A biography that somewhat illuminates a multifaceted figure, although key questions remain unanswered.

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FIFTY YEARS OF BEGGING

Clarke (History/Jacksonville Univ.; Alliance of Colored People, 2011) presents a biography of his grandfather Protestant fundraiser Dr. J. Calvitt Clarke.

The elder Clarke was born in 1887 in Brooklyn, New York. He enjoyed the amusements of Coney Island in his youth, dropped out of public school at age 14, and learned from working as an office boy “how the lack of money can be inconvenient.” He later attended various schools, worked on freighters in the Great Lakes, and eventually became an ordained minister. In this position, he revealed himself as someone who could both entertain and persuade. In 1914, he took to the pulpit at the Christian Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and his sermons drew praise in the Indiana Evening Gazette. In time, he would use his strength as an orator to help raise money for charitable causes, such as Armenians in peril during World War I. He later turned to fundraising full-time and founded a Christian organization devoted to helping children abroad. The book explores the elder Clarke’s fundraising in depth; however, the story is most intriguing when examining his “second life of great merit”: his vocation as a writer. He published a number of novels under pseudonyms—many of them racy romances, such as Tenement Girl and Boarding House Blonde. In a novel titled The Slaves of Ishtar, the author says, “Clarke married debauchery with mysticism and demonic human sacrifice.” The fact that a respected Christian fundraiser had a side job writing about “demonic human sacrifice” is an astounding revelation that makes this biography a worthwhile read. Indeed, further exploration of the novels would have been revealing and welcome. However, the author leaves things vague about how aware the elder Clarke’s colleagues were of his writings; it’s also not made clear how the fundraiser managed to write so prolifically while engaged in his other activities. The author adroitly describes his subject’s charity work, but it won’t strike readers’ imaginations the way that the unpublished futuristic novel Doctor Time does, with its assortment of utopian oddities.

A biography that somewhat illuminates a multifaceted figure, although key questions remain unanswered.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4808-5548-9

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2018

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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 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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