Thursday, July 31, 2014

All Lady July Wrap up and August Preview

Well everybody that is a wrap on All Lady July. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you did too. I was a little worried about committing to a theme for a whole month but I think it worked out great, a testament to the wonderful variety of work that women authors are producing.

If you are looking for these posts later on, I am going to link them all up on the top of the page up by the "About Me" and "Review" policy. That way you can find them without having to do much searching. (Not that I wouldn't love for you to get all lost in my site and stay awhile, but I know that could be frustrating.).

Thank you all for your comments, your +1s, your tweets and retweets, your sharing with friends, internet hoorays and all the support. It makes this newbie bloggers heart swell with love and pride.

My head is already spinning for All Lady July 2015. Invite guest posters to share their favorite lady authors and why? Maybe have a book read along by a great female author? Maybe read Jane Austen?! (You can't see it but I'm pumping invisible breaks). Let's not get crazy. If you have any thoughts or ideas or want to participate next year email me or let me know in the comments.

So there's our wrap up! On to August...

I am mighty excited for August because it contains one of my favorite things: vacation! I'll be on a week long vacation to beautiful Mexico to celebrate my sister's 30th birthday! August will also contain: a recap of my author signing, an author interview, Ray Bradbury (because duh, why not), 5 books that describe Wisconsin - inspired by Shannon at River City Reading and more! I'd love it if you'd stuck around and see what August holds :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: "7, an Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" by Jen Hatmaker (All Lady July)

Last official review of All Lady July :(  Wrap up is tomorrow....

This is the second Jen Hatmaker book to show up on All All Lady July. I was going to try to not repeat any of the authors but then B&H graciously sent me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review and I was not going to say no! So here we are.

Jen realizes that though she wouldn't call herself "rich" that she has far more possessions than the average human. She finds herself thinking "How much is enough?". She found herself "hungering for simplicity" and picked 7 areas in her life that she wanted to cut down on and see "what the Holy Spirit does with the new space that this creates". Publisher's blurb - So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.

Here's the areas that she wants to cut down on:

It's a lot to take on, and she has a group of friends that she refers to as "The Council" to help her. She obviously slips up and they are there for encouragement and keeping her on track (and sometimes making fun of her). A few of the Council members even participated in her cutting down, to some extent.

She starts with food. She can only eat 7 foods for one month. This also means drinking only water and not adding anything special like butter or spices. So when we say 7 foods we mean just these foods: chicken, eggs, whole wheat bread, spinach,sweet potatoes, avocados and apples. She makes it 17 days and then cries. (I don't blame her). But she keeps on.She had some struggles saying "Jesus, help me find gratitude, this whole things just feels stupid". 

Next was clothes. The Council decided that she could have unlimited socks, bras and underwear because...well come on. This challenge was tough because she had speaking events where she had to look decent picking only from 7 items. The bigger problem was that Texas was having a rare cold streak and one of her items wasn't a coat so sometimes she wore pants on her arms. (And by cold streak I meant it was like, 55 degrees, you pansies in Texas. You're killin me.)

Next was possessions. She would give away seven items a day for the whole month. This was made slightly easier by the fact that the previous month she saw how much clothes she had that she never wore. She and The Council got together and brought bags and bags of things to a local center for women and children who were fleeing domestic abuse or sexual assault. In the pile of things there was a hot pink very small purse that Jen had brought. She thought it was silly because it was basically useless but a little girl who had struggled with homelessness was there with her mother and it was like the pink purse was made for her.

Next was Media. She gave up TV, games, Facebook, Twitter, the internet, texting, phone apps. She made exceptions if there was an emergency.

Waste was a little harder to define, so she declares 7 new green habits. Buy more local, try to only use one car, compost, start a garden,recycle, buy more secondhand, conserve energy.They have some success with the garden. Some.

Spending means only spending money at 7 places. None of which is fast food, the movie theater, or anything fun like that. It makes for a lot more family time like taking walks and playing board games.

Stress. If Jen had a magic formula to get rid of stress this is where she would have shared it with us. I think she tackled this one last because it can be at the root of all the other things. She used something called  seven sacred pauses to help her de-stress. She would stop whatever she was doing and pray at midnight, dawn, mid-morning, noon, mid-afternoon and early evening to pray. She floundered sometimes. One day her friend offered to take the midnight prayer and was surprised by how much it moved her.

There was an interesting little side story in this section. During this experiment the Hatmakers were going through the adoption process. One day Jen just was consumed by tears thinking about her yet unadopted kids and what struggles they might be going through. She didn't know why it affected her so badly on this day but it was all consuming grief. One friend suggested she make a note of the date, and maybe something somewhere in the future would maybe make sense. Jen found out much later that that day was the day that the little African girl who would be her daughter was brought to an orphanage. Cue the heartbreak.

There was a great quote in the book that I honestly should get tattooed on my forehead "Obedience isn't a lack of fear, it's just doing it scared".

This was the first of Jen's books I had read and it hooked me. (When I got done with the possessions section I set down the book, went to my bedroom, made at least 3 bags of Goodwill donations, came back, and finished the book). I want to read everything she sets her hands on. Her website and her twitter are also funny and inspirational. The family even has a show on HGTVcoming out in August, so Jen is plenty accessible. I give this book 3.5 stars for being awesome!


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!

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!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Joy from "Joy's Book Blog" talks about Kick Ass Women!

When Wesley announced All Lady July, I immediately thought about my favorite lady writing about ladies -- Karen Karbo and her Kick Ass Women series:
In these books, I love the way biography weaves with memoir and interlaces with self-help. The experience feels new and modern and, yet, builds on the essays of Montaigne and the journaling of the American Transcendentalists. The lives of all four of these ladies provide lessons to modern women on how to live well and long. Karbo's Kick Ass Women books are attractive and small, quick to read, but the thoughts they inspire linger. Two of these women spent many years in Paris and it shaped who they are and how we think of them. The influence of Coco Chanel still lurks in your closet and mine and the ghost of Julia Child lives on in our kitchens. Through them, we get the spirit of Paris in fashion and food, but pared to the essence to fit our modern lives. Hepburn and O'Keeffe are associated with other places, Hollywood and the American Southwest, but it's not so hard to find Paris connections. Katharine Hepburn met and then played Coco Chanel in the Broadway musical, Coco, in 1969 and 1970, going on tour in 1971 right after Chanel's death. It's easy to imagine Hepburn wearing Chanel. Last year, during my first trip to France, I saw one of Alfred Stieglitz's nude portraits of O'Keeffe in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay, in an exhibit trying to tease out when the photographic nude is art and when it's porn. The French, I gathered, draw that line in a different place than we prudish Americans. O'Keeffe went to Paris, for the first time, at age 62, as one of several late-life adventures. In "How Georgia Became O'Keeffe," the third book in the series, Karen Karbo draws from the lives of Hepburn, Chanel, and O'Keeffe a lesson about how to live an adventurous life well into old age:
Like O’Keeffe, they were skinny, busy, and irritated until they declined a bit, then died. They were active, didn’t eat a lot, and followed their interests. They never let anyone tell them what to do. They were always a bit pissed-off. I can only assume that this is the real recipe for longevity.
That, I think, might be the best secret revealed in the Kick Ass Women series. Thanks, Wesley, for giving me this space to talk about a favorite lady author on a special day for France.


Joy, thanks so much for guest posting today! These books sound like great reads!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: "My Antonia" by Willa Cather (All Lady July)

Willa Cather, American treasure, author extraordinaire, have-er of a cool "W" name. She is all these things, and today we are going to talk about one of her most widely read books, "My Antonia".

Our story is told from the perspective of Jim, a young boy who is sent West from Virginia to live with his grandparents in Black Haw Nebraska. He travels by train and can't believe that Nebraska goes on and on and on like it does.
and on and on and on and on
On the train he sees a foreign (Czech) family, who have a beautiful girl that's about his age. They are the Shimerdas, the girl is Antonia, and he doesn't know it yet but they are going to be his neighbors. Jim thrives on his grandparents farm while learning important lessons like, when going to the vegetable patch always take grandma's heavy stick in case you have to bash in a snake's head. Sound advice, right?

The Shimerdas struggle in this new world. The dugout that they live in is tiny, dank, and can barely contain this multi-generational family. They get swindled out of money by the person who sold them their farm, getting at least double what it is actually worth. They probably all would have starved to death in the first winter if it wasn't for the generosity of Jim's grandparents. 

Antonia's grandfather's one wish is that Jim teach Antonia how to speak, read and write English. On long Nebraska days, after toiling at their prospective farms, Jim would teach her. She became quite fluent, but her out of control pride and stubbornness kept her from going to school to learn reading and writing. The pride, stubbornness and borderline stealing almost drove a wedge between Jim's family and the Shimerdas several times, but whenever the hard times came for Shimerdas they always could count on Jim and his grandparents.

When Jim was a young teenager his grandparents sold their farm and moved into the actual "town" of Black Hawk. Not long after Anotnia comes to town and is hired by the Burden's next door neighbors as domestic help. It doesn't take long for Antonia to nearly wear out her welcome with this family but Jim still loves her from afar.Jim grows up, goes to Harvard Law, sees the world, but still always keeps tabs on Antonia and her family, and the other residents of Black Hawk who play their part in his story. 

I give this story 3.5 stars out of 5. I really like Willa Cather. There's something appealing about her stories: people working hard to make a better lives for themselves and their children, open spaces, adventure, the unknown that is just feet from your doorstep. The whole prarie thing is all very romanticized in my head but I don't care.I like it that way!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Review: "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes (All Lady July)

This was one of the first books that I had picked out for All Lady July. I enjoy a good travel book, or just a book set in an interesting foreign location (as I'm sure you've deduced by now) and this was a popular book that I hadn't read seemed like a natural fit!

Frances and her husband Ed are both professors at universities in the San Francisco area. They love to travel and have been to Italy many times. They are vacationing in Tuscany when they start entertaining the book of buying a permanent vacation home there. They want something old and with character and they find a realto who takes them around to all kinds of character-full house. Some are missing roofs, walls, half crumbling and one seems to have a guard snake. They stumble across one that they love but the price is exorbitant so they pass. At least a year passes, and they both keep thinking about the house. They finally decide that they need to own it, so they buy it. The process of just buying a house in Italy (I think for foreigners or Italians) is quite the production. There seems to be at least 10 people involved and there's a lot of unwritten rules to account for and to take into consideration.

They seem to think that all of the major alterations that they have planned will get done with the quickness and ease that those kinds of things usually happen with in America. They do not. Especially because Frances and Ed are only there on breaks, it's not like they are living there year round. There is a cistern that needs to be filled, cracks in the huge rocks of the foundation, a shady contractor, lovely hardworking Poles, an iron gate that has to be restored by hand and so much more.

The books doesn't just tell the story of their adventures in home ownership, it also talks about other villagers, their trips around the rest of Italy, recipes (which we will get to later) and living the sweet life in Italy.

I found a little tidbit in this book that I found really interesting so I had to include it. When Frances and her husband are out wandering around other Tuscan towns she sees plague doors on some of the buildings. These doors were specifically used by people who were stricken by plague, or the only doors used for people to carry victims of plague out of the building. I keep searching around the internet for more information about this and it's failing me. (Even all knowing Wikipedia.) Would you really build a whole door into your house just in case someone got the plague?

Another thing that I found interesting about this book was how polarizing this book was. I was scanning through the goodreads review and it seems like either you LOVED this book or you thought it was the worst thing that you'd ever laid your eyes on.

I give this book 2.5 out of 5 stars. I like the setting, I like hearing about their town and the other towns around Tuscany that they visit. One thing that really annoyed me was the chapters about recipes. What I thought was weird was that there were 2 whole chapters of basically recipes and they were just put in the middle of the book without really reasoning. Personally I'd have preferred them to be all in one chapter and maybe put in the back of the book. If was going to make a recipe from the book it would be more convenient to flip to the back then having to page through the whole book. And it kind of messed up the continuity of the story.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Bone Church" by Victoria Dougherty (Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour)

Displaying The Bone Church_BlogTour Banner FINAL.png

Guys I'm so excited about this book I'm wiggling in my seat like a 5 year old about to get a pudding pop. Or 28 year old Wesley about to get a pudding pop. Whatever, the point is I'm excited about this book. When I was contacted about being on this tour I said yes right away. I mean Prague, WWII espionage, and the fact that Victoria is lady for All Lady July? Get that e-book on my Kindle with much haste.

Felix and Magdalena are in love, basically have been since forever. To say there is complications would be putting it mildly. Felix is a star hockey player for the country team and Magdalena has been in hiding because she's partially Jewish. Due to a tragic murder,Magdalena's hiding space is compromised and she has to go on the run. They find allies in unexpected places who try to help them, but there are also forces working against them, and Felix's celebrity doesn't always work to the couple's advantage.There's swarmy characters, the Catholic church, an assassination attempt, gypsies, a horrifying train ride, people living in teepees, scary hit men, secret beer, some very close calls, and a scene at a party that seems very Quentin Tarantino-esque (in a good way!)

There's also a little bit of a supernatural flavor to the story but it only comes in occasionally. To be honest, I don't know if it's something supernatural or the result of too many blows to the head. But that makes it part of the fun.

There's also a religious art heist concerning this handsome fella...he's important to the story, so don't think that because I just tossed him in at the last doesn't mean he's important.He's a central thread that runs throughout the story.

This statute has nicer clothes than I do.

I really enjoyed this book, though as I said before I was biased due to the fact that I loved the setting, the time period interests me, etc. AND as a bonus I got tips for my trip to Prague next year. Awesome! I was a little sad because the character who I liked the most dies. But first rule of WWII fiction is don't get attached to anyone! I give it 4 out of 5 stars!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Fourth of July and Happy Anniversary to my Husband Who's Never Read This Blog!

Fourth of July is a special day. First, it's the day that the USA celebrates it's birth. Which means day off, sunshine, barbecue, drinking summer cocktails, and flame pits. It's doubly special for me because it's my wedding anniversary. This year it's 6 years.

People think we must be super patriotic or something that we picked Fourth of July, though we do love our country, it's really more practical than that. It was a Friday that almost everyone had off work, which meant we could have a Friday wedding (read as: cheaper) without a lot of people missing it to take off of work. It also meant that from our reception venue right off Lake Michigan we would be able to see several fireworks displays, which we did, and it was awesome.

(All of the pictures are by the wonderful, talented, totally great Sarah Immel. We loved her and her pictures, if you're in need, look her up!)

Loved our octagon cake!

Out by the lake

Our Fair City
We got married in the chapel at the college we both attended. Small, simple, understated,perfect)

My sister had a dream that I did this so we had to act it out.

Holding Hands

So, hope you enjoyed the picture break. If you're in the US, happy Fourth. If you're not, happy Friday! No matter what you're celebrating, celebrate responsibly!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review "Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen" by Mary Sharratt (All Lady July)

Major tip of the hat to my sister Sarah (a.k.a. my one sister who reads) who recommended this book. She said that after she read it it stayed with her a long time and after reading it myself I know I will have the same reaction! It's a little bananas...

Our story centers around Hildegard von Bingen. She was a real live person, and this is kind of a fictionalization of her life story. All of the scariest parts of her life are fact, which is scary. But we're here to talk about the book, so let's begin. (PS Im going to call her Hildy because Hildegard is far too long to spell each time).

Hildy is the tenth of ten children born in 1098 not far from the Rhine river, in what now is Germany. She was nothing like her older sisters who craved refinement and nice things, she spent her youngest years toddling through woods and rivers with her dearest brother Rorich. Her mother was mostly indifferent to her but she loved her nursemaid dearly. The main problem in her life was her visions. She got them very young, about five. They started as glowing orbs that would whiz by and hover around her. She mentioned something about it once, and her mother was furious so she never mentioned it again. When she was about 8, she got the news, she was being shipped to a nunnery with the daughter of a local noblewan named Jutta.

Jutta was beautiful and came from a wealthy family, but no one would marry her due to the fact she was a little bit mad. She begged her mother for life in a religious order and it was agreed. Hildy's mother sent along her daughter to be a handmaiden, and in exchange got handsome dowries for some of her older daughters. Hildy knew that being the youngest of ten, and the youngest girl, that her life would probably be a religious one. It is not until she arrives at Disibodenberg, an old rundown monastery a long ways from her home that she learns the awful truth about her new life.

(Everyone gird your loins because this part is true and actually happened to be in real life. Blows my freaking mind).

Jutta and Hildy were to become anchorites. Which means they were to be walled in to the inside of a church, with only 2 small rooms (she describes it as smaller than a horse stall) and a small enclosed courtyard where they can barely see the sky). No windows, no doors, only a small opening to receive food and water.Anchorites go into their cells knowing that they will be in there the rest of their lives. Hildy is about 8 and Jutta is about 14 when they are walled in. Jutta calls this "her hearts greatest desire." Hildy thinks this is the worst thing every that could possibly happen. I attend to agree with Hildy.

Jutta goes into full blown "living saint" mode. Not eating, wearing a hair shirt, flagellating herself, receiving pilgrims at their little opening and sleeping and praying a lot. Hildy manages to befriend a young monk named Volmar who brings her books from the monastery's sizable scriptorium. Beautifully illustrated books about the saints, plants, medicine and healing help fill Hildy's time. She also continues to have visions that she doesn't understand and can't control.

This continues for 30 years. 30 YEARS.

I don't want to give anymore of the story away, but our dear Hildy is not doomed to live out her days with crazy Jutta in her little prison. She becomes a famous lady and a force to be reckoned with, though her story is not always a happy one.

This book boggled my brain. I give it a 4 out of 5 stars. I love that Hildy kept her faith and still loved God even though she was put into this crazy situation completely against her will. I would have just thrown myself to the floor in the courtyard and hope that I just died of exposure. (But I'm a quitter, haha). Hope this encourages you to pick up this book and to read it somewhere in the wide open where you can feel the sunshine on your face and the breeze in your hair!

This would never fly on house hunters.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Review: "Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife" by Mary Roach (All Lady July)

We're kicking off All Lady July with a  hilarious and great author: Mary Roach. You may remember her from the review of her book about dead bodies: "Stiff" or the review of her book about space travel: "Packing for Mars". I'm going to be honest, out of these 3 books, "Spook" is probably my least favorite. It's not bad, I just didn't love it as much as the other two. Let's get to the review!

So, like in her other books, Mary takes kind of an all encompassing topic and then picks out little pieces to elaborate on. So in part she deals with: souls, reincarnation, near death experiences, ghosts (obv), mediumship, and more. Some of my favorite parts of Mary's books are the footnotes that are always interesting little tidbits that kind of having something to do with what she's talking about but not really. It's like a little funny get off track moment.

Like before with other books I will post some random little sections that I liked.

-Mary goes with a group of ghost hunters to the spot where the Donner Party cannibal dinner party took place. Everyone is using EVP devices to try to pick up ghost voices of the people who died.Some curious hiker come across Mary standing silently with her recording thrust into the air and gets asked by a stranger"are you recording bird calls?". Mary goes "....yes?" Technically that's all she got on her tape. A lot of the incidents where people think they are hearing voices from the "other side" can be explained by something mechanical: radio towers crossing signals, gaps in wiring etc. There was an East German woman whose roasting oven would talk to her everytime she opened it's door. Turns out it was just pieces of the American sector's nightly news report coming through due to faulty wiring.

That cracked me up. If every time I opened my oven to make brownies and got chunks of a newscast it's be long as I knew what it was.

- There's a lot of questions regarding when we actually get our souls. Is it at conception? Is it at birth? If a woman is pregnant with twins are the twins sharing one soul, each getting 2 halves? A lot of studies were done in ancient and not so ancient times about this with very mixed results.

-Mary goes to a conference in England where she's supposed to be able to tap into "her known psychic abilities and become a medium". Despite her best efforts, she gets nothing. The instructors basically just keep telling her things like "open your mind", "send out your energy", "absorb your subjects energy". She gets pretty pissed about the whole thing. I don't really blame her.

- The section I found the most interesting was the near death experiences chapter (NDE to those in the field). There were all kinds of stories about people who were dying seeing things there's no way they should have been able to. I think I believe in these now...

As I said previously, this was not one of my favorite Mary Roach books but it is by no means bad. I just didn't find it,overall,as entertaining and interesting as some of her others.She has one more book, "Gulp", which I'm sure will appear on the blog at some point as well. 3 out of 5 stars from me!

I do very much like the cover though