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Review: In Her Footsteps from Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet has been doing some lovely themed books recently, and the latest is this lush tome – In Her Footsteps (though it appears in Goodreads as The Feminist Tour).

Over 30 writers contributed to the 200+ entries about influential women throughout history and across the globe. Some entries are particularly lively, and some lovely illustrations by Lauren Crow among the photographs.

I knew of a lot of these women, but by no means all, so it was fantastic to read through the entries under Activists, Artists, Pathbreakers and Icons and expand my knowledge.

“…let the artist have the last word on her own work”

Not every entry is for a really admirable person – people can be notable trailblazers for not-good reasons too, like Borgias and Medicis – but every entry tells about a woman who made a significant mark in her own world, and often in the wider world too. Women from all over Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

Michelle Obama and Jo Cox are listed; Murasaki Shikibu who wrote the first novel in around 1012AD and Mary Shelley; Pussy Riot and Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor; aviatrix Bessie Coleman and Samoan longboat rower Zita Martel. Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai; Grace Darling and Moomin creator Tove Jansson.

I was delighted to find plenty of queer representation among the entries, and several trans women as well: women like Anne Lister, Lile Elbe, Christina of Sweden, a famously bisexual 17th century queen and of course Sappho.

Really, the only thing I found frustrating about the book was the lack of a map. For each entry, the writer has suggested a place where you might visit – from Egyptian ruins associated with Nefertiti and a statue of Mata Hari in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands, to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in honour of Ella Fitzgerald and the Gabriela Mistral Museum in Vicuna, Chile.

“the girl who practically invented emo”.

As I’m off to Europe for a 6 week trip at the end of April, I would have found a world map a bit more useful to see what sites on my route I could visit to learn more about significant local women. There’s an index which mentions countries and cities at the back, but I do so like a nice map.

That quibble aside, In Her Footsteps is a gorgeous hardcover book, and even if International Women’s Day is over for now, you can celebrate incredible women every day buy picking up this book and using it as a guide to read more about the women who fill its pages.

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Review: Life Minus Me by Sara Codair

I’ve been really enjoying some more diverse fiction, especially books with non-binary and trans characters – these are books which reflect much more of the world around me and the people I know! Among these beautifully written and fresh books are Alison Evans’ Euphoria Kids and Highway Bodies; Amanda Jette Knox’s Love Lives Here; and works by Mary Borsellino and Tom Cho.

This week I read Life Minus Me by Sara Codair, which features humans (including two people using ‘they/their’ pronouns, human-hybrids, some dogs with heaps of personality, and some folks with difficult mental health issues.

The novella begins appropriately with a warning about depictions of suicide, suicidal ideation and related issues. If these are triggering topics for you, do be mindful before starting this book.

Life Minus Me is a prequel in Sara Cordair’s Evanstar universe, which I haven’t read. This makes the somewhat complex backstory a bit tangled from time to time, and exposition a little heavy, but once that slight clunkiness is out of the way, you can get into the story.

We open with Mel, who is part human, part angel, part elf; she’s also a healer and a medical student. Her cousin Erin remains not thrilled with Mel, due to Mel’s intervention in saving their life after a suicide attempt. Erin also has paranormal gifts, about which they are unaware, and so their prophetic dreams about the death of Baily, part owner of the Barks and Bits pet store.

Baily is another person struggling with daily life and suicidal thoughts. When their uncle has a stroke, Baily’s barely-coping coping mechanisms break down. Mel, who can read thoughts, decides if she can’t help Erin, she might be able to help Baily. At the same time, Mel is clearly neglecting her own health in her drive to help others.

It’s a fairly dark world into which the reader steps, full of people finding life difficult to manage. It is, however, also a hopeful world, where solutions aren’t simple or easily gained, but there’s light on the path.

The characters read sympathetically,and of course the presence of Baily’s and Erin’s dogs perhaps embody that best.

Mel’s family business of being demon hunters is a background note which later and a bit suddenly becomes more foreground – I’d just about forgotten an earlier reference to it. That story element will clearly be more of a motif in the rest of the series.

Life Minus Me is dark at times, but it doesn’t wallow in the darkness. It’s a bit densely packed with backstory for a novella, but it certainly offers a solid foundation for the novels of the series: where I hope we might see more of Baily and their dog, of Erin and their secret abilities, and Mel getting a better grip on life.

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Review: Love Lives Here by Amanda jette Knox

I’ve been following Amanda Jette Knox on Twitter for a while now – she’s funny and fierce, particularly on behalf of her family. She writes often of her whole tribe, including her trans daughter and her trans wife. When Love Lives Here, her book about her family’s life, was released, I was pretty sure I’d love it based on her tweets alone.

And readers, I do absolutely love it. It’s honest about difficult things and compassionate with its honesty; Knox is fearless in talking about her own failings and fears, and in talking about her challenges with anxiety – and then in standing up for what and who she believes in.

Amanda Jette Knox’s life can make hard reading at times, particularly the violence of the bullying she experienced at school, and the legacy of both anxiety and resilience that sprang from it. (Having experienced bullying myself at school, though not to that extent, these sections spoke to me and gave me some insights on myself as well.)

Knox’s drive to ‘blend in’ and not be a target comes a cropper when one of her children comes out to her as trans, and so begins Amanda’s journey, and that of her whole family, to a life lived more whole and more authentic to themselves.

Her daughter’s transition, you see, provides the impetus for others to accept and then embrace their whole selves; Amanda’s spouse comes out a year later as trans, and a relationship that had been rocky and might have fallen apart transforms – and then Amanda is able to make and accept some further realisations about herself.

For all the difficulties Knox has faced and overcome, and continues (as we all do) to face and overcome, she also has a great and deep well of kindness and love to draw on, which is also fed by those she loves.

I feel like I’m about to start gushing about how wonderful this book is – and why not? It is wonderful. It has its share of wounds and pain, of fear and grief – but also full of healing and growth, courage and joy.

Love Lives Here is rich in hope, humour and the difference that being your true self can make to the quality of your life, while always recognising how challenging and sometimes dangerous that can be.

While this book is terrific as a potential resource for becoming better informed, for anyone who is transgender or has a trans loved one, I think it has a far wider audience: for anyone who wants to understand the world better, to enrich their knowledge and unlearn some of the ignorant and sometimes cruel things that we’ve absorbed about being human in the early parts of our lives.

The world can sometimes be a dark and lonely place, especially for anyone who doesn’t ‘fit’. But Love Lives Here fills me with hope and joy and the reminder that everyone fits, if only we will stop being afraid of difference.

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Review: Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure By Courtney Milan

The author Courtney Milan came to my attention recently as the result of some fairly unpleasant decisions (and their consequences) made by the Romance Writers of America in response to some of Milan’s robustly framed but justifiable critique on racism/racist tropes in romance (and on one book in particular). The Guardian has a summary.

Not having read anything by Milan, but seeing the comments threads full of praise for her work, I decided to give her books a try, and the what’s the first thing I found listed but a wonderful tale of 70ish ladies teaming up for delicious revenge and late blooming lesbian love!

Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure is a romp, with a dastardly villain and dashing heroines – the wealthy Mrs Bertrice Martin and the impoverished but proper Miss Violetta Beauchamps. What begins as a gentle kind of lie to get Violetta out of some desperate straits turns into a Regency buddy tale of two fed-up women burning down the patriarchy!

It’s not anything like a nuanced tale set in the gritty realism of London’s seedy streets. As Courtney Milan states in her Author’s Note:

Sometimes I write villains who are subtle and nuanced. This is not one of those times. The Terrible Nephew is terrible, and terrible things happen to him because he deserves them. Sometime villains really are bad and wrong, and sometimes, we want them to suffer a lot of consequences.

The Nephew is indeed Terrible – a liar, a fraud, a sex pest, a bully, and arrogant and insufferably lazy lout – which makes his come-uppance a particular joy. Each woman has her troubles and secrets; each needs to grow and to listen to each other. Even as the plot as a whole is an unvarnished escapade, these two central characters are portrayed vividly. You can’t help wanting them to get away with all their zany plots.

And oh, it’s a glorious and often hilarious ride. Violetta may be a bit diffident, and Bertrice a bit oblivious to her privilege of wealth, but they both know what it’s like to be a woman at the mercy of unscrupulous men, and their schemes of retribution are also the framework that brings them close, helps them to learn their own worth and to accept the love they want and deserve.

It’s always a delight to read some queer historical romance, and the delight is doubled when we get some older women as the romantic leads.

Milan has an excerpt on her website. I for one am an instant fan, and will be looking up more of “The Worth Saga” (of which this is book 2 ¾).

Buy Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure