Kaiser asserts her endearingly honest voice in this slim volume, raising profound questions about family and death, though...

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LETTERS TO MY MOTHER

BUT REALLY FOR MY FATHER

A young widow who lost her mother takes solace in an unusual medium—a series of 16 confessional letters.

Kaiser’s deeply touching one-way correspondence has one ostensible purpose: to ask her dead mother for advice on communicating with her father. She doesn’t want to find herself writing more questioning missives to him after he’s gone. But these letters read more like diary entries; the author chronicles everyday happenings and free-associates them with standout childhood memories. In each, Kaiser divulges her admiration for her mother, who wrangled a household of eight children with nary a smudge of her omnipresent bright red lipstick and who made time to read to her brood each night; later in life, she maintained a Beanie Baby loaner library for her grandchildren. Kaiser expresses much gratitude, but she also feels compelled to explain times when she pulled away. “This next sentence is hard to write,” she confesses, “but somewhere in my growing up I learned not to expect emotional comfort from you.” She also wants to apologize for never taking her mother for a pedicure. A loved one’s absence amplifies the quotidian alongside bigger existential questions, and Kaiser captures that dichotomy with candor and grace. She owns up to her personal shortcomings, fashioning herself as a totally relatable narrator, much as Anne Lamott has done in her memoirs. Kaiser’s direct voice, steeped in the kind of wisdom that develops from experience, hints at the fact that she has performed these letters onstage; each letter a monologue, their shifts in emotional tone certainly would make for a compelling one-woman show. In book form, however, they leave the reader wanting more; much back story seems to have been deleted for the sake of a crisp delivery. Expanding each chapter to fill in gaps between the colorful vignettes would improve the work.

Kaiser asserts her endearingly honest voice in this slim volume, raising profound questions about family and death, though the epistolary format constrains its narrative potential.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1453600092

Page Count: 92

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2012

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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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