Tag Archives: Women

Amy Poehler – Yes Please (2014)

YesPleaseFirst, I love Amy Poehler, I cannot stress that fact enough. I love her so much, and I wanted to love this book so much but I just couldn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book; funny and well-written, but it was just missing that certain something that makes a book like this amazing. Her stories and anecdotes fell flat for me, and there were times where I knew she was trying to be funny, but I just didn’t find it funny.

She spends a majority of her book complaining about how hard it is to write a book, or mentioning her divorce. Still, there are some shining moments and the stories she tells about being in drugs (Amy Poehler smoked a lot of weed), about Parks and Rec, and about her children were simply wonderful.

I was talking to some friends about my mixed feelings towards this book, and they all mentioned hearing that the audio book got rave reviews. I was intrigued, and even though I know Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are both immensely talented in everything they do; in my head Tina strikes me as more of a writer and Amy a performer. So I bought my first ever audio book with an itunes gift card from three Christmases ago.

The audiobook does make the story come alive. You get Amy, as well as a host of guest stars reading her book and getting off track with other conversations. I would highly recommend the audiobook for Amy I would highly recommend the audiobook for Yes Please, but also be warned that you do miss out on the pictures/doodles/art that are included within the pages of the physical book.

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Caroline Moorehead – A Train in Winter (2011)

ATraininWinterHow does one begin to explain the unexplainable? Convince others to believe the unbelievable horrors that awaited the women of the French Resistance, Les Convoi des 31000, once they arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the hundreds of women sent to Nazi death camps only a handful survived to tell the story. This is their story.

This book was so hard to read, I found myself stunned at times needing to put it down. I couldn’t read too much in a day or else I would end up too depressed. While the first part details the involvement of the women in the French Resistance, the second part deals with their lives in Nazi death camps. The horrors they witnessed and the helplessness they felt watching their friends die.

Reading about the Holocaust however, and other historical atrocities should be uncomfortable and hard to read. Even though the death camps have been common knowledge to me ever since middle school, I don’t think I have ever really truly grasped the full extent of the horror, nor do I think I ever will. Moorehead writes in so much detail about the conditions in the camps, the rampant disease and lice, the lack of food and emaciated bodies, the cold, the mud, the wet, and still I cannot begin to comprehend that anyone was able to survive this for 2 and a half years. Most did not, but some did.

Moorehead’s story is optimistic about the strength of women’s friendship and their lasting bond. She interviewed as many surviving women as she could and writes that no one would have been able to survive in the camps on their own. They all stuck together and helped one another, pooling rations, hiding sick or injured women, as much as they could. Moorhead also writes that “The French as a national group were more cohesive than other nationalities and more prone to look after their own.” She credits the survival of a number of women to this fact.

While Mooreheads story is one of women, friendship and survival it does not necessarily have a happy ending. The women who survived had returned to France but discovered that they had forgotten how to live. Many came home as widows, finding out that their husbands who were also involved in resistance activities were shot, or to children who did not even recognize them. Combined with the nightmares of the camps and the lack of a support network, many of these women withdrew into themselves finding it impossible to be happy again. While life went on, many women could not. Survivor Charlotte Delbo wrote, “Looking at me, one would think that I’m alive … I’m not alive. I died in Auschwitz, but no one knows it.”

Moorehead’s book shed important light on the important role that women played during the Second World War through their involvement with the French Resistance, and the sobering reality that many paid the ultimate price for their loyalty to their country. She deals briefly with the aftermath of the war, and the treatment of war crimes in France, but her main focus us on Les Convoi des 3100, the 42 women who managed to survive out of the 230 that did not.

Rating: 4.5/5

Jennifer Worth – Call the Midwife (2002)

CalltheMidwifeThis is a story of London’s East End as told by Jennifer Worth, a former district nurse and midwife working in the 1950s. Worth’s memoirs are not only a look at the conditions of London’s working class, but are also a heartwarming story of women, friendship, and motherhood.

While originally working as a district nurse, Jennifer Worth soon became a midwife working alongside number of plucky and at times, eccentric nuns. The love and respect she feels for these women becomes quite clear throughout her writing as she speaks of their warmth and tenderness compared to the sterile and harsh environment of working in the hospital. Her stories of births are normally humorous and uplifting, but at times the stories of some of her patients are heartbreaking. Worth befriends a pregnant prostitute and helps her give birth, only to have the baby taken away. She also meets an old woman she originally dismisses as crazy, before she learns that the woman was in a workhouse where her five children died. I will admit, reading some passages left me completely stunned.

Worth’s memoirs while mostly being about her time as a midwife is also somewhat of a medical history. Prior to the modernization of healthcare and the popularity of hospital births, giving birth remained entirely in the female sphere of influence, mostly involving midwives. A lot of what Worth talks about seems foreign to us now, but in the 1950s, especially among the lower classes it would have been commonplace.

I loved Worth’s memoirs and highly recommend this book.

Amy Tan – The Valley of Amazement (2013)

ValleyofAmazementFrom one of my favourite authors comes this beautifully spun tale about the relationship between mothers and daughters. The Joy Luck Club, also by Amy Tan, deals with similar themes regarding the relationship between mothers and daughters in both China and the United States. The Valley of Amazement is similar but is a singular approach to the subject looking at one family and their struggles.

The story opens in 1912 where Violet Minturn, a 12-year-old half Chinese and half American girl living in a Courtesan House run by her mother in Shanghai. Violet is stolen from her mother by a cruel bout of trickery and is forced to become a virgin courtesan. Through the support of former courtesan and trusted friend, Magic Gourd, Violet becomes respected in Shanghai and is able to survive, and even thrive in her new surroundings. After having her own daughter taken from her, Violet vows to do anything to get her back setting her off on a new path.

Tan spans fifty years and takes the reader from the dazzling courtesan houses of Shanghai, a stifling house in San Francisco, to the back woods and hidden villages of China’s countryside telling a deeply moving narrative of tragedy, loss, and love. Told with humor and grace, Tan’s novel truly is a work of art.

Best Of – International Women’s Day 2015

In addition to Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front which I posted here on Thursday, there are a number of other fantastic books I read this year written by great women. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my favourite female-penned books that I reviewed on the blog this year.

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)

AliasGraceLooking at the notorious 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, Atwood imagines the events surrounding the crime by focusing in on the culprit, Grace Marks. She twists the story and even though Grace is the protagonist, the reader never gets full image of who she is. Through her writing, Atwood seeks to give Grace a voice and a point of view and does so in such an interesting way.

Jung Chang – While Swans (1991)        

wild_swans

It’s the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial rule to the death of Mao Ze Dong. The story is beautifully written with elements of both humour and tragedy as Chang recounts her own life growing up with Communist rule in China. It’s about China, but also about mothers and daughters and the enduring bonds that women share.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

GoneGirlFlynn’s phycological thriller got people talking this year, especially with the release of the movie just this past fall. Flynn is a good writer, not great, but she does have this understanding of the “cool girl” syndrome, something I think all women and girls are familiar with. That men always want the “cool girl,” the effortlessly hot woman who doesn’t care if he all he does is drink beer and hang out with his friends. That ideal however doesn’t exist, and sometimes, that “cool girl” can end up being a psychopath. It’s a good book that will play with your head and test your assumptions about gender and relationships.

Caitlin Moran – How to be a Woman (2011)

Caitlin MoranIt’s hard to love Caitlin Moran, she tells it like it is and makes no apologies. She writes openly and honestly about her abortion, something that I don’t think many women would do. She is smart, funny, and quick in her writing providing readers with sound advice and hilarious anecdotes about what it means to be a woman.

Azar Nafisi – Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

ReadingLolitainTehranIn this literary memoir, Azar Nafisi writes about her experience, as a teacher of classical English literature living in Post-Revolutionary Iran. She and a select few of her student start a “forbidden” book club which moves from being place for scholarly discussion, to one where these young women can share their deepest hopes, dreams, and fears about the future. It’s about books bringing women together at a time and place when circumstance is threatening to tare them apart. It’s a poignant and charming read about the lasting bonds of female friendship.

So there you have it, what are some of your favourite books about what it means to be a woman?