Dense with material and flavor of the epoch.

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YOUNG AND DAMNED AND FAIR

THE LIFE OF CATHERINE HOWARD, FIFTH WIFE OF KING HENRY VIII

An intimate biography of Henry VIII’s fifth queen: vivacious young woman who only wanted to have fun or a tragic victim of abusive elders?

In his largely sympathetic portrait of Catherine Howard (1523-1542), whose youthful flirtations spelled her downfall, Irish playwright and historian Russell (The Emperors: How Europe's Rulers Were Destroyed by the First World War, 2014, etc.) renders a fully fleshed portrait of Howard based around the details of her household and intimates. Indeed, the author’s study is so intricately woven in contextual detail that he often fails to see the forest for the trees—e.g., what were Catherine’s true motivations; was she just a flimsy bystander to her own fate? Her pampered upbringing as a noblewoman (granddaughter to Thomas Howard, the 2nd Duke of Norfolk) and sense of natural entitlement did not shield her from her father’s habitual indebtedness, and she received little in the way of formal education. Catherine was a ward of her rich aunt Agnes, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, and her teenage years were dotted with infatuations—e.g., with her music teacher, Henry Manox, and her aunt’s secretary, Francis Dereham. Russell sifts carefully through the evidence and dismisses the explanation of sexual abuse, as clearly Catherine was in love, especially with Dereham and later, as queen, with Thomas Culpeper, a handsome favorite of her husband. Her 16-month stint as queen revealed “the Henrician court in its twilight, a glittering but pernicious sunset,” when Henry had just divorced Anne of Cleves because he disliked her and impulsively married the charming Catherine on the day Thomas Cromwell was executed, July 28, 1540. Perhaps the marriage was engineered by her uncle Norfolk, who had grown jealous and suspicious of the former Protestant chief minister. Russell’s portrait effectively underscores the machinations of this volatile court, the treachery of sycophants, and the importance of the all-seeing servants.

Dense with material and flavor of the epoch.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0863-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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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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