Book Review: Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

The focus that it takes to write a compelling memoir is fascinating and Rebecca Solnit has not disappointed with her, “Recollections of My Nonexistence”. Beginning with snippets from her childhood in the Bay Area and returning to that time throughout the work, Solnit paints a picture of San Francisco through the eyes of a female author, struggling for recognition during the slow gentrification of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

A large part of the work deals with the fear that women face simply walking down the street, but more so on their own in metropolitan places in America. This fear can carry over into the rural and suburban areas of the country just as easily, but there is something to be said for the distinct levels of anxiety that come along with being a solo, woman dweller in an urban area. This feeling of fear is not unique to living in America, as women all over the world deal with fear of place on a daily basis, but Solnit eloquently shows the depths of which this fear manifests in her own daily life, from the perspective of a middle-aged American woman.

But it isn’t all about fear. Solnit crafts a lovely history of her writing and the challenges she faced in the early days of learning to be a journalist and eventually moving over to the non-fiction (and later creative non-fiction) areas of composition. She weaves through her research on her early works and shows us the unique difficulties she faced to be taken seriously and to feel like she was on the right path. As she writes at the desk a friend gifted her after Solnit helped her release herself from a bad (to say the least) relationship, she allows her anxieties to inform her work in a way that is ever-engaging. Memoirs are so often rollercoaster rides of semi-good writing, but with this work, the prose often takes over in a way that transports you directly into the room where Solnit is writing. It allows the reader to come along for the journey, rather than to simply watch it unfold.

Overall, this memoir is well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in San Francisco history, memoirs of artists and/or authors, feminist scholars, or anyone that enjoys reading about the history of place through the lens of an individual lived life. I suppose that, in the end, is what a memoir should be and Solnit delivers fully with this work.

Huntsville Coffee Tour: Gold Sprint Coffee

Welcome back to the Huntsville Coffee Tour. We are really enjoying our time on the tour and it will be extended through Autumn and into the Winter season as well. Honestly – coffee is an evergreen commodity to us, here at, so any new places we can fill up on caffeine that open during our time in Huntsville will be tested and reviewed. They might not be a part of the ‘official’ coffee tour, but we are looking forward to any new coffee/tea/cocoa places that pop up.

This time around we are focused on Gold Sprint Coffee, the newest location for caffeination in Huntsville. Gold Sprint has some really great concoctions and they also offer bike repair services. Although we don’t ride bikes (right now) we think this is a really cool offering that no other coffeehouse in the area offers to patrons. My favourite drink, so far, is the Caramel Rosemary Iced Latte. The food menu is small, but robust with both breakfast and lunch items available. They also offer pastries from local bakeries that go well with their drinks. The cannoli toast is my personal favourite and the avocado toast also hits the spot. If you are in the Lowe Mill area, you need to check out Gold Sprint Coffee. And now – here are our ratings:

  • Beverage Score = 8
  • Ambiance Score = 15
  • Location/Hours = 10
  • Price =   10
  • Staff/Service = 35
  • Social Media = 30
  • Total = 108
  • Rating = 65%

The score above puts them in tied position with Offbeat Coffee Studio for first place and ahead of Honest Coffee Roasters! It is great to see these newer locations really bumping up the quality of coffee and eats in the Hunstville area. When we moved here (August 2018) our favourite place for coffee was Honest, but these 2 new locations are truly giving them a run for their money.

If you are interested in the overall information, along with rules and rating system for the Huntsville Coffee Tour, please take a look at the first post in this series: Huntsville Coffee Tour. Peace and happy caffeinating!

Autumn Reading Update

Updates are now quarterly

Yes – I missed August and September, so I have decided to go quarterly with the updates. Since I am now writing reviews for NetGalley, I have trailed off in my overall reading updates. However, there have been some great things happening, overall, for me in recent months that I want to share.

Book club

I skipped The Book Report, again, in August (I didn’t have anything to discuss) and in September (I was in California) and I’m not so sure I will be returning in October either. For the past 3 months I have been attending a workshop at Lowe Mill that centers around The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and that has fed my need for interaction and community. So much so, that I was extremely sad upon leaving Lowe Mill Saturday because it was our final meeting. I’m hopeful that we will continue to get together, but you know how things go. People are busy, but we need to make time for sharing. Humans need connection and if that connection comes through books or art, so much the better.

Book challenges

In July, I participated in The Reading Rush, which I tried really hard to work through. I ended up not finishing any of the books I set out to read in the timeframe allotted (I mean – seven books in seven days – who was I fooling?) but I did complete George Orwell’s 1984, two days after the reading rush completed, which I started during the challenge. So – I feel like it was a great success because it forced me through a book I have always wanted to read. Also – oh my goodness – if you haven’t read 1984, or read it back in the day (high school for most) you NEED to read it again. Orwell was a prophet, unfortunately. But really – pick it up and read it again. The parallels with 2019 are uncanny.

For the month of August, I decided to participate in a more laid back book challenge. One that ran the full month, rather than just a week. For this I chose the Mythathon, run by Jesse at Bowties and Books on YouTube (BookTube) and joined Team Hades (team captain: Cindy from Read With Cindy.) The reason I knew I could complete the challenge is that Cindy was gracious enough to pick a book that covered all the prompts except one, which meant I only had to read 2 books in one month to be successful. And I DID! A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi were my two reads for this book challenge and they marked the first book challenge I have completed in 2019. I enjoy a good challenge, but finishing one is an even better outcome!! Bonus – the books were really good.

Books completed since my last update with ratings and Read Harder Challenge results:

15. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
Completed on 6 August 2019
Rating = *****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

16. Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America by Karine Jean-Pierre (review here)
Completed on 17 August 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

17. A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
Completed on 25 August 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

18. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Completed on 28 August 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = 10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman

19. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer)
Completed on 19 September 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

20. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein (audio)
Completed on 15 September 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

21. Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan (writer)
Completed on 21 September 2019
Rating = ***
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

22. How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian (review here)
Completed on 25 September 2019
Rating = ****
Read Harder Challenge Category = n/a

I think that reading 8 books in 2 months certainly removes the disappointment I was feeling on my last reading update. I realize that three of the eight were graphic novels and one was an audio book, but it is still absorbing content. I enjoyed everything that I read in the past 2 months and I am currently on track to finish out my GoodReads book challenge total (24 books in a year) early! I only need to finish one more book to complete it! 2019 has certainly been a good reading year for me. Now I just need to keep up the momentum going forward.

In case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site! This challenge is SERIOUS and I have only been able to cover 3 of the 24 categories so far this year, but I love making the effort and reading outside my usual zone of interest.

I hope that your season of reading is going as wonderfully as mine is! Keep on readin’ on!

Peace, love, and books,

Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)


Currently Reading…

Living a Feminist Life
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
The Artist's Way

Chantale Onesi-Gonzalez’s favorite books »

Book Review: How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

In “How to Build a Heart’, Maria Padian offers a tale of youth that is interesting and, at times, heartbreaking. Told from the first person perspective of Izzy (Isabella Crawford) this story portrays the struggles of a teenage girl trying to reconcile her need to be friends with everyone against her future life. Her mother, a fierce Puerto Rican woman, is hard working and wise and continuously encourages Izzy to be better than the circumstances that she (and their family) are in. Izzy’s best friend, Roz, is a character we have seen in many other teen stories, but with a few added twists that you don’t see coming, particularly in the last 2 chapters.

At times, “How to Build a Heart” reminded me of the movie “Pretty in Pink” so vividly that it was difficult for me to fully concentrate on Izzy as my mind would wander to Andi and Duckie, but that story is merely the bones of a more interesting and contemporary plot laid out by Padian. Here, we see a young girl that is trying to navigate school, work, friends, and family, while also following her heart when it takes her in new directions. There are moments of chaos in Izzy’s life and Padian does a good job of depicting the irrational way in which Izzy reacts to these moments of difficulty.

There are multiple ways in which Izzy grapples with her Puerto Rican identity and her realizations about her paternal grandmother (White, Southern, Racist) that are moving, but I was hoping for even more discussion on race, and specifically being multi-ethnic, than what the author offers to the reader. The characters often dance around their feelings on race in a way that feels realistic, though, reinforcing what most readers already see in their day to day interactions. The book tries to show some of that struggle through Izzy’s interactions with her family and through flashbacks, but it could have gone farther when dealing with present day interactions.

Overall, “How to Build a Heart” was a quick and satisfying read and I recommend it for anyone that is interested in YA stories about growing up today and the ways in which teens navigate their worlds in order to become whole adults.

Coffee Cup In Sunlight

Huntsville Coffee Tour: Offbeat Coffee Studio

For this second review on the Huntsville Coffee Tour, we visited Offbeat Coffee Studio, located in Campus No. 805, right next to Straight to Ale. Tucked into a corner of this old school, Offbeat offers not only coffee but also records for sale to satisfy the resurgence of vinyl collectors.

The name is apropos as they offer a few different concoctions that one might consider offbeat in nature such as shots of espresso over giant marshmallows or cereal milk to use in coffee and espresso-based drinks. Yes – I said cereal milk! Ask for the daily cereal milk flavours when you visit – you will not be disappointed. My favourite is Lucky Charms, but Cinnamon Toast Crunch would probably do well in a latte too.

We visit Offbeat often, so you would think they have a leg up in this rating system, but we are trying to keep our bias to a minimum. Trying. On that note – let’s see their scores…

  • Beverage Score = 8
  • Ambiance Score = 15
  • Location/Hours = 15
  • Price = 15
  • Staff/Service = 30
  • Social Media = 25
  • Total = 108
  • Rating = 65%

For more information about the scoring system, please read our intro article, Huntsville Coffee Tour and check out the competition in our post on Honest Coffee Roasters. Have a wonderful Sunday and keep on caffeinating!

Peace, Chantale aka hippiegrrl

Book Review: Moving Forward by Karine Jean-Pierre

As my first review on Net Galley, I am feeling a great deal of pressure to get this right, but Karine Jean-Pierre has made my job much less difficult with her lovely memoir. Moving Forward focuses on her childhood in Queens and the daily work that is required of the eldest child of an immigrant couple, her own journey to naturalized citizenship, and her subsequent lively political and media career.

Sharing the same birth year I felt at one with Jean-Pierre as she traced her youth and early adulthood in the 1980s and 90s. She has a wonderful way with words and although our experiences are vastly different I was quite drawn in by the narrative. Her writing style helped me feel closer to her and the people in her universe. This is exactly what a good memoir should do.

Jean-Pierre’s retelling of aspects of her time in government, on various political campaigns and, ultimately, in the White House on the staff of President Obama, offers a clear and concise window into both the inner-workings of a campaign and the funny, sad, heart-wrenching, and joyous things that can happen along the way. It is by no means a comprehensive look at any one campaign, but the details she provided gave me just enough information to hold my continued interest.

I also greatly appreciated the additional information she provided on media awareness and specific news sources, pundits, and reporters that she feels are worthy of a readers time. Jean-Pierre has written this book to be used as somewhat of a manual for future politicos, explaining how she navigated that space through a successful career, but it is still quite a wonderful read for those of us that want to be involved at a more local level or just participate through our votes.

If you are looking for an interesting political memoir, Moving Forward is most definitely the book for you.

Huntsville Coffee Tour: Honest Coffee Roasters

Welcome back to the Huntsville Coffee Tour! The first location that we visited for the Huntsville Coffee tour was Honest Coffee Roasters. They provide excellent coffee and a pleasant atmosphere to hang out for a little while. When I was working part-time last year I spent a lot of my afternoons on my personal computer at Honest and they were always very welcoming. Being a busy location, though, has its downside. Sometimes it is impossible to get a seat inside. Luckily there are many locations for excellent coffee in the Huntsville area and in this series we are rating them all. For a refresher on the rating system, please see this previous post, Huntsville Coffee Tour. And now, here are the results for Honest Coffee Roasters:

  • Beverages = 8
  • Atmosphere = 10
  • Location/Hours = 10
  • Price = 15
  • Staff/Service = 20
  • Social Media = 20
  • Total = 83 out of a possible 165
  • Rating = 50.3%

Being the first location to get a rating, this doesn’t seem awful. We don’t believe that any of the coffeehouses in Huntsville will get 100%, but it remains to be seen if 50.3% is a good score. Once we have more scores in we will see!

And now for a detour into my thoughts on coffeehouse culture, in general, in 2019…

One of the things that I really miss about coffeehouses in Buffalo (in the 90s) was the social interaction that occurred within those walls. Political and cultural discussions were plentiful. Drinking copious amounts of caffeine and smoking real cigarettes indoors while playing mancala and discussing the news of the day was standard. Nothing compares to that time in history and I realize that. This is why I’m not comparing the coffeehouses of Huntsville to other cities or other times in coffeehouse culture history.

The 90s in most cities was a very different scene than we see today. Technology has changed the way we interact in public spaces. The proliferation of WiFi and the welcoming of individual tech by coffeehouses has given each patron the ability to exist in public space without interacting with other humans. This severely shifts the culture of what coffeehouses were meant to be. For the current generation, this is a welcome outcome, but for a GenXer, it can be super rough to integrate into this new way of being in public. Although – I am typing this in a coffeehouse right now, with my headphones on, so it seems that I have made the transition pretty well. I still yearn for the days of interacting with the baristas and arguing with professors stopping in for their cups of java between classes. I miss the times sitting on couches and just chatting with someone I never would have talked to otherwise. That time is gone, but we can look back with fondness.

Peace and happy caffeinating!

Chantale aka hippiegrrl

If you are interested in reading more about the Buffalo, NY coffee scene in the 90s, check out my articles on

Buffalo, Then (Part One)
Buffalo, Then (Part Two)

July Reading Update


Happy July!

Book club

This month I skipped my book club meeting because I had 3 books in progress and zero new books (since the last meeting) completed. The great thing about the book club I am a member of, besides the fact that we meet at a brewery, is that we don’t all read the same book. I know that many people like that style of club, but it is not for me. I like the social aspect of the club more than the reading discussion, so The Book Report is more my speed. Since I skipped the July meeting, and I am currently on track to complete 3 books, August should give me a lot to discuss.

Book challenges

This week (22-28 July) is The Reading Rush! Formerly booktubeathon, this book challenge week has been going on each July for several years. The old challenge was simpy to read 7 books in 7days (RIGHT!), but this year they have added some individual book and social media challenges. Each member can earn badges for books read and challenges completed. I have chosen 5 books to use for the week, but I’ll be happy if I can just complete 3 of the 5. That would be huge for me considering I am struggling with the 2 per month challenge I set for myself at the beginning of 2019.

TBR list for the reading rush week:

1984 by George Orwell (aka Eric Blair)
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
Cinder by Mariss Meyer

Books completed since my last update with ratings and Read Harder Challenge results:

12. The Universe Has Your BackTransform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein
Rating = ***
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge = n/a

13. Paper Girls, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan
Rating = ****
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge = n/a

14. The Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
Rating = ****
Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: n/a

I am slightly disappointed in myself at this point in the year since I have only met 2 of the Read Harder Challenges, but I have also been really enjoying what I’m reading, so there is something to be said for that! And in case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site!

What I am feeling really GOOD about is the fact that I have completed 14 books and we are in the 7th month. And, in fact, I believe that I will be AHEAD by the end of July. If the reading rush pushes me a month ahead, numbers-wise, it will have been worth it. 

I hope that your month of reading is going as wonderfully as mine is! Reading is power!

Peace and happy learning,

Chantale (aka hippiegrrl)

Currently Reading…

Living a Feminist Life
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
The Artist's Way

Chantale Onesi-Gonzalez’s favorite books »

Huntsville Coffee Tour

It has been 10 months since we moved to Huntsville and I have yet to tell you about the coffee culture down here. If you know me in real life, or simply from this site, you know how much I love the java, so it didn’t take me long to visit all the spots around town, once I got my bearings.

The winter was quite rainy and so there were many occasions to sit inside, with a latte (or chai or black coffee) and read a book. My ratings, therefore incorporate several variables. Being a social scientist at heart, you know I had to have a few scales and some stats to back up my scoring.

On that note, here is the key I will be using to score each location:

  • Beverages:
    • Not good = 0 points
    • Semi-good = 2 points
    • Good = 5 points
    • Excellent = 8 points
    • Superiour = 10 points
  • Ambiance:
    • Cozy seating = 5 points
    • Stellar sound system = 5 points
    • General vibe is favourable = 10 points
  • Location/Hours:
    • Easily accessible by car/mass transit = 5 points
    • Extended hours (nights/weekends) = 5 points
    • Open on Sundays = 5 points
  • Price:
    • Variable price structure = 5 points
    • Espresso drinks are under $5 = 5 points
    • Offer a low priced, drip coffee option = 5 points
    • Donates a portion of proceeds to a cause = 10 points
  • Staff/Service:
    • Staff is friendly and upbeat = 5 points
    • Staff is knowledgeable = 5 points
    • Staff is not condescending = 5 points
    • Service is quick, relative to the beverage being created = 5 points
    • Table service = 5 points
    • Recycling available = 5 points
    • Reusable containers = 5 points
  • Social Media:
    • Strong social media presence = 25 points
      • Updates Instagram/Twitter/Facebook frequently with interesting content
    • Mediocre social media presence = 10 points
      • Updates at least one social media site weekly
    • Has a website = 5 points
    • Website link does not go to Facebook = 5 points

And now for the locations…

  • Alchemy Coffee
  • Flint River Coffee
  • Gold Sprint Coffee
  • Honest Coffee Roasters
  • Offbeat Coffee Studio
  • Old Town Coffee
  • Sugar Belle

In the coming months, I will be revisiting each of the coffeehouses for scoring and post a review after each visit. This is a summer endeavour, so I am hoping that these coffeehouses really deliver during these next few months! I have a front runner in mind, but at this point it could really be any cafe that takes away the top ranking. There won’t be actual prizes, but bragging rights are a win. So, get ready for some great coffee and come back often to see which coffeehouses I have visited and my take on each location. If nothing else, I will be heavily caffeinated and get A LOT of writing done, right?!

Peace, love, and caffeination,


June Reading Update

Happy June! I have been doing really well on my reading this year. In fact, I have surpassed my 2018 TOTAL already and it is only June! My goal for 2019 was 24 books read and I am keeping pace – currently at 11 read – at just 1 book behind. The book I am reading now is almost done which will get me to 12 books completed by the end of June.

In the meantime – I wanted to update my list of read books to see if it is aligning at all with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I love doing this challenge each year, even though I rarely complete it. It is fun to read books in genres that I never would have considered otherwise and it has actually brought me back into the Adult Fiction fold. Prior to doing this challenge the only fiction I enjoyed reading was in the Young Adult category, but I’m opening back up to the New Adult and Adult Fiction categories as well.

So – without further ado – here are the updates for mid-2019…

Books I have completed so far, with ratings and challenge #:

  1. The Four Tendenices: The Indispensible Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  2. Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  3. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
    • Rating = *****
    • Challenge = 3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018
  5. Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  6. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  7. Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  8. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = 13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  9. Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution by Amber Tamblyn
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a
  10. The Latte Factor: Why You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Live Rich by David Bach
    • Rating = ***
    • Challenge = n/a
  11. Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson
    • Rating = ****
    • Challenge = n/a

And in case you are not familiar with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, here is my initial post (this year) on it, which includes the list and here is the official post on the Book Riot site!