My Favorite Feminist Books of 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, I'm sharing my favorite feminist books that I read this year. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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It’s no secret that I care about women around the world, and my reading life often reflects that. I’ve recently read some incredible feminist and women-focused books, and I wanted to share some of my favorites with you. There are reviews of my newest reads, as well as a list of my favorite feminist books from earlier in the year.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

If you haven’t heard about this lovely picture book, you must check it out! It was created through one of the most-funded Kickstarters ever, and I was lucky enough to be one of the backers.

This book is filled with lovely illustrations by female artists, and it features the stories of tons of women of various occupations, countries, and eras. It’s written for little kids, of course, but I think it’s enjoyable for adults too. If you have little ones (boys or girls) that you want to teach about important women of the past and present, you need Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

A Century of Women

I picked this book up for 50 cents in a recent thrift store splurge, and I was surprised at how wonderful it was! Published in the late 90s or early 2000s, the “century” in the title refers to American women in the 1900s.

The main attraction for A Century of Women is the amazing collection of photographs and quotes from primary sources. From suffrage to workers’ rights, from family planning to representation in the arts, this book has a little bit of everything that has happened in American women’s 20th century history. It’s worth reading just to hear the varying opinions of women throughout this time and to view all the gorgeous photos.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Half the Sky

Half the Sky is eye-opening and powerful. It reveals the horrible issues facing women around the world, from maternal health and economic inequality to sexual slavery, rape, and violence, as well as various failed attempts at understanding the culture and fixing the problems. Still, it offers hope and concrete steps to making a difference in women’s lives.

If you, like me, have a passion for women’s health and equality around the world, this book is a must-read.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

Jesus Feminist

If you’re a Christian wondering if feminism is for you, take heart! This book will offer hope. As someone who considers herself a Christian and a feminist, it was so exciting to find someone else who believes in equality and Jesus.

This book isn’t for everyone. Some of Sarah’s writing is a bit flowery and hippy-dippy. Still, if you can get past that, I’d say it’s worth a look.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Other books I’ve already reviewed that made my list:

Her Stories (children’s fiction)

Reading Lolita in Tehran (adult nonfiction)

The Girls of Atomic City (adult nonfiction)

The Princess Problem (adult nonfiction)

Interstellar Cinderella (picture book)

Good Girls, Bad Girls of the New Testament (adult nonfiction)

Untangled (adult nonfiction)

Excellent Daughters (adult nonfiction)

The Voice that Challenged a Nation (children’s nonfiction)

I hope these books give you a starting place for some wonderful feminist reading!

Words in the Dust

Words in the Dust is a powerful middle grades novel about a girl coming of age in Afghanistan. | Book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Zulaikha hopes. She hopes for peace, now that the Taliban have been driven from Afghanistan; a good relationship with her hard stepmother; and one day even to go to school, or to have her cleft palate fixed. Zulaikha knows all will be provided for her–“Inshallah,” God willing.

Then she meets Meena, who offers to teach her the Afghan poetry she taught her late mother. And the Americans come to her village, promising not just new opportunities and dangers, but surgery to fix her face. These changes could mean a whole new life for Zulaikha–but can she dare to hope they’ll come true? (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I listened to this audio book because I was hoping to get a glimpse at the life of an average girl in modern-day Afghanistan. I was fascinated by my last look at the Arab world, and I wanted to have another perspective.

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t exactly focus on the average Afghani girl. Zulaikha has a cleft palate that causes others to tease or pity her, but when the Americans come to town, they might be able to help. I found Words in the Dust a bit dramatic and overwrought at times, as Zulaikha despairs over her looks and the people around her do nothing to help. I kept wondering how close the events of this novel were to actual Afghani girls’ experiences.

It’s not a bad story, but I think I’ll keep looking for a more subtle look into the experiences of teenage girls in the Middle East.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Nonfiction ARCs, Part 1

Quick reviews of Crafting with Feminism and Around the World in 80 Purees. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received free copies of these books in exchange for an honest review.

I recently requested a couple of nonfiction galleys from NetGalley. They don’t have much to do with each other (other than the fact that they’re nonfiction), but they both provided some fascinating ideas.

Crafting with Feminism

This is what a feminist crafter looks like! Wear your ideology on your sleeve by creating feminist merit badges (like “started an all-girl band” or “rocked roller derby”). Prove that the political is personal with DIY power panties (“No means no”). Craft great feminist hero finger puppets (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Frida Kahlo) or googly-eyed tampon buddies. Fun sidebars provide background on (s)heroes of the feminist movement. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

You know I’m into girl power, so I was really interested by this feminist craft book. The book has a few cute ideas–I love the plate that says “sushi rolls, not gender roles,” the faux fur monster pouch for tampons, and the feminist onesies.

Several of the projects, though, were a bit silly (I don’t have any use for finger puppets, for example). Still, it’s a cute book to look through and maybe pass around to your female friends.

But in keeping with my Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words, I’m sharing one of my favorite quotes about feminism (if you want more quotes like this, you can follow my Girl Power board on Pinterest):

I call it feminism instead of equality because it is the feminine traits that men and women are shamed for. It is the feminine traits that society needs to accept. –Unknown

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Around the World in 80 Purees

First foods for little eaters don’t have to be bland and boring! Featuring 100 delicious recipes like Mango Saffron Puree (India), Rosewater Vanilla Smoothie (Middle East), Pastina with Parmesan and Nutmeg (Italy), and Pumpkin Millet Porridge (Russia), Around the World in 80 Purees shows foodie parents how to bring global cuisine to the high chair with little effort and no fuss. Studies show that babies who are exposed to a variety of tastes grow up to be more adventurous (and less fussy!) eaters as kids. This comprehensive and easy-to-follow book is the perfect resource for parents of toddlers aged 6–18 months who want to broaden their baby’s palate. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book has such great ideas! The author gives a quick overview of first foods for babies around the world and then offers easy, tasty recipes to introduce your child to new foods. I want to use these recipes to introduce my kids to spices, varied fruits, vegetables, and meats. This is going in the growing pile of books I’m saving for when I have kids.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in that series here.

Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Quick reviews of Wonder Women and Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge. #spon | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received both of these books from a BEA giveaway. The publisher did not ask for a review in return.

Wonder Women

Ever heard of Allied spy Noor Inayat Khan, a Muslim woman whom the Nazis considered “highly dangerous”? Or German painter and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who planned and embarked on the world’s first scientific expedition? How about Huang Daopo, the inventor who fled an abusive child marriage only to revolutionize textile production in China?

Women have always been able to change the world, even when they didn’t get the credit. In Wonder Women, author Sam Maggs introduces you to pioneering female scientists, engineers, mathematicians, adventurers, and inventors—each profile a study in passion, smarts, and stickto-itiveness, complete with portraits by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, an extensive
bibliography, and a guide to present-day women-centric STEM organizations. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I so wanted to love this book! You know I like reading about smart, strong women, so I was super excited to pick up this book (written by author Sam Maggs, whose previous book I really enjoyed). And it does have interesting stories of amazing women, but it is written in such a flippant way that I couldn’t take it seriously. This could have been so much better. Disappointing.

Rating: Meh

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

A sharp and funny urban fantasy for “new adults” about a secret society of bartenders who fight monsters with alcohol fueled magic.

College grad Bailey Chen has a few demons: no job, no parental support, and a rocky relationship with Zane, the only friend who’s around when she moves back home. But when Zane introduces Bailey to his cadre of monster-fighting bartenders, her demons get a lot more literal. Like, soul-sucking hell-beast literal. Soon, it’s up to Bailey and the ragtag band of magical mixologists to take on whatever—or whoever—is behind the mysterious rash of gruesome deaths in Chicago, and complete the lost recipes of an ancient tome of cocktail lore. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book had such a fun, unique idea. The characters were a bit cliche at times (if you’re a recent college grad, you’ll recognize these stereotypes), but that doesn’t keep the story from being an enjoyable urban fantasy. The “excerpts” from the book of magical mixology are probably the best part–so funny! But be forewarned–there is a fair amount of language in this book.

And of course, because all my posts this month tie in with my Lovely Words series, here’s my favorite quote from Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge:

Those who read on will learn how to do the impossible: To fade from sight. To exert control over distant objects with only one’s mind. To justify the existence of the olive, which is the most loathsome of all fruits.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

This post is part of the Write 31 Days series, Lovely Words. You can see all the posts in this series here.

ARC: A Decent Woman

A Decent Woman is a fascinating story of two Latina women struggling to live in male-dominated Puerto Rico. #spon | A book review by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife, the only one in La Playa. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past while she continues to hide a more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest Padre Vicénte and the young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must fight to preserve her twenty-five-year career.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children who marries a wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. When she’s attacked during her pregnancy, she and Ana become allies in an ill-conceived plan to avoid scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor. (Summary via publisher)

I knew very little about this book before I started reading it. To be honest, I knew very little in general about life in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. So I found this book really interesting and informative as it covered the lives of Latina women in a place and time that was very harsh on them. It was painful to read about how much these women suffered–there is rape, abuse, painful childbirth, cheating husbands, prostitution, and unfair laws to be dealt with.

Despite the culture that these women live in, Ana is a strong, independent woman. A former slave with a dark past, she now spends her days as a midwife, despite the new trend toward taking laboring women to hospitals where male doctors can care for them. Ana overcomes the sexism, racism, and classism that threaten to take away her livelihood, one step at a time.

Serafina has different struggles. Ana delivered her first two babies and kept her abusive husband from doing too much harm. But when Serafina remarries into a wealthy, upper-class family, she soon finds that this new life has challenges and pains of its own.

If you want to read a book that discusses the struggles and triumphs of women in a male-dominated, chauvinistic society, this book is for you. If you want to learn more about the culture of Puerto Rico one hundred years ago, this book is for you too. It’s interesting, painful, and eye-opening.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Roundup: Funny Memoirs

Interested in reading funny memoirs? Check out this roundup and see if any of them strike your fancy. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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I read a lot of funny memoirs, as you may have noticed. Some of them may not technically be memoirs, but my brain has stuck to that phrase, so that’s what I’m going to call the following roundup of books. They’re all varying degrees of funny, except one (which I guess is more a straight up memoir, but I stuck it in here anyway). Here’s hoping you can find at least one funny memoir among the group to make you laugh!

Let’s Pretend this Never Happened

“Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

If you like the Bloggess already, you’ll enjoy this book (so if you’re unsure, check out some of her blog posts before you get the book). In it, Jenny talks about the horrifying and hilarious events of her childhood, as well as some of the traumatizing (and also hilarious) events of her adult life. In my opinion, this is probably the funniest of the funny memoirs I’ve read recently. But it’s not for everyone. The book is filled with non sequiturs and swear words, and some chapters could be labeled TMI. Still, if you’re not afraid of some cursing and you don’t mind following the author down a rabbit trail, you’ll probably enjoy these bizarre stories and the accompanying photos (which may be the best part!).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

People I Want to Punch in the Throat

“Known for her hilariously acerbic observations on her blog, People I Want to Punch in the Throat, Mann now brings her sharp wit to bear on suburban life, marriage, and motherhood in this laugh-out-loud collection of essays. From the politics of joining a play group, to the thrill of mothers’ night out at the gun range, to the rewards of your most meaningful relationship (the one you have with your cleaning lady), nothing is sacred or off-limits. So the next time you find yourself wearing fuzzy bunny pajamas in the school carpool line or accidentally stuck at a co-worker’s swingers party, just think, What would Jen Mann do?” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I found this book a bit disappointing. I had been looking forward to reading it for months, but when I finally picked it up, I found it funny, but not overly so. Jen is another popular blogger, but unfortunately her style of humor didn’t translate well to book format. This is partly because of my own stage of life–the essays are mostly talk about bratty suburban moms and their bratty kids–but I just didn’t think it was that great.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Dear White People

“Based on the eponymous award-winning film, which has been lauded as a smart, hilarious satire, this tongue-in-cheek guide is a must-have that anybody who is in semi-regular contact with black people can’t afford to miss!” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I have to admit that I’ve never seen the movie Dear White People, although I’ve heard it’s very good. This “guide” for white people is written by the screenwriter of the movie. Full of graphics, quizzes, and rants, I found this book funny and uncomfortable. (I’m embarrassed to admit that there were several things I didn’t know about the African-American experience until I read this book.)

Definitely pick this book up if you’re interested in learning about how African-Americans experience racism today and what you can do to stop contributing to the problem (or, if you’ve had the same experiences, nodding along), all the while laughing along with the author.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

How to Be a Woman

“Caitlin Moran interweaves provocative observations on women’s lives with laugh-out-loud funny scenes from her own, from adolescence to her development as a writer, wife, and mother.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I know nothing about Caitlin Moran, but I have an abiding interest in feminism, and I knew that, for better or for worse, Moran’s book had a big impact as a feminist piece. The book is interesting and frustrating (and filled with lots of British slang that I didn’t always get). I didn’t agree with many of Moran’s stances, although I did find it interesting to see how she arrived at those positions. I found many of her stories more cringe-inducing than laugh-out-loud funny. Unless, like me, you want to see what Moran has said about feminism that made such an impact, maybe leave this one alone.

Rating: Meh

Dear Diary

“A collection of a girl’s funniest diary entries from 12 to 25 years old. She updates each entry by tracking down the people involved and asking awkward questions like, “Do you remember when I tried to beat you up?” Sometimes old friends apologize. Sometimes they become new enemies. No matter who she talks to about the days we all discovered sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Boys are totally immature.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The concept of this book is fantastic: Lesley inserts an old diary entry from her teen or young adult years, and then writes an update or interviews the people mentioned in it. When I think about all the ridiculous things that are probably written in my own childhood diary entries, I can’t help wondering what kind of updates I’d end up inserting.

But the main thing that happens in Lesley’s life at this point is her addiction to drugs. Yikes! It’s crazy to read about her experiences as a drug addict, and sometimes it gets pretty uncomfortable. I really do love the idea of this book, but the drugs just didn’t interest me.

Rating: Meh

The Year of Reading Dangerously

“Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read that he actually hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

So this is the one non-funny memoir in my funny memoir collection. Andy Miller decided to improve his life by reading the classics he lied about having read, which I love. This book inspired me to make my own list of classics (I’ll talk more about this later). But I kept wishing there was a little more description of how he decided on these books. There are so many books that can be considered “classics” that I wonder how he picked the few that he did read. I also found there was a bit too much personal/memoir stuff that didn’t fit well with the overall theme of his quest to read the classics.

On the whole, the idea was inspiring, but the content was forgettable.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Mini Reviews: Maya Angelou and Catcher in the Rye

In which I finally catch up with a couple of classic books. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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These two classic books have been on my list for a long time, and I finally got around to reading them! But I didn’t have very strong feelings toward either of them.

Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry

I picked this up from my library because I’ve been wanting to read more of Maya Angelou, despite the fact that I’m totally not into poetry. (Honestly, I just don’t get it…)

Some of the lines that struck me most were these:

You’re Africa to me / At brightest dawn.
–To a Husband

Here then is my Christian lack: / If I’m struck then I’ll strike back.
–Lord, in My Heart

The poetry was beautiful, sometimes wrenching, and almost always clear. I do appreciate poetry that has a point (that is, a point that I can easily grasp–yes, I’m a total idiot about poetry). Still, it’s not really my thing. I’m hopeful that I’ll enjoy I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings better.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Catcher in the Rye

Okay, so I’ve been hearing about this book practically all my life, and I know for a lot of high schoolers it’s required reading. I’ve also heard from a lot of people who hated it. But I read straight through it and just felt kind of… bored. I guess the point is that Holden is experiencing the alienation that a lot of teenagers feel as they grow up? But honestly, he was bored, so I was bored. Possibly I didn’t give this book enough of a chance, but since I’m not in school anymore, no one can force me to go back and analyze the literary themes. So there!

Rating: Meh

P.S. If you want to see some other books in which I felt like I was missing something, check out my reviews of The Color Purple and Cold Comfort Farm. If you have a book that everyone else loved or said was a classic that you didn’t “get,” I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

The Color Purple: Or, Books I’m Not Smart Enough to Read

On why I was so confused by The Color Purple. | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Guys, I was so confused by this book. Not because I didn’t understand the words, or even the plot. I got the basic picture of the characters and setting, and I enjoyed them. But I feel like I’m missing something.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no English major. I have very little knowledge of literary devices or symbolism, and I only sometimes catch allusions to other works (this may have something to do with the classics that I refuse to read). And while I normally don’t mind speeding through books that I enjoy and not worrying about the literary snobs, sometimes I come across a book like The Color Purple which I know has more meaning than I’m getting from it.

The plot itself is well known, and although I found this book in the YA section of my library, The Color Purple is one of the most commonly banned books. And from the first page, it’s easy to see why. There are matter-of-fact descriptions of rape and violence towards women, and specifically women of color. The book is written as correspondence between Celie and her sister Nettie. Celie is raped and impregnated by her father (twice) at age fourteen, and then she is married off to a man who is not much better than her father. Meanwhile, Nettie becomes a missionary to Africa when a white family takes her in. Celie’s life continues horribly until Shug Avery arrives and introduces joy into Celie’s life.

This modern-day classic covers some incredibly important topics, from racism to violence against women to homosexuality to differing views on God. I just wish I could have gotten all the good stuff that I know must be in there…

Have you ever felt like you were missing something in a book everyone else raved about? Can any of you explain this book to me??

Rating: Good but Forgettable

ARC: Ejituru

Ejituru, a Nigarian girl who longs to be a doctor, is caught between her desire for education and the demands of her culture. #spon | A book review by Newbery and Beyond
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Note: I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Eighteen-year-old Ejituru’s dream of completing a medical degree in her own country of Nigeria and becoming a doctor was shattered when her father arranged a marriage between her and an older man named Ignatius who had emigrated to the US some years ago and who she only met for a few hours.

Not wanting her father to lose face in the village, Ejituru reluctantly agrees to drop out of college in Nigeria and move to the US to marry Ignatius. The marriage proves rocky as each wants something else. Ejituru gradually realizes that things are not what they seem and Ignatius is not the rich man that he has led the family to believe. Ignatius finds that Ejituru is not really the subservient and docile wife that he can control.

(Summary via Amazon)

This book covers so many important issues: culture clashes, sexism, human trafficking, marriage, education, and so much more.  Ejituru is a Nigerian girl who longs to finish medical school, but her father wants her to marry Ignatius, who wishes for a family, and move to the US.  Since Ignatius is 35 and Ejituru is 18, their ideas about marriage, education, and Nigerian culture clash.

One of the things I appreciated most about this book is that the author does not paint either Ignatius or Ejituru as totally blameless.  I have a natural bias toward supporting oppressed females, but the author makes it clear that Ignatius, even though he does some terrible things and lies to his family and Ejituru about his true life in the US, is not all bad.  Ejituru shares some of the blame in how quickly their arranged marriage goes downhill.  I did find myself getting frustrated with the couple though, as neither one was good at communicating or negotiating for their needs and wishes.

This book offers a fascinating look into modern-day Nigerian life and the clash of traditional culture with modern ideas about relationships and careers for both men and women.  Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in learning a bit more about Nigerian culture.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Newbery Sequels: Palace of Stone and Hattie Ever After

A review of two sequels to Newbery books--one lives up to its predecessor, the other... not so much. | Book reviews by Newbery and Beyond
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Palace of Stone is the sequel to the Newbery book Princess Academy, one of my favorite Newbery books ever.  When I found this sequel, I was equal parts excited and wary.  I loved Princess Academy so much, getting to know Miri and the other mountain girls and how quarry-speak carried through the linder, stone which the mountain people carved out of the mountainside for use in the lowlands, and I was afraid that this sequel wouldn’t live up to the original.

At the beginning of this book, Miri and a few of the other girls from the academy are invited to visit Britta at the palace as she prepares for her wedding.  But a letter from Katar, now a delegate for Mount Eskel, sends a cryptic letter that makes Miri think that their visit might be more than just a pleasure trip.  As the girls acclimate to life in Asland, Miri begins to see the injustices that the nobles have carried out against the “shoeless,” the poor of the country.  She works hard at her studies, as the other girls pursue their own interests, but she finds herself increasingly drawn to the revolution that may soon be taking place. But when Miri finds that the spark for the revolution may hurt her friend Britta, she doesn’t know what to do.  Can Miri stay the girl from Mount Eskel, or does she need to find a new path?

The best part about this book was that the quarry-speak from the first book was used and expounded upon.  I loved the girls’ ability to communicate without anyone else knowing, and I loved the power of the linder as it carried the power of the mountain.  This book wasn’t quite as good as the original, but I truly enjoyed it.  Hale’s writing style stayed consistent in both books, and the simplicity of the writing was beautiful.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Hattie Ever After was not nearly as good a sequel, sadly.  I loved, loved, loved Hattie Big Sky, the Newbery winner that was the original.  But this sequel did not stack up.  Hattie, after failing to claim her uncle’s land, decides to move to San Francisco to pursue her dream of being a journalist, much to her boyfriend Charlie’s chagrin.  She fights her way into a newspaper job, where she encounters scammers and backstabbing, along with adventure and plenty of questions about her future.

There just wasn’t as much substance or emotional resonance here as in the original book, and though I still liked Hattie, I felt like she could have been any 1900s female character looking to break into a male-dominated field.  Just not as interesting as the original.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

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