Top 10 Leading Ladies from Books

My second post in honor of Women’s History Month is my list of top ten female heroines from books. I don’t have a “type” really of what I look for in a leading lady. These are characters that I personally identified with, or who have inspired me in some form, or I simply enjoyed them as a character. Some of the girls on this list are what made their book for me.

Here are my top ten (current) favorite heroines from books:

 

Lizbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Lizbeth Salander is the definition of an anti-heroine. She dresses like a punk Goth, has outrageous piercings and tattoos, hacks people’s computers for a living, and lacks social skills. But she always fights for the underdog and is a fierce advocate for women’s rights. She ignores sexuality labels and the few friends she has she is loyal to. A survivor of child abuse and rape, she never allows her past to blind her. She uses her skills to help others who can’t help themselves. Lizbeth does some things that would be considered wrong or illegal to others, but her motives are always good.

 

Audrey Rose Wadsworth from Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

A girl that rejects all expectation of a young lady in Victorian London society, feisty and smart Audrey Rose Wadsworth pursues forensic medicine, aiming to follow in her Uncle Jonathon’s footsteps to become a medical examiner. While other girls her age of her standing are searching for husbands, she is sticking her hands inside corpses. Audrey is independent, smart, feisty, and makes it clear to Thomas Cresswell she is his equal. Plus, she still loves pretty dresses and still enjoys other “girly” activities, even if she is not afraid of getting dirty.

 

Laia of Serra from the An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir

Of all the girls on this list, Laia is one I identify with the most. In the beginning of An Ember in the Ashes, she does something dangerous but brave—going undercover as a slave to help rescue her brother—as well as some other awesome things, but doubts herself the whole time. Slowly, she gains more self-confidence and embraces who she is. Laia is quiet, but fierce in her own way.

 

Agnes Grey from Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Written by the youngest and, in my opinion, least popular of the Bronte sisters, Anne, Agnes Grey is a kindhearted, devout Christian governess that is repeatedly abused by the families she works for. She makes her way on her own, staying true to her moral code and providing social commentary on how poorly the upper classes treated the lower classes. There are times she comes close to breaking down, but Agnes always pulls herself back up again.

 

Manon Blackbeak from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

When Manon was first introduced in Heir of Fire, I was not sure how I felt about her. In Queen of Shadows, I liked her and enjoyed her storyline. In Empire of Storms, I loved her and now I want a whole spin-off series dedicated to her. She’s a flawed character and, unlike Celeana/Aelin, she is morally gray. Manon has had to make some of the more painful choices other characters avoid. But her intentions are always good, even if her actions are not always the most favorable.

 

Shahrzad from The Wrath & the Dawn duology by Renee Ahdieh

Strong, beautiful, independent, fierce, and kindhearted: Shazi is the whole package. She’s stubborn and she’s got a sharp tongue that has gotten her into trouble as much as out of it. Everyone in her life, she loves and she never hesitates to put herself in danger if it means saving someone she cares for. Shazi and Khalid are also in my top ten book OTPs, but they are another couple that are amazing both together and apart.

 

Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A classic heroine on this list, Jane Eyre reminds me a lot of myself. She’s quiet; people don’t think too much of her. But she’s smart and stubborn. She sticks to her guns. Mr. Rochester loved her in his own way and he wanted to give her everything, only she was not going to be his side dish while his crazy wife withered away in the attic. Jane proved herself to be strong in her own silent way, determined to make it on her own during a time where women had virtually no rights.

 

Elizabeth Milton from Traitor Angels by Anne Blankman

An underrated heroine, Elizabeth Milton is the fictional daughter of literary legend and poet John Milton, as well as the protagonist of Anne Blankman’s novel, Traitor Angels. Like most of the others on this list, she knows how to handle herself in a sword fight and hides knives in her Puritan dresses. But Elizabeth’s greatest strength is her brain. She uses her head to solve problems. She’s also curious about everything and eager to learn. Not a whole lot of young adult heroines are like that.

 

Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Most people would say Lizzie Bennet is their favorite Jane Austen heroine. She’s a great character, but my loyalty is to Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. I identified most with her, because she is the older sister with too much responsibility on her shoulders and the sensible girl who denies herself the ability to feel or want something she thinks she can’t have. Overall, Elinor is a good friend to those around her, smart with a strong head on her shoulders, and a devoted sister.

 

Tandoori “Tandy” Angel from the Confessions series by James Patterson

Another severely underrated heroine, Tandy is a brilliant and sassy, but sometimes vulnerable, teenaged detective genius. While she had a rocky relationship with her wealthy parents, who basically used their five children as science experiments, she is fiercely devoted to her siblings, especially her twin brother Harry. Tandy is all about logic and exposing the truth, even if it hurts.

Top 10 Female Authors

In honor of women’s history month, I want to give a shout out to some awesome women, real and fictional. This first post is my top favorite female authors, whose work I enjoy or who have impacted me. I excluded authors I have read only one book and J.K. Rowling. Her being on my favorite authors list is a given.

Here are my (current) top 10 favorite female authors:

 

Kelley Armstrong

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The most influential author for me on this list, Kelley Armstrong is the one who made me realize that the fantasy and paranormal genre is my niche for writing. I was introduced to her work when I happened upon The Summoning, the first book in her the Darkest Powers trilogy, at Barnes & Noble when I was 15. I fell in love with her writing, her world building, and her characters.

Kelley Armstrong writes urban fantasy and paranormal suspense novels for both adult and young adult audiences. Her Women of the Otherworld series follows a diverse cast of strong, independent women as well as some of the sexiest male characters I’ve ever seen in literature. Her stories are so well planned out. Authors these days could learn a lot from her.

 

Meg Cabot

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Meg Cabot is the author that got me through my adolescent years. She does not stick to one genre. Her main focus is contemporary and chick-lit, but she writes fantasy and mystery novels as well. They are all filled with snarky wit and lighthearted humor. Plus, they are fun and easy to get through; the perfect kind of beach reads.

If I had to choose my favorite of Meg Cabot’s work, my first answer would definitely be The Mediator series. Suze Simon was a smart, funny, kick-ass heroine. Jesse da Silva was my first book boyfriend: sexy, caring, compassionate, and devoted. Of her young adult novels, my other favorites are Teen Idol, Avalon High, and Jinx.

Regarding Meg Cabot’s adult novels, I have a few favorites, too. I love her Queen of Babble trilogy. It’s about an aspiring fashion designer with a bad habit of blabbing whatever is on her mind, even if it’s something she really shouldn’t. I also love the Heather Wells Mysteries series (which I unfortunately haven’t finished yet) and her Boy trilogy. All of these books I just mentioned have swoon-worthy men I still obsess over even years after reading these books: Chaz Pendergrast, Cooper Cartwright, John Trent, and Cal Langdon.

 

Sabaa Tahir

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Author of An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night, Sabaa Tahir wins the number three spot on this list. Her books are chunky, but her writing is beautiful and I fly through them. It is evident she puts a lot of thought into her work by how she maps out her world building and storylines. They are intricate but not hard to follow. She has multiple plots going on at once, except they are connected and I have never felt overwhelmed by it. Plus, she writes the best cliffhangers. Most importantly, I can identify with her characters. And, while romance is an element in the story, it does not take away from the main focus of the plot.

I’ve watched interviews with Sabaa Tahir. Not only is she a great writer, she’s a funny, well-rounded person. And the fact she’s making us all wait until 2018 for the next book in her An Ember in the Ashes series shows she takes her writing very seriously.

 

Sarah J. Maas

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One of the most obvious on this list, Sarah J. Maas is the reigning queen of young adult high fantasy. While I appreciate her writing skills and world building techniques, my love of her Throne of Glass series and her A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy is rooted in the same reason as virtually everyone else: her characters.

Some characters you love them, some you hate, and some you don’t know if you love them or hate them—side characters included. In some cases, I love the side characters more than I love the main characters. The romances are swoon-worthy.

The best part, though, is the discussions among readers that open up about these characters. Such as, with Chaol Westfall from the Throne of Glass series and with Tamlin in the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy—readers are divided in their opinions of these characters. But the gray area is always visible.

 

Cassandra Clare

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Another obvious pick, Cassandra Clare and her world of Shadowhunters is phenomenal. So far, I have read books 1-4 of the Mortal Instruments series and all three books in the Infernal Devices trilogy. Of all these, I can say the Infernal Devices is my favorite of hers so far I have read.

The worlds and stories she creates are dark but fun and exciting. Her characters are not overly complex, but they are like real people and their relationships are healthy as well as romantic. Best of all, Cassandra Clare’s writing gets better with each book. She’s willing to build on the Shadowhunter world, not just recycle the same plotlines over and over again. I can only imagine what she’s going to come up with next for future books.

 

Renee Ahdieh

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I can’t begin to describe how much I loved Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn duology. Her writing style is beautiful and her characters are amazing. The world she created is incredible, with a feel better than any Aladdin retelling. There was war happening, but she didn’t go overboard with the gore and violence like some young adult novelists do in their books.

The Wrath & the Dawn had more action, but the sequel, The Rose & the Dagger, was more about the complex political intrigue and how the magical system came into play. Also, the world itself did not seem to reject magic. Instead, it embraced magic’s qualities and how it benefited the world at large.

Knowing how much I loved The Wrath & the Dawn, I already have high expectations for Renee Ahdieh’s upcoming release, Flame in the Mist. It is a retelling of Mulan, with what I know to be a badass heroine and likely an angsty romance. I already preordered this book.

 

Dawn Kurtagich

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I was introduced to Dawn Kurtagich in 2016 and immediately fell in love with her books. So far, she has two out, both of which I have read: The Dead House as well as And the Trees Crept In. In case you couldn’t tell, both of them are horror novels. But they are not the kind of horror novels involving monsters and gore. Dawn Kurtagich’s books do have some fantasy element to them, but it is all about the psychological horror, featuring heroines that are a little messed up yet you can’t help rooting for them. Her writing style is unique, told in both prose and other formats throughout. And it adds to the unease present in the story. With both of Dawn Kurtagich’s books, I had a hard time putting them down once I started reading.

 

Jessie Burton

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Like Dawn Kurtagich, I discovered Jessie Burton in 2016 and fell in love with both of the books I read by her: The Miniaturist and The Muse. Both are adult historical fiction/mystery novels with lovely writing and virtually little to no romance. Instead, the plot is a complex mystery with commentary on social issues of the time periods. The Muse is set in two alternating decades and countries: 1967 in London and Spain in the 1930s while The Miniaturist is based in 17th century Amsterdam. The characters in these novels are also fleshed out and realistic. I found myself liking them, but not always loving them, and learned not to make any couple in a Jessie Burton novel my newest OTP. However, given how much I appreciate her realism involving historical events, I also appreciate her realistic take on human relationships.

 

Jojo Moyes

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My obsession of 2015, I read Jojo Moyes because I saw her book Me Before You everywhere. I decided to take a chance on it, expecting a lighthearted chick-lit novel. Instead, what I got was an emotional train ride of a book that pulled at my heartstrings like no other women’s fiction book had before. I read another of her books, The Girl You Left Behind, not long after that same year and it was yet another strain on my emotions. I own The Last Letter from Your Lover and After You, the sequel to Me Before You, but I haven’t read them or any of her other books yet. Mostly because, I need to be in the right mind when I get involved with her sympathetic characters, romantic storylines, and writing that messes with the emotions.

(Yes, I’m being dramatic but I really don’t care.)

 

Alexandra Bracken

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I almost didn’t put Alexandra Bracken on this list. While I enjoyed The Darkest Minds trilogy, I didn’t love it like some of the other authors on this list. Recently, though, I read her book Passenger and that one I loved. Alexandra Bracken’s writing has improved a lot and the story she wove together for the book was much better than her dystopian. The characters are more likeable and the time-travelling element is fascinating. The romance is a little insta-love, yet she writes it in a way that it doesn’t bother me as much as it normally would. That’s why I plan on picking up Wayfarer, the sequel to Passenger, within the next few months. I’m really excited to see how this duology ends.

 

Who are your favorite female authors? Or your favorite authors in general?

Review of Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (Spoiler Free)

I had wanted to read Exit, Pursued by a Bear since it came out in 2016. I had checked it out of the library, but didn’t get to read it before I had to return the book. It had been calling to me from my bookshelves since I bought it a few weeks ago. Finishing Exit, Pursued by a Bear brought me back to my Women & Gender Studies minor in college, as well as made me miss my teaching assistant days. This is exactly the kind of book I would have wanted to use with my students.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a contemporary retelling of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It follows high school cheerleader, Hermione Winters, who is drugged and raped while at cheerleading camp and becomes pregnant as a result. With her fiercely loyal best friend Polly Olivier by her side, she defies her label as “that raped girl” and refuses to become a cautionary tale.

The writing was not the best nor was it the worst I have read in a novel. It was not overly flowery and the characters talked like real people. But for this book, I was more in it for the plot and the characters than the writing style.

The plot itself is character-driven. As I mentioned before, Hermione defies the label given her after the attack, but she still has to deal with the fallout: her pregnancy, the police proceedings, the rumors around her school, etc. It is more about her and how she moves on in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

In so many young adult novels these days, you don’t often see a strong female protagonist in contemporary settings. Hermione does not pretend she wasn’t raped—her pregnancy confirmed otherwise—but she acknowledges that likely the reason she is able to deal with the situation so well is because she could not remember the attack itself. Not once does she ever feel sorry for herself nor does she hide away in fear. In fact, because everyone treats her so differently after the assault, she longs to be normal and pushes to prove to everyone she is broken, but not beyond repair.

The one that made this book for me was Polly Olivier. She is an amazing friend and a funny, well-rounded person. She never lets Hermione blame herself for the rape. She protects her friend from the rumors around their school. She stands by Hermione through the hospital, the police interview, the first week back at school, the abortion, all of it. We need more characters like Polly in young adult books: that loyal friend that builds the protagonist up, not pulls them down. In her author’s note, E.K. Johnston says Polly is the least fictional character in this book. She represents the one person any rape survivor can go to in their time of need, even if they don’t know her yet.

Overall, I gave Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston 4 stars. It is a candidate for one of my favorite books of 2017. I highly recommend, encourage more likely, all high school and college girls read this book.

 

Review of Shadows of Life: A Collection of Poetry by Dr. Nazreen

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. (Considering it is a book of poetry, you can’t exactly give a spoiler disclaimer.)

I read Shadows of Life in two days. Much like Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, it is written is free verse poetry. Also like Milk and Honey, the book covers problems we encounter in our lives. However, Shadows of Life covers topics specific to more than just one gender. It discusses issues involving relationships between parent and child, broken friendships, and writer’s block, to name a few.

If you choose to pick up Shadows of Life, I guarantee at least a handful of poems will resonate with you on some level. For example: there is a poem in this collection about writer’s block. As a writer whose creativity has become stunted since graduating college, the lines in this particular poem struck a cord with me. That’s what I liked most about this poetry collection. Dr. Nazreen wrote about problems we all can identity with.

I can tell that, in the midst of getting her medical license, Dr. Nazreen clearly took the time to take some writing courses. Her writing style flows well, which is perfect with the free verse poetry. Some poems were longer than others, though the longer length worked better for only a few. However, the writer has potential of doing even better work the more she keeps up with her writing.

My main qualm with Shadows of Life is that it seemed to drag at certain parts, mostly at the end. For a short book, the pacing seemed a little off. While I encourage her to keep writing, the collection could have shed a few pages and still would have done well as a whole. Or some of the poems themselves could have been shorter.

Only that is simply my personal opinion. If that is the style Dr. Nazreen feels most comfortable and happy writing, by all means, I urge her to continue to do so.

Overall, I give Shadows of Life: A Collection of Poetry by Dr. Nazreen 3 stars. If you like poetry collection that talk about real issues in a more lighthearted manner, I highly recommend you check out this one.

Series Review: Half Bad trilogy by Sally Green (Spoiler Free)

Half Bad is a dark urban fantasy young adult trilogy by Sally Green. The main character and narrator is Nathan Brynn, a teenaged boy that is half White Witch, otherwise known as the “good witches,” and half Black Witch, otherwise known as the “bad witches.” His father, Marcus Edge, is a brutal, notorious Black Witch hated by the whole world of witches in England. Nathan is the only one of his kind, called a Half Code, and when he’s seventeen, he’s dragged into a war that makes him choose between which side he falls under: Black or White?

Despite it being set in modern-day Europe, Half Bad is as far away from Harry Potter and Hogwarts as you can get. The magic system is far more complicated. Witches are born with a special Gift that they grow into when they are seventeen, where they undergo a ceremony involving drinking blood of the family’s patriarch/matriarch. In this world, witches can absorb another’s Gifts by killing them and eating the person’s heart. Black Witches have powers that are considered “evil” and have a tendency to kill family members. White Witches have powers viewed as “good” but they put themselves on too high of a moral ground, believing to be superior to Black Witches.

When I read the first book, Half Bad, the magic system was a little confusing for me to follow along. By the second book, Half Wild, I started to get the hang of it. Ultimately, the magical system became one of my favorite aspects of the whole trilogy.

The central theme of the plot is the gray area between good vs. evil. The White Witches, including members of his own family, ostracized Nathan. Yet the majority of Black Witches he met accepted him for who/what he was. He has a major identity crisis throughout the second half of the trilogy, impacting his decisions, as he becomes more involved in the war. Aside from that, the corrupted witch government of this world is the main focus of the plot and how two opposing forces come together to defeat a common enemy. Something you see in young adult literature often, but Sally Green wrote it well and wrapped the storyline up perfectly.

The writing is another of my favorite aspects of the trilogy. Sally Green has a way of writing that is fast-paced, and I had a hard time putting the books down once I started reading them. I flew through each of the books in the trilogy in a matter of days. Plus, the chapter lengths were generally short, adding excitement to the plot.

The characters were something I liked and disliked. Nathan was the only character that was fully fleshed out. Not surprising, given he is the protagonist and the story is narrated through first-person. Other characters, such as his friend/love interest Gabriel, his half-brother Arran, or his half-sister Jessica, seemed to be inherently good or evil. On the flip side, there were characters that fit the morally gray area, such as Nathan’s “mentor” Celia or the Black Witch Van or his father Marcus. Then, there were the characters, like Nathan’s first love interest Annalise, who had little depth to them at all.

As a protagonist, Nathan is one of my favorites. Unlike Celeana Sardothian of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, who is described as being morally gray, but rarely actually does anything even considered as such, Nathan is. In the first book, he is against hurting anyone, even those who were holding him captive. By the third book, he was not above hurting anyone that posed as a threat to him or his loved ones, sometimes going a little overboard with the bloodshed. He is the balance of the values both Black Witches and White Witches. Nathan is also very powerful, but Sally Green demonstrates how so much power can make a person go mad.

As with many young adult trilogies, there is a love triangle. Nathan has two love interests who, in my mind, both had equal standing at the beginning of the story. The first is Annalise, a White Witch whose family are high-ranking members of the White Witch society, that grew up with Nathan and befriended him when they were children. The other is Gabriel; a Black Witch Nathan meets while travelling to Paris in the first novel in search for another Black Witch he thought could help him find his father. Both characters have their merits, although by the second novel, it becomes apparent whom Nathan will choose. I thought I would be annoyed with the love triangle, but it did not take away from the main plot nor added too many unnecessary complications.

The Half Bad trilogy is an underrated series that deserves more recognition than it gets. If asked, I would say Half Wild is my favorite novel in the trilogy. Problem is, everyone hears “witches” nowadays, and they try to compare it to Harry Potter. First of all, nothing can compare to Harry Potter. Second, every author should have the chance to write their own stories without their work being overshadowed by another’s.

Has anyone else read the Half Bad trilogy?