Posted in book review

The Witches: Salem, 1692– Reviewed

The Witches: Salem, 1692
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

Description from goodreads:

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death. 

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, THE WITCHES is Stacy Schiff’s account of this fantastical story-the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.

Review:

This has been on my TBR since…2015? I think that’s the year it came out, and I was so excited for it. It took until last year for me to get it, and this year to read it, but it’s done. (This was my first pick for the last round of Tome Topple, even though it’s just under 500 pages at 498, but I’m not sweating 2 pages.)

My expectations for this book were really high. I went into it thinking it was going to be a fresh take, I was going to learn a lot, etc. And it kind of didn’t deliver, for me at least.

This one does give quite a bit of information, but if you’ve been studying the Salem trials your entire life, grabbing anything non-fiction about it you can find (books, TV specials, articles, etc.), you might not really need to read this.

I think the only thing I learned was true, that I’d known of before, was the way Cotton inserted himself into the narrative later. At least according to this book, and Schiff’s sources (I assume, because I am not taking the time to verify all her facts, and this one has an extensive bibliography and such), he wasn’t really around Salem for most of the madness. He made an appearance, or maybe a couple, but until a few years ago, I’d always assumed he was there through the whole thing. Or at least through most of it. Turns out, he just played it off like he had been, later.

So, other than that, I didn’t really gain much from this book. Sciff’s writing was great. It wasn’t too dry, or too relaxed, so it kept me engaged. (I also borrowed the audiobook from the library to listen to while I couldn’t sit and read, and the narrator–Eliza Foss–was also very nice.)

Sciff really did a great job with giving a comprehensive look at all the players, and I did get a little more background for a few of the people involved, but most of it was stuff I didn’t really care much about. It’s interesting, but, like I said, I went into this expecting something different. That’s probably entirely my fault.

My biggest complaint is that there is a lot of information here, but it’s kind of hard to follow unless you’re taking notes. There’s some jumping around that happens, and I had to keep referencing the handy guide at the front to remind myself who the people were that I wasn’t super familiar with, and what their role in all this drama was.

The opening chapter had me super excited, but then it kind of went downhill until closer to the end. It was just too much, and not enough. Too much detail about the day to day lives of Puritans, not enough about the accused and accusers. Basically, the Puritans were like, “My kid is being a brat! A witch must be to blame!”Or, just fill in the first part of that sentence with literally anything, because a witch was always to blame.

Wait wait wait! I just remembered something else!

The sky over New England was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location or that you might find yourself pursued after nightfall by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home, bloody and disoriented, on all fours. Indeed eyeglasses were rare in seventeenth-century Massachussetts. Hard cider was the drink of choice. Still, the thoughtful, devout, literate New Englander could, in the Salem courtroom, at times sound as if he were on a low-grade acid trip.

page 8 of my hardcover edition, ISBN 9780316391009

So, I also learned, through quotes similar to the one above, that apparently the Puritans were getting their drank on pretty regularly. I think there’s a mention of there being a ton of taverns and the like, and other references to people imbibing. 

This one, I wanted to love, but it was just okay. I think I expected some analysis or something from this tome, and there really wasn’t any, which was disappointing for me. 

Basically, if you already know a ton about Salem and the trials, maybe pass on this one, unless you don’t mind reading about things you’re already familiar with. If you don’t know a lot about what went down, but you want to, definitely check this one out.


I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. (I rate books based on how much I liked them/how much I got out of them.) If I hadn’t known so much of this already, I probably would have given it 4 stars, though.

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Posted in book review

Book Review: Buzz by Hallie Lieberman

I’m going to preface this review with a disclaimer: This book is about sex toys, so if that’s something you’re not ok with reading about, you should skip this post.



Genres:
non-fiction; (micro) history; feminism

Why I read it: I mean, it’s a book about the history of sex toys, written by the first person to get a Ph.D in this history of sex toys. I saw it on Net Galley and knew I had to read it.

Who I’d recommend it to: I’ve already recommended it to my mom, honestly. This is one that I would recommend a lot, but only to people I knew would be interested in it. This book covers a lot, from pretty ancient history to the AIDS epidemic to obscenity laws still on the books in the 21st century, so I’d recommend it to a lot of people.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (maybe 4.5)

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million | Book Depository


Description from goodreads:

Once only whispered about in clandestine corners, vibrators have become just another accessory for the suburban soccer mom, showing up in all manner of pop culture, from sitcoms to talk shows to the pages of glossy women’s magazines. But how did these once-taboo toys become so socially acceptable? The journey of the devices to the cultural mainstream is a surprisingly stimulating one.

In Buzz, Hallie Lieberman—who holds the world’s first PhD in the history of sex toys—starts at the beginning, tracing the tale from lubricant in Ancient Greece to the very first condom in 1560 to advertisements touting devices as medical equipment in 19th-century magazines. She looks in particular from the period of major change from the 1950s through the present, when sex toys evolved from symbols of female emancipation to tools in the fight against HIV/AIDS to consumerist marital aids to today’s mainstays of pop culture. The story is populated with a cast of vivid and fascinating characters including Dell Williams, founder of the first feminist sex toy store, Eve’s Garden; Betty Dodson, who pioneered “Bodysex” workshops in the 1960s to help women discover vibrators and ran Good Vibrations, a sex toy store and vibrator museum; and Gosnell Duncan, a paraplegic engineer who invented the silicone dildo and lobbied Dodson and Williams to sell them in their stores. And these personal dramas are all set against a backdrop of changing American attitudes toward sexuality, feminism, LGBTQ issues, and more.

Both educational and titillating, Buzz will make readers think quite differently about those secret items hiding in bedside drawers across the nation.


Review:

This book took me for-ev-er to read, thanks to Hidden Figures kinda putting me in a reading slump (it wasn’t a bad book, but it turned me off non-fic for a while because it was kinda dry, which is sad because it was an important story that needed to be told :/ ). I started reading Buzz, but put it on hold for Hidden Figures so it ended up taking me like 3 months to read. *sigh* Anyway…

Holy wow did this book cover a lot of material in so few pages! It’s a little under 300 pages, and a hefty chunk of that (I think something like 50-80, but I had to guess because I had an e-ARC) is notes at the end. Hallie Lieberman definitely knows her stuff about sex toys, which isn’t surprising considering she’s got a freaking Ph.D on the subject.

She talks about the obscenity laws that have made the selling of sex toys illegal, or at the very least quite difficult (I think there are some places in the US where it’s still illegal). That part was fascinating, but not really surprising. I mean, just think about all the personal things that have been illegal in this country (and elsewhere), from marriages to sexual positions, the government hasn’t been shy about getting between people and what they want to do in private. I think I actually remember when the selling of sex toys was still illegal in my state, because it really wasn’t that long ago (maybe within the last 10 years it’s been legalized…but I think there’s still a ban on the sale of “obscene materials” or something like that, so *shrugs*).

There’s so much in here about the feminist movement, too, especially with sapphic women. The big argument about sex toys being a break from and a middle-finger shown to the patriarchy, or being one more way women were tied down to phalluses, was mentioned a lot, and I honestly didn’t realize it went back as far as it did. I still see/hear arguments about that, or see lesbians writing online about feeling confused about using dildos and such because they don’t have sex with men, and have no desire to have sex with men.

I always wondered how we ended up with materials that are body safe, because I knew it hadn’t been around forever, and I knew there were artifacts that have been found and presumed to be rudimentary dildos. I assumed it was an accident, which it kind of was, but the actual story is way more interesting. (I’m not relating it here, because I couldn’t do it justice by summing it up.) This is where sex toys, the feminist movement, and the disabled movement intersect, thanks to Gosnell Duncan.

My mind is still kind of blown by how many different topics were covered in learning about sex toys. From the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s to the feminist movement to accessibility to the distribution of affordable birth control in other countries the porn industry. Ok, that last one I kinda expected to come up at some point. But the rest of it? Wow. And that’s just a few things Hallie Lieberman talks about in relation to sex toys throughout Buzz.

This was honestly one of the most engaging, thought provoking, entertaining, and informational books I’ve read in a long time. I came out of reading this feeling like I’d learned a lot about a lot of people, movements, and products. Some of it, I already knew (like how body massagers that were sold in department stores and graced so many homes, were actually being used as vibrators), but most of it, I didn’t. What really interested me, beyond learning about the actual sex toys and their evolutions, was the way they factored in to things like the feminist movement. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I can not think of the word (phrase?) I need to encompass things like feminism, LGBTQ+ lives and rights, accessibility for the disabled, etc. -_- (If you know the word/phrase, please comment. I’m just hoping it’ll come to me before I post this, but I’m doubting it will at this point, ugh.)

So, do I recommend it? Oh yeah, I definitely recommend it. But obviously not to anyone who doesn’t want to read about sex toys. I’ve already recommended this to at least three people, and I doubt they’ll be the last people I recommend it to.

This could have easily turned into a boring read, despite the subject matter, but Hallie Lieberman did a great job with keeping things interesting and moving along at a reasonable pace. I think if you like books like Mary Roach’s, or the Freakonomics kinds of non-fiction, you’ll like this if the topic sounds like something you’d be into.

I don’t want to buy every book I get an ARC of, but this is one I’m strongly considering buying. I’ll probably wait until it’s in paperback, just because most of my non-fiction is paperback, but who knows? (And I’ll honestly probably grab a copy for my mom, too.)

 

I received an eARC for review, thanks to the publisher and Net Galley.

Posted in book review

Book Review: Basic Witches

33589940
cover; links to goodreads

Genres: non-fiction; self-help; witchcraft

Why I read it: I’ll get deeper into this in my review, but I saw it on Net Galley and got way too excited, requested it, and was approved for an eARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: I would recommend it more to people who identify as women, and those who have an interest in self-help and self-care, witchcraft-made-easy, feminism, etc.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

 


What it’s about:

Capitalizing on the rising trend of hipster witchcraft, BASIC WITCHES is a lighthearted and empowering book of spells and lifestyle tips for feisty millennial women.

In Basic Witches, readers will discover how to tap into their inner sorceress and channel the dark arts for everything from cluttered apartments to dating disasters. Want to enhance your attractiveness? Pick the right power color of eyeshadow and project otherworldly glamour. Need to exorcise a toxic friendship? Say the right symbolic curse and banish it from your life. Need to boost your self-confidence? Whip up a tasty herbal “potion” to strengthen your inner resolve. Plus historical and pop culture sidebars that situate the new witchcraft trend within a broader context. With humor, heart, and a hip modern sensibility, journalists Jaya Saxena and Jess Zimmerman dispense witchy wisdom for the curious, the cynical, and anyone who could use a magical boost to get through the day. This ain’t your grandma’s grimoire!


Review:

I was so excited about this book when I first saw it on Net Galley, but I almost wish I hadn’t requested it. As someone who’s been a practicing witch for over 15 years, this book was not intended for people like me, and it says so in the first few pages of the book. So, if you’re already a witch and have been for some time, this might not be a great choice for you.

On the flip side of that, if you’re mildly interested in witchcraft and how to use it to help yourself in all sorts of different situations (choosing your clothing/cosmetics to put you in a certain mood, super simple home remedies, giving yourself permission for self-care, making a list to help you find love, and many more), this might be for you. Or, if you are already a practicing witch, but you’ve only recently become interested in spells with minimal ingredients and steps, you might also like this.

I’m having a love/hate relationship with this book because I am a witch, even though I try not to take things too seriously (unless seriousness is called for). I’ve done more than one spell involving toilet paper (there’s a spell in this book that uses it, too) and other items that might make other people scratch their heads and wonder what the heck I’m thinking. But…this book basically uses the word “witch” to mean “modern woman” or “feminist.” I don’t have a big problem with that, but I do feel like this book was a little misleading.

So, I didn’t get as much out of this book as I would have liked, and if it had been around when I was in middle school or high school, I would have found it more useful. Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve changed a lot. I realized I didn’t need tons of props and ingredients for spells, and I let my creativity reign in designing them. It’s mentioned in this book, but many witches have been saying something like this for years, so this isn’t a quote: you don’t need stuff for a spell to work, you just need you, and your intentions.

Most of the spells and rituals in this book require only a couple of items (the purpose of which, as with any spell or ritual, is to give you something physical to focus on), like a candle, some paper, a bathtub, your phone, etc. They’re simple, but simple can be just as effective, sometimes even more so, than complex spells. If you’re interested in the more complex types of witchcraft, or anything formal, you should skip this book. But, if you want spells you can throw together easily (without a long list of difficult to obtain ingredients) and use to inspire you to create your own, this might be a good way to dip your toe in and see what you think.

I was very pleased with the inclusiveness and lack of judgment in this book about so many topics, from darker fashion choices (you don’t have to be goth to be a witch, or vice versa, but some of us happen to identify as both), to gender identity, to sexual orientation, to a brief discussion about midwives, to safe sex and your birth control choices, and more. This book is full of things that can help you take control of your life and figure out what’s important to you. I think this book will appeal more to those who identify as women, but I think anyone could find some things in it useful, or relate to many topics discussed. 

There’s a lot of really good, practical advice in this book that would lead me to recommend it to people who aren’t interested in witchcraft at all. Like how to deal with toxic or draining people in your life, having important conversations about your needs and wants with a sexual partner, helping yourself heal after being in an abusive relationship (with a romantic partner, parent, friend, etc.), the parts about self-care, and a lot more. I liked a lot of those parts, even though some of it doesn’t apply to me at all at this point (like finding love, because I’m happily married). There’s also some good little historical bits about witches, people who were accused of being witches, wise women/healers, etc., if you’re into that. 


I could honestly talk about this book for much longer, because there’s a lot crammed into just over 200 pages (I have 5 pages of notes, too), but I think I’ll wrap this up because it’s already quite long.

Basically, this book wasn’t perfect for me, but I enjoyed it (for the most part), and I will definitely recommend it to other people for a lot of different reasons. It doesn’t read like a self-help book, but it kind of is one, and I think a lot of people could get something meaningful and helpful out of reading it. It isn’t too serious, but it doesn’t shy away from serious topics, either. It is practical, sometimes a little silly and fun, and has some super cute illustrations here and there (which isn’t very important, but I liked them).

Will I buy a copy, now that it’s been released? Maybe. I do know that I will absolutely look at it next time I’m in a bookstore, and I might buy a copy for myself or a friend.


Have you read Basic Witches, or are you planning to? If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of it!

Posted in books

July& August Book Haul (+ bonus pictures of other kittens and a mama cat)

I might have left out a book or two :/ I don’t think I did, but I have this feeling that I missed one.

Anyway, this whole summer was ah-maze-ing for me and acquiring books. Like, I found so many deals! It was magical.

july august haul

Left stack, from top to bottom: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katerine Arden // The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers // Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher // The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike // John Dies at the End by David Wong // Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World by Bill Nye // Cicada Summer by Maureen Leurck (review here)

Right stack, from top to bottom: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O’Neill // White Teeth by Zadie Smith // Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh // Fun Home by Alison Bechdel // Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle // The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry // The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher // The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff


And now what you’re really here for…the cats!

mama cat

So, we think this is the mom of our two babies. Our best guess is that she was trying to move all her babies because they were getting more mobile, but the two little shits we found had squirmed into places she couldn’t get to.

Anyway, there are 3 others outside with her, but I could only get pictures of these two. (I touched both of these a couple of nights ago and holy crap you guys, the cream one is like petting a freaking cloud! So. Soft! And brave. She…I think…faced me and put herself between me and her two siblings until they decided I was harmless and climbed over her haha.)

striped kittenwhite kitten

How freaking cute are these? The other one looks a lot like the top one, but more grey than brown.

Posted in book tags/memes

Must Read Mondays: July 17th

must-read-mondays

Must Read Monday is a weekly thing I do here to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed. I might sometimes throw in something I gave 3 stars to, but for the most part they’re books I gave a 4-5 star rating to. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily amazing literature, but it does mean I liked them enough to recommend them to other people.


We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

22738563
cover; links to goodreads

 

When I read it: November 2016

Genres: non-fiction; essays; feminism

Recommended for: Pretty much everyone.

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

 


What it’s about:

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from her much-viewed TEDx talk of the same name—by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun.

With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.

Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.


This isn’t totally perfect, but it was still good. It’s a short, quick read, and I think it’s something important that more people should read, especially if you’re a baby-feminist or having a difficult time articulating ideas about feminism to non-feminists. I know it helped me be able to better explain some things after reading it, because I have a hard time putting a concept that I understand into words while talking sometimes, without babbling and losing people along the way.

However, as I said, it wasn’t perfect. I’m not going to try to go into the details about what was wrong or missing, because I don’t have a copy to reference and I don’t want to give false information. But, I think I remember this being far less intersectional than I expected it to be. It wasn’t groundbreaking for me, and I remember picking up on a few issues while reading (trans exclusion, like “genitalia=gender” ideas I think, and I’m pretty sure it was very hetero-normative). If you haven’t read it yet, and you’re considering reading it but want to know some of the ways it wasn’t great, I would recommend skimming over some lower than 5 star reviews or doing some googling first.

So, I recommend this, but I also know it could have been better and far more intersectional.