Book Review: It’s Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort

Book Review: It’s Okay to Laugh by Nora McInerny PurmortIt's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
Published by Dey Street Books on May 24, 2016
Genres: Memoir, Non Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
Joining the ranks of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Carry On, Warrior, a fierce, hysterically funny memoir that reminds us that comedy equals tragedy plus time.

Twentysomething Nora McInerny bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Then she met Aaron, a charismatic art director and her kindred spirit. They made mix tapes (and pancakes) into the wee hours of the morning. They finished each other’s sentences. They just knew. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron’s hospital bed and married after his first surgery. They had a baby when he was on chemo. They shared an amazing summer filled with happiness and laughter. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora’s arms in another hospital bed. His wildly creative obituary, which they wrote together, touched the world.

Now, Nora shares hysterical, moving, and painfully honest stories about her journey with Aaron. It’s Okay to Laugh explores universal themes of love, marriage, work, (single) motherhood, and depression through her refreshingly frank viewpoint. A love letter to life, in all of its messy glory, and what it’s like to still be kickin', It’s Okay to Laugh is like a long chat with a close friend over a cup of coffee (or chardonnay).

Book Review:

I first heard of Nora and Aaron just after Aaron’s death. I read a lot of her blog, myhusbandstumor.com, and remembered liking her writing style, especially on the subject of grief and cancer. So when I saw she had a memoir coming out, I was eager to try it.

Nora talks about a lot of different things in IT’S OKAY TO LAUGH (CRYING IS COOL TOO): death of loved ones, grief and the grieving process, sibling relationships, jealousy, finding your own way in life, etc. The book isn’t chronological at all, just 46 chapters of Nora bouncing around on those different subjects and others. She’s better on some things than others, but I did like that Nora never self-edited herself. I think her main message is that it’s okay to do your own thing, and not be constrained by the expectations of other people.

I did prefer Nora’s blog over this memoir, but that’s because I wanted to read more about her and Aaron’s relationship and how they didn’t let his cancer define their lives. I guess I expected the book to be more about that, and it does go into that a little, but not as much as I expected. I do think the author’s style is good for the twenty to thirty range, since it’s different dealing with the death of your partner then as opposed when you’re sixty.

Socialize with the author:

Nora McInerny Purmort:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth LettsThe Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts
Published by Ballantine Books on August 23, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion comes the riveting true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II. As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred horses. With the support of U.S. general George S. Patton, a passionate equestrian, the Americans planned an audacious mission to kidnap these beautiful animals and smuggle them into safe territory—assisted by a daring Austrian colonel who was both a former Olympian and a trainer of the famous Lipizzaner stallions.

Book Review:

THE PERFECT HORSE is the amazing story of a daring U.S. Army mission to rescue priceless horses taken from all over Europe by the Nazis. For all the reading I’ve done on World War II, I can’t believe I had never heard of the German horse breeding program, the difficulties the captured horses endured when Germany faced defeat, or even the plight of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

The first half of the book sets everything up: introducing the major players such as Alois Podhajsky, Gustav Rau, Colonel Reed, and Witez. The big U.S. rescue doesn’t come in until the second half, which was fine with me, because I was so interested in everything else going on. For example, I never knew Poland had a big Arabian breeding program, which was almost entirely wiped out by the war. I learned a lot in THE PERFECT HORSE, from Poland’s Arabians to the different Lipizzaner lines to the lessening of the U.S. cavalry during WWII.

The book was well-researched and well-written, educational and entertaining. I did feel like the author got a little carried away with recounting the emotions of the horses. Imagining Witez’s thoughts drew me out of the narrative, because it just didn’t fit for me in a non-fiction book. At the end of the book, there’s a nice summary of what happened to many of the people/horses/places mentioned, although I thought there were a few curious exceptions, such as Podhajsky.

I’d recommend THE PERFECT HORSE even if you don’t have a huge interest in horses — by no means is this just a “horse book.” It’s a fascinating story of living treasures who were almost destroyed because of the Nazi obsession with purity. It’s also a fascinating story of how enemies came together to rescue those treasures.

Socialize with the author:

Elizabeth Letts:
Website
Facebook

– leeanna

Book Review: 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert

Book Review: 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert32 Yolks by Eric Ripert
Published by Random House on May 17, 2016
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
3 Stars
For readers of Jacques Pépin’s The Apprentice and Marcus Samuelsson’s Yes, Chef, here is the coming-of-age story of a true French chef and international culinary icon. Before he earned three Michelin stars at Le Bernardin, won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef, or became a regular guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, and even before he knew how to make a proper omelet, Eric Ripert was a young boy in the South of France who felt that his world had come to an end. The only place Eric felt at home was in the kitchen. His desire to not only cook, but to become the best would lead him into some of the most celebrated and demanding restaurants in Paris.

Book Review:

I first saw Eric Ripert on Top Chef, and was instantly intrigued by his mastery of fish as well as his calm, cool personality. I immediately requested the book on Le Bernardin, where Ripert is head chef, from my local library and was entranced even though I don’t like fish. Anyway, all of this led me to thinking Eric Ripert’s memoir would be just as interesting to me.

32 YOLKS starts with Ripert’s difficult childhood, where a love of food was one of the only good things in his life. His parents divorced when he was young, his stepfather was a beast, and Ripert understandably had anger issues. Although he always loved food, he wasn’t encouraged to be in the kitchen — it wasn’t a boy’s place. Eventually, he started culinary school, and then his first job in a kitchen, but things just got harder from there.

32 YOLKS gives a good look inside the kitchens of 1980s France, where some chefs ruled by intimidation and some by fear. It was interesting, to see the difference between La Tour d’Argent and Jamin: how the brigade worked, the head chef’s ruling style, how the dishes were created, etc, as well as the effect of everything on Ripert.

Ripert’s time in the brigade at La Tour d’Argent and Jamin was the best part of the book for me. I found his stories about his childhood somewhat disjointed, but they almost all did have something to do with food. But 32 YOLKS ended just when it really got going for me — when Ripert went to America for his first job there. I expected that the book would go further, to talk about how Ripert started at Le Bernardin, but it ends just as he gets on the plane. I don’t know if the publisher is planning a second book for the next part of Ripert’s journey, but I feel like 32 YOLKS ended too early.

Socialize with the author:

Eric Ripert:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Frontier Grit by Marianne Monson

Book Review: Frontier Grit by Marianne MonsonFrontier Grit by Marianne Monson
Published by Shadow Mountain on September 6, 2016
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 208
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
3 Stars
These are the stories of twelve women who "heard the call" to settle the west and who came from all points of the globe to begin their journey: the East Coast, Europe, and as far away as New Zealand. They endured unimaginable hardships just to get to their destination and then the next phase of the story begins. These are gripping miniature dramas of good-hearted women, selfless providers, courageous immigrants and migrants, and women with skills too innumerable to list. All the women in this book did extraordinary things. One became a stagecoach driver, disguised as a man. One became a frontier doctor. One was a Gold Rush hotel and restaurant entrepreneur. Many were crusaders for social justice and women's rights. All endured hardships, overcame obstacles, broke barriers, and changed the world, for which there are inspiring lessons to be learned for the modern woman.

Book Review:

FRONTIER GRIT tells the unlikely but true stories of twelve women on the frontier. The author defines the frontier as “a place where your people have not gone before (p. vii),” and to me, that seems accurate. Also, by broadly defining “frontier,” the author isn’t limited to the American frontier.

The women included in FRONTIER GRIT are absolutely incredible, and I think it’s a real pity I’d never heard of any of them before. That’s whitewashed, male history for you. I liked that the author included women of different nationalities and backgrounds in this book. There’s a Mexican-American author, a freed slave, a Native-American activist, and so on.

The chapters in FRONTIER GRIT are informative, each giving a biography of the woman and what they did. Sources are included at the end of each chapter. I’d recommend this book if you want to learn a lot about some truly inspiring women.

The one thing I didn’t like about FRONTIER GRIT was the author trying to give me a takeaway lesson about each woman. At the end of each chapter, Monson tells the reader what she thinks is important about each woman’s life. I found the author’s intrusion jarring and out of place. It just didn’t fit into the idea of the book for me.

Socialize with the author:

Marianne Monson:
Website
Facebook

– leeanna

Book Review: The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias

Book Review: The Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole PlakiasThe Farm on the Roof by Anastasia Cole Plakias
Published by Avery on April 5, 2016
Genres: Business
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
The founders of Brooklyn Grange, the world’s largest green rooftop farm, share their inspirational story of changing the world through entrepreneurship.

In their effort to build the world’s first and largest commercial green rooftop farm, the founders of Brooklyn Grange learned a lot about building and sustaining a business while never losing sight of their mission—to serve their community by providing delicious organic food and changing the way people think about what they eat. But their story is about more than just farming. It serves as an inspirational and instructional guide for anyone looking to start a business that is successful while making a positive impact.

In The Farm on the Roof, the team behind Brooklyn Grange tell the complete story of how their “farmily” made their dream a reality. Along the way, they share valuable lessons about finding the right partners, seeking funding, expanding, and identifying potential sources of revenue without compromising your core values—lessons any socially conscious entrepreneur can apply toward his or her own venture. Filled with colorful anecdotes about the ups and downs of farming in the middle of New York City, this story is not just about rooftop farming; it’s about utilizing whatever resources you have to turn your backyard idea into a sky-high success.

Book Review:

THE FARM ON THE ROOF caught my eye because I’m considering growing vegetable crops. However, I live on a farm in the country, and I couldn’t imagine running a farm on a roof in New York City. But I thought the idea of a rooftop farm was genius, because there are so many advantages to using such an underutilized space.

THE FARM ON THE ROOF is the story of Brooklyn Grange, a business that focuses on the triple-bottom-line: people, planet, and profit. The farm started as a way to prove that yes, urban farming can be fiscally and agriculturally sustainable. They started operations in 2010 and are still going strong five years later, having learned a multitude of lessons and how to, in their terms, “monster it.”

I thought the book was quite interesting. Much of it deals with setting up and launching the business, finding opportunities for growth, and developing alternate revenue streams. Although the subject is, of course, the rooftop farms, it’s easy to apply those lessons to other businesses. Entrepreneurs with super crazy ideas might find some tips too, because who would have thought of fundraising for an urban farm?

I enjoyed the author’s writing style. It’s very readable, entertaining and informative. You know how business books can be dry or boring? That wasn’t the case here. Anastasia Cole Plakias is one of the founding partners of Brooklyn Grange, and it was easy to see her passion and pride in every page. I liked that she wasn’t afraid to admit to her own faults in the business world, and how she relied on her partners to help out there, just as she helped them.

Reading THE FARM ON THE ROOF left me feeling hopeful. It was so great to see a business that wants to help its community prosper. It was also great to see a “crazy” idea really take off, to show that yes, you can follow your dreams, succeed, and leave the world a better place all at once.

Socialize with the farm:

Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Fast into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow

Book Review: Fast into the Night by Debbie Clarke ModerowFast into the Night by Debbie Clarke Moderow
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 2, 2016
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Goodreads
4 Stars
A captivating memoir of one woman’s attempt to finish the Iditarod, led by her team of spunky huskies with whom she shares a fascinating and inextricable bond.

At age forty-seven, a mother of two, Debbie Moderow was not your average musher in the Iditarod, but that’s where she found herself when, less than 200 miles from the finish line, her dogs decided they didn’t want to run anymore. After all her preparation, after all the careful management of her team, and after their running so well for over a week, the huskies balked. But the sting of not completing the race after coming so far was nothing compared to the disappointment Moderow felt in having lost touch with her dogs.

Fast into the Night
is the gripping story of Moderow’s journeys along the Iditarod trail with her team of spunky huskies: Taiga and Su, Piney and Creek, Nacho and Zeppy, Juliet and the headstrong leader, Kanga. The first failed attempt crushed Moderow’s confidence, but after reconnecting with her dogs she returned and ventured again to Nome, pushing through injuries, hallucinations, epic storms, flipped sleds, and clashing personalities, both human and canine. And she prevailed. Part adventure, part love story, part inquiry into the mystery of the connection between humans and dogs, Fast into the Night is an exquisitely written memoir of a woman, her dogs, and what can happen when someone puts herself in that place between daring and doubt—and soldiers on.

Book Review:

FAST INTO THE NIGHT is a memoir about running the Iditarod, failing, and trying again. Debbie Moderow isn’t your typical Iditarod competitor. She was forty-seven for her first attempt, following in the footsteps of her son. The entire family mushed, but the kids were more competitive than the parents. Debbie’s son ran the Iditarod when he was 18, and when he finished, he told her she had to do it, too.

A retired Iditarod dog named Salt played an important role in Debbie’s life. He helped her recover from two devastating miscarriages by reigniting her love of the outdoors and adventure. And then the whole family got into sled dogs and mushing, spending their vacations mushing to a cabin and watching the kids compete in junior races.

FAST INTO THE NIGHT is primarily a remembrance of Debbie’s 2003 Iditarod attempt and her 2005 finish. Running the race is never something I’d do myself. I’m a total wimp in 20F weather, I can’t imagine racing with the temperature in negative degrees, facing blizzards and wind storms and more. But Debbie brought the course of the race to life for me, through sparse yet descriptive writing. I felt like I was there, and I knew all the difficulties she went through. She also delved into the personalities of each dog, which really showed her connection to the team.

I liked that Debbie showed herself in all lights, good and bad. She didn’t edit her thoughts to make herself look better. Her honesty made me feel like I could trust everything she wrote.

FAST INTO THE NIGHT wasn’t my typical read, but I’m happy I came across the book and read it.

Socialize with the author:

Debbie Clarke Moderow:
Website
Facebook

– leeanna

Book Review: The Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson

Book Review: The Art of Language Invention by David J. PetersonThe Art of Language Invention by David J. Peterson
Published by Penguin on September 29, 2015
Genres: Non Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
4 Stars
An insider’s tour through the construction of invented languages from the bestselling author and creator of languages for the HBO series Game of Thrones and the Syfy series Defiance.

From master language creator David J. Peterson comes a creative guide to language construction for sci-fi and fantasy fans, writers, game creators, and language lovers. Peterson offers a captivating overview of language creation, covering its history from Tolkien’s creations and Klingon to today’s thriving global community of conlangers. He provides the essential tools necessary for inventing and evolving new languages, using examples from a variety of languages including his own creations, punctuated with references to everything from Star Wars to Michael Jackson. Along the way, behind-the-scenes stories lift the curtain on how he built languages like Dothraki for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Shiväisith for Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, and an included phrasebook will start fans speaking Peterson’s constructed languages. The Art of Language Invention is an inside look at a fascinating culture and an engaging entry into a flourishing art form—and it might be the most fun you’ll ever have with linguistics.

Book Review:

THE ART OF LANGUAGE INVENTION is a thorough, funny introduction to the basics of creating a language. Apparently, making a new language involves a lot more than making a word list or alphabet. Who knew?

I tend to geek out over learning how things are done, and I learned a lot reading this book. I swear I learned something on every page. The author gives information on a ton of topics, such as the different types of oral sounds, how grammar plays a role, and even a quick primer on font creation. There’s also sections on how language evolves in different ways and why that’s important, morphology, and thinking about how aliens might speak. I had no idea just how much work and creativity goes into language creation, nor did I know that there are communities of people who create languages for fun.

THE ART OF LANGUAGE INVENTION really could be a textbook. It is a bit dense at times, but I’m just a layperson, not a linguist or beginning conlager. To keep things from getting too dense, the author includes case studies on how he created languages for shows such as Game of Thrones and Defiance. I could see those sections being super interesting for fans of those shows, since it really was cool to see how he evolved Dothraki from a few words in the books to a real language. Lastly, the author has a humorous writing style, and he uses jokes and pop culture references to make his examples easy to understand.

I’d recommend THE ART OF LANGUAGE INVENTION for fans who want to know more about Dothraki, Castithan, Irathient, or any of the other languages created by the author; people who want to dip their toes into creating a new language; or even sci-fi/fantasy writers, because just thinking about how a language might evolve could help with worldbuilding.

Giveaway:

Thanks to the generosity of Penguin, I’m offering a copy of this book for giveaway! US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Socialize with the author:

David J. Peterson:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Headstrong by Rachel Swaby

Book Review: Headstrong by Rachel SwabyHeadstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science--and the World by Rachel Swaby
Published by Broadway Books on April 7, 2015
Genres: Biography, Non Fiction
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Blogging For Books
Goodreads
5 Stars
Fifty-two inspiring and insightful profiles of history’s brightest female scientists.

In 2013, the New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill. It began: “She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job, and took eight years off from work to raise three children.” It wasn’t until the second paragraph that readers discovered why the Times had devoted several hundred words to her life: Brill was a brilliant rocket scientist who invented a propulsion system to keep communications satellites in orbit, and had recently been awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Among the questions the obituary—and consequent outcry—prompted were, Who are the role models for today’s female scientists, and where can we find the stories that cast them in their true light?

Headstrong delivers a powerful, global, and engaging response. Covering Nobel Prize winners and major innovators, as well as lesser-known but hugely significant scientists who influence our every day, Rachel Swaby’s vibrant profiles span centuries of courageous thinkers and illustrate how each one’s ideas developed, from their first moment of scientific engagement through the research and discovery for which they’re best known. This fascinating tour reveals these 52 women at their best—while encouraging and inspiring a new generation of girls to put on their lab coats.

Book Review:

HEADSTRONG: 52 WOMEN WHO CHANGED SCIENCE — AND THE WORLD is a needed book. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. Even in 2015, women still struggle to make their way in male dominated fields like physics, astronomy, computer science, mathematics, etc.

I experienced discrimination based on my gender when I was a computer science student. I’ve been told I’m not a “real geek” because I’m a girl. Although I’m no Yvonne Brill — the inspiration for this book, whose accomplishments as a rocket scientist were overshadowed by her domestic abilities by the New York Times — I understood the struggle every woman mentioned in this book went through. And I’m ashamed to say I’d heard of maybe 4 out of the 52.

HEADSTRONG is separated into 7 sections: medicine, biology and the environment, genetics and development, physics, earth and stars, math and technology, and invention. To be included in the book, the author picked “only scientists whose life’s work has already been completed (xiii).” Due to that, the author admits the book is not very diverse, as opportunities opened up first for white women. She also didn’t include Marie Curie, because if you think of a woman scientist, that’s likely the one you picture. But did you know Marie Curie’s daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, also won a Nobel Prize?

The profiles are relatively short, 3-5 pages, and focus on the woman’s contributions to her field. I read one or two sections a night and felt like I learned a ton about women in science. For example, I never knew a woman invented Kevlar, or wrinkle free cotton, or the Apgar score. The profiles are easy enough to understand for young girls, and interesting enough to hold the attention of older readers.

What will you learn?

Socialize with the author:

Rachel Swaby:
Website
Twitter

– leeanna

Book Review: Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm

Book Review: Ravensbrück by Sarah HelmRavensbrück by Sarah Helm
Published by Doubleday on March 31, 2015
Genres: History, Non Fiction
Pages: 768
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
5 Stars
A groundbreaking, masterful, and absorbing account of the last hidden atrocity of World War II—Ravensbrück—the largest female-only concentration camp, where more than 100,000 women consisting of more than twenty nationalities were imprisoned.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the architect of the Holocaust, oversaw the construction of a special concentration camp just fifty miles north of Berlin. He called it Ravensbrück, and during the years that followed thousands of people died there after enduring brutal forms of torture. All were women. There are a handful of studies and memoirs that reference Ravensbrück, but until now no one has written a full account of this atrocity, perhaps due to the mostly masculine narrative of war, or perhaps because it lacks the Jewish context of most mainstream Holocaust history. Ninety percent of Ravensbrück's prisoners were not Jewish. Rather, they were political prisoners, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, even the sister of New York's Mayor LaGuardia. In a perverse twist, most of the guards were women themselves. Sarah Helm's groundbreaking work sheds much-needed light on an aspect of World War II that has remained in the shadows for decades. Using research into German and newly opened Russian archives, as well as interviews with survivors, Helm has produced a landmark achievement that weaves together various accounts, allowing us to follow characters on both sides of the prisoner/guard divide. Chilling, compelling, and deeply unsettling, Ravensbrück is essential reading for anyone concerned with Nazi history.

Book Review:

I have read a lot of books on World War II and the Holocaust, from history textbooks to historical fiction to survivor memoirs. There’s a lot of literature out there, and for good reason. It’s something we should never forget or allow to happen again. But RAVENSBRÜCK is one of those books that stands out, and for another good reason: it’s about the only concentration camp designed for women.

I spent almost 21 hours reading RAVENSBRÜCK, and consider every one of those hours well spent. I learned an incredible amount while reading. Have you heard of the Polish students — the “rabbits” — that were experimented on at the camp? They smuggled out letters written in urine to tell the world their story because they feared the Nazis would silence them forever to cover up the crimes. When women were beaten for punishment, Heinrich Himmler personally approved each beating. Ravensbrück trained women guards for the rest of the concentration camps. I learned more about satellite camps than I have in any other book. I also learned that many Soviet women were imprisoned again upon release, because Stalin considered them traitors.

I really feel like the author did an incredible job of making a readable history of Ravensbrück. Yes, it is hard reading because of the atrocities, but I so appreciated that the author didn’t gloss over those, but instead told me how the women survived. I was in awe of the women mentioned, at their thirst to live in horrendous conditions. How they rebelled a hundred tiny ways, sometimes escaping punishment and sometimes suffering the ultimate fate for their rebellion. How many of them returned home and never said a word, because nobody wanted to hear about Ravensbrück.

In RAVENSBRÜCK, Sarah Helm combines historical evidence (records, trial transcripts, etc.) and the voices of the survivors to create a biography of the camp, from founding to liberation. If she couldn’t corroborate an account, she told the reader what the survivor said anyway, adding additional evidence for or against, if there was any. Many, many voices are represented, from guards to Soviet prisoners of war to Polish doctors and students to German communists and more.

I do have one small wish: a list of all the women who had a voice in RAVENSBRÜCK, along with their fates, would have been a good addition in my eyes. There were so many interesting women mentioned, and I doubt I could ever track down information about them.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you have any interest in WWII, concentration camps, or even women’s history in general.

YA Connection:

ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein is a YA historical fiction book set, in part, at Ravensbrück. So far, it’s the only historical fiction book, YA or otherwise, that I’ve read set in Ravensbrück. After reading Sarah Helm’s history of the camp, I feel that Elizabeth Wein did a respectable and realistic job of describing life there.

– leeanna

Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara CooneyThe Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney
Published by Crown Publishing on October 14, 2014
Genres: Biography
Pages: 384
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging For Books
Goodreads
5 Stars
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Book Review:

Lately I’ve been on an ancient Egypt reading kick. It’s so bad I’ve been rereading a couple of historical fiction novels over and over. So Kara Cooney’s biography of Hatshepsut, THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, came along at an excellent time for me.

Actually, I would have enjoyed it anytime, because I found THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING to be an enjoyable read. It’s quite informative, covering from before Hatshepsut’s birth to after her death. This gives as complete a picture as possible about the world she lived in, the customs of the 18th dynasty, religious practices, etc. I find that kind of thing fascinating.

In the Author’s Note, Kara Cooney explains that any biography of Hatshepsut will have little certainty, because of the time that has passed and because so much of Hatshepsut’s reign was erased. So there’s a fair amount of conjecture and speculation in THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, but with Cooney’s background, I think she’s qualified to do so, and she’s careful to mention when she’s venturing into the realm of guessing, and to back up those guesses with reasons.

This book is very readable and easy to understand. I’d recommend it for readers new to Hatshepsut, or others who want a deeper look into her kingship and how she forged it. I was only vaguely familiar with Hatshepsut before, but now I feel like I know a lot more. Such as how religion and ruling power were connected, and how Hatshepsut used her understanding of the gods and their mysteries to pave her way to being pharaoh, not just a regent.

THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING includes a section of photographs of statues, Hatshepsut’s obelisk, temples, and temple reliefs that helped me visualize Hatshepsut’s many building projects. The footnotes at the end are also interesting reading, all 30+ pages. Lastly, the author includes a long list of books to turn to for further reading.

When I finished THE WOMAN WHO WOULD BE KING, I wished I could take Cooney’s course on women and power at UCLA. I’m really into the idea that one of the reasons Hatshepsut was forgotten is because she did everything right: no scandals to mar her reign, successful military and trade campaigns instead of disasters, and a peaceful death.

Socialize with the author:

Kara Cooney:
Website
Facebook
Twitter

– leeanna