“The Mad Girls of New York” by Maya Rodale – Review

By: Angie Haddock


In 1887 New York City, Nellie Bly has ambitions beyond writing for the ladies pages, but all the editors on Newspaper Row think women are too emotional, respectable and delicate to do the job. But then the New York World challenges her to an assignment she’d be mad to accept and mad to refuse: go undercover as a patient at Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women.

Goodreads


While I was reading this one, several friends added it to their “to read” list on Goodreads – so, I think the world is hungry for more great historical fiction based on real life badass women. (I’ll call that the “Marie Benedict effect.”) How exciting!

Nellie Bly had worked as a reporter for a few years already, in Pittsburgh, but she eventually moved to New York City with hopes to work for one of the bigger papers. But just getting in the doors to get an interview proves hard for a woman, because women weren’t considered good choices for reporter jobs.

She’s been in the city for four months, and she’s struggling to pay her rent. She is also very aware that women who are considered “inconvenient” often end up in insane asylums, with no way to prove their sanity. So she needs to land on her feet, soon.

Which is how she comes up with the crazy plan – to act crazy. To see how easy it is to get herself locked up, and to report on the actual conditions and practices inside the asylum, which does not open its doors to reporters. Specifically, she aims to get inside the asylum on Blackwell’s Island, which is rumored to be the most inhumane. She does this “stunt” with the cooperation of the deputy editor of the New York World, who promises to get her out in a week or so.

She does get in, and is there for about 10 days. She meets other women, and of course, most are not really crazy at all – some are heartbroken and/or depressed, sick and in need of medical care their families couldn’t provide, foreign and unable to understand English, or maybe just poor (and therefore a nuisance).

The conditions are deplorable, and they are given no reasons to hope for more. They have to sit on hard benches all day and not talk or move. Nelly reasons that some of them may become insane while there, because they are given no mental or physical stimulation. It’s also freezing cold (she is there in October), and they don’t get enough to eat.

The title – “The Mad Girls of New York” – refers to the women of the asylum. But the story also follows some of Nellie’s acquaintances in the city, as well as her time before and after this assignment. Women trying to support themselves financially, and not just depending on a man to take care of them. And these girls could also be considered “mad” for their time (the 1880’s).

This whole scenario is based on actual events, which Bly wrote her own book about at the time (“Ten Days in a Mad-House“). The author used info from that book, but also based characters on other people and stories from that era.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, I’d definitely recommend this one. Even though we know Nellie will get out eventually, the stakes still seem high for her comrades in the asylum. And there’s one more fun twist after she gets out, too.

This book comes out today, April 26th. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher and Netgalley.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Interview with Rebecca Rosenberg, Author of “Champagne Widows”

By: Angie Haddock


We reviewed the book “Champagne Widows” earlier this month. You can check out the review here. Now, we bring you some thoughts from the author, Rebecca Rosenberg.

Q: You obviously knew a lot about wine before writing this one, but I’m sure you still had to research the winemaking of the era. Did you find that a lot of it was different, or were you surprised at how much of the process had stayed the same?

A: The process of making champagne has changed tremendously from 1800 to now. Some of the biggest differences are:

From the novel, readers discover that bottles were hand blown and not consistent, so they actually held different amounts and took different sizes of corks! Also, being mouth-blown, they were weak or strong. The fermenting champagne would burst weak bottles.

Veuve Clicquot made major strides in changing murky, yeasty champagne of 1800s to the clear, sparkling champagne we drink today, by figuring out ways to clarify the wine. One method is riddling, which turns the bottle upside down to collect the dead yeast and expels it before bottling.

Veuve Clicquot and others liked their champagne extremely sweet to counter the inconsistency of ripe grapes. They would add lots of sugar to help fermentation. This did not change until 1874 when my next champagne widow, Madame Pommery, perfected Brut (dry) champagne, more like we drink today.

Rebecca Rosenberg

Q: Are there a lot of differences between making still wine and champagne?

A: Champagne takes more than twice as much effort to make as still wine, due to the fact that it has a double fermentation and can take four to even ten years!

Q: Were you already interested in France, or French history before this? Did you travel any for researching the region?

A: I have traveled to the Champagne region of France five times, and discovered the “Champagne Widows” on the first trip, maybe ten years ago. It is so exciting to follow the footsteps of each of the “Champagne Widows” lives and discover who they were and what motivated them. I have visited their wineries and homes and vineyards and hired their winery historians to fill in details I cannot find in research.

Also of note: they were all widows because in the 1800s a woman was not allowed to own property or a business. It was owned by her husband. Only if the husband died, she could own it. If she remarried, the new husband would own it. These shrewd women kept their businesses and romantic relationships separate!

Q: I know this book is planned to be the first in a series – can you tell us what topics we can look forward to in the next installments?

A: “Madame Pommery” will come out next year. Alexandrine Pommery’s story is bone chilling since her house is occupied by the Prussian general of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71.

“Lily Bollinger” comes next in the 1940’s during the rise of the Nazis. She will always be known for the most famous champagne quote, which I adore:

“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”


We’d like to thank Rebecca for answering our questions! If you want to keep up on the upcoming “Champagne Widows” releases, check out her website.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Campfire Confessions” by Kristine Ochu – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Annie, Sondra, and Jo were the best of childhood friends—but they haven’t seen each other in far too long. To the outside world, their lives are perfect. But appearances can be deceiving…

Goodreads


The story idea here is that three women reconnect on a canoeing trip. They were childhood friends, but two of them have moved away from the small Midwestern town where they grew up. All three are facing big life problems – depression, divorce, overwhelm, recovery from addiction, a sexless marriage, etc.

The first third of the book introduces us to the characters – Annie, Jo, and Sondra – and all the aforementioned issues (and then some). In 100 pages or so, we see multiple sex scenes (plus one with a vibrator), an overdose, and an attempt at blackmail. This all seemed a little too “soap opera-y” for my personal tastes, but I realized that it was just set-up.

The next section of the book has Jo and Sondra returning to their hometown to see Annie. They reconnect with family and old friends, and hatch a plot with Annie’s four sons.

Eventually, they get out onto the river, with two canoes, a tent, and some basic provisions. This part is where the action really picked up. But it also got to be a little too much at times. All three women end up hurt and/or sick before this excursion is out, and many of their encounters were dramatic.

There’s an interesting dichotomy here, in that the book kind of honors multiple spiritualities. For example, Annie is a preacher’s wife, and so the Christian perspective is represented. But Jo’s husband’s family – who live in the area, and interact with our characters a few times – are Indigenous. Especially out in nature, the women talk a lot of spirit animals and the like, so this perspective is also prevalent.

While I enjoyed that the book included multiple perspectives like this, all of them seemed a little too “in your face” at times. For example, when Annie falls and breaks her arm, she passes out and sees Jesus. They have a conversation, and she writes a song about it – while unconscious – that she remembers and sings after she wakes up. I’m not saying that it couldn’t happen, but it was a little over the top for my personal tastes.

This was a decent book – I didn’t love it, but didn’t dislike it, either. And it moved at a good pace, especially in the final two-thirds.

This book comes out today, March 8th, 2022. I was given an advanced copy from the author through the Books Forward program.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Champagne Widows” by Rebecca Rosenberg – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Champagne, France, 1800. Twenty-year-old Barbe-Nicole inherited Le Nez (an uncanny sense of smell) from her great-grandfather, a renowned champagne maker. She is determined to use Le Nez to make great champagne, but the Napoleon Code prohibits women from owning a business.

Goodreads


This is a fun bit of historical fiction, based on real people and events. I hadn’t read much about this era in a while, so it was also a good change of pace!

Our heroine, Barbe-Nicole, has a knack for blending wine, which was a business her grandfather was in. She can’t directly inherit the business, of course, because she’s a woman. But, she does talk her childhood sweetheart into going into business with her, as a married couple.

As the title implies, her wedded bliss only lasts a few years. With Napoleon trying to take over all of Europe, she now faces multiple challenges: how to keep her business in her own name as a widow, and how to sell her products. The French people are broke, but other countries have mostly outlawed French imports. There are blockades, even. And some of her seller’s journeys are so long and treacherous that the product is ruined by the time it gets to its destination!

Barbe-Nicole has to reinvent her business several times over during the long years of the Napoleonic wars. She takes on various partners and investors, but still wants to have the last word on her wines. This makes some of her (male) partners very frustrated, as they all think they know better than she does.

There are some lean years, often due to weather harming the crops. She also employs mostly women, many of them war widows. This is one of the reasons she keeps trying again every year – she doesn’t want to leave these women without jobs. She is stubborn, but it’s for a good cause!

She also faces a lot of personal heartbreak during these years, often from the loss of family members. She also feels the losses of her freedom to practice her religion, her family’s old way of life before the wars, and the loss of cultural norms she grew up with.

There is also a lot about winemaking in here! If you have any interest in wine, vineyards, etc. – that’s a fun aspect.

The year of the Great Comet brings the best harvest in years. Napoleon is finally facing defeat. But will the laws change in time for Barbe-Nicole to sell the fruits of that year’s labors?

This book comes out in paperback today, March 1st. I was given a copy by the author, Rebecca Rosenberg, who intends it to be the first in a series of novels about real-life women in the wine business.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Wildcat: A Novel” by Amelia Morris – Review

By: Angie Haddock



New mother, aspiring writer, and former shopgirl Leanne has lost her way. As she struggles with both her grief and the haze of new motherhood, it also becomes clear that her best friend, the default queen of East Side Los Angeles, Regina Mark, might not actually be a friend at all.

-Goodreads


This is another book about a stay-at-home mom living near L.A. – so it was a little funny that I read it back-to-back with Adult Conversation. But the similarities pretty much end there.

This story follows Leanne, a new mom in her early thirties. She also has a book coming out, a lot of well-to-do friends in L.A., and some family baggage from back home in Pennsylvania. In fact, her dad died a week before she had her baby, and she couldn’t fly back for the funeral.

The book’s real drama comes from Leanne’s friends, though, and especially one named Regina. Leanne starts to realize how Regina’s world is so “curated,” every friend and party specifically picked to look good on social media, and/or to get her some publicity for her line of home goods.

Social media plays a big role in this book. I felt like this was a part of it I couldn’t really connect with – I’m on social media, but certainly don’t define my life by how many followers I have. Maybe it’s a generational thing? (Although I’m only a handful of years older than the main characters.) Even though this aspect of the drama didn’t ring true for me, I don’t doubt that it will for some people.

The idea that we compare ourselves to our friends – or maybe seek out friends who make us look good, or can introduce us to certain people we want to connect with – is pretty universal, though. (Even if some of us don’t live all of that out on Instagram alone.)

The initial rift between Leanne and Regina opens when Leanne realizes Regina is not vaccinating her baby. The story takes place pre-COVID, and uses a local measles outbreak to illustrate their stances on this topic. But of course, it’s coming out during COVID, so this aspect of the story could be seen as a “hot-button issue.” Not to say the book is overly political- but I feel like any reader who has strong feelings on that should know ahead of time that this issue plays a strong role in the book.

This book comes out on February 22nd. I won a copy from the publisher, Flatiron Books, in a Goodreads Giveaway.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“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.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“Adult Conversation” by Brandy Ferner – Review

By: Angie Haddock


April is a thoughtful yet sarcastic mother of two who tries her best to be a caring, connected mom in a middle-class culture where motherhood has become relentless. April rages at modern motherhood’s impossible pressures, her husband’s “Dad privilege,” and her kids’ incessant snack requests. She wants to enjoy motherhood, but her idealist vision and lived experience are in constant conflict with one another. Is she broken—or is motherhood?

Goodreads


This book came out in 2020, but I just got around to reading it… familiar story, right?

It starts out as expected – frazzled mom juggling two kids and all the craziness that comes with that (like goldfish crackers and Baby Shark). If you’re a mom who is in that phase now, or can remember it vividly, you will definitely see yourself in many of her daily struggles! I know I laughed out loud at some of the random, everyday stuff she brings up.

But, this story doesn’t just stay in that lane. Oh, no, it gets wild.

April decides to go out of her comfort zone and find a therapist. Just the act of going is a challenge, as it requires her to put on real pants and get someone to watch the kids.

There is a very harrowing scene just over half way through the book that definitely made my heart start racing. This incident brings her closer to her therapist, despite rules of professionalism.

As these women’s lives become more intertwined, things get both scary and fun. (If you know the name Calvin Broadus, and what his “supply” might be… it’s involved. Just sayin’. Cue up your favorite nineties hip-hop while reading.)

April comes to a place where she can appreciate her life. She still needs to work on some things, for sure, but she’s getting there.

I first heard of this book on Facebook, and you can follow the author’s musings there.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“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.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“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.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.