did it! I completed the 2019 Reading Women Challenge and I’m feeling pretty
good about it. I’m glad I took the opportunity to explore the wealth of female
talent out there, from the 11th century writer Murasaki Shikibu to
modern visionaries like Anjali Sachdeva. Here are my thoughts on the final
books I read, which may contain spoilers!
#16 – A book by an Indigenous woman
challenge, I chose Heart Berries: A Memoir by the First Nation Canadian writer
Terese Marie Mailhot. It doesn’t read like a traditional memoir, with its
disjointed timeline and poetic style. It also eschews easy lessons or neat
resolutions as it recounts her mental health struggles and her relationships.
frankly, a mess. At times it is a beautiful, inspiring mess, but at other times
it is like holding your chaotic friend’s hair back while she word-vomits all
over the place. Mailhot doesn’t come across as likeable, and I doubt she
intended to. Her rawness is exhausting and I had to read it in small doses.
#1 – A mystery or thriller written by a woman of colour
Murder in Montego Bay is the first book in the Preddy and
Harris series of detective novels, and I don’t think I’ll be reading any of the
others as this one just wasn’t my cup of ganja tea (Detective Preddy’s
The pace is
leisurely, bordering on glacial, for the first half of the novel. This wouldn’t
be a problem if there were more depth to the characters, but none of them seem
particularly complex or interesting.
kick off towards the end of the novel, there are one or two neat plot twists,
and the whole thing develops a filmic, blockbuster kind of feel. Unfortunately,
the lack of depth lets the novel down again when the killer is revealed. I
didn’t find their motivation entirely convincing, so it worked for me as a
“whodunnit” but not as a “whydunnit”.
#7 – A book featuring a woman in science
wanted to like this one, but The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict was a
disappointment. It’s about Albert Einstein’s first wife, Mileva, who was also a
physicist and is claimed by some historians to have helped him considerably
with his ground-breaking theories.
portrays Mileva as Albert’s intellectual equal, who (SPOILER ALERT) comes up
with the theory of relativity herself while grieving for her daughter, who dies
of scarlet fever. Albert claims the idea as his own, and Mileva’s genius is
lost in the shadows while Albert becomes increasingly famous.
intriguing plot, I didn’t like the book. I found the writing flat and
exposition-heavy, and Mileva is portrayed as unrealistically flawless and selfless.
Even when she’s angry about not getting credit for her ideas, it’s not for her
own sake – it’s because she wanted the ideas to be a tribute to her daughter.
It didn’t ring true for me, and I would have rooted for her more if she just wanted
fame and recognition because she earnt them, dammit!
#10 – A book about a woman athlete
Trudy’s Big Swim by Sue Macy is a lovely picture book
about Gertrude Ederle – the first woman to swim across the English Channel. It
should appeal to a wide age range, as younger readers can enjoy the main story
and illustrations, while older readers have background information such as
sports timelines to read before and after the main story.
ideal book for sporty girls (and boys, of course). It’s full of fun little
details like people on a boat singing songs to encourage Trudy, and passing her
fried chicken in a net to keep her strength up. But it doesn’t try too hard to
be a “kids’ story”, and the illustrations are realistic, with Trudy looking
more like a real swimmer than a Disney princess.
# 15 – A book written by a South Asian author
hard to see why The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy won the Booker
Prize in 1997. It’s just magic. Go read it!
story of Estha and Rahel – twins from a complicated family. It can be difficult
to write from a child’s-eye view, but Roy manages it with aplomb. The minor
characters are also fully formed, so that nobody is a hero or a straightforward
villain (except perhaps the Orangedrink Lemondrink man, who is a POS).
very dark content in the story, but it’s told with wit, a surprising streak of
scatological humour, and a real playfulness with language. The structure can be
confusing at times, but a novel this rich is worth a few mental gymnastics.
# 12 – A Lambda Literary Award winner
I don’t read
much hard sci-fi, but Autonomous: A Novel made me want to read more of it. Set in the 22nd
century, the world-building is phenomenally detailed and imaginative. The
future isn’t presented as a hellscape (people routinely live past 100 and
eco-friendly technology is commonplace) but there are also some very Orwellian
Some of the
characters aren’t as fleshed out as the world they live in. Threezed’s sarcasm
is “told” more often than shown, and I never understood why Eliasz got so hung
up on being attracted to a male robot rather than a male robot.
Is LGBT+ acceptance so crappy in the future that it’s seen as more acceptable
to fancy robots than someone of the same gender?
Despite these flaws, this novel takes a brave stab at tackling huge issues like identity, capitalism and personal freedom, and it’s also just a damn good adventure story with great action scenes. Overall, I’d say I’m ending the 2019 Reading Women Challenge on a high.