Book Review: “Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings” by Linda Rodriquez McRobbie

Book Review: “Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings” by Linda Rodriquez McRobbie

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History without the Fairy-Tale Endings

by Linda Rodriquez McRobbie

 

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who wasn’t afraid to cheat, deceive, seduce or murder anyone who got in her way.”

I like these kinds of books—collections of short bios of (mostly) unknown women who are remarkable for doing daring/unusual things down through history. I have one on women at sea; several on women warriors; others on women explorers, mathematicians, and scientists. They generally follow a pattern of one to two page biographies written in a breezy, modern style emphasizing the outrageousness (for her time) of the woman’s actions.

Why do I like these kinds of books? To be honest, they’re snack food—light fluffy reads that give me a break from heavy turgid research books. They also remind me that—despite what the history books tell us—some women in every era, somewhere in the world, were doing remarkable things. The majority (like today) lived ordinary lives, but a few women always stood out and lived extraordinary ones. I like learning about them and being inspired to tell their stories. This kind of book is a good starting point for any historical novelist looking for inspiration.

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Book Review: “Daughters of Copper Woman” by Anne Cameron

Book Review: “Daughters of Copper Woman” by Anne Cameron

Daughters of Copper Woman

by Anne Cameron

From the opening story “Copper Woman”:

Cover of Daughters of Copper WomanAnd then the Creator, who is neither male nor female, man nor woman, but both, and something more than either…took the shells of the sea and the minerals of the rocks and fashioned a skeleton…took the salt water of the ocean and made from it blood…took handfuls of dirt and on the skeleton fashioned a body, which was then encased in skin, made from the skin of the Creator and the same color as copper…she became First Woman, she became Copper Woman.

Sometimes a book grabs me by the heart and won’t let go. Daughters of Copper Woman is one of those books. I’ve been fascinated by myths, legends and folk tales since I was small. I devoured the children’s books about Greek myths and quickly moved on to Norse legends and Grimm’s tales. For the most part I enjoyed them as adventure and hero stories filled with fantasy, but (except for fables) little in the way of morals or values. I have an informal collection of the classics, plus books from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Knowing my passion, it’s not surprising my daughter gave me this book for Mother’s Day.

My question: “How the hell did I miss this book for the last thirty-two years?” (more…)

Where Are All the Strong Women?

Where Are All the Strong Women?

Where Are All the Strong Women?

WWII PosterReaders of this blog know I like to highlight fiction and non-fiction that present capable women with strong personalities. I read a post in a forum recently that intrigued me. The person was looking for historical fiction recommendations, but “none of those anachronistic modern women dressed up in historical costumes crap.” I don’t think s/he was disparaging time travel fiction and, yes, I’ve read a few stories where the women seem to have more modern sensibilities than might be warranted. But not all strong females in historical fiction are anachronistic. I’ve read other blog posts by historical fiction writers also deploring recent criticism about strong women described by readers as “too modern” in spite of ample historical evidence that women did and thought as the writers wrote them. Where does the dissonance come from? Why would a reader think a woman couldn’t be a doctor in Late Antiquity, captain a whaling ship, or teach men to fly planes during WWII — all documented events?

I blame school history books. The protagonist in my novel, Selene of Alexandria is a young woman who wants to become a physician in fifth century Alexandria — not a “healer” or midwife — a trained and apprenticed physician. There is ample written and archaeological evidence of women physicians through the ages, including this period. But if you don’t look outside the traditional history texts, you wouldn’t know that. (more…)

Book Review: “Eighty Days – Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World” by Matthew Goodman

Book Review: “Eighty Days – Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World” by Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World

by Matthew Goodman

 

From the back cover:

“On November 14, 1898, Nellie Bly, the crusading young female reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, left new York City by steamship on a quest to break the record for the fastest trip around the world. Also departing from New York that day—and heading in the opposite direction by train—was a young journalist from The Cosmopolitan magazine, Elizabeth Bisland. Each woman was determined to outdo Jules Vern’s fictional hero Phileas Fogg and circle the globe in less than eighty days. A vivid real-life re-creation of the race and its aftermath, this is history with the heart of a great adventure novel.”

I delight in spotlighting the lives and accomplishments of women in past times—particularly “ordinary” women doing extraordinary things. Eighty Days is a true adventure story about two young female journalists who traveled around the world—in opposite directions—alone, during the heart of the Victorian Age. Matthew Goodman does an excellent job bringing these two women to life, filling in the background of exotic locations and Victorian attitudes as they make their remarkable journey—not just around the world, but through life. (more…)

Guest Post: Enid Shomer on “The Twelve Rooms of the Nile”

Guest Post: Enid Shomer on “The Twelve Rooms of the Nile”

Guest Post: Enid Shomer on “The Twelve Rooms of the Nile”

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile CoverI just finished The Twelve Rooms of the Nile, a novel about the imagined meeting of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert when they both traveled the fabled river–before they became famous. It’s a lovely literary effort with wonderful insights into two intriguing characters. I’m pleased to host a guest post by the author Enid Shomer where she tells us how she came to know both these remarkable people and write about them. Ms. Shomer’s short fiction and poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The Paris Review among other publications. This is her first novel. Thanks to her publisher Simon and Schuster for providing two copies of this book for a giveaway (details at the end of the post.) If you want to learn more about Ms. Shomer and her writing, please visit her website. Enjoy! (more…)

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride (1951 – 2012)

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride (1951 – 2012)

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride (1951 – 2012)

Folks who read my website and blog know I’m a bit two-faced. Like the Roman god Janus I peer both into the past and the future. I read science fiction/fact with the same fervor I read (and write) historical fiction/fact. I love it when science meets history in such passions as archaeology, palentology and geology. This post is a tribute from my science self to a remarkable woman who made history in my lifetime. Sally Kristen Ride was a hero of mine and an inspiration to a generation of girls. From the Sally Ride Science website:

Sally Ride NASA picture

Dr. Sally Kristen Ride in 1984.

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

“Ride, Sally Ride!”

I wanted to be an astronaut since I was little. I followed all the MercuryGemini and Apollo launches; clipping news items and storing them in a banana box I got from the local grocery. I noticed there were no female US astronauts, but the Russians sent up Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova in 1963 to become the first woman and first civilian in space. The US couldn’t be far behind, right? Then NASA scrubbed the Mercury 13 project (First Lady Astronaut Trainees or FLATs.) It was clear that no woman need apply to that boys’ club. Disappointed, I still hoped. I was only eleven, still time to change the boys’ minds and let me play. (more…)