Blogging for Books: The Book of Esther

I’m back! And I’m starting with a long-overdue book review. But it’s ok, because I just finished this book a week ago! It was, shall we say, a slog and a half. The only reason it got finished was because I had to much plane/airport time in the past two weeks, because I was barely 100 pages in for a year. Yeah, an actual year. I put more time into wondering if I should just write the review as a “did not finish” than try powering through. But I am glad I powered through.

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The Book of Esther by Emily Barton references the Biblical book of Esther, wherein (in a gross oversimplification) Queen Esther saves her people from Genocide and lays the basis for the Jewish holiday Purim. The Book of Esther is about Esther, the daughter of a Royal Adviser, who sees the impending threat World War II poses to Jewish culture and sets out to, well, stop a genocide. The book is written in a magical realism style and plays on concepts and place names and traditions to create a kind of alternate reality.

And fails to engage.

Esther bat Josephus decides to leave her home in Khazaria and find a group of Kabbalists who will hopefully change her into a man so that she can join the fight against Germania. Khazaria references a real kingdom which historically was located between the Black and Caspian seas in an area we’d now know as “Caucus states.”

Barton explains absolutely nothing, however, and my own research into Khazaria didn’t really translate into insight when it came to reading the book. I am not Jewish by faith or heritage but I’ve felt that I have a pretty decent layperson’s understanding of the faith, especially the mystical (Kabbalah) side of things just because of my interest in studying religions. It’s entirely possible that I’m wrong about that, but I think it’s equally possible that Barton just failed to show OR tell anything about the world she was trying to create.

Another area where Barton fails is weaving in the magical realism. I am a huge fan of magical realism and that’s a genre where I do feel that I have strong footing. A magical realism novel set during WWII and focusing on a Jewish perspective sounded like a truly, well, magical, recipe to me. But more than enchanted I was confused. One of the big “characters” in the book is Seleme, Esther’s “mechanical horse.” Which is mostly described just like a motorcycle, but actually is supposed to be a horse that is mechanical?

There are plenty of interesting threads in the book that don’t come to fruition. Esther is a teenager growing into womanhood and questioning and testing her relationship to her faith and society as she grows and begins exploring her place in the world and her sexuality. This goes nowhere.

The book has a transgender* character who is intended to (I think) represent the difficulty of managing a desire for knowledge in a restrictive and gender-segregated society, but it goes nowhere. Also this character is just the absolute WORST and part of a totally useless, underdeveloped love triangle that kind of dances around Esther exploring her sexuality but just never commits to it in any capacity.

* Using the term ‘transgender’ feels a little wrong here, the character does undergo a change but the motivation is less “I was born in the wrong body” and more “these doors are closed to me unless I am a man,” which is the same motivation behind Esther’s quest to transition. I didn’t get the impression that either character, least of all Esther, would consider this kind of change in a society without those restrictions. This seems like an oversimplified (though certainly respectable, especially historically!) view of gender identity. But I cisgender so maybe I’m getting this all wrong too.

Things I did like: the pigeons, the exploration of religious devotion and sentience that was explored in the golems, the theme of uniting people from all different backgrounds to help the common good.

2 stars.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Sephora Play! March Box

This was a great box! There were seven items total: three I love, two I haven’t tried, 1 I don’t care for, and we’ll talk about the 7th in a minute.

Didn’t bother photographing this myself. Again, the paper they use as padding makes everything super dusty and while the boxes are nice the stuff just doesn’t look that great inside it. Still love it, though!

Kat Von D Tattoo Liner in Trooper $19

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I love this liner! Love love LOVE it. This is my favorite liquid liner, hands down. The sample size has the little foamy tip, but I love the brush tip on the full-size. Perhaps it’s because that’s what I “trained” with, but I find the brush tip easier to use.

Fresh Soy Face Cleanser $38

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I love this cleanser! I had never tried it before, but needing a new cleanser for my travel bag, I threw this in before a recent trip to NYS. It smells so good, like fresh grass and other scents, it cleans amazingly, and it left my skin feeling great. One thing that didn’t make it into my travel bag was a make-up remover, and this definitely took care of my raccoon eyes the next morning. In fact, trying this cleanser in the Play! box convinced me to take the Fresh duo (includes this and a rose face mask) as my birthday present, instead of the Marc Jacobs liner and lipstick. And I’m usually all about that liner and lipstick!

Sephora Collection: Perfectionist Airbrush Sponge $12

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So I love this, but technically haven’t tried it. At least, not this one that was sent to me specifically, but I got a set of Sephora beauty blenders for Christmas, so I know I like this. I went years being too cheap to invest in one, and now I have 5. None of which I’ve specifically purchased. How great is that? I don’t know the nuances of sponges, but the Sephora brand ones seem pretty good to me.

Maison Martin Margiela “Replica” Beach Walk $25 (Rollerball. $135 for 3.4 oz)

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I mean, it’s not like this is bad scent or there’s anything wrong with it. I just don’t care. It’s supposed to “to evoke a familiar but forgotten moment—a walk along a sandy beach.” but “bergamot, coconut milk, lemon, pink pepper, and musk” aren’t smells that make me think of the beach. Sunscreen, sand, salt water, rotting seaweed and a hint of something fishy are my beach-smell memories (guess who isn’t a beach person?) and like I said, this is fine and unoffensive but whatevs. I can’t even care enough to emphatically dislike it.

Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield $80

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Moisturizing + Priming + SPF??? I haven’t tried this yet but it’s hitting all my wants and needs! Too bad about that full-size pricetag though. I know Murad is a great brand but this would have to last a long ass time and basically change my life to get me to switch from the awesome primers that are half that cost.

Smashbox Photo Finish Primer Oil $42

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I love Smashbox’s regular Photo Finish Primer. It was the first-ever review I did for this blog! So I’m optimistic that this will be great, but a little concerned about the “oil” aspect. I know Oil cleansing is supposedly a great thing, and I’ve had great success leaving oil treatments in my hair overnight and rinsing them out in the morning. And sometimes I use a quick spritz or Argan oil as my face moisturizer, so we’ll just have to see how this works. I’m apprehensive yet optimistic.

The Final Item

Finally, there was a tiny little tub that you can take to the Sephora store and get a sample of a liquid foundation. When I unpacked the box one of my cats (I have my suspicions as to who…) promptly stole the little tub. Whatever, I don’t feel too bad. I prefer a powder anyways.

This box was definitely a hit for me! I haven’t received April’s box yet, but it’s looking pretty good and I can’t wait to try it!

Blogging for Books: The Witch of Lime Street

The Witch of Lime Street is a non-fiction book for those of us with a pretty specific niche interest: turn on the century Spiritualism.

This is the first book I’ve come across that discusses the complicated “frenemy” relationship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

Just in time for their new show on Fox!

That Houdini casting is on point. I am so ready to nitpick historical inaccuracies in this. So. Ready.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Witch of Lime Street focuses on Houdini, a medium known as Margery (Mina Crandon), and Scientific American’s quest to find a true medium at the height of the 20th century’s spiritualist movement. Two key historical characters in the narrative are noted believer, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and noted skeptic, magician Harry Houdini. The two came together as friends who believed legitimate communication with the dead was possible and came apart as historical frenemies.

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Let’s first discuss that the book cover glows in the dark. It is perfection.

The Goodreads consensus seems to be “good topic, boring book” to which I heartily disagree. I haven’t technically finished the book yet, I’m too busy having panic attacks about grad school to read for pleasure, but less than 100 pages from the end and I can say that I’ve been thoroughly engaged the whole time.

That’s what makes me think this book is not for those with a casual interest in Spiritualism/the Occult. This isn’t a high-academia text, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m so engaged because I’m reading about a topic that I love and have actually lectured on. This is my jam, yo. I think it’s a well-written book, broken up into perfect little nuggets that really capture the cultural attitude towards mediums and the cult of celebrity that followed them (and also Houdini!).

One thing I really appreciated about this book was the treatment it gave Houdini. The man was a skeptic and is often portrayed as someone who simply wanted to bust some medium balls. Houdini’s relationship with the spirit world was far more complex than that, and he wanted to believe in a way Jaher makes  palpable. It was Houdini’s desire to be proven wrong himself that fueled his anti-medium campaign.

David Jaher’s biography doesn’t tell you much about his background with the subject, but I came across a Reddit AMA he did about the book and reading through that I can tell that this man has really, really done his research- above and beyond what appeared in the book.

For me, this book was the perfect intersection of academic research and relatable writing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Spiritualist movement.

 

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

Song of the Sea and a Sibling’s Journey

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Have you seen Song of the Sea? It’s an exquisitely animated movie by Tomm Moore, and it was animated for best animated feature at the 2014 Oscars (it lost to Big Hero 6).  I’ll give a spoiler-free plot synopsis, and then warn you before I start to talk about spoilers. You’re OK to read the this first part, promise.

Ben is a young boy who lives in a lighthouse with his sheepdog Cu, his father Conor, and mother Bronagh. The family is preparing for a baby. That night, Bronagh disappears into the sea, leaving behind newborn Saoirse.

Six years later, on Saoirse’s birthday, Conor’s mother comes to the lighthouse to see her grandchildren. When Saoirse tries to walk into the sea herself Granny decides that the lighthouse is no place for the children and she convinces her son the children need to live with her in the city. When Saoirse gets sick, Ben realizes that he has to get her back to the lighthouse, and to the white coat she left behind. But the Owl Witch Macha is also looking for Saoirse and Ben begins to realize that the Irish folk stories his mother told him may be more than just fairytales.

Want a better synopsis? Watch the trailer (which can truly convey how visually beautiful this story is, the animation is no joke):

I cried when I watched the trailer, I cried when I watched the movie. I am a sappy person. I knew I would cry! But something else about the movie really spoke to me, something that I’m not sure was intended, and that’s what I want to talk about.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

For most of the movie, Ben hates Saoirse. He resents her as the cause of their mother leaving, resents the special treatment Saoirse gets, resents that she cannot talk, and thinks of her as the reason Granny takes them away from the lighthouse. He is mean to her, he yells at her, when Saoirse wants Ben to share one of their Mother’s folk stories he tells her the scariest one- the story of Macha the Owl Witch who steals your feelings and turns you to stone.

The relationship between Ben and Saoirse reminds me of the relationship I had with my brother when he was first born, and even though Ben and Saoirse’s journey is magical and full of selkies and sidhe to me it feels like the story of coming to terms with a sibling who has disabilities.

I’ve touched on the fact that my brother has Down Syndrome. We’ve been extremely close for most of our lives, I truly love him dearly. But when he was born I did not have much love for him. I had resentment and I misplaced my anger at an unfair situation onto him. When my brother required extensive hospitalization, I felt like he had managed to take both my parents from. When I was tasked with taking on more responsibility because of him, I was resentful. I saw this interloper enter my family and take what I loved away from me. In a sense I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. It wasn’t my brother’s fault he was born with time consuming and frightening health complications, but 4 yr-old me couldn’t figure out who else to blame.

And being the sibling of a special needs kid you hear just as much “Welcome to Holland!” bullshit as the parents do. And your friends with siblings will certainly have rivalries, but they will talk about how fun and special it is to have a new baby that they get to help care for. They are elevated to Big Brother/Sister. And as a child, you just don’t know how to mourn and understand your losses. You can only see what has been taken from you.

When Ben interacts with Saoirse he can only see what has been taken. His mother, his father’s happiness, his home. Saoirse can see Ben for who he truly is- a little boy with a big heart. Ben can only see the “disability” (which in terms of plot I’m arguing is NOT Saoirse’s muteness but the fact that she is a selkie). But as they journey together Ben begins to see Saoirse’s value as a person. She’s the only one who can save those who have been turned to stone! And Ben is the one who knows the songs and the stories, so he must help her reach her potential- he’s the one who teaches her the songs that defeat Macha and free the trapped sidhe. And when Ben realizes that Conor threw away Saoirse’s selkie skin in a misguided attempt to protect his family it is Ben who puts himself at risk and overcomes his fears (he is always shown wearing a life jacket and hates going in the water) to save Saoirse. When it is time for Saoirse to chose between joining the sidhe and staying with the family, Ben wants her to stay.

There are as many messages and takeaways in Song of the Sea as there are hairs in Seanchai’s beard. It’s a story of family, and forgiveness. A story that tells you a life without sadness is not a full life (better than Inside Out) and to me, it’s a story about the journey of learning to love someone with special needs for their whole self as you move past your anger.

 

Irreverent Reviews: Nadine West June

My Nadine West shipment is quickly becoming my favorite part of the monthly mail. The life of a grad student is dependent on small pleasures. This month’s shipment was not a hit, mostly because of some personal preferences/needs.

As always, Nadine West is a free monthly clothing/accessory subscription. You only pay for what you keep, and returns are free.

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Summertime Glasses- $19.99

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Oh man, I love these shades! They are awesome! And I immediately knew I wouldn’t be keeping them. I generally only wear sunglasses when I’m driving and it is pretty mandatory that I have prescription lenses in when I’m operating a vehicle. Since I don’t fuck with contacts, I’ll stick with my stylish blue prescription sunglasses. I did make a “no sunglasses” note, since they’ll just inevitably be sent back no matter how much I like the frames.

So cute!

So cute!

Blue Enamel Studs- $9.99

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I really liked the color of these earrings, and there’s a fun mod-ness about them. I don’t wear studs though, thanks to a childhood trauma where I pushed my earring backs in too far and my ear tried to assimilate them. Fish hooks or hoops for me!

Static Electricity Top- $22.49

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The top was strange. It felt like it was made of scrub fabric, and wasn’t dissimilar in cut. It didn’t fit well.

This month I kept nothing. The sunglasses and earrings I would have kept if I didn’t need prescription glasses/wore studs. The shirts are getting closer to my style, if this one were a bit nicer in terms of quality I probably would have kept it.

As always I recommend trying out Nadine West since it’s  free! As always, you’re encouraged to use my affiliate link if you want to sign up!

Irreverent Reviews: Stitch Fix

Stitch Fix is one of the many curated subscription boxes on the market, this one dealing with clothes. Each box is $20 and you can chose to have the delivered monthly, every three months, or on an un-automated schedule you decide yourself (the option I selected for the time being). The $20 fee is applied as a credit towards whatever you want to buy from the box and there’s an additional discount if you keep all 5 items. Anything that you don’t want to keep you can send back for free.

Each box comes with an “order” sheet, detailing what was selected and the price, as well as an illustrated styling guide that provides ideas for how to wear each piece.

In my continued quest to build a more professional wardrobe, I decided to give Stitch Fix a go. It’s difficult because I don’t really gravitate towards truly professional clothing. That’s why I need help from stylists.

The items in a Stitch Fix can be rather pricey, even considering the credits and the discounts. I couldn’t afford to keep the entirety of my box (valued at about $300 before credits/discounts) which is ok because I didn’t care for everything in the first place, though there was one clear winner and I felt like my stylist was on track with what I like.

I'm trying to be better about photographing the packaging!

I’m trying to be better about photographing the packaging!

Moda Luxe Palermo Stitch Detail Clutch- $38

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This sturdy grey clutch is nice. It’s one of the designs that can be a clutch (folded over with a magnetic clip), but inside there’s a gold chain that can be attached you can use it as a more traditional purse. I like bags, and I do wish I had a good clutch, but logically I have a hard enough time remembering to transfer my epi-pen from bag to bag. ER doctors like to yell at you when you do that.

Margaret M Emer Jacquard Tall Straight Leg Pant- $98

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These pants were a hard “nope,” and not just because of the price point. I liked the jacquard design, but these were more leggings than pants. They fit over my large calves in a way skinny jeans won’t but still felt more like a “skinny” than my preferred straight leg or boot cut. They were also oddly bunchy in the crotch. No debate needed, they went back.

I did like the design though

I did like the design though

Papermoon Taluca Printed Pencil Skirt- $58

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Oh the pencil skirt. I love them but am just so inept at styling them. This was incredibly comfortable and I did enjoy it. The patterns made it very versatile but I just feared not having an appropriate blouse to style it with. I’m trying to minimize and have enough closet orphans as it is. If I could have assured myself that this would not join their ranks I’d have kept it, but since I  couldn’t it went back and I am a bit sad for it… though I do feel responsible!

Brixon NY Jarred Lace Detail Cap Sleeve Blouse- $68

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It’s a darker blue in real life (“cobalt”), but this shirt gave me an “oh yes” moment like I had with the necklace from my first Nadine West package. This top is total perfection, it’s my favorite color, it’s versatile and I can feel good wearing it to work or out, but it also has personality. It should be worn with a strapless bra, which is a bit of a con, but if I wear it to work my arms and shoulders will spend all day covered by a jacket anyways. I kept this piece, it was too good to pass up (and really made my wallet glad that the whole box wasn’t this on point!)

41Hawthorn Teegan Draped Blazer- $78

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This roomy blazer was actually more comfortable than my more conventional blazer! Still there were some issues that made it a no-go. I wish it had full long sleeves, they roll and snap up, but unrolled they are still rather short. The draped style was comfortable but I prefer a blazer that will zip or button in the front for more security/warmth. I also liked the inner details (polka dots, bright blue piping) better than the outside, and no one but me would get to see the inside! It was nice and not a full miss, but there was enough to make me feel comfortable sending this one back.

I think this particular type of digital curation (that’s a library school joke) is a little fraught. My stylist has my notes and my pinterest board to go off of, and my pinterest board is less practical workwear and more “If I were a vengeful fairy queen with an excuse to wear capes all the time.” As a picky person, especially one trying to fulfill specific wardrobe needs, I’m really pleased when things are in the right field- I don’t expect perfection. While I haven’t scheduled my next Stitch Fix yet, I know that I will. And I’m very excited to see what else is in store because even though this box was not 100% wins it was still great and I did feel like my stylist overall “got” me.

If you’re interested in trying Stitch Fix feel free to use my referral link. I think it’s definitely worth checking out, especially since you don’t need to commit to a recurring shipment, and you’re able to apply your styling fee to your purchase.

Irreverent Reviews: Wantable Accessories Box, October 2014

Wantable is a pricier subscription box service that has boxes for makeup, accessories, intimates, and fitness. You get “curated” sets that should only have your likes and none of your dislikes, decided by a quiz you apparently have to take every time you go to the website (I’ve done it at least three times, my preferences have never been saved). Typically a one-time box is $40, but I had a coupon and free shipping which allowed me to try it.

I picked just about everything as a like, though I had no loves. My dislikes were hair accessories (I need more, but am just too picky to get them randomly), sunglasses (prescription only for me!), and watches (not an accessory to me, something that has to meet rigorous quality standards!).

I had some personal issues with this box, which is not to say that I’m unhappy. Wantable delivered well enough that I would be willing to get another box when the money allowed it.

Wantable’s packaging is really on point.

Cute little white box

Cute little white box

Classy velvet baggies!

Classy velvet baggies!

The first item I pulled out was the Lucia Necklace (retail $18).

"A delicate gold chain and turquoise accents are featured on the Lucia necklace"

“A delicate gold chain and turquoise accents are featured on the Lucia necklace”

I like the turquoise tooth things, and I like long necklaces

Long necklaces, exhibit A

Long necklaces, exhibit A

But I don’t feel like the design of the Lucia necklace really works as a long necklace? It feels like something that should fall more at your collarbone.

Pictured: Long necklaces and a different pink bathrobe than usual

Pictured: Long necklaces and a the interior of my fuzzy animal jacket

Perhaps I will tinker with it to make it shorter? Still, it is a nice necklace and it combines two concepts I like, I just don’t think it works.

The second item was the Tessa Bracelet in silver (retail $18)

"The Tessa bracelet is a gold link chain bracelet with an adjustable clasp" um, almost?

“The Tessa bracelet is a gold link chain bracelet with an adjustable clasp” um, almost?

This is actually very similar to a Charlotte Russe piece I own (but can’t currently find) in gold! So definitely my style, and in a color I like! The silver does look a little bit tarnished already, in a way that feels like it was a style choice to make it seem “distressed.” Not a fan of that element, but it’s not super noticeable. Really liked this piece.

Next were the Rory earrings (Retail $14)

"The Rory earrings are gold hoop earrings that are great for everyday use!"

“The Rory earrings are gold hoop earrings that are great for everyday use!”

I almost put earrings on my “dislike” list because I will not wear ones with post backings. Since these do not have post backings, I can safely say that I like them AND will wear them! I don’t have a lot of simple gold stuff like this, so it was agreat basic piece to receive.

Finally, the Annabelle ring set (retail $16).

"The Annabelle ring is a multi tone ring set" Also they're octagons?

“The Annabelle ring is a multi tone ring set” Also they’re octagons?

Someone once told me a woman’s ring size is usually the same as her shoe size. My shoes range from a size 7 to an 8.5 depending on style and brand. So I selected 8 as the ring size on Wantable. Oops. These are too big for even my thumb, which totally blows because this is such a cool set! It might be worth it for me to remove rings from my “like” list though, it’s probably not worth the risk of guessing… though I bet a 7.5 would fit one of my bizarre spindle fingers.

I can’t afford the 30-some dollars a month to have a recurring Wantable accessory subscription, even though I would like to. The problems with this box weren’t big, glaring unfixable issues it was personal taste and a screw-up on my part. I can’t wear the rings (though I’d like to) so I’ll probably gift them, and I’m on the fence about the necklace, but that’s two pieces I absolutely like and will wear.

If you’re interested in checking out Wantable, here’s my referral link!