THE GORILLA MAN AND THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

A NEW ORLEANS FAMILY MEMOIR

New Orleans forms the richly atmospheric backdrop for a determined, eccentric family who found success in the steakhouse business.

University English teacher and president of two foundations named in his mother’s honor, Fertel eloquently traces his family history back to his childhood as one of two sons born to food lover Ruth and gambling aficionado Rodney, heir to a shady pawnshop business renowned for being “the biggest fences in the South.” Fertel’s parents married young in 1948 and enjoyed 11 years together before separating, Ruth leaning toward business and Rodney, after taking his son on lavish vacations to Europe, launching two outlandish New Orleans mayoral bids with separate campaign promises: one to acquire a gorilla for the zoo, the other to relocate the Blarney Stone to the Superdome. Though the narrative is a bit disjointed and lacks a cohesive ebb and flow (the generous photographs help, however), Fertel’s memoir gains momentum when he details his mother’s fascinating and resilient ascent to eventual nationwide notoriety with the 1965 purchase of the Chris Steak House brand. Her ownership of the restaurant did not get off to good start, as the flagship restaurant was located in a sketchy part of town, some bad blood with the former owner erupted and a fire forced her to relocate and rename it the “hard to forget” Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Christened “the First Lady of American restaurants,” Fertel expands further on his mother’s notoriously delectable taste in quality meats, her distinctive flare for atmosphere and her love and respect for her staff. Ruth succumbed to cancer in 2002, having sold the business three years prior—though, her son lovingly notes, she remains “one of the great restaurateurs in a city of great restaurants.” Fertel ends his memoir with a somber chapter on Hurricane Katrina’s massive devastation, which swept five feet of water into the Ruth’s Chris flagship store. An uneven but zesty chronicle—worth a look for food historians.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-61703-082-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. Press of Mississippi

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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 eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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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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