A delightfully breezy read about experimentation, often humorous and companionable.




In this debut memoir, a woman devises a plan to yank herself out of a midlife malaise.

Stanfa-Stanley found herself mired in a safe routine as she entered her mid-50s, becoming increasingly discomfited by her lack of spontaneous adventure. Divorced and now an empty-nester, she devised a scheme to shake things up: over the course of a year, she would attempt 52 new activities that would push her to the edge of her personal boundaries, a combination of exhilarating and frightening, what she called an “unbucket list.” The only other criterion of selection would be that her experiences be laughter inducing. The remembrance divides into five seasons of experimentation (summer to summer) and each new endeavor receives its own chapter. Most of the chapters are only a few pages long, and for the most part can be read out of sequence. The list itself is an eclectic one—some of the pursuits are designed to be educational; for example, the author visits a synagogue, a Hindu congregation, and a Baptist church. Others are eccentrically challenging like beekeeping, entering a pizza-eating contest, and going vegan for a week. And there is some travel as well, including a totally unplanned trip to Fort Myers, Florida—the author tasked herself with getting on the first plane to wherever—and a solo trip to Italy. Along the way, Stanfa-Stanley learned a lesson about the value of self-imposed discomfort, and the fortifying effects of testing one’s mettle: “Life is full of hurdles, but the biggest obstacle is our decision to stop at a bump or a crossroad, fearful to move on.” In her quirky account, the author writes with an informal charm and delivers each anecdote almost intimately, like the reader is a trusted friend (“Here’s the thing about belly dancing: You seldom look as sexy as you hoped. Given my middle-aged figure and history of uncoordination, looking sexy was a long shot”). The tone is consistently lighthearted and comedic, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to giggle. But many of the author’s self-directed dares are a bit predictable and less than terrifying: she visited a nude beach, conquered a fear of public speaking, collected donations for the Salvation Army, and watched an evening of horror movies. 

A delightfully breezy read about experimentation, often humorous and companionable. 

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63152-290-1

Page Count: 225

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 20, 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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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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