7 Book Recommendations for International Women's Day

I know, I know—I'm a day late. But Happy International Women's (Yester)Day, lovelies! However you celebrated or took action, I hope you felt empowered and appreciated. Because you are. 

I didn't take the day off from working, cooking, or doing housework. In fact, I worked a little late because I was so wrapped up in what I was doing. And as for cleaning up the kitchen and cooking a nice dinner—that was G-and-me teamwork. But the "Day without Women" did get me thinking about some of the historical and fictional women I admire. In a small scale, how would my bookshelf and love of fiction be different without them? On a grander scale, how would history have looked without them?

It inspired me to round up some of my favorite books featuring my favorite strong female protagonists.
This was actually quite difficult. I read mostly historical fiction, sometimes dabbling in other genres. But strong female characters (likable and unlikable) are always at the heart of the stories I read. It must be a requirement for this bookworm. 

So, without further ado... 

1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
It's my all-time favorite movie and book. Scarlett O'Hara may not always act like a lady. She can be mean and selfish sometimes (okay, a lot of the time). And she might make decisions you don't like agree with. But great balls of fire, she's a strong woman. A woman willing to claw her way through a tumultuous time in American history. A woman willing to roll up her sleeves and dig into the dirt of Tara plantation herself. A woman determined to survive. And while I'd much rather be friends with Melanie and I'd never let Rhett Butler go, part of me will always see Scarlett through the eyes of five-year-old me when I first saw Gone with the Wind and was enamored with how she turned green velvet drapes into a splendid gown.

Russian history is something I admittedly don't know much about. So many historical fiction novels are set during the French Revolution, Tudor England, and the likes. This was a glimmering, fascinating escape into the early/mid-1700's Russian Court. It's narrated by a palace servant who is a strong woman in her own right, who survives and socially climbs by spying and playing sides. One of those sides being that of Sophie, the future Catherine the Great. Being born a princess wasn't always an ideal situation, especially with women's rights, education options, and arranged marriages of the time. But Sophie's clever and ambitious. And this story pieces together her early struggles and slow but steady rise toward becoming not only the Empress of Russia, but also one of the most powerful women in world history. (I'm reading the sequel now!)

3. Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb
A couple Christmases ago, we visited the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. It was enlightening to see his sculptures up close and in person, but I couldn't look at them without thinking of Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin's apprentice, lover, and the heroine of Heather Webb's novel. This is the story of a headstrong young woman trying to make it in a male-dominated field. It's the story of raw talent and even more raw first love. It's a story of mental illness, artistic passion, and dangerous obsession. I couldn't put it down. Camille's been so overshadowed by Rodin and it almost irks me that the book positions her as his. Because she was more than just his lover. She was a muse and a fury. She was a source of inspiration and madness. And she was a wildly talented sculptor in her own right.

I could go on about The Accidental Empress and its sequel for hours. The first book was un-put-downable. I devoured it. It's the story of Elisabeth, "Sisi," the Austro-Hungarian Empress and wife of Emperor Franz Joseph in the 19th Century. It's both a love story and tragic reality. Sisi was a celebrity of her time—a subject of gossip in the tabloids of the day, an object of fashion inspiration and criticism, an immensely pressured daughter-in-law to the Empress, a lonely wife hungry for the love she was promised, and young mother yearning to actually be a mother. Allison Pataki's depicts Sisi as complex and flawed, which makes her all the more real to me. She was sometimes naive, sometimes dramatic, sometimes impulsive, and sometimes just so pitiful. But she was also so very strong throughout her great loves and great (maybe greater) losses. She's one of my favorite female figures of history. While The Accidental Empress is almost a coming of age tale, in the sequel Sisi: Empress on Her Own, Empress Elisabeth really comes into her own. She was an amazing woman and these are both amazing books to stick your nose in.

It's been years since I read this book, but I still remember the feelings it gave me. I was reading it while I was in college and working part-time at a call center. On my all-too-short breaks, I'd squeeze in a chapter or two. And one day, the chapter I happened to squeeze in was so shocking and so utterly heartbreaking that I was moved to tears right there at my little cubicle desk. (The only other book to make me cry in public was Gone with the Wind, which made me weep on a bus.) There are so many novels out there about the French Revolution and its associated glitz and glamour, glory and gore. This one is all of that, and yet different. It's the story of Madame Tussaud—yes, the one that makes you think of celebrity wax figures. She was a real woman during that bloody time of terror in France. She was creative in her art, shrewd in her business, and the unfortunate sculpturess of the wax death masks modeled from the noble beheaded. (Quick shout out to the amazing author Michelle Moran, who I admire and follow on social media. Her Facebook post partly inspired me to think up this list.)

7. The Bees by Laline Paull
Okay, okay... so I'm stretching a little bit about this one. This book is buzzing (almost literally) with strong female characters. In fact, most of them are female. Because they're not human—they're honeybees. And female honeybees—from the workers to the Queen bee herself—are what make the hive go round. I have a lot to say about this book, so feel free to check out my full review here. It's religion-meets-fairy-tale-meets-science-meets-epic adventure and Flora is one of the strongest female protagonists I've accounted. Ever.

Your turn! What female-driven novels are your favorites?

Photo above: via StockSnap.io.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much! So glad you like my take on powerful women in history. My latest novel also focuses on a strong woman: a dancer and choreographer from Ballets Russes, Bronia NIjinska, Vaslav's Nijinsky sister. Just a hint ...:)

Jessica • The Lovely Side said...

I'm so flattered you stopped by and commented. Thank you! I heard about 'The Chosen Maiden' on a book blog recently—it's on my to-read list. 'Garden of Venus' sounds enchanting, too. So much historical fiction to read! (So little time.) :)

Unknown said...

I really loved Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud, and Rodin's Lover is on my TBR list. Great book selections!