The best novels that capture the life, strength, struggles, and victories of known and unknown heroines

Debora De Farias Author Of Standing Tall
By Debora De Farias

The Books I Picked & Why

The Air You Breathe

By Frances De Pontes Peebles

Book cover of The Air You Breathe

Why this book?

Friendship, romance, betrayal, drama, music, adventures, beauty, and tragedy, this book has it all. It is a magnificent work of history and Latin culture that immediately took me back from my home country, Brazil, and to another time, pre and post WWII. It is the story of two girls with opposite backgrounds, who grew up together and embraced their artistic careers and dreams of becoming music stars. Graca, the samba singer, the main one on the front stage, with her beauty, charisma, and unique voice; and Dores the songwriter, behind the scenes, with her poetry, the lyrics, the rhythm, the passion, and the determination to be a music group leader. She has the stamina to never give up.

This particular book made me fall in love with historical fiction. Rich in details, well researched, and carefully woven, it was hard to separate what was fiction, what was real. As the plot develops and the artists finally reach Hollywood, one can only ask if this is a fictional account of the famous singer and actress Carmen Miranda. But interestingly, it is her almost unknown friend, Dores, who called my attention the most. Her name literally means pains and sufferings, in Portuguese, but she seems so strong, so resilient. Who is this woman who contributed so much to the birth of the Samba, but yet, might not have received the proper recognition in time and history?

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The Dream Lover: A Novel

By Elizabeth Berg

Book cover of The Dream Lover: A Novel

Why this book?

Meet Aurore Dupin, best known by her pen name, George Sand, one of the most progressive and unique French novelist, memoirist, and journalist of the 19th century. This amazing novel depicts Sand’s personal life from her youth to her older ages. In a time where women were expected to wear corsets and dresses, to play the piano to entertain important guests, to be a good wife under all circumstances, and to be a stay-at-home mother, Aurore Dupin stands against what is the “norm”.  She stands up to defend women's rights, in order to follow her heart, in a constant search for independence and love. I was easily transported to France, to its countryside, and to the cosmopolitan Paris, where flourishing art culture and social turmoil coexisted side by side. I was drawn into this historical novel because it brings the struggles of a woman whose choices and attitudes can be seen as incomprehensible or can be seen as realities that make us grow more empathic and compassionate. I choose the last one.

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The Age of Light

By Whitney Scharer

Book cover of The Age of Light

Why this book?

It happened that I know the father of this incredible and talented author. Therefore, when I learned his daughter had published this novel, I had to read it. The title and the cover are so compelling, I fell in love with them almost immediately. I knew nothing about this heroine who loved art and independence, who moved from New York to the bohemian Paris in the 1930s. This debut novel is based on the life of Lee Miller, who started her career as a Vogue fashion model but became an art photographer, in order to be in charge of her own work, behind the cameras.

The author graciously captures the beauty, imperfections, and traumas of this amazing woman, who embarked on a journey as a photojournalist and war correspondent, combining historical documentation with art. From the liberation of Paris to the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, the narrative captures the details of the symbiotic relationship between Lee and her lover –the famous artist Man Ray, her professional discoveries and her achievements. The Age of Light is a book that unravels the complexity of a woman’s world, filled with beauty, light, art but also darkness.

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The Signature of All Things

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Book cover of The Signature of All Things

Why this book?

As well said on the back cover of this novel, “Love, adventure, and discovery are at the heart of this bestseller”. Alma Whittaker, a relentless, rational woman, draws us into the world of discoveries, in the 1800s, and her incredible journey of inner transformation, surrounded by family affairs, friendships, science, poetic writing, spiritual growth, and love. I personally connected with Alma Whittaker because she is not only a woman of science – a botanist and taxonomist, but above all, she is a noble thinker, a philosopher, a woman with desires and driven purposes, who refuses to be entrapped by the traditional social norms of the 19th century.

Although Alma is a fictional character, she feels alive and real. The fact that the book ends with this quotation, is an admirable reinforcement. “Rest assured, dear friend, that many noteworthy and great sciences and arts have been discovered through the understanding and subtlety of women, both in cognitive speculation demonstrated in writing, and in the arts, manifested in manual work of labor. I will give you plenty of examples." Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, 1405.

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Camille Claudel: A Life

By Odile Ayral-Clause

Book cover of Camille Claudel: A Life

Why this book?

This biography is a must-read for anyone who is interested in art, history, and strong, powerful women. It was the first book I read about the great 19th-century sculptress, Camille Claudel. “As recently as twenty years ago, in France, Camille Claudel was known only to a handful of admirers. The brief moments of applause she had enjoyed during her lifetime had never led to important commissions, and the sales of her pieces remained few and far…Camille Claudel displayed many characteristics that contribute to the weaving of myths: she was beautiful, talented, witty, and fiercely independent. She was connected to some of the most visible artists and writers of the era; she even had a romance with Auguste Rodin, the greatest sculptor of the nineteenth century. But hidden among the magnificent gifts nature had bestowed upon her was the seed of an illness that eventually brought her to a mental asylum.”

From these words in the Preface, I had the inspiration to create a fictional character in one of the chapters of my own historical novel, as a tribute to this incredible woman that was so much more than a disciple of Rodin, a woman who should never be forgotten.

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