Lord Peter Wimsey’s creator upstages her companions as they blaze trails for women.

THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY

HOW DOROTHY L. SAYERS AND HER OXFORD CIRCLE REMADE THE WORLD FOR WOMEN

A group portrait of a celebrated crime writer and her Oxford friends.

When Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) arrived at Somerville College in 1912, women were second-class citizens, able to take classes but not earn degrees. Undaunted, the future novelist and other female students read their works in progress aloud—with “no false modesty or feminine shame”—at meetings of a group that Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society. In this well-researched group biography, Moulton (History/Univ. of Birmingham; Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England, 2014) follows four pillars of the “society” as they challenged stereotypes of women throughout their lives: Muriel St. Clare Byrne, a distinguished historian and playwright; Charis Barnett Frankenburg, a birth control pioneer who wrote popular child-rearing manuals; Dorothea Hanbury Rowe, the co-founder of an influential amateur theater company; and Sayers, the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories. Dividing its focus among the women, the book shows how they helped one another as friends, intellectual sounding boards, and, in the case of Sayers and Byrne, collaborators on the play Busman’s Honeymoon. The drawback to this approach is that Sayers was the star from the start, and a surfeit of prosaic details about her friends and their outliers makes for a slow-paced story, further encumbered with redundancies (most Wimsey novels are “enduring classics”), retrofitted jargon (the women risked “marginality within the gender politics of their era”), and unedifying exposition (Frankenburg found it “enormously stressful” to have three sons in uniform in World War II). Still, Moulton offers telling glimpses of Sayers, whether she’s making a daring plan to hide her son born out of wedlock or exulting when her agent sells Whose Body? to Boni & Liveright: “I am rich! I am famous!” Moulton also has a firm answer to the question of who inspired Lord Peter: “The early Wimsey is, above all, an idealized version of DLS herself, with bits and pieces of her experiences and her fantasies woven in to make a genuinely fictional character.”

Lord Peter Wimsey’s creator upstages her companions as they blaze trails for women.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4447-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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