Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: "Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History Making Race Around the World" by Matthew Goodman

Midway through this book the thought popped in my head "This would be great for All Lady July 2015!" and then I flip to the cover and the author is a man. Bummer! (I mean, it's fine that he's a man, but there are rules to All Lady July.) But it's okay because I'm excited to share this book with you and now I don't have to wait until next summer!

The setting (to start) is New York City in 1889. Our main characters are two very different types of women who are doing something pretty radical at the time, being journalists.

Nellie Bly is a pretty famous journalist by the time the book starts. She did a ground breaking piece of journalism when she went undercover in an insane asylum to expose the horrible treatment of patients. (Does anyone watch Drunk History? They profiled this story using Laura Dern and it was pretty great. I love that show. Oh my gosh. Here's the (probably) uncensored youtube clip.) She's also worked undercover in a paper box making factory, as a chorus girl, and as a patient in a horrifying city hospital. She was determined to never have to rely on anyone other then herself for income, after becoming impoverished after her father's early death which meant a life of extreme poverty for she and her mother.

16 years before the French novelist Jules Verne took readers around the world in 80 days with his novel of Phineas Fogg's adventure. Nellie says she can do it in 75 days, She pitches it to her bosses at The World, and after a year they agree to send her. She has less than a week to prepare....

The other stare of this show is Elisabeth Bisland. She grew up in genteel poverty in New Orleans before moving to New York. Her journalistic style was very different from Nellie's. Elisabeth wrote a column called "In the Library" where she talked about a great range of books. She and her sister would hold literary chats in the living room of their small New York apartments. When the newspaper she worked for, The Cosmopolitan, heard about Nellie's adventure around the world they decided Elisabeth needed to race her. She had literally one day to prepare. She left 9 hours after Nellie. (Nellie didn't know this "race" with Elisabeth was happening until well into the trip. She basically didn't acknowledge the existence of it at all. She said she only was "racing against time".

They took almost the same route but in opposite directions. Elisabeth first went across the United States by train, then a boat across the Pacific, from Japan to Hong Kong, to Madagascar to (what's now) Yemen, through the Suez Canal, through Italy, to London and then finally back to New York Harbor by boat. Nellie started with the Atlantic ride. Though they never were in contact with each other their boats passed each other in the South China Sea during the third week of December.

There was sea sickness, a terrible pet monkey, a lot of uncomfortable feelings in China, lots of love for Japan, and a lot of running through train stations through Europe. Nellie even gets to meet Jules Verne and his lovely wife at a very brief stop in France!

Am I going to tell you who wins? No. Do they both survive? Yes. (Though the man who captain's the ship the last leg of Elisabeth's journey through the Atlantic was the captain of the ill fated Lusitania.) Will I tell you if it was close or not? I will, and it was close.

In case any book publisher, newspaper magnate, magazine titan or anyone of the like is reading this I would be more than willing to undertake this journey and see how fast it could be done now. I would even do it without airplanes. Find my contact info on the About Me page on the top. Thanks! :)

I thought this book was exciting and fun! I can't believe that I hadn't heard about this race before. I was guessing right up until the end about who would win! I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars!

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Friday, September 26, 2014

Banned Book Week post- "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou

When contemplating Banned Books Week I was massively tempted to turn to an old favorite, "Fahrenheit 451". But while perusing a list of banned books I came across "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou. I've actually never read anything that she'd written, and I've been meaning to spend more literary time in the Southern parts of the United States (I've got some Flannery O'Connor coming up in a few months). And it was less than 350 pages. Ding ding, we have a winner.

Here's the reasons that the book is challenged/banned: racism, homosexuality, sexually explicit, offensive language, unsuited to age group.(All the classics).

So we are transported to Stamps, Arkansas where Margueritte (our narrator) lives with her Momma (her grandma), her Uncle Willie, and her brother Bailey Jr. Her parents are separated and live in St Louis and California. They see or hear from them very rarely. Momma runs a general store in the "black side" of town and the kids help her. She runs a tight ship; church is attended, you are kept clean, you do your homework, you don't sass! Both kids are very smart, reading all of the time and doing very well in school. All of this is not to say that life is ideal. There are lynchings, rampant out of control racism aggressive, and snide, holier than thou racism. There is one night where they have to hide Uncle Willie under the floor under a pile of potatoes and onions because there's a group of angry white men out looking for a black man to assault.

They're life changes when they move to St Louis to live with their beautiful and glamorous mother who works as a nurse (along with other things on the side.) But something awful happens and they end up back in Stamps for a short time, before moving to San Fransisco, where there mom has moved. The rest of the book chronicles her and Bailey's adjustments to living in California and the different struggles they face as they get older...

Ready for my Banned Books rant? Here it is.

You know what makes me angry? That it's considered "unsuited for age group". Well, I don't know about you, but any age group that can understand how horrifying it is as a little girl fights to grasp sexual assault visited on her and the feelings that haunt her in the aftermath should read this book and be horrified. Of course it's unsuited for an age group, it's unsuited for everyone because it's horrible and violent and retch worthy. (That probably isn't clear, but I get angry and sad and horrified when there's a little girl who doesn't know that a forced sexual encounter is about to happen and we as readers do.)What I mean to say is sexual assault of a child will be disturbing to a reader at any age.

I was pleasantly surprised by my first walk down Maya Angelou's work (which you might not gather from the above rant, but that's just one component of the overall work). The characters were interesting and complicated. My favorite part of the book was when their one church sister is overwhelmed by spiritual fervor and basically attacks the preacher.(It sounds weird but it was really funny.) 3 out of 5 stars!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Graphic Novel Review: "Harlem Hellfighters" by Max Brooks and Illustrated by Caanan White

I still need to finish the book and write a review for thursdays post so this is going to be a short review! (It's also my Banned Books Week review...)

This was a great graphic novel. I hadn't heard about these brave men, the 369th Infantry before. They were a group of African American and African Puerto Ricans who volunteered to fight in World War I. They were a very diverse group; from the well educated and refined to men who hadn't ever spent any time in school and everything in between. The problems they encountered started almost immediately. One problem was that they weren't given any actual weapons to train with, just broomsticks and the like. (How good does that make your aim? Not good). They didn't receive a loft of training with weapons because the higher ups just intended to use them for manual labor, not for fighting. Also when they were in different cities for training the racism that they encountered from the locals was often incredibly violent. Despite all of this they went to Europe.

They were to fight with the French and not the USA because of race hostility. They spent more time in combat than any other American unit. So these men blew all the expectations of them out of the water.

Also it's written by Max Brooks who wrote World War Z. So Max has some range. And his dad is Mel Brooks, who is awesome. (Not related to anything, just a fact).

Sorry for such a short review, it deserves better.If you have any interest in race relations, World War I, or just like good illustrations I recommend it! 3 out of 5 stars!

The Harlem Hellfighters

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: "Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus" by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

I know what you're thinking. "Wesley, why are you reading a book about RABIES?" and I'd be like "Dear reader, if I had been born with a different brain I would have loved to be a scientist. But instead I have this wonderful brain that remembers Shakespeare, airport codes, and names of books I read years ago, but not the parts of a plant cell or the parts of the brain". So the way I make up for not being a scientist to read books about cholera and smallpox and apparently rabies.

But here's the thing. This book was so interesting! I kept telling my family little interesting tidbits of the book, ignoring their looks that said "oh my gosh, please less talk about mouth frothy animals during brunch".

Let's just real fast talk about what rabies is like for a human sufferer because it's really scary and awful. Rabies is a virus that works it's way through the nervous system and up to the brain. One symptom is hydrophobia; victims are horrified of water, even just drinking water in a glass, and refuse to drink it even if they are horribly dehydrated. The throat spasms, so talking is made difficult, often talking is more like barking gasps. There's hallucinations.There's frothing at the mouth. There's aggression. The most unusual symptom (I thought) is that male victims can "exhibit hyper sexual behavior", including involuntary erections and ejaculation. It takes about a week to die.

So that's what we're dealing with here.

Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and many other ancient cultures knew about rabies and recorded their thoughts about it. In some of these cultures dogs were revered (like Egypt's Anubis). A Greek names Xenophon wrote extensively about what makes the perfect hound. He even provides a list of "ideal"names for your hound. They include: Spigot, Lance, Eyebright (that's an elf name, like Tolkein elf), Hebe, Tracks, Dash, Bloomer, Much, Riot and Sunbeam.

Neptune, my parent's dog who is over the Rainbow Bridge. Xenophon would have though her head was too wide but we thought that she was beautiful :)

So even if these people loved their hounds, some of them are still going to get rabies eventually. Here are some examples of cures, though there was general consensus that the victim was probably unable to be saved. "Insert into the wound ashes of hairs from the tail of the dog that inflicted the bit" is one, (aka "hair of the dog"). One suggestion was to kill the dog, and rub it's brain on the wound. (I'm sorry, no one is eating anything right now, right?) Let's just say all of the cures were gross, ineffective and potential harmful. Shudder! Victims in the middle ages would have been better off putting their faith in Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters and rabies sufferers, then in any of these scary cures.

Obviously in the Middle Ages most people thought that rabid dogs were possessed by demons. (Which, I don't really blame them because rabid dogs are very scary sounding.) Apparently though, in a lot of wood cuts from that time when people are talking about possessed dogs they are almost always portrayed as poodles. Which is hilarious to me. Sorry if you have a demon dog, I mean poodle.

Rapid fire facts:

-Rabies in literature has quite the spread: Old Yeller (sob), To Kill a Mockingbird, The Professor, Beloved,Cujo and more!

-Almost all bites these days come from bats.

-It's (still) pretty rare to survive rabies without getting the need shots very quickly after the bite. Though one successful survival happened at a hospital practically in my backyard here in Wisconsin.

I loved this book. Scary and interesting and full of things I'd never even remotely heard of before. Goodreads and their random recommendations hits a home run for me again, bless their souls. 4 out of 5 stars! If this gives you nightmares feel free to yell at me on twitter or in the comments, I can take it. :)


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bloggiest Wrap Up!

Well it's the end of bloggiesta and I'm pretty proud of myself I must say!

-I have a Goodreads shelf where I thought I'd tag all the books I reviewed on the blog. There's not many books on that shelf so I know I missed a bunch of them. So I'm going to go through and make sure everyone gets tagged that needs to be.   Donezo! I had missed a looooot of them.

-Update the review archive on the blog. Since I haven't done it since LAST Bloggiesta. Also dunezo, but took a long time and I'm pretty sure I still missed a lot. But I'm feeling like it's sufficient.

-Figure out how to set up a Rafflecopter giveaway. The blog is celebrating it's 1 year anniversary and I want to use it for a giveaway. Hooray!  I suck at code and html and all that stuff but this was so easy. Like shockingly easy! Thank you rafflecopter for being the easiest and fastest thing on my list this year! (The blogiversary giveaway is coming October 10th, so then you can all see me in action with it!)

My disappointment was that I managed to list every twitter chat! Argh! I love the twitter chats, so that bummed me out. Next time.

Also it seems like there was good reaction to my Mailchimp challenge so hopefully some people find it useful!

Thanks everyone for all your helpful comments and visits. Be sure to come back tomorrow because I have a really interesting book review for you. It's about rabies. Yeah. I'm officially scared ishless of rabies and you will be too. Come on back  ya'll, haha.

FallBloggiesta 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Stevenson's Treasure" by Mark Wiederanders (HF Virtual Book Tours)

Displaying 04_Stevenson's Treasure_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL.png

(Throughout the review I'm going to abbreviate Robert Louis Stevenson to RLS because homeboy has a long name and I don't have all day to spell it out 45 times in one review.)

Fanny Osbourne is barely keeping it together. One of her children has died and it's landed her in an asylum in France for "melancholia". The doctor there suggests that she goes to an artist colony nearby where she can find therapy in her painting and spending time with her daughter Belle. She gets more than she bargains for when she meets and falls in love with RLS. He isn't the famous author yet, he's more of a scraggly wanderer with a persistent cough due to a lung condition but the attraction between he and Fanny is swift. There is the complication that she is married, has two kids (one, is closer in age to RLS than Fanny is) and lives in America. She eventually leaves France, assuming that this is the end of her romance. But it is not.

RLS travels across the ocean and then across the United States to join Fanny in California. His doctor tells him before he leaves that the trip will almost certainly kill him. It nearly does. (That could be the subtitle of this book: "Almost everything nearly killed him. The fact he lived to write anything is darn near miraculous"). Fanny is shocked and surprised and thrilled and horrified at his arrival. She had been making a real effort to make a clean break from him and try to mentally leave him behind and now his scraggly blonde face is there.

The rest of the book details what happens next! Should they be together? What about the kids? If she divorces her husband she will be penniless and it's not like RLS is rolling in the dough, so what would they do? What will his family think? Will RLS live long enough to figure any of this out with Fanny since he keeps not eating and getting sick?

There's a kind of curdling moment when RLS sees men setting fire and hacking a part a dead whale carcass. Glad that this book wasn't scratch and sniff!

Here is what kind of grinded my gears about this book (and it really doesn't have anything to do with the book or the writing or anything like that).

-Belle is all concerned her daughter is a "trollop". Uuuuhh can we talk about how you and RLS were running around basically in public in France and in California and kind of flaunted it in front of everyone including the kids? If she is a trollop, who do you think she learned it from? Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.

- I had a hard time cheering for any of these characters. Everyone's complicated and messy and that's fine, but I like to have someone to cheer for. Personal preference.

But it was an interesting, easy read that was well paced. If you have an interest in forbidden romance, art, or RLS I definitely recommend it for you!

About the Author

Mark Wiederanders lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare’s family, “Taming Judith” was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, STEVENSON’S TREASURE hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?

To write the novel that resulted from this question, Mark studied hundreds of historical letters and visited sites near him in Monterey, San Francisco, and Calistoga. Then he followed Stevenson’s footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where RLS wrote TREASURE ISLAND. Mark is also a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who has studied treatment programs for delinquents and the criminally insane. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mailchimp, a Newsletter and You!

I'm always excited to host a challenge for Bloggiesta (even though I never have any ideas about what to do, so Suey always to give me a list to pick from, so high maintenance, sorry Suey. Next time I'll come bursting with my own ideas). There was some talk about MailChimp on a Bloggiesta Twitter chat, so here we are talking about Mailchimp and newsletters.

What is Mailchimp?
Mailchimp is a service that helps you "create, send and track newsletters". What's great about it, is that it's free up to 2,000 subscribers! And you don't have to be super web design savvy to make a newsletter, they have pre-made templates you can use.

There is a difference between using a service like Feedburner when subscribers are automatically sent out an email when you have a new blogpost, and newsletter let's you customize your content, it won't just be your latest blogpost.

Do I need a blog newsletter?

Full disclosure: I don't have a blog newsletter. I figured I need to get myself established and maybe after my one year anniversary I'd make one. Now I'm kind of like "whatever I'll make one now!" I'm still deciding, I want to make sure I give people content worth reading!

Here's reason to have a blog newsletter:

*If something apocalyptic happens to Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, or however else you communicate with your reader you still have their email addresses. That way you can reach them and let them know where to find you once the crisis has passed!

*It's a great place to maybe try something new. Are you a book blog, but now you're thinking you might want to talk about great recipes occasionally? Maybe try it out on your newsletter once and see how it's received before doing it on your blog.

* If you're readers get overwhelmed with social media, the internet or what have you (or they give something up for Lent!) having your content delivered straight to their inbox is a good way to make sure they don't leave your blog behind.

*Extra reach! If you're newsletter is good and noteworthy people will forward it on to people who aren't on your subscriber list, therefore expanding your blog's reach!


 Look at your blog and decide if a newsletter is something that will be beneficial. If you already have a newsletter is there a way to improve it? Check out these tutorials on how to have the best newsletter possible.

*Do you want the option of your reader getting a daily or weekly newsletter? Check out this tutorial from DIY blog Tiny Sidekick.

*Are you more interested in using MailChimp in an RSS feed way?  This tutorial from Blog Ambitions has you covered.

*Want to add a "subscribe here" box for you MailChimp newsletter on your blog? My Crazy Good Life has the tutorial for you!

FallBloggiesta 2014