Guest Post: Top 10 Heroines with Maureen of By Singing Light

I am on an internet-free vacation right now, but my blogging friend Maureen of By Singing Light has kindly written a wonderful post on her favorite heroines.  Thank you so much for your post, Maureen!

The inspiration for this post is definite the great series my friend Brandy has been writing on her favorite heroines. So I set out to write down my own favorite heroines! And it turns out that I have very many. In the interests of space (and Katy forgiving me) I pared my initial list down to ten (10!!) names.
queennimonaperilous gardone crazy summer
Irene Attolia from Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series: Attolia is one of my favorite characters ever, but part of what makes her so interesting is that she starts off as the antagonist. She does horrible things, and yet MWT writes her character with such understanding and delicacy that by the end of the second book, I had fallen in love with her too.

Harriet Vane from Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey series: I have a tag on Tumblr that says, “Harriet is the best” and that pretty much sums it up. It’s astonishing to remember that when I first read the Lord Peter books, I resented her for Peter’s sake. Now I admire so much her stubborn integrity, her sheer Harrietness.

Kate Sutton from Elizabeth Marie Pope’s The Perilous Gard: I have loved Kate ever since I first read The Perilous Gard in middle school. She’s fierce and stubborn, but she’s also brave. She drags Christopher, kicking and screaming, into hope. And she understands, in some way, the Lady Under the Hill.

Goewin from Elizabeth Wein’s Aksum series: I’ve talked a great length about how much I love Wein’s Maddie and Verity and Rose. But I wanted to mention Goewin because I think she’s a fantastic, complex character. She has an amazing combination of love and ruthlessness that comes out in the series.

Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel from G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel comics: I love Kamala for several reasons. She’s hilarious–she has a great sense of humor that I totally believe from a teenage girl. She’s conflicted about her sudden abilities, and yet she takes on the responsibility. And I love the way her relationship with her culture & faith have been written.

Maskelle from Martha Wells’s The Wheel of the Infinite: Maskelle is a fantastic character, and one who’s all too rare. She’s older than many women in fantasy. She has power and knows how to use it. She has regrets, but she is also determined to make things right. And in the end she knows her own mind & her own strengths.

Delphine Gaither from Rita Williams-Garcia’s Gaither sisters trilogy: Oh, how I love Delphine! I love all three Gaither sisters, but Delphine is my very favorite. Probably partly because I’m an oldest child and think Rita Williams-Garcia did a great job of showing that relationship. But mostly just for herself, her wonderful, vivid, thoughtful self.

Tiffany Aching from Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series: I didn’t find Tiffany until fairly recently, but she quickly became one of my favorites ever. She’s kind, she gives of herself, she takes care of people, and yet she’s the furthest thing from self-sacrificing or doormatish that I can think of. She’s fierce when it’s needed and powerful when that’s needed too.

NIMONA from Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona: Nimona is a fascinating character. She’s a shapeshifter in more ways than one, and yet she’s also undeniably herself. She can be hurt and angry, but she can also be funny and even silly. I found her story beautiful and heartbreaking and hilarious all at once.

Sophie Hatter from Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle: Sophie is one of those characters that I just instantly loved, from the very first page. She’s prickly, stubborn, kind, and brave. She doesn’t know her own strengths, and yet she does. I love how fiercely competent she is & yet how she can also push people in the wrong directions. She’s so wonderfully human.

I am somewhat startled to find that I have only read four of these – but since I also love Irene, Tiffany, Nimona and Sophie, I think I need to read all the rest of these as well!  Who are your favorite heroines?

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State of the Book Basket – July

It’s a super-short State of the Book Basket because I need to go get ready for vacation.

The Girl
I’m very excited to be reading The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye to my daughter – a favorite from childhood, with the author’s own beautiful illustrations.  In the car, we’re listening to Soccer on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne, Magic Tree House #52.  I’ve also taken out three of the Little House books for the car ride, since both kids really like these.  We have a big stack of nonfiction for her, for one of the library’s summer reading challenges.

The Boy
We finally finished Jinx’s Fire!!!!  Thank you, Sage Blackwood – we loved it! I’m finishing up my old favorite Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Time by Jane Louise Curry with him (it’s only about a hundred pages), and then we’ve decided that he’s old enough for one of my even-favoriter old favorites, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.  He’s reading The Inventions of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick to himself, and listening to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and the last of the Spirit Animals books, by Marie Lu.

My Love
…snagged Uprooted by Naomi Novik when my hold finally came in from the library.  I’m anxiously waiting my turn for this, too!

Me
I just finished Nimona by Noelle Stevenson in print and a re-listen of Deathly Hallows in the car.  I have Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel on my iPod, and have just checked out Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein – a first from an author I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.  Up next in print is either Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, or The Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe.

Let me know what you’re reading, and stay tuned for a guest post or two while I’m gone!

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The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

And on with the Victorian historical characters!  This is mostly a graphic novel.  I bought it for the adult graphic novel section, though there’s nothing inappropriate for kids in it, because it has a lot of footnotes and they are dense, and also because I only get to buy the adult graphic novels at the library.  I’ve been a fan of Padua’s web comics for years, and really, really wanted to make sure we got this.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and BabbageThe Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. Pantheon Books, 2015.
In real life, Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, the daughter of doomed romantic poet Lord Byron, had a brilliant mind which was lost to the world far too soon, as she died in her early forties.  While she lived, she corresponded with Charles Babbage, inventor of the first proto-computer, helping him refine his ideas and figuring out new uses for it.  But she died, and Babbage was too wrapped up in theoretical improvements to his plans ever to actually complete his devices.  So much for real life.

In fiction, however, there is no need for things to follow these paths.  In The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, Padua has created what she calls a “pocket universe” in which Lovelace does not die.  Instead, she goes on to help Babbage complete his Analytical Engine, and the two of them work together to fight crime, especially in the form of poetry and street musicians.  Babbage is full of good ideas and so much self-importance that he frequently shoots himself in the foot; Ada tries sometimes more successfully than others to rescue him from himself. Padua has clearly done tons of research into this, so that while the stories are fictional, the most hilarious parts of the already funny stories comes when she has the characters speaking in their own real-life words, drawn from their correspondence and memoirs.  (We know this because of the ample footnotes, which are hilarious in their own right and well worth reading.)

Many other famous characters of the day truthfully appear, owing the circle of English intellectuals at the time being so very small and tightly connected.  Some modern humor is included as well, such as this: Queen Victoria comes to get a tour of the amazing Analytical Engine. She is not amused by the large numbers (useful as they were to science at the time), so Ada quickly jumps into the machine and rigs it to print out a cat picture made up of various characters.

This is one that felt so much like it might have been written just for me that it’s hard to nail down who else might like it, though my love definitely enjoyed it and my son was begging us to read it to him as well.  Definitely anyone interested in Victorian history, steampunk, or (most obscurely) the history of computers should enjoy this.

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The Detective’s Assistant

I really enjoyed Kate Hannigan’s Cupcake Cousins, which I won after last year’s 48 Hour Book Challenge.  This one is historical – more my usual style – so I was especially excited to see it coming out.

The Detective's AssistantThe Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan. Little, Brown & Company, 2015.
Cornelia Warne is 13 years old and the last of her immediate family.  She’s sent from rural New York State to her last remaining aunt, who lives in Chicago.  “Aunt Kitty”, or Kate, as she prefers to be called, is enjoying the freedom of widowed life (though not having been widowed in the first place) and really doesn’t want a child.  Happily, she’s convinced to take Nell in (she decides right off that Cornelia is too awful a name to call even an unwanted niece), at least until she can find someplace better for her.  Nell dubs her the Pickled Onion, as she is so unfriendly toward her, and sets out to make herself as useful as possible, both to Aunt Kitty and to the owner of the boarding house where they live, to keep the rent down.

It turns out that Aunt Kitty is a Pinkerton agent, who works undercover to solve various mysteries.  Kate Warne, it turns out, was a real person, and the fictional Nell gets to tag along on Aunt Kitty’s cases, which get increasingly complex and important over the course of the book.  This following of real cases is held together with Nell’s struggles to fit in.  Nell has her own mysteries to solve, too. She is trying to learn the family secret that drove Aunt Kitty away in the first place. She is also exchanging letters with her best friend, whom we gradually learn is a freeborn African-American now moved to Canada, and who in turn is trying to find her father, an operator on the Underground Railroad.  Often it seems historical novels will either be about the Underground Railroad or about the doings of white people.  I really enjoyed seeing these separate threads tied together so nicely and so simply by friendship, rather than left separate or connected by chance.

I’ll say that I have loved many a dreamy historical novel – but this is decidedly not that.  The Detective’s Assistant is packed full of action and suspense, with plenty of appeal for both boys and girls.  Definitely for kids who are already fans of historical or mystery, but also a great one to keep in mind for the reluctant reader who’s been assigned to read a historical novel.

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Fly By Night and Fly Trap

Many of my friends – most especially Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile – have raved about Frances Hardinge’s novel A Face Like Glass. Unfortunately, this one book of hers isn’t available in print in the U.S., and I haven’t yet been desperate enough to have it shipped from the UK, there being so many good books I haven’t read around me already. Instead, I picked up the earliest of her books that was on the shelf at my library.

Fly by NightFly by Night by Frances Hardinge. Macmillan, 2005.
Mosca Mye (probably aged 11 or 12) is an orphan in a world that’s falling apart.  (The author’s note at the end says that the world is very loosely based on 17th century England, with a lot of disregard for actual history and some for the laws of physics.)  Continue reading

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As You Wish

I vividly remember the first time I watched The Princess Bride – on a rented TV and VCR at an overnight with my high school Girl Scout troop.  We watched it twice through that night, and then watched our favorite bits over and over again the following morning.  It’s still one of my favorites, one of the most-quoted around my house.  Even at work, people were quoting it at one of my recent library events.  Which is a roundabout way of saying that of course I had to listen to this book when I heard it was coming out.

As You WishAs You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden. Read by Cary Elwes et al. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2014.
Starring in The Princess Bride was a dream come true for Cary Elwes, then a relatively unknown actor.  Following its 25th anniversary, he put together his memories of the movie and the people in it.  From time to time, other members of the team put in their thoughts on people or events, as well, often read by them on the audio version as well.  This is not a Rita Skeeter-like exposé of the event – Elwes is full of happy memories of his time on set (and training beforehand!) and looks with kindness and respect on everyone except occasionally himself.  He is also digs a little deeper into the background of the original book and its long history of being batted around between studios and labelled as unfilmable before finally making it to the screen.

I could wish that the contributions from other people had been a little more extensive – I would particularly have liked to hear more about some of Robin Wright’s work in scenes where Elwes wasn’t present – but this isn’t a deal breaker by any means.  I won’t spoil this for anyone who hasn’t read it yet by sharing the fun parts – but I came away full of warm fuzzies and secret knowledge of things to notice when re-watching the movie.  If you are a fan, you should definitely read this – and I’d highly recommend getting the audiobook out of the library.  Not only do you get to hear Elwes’s familiar accent, plus those of more people both familiar and not, but Elwes is a consummate actor and uses the appropriate voice for each person he’s talking about.

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Mortal Heart

I’d been very much looking forward to this book, the last in the His Fair Assassin series, but it came out last fall when I was in the midst of the Cybils and had to wait for a bit.  It was worth it, though!

Mortal HeartMortal Heart. His Fair Assassins #3 by Robin LaFevers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
This book follows Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph, and continues the trend of each book featuring a different one of our young assassin nun trio, Mortal Heart stars Annith, the shy and obedient sister who has been primed to be the abbey’s new seeress.  Annith was never excited about this, as the seeress is kept locked away, isolated even from the rest of the convent.  But with her superior skills at all the other assassin arts, and no sign of actual seeing talents, she had hoped at least to be sent on some missions outside the convent first.  Instead, the abbess – formerly her protector, Sister Etienne – is assigning her to care for the mysteriously ailing seeress, and sending out too-young Matelaine on a mission instead.  Annith’s obedience is put to the test, as she is forced to wonder if Sybille and Ismae’s dark suspicions about the Abbess might be true after all.

It’s only a slight spoiler to say that Annith leaves the convent, because what kind of a story would it be if she didn’t? And once out she meets very interesting people, including the dark, handsome and very troubled leader of lost souls (literally), who ride around the countryside trying to redeem the sins of their living lives.  We also meet, for the first time, the followers of another of the old God-Saints.  The Arduinnites are the daughters of the Goddess-Saint Arduinna, mother to those children born of women scorned or abused by their partners.  These women are skilled at the bow and ride around dressed in leather protecting the innocent.  And there are a lot of innocents in need of protection, as the French army is closing in on the young Duchess Anne, raiding the countryside on their way, and even her mercenaries are starting to turn against her as she runs out of money to pay them.  Into this mess rides Annith, trying to find her missing young convent sister, as well as Sybella and Ismae.

I was very happy to spend more time with both of them in this book as well – it’s always a bit sad when a series like this completely drops the old beloved characters in favor of new.  This felt like a decently satisfying balance, even as the focus stays squarely on Annith.  Things in the decended-from-Gods department do get a bit squicky at times, but I guess that’s what you expect when Gods start having children with mortals.  And – more like the first than the second book here – the international politics are very important to the plot, making this just as appealing for fans of political and historical fantasy as for romantic fantasy fans.  It’s top-notch stuff, and I recommend it highly to adult as well as teen readers.

Last month Tansy Raynor Roberts had this great post at SF Signal about how we keep collectively forgetting that women fantasy authors aren’t new.  She said, among other things, that Katherine Kurtz started the historical fantasy genre, and is not really credited for it.  I’ve talked about my love for Katherine Kurtz before and, now that I think about it, her Deryni novels might very well appeal to fans of this series – magic and dangerous politics with some romance in a solid historical setting.  Thanks also to Maureen at By Singing Light for her thoughts on remembering authors.  Following the assassin link might also take you to the more recent Death Sworn by Leah Cypess.

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The Talented Clementine

I hope everyone is recovering from Independence Day and Canada Day celebrations! I had a couple of days off of work and spent them busy with family and friends – a good time.

I listened to Clementine with my son when he was young.  I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make much of an impression with him, not being Epic Fantasy, and it looks like I never reviewed it.  Fast-forward five years or so, and my daughter loves stories with girls a little bit older than she is getting into trouble.  We started with the second in the series, because her teacher had already read the class the first book.

The Talented ClementineThe Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker. Performed by Jessica Almasy. Recorded Books, 2007.
Eight-year-old Clementine is dismayed when it’s announced that every child in her class and the grade above is going to be required to participate in a talent show.  She knows she’s good at drawing, but that isn’t something she can do on a stage.  Every time she asks an adult about it, either to get out of the talent show or for help figuring out what she’s good at, they are no help at all.  Margaret, her frenemy from the apartment building, who takes lessons in something for every letter of the alphabet and excels at them all, only makes Clementine feel worse about herself.  She takes to excusing herself from class frequently to talk to the principal, Mrs. Rice, who eventually does figure out exactly what Clementine’s talent is.

Clementine is wonderfully sure of herself even in this awkward situation.  Her vibrant, caring personality shines through, even as she consistently has trouble with things like sitting still in class.  I loved the way her questions to adults follow the thoughts going on in her head but come out as something where an adult reader, at least, can tell that the answer isn’t really going to answer her underlying question.  For example, she goes around asking adults what she’s good at, without explaining that it’s for a talent show, so that when they tell her she’s good at entertaining her little brother or clipping the grass, they don’t understand why she’s so frustrated.  She also has a great relationship with her little brother, at turns affectionate and frustrated.  She never calls him by his real name, but instead comes up with an ever-changing array of vegetable names for him, to match her own fruit name.  There’s a great range of emotion here, too, from laugh-out-loud funny (even for the hardened ten-year-old boy) to moments that made me tear up.

Jessica Almasy does a pitch-perfect narration here, with her voice sound appropriately child-like without being stereotyped.  We haven’t looked at the print books, but I really should, as they’re illustrated by Marla Frazee, one of my favorite illustrators.  They are just long enough that we have them in youth fiction rather than early chapter books, but they’re all still under 200 pages each and so good for the beginning chapter book reader.

The series continues with these books which we have also listened to:

Clementine’s Letter – in which Clementine is supposed to write a letter to support her beloved teacher, Mr. D’Matz, taking the rest of the year off to travel to Egypt.  The trouble is, Clementine doesn’t want him to leave – and she certainly doesn’t like the new substitute, whose rules are new and impossible to guess.

Clementine: Friend of the Week – in which Clementine is convinced that her classmates will have nothing to write about in her “friend of the week” booklet unless she does something special.  The only problem is that her ideas for special things keep getting her in trouble.  And then her beloved kitten, Moisturizer, goes missing.  The normally odious Margaret redeems herself in this book.

Clementine and the Family Meeting – her parents call a family meeting, but won’t tell her what it’s about, not realizing the torture they’re causing.  It turns out to be news that they think is happy and that Clementine doesn’t at all.

And these which we have not yet:
Clementine and the Spring Trip – but I’m taking it home from work today for our next car audiobook (along with Magic Tree House #50)

Completely Clementine – the series closer, and one which I’ve heard good things about, including from my blogging friend Jen over at Jen Robinson’s Book Page.

This series pairs well with Ramona, Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, and Lulu.

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Bone Gap

Oh, look! One of my top ten books of the year so far. Once again, I loved it so much I’m not sure that my review will do it justice… but as lots of other people have loved it as well, you can check out their reviews as well – try By Singing Light, Random Musings of a Bibliophile , and the Book Smugglers

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby. Performed by Dan Bittner. HarperCollins, 2015.
Roza, a botany student from Poland, mysteriously showed up in the farming town of Bone Gap, Illinois.  There she was adopted by Finn and Sean, two brothers who had been abandoned in their turn.  And then she vanished again.  Finn claimed that he saw her being kidnapped – but he is generally considered dreamy and unreliable, so no one believes him, especially as he can’t describe the kidnapper.  His older brother is too heartbroken to try looking.

But Roza was kidnapped.  The story goes back and forth in time and in perspective, looking at Roza’s history before she arrived in Bone Gap, the kidnapping from her point of view and the man who offers her everything to stay with him: wealth, beautiful clothes, houses and food – everything except her freedom.  We see Finn and Sean as young boys, experience a blossoming romance between Finn and Petey (short for Priscilla), the “ugly” girl in town, and are heartbroken as Finn and Sean’s close relationship falls apart in the face of Roza’s disappearance.

With its beautiful prose and focus on relationships, it could be realistic literary fiction – Sean and most of the residents of Bone Gap certainly think they’re living in a world without magic.  But ancient and mythic magic is woven into the fabric of Bone Gap, and Roza’s kidnapper is more than mortal.  Finn and Roza are both taken out of the world they have grown up knowing as real, and into one whose rules are new and strange and must be learned over again.

It could also have been a classic damsel in distress story – but Sean, in love with Roza, is too shattered at being abandoned again to do anything to rescue her, and Roza will rescue Finn just as much as he rescues her.  Besides having strong characters in peril that kept me up at night worrying for them, this is also a meditation on beauty and its worth, from Roza’s beautiful face that ends up causing her so much grief to Petey’s supposed ugliness.  It’s done in a way that allows both Roza and Petey to be more than their faces without denying their reality.  It also looks at small-town life and the way people can know each other’s stories without really knowing each other.  That’s a lot of literary depth for a story where things actually happen and people behave like real people.  Luminous and dark at the same time.  Dan Bittner did a great job of reading, making this an extra-good choice for audiobook fans. Go read it if you haven’t already, and share your thoughts if you have.

This is giving me similar feels to Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, probably more from the writing style than the settings, which are quite different.

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Top 10 Favorites of 2015

Top Ten TuesdayOnce again, I feel the siren call to join in with Top 10 Tuesday, hosted as always by the fabulous folks at The Broke and Bookish.  Perhaps taking a few minutes to look back at my favorites from the first half of 2015 will make it seem less like the year is rushing away from me.   It was really hard to come up with this list.  Sure, my spreadsheet of books I’ve read for this year includes top-secret number ratings, but as more than 20 books (of 129) came up for my top ratings, I had to do significant pruning.

And now, on to the list:

Bone GapBone Gap by Laura Ruby – Beautiful, magical, thought-provoking.

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson “The mix of universal and particular is seductive, and I found myself pushing to read just one more poem until I reached the end. “

castlehangnail

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon – Spot-on middle grade humor with surprising depth.

The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black “This is Holly Black in top form, mingling modern-day concerns seamlessly with the old legends into something compelling and darkly beautiful.”

detectivesassistant

The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan – I do love a good historical adventure, and this one was delightful.

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag by Hilary McKay – I haven’t kept up with reviewing this series, but I’ve been loving reading them with my daughter.

Story of Owen

The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston “The Viking traditions brought into the modern day and combined with sort of normal high school social issues was an intoxicating combination.” – but I loved the central importance of music as well.

stranger

Stranger by Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown “ This is one that I loved so much that I’m pretty sure my review can’t do it justice”

thrillingadventures

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua – Padua imagines in graphic novel detail a world in which Lovelace didn’t die prematurely, but instead went on to help Babbage actually finish his Analytical Engine.  With lots of silliness, much of it cribbed from reality.

winnerscurse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski “Romeo and Juliet had it easy.”

What have been your favorite books this year?

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