Brightly rendered and sophisticated, as befits a New Yorker writer, but very uneven.

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AN AMATEUR’S ADVENTURES AS KITCHEN SLAVE, LINE COOK, PASTA-MAKER, AND APPRENTICE TO A DANTE-QUOTING BUTCHER IN TUSCANY

New Yorker staff writer and obsessed foodie Buford (Among the Thugs, 1992) infiltrates a top chef’s kitchen to plumb Italian food as haute cuisine.

The author worked as a lowly, often humiliated cooking intern at New York’s celebrated Babbo restaurant—the “slave,” as he puts it, of chef and partner Mario Batali. Buford sometimes has trouble not stooping to grovel when he brings the American-born, Italian-trained Batali onto the scene, but he nonetheless manages a full portrait of the celebrity chef as occasional paranoid, willful boor and megalomaniacal disciplinarian. The chef frequently assumed a highly visible seat at Babbo’s bar, doing no cooking but sipping wine and making sure to be seen while the underlings he had molded labored in the kitchen to fulfill the promise of his innovative menus. Celebrated for personal excesses with food, drink and more, Batali serves as Buford’s icon of culinary contradiction, railing against “faggoty French cooking,” then, in a pensive lapse, affirming that only women are ultimately capable of “cooking with love.” There was plenty for the author to learn as he bungled knife-sharpening, carrot-dicing and other basics, barely tolerated by professional colleagues who were often at each others’ throats, all trying to master the art and get their own joints. Buford’s experiences at Babbo led him to attempt the delicate art of pasta-making in Italy. Regrettably, his dogged inquiry into the historical transition that led to using eggs instead of water in the dough is a needless drag. After that, he apprenticed himself to a Tuscan butcher, beginning his studies with the pig but moving on to the cow in “graduate butcher school,” where he learned the mantra, “It’s not the breed. It’s the breeding.” As he pursues his culinary obsessions, Buford provides an abundance of esoterica on fine Italian cooking, as well as a lot of inside dope on some not-so-savory aspects of selling top-dollar restaurants to the public.

Brightly rendered and sophisticated, as befits a New Yorker writer, but very uneven.

Pub Date: June 13, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4120-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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