Women’s History Month New Book Recommendations

For those of you interested in women’s history in book form, I have four recommendations of new releases, two nonfiction and two novels.

First, the nonfiction.

I’ve been talking about this book for a while now, so it’s probably no surprise that I’m leading with Pamela Toler’s Women Warriors: An Unexpected History. It’s smart and funny and very much worth your time.

The other, released today, is She the People by Jen Deaderick. It’s an illustrated history of the women’s rights movement, and it, too, is very smart.

Now the novels.

Also released today is Greer Macallister’s Woman 99, described as a historical thriller, about a woman determined to rescue her sister from an asylum.

Finally, for anyone interested in women’s rights history, there’s Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts. The story focuses on Maud Gage Baum, who married the man who would write The Wizard of Oz, and whose mother was the famous women’s rights activist Matilda Gage.

Next up, the life of an African American artist.


Coming Soon to My Bookshelf

This may be the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a book. (And the whole “pre-order” thing still confuses me. If you put something in your cart, pay for it, and arrange for it to be shipped, haven’t you, in fact, ordered it?)

I wanted to make sure I was among the very first to get a copy of Pamela Toler’s latest:

The cover alone makes me want to read it. The image is stunning and the title is strong. This book is about women–not girls or wives or daughters. And the “Unexpected History” points out that women have been left out of so much history.

In about two weeks this will be added to my bookshelf. I hope you consider adding it to yours. You can find it on Amazon, Beacon Press, IndieBound, and Barnes & Noble.


What I Read in 2018, Part 3

Happy 2019 everyone! I wish you all good things in the new year.

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To finish up reviewing my 2018 year in reading, I turn to my favorite nonfiction books. Remember, these are books I read in 2018, though they may not have been published that year. Mostly absent from this list are the books I read for discussions on Nonfiction Fans on Facebook. (If you read a lot of narrative nonfiction, please join us over there. It’s a great group.) I have to learn to keep better track of those books.

Most of the nonfiction listed below is historical and most are written by women. Here they are, in the order in which I read them:

Gay writes beautifully about difficult topics.

A page-turning historical mystery.

A first-rate historical biography.

I hate cold weather but can’t get enough of stories about polar exploration. And in case you’ve missed Shapiro’s book, it’s now out in paperback.

A fascinating story, though I wish it had been more tightly edited.

The historical story of Barbara Follett was particularly interesting.

Reading this is the best way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women.

This is a beautiful book. Anyone who loves books and libraries will want to read it.

A highly readable account of the history of Jamestown.

Another fascinating book for book lovers, this one focuses on the history of paper.

Now, on to more books.


Happy Holidays/Looking Forward to 2019


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I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday season.

2018 was a big year: retirement, selling a house and moving, signing two book contracts.

TWO book contracts?! It’s not something I ever thought would happen, but it did.

The first contract was the result of long-term planning. I’d started on a biography of mega-star Dale Evans about ten years ago, then set it aside to work on Angels of the Underground. About a year or so ago, I began working with my agent to draft a proposal for the Evans book, which was picked up by Lyons Press. Right now it has the working title of Queen of the West.

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The second contract was a matter of serendipity. A book editor had an idea and approached my agent about having me take on the project. This book is about Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. She was a physician with the Union army during the Civil War and spent some time as a prisoner of the Confederacy. Plus she was a major figure in the women’s rights movement, but other prominent women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton tried to erase her from the movement’s history because of her radical views.

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I love both of these book projects. Through the first half of 2019, there will be more here about Mary Walker and her exploits, as well as about my own writing and publishing journey. Then Walker will gradually be replaced by updates about Dale Evans.

First, though, I will be posting about my favorite books from 2018, both fiction and nonfiction. Look for those entries over the next week or so.

And a reminder for those of you who can’t get enough of narrative nonfiction, I co-administer a great group on Facebook called Nonfiction Fans. Come join us. You can also follow the group on Twitter @nonfictionfans.



Reading Nonfiction in 2017

I read fiction for pleasure and relaxation. Even if the stories are dark and twisty, I can sink into them and remove myself from life’s realities for awhile. Case in point, one of my all-time favorite novels that I still can’t resist recommending:

Whenever I pick up a work of nonfiction, though, I feel caught in a kind of hyper-reality, always aware of the time and place of its narrative. I read a lot of history for work: research, course prep, book reviewing. I can’t set aside my training as a historian even when I pick up a nonfiction book for leisure reading. My critical senses are always tingling.

Of the many nonfiction books that crossed my desk and/or found their way into my book bag in 2017, there are a couple–one old, one new–that stand out.

Malcolm’s book is a modern classic, a fascinating analysis of the life of Sylvia Plath told through an examination of the various biographies written about Plath. It’s a near perfect meditation on the struggle to control the meaning of a life.

I rarely read memoirs or true crime stories, but I was intrigued that Marzano-Lesnevich chose to combine both in this inventive hybrid. She is such a talented writer that both parts of the story are almost equally strong, with the whole book a compulsive page-turner.

On Facebook and Twitter, I co-moderate Nonfiction Fans, a discussion group that launched in early 2017. (Join up and/or follow to get some of the best nonfiction recommendations, especially ones by and/or about women.) Because of that group, I’ve read some wonderful books, including:

Hindley has written a terrific story and a stellar work of history.

Though I rarely read true crime stories, if they are set in the past, I can’t resist. Cox’s book is especially valuable for its emphasis on race.

Finally, a few other works of history I liked in 2017:

American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst

I have memories of this event, and Toobin recounts it with compelling precision.

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War

Most of my World War II reading (and writing) focuses on the Pacific theater, so I enjoyed expanding my knowledge of the European theater with Olson’s book.

Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves

An absolutely fascinating slice of early American history.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair

Anyone who loved The Devil in the White City should definitely read Creighton’s tale of the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

The Rival Queens: Catherine de' Medici, Her Daughter Marguerite de Valois, and the Betrayal that Ignited a Kingdom

Renaissance rivalry among French queens. A great examination of the monarchy through the experiences of women.

And that’s a wrap of my 2017 reading.