A stale exploration of a nearly forgotten writer, offering little to enhance Grahame’s relevancy for modern readers.

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THE MAN IN THE WILLOWS

THE LIFE OF KENNETH GRAHAME

A biography of the author of The Wind in the Willows.

First published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows has endured as a beloved children’s classic and has also gained a devoted adult readership. The story, which celebrates the pastoral delights found in the rural English countryside as experienced through the friendship of four anthropomorphized animals, originated as a series of bedtime stories told by Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) to his son. Grahame’s vivid descriptions of the natural setting harkened back to memories of his own childhood wanderings. Though much of Grahame’s writing for children is joyful, his personal life, as described in this latest biography by Dennison (Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter, 2017, etc.), was often bleak. Grahame’s mother died when he was young, and after living briefly with his unstable, alcoholic father, he and his siblings were sent to live with their grandmother in a rural home known as The Mount. He would often revisit this idyllic setting in his imagination throughout much of his adult life, inspiring many of his stories. But disappointment and loss continued to haunt Grahame as an adult. He was coerced by his guardian to take on a bank job rather than attend university, leading to lonely years in London beholden to a banking career while pursuing his writing interests. A late marriage would lead to further unhappiness, as their only child committed suicide before he was 20. Sadly, Dennison does little to enliven his portrait of Grahame. While respectful and not entirely unsympathetic, the author’s treatment feels like a commissioned exercise. His prose style is overly fusty, and Grahame’s portrait lacks the psychological probing one expects with contemporary scholarship. For instance, Dennison neglects to explore his subject’s sexual identity. Though a biographer is unlikely to prove that Grahame was a homosexual, this aspect of his personality has been strongly considered by other recent scholars.

A stale exploration of a nearly forgotten writer, offering little to enhance Grahame’s relevancy for modern readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64313-007-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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