Femme Friday: LEGO my feminism! Women of NASA snap together, finally.


The set comes in a display case!

While LEGO is probably the least misogynistic toy a child can own it still has a few leaps to make. A few? This week LEGO has finally recognized another service they have lacked for femme empowerment.

Lego announced the WOMEN OF NASA set. I feel both empowered and disappointed. Kind of like when DC finally decided to make that Wonder Woman movie we’ve all been standing around thinking, “hey… but what about Diana Prince” since Hollywood rebooted ANT MAN. ANT MAN? Seriously, guys? You did ANT MAN before WONDER WOMAN? Thanks. Wow, I feel better already.

In her project proposal, Maia Weinstock was clear in the project’s intent to  celebrate “five notable NASA pioneers and provides an educational building experience to help young ones and adults alike learn about the history of women in STEM.” You will note that many, if not all, of these women continue to be an advocate for women in STEM.

Those five women are:

Nancy Grace Roman

Astronomer: The “Mother of Hubble” is included in this set and was one of the first female executives at NASA. The Roman Technology Fellowship in Astrophysics. She was instrumental in developing space based astronomical instrumentation. She’s ninety-one as of this writing and that means she was one of our Femme Warriors who had to fight for every little step she took in a field that was dominated by men, in a time that discouraged women from having careers. She said in an interview for VOA, “One of the reasons I like working with schools is to try to convince women that they can be scientists and that science can be fun,” she says.


Margaret Hamilton, née Heafield

Margaret Hamilton

Computer scientist: Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. She is a pioneer in the modern concept of software. She was discovered while at MIT through the Whirlwind , a project developed to predict the weather. By outsmarting a smarmy male scientist who wrote everything in Greek and Latin, she wrote all her answers in the same language.  Apparently, NASA likes a smartass because it got her the job as  lead developer for Apollo flight software.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Mathematician and astronavigator: Yes, that Katherine Johnson who was recently featured in the movie Hidden Figures doing the maths for the Mercury and Apollo programs — including the Apollo 11 the first lunar landing.  Let me tell you a little thing about Katherine Johnson… she was a child math prodigy. And in Greenbrier West Virginia when she was a youngster, the didn’t have a school for African Americans past eighth grade. She would have been wasted if not for a program at West Virginia College that admitted her at the tender age of ten years old. Holy cats, that’s a SUPER FEMME! It took a United States Supreme Court (Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938)) ruling to allow her to even go to college. Take that Betsy DeVos. Totally nuts.

Sally Ride and Mae Jamisen

  Sally Ride 

Astronaut, physicist, and educator: A physicist by training, Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 but, her sex aside, she’s also the youngest astronaut to travel to space as of this writing. After retiring as a NASA astronaut, she founded an educational company focusing on encouraging children — especially girls — to pursue the sciences.  In 2014, Ride was installed in the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display that celebrates the achievements of the LGBT community. She and her partner Tama O’Shaunessey wrote six acclaimed children’s science books together.  Ride succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2012.

Jemison’s face on the stamp of Azeri

  Mae Jemison

Astronaut, physician, engineer: Trained as a medical doctor, served in the Peace Corps, and all around awesome femme, Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in 1992 aboard the Endeavour space shuttle. Since her retirement from NASA  she’s been busy running a company which develops new technologies and encourages students in the sciences. Oh yeah… she once appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, too. Her inspiration? Uhura. Thank you, Nichelle.



Follow these social links to learn more about the Lego set itself.


Photos sourced from Lego and Wikipedia.

Femme Friday: The Handmaid’s Tale gives you words…good ones

The Handmaid’s Tale:  FOOD FOR CIVIL ACTION

Some days you just wake up and go… “Wow, this is truly Orwellian.” Or if you’re like me, you grab your copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and start thumbing through to reassure yourself that fiction is still worse. Lately, that’s getting harder. Maybe you’ve run into someone who blows your mind because they just don’t see that it’s not normal. It’s not good. It’s NOT wholesome. And you don’t know what to say.

Ok, so why pick The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for Femme Friday? Is Offred a strong female character? Doesn’t she cave? Doesn’t she give in? Doesn’t she submit to her oppressors? Doesn’t she allow herself to be used?

No, Offred finds small ways in which to rebel. Little ways. A look beyond her veil. A smile at an Angel. And eventually, her involvement with Mayday, the Resistance. Offred, in her quiet way, resisted. She never let herself forget what freedom had been and could be.

This week is less ‘me talking’ and more ‘you thinking’. I just want to offer a few quotes. Discuss their relevancy to what is going on today to dehumanize the poor, needy, and marginalized. Don’t think of Offred as a woman, think of her as representative of everyone who lives in peril whether because they are homeless or in mortal danger… now, not just under some uber-religious rule as is caricatured in this novel but by the twisted and un-godly regime that pretends holiness. Substitute gender with homeless or immigrant or refugee. Make Offred’s words come from a Sudanese, Somalian, Mexican, an senior citizen, a child, a homeless veteran…

“I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized.”

“You can’t help what you feel but you can help how you behave.”

“I would like to be without shame. I would like to be shameless. I would like to be ignorant. Then, I would not know how ignorant I was.”

“Whatever is silenced will clamor to be heard, though silently.”

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

“I don’t have to tell it. I don’t have to tell anything, to myself or to anyone else. I could just sit here peacefully. I could withdraw. It’s possible to go so far in, so far down and back, they could never get you out.”

“Are they old enough to remember anything of the time before, playing baseball, in jeans and sneakers, riding their bicycles? Reading books, all by themselves? Even though some of them are no more than fourteen—Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost—still they’ll remember. And the ones after them will, for three or four or five years; but after that they won’t They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent.”

“If you don’t like it, change it, we said, to each other and to ourselves.”


About the Author

Jayne Fury is a speculative fiction romance author. She likes colored pens and ukuleles. Ironing is her zen. You can find her books on Amazon and other online retailers.  You found her home here at this blog but you can also follow her (and she loves to chat) on social networks (social follows are up on the right). AND… if you havne’t already, sign up for the Jayne’s Ninja News or if you’re into it, the Advanced Reader Copy team (Jaynie’s Ninjas) is looking for a more to the corps.


Femme Friday: The Last Honest … the last third


The Last Honest Seamstress
by Gina Robinson

I love historical fiction and historical romances are by far one of my most guilty pleasures. With this book’s setting, Seattle—a city near and dear to me—I was hooked. The story is set in Seattle 1889, the year of the great fire that leveled Seattle and thus began its rebuild on a grid, raising it higher above the tideline and the final fixing of the sewers so that the privvys didn’t gush at high tide. Simple things. Our heroine is an actual seamstress, as opposed to you know… “a seamstress.”

First things first: the good

There’s great storytelling in this book. She does a great job of  weaving of history and fiction in a Seattle 1889 scenario. That’s the year of the great fire that leveled Seattle. The capable heroine is well drawn and likable. The hero is an unusually enlightened man of his time which. as a reader, I automatically like and enjoy reading.

The premise? Like in all historical romances, our super smart no-nonsense heroine (what, not all?) must find a husband in order to succeed with her plans because the world is stacked against an unmarried woman. She’s had her heart broken. She’s moved out West to get away from bad memories and start her business anew. Enter hero who is an upstanding fellow and of high moral value. We like him. He’s got a successful business.

Then comes the great Seattle fire of 1889. And the story really takes off. The scenes written around this are well executed. It brings the right tone to the inciting incident. It’s all going to hell in a handbasket and things are steaming along neatly in three nicely braided plots:  Heroine, Hero and Redemption.

Now the stuff you need to hear: the not so good as opposed to the bad… because I’m loathe to dis a fellow author

But then, then the fourth plot comes in and that’s where I feel that it went pear shaped. It wasn’t the fourth plot so much as the polishing that was involved in adding it weakened the other storylines and did not add to the tension between the two main characters. If I describe this plot it’s spoilery so I won’t.

The author did her research. It read like she went through a thorough edit process (good descriptions, tight writing), and the pacing was spot on. The excellent pacing and wordcrafting came to an abrupt halt, like the pavement on a back country road, the line is unmistakable. It made me sad.

This book was thoroughly enjoyable until the last third. That’s  when it gets rough. It t lacks the smooth ride of the previous two thirds.

Gina Robinson has great writing chops. This is me, begging her to re-visit and revise the last third of this book to make it flow. Pretty please?

Femme Friday: Badassery? Not just for knights!


10676120_839969126113872_8948812156057212850_nLast week was the first EVER International Women and Girls in Science Day on February 11 as declared by the United Nations.

In order to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/70/212 (draft A/70/474/Add.2) declaring 11 February as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Talking about this now? You probably didn’t know and you should mark your calendar for next year. Yes, I really do feel silly not having told you before. After all, FEMME FRIDAY is a feature designed to demonstrate the very thing the IWaGiS was created for, to highlight the sheer badassery of women. And to that end, so was the Women In Science Card game created by the University of Exeter.

I won’t bore you with platitudes. I just wanted to highlight this awesome game. The game is downloadable for free:


Take a few minutes and just look through the cards. You will learn about some cool ass women. I know I did. The three women above range from Paleontologist to Computer scientist to Polymath. That Emelie… I am soooo going to read up on her some more.  You HAVE to check this out.

Femme Friday! Sexy Gritty Sleuths of SCIFI – Guest Donna Frelick

Femme Friday!  SCIFI’s SEXY CLEVER sleuths – Guest Donna Frelick

TIM ebook.2FBI Special Agent Alana Matheson is good at her job, despite a past that would make even a seasoned agent cringe. She has no time for the outside help the victim’s family has brought in on a kidnapping case, no matter how good-looking he is.

But galactic tracker Gabriel Cruz is no ordinary private investigator, and the skills he brings to the job will save both their lives. Because Lana and Gabriel are not the only ones seeking an unusual little boy and his mother. Their rivals in the chase are not of this world, and only an alliance built on the bonds of love can ensure that Lana and Gabriel beat the alien hunters to their prey.

Lana, the heroine of the second book in my Interstellar Rescue series, Trouble in Mind, is not the first FBI gal to encounter the unknown on the job. The most famous FBI agent of all, Dr. Dana Scully, is back at work investigating monsters, aliens and government conspiracies on Chris Carter’s THE X-FILES for six episodes this winter. And#FemmeFriday @DonnaSFrelick Talks Scifi’s Sleuthing Heroines #IARTG #SFRTG #SFR#SCIFIROM, heroine of J.J. Abrams’ FRINGE, faced down not only an alternate universe, but her own alter ego in that apocalyptic science fiction love story.

What does it take for an FBI femme fatale to fight the bad guys and win, when those bad guys may hail from another planet, dimension, timeline or genetic code? Well, first, like any investigators, they need a cop’s instincts. Lana Matheson has the best solve rate in her Nashville office because of her uncanny intuition. Olivia Dunham had insight that was bred into her and honed by training as a child. Scully is the most skeptical and rational of the bunch. She just plods along using good, old science to find her proof. And has her mind blown every 15 minutes.

All of these women have overcome something in their pasts to get where they are. For Scully, those scars are never fully revealed, but it is clear that her relationships with her parents were never the loving, supportive ones she longs for. As a result, she keeps a tight hold on her emotions. In FRINGE, we learned all about poor Olivia’s manipulation as a child at the hands of scientists at Massive Dynamic. The more she learned and experienced, however, the tougher she got, until she was running a resistance campaign after the barrier between alternate universes had been breached.

Lana, too, carries the weight of her past. She’s kept it strapped down tight until now, fearing it would blow her apart. But Gabriel’s arrival in her life has cut everything loose, forcing her to re-examine and jettison the burden once and for all.

None of these FBI agents would be worth their training without the physical and mental courage to stand up to the horrifying threats they face. Call it grit, call it determination, Lana has plenty of both. She digs in. She pushes on. She just doesn’t give up. That’s Lana—a cop’s instincts, a haunted past. And major attitude.

Trouble in Mind launches February 16, 2016. You can pre-order your Kindle copy now on Amazon.

2014-10-15 02.21.07-3Donna S. Frelick was an RWA® Golden Heart® Double Finalist in 2012 for the first two novels in her SFR Interstellar Rescue series. She lives on 43 beautiful mountain acres in North Carolina with her husband and two talkative cats. Find her at; blogging at; on Facebook at and on Twitter @DonnaSFrelick.

SFR Showcase! Nazi Slaying Maquis Ninja: Nancy Wake


SFRB-ShowcaseBannerWow! For Today’s Femme Friday, I’ve joined up with some other fabulous science fiction romance authors as part of the SFR Brigade Showcase.To check out all the other great posts from the featured authors, click here. Amazing authors of sci-fi romance to be discovered!

Writers often take their inspiration from real life. As an author of Science Fiction Romance, my inspirations can go anywhere and here is one of them. My Solar Flame series is inspired by tales of real women such as this.

Nancy_Wake_(1945)New Zealanders are made of strong stuff. I’ve met more than a few and I can honestly say that they brook no  nonsense. Nancy Wake was born in the gusty heights of Roseneath, Wellington in New Zealand and though she left her land of birth with her family at a young age, the NZ tough blood ran strong. That’s Maori blood for you. And yes, her great-grandmother was Maori who was (it is said) the first Maori maiden to marry outside of her tradition.

Who is Nancy Wake? After you read about her, you’ll think Hollywood made her up. But no. She was real. She was known by aliases through WWII. The SOE referred to her as Helene. The French Resistance (maquis) called her Andrée. But the most famous name she was given, and one she bore with pride, was given to her by the Gestapo. They called her “The White Mouse”. She ran rings around them frustrating all attempts at capture and it earned her that code name. Her bravery was not bravado. One cannot do the things she did for bluster and swagger. No her swagger was inborn not man-made. But her cause was justice, righteousness and freedom.


 She is one of the most decorated woman of WWII being recognized with Medal of Freedom (USA), Companion of the Order of Australia, George Medal (UK), and France awarded her with the Médalle de la Resistance, Croix de Guerre (3x), and the Officer de la Legion d’Honneur. Finally, she was (after many petitions by her countrymen) honored with the RSA Badge of Gold (NZ).

220px-Charlotte_gray_ver2You can find first account interviews with Nancy Wake on YouTube and you can read her biographical account of her life in many books, including her own autobiography. There was a UK television series Wish Me Luck which was based on her exploits. Dialogue for the show was lifted directly from her autobiography. Movies for TV and Hollywood were made about her exploits and the other women of WWII’s SOE (Special Operations Executive). The film, which composites her story with her peers, is called Charlotte Gray and I urge you to have a look


How did she get to France? To England? To the War in Europe? That, too, is a story in the telling. She inherited 200£ and with that emigrated to England to go to school for journalism. Plans changed. She met and married a wealthy French industrialist and settled into Marseilles. Six months later, the Germans invaded France. What drove her to join the resistance? The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis.It was a kind of injustice she felt reviled by, that would not stand in the world as long as she was living and breathing in it.

wake1In 1933, Wake’s newspaper beat took her to Vienna to do a story on the new German Chancellor,  Adolf Hitler. As the story goes, Wake interviewed Hitler, got the official party line, and then watched as gangs of Nazi thugs roamed the streets of Vienna locating Jews and beating them with no remorse.  Wake, horrified by this blatant and unchecked persecution, vowed to oppose Hitler at any opportunity. She and her husband joined the French Resistance. He remained behind to continue working in the maquis underground while she became a courier.

And when I say courier… holy crap. She once cycled 500km in 71 hours through Nazi occupied territory, through checkpoints, over dangerous countryside, over mountains, hiding out only for brief rest, to deliver replacement codes for a resistance cell her wireless operator had been forced to destroy them in a German raid. Talk about ninja powers! How did she get through? A little slap and tickle and a lot of flirting with the Germans at the checkpoints. She was a ninja! The literal translation of ninja is spy. Did you know? Now you do.

After she escaped Francewith a five million franc bounty on her head put there by the Gestapo—by crossing the Pyrenees into Spain (Hey! the Camino de Santiago does that! I’m about to do that myself but… not the same) she headed to Britain and joined the SOE to be trained in guerrilla warfare. Then she parachuted back into central France to locate and organize the scattered maquis cells. Blunt speaking, when one of her agents found her after a parachute drop, she was tangled in a tree. He remarked that he hoped all trees could bear such beautiful fruit. Nancy’s reply was to tell him not to give her any of that “French sh*t”.  Which amuses the heck out of me as her family origin, besides being Maori, was French (Huguenot).

Together with her compatriots, she organized the nightly supplies parachute drops into ammunitions and arms caches and arranged wireless network communications with England.  for D-Day and the Allies invasion which would turn the tide of the war by weakening the German army. Nancy led her maquisard men and women in the targeting of German installations, convoys and troops to further that end. Nancy’s sector gave the Nazi Reich the most heartburn. She had swelled their ranks from 3000 to 7000 with her skill at organization and recruitment. The Nazis, having had enough sent 22,000 troops, along with artillery, mortar, aircraft, mobile guns, to obliterate this Fortress of Franch-The Auvergne.  22,000 vs 7000. The maquis were outnumbered but they knew they had to inflict damage, heavy damage, before escape. And they did. That day the Resistance left 100 of their own and 1400 of the enemy laying on the plateau.

And she was a leader. During her wartime journey she led a raid on Gestapo headquarters, at a German gun factory she killed a sentry with her bare hands to keep him from alerting the guard. She was a soldier and as a soldier had to execute other spies, including another female spy that her own maquis were unable to bring themselves to kill. “Do you think the Nazis would have the same pity for me?”

She was the kind of woman that I wish I could be. A woman of fearlessness and resolve. It is this example that I use to bring kickass ninjas like Corrie Scott in my serial Freedom Bound to life.


Bodice Ripping Ninjas in Space! Freedom Bound is Firefly meets Buck Rogers with a bit of boudoir. Follow the series on convoluted romps through space with smart, super sexy females and their companions. Happily for now, guaranteed.

Welcome to the Solar Flame universe where corporate suzerains control our heroines’ lives. How do they win sovereignty over their own lives and their loves? In Freedom Bound, Corrie Scott, late of Frobisher Corporation finds herself unleashed in enemy territory alone for the first time in her life. But she is plagued by the threat of corporate slavery and devilishly handsome Mat Parker. Together they must battle through ridiculous red tape, space pirates, and backstabbing double crosses. Can they trust each other long enough to win this dangerous game?


Grab ALL the episodes of this serial!

Buy links:

Episode 1, Freedom Bound: Prologue FREE

Episode 2, Freedom Bound: Unhinged

Episode 3, Freedom Bound: Mateu

Episode 4, Freedom Bound: Coriander

Freedom Bound Amazon Series Page

10523987_10152279313750382_1139141219800348008_nJayne Fury is a SCIFIROM author who writes pulpy serials about bodice ripping ninjas in space. She lives on her urban farm in the Pacific Northwest with her three cats, five chickens and extremely tolerant husband. If asked, she will deny that she’s creating nest in her office out of old socks and wooly pooffs. She is also a performer in Tacoma’s one and only Ukulele Sing-a-long Circus. Her project, FREEDOM BOUND,  is currently publishing on

Where to find Jayne! (Other than here!)

Amazon Author Page: Jayne Fury’s Author Page

Twitter: jaynefury

Facebook: JayneFury

Instagram: JayneFury

Femme Friday : Pippa Jay talks Whovian Heroines


Hi, I’m Pippa Jay, author of scifi and the supernatural with a romantic soul. I’ve been a devoted Whovian all my life (both my parents were fans), and the long-running, iconic British TV series has been a huge inspiration for my writing. But most of all, I’ve been inspired by the female companions throughout.I think I was lucky in some ways.


Me, aged eighteen, with the then 7th Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

My earliest memory of a Doctor Who episode was Planet of the Spiders, Jon Pertwee’s final adventure (3rd regeneration). But what I remember most is his companion at the time: feisty journalist Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen). She might have done her fair share of screaming (who wouldn’t faced with some of those oh-so-dodgy rubber aliens and jerky budget special effects of the 70s and 80s, lol) but she didn’t take a lot of nonsense from the Doctor even if he was from a supposedly superior race of Timelords forced to endure the company of an annoying human female. She stood her ground, often threw herself into the fray, and took her turn rescuing the Doctor rather than always having to wait for him to rescue her. By the end of her term as companion, the Doctor was clearly as devoted to her as she was to him.

It was Sarah Jane as much as the Doctor that kept me hooked for the next few years, and when she left I cried. Later she returned in a highly successful spin off—The Sarah Jane Adventures—inspiring a younger generation of fans (my daughter included) until her untimely death.

Happily Sarah Jan was the first of many in an era of strong female sidekicks, and SJ was replaced by fiery Amazonian Sevateem warrior Leela (Louise Jameson), always ready with her knife and paralyzing Janis thorn to defend the Doctor. Despite her savage ways, Leela had a good heart, was fiercely loyal, and the Doctor expanded her perceptions beyond the ‘stab first, think later’ philosophy of her upbringing. Leela finally departed after finding love on Gallifrey (the Doctor’s home planet) with a Citadel guard worthy of her high standards.

The next companion was played by two actresses: Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward. Why two? Well, the fourth Doctor was matched by a fellow Gallifreyan who shared his ability to regenerate. And this time he was overwhelmed by someone his intellectual equal (possibly his superior, even. Romana has since only been challenged in my approval ratings by the recent River Song). Romana might have been slightly naïve about the universe in general, having lived a sheltered life on the Time Lord home world, but she took no nonsense from the Doctor and often mocked his childish ways. For the first time we got a hint that maybe the Doctor wasn’t as smart as we might believe, but more the college student who skipped lectures to learn in the school of life (ie the rest of the Universe).

These four no-nonsense, headstrong women, each from very different backgrounds, had as much influence on me as over thirty years of watching Doctor Who overall. The very first novel I ever completed was a Doctor Who story (never published) and in it I had my own feisty female companion, inspired by those that I’d grown up with. That ‘companion’ went on to become my debut heroine Quin, even though she’s more often been compared to the Doctor himself. I often wonder how my books might have turned out if not for the likes of Sarah Jane in the TARDIS…


Book One of Redemption

A demon waiting to die…

An outcast reviled for his discolored skin and rumors of black magic, Keirlan de Corizi sees no hope for redemption. Imprisoned beneath the palace that was once his home, the legendary ‘Blue Demon of Adalucien’ waits for death to finally free him of his curse. But salvation comes in an unexpected guise.

A woman determined to save him.

Able to cross space and time with a wave of her hand, Tarquin Secker has spent eternity on a hopeless quest. Drawn by a compulsion she can’t explain, she risks her apparent immortality to save Keir, and offers him sanctuary on her home-world, Lyagnius. But Quin has secrets of her own.

When Keir mistakenly unleashes the dormant alien powers within him and earns exile from Lyagnius, Quin chooses to stand by him. Can he master his newfound abilities in time to save Quin from the darkness that seeks to possess her?

Book One of the Redemption series and part of the Travellers Universe. A science fiction romance novel previously released by Lyrical Press Inc. 7th May 2012, Keir is a Readers Favorite Contest Awards Finalist 2012​, HOD RWA Aspen Gold finalist (3rd place)The Kindle Book Review’s 2013 Best Indie Book Awards semi-finalist, and a 2012 SFR Galaxy Award Best May to December Romance winner. Book Two – Keir’s Fall – released 7th December 2015, with a companion side story – Reunion at Kasha-Asor – releasing in May 2016.




Image 1-13-16 at 17.38 (1)Pippa Jay writes scifi and the supernatural with a romantic soul. A lifelong Whovian, a Scaper and Sith-in-Training, she abides in the historical market town of Colchester with her husband of 22 years and three redhaired monsters while roaming the rest of the universe in her head. Her titles cross a multitude of speculative fiction, and she’s one of eight authors in Tales from the SFR Brigade, an anthology of romances from the stars. You can find her at her blog or website, but Twitter is her favourite place to hang out and chat.

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Femme Friday #10 Beryl Markham – Pioneer Aviatrix – Cannonball Read Review – Circling the Sun


Circling the Sun
by Paula McClain (Ballantine)

A beryl is a precious stone. It is rough until cut and polished when its beauty turns it into an aquamarine, or an emerald or the flawless golden heliodor. A beryl is rare and coveted. Beryl Markham was a wild thing created by Africa. She walked like a leopard and lived life with no boundaries. She was a maverick. A pioneer. Which during the early part of the twentieth century was a rare and golden thing. The wikipedia entry on her is dry and lifeless but the historical fiction, Circling the Sun, paints a portrait of her, like her home in Kenya, in strong strokes of fierce colors.


The book includes details her love triangle with Denys Finch Hatton and Baroness Karen Blixen. Blixen’s pen name is Isak Denisen and her book, Out of Africa, is known worldwide. Conspicuously missing from that book is any mention of Beryl Markham, with whom she was both a friend and a rival. Circling the Sun includes a focus on the triangle, which places Denys Finch Hatton squarely in the center between these two powerhouse women.

“I’ve sometimes thought that being loved a little less than others can actually make a person, rather than ruin them.”

It begins with the Clutterbuck family—Beryl’s father, mother, and brothers—moving to Colonial East Africa, later to become Kenya, to their farm in Njoro. Within four years, Beryl’s mother took her brothers and returned to England, leaving her behind with her father. Thus begins the theme of abandonment which winds its way through this book and Beryl’s life. There is no explanation as to why her mother did not take her. But this event sets up Beryl for a very unconventional life. Not only was it unusual to be raised by a single father, let alone in the Colonial African bush of the early part of the 20th century, but also to learn horse training at the hands of her father, a well known and successful trainer.

This lack of European society standards in her early life allows her to be adopted by the local tribe which lives on the land and are somewhat employed in her father’s stables. It shapes her in ways that echo through the book. She is given a tribal name and treated by the tribeswoman as one of their own. I found that to be a fascinating part of the story. Neither she nor the tribe had any bigotry towards one another. She was obviously too young to have adopted any preconceived notions about race. The women, it was said, felt that she needed a mother. But Beryl’s unique position, both as daughter of the landowner and a motherless child, allowed her to move between the two worlds easily. Her main playmates were the young males of the tribe. Arap Rutra was her childhood best friend and we see in this book their relationship of trust forged in youth taken to adulthood. It wasn’t until puberty that she began to be treated like a young woman of the tribe would be, which was confusing for the strongly independent bush-loving woman-child.

Early puberty turned out to be, as it is for most people, a confusing time. Her father tried to get her a governess so she could learn to read and write and do sums. Beryl put snakes in her bed. Her father’s “housekeeper” tried to teach her some of the standard European civilities such as using utensils at the table.  These were met with fierce opposition by Beryl who was extremely contrary to any notion of being “proper” and “correct”. This theme is repeated over and over. Her father and his mistress tried to send her to school in town, she was eventually tossed out. I’m still amazed that she ended up with any education at all. It was obvious that she was afraid to read aloud as in one passage she was asked to and she begged off, saying she would make a muck of it. Education not being standard, she still managed to learn the things that were important to her, such as keeping proper records for her stables. In modern times, we now all this “unlearning” and she is an excellent example of how this type of learner succeeds.

We ate our meal in strained silence, all of the furniture seeming to lean heavily in from the walls. The servants were very quiet as they came and went, and it was awful to sit there, wanting to scream but saying nothing. Jock was terrified I was going to embarrass him – or embarrass him further. That was all he seemed to think of now as he flexed and cautioned me, running thick strands of wire around the charade of our life together. He’d always been good at fences. I had known that from the beginning, but I hadn’t guessed how desperate I could feel bound up inside one.

From this point forward, the book describes in detail her forced marriage to an alcoholic, her second marriage to a controlling aristocrat and in between, how she managed to keep sane, free, and alive by throwing herself at her work. Her “coming out” party is when she meets Denys Finch Hatton and her first husband. Sadly, she never marries her Denys.  The book manages to convey to us that Kenya is her one true love and that this woman, against all odds, managed stay true to herself. She became the first woman horse trainer in Africa, at the tender age of 19, and then later triumphed as the first woman aviator to cross the Atlantic from Europe to North America.

On safari, I saw Denys in sharper relief than I ever had. He had an infallible compass, and a way of seeing everything as if he knew it would never be there exactly the same again. More than anyone I’d known, Denys understood how nothing ever holds still for us, or should. The trick is learning to take things as they come and fully, too, with no resistance or fear, not trying to grip them too tightly or make them bend.

I thought the book would be more about her aviation exploits. It was not. It barely touched on this but it does lead nicely into it. I think that is just as well that it does not focus on aviation as Beryl herself wrote a brilliant book about that, West with the Night. 

Courtesy of the Beaton Institute Archives

Victorious Beryl Markham Courtesy of the Beaton Institute Archives

What this book is about is a pioneer. A pilgrim. A woman in the field of horse racing and aviation at a time when this was completely unheard of. A woman who gained and lost more in one lifetime than could be shoehorned into ten. I considered her to be lucky to have lived in a place that rejected societal norms of the early twentieth century—especially in relation to women—and expectations of women at that time. She reportedly had an affair with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester (Queen Elizabeth’s uncle and the former Governor General of Australia) along with a few other adventuresome men. Society could not accept her ways which were often male-centric.  Because she worked with men, in her profession of horse racing, it caused “nice women” to be suspicious of her being around their men. As for Beryl’s reputation, it was insinuated by society as loose. The frustration of being a strong woman in a male dominated society is pivotal to this book.

“Oh.” It seemed I’d surprised him. “There isn’t a lot of that kind of thinking around here.”

“Of course there is,” I told him, trying to draw a smile. “It’s just usually a man who’s doing it.”

This book clearly shows, however, that because she had been sheltered in a tribe, she had more provincial sexual morals. One scene in particular details her absolute horror at the Happy Valley set’s “party” where partners were swapped. It marked the end of a very lucrative relationship with a man who was ready to set her up in her own stables. She packed up and walked out…leaving thousands and thousands of pounds behind. Cash.

The book ends after Denys Finch Hatton dies in a flying accident and Beryl makes her way West across the Atlantic Ocean. She didn’t make it to New York by plane but came up short. and landed in Nova Scotia.  I would have loved to know more about her but even her own biography doesn’t go further. What we do know of her later life can be found in microfiche and archives. But there is nothing about her that could ever be buried in dust. Women like Beryl Markham are timeless and strongly cut… Rare and beautiful.


Final Notes:

I listened to this book rather than read it and I thoroughly enjoyed the narration. It was beautiful and transportive which matched the book’s voice completely.

Want to know more about Cannonball Read and the money being raised for the American Cancer Society? Check out their website at WWW.CANNONBALLREAD.COM


Femme Friday #9 – Complexities of Princess Aura of Mongo

Femme Friday is here!

What about a strong female antagonist? The bad guy being a big bad space princess? Oh yeah, Science Fiction Romance has that, too. Remember Princess Aura of Mongo from Flash Gordon? No? I’ll wait. She’s on YouTube with a short video of the Bombshell of Mongo.

Space Princess Aur of Mongo

She is sexy. She is evil. She has a shiny hat. She is a space princess with a penchant for control. But what heroine or anti-heroine doesn’t have to feel in control? Right? No no, don’t go to the “but it’s romance, and that means our space princess needs to be rescued while she’s affecting the change in the hero”. Waaaa-waaa. No.

Who said? Not always! Sometimes she is the active rescuer, sometimes being rescued is the catalyst for the change in our hero. Sometimes badassery is the catalyst for change. Princess Aura of Mongo was the kind of sexy bad girl that made the boys’ boxers swing. She could be good or bad, depending on the situation and was, for decades, the standout example of complexity for female characters.

Sometimes it pays to be bad. Sometimes it pays to be good. Sometimes you never win, no matter which route you choose. .Poor Princess Aura, always in competition with Dale Arden for Flash’s affection, never wins. Wisely, Flash steers clear of Aura’s bad case of bipolar disorder. As the object of her affection, he’s the focus of her too-often trigger happy torture button but she could just as easily wield her ray gun at foes of the good guys, too. Complicated? Yup! But that’s the best kind of character.

Aura’s confusion is aptly drawn. Her father, Ming the Merciless, proudly passed on his lack of compassion to his only offspring.  She strove to please her father and yet at the same time, longed for the affection of her golden boy, Flash. When you love the man your father hates, you’re already fighting an uphill battle. And Ming was no chump when it came to making life hard for everyone around him.

Two men–both objects of a desire—are in direct conflict. From her father she needs approval; from Flash she needs a carnal desire fulfilled. Both needs and wants fulfill a deep seeded hunger to please and be pleased. At the core is selfishness. This is Aura’s fatal flaw. She wants it all. Her father has given her permission to go after whatever she wants, no holds barred. Except for Flash. She can’t have him and that is the red itchy zit of her blemished sanity.

But that blemish is her beauty mark. At one point , thinking they’d erase all our memories with one wave of the cinematic wand, they tried to make a Glenda the Good version of Aura—Aura.2 we’ll call her—who turned out to be the limpest mop in the Mongo palace. Every hero needs an enemy. For that brief time when blonde Aura prevailed, they had to make another badass. Lady Sonja. Who, I assure you, was no lady. Villains exist to make life interesting. Villains with conflict (such as our most recent one in the Star Wars Saga, Kylo Ren) are fascinating.

If you shine, there is always a shadow.


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Femme Friday #7 – Anti Heroines – Cersei Lannister

Femme Friday is here!

imgresFemme Friday focus this month is fictional femmes. I started with talking about space princesses. But now I’m heading into some Femme Fatale territory, starting with the most recent and arguably most powerful femme in current fiction: Cersei Lannister. 

What makes Cersei Lannister a formidable character? What is her weakness. Why is or isn’t she a femme fatale?

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