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

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

First, a note….

If you’ve subscribed to this blog, bless you for still being around. I hadn’t posted since July 2018! I’ve still been actively discussing books but mostly on my Instagram where I’ve been enjoying the bookstagram community. However, I have missed having a more permanent, long-form place to talk about books. I wasn’t enjoying the monthly round-ups I was doing but I also simply cannot devote the time to blog post about every book I read. So I’ve decided to aim for reviewing one book a month – the book I found most meaningful to read in some way in the month prior. Maybe sometimes I’ll review more, maybe less, but no longer take this blog to be a record of every single book I read. Moving right along.

Book cover of The FiveSummary:
You’ve heard of Jack the Ripper – the serial killer who murdered five women in London in 1888. Most people know the name Jack the Ripper but what about the names of his victims? Here, meet the women whose lives were cut short by Jack the Ripper – Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary. Get to know their world, their personal struggles, and come to see them as people rather than simply victims.

Review:
I learned so much reading this book, and none of it was dry. It was entirely fascinating. I liked the structure very much – Rubenhold goes through the intricacies of the lives of each of the women in the order they were murdered. She also doesn’t just stop at the moment they died – she follows through with who identified the body, who grieved for them (and every single one had someone grieving for them).

A large misconception is that all five of the women murdered by Jack the Ripper were homeless prostitutes. Of course even if that were the case it wouldn’t make the murders less tragic. However, it is simply not true of these women. Four of the five were not prostitutes but rather were simply sleeping on the street because they were homeless. The fifth (Mary Jane) was a prostitute but had a home and was murdered in it.

I found it very interesting how different all of their lives began and yet how most of them ended up on the street regardless. In a way this is really the story of how society failed these women long before it failed to find their killer by allowing them to end up living on the streets to begin with.

I personally found Annie’s story to be the most meaningful, but I think everyone will connect with a different woman in a different way. Annie ended up on the street due to a failed battle with alcoholism. She had a loving family, had climbed up to the middle class, and even did a stint in rehab. But she still lost the battle with her addiction.

Interestingly, her sisters chose the sobriety movement and prospered from it. I found this to be a meaningful passage:

The complete rejection of alcohol resonated with those who found themselves balanced precariously on the edge of middle-class life. By eschewing drink, a hardworking man or woman could save money and build a better life for themself and their family. Annie’s sisters not only adhered to this creed but prospered by it financially. (27% location)

Although her sisters were able to give up the drink, Annie was not. Her brother also still drank alcohol at the time of her murder. Even though she was on the street, he would still see her sometimes and imbibe with her. After her murder, he left the UK for Texas and achieved sobriety.

This hit me hard:

What her murderer claimed on that night was simply all that remained of what drink had left behind. (33% location)

To me, Annie’s full life story was sorrowful, although some beauty did come out of it in that her brother’s life was saved by observing her downfall. I still reflect on her story sometimes. I hope through Rubenhold’s work, Annie’s unfortunate downfall will come to affect change in more people than solely Annie’s brother’s.

I’ve spoken at length about the woman’s story I found the most personally moving and meaningful, but there is also a story of an immigrant, a woman scorned by her husband, a prostitute and the man she loved, and a working class woman who worked in a tin factory and ran from an abusive husband. I am sure you will find one that connects with you and that you will find meaningful.

Those who are disturbed by the gruesome will be pleased to note that there are not gruesome details in this book. The focus is on the women’s lives, not their deaths.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Wolfy’s Favorites – Episode 1

February 29, 2016 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I had a few things from the month of February that I wanted to tell you all about, but all of them were kind of short for their own posts. I got to thinking how a lot of bloggers have a favorites post they do once a month, and I thought that’s such a great idea! It’ll be a monthly feature that will showcase a range of things I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

We’ll start off with the two biggest things.

February Favorites

Screenshot of a quick video I took about a new book I received on PaperBackSwap. That little wolf is my periodic “Wolfy” representative for myself in videos or pics (although you *do* get to see the real  life non-Wolfy me sometimes too!)

Snapchat (username: opinionsofawolf)

I finally got on the Snapchat train! After hearing so much about it, I just had to download the app and see what all the fuss is about. I have to admit, I love it. For those who don’t know, Snapchat lets you post photos or videos (and annotate on top of them) that last a maximum of 24 hours before they disappear. It’s very stream-of-consciousness, and I love having a new format to talk about books, writing, and life in. (And there are definitely some videos of my cat). If you have (or get) Snapchat, friend me! My username is opinionsofawolf.

February Favorites

Instagram collage of my reading location one weekend when I attended my friend’s wedding. The lower left is the wallpaper in the hotel room, the upper left is the view, and on the right is my kindle with the two mugs that were our wedding favors.

Instagram lets you easily manage multiple accounts. Finally!

I’ve had a personal Instagram account for years (sorry, you can’t have that username!), but I found trying to manage a personal and a professional/hobby one to be frustrating, because the app forced you to log out entirely of one account before logging into the next one. There was no simple tapping back and forth between accounts. Well, this month Instagram finally fixed that! So I get to join my fellow book bloggers in the virtual world of #bookstagram. Please do check it out for shots of reading locations, real time mini-reviews and pictures of books as I finish them, and quotes from books as I read them, among other things! Username: opinionsofawolf.

Next up, two smaller, but still exciting to me, things this month.

IMG_6808

Nuun

I actually have another book blogger to thank for this discovery. The awesome Running ‘N’ Reading posted a few times about the recovery drink Nuun. Replenishing electrolytes and rehydrating are very important after working out. It helps with muscle recovery and just general hydration. I’ve struggled because I’m not really a fan of Powerade and Gatorade, especially for the calorie content. (The ones with zero calories don’t taste good to me). I love coconut water, but it’s full of calories and expensive to buy. Nuun comes in tubes that each contain 12 tablets. You drop the tablet into water, and in two minutes it dissolves into a drink. Each tablet contains 8 calories. The tablets make it easy to order online and stockpile into your home, as well as convenient to take with you on longer fitness excursions. My husband and I are both pretty addicted to them now! And we’ve both noticed less DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after hard workout days. Our favorite flavors are lemon-lime and tri-berry.

February Favorites

Bunnies at HomeGoods!

I love bunnies, and this month HomeGoods stocked up their spring holdings. I was hard-pressed to select only a few items (I’ll find almost anything with a bunny on it adorable), but I did my best to stick to what we need. My husband and I each have our own bowl for mealtimes (they do not match) but mine was a bit small for meals like soup or stew. So I picked up one that is about the same size as his. We also had large plates and small plates but no medium-sized ones, so I picked up two of those. Finally, I can always use more kitchen towels, so I got a set of two with this cute bunny on them.

Finally, a book!

cover_blackout

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

I want to wrap up these monthly favorites posts with a quick comment about my favorite read of the month. I devoured Blackout in a mere two days in audiobook format. I basically was searching for any task I could do as an excuse to listen to it. It’s that good. First five star read of the year! Review to come.

So that’s it for February. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 2 of Wolfy’s Favorites!

What were some of your favorite things in the month of February? Have you tried out any of the things I’ve mentioned? Tell us about your experience in the comments! (Especially feel free to let me know your Snapchat or Instagram usernames).

Book Review: Something Spectacular: The True Story of One Rockette’s Battle with Bulimia by Greta Gleissner (Audiobook narrated by Dina Pearlman)

January 24, 2014 2 comments

Line of dancers in white papercut against a bronze background.Summary:
Greta Gleissner finally achieved her lifelong dream of making a living just from her professional dancing. She landed the prestigious job of being a Rockette in the New York City show.  She hoped that this newfound stability and prestige would cure her of her bulimia. What was there to binge and purge about when she was living her dream? But her eating disorder she’d had since a young age won’t just disappear because of her newfound success.  Soon, her bulimia is putting her job–and her life–at risk.

Review:
I was immediately intrigued by the elements of this eating disorder memoir that make it different from the, sadly, so many others that exist.  Greta’s eating disorder peaks in her 20s, not her teens.  She was a Rockette, and she’s a lesbian.  An eating disorder memoir about someone in their 20s in the dance industry who is also queer was very appealing to me.  What I found was a memoir that gives insight to having an eating disorder, the impact of homophobia, and an inside look at the professional dance world told in a non-linear, honest, and engaging manner.

Greta tells her memoir in the framework of a play. There are scenes, acts, overtures, etc… This lets her address the story in a non-linear way that still makes sense.  The overture, for instance, shows a dramatic moment when her eating disorder was at full tilt and destroying her life.  Then she backs up to the few months before she became a Rockette.  The time of auditioning then being a Rockette is interspersed with flashbacks to help us better understand her life.  Finally, she enters an inpatient clinic, where we get flashbacks in the context of her therapy.  It’s a creative storytelling technique that brings a freshness to her memoir.

Honesty without cruelty to herself or others is a key part of her narrative voice.  Greta is straightforward, sometimes grotesquely so, about her bulimia and what it does to her.  The eating disorder is not glamorized. Greta takes us down into the nitty-gritty of the illness.  In fact, it’s the first bulimia memoir I’ve read that was so vivid and straightforward in its depictions of what the illness is and what it does.  In some ways, it made me see bulimia as a bit of a mix between an addiction and body image issues.  Greta was able to show both how something that was helping you cope can spiral out of control, as well as how poor self-esteem and body image led her to purging her food.

Greta also is unafraid to tell us about what goes on inside her own mind, and where she sees herself as having mistreated people in the past.  I never doubted her honesty.  Similarly, although Greta’s parents definitely did some things wrong in how they raised her, Greta strives to both acknowledge the wounds and accept her parents as flawed and wounded in their own ways.  You can hear her recovery in how she talks about both them and her childhood.  She has clearly done the work to heal past wounds.

The memoir honestly made me grateful the dancing I did as a child never went the professional route.  It’s disturbing how pervasive body policing and addictions in general are in the dance world, at least as depicted by Greta.  Similarly, it eloquently demonstrates how parents’ issues get passed down to the children, and sometimes even exacerbated.  Greta’s mother was a non-professional dancer who was constantly dieting.  Greta also loved dancing but her mother’s body image issues got passed down to her as well.  Food was never just food in her household.

One shortcoming of the memoir is that Greta never fully addresses her internalized homophobia or how she ultimately overcomes it and marries her wife.  The book stops rather abruptly when Greta is leaving the halfway house she lived in right after her time in the inpatient clinic.  There is an epilogue where she briefly touches on the time after the halfway house, mentions relapse, and states that she ultimately overcame her internalized homophobia and met her now wife.  However, for the duration of her time in the clinic and the halfway house, she herself admits she wasn’t yet ready to address her sexuality or deal with her internalized homophobia.  It was clear to me reading the book that at least part of her self-hatred that led to her bulimia was due to her issues with her sexuality.  Leaving out how she dealt with that and healed felt like leaving out a huge chunk of the story I was very interested in.  Perhaps it’s just too painful of a topic for her to discuss, but it did feel as if the memoir gave glimpses and teasers of it, discussing how she would only make out with women when very drunk for instance, but then the issue is never fully addressed in the memoir.

Similarly, leaving out the time after the halfway house was disappointing.  I wanted to see her finish overcoming and succeeding. I wanted to hear the honesty of her relapses that she admits she had and how she overcome that. I wanted to hear about her dating and meeting her wife and embracing her sexuality.  Hearing about the growth and strength past the initial part in the clinic and halfway house is just as interesting and engaging as and more inspiring than her darker times.  I wish she had told that part of the story too.

The audiobook narrator, Dina Pearlman, was a great choice for the memoir. Her voice reads as gritty feminine, which is perfect for the story.  She also handles some of the asides and internal diatribes present in mental illness memoirs with great finesse.

Overall, this is a unique entry in the eating disorder memoir canon.  It gives the nitty gritty details of bulimia from the perspective of a lesbian suffering from homophobia within the framework of the dance world.  Those who might be triggered should be aware that specific height and weight numbers are given, as well as details on binge foods and purging episodes.  It also, unfortunately, doesn’t fully address how the author healed from the wounds of homophobia.  However, her voice as a queer person is definitely present in the memoir.  Recommended to those with an interest in bulimia in adults, in the dance world, or among GLBTQ people.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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