7 Books About Inspiring Women Rulers From History

Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

7 Books About Inspiring Women Rulers-From Left to Write

Lately everyone’s been talking about leaning in and banning bossy, but before Sheryl Sandberg, we had strong, bossy queens, empresses, and even a pope. Yes, a female pope. These inspiring women rulers used their brains and their beauty to rise to the top of a world ruled by men.

You’ll probably recognize some of these historical women in these biographies and historical fiction novels. I hope you’ll learn about the new to you awe-inspiring female rulers.

Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan is a novel about the life of Mehrunissa who becomes the famous empress of Mughal Empire, through her marriage to Emperor Jahangir. Though he has many wives, Jahangir dotes on Mehrunissa and she given more power than most empresses are given. The well-researched details will make you feel transported to 17th century India.

Feast of Roses by Indu Sundaresan

Immediately after you finish The Twentieth Wife, you’ll want to pick up its sequel, The Feast of Roses. While the first novel illustrates Mehrunissa’s rise to power, the sequel depicts the challenges she faced as a woman deemed with too much power. You won’t be surprised to see some of these opinions still exist today.

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

In Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff digs deep into historical texts and puts together a fascinating biography of one of the most famous queens in history. We read and discussed this biography as a From Left to Write book club selection in September 2011.

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran is a fictionalized telling of this famous queen’s life as told by her younger sister. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you try to keep track of the different schemes and plot twists in the ancient Egyptian court.

The Last Empress by Anchee Min

The Last Empress by Anchee Min is about Empress Orchid, mother of the only male heir Ch’ing Dynasty. She rises to power after the emperor’s death,when their son is only five years old. This novel recounts the tumultuous times during 19th century China as the Empress tries to hold on to her power.

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak tells the story of this famous Russian empress through the eyes of her handmaid Barbara.  The political intrigue will keep you turning the pages.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

While the Vatican denies the existence of a female pope in 855 A.D. during the Dark Ages, there are hundreds of manuscript contains accounts of a female papacy. In the novel Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross imagines Joan’s rise in the Vatican and what motivated her to pretend to be a man. Whether Pope Joan really existed or not, this novel will make you believe how easily this could have.

Which of these women intrigues you or inspires you the most?

Book Review: I Shall Be Near to You

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

When pick up a historical fiction, I want to be whisked away into that time period. Author Erin Lindsay McCabe transported me smack dab into the U.S. Civil War with her novel I Shall Be Near to You. In fact, I saw the Civil War from a perspective I’ve never seen before: from the eyes of a woman disguised as a man in the Union Army. The novel is inspired by letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who fought in the war as Private Lyons Wakeman.

In the novel, newlywed Rosetta doesn’t want her husband to enlist in the army, but Jeremiah joins up thanks to the promise of good money. He wants to buy them a farm of their own. Rosetta’s father encouraged her to think for herself and work the family’s farm growing up. Now that she’s a wife, she is unable to sit indoors and do what’s expected of her: cook, mend clothes, and other chores traditionally regulated to women. Instead, she disguises herself as a man and runs off to enlist, hoping that she’ll be in the same regiment as her husband.  Jeremiah is none to happy when discovers what she’s done but it’s too late to turn back.

It’s very evident that the author did her research for the novel, which allowed her to bring Rosetta’s story alive for the readers. It’s a pet peeve of mine when I read historical fiction and the characters speak like they’re from present day. Not so with this book.  The language fits in with the period.

The book was a quick read for me because of the pace and the battle scenes. Seeing the war from Rosetta’s perspective definitely made me wonder about all the women who did what she did. I do wish that some of themes in the novel could have been expanded upon more, mainly women’s rights and slavery.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. If you like historical fiction, you should definitely add I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe to your to-read list.

Don’t forget to enter our latest book giveaway. Today is the last day to enter!

I received a review copy of the book.


Book Review: Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen


I love reading novels set in India, especially when it’s filled with rich imagery and a nod to India’s history and culture. Each time I opened up the pages of the beautifully written novel Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen, I was transported to India during the turbulent 1940s and 1950s.

Sophie has finally returned to India after her marriage to Lucien, an officer in the British Foreign Office. Ten years ago, she lived in a maharajah’s palace when her father was employed as the palace doctor. Sophie has worked hard to push the past behind after moving back to London, but her memories and heartache rush back when she returns as the new Sophie. The current Sophie feels just as lost as the younger version, but the older, wiser Sophie has learned to take control of her life.

The two parts of Sophie’s life unfolds a few chapters as a time and alternates between her past and her present. I enjoyed seeing how Sophie changed and how parts of her remained the same as the story jumped between the years. The pre-partition India is very different from New Delhi in 1958, where she is stationed with her new husband.

Alison McQueen captures India in great detail but doesn’t gloss over the racism and violence that occurred during partition transition. The country isn’t exoticized for us Westerners, which I appreciated. I found the ending predictable but it was a satisfying one. It was what I hoped for Sophie. Warning, you might need some tissues for the end.

Travel to India and read Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen.

Do you have a favorite setting when you read fiction?

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

November Book Club: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land

The Cartographer of No Mans Land by PS Duffy

We’re jumping right in to our second November book club with  The Cartographer of No Man’s Land (Liveright) by P.S. Duffy. Set partly in Nova Scotia and partly in Europe, this World War I novel is about a family divided by war. Angus enlists for the war and travels to Europe to find the answers that both he and his wife needs. Along the way Angus discovers more than he ever wanted to know.

This novel gave this American a glimpse of life in Canada when the world was in turmoil. Here’s the official synopsis:

When his beloved brother-in-law goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly into the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief. With the intimacy of The Song of Achilles and the epic scope of The Invisible BridgeThe Cartographer of No Man’s Land offers a soulful portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home.

Grab your copy of  The Cartographer of No Man’s Land and join From Left to Write members on November 14 as we discuss this historical fiction.

You can read an excerpt of the book on P.S. Duffy’s website while you wait for your copy to arrive. Follow her on Facebook for updates.

Book Review: The Valley of Amazement

Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I’ve been so excited about Amy Tan’s newest novel The Valley of Amazement, that I worried that my expectations were too high. Thankfully, the novel exceeded my expectations. I think it’s one of Tan’s best books. I’ve had my hands on the galley since I briefly “met” Amy Tan during Book Expo America. I finally took it with me on a plane trip a couple of weeks ago. I finished it in less than 24 hours.

Violet, the book’s main character, grew up in a high class courtesan house that is run by her unmarried mother Lulu.  Thanks to Lulu’s American business sense and daring, Hidden Jade Path becomes one of the premiere courtesan houses in Shanghai during the early 1900s. Even at seven years of age, Violet has a strong sense of American entitlement. Her view of the world changes when Violet learns that her father is Chinese. She is biracial, with one foot in each world and never quite accepted in either.

As the political situation worsens in Shanghai, Lulu makes plans for both of them to return to San Francisco. Unfortunately, Lulu has been tricked. Violet never makes it on the ship to the United States. Instead she is sold to a rival courtesan house as half-breed. The rest of the novel spans another generation as Violet accepts her new role in life and becomes one of the best courtesans in Shanghai (with help from an old friend and former courtesan Magic Gourd).

Tan has painstaking done her historical research. I could picture the courtesan house exactly in my mind thanks to the detailed descriptions of the furniture, drapes, everything. There’s just enough details to give me a good sense of the setting without going overboard.

I was absolutely fascinated by what goes into a courtesan’s training. (Read Magic Gourd’s tips in the ebook Rules for Virgins ) Courtesans had to be wooed by their clients with gifts and money before they were invited into their bed. There was a skill in showing enough skin at the right time, in order to secure valuable jewelry and gifts. A courtesan’s career did not last long and these gifts were their retirement.

Tan truly explored how Violet was impacted upon learning that she was biracial. Not just with how Violet identified herself, but how she was treated by those around her. Tan even goes back to when Lulu first meets Violet’s father and how their relationship was perceived by both sides.

I’ve listened and watched several interviews with Amy Tan about The Valley of Amazement. There’s been a lot of coverage about the sex scenes she wrote. Apparently this was the first time she’d ever written one. I don’t know why the media is making such a big deal out of it. It’s not explicit like 50 Shades. The sex scenes are part of the story and helps the reader understand what courtesan life was like. Maybe because Amy Tan wrote them?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan and think you will too. I have tickets to see her talk about her book in a couple of weeks and I’m just a wee bit excited!

This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve been savoring  The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert because I was not ready for it to end. Which seems silly to say since it’s over 500 pages long. Before this novel, I had only read Elizabeth Gilbert’s famed memoir Eat, Pray, LoveDon’t let the novel’s length discourage you from reading it. You don’t want to miss out.

I can’t do the book description justice so here’s the official blurb:

Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

It’s not often when a character like Alma Whittaker feels so real that I wish I could just jump in the book and hold her hand. The novel follows Alma’s life from (before) birth through the end of her long, adventurous life. It’s hard not to fall for Alma. As a woman in the 1800s, Alma wanted more from life than her gender allowed. She was lucky enough to grow up in a family that valued intelligence in girls and the means to provide her with an extensive education. As she learned about the world around her, she yearned for more but she was not destined to leave her family home. Yet. Eventually she had the courage and means to sail clear across the world to seek the truth about Ambrose.

The Signature of All Things  was such a pleasurable read. With most books, I try to sneak in 5 or 10 minutes throughout my day, but I couldn’t with this novel. I needed more than 10 minutes because I’d become some immersed in Alma’s world that I didn’t want to leave. Elizabeth Gilbert did a lot of research for her novel and it shows: the facts about moss, scientific discoveries, even Captain Cook’s adventures.

With a novel this long, I always worry about how it will end. It fit Alma perfectly. I highly recommend The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert .

I received an e-galley of the book for review.