Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Mini- Review: "Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home" by Sheri Booker (All Lady July)

Sheri is a sheltered 15 year old when she randomly starts working for Mr Wylie at his funeral home in inner-city Baltimore. She starts out just answering phones and answering the door during the evening shift (4pm-9pm) but gradually gets more and more responsibilities. Eventually she's talking more to clients, handling important paperwork, and elbows deep in accounting.

Due to the funeral homes inner-city location, a lot of their clients are victims of violent crime. Mr Wylie is an expert on patching wounds and filling holes, which is a good skill to have in this case.They have have had violence or the threat of violence break out at more than one funeral. Sometimes they even suspect that a murder victim's killer is in attendance at the funeral.

 Sheri has a sad day at work when she has to dress a nine month old baby who died suddenly. There's also a funeral for an 18 year old transgender woman, who was buried in an outfit that included some very elaborate underwear that also included some tissue stuffing for enhancements.

She also sort of ends up dating/seeing the boss's son which ends badly which also puts a strain on things.

She works there for almost ten years and then quits over something that on the surface seems kind of like a petty argument.The end is kind of abrupt and random after all the time that she puts in there, but everyone stops at a job somehow, right?

The book was okay. I liked the different insights but it didn't really thrill me or make me feel like I absolutely HAD to know what happened next. I think it kind of suffers from the fact that it's all only from her perspective, being as how it's a memoir that's not surprising but it would have been nice to hear other people's takes. I give it a high 2 out of 5 stars.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review : "People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks (All Lady July)

Before we start our all lady July post I wanted to tell you about my weekend. I was working taking tickets at a tiny county fair in the city where my husband grew up. I wanted some extra cash for my upcoming Mexico trip (less than 20 days away!) so this year I joined him in selling tickets at the gate. I know I've mentioned before that my math is bad, and making change for people on the spot is not one of my better skills. It went pretty okay. I hope I didn't accidentally give anyway too much or too little change too often! The best part of the time working was when it was slow I could sneak off and pet the little baby animals in the petting farm area. I think this was technically for children but I don't care. Each time I came back Josh patted down my pockets to make sure I didn't bring one back with me. I was mightily tempted. 

If the name Geraldine Brooks sounds familiar, it's because this isn't her first appearance on the blog. I reviewed her book "March" here.That book didn't tickle my fancy, but this one was better.

The book starts with Hanna, a book conserver who is called upon to preserve a newly rediscovered book in Bosnia. The book is a haggadah which is a book that Jews use to celebrate Passover. Hanna is intrigued by things she finds in the haggadah: wine stains, pieces of a insect, and more. The book flashes between Hanna making these discoveries, and back in time in the book's long history to see how the things in the book got there. (That was not a clear description, it will get more clear I hope).

I feel like if I tell you too much it ruin the unfolding of the book's mysteries so I will give it to you in broad strokes. Hanna's story takes part in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Then we move backwards chronologically in time and in the life of the book.

-We start in the 1940s with a young Jewish girl who has an encounter with the finished book as she is fleeing from certain death as the Nazis invade her town. The most heart wrenching part of the whole story was just a few short sentences in this section. Oh sadness.

-The part of the journey is in Vienna in 1894. It involves one of the most beautiful parts of the haggadah and an embittered doctor who helps the most prestigious of Viennese society who are afflicted with venereal diseases.So if you're eating lunch while reading the books be cautious because there are descriptions of penises with "craters" and oozing pustules on private places. The doctor in this section kind of irritates me.

Oh Vienna. Come for the delicious baked goods, stay for the crotch rot.

-The wine stains come from Venice in 1609 courtesy of a drunken priest with a mysterious past and an identity crisis.

-A girl with a secret life that she uses to get away from her wretched family is our next stop in 1492 southern Spain.

-Cats become important to our story in 1480 Seville, the very beginning of the haggadah's life.

I really liked this book, which makes me glad because my last run in with Geraldine March was not as good. My small complaint is that I think her secondary characters are more interesting than her main characters. I always wanted to hear more about them and their stories then what was given in the book, though one of the secondary character's stories does get tied up quite nicely.I give it a 4 out of 5, so Miss Brooks and I are even steven. Also realized that her husband is an author I thoroughly enjoy, Tony Horowitz!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: "A Woman in Berlin" by Anonymous (All Lady July)

This is a pretty extraordinary book. It's actually a journal. The actual author is known but to a few people, and the book was only published after her death, at her own request. We don't even have a pseudonym or anything to refer to her as, and only know spotty things about her background.We know she was a journalist and editor before and after the war, and that she had done a lot of traveling. She had even been to Russia and had managed to pick up a little of the language, this would be a godsend several times in the coming weeks.

We know that she is living by herself in an apartment building in Berlin during World War II, and that she is still living there when the Russians come into the city on the heels of Hitler's suicide and the unraveling of the Nazis. Our author knows that the Russians coming to town is not necessarily good news. While the Nazis wouldn't be in control any longer, the reputation of many of the Russians are preceding them. There was a lot of discussion about how the Russians were raping, looting and pillaging their way west; while some people hoped it was just propaganda there were enough facts and witnesses to testify to the fact that these were not all fabricated lies.

Our author begins keeping her journal on April 20th 1945, and goes through June 22nd. She records the hunger, the bombs, the fear. The Russians invading, ransacking empty and occupied apartments, taking whatever they wanted including women. Old women, young women, sick women, and little girls, no one was immune. Husbands and wives squirreled their daughters away in false ceilings, hidden rooms or anywhere they could think of to keep them safe and away.

There are so many things to struggle through that the book presents:
-Rape as a weapon of war
-Rape as retribution
-Moral scruples vs survival
-How to keep your humanity in a world gone mad

I know that this sounds horrible and depressing and maddening. The only thing that kept me from being miserable reading this book is twofold:

1) The story of these people deserves recognition.In a lot of wartime stories you don't hear much about the people who are left behind to fend for themselves while the battles rage on in distant theaters. By best estimates (the true number isn't known) 100,000 women were raped in Berlin during this time. And some victims were raped multiple times.

2) Our writer writes with such composure and calmness. These terrible things are happening to her, the journal itself could get her in major trouble if it were found but she never falls into self-pity or complaining, even at the darkest moments.

It feels weird to rate this book, especially because it's basically a journal. But it's an incredibly worthwhile read. It's short, it goes fast but it does pack a heavy hit. Though it never is explicit or overly graphic.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary

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!