Nevertheless, it’s a remarkably unusual career, adequately presented.

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DANCING WITH THE WITCHDOCTOR

ONE WOMAN’S ADVENTURES IN AFRICA

A San Francisco–based international private eye pokes around the exotic dangers of contemporary Africa.

James specializes in missing-person searches and accident investigation in parts of the world where male gumshoes hesitate to tread. Her memoir consists of four adventure narratives with traces of colonialist tensions, in that James’s clients are boorish Europeans or Americans, but her sympathies lie with the Africans. “Detour” resembles a traditional locked-room whodunit: James unravels a coffee-plantation owner’s alleged suicide in Kenya, first suspecting her piggish stepson, then discovering that an African friend aided the suicide to end her suffering from AIDS. “Gorillas and Banana Beer” presents a grim aspect of the continuing Rwandan turmoil as James shepherds a bratty American teen (whose businessman father sent him to Africa for a tough-love awakening) on an unsanctioned attempt to view rare mountain gorillas that goes very wrong when they encounter venal trackers, murderous poachers, and enigmatic Watusi tribesmen. The author indicts obsessive eco-tourism, yet she seems driven by the same reckless impulses. In the exciting if melodramatic “Biera,” James enters a war-torn Mozambique port aboard a rogue South African trader and in the midst of chaos improbably reunites another anguished charge with his long-vanished mother. These African adventures culminate in the grueling “Witchdoctor.” A reckless employer sends James to find Kali, a Turkana woman who got a Western medical education, then vanished while doing research among her tribe, which regarded her as a witchdoctor. Encumbered by a grating British psychologist also looking for Kali, James is nearly killed by attacking tribesmen, then saved by the Turkanas, who themselves persevere under such appalling circumstances that the PI and the psychologist are nearly dead when found by a Kenyan ranger. Overall, James clearly depicts unusual environments and vividly captures the nitty-gritty process of surviving in contemporary Africa. Unfortunately, her engrossing stories are hobbled by turgid, repetitive prose.

Nevertheless, it’s a remarkably unusual career, adequately presented.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018627-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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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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