A tour de force of research from the Russian archives, the book is a deeply detailed, occasionally plodding biography of one...

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RASPUTIN

FAITH, POWER, AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE ROMANOVS

On the centenary of his death, a vigorous attempt to penetrate the monstrous myths surrounding Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1869-1916).

A historian and translator concentrating on Russian history, Smith (Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, 2012, etc.) grapples with the legend that grew around Rasputin during his life and after his death. In this massive, winding journey, the author essentially concedes that Rasputin’s mythmaking after his gruesome murder in December 1916 by political intimates has become more important that the actual events—and most are disputed. The public excoriation of this “simple” devout Christian peasant from Siberia, who nonetheless had the ear of the Romanov dynasty, became the key to undermining the indecisive, rudderless leadership of Czar Nicholas himself. Rasputin was illiterate until his adulthood, facing a life as a hardscrabble farmer, fond of the bottle, married at age 18 to Praskovya, a woman devoted to him and the mother of his children. He was like most Russian souls at the time, “keeping the eternal rhythm of peasant life in motion.” Yet he was restless and touched by a religious vision; he set off on pilgrimages in his late 20s to become a “holy seeker,” a spiritual awakening that the author describes as certainly sincere. Further along in this overly long narrative, Smith shows how Rasputin’s fame as a “starets” (a kind of captivating pious elder) spread and the circles of his acquaintances grew ever wider, encompassing the aristocracy and the court of Nicholas and Alexandra. The royal couple desperately needed him to direct the tumultuous country and heal their hemophiliac son. Smith demonstrates how gradually the mystic lost his way in the flashy capital of St. Petersburg and was corrupted by the rapture he inspired. At the same time, he preached the importance of disdaining wealth and status to his numerous devotees, especially wives and widows.

A tour de force of research from the Russian archives, the book is a deeply detailed, occasionally plodding biography of one of history’s most malleable characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-24084-4

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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 eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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