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Must-Read Books by Women Writers (Recommended by Women Writers) to Read Before the End of Year

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(Image: Painting "Woman Reading" by Will Barnet)


Readers know this:

It’s not just the book itself that makes this pastime so pleasurable; it is also finding a book to read.

Show me a book lover and I’ll show you someone who has spent cumulative hours, days, possibly years, browsing through bookshops, lost in first sentences or with all senses on alert for that title that (who knows why) calls out to them.

But, as a reader, you know what is as gratifying as finally selecting a book to dive deep into?

Having one recommended to you. Particularly if it is recommended by someone whose opinion you greatly admire.

I mean, don’t you just love it when those someones say, “I have just read the most amazing book, and you’ve got to read it!”

Aren’t you crazy to get your hands on that book, then?

Well, I generally am, and if that’s you too, then you can thank me now.

Because in this post I’ve asked six incredible women writers - whose own books are so smart and engaging as to be the basis of any great book recommendation – to offer up the suggestion of a novel to read before the year finishes.

If you’ve read Kathleen Flynn, Ruqaya Izzidien, Mira T. Lee, Jennifer Klepper, Clarissa Harwood, orMarlene Wagman-Gelleryou know you’re in for a treat with each of their book shout-outs.

If you haven’t read these women writers then lucky you – your books-to-read list has just been gorgeously enhanced with 12 new titles.

And so comes a reader’s third pleasure – deciding which book to read first!


Kathleen Flynn, Author of The Jane Austen Project: A Novel

Recommendation: The Tortoise and the Hare By Elizabeth Jenkins

 ‘There are always a few books around I wish were more revered than they are. One of my favorites in this group is The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins.

Outwardly it's a story about a disintegrating marriage set among posh people in 1950s England -- so, not seeming particularly relevant to most of us today. But this book is so psychologically acute, so subtle, brilliant and beautifully written that it left a lasting impression on me.

And not just me! No less than Hilary Mantel, in her foreword to a new Virago edition, says of Jenkins:

“...she is like Jane Austen: formal, nuanced, acid. She surveys a room as if she were perched on the mantelpiece: an unruffled owl of Minerva, a recording angel”.’


Find Both Books:

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel


The Tortoise and the Hare


Ruqaya Izzidien, author of The Watermelon Boys

Recommendation: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

'Washington Black has had a successful year, making it to the shortlist of several prizes - including the Man Booker - due to its tender story which is beautifully rendered.

But this book resonated with me because this year has been very much about reclaiming narratives for me. I want the writers of color who pen novels about communities that relate to them to receive the same, or even higher, recognition than those who write from without.

I was gripped by the story of Washington Black and it was wonderful to follow his transformation from a lost, enslaved boy on a Barbadian plantation, to a powerful, young free man with nuanced social understanding.

But I also love witnessing the success of writers of color who can reclaim the dominant, usually white, narrative. And if the writer is a woman, even better!'


Find Both Books:

Washington Black


The Watermelon Boys


Mira T. Lee, author of Everything Here is Beautiful

Recommendation: Improvement by Joan Silber 

'Improvement, by Joan Silber is intricate and unexpected, linking together disparate places and lives, and the myriad ways human beings want for connection. Silber's writing style is clean and unpretentious, but also startling and original, and incisive at just the right moments.'


Find Both Books:




Everything Here is Beautiful



Jennifer Klepper, author of Unbroken Threads

Recommendation: The Wild Birds by Emily Strelow

 'In The Wild Birds, Strelow weaves a story rich with natural imagery, where the earth itself--with its mysteries, tragedies, and beauty--rises to assert its importance in the lives of the characters and the readers themselves. Strelow’s deep knowledge of nature infuses her writing, making this one of my favorites of 2018.'


Find Both Books:

Unbroken Threads


The Wild Birds


Clarissa Harwood, author of Impossible Saints and Bear No Malice

Recommendation: Becoming Mrs. Lewis: the Improbable Love story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis by Patti Callahan

'C.S. Lewis, author of Christian nonfiction and the Narnia fantasy series for children, has many fans, but not much is known about the fiery American divorcee who became his wife. This beautiful book is far more than a love story: it gives Joy Davidman a voice and brings to light her fierce intelligence and poetic gifts.'


Find Both Books:

Becoming Mrs. Lewis



Impossible Saints


Marlene Wagman-Geller, author of Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women and Great Second Acts: In Praise of Older Women

Recommendation: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

'The unlikely protagonist of the novel is 84-year old Florence who is spending her twilight years in a British retirement home. Through a series of flashbacks, she reveals three truths about her beloved friend Elsie - and the last will break your heart.'


Find Both Books:

Three Things About Elsie




Great Second Acts: In Praise of Older Women


 (Image: Detail from 'Mujer en oración' by Julio Romero de Torres)

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