Review of "When Women Stood" by Alexandra Allred


I’m passionate about history, but like many history buffs, I get a bit stuck in my own rut and prefer reading in my own time periods and topics. When Alexandra Allred told me she’d written a book about women’s sports history, I realized this was a chance to fix a gap in my knowledge. Still, I wondered how well I’d connect with the topic because I’m not a very sports-orientated person.

I quickly realized I hadn’t thought enough about this topic and how it entwines in so many aspects of women’s history: suffrage, racism, women’s freedom to travel, sexuality, and birth control. This book took me on a journey to realizing the fundamental truth I had been missing: for women, sports represent freedom – the freedom to control their own bodies and their own destiny.

But humanity has always taken a dim view of women controlling anything. Even the aesthetics of the body – one chapter in the book struck a very poignant note. Women athletes wearing snug-fitting uniforms were urged to lose weight, even when cutting calories was detrimental to their performance. Arguably the strongest, most physically-fit women in the country were thought to be too large to be attractive, and if that doesn’t reveal the lie behind the claim that body shaming is because of concern for their health, nothing will.

Allred doesn’t shy away from the tough topics, either. She writes about trans women in sports and the concerns over biological advantage, but it’s always with respect and compassion. There’s a segment about sexual abuse of women athletes that was very difficult for me to read.

I learned about Title IX and women pilots (I never thought of flying as a sport, but it clicked and made sense!) Moreover, I learned just how much of women’s history I’d been missing by not exploring this topic. I was introduced to so many heroes and pioneers whose stories I want to delve into further.

For a history buff, it’s a feast. For someone studying women’s history, it’s essential.

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

When Women Stood: The Untold History of Females Who Changed Sports is now available for pre-order in the US and in the UK

Review of "Cleopatra Unconquered" and "Cleopatra Victorious.

 I had the opportunity this week to read two delightful alternative history novels, Cleopatra Unconquered and Cleopatra Victorious by Helen R. Davis. 

~.~

Cleopatra Unconquered




I adore a well-researched novel and this one satisfied my cravings. Though technically an "alternative history" there's enough real history here to satisfy even the most discerning of history buffs, and even the "unreal" characters like Isis and Athena are painted realistically.

We see Cleopatra's youth and traumas through the eyes of Isis, who has taken a special interest in baby Cleopatra. Cleopatra returns this devotion as she grows. (She's a Greek by bloodline, but in her faith and traditions, Cleopatra is fully Egyptian.) Isis protects her where she can and tries to guide her to making the choices that will help fulfil a destiny worthy of her.

Cleopatra herself takes over the narration at points and we see how difficult it was for her to navigate some of the challenges she faced, such as the betrayals of her siblings and her quiet disappointment in her father's indolence and alcoholism. Taking the throne is her means of survival, but she also loves Egypt and wants it to thrive. That's why turning to Caesar is the natural choice.

She comes to love this soldier with rough edges, though it will one day be Mark Antony who makes her heart truly sing. But Caesar, despite being ruler of much of the known world at the time, fails her in crucial ways.

We see twists of fate, both small and large, that changed the course of history. The author deftly turns a few of these to give Cleopatra and Antony victory at a crucial moment, opening a huge range of possibilities.

I liked the character of Cleopatra in this novel. I've read fictionalized versions of her life where she comes off a stilted and cold. This Cleopatra loves and worries and has flaws, but wants to do the right thing. She's a woman of faith and ambition, smart as a whip and curious about the world around her. She sees the value of diplomacy over warfare, conquering hearts and minds to outwit her enemies.

It will be interesting to see in the next volume how Cleopatra shapes the modern world.

 

Cleopatra Victorious

What if Cleopatra and Mark Antony had shaped the pre-modern world?

It's a fascinating question to ponder, and this novel does it well.

In the previous book, Cleopatra and Antony won the Battle of Actium and Octavian was killed. Cleopatra and Antony now control a vast territory: Egypt in the East and Rome's dominions in the west. Their children, Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene -- as well as Cleopatra's son by Caesar -- thrive and have magnificent destinies of their own to find.

Would Cleopatra and Antony have been able to keep together the empire? Would Rome have accepted another Imperator, or recognized Caesar's son? Could Cleopatra have won them over and been able to establish herself as a legitimate wife or would Caesar's enemies have triumphed in continuing to paint her as a vile temptress? What if Antony and Cleopatra had managed to use the marriages of their children to create bonds between kingdoms? The book delves into all of the struggles the couple would have faced in strengthening and even expanding their holdings.

As with the first book, the goddesses who protect Cleopatra are depicted as characters with motivations and desires of their own. Caesar joins them in the Vault of Nut and is able to watch the world that they're creating.

As Cleopatra ages, the faith that sustained her never wavers. But she does begin to worry about her soul. What if the sins of battling against her brothers and sisters have weighed down her heart too much to survive judgment?

She also deals with the same family struggles that will be familiar to modern parents when one of her children acts out and seemingly rejects all of the values she's tried to instill in him.

She lives long enough to watch the world around her changing, such as the rise of a new Messianic religion in Judea, something that piques her life-long curiosity. The region fascinates her, despite her enmity with Herod.

Carefully, she and Antony build and strengthen. He, of course, is more attuned to war and conquest while she prefers to fight diplomatic battles and use the marriages of her children to create bonds. Toward the end of the novel, we see how she's positioned all of the chess pieces to leave a magnificent inheritance to her children, ruling over vast kingdoms... if they'd be able to hold onto it.

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, I love a well-researched novel, and though this is alternative history, the real history is depicted with care. A history buff will recognize the real details carefully woven into the narrative. (There was even a small bit of the Apocrypha stirred in!) What could Antony and Cleopatra have built if there'd been just a few different turns of fate?


Revolution: A Short Story

 I wrote this story for Alec Frazier. He intended to do an anthology of stories about disability for his second book, but it never worked out.

Now that he's gone, I've decided to share it, dedicated to his memory. 

Abide, my friend.


.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.


Revolution
by Lissa Bryan

 

Holloway Prison, 1913

 

She didn’t look up when the cell door opened.

“Miss Billinghurst?”

May did not reply. She kept her eyes on the featureless white wall in front of her and tried to steel herself for the violation that might be to come.

The man crouched down beside her. “Miss Billinghurst, I’d ask if you would speak with me.”

He was using her name, and that was unusual. She’d gotten so used to being referred to by her inmate number. She raised her eyes and looked into his face. He was a young one, his cheeks ruddy pink under a shock of ginger hair, his eyes wide and blue.

“Why would I do that?”

“I hope we might come to some…. agreement that might make your stay here more tolerable.”

Tolerable for him, or tolerable for her? Did the tortuous methods of the prison trouble his conscience? May turned back to the wall. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”

She heard him take in a deep breath. “Miss, do you think we enjoy force-feeding you ladies?”

“Actually, I do.” She remembered the fierce grin of the wardress who’d sat on her legs – knowing she could not use them anyway – and the cold contempt in the eyes of the doctor who forced the rubber tube through her nose and down her throat. She’d managed not to weep in front of them, at least. She’d kept that shred of pride.

The door opened again and she saw from the corner of her eye two guards carry in a small table and chairs. A pang of longing stuck her, longing to get off this cold cement floor and sit upright once more.

“Please, won’t you join me?” He gestured to the table.

May thought for a moment, then nodded. “Will you help me?”

“Of course.” He slid an arm under her back and one under her knees to lift her. “No!” she snapped. “Let me stand.”

“But…”

“I can do it. Please, just help me keep my balance.”

He took the hands she offered and pulled, tugging her upward. For a moment, she struggled to maintain balance, her knees locked, but she finally managed to hold herself upright. Without being asked, he helped guide her through the two halting steps to the chair. He pulled it out for her, a courtesy she wasn’t expecting and it made her smile a bit as she seated herself.

He took a seat across from her. “They call you the Cripple Suffragette.”

May tilted up her chin. “I suppose I have been called worse. But you haven’t told me what you’re called.”

“My apologies. I’m Superintendent Dawson. I’ve been distressed by the reports I’m reading of your time here, and that of the other… other ladies who were arrested with you.”

“I understand. What’s happened to us should make any but the most hardened heart distressed.”

“Why were you sitting on the floor?”

“I’m told there’s a rule about not sitting on our beds during the day, but I’m in my cell all the time because they haven’t taken me to the workhouse with the other women.”

“Ah, yes. That’s because of your… your… “ Dawson paused for a moment to clear his throat. “May I ask… What happened to your legs?”

“I had polio as a child. It left me unable to use my legs to walk without braces and a crutch, but I can use my hands, my mind, and my voice. I will use every part of me that I can in furtherance of my cause. My only regret is there is not more of me to give.”

Dawson sat back, shaking his head slightly. “I admit, I do not understand why you’re doing this. Do you really believe your violence and destructive behavior will get you the vote?”

It was May’s turn to shake her head. “How long have we been writing editorials, article, and books, chanting slogans in the streets, giving lectures and distributing pamphlets, Superintendent? We’ve been asking you for decades now, but you will not listen. We want the vote. We want changes in law to grant us equality. Now people are finally hearing us.”

“Do you Suffragettes really believe it will be accomplished by violence?”

“Again, good sir, we’ve been speaking and writing peaceably for generations and it’s gotten us nowhere. Only now has real attention been brought to the matter. Perhaps the government will realize now that we mean to continue this fight to the bitter end. When men use bombs in war that lay waste to cities, it is called glorious and heroic. Why should a woman not employ same weapons as men? We have not only declared war, Superintendent Dawson. We are a revolution.”

“Revolution.” Dawson chuckled and May felt her eyes narrow. She’d never get used to being belittled no matter how many times it happened. But she took a deep breath and reminded herself that it was better to be underestimated. That way, they never saw it coming.

May shifted in her chair. “May I have back my leg braces and crutch? I fear catching a chill sitting on the floor all day.”

“You’ve used them as weapons, I’m told.”

May didn’t hold back her smile. “I have. We must all use the weapons at our disposal. “

“So you may understand why I must decline to arm you.”

“What if I gave you my word as a lady I would not employ them in that manner during my stay here?”

“Some would say you are not a lady at all, and thus your word cannot be trusted.”

May closed her eyes. She, more than anyone, knew that she and her sisters were not considered ladies by their opposition. And having that distinction stripped from them made them fair game for any sort of mistreatment. During the last protest, she had seen police officers pull up the skirts of her fellow Suffragettes and throw them into the mobs of jeering men.

“Can you tell me what this is?” He laid a picture on the table in front of May, one taken at the last rally. She picked it up, not to look at herself, but to scan the faces of the ladies with her at the rally, still smiling, still strong before everything had gone wrong.

“That’s my tricycle. It’s better for protests than a wheelchair.”

“Where did you get it?”

“I designed it and a friend helped build it. The third wheel is behind the seat so I can turn it like a rudder, and I pump the two handles above the wheel to power it forward.”

“There are reports you used it to ram into the crowd watching the protest.”

May dropped the picture on the table. “Only those who tried to grope the ladies or interfere with our progress.”

“Police officers trying to arrest them?”

May felt heat rise in her cheeks. “They weren’t simply trying to arrest them. They beat the ladies in the street like dogs. Any man who would beat a woman deserves far worse than having his shins bumped with my tricycle. What happened to me at that rally was--”

When she didn’t continue, be prodded. “What do you mean?”

May’s voice was tight. “I mean, sir, that the policemen rolled my tricycle down a side alley. They dumped me from the seat onto the ground as they let out the air from the tires and pocketed the valves. They left me for the ruffians, laughing as they went.”

For a long moment, he didn’t say anything. His eyes had widened, and she could almost see the mental gymnastics he was going through as he tried to justify the police’s actions. “What happened?”

“A group of about five men encircled me, saying vile things. All I could do was stare them in the eye and dare them to do their worst. But something in my demeanor must have shaken them because they stopped. One of them helped me into my tricycle and wheeled me back to my friends.”

“And after that you were arrested?”

May nodded. “The men in the alley said vile things, but the judge who sentenced me insulted me more greatly when he said I was not like the other women of my group, hysterical women who were associated with the movement simply because they ‘sought notoriety.’ As though any woman would seek to be despised by the majority of citizens for attention.”

“You could have paid the fine and avoided jail,” Dawson noted.

“Why should I pay a fine when I’ve done nothing wrong? Even if the fine were only half a pence, I would not pay it.”

“Just as you could avoid being force-fed if you would just eat.”

"The government authorities may further maim my body by the torture of force-feeding. They may even kill me in the process for I am not strong, but they cannot take away my freedom of spirit or my determination to fight this good fight to the end."

Sharp bangs sounded from the door before it opened. “Billinghurst, you’re free to go.” The wardress at the door wouldn’t even look at May as she said it. “Your fine was paid by an anonymous donor.”

“Well, then.” May offered her arm to Superintendent Dawson as elegantly as though they were at a ball instead of a grim prison cell. “Shall we?”

“I want to hear the rest of your story,” Dawson said, but he took her arm and helped her to her feet.

May took her first steps toward the door, toward freedom. “I dare say you’ll meet me again in similar circumstances and have a chance for further questioning. The revolution is not yet over.”


Salvation (Heart of Steel Trilogy Book 3) by Rose Mashal



Let me just get this out of the way first: 

THIS IS NOT HOW I EXPECTED THINGS TO GO!

It's genuinely not often that a book surprises me with its twists and ending, but over an entire three book series, Rose B. Mashal kept me guessing. 

I'm going to try to be as vague as possible because I want to preserve the suspense for those who haven't read it. Penny is lonely after her fiancée has an accident and is put into a permanent coma. She creates an android that looks like him, speaks like him, and even smells like him. Through a series of continual upgrades, she's even able to give the android his memories.

But then it seems her creation has become self-aware and develops even greater abilities, and his passion for her becomes all-consuming. But all the while, there are others who seek to control Penny's creation, and Penny herself.

The entire time I was reading, I was questioning Penny. Was she a reliable narrator? Was she seeing things clearly? As she herself wondered, was she, indeed, going insane? Who could she trust when everyone seemed to have a secret motive of their own?

This was not the plotline I expected; this was not the story I expected. It was a wild ride from start to finish. 

Quite frankly, I loved it. It sparked my imagination. Here I am, supposed to be thinking about the book I'm already writing and Rose has my imagination spinning off into a world with androids.

You can find the Heart of Steel series on Amazon.

This is Not Anne Boleyn

 Another person has come forward with research on a portrait claiming that it's Anne Boleyn. 

It's not.

I'm not going to post a pic of the portrait in question because the author of the study has mentioned not having permissions to post the whole image himself.

Instead, I'll post the image it's a copy of. 


This painting is NPG 96, a portrait of an unidentified woman, c. 1570. It has been previously identified as Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, but neither of those identifications hold up.

The portrait the author is claiming is Anne Boleyn is a copy of this one, merely changing the dress color and a few details. The overdress is red and the sleeves are white and gold. The stuffed and slashed shoulder rolls are rendered as flat flaps, likely because the artist misinterpreted what he/she was seeing in the original. The woman wears a gable hood without its lappets, which drops down instead of curving upward, as was the fashion of the day.


The white part is the "lappets." In 1536, when he claims this portrait was made, the lappets came to mouth level and curved outward. The hood in his portrait comes straight down to the chin.



The author claims every other portrait of Anne, including the medal which is the only undisputed life portrait of Anne, are incorrect. He claims Anne was beautiful when literally everyone said she was not.

The woman has gray-blue eyes. The author claims that Anne had unusually large pupils, which is why contemporaries remarked on Anne's "black and beautiful" eyes. I'll just say he's the first to document such a trait and leave it at that.

The back of the portrait has a coat of arms consisting of three hunting horns. The author claims that Anne had these arms invented by the artist for her. But that's not how heraldry worked; you couldn't willy-nilly invent a set of your own arms on a whim. Secondly, women didn't have their own coats of arms. They used those of their husband or father. Anne was granted a coat of arms to use as England's queen, but they certainly weren't her invention, and they marked the noble families she descended from, as did all sets of royal female arms.

These are Anne Boleyn's arms.


The author claims that Anne's deformed finger is depicted in the painting. Even if we decide to believe Anne did have a finger deformity (and that's a BIG if, considering it wasn't mentioned until at least half a century after her death) it would be extremely unusual for such a thing to be depicted in art. The people of the Tudor era believed physical imperfections to be the sign of the devil. It seriously strains the imagination to think that Anne would choose to have it painted in her portrait. 

The author claims that Elizabeth intentionally copied her mother's pose and dress style in a portrait of her own. What a coincidence the clothing reflected the current fashions in Elizabeth's day. As someone online remarked, to believe it's Anne would be expecting she had psychic powers regarding the fashions of her daughter's era, like a woman in the 1920s wearing a tie-dyed shirt and bellbottom jeans.

It's possible this portrait was intended to be a posthumous tribute to Anne Boleyn the way Mary Tudor Brandon's portrait with Charles Brandon was painted after her death, depicting her in current fashion. Late in Elizabeth's reign, people displayed portraits of Anne to try to curry royal favor. 

The NPG portrait and the Hever portrait of Anne were probably made around this time. Though they depicted her in contemporary styles, they used a face pattern of Queen Elizabeth, as the "new Anne Boleyn portrait" may have used NPG96 as a pattern.


However, the author pinpoints the date of this portrait to January, 1536, and unless he's found a receipt that every other historian has somehow overlooked, it's yet another leap we have to make in order to accept it. 

The author points to this engraving as "proof" that the sleeves in the portrait were current in Anne's day, but it's actually a misidentified engraving of Jane Seymour's Whitehall Dynasty Portrait, and the original doesn't have "puffy sleeves."




True, the research hasn't been released yet, but I can't imagine any research which would overturn everything we know about fashion, heraldry, and the appearance of Anne Boleyn.


Redemption (Heart of Steel Trilogy Book 2) by Rose Mashal

 


The first Heart of Steel book in this series captured my imagination and I still haven't been able to shake it off.

This is a hard review to write because I don't want to give anything away! First things first -- I loved the story and was enthralled all the way to the end where I was hoping to get some answers. Who can Penny trust? 

In the first book, Penny created an android replica of her fiancé, who was critically injured in an accident and still remains in a coma. She even devised a way to feed his memories into Ian to make him a more perfect copy of the man she lost.

In this book, she discovers that perhaps she didn't have the perfect romance she thought she did. She also starts to wonder if giving Ian sentience and autonomy were the right decisions. In the first book, she was amazed as he began to create art and make his own choices; in this book, she finds he's also hiding secrets.

Everyone is. Penny starts feeling like she's losing her mind as she discovers more and more treachery around her.  Friends turn out to have betrayed her. People have hidden motives and obsessions of their own. Penny isn't even sure she can trust her own perceptions of reality.

The whole book was a rollercoaster from start to finish and there were points where I found myself reading more quickly, hoping it would turn out to be a dream sequence or something, and then gasping and going back to read more carefully in case I'd missed something. Because I have a feeling these tiny details are going to turn out to be the key to the whole story.

I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment!

.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

Redemption (Heart of Steel 2) can be found on Amazon

The Prince's Bride 2 by JJ McAvoy

 


Let's get the important part out of the way first: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It had everything I love about royalty -- palace intrigue, the crushing burdens of etiquette and tradition, the jewels and splendor, and the weight of history's eyes upon each action. 

Odette was chosen by her prince for a very traditional reason: her money. But as a Black American woman she's not the traditional princess that Ersovia expected. 

When the book opens, Odette hasn't heard from the man she married on impulse for six months. He's been thrust into the role of heir to the kingdom and the king is incapacitated. It's an enormous burden, but I admit, I was like, "Come on, Gale, not even a text?"

Odette travels to Ersovia to get him to sign divorce papers and discovers why he hasn't contacted her. The situation is a mess and he's miserable, but it's instantly obvious these two were meant for one another.  It's not easy for Odette to decide to stay, especially as it becomes obvious that she's going to have to fight an uphill battle to be accepted by her new country, and her widowed sister-in-law hates her simply for existing, for exemplifying the happiness she once had as the wife of the heir.

I couldn't help think of another princess as I was reading this, a woman of color who married into the English royal family. Like Odette, every single breath she takes is criticized and every action is taken out of context in the press and twisted in nefarious ways. 

Odette spends her days learning the language, learning etiquette, studying history, and learning the names and ranks of the important Ersovian officials. At this point in the book, I forgave Gale for not calling because Odette herself is unable to steal a moment to even call her mom and let her know she's getting publicly married in the winter. 


Odette's mom is a gem. It took a while for me to warm to her in the first book because she seemed focused on the wrong things, but in this book, she is a tiger defending her daughter.

But Odette's family isn't all on her side. 

Small spoiler (highlight to read) Her half -sister betrays her cruelly. I was hoping by the end of the book that the sister would come to a place of repentance. Not that Odette had to forgive her, of course, but that her sister would come to realize what she had done and the loving relationship she had thrown away out of spite and jealousy.

The queen was a delight. She, too, is a loving and fierce mother. She not only has her only remaining son to protect, but she feels a duty to the monarchy itself, to protect its traditions and dignity. She's strict with Odette and insistent that she do things correctly, but she's also supportive when Odette tosses aside the script for a moment to show her real self to the people and earn their affections. 

Gale's sister is also wonderful. She was a fan of Odette's music before Odette was involved with her brother and she's thrilled that the two are going to get married.

But there's someone who doesn't want to see Odette succeed. Someone who's willing to stop at nothing to make sure she doesn't become the next queen of Ersovia.

Did I mention I loved this book? I'm only sad we didn't get to see Odette rule as queen, but maybe if we ask JJ very nicely and practice our best curtseys, she'll give us another sequel one day!


.¸¸•.¸¸.•´¯`• (¯`•ღ•´¯)•´¯`•.¸¸.•.¸¸.

The Prince's Bride part 2 is available on Kindle here.


Share on Tumblr