A fresh and instructive investigation of three iconic lives and minds.

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MIDNIGHT

THREE WOMEN AT THE HOUR OF RECKONING

What were Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, and Joan of Arc thinking and feeling during their hours of deepest crisis and despair?

Shorr (Backlands, 2015), who co-founded the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles, combines sturdy biographical research with some flights of imagination to portray three different women caught in the vises of three very different sets of circumstances. Austen (1775-1817), Shelley (1797-1851), and Joan of Arc (1412-1431)—each faced considerable darkness but persisted until light appeared. Austen found herself growing older with no marriage prospects and “without a penny to her name”—then picked up her pen; Shelley had to deal with the deaths of three of her children and a husband (poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) whose eye roamed before he drowned, leaving Mary widowed at 25; Joan, after winning battles for France, was captured and knew a flaming death at the stake would be her fate. In all three stories, Shorr employs a similar strategy, interweaving historical and biographical facts with imagined actions, thoughts, and dialogue. She is not explicit about the connections among the women’s lives; she does not point out, for instance, that neither Percy Shelley’s nor Joan’s heart burned in the flames that consumed their bodies: Shelley’s, a cremation on the beach at Viareggio; Joan’s, a fiery execution in Rouen. Regardless, the author’s voyages into the minds of the women are impressive. Joan battles with another “Joan,” whom the author calls “Girl X,” a timorous version of herself who wants only to live. Mary comes to terms with her husband’s infatuations with other women, deciding each is more muse than potential lover. Jane realizes that her work, “that spark she’d trusted, had caught fire, and lit her life.” The detail is a little thick in the Mary section, and the text is a little long in Joan’s.

A fresh and instructive investigation of three iconic lives and minds.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-65278-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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