Despite its unpolished prose, fans of hard-boiled detective novels will enjoy this fascinating bio.

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THE REAL MIKE HAMMER

Stang shares the story of his father, who, he claims, inspired the hard-boiled detective in Mickey Spillane’s popular crime novels.

This debut biography opens in 1947 at a bar and grill owned by the author’s father and located on the New York waterfront. A cub reporter narrates, remarking on a casual conversation between two friends—a large, intimidating bartender with piercing eyes, Jack Stang Sr., and crime writer Spillane. The book then flashes back to 1932, when Jack Sr. was 9, and continues chronologically in Jack Sr.’s voice. Growing up, Jack enjoyed life with his parents and two younger brothers; he was popular in school, a football player and a natural leader who protected the weaker kids from bullies. In 1941, while at the family bar, he heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the radio. He decided to quit high school and join the Marines, and his impressive military career spans more than a third of the book. The remainder covers his subsequent career as a policeman, and his occasional forays into Hollywood, where he almost portrays Spillane’s tough-guy detective Mike Hammer on-screen. Stang’s wife and children, including the author, hover around the edges of the story. The author’s breathless, staccato writing style meshes perfectly with the many tense military scenes: “They hit about 5 guys right away—we fired back—rapid fire—Bucky firing off the Browning as fast as he could.” It’s less effective in the other sections, making many events seem hurried and superficial—more like a series of rough sketches or jotted diary notes than a fully rounded biography. The author’s liberal use of tough language feels appropriate to the time and setting, but readers may find it stilted at times (“Me, being the oldest, and I had a way with animals, became her trainer.”) The biography’s ending, in 1952, feels abrupt, although a short afterword adds closure. A rich 45-page treasury of photos and newspaper clippings rounds out the portrait.

Despite its unpolished prose, fans of hard-boiled detective novels will enjoy this fascinating bio.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 313

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2013

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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