Review: Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and the World

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World, Rachel Swaby

Published April 7th 2015 by Random House

Paperback, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads…

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?      

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.


This book was totally inspiring! I almost wished I’d stuck with my original college goals in science after reading Headstrong.  Swaby chose 52 amazing women to highlight and by specifically only including women whose “life work has been completed” she really makes you think about how far women have come in the fields like medicine, physics, and chemistry.  For example, the first woman featured, Mary Putnam Jacobi who to enter medical school in Paris had to enter lectures through a separate door and maintain a buffer of empty seats around her.  Or chemist Ellen Swallow Richards who was the first woman admitted to MIT in 1870.  Richards was admitted tuition free – so that if anyone complained about her being a student the school could claim that she was not establishing a precedent for the admission of females.

These women were amazing!  They were brilliant and all around inspiring.  Virginia Apgar – besides coming up with the Apgar test to evaluate newborns – “always kept the following things on her person: a penknife, an endotrachial tube, and a laryngoscope, just in case someone needed an emergency tracheotomy.”  And its the BOY Scouts who are prepared?!  I could have pulled a quote from any chapter that was this cool!

At the same time this book made me kind of want to tear my hair out reading the stories of these geniuses that were unpaid, relegated to work in closets or not given credit for their ideas. Barbara McClintock, who won the Nobel Prize for genetics, was asked if she was bitter that it took so long for the Nobel to come to her she said “When you know you’re right you don’t care.  It’s such a pleasure to carry out an experiment when you think of something.  …I’ve had such a good time, I can’t imagine having a better one.  …I’ve had a very, very satisfying and interesting life.”  I really don’t think I could be that big of a person!

This was a short book despite the lengthy list of women included and for non-fiction it was a really fast read.  TJ at My Book Strings did a great post pairing Headstrong with a children’s book: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women.  I cannot wait until Babycakes is just a bit older so we can read this one together!  She’s a “mathmagician” she tells me so I cannot wait to show her what amazing women can do.


I loved that Swaby points out that if she wrote this book 5 years from now that her book would be much more diverse- I hope she comes out with another book then!  It’s going to take me 5 years to read all I can about the women that particularly intrigued me in Headstrong.

Headstrong was kind of like an excellent meal at a tapas restaurant.  Lots of pleasing small courses- sometimes you’re just left wanting more but you still leave totally satisfied!

4 stars!

Thank you Random House and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an unfinished advanced readers copy.

Review or Why I Loved “A Man Called Ove”

A Man Called Ove,  Frederik Backman


Published July 15th 2014 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 337 pages

Source: Purchased


When I started this book I kind of worried about what the Paperback Princess led me into.   I quickly realized that she is my new favorite for recommending this book because I adored Ove.  Ove is a Swedish curmudgeon in his late 50s and when we meet him he is waiting to die.  He basically gives zero fucks about anyone who crosses his path-unless they drive a car where it’s not meant to go in his residential area.  He makes up unkind nicknames for his neighbors and then uses them straight to their faces.  He tries to shoo a Cat Annoyance from living in his shed out into the Swedish winter and considers electrocuting the dog that’s peeing on his paving stones. Then he meets his new neighbors…

You will realize despite all this that you have fallen completely and totally in love with Ove.  Backman takes the reader back and forth in time so we see the events and the people that turned Ove into the man he is.  I loved how his father molded him into a man of character.  Even more, I loved how he fell in love with his wife and how he learned to show that to her.  This book made me snicker loudly on the train and it definitely made me cry as well.  I forced this book onto a friend who said she gave herself a headache crying at the end.  Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The Goodreads blurb for A Man Called Ove refers to him as “the neighbor from hell.”  Which he is in a sense, but once you give Ove a chance you begin to understand why he feels strongly about rules.  He follows the rules and he expects the same from everyone else.  Ove isn’t a man of prejudices – he dislikes nearly everyone equally. I found that to be part of his charm.   He not an easy man to get to know, but once you give Ove a chance you’ll fall in love too.

Goodreads is giving away copies! Go enter!  Or go to the library.  Buy it!  Read this book-but have a tissue on hand when you do.

Series I need to reread (like, yesterday)

I have a love/ overwhelmed relationship with books that come in series. As a kid, I could not get enough – The Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins (and the more risqué Sweet Valley High pinched from Amanda), and, my favorite, The Boxcar Children. I loved polishing off one and heading right into the next, and it seemed like there was always another book waiting for me in one of those seemingly never-ending series.

Sidenote: suddenly, I must know how never-ending these books really were. Hold on while I google… 132 in the regular series of the Babysitter’s Club (plus specials), 118 Sweet Valley Twins (plus specials), and 135 Boxcar Children (of course, plus specials).

Sidenote to my sidenote: I keep railing to my sister lately about how all the YA series that the kids (uh, and the adults) are reading these days include special “novellas” that tell the stories between the story. Usually, my reaction is, that if it wasn’t good enough for your main book, I don’t want to read the leftovers (I generally feel the same way about deleted scenes as “bonus material.”) Anyway, apparently I forgot that all my favorite series (serieses?) did include special extras – though, I maintain that at least those had the decency to be the same size (or bigger!) than the regular books.

Oh dear. Where was I? Yes, as an adult, I get overwhelmed by the idea of taking on a new series. Deciding to read one book – fine; deciding to read seven…well, that takes more dedication. Or, more threats, as Amanda might disown me if I don’t read everything by Mira Grant/ Seanan McGuire, pronto.

Anyway, adding to my clearly self-inflicted reading drama, is the further “problem” of wanting to find time to reread some of the series(es?) that I really really loved. Sigh. How am I ever going to find time to read all the new books that Amanda demands of me, plus all the well-loved favorites that are beckoning?

Here’s what I want to get back to:

Harry Potter – I read all the HPs pretty sporadically, picking them up here and there, and sometimes re-reading, sometimes not. I was the same way with the movies, until J-the-Completest wanted to watch them all in sequence (over several weeks, mind you). And then he found the complete set on blu-ray for cheap, so we went through and watched them all again, recently. Between the JK Rowling statement about Harry and Hermione, and Amanda and I’s love for Rowling’s newest character, Comoran Strike, I really need to do a HP re-read!

The Hunger Games – The HG trilogy was the first purchase I made when I get my Kindle a few years ago, and I sort of devoured the whole thing quickly. I liked it – and then I really liked the first movie – and then I really really liked the second movie. So, I’d like to reread the books sometime before the next movie comes out (though I think splitting the third book into two movies is extremely silly).

The Millennium Trilogy – I’ve been talking about YA books throughout this post, and these books are decidedly not! That said, if you haven’t read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, you are missing out. I have the first one and the third one sitting on my bookshelf. I really need to buy the second (I had borrowed it from a friend to read), and then re-read them all. My incomplete collection probably gives J the heebie-jeebies.

Anyway, I’ll get right on these…after I catch up in Game of Thrones…and finish the Lumatere Chronicles

What’s your favorite series to revisit?

Review: The Poisonwood Bible


Title: The Poisonwood Bible

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Reviewed by Holly

I will admit that I read The Poisonwood Bible (for a second time) with a tinge of reluctance. Oh, not because I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but because I had just gotten three books upon request from the library, including Froi of the Exiles, but I timed things poorly and was headed out of town before I could realistically finish any of my library books, so I chose to start something I had on my Kindle and not try to pack 600 pages of Froi in my suitcase.

And that, my friends, may be the most entitled, overinflated “problem” I have ever described – a fact that is not without irony, considering the circumstances of The Poisonwood Bible.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I had read this book years ago, and I knew I liked it. And then I read some others by Barbara Kingsolver, with mixed results (including The Bean Trees – loved! Prodigal Summer – not particularly memorable.) and somewhere in there I lost track of exactly what made The Poisonwood Bible so special. It jumped near the top of my list again recently, after I finished The Lady. Like I wrote in my review, my primary beef with that book (which I otherwise enjoyed) was that the parents, including Baptist preacher Dad, went to Africa as missionaries leaving their 16 year-old daughter at home. And, as I don’t know much about Baptist missionaries, specifically Baptist missionaries from the South in the late 1950s, I can’t fathom whether or not that is realistic. In The Lady, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1956 leave their teenage daughter at home, which allows her story to unfold. In The Poisonwood Bible, the Baptist parents from Georgia in 1959 bring their teenage daughters along, 15 year-old Rachel and 14 year-old twins Leah and Adah, plus 5-year old Ruth May.

The Poisonwood Bible is the story that comes of that decision, told through the eyes of the daughters, with reflections from their mother in present day. I don’t love changing point-of-views as an end in themselves, but this book is by far my favorite example of a multiple POV story (at least, favorite that I can think of right now). The narrators are all very different – Leah is eager and earnest, Adah is dark and exceedingly frustrated to read as her chapters are doused in backwards sentences, Rachel is every bit a teenager and longing for an out – of her family and of the jungle, and Ruth May is just plain fun. At first, Leah seems the most reliable narrator of all the girls, though I’m not 100% sure what I think by the end.

While The Poisonwood Bible is not difficult reading, at times, it is difficult to read. The story is the story of the Price family is set against the story of the Congo – from Belgian colonialism to American neo-colonialism. It is hard to read about some of the choices that the Prices make, but it is harder to read about the country’s political and economic history.

But you should read it.

Parting words: “It is a dangerous thing, I now understand, to make mistakes with nommo in the Congo. If you assign the wrong names to things, you could make a chicken speak like a man. Make a machete rise up and dance.”

RATING: 5 Stars