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

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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! 

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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

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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: When Everything Changed

When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
Gail Collins
Published 2009 by Little, Brown and Company
480 Pages

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This book opens with an incident in 1960, in which a 28-year-old woman was sent home from an appearance in traffic court – to pay her oil-executive boss’s speeding ticket – because she was wearing slacks. Collins quoted the magistrate who sent her home:

“I get excited about this because I hold womanhood on a high plane and it hurts my sensibilities to see women tearing themselves down from this pedestal,” the magistrate told reporters. It was a convoluted expression of the classic view of sexual differences: women did not wear the pants in the family – or anywhere else, for that matter. In return, they were allowed to stand on a pedestal.

Ugh. Vomit.

What follows is a wide-ranging survey of the (almost) 50 year span between that incident and the book’s publication. Collins uses news articles and interviews to document the big-picture changes through individual lived experiences of American women:

One day coeds were in school just to earn an MRS degree, and then – whoops – there were so many qualified, competitive young women winning the best places in the best colleges that the media worried about what would become of they boys. One year little girls were learning the importance of losing gracefully, and the next they were suing for admission to the Little League. It left many people shaking their heads, wondering what propelled such extraordinary change so rapidly.

This book was a good conversational starting point, to be sure. Collins covers a lot of ground, including the differences between reformers and radicals in the women’s movement, the role of black women caught between movements for their race and for their gender, how women were able to rise in their careers thanks to the availability of lower-class women to help with childcare and housework, and how Gloria Steinem “served as a symbol – whether she liked it or not – that women could be both militant and sexually appealing.”

The movement’s various factions had little in common. The reformers did not want to overthrow the existing system – they wanted to open the gates so that women could become part of it…the leaders of the radical wing of the women’s movement wanted to go much farther than simply leveling the playing field when it came to things like job opportunities. They were going to examine everything about American womanhood…they intended to figure out what had kept their sex in such a secondary role…If you could connect all the dots and examine the patterns, you could identify the patriarchal forces that were keeping women down.

Mostly, this book left me wanting more. Of course, that’s not so much a statement on the book as it is a statement on 2016 society, folks.

One piece of history that seems to have been lost at some point, was that in “in the early 70’s, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives actually passed legislation that would make child care available to every family that wanted it.” Huh. Did you know that? However, it was vetoed by Nixon – in a move that surprised many – and we’ve never had that kind of support again.

So in a world where women have certainly earned a seat at the table in schools and corporations and politics, there’s still a relegating to “women’s issues” things like healthcare and maternity leave and education and childcare, as women are left to solve those problems on their own.

When the young activists of the ‘60s and ‘70s had imagined what life would be like for the liberated woman…they did truly believe that the structure of society would change to accommodate their new ways of living. They thought the humanistic corporations of the future would offer flexible schedules so both the husband and wife would be able to pursue success on the job while having time to take care of the responsibilities at home. They expected that men would automatically do their share of household chores. And they believed the government would start providing early child care the same way it provided public education. They had not considered the possibility that society might remain pretty much the same as always, and simply open the door for women to join the race for success while taking care of their private lives as best they could.

I’ve paid close attention to opportunities for women in America since 2nd grade, when my mother called out my teacher for saying that the girls in our class can grow up to be mothers. “Of course they can. Mothers and what? Or did you also tell the boys they can grow up to be fathers, full stop?” I’m paraphrasing here, but the story is definitely a true fact. Anyway, for being in-tune with the topic, I did learn a few new things and new perspectives from this book. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not going to go down as an oft-quoted favorite.

Reading this general overview reminded me of some more topic-specific reads I’d like to get into.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (link to Shannon’s review on River City Reading)

The Birth of the Pill (my sister’s review)

Notorious RBG (my sister’s review)

Bad Feminist (my sister’s review)

Anything else you would add to this list?

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Review: The Guest Room

The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalian

Published January 5th 2016 by Doubleday

Hardcover, 336 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat.

I read The Guest Room in a day – not a stay at home reading day – granted a ridiculous train commute added to my reading time – but I worked all day and found time to finish.  That’s how compelling this book was!  Chris Bohjalian tweeted at me when I said I was in shock, “My books walk a tightrope between heartbreak and hope.  Never sure on which side they will end up.”  That’s a pretty accurate summation of my feelings at the end of this one.  Heartbroken and hopeful both.  

Richard is kind of an idiot for offering to host his brother’s bachelor party in his family home – and from that bad decision many others play out.  Another friend arranges for strippers to be at the party, but they didn’t expect the strippers to be sex slaves who kill their bodyguards and run.  I feel like this book could have been turned simply into a simple mystery with a lot of action and gore – it is what makes Bohjalian so great that this was an extremely emotional read while still tense and compelling.  

We follow Richard, his wife Kristin, and their young daughter Melissa as they each try to deal with what happened and recenter their family after such a violation of their home – both by Richard and by the murder.  We also follow Alexandra and learn how she went from an Armenian school girl to a victim of an international slavery ring.  Her story is all the more heartbreaking when you realize how disgustingly common it is.  Alexandra’s story pulls no punches – the language is graphic and her life is violent.  This was a strong juxtaposition to the chapters from the point of view of Richard’s spoiled 9 year-old.  What very different lives for these girls.  I was really surprised at how invested I felt on both sides of the story though – I worried about Richard’s future nearly as much as I worried about Alexandra.  And oh his poor wife!  How do you stay married?!  What do you do? Clearly I’m definitely still reeling from this book and the ending.  This would be a great book club book – I very much need to talk it over with someone!  

This was so incredibly different than Bohjalian’s last book Close Your Eyes Hold Hands – which I also really enjoyed and also left me emotionally all over the place.   Last, if you check out his website you can read about the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking and the work they do – check it out!

5 stars!

Thank you Doubleday and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Nonfiction Review: Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

By Charlotte Gordon

Random House, 2015

Source: e-ARCs from Edelweiss

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Holly

You guys. This book was my white whale of 2015.

Let me tell you a (not)secret: I do not read nearly as many books as my sister. To date, I have read about half as many books as my 2015 goal – in part because I spent so much time not-reading Romantic Outlaws.

I started this book in March. I finished it in September. More accurately, I started and stopped this book in March and then read this book in September, but it weighed heavily on me in the interim.

Anyway, you should read this book, but I won’t pressure you about when. Take your time.

I chose – and labored over – this book because Amanda said: ‘hey, let’s read this!” All I knew of Mary Wollstonecraft I remembered from Mr. Nall’s AP European History class, and she sounded like someone I should know more about, having written A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, well before the first-wave feminist movement began in earnest.

I went into this book with no idea what I was getting into with the Marys.

Amanda

I too, think I read this book forever.  This is not a read for the faint of heart – it is 672 pages.  But it was completely fascinating and worth all of the time it took.  I really didn’t believe a nonfiction book this long would keep me enthralled but I was hooked.  Occasionally I was thrown off by too many Marys, but I really loved how we flashed back and forth from mother to daughter.

Holly

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759, and died in 1797, when her daughter Mary Shelley was born. Mary W had unquestionably shitty parents – an abusive father and a checked-out mother – and she spent her childhood moving around as her father dodged debts or chased various schemes. Mary W decided she wanted more out of life, and took initiative to make things happen – starting with her writing. She wrote articles, then books, and then decided to document the French Revolution in real time. She willingly went to Paris during the terror while blood is running in the streets. There Mary, not one for social conventions, fell in love and had a child out of wedlock. She was up for the challenges she faced from society, though she had more trouble with her rocky relationship and her own depression. Back in England a few years later, Mary met and eventually married William Godwin, who had once called a husband’s legalized possession of a woman in marriage “odious selfishness.”

Mary Shelley grew up with her father, William Godwin, who remarried shortly after his wife’s death. Godwin, while an interesting person, turned out to be not a winning parent himself. Mary S, singled out her whole life as the child of intellectual heavyweights, went through a rebellious teenaged period which resulted in her running off with the poet Percy Shelley. The married poet Shelley. This was a bad scene, made worse by the fact that Mary’s step-sister and rival, Jane, tagged along. Then Jane changed her name to Claire, and there were pregnancies and rumors and the poet-playboy Lord Byron and before long, the girls and the poets were nicknamed “the league of incest.” All the while, Godwin was either not-speaking to his daughter, or asking her to get Shelley to send money. Along the way, Mary Shelley developed into a talented writer herself, truly the equal of her husband. Mary and Percy marry, eventually, after his wife’s suicide. Seriously – these stories are fascinating.

The book flips with a chapter on Wollstonecraft then a chapter on Shelley. At first, I found this jarring, but when I tackled this book in September I just decided to take notes along the way. Once I actually got into this book, it was a page-turner – in part, because of the scandals and antics, but also because of the impact that mother & daughter had on writing, on feminist ideology, and on the societies in which they lived.

Amanda

Do you ever have that experience when you’re really into a book then find that it relates to everything around you?  As I was reading about Mary W making the choice to stay in France during the Revolution and what she wrote about the revolutionaries I was also reading The Secret History of the Pink Carnation books.  That series focuses on the English nobles who, at times, actively worked with the displaced French nobility.  I had a whole new perspective on my fun historical fiction read.  

Then I met Lord Byron – the Justin Bieber of his time. Seriously, I need to read more about him.  But I then flashed back to Almost Famous Women and the story of poor and illegitimate Allegra Byron.  Does this happen to anyone else?  I swear I referenced this book all the time in conversation and I talked my husband’s ears off.  These Marys were just amazing! I have 21 pages of highlights in my kindle from this book.  I won’t give you all of those – but will leave you with Gordon’s words:

Even those who revere mother and daughter do not fully realize how profoundly they changed the moral code of the day… Not only did they write world-changing books, they broke from the strictures that governed women’s conduct, not once but time and time again.  Their refusal to bow down, to subside and surrender, to be quiet and subservient, to apologize and hide, makes their lives as memorable as the words they left behind.  

So Holly, when are we going to start reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Frankenstein?

Read this! Nonfiction November is coming!

Thank you Random House for these advance read copies in exchange for honest opinions!

Review(ish) – Yes Please

Sometime last year, my two besties from high school (and loyal GIAO readers!) and I started talking about reading a book together to discuss and review. Initially, that book was going to be Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices. Then, we took it down a few notches and decided to read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please together.

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This led to a series of texts and emails over a few weeks about the book, about the virtues of reading, and about coolness. Reading is obviously a pretty solitary activity, but discussing a book with friends can be all sorts of fun. I highly recommend it (and guys, let’s do it again!).

So, here’s what we thought about the book (texts and messages have been edited to sound way more put together than the conversation actually was. My buddies are Bestie 1 and Bestie 2 – they are both brilliant and hilarious.

H: How’s the book going?

Bestie 1: I’m about halfway through – she is funny, but I can’t stop comparing it in my mind to Tina Fey’s book which I thought was funnier. Not a fair comparison, but that’s what’s happening.

H: I am also comparing to Tina Fey, but not sure who wins the comparison yet. I noticed they are both no dummies: UVA and Boston College. With Bossypants, I sort of regretted that I never watched 30 Rock and am now sort of regretting not watching Parks and Rec.

Bestie 2: Interjection: Amy Poehler has a site called Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls that posts cool stuff women achieve worldwide. Also, I have spent more time in the past 12 months reading other women’s advice than is really necessary: Sonya Sotomayor, Ariana Huffington, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton (albeit indirectly), Tina Fey, Rachel Maddow, Mindy Kaling. I’m sure I’ve got more.

Bestie 1: Half the point of reading is to understand people and who they are and what they did to make them who they are so I would say it was all time well spent.

[Break for messages about when we can all get together for a weekend. Insert note from #2 –  For-freaking-ever H lived on the East Coast near Bestie 1, but she recently came to her senses and moved back to the Midwest where Bestie 2 lives.  Bestie 2 is ridiculously excited about this because now we can force Bestie 1 to come visit and freeze her ass off in the 11 months of the year it is cold here.]

Bestie 1: Things I have thought while reading Yes Please: Amy Poehler is cool. I wish Amy Poehler would stop trying to convince me she is cool. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool as Tina Fey. I wish Amy Poehler was as cool about her coolness as Tina Fey. I wish I was as cool as either one of them.

Bestie 2: She’s also more blatant about her messages than Tina – Say what you want, like who likes you, etc. Tina more told parables that were entertaining along the way that you enjoyed reaching the moral of the story.

[Break for messages about bread, cheese, and wine — in copious amounts. Priorities.]

H (the open-minded optimist): I am 40% done with the book and I don’t feel like Amy is overselling her coolness really. Hmmm.

Bestie 2 (in a moment of delusion): She’s growing on me.

Bestie 1 (always agreeable): I have also turned around on the book – I am almost done now and the final third warmed me back up to who I thought she would be. Not that I was ever really not enjoying it.

[Break for messages about Bestie 2’s new puppy! Yay puppies!  That puppy is amaze-balls.]

H (bringing us back to order): Am I the only one not finished with this book yet? Working on it now! She lost me a bit waxing poetic about her Parks and Rec castmates since I have never watched it.

Bestie 2 (feeling herself again): I have no patience. I skip things I’m not interested in. Only reason I’m still reading this one is to chat with you besties about it.

Bestie 1:  [radio silence]

H: Okay, here’s my final thoughts. From reading this, I think Amy Poehler is pretty cool, but I am definitely not a super fan – she joined SNL long after my days of watching it, and I really haven’t seen her in that much. I really don’t have anything bad to say about the book – I just don’t have anything great to say either. It was okay.

Bestie 1: I am glad we read this book together because I like doing things with you guys and texting funny things to each other. As for the book – it was good, but I just wish it was better. I like Amy Poehler – she is smart and funny and I like that she encourages girls especially to be smart and funny. I honestly just thought she would be a better writer. I was under the impression that she wrote more (I had the mistaken presumption that she created and wrote Parks and Rec like Tina Fey created and wrote 30 Rock). It was a good breezy read. I have been reading a book about the Cook County criminal courthouse, busiest in the US. Interesting so far. [H interjection: that one sounds less breezy!]

Bestie 2 (a.k.a. crabby-pants-mcgee): Umm I have decided that I don’t have to finish everything I start.  

So there you have it.

Review: Henna House

Henna House, Nomi Eve

Reviewd by Amanda

Published August 12th 2014 by Scribner

320 pages

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From Goodreads…

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

 I am still reeling from this book.  First of all, how gorgeous is that cover?  I find the practice of henna to be beautiful and fascinating and I had no idea that it was widespread beyond India.  I’ll say I was wholly unaware of the story of Yemenite Jews as well so I feel like I learned a lot from this book.

Adela’s childhood in Yemen was far from idyllic.  Her mother is disconnected from her, her brothers seem like terrible people and she knows her father is dying.  The law of the Imam at the time is that any Jewish child orphaned by their father will be adopted by a Muslim family to be converted.  Adela is watched closely by the family that wants to take her away so basically the poor child lives in terror.  The exception to this rule is for a child who is to be married, so Adela’s parents should have had her engaged from the time of her toddlerhood.  Key being should have. We see how this failure to plan haunts Adela as she grows up and especially in the wake of her parents deaths.

As a young girl growing up in the Middle East in the 1920’s and ‘30s Adela has very little control over her own life.  Despite the lack of power Adela really impressed me.  When her cousins move in next door and introduce her to their henna nights Adela learns about the power she can have as a woman. She learns to draw with henna and begins to learn the alphabet and dreams of more in her life.  Her life at the end of the book was not at all what I would have predicted when we met her.  All of Adela’s life is wrapped up in these henna patterns that you can nearly see through Eve’s words.  The writing is as beautiful as the henna itself.  I both loved and hated parts of the ending I have to say-some of it was just too much for me.

Comparisons to The Red Tent are inevitable and I think this is a worthy successor!

4 stars!

Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.