What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year

February is Women In Horror Month, so I thought I’d talk a bit about having read 44 books last year all by women authors. These 44 books were not all within the horror genre, but because this is a month celebrating underrepresented authors in an underappreciated genre, I’m squeezing this post in 🙂

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So, 44 books all by women. What trends did I see? What was evident when reading only women authors that might not be evident when reading between genders? What was surprising or disappointing? The answer to all of these questions, folks, is nothing. That’s right.

I had gone into this endeavor thinking that, perhaps–and yes, I know I expose my own bias here–I would read a lot of romance, regardless of genre. This is partly because I lean toward these types of stories, but also, even when I intentionally pick up something that doesn’t feature an epic romance, I kind of expect it. However, I was mistaken in considering, for even a moment, that romance is at the core of most novels by women.

The goal of this post is to reinforce that authors are authors and books are books, and we shouldn’t be dividing them by the “types of books women write” versus “the types of books men write”. If anything, last year, reading all female-penned novels (and a book on craft), showed me that to think in such categories falsely represents any author and artist. This tweet from YA author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrates my point.

Though I’m reluctant to even divide these up by genre, I thought I’d review some of the badass reads that stood out last year. Bear in mind, I only read a select set of genres; by no means, did I do a sample of every fiction genre.

Standout (Badass) Reads of 2017

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First up is the horror master who resurrected the gothic genre in the 20th century. You may not know this but Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a story by Du Maurier. Both of these books elicited all over body chills. There were a couple scenes in Jamaica Inn that will forever stay with me in my vault of scariest moments while reading. Rebecca was more of an all over eeriness and discomfort, the horror of the psychological. Both of these are horror classics.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This tome was a literary goliath. It was everything I had hoped it would be–intimate portrayals of each larger-than-life character, epic friendships, scholarly atmosphere, and a timeless, mythic feel to the entirety of the story.

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

This was an enjoyable, eye-opening book on the craft of writing. I appreciated the unique approach to showing a writer’s mindset and decision-making process while working on a short story. The three stories were all strong and varied, making it an invaluable addition to any shelf that already bears On Writing by Stephen King.

The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, All the King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

No softness here. Sports, brutality, fatal competition, and hungry hit-men. I was propelled through the series over two feverish weeks. There were a couple times, the events were so gruesome, I had to put the book down. Funny thing is, I have almost no interest in sports, but Sakavic’s descriptions of her fictional sport Exy were riveting.

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi’s dystopian superhero series is so much more than meets the eye in the first book. The series even transcends its genre. In Juliette, the reader experiences this awe-inspiring transformation of a girl, broken by her parents, her dying world, and her government. This series is an impressive psychological study of the effects of war and the war a person can have within herself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

You know this book has made an impact on me, as I’ve talked about it before, in a post about unexpected horror and a round up of my favorite 2017 reads. I recently started listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and I can see how Novik expertly invokes her predecessor in the fantasy genre in Uprooted. This novel is mythic and dark and utterly moving.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A scathingly sharp, perilously witty, modern day bildungsroman–about a young woman, imagine that.

Middle Grade Mavens: Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling.

While both The Song of the Lioness series and the Harry Potter series are listed as YA, Alanna: The First Adventure and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are middle grade novels. I adore that both of these series grow up with the readers; but even for starting so young, neither of these first books shy away from life, death, or violence. As a reader who is oftentimes propelled through story by romance, these series don’t have a heck of a lot of it, but they’re succinctly and thoughtfully plotted, populated with amazing characters, funny, and addictive.

The Brontës

Finally, we cannot forget the indomitable BrontĂ« sisters: Charlotte BrontĂ«’s Villette has been attributed to as the first modernist novel before the term was coined. It is overtly feminist, as its main character is seeking economic independence, but it is also devilishly sensual, fierce, and despairing. Anne BrontĂ«’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only subtly feminist but also presented a dark tale of vice and deception, and an outright battle between innocence and corruption, subjects of which a woman in her day should have no knowledge.


Do you agree that there should be no difference between how we perceive novels by women versus by men? What do you think about this cross-section of epic reads by women? Do you have any of your own to suggest?

Of the Heart: Top 6 Period Romances

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In Becoming Jane, when asked by Ms. Radcliffe what her own novels are about, Jane Austen answers, ‘of the heart’.

Because winter is the time for getting cozy with feel-good movies, I have compiled a list of the six best period romances. Look, when you buy a miniseries on Amazon prime for $4.99 based on an Anne BrontĂ« novel, you automatically qualify to write this post. Here’s a secret about me. I love period romances (romantic novels, movies, or often a BBC miniseries set in a specific time period). Some who have found me through my darker writing may be surprised or even disappointed to learn this about me. To them I say, sorry, not sorry. Just like horror, the romance genre is an emotion, the other extreme of the spectrum, some might say. For those of you wondering why I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year (884 words short!), I was likely watching one of these movies. I recently inhaled all of my favorites yet again in preparation for this post.

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Jane Eyre (2012)

I’ve watched three versions of this, and while I appreciated the 1996 William Hurt/Charlotte Gainsburg version and the 2006 Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens series, my favorite is surely the 2012 Mia Wakowski/Michael Fassbender version. I adore not so much the casting choices–though they balance well–but the director’s vision of Jane Eyre’s inner world and story. Through the movie, Fukunaga felt Jane’s life and translated that into film.

I love the literal darkness of the film. But there is light too, playing together with the shadows to heighten the heroine’s feelings and all that other filmography jargon. In my opinion, the film condenses the novel into the best possible film. Fukunaga takes the novel’s genre–Gothic–to heart. It is also a quiet film to the eye and ear alike, with few bursts of vivid color and an even more subtle score, which I believe do the novel justice. It would be a difficult task indeed to paint color to the fantastical reaches of imagination of Jane Eyre, to capture the vivid scope and breadth of her feelings would be nigh impossible. This version toned Jane down a bit to fit the somber aspect of the film. Somber as it is, it is a masterpiece.

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Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Matthew Macfadyen is such a good balance between brooding and attentive. Elizabeth, as portrayed by Kiera Knightley, alternates between light and airy and heavy and pensive. The actors all have a great chemistry (except for Wickham, in my opinion) and the director had a good instinct for playing with that chemistry. It bubbles off the screen. There’s a lot of humor in this imagining, which I appreciated, but the dark revelations of  Austen’s social commentary laid out in her novels is also acknowledged. Purists would love the more comprehensive BBC miniseries staring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but the 2007 film has a bit of a different effect, and executes it well in the shorter amount of time. With a lively cast and of course a lovely score, director Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice is a light-hearted but moving film.

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North & South (1995)

Score, people, score! The music in this is guaranteed to spark your feels. Besides that, Richard Armitage. Is there any other reason you need? John Thornton, Armitage’s character, is brutal and sharp as a knife, an antihero to be sure. Daniel Denby-Ashe’s soft, dewy portrayal of Margaret Hale is perfect (those names kill me); I’ve just started reading the novel and am struck at how well Denby-Ashe fits the role. The same director who did Downton Abbey also did this older series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. This miniseries has it all: class distinctions, a whopping roster of deaths, new mill owners versus cotton workers and the union, military crime, mistaken first impressions.  North & South explores the lives of cotton workers in the factories of northern England, the rise of unions, and the way of life for the elite class in the idyllic south versus the working class in the northern, more populated cities. See? Educational and squee-worthy.

Persuasion

Persuasion (2007)

The  casting of Sally Hawkins as Anne is pure perfection. This film is a emotional and immersive (see: score), thrusting you into Anne’s silent observing  plight, befitting of the novel’s depths. Charlotte BrontĂ« was quoted in saying of Jane Austen:

“She ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death–this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast.” 

C.B. you know you’re my girl, right? Like, I hold you in higher esteem than Jane, but you must have missed this gem of Austen’s, because Anne’s situation is heart-wrenching, and this movie conveys that so well. That quiet suffering, her self-imposed penance to meekly accept her lot, to not think she has the right to fight back. Miss BrontĂ« would have never laid such a charge on Austen, at least against Persuasion, if she had seen the moment Captain Wentworth sees Anne’s strength of character in coming to the aid of the injured Louisa and peaceful acquiescence to her family’s ridiculous behavior. The 2007 adaptation of Persuasion is a handsome, powerful rendering of the novel, but I would advise reading the novel first to fully appreciate it. Since Austen’s most powerful skills are on subtle display in this novel and therefore this adaptation, out of all adaptations of her novels, the novel gives you the most thorough picture.

Wuthering Heights (2011)

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I love Tom Hardy as much as the next person, and his Heathcliff was fun–dark, brooding, bitchy–but this one is bold, savage, and screams indie film, which works for me with this BrontĂ« novel. Director Andrea Arnold beautifully renders this fever dream of a novel in an Emersonian juxtaposition of the brutality and beauty of life with the brutality and beauty of nature. She approached her film depiction of the parent work with an instinctive interpretation of the less than linear novel (amiright?) and more of an emotional and mental mapping of the main characters’ inner worlds. Her instincts, in this regard, were on point. And of course the setting. This film’s setting lives and breathes as a character of its own, interlaced with the breaths Cathy and Heathcliff share on the moors and with the moors. One article says of Arnold’s work with this movie that “most directors force-feed the audience; Arnold leaves them hungry and cold”[1] which I felt the novel did in some regards as well.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

I hate the cover of this movie, therefore you do not get to see it here.

Austen is skilled at taking women in their positions, whatever positions they are in, and revealing how hopeless and dependent upon other people their circumstances sometimes are. I love Emma Thompson’s Elinor in this depiction (to be fair, I’ve never watched another depiction of the novel): her position as head of the family, her strength of character, her delicately balanced hope and ferocity–she is sense incarnate! How she must hold silence in her love of Edward to preserve her reputation even if it tortures her to physical weakness. And Kate Winslet’s portrayal of Marianne’s character arc is flawless. This movie shows the humor of the book and the sweet nature of the romance.

This is truly another novel that Charlotte BrontĂ« did not seem to give enough credit in her critique of Austen; because Austen writes satire and comedy, her novels have a lighter tone than the darker BrontĂ«’s works. But if you can pull back the film of satire and comedy, you can see the suffering women, and men, underneath.

[1] http://musings.oscilloscope.net/post/153871799276/filming-the-unfilmable-on-six-versions-of-emily


Well, there are my top 6 period romances. Have you seen any of these films? Do you agree with or abhor my reviews? Have I–and this is completely blasphemous if I did, and my apologies in advance–forgotten a period romance staple?

Giveaway winners!

My Blogoversary giveaway ended last night at 11:59 PM PST. And the winners are…

Drema Drudge –You won House of Leaves, my most favoritest novel ever! (After reading your most recent post, I think this is perfect for you, you theory-head!)

Annie Neugebauer  –You won The Catcher in the Rye, my most beloved, well-read, old friend of a novel. I hope you like it!

Carie Juettner –You won Jane Eyre, contender for my favorite novel (against Villette) by my favorite author, Charlotte BrontĂ«! I wish I could get a copy with that cover from the previous post…

Congratulations to the winners. Thank you for being part of my blog family, everyone. And for the winners, you will soon be holding three pieces (horcruxes) of my soul. Take good care.

Lastly, it appears my timing could not have been better, as it is also National Booklover’s Day today. Please go tweet a shelfie, make a book recommendation on goodreads, or just go to the library and read something, you bibliophiles!

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Courtesy of BookBub