how to be a heroineHow to Be a Heroine, or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much is a mix between memoir and literary criticism as author Samantha Ellis realizes that maybe the heroines she modeled herself after when she was younger were not the best choices.

As a young child raised in an Iraqi-Jewish family in London, Ellis describes herself as someone who devoured books as a way to judge the characters in them for characteristics and actions she wanted to emulate. Reading this book, I found myself identifying with Ellis as I, too, looked to books as a way to test out new identities without having to fully behave the same way. Ellis realized that she had perhaps chosen the wrong heroine to try to become, so she decided to look at the female characters and writers that she had loved since childhood. What followed became this book.

As she examines these characters, who range from books such as The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, The Valley of the Dolls, as well as characters Franny Glass, Scarlett O’Hara, Lizzie Bennett, and the authors Austen, Woolf, Forster, Plath, and the Bronte sisters, Ellis realizes just how they all influenced her life and how some still do. Many other characters, authors, and books are also examined. Throughout this journey, Ellis dissects each heroine in an intriguing format that that pulls readers into both her life as a child and her life now. As she reevaluates these heroines, Ellis interjects stories from her childhood and eventually figures out just who she feels she should have looked up to back then and who she looks up to know.

Heroines, Ellis realizes, have shaped all of our lives, whether positively or negatively, and it is important to remember that growing and finding new heroines to model ourselves after is perfectly okay.

random-acts-of-heroic-loveTold in two parallel stories set in different times, Random Acts of Heroic Love is about the power of love, of how it can devastate but also uplift and empower us do what might seem impossible.

In one story, Leo and his girlfriend Eleni are traveling through South America when a horrific bus  accident takes Eleni’s life.  Nearly crushed by guilt and grief, Leo tries to make sense of his loss by seeking answers through science, but the weight of being left behind is almost too much.

The second story takes place in Poland where shortly after  Moritz and Lotte declare their love, Moritz is swept into the horrors of the First World War. Captured by the Russians and sent to prison camp in Siberia, he is literally thousands of miles from home. After escaping from the camp, Moritz undertakes the arduous journey back to his beloved.

At first the stories are so disconnected that you may wonder what the author is up to, but about two-thirds of the way through things begin to come together, rewarding the reader with a poignant examination of love and redemption across time and distance.