[Review] Janis: Her Life and Music by Holly George-Warren

Publisher and Publication Date: Simon and Schuster. 2019.
Genre: Narrative nonfiction. Biography.
Pages: 400.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library.
Audience: Readers of biographies, especially people who are well-known in Blues music, and the 1960s era.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Links for further reading about Janis Joplin.

  1. Britannica.
  2. Official website.
  3. Janis Joplin YouTube channel.
  4. An article from 2019 on Janis Joplin from The NY Times.


Janis Lyn Joplin was born in Port Arthur, TX, January 19, 1943.

She is the eldest child in a family of two other siblings, both younger. Laura was born in 1949, Michael was born in 1953.

She grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in a working man’s town of refineries in the Gulf Coastal area of East Texas.

The story backs up to tell brief bios of her parents, and how they came to live in Port Arthur. The story will also share how her parents felt about Janis’s music career, lifestyle; and the public dialogue about her parents which was not always correct.

The book gives a chronological story of her life from childhood to her young adulthood, and all the progressive steps (sometimes side-steps or zigzags) that led to her successful music career.

Janis died of an accidental heroin overdose on October 4, 1970.

My Thoughts:

It has been on my bucket list to read a biography of Janis Joplin. I have another book about her life written by her sister Laura. I hope to read it soon. Love, Janis by Laura Joplin.

I was born in the mid 1960s. I have 4 siblings that were all teenagers in the 1960s and early 1970s. The brother closest in age to me is 10 years older. He was a Janis Joplin fan, maybe he still is. So, I remember very well hearing the music he played, and this included Janis Joplin.

It’s interesting that each of my siblings liked different singers and groups from that era. So, I had an opportunity to hear different types or variations of music but all of them in the rock and blues areas.

I’m late to enjoying the music of Janis, maybe I needed to live life a little before appreciating her.

Reading a biography of Janis Joplin can bog a reader down in the minutia of psychoanalyzing why she did this or that. In addition, what created the emptiness in her heart that she tried so hard to fill?

She had a varied or dimensional type personality and character that displayed differently to people.

This is my opinion: but I believe she is a tough person to state in one sentence who she was. People who really knew her did not have a short answer. However, she had a powerful voice and a strong stage persona and the unique ability to push and pull emotions into her songs. There are many people who can carry a tune. There are many people who can stand up and sing a song to a large group of people. But it is a rarity to hold an audience’s attention to the point of a wow factor!

I love several things about this book:

  1. I love how the father of Janis has his perspective in the book. Several people are interviewed for the story, but to hear the words from her father, and shortly after her death, this is an important feature of the book.
  2. Janis had said negative things in public interviews about her parents and the town she grew up in. At least the parents have a part in telling how they felt, and their financial help and support.
  3. Several times in the book it is expressed Janis wanted attention. She did not care if she got attention from being good or bad. She needed affirmation and approval from her peers. She had strong insecurities. She often made decisions without thinking. She had an addiction to drugs and alcohol. She also deeply loved her family and close friends. She worked hard in the music industry. She wrestled with ending relationships. She was creative and intelligent. She loved reading. She had a boisterous laugh. My reason in expressing all the above is she was human, and humans are complicated beings. She had positive and negative traits. She had hard life experiences. She had hope for success and love. All of this is displayed brilliantly in the book.
  4. I enjoyed reading about the culture and society in the 1960s.
  5. I enjoyed reading about other musicians from the 1960s.
  6. Certain parts of her life are expounded on more than other parts in social media but not in this book. I’m referring to her sexuality. She had sex with men and women. If she wanted to be with that person, she did. One of the women she had a relationship with was asked if Janis considered herself a Lesbian. The woman answered that Janis did not take it seriously. And it is stated in the book she wanted to get married to a man. My point is this book shows the whole of her life, not just her sexuality and music. I love this. She was so many things: a daughter, sister, friend, lover, reader, artist, singer, songwriter, musician, trail blazer, fashionista, and a small-town Texas girl with dreams of more.

I was born and raised in Houston, TX. Port Arthur is considered small (at least back in the day.)

I read Janis in 24 hours.


[Review] Don’t Call Me Katie Rose by Lenora Mattingly Weber

Publisher and Publication Date: Image Cascade Publishing. 2000. First published in 1964.
Genre: Young adult fiction. Girl’s fiction.
Pages: 302.
Format: Kindle e-book.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers with an interest in a simple story about a teenage girl and her family in the mid 1960s in Denver, Colorado.
Rating: Very good.

This is the third book I’ve read by Lenora Mattingly Weber.
Don’t Call Me Katie Rose is the first book in the Katie Rose and Stacy Belford series.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Lenora Mattingly Weber‘s Goodreads author page.


Katie Rose Belford decides early in the story to go by her full name, Kathleen. She is in her first year of high school.

Katie and her family live in a small farm town near Denver, Colorado.

Katie’s dad died a year ago.

There are six kids who live with their mother. The oldest is Ben followed by Katie. The younger siblings are Stacy, Matthew, Angela, and Brian.

Katie’s mother has a brother named Brian. He is a combat Veteran. During the Korean war he was a POW. Brian struggles with alcohol.

The story centers on Katie and the things going on at school, a potential boyfriend, a new friend, family ups and downs, and other growing up angst.

My Thoughts:

I’ve grown to love the stories written by Weber about a generation of girls before my time. In the other series, Beany Malone, they start during World War II. The Katie Rose and Stacy Belford series start in the mid 1960s.

Some of their woes are different than the current generations. However, there are some things that are familiar to most teenagers. These themes are romances, the feeling of not being heard or taken seriously, family problems including addictions, one parent household, grades, a parent who has a job that causes embarrassment, and reliable transportation.

I love how the family tries to work together as a team.

I love how they do what they can to provide and help pay the bills.

I feel empathy for the mother who tries to hold it all together on her own as the adult and parent.

I love how the story ends with book one. There is closure and communication between two friends about what they learn. So, this story provides moral lessons and not just entertainment.

Often, I read serious books where the ending is not necessarily tidy or summed up with a solid ending. It feels comforting to know that in the Weber books there is an uplifting feeling by the last page. However, I’ve only read three of her books. I don’t know how the other books in the two series transpire.

(Review) Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea

Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. June 9, 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Historical Fiction.
Pages: 416.
Source: I received a complementary ARC paperback copy from Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers who are interested in the late 1960s Berkeley, California. Readers of coming of age stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link
IndieBound link

Link at She Writes Press for more information about the book.

Link for the book excerpt: Playground Zero.

The manuscript was semi-finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2018 Big Moose Prize

Author Bio:
Sarah Relyea is the author of Playground Zero, a coming-of-age story set in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Sarah left the Berkeley counterculture at age thirteen and processed its effects as a teenager in suburban Los Angeles. She would soon swap California’s psychedelic scene to study English literature at Harvard.

Sarah has long addressed questions of identity in her writing, including in her book of literary criticism, Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin.

With her PhD in English and American literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY, Sarah has taught American literature and writing at universities in New York and Taiwan. She remains bicoastal, living in Brooklyn and spending time on the Left Coast.

Website for Sarah Relyea
Goodreads author page

1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination. When the Raysons’ family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom. Guided only by a child’s-eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

My Thoughts:
My memories of the 1960s is helped in great part, because my four older siblings were teenagers during this era. I am 10-15 years younger than them.
I have especially strong memories of the music. Each sibling had their own music they cherished. For example, my eldest sister JoAnn loved the music from the early 1960s. She never liked the hard rock sound that the other’s loved. Frances loved the Beatles. James loved Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Bobby loved Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Only my sister Frances during her college years (1970-1973) took part in demonstrations in regard to the Vietnam war and women’s rights.
One last memory I’ll share. When my sister Frances came home to visit from college, she and dad had heated discussions about their different perspectives on current events. I’m a little girl at this time, but I remember being entertained and a bit impressed with how Frances held her own against dad.

Now, Playground Zero.
This is a book that gives much to review about, because it has strong conflicts and themes. Plus, the story creates conversation and opinion.

*What I like about the story is the third-person point of view. The story is told from the third person narrative (he, she, they.) The focus is on the different members of the Raysons’ family. The parents are Tom and Marian. Their children are Curt and Alice. Other characters are included, but this story is about the Raysons. Reading a third-person narrative, I was able to take a seat and watch the story unfold. In this way of telling the story, Playground Zero doesn’t tell or teach me to have an opinion other than the one in my mind. I can read the story and let it unfold, then create my own feeling and judgment.

*I like reading a story that’s out of my normal type read. This broadens my mind at the least. Whether I will end up enjoying the book is another thing.

*The Raysons’ family is an example of parents and children who are not connecting. Each person is focused on something other than each other. Each of them want to connect with something or someone whether it’s another person or an event that will fill what’s absent from their lives. In other words, each of the family members are searching for something that will bring meaning, stability, and intimacy. At times, the kids are looking to a parent for direction and guidance. They are looking for a stable and secure home, because the outside world is a scary place. Instead, the kids get zero help in the home. Is it possible that’s why the title is Playground Zero?
Connection and intimacy are themes and conflicts running through the story.

*When Alice and Curt start school in Berkeley, California, school integration has begun. This is new for them. It’s not new to have relationships with people of the African American race. It is new for African American and white children to be in the classroom together. Alice wants to be a friend no matter the person’s race. However, her good intentions are not matched with other students who are comfortable and accepting. This is an additional conflict in her life. She has a hard time finding a connection whether it’s at home, in school, or in the neighborhood.
Curt is a physical person. He’s athletic. It helps that boys regardless of race play sports together.

*The way the two races of kids treat one another was interesting. I saw a curiosity, but an unwillingness and inability to know how to integrate with one another. This is another conflict in the story.

*One of the things I had trouble with in the book is Alice is ten (and she’s twelve at the end) when the story begins. The story follows the family for a year. Her person seems older-a teenager and not a kid of ten. I had a difficult time believing that Alice is ten. If she’d been thirteen when the story began, then I’d state this story had a believable quality.

*I enjoyed the east coast versus west coast differences. The family began in Washington D.C. and relocated across the country to Berkeley, California.

*I laughed at the adults in the story who complain about people who judge others when they too judge.

*Tom and Marian have strong ideas of what they want their kids to experience. However, being strong stable parents is not one of those ideas.

*I experienced through Alice’s eyes the demonstrations, riots, and the chaos that transpired.

*The story doesn’t focus much on Curt. I wanted to hear more about his life.

*Lastly, there is a closure for the family. A big change comes and the kids are thrust to a new place. Alice has experienced big changes in the year at Berkeley, California. Her person grew in age one year, but in experience probably 30 years. Of course, I’d like to know the rest of her story!

*Final thoughts:
This is not a story that is a feel good story. It is a book that is revealing about people and moments in history. There were times when I was infuriated at the parents. I felt deep sadness for Alice. It is a book I’ll not forget. This is the last point and the main point that led me to give this book an excellent rating: it is memorable!