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.

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.

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.

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 »

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!

Read Harder Challenge 2019

So we are back where we started again, with this blog! I created this space to keep track of coffee and books and so far I have been pretty good at updating the books side of the blog (not so much with the coffee, but I’ll do that soon, I promise).

Now that 2019 is here, we have a new Book Riot Read Harder Challenge to contend with. I didn’t do great on the 2018 version of this, but I’m hoping to do better this year. My goal for books, in general, is to read 24 titles in 2019. The genres are varied and we will see if I can fit my reading habits into the book challenge list. So, without further ado, here is the 2019 Read Harder Challenge list!

  1. An epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. An historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 2014

I will keep you updated on my ability to work through this list, but also any books I read outside of these categories (I’m already done with 2 books for 2019 and neither fit in these categories, so yeah, good start!)

Peace and happy reading,Chantale

from the archives: Birthday Month

Yes – It is November and tomorrow is my 44th birthday. I am both excited and tired. Moving to Alabama and getting settled in has been difficult. Last week was the midterm election and although it was good overall (we took back the House – woot!) in Alabama the election results were super disheartening. Voters here decided that it would be appropriate to display the 10 commandments on government property (see ya’ later seperation of church and state) and that a cluster of cells has more worth/value/rights than a fully formed human woman who is in danger of dying during childbirth (so long choice). The governer was re-elected by a wide margin and there were several, unopposed Republicans elected to the circuit courts. Super sad. So – at this point, until I can get involved in the next round of election races (for 2020) I will retreat into reading and writing. As I have had more time, since I’ve been working part time, I have had the opportunity to finish 2 more books! And here is my update…

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem *****

Simon vs. the Homo Sapeins Agenda by Becky Albertalli ****

That brings my 2018 total to 10 and brings me to an equal number of months to books read. All signs point to me completing my number goal of 12 for 2018 and maybe exceeding it with even more books from the book riot list!

And while we are at it – let’s look at my stats for that challenge as well…

Book Riot Read
Harder Challenge

CategoryBook to readCompleted Date
A book published posthumouslyAriel by Sylvia Plath
A book of true crimeWriting to Save a Life by John Edgar Wideman
A classic of genre fictionFledgling by Octavia Butler
A comic written and drawn by the same personPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A book set in or about one of the five BRIC countriesLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
A book about natureSilent Spring by Rachel Carson
A westernMy Antonia by Willa Cather
A comic written or drawn by a person of colorAmerica vol. 1 by Gabby Rivera
A book of colonial or post colonial literatureThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
A romance novel by or about a person of colorGetting Even by Kayla Perrin
A children’s classic published before 1980A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle
A celebrity memoirWe’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabriel Union3.11.18
An Oprah Book Club selectionSong of Solomon by Toni Morrison
A book of social scienceThe Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols2.16.18
A one-sitting bookBrown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson
The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade seriesCinder by Marissa Meyer
A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female authorThe Awesome by Eva Darrows7.7.2018
A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or ImageMarch by John Lewis and Andrew AydinIllustrated by Nate Powell
A book of genre fiction in translation

A book with a cover you hate

A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author

An essay anthologySlouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60

An assigned book you hated (or never finished)The Interpretation of Cultures by Clifford Gertz

Not great, but I’m trying. We’ll see if I can get a few more checked off this list as I complete my reading in these last 2 months of 2018.

Happy Autumn and enjoy your reading!


from the archives: August is Almost Over

Many things have happened over the past month. We picked up our whole lives and moved from Buffalo, NY to Huntsville, AL. Yes, Alabama. In the heat of August, during the most oppressive season when even northerners hate to be outside for long periods of time, we decided to move  to the deep south. Well, it isn’t exactly the deep south, but it is definitely the south. In the whirlwind of having to move our lives in 3 weeks (School starts earlier in Alabama) I haven’t had a chance to pick up a book. Partially because I am busy and partially because I am thrown by the whole move, but mainly because I am tired.

Even so, I still wanted to post an update of my TBR.

So – here it is…

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay ****

The Awesome by Eva Darrows ****

Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper ****

With those 3 books added, I am 2 books beyond the half way point for my 12 book challenge this year. That isn’t horrible considering I’m only 1 month behind. Now that I am working part time (that is a story for another blog) I will have more time to read as we settle in to our new apartment in Huntsville. I’m hoping that I can actually blow that 12 book challenge away and maybe work on more of the book riot challenge books as well. We shall see.

Now let me know how you are doing on your 2018 book challenge lists – comment below!


from the archives: June TBR Update!

We are almost half way through 2018 and it feels like about time to give an update on my reading challenge. Unfortunately, I am a bit behind, but I am hoping that the warmer weather will prompt me to sit on my patio, with a cocktail and a good book, many evenings to come. Until then – here are the reads that I have completed thus far in 2018.

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters by Tom Nichols ***

We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union ****

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur ****

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxanne Gay ****

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell ****

As you can see – I have not read any 5 star books, but I also have not read anything less than 3 stars, so I think that is a good start. I am also doing pretty well at completing all the books I start and I am trying my best to read one book at a time (this I have not been so good at).

As for the Book Riot Challenge – the books above fulfill 3 of the categories

A book of social science: Nichols

A celebrity memoir: Union

An essay anthology: Gay

So far this year I am ahead of previous years, but I still feel like my pace is too slow. Hopefully the summer will inspire me to do more reading!

How are you fairing with your 2018 book challenges and tbr lists? Let me know in the comments!