International Women’s Day: 8 Inspiring Literary Heroines

In honour of International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate some of literature’s most inspiring female characters.

8. Jo March, of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:

Jo March: tom-boy, hot-tempered and geeky.  She loves Dickens and Shakespeare, holds out on the boys and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.  She is the epitome of being unladylike—she swears, burns her dress, cuts her hair and wants to fight in the Civil War.  And though she hates the idea of romance and marriage, I’m sure she can relate with many women our age.  All in all, she inspired many writers and readers.

7. Anne Shirley, of the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery:

What readers like most in Anne is her “heedless and impulsive” nature.  She was different than the boring and simple citizens of Avonlea as she was talkative and extremely imaginative.  Anne acted not only as Diana Barry’s friend, but as her role model as well.  Unfortunately, when Matthew passes away, she gives up her dreams of going away to teach to take care of Marilla and work at the local school house.  Her decision to give up a part of her dream undermines the greatness she could have accomplished as a school teacher, but her dedication and loyalty to family is just as important.

6. Jane Eyre, of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:

Jane is one of the earliest representations if individuality, passion and complexity in a female character, she also manages to expose the sexism and classism of her time.  She suffers greatly as an orphaned and impoverished child and as an adult, but always manages to keep herself grounded.  Jane works hard throughout her whole life and falls in love with a man she cannot marry, the handsome Mr. Rochester.  Though he reciprocates her feelings, she knows they cannot be together because of their class difference.  However, Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester is the essence of true love, and that is what brings her back to him after she denies someone else’s loveless proposal, something that many women these days fail to ensure for themselves.

5. Hermione Granger, of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling:

Hermione Granger is intelligent and she fights alongside Harry and Ron throughout the series in the name of good.  Though she starts off as the annoying know-it-all of Hogwarts, she blossoms into an intelligent and beautiful girl who keeps the trio together.  Unfortunately, she isn’t the type to be the hero of her own story and essentially serves Harry as a crutch in times of trouble, however, her character is unfaltering in the face of evil and her dedication and intelligence keep herself and her friends alive time and time again.

4. The Wife of Bath, of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer:

Originally written in as a one-dimensional and smaller character, Chaucer became enamored with his creation giving her a prologue much longer than her tale.  Though she is quit lewd, the dirty jokes make an argument for female dominance and a woman’s right to control her body.  The Wife of Bath uses rhetorical skill to underscore and attack the sexist traditions of the time.

3. Elizabeth Bennet, of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:

Elizabeth Bennet is nothing like her sisters—she is not shallow or easily distracted by pretty ribbons and the boys of the visiting regiment, but rather prefers the company of her father and books.  You cannot help with side with this Miss Bennet as she explores the confines of gender and class in Victorian England, all the while falling in love with the handsomest gentleman in literature.

2. Scout Finch, of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

Scout Finch is one of the few literary girls encouraged to emote her rebellious spirit, which is quite interesting and controversial in terms of the bigoted society around her.  She lives in a world of hate towards class and race among other things, a world where school bores her despite her great interest in learning.  Scout, being her father’s daughter, sees the tragedy in Maycomb County, and like her father, she tries to do something about it.

1. Éowyn, of the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien:

A noblewoman and shieldmaiden itching to defend her countrymen, Éowyn disguises herself as a man in order to accompany her friends into battle.  This ultimately leads to the best showdown in Middle Earth against the Witch-king of Angmar when he says “No living man can kill me” to which she replies “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman” and proceeds to slay his butt to smithereens.  Éowyn is a true literary (and literally) a hero.

Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Title: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Author: Chelsea Sedoti

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Release Date: January 2017

Source: Goodreads Giveaway

Rating: 3.5/5

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What’s the story?

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

Review

This book arrived on my doorstep on the worst day of my cold — you know the one where you’re so sick of being sick and going stir crazy because you’ve been in bed for 3 days — and it brought light to my life.

I had been eyeing this book on Goodreads since January, and intrigued by the fairly vague synopsis, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and kept an open mind.  I was caught off guard and thrown for a loop quite a few times, some were good and some were not-so-good, and by the end, I felt a little cheated.

Overall, I enjoyed Sedoti’s writing.  Her diction and language was strong, and the dialogue felt natural and unique for each and every character.  For the most part, I felt that the characters themselves were realistic and well thought out.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the novel’s main character, Hawthorn Creely.

I found Hawthorn to be frustratingly annoying and couldn’t bring myself to like her much until the very end.  She seemed forced and sometimes unauthentic, as though, despite all of her interesting quirks, she chose to cast herself as society’s misfit teenager and whined about it the whole time.  I also just didn’t understand her obsession with Lizzie Lovett.

Of course, I understand that the entire premise of the novel was for Hawthorn to uncover Lizzie Lovett’s mysterious disappearance, however, I sometimes felt that this was the only thing happening in the novel.  Especially since I just didn’t understand Lizzie’s appeal.

Hawthorn becomes so infatuated with Lizzie Lovett, a girl she hardly knew or cared for prior to her disappearance, that it consumes her completely.  She takes her boring waitress job, dates her strange boyfriend, and becomes completely immersed in the hundred plausible explanations for her disappearance, most of which are supernatural and involve werewolf lore.

But of course, with Sedoti’s strong writing and talent for suspense, I just couldn’t put the book down.  Hawthorn’s obsession became my obsession — I needed to know what happened to Lizzie — and as the story went on, I began to feel for Hawthorn and understand her character just a little bit more.  She is a misfit and Lizzie, being the stereotypical popular and perfect girl that she had been in high school, is exactly who Hawthorn wishes she could be — beautiful, friends with everyone, crushed on by all the boys, and most importantly, included — so she adopts what she can from the life Lizzie left behind.

In my opinion, there was no perfect ending, and although I did feel a little cheated by it, I do think Sedoti did well to tie up loose ends and bring Lizzie and Hawthorn’s stories to a close.  Things ended relatively well, and I honestly have to say that the part I liked the absolute least throughout this entire novel, was Hawthorn’s extremely cringe-worthy relationship with Lorenzo Calvetti, Lizzie’s boyfriend, so take it as you will.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Title: Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded

Author: Hannah Hart

Publisher: Dey Street Books

Release Date: October 2016

Source: Amazon

Rating: 5/5

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By combing through the journals that Hannah has kept for much of her life, this collection of narrative essays deliver a fuller picture of her life, her experiences, and the things she’s figured out about family, faith, love, sexuality, self-worth, friendship and fame.  Revealing what makes Hannah tick, this sometimes cringe-worthy, poignant collection of stories is sure to deliver plenty of Hannah’s wit and wisdom, and hopefully encourage you to try your hand at her patented brand of reckless optimism.

I’m fairly certain that this is the first time I’ve reviewed non-fiction, and not only is this book non-fiction, but it’s an autobiography, which I feel makes it a little weird to review, but I’ll do my best.

I am pretty familiar with Hannah Hart, and watch her and the Holy Trinity religiously on YouTube.  From this alone, I have some general and basic knowledge of who she is and know, from vague allusions, that her life has been a little rocky despite her present-day positive and inspiring persona.  So with that said, I didn’t find her autobiography to be shocking, but I was definitely surprised at the level and amount of hardship, grief and trouble she has lived with and overcome in her lifetime.

As the blurb on the dust jacket reveals, the autobiography tells “tales of family, faith, mental health, LESBIAN SEX, and my ongoing journey to love myself (and not just me selfies.)”  That alone is exemplary of her writing throughout the book.

Hart writes with clarity, honesty, integrity, emotion, and humour, and her voice shines through every piece with hope and faith and inspiration for her readers.  She tackles heavy subjects by telling her story, giving advice, and wishing luck and hope to those struggling with their own issues.  Her goal in writing this autobiography was to build a community wherein no one feels as though they are alone, and I really think this sentiment resonated throughout the book.  Although I may not be dealing with the same issues, I was able to gain insight on my own and really gain perspective in the whole spectrum of it all.

I really liked the addition of her journal entries, pictures and sketches.  I feel like it really added to the work and the message she wanted to get through to the readers.  Her writing is very self-reflective and a look back on her past, so it was interesting to have those aspects and pieces that came from her living through those moments to see how far she has come, how it has shaped her, and what she has learned from those experiences.

Overall, it was a great work.  I highly enjoyed reading Hannah Hart’s autobiography, it just felt real and truthful and genuine.  You can’t really write a review on someone’s life, and I’ve read blurbs on Goodreads of “bad” reviews because of the stories she chose to share.  I can’t wrap my head around those reviews — you can’t review an autobiography based on the life events that the author is sharing with you — because if you’re reviewing an autobiography, it should be based on the quality and effectiveness of the writing and its ability to tell the stories, evoke emotions, and invoke critical thinking.  And, Buffering achieved all of those things and more.

Let me know if you’ve read Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded and if you liked it.  And, don’t forget, practice reckless optimism!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Title: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Author: Katarina Bivald

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Release Date: January 2016

Source: WHSmith

Rating: 4/5

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Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy.  When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended.  Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist — even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books.  Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory.

I had easily been eyeing the display for about ten minutes before realizing I had an hour to kill before catching my train back to Germany from London, so I decided to pop in and take a closer look.  The cover and back blurb won me over immediately and I just as quickly queued up to make my purchase.

Bivald’s novel tells the story of a small American town, practically abandoned and in disrepair, badly needing a lot of care and love.  That’s exactly what Sara brings to Broken Wheel.  She arrives, hoping to meet her elderly pen pal and book exchange partner, in town only to find out her friend had passed away.  Despite the awkwardness of the situation, the town welcomes her anyway, and in return, Sara opens a much needed bookstore to liven up the town of Broken Wheel and its residents.

Although the novel’s main focus is on Sara and her journey to self-discovery and romance, we see the development of many secondary characters.  The beginning of the novel sees residents of Broken Wheel as reclusive, repressed, close-minded, depressed… the list could go on, but as Sara manages to get the bookstore running, we see everyone embark on their own journeys of self-discovery, acceptance and pursuit of happiness.

Overall, I found that Bivald’s writing perfectly handles the mess of characters and the development of tangible sub-plots and backstories, all of which I found to be as equally interesting as Sara’s.  Her writing is strong enough to hold up each story line and keep them moving forward at a good pace, allowing the story to fold naturally rather than force the stories to work together — although a little too cliched at times.  The ending was definitely predictable, but this didn’t hurt my experience of reading the book at all.

The whole bookworm and passion for literature vibe that resonated throughout the book made it extremely enjoyable for me to read.  I feel like I have never related more to any character in a book — her description of books, her love for them, her obsession — I maybe too strongly identify with Sara’s perfect imperfection of liking books more than people, but I’m okay with that.

The novel was a light read, making it the perfect vacation novel.  It has an simple premise, quirky characters, interesting story with a dash of romance.  I’ve already recommended it to a handful of people, all of whom are embarking on their warm getaways to escape the harsh cold and snow of Canada, and I know, despite their varying tastes in literature, they will enjoy this book.

 

Most Anticipated Reads of 2017

A new year means new books, so I’ve been doing a lot of research on new books that will be coming out in 2017.  After burying my nose in Time Magazine, Globe and Mail, and other literature and entertainment sites and papers, I’ve compiled the following list:

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Emma Flint, Little Deaths, January 17

It’s 1965 in a tight-knit working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, and Ruth Malone–a single mother who works long hours as a cocktail waitress–wakes to discover her two small children, Frankie Jr. and Cindy, have gone missing. Later that day, Cindy’s body is found in a derelict lot a half mile from her home, strangled. Ten days later, Frankie Jr.’s decomposing body is found. Immediately, all fingers point to Ruth.

As police investigate the murders, the detritus of Ruth’s life is exposed. Seen through the eyes of the cops, the empty bourbon bottles and provocative clothing which litter her apartment, the piles of letters from countless men and Ruth’s little black book of phone numbers, make her a drunk, a loose woman–and therefore a bad mother. The lead detective, a strict Catholic who believes women belong in the home, leaps to the obvious conclusion: facing divorce and a custody battle, Malone took her children’s lives.

Pete Wonicke is a rookie tabloid reporter who finagles an assignment to cover the murders. Determined to make his name in the paper, he begins digging into the case. Pete’s interest in the story develops into an obsession with Ruth, and he comes to believe there’s something more to the woman whom prosecutors, the press, and the public have painted as a promiscuous femme fatale. Did Ruth Malone violently kill her own children, is she a victim of circumstance–or is there something more sinister at play?

Inspired by a true story, Little Deaths, like celebrated novels by Sarah Waters and Megan Abbott, is compelling literary crime fiction that explores the capacity for good and evil in us all.

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Jason Rekulak, The Impossible Fortress, February 7

Billy Marvin’s first love was a computer. Then he met Mary Zelinsky.

Do you remember your first love?

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.

The heist will be fraught with peril: a locked building, intrepid police officers, rusty fire escapes, leaps across rooftops, electronic alarm systems, and a hyperactive Shih Tzu named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads them to a genius master plan—they’ll swipe the security code to Zelinsky’s convenience store by seducing the owner’s daughter, Mary Zelinsky. It becomes Billy’s mission to befriend her and get the information by any means necessary. But Mary isn’t your average teenage girl. She’s a computer loving, expert coder, already strides ahead of Billy in ability, with a wry sense of humor and a hidden, big heart. But what starts as a game to win Mary’s affection leaves Billy with a gut-wrenching choice: deceive the girl who may well be his first love or break a promise to his best friends.

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Peter Heller, Celine, March 7

Working out of her jewel box of an apartment at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, Celine has made a career of tracking down missing persons, and she has a better record at it than the FBI. But when a young woman, Gabriela, asks for her help, a world of mystery and sorrow opens up. Gabriela’s father was a photographer who went missing on the border of Montana and Wyoming. He was assumed to have died from a grizzly mauling, but his body was never found. Now, as Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, investigating a trail gone cold, it becomes clear that they are being followed–that this is a case someone desperately wants to keep closed.

Combining the exquisite plotting and gorgeous evocation of nature that have become his hallmark, with a wildly engrossing story of family, privilege, and childhood loss, Peter Heller gives us his finest work to date.

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Emily Schultz, Men Walking on Water, March 21

Men Walking on Water opens on a bitter winter’s night in 1927, with a motley gang of small-time smugglers huddled on the banks of the Detroit River, peering towards Canada on the opposite side. A catastrophe has just occurred: while driving across the frozen water by moonlight, a decrepit Model T loaded with whisky has broken the ice and gone under–and with it, driver Alfred Moss and a bundle of money. From that defining moment, the novel weaves its startling, enthralling story, with the missing man at its centre, a man who affects all the characters in different ways. In Detroit, a young mother becomes a criminal to pay down the debt her husband, assumed dead, has left behind; a Pentecostal preacher brazenly uses his church to fund his own bootlegging operation even as he lectures against the perils of drink; and across the river, a French-Canadian woman runs her booming brothel business with the permission of the powerful Detroit gangsters who are her patrons.

The looming background to this extraordinary story, as compelling as any character, is the city of Detroit–a place of grand dreams and brutal realities in 1927 as it is today, fuelled by capitalist expansion and by the collapse that follows, sitting on the border between countries, its citizens walking precariously across the river between pleasure and abstinence. This is an absolutely stunning, mature, and compulsively readable novel from one of our most talented and unique writers.

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Barbara Gowdy, Little Sister, May 23

Thunderstorms are rolling across the summer sky. Every time one breaks, Rose Bowan loses consciousness and has vivid, realistic dreams about being in another woman’s body.

Is Rose merely dreaming? Or is she, in fact, inhabiting a stranger? Disturbed yet entranced, she sets out to discover what is happening to her. Meanwhile her mother is in the early stages of dementia, and has begun to speak for the first time in decades about Rose’s sister, Ava, who died young.

In Barbara Gowdy’s latest novel, one woman fights to help someone she has never met, and to come to terms with a death for which she always felt responsible. The result is an impassioned exploration of the limits of the human mind, the devastating power of empathy, and the fierce bonds of motherhood and sisterhood.

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Paula Hawkins, Into the Water, May 2

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

You may have noticed that this list only contains novels set to be published between January and May of 2017, that’s because most places only have those titles available.  But, if you’re lucky, and if unlike last year I actually remember to do this, I’ll be writing a part two to this article in the Spring to talk about all the books I can’t wait to read in the second half of 2017.

Happy reading!

Yearly Round-Up: 2016

Well, it’s almost been a full year since I first started this blog last January, and with 2016 coming to a close, I thought it would be perfect timing to do a quick round-up.  Despite having started this literary blog as a New Year’s resolution, I didn’t end up doing as much with it as I’d hope to — this was a busy year after all.

In between finishing my last year of university, working 2 jobs, volunteering, graduating from university, filling out Visa applications, moving to Germany, working on a vineyard, traveling through Europe, moving back home, and applying to Teacher’s college, I somehow managed to find time for leisurely reading.

My top 5 books for 2016 are as follows:

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz
  3. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  4. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The books aren’t listed in any particular order, I want to say I enjoyed them all equally and there are more other than these five that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this year, yet I only read a total of 16 books this year, excluding all of my required reading between January and April for university, which, to be honest, kind of sucks.  But those 16 books, however, allowed me to escape, lose myself, find myself, and enjoy myself, and the five listed above, are those ones that I feel have truly left their mark on me this year.

I have a long list of books (70+) I’d like to read in 2017, but my goal is to read at least 52 — one per week.  I think it seems to be a reasonable goal, but I wouldn’t be upset with myself if I only made it to around 35-40 books.  Considering the fact that my life plans for 2017 are currently still undecided, 35-40 allows me to read a book per week excluding holidays or any other situations where I just wouldn’t have the time, but I’ll aim for 52 because we all get a little over-enthusiastic with New Year’s resolutions.

Happy New Year, everyone.  May 2017 be your time to shine bright.

The Girl on the Train

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Publisher: Double Day

Release Date: January 2015

Source: Amazon

Rating: 4.5/5

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night.  Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck.  She’s even started to feel like she knows them.  Jess and Jason, she calls them.  Their life — as she sees it — is perfect.  Not unlike the one she recently lost. (Goodreads)

When Megan, the woman in that house, goes missing, Rachel takes it upon herself to tell the police what she has seen during her commutes into London.  As an alcoholic whose drinking causes blackouts and memory loss, she becomes an unreliable witness and narrator.  But are her claims really all that dubious?

Paula Hawkins masterfully writes a suspenseful thriller told through the intertwined narratives of three women, each of them just as unreliable as the next.  And despite the number of narrators in this novel, we discover each of their histories and how they all link together on Blenheim Road.  Furthermore, Hawkins has a real talent for timing.  The novel lulls just when I thought I had it figured out, then suddenly she surprises with a new revelation, making it even more difficult to fit the pieces of this strange and mysterious puzzle together.

Every character in this novel is horrible.  They are liars, cheaters, secretive, scheming, abusive, and yet the novel makes a great case study in character development.  Reading the story through the eyes of each character and seeing them through the eyes of the other narrators gave me a whole new perspective on their character, their reasoning, and their problems.  I gained a new, different sense of understanding.  I began to see, and at times, empathize, with the reasoning behind their actions no matter how wrong or troubling they may have been.

This was a real page turner.  I read it mostly during my own train commuting and I would be lost in the mystery of pages before me for hours at a time, distracted only by my own nervousness of missing my stop.  My only set back while reading this novel, however, was that I sometimes became confused with whose perspective I was reading.  But I seem to do that whenever I read multiple-narrative novels, so it might just be me.

I highly recommend this to anyone in need of a good psychological thriller, because Paula Hawkins delivers in The Girl on the Train.  Literally seconds after reading the last pages of the novel, I gave it to my friend to read — that’s how much I loved it.