5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
This is another book that I've given my mum recently. She started reading it and rather smugly emailed to say that now she doesn't feel so bad about being one sometimes. She says:
I particularly loved "A Song for Sacagawea" because it is the story of all those unsung women who were forced to help conquerors take their lands. They were looked on as trade goods, but much of the exploration/exploitation wouldn't have occurred without them. There is a similar story of a woman who translated for the conquistadors in Central America [she means Malinche]. Much as I admire those women, their treatment really p....d me off, of course. Don't quote me on that, though.
(Oops. Heh.) Anyway, I am so totally excited that this book exists. I supported it in its Pozible funding, I did a little bit of supporting in terms of writing a blog post (I had big intentions to do a few but whoosh there went the month), and generally YAY stories about real historical ladies! !! So I finally got around to actually reading it. Firstly let me say I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE WITH THE ORDER OF THE STORIES, TEHANI AND TANSY. Ahem. The first few stories were the sorts of things I expected. Mary I as a child, Lady Godiva, Mary Wollstonecraft... and then Bathory Erzsebet. Who is someone I had never come across and who was very, very not nice. Very not nice. Like, Deborah Biancotti you had already scarred me with your Ishtar and now my brain is even WORSE. Because this story does not redeem Erszebet. It shows that women are quite capable of being cold and cruel and nasty. And, at a chronological and geographical distance, this is almost something to be pleased about... since after all, we are just human. Hmm. Getting to Erszebet has meant skipping over Mary (a story showing how difficult her childhood must have been, thanks Liz Barr), and Godiva (thank you, Garth Nix, for making her more than just That Nude Lady) and Wollstonecraft (Kirstyn McDermott, I have always loved her at a remove - that is, knowing only basics of her life, I knew she was wonderful. This fictional take helps just a bit more). Leaving Europe, Foz Meadows goes to the Asian steppes with "Bright Moon" and a fierce tale of battle and kinship obligation; Joyce Chng to China and silkworms and captivity. Nice Shawl teases with "A Beautiful Stream" by talking about events and people from the 20th century I felt I ought to know and drove me to google find out if I was right (yes); Amanda Pillar pleased me immensely by being all provocative about Hatshepsut, one of my favourite historical women ever. Sylvia Kelso stunned me by talking about two women from Australia's history that I had no knowledge of (a doctor? lesbians?? in the early 20th century?!) and Stephanie Lai puts flesh on the bones of Ching Shih, the female Chinese pirate I've only encountered in passing. I would like to thank Barbara Robson profusely for writing Theodora so magnificently and by incorporating Procopius, to show just how such historical sources can be used. Lisa L Hannett continues (what I think of as) her Viking trend, while Havva Murat takes on Albania's medieval past and the trials of being born female when your father wants a son. I don't mean this as a negative, but I am so not surprised that Dirk Flinthart wrote of Granuaile, the Irish pirate. I was surprised where he took her; pleasantly so, of course. LM Myles brought in one of my other very favourite and bestest, Eleanor of Aquitaine, this time as an old, old woman - still cranky and sprightly and everything that was great about her. I didn't love Kaaron Warren's "Another Week in the Future," but I have no knowledge of Catherine Helen Spence so I had no prior experience to hang the story on. Laura Lam brought in a female pirate I'd never even heard of, the French Jeanne de Clisson, while Sandra McDonald writes a complicated narrative of Cora Crane: there are unreliable narrators and then there are unreliable timelines and sources and they get fascinating. Thoraiya Dyer introduces someone else I've never heard of, by way of 19th century Madagascar and a royal family negotiating the introduction/imposition of European ideas. Juliet Marillier brings a compassionate, loving and beloved Hildegard of Bingen, while Faith Mudge caps the whole anthology with Elizabeth I. Look, it's just great. A wonderful range of stories, of women, of styles, of close-to-history and far (but still with that element of Truthiness). I think we need a follow-up volume. I'd like to order Jeanne d'Arc, Julia Gillard, the Empress Matilda, Pocahontas, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malinche, and the Trung sisters. Kthxbai. You can find Cranky Ladies over here.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I love living in the future! To have the privilege of participating in the funding of a book to really get behind books I want to see in print, to demonstrate with my frugal spending what I really want to read. I am proudly one of those who backed the Pozible campaign that was responsible for funding this book. What an extraordinary time in publishing, to be a reader and hooked into communities and networks! I funded at the level where I received a gorgeous hardcover book, and I have to compliment Kathleen Jennings on her gorgeous cover and internal illustrations. From first glance at the cover you can see what this book is about, what kind of stories about ladies it tells, and it whets your appetite marvellously.
Historical fiction is one of those things I dabble in, historical non-fiction I just haven’t done remotely enough reading of. But there was no way I could resist an anthology like this that highlights the interesting lives of historical women, imagining how they lived, what they thought and looking at the impact they made – not always for the greater good. And that too is a strength of this anthology, it features all kinds of cranky ladies, from those who seek to improve the moral good, to those who are remembered with horror and fear, daring women, wronged women, women I’ve heard of and those who are brand new to me. This book is both a pleasure to read, and gives you some small insight into the historical significance of several women, mostly those who are forgotten by modern history. It’s not that the book is educational exactly, but it does make you want to learn more, to study these women and their lives.
Stories that particularly resonated with me, and it was hard to pick just a few I promise:
Bright Moon by Foz Meadows:
A woman who is determined not to submit to any man unless he can best her in wrestling, and because she is so fierce and talented, she wins thousands of horses from them as they fail to beat her. I love Khutulun’s fierce spirit and that she is herself and doesn’t have to hide from her father, that he supports her even if he is surprised by her declarations and strength of character. It’s these two things, her strength and his love that really resonated for me in this story.
Due Care and Attention by Sylvia Kelso:
I love the writing tone of this story, it plays in my mind almost as though I’m watching an episode of period drama like ‘Call the Midwife’ or ‘Downton Abbey’ or similar. I love Lilian’s dedication to medicine and care, and reading about the early use of cars in Brisbane was really interesting – particularly including the Royal Automobile Club. I loved in particular her discovery about the water treatment for burns. The whole story was just gorgeous, I’d read a whole novel about Lilian, absolutely.
Hallowed Ground by Juliet Marillier:
What a gorgeous story of piety, commitment and activism. Sister Hildegard has such quiet strength and Marillier’s writing truly brings her to life. I love the quiet opposition, the use of letters and negotiation with logic that Sister Hildegard uses. I love that although she has visions that the story isn’t really centred around them but about her own perseverance in developing her virtues. Trying to better oneself, trying to better the world around you. Such a beautiful story.
The Dragon, The Terror, The Sea by Stephanie Lai:
The storytelling voice in this story is unique, it’s different and I found that unlike most of the other stories which I read in a single sitting, this one I savoured over several sittings because each word and sentence seemed to be so layered. I loved the character of the Dragon, that she was so ruthless and yet operated within her own rules. I love that she had family, children and that this clearly didn’t stop her being both terrifying and powerful. This was one of the stand out stories in the anthology for me.
The Company of Women by Garth Nix:
Another favourite from the anthology, Nix’s story captivated me. I love the mythology behind this story and that Lady Godiva was a saviour in partnership with the bees. I loved the way the story was centred around women’s business in tending the bees, that became the saving of everyone else. This was a perfect short story for me – completely self contained, gave me every satisfaction and left me content.
Charmed Life by Joyce Ching
Queerness and silk discovery, choosing love over a certain kind of elevation into prosperity/wealth/power. This story was sweetness, it was delightful, and I loved that Leizu got to be with her lady love and that nothing tragic happened. Maybe it was different in history, but I’m in love with this story where the story ends on such a perfect note.
The Pasha, The Girl And The Dagger by Havva Murat
Strength and determination, proving one self to be just as good as the men who never had to question why they didn’t get to be the best and brightest. Earning the approval of one’s father. Trying to hold out against invasion, this story has everything – as I read the words, it seemed like an action movie was playing in my head! Nora reminds me of every young heroine I’ve read and loved, through this story and seeing her grow into a powerful young woman who seeks to prove herself and be recognised for her strength is so satisfying. I love that she’s hungry for battle, a little bloodthirsty and is full of valour and courage.
Mary, Mary by Kirsten McDermott
The way this story begins with death, with familiarity and the Grey Lady is so intriguing! I’m not very familiar with the story of both of the Marys, both Shelley and Wollstonecraft but I loved reading about them both through Wollstonecraft’s eyes. I’ve always enjoyed stories that explore companionship of a supernatural kind that is not really of the ‘real’ world, the Grey Lady is a mysterious but compelling such companion and I loved the unfolding of her relationship with Mary. So much to love about this story!
Look How Cold My Hands Are by Deborah Biancotti
I’m not a horror reader, it’s fair to say that I go out of my way to avoid it. So I can’t say that I liked or loved this story, but it did resonate with me strongly. And I think it was so important to include this story in amongst the others in the book, stories of cranky ladies where their motives aren’t pure, they aren’t good people, because these women too are part of history, have been forgotten and their impacts largely unwritten and untold. A story of Countess Bathory, one of the most notorious serial killers in history, and especially as a female serial killer is a good example of this. Other than the fact that she murdered countless other women, what do we know of her life, her reasons, what really happened? Not much. Needless to say this story left me chilled and I needed a unicorn chaser (or three) after it.
All in all, this anthology is *glorious*!
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Cranky Ladies of History is an anthology edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessley, published by Fablecroft Publishing. Publication of the anthology was supported by a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible and by a Tasmanian Arts Crowbar Grant.
When I first heard about the crowdfunding campaign for Cranky Ladies of History, I rushed to fund it. Not only was I going to be on board with any anthology edited by Roberts and Wessley, but the theme had me at “cranky ladies”. I opted to fund at the level which gave me the hardcover edition, which is a truly beautiful book. Kathleen Jennings has created yet another utterly gorgeous cover, not to mention the internal illustrations in the book, which are all amazing.
I have to admit upfront that I am not the most thoroughly read in terms of history or historical fiction, and as such, many of the cranky ladies depicted in the stories were unknown to me. As I started to read, I found myself wishing that each story had been prefaced by a small biography of the woman in question, but as I read more, I found myself glad that none had been provided. There was a small thrill of recognition in seeing the women I recognised, and it was quite lovely to come to the ones I wasn’t familiar with without any prior assumptions. Every one of the women was fascinating, and I suspect that there is going to be a lot of reading about their histories in my future.
I went into this anthology expecting a particular kind of woman to be represented: the woman who fought for good, and perhaps broke social norms in order to do so. I was pleasantly surprised that there was, in fact, a wide range of “cranky ladies” presented (and honestly, I shouldn’t have been, given the editors and authors involved). The fighter for good and breaker of social norms was there, as well as the warrior, but there were also darker levels of “crankiness” presented, for example, Countess Bathory, who can in no terms be described as good, but was certainly a cranky lady of her time.
I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in depth, but don’t take this to mean that they’re not all worthy of your time. These are simply the stories that have particular resonance for me in terms of my reading taste.
Partway through reading, I tweeted that Kirstyn McDermott’s “Mary, Mary” had instantly become one of my favourite short stories of all time. Now, having finished reading the anthology, I stand by this. Mary Woolstonecroft, feminist, writer, and mother of Mary Shelley (she died ten days after giving birth to the second Mary) is the focus of this story. McDermott’s prose is gorgeous and lush as always, and there is a clear empathy for both Marys and for the plight of all women of the time. I loved the inclusion of the possibly-supernatural Grey Lady in this, too. I think this is possibly one of McDermott’s strongest short stories to date.
Deborah Biancotti’s “Look How Cold My Hands Are” concerns the aforementioned Countess Bathory. Bathory is said to have been one of the most prolific serial killers in history, who tortured and abused hundreds of young women. Her punishment was being immured in her castle, and she remained walled up for the last four years of her life. Biancotti, as to be expected from her body of work, does not shy away from any of the horror of Bathory’s actions, and renders the Countess a very believeable and truly horrible figure. There is no redemption for Bathory, and yet Biancotti manages to convey a sense of the Countess’ belief that her actions were just.
The third story I’m going to mention is Amanda Pillar’s “Neter, Nefer”. A brief caveat: I’ve worked with Pillar as my editor, a role at which she is brilliant. Here, we get to see that she’s also a brilliant writer. I’ve always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt, so it’s little surprise that I was drawn to this story on that basis alone, but I utterly loved the way Pillar approached the story of the female pharaoh Hatshephut. The story is told from the perspective of Hatshephut’s daughter Neferure, and reveals so much about women in Ancient Egypt, and describes a fascinating mother-daughter relationship at the same time. I would throw great wads of money at Pillar to have this expanded into a full novel.
It would have been very easy for editors to fall into the trap of choosing stories and protagonists who came only from a Eurocentric background in developing an anthology like this. Wessley and Roberts–as I would expect from them–do not fall into this trap. The collection is cleverly bookmarked by stories that reference Anne Boleyn, but we travel much of the world in between these two. We have stories about cranky women from Central Asia (Foz Meadows writing about Khutulan, warrior who challenged any man who wished to marry her to defeat her in wrestling; loss meant forfeiting horses to her. She is said to have won 10,000 horses in this fashion), China (Joyce Chng writing about Leizu, the Chinese empress who discovered silk), Australia (Sylvia Kelso, writing about Lilian Cooper, first female doctor registered in Queensland) and Iceland (Lisa L. Hannett, writing about Hallgerðr Höskuldsdóttir, Viking woman who suffers from terrible luck), as well as many more, including a great many awesome female pirates (and I would also pay money for a Cranky Lady Pirates sequel!).
It bears repeating that all of the stories in this book are excellent, not just the ones I’ve singled out above. Reading this anthology, it made me realise just how many of the female stories are left out of traditional history as its taught, women most often relegated to the margins as daughters and wives, their own stories forgotten. I’d like to think that somewhere in the past, these women are looking up and thanking the authors and editors for shining a light on them in all of their glorious crankiness.
Highly recommended, even if you don’t usually enjoy historical fiction.