A meticulous and congenial, if uneven, tribute to an enterprising reporter in Asia.

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BLADES OF GRASS

This debut book tells the story of the author’s uncle, George Aylwin Hogg (1915-1945), an English journalist who spent the last seven years of his life in China.

Thomas frames his biography with his 1988 visit to Shandan, where Hogg died. The author participated in memorial events for New Zealander Rewi Alley, Hogg’s colleague in the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives; connected with the headmaster of the Bailie School that the journalist helped found; and met the Chinese brothers Hogg temporarily adopted. Hogg certainly packed plenty into 30 years. Born in Harpenden, England, he attended Montessori-style schools and studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford. Early adventures included hitchhiking around Europe and spending time on a Mississippi cooperative farm. After graduation, he joined his Aunt Muriel, who worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, in the Far East. He started in Japan in 1937, sending home letters full of keen observations about war propaganda and Korean slums. In 1938, he proceeded to China and became a journalist for the American United Press Agency. “It is quite exhilarating in a way, being packed with seething humanity,” he declared, but sobering too: he encountered dead soldiers, refugees on evacuation trains, cholera and dysentery victims, flooding, and famine. Hogg’s lively letters and journalism thus serve as a rare witness to the Sino-Japanese War. He entered guerrilla territory as a cooperative inspector and CIC publicist before becoming dean of the technical school in 1942. Tragically, he died of tetanus after a foot injury; medical help didn’t arrive soon enough. Hogg is a captivating figure, but Thomas, who played his uncle in a Chinese TV miniseries, offers little in the way of commentary. Many chapters are composed almost entirely of extracts from Hogg’s articles and correspondence. Apart from Hogg’s early years and death, and some war context and black-and-white photographs, the book doesn’t convey much that a volume of the journalist’s collected writings (to supplement his published work, 1944’s I See a New China) wouldn’t. Though frequently lacking the external interpretation most biographies provide, the work is still a fitting homage to “a wise and noble friend to the people of China.” 

A meticulous and congenial, if uneven, tribute to an enterprising reporter in Asia. 

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5246-7697-1

Page Count: 502

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2017

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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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