Best Women’s Literature We’ve Recently Reviewed
Every day, Hidden Gems subscribers receive the opportunity to review hundreds of complimentary books spanning more than 15 genres – hopefully leaving an honest review on Amazon when they’re done. A regular feature on this blog is a periodic highlight of some true ‘Hidden Gems’ our subscribers discovered in various genres, and why you might want to check them out. Keep checking back for the latest lists, categorized by genre, and learn about some of the best books that we’ve sent out. Or, join our list of readers and help discover future gems yourself!
The definition of women’s literature is hard to pin down – but it’s generally accepted as a distinct genre in fiction which explores the experience of being a woman through the socio-political context of the story’s era. As such, it has become one of the most important and compelling genres of fiction; as diverse as it is informative, with each novel rooted in truth even as it weaves a story of events that never technically happened. Subscribers to Hidden Gems have had the opportunity to read and review a huge diversity of some of the best women’s literature published over the last few months, so we thought we’d take a moment to highlight some of the books that really caught their attention.
Blood Sisters by Jo Barney
One of the common themes of women’s literature is the burden that women often have to quietly – sometimes silently – shoulder. Blood Sisters by Jo Barney explores that theme deeply; telling the tale of a woman with a PTSD-ridden veteran husband and autistic son; walking a lonely path as she supports two generations of struggling men. The arrival of a new neighbor – with whom our heroine develops a deep and meaningful connection – brings everything to a head when a tragedy strikes their lives.
“If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, this is not where you should be starting,” warns review Anne Donaldson, who left a 5-star review on Amazon. “The emotional input becomes almost too intense at times. The ‘blood sisters’ will embed themselves in your heart, as will the two children. Every character in the book is fighting some kind of demon, whether physical, emotional, or mental, and the courage they display as they work together to overcome these makes every second of reading worthwhile. Have tissues with you; you will need them!”
“You will need your hanky,” Cynthia Daniel similarly warns. “This book really hits hard to home if you come from a military family. It touches on racism and other social issues. If you are overly sensitive or looking for an easy read this book is not for you. The Author John Barney really makes her characters come alive and make you care.
The Lost Valley by Jennifer Scoullar
Australian author Jennifer Scoullar takes an epic trip across the world in The Lost Valley, which tells the tale of two twins during the vividly dramatic years of pre and post World War 2. From the Australian outback to the Hollywood Hills, this is a book that cuts deep to the heart and reminded me vividly of the old West End show Blood Brothers.
Amazon Customer is not hesitant to praise this book: ” I could use all the superlatives and cliches and still come up short. Please, just experience this story for yourself, because my words can’t do it justice. But don’t expect to do anything else once you start reading, because you won’t put it down until the end. Seriously. You won’t.”
Reviewer JerWhou38 warns that this is actually the second book in a series, and to appreciate it fully you’ll want to read the first. “This is the second of the Tasmanian saga, which gives an end to the story of the first book. You must read ‘Fortunes Son’ to get the background for the story. After reading ‘Fortunes Son’, though, I went immediately the purchase this sequel!”
ESCAPEMENT by Kristen Wolf
O, The Oprah Magazine praised the first book by author Kristen Wolf, and reviewers seem to feel that her second is another example of some of the best women’s literature around. It’s a period novel set in the romantic era, pairing a brilliant housekeeper bound by the rules of period society and a talented composer balanced on the knife edge of his genius discovery.
“Kristen Wolf uses a mechanical musical analogy to open the world of Late Romantic music and manners to readers who may or may not have a great familiarity with classical music,” explains reviewer Janet S Beal. “The impact of artists’ and lovers’ lives, she asserts, depend heavily on the resonance of their choices and decisions, not just at the moment but through time that follows after. The full effect, she suggests, can be seen only after the note is played, the deed is done, and the choice made. The effects may be substantial both for the artist and for those whose lives they touch.”
Rebecca Strange was blown away by the book in her five-star review: “I have to admit I was not prepared for the true beauty of this book when I first got it. I will try to not write a long review , but I don’t see how anyone could really put into words just how amazing this book is without a long review. I have read a lot of books, a lot, but this is by far the most beautifully written and exquisite story I do believe I’ve ever read.”
The Day He Went Away by Jennifer Millikin
Loss and grief are familiar themes in women’s literature, and author Jennifer Millikin explores them deeply in this novel; which follows heroine Kate as she struggles to rebuild her life after a devastating loss.
“Every now and then a story comes along that sweeps you off you feet. It makes you believe in true love and gives you hope that there are still true and noble people left in this world. The Day He Went Away is that story,” writes reviewer Megan M. “Jennifer Millikin’s beautiful and heart warming story of friendship, love, loss and loyalty touches the readers heart in a way that opens the floodgates of emotion. Her description of grief is so deeply touching that while reading on a flight I had to ask a stranger sitting next to me on the plane for a tissue as I wiped away tear after tear. The characters are people that you quickly identify with, in good ways and bad. As perfect as Kate Masters was, she was flawed and it took a tremendous loss for her to accept that. The way Milliken fleshes out her self discovery is brilliant. Instead of tiring the reader with pages and pages of moping and sorrow, Millikin peppers the heavy with burst of light. self deprecating moments that allow Kate to be human. She quickly becomes someone that you care deeply about and you find yourself rooting her on.”
Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues Edited by Christina Boyd
Eleven authors, including Joana Starnes, Katie Oliver, Karen M Cox, Jenetta James, Beau North, J. Marie Croft, Christina Morland, Lona Manning, and A. D’Orazio, teamed up for this romance anthology, which explores the stories of Jane Austen’s least-suitable bachelors; the rakish men who served as the bad examples in her famous romance stories.
“Jane Austen wrote some amazing heroes, but she also had complex villains,” writes reviewer Debbie in her 5-star review. “In this enjoyable anthology, Christina Boyd has brought together a talented crew of authors who get Austen’s characters. They each took on one of Austen’s ‘Bad Boys’ to delve in deeper into their characters. Henry Crawford, John Willoughby, Thomas Bertram Jr, and of course George Wickham are among the men the reader learns more about. The short stories are well written. I was surprised to find Bertram was my favorite read! He tells his own story in first person, and although I had a sense of how it might end, he came off as sympathetic.”
Reviewer Claudine A Pepe (Just Jane 1813) writes: “This evolution of our feelings could only happen at the very skilled hands of a writer who knows how to breathe new life into a character that others have since discarded or deemed unredeemable and that’s the talent that drives this collection of stories.”
No Fourth River by Christine Clayfield
If you’re looking for a heartwarming tale, this isn’t the book for you. If you want a compelling, addictive and amazingly written tale of a woman’s trauma and battle for redemption, No Fourth River is the read for you. It’s the true-life tale of Christine, whose abusive childhood drove her to self-destructive behavior which threatens to destroy her; and forces her to embark on a deeply difficult but redemptive journey of self-discovery.
“This book was touching and inspirational,” writes reviewer K.T. Munson. “There were parts that were difficult to read because of their content. I could tell the author was pouring directly from her soul as she recalled her childhood trauma. Her family was vividly detailed. When I read the part about why she named the book ‘The Fourth River’ I was totally sucked in. Following Christine on her turbulent journey at its heart about making choices and the power to control your destiny. It was about a terrible childhood, yes, but more than that it was about her journey to find herself and grow into the person she was always capable of being. The love story in the second half of the book was amazingly touching.”
Reviewer Barr26 highlighted how this difficult read ultimately has a happy and redemptive ending: “I was most taken by the way Christine somehow found she had enough ambition and determination to push herself into a successful career and several businesses. This really struck me because through her mid-twenties, she’d experienced nothing but grief and torment. Her rise to prominence truly is inspiring.”
Who She Is by Diane Byington
Set in a gritty and visceral 1960s setting, Who She Is is the tale of Faye Smith, who learns she has a talent for long-distance running that inspires her to climb from the rut of poverty and earn herself a college scholarship and a place in the Boston Marathon; which at the time did not accept female runners.
Reviewer Josh Pollock writes: “The era of the late 1960s is evoked through characters and events that signal the Civil Rights struggle, the Vietnam War, and rock music. I loved the chapter titles, each of which is a famous song from the period. Byington’s characters are engrossing. Faye is the sort of adolescent female protagonist we could use more of: spirited and determined without being simply aggressive or angry. Her backstory is remarkable and worth the wait to discover as the story unfolds. The notion that a woman distance runner was so revolutionary in 1967 may seem quaint to us now, but it is worth remembering that it took the bold actions of a few pioneers, sometimes sneaking onto the race courses or disguising themselves and registering under their initials only, to disprove the pseudo-medical bias against allowing women to compete in such extreme events, and that still took more than a decade to do. While the Boston Marathon finally allowed women to compete starting in 1971, astoundingly, it was not until 1984 that a women’s marathon was added to the Olympics. The tale of Faye Smith immerses us in that history and provides an extraordinary origin story to boot. A worthy read.”
Production Values by Liv Bartlet
Kat Porter is the ‘it’ girl of British TV production – but her life becomes a roller coaster when she takes to the bright lights of Los Angeles to continue her career. Liv Bartlet’s novel explores the contradictory way in which society views female ambition, and also how intrusive and abusive our paparazzi society can be.
Reviewer RestartLMAuthor writes: “This book has many layers, which is integral to its success. The discussion questions at the end are perfect for readers in book clubs. I personally would suggest a list of characters at the beginning of the book in future editions, because there are many characters and I forgot who some of the minor characters were when they showed up later, but that might be just me. I love books with strong female characters, and this definitely fits the bill. It left me wondering who really was the monkey and who really was me, as I examined the friendships in my own life.”
Reviewer Nicole Fisher wrote: “I’m not someone who reads this genre of fiction very often, but I found myself drawn in by the characters and pacing at the get-go. I constantly found myself wanting to read more to find out where Kat’s latest scheme would take them, and watch as Bea throws open doors, struts in and puts out fires with her bare hands. I wanted to see what crazy, tabloid-headline drama was going to befall Kat and Bea next. This novel excited me in ways only action-packed epics could do previously. If you’re a fan of television and movies, you’ll love this book. If your interests lie in the psychology of relationships, you’ll love this book too!”
Paris Ever After by K. S. R. Burns
A mid-life crisis spurs Amy to jet off to Paris to start a new life – without even telling her husband. But can the dream of Paris reflect a workable reality? That’s the struggle she faces as Amy has to decide between the comfort of mediocre compromise back home in America, or the struggle to find her destiny in the City of Lights.
Reviewer Leslie M. Ficcaglia reminds readers that this is the second in a series of books: “I liked the sequel even better than the first book; it was good to meet Amy again and explore Paris and the cast of characters that made up her world there. The book moved easily from one scene to the next, the people were convincing and for the most part appealing, and the arc of the plot line felt real. I enjoyed the way Burns evoked the atmosphere of Paris and its hidden corners, as well as the lifestyles of different levels of society there. But mostly I liked the plot; it was very satisfying and I was sorry to leave the world she created.”
Southport Summers praised the spirit and pace of the book: “After reading The Paris Effect, I was looking forward to this one. I love any thing French, and in this book, Burns mentions the little nuances of the French culture without disturbing the rhythm of the plot. To me, this made the novel even more interesting ; an excellent plot and an education as well! I just enjoy this author’s writing style so much. She writes as if she is telling her story to a good friend with wit, honesty, and sincerity. Hoping she will continue Amy’s story!”
I’ll Know Me When I Find Me by Helen J. Darling
How do you define success and happiness? That’s the question facing Jane Desmond, who technically has everything she should want; but still feels like a failure. From a personal perspective this book spoke to me deeply because she seemed to do right by everybody… except herself. In many ways, this is a reoccurring and deep truth to many of the best women’s literature books, and to some extent defines the genre.
Reviewer trueblue72 praised the pace and readability of this book: “I read this on a snow day, and if my kids hadn’t been home, I would have finished it in one sitting. What woman doesn’t struggle with the balance between independently pursuing her dreams and being in relationships with others? Helen Darling takes on this character exploration with witty and engaging style. I look forward to seeing what Jane will find next…”
Tallulah wrote: “The characters have well developed personalities and are very believable. Like the author, I am intrigued by relationships and that is what held my focus. Also, I’m probably about the age of Jane’s mother and it was insightful of how controlling we can be to younger women. This book is a window for me into the hip life and conversation of young career women in an urban environment as well as how we ‘mature’ women may be perceived. I look forward to more from Helen Darling!”