Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Review: "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones (All Lady July)

Tip of the hat to Tiff, from Book Bloggers International and Tiff Talks Books fore recommending this book to me when I put out a call for great books by women writers on Google+ in preparation for this months theme!

The story takes place (mostly) in the city of Market Chipping in the land of Ingary, where magical things, including witches and wizards, were kind of commonplace.In this city there were 3 sisters who all worked in the family hat shop, Sophie (the eldest), Lettie and Martha. The hat shop gets in a bit of a slump and can't afford to keep each of the three girls working in the shop. Sophie stays on at the hat shop (being the oldest she knows that she is doomed to failure and to a monotonous life while the other girls have better chances of marrying and well and having adventurous). Martha is sent to study magic with another witch, and Lettie is sent to apprentice in a bakery.

Sophie is lonely working in the hat shop by herself so she starts to talk to the hats as she makes them. She tells them things like "oh a wealthy woman will be so proud to wear you" and telling another "oh you're very mysterious!" What she doesn't realize is that she is somehow talking life into these objects which effects them and their wearer. This brings some negative attention on her, and she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste, who is most definitely a bad witch. Sophie is suddenly turned into an old woman, and is unable to tell anyone that she is under a curse. Unsure of what to do she immediately leaves the shop and goes to find Wizard Howl who she hopes will  help her despite his fearsome reputation for eating the hearts of young girls. She figures she's an old woman so she isn't to his taste. (Pun intended).

Sophie gets more then she bargains for as she finagles her way into Howl's moving castle. There's a young apprentice, a demon that lives in the fireplace, and a wizard who spends an insane amount of time in the bathroom. He is a high maintenance wizard for sure! There are other interesting characters that flesh out this fun, fast moving, mostly light story. Though there are some dastardly villains, it reminded me of a less gritty Neil Gaiman story. I love the grittiness of Neil's stuff but it was nice to have it dialed back a little here.

A note on the movie: there is a movie. It one a lot of awards. I haven't seen it but I know people really rave about it. If you've seen it and read the book I'd love to hear what you thought!

I thought this book was very fun. I loved that the castle moved (as the title suggests, haha) and that each of it's doors open to a different place. So clever! What I didn't like was the scarecrow, he scared me. The thought of an animated scarecrow chasing me is enough to keep me out of a corn maze for awhile. I give it 3 out of 5 stars!

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book Review: "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier (All Lady July)

I remembered watching this movie with my Mom a long time ago. It's a Hitchcock, so it's fabulous. I remember thinking that the movie was amazing but I could only remember bits and snatches of the plot and that there was a big twist ending. Well then here comes All Lady July and a great opportunity to revisit the story and to see if it is as awesome of a book as it was a movie. Oh was it ever.

Our narrator (she never tells her name) is a poor 21 year old who has the uneviable job of being a lady's traveling companion. She has no family and not much for education so this job enables her to go places and see things but also have to wait hand on foot on an insufferable older woman. At the hotel they are staying at in Monte Carlo our narrator meets the mysterious Mr de Winter. She knows him by reputation, as does almost everyone, as the owner of Manderley, a grand English estate that sits right on the sea. She spends more and more time with him (as her lady companion is bed ridden for a little while and therefore has no need of her). They spend the days in his car motoring in the countryside and picnicking. She is drawn to him, but he's a little bit older (about 39) and has a sad/mysterious past that she is to afraid to ask him about. He likes her even though she is shy and awkward and really nothing like the other women that he knows, with noble legacies and rich families.

Disaster strikes when suddenly she and her old lady companion are supposed to go to New York very suddenly. She barely has time to find Max and tell him what happened. She is desperate to not go to New York, and he doesn't want her to go. So he proposes. And after a few weeks of knowing each other they are married, vacation for a time in Italy and then start making their way back to England. Our narrator is nervous; she knows Manderley is an icon in the area and she has no experience running a household of that magnitude. Max tries to put her at rest by explaining that there is a whole fleet of servants and the place run the place.

The new Mrs de Winter is confronted almost immediately with the ghost of the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. Not the actual ghost (like chains and eyes cut out of sheets and whatever) but the influence that she has even though she's dead. All the new Mrs de Winter hears about his how lovely/wonderful/friendly/gracious/social Rebecca was and she feels cowered by the pressure to be like this woman.Rebecca had died in a boating accident the year before and it was all very sudden an unexpected and horrible and it seems like everyone is still reeling from it, especially Mrs Danvers. Mrs Danvers is the head of all of the servants and she rules the rest of the staff with an iron fist. Mrs Danvers was devoted to Rebecca and she is disdainful towards the new Mrs de Winter and seems to always be criticizing her even if she doesn't say so in words.Its mostly just deep sighs and glaring.

The de Winters decide to throw their annual costume ball as a kind of coming out party for the new Mrs de Winter and thats pretty much when the wagon's wheels wall off, through no fault of the new Mrs de Winter and then all the crazy twists and turns happen....When I got to the big twist at the end I was like "I can't believe I forgot that, it was so good!"

It's scary and surprising and keeps you guessing and tense and all kinds of things that make a book wonderful. I give it a 4 out of 5. A lot of people give this book flack because they think it's too close to Jane Eyre. I think Jane Eyre is wonderful too. Do we not have enough shelf on our collective world literary bookshelf that we can't have multiple books about rambling English estates and mysterious men? Sign me up for that!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Review: "A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman" by Lisa Shannon and Zainab Salbi (All Lady July)

Before we get started on today's post I just wanted to wrap up Bloggiesta!  Thanks to everyone who commented and participated, you can see my updated challenge list here!


Lisa Shannon is a woman in a good place. She and her photographer boyfriend have a stock photography business and live in a rambling Victorian house. (If you need some lightheartedness after a somewhat downer book review may I suggest the tumblr Women Laughing Alone With Salads?) But then her father dies, and it makes her withdrawn, sad and depressed. She can't bring herself to return to work.One day she turns on Oprah and sees a report that startles her. It's about the women who live in the Congo. (There is a country called "Congo" and there's on called "the Democratic Republic of Congo". From what I've put together from the story I think when she refers to the Congo it's the DRC. But who knows whats changed since the publishing of the book.)

The journalist Lisa Ling is talking about the fighting that was bred from the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s (they share a border, many of the people who were doing the killing escaped into Congo). 4 million people have died since it started. The rape of women is systematic and incredibly prevalent.There is a spokesperson for a nonprofit called Women for Women International who says that a Congolese woman can be sponsored for $27 a month, which would be life changing for these women.

This weighs on Lisa. She does sponsor a woman. And then she organizes viewings of the program to get more sponsors. And then she starts something called "Run for Congo Women." She organizes runs across the Pacific Northwest to raise money for more sponsorships. She goes to Washington and talks to anyone who will listen about her cause. She gets several more sponsorships but she doesn't feel like it's enough. She finally decides to go to Congo. Several people warn her that it won't be easy and to expect to be saddened and dissapointed and to feel helpless about not being able to fix every problem that she comes across. But she doesn't really heed the warning and goes.

She lands in Rwanda, which by all accounts has beautiful scenery, is pretty modern in the cities and has several memorials up in honor of those killed during the genocide. Lisa is heartened, thinking that if this is what Rwanda is like, where it used to be so bad, that maybe Congo, just a border crossing away, won't be as bad as she pictures. She is most wrong.

*My main problem with this book is the naivete that she clings to as she travels. It's borderline clueless. (I feel like an ass saying anything because God knows I haven't saved a bunch of women from poverty lately, but it's throughout the book and it kind of got me each time). 

There was one woman who's husband had been kidnapped by the rebels and forced to be their cook. He escaped but the men were looking for him because he was such a good cook he wanted him back. Lisa suggests they move to a city and start a restaurant since he's such a good cook. Right, because it's just that easy? This woman has nothing, and it's not like the government has a program to help small start-up businesses.

 Often when a group of women are together she will ask them to raise their hands if they had been raped. Not taking into account that maybe that's not something you'd want to advertise in a group. (She does this kind of a lot). She talks to a woman that she sponsors about the fact that she has lost 10 children to sickness and violence. Lisa presses her to name them all even after the woman has a little breakdown and says she doesn't want to talk about it.

 In each of these cases I'm sure she had the best intentions, getting information so she could share it with us about how dire the situation in the Congo is but she didn't go about it the best way, almost ever.*

It seems strange to give this book a star rating. I've already mentioned above what my main problem is with this book. It's a hard read, but an important read. Instead here are a couple of links that may interest you.

Run for Congo Women (caution, automatic playing music)

File:Democratic Republic of the Congo (orthographic projection).svg
Also this is where it is on a map, in case you're not an expert into the ever shifting territory of African country borders.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Social Media Etiquette - Mini Bloggiesta

Some rules of etiquette are so common they are just ingrained in our brains. Say please and thank you, don't wear white to a wedding (unless you're the bride!), and if you're on a date at least pretend to go for the check. But what about the rules of etiquette for the relatively new world of social media?

While many of us are becoming accustomed to strange grammar, shortcuts, and symbols to replace words in order to say as much as possible in 140 characters or less on Twitter, it is not necessary to use such shortcuts on Facebook or Linked or Pinterest...sites where people want to know about you and don't want to work so hard to understand what you are talking about.  Do you agree?  #MissSocialMediaManners #SocialMediaSaturdays #ChiToBe

I'm sure a lot of you bloggers are on many different social media platforms, and I'm sure you're all pros. But here are some helpful reminders, just in case!

1. Be responsive! This doesn't mean that you have to be attached to your phone/computer at all times. It does mean that you should always set time aside to respond to tweets, messages, and comments. Blogging should be a conversation.

2. If you are having a personal problem with someone (an author, a reader, another blogger) don't air your grievances in public places. Use private messaging or email. You don't want to put your readers in an unnecessarily uncomfortable position, and it's just not professional or respectful.

3.Be appropriate. Take care about where you post links to your blog. If you only review military history books don't spam a community garden forum with your links. (That's kind of a weird example, but you know what I mean). Know who your audience is and figure out the best way for you and your blog to reach them!

4.Don't post if you're drunk, tired, or angry. You might be in for a rude awakening when you sober up/wake up/calm down. Once something is out there in the interwebs it's out there forever and you don't want regrets!

5. Be kind. A good general rule in life, right? Build up your fellow bloggers; tell them that you thought their review was spot on, or that the picture of their adorable dog on their instagram made your day! We're all on the same book loving team!

Who is willing to hear my weird social media confession?

 When I find a new blog to read I usually follow the blog on bloglovin' first. But then I hesitate to "like" their facebook page, follow them on instagram, and the like. I hesitate because I'm scared that the blogger will see that I suddenly am all about them and their blog and that they'll think to themselves "creeeeeeeper". This is totally dumb, because if one of my readers does that I don't have that thought at all. So moral of the story, don't be like me. I'm trying to get better about it!

So here is your challenge! Look at the blogs you follow or read regularly. I bet there are couple social media platforms that they use. Pick a few blogs and like at least one of their social media platforms that you don't already communicate with them on. You never know, they could be a hilarious tweeter or have a great goulash recipe on one of their pinterest boards!

I will update when I finish this challenge myself!


I got on my bloglovin list and on my twitter account to add some blogs that I already read and enjoy, now I get to read and enjoy their tweets too: Doing Dewey, Wensend, Kari AnnAlysis, Relentless Read and Angela's Anxious Life. Ta da! I might even add a few more as the weekend goes on!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

All Lady July - Across the Interwebs

I'm not the only one who is taking an extra looky-loo at women authors this year. So here are some places to continue your deep thoughts about women writers.

50 books by women authors to read for #readwomen2014 - Flavorwire has 50 great books highlighted, so open your spreadsheet, your Goodreads account, or however it is you keep your TBR pile on point and get to stacking some new ones on there!

These are the 21 female authors you should be reading - Time breaks it down by author, which means you get more than one book per author (usually). Also I didn't know Goldfinch took 11 years to write...yeesh.

The ten most powerful women writersNot interested in book recommendations? Check out these powerful authors according to Forbes!

12 writers on the women that inspire them - Want to be inspired by women authors? So who gets inspired by who over at Buzzfeed.

14 totally badass female authors -Do you want badass women authors? Heck to the yes you do! HuffPost provides.

So there's your inspiration for the day.

Went to my first ever book store signing last night and I think it went well! I'm going to write up a little post about it, but it has to wait until August because Ben, the author, is not a lady. And July is the month of the lady! (And bloggiesta, which is tomorrow, if you want to see my to do list look here!)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: "Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan (All Lady July) A Failure in Review

All, when I started thinking about doing All Lady July, this was one of the first books that popped into my head. I mean, it's written by a woman, nearly exclusively about women, it's a huge pick for book clubs and the like and I've never read it. This book and Willa Cather were the first ones on my list.

Then I got the book....and read it....and really really didn't like it. (I won't say hate, because the book had some valid points, but we're skirting that edge pretty tight).

Since I'm probably one of the last people ever to read this book I'm just going to do a quick and dirty summary. The story is about a group of women and their daughters. The women have all come over from China after WWII and get together to play mahjong and talk and gossip and complain. We hear about the mothers stories from China, and the lives of the girls as they grow up in America. I thought of the 2 scenarios the mother's stories from China were the more interesting.

I think the thing that really soured me on the book was how the women treated each other. there were 2 of the mom's talking and one mom says something like (this is me paraphrasing) : "My daughter brings home so many trophies playing chess, it takes me all day to dust them. You're so lucky you don't have that problem with your daughter." I hate myself for using this word but it's like frenemies. This kind of stuff goes on throughout the book and throughout the book. I just didn't feel like I really could believe that they were these friends who met for years and years (moms and daughters) and then they are all snarky and awful to each other.


It's serves as a good reminder. You are not going to love every book you read. Even if it seems like every other person loves the book that doesn't mean that you will like it. It's ok to not like it. No one is going to set your house on fire for not like this book. I'm bummed that I didn't like it. But not everything can be a success story, right? Right.

Am I missing the point? Can someone who loves this book explain it to me?

Next post will be happier and less depressing, I promise. All hail All Lady July!

In other totally unrelated news I'm going to my first author signing tonight! Ben Winters of the Last Policeman trilogy will be in town and I'm going with my mom, to whom I had passed the books onto after I had enjoyed them. It's in a teeny tiny little indie bookstore, I'm excited to see what happens! Expect a post sometime in August :)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mini Bloggiesta To-Do List!

Just a little mini Bloggiesta over this weekend, but though it will be small it will be mighty! I actually wrote one of the challenges, so if you keep your eyes peeled for that and participate in it I would be much obliged and it will give me warm fuzzies in my heart.

Here's the couple of things I need to get done during that window of time!

-Figure out where people get GIFs from. The one I used was off Pinterest. Is there a secret fount of these I don't know about? I promise to use them sparingly! Shannon was right, just use the Google machine! Found a few tips on how to search effectively here)

-Make a better plan for guest posting on other people's blogs/having people guest post on mine. I feel like I need a pitch. Or maybe just ask nicely and see what happens? (Did you see Joy's guest post yesterday? It was great!) Thanks to Alysia A's suggestion I found this great post about guest blogging.)

-Update the Review Index (Grumble,grumble. I feel like this is on a lot of people's lists) I only updated the All Lady July one....the other one is too much work for me this weekend. It takes a lot of motivation to get that one cracking)

-Do my own challenge! (I would feel silly for not doig my own challenge. I followed 5 twitter accounts for blogs that I already read and enjoy: Wensend, Doing Dewey, Kari AnnAlysis, Relentless Reader and Angela's Anxious Life!)

-Readreadreadreadread! A couple of the summer reading programs I'm in are finishing in a week or two so I need to finish strong if I want to win prizes :) (2 graphic novels,1 book, and partway into a next book, feeling good about that!)

Not much on the list but enough to keep me busy. Best of luck to everyone with their own lists!