The author’s journey is admirable, but his thin memoir fails to relate any sense of spiritual or intellectual development.




Low-key memoir of the author’s search for identity.

Born to a Thai mother and American father, Coffin struggled with his mixed ethnicity through much of his childhood and adolescence, even though his father left the family before the author’s second birthday. Biannual trips to his mother’s home village of Panomsarakram, as well as his discovery of Buddhist philosophy in high school, increased his desire to connect more closely with his mother’s cultural heritage. While studying philosophy at Middlebury College, Coffin began to consider his half-Asian ethnicity as a vital part of his self-identity: “I decided to think of myself as an Asian and a Thai…it gave me a vague excuse to feel unique, exotic, and enigmatic.” In the spring of his junior year, the author received an internship grant to travel to his mother’s village and live for a few months as a monk at the local Buddhist temple. Coffin recalls his spiritual quest in simple, unadorned prose, as he questions his motivations and attempts to achieve the devoted serenity of his fellow monks. After his initiation ceremony, the author embarked on the training required of all new initiates: learning the eight precepts of Buddhism, meditation, ritual chants, maintaining the gardens and lotus ponds, etc. The rigorous labor soon dampened his spirits, and he began to question the monks’ lifestyle: “Rather than chasing after some Ozymandian fantasy, they were content to settle into a balanced state of decay.” Seeking enlightenment, Coffin accompanied his mentor Narong—who taught meditation in exchange for English lessons—on a quest into the forest, where they met the “forest monks” and received alms and gave blessings at various small villages. Unfortunately, the author found little more than banal observations—“This all seemed so unproductive: all this believing in things that you couldn’t see, and searching for knowledge that you’d never be able to use”—and he returned to Panomsarakram, left the temple and spent the remainder of his summer teaching English at the local high school, socializing with the villagers and pining after Lek, a local girl with whom he had spent time during his childhood trips.

The author’s journey is admirable, but his thin memoir fails to relate any sense of spiritual or intellectual development.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-306-81526-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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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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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 eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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