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A Secret Sisterhood Revealed!

A Secret Sisterhood: The Literacy Friendship of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

Non-fiction/History

A Secret Sisterhood

Overall Rating: 3.5

Quick Summary: Popular conception of many beloved female authors is of them working away in solitude on their books. Midorikawa and Sweeney complicate this picture by revealing correspondence between the authors with other female authors. Jane Austen corresponded with Anne Sharp, Mary Taylor corresponded with Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot corresponded with Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Virginia Woolf corresponded with Katherine Mansfield.

This is a very interesting book, especially within the context that the authors establish in the introduction (hint: read the introduction). Being a female author at this time was difficult. There was a lot of social pressure to be a certain kind of (respectable) woman. The fellowship and friendship between female authors is fascinating and inspiring.

There are some serious problems with the first chapter in the book on Jane Austen and Anne Sharp. If you only read this chapter, I think you’ll be disappointed. It is weak on the historical evidence and the conclusions the authors draw are not very compelling. But, if you press on (or skip that chapter all together), the book is very worthwhile!

I really enjoyed the complexity in which the authors present the literary friendships. They aren’t magical, perfect friendships. The women are not perfect individuals. There isn’t an attempt to whitewash the women to prove how great they are, which is terribly important in recounting history. My favorite chapter is the last chapter because of this reason.

Also, please read the conclusion. It’s interesting and it’s worth it.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle $9.99)

If you’re like me, you’ve probably read books by all of these authors. If this is the case, then I think you’ll enjoy the book. It’s great to get some background on what was going on personally for the authors as they were writing their books. This is saying in a long about way, yes, buy it or borrow it from the library.

Something else you might enjoy:

I don’t have any suggestions. Do you?

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Brave, Not Perfect

Brave Not Perfect by Reshma Saujani

Self-Help

I received a copy of this book. I liked this book and think it’s important for others to know about it and read it.

Brave Not Perfect

Overall Rating: 4

Quick Summary: Reshma Saujani asserts that we are raising boys to be brave and girls to be perfect. This means boys are more likely to take risks than girls. By pointing at ways in which girls hold back in their quest for perfection, Saujani suggests ways we can help girls and women shift from a quest for perfection to a quest to be brave.

I’m not a scientist, however I safely say that if you’re a scientist and you’re waiting for some powerful evidence to prove that girls are raised to be perfect, you’re going to be disappointed. There are interesting points to this idea, but it’s not strong. The argument that girls are raised to be perfect is less than compelling, except in an anecdotal way.

What is compelling is a larger social focus on perfection. I’m not convinced it’s a gendered problem, but I do think it’s a problem. It may be generational, it may be that just the people I know are like this, but I know so many people who strive for perfection. I am definitely one of those people.

This book is worthwhile for the tips on how to be braver, whether you’re a man or a woman. It is a powerful message to tell people that it is okay to fail in today’s world of photo filters and 4.6 GPAs. A lot of us are pushing back about being social media perfect, now it’s time to take the next step to be brave and try and (potentially) fail and this book helps in this quest.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle $12.99)

Amazon link

I think this price is very, very steep. The book isn’t terribly long. Saujani did a TED Talk on this subject, which I watched. There is a lot more information in the book. If this is something you’re really passionate about, then by all means, by the book (other formats may be cheaper). But, even if you’re not passionate about this issue, perhaps even skeptical, you should read this!! Borrow it from the library and see what it’s all about.

Something else you might enjoy:

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a nice addition to this conversation, mainly because it’s about one woman’s quest to finding what makes her happy. There’s no sense in being brave if you aren’t going on your quest for something amazing on the other side.

Talkin’ to You Dream Hoarders

Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves

Non-fiction

dream hoarders

Overall Rating: 4

Quick summary: The crux of this book is whether or not the American dream exists anymore. Can someone from the lower classes work their way up into the top 20% of incomes? The short answer is the American dream is under serious threat due to opportunity hoarding and that classes are more entrenched/hereditary than in the United Kingdom. While most contemporary movements focus on the top 1% of incomes, Reeves argues that it’s the upper middle class, defined here as the top 20% of earners, who are widening the gap between rich and poor.

This book is a challenge. It’s written for a liberal audience who is concerned about inequality and access. As Reeves openly admits, the very group of people he’s blaming for widening inequality are the people reading this book and, ultimately, the people who must advocate for a change in public policy. This means voting against their own interest and, to some extent, the interest of their children.

As a parent, I’ve had those tough conversations with my family. Economically we are not a part of this income bracket. But, my husband and I are educated and we have a mortgage, so we share a lot of the characteristics of the folks Reeves is talking about. Voting to raise your own taxes, close doors for your children and open up your neighborhood to “strangers” can be a tough pill to swallow. However, Reeves does a good job of convincing me that those were always unfair advantages anyway. The history of some of these policies is entrenched in racism and classism and, quite frankly, if my kids can’t success without those advantages, then they don’t deserve to make a lot of money.

In the end, I’m not sure Reeves has written a book that will become the cornerstone of a new movement. But I do think that if people who are interested in preserving the American dream, regardless of race and class, read this book, they’ll realize that Reeves is advocating for changes that would benefit poor, rural areas just as much as those typically targeted for help by Democrats or liberals.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle $9.60)

Unless you are a political activist or a political science major, you should just borrow this book from the library like I did.

Something else you might enjoy:

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam is actually quoted a few times in Dream Hoarders and if you care about education, then you should read this book too.

2017 Book Challenge: A Book Based on a True Story

The Magnolia Story by Chip & Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story

Synopsis: If you’ve seen the HGTV show “Fixer Upper” you might be wondering if Chip & Joanna Gaines are really that silly in real-life. Has Joanna always been a designer? Is Chip that impulsive all the time? And how did Chip land a beauty like Joanna in the first place? This is the story of how Chip & Joanna became Chip & Joanna (as seen on TV).

 

I enjoyed this book primarily because I enjoy their show. I laugh at Chip and wonder how Joanna keeps her cool. It was fun to find out how they met and married. How they make decisions and how Joanna and Chip wound up being on TV. It was ALL interesting to me because I find THEM interesting. While each chapter jumped around from topic to topic a little more than I would have liked, it is still a quick and fun read.

Philomena by Martin Sixsmith

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Philomena Lee knew her son Anthony was destined to be beautiful; his father captivated her with his looks and promises that night at the fair and their child would look the same. Anthony’s looks would be her only reminder of his father. As was common in 1950’s Ireland, Philomena was thrown out by her family as a “fallen woman”, and sent to the convent at Roscrea. There she gave birth and raised him for three years under the supervision of the nuns, all the while laboring to pay off her debt. After swearing she’d never give away her son, even she was coerced by the Church to sign the documents agreeing to never look for her child.

Oh, this story is heartbreaking! My youngest son is 3 (same age as Anthony Lee/Michael Hess was when he was sent to America) and the thought of him forgetting me and forever feeling inadequate makes me feel ill. Philomena’s story seems like the perfect platform to point out the horrific policies of the Catholic Church, but the author’s story doesn’t focus on the obvious and instead pieces together the story of the man who came to be known as Michael Hess. I found the details of his adult life especially interesting as he struggled with the strange dichotomy of his homosexuality and working for the Republican Party. What I took away from this book is that we are complicated beings, juggling in the situations we find ourselves, and looking for acceptance.

 

2017 Book Challenge: A Book with a Blue Cover

A Man Called Ove by Fredric Backman

A Man Called Ove

Synopsis: Ove spends his days patrolling his neighborhood, making sure the bikes are placed in the correct area, that cars obey traffic signs, and that his garage is locked. But when new neighbors move in, they prevent Ove from carrying out his plans. As Ove’s solitary existence is challenged by neighbors left and right, Ove realizes that he still has more to fight for.

I love this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me think of my grandpa. Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man, but as the story progresses; we get a glimpse as to why Ove ignores some basic social rules. What we, as the reader, begin to see is that Ove is not a modern man. He is a man who only says what he will do—little more, little less. What’s also amazing about this book, besides Ove as a character, is the love story that is revealed through flashbacks. It’s always a little annoying when a male author writes a male lead character that the novel isn’t characterized as anything other than fiction. But, in my opinion, this is one of the greatest love stories. Rich and deep, it is poignant and bittersweet. Love, not just romantic love, is represented in all of its forms. A great picture of the beauty of life. I can’t say enough about this book.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

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Synopsis: Nella Oortman can’t help but be offended by the wedding present from her new husband; what eighteen year-old woman, newly married wants to play with a toy? Nella quickly feels neglected and lonely as the new Mrs. Johannes Brandt but can’t help but be captivated by the exquisite details and beauty of the miniature home, their home. Nella begins to believe that the miniatures, and the miniaturist that supplies them, are much more in tune to her household than she.

I picked up this book at a store in a mall in England (yes, in England their malls still have bookstores) because the title and the time period interested me. Although the cover is not completely blue (the back cover and spine are solid blue), I am going to cheat and use for the challenge because it is set in Amsterdam and everyone is familiar with Delft Blue. In this plot-driven story I kept finding myself thinking it was getting “curiouser and curiouser”. And to its credit, I only mildly suspected one of the many twists and turns throughout the novel, but was more often sitting on the couch with my eyebrows raised making my surprised face. So put away your verkeerspel, put on your patterns, get your favorite puffert or oliekoechken, and spend some guilders for this story.

The Singer and the Charlatan

The Wicked Instruments Series by D.C. Fergerson

Fantasy

 

The Singer and the Charlatan (book 1)

Singer and the Charlatan

Overall Rating: 3.5

 

Quick & Dirty summary: Leanne Moonbeam doesn’t know much, but what she does know is that she is determined to be a famous singer, the most famous singer known in Newland. When she gets entangled with a rag tag group on a flawed quest, hilarity ensues.

This is a light-hearted, funny quest. The primary conflict of the novel is finished in book one, but there is a larger story arch that isn’t revolving around Leanne’s identity prompting me to search out and read book two. Since book one delivered in sketching out interesting secondary characters and a possible love-interest, I’m looking forward it.

Leanne is talented, neurotic, and easy-going. The secondary characters are alternately bloodthirsty, naive, insane, and ridiculous. All of the characters together form an odd rendition of Dorothy and gang in the Wizard of Oz. I’m not terribly clear if there is a deeper meaning to this book or series, but regardless, I think it’s great to take the book as it is. An entertaining book well outside of what I normally read. It’s a blessing, but above all, it is (really, really) funny.

Is it worth buying? (Kindle FREE)

Yes, right now the book is free. I’m not clear on whether this price is temporary or not, but it’s worth getting at that low, low price.

Something else you might enjoy:

I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?

My Antonia

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

Literary Fiction

My Antonia

Overall Rating: 4.5

Quick summary: When Jim Burton’s parents die he is sent from his home in Virginia to the Nebraska prairie to live with his grandparents. His nearest neighbor is Antonia, another child new to the difficulties of farm life. As he and Antonia grow up, they discover the simple joys and heartaches in America’s heartland.

 

This is a literary classic that is an American pastoral. Cather extolls the virtues of farming, hard work, and the pioneering spirit of immigrants. This novel is especially poignant now that we’ve gotten so far from those first Americans who tamed the prairies to grow corn and wheat. Some may find the descriptive passages a little boring, but if you think of them as analogies for Jim’s emotional state and his relationship with Antonia, it might make them more interesting.

 

While there are compelling arguments to make about Native Americans and patriarchy, this is a fine example of feminist writing. Cather takes a male narrator and chronicles the immigrant girls who become women as strong, flawed characters who defy simply stereotypes. Jim himself experiences a near rape, as he is mistaken for a woman, and is ashamed and embarrassed. And Jim himself acknowledges the double standard to which women are held. The female immigrants in this novel work hard at farming, going so far as to get jobs in town when doing so caused people to question their virtue. They make sacrifices few town women would make so they can see their younger siblings have a more comfortable life.

 

But more than that, what I love about this novel is that it gets at the dichotomies that make up the truth of life, the bitter sweetness of love. The closing scenes explain so eloquently the way we live in the present alongside the past. It has beautiful lessons that still speak to me today, which is the hallmark of any work of classic literature.

 

Is it worth buying? (Kindle FREE)

I think it goes without saying that if a book is free, and I’ve given it a 4.5 rating, you should “buy” it.

 

Something else you might enjoy:

If you’d like a more traditional literary romance, and by that I mean you want a marriage at the end of the novel, try Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. It too is about a boy and a girl who grow up together and learn some difficult lessons as they realize the constraints of society. It is also free as an ebook.