Stacking the Shelves (127)

Stacking the Shelves

I love our cats. I really do. Even when, sometimes especially when, they sit on my morning newspaper or try to get between my eyes and my iPad. That’s adorable. Howsomever, Mellie peed on my clothes last night. (No, I wasn’t wearing them, but still…) It’s moments like this that make me ask, “Why was that again?” in reference to the question, “Why do we keep them around?” But then someone does something cute and the whole thing is self-explanatory.

mellie face on box
Mellie being cute


But someone still needs to explain to my why Mellie only does this to my clothes, and never Galen’s clothes. it’s a mystery.

Of course I’d much rather read than do laundry. But needs must.

For Review:
17 Carnations by Andrew Morton
The Case of the Invisible Dog (Shirley Homes #1) by Diane Stingley
Hard as a Rock (Gargoyles #3) by Christine Warren
Idol of Blood (Looking Glass Gods #2) by Jane Kindred
The Irish Brotherhood by Helen O’Donnell
Last First Snow (Craft Sequence #4) by Max Gladstone
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
Master Thieves by Stephen Kurkjian
Night of the Highland Dragon (Highland Dragons #3) by Isabel Cooper
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed edited by Meghan Daum
Sharp Shootin’ Cowboy (Hot Cowboy Nights #3) by Victoria Vane
Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville
The Thunder of Giants by Joel Fishbane
Zack (Cold Fury Hockey #3) by Sawyer Bennett

Purchased from Amazon:
Neanderthal Seeks Human (Knitting in the City #1) by Penny Reid

Borrowed from the Library:
Butcher’s Hill (Tess Monaghan #3) by Laura Lippman
In a Strange City (Tess Monaghan #6) by Laura Lippman
The Last Place (Tess Monaghan #7) by Laura Lippman

Review: Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely

cranky ladies of history by tansy rayner roberts and tehani wesselyFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, hardcover
Genre: short story collection
Length: 320 pages
Publisher: FableCroft Publishing
Date Released: March 7, 2015
Purchasing Info: Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Website, Tehani Wesseley’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Warriors, pirates, murderers and queens…

Throughout history, women from all walks of life have had good reason to be cranky. Some of our most memorable historical figures were outspoken, dramatic, brave, feisty, rebellious and downright ornery.

Cranky Ladies of History is a celebration of 22 women who challenged conventional wisdom about appropriate female behaviour, from the ancient world all the way through to the twentieth century. Some of our protagonists are infamous and iconic, while others have been all but forgotten under the heavy weight of history.

Sometimes you have to break the rules before the rules break you.

My Review:

I think this book is titled Cranky Ladies of History because “Angry Women of History” doesn’t put the same smile on your face, the one that would open wallets for a successful Pozible crowdfunding campaign. (I would have helped fund the thing if I had heard about it sooner. But I didn’t. So I bought the book instead.)

March is Women’s History Month, which makes this a perfect time to review a book that covers the gamut of women’s history, from the point of view of women who were angry enough to buck the rules that are supposed to keep women high up on a pedestal where they can’t get shit done.

The historical women in these stories kicked ass and took names. Sometimes literally, sometimes just figuratively. They are individually and collectively awesome, even if they are not all familiar.

Cranky Ladies of History is a short story collection built around this central theme – stories of women who did not just sit back quietly and bear whatever got thrown at them. Usually the throwing was done by men, but not always.

Like most short story collections, it isn’t all of uniform quality or interest to any reader, including this one. I loved the theme, and at least liked most of the stories. There were a couple that were far enough outside of my own cultural bailiwick that I would have loved a longer treatment of the person – I just didn’t know enough to feel like I got all of the context, but there were only a couple of stories that really didn’t engage me.

The collection is bookended by two stories about the daughters of Henry VIII, both of whom had more than enough reasons to be angry at their father, his court, the machinations of politics and pretty much everything else.

Queenside by Liz Barr is about Mary, later Queen Mary I, also sometimes known as Bloody Mary for her religious purges. This little gem takes place much earlier, where she manages to give a right proper comeuppance to the woman who stole her mother’s throne and her life. As Anne Boleyn is on her way down, Mary puts her in her place and rises above her, all at the same time. It was fascinating to see the exchange from Mary’s perspective, because history has seldom been kind to her.

The last story is Glorious by Faith Mudge, and it is Elizabeth I’s point of view. Elizabeth, later called Gloriana, was at one of the lowest points in her life, when her sister condemned her to the Tower because of a rebellion that was fomented in her name. The question was always whether or not Elizabeth had been an active participant in the treason. This story takes place in 1554, and we see Elizabeth’s private thoughts as she prays to live long enough to take the throne. She is frightened and resolute, while calculating the best way to save herself and her supporters.

Two of my other favorite stories also take place in England, or are at least about English nobility. The Company of Women by Garth Nix is a marvelous and fantastic reinterpretation of the Lady Godiva story. Little Battles by L.M. Myles gives us the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine late in her incredible life, giving lessons in queenship to her granddaughter on their way to the younger woman’s betrothal to the King of France. Eleanor reflects on her life, her journeys, and most especially, her part in the war between her husband and her sons.

The Pasha, the Girl and the Dagger by Havva Murat is a wonderful story of a woman warrior who has to navigate the games within games of her father’s court. It was great to see a story where the female wins everything, including her father’s approval, by defying the stereotypes that define women’s roles in her society.

All the women features in this collection defy stereotypes, and often defy their society. They are not all heroines – Elizabeth Bathory is known to history as one of the first serial killers. Even those women in this collection who are mostly fable are totally fascinating.

Escape Rating A-: All the stores in this collection were at least interesting, and I can’t always say that about a short story collection. Bathory’s story gave me chills, but then, it was supposed to.

proud taste for scarlet and miniver by el konigsburgI did mostly love the English history stories the best, but that’s a personal thing – I read a lot of English history in high school and college, and still find it interesting. Eleanor of Aquitaine was an incredible woman. I still fondly remember reading A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver eons ago.

But the stories overall show the power of women, not just individually but also in concert (The Company of Women does this well). So often, we stand together or we fall together. And we fall separately.

It says something about society that the phrase “Cranky Ladies” gets a smile and a laugh, but “Angry Women” is a turn off, and of a considerably larger scale than “Angry Men”. It is still a truth that men are allowed to get angry, where women’s anger is denigrated or dismissed outright.

On the other hand, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich so succintly said in 1976, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” The stories in this collection all feature women who did not behave well according to the rules of their society, but they all got shit done.

Reviewer’s Note: if you are interested in how this collection came to be, the creators did a terrific “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever earlier this month.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-15-15

Sunday Post

color of magic by terry pratchettAs far as reviewing books goes, it was a damn good week until the announcement of Terry Pratchett’s death. I had been feeling a bit guilty that I wasn’t quite caught up in the Discworld, but now – it just means that I have a few more treats left to enjoy before I run out. I discovered the Discworld during the period when I had a long commute and went through a lot of audiobooks. My first exposure was a recording of The Color of Magic. The world has never looked the same since. I am forever grateful for the concept of “the other leg of the trousers of time” which makes me smile and feels amazingly true all at the same time. I use the phrase (possibly a bit too) often.

And if these things come in threes, it’s going to be pretty awful. After losing both Nimoy and Pratchett, just the thought of who might be third gives me the shakes.

Back to the current crop of books. If you enjoy historical mysteries at all, you will love the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. I mean it.

Current Giveaways:

The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan is Anne.

leaving everything most loved by jacqueline winspearBlog Recap:

B Review: The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley + Giveaway
A- Review: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
A Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
B+ Review: Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
A Review: A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
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Coming Next Week:

Lucky-Leprechaun-Hop-2015Guest Post by Author Blair McDowell + Giveaway
Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop
A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear (blog tour review)
Cowboy Heaven by Cheryl Brooks (blog tour review)
Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison (review)
Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely (review)

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Stacking the Shelves

220px-10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1For anyone who hasn’t seen the news, this is the second week in a row where the science fiction and fantasy world has lost someone near and dear. On Thursday, Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, died of complications from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 66, which is much, much too young. He left behind a legacy of fascinating, bizarre and humorous views of our world, as told through the lens of his Discworld series. His last tweets tell a story of Death from the Discworld coming for him. And of course Death came for him personally, because in the Discworld, Death always comes in person to escort wizards to whatever is beyond.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a wizard.

For Review:
Cold Iron (Malorum Gates #1) by Stina Leicht
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Deepest Poison (Clockwork Dagger #0.5) by Beth Cato
Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1) by M.J. Arlidge
The Marriage Season (Brides of Bliss County #3) by Linda Lael Miller
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Tin Men by Christopher Golden
To the Stars by George Takei
The Virgin’s Daughter (Tudor Legacy #4) by Laura Andersen

Purchased from Amazon:
Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs #6) by Jacqueline Winspear
Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs #2) by Jacqueline Winspear
Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
An Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9) by Jacqueline Winspear
An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5) by Jacqueline Winspear
A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs #8) by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs #7) by Jacqueline Winspear
Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear

Borrowed from the Library:
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

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Stacking the Shelves

In my template for Stacking the Shelves, I have “XXX” to mark the place of my commentary. I live in fear that one Saturday I’m going to publish the post with that “XXX” still in place. And I have had Saturdays when the “XXX” was more cogent than anything I might otherwise say. Hopefully this isn’t one of them.

After finishing Hush Hush by Laura Lippman earlier this week and loving it, I decided that I wanted to read the middle books in her Tess Monaghan series. So I went a bit crazy with the library ebook site, or I tried to. I have access to two local libraries, one because I live in the district, and the big one next door because I pay for it. One problem, and its a big one. My local library has had some serious funding issues over the years, so their collection is not as robust as I would like. The big library next door does a much better job (they have a much bigger budget) but I can only check out 5 ebooks at a time. And since I can’t return ebooks early, this is a serious limitation for me. Also drives me crazy. I understand that usage is greater than can be supported, and that everyone is looking for ways to keep from breaking the bank, but 5 is just too low of a limit. At least for this volume consumer.

C’est la (in this case slightly frustrating) vie.

For Review:
All the Wild that Remains by David Gessner
A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Claimed (Servants of Fate #2) by Sarah Fine
Cowboy Heaven (Cowboy Heaven #1) by Cheryl Brooks
The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
Grave Phantoms (Roaring Twenties #3) by Jenn Bennett
Hissing Cousins by Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer
How to Catch a Russian Spy by Naveed Jamali and Ellis Henican
Keepers by Richard Schickel
Lion Heart (Scarlet #3) by A.C. Gaughen
The Lost Boys Symphony by Mark Andrew Ferguson
Marked (Servants of Fate #1) by Sarah Fine
The Mechanical (Alchemy War #1) by Ian Tregillis
Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
Shadow Ritual by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne
Ten Windows by Jane Hirshfield
Unchained Memory by Donna S. Frelick

Purchased from Amazon:
Cowboy Delight (Cowboy Heaven #0.5) by Cheryl Brooks
Her Best Mistake by Donna McDonald

Borrowed from the Library:
Another Thing to Fall (Tess Monaghan #10) by Laura Lippman
Charm City (Tess Monaghan #2) by Laura Lippman
The Girl in the Green Raincoat (Tess Monaghan #11) by Laura Lippman
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
In Big Trouble (Tess Monaghan #4) by Laura Lippman
The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
The Sugar House (Tess Monaghan #5) by Laura Lippman

Stacking the Shelves (120)

Stacking the Shelves

As you read this, I am at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference, which is being held in Chicago. While voluntarily going to Chicago in January may seem strange, it could be worse. Last year the conference was in Philadelphia. We may be cold in Chicago, but we’re not snowed in. Or out.

Actually out might not have been so bad. It is way warmer back home in Atlanta than it is in Chicago in January. Oh well, the June conference is in San Francisco. But then again, there’s that famous Mark Twain quote: “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”

For Review:
Behind Closed Doors (DCI Louisa Smith #2) by Elizabeth Haynes
The Belles of Williamsburg edited by Mary Maillard
Below the Belt (Worth the Fight #3) by Sidney Halston
BiblioTech by John Palfrey
The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley
The Diamond Conspiracy (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #4) by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes
The Kill Shot (Jamie Sinclair #2) by Nichole Christoff
Never Too Late by Robyn Carr
The Poser by Jacob Rubin
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Purchased from Amazon:
Against the Cage (Worth the Fight #1) by Sidney Halston
Full Contact (Worth the Fight #2) by Sidney Halston
Kingston 691 (Cyborgs: Mankind Redefined #2) by Donna McDonald

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-11-15

Sunday Post

It’s Sunday and it’s freezing – do you know how your pipes are doing? We’ve lived in both Anchorage and Chicago, so it is always amusing to hear people get freaked when the temperature just drops into the 20s for a day or two someplace that normally has much better weather in the winter. (The first time I heard a freeze warning in Florida I had to pull my car over, I was laughing so hard).

But isn’t all this cold weather a perfect time to curl up with a good cat and a great book? Or the other way around, just ask the cat.

Current Giveaways:

$25 Gift Card + a copy of The Yankee Club by Michael Murphy

dirty deeds by rhys fordBlog Recap:

B Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
B+ Review: All that Glitters by Michael Murphy + Giveaway
A Review: Dirty Deeds by Rhys Ford
A Review: Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts
B+ Review: Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford
Stacking the Shelves (117)



dreaming-of-books-2015Coming Next Week:

After the War is Over by Jennifer Robson (blog tour review)
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (review)
Windy City Blues by Marc Krulewitch (blog tour review
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (review)
Dreaming of Books Giveaway Hop
City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin (blog tour review)

Review: Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts

DIGGING_FOR_RICHARD_III_jkt_USrev_FINAL_Scala.inddFormat read: hardcover provided by the publisher
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: nonfiction, history, archaeology
Length: 208 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Date Released: November 11, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In 2012, archaeologists found the grave of Richard III. Its sight had been unknown for centuries. The quest had taken years of preparation followed by intensive archaeological study and almost no one had expected a result. As the astonishing story of hte discovery emerged, millions watched around the world.

First came the news that archaeologists were searching for a king in a parking lot. Next it was said they had located the church where Richard had been buried. Finally it was annoucned that a skeleton with a curved spine and battle wounds had been found and was thought to be that of Richard. Archaeologists urged caution as media frenzy led to questions in Parliament. The scientific consensu came early in 2013. All the studies, including analysis of anatomy, DNA, high-resolution scanning and a digital facial reconstruction, led to the conclusion that the skeleton was indeed Richard III, England’s most disputed monarch and the probable murderer of the Princes in the Tower.

The events of Richard III’s reign and his death in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth are known worldwide, amde popular by Shakespeare’s most performed, filmed and translated history play. Digging for Richard III is the page-turning story of how his grave was found and the people behind the discovery. It is the first complete narrative of a project that blended passion, science, luck and detection. Told by a noted archaeologist with access to all the parties involved, it follows the quest from an idea born in an Edinburgh bookshop to the day, fourteen years later, when two archaeologists carefully raised the bones from the parking lot in Leicester, and the scientific studies that resulted.

The vivid tale of a king, his demise and his rediscovery, this is also an insider’s gripping account of how modern archaeology, forensics and the meticulous analysis of clues can come together to create a narrative worthy of the finest detective fiction.

My Review:

I could just say that this is the story of an archaeological dig, and while that would be correct, it wouldn’t really cover the book or the impact of the story behind it. I could also say that this is the story of one person following their dream and making it happen, no matter how many times people tell her it is impossible.

What this is definitely NOT is a story about the King Richard who is the dastardly villain of Shakespeare’s play Richard III. The play has played its part in keeping the story of Richard alive, it is not history, but is almost entirely fictional-while this slim volume tells a true story about a woman and an organization that did not believe the conjectured tales, and a group of archaeologists who discovered the find of a lifetime.

Even though this is not about the Shakespeare play, or even the Shakespearean version of the villain, the author used the device of presenting the story in “Acts,” very much like a play.

daughter of time newThe prologue is where the author sets the stage, in this case providing a brief but informative chapter about the historical Richard III. Not the conjecture, but what is actually known, and why there isn’t all that much. For a fascinating but fictional representation of the case, read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (reviewed here). Tey was a Ricardian almost before the term existed, believing (and convincingly presenting) the case that Richard was not the villain Shakespeare and subsequent Tudor biographers made him.

The Ricardian perspective is important, because the Richard III Society (Ricardians all) provided half of the funding for the dig that found his bones. They believed that the skeleton would lay to rest some of the myths. Whether it did or did not, history will be the judge.

But Digging for Richard III isn’t so much about the king as it is about the effort to find his missing body, with some interesting side-notes about the difference between legends and verifiable facts. So this is a real treasure hunt with a fascinating hunt through time and car parks.

There are three parts to the story – the belief by Philippa Langley that the body must still be under Leicester somewhere, along with her search for an organization that could conduct the dig. Following that, there is the archaeological study itself, including the historical search to narrow the location of where the grave might be, the debunking of the myths that claimed there was no longer a grave to find, and the actual dig itself. Last, but certainly not least in terms of time or expense, the methods used to determine whether the bones that they found in the car park belonged to the man they were hunting for.

For anyone with even a passing interest in urban archaeology, British history in general or Richard III in particular, or just in historical treasure hunts, this book is an absolute delight.

Reality Rating A: Count me among the delighted. I originally read The Daughter of Time in my teens, and was converted to the Ricardian perspective then. It makes more sense than the later Tudor narratives, especially including the one that claimed that Richard was so evil that his mother was pregnant with him for 2 whole years. In the 1500s, they might not have known precisely how babies were conceived at the molecular level, but there was plenty of experiential evidence that pregnancy only lasts 9 months, give or take. I’m certain that the idea of a 2 year pregnancy probably scares a lot of mothers half to death, but any history that repeated that particular bit of demagoguery is questionable at best.

What is fascinating was how pervasive the myths were, and how many of them had accreted over time out of absolutely nothing except a desire to “pile on”. The events that occurred before Richard’s hasty burial were all meticulously recorded, but the fate of his coffin was lost to the mists of time, and then assumed to have been dug up and discarded during the Victorian era building spree in Leicester, if not before.

So there is a lot of myth debunking, as the archaeologists have to first search for whether the burial might exist, and then where the building it was purported to have occurred in might be under 21st century Leicester. Those same archaeologists never expected to find the body, because archaeology doesn’t work like that. They were just hoping to find the lost church the body was supposed to be in.

bones of richard IIIThey found the body on the first day, and had no idea that they had found it. The amount of red tape involved when a dig finds human remains delayed the exhumation, and when it finally happened, everyone was focused somewhere else.

The story of how the determination was made that the bones in the car park really did belong to the (very) late king have all the drama of an episode of Bones or CSI. Every tool of forensic archaeology and crime scene forensics was brought into play to determine who the bones belonged to when they were alive..

There was a court case that fought over who owned the bones now that they’ve been exhumed. It wasn’t quite as big a war as the one Richard died in, but it was close.

Now all someone needs to do is figure out what really happened to the Princes in the Tower, and the complete historical mystery will finally be solved.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

secret history of wonder woman by jill leporeFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: nonfiction
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Knopf
Date Released: October 28, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of one of the world’s most iconic superheroes hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism

Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.

Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman’s creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth—he invented the lie detector test—lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women’s rights—a chain of events that begins with the women’s suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.

My Review:

Wonder Woman has often been presented as an icon of feminism. Admittedly, she looks like feminism for the male gaze, with her abbreviated and skin-tight uniform of bustier and increasingly short shorts, but the principles that she espouses, at least when she is being drawn by someone who cares, are generally considered feminist.

If Wonder Woman’s history in the comic books is often convoluted, as DC Comics continually revises, retcons and retools the origin stories for their superheroes, the story of how she was created was possibly even stranger.

There’s also an amount of “small world” feeling that surrounds her creation. She was created by a man who believed that what he was propagating were first-wave feminist values, in spite of the life he lived being something rather different. At the same time, everyone seems to have known everyone. There’s a weird straight line between the creation of Wonder Woman and the invention of the birth control pill. In this history, that line has a couple of kinks in it.

Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston in 1942 during the Golden Age of comic books. Marston’s life was somewhat of a comic book all by itself, but no one seems to have been aware of it at the time, including his children. That’s part of what made this story so fascinating.

In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Marston lived at the head of an extremely unconventional household. His wife, Sadie Holloway, embodied the feminist principles that he inserted into Wonder Woman. She was the primary breadwinner, working at the executive level in various industries, including insurance, and was also an editor.

In addition to supporting Marston and their children, Sadie was also supporting the other woman in Marston’s life, Olive Byrne Richard, and the two children Marston had with her. In return for her involvement in this unusual arrangement, Olive Byrne became the caretaker for Holloway’s children with Marston in addition to her own.

Olive Byrne was the niece of Margaret Sanger, the famous (sometimes infamous) birth control advocate, so Marston knew Sanger.

Marston was also the originator of the lie-detector test, even though his design was not the one that went into widespread use.

The story in The Secret History of Wonder Woman is not a publication history of the comic, although there is a bit of that. Instead, it is a biography of the eccentric group of people who made the original Wonder Woman, and a fascinating look at how their unconventional lives and Marston’s unusual psychological theories about love and dominance made their way into the iconic character of Wonder Woman.

Reality Rating B: This is one of those stories that can only be true, because an attempt to fictionalize it would run past anyone’s willing suspension of disbelief.

As narrative, it takes a while to get into, but the journey is definitely worth the ride. At least partially because it’s such a surprise.

Marston certainly believed that the ideas he was promoting in Wonder Woman were aligned with first-wave feminism. After reading this book, I can’t say that I believe it, but I can see that he did. He also had a lot of very strange theories about the power of love and submission both being ultimately stronger than violence and dominance and being what women really needed. Again, not saying I believe it, or that anyone outside his immediate household believed his theories very long, but he did embody those theories in Wonder Woman.

On that other hand, he used both his wife and his mistress as models for different aspects of Wonder Woman’s personality and some of her costume and gadgetry. It also seems like Wonder Woman is the only thing he managed to succeed at, and the rest of the time he was a supposedly enlightened despot overseeing the household that was maintained for his convenience by his two “wives”.

There was a certain amount of bravery on everyone’s part in living a very unconventional life-style, but it seems as if it mostly benefitted him, which doesn’t seem feminist at all. Marston also used the Wonder Woman narrative as a way of poking none too gentle fun at various academics and officials who had derided his theories in the early part of his career.

Whatever he may have voiced regarding the power of women, Marston described all the many and varied ways in which Wonder Woman gets chained and bound, over and over, with a little too much loving detail to sit comfortably with readers who equate Wonder Woman with feminism. It feels like a disconnect between what he said and what he did, and one wonders why no one pointed it out at the time.

All in all, the way that Marston’s real life and theories inserted themselves into Wonder Woman is strangely compelling. The way that first-wave feminism was both promulgated and ultimately rejected by Wonder Woman when it changed hands reflects the change in women’s status after World War II. The backdrop history of the fear of comic books’ influence on children and the rise of censorship is reminiscent of the trials of both television violence and video games that have occurred in more recent times. Some things that have happened before are happening over and over.

This book reads much more like a biography of Marston than a history of Wonder Woman. Still, where those two intersect, and how, is fascinating.

Reviewer’s note: This book is not as long as it initially appears. While reading on my Kindle app, I was 65% completed when the narrative ended and the extensive footnotes began. It’s great to see how well researched the book is, but I thought it had a lot longer to go.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 1-4-15

Sunday Post

It’s still a wonderful time of the year, even if the holidays are over. The days are getting longer again, and the weather should be getting better in a couple of months. While it is still surprisingly warm here in Atlanta, I remember January as being the worst month of the year in too many places I’ve lived. The days were very short, often very cold, and everything was gray and gloomy. But hey, it’s already January 4, so there are only 27 days left in the month.

SFRQ Issue5-CoverLooking ahead to next week, I know that The Secret History of Wonder Woman has been on my “coming next week” list three weeks in a row. I’ve actually finished it this time and it was fascinating. Also about 35% of the length of the book is in the footnotes, so it was a bit shorter than I was expecting, too.

And for all you science fiction romance lovers out there, the latest edition of the Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly was released on December 31, 2014. All new articles, stories and reviews (some by yours truly). Kaz and Company put together another fabulous treat for SFR readers.

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Christmas Wonder Giveaway Hop is Rose S.

phoenix rising by corrina lawsonBlog Recap:

B+ Review: Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake
14 for 14: My Best Books of the Year
A- Review: Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson
New Year’s Day 2015
15 for 15: My Most Anticipated Books for 2015
Stacking the Shelves (116)




all that glitters by michael murphyComing Next Week:

Dirty Deeds (Cole McGinnis #4) by Rhys Ford (review)
All That Glitters by Michael Murphy (blog tour review)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore (review)
Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts (review)
Down and Dirty by Rhys Ford (review)