Thursday, January 26, 2012

Unorthodox, The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, a memoir

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Availability : pre-order on Amazon Available February 2012

Rating Biff

This book opened my eyes to a world drastically unlike my own. The Jewish Orthodox is not only a faith, it is a whole community of people who have separated themselves from mainstream American by transforming their dress, their language and even sometimes their values. I have held strong fascination with this community. I’ve walked through their neighborhoods on my way to yoga, where groups of young girls in their long skirts and button-up tops and flat shoes, scurry across the street to get away from my gentile tattoos and the Eastern philosophy sticking out of my bag.  The men I pass will look down at their feet  and whisper in Yiddish, even though I search their faces for a friendly smile. In Los Angeles they all drive fleets of mini-vans and own gigantic houses that are lit up in the evening with families and food, while the little ones zip up and down the sidewalks on their scooters, brushing the little curls out of their eyes.

To be so close to something and know that I was not a part of it drove me to want to know more and to want to know why I’m such an outsider in my own neighborhood.

Unorthodox is a look into that world. Deborah Feldman and I are the same age. She grew up in the Satmar community of Williamsburg, in Brooklyn New York. The Satmar’s are one of the most devout of all the Orthodox groups. If I really wanted to know what my life, as a girl who has always wanted to know everything and see the world, would be like growing up in Williamsburg, I think Deborah nailed it.

Deborah creates her world with some of the most beautiful language I’ve read from a first time author. Frankly I’m jealous of her talent. She so seamlessly made her family loveable and loath-able.  You know they are only being who they are, but at the same time they are still human with the same negative human qualities we all have, like envy.  She has a wonderful way of maintaining this voice of naivety, even though as I read, I can tell she knows a lot more then most other’s, even at a young age. Her ambition and struggle with her identity in this oppressive world is astounding and powerful. The more I learned about her the more I felt she had to leave in order to be happy. But I don’t leave this book with feelings of hatred or even anger at the Satmar’s. It ‘s actually quite the contrary. I loved the ritual and the beauty of it all. I didn’t have anything like that in my non-denominational, agnostic at thirteen, upbringing. It was clear that there were plenty of people who belonged in that community, but Deborah was certainly not one of them.

From the title we know that she eventually leaves the Orthodox community. In the prologue, she’s eating in a restaurant with her mother, who is also a former Satmar.  We learn her that when her mother left the community she did not take Deborah with her.  Her father, having a mental illness not accepted or treated medically in the community, has no choice but pass her off to her grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy.

 Her childhood memories of baking with her grandmother in the kitchen, is when I really go into the story. I personally have always found myself gagging when I think of over-zealous religious-types, but she immediately let me know that I would be dealing with real people, when I met Bubby. I feel in love at first read. She was sweet and wise. She had so much compassion from the very beginning and you could tell she had over-pouring amounts of love for Deborah. Her Zeidy on the other hand was everything you’d picture an old, post-war, bitter orthodox to be, strict, pious, and un-forgiving. But in some moments you can tell that he has love hidden under that big grey beard.

Young Deborah is already off to a bad start. She likes to read books written in English and must hide them from other people. She is not like the other girls in school. Even at this young age she knows the world is bigger and thus begins her struggle; be happy or be a good girl.

I personally enjoyed learning about all of the holidays and rituals that go along with the religion, but I couldn’t shake the great lines that divide the sexes and the harsh guidelines in which the women must abide. Yes its fun to cook, I love to cook. I will cook all day. I’m not talking about domestic issues. But there are certain occasions where the women weren’t allowed to be in the same room as the men. There are religious texts only the men are allowed to read. This seems unfair to me in a community centered on religion.

Another prominent duty that shed light on my own personal ignorance was the practice of shaving bride’s heads.  I had no idea they did that. All the married Satmar women around Deborah have shaved heads. They cover them with wigs and scarves.  Deborah creates an air of humor that surrounds the wig culture they have formed for themselves. She also has some of the same thoughts I had while reading her impressions. There is a kind of silliness she conveys of the competitive nature of the wigs, the blonde versus brown, real versus synthetic. The women in Deborah’s neighborhood spend ridiculous amounts of money on wigs, to cover their shaved heads, fascinating.

Deborah’s coming into womanhood as a Satmar is a beautiful and tedious ritual. There are baths and blessings. And in some cases the beginnings of molestation. It was clear from what I know, and what Deborah was being taught, that she was going to be in the dark about sex. It was like giving a monkey a gun and a target and saying, “You figure it out.” Her guided preparation for marriage and procreation was more focused on the procedures of the ceremony then the part she’d actually be living.

So it’s no surprise when her arranged marriage begins to have an unreasonable amount of problems. They are practically children when they are wed and Deborah must do everything she can to keep her sanity. Her desperation becomes heartbreaking yet she remains so strong despite all the feelings of failure. The two familes not very forgiving when it comes to things in nature going wrong, like mental illness or infertility. They label the couple as being punished by god instead of helping them. Which of course only makes it worse.

We also know from the description of the Author and the prologue that she does conceive and have a boy. This creates a whole new set of problems. As in most parts of the world, the moment you have a baby all the women in your family want to tell you how to raise it. To much relief, Deborah and her new little family move to another, less strict, community in upstate New York. In all this time we know Deborah she has not given up her love for knowledge and reading secular books. Hiding them from her family all these years, she can now relax a little.  But the more she learns about the world and about her orthodox world, the more she wants out.

I highly recommend this book to all young women who need a good perspective on just how good they had it growing up in their suburban homes with mini-skirts, New Kids on the Block and Tampax. Going to college was not a struggle that could blacklist you from your own culture, it was a given right. Getting married is a long horrid process of bar hopping and one-night-stands, not a meeting in front of family members and then an engagement where you don’t even see one another. I have such an appreciation for my ability to run my own life. I have great respect for Deborah Feldman. She left a community with nothing but a baby on her hip, went to college, and then wrote a book! How many of us can say that?

 Enlighten yourself. Unorthodox has changed the way I look at orthodox Jews, or now, don’t look at them, because they’re not supposed to connect with gentiles. But more importantly it has changed the way I look at my own life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Literary Blog Hop! 10-6/10-10

This is one of the greatest things ever created for the world of book bloggers! As a reader, writer and reviewer myself it was one of the most useful tools I could have ever dreamt of!

Through the Blog Hop I found ALL of my favorite book blogs! Whether directly or indirectly.

My Favorite Book Blog is Books I done Read it's fun and quirky and is filled with entertaining non-sense.

If I'm in the mood for a more serious review I go to Big Al's Books and Pals he has lots of great reviews with links and reviews mostly indie books. He also features a guest review or article from time to time my, my favorite being, Donna Fasano's article Chick Lit and Romance, a defining moment . It's a very enlightening breakdown for those who think all a chick wants is "Happily Ever After"

Beside Big Al's guest articles I really love his format and organization of the reviews on the blog and I took a few format ques from his blog when creating my own.

The Best Book Review I ever read was from The Blue Book Case, and was recent I might add. I have been getting more and more interested in reading Hemingway since I only recently read The Old Man and the Sea, and Their review of a Movable Feast made me more motivated and I bought the book.

And Amanda Hocking, a highly successful self-published/turned millionaire has a great quirky blog where she lists and rates things book and media realted. She's such a character and kind of a great humble inspiration.

And of course All this AWESOME BLOG-HOPPINESS is due to the wonderful Book Blog

Wanna Join the Blog Hop?

Just head over to Crazy For Book and follow the instructions if you qualify 

Red-Robed Priestess

By Elizabeth Cunningham

Genre: Fiction, Historical

Available: for Pre-order on Amazon, Due out November 15th, 2011

Publisher: Monkfish

Rating: Biff

I am a huge fan of history and an even bigger fan when people, or in this case authors, connect reasonable dots when it comes to history and religion. Especially when that author decides that Jesus was a person with emotions and a sex drive. But this story isn't about Jesus really. This book is about Mary Magdalene, more appropriately named Maeve Rhaud.  Because if Mary were real and if she had red hair like most renaissance paintings depict her, wouldn't she be from the British Isles? And if she DID fuck Jesus, she would have had to get to Roman occupied Israel/ Palestine some how.

Thus we have the Maeve Chronicles. But I only read the last one. This one, Red-Robed Priestess. Having not read the other three preceding books, I still thoroughly enjoyed this story. I didn't feel left out of the loop at all. This book sheds enough back story when needed to have vibrantly painted characters that most likely grew to be that way in the other books.

Most colorful of them all is most certainly Maeve. As a woman, and a woman who has taken women's studies classes in college, I am so in love with the way Maeve is painted as a strong enduring, witty and endearingly flawed woman in the time of the first century. History and religion always paint women as docile and obedient creatures and the ones who are not as, Barbaric, punishable, witches and whores.
And even though Maeve is a disobedient which/whore and she was punished, I still love her. And there are a whole slew of other strong women throughout this whole book! Sarah; Maeve's daughter with Jesus (Jesus had a heart AND a penis!), Bele and Alyss; ex-pirates turned horse-breeding comrades, Vivianne and Brawnwen; aiding Arch Druid priestesses of Mona, Queen Boudica! Maeve's long lost rebellion raising daughter, Gwen and Lithben; Baudica's two headstrong and compassionate daughters and the list goes on and on!

Many of the characters are taken from actual history and/or proposed history. Boudica is real, she did lead a rebellion against the Roman occupation of the British Isles, if this sounds boring to you I assure you its not in this book. Also Sarah is real, in some accepted accounts, there are stories of a healer named Sarah who is the Daughter of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And the main male character in this book is the newly appointed governor, General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who also lived and really was the Roman General Boudica led her uprising against, which resulted in one of "the bloodiest battles in history."

The wonderful combination of actual history and probable history is more entertaining then I could have imagined. And Elizabeth created these historical and probable characters into such real people. They drive the story, (Maeve, really drives the story) but the actions of Boudica and Paulinus and, everyone else plays a part in tugging the plot each in their own direction with their own motivations, creating a conundrum of who's right and who's wrong.

Amidst the history there is a wonderful dash of magic. Shapeshifting and clairvoyance are some of the witchy abilities Maeve has from her days spent with the Druids (also real), and it makes sense that in the time of paganism and pre-chritiantiny (since he only died like two books ago) that magic would be a  detail and talent of many in this story. It is an exciting feature that I think without it the story would have lacked a certain amount of excitement.  Without it, it would have just been a story of a bunch of ladies ridding around and then a battle. It's the inclusion of Blood, Sex and Magic (add Sugar and we have a Chili Peppers album) that makes this story so entertaining. Luckily the blood is mostly at the end, once we've gotten our giggles out with Maeve's sexcapades. Which is another thing i really liked about this story, it isn't just one thing. It's not just a forbbiden-love story or a mother-daughter story, or a war story. It's all of it!

The story is so well intertwined. It branches out then comes back then goes out again. And with Maeve as the center piece with her sex-drive and flaws, her impulses and her instincts, the journey with these powerful women is nothing less then exciting, funny, sad, horrific and redeeming.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Slacker Confessions - True Comedic Stories From My Decade of Dumb Jobs

By Tommy Campbell

This is the newest Kindle edition of a paperback that was originally published in 2002.

Genre: Humor, Non-fiction

AvailableAmazon and Kindle 

Rating: R.P. McMurphy

I had some issues with this book immediately with the title. I understand that Tommy and/or his publisher is trying to be cute with the alliteration but for some reason it bugged me. As I began to read the"True Comedic Stories" I noticed his "Decade"  was spent mostly in restaurants and kitchens. And he begins to explain to us how hard he worked in those kitchens. And after reading Kitchen Confidential, as well as having my own stints in restaurants, I know its hard fucking work in the Restaurant Biz.  So, given that, even the part of the title, "Slacker" was quite inappropriate considering. 

That's not to say I don't like stories about kitchen and restaurants. There is such a ridiculous amout of sex, drugs and debauchery in that industry that to call it anything less then fascinating would be an injustice. Tommy did tell us about his jobs outside the Restaurant Biz, and in those instances he wasn't as much a slacker as he was careless and irresponsible. So again my OCD if flaring over this title and how, to me, it's not describing the book accurately at ALL!

I have no idea why this drove me batshit, but ti did. I'll leave it to you to decide if this is unreasonable of me.

BUT! I didn't demote Tommy's book from a Biff to a R.P. McMurphy, over the title. Oh No. I had a whole other series of Literary OCD fits. This time it actually had something to do with the writing!
I thought the very first story was decently funny. Tommy talks about his first job at a pizza place and how he got stoned for the first time at fourteen. Now, you know that stoner buddy you have? Who tells you these "funny" stories about what he does when he's stoned? And you keep waiting for the punchline and it finally comes but you're like, "Uh?" Because the whole time he was telling you how funny the whole thing was? And he's the only one who thought it was funny? Because he was High?
That is this first story. 

I kind of began to dread reading the rest of the book. 

Thankfully, the stories got progressively better and more interesting throughout the book. 

But again, every time he was explaining a prank or an antic he chimed in with, "It was so funny", "Then we were laughing", "You couldn't help but laugh". Oh God make him stop telling me the joke is funny. "In it's own right, it is kind of funny" Really Tom? Is it?  Isn't that why you decided to write a fucking Book about it! Stop telling me how FUCKING FUNNY the story is and tell me the Goddamn Story!!

Oh GOD! It was in  nearly every story.  Some line about how they were laughing, or how funny it was. It drove me crazy! I was thinking put down the bong Tommy! I get it! You think its funny! 
I would be getting into the story and then he'd hit me with, "It was so funny." Gauh! For Christ Sake Tommy!

To make matters worse, Tom is in real life, a Comedian. I don't even what to know what his stand-up is like. "... and then, and this was so funny, he spilled the milk! HA! I laughed so hard!" 

Apparently he is quite successful in England. Go Figure!

Besides the fact that he felt the need to pre-curse every joke with his announcement of its funniness, the stories themselves are in fact quite funny. And Tommy doesn't do this as much about halfway through the book. And there were a few moments that I did in fact laugh out loud. There were some where I didn't laugh at all, but that's because my heartstrings were pulled and reality is brought back into the realm for a moment. As I mentioned earlier, drugs are a near staple in the world of kitchens; and the story Map of Europe goes into the real problems this teenager is dealing with in the world of  the love-able scumbags we call cooks.

My only other major criticism on the writing was every story felt cut short. I wanted more from him. He gets going and I got pulled into these stories and then SMACK! They end. At the very core, its good writing and good story telling. The characters are colorful and well painted to set up the scene well. The stories are unique and interesting. But I  continually felt short changed. 

He could have described more about himself, the time period, the Town!  At the very end of the book, he says Toronto, once!  Instead using "Downtown". Downtown where? I had to use my Sherlock Holmes deduction skills by Goolgling Tommy up and finding an interview with him on a Canadian TV station to figure that out. And still I didn't know if he was in Toronto or Vancouver or some po-dunk town, until he told a story saying that he went to Vancouver. For the LOVE of God don't make your reader have to guess what city the ENTIRE book takes place in! I know you want to disguise businesses, but disguising the city just takes away form the imagery I could have been having during all that time I was trying to guess which "downtown" he was talking about.

Ugh! I feel like I'm ripping this guy apart. So let me do this instead. 
I give the first half of the book an R.P. McMurphy and the second half a Lady Chablis.
Because the second half was much better. It was funnier. It was much more well written and I found myself stopped much less by irritation. I laughed out loud more during the second half. He also goes more into his antics instead of telling us about other peoples pranks that he laughed at, which allowed for me to connect with him on a different level, a more personal level. 

Would I suggest this book? Yeah. Would I suggest skipping the first half? No. Because I bet most people wouldn't have noticed the joke killing funny annoucements. Or maybe they would. But I bet because I mentioned it, you will most certainly notice it now!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lay Me Down- L. Marie Cook

I had to start this review process somewhere. I've been searching all day on Amazon for a self-published book to review, preferably one that has not been reviewed yet.  Even my own book has three Amazon reviews. But the main reason I started this book review blog was because I couldn't get any book bloggers to review my book. So as uncouth as it may seem, I'm going to review it my fucking self! But for the greater good, I will at least try not to be such an asshole and stroke my own ego too much.

Lay Me Down- By L. Marie Cook

Genre: Humor, non-fiction

Availability: Amazon and Kindle 

Rating:  Biff

I know what you're thinking, "she gave herself a Biff because its her book." And you know what? It's my Book Blog too! But seriously.

Its very funny and honest account of a young girl's journey through sex, love and relationships. The book has a very conversational tone. The stories are unique as well as identifiable. We all have snuck out of the house, felt nervous around the opposite sex, made embarrassing yet laughable mistakes, been in relationships and hopefully we all have had sex. This book ignites those memories for many readers while also providing entertaining insight into some of the less common milestones such as threesomes, anxiety attacks, and abortion. If you are old enough to remember where you were for The New Millennium and young enough to have acid flash backs, you will most likely enjoy this book.  And if the word "fuck" bothers you, you will most likely not like this book.

The book spans a decade from the loss of virginity at thirteen to a new found confidence and self-guidance at twenty-three. The journey is vast but the stories are quick-witted. Its fun to see the major changes that result from growing up, making mistakes and letting one's guard and inhibitions drop to the floor like a pair of skinny jeans at a King of Leon concert. On this voyage of the heart and vagina, we learn that going down on a girl is not always as good of an idea as it seems, you can try as hard as you want but some butt's aren't made for fucking and just because he makes you weak in the knees doesn't mean he's not a pathological liar who will steal your credit card.  We also learn that sisters can be cruel but with time they may save your ass, on the abortion table its possible to find the doctor sexy and no matter how much you love a man it hurts when he doesn't choose you.

The most common phrases used to describe this book are, "laugh-out-loud" funny and "could not put it down". Its not a very long book and most avid readers could plow through it is as little to 3-6 hours. Especially if they don't put it down. There are some great one liners that even get me saying, "I can't believe I wrote that." I too will laugh-out-loud even though it's my own shit. The stories will suck you in so much that while trying to do later round editing I would find my self reading and laughing instead of looking for errors.

There are a few typos. As with anything self-published these days, you can expect a few. But there are definitely not so many that the reader finds them-self annoyed and distracted and fully removed.

Overall its a great, quick, funny read that will leave you wanting more. It's not for anyone who takes them-self too seriously, because I most certainly don't.