Category: books

Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America Book Review

An exploration of American feminist history told through the lens of the pageant world.

About Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America

Many predicted that pageants would disappear by the 21st century, but they are thriving. Miss America will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020. Why do they persist? In Here She Is, Hilary Levey Friedman reveals the surprising ways pageants have been an empowering feminist tradition. She traces the role of pageants in many of the feminist movement’s signature achievements, including bringing women into the public sphere, helping them to become leaders in business and politics, providing increased educational opportunities, and giving them a voice in the age of #MeToo.

Using her unique perspective as a NOW state president, daughter to Miss America 1970, sometimes pageant judge, and scholar, Friedman explores how pageants became so deeply embedded in American life from their origins as a P.T. Barnum spectacle at the birth of the suffrage movement, through Miss Universe’s bathing beauties to the talent- and achievement-based competitions of today. She looks at how pageantry has morphed into culture everywhere from The Bachelor and RuPaul’s Drag Race to cheer and specialized contests like those for children, Indigenous women, and contestants with disabilities. Friedman also acknowledges the damaging and unrealistic expectations pageants place on women in society and discusses the controversies, including Miss America’s ableist and racist history, Trump’s ownership of the Miss Universe Organization, and the death of child pageant-winner JonBenét Ramsey.

Presenting a more complex narrative than what’s been previously portrayed, Here She Is shows that as American women continue to evolve, so too will beauty pageants.

My Thoughts

I have to admit that I have never watched nor participated in a pageant. I don’t think I have ever seen them here in Ontario (or perhaps I have just never looked) nor have I watched the Miss America or Miss Universe on television. I am not sure why they have never appealed to me, but as I read through Here She Is, it dawned on me that perhaps I felt that they were the opposite of feminism (especially the bathing suit competitions) and that I was bias against pageants based on my own assumptions, but this book made me see pageants from a new perspective.

Hilary explores the history of pageants from their unique beginnings to their current model and how they have evolved. She has matched each phase of the pageants to each feminist movement and shown how each are related. We watch as woman are empowered to take a step out in public, to be proud of their bodies and to not feel the need to hide who they are, their bodies and their role in society (and how different this is in each time period). We are shown how pageants evolved and what was considered to be allowed (how much skin could be shown, weight/body size, marital status, etc..). We are exposed to the good and the bad in this book, Hilary touches on all topics and explains them thoroughly.

What I found really interesting was how the idea of pageants can be seen in many other aspects of daily life – our obsession with some reality shows like the Bachelor. I would never have made that connection before without reading this novel. I also loved how she highlighted a key point in this book – education. So many contestants use pageants to fund their education, receiving degrees in a variety of fields. These are well educated young women who are prepared to take on some of the toughest roles in our workforce.

Here She Is opened my eyes to some of my own unconscious bias against pageants and helped me to understand the important role that they have played in empowering women throughout history. It was a great, eye opening read that I truly appreciated.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 4/5

About the Author

Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist at Brown University, where she has taught a popular course titled “Beauty Pageants in American Society.” She is a leading researcher in pageantry, merging her mother’s past experiences as Miss America 1970 with her interests as a glitz- and glamour-loving sometime pageant judge, and a mentor to Miss America 2018. Friedman also serves as the president of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women. Her first book, Playing to Win, focused on children’s competitive afterschool activities. Connect with her at hilaryleveyfriedman.com and on Twitter (@hleveyfriedman).

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book, all opinions are my own.

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Act of Revenge Book Review

Dr. Jim Bob Brady once again finds himself doing a bit of investigating, this time on behalf of a colleague.

About Act of Revenge

Plastic surgeon Lou Edwards’s life is complicated by two major issues.

One, his wife has lupus, possibly due to leaking silicone from breast implants that Edwards himself inserted. And two, his malpractice insurance has been canceled (as it has been for many other plastic surgeons) due to the breast implant problem.

But it gets worse.

Shortly after Edwards threatens an insurance company president on national TV, that same president is found murdered in his penthouse.

Dr. Jim Bob Brady once again finds himself doing a bit of investigating, this time on behalf of a colleague. But how well does he know this colleague? Is the investigation worth the threat to Jim Bob’s own life? Will he discover that it was a burglary gone bad? A lover’s quarrel? Or is this an act of revenge?

My Thoughts

I love the Doc Brady series – Dr. Brady is a man of many talents – including investigating crimes! He does so while balancing home life and a busy schedule as an orthopedic surgeon.

In this novel, a chance encounter (a quite funny one at that too) brings together Dr. Brady and Dr. Edwards and takes them down a path of murder, malpractice, death threats and more. Doc Brady wants to believe Lou, especially after the bond his wife makes with Lou’s wife, but Lou is making it very hard to believe in him. He says and does things he should not to do, making him a prime suspect in a murder!

But Doc Brady has a soft spot for both people and solving crimes, he cannot resist getting his hands dirty solving this case. He dives right in with the investigation, following leads that even the police did not uncover. The plot is complicated, and what seems like an easy open and close case is so very far from that as Doc Brady uncovers. There are many complex, interwoven layers of lies and Doc Brady must move quickly to connect them (while protecting his own life as he quickly learns). I was quite surprised by the end of the novel, it was not what I was expecting but was fitting to the way the story evolved.

Act of Revenge is a well written novel with characters that you can’t help but adore. You could definitely read this novel as a stand alone but I would strongly recommend reading the other two novels in this series, Act of Murder and Act of Deception.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Dr. John Bishop has led a triple life. This orthopedic surgeon and keyboard musician has combined two of his talents into a third, as the author of the beloved Doc Brady mystery series. Beyond applying his medical expertise at a relatable and comprehensible level, Dr. Bishop, through his fictional counterpart Doc Brady, also infuses his books with his love of not only Houston and Galveston, Texas, but especially with his love for his adored wife. Bishop’s talented Doc Brady is confident yet humble, brilliant yet a genuinely nice and funny guy who happens to have a knack for solving medical mysteries, and above all is the doctor who will cure you of your blues and boredom. Step into his world with the first three books of the series, and you’ll be clambering for more. The Doc Brady medical thriller series is set in the changing environment of medicine in the 1990s. Drawing on his years of experience as a practicing surgeon, Bishop entertains readers using his unique insights into the medical world with all its challenges, intricacies, and complexities, while at the same time revealing the compassion and dedication of health care professionals. Dr. Bishop and his wife, Joan, reside in the Texas Hill Country.

Disclosure: I received a digital copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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A Haven for Her Heart Book Review

Can love prove stronger than prejudice and past mistakes? Or will Olivia’s secrets destroy any chance at a future together?

About A Haven for Her Heart

Homeless after being released from a women’s reformatory in 1939
Toronto, Olivia Rosetti is taken in by an angel of mercy, Ruth Bennington. The two discover they share a painful past and together decide to open a maternity home for troubled women.

Despite the success of the home, Olivia is haunted by her inhumane treatment at the reformatory and the way her newborn son was taken from her. She feels undeserving of love–until she meets businessman Darius Reed. Although his attention makes her heart soar, he can never learn of her past.

Greek widower Darius Reed is determined to protect his daughter from the prejudice that killed her mother. He’ll ensure her future by marrying a woman from a respected Toronto family. But when Darius meets Olivia, he’s immediately drawn to her beauty and compassion.  

My Thoughts

I had so many emotions as I read this incredible novel. I cried, I laughed, I felt pride and I also felt anger. I was angry that women were treated this way (and up until quite recently!) and the fact that we are never taught about this, it is almost as though they would prefer to sweep this part of our history under the covers.

Olivia is an incredible young woman, her strength, her compassion and perseverance is inspiring. Her fiancé is off fighting in the war and before he left, they had one special night together which resulted in a pregnancy. Her very religious and Italian family take advantage of a law that has Olivia imprisoned. During this time, her child is taken from her and unspeakable things are done to her. When she is let out of prison, she is left alone in the world as her parents have disowned her and erased her from their lives. Instead of giving up, she meets a woman with a similar past and together they envision a future where women are respected, treated with compassion regardless of the situation they find themselves in out of wedlock. They open a maternity home for women who are pregnant and they quickly become quite popular.

Olivia and Ruth face constant pressure from society to close their facility but together they bring compassion and hope to these young women. When Olivia meets a young man, my heart is so happy for her but can she forgive her past to allow her to have an incredible future full of the love she deserves? Can she balance the work she does, with her own traumatic past and the healing that her mind and body need?

I loved every moment of this book, I didn’t want it to end (to be honest I would love to read a second installment!). Olivia’s character is raw, honest and real. We feel her pain, her insecurity but also her fighting spirit, compassion and love. Not only is this a well told story but it encourages you to do your own digging into the way women were treated during this time period. You feel outrage and want to know more (and why is this never taught to us?). A Haven for Her Heart is a definite must read novel.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Susan Anne Mason’s historical novel Irish Meadows won the Fiction from the Heartland contest from the Mid-American Romance Authors Chapter of RWA as well as the Christian Retailer’s Choice Award for Debut Novel. A member of ACFW, Susan lives outside of Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children. She can be found online at www.susanannemason.net

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own.

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Love and a Little White Lie Book Review

Torn between two worlds incapable of coexisting, can January find the healing that’s eluded her or will her resistance to the truth ruin any chance of happiness?

About Love and a Little White Lie

January Sanders grew up believing karma was more reliable than an imaginary higher power, but after suffering her worst heartbreak in 29 years, she’s open to just about anything, including taking a temporary position at her aunt’s church. Keeping her lack of faith a secret, January is determined to use her photographic memory to help Grace Community’s overworked staff, all while scraping herself off rock bottom.

What she doesn’t count on is meeting the church’s handsome and charming guitarist, who not only is a strong believer, but has also dedicated his life to Christian music. It’s a match set for disaster, and yet January has no ability to stay away, even if it means pretending to have faith in a God she doesn’t believe in.

Only this time, keeping secrets isn’t as easy as she thought it would be. Especially when she’s constantly running into her aunt’s landscape architect, who seems to know everything about her past and present sins and makes no apologies about pushing her to deal with feelings she’d rather keep buried.

Torn between two worlds incapable of coexisting, can January find the healing that’s eluded her or will her resistance to the truth ruin any chance of happiness?

My Thoughts

Love and a Little White Lie is fun, warm novel with loveable (but flawed) characters and a fantastic plot.

January is an incredible young woman, who just doesn’t know it yet. She had a tough childhood, her Mother was angry at life and had several failed marriages. At so many points in her childhood, the father figure in her life walked out on her. It felt that at times, January took on the role of Mother in their relationship, which I can’t even begin to imagine the stress that this would cause. This made a lasting impact on her life and the way that she looks at life and relationships. She turned her back on faith and has a very difficult time trusting in others (especially men – she always believes the worst of them).

One awful, heart breaking break up sends her running to her Aunt, who opens her arms (and home) to her. Her Aunt takes her in, helps her find a job and does her best to help her find her way. The only issue with her job? It is at her Aunt’s parish and January stopped believing a long time ago. She does not share this information with others – out of fear of being let go or perhaps even not being accepted by those around her?

January falls hard for the guitarist that works at the church. But something just made me feel that perhaps it wasn’t love – was it infatuation? Was it a rebound? January never quite felt comfortable sharing with him that she did not share his beliefs, which I found huge. These nagging feelings I had about their relationship came up several times throughout the novel.

My favourite character? Dillon. Dillon works on her Aunt’s property and at first glance seems offish, angry at life but as his story develops, we learn of his pain, his insecurities and his hopes. I kept rooting for him throughout the story, I wanted him to share his feelings which seemed so obvious but to January and Dillon, it was not.

Love and a Little White Lie is a fantastic novel about second chances, believing in yourself, knowing that it is okay to fail and it is okay to hurt but sometimes we need to open our heart (and mind) to those around us and above us. I loved every moment of this novel – a definite must read!

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Tammy L. Gray lives in the Dallas area with her family, and they love all things Texas. Her nine modern and true-to-life contemporary romances include the 2017 RITA Award-winning My Hope Next Door. When not taxiing her three kids to various events, Tammy can be spotted crunching numbers as the financial administrator at her hometown church. Find her online at www.tammylgray.com

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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A Mosaic of Wings

It’s 1885, and all Nora Shipley wants, now that she’s graduating from Cornell University as valedictorian of the entomology program, is to follow in her late father’s footsteps by getting her master’s degree and taking over the scientific journal he started.

About A Mosaic of Wings

It’s 1885, and all Nora Shipley wants, now that she’s graduating from Cornell University as valedictorian of the entomology program, is to follow in her late father’s footsteps by getting her master’s degree and taking over the scientific journal he started. The only way to uphold her father’s legacy is to win a scholarship, so she joins a research expedition in Kodaikanal, India, to prove herself in the field.

India isn’t what she expects, though, and neither is the rival classmate who accompanies her, Owen Epps. As her preconceptions of India–and of Owen–fall away, she finds both far more captivating than she expected. Forced by the expedition leader to stay at camp and illustrate exotic butterflies the men of the team find without her, Nora befriends Sita, a young Indian girl who has been dedicated to a goddess against her will.

In this spellbinding new land, Nora is soon faced with impossible choices–between saving Sita and saving her career, and between what she’s always thought she wanted and the man she’s come to love.

My Thoughts

I fell in love with the book cover and I couldn’t wait to start reading this novel – and it did not disappoint me at all. I could not put this novel down, and read it in one night (I drove my husband a bit crazy as he was trying so hard to sleep and I just couldn’t turn off the light and put the book down).

Nora is a strong, determined young woman who does not let society tell her what she can or cannot do. Her Father was an entomologist with his own journal, and she is determined to follow in his own steps. She has accomplished what so many other woman would love to do (or perhaps were too afraid to say they wanted to do) – earning an undergraduate degree and applying for her Masters in entomology. She is awarded a rare opportunity to prove herself on a research trip in India – where she is again confronted with male figures that did not believe in a female scientist.

What she doesn’t expect in these travels is to find love in a classmate who has always been her rival, a culture that is beautiful but with some beliefs that she just can’t stand by and let happen and an experience that opens her mind and heart to her future and what really matters in life.

Nora is just an amazing character – she is everything that you want to see in a novel. I loved how so many times throughout the novel she corrected her classmates about the difficulty of being a woman in the academic world (not to mention society in general during this time period). She is constantly having to prove herself, where a man could shrug and laugh off the same mistake. Women were supposed to get married, have children and take care of the house – their feelings and thoughts never really considered. Nora defied this at every turn – earning her degree, her spot on the research expedition and continuing her studies. She stood up for what she believed in, which many times got her in a lot of trouble but in her heart she knew that it was the right thing to do.

This was an incredible novel from start to finish, I enjoyed every moment and could not put it down. I loved the characters, the plot and the way the story was written (I have never read a story quite like this before!). It is a definite must read novel.

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

Rating: 5/5

About the Author

Kimberly Duffy is a Long Island native currently living in Southwest Ohio, via six months in India. When she’s not homeschooling her four kids, she writes historical fiction that takes her readers back in time and across oceans. She loves trips that require a passport, recipe books, and practicing kissing scenes with her husband of twenty years. He doesn’t mind. You can find Kimberly at www.kimberlyduffy.com.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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