The 18th century novelist Lady Caroline Lamb coined that phrase and lived a bit of it herself. Let’s add switched on and resourceful, and we’ll have described some of the women I’ve been reading about, fictional and real. 

Based on real events and real people, The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas tells the story of the women incarcerated in the Salpêtrière asylum in Paris in the 19th century, put there by men for ‘crimes’ such as sadness, or being the traumatised victim of an assault. If a woman caused trouble, she could be deemed mad, and put away.

Further humiliation is heaped upon the women when famous (real life but here fictionalised) neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot uses the women as performance pieces inducing fits at his lectures which are solely attended by men. These scenes are creepy beyond belief, the women dehumanised, the men not coming out of it too well either.

But it’s not about the men. The narrative is snatched back by Eugénie, the overlooked, intelligent and lively daughter of a wealthy family. She has long been able to receive messages from the dead, and is incarcerated within Salpêtrière by her father who is having none of that nonsense associated with his family. The novel is short, the translation occasionally clunky, but there’s a lot going on and it’s fascinating. 

A book for children (and grown-ups) that I think is brilliant is Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee. 

Pippa is a girl with a complicated life. She used to have a happy, vibrant mother. She used to have a wonderful best friend, Mika. These days she has a defeated, scared mother, an emotionally abusive step-father and Mika is gone. 

Pip avoids going home where she has to slink around, avoiding her step-father and trying to persuade her mother to leave. She’s lost herself and the life she had, a victim of a relationship in which her mother is manipulated, clinging on to hope, praying that this man who was handsome and attentive will renounce his gaslighting ways and deliver the promise of their early days. He won’t of course. We know it, and Pip knows it.

One night, in the dusk, Pip spies a broken, tiny thing. Wonderfully, miraculously, it’s a baby dragon, but it’s dying, only just holding on. Pip finds her purpose. She will save this dragon, and with Mika’s voice forever in her head, she embarks upon a dangerous journey of secrets, lies, unlikely friendships and hope.

Pip is a girl who is brave, grumpy and resourceful. She’s the one with the smarts to recognise a dire situation when she sees one, and to make a plan. Her emotional strength is incredible, and whilst channelled into the dragon, funnels through to other areas of her life, creating a chance for better things. 

She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall is a home grown novel set mostly in Wellington. It features a jaded, intolerant sociopath who is interested in sex rather than relationships and never speaks to her mother. It’s not the usual Jack Reacher type embodiment of these characteristics, but Alice, clever almost to the point of genius and doing nothing with it. She communicates with her mother by Morse code and has one friend who she thinks she is very close to. In this near future tale of climate change and it’s unexpected knock on effects, Alice is a character who will need to rethink many things by the time the story reaches its full-on conclusion. 

The catalyst for a thumping good story is Pablo, a wealthugee thrown into Alice’s way. He’s handsome, rich enough to take her to the fancy restaurants that have armed bouncers on the door, his conversation diverting. Pablo has a daughter, 15-year-old Erika, an actual full-point genius. There’s much more to the perfect Erika than is revealed at first glance and Alice’s imaginary friend Simp (just back after a long absence) has some pretty grave concerns. It’s a riveting crew, the best of bunches who love, hate and feel ambivalent toward one another enough to create a bizarre and dryly comical story. 

Niki Bezzant has been involved in the NZ media industry for a long time. She’s interested in life, health and food, and how we get our information. Early in 2022 Niki’s third book, This Changes Everything, hits the shelves and we will be reading about menopause. 

There are several things that I have found we either don’t talk about or don’t believe in, until we get to a certain age; aches and pains for no apparent reason, how you will probably one day have to care for your parents and make decisions for them, how you’ll put weight on overnight even though you have made no significant changes to your lifestyle choices. Menopause is one of these things that we don’t talk about until we have to.

Many women of a certain age are crying out for this information and I’m really looking forward to reading this from a Kiwi writer who promises to tell us what we need to know. This Changes Everything includes: when menopause happens early, HRT, MHT and other treatments, periods, hot flushes, night sweats and heart palpitations, weight gain and body changes, migraines, mood changes, anxiety and depression, gut issues, sex, libido and relationships, sleep and insomnia, alcohol, exercise, nutrition and healthy eating and menopause in the workplace. Niki also promises to ‘call out sexism, snake oil and bullshit.” I can’t wait. 

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