how much
we kept punching into the center of them.

The gloves had missing pockets
like our missing fathers who punched
our mothers and swung bats at our heads.

Our fathers were gone and we outgrew their
absence. Our hands became too large
for small gloves. Many were lost or stolen.

Miller’s plain language and emphasis on the childhood games of baseball in the streets and parks become larger metaphors for the violence and low-income struggles of these children’s lives. His lines pack a serious punch, particularly in “Roberto.” Many of the poems in this collection are like this. Remember that opening poem — the ball curves, and this is how each poem reads in Miller’s collection.

From "Kind of Blue" (pg. 15)

....A player swung
and sent a fly ball toward the outfield
fence. It went foul at the last moment
like love or a marriage striking an
empty wooden seat and bouncing
back to the field.

I had to look up Tommy John surgery, which I found out is the reconstruction of ligaments in the elbow and it’s a surgery most often done on pitchers. I like baseball and have written my own baseball poems, but mine are nothing like Miller’s poems. From a World Series played by survivors of earthquakes and climate change in “The World Series” to the hope that you’ll be remembered after the spring time of your youth in “Free Agent,” Miller’s baseball metaphors are larger than life, much like Whitey Ford and others who have played America’s favorite pastime.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

E. (Eugene) Ethelbert Miller was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1950. He attended Howard University and received a BA in African American studies in 1972. A self-described “literary activist,” Miller is on the board of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive multi-issue think tank, and has served as director of the African American Studies Resource Center at Howard University since 1974. His collections of poetry include Andromeda (1974), The Land of Smiles and the Land of No Smiles (1974), Season of Hunger / Cry of Rain (1982), Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators? (1986), Whispers, Secrets and Promises (1998), and How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (2004).

Miller is the editor of the anthologies Women Surviving Massacres and Men (1977); In Search of Color Everywhere (1994), which won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award and was a Book of the Month Club selection; and Beyond the Frontier (2002). He is the author of the memoir Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (2000).

The mayor of Baltimore made Miller an honorary citizen of the city in 1994. He received a Columbia Merit Award in 1993 and was honored by First Lady Laura Bush at the White House in 2003. Miller has held positions as scholar-in-residence at George Mason University and as the Jessie Ball DuPont Scholar at Emory & Henry College. He has conducted writing workshops for soldiers and the families of soldiers through Operation Homecoming.

The Last Night in London by Karen White

Source: the publisher
Hardcover, 480 pgs.
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The Last Night in London by Karen White is an epic WWII novel with dual narratives set in during the Blitz and in 2019. Young, Yorkshire girl Eva Harlow, whose run from her life of poverty where her mother is a laundress and her father is a drunk, meets Precious Dubose, a young Tennessean, by happenstance at the train station and become like sisters as they navigate early 1940s London as models. Meanwhile, Madison Warner in 2019 is tasked with writing an article for British Vogue about Precious Dubose and the fashions in war time. She’s struggling to live life even as she assumes she’ll have a short life.

“Pushing herself against a wall, as if she could hide from the noise and the terror, she closed her eyes. Moonlight Sonata. Someone — she couldn’t remember who, in an underground club perhaps — had whispered that that was what he called the music of the nightly bombings.” (pg. 2)

Eva Harlow is a woman eager to reinvent herself. Her mother has lived her life under the hands of a drunk husband, but when he’s sent to jail, her other moves away from their home and hopes for a new life. This pushes Eva to seek out her own way and become someone more than an uneducated Yorkshire girl. She drops her real name and morphs into an elegant model, learning new languages from fellow models and reading books and newspapers to become more educated. Precious becomes like a sister to her and they work so well together and are often mistaken for one another because they are both slim, blond, and elegant.

Madison Warner travels to London to write an article on Precious, who is now nearly 100 years old, and the man she’s pushed out of her mind will be sharing a flat with her and Precious. Colin is a dreamy Brit who still holds a candle for her, even as she’s pushed him away when she left Oxford.

This book is epic. Karen White has outdone herself with these characters and the story. I was along for the entire ride. I couldn’t put this book down. What happened to Eva and her RAF pilot Graham St. John? Why does Precious have all of Eva’s things? What is she hiding? And what is Alex Grof’s role in this?

As for Madison and Colin, there is the navigation of past hurts, as well as the mystery they are both so eager to solve. Colin’s nana Precious, though not by blood, loves him like her own and vice versa, while Madison is a distant relation, according to a genealogy project. As they unravel the mystery, will they be closer than before? Will Maddie get a grip and take life by the horns and just live life to the fullest? Will Precious help them both move forward?

There is so much beauty in this novel. There are family bonds, friendships that become like family bonds, romance, and intrigue. The Last Night in London by Karen White will capture your imagination and hold you hostage as you whisk yourself around London’s streets during the Blitz and immerse yourself in Precious’ memories of fashion and so much more.

RATING: Cinquain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin, is classic Peter Porker! This Spider-Ham was seen in multiverse movie for the Spiderman franchise, and in this graphic novel, he is recognized by the city and the mayor gives him a key to the city in thanks. I was intrigued by this because I’ve loved comics since I was a kid, and Spider Pig, as I called him long ago before the Simpsons’ song, was a cartoon on television.

My daughter received this from her school’s Scholastic book club, and she was excited because Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse is her favorite movie of late — she’s probably watched it about 10 times. She read this one on her own, but we did talk about what she read, and this story line was easy to follow for her.

Peter Porker has lost the key to the city. Has it fallen into the wrong hands? Of course, our favorite Marvel characters don’t look the same in this anthropomorphic universe — hulk as a giant green bunny? — but it made for some comical interactions. My daughter was often giggling while reading and pointing out some funny bits to me here and there.

Great Power, No Responsibility (Spider-Ham Original Graphic Novel) by Steve Foxe, illustrated by Shadia Amin, offers younger readers a fun story about responsibility with animal-looking characters they know from the Marvel universe. My daughter really enjoyed this book, and the illustrations are vivid and fun. The action scenes are easy to follow along, and she definitely recommends this to others.

RATING: Cinquain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter

Source: FSB Associates
Paperback, 352 pgs.
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Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is a book focused on not letting rejection and negative thoughts get in the way of your dreams. Carter’s book guides writers through the doubts, negative thoughts, roadblocks, and obstacles of writing and publishing, helping them review their own perspectives and how to change their mindsets.

She begins by talking about her hammock where she daydreamed and thought about her writing, but one day, her neighbor cuts the shade tree down in his yard and the hammock is now not “perfect.” Carter’s thoughts are consumed by the loss of shade and the bright sun, but her husband suggests she moves the hammock to another spot. She’s unwilling to do that, until she realizes that sometimes obstacles pop up when we need to change direction.

“I had traded the powerful peace that I am for the illusion that somebody had taken it,” she says. “You may think, as I did, that someone or something outside you is responsible for your upset. As convincing as this appears, it’s a misconception. Our peace and happiness come from within.”

Our internal demons and thoughts are those that keep us from reaching our dreams, and she urges us to stop being rats on that spinning wheel and get off. We need to release ourselves from the “cage of our own making.” In order to do this, however, you need to know wholeheartedly what you want, especially from your writing. You need to have a clear vision of the writing and its purpose. Without it, agents and external forces can push you in directions that are not a perfect fit for you. While some may provide additional opportunities that you may want to pursue, other opportunities may not be a right fit. The trick is to have a clear vision at the start to recognize those right opportunities.

“We cannot control outside circumstances or thoughts, we can choose how we relate to them.”

Carter does offer some writing advice, but her book is less about craft itself and more about the mindset you need to create freely. She does offer a great deal of insight about choosing agents and publishers and learning what route is best for your writing. Where Do You Hang Your Hammock? by Bella Mahaya Carter is part spiritual journey, part publishing advice, and part writing craft advice.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Bella Mahaya Carter is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Jane Friedman’s blog; Pick The Brain; the Spiritual Medial Blog; Literary Mama, several anthologies’ and elsewhere.