A magisterial portrayal of these “megalomaniacs, monsters and saints” as eminently human and fallible.




A lively work illustrating the personalities, sensuality, and steely wills of the long line of Russian rulers.

Master British biographer Montefiore (Jerusalem: The Biography, 2011, etc.) presents a staggeringly ambitious work of scholarship and temerity: taking on the Romanov rulers over their 300-year reign. He begins with the medieval Romanov boy aristocrat who was crowned Michael I of Muscovy in 1613—Ivan the Terrible hailed from the Rurikids dynasty and ruled in the mid-16th century—to the last czar, Michael II, the brother of Alexander II, who reigned for one day on March 1, 1917, before being forced by the Bolsheviks to abdicate like his older brother. Sticking close to personal records and primary archives, the author gives each of these 20-some rulers (and their spouses) roughly the same space, yet inevitably the last long-reigning czar, Nicolas II, becomes the most compelling and fully fleshed, especially as his wife, Alexandra, ultimately shared his throne, politics, and tragic fate during the Russian Revolution. In his masterly biographical portraits, Montefiore emphasizes what binds each of these Russian rulers, male or female: namely, the sense of an entitlement to “sacred autocracy” and of a “mystical mission” without being encumbered by the tempering “independent assemblies and civil institutions” that developed in Western nation-states. The author tosses in plenty of detail to fully bring to life each ruler. One of the most intriguing is the "freakishly tall," high-strung, hard-drinking, brilliantly industrious Peter the Great, who achieved an apogee of rule by military success and sheer drive, leaving his crown’s succession to his beloved wife, the capable former Lithuanian laundress. Also leaping from the page is Catherine the Great, the enlightened ruler who happened to come to power by the murder of the legitimate successor. The violence of jealously guarding power knows no bounds in this spirited account of sycophants and bedfellows.

A magisterial portrayal of these “megalomaniacs, monsters and saints” as eminently human and fallible.

Pub Date: May 10, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-26652-1

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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