Category: nonfiction

Romance Quickies: “I Give You My Body…” and The Suffragette Scandal

Book Cover: "I Give You My Body . . .": How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon“I Give You My Body . . .”: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon

Publisher/Year: Dell, 2016
Format: eBook
Pages: 118
Source: Purchased

What it is: Diana Gabaldon, the woman behind the Outlander series, gives a master class in writing sex scenes. She includes excerpts from her own novels and then breaks them down, analyzing the reasons why they work so well. She also breaks down different types of sex scenes, running the gamut from the down and dirty to sex scenes that don’t have any sex at all.

Why I read it: I’ve actually never read any of the Outlander books, but even then, I’ve heard about how well she writes sex scenes. I picked this one up because I heard Gabaldon discussing the book on the Authorized: Season 2 podcast on Audible. It just sounded really fascinating. There are tons of writing books out there, but not so much on this particular topic.

What I thought: Gabaldon makes a distinction between writing sex scenes and writing erotica, and this book is not about erotica. She focuses a lot on setting the mood and the scene, and her examples show the subtleties of her style choices. It was an interesting read, and although it’s fairly short, it contains a lot of good advice on writing in general.



Book cover: The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney MilanThe Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

Publisher/Year: Courtney Milan, 2014
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Length: 10 hours, 54 minutes
Source: Audible Romance Package

What it is: Frederica “Free” Marshall is a headstrong suffragette, journalist, and newspaper publisher. Edward Clark is, by his own admission, a scoundrel who cannot be trusted. Free’s newspaper and entire livelihood is being threatened by a powerful aristocrat, and Edward approaches her to offer his assistance, confessing up front that he’s doing so only to seek revenge on the man who ruined him years before. This is Book 4 in the Brothers Sinister series, but I just jumped straight into this one; the Brothers Sinister are mentioned a couple of times, but it’s not a big part of the story.

Why I listened to it: Hel-lo? Feminist historical romance. That, and it was universally adored by my friends the year it came out. It’s been on my TBR list ever since.

What I thought: I think this might have been my first historical romance novel, and I was hooked. Milan is a talented writer who pays attention to detail and carefully fleshes out her characters’ backgrounds. Free is a feisty feminist and Edward Clark is a rogue with a soft spot, and together, they talk about everything from exclamation points to living with PTSD. Seriously. And yes, there’s well-written sex. *fans self*

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The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II

Book cover: The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana AlexievichI first stumbled upon Svetlana Alexievich’s work about ten years ago, when I visited the library and randomly picked up a copy of her brilliant Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of Nuclear Disaster. Of course, Alexievich has been around much longer than that; Voices from Chernobyl was published 20 years ago, and she’s been chronicling Soviet history for decades now. She garnered a lot of critical acclaim in 2013 with Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, and I finally made the connection between her and Voices from Chernobyl when she won the well-deserved 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her unique way of blending a chorus of voices into her oral history storytelling.

Luckily, that Nobel Prize has created a push for her works to be republished and translated for broader audiences. Her first book, The Unwomanly face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, was first published in 1985. It was recently translated into English by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published in hardcover in the United States about a month ago. The introduction includes journal excerpts from the years she spent collection the oral histories, but it also includes newer insights and a few clips that the censors had taken out of the original version.

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My Soul Looks Back

Book cover: My Soul Looks Back by Jessica B. HarrisFresh out of college in the early 1970s, a naive and bright-eyed Jessica B. Harris began teaching French at Queens College in New York. A new wave of Black intelligentsia was forming, and though Harris was considered a little too young and bourgois for colleagues to fully embrace her, she did manage to develop a friendship with the undeniably cool Samuel Clemens Floyd III, an older, magnetic professor at the college.

That friendship turned into a years-long romance filled with food and travel and creativity, all made possible by Sam’s close friendship with “Jimmy” — James Baldwin. Harris was younger than Sam’s crowd of artists and literati, but as Sam’s girl, she was allowed entry into a world few ever got to see. In My Soul Looks Back, she recounts her years on this periphery of Black genius. Toni Morrison had written The Bluest Eye but was still an editor at Random House, Roots was about to be published, Nina Simone occasionally dropped in on Jimmy’s parties, and Dr. Angelou was still “Maya” (who also happened to be Sam’s former lover). Everyone was poised for greatness, and Harris was there on the outer edges. Just like at Queens College, she was the outsider, the young one, but there to witness everything nonetheless.

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

Book cover: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman AlexieSherman Alexie’s mother, Lillian, died in 2015 at the age of 78. His relationship with her was always complicated, as was his grief over her death. This memoir, composed through 78 essays and 78 poems, teases out those complexities.

Alexie and his three siblings were raised by two alcoholic parents; they would throw crazy parties at their home where the very presence of some of their guests was potentially dangerous, and his mother in particular could get violent when drunk. Alexie recounts some alcohol-fueled scenes from their childhood that literally endangered their safety.  After one particularly terrifying episode, his mother vowed that she would never drink again, and she kept that promise, a decision Alexie credits with being the reason he is still alive.

Be that as it may, Lillian was still far from perfect. She was a liar and an abusive woman; she and her son went through various levels of estrangement through the years. She was a terrible mother at times, and as an adult, he refers to himself as a terrible son. But he loved her nonetheless, and these emotional dichotomies are what make the book.

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

Book cover: The Radium Girls by Kate MooreA century ago, radium was one of the most exciting wonders of modern times. Not only could it make things glow in the dark, it also had healing properties that could be used for medicinal purposes. Then America went to war, and the demand for radium products skyrocketed. In 1917, many young women from Newark, New Jersey were presented with the opportunity to work for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation. Painting radium on watch dials paid well, and the positions were highly sought. The women, most in their late teens and early twenties, were taught how to mix radium — a fine powder that floated everywhere — with water to create a paint. To get a fine enough point on their paintbrush, they were instructed to put the brush tips between their lips. Lip…dip…paint.

The Newark plant was rather strict about how much of their product was used, and the women were reprimanded if any was wasted. Demand for radium products increased, and a second plant in Ottawa, Illinois was opened. There, they weren’t so strict. Radium was fun — and healthy! — and the girls were allowed to take leftovers home to paint on their skin and clothing; their fashionable glow made them the envy at dances.

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