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

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.


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


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! 

Nonfiction November: Book Pairings

Thanks Sarah for hosting this check in of fiction and nonfiction pairings – I love this idea and my TBR list is growing!  I’m cheating as I haven’t quite read all of these but…

Flappers: 6 Women of a Dangerous Generation was a fantastic nonfiction read [thanks again Eva for pointing me to it!!].  I could easily go down the rabbit hole reading more about all of them but I am most dying to read this fiction.. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Zelda is totally fascinating.  I need to read her own work as well as some fiction about her life.

The Underground Girls of Kabul exposed me to a whole style of life I’d never thought of.  I really still need to read The Pearl that Broke Its Shell for a fictionalized version of this life in Afghanistan.

Last here’s three phenomenal books to fill you with feminist rage and empowerment both. All of these books made me cry.  All should make you want to stand up and do something! All the Rage by Courtney Summers, Dietland by Sarai Walker and Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West.  Lindy West is my new nonfiction obsession!  Honorable mention hare is also the amazing Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  Read them all!


Boss Babes: A Happy Book and Giveaway

Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grown-ups, Michelle Volansky

Published September 20th 2016 by Workman Publishing Company
Paperback, 96 pages
Source: Copies received from Publisher


A playful and play-filled ode to strong women, BOSS BABES is a coloring and activity book filled with fun facts and whimsical black-and-white line drawings celebrating female powerhouses from Beyonce to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dolly Parton to Malala, Tina Fey to Serena Williams. On every page is a portrait to color or an activity to complete: Connect the dots to conjure J.K. Rowling’s patronus. Complete the Beyonce crossword (12-DOWN: Who run the world?). Decorate Flo-Jo’s nails, decode Cher’s most recent tweet, design a new jabot for RBG, color in Frida Kahlo’s flowers, and more!

My brain is too mentally and emotionally tired to read at night given the state of the world and my own life, so Boss Babes has brought some much needed levity to my house.  Here’s how I can best tell you this is a fun book – nearly every day I’ve been stealing my copy back from my 6 year-old who wants it only for herself.  How to make it clear that I need to design RBG’s jabot and not her?  

The activities are definitely adult, though they aren’t going to make you think too hard. I love the range of women Volansky included though obviously RBG is my favorite!  What other book can you think of that includes Cleopatra, Sally Ride and T. Swift?  Pick it up for yourself or I think this would be very fun in a Christmas stocking for your personal best boss babe.

So to spread the joy and the awesome women, here’s a Rafflecopter Giveaway for one copy! US only.  No giveaway accounts please and the entries close 11/22.

Who’s your best Boss Babe that you’d like to see included?

Thank you Workman Publishing for this super fun book and giveaway copy! 

Review: Wonder Women

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs

Published October 4th 2016 by Quirk Books

Hardcover, 240 pages

Source: ARC from Publisher


Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

Basically Sam Maggs has found the way to my feminist non-fiction book nerd heart with this delightful book of portrayals of awesome women.  I was totally head over heals when Maggs referred to German mathematician and physicist Amalie Emmy Noether as “a total BAMF from the beginning”.  I love non-fiction that is just fun to read on top of being full of great information.  Wonder Women doesn’t take itself too seriously even while dealing with seriously amazing moments in history.  Each “chapter” is no more than 4 pages so you’re getting information but are definitely left wanting to know more.  

I hadn’t heard of the majority of the women Maggs features in Wonder Women which was really cool too.  Marie Curie is obviously amazing – but I liked that she got a paragraph versus Bessie Coleman who had a section to herself.  Side bar – Is it just me that wanted to know more about Bessie Coleman  everytime I drive to O’Hare?  It can’t be just me right?  

Maggs gives us women from all over the world which was great – every time period, every religion, sexual orientation.  I can’t imagine how much research she had to do to go far back into women’s history in places like China and India.  So I will say Maggs must be a BAMF herself!  Wonder Women is funny and witty and tells the story of every kind of woman.  I want to put a copy into the hands of all the smart ladies I know!

“It’s made to believe

Women are same as Men;

Are you not convinced

Daughters can also be heroic?

Wang Zhenyi

Thank you so much Quirk Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Dietland

Dietland, Sarai Walker


Expected publication: May 26th 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardcover, 320 pages


The diet revolution is here. And it’s armed.

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin.

Then, when a mysterious woman starts following her, Plum finds herself falling down a rabbit hole and into an underground community of women who live life on their own terms. There Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with her past, her doubts, and the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerrilla group called “Jennifer” begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

Sometimes when I finish a book I wish that my sister lived much closer to me. Because then I could physically put the book in her face and say READ THIS NOW BECAUSE I NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT.  I would not have to worry about silly things like jobs or miles between us or families that need attention.  I need to be able to grab my sisterly share of Holly’s life.  So Holly when you read this add Dietland to your TBR please.  I swear its up your alley!

We meet Plum while she’s waiting to undergo gastric bypass surgery.  Plum’s given name is Alicia- but that’s not who she feels like. Alicia is her skinnier self.  When Plum has had the surgery and feels like Alicia then her real life can start.  So I started this book feeling really sad for Plum.  She’s basically alone.  She talks to her parents on the phone, has one friend and works from home because she’s not thin enough to go into the office of the teen magazine that she works for.  And then she starts being followed.

It’s here that Dietland takes a turn for the bizarre. And the asskicking.  Plum meets a group of women who challenge how she feels about her body and about her future plans.  As Plum goes through her personal crisis, Jennifer breaks onto the American news scene.  Who is Jennifer is the question that everyone is asking?  I would say that Jennifer is a reaction to the news media that blames victims, that objectifies women and that doesn’t care about young women.  My favorite description of Jennifer was this:

“I think it’s a response to terrorism.  From the time we’re little girls, we’re taught to fear the bad man who might get us.  We’re terrified of being raped, abused, even killed by the bad man, but the problem is, you can’t tell the good one from the bad ones, so you have to be wary of them all… The fear of men is ingrained in us from girlhood.  Isn’t that a form of terrorism?

So how do Plum and Jennifer link together?  Read it and find out because I’m not going to spoil it.  But this book gives you so much to think about after reading.  I’m still thinking about body image and the F-word (F-A-T) and then the other F-word (FEMINISM!) and terrorism against women.  I’m thinking about what our reaction as a society should be and what to teach my daughter.

4.5 stars!

Have you read Dietland?  What did you think?! Let’s talk!

Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: The Birth of the Pill

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution, Jonathon Eig


Hardcover, 400 pages

Published October 13th 2014 by W. W. Norton & Company

Source: E-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads

We know it simply as “the pill,” yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig’s masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Spanning the years from Sanger’s heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

The Birth of the Pill was a fascinating look at the 4 people that put their names, their time, their brains and their money behind the creation of what we now know as “The Pill”.  I already believed that the availability of birth control is one of the most empowering inventions ever for women but this book gave me the actual history to back that up.  I have 12 pages of highlights on my kindle and I still don’t know how to review this book.  You should read it- let’s start there.

Did you know it used to be illegal to even teach women about birth control?  I didn’t!  The shifts of attitude that took place during the time Eig covers was shocking to me.  John Rock, the Catholic ob-gyn who helped to test the Pill on patients is quoted in 1936 as saying:

Nature intended motherhood to be woman’s career.  Anything that diverted a woman fromstarting that career immediately upon marriage is socially wrong.

Yet by the time the Pill came on the market as Enovid in the 1950’s Rock was actively trying to get the Catholic church to accept Catholic church for women.  Quite a shift over really a relatively short time period.

Something that was shocking to me was the tie in between the developers of the Pill and the eugenics movement-that was scary.  Not what one thinks about when considering medical pioneers.  The lack of oversight in the human testing process both in the US and Puerto Rico also put the time period into perspective for me.  Pincus and Rock and their colleagues tested the Pill on basically any woman willing to sign up without giving an informed consent like you would see today.  A large number of the women testing their dosages were actually trying to get pregnant-not prevent.  Now, Rock was absolutely interested in the use of hormones to help women with fertility issues, but the dearth of information given to patients would help you to lose your medical license if you tried that today.

The Birth of the Pill gave me quite an idea of what life might have been like without the access to birth control that we have right now.  The personal appeals to Sanger and McCormick as the women behind the project made me sad and so very thankful for the work they did!  The letters quoted were quite sobering – a 30 year-old woman with 11 children in 14 years of marriage.  Can you even imagine?  Because I can’t.

Eid followed the timeline of the work on the Pill while moving the focus from player to player often so the book moved pretty quickly for me and never became too dry or scientific.  This was a completely fascinating look at the 4 players that made the Pill as we know it possible.

5 stars!

Read this! Or tell me what you think if you have read this!

Thank you W.W. Norton & Company and Edelweiss for this advance read copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

All quotes were taken from an uncorrected galley proof subject to change in the final edition

Did Not Finish: The Barrow

The Barrow, Mark Smylie

Reviewed by Amanda

Prometheus Books, released March 4, 2014, 613 pages.

18050226From Goodreads..

Action, horror, politics, and sensuality combine in this stand-alone fantasy novel with series potential. Set in the world of the Eisner-nominated Artesia comic books.

To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin’s sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed…

Thank you Prometheus Books and edelweis for this advance copy for review.

I just could not finish this one.  I thought the premise of this fantasy sounded great.  I don’t think I’m particularly prudish in my reading nor am I all that squeamish about violence.  I don’t go seeking extremely violent books, nor do I read erotica, but some gore and some kinky sex aren’t going to turn me off a book.

I can say without a doubt I’m a feminist and I really don’t have the time or interest in reading misogynistic violent fantasies. So this is where The Barrow lost me and lost me early.

Erim-our young woman masquerading as a man and following Stjepan the fearless leader-is in a cave used for blood magic and sacrifice.

The statue they have found has nipples that are “two large spikes jutting out from its chest, and behind the brazier its long thin phalli emerged from its lap like a thick curved spear.  Given the broadness of the idol — it was probably twenty feet wide at its base– the thinness of the phalli struck her as almost comical; but the bronze phalli had to be almost eight feet long, curving upward over the brazier to a sharp, barbed head.”

So naturally Erim “stared at the phallic spear.  She couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be suspended spread-eagled in the air and lower onto that evil-looking tip.  Which hole would they use as their entry point?  Would it feel good at first, then turn to pain?”

Really?  Ick. So we go on, Erim definitely having more kinky sex thoughts and feeling ashamed of her wickedness…

But as I read on and read Erim thinking “But there were none but the Damned that would take the likes of her, so the temple priests had assured her when she was young and they had played with her in the dark.”

WTAF.  So she’s basically a survivor of sexual molestation as a child which makes her want to be impaled on an 8 foot spear for her turn ons?

The next character we follow is Gilgwyr, “brothel owner extraordinaire”.  Okay, so he owns a brothel, fine, not going to turn me off a book.  He does go on for pages and pages about the joy of his “freshly sucked cock”–way more than I needed, but hey, I’m a woman, maybe this is totally appropriate to the male mind.   Where Gilgwyr lost me and I gave up on the Barrow was this image:

his beautiful Palatian acrobat getting the wildest, hardest ride of her short, sweet life from a rutting, bellowing golden bull.”

And with that, I’m out.

Anyone with an opinion on this?