Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, Hallie Rubenhold

Hardcover, 333 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Source: Library
The Five_

From Goodreads…

Five devastating human stories and a dark and moving portrait of Victorian London – the untold lives of the women killed by Jack the Ripper.

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. The person responsible was never identified, but the character created by the press to fill that gap has become far more famous than any of these five women.

For more than a century, newspapers have been keen to tell us that ‘the Ripper’ preyed on prostitutes. Not only is this untrue, as historian Hallie Rubenhold has discovered, it has prevented the real stories of these fascinating women from being told. Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, revealing a world not just of Dickens and Queen Victoria, but of poverty, homelessness and rampant misogyny. They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time – but their greatest misfortune was to be born a woman.

Can we just take a minute and first be glad we were not born poor in Victorian England? Even more so born a poor girl in Victorian England. Now to the book- The Five was fascinating and also just really sad. No gore, no murder theories, just the details that could be dug up about these women and about the reality of life at the time.  And life at that time – it was not easy. I would never have imagined it was easy truly, but this book broke down the day to day for women and girls in a way that really made me think. The final indignity for each of these women is of course that they were all assumed to be prostitutes because they were out on the street at night and I love how Rubenhold takes a new look at each of these lives so the women can be remembered differently. While there are no gory imagined scenes of The Ripper in The Five I still found myself cringing at the dirt and disease, at the child labor and at the brutality of life.

I was also raging at the mistreatment of women from all sides – the police, the press, the societies allegedly for the benefit of the poor if they were deemed worthy. Raging. I was impressed at the amount of research that Rubenhold must have had to do for any records of these women – especially Elizabeth who came from Sweden and  Mary-Jane who left behind the most mystery. Census records, apartment rentals, workhouse registers – the details she went to are pretty incredible. Rubenhold brings The Five to life while you’re reading and restores them as women – mothers, sisters, friends and not prostitutes (save Mary Jane) and not just victims. They all have stories and they should be known.

As I read many of the names of London streets I flashed back to reading Lauren Willig’s The Secret History of the Pink Carnation series or Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister. But these five women would have been blessed to be so lucky as to be a maid to the Pink Carnation or one of Milan’s Dukes. Such an entirely different London to read about. I feel like this book is going to alter my perspective during my fictional reading in the future and I’m thankful for that.  

Now to decide if I want to follow the rabbit hole into reading about the Ripper? Or if I’m just going to be content with reading Deanna Raybourn’s next Veronica Speedwell- A Murderous Relation – which comes out this week!  Maybe that will give me all I care to think about the murders. And if you haven’t read that series yet – Get on it because I’m obsessed. But aside from that – any books about Jack the Ripper that I should read?

Review: When Katie Met Cassidy

When Katie Met Cassidy, Camille Perry

Published June 19th 2018 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Hardcover, 272 pages
Source: ARC at 2018 PLA meeting
31684565
Katie Daniels is a perfection-seeking 28-year-old lawyer living the New York dream. She’s engaged to charming art curator Paul Michael, has successfully made her way up the ladder at a multinational law firm and has a hold on apartments in Soho and the West Village. Suffice it to say, she has come a long way from her Kentucky upbringing.

But the rug is swept from under Katie when she is suddenly dumped by her fiance, Paul Michael, leaving her devastated and completely lost. On a whim, she agrees to have a drink with Cassidy Price-a self-assured, sexually promiscuous woman she meets at work. The two form a newfound friendship, which soon brings into question everything Katie thought she knew about sex—and love.

When Katie Met Cassidy is a classic story of girl meets boy, boy breaks her heart and girl meets… girl.  This was not my typical romance at all and I loved it.  I loved the sparks between Katie and Cassidy and the flirting.  I also loved the questioning and challenging of relationship boundaries and terms.  Katie hadn’t thought about another woman until she meets Cassidy and then she had to rethink everything.  I enjoyed going back and forth between Katie’s doubts and Cassidy’s surety – they were a fantastic pair.  I honestly wasn’t sure how this book was going to end which was extremely refreshing.  
I thought this was a fun and fast read – I was done in a day – but it could have been longer.  More depth into Cassidy’s family and her friendships wouldn’t have hurt at all  It comes through loud and clear that she’s a player but there clearly could have been much more to her.   For light summer though read this was just right and I will definitely make an effort to pick up Perri’s The Assistants now.  
Thank you GP Putnam for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion! 

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.

 

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! 

Maybe the title should have clued me in…

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal

Published June 13th 2017 by William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pages
Source: Library!
32075853

Every woman has a secret life . . .Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

I’m pretty positive the delightful Reading with Hippos pointed me to this book.  The title is amazing – but really it should have tipped me off that that there were actual – you know EROTIC STORIES.  I was expecting the family dynamics, marital stress, the complicated lives of immigrants living in London.  I wasn’t shocked by the racism experienced, the religious bias, or even the question of possible murder.  But some of those stories – whoa were those a surprise!
Yes things got a bit cheesy or moved too quickly maybe – but overall this was just a fun read with more depth than you’d expect to go with the erotic stories.  When you need a book that will make you laugh and reconsider all the produce in your fridge check this out.

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

29868407

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

28503941

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!