Firsthand recollections of communal spirit enliven a sometimes-slow text.

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A Walk Through Minden

IN THE LIVES OF THE CRONE AND VEGH FAMILIES

A family history that digs deep into an isolated Appalachian mining community.

Debut author Frazer grew up in the small mining community of Minden, West Virginia, when coal was still king in Appalachia. At the time of the 1950 census, 28 percent of the male population of Fayette County was employed in the mines, including Frazer’s father. This book offers a thoroughly researched, if somewhat plodding, family history that fondly recalls the camaraderie—and grime—of life in an isolated coal camp. Waste from the mines, she writes, was “piled high” on the hillside behind her house, “letting off a burning, stinky smoke constantly hovering over Minden....I remember thinking that this must be what I hear others talk about as Hell.” The first half of the book painstakingly describes the emigration of her ancestors from central Europe, their early struggles as farmers in Virginia, and the impact of the Civil War. There are some interesting revelations here; for example, Frazer’s sixth removed grandfather, a former indentured servant, owned slaves, and her grandfather joined the Ku Klux Klan, apparently “as a constructive way to ensure the safety of his family.” But the book’s dearth of local color and context makes for heavy reading. Things pick up, however, once the author, one of seven children, takes center stage; her firsthand presence lends some immediacy to the mining-town memories. The family’s home, she says, was company property and “Company houses in Minden eventually changed colors from white to gray as the coal dust, soot, and burning slate settled on the homes.” The outdoor toilet served all nine family members and many days they took “a bucket or pail of water, soap and wash cloth to take a ‘spit bath.’ ” On one occasion, Frazer’s brothers dug a hole to where they believed a neighbor was storing moonshine: “they find no moonshine. They do discover a usable toilet.” The Minden mines closed in 1955 and none of Frazer’s family members now work in the industry. But in this memoir, she tells of how the mining life “will always be part of us. Those ties are too strong to break.”

Firsthand recollections of communal spirit enliven a sometimes-slow text.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5049-7080-8

Page Count: 162

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2016

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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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