All Abuzz over Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy

Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy; Hallie Lieberman

Published November 7th 2017 by Pegasus Books
Hardcover, 288 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
33786672

Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.

In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.

What bravery must Hallie Lieberman have to have said “I’m going to be the first person to pursue my doctorate in the history of the sex toy.”  I can’t imagine walking into a professor’s office to say that!  Bravo to her.

I know the personal is political but wow does Buzz get personal. The history of America’s sex toy industry is as fascinating as you might imagine, ranging from a man pursued by the Federal government under RICO to a bisexual woman who went from hosting masturbation workshops to opening one of the first feminist sex shops.  Feminism is everywhere in Buzz, but also advocacy for the sexual experiences of the disabled and the rights of gay couples.     

Lieberman also takes the story of America’s sex toy interest from garage manufacturing to sales at Macy’s.  Seriously, this book covers all kinds of ground!  I definitely recommend this one when you want a non-fiction read that doesn’t get too serious, but still covers surprising depth.  Even if I was giggling to myself at that cover every time I pulled Buzz out on my train rides.

 

Advertisements

Review: The English Wife

The English Wife, Lauren Willig

Published January 9th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, 376 pages

Source: Goodreads giveaway

34945222
Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

Holly and I have made no secrets that we’re Lauren Willig fangirls.   Though I do think the Pink Carnation series ended at just the right time I have missed Willig’s flirtatious banter and witty women.  The English Wife started a bit slow  but in the end I found it was just the right book at the right time for me. The romance and flirting – with just enough cheesiness was pure Willig and despite the sad mystery this book left me with a smile on my face.  

We have a murder, a missing wife, the possibility of a blatant affair (or more than one), and the drama of old New England money.  I loved the tension with the muckraking press and the overbearing mother who thought her class should rule the day.  And oh my – the freaking ending – I had definite theories as I read as to what could have happened to Annabelle and Bay and let me just say I did not expect what the ending was at all.  

Now I will go back to a Pink Carnation re-read while I wait to see what Lauren Willig writes next!

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for this advance copy!

Review: Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Zevin

Published August 22nd 2017 by Algonquin Books

Hardcover, 294 pages

Source: ARC from ALA Annual Meeting

33590214

Young Jane Young‘s heroine is Aviva Grossman, an ambitious Congressional intern in Florida who makes the life-changing mistake of having an affair with her boss‑‑who is beloved, admired, successful, and very married‑‑and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the Congressman doesn’t take the fall, but Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins. She becomes a late‑night talk show punchline; she is slut‑shamed, labeled as fat and ugly, and considered a blight on politics in general.

How does one go on after this? In Aviva’s case, she sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. She tries to start over as a wedding planner, to be smarter about her life, and to raise her daughter to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, she decides to run for public office herself, that long‑ago mistake trails her via the Internet like a scarlet A. For in our age, Google guarantees that the past is never, ever, truly past, that everything you’ve done will live on for everyone to know about for all eternity. And it’s only a matter of time until Aviva/Jane’s daughter, Ruby, finds out who her mother was, and is, and must decide whether she can still respect her.

Gabrielle Zevin’s Storied Life of AJ Fikry was one my favorites that I’ve read in the last several years so I was very excited to get to Young Jane Young.  What a completely different book! If you were not hiding under a rock during the Clinton years then Aviva’s story will sound remarkably familiar to the Monica Lewinsky happenings.  Aviva’s story is told in alternating perspectives from her own side of things as well as that of her mother, her daughter, and the wife of the cheating Congressman. Everyone’s life is rocked by the Congressman’s inability to keep his pants on, yet life just goes on for him. Aviva’s life can’t go on as it was thanks to the media coverage and so she changes it.  She does what she has to do so that she can start to live again – becoming Jane Young. 

Jane/Aviva’s part of the book is told in a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure format which I loved.  Aviva knows as she’s diarying her life that she isn’t making great choices – we all sometimes know that though right?  I appreciated that Zevin made Aviva smart enough that she had all her thoughts laid out and though she makes some truly bad choices she finds a way past them.  I remember reading that Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves couldn’t get past the style so it wasn’t for everyone, but I thought it was a clever way to get inside Aviva’s head and decision making.  I enjoyed following the repercussions of the affair through the other characters and over time.  

Aviva’s story didn’t move me to tears like AJ Fikry but instead had me laughing at some of the snark.  Definitely still a great read. Now I really have to get on to Gabrielle Zevin’s backlist of books.

Thank you Algonquin Books for this advance copy in exchange for a long overdue review! 

Review: Making the Monster

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Kathryn Harkup

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Bloomsbury SIGMA

Source: Copy received from publisher

34918613

The year 1818 saw the publication of one of the most influential science-fiction stories of all time. Frankenstein: Or, Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley had a huge impact on gothic horror and science fiction genres. The name Frankenstein has become part of our everyday language, often used in derogatory terms to describe scientists who have overstepped a perceived moral line. But how did a 19-year-old woman with no formal education come up with the idea for an extraordinary novel such as Frankenstein? The period of 1790-1820 saw huge advances in our understanding of electricity and physiology. Sensational science demonstrations caught the imagination of the general public, and newspapers were full of tales of murderers and resurrectionists.

It is unlikely that Frankenstein would have been successful in his attempts to create life back in 1818. However, advances in medical science mean we have overcome many of the stumbling blocks that would have thwarted his ambition. We can resuscitate people using defibrillators, save lives using blood transfusions, and prolong life through organ transplants–these procedures are nowadays considered almost routine. Many of these modern achievements are a direct result of 19th century scientists conducting their gruesome experiments on the dead.

Making the Monster explores the science behind Shelley’s book. From tales of reanimated zombie kittens to electrical experiments on human cadavers, Kathryn Harkup examines the science and scientists that influenced Mary Shelley and inspired her most famous creation, Victor Frankenstein. While, thankfully, we are still far from being able to recreate Victor’s “creature,” scientists have tried to create the building blocks of life, and the dream of creating life-forms from scratch is now tantalizingly close.

I confess, I still haven’t read Frankenstein.  It’s on my list – especially after how much I loved Romantic Outlaws about Mary Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft.  But I admit I’ve spent most of the last 18 months reading fluff and I’m not ashamed.  In the future though – Frankenstein and Anna Karenina – I’m coming for you!  So, back to Mary Shelley, when I received a message about Making the Monster I was completely intrigued.  How closely did she follow the science at her time?

I admit I thought this was going to be a light, maybe even silly read.  I mean we are talking about building a monster out of corpses.  It wasn’t silly at all.  Harkup gives both a biography of Mary Shelley (very brief compared to Romantic Outlaws!); and a history of medicine and science at her time.  Fascinating and gross and still sometimes a bit dry.  I loved how the book followed along with each step of Victor’s creation and what was known, what Mary might have known – down to her relevant correspondence and lectures she could have attended.  This could have easily been a silly book, but instead Harkup gave Mary and her creation the respect they deserve.

Also, this was just a really great looking book.  The cover details were carried through the chapters with great detail.  Now I really really really have to sit down and read Frankenstein.  To my book club – get ready, this is going to be my next pick!

Thank you Bloomsbury Sigma for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: Sourdough

Sourdough, Robin Sloan

Published September 5th 2017 by MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Hardcover, 262 pages

Source: Library!

33916024

Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive.  Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer’s market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?
 

So I have a new love in my life.  A few months ago off a neighborhood Facebook page I claimed a container of sourdough starter.  His name is Bruce – Bruce Rauner to be specific thanks to my 7 year-old.  I’m obsessed.  Like Lois in the book I didn’t know quite what to expect of my starter but have learned it is like having a pet.  A stinky yet delicious pet full of possibilities.  I haven’t been brave enough to actually bake a loaf of bread but I’m having so much fun baking other things with Bruce.

So you see why I HAD to read Sourdough when I read in a review that this book is about a sourdough starter that wants to take over the world.  Lois lives a lonely existence aside from a nightly delivery of amazing spicy soup and sourdough.  When the brothers cooking the food move on, they gift Lois with some sourdough starter and instructions to bake her own bread.  She just starts baking!  As someone who has watched a number of how to bake sourdough videos on YouTube and started obsessively listening to baking podcasts this threw me.  But she bakes her own magical sourdough and life changes dramatically from there.   

This book was delightfully quirky and just what I needed.  Now I have to finally pick-up Sloan’s other book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Shop and work-up the nerve to bake a loaf of bread.  Any bread bakers want to advise me?

Review: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army

I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade fiction lately, maybe I’m just way too excited for my big 7 year-old to be reading with me.  When asked to look at this middle grade non-fiction book I was way too curious to pass it up.

33572522

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the WWII Ghost Army, Enigma Alberti

Published January 23rd 2018 by Workman Publishing Company
Hardcover, 96 pages
Source: Finished copy received from publisher

Your mission: Find Victor Dowd’s missing sketchbook. And discover one of the most unusual stories of World War II.

Meet the 603rd Camouflage Engineers, better known as the Ghost Army. This group of artists and sound engineers were trained to deceive the Germans in World War II with everything from fake tanks to loudspeakers broadcasting the sound of marching troops. And meet Victor Dowd, a real-life sergeant who with his fellow Ghost Army troops fought his way from Normandy, through France, and eventually across the Rhine.

First of all, why have I not heard of the Ghost Army?  A whole unit devoted to fooling Hitler and the Nazis with artwork, sound effects and clever camouflage – what an amazing story!  I read this almost entirely in a train ride, so less than an hour, a fast read but I was completely engrossed.  Yes, this was written for kids but my interest is piqued and I will be finding some more titles on this unit to read soon.
This book didn’t talk down to the young reader but made the Ghost Army’s story engaging by talking about Victor Dowd and his experiences as an artist being used to paint planes and trucks to trick the Nazis about the soldiers and units in place.  I haven’t looked at kids’ nonfiction since I was a kid and I wasn’t sure how it would come together.  Victor’s individual story made it compelling on an individual level I think and then makes the branching out into the rest of the Ghost Army easier for a young reader who might not be used to nonfiction.  
And then there are the spy tools.  Spy tools!  My daughter wasn’t interested in the topic – she is too young and this isn’t her thing – but even she was ready to break out the spy tools to solve the mystery of the missing sketchbook.  These were awesome!
I loved this book! I will definitely be gifting copies to some young readers in my life and sending it to my daughter’s school.  I can’t wait to pick up Enigma Alberti’s first Spy on History book, Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring -that is a topic we’ve talked about at home so I hope the kid is ready. 
Thank you so much Workman Publishing for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Overdue Reviews: Two Books About Crowns

One I loved – and one not so much… Both have sequels out too so you can not have to wait like I did for reading!

Crowns

First – the good.

Three Dark Crowns

When kingdom come, there will be one.

In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown. 

I mean I’ve never wanted to kill my sister (I swear Holly!) but that doesn’t mean this build up to battles to the death between triplets isn’t fun to read about.  These sisters are separated at a young age knowing that when they come back together two will die for one to become queen.  That’s a lot to live with!  The magic is cool, the scheming from all sides is great and I feel like the battles to come will be epic. 

I would have liked more about the history of the island and the queens – but I feel like there must be depth still to come.  I thought this was a duology but it turns out there are 4 books planned. As, as I’m so slow, the sequel, One Dark Throne, is also out and it was equally creepy and violent.  Things definitely did not go the way I expected for these sisters and my feelings totally changed about them.  I can’t want to see what happens next!

And the other…

The Crown’s Game, Evelyn Skye

Published May 17th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

Hardcover, 399 pages

Vika Andreyeva can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love… or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear… the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

Between this gorgeous cover and this description I was dying to get my hands onto The Crowns Game – Imperial Russia and magic AND romance?  Yes please.  I was really sad that this wasn’t the magical and romantic book I wanted it to be.  Yes, the magic was really cool at times, but at the heart of it this was two magicians dueling – and nowhere near as cool as the Night Circus.  The romance was just kind of meh here and the love triangle boring too.  I might pick up the sequel if I came across it on a library shelf – but this isn’t one to seek out I’d say.  If you want a Russian story and not dueling magicians go for The Bear and The Nightingale (which I need to review)!