This weighty but incomplete work is a blown opportunity that never succeeds in getting inside a gifted and tragic...

READ REVIEW

QUEEN

THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF DINAH WASHINGTON

The tempestuous life of a versatile singer gets a detail-heavy if unenlightening full-length treatment.

Dinah Washington has long been a suitable and unjustly neglected subject for a biography: The singer distinguished herself in the R&B, blues, jazz, and pop fields before her death at 39 in 1963. Cohodas (Spinning Blues Into Gold, 2000, etc.) has taken on the task, but she manages to bury her subject under an avalanche of unsifted research. Cohodas has unearthed a prodigious mountain of facts about Washington's life: Few press clippings about the vocalist's 20-year career appear to have gone unperused. The Queen of the Jukeboxes' ascent—from her bow with Lionel Hampton's band in 1943 through her long run as a solo star on Mercury Records, culminating in her major 1959 pop hit “What a Diff'rence a Day Makes”—gets session-by-session, gig-by-gig treatment. However, over the course of more than 450 pages of narrative, the pileup of data, drawn from trade publications, jazz journals, and daily papers, adds up to little more than an unnecessarily minutiae-laden itinerary. If the writer's primary interview sources supplied any illuminating reflections, they prove elusive here. Frustratingly, Cohodas never manages to figure out what made her subject tick. How did teenage gospel-music luminary Ruth Jones become Dinah Washington, a profane, promiscuous, pistol-packing, pill-popping doyenne of all things hip? Why did she marry seven times, often to shiftless and violent men? What abiding unhappiness led to her growing dependence on drugs, which climaxed with her death from an apparently accidental overdose of barbiturates? The reader never finds out. Cohodas is a graceless writer with no feel for the nuances of vocal or instrumental performance. Worse, in her needlessly fussy day-to-day approach, she supplies hardly an iota of intelligent analysis about the singer's creative impulses or internal life.

This weighty but incomplete work is a blown opportunity that never succeeds in getting inside a gifted and tragic performer's head, heart, or soul.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-42148-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more