A FATAL PASSION

THE STORY OF THE UNCROWNED LAST EMPRESS OF RUSSIA

An independent historian's highly romanticized tale of the daring, calculating grand duchess who was among the few Romanovs to survive the Russian Revolution. Fans of European royalty and their histories will relish the story of Victoria Melita (18761939), otherwise known by her nickname, Ducky. Granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and the Russian emperor Alexander II, Ducky embodied the end of an era and a way of life for Europe's intermarried royal families. Her first marriage, to Prince Ernest (``Ernie'') Ludwig of Heese and the Rhine, was something of a coup for its promoter, Queen Victoria. But it was a tragedy for Ducky. After several years, the source of the couple's incompatibility—Ernie's homosexuality—became known to Ducky. Acting with admirable pluck and characteristic self-assurance, she divorced him. She went on to establish an extended affair with her first cousin, the Grand Duke Kirill of Russia. Flouting both an ecclesiastical and imperial ban on their union, the cousins married. After the revolution, they escaped to France. There, guided by Ducky's ambition and sense of self-importance, the two presented themselves as claimants to the Romanov throne. After losing her country, her riches, her home, and her family, Ducky also lost true love; the revelation of a certain (but still secret) behavior by Kirill broke her heart and led to her death. Sullivan's emphasis on the culture of European royalty is both this book's major attraction and its greatest weakness. So exaggerated is the author's regard for the royal families that he repeatedly frames the great historical events of the era around their gatherings, marriages, and deaths. The downfall of the Russian Empire, for example, is discussed not in terms of broader political and economic factors, but only in terms of the destructive influence and exaggerated power of Tsar Nicholas's wife, Alexandra. Interest in royalty is not in and of itself a bad thing. But distortion of history for the sake of this interest is.

Pub Date: May 21, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-42400-8

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1997

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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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