Women’s Wednesday: The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things

Posted 23 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things edited by: Anna Holmes

This review is based on an advanced electronic copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Fellow feminists, put this in your must have coffee table book of the year.

Let’s start with my disclaimer above. I haven’t seen a hard copy of this book, what I’m hoping for is better illustrations. Glossy coffee table book magic illustrations. The illustrations and pictures in the e-book left me a little flat. I’m hoping for something more beautiful, I need to get down to a bookstore and see.

Moving on to actual content this book is funny, sassy, and totally unapologetic. You’re getting far-left feminist entries, if you don’t hail from that camp or you lack a sense of humor about your politics, religion, etc. this book is definitely not for you. The entries are absolutist with a healthy bias towards women, people of color, the poor, and the LGBT community. Punches are not pulled. Since it’s written and edited by the fine people that run Jezebel.com taking a peek at their website is a pretty good litmus test on whether or not this book is for you.

My other small complaint is that while the book is comprehensive in the range of things that it covers, (entries range from abortion to Little House on the Prairie to Michelle Bachmann) at times it lacks depth in the entries.  Not a single entry covered more than two pages and most are just a few sentences. I think that it would be useful to have more said about prominent feminists, civil rights leaders, and movements.

That being said, while this book is educational in a way, I think the intent is to be more entertaining and it achieves that very very well.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Tragicomedy Tuesday: In One Person

Posted 22 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Tragicomedy Tuesday: In One PersonIn One Person by John Irving
Published by Simon and Schuster on May 8th 2012
Genres: Fiction, Gay, Literary, Political, Psychological
Pages: 425
Goodreads
four-stars

In One Person is a story of unfulfilled love—tormented, funny, and affecting—and an impassioned embrace of our sexual differences. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character of In One Person, tells the tragicomic story (lasting more than half a century) of his life as a "sexual suspect," a phrase first used by John Irving in 1978 in his landmark novel of "terminal cases," The World According to Garp. In One Person is a poignant tribute to Billy’s friends and lovers—a theatrical cast of characters who defy category and convention. Not least, In One Person is an intimate and unforgettable portrait of the solitariness of a bisexual man who is dedicated to making himself "worthwhile."

I read somewhere that this was Irving’s most political book since Cider House Rules. It probably is. 

A few things though, there seems to be an inordinately large LGBT(Q) population in the tiny town of Favorite River… not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it felt a bit contrived. 

Second. I feel like both of these themes have been better executed in A Prayer for Owen Meany (friendship, the idea of being a ‘Joseph’ [in this case bi-], even the family shares similar characteristics is, but with less love) and A Widow for One Year, which tackles a man’s lifelong obsession and longing for an older woman that in turn shapes his life.

That being said I think that this is a fabulous novel for the subject matter that it tackles. It’s warm and funny, the characters are largely likable. The best part of this novel is the way that it takes on the 1980’s AIDS epidemic and completely humanizes it. Like the AIDS Quilt in DC, it’s a great reminder that those who suffered (and are suffering) are NOT just statistics. 

Definitely worth the read, even if it’s not his best. 

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Mental Health Monday: Personal Thoughts

Posted 22 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in musings

So, it’s almost Halloween again and inevitably the Haunted Insane Asylums are cropping up, just like they always do.

I’m pretty neutral towards Halloween. I don’t hate it, but I’ve never been super excited about it like some people. I think it’s usually good clean fun with some make believe and a sack of candy that used to last me six months out of the year. But I’m also a believer that how we talk about things can lead to societal ‘norms’ regarding that thing. In short, words matter. Art matters. How we portray ‘insane asylums’ (see now: Behavioral Health Centers) – even in jest or fun during the Halloween season matters. Too often it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I know, I know! Everyone is tired of political correctness, and I agree too it can get in the way of innocent fun, but we have such a deep and terrible stigma against mental health in the United States that it is important that we change our thinking to understand that mental illness is just as serious and just as real as cancer and diabetes.

I just Googled ‘Haunted Cancer Wards’ I got zero hits back for a haunted house style cancer ward. My theory – people understand and respect that cancer is a real and tragic disease that individuals and their families must deal with – it’s not something to be made light of, it’s also not something that cancer patients CHOOSE to go through.

The National Alliance For Mental Illness (NAMI) states that suicide accounts for the deaths of nearly 30,000 Americans a year, and that 90% of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. So, yeah, it’s a pretty big problem.

Here’s my point. I feel like that be creating ‘haunted insane asylums’ creates fear of mental patients in the ‘general population’. At best this is counterproductive and at worst actually harmful. One in four Americans suffer from mental illness and by portraying ‘mental patients’ as scary lunatics out for blood, murder, and mayhem furthers the stigma and may prevent people from getting the help that they need — because they think that they’re mental health recovery experience will result in a loss of control of their personal decisions and sanity, which more often than not is not true.

Anyway, just some feelings. I hope it’s not too soapbox-y. What are your thoughts? Am I too uptight? Spirited debate encouraged! 🙂

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Psycho Saturday: Goodbye Nothing

Posted 19 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Psycho Saturday: Goodbye NothingGoodbye Nothing by Beck Sherman
Published by Beck Sherman on September 3rd 2013
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Since the night of the accident, Cain Emmerick has felt different. Empty. What was important to him--family, friends, his job--doesn't matter anymore. His new life revolves around that Nothing inside of him and the extraordinary highs he gets from committing random acts of violence. Seventeen-year-old Joey Morgan is blind, but that doesn't stop her from seeing. Something bad is about to happen. Something that could tear her world apart. For Joey, college life isn't quite turning out like she planned, because before good grades, fitting in, and love, comes survival.

Two words: Violent and gory. 

This book is was purely middle of the road for me. It felt like a cross between Silence of the Lambs and The Mayfair Witches with less writing talent. If you enjoy horror and suspense with a dash of the supernatural then this might be an enjoyable read for you. Sherman is skilled in his attention to detail but the plot and the ending are a bit stilted and forced. 

The title is unfortunate as well, it conjures up thoughts ofGoodnight, Moon. Perhaps that’s an intentional juxtaposition with the violence.

I really don’t have much to say about this one, super helpful in a book review, I know. It’s a middle of the road novel for the most part with it’s outstanding feature being that it’s only a half step down from what I would classify as ‘ultra-violent’. 

With Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained being a ten on the violence scale and Goodnight, Moon being a zero, Goodbye Nothing probably ranks a 6.5.


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Survivalist Friday: Alas, Babylon

Posted 18 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Survivalist Friday: Alas, BabylonAlas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Published by Harper Collins Genres: Classics, Fiction, General
Pages: 352
Goodreads
five-stars

"Alas, Babylon." Those fateful words heralded the end. When a nuclear holocaust ravages the United States, a thousand years of civilization are stripped away overnight, and tens of millions of people are killed instantly. But for one small town in Florida, miraculously spared, the struggle is just beginning, as men and women of all backgrounds join together to confront the darkness.


The first time I read this book was for my ninth-grade English class. Now, fifteen or so odd years later, it’s still one of my favorite books. 

Written in the ’50s during the height of the Cold War it explores what happens when mutually assured destruction actually occurs, centralized government is obliterated and a small town in central Florida has to survive on its own. For a YA book, it’s very real. There are no punches pulled on who might have survived on the ‘outside’. There are some flaws on how radioactivity actually works and affects objects and people, but I only know that because I used to teach Chemical/Bio/Nuclear Warfare Defense for the Air Force. Let’s just call it even with artistic license. 

This is a book about hope, survival, and of course the horrors of nuclear weapons. Even today, it brings a strong case for disarmament, which, for the record I am politically ambivalent about. It paints a picture of nearly the entire world destroyed accidentally. If that seems far fetched, check this out. 

It is very very good. Everyone should read this, at least once.

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Therapeutic Thursday: Next to Normal

Posted 17 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Next to Normal (musical)
music by: Tom Kitt, lyrics by: Brian Yorkey, directed by: Michael Greif (of Rent fame)
 
Winner: 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, (3) 2009 Tony Awards
Nominated: (11) 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical
I’m aware that this is a book blog, but we’re going to take a detour today for something that is very personal and important to me.
Next to Normal is a rock musical that follows the life and breakdown of Diana, wife, mother, and bi-polar depressive. It’s an extraordinarily powerful piece that chronicles and demonstrates not only what it is to live with mental illness, but what it is to live with someone you love and their mental illness. I first saw it with a professional touring cast in St. Louis’ Fabulous Fox Theater sometime while I was in law school. I had never heard of it but my legal ethics professor recommended it to me and I was able to get tickets. I saw it for the second time with a local St. Louis company – and while it wasn’t as powerful in less skilled hands, it still resonated true.
My husband openly wept through the entire thing, it hit so close to home. I compulsively listen to the soundtrack (for reasons I’m not clear on myself, catharsis?) and cry nearly every time I do. I’m not a crier. Art (literature, music, movies, etc.) rarely moves me to tears. (Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber should be a noted exception in the music category).
But Next to Normal is so powerful, so true, so real about what it’s like living with mental illness and the havoc it can wreak on a seemingly perfect little family. Don’t let me scare you away, it’s not a total downer, there is humor to be found even in the bleakest of situations. “Oh, doctor! Valium is my favorite color, how’d you know?”
So, take seven minutes and watch Alice Ripley’s performance (introduced by no other than Carrie Fisher, who’s had her own public struggles with mental illness) at the 2009 Tony Awards of one of the seminal numbers in the show, “You Don’t Know / I Am the One“. Ripley won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical that year and she totally deserved it. After that, I’d encourage you to listen to the entire musical. It’s one of the most convincing and amazing pieces of art that we have on this subject. And it’s spot on true.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wicked Wednesday: Under Your Skin

Posted 16 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wicked Wednesday: Under Your SkinUnder Your Skin by Sabine Durrant
Published by Simon and Schuster on February 4th 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Psychological, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 304
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Gaby Mortimer is the woman who has it all. But everything changes when she finds a body on the common near her home. She’s shaken and haunted by the image of the lifeless young woman, and frightened that the killer, still at large, could strike again. Before long, the police have a lead. The evidence points to a very clear suspect. One Gaby never saw coming . . . Full of twists and turns, this is a dark and suspenseful psychological thriller that will make you secondguess everything. Because you can never be too sure about anything, especially when it comes to murder.

This book is so delightfully British. As an American and an anglo-phile, this was very appealing to me. 

That being said this book also has some substance. I’ve seen reviews that compare it with Gone Girl but I don’t think that it’s quite as good. It’s not as well crafted and the end is a bit of a stretch (I thought so anyway, I’d be interested in hearing other’s takes on it.) I love suspense novels, but I have the worst time reviewing them because I hate to give anything away. 

This book is worth the read if you enjoy books such as Gone Girl or even a good Agatha Christie novel. Nice light airplane reading.

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Terrifying Tuesday: Dracula

Posted 15 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrifying Tuesday: DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
Published by W W Norton & Company Incorporated Genres: Classics, Fiction, Horror
Pages: 492
Goodreads
three-stars

A rich selection of background and source materials is provided in three areas: Contexts includes probable inspirations for Dracula in the earlier works of James Malcolm Rymer and Emily Gerard. Also included are a discussion of Stoker's working notes for the novel and "Dracula's Guest," the original opening chapter to Dracula. Reviews and Reactions reprints five early reviews of the novel. "Dramatic and Film Variations" focuses on theater and film adaptations of Dracula, two indications of the novel's unwavering appeal. David J. Skal, Gregory A. Waller, and Nina Auerbach offer their varied perspectives. Checklists of both dramatic and film adaptations are included. Criticism collects seven theoretical interpretations of Dracula by Phyllis A. Roth, Carol A. Senf, Franco Moretti, Christopher Craft, Bram Dijsktra, Stephen D. Arata, and Talia Schaffer. A Chronology and a Selected Bibliography are included.

Trying to review this is like trying to review Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s classic – the penultimate vampire novel from whence all others sprang (sprung?).

I love the way the story is told through the diaries of young Jonathan Harker (an attorney!), ship’s logs and the diary of Professor Abraham van Helsing. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a monster, he’s a far cry from Anne Rice’s Vampire Lestat but still is more than the mindless monster of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The way he preys on Lucy speaks to a certain sort of cunning. 


Without Dracula our fictional landscape, literary, television, and movies would be extraordinarily different. I find it hard to overstate the cultural importance of Dracula. The vampire as the monster has eventually morphed into the vampire as the outlier (Ricean/True Blood vampires). Ultimately creating an allegory for the monster within us all. Or maybe it’s just fun to get scared. Either way, what a book! 

I’m not generally a fan of Victorian era fiction — but this is easy – and fun. Check it out. Especially since you can get it for free at Project Gutenberg.

(SO much better than Twilight – yeah I know, hater’s gonna hate.)

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#802 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010) 


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Mental Health Monday: Down Came the Rain

Posted 14 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mental Health Monday: Down Came the RainDown Came the Rain by Brooke Shields
Published by Hyperion Books on May 3rd 2005
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Depression, Family & Relationships, General, Motherhood, Parenting
Pages: 240
Goodreads
four-stars

In this compelling memoir, Brooke Shields talks candidly about her experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, and provides millions of women with an inspiring example of recovery hen Brooke Shields welcomed her newborn daughter, Rowan Francis, into the world, something unexpected followed-a crippling depression. Now, for the first time ever, in Down Came the Rain, Brooke talks about the trials, tribulations, and finally the triumphs that occurred before, during, and after the birth of her daughter.

This is a quick read. The writing is a bit simplistic, but the intentions are fantastic and I love that it brings mental disorders (post-partum depression (PPD), specifically) front and center. I like that Brooke Shields as a celebrity was willing to share just how hard it was to cope with the (common!) depression that she had after giving birth.


In the book she continually reiterates that there is no one to blame for PPD and just because no one talks about it, doesn’t mean that it’s not real and more importantly, treatable. She also makes an effort to continually emphasize that PPD is nothing to be ashamed of.

As far as being a mother I had a hard time relating to the book, as I had no trouble conceiving (she speaks of her battle with getting pregnant and in vitro fertilization). I did not experience PPD (probably because I remained on my psycho-tropic medications through my pregnancy). Also, I did not experience the guilt of going back to work (law school in my case). 

Additionally, I was very well educated on PPD and medications related to it because of my previous battles with depression. But she talks of all these things candidly and encourages new mothers to remember that the feelings are normal and there is no shame in getting help – in fact getting help is the best thing that you can do for your new baby and family. 

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Sacrilege Saturday: Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church

Posted 12 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Sacrilege Saturday: Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic ChurchPapal Bull by Joseph Wenke
Published by Trans Über LLC on 2013-10
Pages: 272
Goodreads
two-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Dr. Joe Wenke, disciple of such brilliant and provocative social critics as Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and George Carlin, has taken on the Catholic Church with PAPAL BULL: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church. Wenke bares the scars of his Catholic childhood and exposes the bizarre, absurd and downright frightening skeletons lingering in the Vatican closet. Following in the same hilarious, intellectual vein as YOU GOT TO BE KIDDING! A Radical Satire of the Bible, Wenke confronts the epic hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in a no-holds-barred examination of its history, practices and beliefs. Equal parts revelation, inquisition and humor, PAPAL BULL will make you rethink what you thought you knew about the Catholic Church.

My problem with this book is not that I find the content offensive, it’s how poorly it’s executed. The author speaks about how he wrote this book over a short period of time, almost as if in a trance, and henceforth published without changing hardly a word. Well, maybe some editing would have made for a better book.


The author is obviously smart and quirky and has a lot of anger towards the Catholic Church – a lot of anger that I believe is justified. Unfortunately it’s executed like a 200 page Buzzfeed list rather than a well structured humorous book that has legitimate beef with a institution steeped in hypocrisy. I know this isn’t an academic book, but references are ALWAYS nice, especially when you’re arguing explosive things like religion and politics. 

There are parts of this book that are extraordinarily poignant and witty. My favorite part is the comparison between the famous Potter Stewart line on pornography being hard to define but “I know it when I see it.” and using it to compare it to exorcists knowing demonic possession when the see it. 

This book could be great, but instead it’s too hastily put together to make much sense. All that being said, I do have an interest in reading his first book You’ve Got to Be Kidding.

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