Strong Female Characters – International Women’s Day 2016

Happy International Women’s Day! As today is an opportunity to celebrate all that is great about women and to campaign for further reform, we decided to include a top ten of books with strong female characters.

Though these characters differ in many ways, they are all brave and courageous and drive a really good narrative which is what you want from a great read. All of the books below link to e-book editions but you can easily change your preference if you would prefer a paperback version. In no particular order…

One –  Elizabeth Bennet

Elizabeth Bennet is a fantastic example of a strong female character who knows what she wants and is not overly impressed by riches or status. Though she is not infallible,  her strength inspires and intrigues Mr Darcy as he has never met a woman like her.

Two – Kate Moore

Kate Moore is an incredibly strong CIA agent who regularly gets into danger at every turn but never seems to be very afraid even though the stakes are raised at every turn. Her inspirational strength shines through in this thrilling read and her character is drawn very convincingly by male author Chris Pavone.

Three – Ruth Galloway

Forensic Archaeologist Ruth Galloway, lives with her daughter on the North Norfolk coast. She has a complicated love life to put it mildly but helps the police to investigative murders that happen in her area. The most refreshing thing about Ruth is that she is a size 16 (i.e. a normal sized UK woman!) which we don’t get to see a lot of in crime fiction. All of the Elly Griffiths Ruth books are great but my favourite is Dying Fall.

Four – Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser

Claire is the main character in the Outlander novels, of which we are anxiously awaiting the Series Two TV adaptation here in the UK in April. She is a feisty heroine who slips through time from the 1940s to eighteenth century Scotland. Although married to Frank in the present day, fearing she will never return she grows strongly attached to Jamie Fraser. Claire is always having to use her wits to survive, she is in an unfamiliar place and time so needs to be resourceful. I suggest beginning at the first Outlander novel and moving forward.

Five – Mary Yellan

Out of all the Daphne Du Maurier books that I have read, Jamaica Inn is my favourite. Mary Yellan is sent to live with her Aunt Patience and violent Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn on the Bodmin Moor. Mary is brave and courageous and knows that something strange is going on and wants to discover just what this is. A truly Gothic novel, very atmospheric in tone.

Six – V.I. Warshawswki

Victoria Iphegenia Warshawski is a Chicago Private Eye created by Sara Paretsky. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Vic is incredibly tough and not scared of fighting physically as she sets herself to solving cases of White Collar crime. Lots of the stories are great but for a more recent take on the character try 2012’s Breakdown.

Seven – Kambili Achike

Purple Hibiscus is the first of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s novels and is really a coming of age tale in Nigeria set against turbulent times. We see the world through the eyes of Kambili who us a fifteen year old girl growing up in a religiously conservative family. Her father is a tyrant but luckily she is able to grow and mature as a character due to the influence of her considerate Aunty Ifeoma.

Eight – Diana Bishop

In the All Souls Trilogy’s first book A Discovery of Witches, Diana Bishop is another courageous female character that uses her brain to get what she wants. Diana is a Professor of the History of Alchemy who is also able to use magic and becomes entangled in a relationship with  charismatic vampire Matthew Clairmont.

Nine – Temperence Brennan

 Forensic Anthropologist Tempe Brennan is a great character who shows resourcefulness, intelligence and strength. Called on to solve crimes in two jurisdictions and countries (Quebec and North Carolina) Tempe is determined to bring justice for her victims who may have experienced a dreadful death. Also the complications of a certain Quebecois detective Andrew Ryan add some spice to the stories! Again all of the novels in the series are excellent but one of my favourites is Grave Secrets.

Ten – Sookie Stackhouse

Sookie Stackhouse is the lead character in the True Blood series of novels by Charlaine Harris. These stories set in the Louisianan town of Bon Temps feature many supernatural characters including vampires, werewolves and fairies. Vampires have come out of the closet due to a synthetic blood drink that has been developed by a Japanese company allowing them in theory to live safely amongst humans. Sookie is a strong character as she has always been seen as ‘different’ as she can read others thoughts so people in her small town are quite freaked out by her. The first book is a murder mystery set against a paranoid population who feel that a vampire is the killer.

Plus – Mary Shelley (not a character!)

Though this is an author not a character I really wanted to include the fabulous author Mary Shelley who wrote the draft of Frankenstein at the incredible age of nineteen! I have been lucky enough to see the manuscript of this work in 2014 The Gothic Exhibition at The British Library more of which you can read about in this post here

This incomparable Gothic tale is a great read, make sure you check out the 1818 text and not the later one!

These are our choices, do you agree, what have we missed? Let us know if so or if not on Twitter or Facebook or by email at:


Vibrant Greens for March

DSCN0921 (600x800)

This month our colour will be Green which we felt would be appropriate as it is an excellent colour for spring as here in the UK we finally get to see the end of the Winter weather and look towards a warmer (hopefully) Spring full of glossy new leaves and gorgeous flowers! March is also a busy month for us as we have the Huddersfield Literature Festival 2016 coming up which celebrates ten years this year and has an eclectic and stimulating programme of events. Also, Easter will soon be upon us as it’s early this year so we may be looking at things to do or the best cultural events for this time of year. Conveniently St Patrick’s Day is also in March so that is probably the best Green event you could hope for to tie in with our theme! Jo also has a lot of new book releases to read and evaluate, so we hope to be covering some of those too, all in all a busy month, we wish you all a happy March!

November Indigo Fun for Kids!

Indigo-Guizhou by Gitane
Indigo-Guizhou by Gitane

For our theme of indigo for November I have chosen two items that are indigo and that I like very much.

Indigo Irises

Indigo is one of my favourite colours and I could talk about so many indigo things but I have chosen to talk about one of many indigo flowers, the Iris. Irises have beautiful petals that really stand out, they get there name from the Greek word for rainbow! I love irises because they remind me of the spring, new and fresh which is nice at this time of year as you get to look ahead! They bloom around April/May time in the UK. I suggest growing Irises; they will make a great addition to your garden!

Indigo Fireworks

Fireworks against a dark November sky by Grace
Fireworks against a dark November sky by GraceIndigo Fireworks

Indigo could be seen to be a cold colour but maybe one that you can nestle up and brave the outside world to, which is why I love this time of the year because on the 5th November in the UK we celebrate Guy Fawkes’ night. On this evening we usually light a bonfire, but my favourite part is the fireworks! I love all sorts of fireworks but my favourite are the indigo ones! Also after the fireworks die down the sky goes a sort of indigo colour and it’s all misty! I enjoy looking out the window and spotting fireworks, so do my sisters because it’s really colourful and bright!

These are my choices for this month, if you have any more then let us know.

Light Night Leeds 2015

On Friday 9th October 2015, we experienced the Light Night Event in Leeds City Centre, part of the Lighting up the North series of events this Autumn and Winter. We had been looking forward to going to this after seeing the excellent brochure which promised a lot. We (myself and my husband Matt) started the evening at the Trinity Kitchen where we went had dinner at Pho the Vietnamese Street Food Bar. Trinity Kitchen is a very trendy eatery place with lots of independent street food style eateries.

St John the Evangelist Church and Spotlight!
St John the Evangelist Church and Spotlight!

Outside it was a nice mild evening with no rain or fog, so perfect conditions really for Light Night. The city centre was heaving with a mix of people including children which brought a safe, friendly atmosphere to the city at night. Light Night consisted of a series of different installations and performances across the city centre so was quite spread out, perhaps a little too thinly at times.

Street Scene on Night Light
Street Scene at Night Light

The first event we attended was 29th Leeds International Film Festival at the Town Hall which was enjoyable, an interesting and diverse programme of films was shown in trailer form. Some of the films were truly terrifying, (The Witch), some downright weird, (Crumbs) some quirky and funny (Liza, the Fox Fairy), (Assassination Classroom) and others very serious. We decided we would like to catch some of these in full when it begins in November.

Leeds International Film Festival Launch
Leeds International Film Festival Launch

On our wanderings we passed the ‘Light Night Lantern Parade’ with the puppet of the giant illuminated owl. It was enchanting to see people following the owl puppet and the children who wanted to join in however, we were surprised at how small this parade was considering the size of the city. Perhaps this was due to the fact that it was just one of many events and so was a bit diluted?

Light Night Lantern Parade
Light Night Lantern Parade

Next we originally planned to go to the launch of the British Art Show 8 but the square was so crowded in front of it that we decided not to, so we headed over to Mark Lane to St John the Evangelist Church, where we intended to see a performance but once again it was very crowded and with twenty minutes to spare we though there would be little chance of us getting seats. Instead, we took some arty photos in the churchyard and looked at the installation there called ‘To The Better Place We Dream Of’ by Debi Keable. This installation was a series of screen painted luminous art works which fitted in well in the churchyard setting. It would have made even more impact to have a few more of these artworks installed but of course we understand that those that were there took a lot of time and effort and were beautiful to look at.

To The Better Place We Dream Of by Debi Keable
To The Better Place We Dream Of by Debi Keable

We decided to head on down to the Trinity Shopping Centre where a huge installation called The Seventh Wave was taking place in the Central Atrium. For me, this was the highlight of the night and was really impressive. The whole of the glass roof of the Central Atrium in the Trinity was used as a light and sound projection of a day including a storm. All of the small lights fixed in the apex of the windows in the glass roof became at various times, stars and passing clouds complete with an immersive soundscape of birdsong, twinkling stars, thunder and rain. This definitely had the ‘wow factor’ and this would have been something that the rest of the evening would have benefited from.

I think it is beneficial to include smaller scale street performers who do not have the finds or expertise to match such spectacles as this but maybe it would be good to include them in a procession or as part of a larger stage show, see recommendations below. We did not see the Whale Song production as we were in the Film Festival launch in the Town Hall when tickets were being given out on Briggate, so maybe this would have been something else that had the ‘wow factor’ too.

Trinity Shopping Centre Atrium Roof
Trinity Shopping Centre Atrium Roof

Overall, I think that the marketing did not quite match the real experience of the event which is a shame as the expectations were very high from the marketing and in reality it felt a little timid, things could have been consistently bolder, and bigger and more spectacular. As Leeds is such a huge city, instead of lots of small events dispersed across the whole city maybe it would better to have a big parade followed by a show at the O2 arena, ‘A Celebration of Light in Leeds,’ styled as similar to the London 2012 Olympic Opening ceremony, albeit with a reduced budget of course! I think this would work well and solve the issue of being too dispersed and be able to really put on a huge spectacular show, maybe involving local schools, university students, Opera North, WYP and the Northern School of Dance in the performances. Smaller venues and eateries could still get trade by offering discounts etc. Leeds has an impressive artistic heritage and should be proud of this fact, if it could be a little braver and perhaps lean a bit to more of the above model then it could leave a real and lasting impact on culture and arts in the North.