Review: Wonder Women

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History, Sam Maggs

Published October 4th 2016 by Quirk Books

Hardcover, 240 pages

Source: ARC from Publisher

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Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations.

Basically Sam Maggs has found the way to my feminist non-fiction book nerd heart with this delightful book of portrayals of awesome women.  I was totally head over heals when Maggs referred to German mathematician and physicist Amalie Emmy Noether as “a total BAMF from the beginning”.  I love non-fiction that is just fun to read on top of being full of great information.  Wonder Women doesn’t take itself too seriously even while dealing with seriously amazing moments in history.  Each “chapter” is no more than 4 pages so you’re getting information but are definitely left wanting to know more.  

I hadn’t heard of the majority of the women Maggs features in Wonder Women which was really cool too.  Marie Curie is obviously amazing – but I liked that she got a paragraph versus Bessie Coleman who had a section to herself.  Side bar – Is it just me that wanted to know more about Bessie Coleman  everytime I drive to O’Hare?  It can’t be just me right?  

Maggs gives us women from all over the world which was great – every time period, every religion, sexual orientation.  I can’t imagine how much research she had to do to go far back into women’s history in places like China and India.  So I will say Maggs must be a BAMF herself!  Wonder Women is funny and witty and tells the story of every kind of woman.  I want to put a copy into the hands of all the smart ladies I know!

“It’s made to believe

Women are same as Men;

Are you not convinced

Daughters can also be heroic?

Wang Zhenyi

Thank you so much Quirk Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Book Hangovers and YA Reviews

Basically I’m still book hungover from reading Sweetbitter last week – I’m trying to find the words to review it soon.  In the meantime I’m trying to get over feeling I was lost in New York in Sweetbitter by throwing myself into Celtic lore in The Last Days of Magic and maybe imperial Russia in The Crown’s Game.  I’m also going between smutty romance in Washington DC in Sustained and even Charlotte Bronte’s Fiery Heart.  While I’m trying to do justice to my new obsession here are quick reviews of two new YA series I enjoyed.   

Tell the Wind and Fire, Sarah Rees Brennan

Published April 5th 2016 by Clarion Books

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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In a city divided between opulent luxury in the Light and fierce privations in the Dark, a determined young woman survives by guarding her secrets.

Lucie Manette was born in the Dark half of the city, but careful manipulations won her a home in the Light, celebrity status, and a rich, loving boyfriend. Now she just wants to keep her head down, but her boyfriend has a dark secret of his own—one involving an apparent stranger who is destitute and despised.

Lucie alone knows of the deadly connection the young men share, and even as the knowledge leads her to make a grave mistake, she can trust no one with the truth.

Blood and secrets alike spill out when revolution erupts. With both halves of the city burning, and mercy nowhere to be found, can Lucie save either boy—or herself?

In the interest of full disclosure I haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities – but I was so intrigued by the idea of a Dickensian retelling I had to request this book.  Lucie is a child of the two cities – one light magic and one dark. She’s in love with a boy – both light and dark.  I’m all for young love but the way this relationship was treated was a bit much for me.  I know teen relationships are intense and have real feelings – but really they are teen relationships and I just don’t get it when they’re treated as adults by adults.  That being said Lucie and Ethan were sweet – but his dark side is where the promise was!  

This felt like a mash-up of urban fantasy and dystopian and I am very curious about whether it will stick more in one genre in the future.  I was really impressed with the depth of the emotion I felt in the end of this book.  I was nearly in tears as things played out between light and dark.  I will definitely continue with this series – I just have to make sure I read some Dickens before this sequel comes out!  

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The Shadow Queen, C.J. Redwine (Ravenspire #1)

Published February 16th 2016 by Balzer + Bray

Hardcover, 387 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

Dragons and ogres and witches – Oh my!   When you see that cover you know this is going to be a creepy version of Snow White.  This evil queen and her apples were deliciously rotten.  I would have enjoyed some deeper world building – when did magic become such an issue in Ravenspire?  Why are the ogres attacking Eldr?  But my curiosity was piqued and I stuck with the book.  I really liked Lorelai.  She was brave and loyal and definitely kicked some booty.  Kol grows up quickly from a party boy to a king and I loved his dragon side!  I want more dragon books!  Again, the evil queen was just fantastically evil.  I think she could have been deeper – but overall this was a great light read.  I flew through the Shadow Queen.  I hope the next Ravenspire book follows the story to Eldr for this dragon – ogre business to be resolved.  Basically all the dragons for me!

Thank you Clarion Books and NetGalley and Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for these advance copies in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Jane Steele

Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye

Published March 22nd 2016 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Kindle Edition, 427 pages

Source: Penguin First to Read

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“Reader, I murdered him.”

A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.

Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?

“Reader, I murdered him.”  

Who doesn’t want to read this book based on that line?  So let me tell you, Reader, it was amazing.  I was a bit unsure at first as I read, wondering just how beloved Jane Eyre could be turned into a murderess.  Then Jane Steele herself holds Eyre up as a model of nearly all goodness and I realized how very different these characters would be.  Jane Steele is orphaned and is sent by her aunt to away to school, these facts and that she later becomes a governess are pretty much where her similarities to Jane Eyre end.  Jane Steele is funny!  She’s smart.  She’s quick on her feet.  Most importantly she realizes violence is necessary to save herself at times.  

As excited as I was to read this book I did not think I would get too attached to our murderess but I really did.  I was expecting a cold-hearted sociopath.  What Faye delivers is a child who is lost without her mother, preyed on by a creepy cousin and then delivered into a school that sounds like hell.  No wonder she turns to murder!  Really when you consider what she’s been through she is very brave!  Jane is also loyal and remarkably honest.  She grows into a remarkably thoughtful young woman, despite her views of herself.  

I’ve seen some complaints in reviews about the second half of the book where Jane returns to Highgate House being slow.  I thought this half was nearly faster than the beginning and the gothic feel much lighter.  I loved the addition of the Sikh party at Highgate House and how comfortably teaching Jane about their religion and history in India flowed with the story.  The romance was sweet and completely appropriate for the book.   I was nervous for Jane while she wrestled with the question of how to meld her past and  her hopes with  Mr. Thornfield (and I loved Thornfield!).  In the end I was just delighted and completely entertained.

Now that I’ve read my second successful Jane Eyre related book (Re Jane was another great book!) I am definitely going to have to go back to the classic.  

4 stars!

Thank you GP Putnam and Penguin First to Read for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Reign of Shadows

Reign of Shadows, Sophie Jordan (Reign of Shadows #1)

Kindle Edition, 304 pages

Published February 9th 2016 by Harper Teen

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Seventeen years ago, an eclipse cloaked the kingdom of Relhok in perpetual darkness. In the chaos, an evil chancellor murdered the king and queen and seized their throne. Luna, Relhok’s lost princess, has been hiding in a tower ever since. Luna’s survival depends on the world believing she is dead.

But that doesn’t stop Luna from wanting more. When she meets Fowler, a mysterious archer braving the woods outside her tower, Luna is drawn to him despite the risk. When the tower is attacked, Luna and Fowler escape together. But this world of darkness is more treacherous than Luna ever realized.

With every threat stacked against them, Luna and Fowler find solace in each other. But with secrets still unspoken between them, falling in love might be their most dangerous journey yet.

Clearly I have a thing for fairy tale retellings so when this Rapunzel story crossed my path I had to read it.  Luna is no Disney princess.  She can handle a frying pan, but is definitely more a sword kind of girl.

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Luna lives in a world that has gone dark.  There are just a few hours of light in the day and there are some seriously creepy nasty things called dwellers that come out in night.  I want to know more about the dwellers! They were scary – but where did they come from?  They’re a threat throughout the book but I never felt like I had enough explanation.  I really hope that Jordan gives some more explanation in the series.  

Luna lives safely in a tower with her guardians.  Her royal parents were murdered at the time the darkness began and no one knows she survived.  When Luna leaves her safe haven to rescue Fowler and her friends life as she knows it is changed forever.  The eventual romance moved maybe a bit fast, but I still liked Fowler!  He’s grumpy and he’s haunted by his own past, but he really at heart is a better person than he lets on.  I really liked them as a couple and I thought they were balancing for each other as the story went on.  

Was it a tad predictable in some places – yes.  But this was still a really fun and fast read.  Jordan left off with a killer cliffhanger ending and I will be really looking forward to the sequel!  I hope Luna turns into an amazing queen!

3.5 stars

Thank you Harper Teen and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Fast Friday Review: Rebel Queen

Rebel Queen, Michelle Moran

Hardcover, 355 pages

Published March 3rd 2015 by Touchstone

Source: ARC from 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting

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When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi’s all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men.

I loved this book!  What I’ve read about India under the British has been only from the English perspective so I loved getting to read about India from the perspective of her own people.  The Queen of Jhansi keeps her own small service of women at arms, her Durga Dal, who are loyal only to her.  While the book description says that the this is the Queen’s story, I would say that Queen Lakshmi was amazing – but this was Sita’s story.

Sita was raised by her father to take the position in the palace – to rise from a poor village to live at the Queen’s side.  She dives right into the drama of the royal court and while she flourishes she is also trying to provide for the sister she left behind.  The tension between the British and the Indian people is high and the fallout heartbreaking.  You have to know going in that this is not going to be a happy story – but it was fascinating and wonderfully told.  

 This was my first Michelle Moran book but I will definitely be picking up her others! I’ve had my eye on Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution for a while now.  

 4 stars!

 Thank you Touchstone for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Hardcover, 432 pages

Published September 22nd 2015 by Greenwillow Books

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

I completely loved Rae Carson’s first fantasy series, Fire & Thorns, and was ecstatic when I heard she had a new series out.  If you think you don’t read YA, I have two words for you to explain why you need to try Walk on Earth a Stranger – OREGON TRAIL.

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Yes, that Oregon Trail.  Leah Westfall has a secret ability.  She can feel gold in the earth.  No one but her parents know, and her family certainly doesn’t live like they are collecting gold by magic.  Then poor Leah faces a terrible family tragedy in Georgia and decides the best place to go is to California.  Leah becomes Lee and starts the long journey to the West.  Just like the game!  We have oxen and wagons and sadly have dysentery and other misfortunes.  But most importantly, we have Lee.  She’s a great character!  She’s brave and she’s strong, even though she’s had horrible losses and she is afraid and alone.  She isn’t waiting to be rescued – Lee is always ready to help rescue someone else. Carson made me feel like I was right there on the journey as Lee makes new friends and definitely some enemies.  It wasn’t just Lee though!  I felt really strongly (both good and bad) about her traveling companions as well.  I will say that Jefferson needs to man up a bit if he is going to hold up to Hector from Fire and Thorns (swoon!).  I was so anxious to see who would make it through each day of the journey or not.  

The research Carson did on the period completely shines through.  I did see commentary when the book came out about how Carson handles the racial issues at the times – Lee is white but her best friend Jefferson is half Cherokee to start.  There is also interaction with Indian tribes along the Trail which made me really emotional to read.  I was glad that Carson confronted the issues and forced Lee to think about what her comrades were doing.  I hope to see more discussion come from the next book.  For more – with spoilers – check out Debbie Reese’s discussion chapter by chapter.  

For being a book about a magical girl, there is definitely not a lot of magic in Walk on Earth a Stranger. This reads almost like straight historical fiction -almost.  I hope the next book goes further into what Lee can do – maybe even a why?  Is she the only person with magic?  Especially with her particular magic?!  This is an adventure I will be following closely and I’m thankful to be following it via kindle and not a wagon train!

4 stars!

Thank you Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Nonfiction Review – Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik

Published October 27th 2015 by Dey Street Books

ebook, 240 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

A few things I took away from this delightful book that should convince you to read about an amazing woman.

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  • RBG is in her 80’s and does 20 push-ups a day.  20 PUSH-UPS A DAY.  If that doesn’t tell you she’s a bad-ass that you should want to read about, read on.  
  • This woman was a mother of a 1 year-old, 1 of 9 women in her class at Harvard law when her husband Marty was diagnosed with cancer.  Marty was also a law student, a year ahead of RBG at Harvard.  RBG came home from law school every day, spent time with her child, typed up the notes she had other students take for Marty while he was being treated and then did her own law school work.  She’s super human.
  • RBG cooked her last meal in 1980.  Her daughter is quoted as saying “Mommy does the thinking and Daddy does the cooking.”  
  • RBG is an opera lover (something she shares with Justice Scalia in a truly fascinating friendship) and has said “If I had any talent that God could give me, I would be a great diva.”  Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice to opera diva, amazing.

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  • RBG and Marty had what appears to have been a true partnership.  What an amazing couple.  I cried an embarrassing amount on the train while reading his last letter to her after more than 50 years of marriage.  I think everyone can only hope to be so lucky in love and friendship.

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  • As an attorney she argued for equal gender rights not just for women, but for men – and this book shares her written opinions with legal commentary, not just her personal life.  This is a fast read, but not all fluff.  She taught law and worked for the ACLU before donning her judge’s robes.  RBG has done amazing work to help to empower everyone – not just women.
  • You can’t spell Truth without RUTH.

Read this!  If you haven’t had enough RBG check out the Tumblr site that was the inspiration for the book.  You will soon find yourself shopping for Notorious RBG merchandise like me!  My daughter calls my RBG tote my “King Bag” I need to work on reminding her that RBG is way cooler than a king!

5 stars!  

Thank you Dey Street Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.