A somewhat uneven tribute, but one that particularly shines during its first half.

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ANTHEM FOR MILLIE

Sahr recounts her mother’s long and eventful life in this debut biography.

Mildred “Millie” Milby was born in 1908 in the Territory of New Mexico, just a few years before it became a state. It was a difficult birth, made more harrowing by a snowstorm and an absent doctor. But Mildred survived and went on to live in a bustling household, consisting of her parents, Effie and Arthur Milby, and her three siblings; her beloved aunt and uncle were also frequently present. The family settled in Milton, Oregon, where the death of Mildred’s mother threw the family into turmoil. Her father left the children to their own devices, and a neglected Mildred turned to her aunt for daily essentials and affection. Sahr writes that Mildred’s father eventually remarried a socially ambitious woman named Marian, who despised the young girl. A conflict over canning peaches resulted in Arthur beating Mildred, she says, and sending her to live at a remote girl’s school at the age of 14. A scrappy, resourceful young woman who inherited her mother’s love of music, Mildred successfully obtained a teaching degree. Later joys, such as the birth of her three children (including the author) and idyllic family vacations to the lake, were tempered by the death of two husbands, conflicts with siblings, and the physical realities of aging. Mildred lived to an impressive 99 years of age. Sahr effectively builds upon extensive discussions with her mother, historical research, and Mildred’s own detailed diaries to build the book’s narrative. The narrative is most vivid when detailing Mildred’s complicated, difficult childhood, and Sahr movingly captures her mother’s desperate search for belonging (albeit with some apparent creative license when depicting specific conversations). The story moves much more quickly after Mildred enters adulthood, but at the cost of psychological insight; for example, the author compresses 15 years of Mildred’s life in Arizona with her second husband, Chett, into one short chapter. Later chapters, written more from Sahr’s perspective, touch on the challenges of caring for an aging parent who’s fiercely attached to her independence.

A somewhat uneven tribute, but one that particularly shines during its first half.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5053-4931-3

Page Count: 338

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2017

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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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