Engaging profiles of women who found metaphorical rooms of their own in interwar London.

SQUARE HAUNTING

FIVE WRITERS IN LONDON BETWEEN THE WARS

A group portrait of five celebrated female writers who declined to ride shotgun for the men who drove British literary life from World War I through 1940.

Debut author Wade, who edits the London-based White Review, puts a new spin on the old idea of topographical resonance—the belief that you are what you inhabit—in a book about trailblazing women who lived on Mecklenburgh Square in Bloomsbury at times that occasionally overlapped. The author uses Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own as a touchstone for the social and intellectual equality her subjects craved when they moved to the square, drawn partly by its cheap rents and proximity to the British Museum. Economic historian Eileen Power, one of them, scoffed at the idea that “the ideal wife should endeavor to model herself upon a judicious mixture of a cow, a muffler, a shadow, a mirror,” a variation on a sentiment that others in the book seemed broadly to share, if they expressed it less bluntly. The poet H.D. briefly shared her flat with D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda. The detective novelist Dorothy Sayers wrote her first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery in Mecklenburgh Square, five years before the arrival of the intrepid classicist Jane Harrison, who visited ancient ruins and smoked a pipe on the steps of the Parthenon. The unlucky Woolf moved in a year before the first bombs fell on London and, after an explosion destroyed her house, found “mushrooms sprouting on the carpets.” At times, Wade overreaches or strains to link the women, most of whom weren’t friends: Each, she writes, “sought to reinvent her life” in the square, a brute-force cliché at odds with her subjects’ more original thinking. But the author has a jeweler’s eye for sparkling anecdotes, and Bloomsbury ultimately emerges as far more than an anchorage for bohemians who “lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles.”

Engaging profiles of women who found metaphorical rooms of their own in interwar London.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49779-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tim Duggan Books/Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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