Lui's memoir demonstrates an undeniable mother–daughter bond that leaves readers with one overriding lesson: “[L]isten to...


WHEN MOTHER KNOWS BEST, WHAT'S A DAUGHTER TO DO? A MEMOIR (SORT OF) blogger Lui strikes a discordant note with the title of her memoir, but readers will find an affectionate tribute to her tough, powerful Chinese mother.

When the author was young, an unnaturally loud voice earned “Ma” the sobriquet Squawking Chicken. It’s an “all-out assault…sharp, edged and quick,” writes Lui, who felt the sting of her mother’s tongue many times. After her parents divorced when she was 7, the author spent the school year in Toronto with her low-key father and vacations in Hong Kong with her demanding mother. Ma’s child-rearing techniques included telling ghost stories that warned against behavior that brings bad luck, using feng shui edicts to control decisions and strict rules of comportment. Readers may laugh at the embarrassing-moments-with-Mom stories and also squirm at Ma’s verbal cruelty. In contrast to a permissive, childcentric parenting style so pervasive in Western culture, Ma abhorred praise as a motivator and discouraged unrealistic aspirations. Bragging and rebellion were met with public derision, and shaming and demeaning were the preferred forms of punishment. Though open affection was rare, her love was indisputable. Ma’s harsh ways reflected a determination to spare Lui the hardships she had to endure. At 15, she quit school and went to work at a restaurant to support her siblings while her unemployed parents “slept off all-night mah-jong sessions.” Then, while walking home after work, she was raped. With no sympathy from her parents, she voiced her shame, anger and frustration by screaming all night. That was the birth of Squawking Chicken. Thereafter, she used her voice to protect herself and others. For all her in-your-face tough love, baffling and amusing rules, and opinions about people and situations, Ma has been, more often than not, uncannily right-on.

Lui's memoir demonstrates an undeniable mother–daughter bond that leaves readers with one overriding lesson: “[L]isten to your mother.”

Pub Date: April 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16679-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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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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