Compassionate and comprehensive.

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LIFE LIST

A WOMAN’S QUEST FOR THE WORLD’S MOST AMAZING BIRDS

Lively biography of intrepid, world-traveling ornithologist and cancer survivor Phoebe Snetsinger.

In her first book, journalist Gentile lovingly reanimates Snetsinger’s life (1931–99) using the renowned bird watcher’s memoir (Birding on Borrowed Time, 2003), letters, notebooks, poetry and newsletter articles, as well as interviews with friends and family. The plucky, tomboyish daughter of advertising entrepreneur Leo Burnett, Snetsinger married a high-school friend who became an agriculture professor. By 1965, she was a bored housewife raising four children in rural Minneapolis. When a neighbor excitedly pointed out a Blackburnian Warbler, she became hooked on bird watching. Snetsinger began creating her own “life list,” an inventory of all species seen and identified. She joined local birding groups, which kindled her protective love of nature. Upon her father’s death in 1971, she inherited a large amount of money; it fortified her family and allowed Snetsinger to invest in farmland and travel worldwide to pursue her passion. As her children grew older, and she and her husband grew apart, she spent more time on journeys to such bird-rich locations as Mexico, Indonesia, Ecuador and Trinidad. Following a trip to Panama in 1981, Snetsinger, barely 50, received a crushing diagnosis of terminal melanoma. Believing that she had less than a year to live only accelerated her globetrotting pursuit of as-yet-unseen bird species and her obsession with expanding her unrivaled life list. Gentile details Snetsinger’s increasing recklessness as she experienced years of miraculous remissions from cancer. Her hunt took on “a compulsive, even desperate, tinge” that sacrificed personal health and safety right up to her 1999 death in a driving accident while birding in Madagascar. The book’s chronology is a bit choppy, but the prose delightfully conveys Gentile’s engagement with her subject.

Compassionate and comprehensive.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-169-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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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 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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