Three Books about Smart Women

I hope everyone’s holiday season is going reasonably well. I love the theory behind Christmas and the light of love shining through into a dark world…I will always celebrate the light of love.

Despite all the best books of the year lists threatening to blow the crap out of my TBR list, which it does every year, I have been reading books that I have been eyeing but have been plugging through my other reading goals instead.  Which makes me wonder, am I too neurotic to have a hobby without goals to go with it?  Probably not.

Also, note to me to finish this year with a favorite books of 2015 list.  Because this blog is as good and as cool as The Guardian and The New Yorker, right?  Right.

I loved two of the last three reads.  I didn’t hate the third read, and I had put it on my Amazon wish list and it was bought for me as a gift, but it wasn’t as inspiring as the first two.  What bothers me about contemporary, rather than historical fiction (and if you follow this blog you will know I LOVE historical fiction) is that in historical fiction women are working hard to stand out and not follow their intended plight as women whereas in contemporary fiction, white and reasonably privileged American women can have ANYTHING they want, and sometimes they end up turning away from their chance/choice to be an do anything to go back to the roles that women in history were trying to wriggle their way out of. I want to see how someone stands out, not how someone decides that they want to be common.

the magicians lie

The Magician’s Lie, Greer MacAllister

Oh, Greer, you well use the magic of setting and smarts in a woman.  Who does not romanticize what it would be like to be a successful performer at the turn of the century?  I say romanticize because I know in reality if I were to live in a different time period, even with the chance to do something cooler than what I do, I wouldn’t take it. I love my graduate degree and modern appliances.

How could I not read this book described as Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus? The main character in this story, Arden, is gifted, determined, autonomous, and sharp as a flint. She won’t be dulled by the conventions of her time into hiding in a common marriage and childbearing.  Not only is she an illusionist, but there is a hint that some of her magic could have a vein of reality in it.  Juxtapose this with the policeman who apprehends her directly following the death of her husband who has his own darkness to figure out. Arden weaves the tale of her life (with some smoke and mirrors?) between the two of them and engages this reticent and intriguing man who is trying to pin the murder on her to compensate for a recent wrong in his own career.  Yup.  I loved headstrong, hardworking and determined Arden.  I am not sure that I thought that the actual lie was enough to hang the title on, but maybe I don’t fully get the symbolic meaning of the lie.  I am willing to concede that.

The powerful women in books continues with:

the beekeeper's apprentice

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R King

This was my first experience with King’s work, although I suspected that she would pull me in with her prolific work.  I have read Sherlock Holmes stories in the past, and having sampled some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work helped this work about a young woman who ends up learning from and working alongside Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Mary Russell badly need each other when they meet by chance in England, and I love that she is as sharp and as able as Holmes in this, the first of their series of 13 books.  Holmes is a cool character to write about as it is, but I really like the perspective of a bright and headstrong woman as she learns from him and then is able to work as more or less his equal in a way that others have not had the ability to do. He lets her in despite her being a woman and his own sometimes Victorian mindset. When I read about women in college before a time that they can make a lot of career out of what they learn, I am sad that they will learn and not get the chance to use it.  I don’t have that sadness for Mary Russell. I know that she is working from and will continue to work from the passion of her own heart and is not just biding time in school.  She takes advantage of the relaxed social conventions after the First World War in England to be who she is. I also liked the added element of Mary working through her own trauma and no longer letting it haunt her as she tries to grow into an actualized human.

But then followed on these sharp heels I read a contemporary fiction book:

the irresistible blueberry bakeshop and cafe

d, Mary Simses

Yes, it is very much like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,  however, part of my love for Guernsey is the fact that a small community finds its humanity in surviving a war. This book has similar elements but the main character starts off as snooty and privileged, a luxury no one could afford in postwar England.  Ellen Branford, the main character, is a high powered attorney and seems quite happy with having it all in the beginning: beautiful, a fancy career, a flashy and talented fiancee, a man who loves her for being a high powered, high maintenance lawyer, who thinks that she can forever turn away from carbs.  Let me tell you, no one can fully pull away from the allure of carbs!  But then, she starts feeling the appeal of just being…a hometown girl. Okay, maybe not every woman dreams of becoming powerful. Sometimes we don’t realize the influential position we are working ourselves into until we are there and then we are like, oh, dang. I kinda was that way, despite people’s warnings to the contrary. This woman already was influential and then she thinks about what life would be if she was not. And maybe she was who she was based on the dreams that others had for her, rather than what she truly wanted for herself.

I can’t say what she ends up doing because this blog is not about spoilers.  I try very much not to ruin the story because I want people to read what I recommend or maybe consider the book.  There are also unanswered questions about who her grandmother was and how she became someone different that I also wished I knew more about when the book was over.  Ellen thankfully becomes more likeable as the story progresses.  I can at least give you that.  Do I dream of a simpler life? I do! Do I think I would really be happier with the threats of leaving my job and getting a food truck that I dole out to my boss when I am feeling stressed out about work?  Probably not.

So, I guess it is human nature to want what you do not have.  Whether you are fighting for autonomy and getting by on your wits about a hundred plus years or so ago or deciding that maybe you could do with something just a little simpler.  I was going to blog on women being powerful in their way and then I read this third book and I thought maybe it’s about fighting to be the person you are on the inside.  I just like it better when women are working on being something other than the status quo.

Thoughts about women in stories?  Leave a comment below!!

 

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