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Book Review: Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System by Cyntoia Brown-Long and Bethany Mauger

book coverSummary:
Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder she committed at the age of sixteen. Her case became national news when celebrities and activists made the hashtag #FreeCyntoia go viral in 2017. She was granted full clemency after having served fifteen years, walking out a free woman on August 7, 2019.

This is her story, in her own words.

Review:
I think how people will respond to this memoir will depend a lot on what they believe justice to be. Do certain levels of crime deserve never-ending punishment? Can people change or be redeemed? Then there’s another level of do teenagers, people who are still growing and whose brains have not fully developed (brains do not complete developing until approximately age 25), deserve to spend the rest of their lives being punished for an act committed at this age? This memoir aims to be proof that people can be redeemed and, indeed, if we want people to change, they need to have hope that an end could be in sight for them.

The fact of the matter is that no one but Cyntoia, God, and Johnny Michael Allen know what truly happened that night. Cyntoia has never denied killing Johnny but has maintained it was in self-defense. The only facts that we know are that she, a sixteen-year-old who had been being sold for sex by her pimp, was picked up by Johnny Allen, a 43-year-old, and brought home with him, and they were alone in his bedroom together. Both potential stories told by each side are possible. It’s possible he brought her home for sex, like Cyntoia says. It’s possible he brought her home in an attempt to take care of a teenager he found living on the street, like Johnny Allen’s family says. Regardless, Cyntoia ended up killing him. The memoir dances around exactly what happened, with Cyntoia describing him picking her up and bringing her home but then describing the night as a red haze with no details. Was that to protect a guilty conscience or to protect details that would hurt Johnny Allens’ family that no one really needs to know? It’s very hard to say. But in a way I think this is appropriate because Cyntoia admits that she killed him, and the true point of the story is first, how did this girl end up here and second, can she be redeemed?

How she got here contains two of the more interesting aspects of the memoir. First, the school to prison pipeline is painfully obvious in Cyntoia’s story. She originally was placed in a gifted class, acted up some (didn’t get along with the teacher) and was downgraded. She started to be told over and over again she was bad. It was all downhill from there with her hanging out with the crowd of kids who were always in trouble and being constantly told she was bad and not listened to. The police were even called on her at school for her not wanting to give the teacher her purse in detention. If we want our children to rise to their potential, having school tied to prison in the way that it is is not the solution, and treating children like they’re “bad” when they’re just children who mess up sometimes is sending them a clear message that many children will just accept or fail to.

The other issue that came up during one of Cyntoia’s trials is that her birth mother admits to drinking alcohol while she was pregnant, and some doctors have diagnosed her as having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This is relevant, because fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can cause poor judgment, hyperactivity, poor reasoning, and problems in school. It seems, given both doctors’ testimonies her birth mother’s admission, and Cyntoia’s own perspective that this sad tale is likely, therefore, partially entwined with alcohol abuse. Cyntoia herself states multiple times that she doesn’t know why she has tended to act so impulsively. This could partially help explain it and be another of the many tentacles of how alcohol impacts our society with poor outcomes and violence.

Cyntoia ultimately chooses to have faith that she could possibly be redeemed and decides, even if she can’t be, she doesn’t want to waste her life. She goes to a unique program available in her prison that allows her to go to college. She pursues self-improvement and mentorship of others, and she works to help young girls who have also been trafficked like she was. (It is not a question that Cyntoia was trafficked as she was underage and had a pimp). Cyntoia attests much of her self-improvement to her new-found faith that she solidified after meeting her now-husband via letters in jail. (He felt called to write to her). A spiritual practice is important for anyone to have a well-rounded recovery, and I think it is also significant that the school that offered the college program inside the prison was also a religious school. I am glad for her that she has found comfort and faith, but I also hope it’s not too entwined with her husband and is her own source of strength. While healthy relationships are important, and it’s nice to share a faith, it’s also important for that strength to come from oneself and not from relying upon another fallible human being.

Overall, I think this shows a personal look at the school to prison pipeline, the potential impact of alcohol on a child’s life, and how redemption could look. It’s important to come into this book with an open mind and a willingness to not crave more than Cyntoia is willing to share, nor to think that this book will reveal all the truth or all the answers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

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May 2018 Book Reviews – Confessions of a Prairie Bitch (#memoir), The Couple Next Door (#thriller), Final Girls (#thriller), The Wife Between Us (#thriller), Maggie for Hire (#fantasy), Never Stop Walking (#memoir), My Best Friend’s Exorcism (#horror), The Marriage Lie (#thriller)

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A selection of books on display at De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum. For more shots check out my bookstagram.

So I thought I read a lot in April with 6 but holy cow I read 8 books in May! What even? Honestly I barely remember May. What happened in May? Who knows. I need to do a better job of bullet journaling. I do remember my husband and I did our first motorcycle ride of the season and saw the De Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum and I thought that day was hot but oh boy did I not know what was coming. (#bostonheatwave #icouldfeelmyskincooking) I do sense a theme in my May reading which was thrillers and memoirs. I knew I’d read a lot of thrillers because my husband suggested I take a break from thrillers which he only does when I’m suddenly having trouble sleeping from reading thrillers. (This usually happens at about the third thriller in a row and oh look I read three thrillers in a row).

Anyway, this is gonna be a long post, so let’s get down to it.

I started off the month with a book I picked up on BookBub (a service that emails you alerts when books in certain genres you like/by authors you like go on sale). Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Olesen and Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim. Like many girls of the 90s I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie and had always heard Alison was ironically the nicest girl on the set while playing the meanest. I’d also heard she grew up to be an advocate and had overcome some personal difficulties so I was intrigued. This book was the perfect combination of personal story and behind the scenes of Little House. Alison is gut-wrenchingly honest while being incredibly witty. Her advocacy work includes fighting for harsher punishment of proven sexual abusers of children and working to help those with HIV. Be warned she overcame sexual abuse in her household so if that would be upsetting for you, you may want to skip over this one.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next was The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena a thriller involving the kidnapping of a baby. I read this in audiobook format, and so I had to keep finding excuses to go listen to it. While this kept me motivated to find out what happened, there were things I really didn’t like about it. All of the women were incredibly catty with each other, there was a lot of judgmental tone used for the neighbor next door for how she dresses (it’s fine to be judgey of her for other reasons), and representation of mental illness (particularly dissociation) was near bunny boiling levels of fear-mongering. Even if you are ok with these elements, the ending was over-the-top ridiculous and dissatisfying. I still gave it 3 stars because I was motivated to find out the ending but all of these things really soured it for me, and I doubt I’ll ever read anything else by the author.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another thrillerFinal Girls by Riley Sager. This one imagines a world where over the last few decades three mass murders have occurred with each leaving one sole survivor. The media has dubbed them the final girls. Well now someone seems to be coming after the final girls to finish the job. There’s not too much to say about this one beyond the fact that I liked the concept, there were just the right amount of twists and turns, and I thought it was well-done. I’d say this has a feminist slant, which meant the whodunnit was a bit predictable but how we get to that was still twisty enough I didn’t mind too much. Sager has a new book out this month, and it’s on my tbr.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

Next another thriller and you guys this one is a rare 5 star read: The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This one sounds cheesy and (sorry) it has a cheesy cover too. When the book starts out it appears to be about an ex-wife jealous over a new soon-to-be wife but prepare to have your assumptions blown out the window. This reminded me of Big Little Lies only (dare I say it) I liked it better. This book has more than one twist. I thought I had it figured out when the first major twist happens but you guys there are more twists and one had me so shook that I actually gasped out loud on my train. It’s exactly what I want out of relationship-based thrillers. Loved it loved it. Their next co-authored book is out in January, and I am hype.
(5 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I picked up a book that had been languishing on my kindle forever – the urban fantasy Maggie for Hire Kate Danley. You could probably write the plot summary if you’ve read an urban fantasy in your day. The main character hunts monsters that make it to our world from the parallel fairy universe etc…. I think this is just proof that books are best read close to when they make it onto your tbr pile. This book would have suited me at a certain time in my life. At this time in my life it did not. I thought it was ok but I thought the main character was annoyingly immature and the plot too predictable. I won’t be continuing on with the series.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon?)

Soon I got the monthly email from Amazon’s First Reads program for Prime members where you can select one book from a list to read for free pre-release. I picked up Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson. This intrigued me because it concerns Christina’s experience as an inter-racial adoptee (from Brazil to Sweden). She was also adopted at an old enough age (7) to remember her life before Sweden, which included living in a forest and then in the favelas (essentially shantytowns or slums).  Christina (her Brazilian name is Christiana) does a phenomenal job loving and understanding both of her mothers. Her Brazilian mother with a mental illness and her Swedish mother who does her best to love and understand her in spite of cultural and personality differences. Christina shows a remarkable ability to see the best in people who have good intentions and to make the best of difficult situations. She also shows a passion for helping the children still living in the favelas now. Recommended to anyone with an interest in or considering inter-racial adoption.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next I picked up a horror My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Set in the 80s with a Spotify playlist to go with it (I learned I cannot be bothered to go pull this up on my phone while reading) this tells the story of a girl’s best friend getting possessed by a demon and her exorcism of course. As someone who was brought up very religious and saw the actual strongmen of Jesus perform, I loved seeing them in a book (just as cheesy as I remembered) but with the added bonus of one of then actually spotting the demonic possession of the best friend. That said. I felt horribly queer-baited by this book, particularly with how the ending almost goes there but doesn’t quite. Don’t go into this expecting it all to ultimately be about accepting your same-sex attractions. It hints and teases at that a lot but it is not.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Finally I wrapped up the month with another thriller – The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle. A plane crashes and Iris’s husband was on it and she suddenly finds herself a young widow. Only he was supposed to be on a flight to Florida but the flight that went down was on its way to Seattle. This is when the mystery begins. I was so into this book right up until the end (why does this happen so much in thrillers?). The way a certain character was written and described in the end of the book (not earlier or I would have stopped reading entirely) struck me as racist. I just am not down with the only black character of note in the book suddenly being described as hulking and scary with a police situation where the narrative wants the reader to root for the black man to be shot. I just. Am not. (There is one other minor black character and he makes the grieving widow take him out for dinner to give her information, which struck me as sinister as well). I still gave this 2 stars because it was readable and not completely riddled with awfulness but it really left a gross taste in my mouth.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Well that wraps up my month! My total for May 2018:

  • 8 books
    • 6 fiction; 2 nonfiction
    • 7 female authors; 2 male authors (remember one book had two authors)
    • 5 ebooks; 0 print books; 3 audiobooks

 

April 2018 Book Reviews – Kushiel’s Avatar (#fantasy), Please Forgive Me (#romance), The Song of Hiawatha (#poetry), A River in Darkness (#memoir), The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (#espionage), Pennterra (#scifi)

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Reading poolside in Florida.  For more shots check out my bookstagram.

Wow what a busy month! After only completing one book in March, in April I finished a walloping six! Let’s get right to it.

I read quite a bit of Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey while on a business trip to Orlando, Florida in April (um, where I got to wrestle an alligator YES THAT HAPPENED). Ahem, anyway, this fantasy chunkster finishes up Phedre’s Trilogy and it was the perfect companion for a business trip since I was definitely not going to find the time to finish it while on the trip so it could keep me company throughout. Anyway, if you’ve heard of the trilogy and have been intrigued by it, suffice to say that I found the conclusion to be an improvement on the second book but didn’t live up to the first. I appreciated the artistry of the ending but I personally wasn’t a fan of how Phedre’s life ended up, which I think soured it a bit for me. But not enough to not put the first book in the next trilogy in this world on my tbr list.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap? Maybe? I bought it somewhere)

Next I picked up Melissa Hill’s romance Please Forgive Me. This piece of modern Irish literature follows our heroine from Ireland to San Francisco where she tries to outrun her problems. I found the Irish interpretation of California (not least of which the idea of how the main character can just show up and work under the table and that’s fine) to be pretty hilarious. Three couples are ultimately presented where someone did something “wrong” but no one seems to think all of the running away is particularly wrong? This was one of those classic there would be no problems if everyone would just act like adults instead of impulsive children types of chick lit books. If you’re ok with that and the idea of an Irish take on California appeals to you, you may have found your next read.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

Next something possessed me to finally get around to reading the copy of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which is I believe out of copyright and has been hanging out on my kindle forever. By “something possessed me” I mean like many other New England children I was forced to memorize (and PERFORM) “Paul Revere’s Ride” (read it in its full glory) and I was curious if the other Longfellow epic poem lives up to Paul Revere. Um. It does not. Here’s the thing. Longfellow’s style works great for a piece about a time very close to his own and his own people in a short form. It does not work great in a full length book based on his interviews with Native Peoples and his attempts at writing down the language. It basically consists of Hiawatha telling the different nations to stop warring and unite or they’d be over-run by white people. It felt a bit…victim blamey to me. Also then in the final chapter missionaries arrive, Hiawatha welcomes them, tells his people they have a very important message and to be nice to them, then sails off in what I think is a metaphor for his death. So Hiawatha is a hero for telling those silly Native nations to unite to fight off white people but also recognizing the salvation message. Okayyyyy. I kept reading it because I thought it must get better. It did not. Stick to Paul Revere’s Ride.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: no idea anymore)

I received my next read free from Amazon thanks to the Kindle First program, and I feel like I caught it just at its popularity wave – Masaji Ishikawa’s memoir A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea. Masaji Ishikawa is half-Japanese and half-Korean. His Korean father moved the family to North Korea based on promises of a better life when he was 13 years old. Masaji’s life has been incredibly hard – not just in North Korea but also in Japan. When he was a child, he faced racism in Japan because he was half-Korean, and when he escaped back to Japan he faced many difficulties repatriating (for instance, they housed him in a half-house with recovering addicts, while that is a home, you can imagine it would be difficult to repatriate in such a situation). Masaji has lost so much family; it’s overwhelming. I think he’s brave for telling his story, and I encourage anyone interested in helping North Koreans to check out the well-rated charity Liberty in North Korea. While this story is incredibly important, to me personally the pacing was a bit off. Maybe it wasn’t in the original Japanese.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Amazon)

While I was reading these other books, I was also reading my audiobook The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carre. I picked this up because it’s supposed to be a classic involving the Berlin Wall. This is about a British spy and basically the whole book is the question of is he loyal to the West or not? The book begins and ends at the Berlin Wall. I found the beginning very engaging and the end was exciting, but the middle dragged. I’m glad I stuck with it for the end, though. Also there’s a love interest who is a librarian in this, which was exciting for me! Recommended if you like spy novels.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Audible)

I finished out the month with a 1987 female written scifi – Pennterra by Judith Moffet. Basically there’s an alien planet colonized by Quakers (because Earth is dying and spaceships of groups of people who have something in common are leaving Earth looking for places to live). Of course there’s an indigenous people who resemble large insects and communicate both vocally and through emotive telepathy. I’d read this book was an exploration on the power of pacifism for resolving conflict, BUT I didn’t find much pacifist negotiation. They just do what the locals tell them to do and obey the rules put upon them. That’s pacifist, sure, but is that negotiation? I thought the planet being alive in and of itself and resisting invaders was fascinating. I thought seeing how children who arrive on the planet at the age of 7 are different and able to adapt was fascinating. I did not think that human children going through puberty and proceeding to behave like the locals sexually in ways that involved the adult humans who never adapted to the planet themselves to be logical (beyond the gross factor). Basically the locals have sex with everyone who’s hit puberty. The human children who hit puberty do the same with adults who don’t feel the natural inclination to go native and so feel guilty about it. What this ultimately means is the author ends up equating bisexualty and polyamory with incest and bestiality. No scenes are particularly graphic but the idea is that it’s ok for the human kids to do it because that’s how the local planet works. But it’s…..not. And it was very uncomfortable for me to see these things being equated. That said that is a minor plotpoint that I was able to skip over easily enough and I was interested in how the planet was going to defend itself, and I found it hilarious how the planet ultimately defends itself. I just wish the author had had going native in the human adolescents to just be bisexuality and/or polyamory and stopped short of the rest. Because they are still HUMANS even if they’ve had to adapt to the environment.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(Source: Paperbackswap)

Phew, what a month! My total for the month of April 2018:

  • 6 books
    • 5 fiction; 1 nonfiction
    • 3 female authors; 3 male authors
    • 3 ebooks; 2 print books; 1 audiobook

 

A trio of #nonfiction Reviewed in #Haiku

August 5, 2017 2 comments

anne frank

We All Wore Stars: Memories of Anne Frank from Her Classmates
By: Theo Coster

Summary:
Theo Coster was one of 28 Jewish Dutch students segregated into their own classroom by the Nazis. Another one of these students was Anne Frank. Theo gathers stories from other surviving students and himself both of their experiences of the Holocaust and their memories of Anne.

Haiku Review:
All together yet
Each experience unique
Grounding reminder.

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift
Buy It

crazyenough.jpg

Crazy Enough: A Memoir
By: Storm Large

Summary:
Storm knew growing up her mother was crazy so it was pretty scary when a doctor responded to her inquiry if she was crazy like her mother that she wasn’t yet but was going to be. Follow Storm through her journey of multiple diagnoses and a search to be more than just crazy.

Haiku Review:
A one-woman show
Reflects in the narrative
Left with some questions

3 out of 5 stars
Source: Publisher
Buy It

tidying up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
By: Marie Kondo

Summary:
Japanese cleaning consultant vows she’s never had a client relapse after following her sort everything once by category not by room and then organize it method. You may have heard jokes in social media about her sorting method being based on “does this spark joy?”

Haiku Review:
Some good tips mixed with
Animism but take it
With a grain of salt

4 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
Buy It

Book Review: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Audiobook narrated by Sarah Hepola)

Book Review: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Audiobook narrated by Sarah Hepola)Summary:
“It’s such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing is, it doesn’t hurt one bit. A blackout doesn’t sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you. Close your eyes and open them again. That’s what a blackout feels like.”

For years Sarah Hepola ignored her blackouts. She was a young woman with a successful writing career living in New York City. She was empowered, and part of embracing equality was drinking like one of the guys. But while littering her writing with references to drinking and laughing off her drunken escapades, she actually spent her daytimes cleaning up after her blackouts. Figuring out how she scraped up her knees or tracking down her purse. Eventually, she realized that drinking wasn’t making her the life of the party and one of the guys. It was stealing who she was, and it was time to get herself back.

Review:
I have a thing for addiction memoirs (and addiction documentaries….movies…tv shows…). But I have often found myself puzzled by the female drinking memoir. Often presented as a woman (usually a wife and mother) who appears to have it all and hides all of her drinking because women don’t drink. I’m sorry, but as a Millennial, that’s not the kind of drinking I’ve seen women in my generation partake in. Drinking was considered unladylike by generations even as recent as the one right before ours (that my brother is in). But in mine? What I often saw was women proving their coolness by keeping up with the guys. These women would never hide wine. They’d take shots and get praised for it. So when I saw this memoir talking about the impact on women of drinking like one of the guys; of how this equality of substance abuse is really impacting women, I had a sense it was going to be something good and insightful, and I was right.

Sarah Hepola shows the reader through a clear lens exactly how the different perceptions of women and alcohol impacted her drinking, and thus how they might impact other women. The book starts with some context of how young women are both encouraged by their peers to binge drink but then are also blamed by them when bad things happen to them when they are drunk. She then moves on to talking about her own childhood when she would steal sips of beer from open cans in the fridge, and how her parents never suspected she was sneaking beer because little girls wouldn’t do that. She then gradually brings us up through time and shows us how with drinking she was subconsciously trying to pursue both fitting in and equality. She drank to fit in and be cool in college. She drank with co-workers on her male-dominated first job to be one of the guys and get the same networking opportunities they got after work by going out for beers. She liked that it wasn’t necessarily feminine. She liked feeling strong and empowered.

By embracing something that is perceived of by the culture as hyper-masculine, like binge drinking, women are seeking to be taken seriously and viewed as equals. Women do this in other areas too. Just look at power suits or the short haircuts preferred by women in positions of power. Our culture devalues what is perceived of as feminine and elevates what is perceived of as masculine. There are many issues with this, which I can’t go into in a short book review, but what matters about this for women and alcohol is that women’s bodies just don’t biologically process alcohol the same way men’s bodies do. Sarah Hepola goes into this in quite some detail, but essentially, women get drunker faster on less alcohol than men do, which means women black out more easily, and blackouts are dangerous. They make anyone vulnerable, but they make women particularly vulnerable to things like date rape.

Sarah Hepola does a much more eloquent job in the book than I am doing here in the review of illuminating how gender and alcohol mix to make the modern alcoholic young woman. And the book doesn’t just detail the dramatics of her youthful drinking. She also goes into great detail about what it was like to stop. To find the empowerment of being completely in control again and not losing parts of herself and her life to blackouts. She talks about her sober life and how exciting it is, and she even talks about finding some spirituality. Most importantly to me, she discusses how women in western culture today are often told we are equal but are able to sense that things that are feminine are just not taken seriously. So they pursue the masculine to be taken more seriously and in some cases the masculine is simply not helpful. It is harmful. Sometimes, in cases like with binge drinking,  it’s even more dangerous for women than for men. I believe the book offers some hope when Hepola talks about finding strength in her sober living and in her accomplishments at facing life as a single woman.

Those listening to the audiobook will be entranced by Hepola’s own voice telling the story. I couldn’t stop listening and listened every second I could. One of the more haunting moments of the audiobook is when toward the end Hepola introduces a tape recording she made as a teenager discussing a sexual encounter she had while drunk with a much older boy. Hearing the incredibly young voice of a woman already being drawn into the harmful world of addiction was heartbreaking to listen to and made me want to fix things, even though I wasn’t totally sure how.

This book left me realizing that the reality of women and alcohol has changed, and the cultural narrative needs to catch up with it. Women aren’t drinking in closets to dull their feminine mystique pain anymore. They’re drinking loud and proud because they want to be empowered and taken seriously and yes, even perceived of as cool. While we can talk about finding more positive ways of empowerment, I think it’s also important that we as a culture strive to stop putting innate positive value on the masculine and negative on the feminine. Things should be valued based on their impact on the world and not on the gender norm of who does it. And young women will stop feeling pressured to act like a man when men and women are equally valued. All of these things I am saying play into male drinking as well. If you think zero young men are binge drinking to be seen of as more of a man, you’re very wrong. We just see less of the immediate negative impact of male binge drinking because women black out so much more easily.

Hepola wrote a brave book that illuminates the issue of binge drinking among young women today. It’s both personal and with an eye to the culture as a whole, thinking beyond just the author herself. Readers will be haunted both by the voice of the young Sarah and by the thought of young women seeking to empower themselves actually making themselves more vulnerable. A key read for anyone who works with or cares about these younger generations of women.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Counts For:
miabadge
Illness(es) featured: Addictive Disorders

Women and the Vietnam War – 5 Nonfiction Reads

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsTo celebrate Women’s History Month, I thought it’d be fun to assemble a reading list looking specifically at the women’s history aspect of a particular historical event. When I thought about it, I couldn’t easily think off the top of my head of any books about women and the Vietnam War, so I decided to build my list on that. It taught me something while I was assembling the list for you.

I tried to cover both women part of the War, as well as women protesting the War or part of the counterculture. All book blurbs come from either GoodReads or Amazon.

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsDaughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture
by: Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo
Publication Date: 1997
Blurb:
“Hippie women” have alternately been seen as earth mothers or love goddesses, virgins or vamps-images that have obscured the real complexity of their lives. Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo now takes readers back to Haight Ashbury and country communes to reveal how they experienced and shaped the counterculture. She draws on the personal recollections of women who were there–including such pivotal figures as Lenore Kendall, Diane DiPrima, and Carolyn Adams–to gain insight into what made counterculture women tick, how they lived their days, and how they envisioned their lives.

This is the first book to focus specifically on women of the counterculture. It describes how gender was perceived within the movement, with women taking on much of the responsibility for sustaining communes. It also examines the lives of younger runaways and daughters who shared the lifestyle. And while it explores the search for self enlightenment at the core of the counterculture experience, it also recounts the problems faced by those who resisted the expectations of “free love” and discusses the sexism experienced by women in the arts.

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsHands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
by: Faith S. Holsaert, et al
Publication Date: 2010
Blurb:
Fifty-two women–northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina–share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.

The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism.

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsHome Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam
By: Lynda Van Devanter
Publication Date: 1983
Blurb:
On June 8, 1969, a patriotic, happy-go-lucky young nurse fresh out of basic training arrived in Vietnam to serve a year’s tour of duty as a second lieutenant in the Army. It was a year that was to rob Lynda Van Devanter of her youth, her patriotism, her innocence – and her future.

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsUnfriendly Fire: A Mother’s Memoir
By: Peg Mullen
Publication Date: 1995
Blurb:
Outspoken, fearless, and wickedly humorous, Peg Mullen tells the story of her transformation from an ordinary farm woman into a nationally recognized peace activist following the death of her oldest son, who was killed by artillery misfire in the Vietnam War.

Women and the Vietnam War - 5 Nonfiction ReadsThe Valiant Women of the Vietnam War
By: Karen Zeinert
Publication Date: 2000
Blurb:
From journalists and nurses to those who mobilized to protest or support the war effort on the home front, women of all ages took advantage of the changing social climate of the 1960s to break free of their traditional roles. A discussion of Vietnamese women’s roles in the conflict is included.

Announcement: I Am Open to Review Requests Now Through December 30th for Review in 2016

Image of confettiHooray!!

I am happy to announce that as of now I am open to review requests for books to be reviewed in 2016!!!

Now through December 30th, feel free to fill out the submission form if you are interested in being reviewed right here on Opinions of a Wolf at some point during 2016.

Here’s how it’s going to work:

  1. You lovely indie authors and indie publishers read my review policies to determine if your book is a good match for me.
  2. If it is, fill out the submission form.  I do NOT accept submissions via comments or emails.
  3. Between December 1st and 30th, I go over the submissions and determine which ones I will accept.  The number I accept will depend upon both the number that interest me, and the number I feel comfortable committing my time to in 2016.
  4. I send out acceptance emails to all the accepted authors/publishers anytime between December 1st and January 8th.
  5. By January 15th, accepted authors/publishers reply to this email either with a copy of the ebook or confirmation that they have sent out the print book to me.  If I do not hear back from accepted authors/publishers by January 15th, the review acceptance will be rescinded.
  6. By January 31st, I will write a post right here announcing the books I have accepted for review.  This means that if you are accepted for review, you have the potential for three instances of publicity: 1) the announcement 2) the review 3) a giveaway (if you request one AND your book receives 3 stars or more in the review).  You may view 2015’s announcement post here.  I highly recommend checking it out, as it reveals some interesting data on genres that have many versus few submissions.

I would like to note that I strongly encourage women writers and GLBTQA writers to submit to me, particularly in genres that do not normally publish works by these authors.  I was quite disappointed last year to get only 38% of my submissions from female authors.  I would like to get at least 50% of my submissions from women authors.  Although I received 14% of my submissions from authors who self-identified as GLBTQA, I would like to see this grow to at least 25%.  Please help me get the word out that I am actively seeking works by these authors.

If you are interested in the full breakdown of submissions I received last year and what was ultimately accepted, check out my 2015 accepted review copies post.

Thank you for your interest in submitting your books to Opinions of a Wolf!  I’m looking forward to reading through all of the submissions, and I can’t wait to see what review copies I’ll be reading in 2016!

June Updates and May Reflections

View of the Colorado River and Austin, Texas, where I went this month for work.

View of the Colorado River and Austin, Texas, where I went this month for work.

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres reviewed here in May.

The book of the month for June will be:

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein
First reviewed in June 2013
“I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology.”

How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?

May books read: 5 (2 nonfiction, 3 fantasy)

May reviews: 5

Other May posts: 1 response to current events

Most popular post in May written in May: On Josh and Anna Duggar and the Fundamentalist Christian Culture of Forgiving Molesters and Abusers

Most popular post in May written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

May writing: This was a rough writing month for me.  It was an incredibly busy month, including a business trip that meant I wound up working twelve days in a row.  I also this month really felt the stress of planning my wedding more so than other months.  So that meant a lot of evenings (when I usually write) I was too stressed out to get into the zone.  I hope that this month I can handle my stress better so I can get back into the groove.  I would like to finish the first draft of my current project by the end of June.

Coming up in June: I have three fantasy reads for Once Upon a Time IX to post reviews for.  I also have a review of a nonfiction book I got through NetGalley to post.  I also participated in the book blogger interview swap for Juneterviews over on Book Bloggers International, so be keeping an eye out for a link to that.

Happy June and happy reading!

2013’s 5 Star Reads!

January 4, 2014 1 comment

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2013!

Image of a bicycle with a bag of money on its back is under the title of the book in red.The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future
By: Chris Guillebeau
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Crown Business
Genre: Nonfiction Lifestyle
Themes: independence, success, small businesses
Summary:
Guillebeau investigated what makes microbusinesses (small businesses typically run by one person) successful by conducting a multiyear study interviewing more than 100 successful microbusiness entrepreneurs.  Here he presents his findings on what makes for a successful microbusiness and offers advice on how you can become a successful microbusiness entrepreneur too.
Current Thoughts:
I refer to things I learned in this book at least once a week.  Guillebeau offers practical advice for the aspiring small business owner on everything from choosing an idea that will work to setting the right price to marketing.  The things I’ve been able to try from the book so far have worked.  This book shows what happens when a nonfiction book bases its advice on solid research.

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.The Curse of the Wendigo (The Monstrumologist, #2)
By: Rick Yancey
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Horror, YA
Themes: love lost, the nature of good and evil
Summary:
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep.  She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf).  Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.
Current Thoughts:
What I remember when I think about this book is the beautiful language and the dual setting of the horror.  Setting the book both in rural Canada and urban New York is part of what made it feel so unique to me.  A horror that travels instead of being trapped in one setting isn’t seen as often.  The book is beautiful and grotesque at the same time. A rare find.

Image drawn in largely dark colors of a man's plasticene face with rectangular wings behind him.Man Plus
By: Frederik Pohl
Publication Date: 1976
Publisher: Orb Books
Genre: Scifi
Themes: transhumanism, artificial intelligence
Summary:
The first Earthling reworked into a Martian would be Roger Torraway.  Martian instead of Earthling since everything on him had to be reworked in order to survive on Mars.  His organic skin is stripped off and made plastic.  His eyes are replaced by large, buglike red ones.  He is given wings to gather solar power, not to fly.  All of which is organized and run by his friend, the computer on his back.  Who was this man? What was his life like? How did he survive the transformation to become more than human and help us successfully colonize Mars?
Current Thoughts:
This has a scifi plot that both explores an issue I’m interested in (transhumanism) and managed to surprise me at the end.  It’s a short book that makes you think and has compelling three-dimensional characters.  I’ll definitely be keeping this one and seeking out more of Pohl’s writing.

Red lettering on a yellow background stating "A Queer and Pleasant Danger" black lettering around the edge says the subtitle of the novel, "The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today"A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology, and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today
By: Kate Bornstein
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Beacon Press
Genre: Memoir, GLBTQ
Themes:  religious abuse, trans rights, gender, Borderline Personality Disorder
Summary:
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist.  She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her.  Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body.  It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned.  From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.
Current Thoughts:
This memoir is engaging right from the title and stunning in the level of honesty Bornstein displays.  Bornstein eloquently presents the reality of being trans, entering a leaving an abusive religion, and the complexities of gender.  An incredibly readable memoir that stays with you.

Woman standing in front of electrical storm.Succubus Dreams (Georgina Kincaid, #3)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: the grayness of good versus evil
Summary:
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, has a lot on her hands between dating her human author boyfriend, Seth, (and not sleeping with him to protect his life energy), adjusting to her new managerial position at the bookstore, and her usual succubus requirement of stealing good men’s life energy by sleeping with them.  So the last thing she needs is another new assignment from hell, but that’s what she’s getting.  Seattle is getting a second succubus, a newbie she has to mentor.  When she starts having dreams about having a normal, human life and waking up with her energy drained, it all turns into almost too much for one succubus to handle.
Current Thoughts:
This series glows in my mind as a favorite that I will return to again and again.  This book is where I truly began to fall in love with it.  The third entry shows that urban fantasy can be more than monster of the week.  It does what genre does best.  Ponder real life questions in an enjoyable wrapping.

Woman in white and wearing a cross standing in front of a foggy sky.Succubus Revealed (Georgina Kincaid, #6)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: soul mates, forgiveness, personal growth
Summary:
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, is incredibly happy to be back together with her previously ex boyfriend, Seth Mortensen.  But getting back together with him came at the price of hurting his once-fiancee and having to leave her previously loved position managing the bookstore.  It’s all worth it to be with Seth, though.  But then a transfer notice comes in, sending her to her dream job in Las Vegas.  It’d be a dream come true, except Seth can’t come with her because his sister-in-law has cancer.  Georgina starts to wonder just why so many elements seem to keep coming together to try to drive her and Seth apart.
Current Thoughts:
This an amazing series finale that reveals so many aspects of the overarching plot that I wanted to go back and re-read the whole series immediately just to look for more of the overarching plot that I was oblivious to the first time around.  It’s a wrap-up that is satisfying without making everything too perfect for the characters.  It has a lot to say about love and redemption. And it made me cry.

Redheaded woman in a sexy leather top standing in front of fog.Succubus Shadows (Georgina Kincaid, #5)
By: Richelle Mead
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Themes: facing your past
Summary:
Seattle’s succubus, Georgina Kincaid, cannot believe she has been roped into helping plan her ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  It’s enough to make anyone depressed.  But she can’t afford to be depressed, because every time she starts to feel down, a mysterious force tries to lure her away to what must be a dangerous place.  Georgina is fed up with all of these mysterious attacks on Seattle.  It just doesn’t make sense.  What is making them target Seattle? And seem to be maybe targeting her?
Current Thoughts:
The penultimate book in this series isn’t afraid to go dark places with tough questions.  It also addresses the issue in urban fantasy that a lot of people joke about: gee that’s sure a lot happening in this one town!  Mead addresses this in a tongue-in-cheek manner that also ties into the overall plot.  I was amazed at how well this series incorporates both all the things that make urban fantasy fun (demons! sex! supernatural battles!) and an overarching plot that tugs at the heart strings and makes some of the bizarre things that happen make sense.

Simple cover image containing a broad off-white background on the top third of the cover and a red background on the bottom two thirds. The book's title and author are printed on the background.The Time Machine
By: H. G. Wells
Publication Date: 1895
Publisher: New American Library
Genre: Scifi, Classic
Themes: dystopia, time travel, evolution, class divides
Summary:
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time.  But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.
Current Thoughts:
I’m so glad I added this scifi classic to my list of books I’ve read.  I of course had heard of the general idea of the Morlocks and the Eloi, but reading about them for myself, I was easily able to see how this became a classic.  It kept me on the edge of my seat, concerned for the scientist’s safety, even while exploring issues of inequitable class divides and pondering the future direction of the evolution of the human race.

A green and white book cover with an image of a woman and her reflection.Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
By: Karyl McBride
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Nonfiction Psych, Nonfiction Relationships
Themes: overcoming adversity, mother/daughter relationships, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, abuse
Summary:
A guidebook for adult women raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  Dr. McBride is a therapist with many years of experience treating daughters of NPD mothers and also with treating people with NPD.  Additionally, she herself is the daughter of a woman with NPD.  The book is divided into three sections to help the daughters of mothers with NPD to heal and take charge of their lives.  The first section “Recognizing the Problem,” explains what maternal NPD looks like.  The second section, “How Narcissistic Mothering Affects Your Entire Life,” explains the impact NPD mothers have on their daughters, both as children and as adults.  The third section, “Ending the Legacy” is all about healing from the NPD mothering and breaking the cycle of Narcissism.  Dr. McBride offers clinical examples from her practice as well as detailed, clearly explained exercises to aid with healing.
Current Thoughts:
This is one of the best books I’ve read for adult survivors of abusive childhoods.  It works because it focuses narrowly on one type of relationship and one type of dysfunctional, abusive childhood to be overcome.  McBride explains what happened to the adult survivor when they were a child, how that affects them now, and how to overcome it.  She does this while neither excusing nor demonizing the mother’s behavior.  A great book for anyone with an interest in how mothers with NPD affect their daughters.

Book Review: A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein (Audiobook narrated by Alice Rosengard)

June 27, 2013 1 comment

Red lettering on a yellow background stating "A Queer and Pleasant Danger" black lettering around the edge says the subtitle of the novel, "The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology, and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today"Summary:
Kate Bornstein is a playwright, gender theorist, and queer activist.  She chose to write a memoir as a way to reach out to her daughter, Jessica, who is still in the Church of Scientology, and thus, must not speak to her.  Her memoir talks about growing up Jewish in the 1950s, feeling like a girl inside a boy’s body.  It then talks about why and how she joined Scientology (still identifying as a man, Al), climbing Scientology’s ladder, marrying, fathering Jessica, and finally getting kicked out of Scientology and becoming disillusioned.  From there the memoir explains to Jessica how and why Al decided to become Kate and talks about the person behind the queer theory, trying to explain who the incredibly unique parent she has truly is.

Review:
I was feeling bad about how far behind I’ve fallen in writing up reviews for the books I’ve finished reading, but with the historic DOMA ruling in the US yesterday (giving official federal support to marriage equality), I’m really glad I had a GLBTQ book in the queue ready to be reviewed.  And not just any GLBTQ book. An amazing one!  You can’t read that title and not be intrigued. It’s impossible.  I spotted it on tumblr and instantly knew I had to read it.  A memoir about a transwoman who was a member of Scientology?! It’s the intersection of three topics I find fascinating.

Kate is unabashedly honest about the fact that this book exists as a letter to her daughter, Jessica.  The prologue explains that this memoir came about as a way for Kate to reach out to Jessica and her children, even after Kate has passed away.  This lends a tone to the book of an elderly neighbor sitting down to tell you their life story, and you finding out gradually that your elderly neighbor is, in fact, a bad ass, and age has nothing to do with how cool a person still is to this day.  And Kate doesn’t hold back because of this perspective.  If anything, she is more brutally honest than she might otherwise be.  She wants Jessica to have a whole, clear picture of who she is.  Flaws and all.  One technique that I thought was brilliant for a memoir and helped establish trust in truth between the reader and the author was the fact that Kate would tell a family story she heard growing up and then say, well, that was a lie.  I thought it was true, but it turns out what people told me was a lie.  Given that, how can we ever know what really is true? Just because we think something is true doesn’t mean it is.  It’s an excellent grain of salt to be given in a memoir.

After the prologue, Kate tells her story chronologically.  Her story can be roughly summarized as the following sections: growing up a gender queer person, joining Scientology, break-down after getting kicked out of Scientology and coming to terms with her queerness, transitioning, life as a lesbian trans activist, finding BDSM, and overcoming depression and suicidal thoughts.  It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, and one cannot help but feel empathy for this person just struggling to find a place in the world.  Personally, I think Kate’s life story is an excellent argument for breaking down the binary gender divide.  A lot of Kate’s struggles come from the rigid gender norms and expectations placed upon her by others.  It would have been much simpler for people to have let her be gender fluid, and indeed, Kate in more recent years has come to be an activist for gender fluidity and queerness (as is evidenced by her book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us).  This memoir of course explores trans issues, but it also is an amazing gender queer memoir.

The Scientology section was surprisingly mundane compared to what I thought actually happens in Scientology.  Yes, there was abuse and lies and many other things going on that demonstrate the fallacies of L. Ron Hubbard, but honestly none of it was that much worse than religious extremists of any religion.  Scientology expects its followers to cut themselves off from people deemed poisonous and to proselytize non-stop.  It takes over the lives of the people in the upper-echelons, controlling every aspect of their lives.  We can see all of this in Kate’s years in Scientology, and while it was interesting, none of it is shocking to anyone moderately informed on Scientology.  I actually was more interested in how Kate wound up joining Scientology.  Scientology teaches the the soul is genderless, and you also reincarnate.  Everyone has been in both male and female bodies.  Kate (then Al) found this incredibly comforting.  It’s possible that his soul was just more frequently in female bodies, and so that’s why he felt like a girl inside.  What an appealing concept to a confused, unsupported trans or gender queer young adult.  I think this part of the book demonstrates clearly why it’s important for families and loved ones to be supportive of their glbtq teens and young people.  You don’t want a harmful group of people snapping them up with promises of understanding and caring and information that sounds more supportive than the people they live with.

Interestingly, the much more shocking section was the one in which Kate discusses discovering BDSM and getting pleasure from pain.  Kate was part of a BDSM triad for quite some time, and this is addressed.  It does, however, come with a warning for Jessica and readers who might not want to hear the details so they can easily skip over it and still get the most important information without getting all the details.  I thought that was a nice touch from Kate, showing her maturity and openness.  Of course, I read that section, and I will say that Kate had a more intense BDSM relationship than you tend to see in literature, and it was interesting to read about.

It’s also interesting to note that from the prologue Kate is honest with the reader about being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder years ago.  This is not something I knew coming into the book, and I don’t think Kate’s mental illness played very much into the book.  I certainly think she would have had a better time coping with her mental health issues if she had had a supportive environment for her queerness.  Even within the GLBTQ community, she was ostracized for some of her less mainstream beliefs within that community.  It’s sad that even a community of people ostracized by the larger society, people can still be unaccepting and unloving.  In spite of the fact that the book talks a lot about depression, self-injury, and other mental health issues, I am hesitant to label it as counting for my Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge.  I don’t want the casual reader to think that I’m equating being queer with having a mental illness.  However, the fact remains that Kate herself states she was diagnosed with BPD, and trans and queer people certainly can have mental illnesses.  One does not cause the other, although certainly I think lack of acceptance and loving increases symptoms of mental illnesses.  In any case, for this reason, I am counting this read for the challenge, but I want to be crystal clear that this is due to Kate’s BPD and NOT her queer/trans orientation.

The narration of the audiobook was perfect.  Thankfully, they chose to use a female narrator throughout, which fits perfectly with the image of an older Kate Bornstein telling her life story to her daughter.  Alice Rosengard was a perfect narrator.  She became Kate in my mind, and there’s not a better complement you can pay a narrator than that.

I feel like I’ve rambled a lot about this book.  It’s hard to succinctly discuss a memoir as unique as this one, let alone a book you love as much as I loved this one.  It’s amazing. It’s unique.  It does exactly what a memoir should do. It tells a unique life story in an engaging way that forces the reader to put herself into someone else’s shoes and feel empathy and maybe even come out of it with a changed worldview, however slightly.  I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology.  I will definitely be reading more of Kate’s works, myself, and want to thank her for being a pioneer, in spite of everything.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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