Author: Will Smith, Mark Manson
Publication Date: November 2021
Genre: nonfiction, biography
Method: audiobook via TPL

Going into this memoir, I knew next to nothing about Will Smith other than he was born and raised in west Philadelphia, but doesn’t everybody know that? Let me tell you what – I haven’t been able to shut up about Willard Carol Smith II for the entire two weeks I consumed this audiobook. If you are in my social circle, I’ve told you at minimum, two Will Smith facts that you most definitely didn’t want or need to know.

I knew this book was going to be special when I found myself crying in chapter 2 when Will recounts his experiences from their 2 month family road trip from Philly to LA. This would be one of many sections of this book that had me in tears. I didn’t know Will Smith was gonna make me cry, but damn.

Will recounts, “This trip expanded and detonated my imagination. Every person we came across seemed like a new fascinating character; every destination a dreamland; and I felt like life was just waiting for me to make up the story. The American landscape was so diverse and beautiful – there were mountains and prairies and valleys and white-water rivers and regular deserts and painted deserts and green forest and petrified forests and corn into infinity and sequoias or redwoods – whichever ones we saw – touching the sky..” then “These were the best eight weeks of my childhood – everybody was happy. We were the perfect family.”

I loved learning about Will’s childhood in Philly with his dad’s unorthodox and militant parenting style, his emergence into the world of hip hop with long time friend, Jazzy Jeff, then his transition into sitcom television. I will say, the sparkle did dull for me when Will openly starts to seek fame and his journey to becoming the biggest movie star of all time. His ego explodes, in a very unflattering and indigestible way. I was cringing the entire time listening to the chapter devoted to Jada’s 40th birthday. But in the end, I don’t feel like I can fault the author for expressing his story in his own way. It’s HIS memoir after all, I’m not here to police.

Anyone who reads the physical copy has done themselves a disservice. When Will starts to sing “Now this is the story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down,” I don’t think I’ve ever smiled more while reading a book, than in that moment. Because for me, I only really know Will Smith is as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When considering his filmography of 30+ movies, I think I’ve only seen 2, maybe 3 at most. And I’ve definitely never listened to his hip hop albums.

This was an absolute joy of an experience. The audiobook is not simple a book read by the author – it’s an incredible performance by a world class performer.

Seven Days in June
Author: Tia Williams
Publication Date: June 2021
Genre: romance
Method: audiobook via TPL

A beautiful and captivating story about two writers, their traumatic past, and their second chance romance 15 years later. The chemistry between Eva and Shane was electric. All of the characters had so much depth and personality, even minor characters. I really appreciated the commentary on chronic illness and invisible disabilities as my mom has struggled with chronic headaches for decades and I know first hand how debilitating that can be. Other topics explored were racism in the publishing industry, motherhood, and alcohol and drug addiction. I loved the commentary on chronic illness, racism, and motherhood. Would love to see this adapted to a feature film! And/or get a sequel!

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Author: Dawnie Walton
Publication Date: March 2021
Genre: historical fiction
Method: audiobook via TPL

This story follows the music careers of Opal, a fierce and outspoken spitfire from Detroit, and Nev, a British aspiring singer-song writer, during the height of their music careers together and their ultimate break up as a famous rock duo.

It’s hard not to compare this story to that of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and The Six given the similarities in set up. Where Daisy Jones is presented in an interview format, Opal and Nev is described as an oral history which includes both interview transcript and more traditional paragraphs with historical context and background information. I feel like I got a better understanding and look at the political climate and racism through the lens of rock and roll in the 1970s as Walton weaves in real events to add to the authenticity of the piece. To me, Daisy Jones felt more dramatic and focused around the interpersonal relationships between band members, whereas Opal and Nev is an obvious exploration of racism and misogyny in the world of rock and roll in the 70s.

I really enjoyed this one, definitely would recommend the audiobook as it has a full cast of narrators!

The City We Became
Author: N. K. Jemisin
Publication Date: March 2020
Genre: fantasy
Method: BOTM hardcover

I’m trying to like fantasy, I swear, but this ain’t it for me. This was a chore and a slog to get through. I wouldn’t say I had to force myself to pick it up every night, but I wasn’t eager to jump back in really at any point.

What it comes down to is the writing style, we just don’t jive. It was way too wordy for me. I feel like the same story could have been told in 200 less pages. Readers who have first hand experience in New York who love the city that never sleeps would probably really enjoys this story. But that’s not me, I feel very neutral about NYC having never visited.
Buzzword Readathon: February selection

Razorblade Tears
Author: S. A. Cosby
Publication Date: July 2021
Genre: mystery, thriller
Method: BOTM hardcover

This is the story of two very different men looking to seek vengeance after the brutal murders of their sons, Isiah and Derek. Ike Randolph, father of Isiah, is a black ex-convict turned lawn care business owner. Buddy Lee, father of Derek, is a white man, also with a criminal past who has no hesitations returning to a life of violence. The unlikely duo team up and set off on a quest for revenge in the hopes of tracking down their sons’ killers. Along the way, the pair face their own prejudices regarding race and sexuality, with their sons and each other.

It’s not often I feel inclined to take highlighter to paper while reading a thriller but wow my book is highlighted and dog eared something fierce. The dialectic and banter between Ike and Buddy Lee was incredible and like nothing I’d ever read before. “He shouldn’t be dipping his wick in that girl’s wax.” Like I definitely know what that means, but do I really? I haven’t really given a second though to similes since my AP literature course over 10 years ago but my God, the similes in this book were deliciously violent and graphic, “The two of them had slaughtered that kid like a pig and fed him to the wood chipper like a mama bird feeding a chick.”

At times the language used was both poignant and cringeworthy, but further highlighted the journey both men go through as they learn about their sons, both individually and as a married couple, to reflect the themes of racism, homophobia, transphobia, wealth, and poverty.

I laughed. I cried. I cringed, but in the best way. All I have to say is, Buddy Lee is in the running for my favorite character of the year

What’s up next on my TBR

Until next time, Meryn


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