Tags: women's literature


My Goodreads review: A Thousand Ships

A Thousand ShipsA Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Women's viewpoints seem to be everywhere lately in classical mythology and related fiction (think The Silence of the Girls or Circe), but I'm still glad I made time for this one. Rather than telling the story of one woman/goddess, Haynes moves through the Trojan War & its aftermath through the viewpoints of many women -- Greek and Trojan, mortal & immortal. Although this approach is occasionally disorienting, it adds depth to the familiar plotline while making the most of the author's research. The returning voice of the muse of epic poetry creates a useful but unobtrusive frame.

The novel itself feels less lyrical / emotional than some I've read in this subgenre, but this tone makes the events no less chilling. Haynes' choice of multiple viewpoints allows the examination of some events through more than one woman's eyes. Penelope's voice in letters to her long-absent husband also helps to keep the overall narrative on track, as the faithful but frustrated Penelope hears of Odysseus only from the random songs of bards visiting her court.

The author's own narration might push this one from 4.5 to 5 stars, but perhaps that's only because I'm a sucker for classical /mythological material delivered in a no-nonsense academic British accent. However that extra half-star manifested itself, I'd strongly recommend enjoying this one on audio.

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My Goodreads review: Trail of Lightning

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World, #1)Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is this a Native American take on urban (OK, rez) fantasy? Post-apocalypse climate change SF with a side order of monsters & a kick-A female hunter? A slightly YA-flavored adventure with mainly Navajo protagonists & a deep dive into tribal mythology?


I've been meaning to listen to this one for some time (it came highly recommended by at least one reviewer I trust on such topics), & I'm glad I didn't put it off any longer. Despite the apocalyptic setting, which may not be what some readers are looking for right now, this is a remarkable SF/F novel of its type.

Maggie Hoskie, the monster hunter, is orders of magnitude more complex than a traditional "slayer." Sure, she's got mysterious fighting skills (clan powers) & an arsenal of her own (including shotgun shells loaded with obsidian & corn pollen, wow), but she also has some all-too -believable personal demons. Rather than being a loner, she is a full part of her community, responsible to it & protective of it -- even when not everyone in that community loves her back.

I hesitated between 4 & 5 stars due to more romance than I'd signed on for, but had to go with 5 for the sheer freshness of the Navajo mythology, & because I am fascinated by all things Southwest. And I'll definitely be reading/listening to Storm of Locusts, the next in this Sixth World series.

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My Goodreads review: The Testaments

The Testaments (The Handmaid's Tale, #2)The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to The Handmaid's Tale actually felt much more optimistic than its predecessor, with more world-building and more insight into the lives of women other than Handmaids. The addition of one Canadian viewpoint on Gilead helped me realize that all of the former US had not become this horrific theocracy . . . and, as per usual in near-future SF, California & Texas were once again their own countries.

As an over-40 reader, I particularly appreciated the Testament of one of the series' villains: the infamous Aunt Lydia. She quickly became one of my favorite characters, allowing a glimpse into the secret (but uniquely powerful) world of Gilead's Aunts. Saying more than that about her, however, would mean committing Spoiler. This book is way too much sheer fun -- as well as creepily insightful -- for me to risk doing that.

I enjoyed this one on Audible, an experience I would recommend. The performances are all first-rate, with cameos from Margaret Atwood herself.

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My Goodreads review: Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary ShelleyRomantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't comment on the scholarship of this one -- I listened on Audible & had no access to any notes the book may have offered. However, I finished it feeling much more informed about the lives of two remarkable women I've been meaning to learn more about for years. My exposure to Wollstonecraft's writing was limited to (portions of!) A Vindication of the Rights of Women back in college, & I've read nothing of Mary Shelley's beyond Frankenstein. Bad, bad recovering English major . . .

This double biography is lively -- maybe a bit sensational, but fully justified by the facts -- & entertaining, and Susan Lyons offers a satisfyingly plummy narrative voice. Anyone hoping to retain a good opinion of either Shelley (the poet) or Byron might want to look elsewhere, however. Like her mother before her, Mary Shelley had enough trouble with both men & money to supply material for a couple of country albums! There is also the very real question of women living free lives before reliable birth control, & Gordon's work doesn't whitewash those details either. Nor does she make her subjects into feminist saints who never made bad life decisions or wronged another woman. They were highly gifted, but very human, people.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in women's literary history, or British lit in general.

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My Goodreads review: The Power

The PowerThe Power by Naomi Alderman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an effective & unsettling listening experience, at least partly because the book did not deliver what I was expecting. And that's probably a good thing.

I'd heard The Power described as a feminist dystopian novel, sometimes compared to The Handmaid's Tale. For me, at least, this wasn't accurate. Rather than being centered on the USA, or triggered by abusive religion, this is a global dystopia triggered by a truly science-fictional concept. (I suspect everyone reading this knows the concept, but no spoilers from me.)

The book offers multiple sympathetic viewpoints from diverse characters: an emotionally scarred African-American girl "savior," a politically driven American mother with a troubled daughter, an ambitious male Nigerian journalist, a vengeful young woman from a British criminal clan. Within the novel's framing story (again, no spoilers here), the setting is disturbingly modern, complete with Eastern European chaos and social media trolls. When the author's SF concept changes just one thing, the world begins to fall apart with alarming rapidity.

In the end, this may be less a feminist dystopia than a human dystopia, more about humans & power than humans & gender. It's a thrilling listen (or read), but I can't say the ending gave me a lot of hope or warm fuzzies. Recommended for those ready to accept a solid dose of SF plus a touch of dark fantasy in a thought-provoking novel.

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My Goodreads review: The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the GirlsThe Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn't completely sure whether to give this one 4 or 5 stars, but finally settled on 5 for its sheer emotional power. Yes, there is rather modern British dialogue & slang (but, hey, we already know the PBS Roman Empire speaks British English, why not the ancient Greeks?). Yes, it is occasionally disconcerting when the plot shifts viewpoints between Briseis (first person) and her captor Achilles (third person). And even at the end, I was never completely sure who Briseis was telling her tale to. Other than me, of course.

However, none of this mattered while I was reading this very different, very lovely, & very brutal take on the Trojan War. This is war from the captive's view, and not just any captive. Briseis, a young royal woman from a Trojan city, was Achilles' personal prize -- and the the cause of his refusal to fight after Agamemnon took her away. Most of the novel is told from her POV, and it's every bit as harsh (& conflicted) as you'd imagine. Although Barker never gets gratuitously graphic, there's no question here about what happens to women in war.

If you've read the Iliad, you know the plot already. What matters here -- other than some breathtaking writing every so often -- is how women, mostly enslaved, figured into that plot. And how some men were decent in spite of the situation, and how many weren't.

Recommended (strongly) for Mary Renault fans, and anyone else looking for a different view of classical war. Or, probably, war as it still is.

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My Goodreads review: Winter Tide

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy, #1)Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very different & character-driven Mythos novel, set in America's Cold War era. Aphra Marsh, the tale's first-person POV, is about as far from a standard Lovecraftian narrator as one can imagine, but perfect for this complex story.

Spy-hunting, Red Scare paranoia, and deadly serious practitioners of both dark & (semi?) white magic all figure into this one, along with references to America's Japanese internment camps. Race relations of the time also inform the plot -- as does the status of women, and the very perilous status of non-straight folks (male and female). That's a lot of (justifiable) social commentary, but it never quite gets in the way of the pure fun of a well-crafted Lovecraftian world, Miskatonic University and all.

The references here go way deeper than your standard Call of Cthulhu gaming chrome. Emrys has obviously done her research (both Lovecraftian and historical), managing to tie in most of HPL's major Mythos tales, plus one or two I wasn't expecting. I'll definitely be putting the sequel, Deep Roots, on my Want to Read (or perhaps listen to) list.

Recommended for Lovecraftians open to social comment and history in their Mythos fiction. I'm not sure that those completely unfamiliar with Lovecraft's work would get the most out of this novel, but they might still appreciate the world-building, history, and magic.

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My Goodreads review: The Good House

The Good HouseThe Good House by Tananarive Due

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A decent modern Gothic horror novel -- feels like Southern Gothic even though most of it takes place in the Northwest --with some really fascinating Vodou aspects. The story is female-focused with a sympathetic protagonist who refuses to be a victim. All good! This is the first Due novel I've ever read / listened to, and I was hoping to broaden my horror reading experience.

In some ways, the novel did this. Unfortunately, it felt much too long, even given that it was a generational story. Combine this with a nonlinear storytelling style (the entire plot zigzags back and forth, sometimes by decades at a time) and an unsatisfying ending, and you wind up with a book that's rather hard to get through.

I think I may have stuck with it because the Audible narrator was doing an excellent job. I'm not sure I would have been so persistent if I'd had, say, a paperback.

YMMV, especially if you're really looking for a chewy late-summer chiller.

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Wishbone Moon: international women's haiku

I've just received my early contributor's copy of Wishbone Moon (Jacar Press), a really lovely little haiku anthology.

Billing itself as "a groundbreaking anthology of haiku by women in the international haiku community," this perfect-bound volume is edited by Roberta Beary, Ellen Compton, & Kala Ramesh.

These three editors hail from Ireland, the USA, and India respectively, and their selections are equally diverse. I haven't finished this anthology yet -- it begs to be nibbled through and paused over! -- but a quick flip through its pages reveals haiku poets from Singapore, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and many other places. This is not a themed anthology, so there's a lot of variety in the haiku themselves as well.

The official publication date for this one is September. It will be available on both Amazon & the Jacar Press website, http://www.jacarpress.com/

a fascinating article on women in space opera

Tor.Com http://www.tor.com/ is celebrating Space Opera Week (yes!). Author Judith Tarr has contributed an article of particular interest to those of us intrigued by women's literature:

"From Dark to Dark: Yes, Women Have Always Written Space Opera"


This one's worth every minute of reading time, but be warned. It is loaded with useful, fascinating, & time-eating links on female writers of space opera, gender inequalities in the field, & even the Smurfette Principle (of which I was totally ignorant until today).