“The Woman They Could Not Silence” by Kate Moore – Review

By: Angie Haddock


1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened – by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

Goodreads


This was both a fascinating and frustrating read! It tells the true story of Elizabeth Packard, and most of the story takes place in the 1860s.

When we first meet Packard, she is already at odds with her husband of 20-some years, Theophilus. (Even his name is perfect for him, as he’s a preacher.) They share five children, the youngest of whom is just barely out of infancy.

Elizabeth Packard is fairly educated, and she’s been reading. But more than that, she’s been thinking on her own. Specifically, her husband had been affiliated with a more liberal/modern branch of Presbyterianism, but had recently switched to a more conservative branch. Elizabeth didn’t love the “fire and brimstone” lectures, and was disillusioned with this branch because they were against the abolition of slavery. So, she had begun speaking up in some of the church groups that she belonged to. Her husband was the minister, so her disagreeing openly with his views was just not acceptable.

So Theophilus sends Elizabeth to the state’s insane asylum. This facility had patients of both genders, but Elizabeth really only sees the women’s side of things. The man in charge is Dr. Andrew McFarland, who is well respected in his field. (Of course, the idea of treating mental health issues was very much in its infancy, and there were many differing views on it at the time.)

At first, McFarland is friendy toward Elizabeth. She is put in a decent room, and allowed special privileges like walking the grounds unaccompanied. She feels sure the doctor will see that she is obviously sane, and will allow her to leave in mere months. He does encourage this belief at first. But when Elizabeth does not leave, she starts using her privilege to speak up about things she witnesses, and is eventually put into a different ward… where she witnesses even worse things.

She ends up being there for several years, and her status there goes back and forth. She often has friends on the inside – disgruntled staff, usually – who are willing to help her get letters out and such. But she also finds that McFarland intercepts any incoming letters, so she never knows if her friends on the outside are willing to help. She also knows that she can only be let go into the care of her husband, while still married. But if she asks for a divorce, Theophilus would get custody of the children. There is no easy wins in her forseeable future, because she is, in essence, her husband’s property.

Even when Elizabeth does get released from the asylum – by a board of trustees, not McFarland – we know her fight is far from over (mostly because there’s still a lot of book left!). She initially gets free from Theophilus, only to go back by her own volition because she wants to see her children. She ends up locked up again, but is eventually able to stand trial to determine if she is actually insane or not.

She also starts self-publishing her writings on her time in the asylum. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, she starts making her own money, so she can be financially self-reliant. Secondly, she brings light to the issues in the asylum there, and in asylums in general, which starts getting the public interested in the matter. This leads to her eventually touring across the country advocating for both patient’s rights and women’s rights, mostly in state legislatures.

This is an incredible, infuriating, and ultimately redeeming read. I was able to read it for free through Sourcebooks Early Reads, but it’s available everywhere.

(Don’t forget, I keep a bookshelf of books I’ve reviewed here on Bookshop.org, too, if you’re looking for your own copy!)


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“Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

A true-life murder mystery about one of the most monstrous crimes in American history.

Goodreads


This one has been on my TBR for a few years now, and it’s becoming a movie next year (Scorsese! DiCaprio!), so I thought it was finally time to tackle it. And boy, I was not disappointed!

The full title is “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.”

The story takes place mostly in Oklahoma in the 1920s. The author tells of a single murder first, and then branches outward to several more that happened in the same geographical area. We then step back and look at what’s going on in the area, because there are multiple possible motives at play.

First of all, the Osage tribe was forced onto this patch of land by dealings with the federal government in previous generations. Later, oil was found under the land, making it very valuable. This was also the era of prohibition, and with it, the birth of real organized crime nationwide. How much did racism, oil, money, or general lawlessness have to do with the killings of members of the Osage?

The local lawmen and private eyes who tried to look into individual murders seemed to get nowhere, so eventually some federal lawmen were assigned to uncover the truth. These men worked under J. Edgar Hoover, in what would go on to become the FBI. The head of this crew was Tom White, and he got to pick his underlings. Most of them worked undercover, to try to cozy up to locals – both Indigenous and white – to find out what everyone really knew.

In addition to the obvious killings – people who were shot, for example – there were also a lot of Indigenous who would die from unexplained illnesses, or supposed drunkenness. This lead some to believe that there were additional murders that were carried out by poisoning.

Eventually, the team came up with suspects in at least a few of the murders. Once the drama moved into the courtroom, many witnesses went back and forth on their statements, as they are continuously bribed or threatened. There was no guarantee that the suspects would really end up behind bars.

And even then, the government treated the case like it was successfully closed. But were the same few men responsible for all the killings? How many others could have been involved?

There is a final part of this book, in which the author tries to uncover those last questions. Ultimately – and not surprisingly – it seemed like there were many more people involved than those who were brought to justice.

This is a riveting true story, which I definitely don’t remember learning about in U.S. history classes! The topics at play – race, class, land rights, etc. – are still ones we grapple with today. I would recommend this one to anyone interested in history, social justice, or true crime.


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“Getting to Good Riddance” by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Psychologist Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, author of Move on Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go, provides the tools to survive and thrive after a breakup in this empowering, BS-free guide… This seriously motivational guide utilizes salty straight talk, humor, cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and positivity to get you to growth and recovery. Overcome self-defeat, smash the sh*t out of heartbreak, and get ready to move on, motherf*cker!

Goodreads


The full title of this one is “Getting to Good Riddance: A No-Bullsh*t Breakup Survival Guide.” I’m coming up on my seventh wedding anniversary, so having this one laying around caused a few looks! The first Advanced Reader Copy I reviewed for this blog was by Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt, though, and she graciously kept me on her email list for future releases. I love cultivating relationships with authors through my work here, so how could I resist reading her latest release?

Like in her previous release, the author explains the science behind her methodology in the first few chapters. These include using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness, positive psychology, humor, and profanity to recognize negative self-talk and pivot away from it when it is not serving you.

I did find some of the content of these chapters repetitive, especially when it came to explaining her “MOMF” theory. Maybe that’s because I read the book on that one already? But, the idea is to use profanity as a source of both humor and venting. In this one, she repeatedly mentions that it’s not meant to be derogatory toward yourself. I feel like, if someone is uncomfortable with swearing, they probably won’t pick up a book with the word “bullshit” on the cover. Just my two cents.

The rest of the chapters tackle various issues that could come up in/after a breakup. We start in the immediate aftermath, when you’re in survival mode. Then, we’re introduced to the steps of the grief process, which are likely to come into play here. Next, she introduces us to different theories on what love actually is and isn’t. Next are chapters on specific cases: infidelity, and dealing with “bad actors” (narcissists, sociopaths, dependents, abusers). Then come the chapters on moving forward: creating boundaries, preparing/planning to leave a bad situation, finding peace, learning to live within our own happiness, and realizing our messed up core beliefs that got us into the situation (so we don’t repeat the same mistakes).

If you are looking for a tangible way to help a friend who is reeling from a breakup or divorce – and that friend has a good tolerance for swearing and humor – this would be a nice little gift. I’d think of it as a way to support growth without inserting yourself directly in the friend’s personal business.

This book comes out today, July 26th, 2022. Thanks to Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt for the opportunity to read it ahead of time.

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“Warda” by Warda Mohamed Abdullahi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Set in the rugged shrublands of rural Ethiopia, the contentious neighborhoods of South Africa, and the icy streets of Michigan, Warda is the story of a fierce young woman on a tireless quest to become the first member of her family to go to college.

-Goodreads


This book is so good! It’s not a long read, anyway, but the amazing tales within it makes it go fast.

Near the beginning, before we really get to know the main character, we learn about her family. Warda doesn’t even remember her mother, who died when she was just a baby. Because of financial woes and ethnic prejudices, her father was living away from Warda and her mom. But when baby Warda got sick, her mom was determined to take her back to where she was born to get medical help. While crossing the Red Sea, the boat they were in capsized. Her uncle was also aboard, and found Warda floating on a blanket. He also found her mom, but she was already deceased. Her father didn’t even know they were traveling.

And that’s only the beginning.

Her dad takes Warda to his father’s farm, where she is raised with many aunts, uncles, and cousins of all ages. She thinks of her grandpa as her father, and does not understand that he is not. She faces several dangers – often in the form of wild animals trying to attack their herd of sheep – but gets no formal schooling. When she is ten years old, her dad wants her to move to South Africa so she can start receiving an education. The trip there takes her a little over a year.

Of course, even after arriving there, Warda has a big challenge to her education: she speaks none of the languages that classes are held in in most of the schools around her.

After only a few years, her family has to move again. This time, they’re taking a big leap to come to the United States. When they land in Michigan, there is already snow on the ground – something Warda has zero experience with.

She also has another new language to learn. She wants to learn to drive. She needs to learn to navigate not only her American high school… but college applications, scholarship essays, SAT and ACT prep, and being away from others who share her culture and religion.

Thankfully, Warda is assigned a mentor who helps her immensely. With her mentor’s gift of keeping Warda organized, and her own passion for wanting to get to college, they come up with a plan to get Warda through high school in only a few years. To make up for lost time, she often has to take extra classes online and in the summer. She has to really push hard to get to her dream… which is to ultimately become a doctor.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I’d pick: triumphant. You’ll be hooked from the early scenes of Warda’s life, and you’ll want to cheer her on through so many more adventures and obstacles.

This book was independently published over a year ago, but the team at Books Forward is promoting it now to coincide with World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20th, and you can learn more about it here.


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“Secrets of the Sprakkar” by Eliza Reid – Review

By: Angie Haddock


For the past twelve years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?

Goodreads


This non-fiction does have a lot of stats in it, but it still manages to be quite fun. It was written by the current First Lady, who is originally from Canada. So, her personal perspectives include those of a mother, public figure, and immigrant… aside from being a woman herself, obviously.

But Reid doesn’t rely solely on her own experiences and some easy-to-dig-up statistics – she interviews dozens of women from around the island, famous and not, on a variety of topics. She also intersperses these larger chapters with smaller stories from Icleland’s history.

The bigger topics include: parenting, networking, Iceland’s views on sex, women in corporate roles, the media, working outdoors, the arts (and sports), immigrant and minority women, and politics.

As Reid points out in the final pages, everyone she interviews can easily fit into multiple categories.

Obviously, the gender equality concept here intrigued me. But I have to admit, what made this book actually fun to read was learning about Iceland! The terrain, customs, and culture seem very different than those of the US.

For example, would we even need a whole chapter on working outdoors? But, much of their economy comes from agriculture and fishing, so it’s an important distinction for them that women can do these jobs, too. (Especially on fishing boats that don’t have bathrooms, where one is expected to “go over the edge.”)

I loved that, in the chapter on politics, one of Reid’s interviewees was heading up a student council at a large university. I think we tend to think of those sorts of things as opportunities to learn, or stepping stones to a future job (perhaps in politics, or not)… but we don’t treat our young people like they’re equals, already doing important work. So, even who was chosen to be interviewed shows how different their outlook on these topics are from our own.

If you’re up for a book with quite a few stats, and really long names, this is an interesting read. I realize, though, that those things aren’t going to appeal to everyone.

I was able to read this book for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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“Coyote Gratitude” by Julie Haberstick – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Nearly thirty and disconnected, Julie Haberstick was staring at an endless loop of traffic and toxic relationships. Heeding a quiet intuition, she left her fiancé, packed her life into her car, and — on October 1st, 2019 — just started driving.

Goodreads


Happy June! Now that the summer months are here (in the US, anyway), how about a quick road trip book?

Julie Haberstick’s journey started in California, with the rebellious act of getting all her hair cut off. She then travels east, through the Southern United States. She’s a poet at heart, and finds a few open mics, where she shares her poems out loud and meets other like-minded people. Along the way, she also picks up a ukulele.

This book is a travel journal – edited, of course. While some entries tell of her adventures, others are merely a picture or a poem.

Haberstick finds herself entranced be New Orleans, and the artsy people she meets there. She continues her journey by making her way up and down the East Coast. She has friends and family in various states here, and also some events to attend for said friends and family, so she goes back and forth some. We get to meet some members of her family, and even get a poem by her mom!

All the while, she keeps thinking back on New Orleans, though. Her original travels are supposed to take her to the end of 2019, but she tacks on another month in NOLA in January, 2020.

She decides to stay, and then the pandemic hits. This makes it hard to meet new people in her new city, but she’s already made a few good contacts. By the time October rolls around again, she’s contemplating whether or not she’s ready for commitment. But her original road trip started the previous October, and she wants to celebrate that. So she decides that her next big adventure will be a commitment, after all – and she adopts a puppy.

(For those wondering, like I was… Julie and her pup are still together, and still in New Orleans.)

I think we’ve all has those moments when we fantasize about dropping everything and starting over… right? Whether you’ve done it, or just thought about it, this short read may be your cup of tea.

I was given a copy of this book by the author, and the kind folks at the Books Forward program.


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“Women Warriors From History” by H.G. Hicks – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Are you tired of the lack of female representation in history books and stories and wish your little lady had the example of some inspiring women to look up to?

In many areas, women can now achieve whatever their hearts desire for the first time in history… And yet not know how far they can go due to lack of historical example.

Women Warriors from History gives young, female readers the inspiration and motivation to fight for what they believe in.

Reedsy


The full title of this one is “Women Warriors From History: Badass Divas to Inspire Your Little Lady” – and already, I was left with more questions than answers! The use of “little lady” bothered me right from the start, as it sounds both antiquated and belittling. So is this book for… possessive men? Parents? It starts off talking about school textbooks, so I assume it’s actually aimed at young readers themselves. So, what’s up with this title?

The question of audience doesn’t stop there, as the author continuously uses the term “Badass Divas” to talk about the subjects of the book. Now, I am all for cussing, myself, but if the book is supposed to be for young readers I don’t know if this is a great tactic to use.

And, oh, get ready for a lot! of! exclamation! points!

I could go on about how terrible the writing is here, but an astute reader can probably already infer that it doesn’t get better.

I picked this book to read, though, because I do love the subject matter. Some good stories are in here – some I’d read about before, some I hadn’t – and the book does cover women from different time periods and cultures. A few of the topics include women Samurai, pirates, and queens. The author also covers healers (from when women could not officially become doctors), artists, and spiritual leaders.

One inclusion that I found odd was that of goddesses. As these women did not really live, and weren’t mortal humans, their inclusion felt unnecessary. However, if the point of talking about them was to show that some societies worshiped female deities, I guess I could see that as important?

There are some good and fun tidbits in here. If you are truly a young person, or someone who for whatever other reason has never read about women warriors or leaders, this might be a good intro to these topics. If you are an adult, and want to find detailed and well-written stories of women in history, I’m sure you could do better than this one.

I read this one through Reedsy Discovery, and my review also appears there.


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“The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay – Review

By: Angie Haddock


a genre-defying book of essays—some as short as a paragraph; some as long as five pages—that record the small joys that occurred in one year, from birthday to birthday, and that we often overlook in our busy lives. His is a meditation on delight that takes a clear-eyed view of the complexities, even the terrors, in his life, including living in America as a black man; the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture; the loss of those he loves.

Goodreads


This is another one off my TBR, and I honestly don’t remember how long it’s been there. But what a great one to be reading around New Year’s Eve! It even prompted my to start my own list – although mine is less eloquent than Ross Gay’s.

The idea is this: Ross set out to keep a chronicle of things that delighted him for one year, starting on his 42nd birthday (in August) and ending on his 43rd. It’s a little like a gratitude journal, but not quite. Also, since he is a poet by trade, his musings are wordy and worded in fun, unique ways. That is to say… reading his words are a delight in and of themselves, regardless of what delight he is talking about in any given chapter.

And the chapters are small, easy to read. Some are really just a paragraph.

His musings often center on plants, and other things found in nature (birds, bees); music; nostalgia and memories; and other people/people watching. And some of those are interconnected – music can bring up memories, often connected to other people, for example.

Many of the musings are really about connectedness, I think. His ones on people often describle how people greet one another, or whether or not he is acknowleged by people in his surrounding area (at the coffee shop, airport, etc.). One delight is about a stewardess calling him “baby!” So, while this is obviously a person who takes his gardening and plants seriously… he’s also very observant of the connections between humans.

A few fun quotes:

“And further, I wonder if this impulse suggests – and this is just a hypothesis, though, I suspect there is enough evidence to make it a theorem – that our delight grows as we share it.”

“It might be that the logics of delight interrupt the logics of capitalism.”

If you’re looking for a sweet little pick-me-up sometime, keep this one in mind.


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“Butterfly Awakens” by Meg Nocero – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Butterfly Awakens depicts the story of the extraordinary transformation of a forty-something Italian American attorney as she moves through unimaginable grief and sadness watching her beloved mother lose her battle to breast cancer. This tumultuous life experience shifts her world, causing her to question her life choices and opening her up to her soul’s calling. Nocero brings readers along on her journey through a dark night of the soul as she deals with the grieving process, a toxic work environment, and intense stress that results in depression, anxiety, and an acquired somatic nervous disorder called tinnitus. Through it all, she never gives up, instead looking for the help she needs to start to heal and find her light. In the end, like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, this story is a beautiful love letter that honors Nocero’s mother’s legacy while detailing the awakening of her own.

Goodreads


This book came out in September, and I had heard of it around that time. I wasn’t sure I was up for a memoir on grief and loss, but I put it on my TBR for another reason: in her journey to find herself, one of the things the author tackles is El Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage, often taken people looking for religious or spiritual insight, has fascinated me for years!

Meg Nocero’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer while Meg was pregnant with her second child. The first 20 percent of the story tells of her mom’s diagnosis, battle, and death.

After that, Meg has some rough times. She eventually takes a brief leave from work, even, to try to get herself together. But still, she struggles. She starts having issues with stress-induced tinnitus – ringing in her ears – which also leads to insomnia. Going to work tired leads to more stress, so it’s a constant circle.

She eventually starts coming out of it by following advice from various friends and inspirational authors, speakers, etc. While this part of the book is often fun, it also feels a little muddled to me. She goes to big events and meets people like Oprah, Wayne Dyer, and Chris Martin (of Coldplay) – and these stories are definitely fun and inspiring! But she never really addresses whether or not she solved her tinnitus or insomnia problems. I assume they lessened eventually, as she found her new “groove” in life?

Meg even writes and self-publishes a book about finding your bliss! But all the while, she is still at her same day job, where she has been passed over for promotions for years. While she’s a lot happier than she was right after her mom’s passing, she is still kind of treating her own bliss as a hobby instead of a full time gig. And I get it to an extent – she has two kids to support, so there’s a financial aspect. But it does seem kind of ironic.

She eventually does quit, though, and plans a trip to hike El Camino in Northern Spain. The preparation and hike take up the last portion of the book. This part was fascinating to me – I loved hearing about the little towns they hiked through, the food, the old churches, and the history.

I enjoyed reading this book overall. There were definitely parts that were sad or frustrating, but there were also parts that were fun and uplifting. It was one in which I bookmarked a lot of the other inspirational things she read, so I can find them later!

I read this book through the Discovery platform, and my review will also appear there.


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“The Defiant Middle” by Kaya Oakes – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Women are expected to be many things. They should be young enough, but not too young; old enough, but not too old; creative, but not crazy; passionate, but not angry. They should be fertile and feminine and self-reliant, not barren or butch or solitary. Women, in other words, are caught between social expectations and a much more complicated reality.

Goodreads


I had read one of Oakes’ books before (“Radical Reinvention”) and loved it, so I was excited to get on the advanced reader list for her newest book! The title refers to both being middle-aged, and also being caught in between society’s expectations of a woman and the life choices you want to make.

There are so many juicy bits in here, I found myself highlighting a LOT. But it’s bad form to quote an ARC directly, so this will be a challenge.

Each chapter examines an idea that society holds about women: they may be seen as too young, old, crazy, barren, butch, angry, or alone. She weaves in stories of her own life and ones from history. She examines how women of a certain ilk may have been treated in different times, religious sects, or in pop culture.

Also of note, Oakes writes with religion in mind – specifically Roman Catholicism. I think that the stories will appeal to anyone interested in women’s issues, though, even if they are not of this (or any) religion, because this is only one lens she uses to examine the issues at hand.

To offer one example that might appeal to my writer friends: in the chapter on women being labeled as crazy, Oakes laments that, as a student, most women authors she had to study in school carried that label (Dickinson, Plath, Shelley). She argues that some of them may have had other legitimate issues, but nevertheless, even as an MFA student in writing, she was told over and over again that women writers were all crazy.

She spends some time on trans women, and even offers a couple examples of trans women in history – women I definitely had not learned about before. (Like the Universal Friend.) She also discusses the idea that you do not have to have kids – or even the ability to carry them – to be a woman (as anyone with a hysterectomy can attest to).

I think this book would appeal to women of all stripes – women with or without kids, women in or not in relationships, women with or without an interest in religion. I have definitely already recommended it to multiple friends!

This book hits shelves today, November 30th. I was able to read in advance thanks to the author, Kaya Oakes.


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