March is Women's History Month, and tomorrow we'll be celebrating 10 women writers to watch in 2012. But today is all about some of our favorite fictional women.
I bet we can all relate to this feeling: While reading a book, we feel a certain kinship to, or admiration for, a particular heroine. Or maybe we just think she's really fierce.
Keep reading for a list of 10 female heroines* we've especially admired in recent years. Who else should be on this list? Let us know in the comments.
ALICE from True Confections
by Katharine Weber; Crown, 2009
Though I suspect readers are probably most familiar with Katharine Weber's novel about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, my favorite of hers is the darkly hilarious and oddball True Confections, starring Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky. The story (which includes a Virgin Mary chocolate sculpture, a “Bereavemint” line of candies and many more absurdities) is about a family feud that's tearing apart a dysfunctional candy company. Alice, an in-law to the family who has worked her way up to becoming CEO of the company, tells the story via an affidavit. She's an unreliable and kooky guide, but her cut-throat personality only makes the reader root for her success.
ANJALI from Miss New India
by Bharati Mukherjee; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
Miss New India is a coming-of-age story set in Bangalore. Its heroine is Anjali Bose, a rebellious 19 year old who flees an arranged marriage and tries to make her own future away from the provincial low-income life she was born to. Anjali gets a promising job at a call center, but her personal reinvention isn't as simple as just running away from home. This is a fascinating look at contemporary India and a memorable main character with big dreams.
Geraldine Brooks tells a story of crossing boundaries and quiet strength in Caleb’s Crossing. Narrated by Bethia Mayfield, a Puritan minister’s daughter, the novel is based on the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard—in the 1660s. Bethia and Caleb strike up an unlikely friendship, and Bethia manages to use her cleverness to slyly gain knowledge, even though women were denied an education at this time in history. This is a satisfying historical novel told in the voice of a woman with a hungry mind.
DR. SWENSON from State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett; Harper, 2011
Dr. Marina Singh—a scientist at a pharmaceutical company who journeys to the Amazon to figure out why the heck her coworker died on a visit to a research lab—may be the main character of State of Wonder, our favorite novel of 2011. But it is Dr. Annick Swenson, Marina's former mentor, who wins the "best character" award, at least in my book. Not only is Swenson strong, incredibly intelligent and fearless—she'll run scientific tests on herself, if it means she might figure out how a drug works—but her relationship with Marina provides the primary tension in the novel. So many books about women focus on their love lives; we appreciate this look at a complicated relationship based on mutual respect, science and survival.
HANNAH from When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan; Algonquin, 2011
Hillary Jordan's dystopian retelling of The Scarlet Letter offers a worthy successor to Hester Prynne: Hannah Payne, a brave woman who is punished for having an abortion (she is "chromed" and her skin is turned red)—then goes rogue instead of quietly accepting her punishment. This is an exciting story about standing up for your beliefs and challenging those you love most.
MA from Room
by Emma Donoghue; Little, Brown, 2010
Who could forget the protagonist from from BookPage's favorite book of 2010? The mother in Room is placed in an unimaginably horrible situation: She is kidnapped, raped and held captive for years, forced to raise her son within the confines of a single 12 x 12 room. Though part of what makes this novel so memorable is the child narrator (the story is told from five-year-old Jack's perspective), it's Ma's resourcefulness, resilience and fierce love for her child that is truly inspiring and powerful.
MARGO from Once Upon a River
by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Norton, 2011
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River brings to mind a hybrid of Annie Oakley lore and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Set in the 1970s in southwestern Michigan, the novel is about 16-year-old Margo Crane, a brave young woman who sets off alone down the Stark River to find her mother. It takes courage, stubbornness, the ability to wield a rifle and knowledge of the natural world for Margo to survive her quest. Readers will not forget her harrowing journey.
MARINA from The Realm of Hungry Spirits
by Lorraine López; Grand Central, 2011
Lorraine López’s The Realm of Hungry Spirits introduces readers to Marina Lucero, a fierce Latina heroine who longs for peace in a world of chaos. Though spirituality eludes her, Marina opens her home to the broken-hearted and the beaten in San Fernando Valley. Readers will appreciate the life lessons and the friendships depicted in this story, but it is Marina—and her humor, kindness and hungry spirit—that will stick with you long after finishing the novel.
ROSA from A Good American
by Alex George; Amy Einhorn Books, 2012
The character who stuck with me the most from Alex George's epic, heartfelt story of a family who immigrates from Germany to Missouri was Rosa Meisenheimer, the daughter of main characters Frederick and Jetta. She's a misunderstood hypochondriac as a child, then grows to become a chess whiz, joke teller, book lover, crackerjack teacher, keeper of a important secrets—and a joy to read about.
At last, our editors have made their choices for the best children's books of the year, from picture books to middle grade to young adult titles. It wasn't easy to decide, but after we roared our terrible roars, and gnashed our terrible teeth, we settled down long enough to agree on 30 excellent books.
What are your favorite children's books of the year? Let us know in the comments below. You can also click here to enter a contest for a selection of winter/holiday books and, as a bonus, a few titles from the list above. Happy reading!
Today is the pub date of Stephen King's 11/22/63, which is a great novel for fans of time-travel, love stories and books that give you the creepy crawlies.
Maybe it's the fact that I grew up watching my aunts, grandmother and mom cry over the film version of Somewhere in Time, but I have long had a soft spot for time-travel stories. If you finish 11/22/63 hungry for more, check out one of these classics.
1. Time and Again by Jack Finney (1970). In Finney's world, all you need to go back in time is the power of the mind. Just lock yourself in a period-perfect 1882 apartment (reading nothing but the news and books of the day, wearing the clothes, eating the food), and you'll eventually open the door and find yourself in 1882. Talk about an imagination-capturing idea. The swoon-worthy love story is just a bonus. Will someone make a movie of this book already? (Trivia tidbit: King is a fan of this one too, and would have dedicated 11/22/63 to Finney if a baby granddaughter hadn't arrived on the scene...)
2. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (1889). One of my favorite things about time-travel books is the potential for fish-out-of-water humor, and this classic has it in spades. It's the most hilarious look at medieval times until Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
3. The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen (1988). Modern-day teenager Hannah is bored by her Jewish heritage and all the sad stories and ceremonies that mean so much to her parents. That is, until she opens the door during a Seder dinner and finds herself in 1942 Poland, just before the town is rounded up by the Nazis. This heartbreaking story has a lot to say about compassion, respect for history and growing up.
4. Many Waters by Madeline L'Engle (1986). Yes, A Wrinkle in Time is terrific! But there's something about seeing secondary characters Sandy and Dennys finally get their own story that's appealing. The fact that it's a twist on the Noah's Ark story doesn't hurt either; L'Engle is at her best when she's working with biblical themes. Also: angels! unicorns! hot blond twins in tattered outfits on the cover! I'm pretty sure all those things are major reasons I read this to pieces in my tweenage years.
5. Forever by Pete Hamill (2003). OK, so it's not a time-travel novel per se, but it feels like one. Hamill's hero comes to New York from Ireland in 1741, and is cursed/blessed with eternal life by an African priestess—as long as he never leaves Manhattan. He's New England's Forrest Gump, with angst. A brilliant evocation of Manhattan's storied history and a sympathetic tale of a man who must watch everyone he loves die, this is Hamill at his best.
Yep, you've read this post right—there's no mention of The Time-Traveler's Wife! But hey, it's not in my top 5. Maybe it's in yours? If not, what's your favorite time-travel book?
Yesterday we posted a little something on Bristol Palin's memoir, Not Afraid of Life, including an excerpt and a quick summary of what readers might expect in the book.
We then asked readers: Will you be reading Bristol Palin's new memoir?
A roaring wave of responses came back at us (and more keep on coming!) on Facebook and Twitter and had us laughing all day. So naturally, we picked our (and your!) Top 10 favorite reader responses. Enjoy!
1. "Sure, just let me finish lighting my face on fire." - Zach
2. "Would rather clean toilets with my tongue." - Jennifer
3. "Sure, right after I finish Snooki's book." - April
4. "I stopped reading children's books decades ago!" - Cherie
5. "Or will I be afraid of life after reading the book...?" - @NYUPress
6. "I have so many other things to do first--like watch grass grow." - Bev
7. "Waste of a tree's life." - Amanda
8. "Sure! Right after I have a lobotomy." - Victoria
9. "Can the Palins write books? We know they don't read them!" - Tracy
and last but not least, a cheerful:
10. "All of these comments make me happy." - Rachel
So according to, oh, everyone we know on the Internet, a self-taught biblical scholar says the world is ending on Saturday, and a whole lot of people (though not necessarily their families!) believe him.
I suppose we'll find out the truth in due time (I had some ice cream this afternoon just in case), but whether or not the end of the world is nigh, post-apocalyptic literature definitely is. This week's top 10 list highlights our favorite books in the genre from the past 10 years, from the obvious to the obscure:
What's your favorite end-of-the-world novel?
Several of you requested a Top 10 list of short story collections back when I asked what "best" lists you want to see.
So, here are 10 collections BookPage strongly recommends, ordered alphabetically. Read 'em from beginning to end, or read them in bite-sized pieces. That's what I love about story collections. They're perfect when you don't have time to read a whole book, or you want the satisfaction of a beginning, middle and end in a short period of time.
In Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans takes as her subject people in transition: adolescents, children split between divorced parents, college graduates drifting between partners and jobs. Moral ambiguity is explored beautifully in the best of these stories as well as the deeply felt moments of choice and regret. (Keep reading this review.)
In Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, Yiyun Li explores the big themes—individuality, honor, family ties and love—and sets them against a richly detailed tapestry of Chinese life. Though each story takes place in modern-day China, they are formally rigorous and crafted with an elegance that harkens back to stylists like Chekhov and William Trevor. (Keep reading this review.)
Kelly Link's second short story collection is aptly titled Magic for Beginners, for the short fiction she presents here is truly magical, with masterfully crafted stories that are as dark as they are delightful. (Keep reading this review.)
David Bezmozgis' Natasha: and Other Stories, seven stories about growing up a poor Russian Jewish immigrant in Toronto, are so Russian in tone they should be read with a glass of tea at hand and a cube of sugar between one's teeth. Yet they are so Western in theme that even if you've never set foot outside your hometown, they'll make your heart ache. (Keep reading this review.)
Hailed as Alice Munro's best collection yet, Runaway is the 12th book from an author who has perfected the short story form. In these eight selections, each of which takes place in her native Canada, Munro examines the nuances of human relationships, exploring the complexities of marriage, the difficulties of parenting and the responsibilities inherent in friendship. (Keep reading this review.)
Karen Russell's startlingly original collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, features graceful and seductive prose that transports the reader into surreal and yet utterly plausible realms. (Keep reading this review.)
The stories in Swim Back to Me, Ann Packer’s collection, are powerful. They focus on situations that make us uncomfortable to varying degrees—from the disorienting feeling of misjudging a co-worker, to the adolescent recognition of being ditched by a friend, to the excruciating pain of losing a child. (Keep reading this review.)
From the opening tale of Nam Le's The Boat, it's hard not to be giddy: Wait, was that a brilliantly self-conscious and humorous slice of the writing life, which doubled as a poignant story about fathers and sons and family tragedies? Yes. Yes, it was. Things only get better from there. (Keep reading this review.)
Most of the 12 stories in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's The Thing Around Your Neck focus on men and women who travel between Africa and the United States. Nigeria is the place where most of Adichie’s characters live, leave and long to return, while the U.S. is a place of promise, new beginnings and ultimate disappointments. (Keep reading this review.)
Jhumpa Lahiri has carved out a distinctive literary niche, and her tales of Indians encountering contemporary American life have resonated with a wide swath of readers. Her story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, only burnishes that estimable reputation. (Keep reading this review.)
What collections are we missing from this list? Why do you love short stories?