An illuminating portrait of a remarkable abolitionist working behind Union lines.




A debut biography recounts the travails of a relief agent during the Civil War.

As a relief agent for the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, Julia Wilbur had a unique vantage point from which to view the Civil War. Fortunately for posterity, she kept a diary of her experiences providing services to freed slaves (or “contrabands”) in Alexandria, Virginia. And former Washington Post staff writer Whitacre puts that and other primary sources to great effect in her striking account of Wilbur’s life as a singular American woman during the turmoil of the second half of the 19th century. “By fighting for what she saw was just, often against those in positions of authority, she transformed herself into, in her own words, ‘a sort of missionary-at-large, a woman-of-all work,’ ” Whitacre writes. Wilbur was a schoolteacher in Rochester, New York, when she was first exposed to abolitionism by attending lectures given by Frederick Douglass. The slave-turned–orator and activist became part of Wilbur’s social circle, and his daughter was briefly a student at her school. By the fall of 1862, Wilbur needed a new purpose in life and used her abolitionist connections to secure the relief agent position behind the Union lines. Whitacre deftly depicts in telling detail not only the deplorable conditions to which freed slaves were subjected in Alexandria—at a hospital, “a mother sat holding her dead child, wrapped in a piece of ticking”—but also the racism and sexism of Union officials. Wilbur clashed repeatedly with the superintendent of contrabands, a Baptist minister named Albert Gladwin, who told her that she was “out of my sphere, & he does not like to see a woman wearing men’s clothes.” He was only removed from office after an outcry over his racist policy of burying black Union soldiers in the cemetery for civilian freedmen rather than with their military comrades. “Colored people are still treated like slaves in Alexandria, and the slave laws of the State are still enforced,” Wilbur lamented. In her engrossing book, Whitacre skillfully adds historical context to produce a well-rounded picture of a woman who found her purpose in battling “indifference and prejudice” and making a difference.

An illuminating portrait of a remarkable abolitionist working behind Union lines.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61234-855-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Potomac Books

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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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.


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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