Southern-fried memoir heavy on the crispy batter but lacking juicy meat.

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DON’T LET MY MAMA READ THIS

A SOUTHERN-FRIED MEMOIR

Chris Rock meets David Sedaris in this raucous debut about a crafty black youth coming of age in the South during the Reagan era.

Hadjii’s modern-day take on family life finds plenty of dysfunction in middle-class suburban Georgia, much of it self-imposed. Mundane inanities take center stage in his droll account of a mischievous, misunderstood childhood under the omniscient eye of his Bible-thumping, pimple-popping mother and Jeopardy-acing taskmaster father. Readers expecting to be regaled with tales of deprivation, drugs and drive-bys will be sorely disappointed, though hints of the Dirty South do arise in a chapter on “crusty draws” (his mother’s contemptuous words for his skid-marked underwear). This offbeat pastiche features tongue-in-cheek descriptions of school-sponsored craft fairs that contribute to his mother’s perennially expanding snow-globe collection, hastily written (and ignored) pleas to the Boogie Man to intervene during routine spankings, avant-garde adaptations of the church’s Easter play and the like. They’re all vividly rendered, but the book’s lack of narrative focus leaves it adrift. Whether illuminating the secrets of the “Negro Handbook” (recipes for potato salad and Jesse Jackson’s cell-phone number) or the health benefits of castor oil and garlic cloves, the conversational, confessional prose reads like an initially dynamic standup routine that quickly wears out its welcome. It’s often effective when the author employs dialogues structured as a dramatic script to underscore the differences between black and white culture on diverse topics from fast-food marketing campaigns to AIDS. But his approach misfires when Hadjii puts profanity-peppered vernacular in the mouths of inappropriate characters, among them a god-fearing woman and devout Oprah disciple. The final two chapters, which sharply accelerate the pace to take his story into the beginnings of adulthood, are oddly out of place in a book primarily concerned with detailing the myriad ways the author avoided disciplinary “ass-whuppins” as a youngster.

Southern-fried memoir heavy on the crispy batter but lacking juicy meat.

Pub Date: April 22, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-7679-2647-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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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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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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