Eighty Days by Matthew Goodman – Audiobook Review

eightydays zps3b31a5e7 pictureEighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman, narrated by Kathe Mazur
Published in audio by Random House Audio, published in print by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, both imprints of Random House

Synopsis:

November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly set off to travel around the world in less than eighty days, an attempt to break the record set by Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg from the novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Bly’s travel was paid for by the paper she worked for, Joseph Pulitzer’s World paper in New York. Although the idea originated with her, by the end of the day Nellie Bly was not the only young woman traveling around the world. The publishers of The Cosmopolitan decided to send Elizabeth Bisland, who wrote a books column for the magazine, on her own journey heading west instead of east, in at attempt to beat not only Phileas Fogg, but Nellie Bly as well.

Thoughts on the story:

I love it when authors find fascinating historical events about which I know nothing and tell it really well. I knew a bit about Nellie Bly before Eighty Days, but interestingly not about her race around the world. My knowledge was limited to her expose on the insane asylum on Blackwell Island, a reference it is possible I learned from my massive The West Wing marathon earlier this year. Goodman lays his story out very clearly, alternating between the two women’s stories in a way that is faithful to the timeline while still maintaining a good flow. While the book itself is rather long, it has a good pace and is continually interesting.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Kathe Mazur does a wonderful job narrating. Like Goodman’s writing itself, she maintains a good pace and, while she doesn’t do much vocal differentiation between the stories, it isn’t really necessary or called for here, and there is no problem keeping the narrative straight.

For more, please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

soundbytes pictureOverall:

A long book, but well worth the read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu – Book Review

thepeopleofforever pictureThe People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
Published by Hogarth, an imprint of Random House

From the Publisher:

Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid is a powerful book. The girls all have difficult lives, and their time in the Israeli Army don’t make things any easier. If anything, one gets the feeling that the army has them even more screwed up than they were as children, and these psychological issues are something that they will pass down to their own children. None of the girls are particularly likeable, and in going between the three of them we don’t get to know any one of them overly well, but their vulnerabilities still make them characters with whom the reader can empathize, even if he or she has experienced nothing like  seeing a coworker stabbed while guarding a checkpoint.

The style of The People of Forever are Not Afraid can be challenging at times – it is not always immediately apparent which girl is the focus of a specific chapter – but it is a worthwhile read, both for the foreign-to-many experience it chronicles and for how compelling it makes the lives of these young women. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon – Book Review

5277626742 ae264b2253 m pictureThe Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

Always a strong and opinionated young woman, Kamila Sidiqi is not entirely sure what to do with herself once the Taliban overruns her home city of Kabul. She can no longer go to school, or indeed go outside with any freedom whatsoever. To make matters worse, Kamila’s older brother and father must flee to avoid being conscripted or punished by the Taliban and Kamila’s mother leaves with her father, leaving her five youngest children – nearly all in their teens – at home alone rather than risk their lives on a dangerous trip. As the oldest of the children left behind, Kamila is determined to do whatever it takes to care for her siblings, but to ensure that they are materially comfortable, she needs to find a way to make money, not an easy task since the Taliban will generally not let women work outside the home, or go anywhere without a male relative as an escort. Kamila is a resourceful young girl, however, and it is not long before she comes up with a plan: she and her sisters will become seamstresses, taught by their accomplished older sister who is married, but still lives in Kabul. All of the girls will work together to create the dresses, and Kamila will sell them to tailor shops in the market place. Clothing is, after all, one of the few items which people are still in Kabul.

I love portraits of people, particularly women, around the world, particularly when they show the strength of the human spirit through adversity. Looking at “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” in that light, it was a fascinating book; Kamila and her sisters were incredibly brave and resourceful, finding a way to not only maintain their own household, but to provide work for numerous local girls and women as well.

Unfortunately, Lemmon’s writing and storytelling failed to captivate me. Everything seemed very flat. The danger inherent in their lives was stated, but never felt particularly urgent, nor was the political situation explored with much complexity, which disappointed me. The writing was very straightforward, but to the point where it, too, seemed to lack complexity.

“The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” failed to challenge me and, as such, I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly for adults, although people with particular interest in the lives of women in the Muslim world may find interesting. I do, however, think that this would be an inspiring and completely appropriate book for younger teens who wish to explore the realities of people in war-torn areas of the world.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, via Net Galley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

She Wolves by Helen Castor – Book Review

5400736759 514209e12b m pictureShe Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

When people think about English queens, the two Queen Elizabeths come to mind, perhaps Mary Tudor and Victoria. The one thing all of these women had in common is that they reigned in their own right, not as mere extensions of their husbands’ power. As the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I is perhaps the epitome of the reigning queen of England, and certainly the first woman to rule so successfully under her own power, without the insinuation that she was being ruled by a husband, as was true of her older half sister, Mary Tudor. Although the Tudors women – Jane Grey, Mary Tudor, and Elizabeth Tudor – were the first to rule officially, they were not the first women to  exercise great power over England.

Helen Castor’s She Wolves explores indepth the lives and rules of four women whose stories could and may have provided the framework – cautionary and otherwise – that allowed Elizabeth’s great success as a woman and a ruler.

This Virgin Queen could do much. She was seductive Venus as well as chaste Diana. She was both a king and a queen, a man’s heart in a woman’s breast. What Knox had denounced as her “monstrous regiment” had given England the golden age of Gloriana. – p. 460

Jane Grey and Mary Tudor’s reigns were also mentioned more briefly, but it was the women who rules without the formal investiture of power that form the basis of this work.

Castor focuses primarily on Matilda, Lady of England, her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou. Eleanor is probably the most famous of these women, being ruler of the duchy of Aquitaine in her own right, and essentially ruling for her son Richard I during his crusade and later his captivity on the Continent. She is perhaps the most interesting case study as well, as her life is a fabulous example of the different responses to strong women depending on their role in life. Demonized when fomenting rebellion among her sons against her controlling husband, she was later celebrated when acting on her absent son’s behalf. At the same time Eleanor’s chapter was perhaps the weakest; her husband and sons were such oversized characters that their actions overshadowed her for much of the section devoted to her.

Castor’s writing was clear, her style extremely engaging. I would have liked more comprehensive notes on sources. Many are mentioned, but in the end notes, and without reference to which sections of the chapters they informed. I would have particularly liked to have seen the notes for the section on Margaret of Anjou, because it seems that Castor was blaming much of the War of the Roses on Margaret’s foreign political upbringing and the decisions she made because of it, and I am completely unsure whether or not that is a valid reading of the historical sources – although it is an interesting one. Overall, though, I appreciated going deeper into the lives of these women who were so foundational to the ability of later women to rule England. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound |Amazon*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Power of Friendship – Guest Post by Beth Hoffman, Author of “Saving CeeCee Honeycutt”

4603556037 8d1cf465fd m pictureThank you to Beth Hoffman for writing this piece for DevourerofBooks.com. I reviewed Beth’s novel yesterday and, let me tell you, it really made my day when I read it last week. For this post I asked Beth to simply write about what was nearest and dearest to her heart: friendship.  Please read to the bottom for giveaway details.

One of the themes in Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is the undeniable power of friendship. True friends see our goodness and flaws, strengths and weaknesses, and they love us for who we are rather than in spite of what we might lack. Throughout my life I’ve valued my friends, and among the most important things I’ve learned is that friendships come in all sorts of surprising ways and shouldn’t be limited by differences in age, background, or race.

The formative years of my childhood were lived on my grandparents’ farm. It was a rural area and there were very few kids to play with, so I was raised among the easy, unhurried ways of older women. From my garden-loving grandma, to the widow who lived up the road and created hand-made paper dolls, to the wise African-American cook who worked for my great aunt Mildred, each one made an indelible impression upon me.

How blessed I was to be exposed to the simple yet oftentimes remarkable words of wisdom that came from interacting with women who had lived through decades that encompassed everything from unexpected joys and triumphs to unspeakable tragedies. Those day-to-day interactions gave me a foundation that has held me up ever since. Never have I heard more profound truths than those that were spoken in my grandmother’s big old kitchen during the hot, humid days of canning season.

Then came the day that I entered first grade. From the moment I took my seat in that tiny classroom, I found myself feeling uncomfortable and awkward.  Who were these squealing little people in lace-topped socks and crisp gingham dresses, and what on earth did I have in common with them? I was so accustomed to interacting with older women that the giggling language of girls my own age left me tongue-tied. It took me a long while to adjust to my classmates, and even after I did, I was always glad to return to my grandmother’s kitchen where, as far as I could tell, things just made a whole lot more sense.

When I left my career in interior design and set out to write a novel, it never occurred to me that I would draw so heavily on the simple but rich experiences I had with my grandmother and her friends. But when a little girl named CeeCee arrived in my imagination and her story began to unfold in ways I never would have guessed, the years I spent surrounded by older women gave me the foundation to build upon—those were precisely the kinds of friendships that CeeCee needed during her summer of healing.

An email was forwarded to me not long ago, and as I read it I kept nodding in agreement. I’ve never been able to find out who wrote it, but it sums up so much of what I feel about friendship and I’d like to share it.

Girlfriends

Time passes.

Life happens.

Distance separates.

Love waxes and wanes.

Hearts break.

Careers end.

Parents die.

Colleagues forget favors.

Marriages collapse.

But …

Girlfriends are there no matter how many miles are between them. A girlfriend is never farther away than needing her can reach.

When you walk that lonesome valley and you have to walk it for yourself, your girlfriends will be standing on the rim, cheering for you, praying for you, and waiting with open arms at the valley’s end. Sometimes, they’ll even break the rules and walk beside you. Or, they’ll come in and carry you out.

The world wouldn’t be the same without them, and neither would I.

When we began this adventure called womanhood, we had no idea of the incredible happiness and sorrows that lay ahead. Nor did we know how much we would need each other.

Every day, we need each other still.

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