International Women’s Day has arrived once again, and for the third year running, GeekMom is here to provide you with a reading list of books featuring a mixture of inspirational women both fictional and historical. This year’s list (hopefully) contains something for everyone, and we invite you to dig in and try out anything that piques your interest. Be sure to check out the list of honorable mentions too, which features links to other related books that we have reviewed since last year’s International Women’s Day. We hope you have an amazing and inspiring International Women’s Day 2020.
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Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson
Despite the picture some have tried to paint, women have always played a huge part in the history of speculative fiction and horror. Monster, She Wrote is a guide to the work of dozens of female authors who have penned strange, macabre, and terrifying tales over the last several hundred years—introducing us to both the women themselves and their work.
Monster, She Wrote is divided into eight vaguely chronological sections, each of which focuses on a specific group of authors, beginning with “The Founding Mothers,” moving through “The Women Who Wrote the Pulps” and “Haunting the Home,” and ending on “The Future of Horror and Speculative Fiction.” Within these sections, each author gets a short but detailed biography and a reading list that highlights the best of their work and other related books you might enjoy if you like them. Quotes from their books are also scattered about to give you a taste of their writing style.
Dotted throughout the book are other short sections with titles like “Spotting the Gothic,” “Horror vs. Terror,” and “The Ghost Story: A Christmas Tradition.” These sections appear in black, gravestone-shaped blocks that, along with occasional black and green ink illustrations, add to the gothic feel of the whole collection.
Spanning everything from the writers of the earliest gothic novels to classic ghost stories and popular pulp fiction, this collection of biographies covers such a wide variety of authors that there is sure to be something that appeals to all fans of genre fiction inside it. In fact, my biggest complaint about Monster, She Wrote was that it added so many books to my want-to-read list! While none of the biographies are long enough to really delve deeply into the lives of these women, there is enough here to pique interest and encourage you to seek out more knowledge for yourself.
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier is a graphic novel that follows the story of women in space told through the slightly fictionalized perspective of Mary Cleave. Beginning during Mary’s childhood, the book charts the changes that happened within the space program that eventually allowed women to not only become astronauts but serve in many other vital roles as well.
The story primarily follows the American space program, but several sections focus on the Soviets, specifically around the time that Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. It follows not only the personal journeys of women like the Mercury 13, Sally Ride, and Mary Cleave herself but also the political challenges that faced women in the early years of the space program. This means that Astronauts can be a frustrating read at times, but knowing there will be a positive outcome by the end makes it easier to push through these moments where the urge to throw the book at a wall and scream about the patriarchy is at its highest.
Astronauts was a really interesting read that succeeded in teaching me lots about these amazing women while never becoming dry and dull. The art style is cute and cartoony, using bright colors that really catch the eye and add to the feeling of fun and excitement throughout this story of exploration and determination. It will appeal to anyone interested in space, women in STEM, and will be an ideal gift to any young, budding astronauts.
Feminist Stitches: Learn to Cross Stitch 12 Fierce Designs by Haley Pierson-Cox
Feminist Stitches is a collection of 12 feminist-inspired cross stitch patterns designs inspired by the Suffragette movement, Rosie the Riveter, the Women’s March, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and more. The designs are generally small and easy to stitch, with many of them ideal to be used as patches or small designs on bags, purses, and other items as well as being traditionally framed.
I really liked the level of diversity on display, with lots of different skin tones shown in the designs. There’s even one woman shown in a wheelchair, which was great to spot. The inclusion of a pink “pussy hat” could label that pattern in particular as being trans-exclusionary, but the remainder do appear very inclusive—at least to my cis eyes.
If you’re new to cross stitch, there’s a double-page spread that explains all the tools you’ll need—floss, fabric, needle, and hoop, primarily—along with a guide to basic techniques such as how to prepare your fabric, read a pattern, and use floss to its best. There are also some ideas on what to do with your finished projects
I’m definitely planning to stitch up a few of these patterns—the Votes for Women one being especially apt this year—and I look forward to displaying them and hopefully generating some conversations.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
The first fiction entry in this list, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires sees a group of ’90s housewives pitted against an evil far more terrifying and insidious than anything they have read about in their monthly book club. Trigger warnings apply for rape, domestic abuse, drug abuse, and suicide.
Patricia is a wife and mother living in ’90s suburbia with a distant husband, increasingly sullen children, and the unwelcome responsibility of caring for her aging mother-in-law. She and her friends are all members of their local book club, which focuses on true crime and horror novels. When a new neighbor, James Harris, moves in, Patricia initially extends traditional southern hospitality, but she quickly grows suspicious of his motives as bizarre occurrences begin to happen and children in a nearby poor, black community start to disappear. When Patricia witnesses James attacking a young girl, she has to speak out, but her fears are laughed away by the men of the community who believe they know what’s best and she is quickly dismissed as mad. Eventually, Patricia must decide whether to stay silent and allow evil to flourish or speak out and risk everything.
In the introduction to this book, author Grady Hendrix states that he “wanted to pit a man freed from all responsibilities but his appetites against women whose lives are shaped by their endless responsibilities. [He] wanted to pit Dracula against [his] mom.” That idea of men having freedom while women are tied down is nothing new. How often have we seen the trope of the husband returning home to immediately crash onto the couch with a beer and the TV on while his wife runs around making dinner, cleaning up, and helping with homework? Here, though, it becomes something even more sinister as James leverages his freedom, and that of the men around him, to his advantage, knowing that the women who have figured out his secret are trapped by social niceties and a desperate desire not to rock the boat and risk their families and their social standing. In the end, though, it ends up being those very restrictions and their skills as “good wives and mothers” that help the women fight back.
Housewives are rarely the focus of books like this, seen as having too many responsibilities to spend our days fighting evil or having adventures, so it’s refreshing—if terrifying—to read a book where I strongly recognised myself as I am today in the main character. That being said, this was one of the hardest books I have read in a long time, to the extent that I had to ban myself from reading it before bed. Not only were the horror scenes truly horrific (anyone with a fear of rats may want to skip this one) but the reaction of the husbands was infuriating in their smug dismissal of their silly wives and their overactive imaginations, and I frequently found myself wanting to scream for reasons other than fear.
Grady Hendrix is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors, and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is another excellent example of his unique and disturbing take on the world.
Rosie: Stronger Than Steel by Lindsay Ward
My final selection for this year’s International Women’s Day is a pick for younger readers. Rosie: Stronger Than Steel is a picture book that teaches kids about women’s roles during World War II through the character of a tractor named Rosie.
Rosie is built by female factory workers in the United States, one of whom looks remarkably similar to the famous Rosie the Riveter from whom Rosie gets her name. After completion, she is shipped to England where she takes up work on a farm with the Women’s Land Army, helping to grow crops to feed the British people and their Armed Forces overseas. Through Rosie’s eyes, we get to see some of the dangers faced by women during the war, but mostly the camaraderie forged between them in factories and farms.
At the end of the book is some more detailed, historical information from the author about the people and events that inspired the story. This will be an ideal jumping-off point for any young readers who are keen to learn more after reading the book.
Rosie: Stronger Than Steel is a short, sweet story with fun and colorful illustrations that will be a great introduction for young readers unfamiliar with the role of women during the Second World War.
Honorable Mentions (Books Reviewed Since International Women’s Day 2019)
- Mera: Tidebreaker by Danielle Paige
- Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed
- Girs on the Up by Linda Newbery
- Please Send Help… by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin
- The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg
- The American Dream? by Shing Yon Khor
- The Lost Ones by Anita Frank
- Love, Heather by Laurie Petrou
- The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
- Lumberjanes Series by Mariko Tamaki
GeekMom received copies of some books for review purposes.