THE ORCHID THIEF

Expanded from a New Yorker article, this long-winded if well-informed tale has less to do with John Laroche, the “thief,” than it does with our author’s desire to craft a comprehensive natural and social history of what the Victorians called “orchidelirium.” Orlean (Saturday Night, 1990) piles anecdote upon detail upon anecdote—and keeps on piling them. Laroche, who managed a plant nursery and orchid propagation laboratory for the Seminole tribe of Hollywood, Fla., was arrested, along with three tribesmen, in 1994 for stealing rare orchids——endangered species——from the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. He had intended to clone the rarer ones (in particular, the so-called “ghost orchid”) and sell them on the black market. Always a schemer and an eccentric hobbyist (old mirrors, turtles, and Ice Age fossils all fascinated him), Laroche figured he’d make millions. Found guilty, he was fined and banned from the Fakahatchee; the Seminoles, ostensibly exempt under the “Florida Indian” statute concerning the use of wildlife habitats, pled no contest. But Laroche’s travails form only the framework for Orlean’s accounts of famous and infamous orchid smugglers, hunters, and growers, and for her analyses of the mania for “the most compelling and maddening of all collectible living things.” She traces the orchid’s arrival in the US to 1838, when James Boott of London sent a tropical orchid to his brother in Boston. That collection would eventually be housed at Harvard College. Orlean includes passages on legendary hunter Joseph Hooker, eventually director of the Royal Botanical Gardens; on collectors, such as the man who kept 3,000 rare orchids atop his Manhattan townhouse; and of other floral fanatics. Enticing for those smitten with the botanical history of this “sexually suggestive” flower. As for everyone else, there’s little or no narrative drive to keep all the facts and mini-narratives flowing. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-44739-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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 Books

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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