Tanqueray

Tanqueray by Brandon Stanton and Stephanie Johnson was recommended by several friends. It’s a super quick read. “In 2019, Humans of New York featured a photo of a woman in an outrageous fur coat and hat she made herself. She instantly captured the attention of millions. Her name is Stephanie Johnson, but she’s better known to HONY followers as “Tanqueray,” a born performer who was once one of the best-known burlesque dancers in New York City. Reeling from a brutal childhood, immersed in a world of go-go dancers and hustlers, dirty cops and gangsters, Stephanie was determined to become the fiercest thing the city had ever seen. And she succeeded. Real, raw, and unapologetically honest, this is the full story of Tanqueray as told by Brandon Stanton—a book filled with never-before-told stories of Tanqueray’s struggles and triumphs through good times and bad, personal photos from her own collection, and glimpses of New York City from back in the day when the name ‘Tanqueray’ was on everyone’s lips.” (Amazon). I really enjoyed this read (shocker since I almost always love a memoir) and highly recommend it.

Take My Hand

Recommended by a friend, I used another Audible credit for Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. You get sucked in during the first 5 minutes and it was hard to stop listening. The whole time I thought it was non-fiction, but it turns out to be a fictionalized account of a true story. Amazon: “Montgomery, Alabama, 1973. Fresh out of nursing school, Civil Townsend intends to make a difference, especially in her African American community. At the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, she hopes to help women shape their destinies, to make their own choices for their lives and bodies. But when her first week on the job takes her along a dusty country road to a worn-down one-room cabin, Civil is shocked to learn that her new patients, Erica and India, are children—just eleven and thirteen years old. Neither of the Williams sisters has even kissed a boy, but they are poor and Black, and for those handling the family’s welfare benefits, that’s reason enough to have the girls on birth control. As Civil grapples with her role, she takes India, Erica, and their family into her heart. Until one day she arrives at their door to learn the unthinkable has happened, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them. Decades later, with her daughter grown and a long career in her wake, Dr. Civil Townsend is ready to retire, to find her peace, and to leave the past behind. But there are people and stories that refuse to be forgotten. That must not be forgotten. Because history repeats what we don’t remember. Inspired by true events and brimming with hope, Take My Hand is a stirring exploration of accountability and redemption.” This was an excellent audiobook and I am sure would be an excellent read as well. Highly, highly recommend.

The Violin Conspiracy

I grabbed The Violin Conspiracy off the shelf of the library with no preconceived notions and not having heard of it. The author, Brendan Slocumb, is actually local. “Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music. When he discovers that his beat-up, family fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach, and together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Without it, Ray feels like he’s lost a piece of himself. As the competition approaches, Ray must not only reclaim his precious violin, but prove to himself—and the world—that no matter the outcome, there has always been a truly great musician within him.” (Amazon) I enjoyed this one a lot. It was interesting and consuming. It was a little hard to believe about the Stradivarius, though, which is why I didn’t rate it more highly.

Managing Expectations

I love Minnie Driver and was excited to read her memoir, Managing Expectations. Amazon: “In this intimate, beautifully crafted collection, Driver writes with disarming charm and candor about her bohemian upbringing between England and Barbados; her post-university travails and triumphs—from being the only student in her acting school not taken on by an agent to being discovered at a rave in a muddy field in the English countryside; shooting to fame in one of the most influential films of the 1990s and being nominated for an Academy Award; and finding the true light of her life, her son. She chronicles her unconventional career path, including the time she gave up on acting to sell jeans in Uruguay, her journey as a single parent, and the heartbreaking loss of her mother. Like Lena Dunham in Not That Kind of Girl, Gabrielle Union in We’re Going to Need More Wine and Patti Smith in Just Kids, Driver writes with razor-sharp humor and grace as she explores navigating the depths of failure, fighting for success, discovering the unmatched wonder and challenge of motherhood, and wading through immeasurable grief. Effortlessly charming, deeply funny, personal, and honest, Managing Expectations reminds us of the way life works out—even when it doesn’t.” This was a nice memoir, filled with short vignettes. I very much enjoyed it, even though, ultimately, it wasn’t a definitive accounting of Driver’s life.

The Work Wife

I am not sure how The Work Wife by Alison Hart ended up on my list. “Zanne Klein never planned to be a personal assistant to Hollywood royalty Ted and Holly Stabler. But a decade in at thirty-eight, that’s exactly how she spends her days, earning six figures to make sure the movie mogul and his family have everything they could ever dream of and more. However, today is no ordinary day at the Stabler estate. Tonight, everyone who’s anyone will be there for the Hollywood event of the season, and if the party’s a success, that chief of staff job Zanne’s been chasing may soon be hers. Which means she can buy a house, give her girlfriend the life she deserves, pay off her student loans. Nothing’s going to get in Zanne’s way—not disgruntled staff, not a nosy reporter, not even a runaway hostess. But when Ted’s former business partner, Phoebe Lee, unexpectedly shows up right before go time, Zanne suddenly has a catastrophe unfolding before her—one with explosive consequences. As the truth comes out and Zanne realizes how deeply entangled she’s become in the Stablers’ world, she must decide if the sacrifices she’s made for the job are worth the moral price she has to pay.” (Amazon) This book was somewhat interesting, but ultimately, not terribly interesting and longer than it needed to be. I finished it to find out what happened, but if I were you, I’d give it a skip.

The Measure

I read about The Measure by Nikki Erlick from my favorite blogger (Everyday I Write the Book). And, while Gayle didn’t ultimately love it, the premise seemed too interesting not to pick it up. “It seems like any other day. You wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and head out. But today, when you open your front door, waiting for you is a small wooden box. This box holds your fate inside: the answer to the exact number of years you will live. From suburban doorsteps to desert tents, every person on every continent receives the same box. In an instant, the world is thrust into a collective frenzy. Where did these boxes come from? What do they mean? Is there truth to what they promise? As society comes together and pulls apart, everyone faces the same shocking choice: Do they wish to know how long they’ll live? And, if so, what will they do with that knowledge? The Measure charts the dawn of this new world through an unforgettable cast of characters whose decisions and fates interweave with one another: best friends whose dreams are forever entwined, pen pals finding refuge in the unknown, a couple who thought they didn’t have to rush, a doctor who cannot save himself, and a politician whose box becomes the powder keg that ultimately changes everything.” (Amazon) I liked it much more than Gayle, but I couldn’t bring myself to give it five stars because it bogged down in the middle and I just couldn’t ultimately get past my incredulity. I, however, unlike Gayle, liked how it sappily tied things together in the end. It kept it going for me.

Finding Me: A Memoir

I got a three month audible account this summer with several credits and have wanted to read Finding Me: A Memoir by Viola Davis for a while. It was a great audiobook, read by the author. “In my book, you will meet a little girl named Viola who ran from her past until she made a life-changing decision to stop running forever. This is my story, from a crumbling apartment in Central Falls, Rhode Island, to the stage in New York City, and beyond. This is the path I took to finding my purpose but also my voice in a world that didn’t always see me. As I wrote Finding Me, my eyes were open to the truth of how our stories are often not given close examination. We are forced to reinvent them to fit into a crazy, competitive, judgmental world. So I wrote this for anyone running through life untethered, desperate and clawing their way through murky memories, trying to get to some form of self-love. For anyone who needs reminding that a life worth living can only be born from radical honesty and the courage to shed facades and be . . . you. Finding Me is a deep reflection, a promise, and a love letter of sorts to self. My hope is that my story will inspire you to light up your own life with creative expression and rediscover who you were before the world put a label on you.” (Amazon) This was a fabulous book, made even better by being read by Davis herself.

It All Comes Down to This

It All Comes Down to This by Therese Anne Fowler has been on my list for a while and finally came in from the library. What a beautiful cover! I didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me. Amazon: “Meet the Geller sisters: Beck, Claire, and Sophie, a trio of strong-minded women whose pragmatic mother, Marti, will be dying soon. Beck, the eldest, is a freelance journalist whose marriage has long been devoid of passion, and she’s recently begun to suspect that her husband, Paul, is hiding something from her. Though middle sister Claire is an accomplished pediatric cardiologist, her own heart is a mess, and her unrequited love for the wrong man is slowly destroying her. And while Sophie, the youngest, appears to have an Instagram-ready life of glamorous work and travel, her true existence is a cash-strapped house of cards that may fall at any moment. But Marti’s will surprises them with its provision that the family’s summer cottage in Maine must be sold, the proceeds split equally between the three sisters. While there’s a ready buyer in C.J. Reynolds, he’s an ex-con with a complicated past and a tangled history with one of the women.” Overall, I did enjoy this read, but I didn’t LOVE it.

Meant to Be

I have read many Emily Giffin books. They’re like candy – easy to eat and usually satisfying and sweet. Meant to Be, while loosely based on John Kennedy Jr’s life and if it had turned out differently, was pretty candy-like. And, it had an equally pleasing cover (not that one should judge…). Amazon: “The Kingsley family is American royalty, beloved for their military heroics, political service, and unmatched elegance. In 1967, after Joseph S. Kingsley, Jr. is killed in a tragic accident, his charismatic son inherits the weight of that legacy. But Joe III is a free spirit—and a little bit reckless. Despite his best intentions, he has trouble meeting the expectations of a nation, as well as those of his exacting mother, Dottie. Meanwhile, no one ever expected anything of Cate Cooper. She, too, grew up fatherless—and after her mother marries an abusive man, she is forced to fend for herself. After being discovered by a model scout at age sixteen, Cate decides that her looks may be her only ticket out of the cycle of disappointment that her mother has always inhabited. Before too long, Cate’s face is in magazines and on billboards. Yet she feels like a fraud, faking it in a world to which she’s never truly belonged. When Joe and Cate unexpectedly cross paths one afternoon, their connection is instant and intense. But can their relationship survive the glare of the spotlight and the so-called Kingsley curse? In a beautifully written novel that captures a gilded moment in American history, Emily Giffin tells the story of two people searching for belonging and identity, as well as the answer to the question: Are certain love stories meant to be?” While it was really a beach read, it was a solid choice for the busy weekend before school starts and I enjoyed it.

Love Marriage

Love Marriage by Monica Ali was on a number of lists this summer and I grabbed it at the library. “In present-day London, Yasmin Ghorami is twenty-six, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe. As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a ‘love marriage,’ according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.” (Amazon) I didn’t love (ha!) this selection. It was too long and the characters didn’t really excite me. I did want to find out how it ended, so I persevered, but I can’t recommend it.