A brisk, perceptive portrait of a formidable Elizabethan woman.

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DEVICES AND DESIRES

BESS OF HARDWICK AND THE BUILDING OF ELIZABETHAN ENGLAND

Besides Elizabeth I, another “strong-willed, fearless” redhead achieved power and wealth.

The wily and determined Bess of Hardwick (c. 1527-1608) was an influential figure in Elizabethan England, ascending the social ladder through four marriages, the last to George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, which conferred upon Bess the rank of countess. In a sprightly recounting of her life, times, and penchant for building and remodeling vast estates, Hubbard (Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, 2013, etc.) vividly portrays a tense, roiling world in which Queen Elizabeth ruled with an unforgiving hand, all the while fearing to be betrayed and usurped. Foremost among claimants to her throne was the Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was closest in blood to Elizabeth. When Mary fled from Scotland after a disastrous scandal, her arrival in England posed a dire problem for Elizabeth. Someone needed to take charge of Mary, keeping her virtually under house arrest; that person, Elizabeth decided, was the Earl of Shrewsbury, whose assets included many properties where Mary could be sequestered. For Shrewsbury, the responsibility was both an honor and an onerous burden. Required to be “in permanent attendance,” he had to ask Elizabeth’s permission whenever he wanted to move Mary, conduct his own business, or even spend time with his family; he also found himself vulnerable to Elizabeth’s growing paranoia. “Plots and intrigues rumbled on,” Hubbard notes, as she reports unending schemes among courtiers to gain and consolidate power. Initially, Bess was sympathetic to Mary, bonding with her over their love of needlework and gossip. But during Mary’s incarceration—she finally was beheaded in 1587—Bess’ “stocks of sympathy” became exhausted, and she escaped to one or another of her many properties, inherited from her former husbands, where she was involved in hiring architects, carpenters, and masons; overseeing construction and renovation; and redecorating. On one shopping spree, Bess returned with 10 wagons filled with “splendid furnishings.” Moneylending and astute land purchases augmented her vast wealth.

A brisk, perceptive portrait of a formidable Elizabethan woman.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-230299-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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 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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