In need of some inspiration

Last week was long. I was away from Tallahassee, traveling for work and it was just the week that would not end. In the middle of it, I needed inspiration so I started thinking about my fictional spirit animals; the fictional ladies I want to be when I grow up. In times of trouble, I admit, I retreat into fiction. I’m trying very hard not to do so here. So, I’ll post this here for inspiration, for those days my news feed will make me cry and remember these ladies. They may have been afraid sometimes, discouraged, annoyed, angry but they always acted as they saw fit and made the tough decisions when they needed to. So, my fictional hall of fame:

Agent Peggy Carter

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Seriously, when I grow up, I want to be just like Peggy. She is smart, resourceful, bold and is not afraid to tell it like she sees it. But, she also knows how the game is played so she has to be extra clever to get around all the ridiculous male misogyny in her line of work. We need more Peggy Carters front and center for girls and boys to see what is possible, regardless of gender. I know the character isn’t going anywhere but I was bummed that the TV show wasn’t more successful. Her portrayer, Hayley Atwell is also #lifegoals so it was a win-win in both fiction and reality!

Leslie Knope

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Leslie Knope is a spirit animal of sorts. The woman can do things with binders and organization that made me actually get teary at times watching this show. But mainly, she is eternally optimistic and sure that she can make changes in the world around her. She refuses to get bogged down by all the naysayers and traditionalists around her but continues to work and fight for what she believes in. She even wrote a letter to America after the recent election and folks, it gave me life.

Amelia Peabody

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Amelia doesn’t have a movie or tv show yet; criminal really. I’ve always cast Kate Winslet for her in my mind though and Tom Hardy for her rapscallion husband Emerson. Amelia is a take no prisoners sort of person. She is happiest when organizing the lives of everyone around her and solving murders while she does it. She is brilliant and independent; her marriage proposal to her husband is one of the best things ever. And their marriage a thing of beauty; Amelia never loses herself in it but I think becomes the best version of herself. (which is a common thread for my fictional role models; all had strong partners for love interests. Example A: Ben shaking his head next to Leslie in the above gif).

Anne Shirley

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Anne is a bit of a mess at times but she always pulls through. Smart, funny, and still sensitive after living a life that would have hardened most. Her imagination is perhaps the thing I love most about her; the world is a stage for her mind to go wild and she’s another optimist for us to aspire to be like. The type of friend who sees the rainbows through the rain.

Belle

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My first bookworm role model; the heroine who taught me what it was to be a heroine. To fight for those you loved even against crazy odds (and to always have a book on hand). The Disney princesses can be problematic, it’s true; but Belle has a backbone on her and never lets the world and the little minds she’s surrounded by get her down. She always dreams of adventure and does not settle for less than what she wants.

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Favorite Disney Heroines who aren’t Princesses

Meg, sassy as always. Source.

Meg, sassy as always. Source

The above artwork came across my Tumblr feed this week and I immediately re-blogged. It reminded me of the awesome ladies of Disney who often (re: usually) get overshadowed by their sisters who wear crowns. So, here is some love for the ladies who may not be royalty but are awesome anyway:

Like I said, girl is sassy. Source

We will start with the inspiration for this post, Megara. Meg knows what is up. She’s had it tough so she learned to take care of herself and if that meant making a few shady deals with the God of the Underworld so be it. Meg is a bit jaded but even she can’t resist a true hero forever and helps her boy save the world (admittedly by dying which is problematic from a feminist standpoint but at least she chose a guy who’d go to the Underworld and back for her).

Best fight in a church ever! Source

The next lady I thought of was Esmeralda, the street-savvy dancer with the best sidekick goat this side of the Seine. Esmeralda can take care of herself and her friends when she needs to, is always ready for a witty last word and stands up for what she knows to be right. I was so disappointed in the book version of her that I like to ignore the original for this much cooler version.

Jane. Owner of one of my sister’s favorite quotes (“And Daddy, they took my boot!). Jane is smart, curious and independent with a father who supports her adventurous spirit. Not a lady to sit idly at home, she journeys off the Africa to see the animals she’s studied face to face and does just what she pleases, no matter what her expedition leader thinks. I think what I also always appreciated about Jane is she goes with the flow no matter what. [above Gifset in best format I can get it – hey, I’m learning! See the original here.]

Miss Bianca is always up for an adventure. Source

Miss Bianca came to mind next. Classy, in control and with a heart as big as her whole body, Miss Bianca is always ready to ride off to save the day as ordered. She is also not above picking on her stalwart companion’s more anxious approach to their missions as needed.

Olivia upon meeting Toby. Source

Lilo’s got moves. Source

I feel like these two would be a) awesome friends and b) big trouble. Olivia is brave and smart enough to survive her father’s kidnapping, hire Basil of Baker Street to find him and then run off with Basil to save the day. Lilo would appreciate a friend who would have her back no matter the adventure and would think her “dog” is pretty awesome too.

Why wasn’t I this cool as an 11 year old?

From Goodreads

I love a good, precocious, brilliant, pint sized heroine. R. L. LaFevers’ Theodosia was my reigning favorite but Flavia de Luce is now a tie. In fact, I think it is a good thing these two lived decades apart  – I’m not sure the fictional world would survive if they ever joined forces.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces readers to Flavia de Luce, the youngest daughter of an old English family growing up in a crumbling old estate in the 1950s. She has two older sisters, one obsessed with her looks, the other with her books. Her father is shell shocked from the disappearance and death of the girls’ mother and his experience in the war, so Flavia entertains herself with her chemicals. She inherited a chemistry lab in her great house from a long dead relative. Her passion lies with poisons and her encyclopedic knowledge of them is at once brilliant and scary at the same time. Flavia though is mostly bored and lonely. Luckily for her, a dead body shows up in her cucumber patch the day after a dead jack snipe with a rare stamp impaled on its beak shows up on her back stoop and sends her on a thrilling adventure.

The book is told from Flavia’s point of view and the author impressed me by creating an character who is brilliant and yet believable as an eleven year old. She knows her poisons but she’s a typical youngest sister who has trouble relating with her older sisters and yet loves them. She also clearly loves her father, she after all tries to confess to a murder she didn’t do to try to protect him, but has no way to relate to him. She still has a lot to learn about people which, as a kid, she should.

I am looking forward to the rest of the series definitely and recommend it if you’re looking for a good mystery and a plucky heroine to start off your new year.

Where was Theodosia When I was a Kid?

Fair warning, this will most likely be long. I am trying to cover four books after all.

From Shelf Elf

I had a very active imagination as a child, though looking back I played the strangest games. I fell in love with Samantha, the American Girl doll, and her books meant I spent more than my fair share of time pretending to be a young Victorian who befriends the servants and runs off for adventures on the streets of New York City. I also loved to play at being an immigrant coming to America. Going through my room, packing up a small suitcase with the few possessions I could bring to the New World…I said I had an active imagination. Later I graduated to pretending I’d been sent off to boarding school but that is neither here nor there (I may have been wishing to escape my little sister who wanted to play dolls. Dolls?! Pfff, I’d read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by then, I was too busy pretending to be a sailor on the high seas by then to play dolls.)

Clearly, I had an odd sense of play but having read all four Theodosia books, I so would have added pretending to understand Egyptian magic and raiding tombs in the name of secret brotherhoods to my repertoire. Of course, seeing Indiana Jones movies from a young age meant at some point I pretended to be an explorer for lost antiquities. I usually was his daughter and I had to go rescue him from evil Nazis who’d stolen a pyramid or something (Historical fiction may have captured my childhood attention but that doesn’t mean facts had any place in my fantasies). But Theodosia would have rocked my world. Imagine, a young girl who can do Egyptian magic, who has a museum full of artifacts for her playground and who is continually having to save the world because of it? My mind would have been blown. It was like Samantha meets London meets Indiana Jones and The Mummy. It is blowing my adult mind; I am not sure 12 year old Krystal could have handled it.

There are four Theodosia Throckmorton (I adore the Brits and their names, don’t you?) adventures. The fourth is slated for release in April of this year and I was lucky enough to be able to read it and review it already. It pays to be on the outskirts of the library/book review world. But let us start at the beginning and do quick summaries/reviews for each book.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos introduces you to Theodosia and her world in this adventure which orientates a reader in the world of Theodosia. This is 1908 London and Theodosia’s parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities. They however have no idea their daughter is continually removing curses from objects in their museum. Theo has a talent for Egyptian magic. She can feel and see curses and along with her cat, Isis, she helps corral the curses her parents keep bringing into the museum. Included their latest discovery, the Heart of Egypt, an artifact protected by a curse so awful, Theodosia has to find a way to get it back to Egypt before it brings about the fall of the British Empire! To make matters worse, a secret society, the Serpents of Chaos would like nothing better than to make sure Theodosia fails on her missions. With the help of her younger brother Henry, a streetwise pickpocket Sticky Will and a secret brotherhood of her own, Theodosia can hopefully get the Heart of Egypt back to where it belongs in time. Theo is the kind of heroine I love: Bold, brilliant but also practical and realistic. She is able to use her resources and get her work done, even when that work is masterminding a major theft on the docks on London or stowing way on a ship bound for Egypt. I also loved Theo’s take on the adults that surround her. She loves her parents and wishes she could help them but is annoyingly aware that they see her as simply an eleven year old child, not an equal in their work.

In Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, Theo is assigned cataloging in the “catacombs,” the basement of her father’s museum. While down there, she comes across two very special artifacts. Suddenly, the mummies of London keep showing up in her museum and her father is the main suspect. The Serpents of Chaos are back too and want the artifacts Theo has discovered in order to cause havoc throughout London. As always, Theo must thwart the group while keeping her parents in the dark and avoid the parade of governesses her grandmother keeps trying to saddle her with. Usually a second book in a series drags for me but not this time. The action continues to be fast-paced and well-written. LaFevers seems to know just how much ancient history a reader can take before becoming bored with her plot.

Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus begins when Sticky Will takes Theo to a magic show starring the mysterious Awi Bubu and suddenly Theo is off on her next adventure. Still trying to finish up cataloging the catacombs, her brother Henry stumbles across an artifact that alchemists have been looking for for centuries and now she has to try to protect her brother and make sure the artifact doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Theodosia is a hard character  to keep consistent. She is both a wise character and still an 11-year-old girl. I loved the introduction of yet another secret organization to the books and especially Henry’s reappearance. The sibling relationship adds a welcome element to the story and yet another ally for Theo to count on as she continues to protect her family from ancient Egyptian curses.

From Goodreads

Theo’s latest adventure, Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh, finds Theo in Egypt to return artifacts entrusted to her in England by the brotherhood and Awi Bubu. Of course nothing is ever that simple for Theo. This is by far my favorite book of the series. Theodosia is once again in trouble with more secret societies than you can count and this time, she’s not even in London. She’s come to Luxor to help her mother excavate the annex she found back in The Serpents of Chaos and also to return some artifacts she stumbled upon in the last two books of the series. In fact, a lot of this book is devoted to giving us answers to questions that have been building in the series. I did miss some of the series regulars who are back in London for the story but the new characters (who often contrasted nicely with their London counterparts) were entertaining and added a lot to the story. Normally, open-ended endings such as this book has give me a headache. Would it have killed a writer to give me one more chapter to tie everything nicely up with a bow? But here, I really liked it. One, I am assuming I have more Theodosia to look forward to (right?!) and two, it’s so well in keeping with the tone of the series and also the character of Theodosia, who we see grow up a lot in this installment of the series, that I can’t complain too much.

See? Theodosia is one of the best fictional heroines I have come across in a long time and I cannot recommend her story enough. I think adults and kids will enjoy her adventures as she navigates the London and Egyptian worlds of 1908 as well as the Egyptian magic of the ancients.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf

Image from Goodreads

I found Erin Blakemore’s blog and was reading it for several weeks before it sunk in that she was getting ready for a book to be published. And not just any book. A book that basically made my heart sing when I learned its title, The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was going to buy it when it was released and then stumbled across a giveaway on Goodreads for it. So I waited. And I won! It’s the first Goodreads win I literally grinned from ear to ear about. This was a book that would allow me to revisit my favorite fictional heroines and their creators as well as introduce me to ones I haven’t quite gotten around to reading yet.

The more I read Blakemore’s personal examination of the characters she considered heroic, the more I realized we should be best friends. Though she doesn’t always pick obvious ones, or she chooses ones to highlight I might have let pass, I realize that the experience of woman reading is not so unique as people may think. We come to our books as if they are friends, there to help us laugh when we are down, to help us cry when we need to be reminded that it is not just us that reality can sometimes hate, and always there to remind us that we are not alone. This book reminded me of all the things I loved about being an English major. The small seminar classes where we debated our love for Charlotte versus Anne versus Emily, our hatred of Dora Copperfield and about how Peyton Place was more than just a scandalous piece of literature but meant to make a point about the role of women and the options open to them at the time. I have always been drawn to the women in my books and if I cannot relate, I often find them lacking in some way. Blackmore reminded me that sometimes I don’t need to relate, I simply need to be able to learn from their experiences and appreciate what they, the characters, and they, their creators, need me to see in their narratives.

That said, I’m not sure I will ever be one to love Scarlett O’Hara but reading the series of circumstances that led Margaret Mitchell to write her at least made me appreciate her more than I ever have before. I was already in love with the ideas of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Shirley and Mary Lennox but listening to the stories of their authors made me see even further into these characters and what they reflected, or not, of the women who wrote them and sent them out into the world for girls like me to find. Jane Austen wrote Lizzie stifled by her society and resigned to her spinster state. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave birth to the sunny and optimistic Anne Shirley in the midst of a harrowing depression and Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote the redeemed Mary Lennox at the end of a writing career that had fizzled as her marriages had. Blakemore does make the point I have often felt when I learned the stories of the authors who penned the fictional characters I idolized. We are disappointed to find their lives do not match the imaginary ones they give us as readers but always we appreciate them more for what they overcame to give us, the future generations, fictional heroines to return to in our happiest, and darkest, hours.

Another thing I adored about this book was remembering who I was when I first read about these women. An awkward 6th grader when Anne Shirley arrived in my life, a more cynical 9th grader when I finally read The Secret Garden and realized how much Mary Lennox just needed a hug. An ancient 11th grader when Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy entered my literary world. It would be even longer before someone finally introduced me to Jane Eyre or Jo March. However, I feel like I found these characters, and the women who wrote them, exactly when I was meant to. And they have helped me and I have returned to them as I’ve kept working and fighting my way through school, work, family issues and just life in general.

One thing I also found comforting was Blakemore’s idea of re-reading. That these stories are something we should returned to whenever we need them. She even gives suggestions. Read Pride and Prejudice “as an antidote to deathly seriousness” and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn “when you have to make do with $5 until your next paycheck.” The books on my shelves have always been old friends. The oldest, my Anne books, look like they have survived wars and indeed they have. Anne got me through middle school and junior high. The books from college I re-read and laugh at my marginal notes. Reading Jane Eyre isn’t just comforting; it’s a conversation with my 20 year old self who commented and underlined throughout the entire book.

As you can probably tell, I loved The Heroine’s Bookshelf. It celebrated all the best things about reading and reminded me of the great things women are capable of accomplishing, both in this world and in the fictional world. If you have any women readers in the family, I highly recommend this as a gift for under the tree this Christmas.

Full disclosure: I did win my copy of Heroine’s Bookshelf from Goodreads.