An impressively researched but tonally and structurally uneven work that loses its fascinating subject in the details.

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Marked

THE WITCHCRAFT PERSECUTION OF GOODWIFE UNISE COLE 1656-1680

An account of a 17th-century American woman who was charged with witchcraft.

Even history buffs may have missed the curious tale of Unise Cole, an early American settler who was repeatedly accused of being a witch during her years in Hampton, New Hampshire, in the 1600s. Cole was publicly whipped, set in stocks, and put on trial twice in her lifetime, but ultimately never executed for her supposed crimes. She remained such a local legend over the years that the town publicly exonerated her on its 300th anniversary in 1938. To date, she’s been the subject of radio dramas, poems, and even a 2013 album by the rock band Telergy, featuring Twisted Sister’s singer/songwriter Dee Snider. It’s the kind of story that writes itself, but despite a thorough amount of research, Lassiter (The Mark of Goody Cole, 2014, etc.) stumbles in the execution. An author’s note alerts readers that this is a work of “creative nonfiction,” meaning that she’s expanded or imagined scenes where the historical record fails. It’s an interesting, potentially perfect approach to this bizarre story, except that it lends the book a jarring tone; it shifts at breakneck speed from clinical reporting of the historical record to flowery, overly descriptive scenes of Goody Cole and her suspicious neighbors. This choice also results in occasional, weirdly archaic asides (such as a description of one person as “feeling stronger in spirit but still as weak as a day-old shoat”). There’s even inexplicable editorializing, as when Lassiter offers “condolences” to William Cole, Unise’s husband, for staying married to his troublesome wife for three decades. More problematic is the book’s overall structure and organization. To give readers a complete understanding of Cole’s world, Lassiter provides exhaustive, impressively sourced records of each neighbor and town tragedy, and each instance of persecution of local Quakers and clashes with Native Americans. But this account frequently loses sight of Unise herself, and only flimsily connects her life story to wider themes of paranoia and hysteria in the Puritan community. Although early America enthusiasts will jump at the chance to read more about pre-Salem witchcraft trials, this book doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its subject.

An impressively researched but tonally and structurally uneven work that loses its fascinating subject in the details.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5193-5730-4

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2016

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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

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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