Unique, occasionally mesmerizing; loaded with esoteric historical tidbits.

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JUBILANT JOURNEYS

Novelist Spenuzza (Lucia Zárate, 2017, etc.), who writes fiction under the pen name Cecilia Velastegui, offers a travel memoir unusually rich in imagery, history, and spirituality.

Spenuzza and her husband, Peter, seem to have been destined to traverse the planet. She was born in Quito, Ecuador, the great-grandniece of the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Ecuador. She was a child of privilege—until her mother divorced her father, against the cardinal’s wishes. Spenuzza was told her mother had left the country. She herself was sequestered in a convent school. In 1962, at the age of 9, she, her brother, and her sister were put, unaccompanied, on a plane to California. This was her first travel adventure, and the excitement she felt then presaged a passion for travel that she and Peter have shared over the subsequent decades. Not just any travel. Fortified with family legends and historical details garnered from the author’s copious research for her historical novels, she, Peter, and their two sons, Pete and Jay-Paul, explored ancient sites around the globe. They searched the Basque region of Spain, seeking out (and finding) the ancestral family home of Ojer de Velástegui, “a member of minor nobility in Guipúzcoa, Spain,” said to be one of her ancestral relatives: “he was among Christopher Columbus’s crew on the historic Pinta sailing of 1492.” Spenuzza’s prose reflects her emotional connections with those who walked the Earth in bygone centuries. In Turkey, for example, she rummaged through the Grand Bazaar for the type of cloths used by the Ottoman sultan’s concubines to keep their skin smooth: “I wanted to feel more than the fibers in the world-renowned Turkish towels: I was hoping to touch the desperation on the concubines’ skin as they shed their old layer and hoped that their newer and softer coating would ensure their sons a cushier future.” At times, however, the text slips into pedagogy, with lengthy lessons in art and history—not as much fun as reading about her adventures at Peru’s Huayna Picchu.

Unique, occasionally mesmerizing; loaded with esoteric historical tidbits.    

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Libros Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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