There have been many lists of the 100 best books to read, but few focusing solely on female writers. For a long time, women were excluded from the literary canon and many were forced to use male pseudonyms in order to be published. We’re lucky to live in a time where there is space for women to be published but literary prizes are still dominated by male writers. Women’s writing is often dismissed as light, frivolous or ‘domestic’.
From gripping works of fiction to literary classics, this list of 100 books to read by women was selected by the Good Housekeeping team and shows that women’s writing is complex, brilliant, moving, innovative – everything the best writing should be. Let us know how many of these books you’ve read and join in the conversation in the online Good Housekeeping Book Room.
100 best books to read by women
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
“Over the course of four decades, a group of friends share their joys and sorrows in Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning A Little Life. It’s a gruelling read at times as it covers some difficult subjects but it’s one of my favourite books of the last 10 years.” Joanne Finney, Books Editor
2. Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
“I read it as a teenager at school and fell in love with all the characters and, in my own head, I was Elizabeth Bennett, of course! She’s feisty, fearless and different to all the other women – just as all teenage girls think they are. And, of course, she tames the arrogant Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. After just the right amount of trials and tribulations, the love story reaches the right conclusion. I can read and re-read that book and always find something new in its pages and Jane Austen’s use of language is simply beautiful.” Gaby Huddart, Editor In Chief
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
“Sally Rooney has a beautiful way of writing that captures every emotion perfectly, from love to loss to insecurity. When I read it last year, it was the first novel that had strongly resonated with me in a very long time, reminding me of highs and lows in past relationships.” Susanne Norris, Deputy Digital Editor
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
As one of the most esteemed British novels ever, Wuthering Heights is likely a story you read at school. But consider giving it a re-read, so you can appreciate the hauntingly beautiful love story.
5. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
This book tells the interconnected stories of 12 different characters, who are mostly women, black and British. While the novel pores over the nuances of different kinds of bonds from maternal to romantic, it also centres on friendship, examining how and why it develops and falters.
6. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
A heartwarming novel about the importance of reaching out the hand of friendship. Eleanor is a social misfit who lives a lonely existence until Raymond joins her office as a new colleague, and she finds solace in companionship at last. As Eleanor and Raymond’s bond grows, she begins to come to terms with her own fraught past and move on from the trauma she’s been haunted by.
7. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie is a 20-something journalist living in London and navigating some major changes. Not only is her relationship with boyfriend, Tom, disintegrating, things aren’t going well at work and the home she’s known and loved all her life is quickly changing due to the gentrification of Brixton. As she struggles to keep afloat in the turbulent waters of her life, Queenie’s eclectic group of friends are there to rally round her.
8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is known for being a must-read tale of sisterhood. While that’s true, the story is also about the special friendships joining the four very different siblings – Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth. There’s also the matter of Jo’s complicated friendship with neighbour Laurie, who comes in between the girls.
9. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Book one in Ferrante’s globally successful Neapolitan series introduces readers to the story of Elena and Lila, growing up in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. The girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, and their friendship becomes a lifeline as they grow older.
10. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s novel, published in 1985, is semi-autobiographical: a young girl growing up in a strict Pentecostal community struggles with her sexuality, her strict mother and teenage angst.
11. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This important and powerful novel made Alice Walker’s name. Set in the segregated American South of the 1930s, the story follows Celie, a 14-year-old Black girl living in poverty, separated from her sister and suffering abuse at the hands of her father. But when the mysterious jazz singer Shug Avery comes to stay, Celie discovers friendship, love, faith and more importantly, strength. This bold and emotional story is a must-read.
12. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
An epic novel, Zadie Smith’s landmark book centres around two families with immigrant backgrounds in North London. Funny, wise and at times devastating, it tracks their journeys over the years covering subjects including friendship, love, support, religion and racism.
13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It’s a timeless classic you’ll probably know, but it’s never a bad idea to re-immerse yourself in the poignant writing of Harper Lee. Set in the Deep South of 1930s America, the story follows the Finch family, as young siblings Scout and Jem watch their father try to defend a Black man charged with the rape of a white girl. The children’s innocence compared to the injustice of racism makes for a moving story that’s just as relevant now as when it was published in 1960.
14. Noughts + Crosses by Malorie Blackman
This novel, the first in a series, introduces readers to Callum and Sephy, two young people kept apart by their society’s racist and prejudiced views, but joined together by their love for one another. Set in a world where Black people (Crosses) rule over white people (Noughts), the book is aimed at teenagers but is equally as gripping and important for older readers, too.
15. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
The multi-talented film director, author and journalist based this comic book on the breakdown of her own marriage and, 30 years after it was published, it still resonates today.
16. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home tells the story of a family holiday gone awry. When poet Joe Jacobs’ family holiday is interrupted by a fan turning up, dark secrets begin to come to light. Haunting, beautifully-written and mesmerising, this is one of Levy’s best.
17. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
In Wolf Hall, we first meet Thomas Cromwell as a child in a dramatic scene in which he is being beaten by his blacksmith father. His father’s cruel treatment of him fuels Thomas’ desire to escape and the novel follows his climb to become the lawyer of the king’s chief adviser, Cardinal Wolsey. He continues his ascent to become Henry VIII’s most trusted guide and plays a crucial role in securing his divorce from Katherine and marriage to Anne Boleyn. Mantel makes a well-known piece of history feel suspenseful, which is testament to her skill as a writer. Whether you like historical fiction or not, this is a must-read.
18. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This beautifully written novel centres on a group of party guests, including an opera singer, taken hostage by terrorists. The bond that forms between the two groups is unexpected and incredibly moving. This won Patchett the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2002.
19. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“Often harrowing but grippingly brilliant; a terrifying glimpse into a dystopian future where the patriarchy has reached its ultimate goal.”
Karen Swayne, Prima Features Editor
20. Selected Stories 1 and 2 by Alice Munro
Man Booker prize-winner Alice Munro’s classic story collections are a thing of beauty. These best-of collections offer illuminating glances into ordinary people’s lives – from the correspondence of a librarian and a soldier during WWII to a woman who has an affair with her neighbour – all of which display her immense gift for storytelling.
21. The Power by Naomi Alderman
This gripping feminist thriller is set in a world where women can send electrical currents from their hands. It portrays a fascinating power role reversal that tells us so much about the world today.
22. I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
This classic might be over 70 years old but it still has the power to lift spirits like few other books. Its heroine Cassandra Mortmain lives in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle with her eccentric family and lodger Stephen. Through teenage heartbreak and wild escapades, Cassandra keeps a diary of all her thoughts and feelings and by the final entry there have been great changes to the Mortmains’ lives. A touching, funny coming-of-age story.
23. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls is a love letter to female friendships. Tracking the journey of protagonist Vivian Morris from seamstress to showgirls to army volunteer during WWII, this exploration of womanhood and loyalty is a joyful read.
24. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
Historian Hallie Rubenhold’s non-fiction book explores the untold stories of the five women murdered by Jack the Ripper. Meticulously researched, it offers an insight into the lives of these women which has never been seen before, dispelling any myths and finally putting an emphasis on the victims of the killer.
25. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This campus-set literary thriller became an instant bestseller and regularly appears on most loved books lists. Under the guidance of their charismatic classics professor, a group of eccentric students at a New England College step outside the boundaries of morality, and then have to deal with the consequences.
26. Trans by Juliet Jacques
“I was just finishing university when Juliet released her memoir in 2015. I was completely enthralled by her honest an articulate account of life as a trans woman. This book is deeply personal, and I remember feeling so connected to Juliet as she discussed not only her transition, but her experiences with mental health, transphobia and navigating the healthcare system. I was completely moved, and still today I reference her book in discussion.”
Victoria Chandler, Delish editor
27. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
To society, Jane Eyre is a poor, plain governess but she wins the heart of her wealthy employer, the brooding Mr Rochester. The path to true love never did run smooth – and he harbours a dark secret that threatens to derail their happiness.
28. The Street by Ann Petty
Published in 1946, this poignant novel tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a young Black woman, and her spirited struggle to raise her son amid the violence, poverty, and racial dissonance of New York’s Harlem in the late 1940s.
29. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Set over a single day, it follows wealthy Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party at her home that evening. Through her thoughts and the people she meets the novel touches on ideas of class, mental illness and feminism. A small book filled with big ideas.
30. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
A powerful piece of writing about two brothers who choose very different paths. As riots sweep across 1970s India, one joins a revolutionary group while the other heads to America – we follow the impact of their decisions over four decades.
31. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Set in New Zealand during the country’s gold rush, this experimental doorstop of a novel (800 pages) is structured around the 12 signs of the zodiac.
32. Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A novel about the Nigerian civil war, this is also a beautiful story of love, identity, the empowerment of women and the strength of the human spirit.
33. Five Steps to Happy by Ella Dove
“An uplifting gem and a true joy to read, and I’m not just saying that because it was written by Good Housekeeping’s Commissioning Editor Ella Dove. Based on Ella’s own accident which led to the amputation of her right leg, the story follows a struggling actress who suffers a devastating injury and must begin to rebuild her life. Quietly powerful, it’s sprinkled with both hope and humanity.”
Bethan Rose Jenkins, Assistant Digital Editor
34. Middlemarch by George Eliot
Looking for a big immersive read? This rich, detailed novel may have a cast of hundreds, but Eliot is such a sharp observer of human nature that each character is fully fleshed out. At the centre is heroine Dorothea Brooke, who learns to live her life for herself, not anyone else.
35. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston was a key member of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s but her book didn’t really find an audience until it was rediscovered in the 1970s. The novel focuses on the survival instinct of Janie Crawford, a Black woman navigating two divorces and a life marked by poverty.
36. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
“In the first six months after its publication, Gone With The Wind sold a million copies and went on to inspire one of the best-known films of all time. Margaret Mitchell’s epic tome has got everything you want: love, drama, tragedy – plus one of the greatest lines of all time, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Headstrong Scarlett isn’t always likeable but she’s a survivor.”
Jackie Brown, Good Housekeeping Features Director
37. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This illustrated memoir tells the story of Marjane’s turbulent teenage years, growing up in war-torn Iran and her escape with her family to Austria. Although the stakes are high, the feisty teenager stays true to herself.
38. Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Ten strangers arrive on a remote island off the coast of Devon. One by one they start to die, leaving the survivors desperately trying to figure out which one of them is the murderer. This clever concept has been copied by many crime writers but no one does it better than Christie! And Then There Were None is one of the biggest selling books of all time, with around 100 million sales.
39. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
This richly observed tale of a woman who moves from Bangladesh to 1980s London for an arranged marriage earned Ali a place on Granta‘s best young British novelists list.
40. How To Be Both by Ali Smith
Smith’s sixth novel defies categorisation: it’s an exploration of the role of art, a coming-of-age tale, and a time jump through history. Challenging, playful and dazzling.
41. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
“This is a fantastic thriller, set in the underbelly of Victorian England. It has crime, passion, drama… and quite simply the best plot twist of any book I’ve ever read. It comes so brilliantly out of the blue that you can’t believe what you’re reading. Fantastic!”
Jo Lockwood, Good Housekeeping Picture Editor
42. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
“You may think you know the story of Frankenstein by heart, but the original is absolutely still worth a read. Written by a 20-year-old Mary Shelley and often credited as the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein uses an embedded narrative structure to tell the story of Captain Walton, Victor Frankenstein and the unnamed ‘monster’. It explores overambition, parenthood and the cruelty of human nature. Unlike a lot of the classics, it’s a surprisingly short read, so it will only take a few hours for you to understand why it’s been celebrated for so long.”
Molly Greeves, Consumer Writer
43. A Spool Of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
It’s five decades since the best-selling American writer was first published and her experience shows in every beautifully-written sentence. A Spool Of Blue Thread is a stunning novel about three generations of a family that perfectly captures the fights, petty irritations and deep connections between them. Abby and Red are getting older and a decision must be made about how best to look after them, so their grown-up children return home, bringing with them old hurts and rivalries.
44. Beloved by Toni Morrison
The late Toni Morrison was one of the best writers of the last century, and this was one of her greatest works. The Pulitzer-prize-winning book takes place in the 1800s and follows the life of Sethe, who is haunted by the memories of slavery.
45. The Age Of Innocence by Edith Wharton
This novel made Wharton the first woman winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Set among the upper classes of New York society in the 1870s, it begins with the upcoming marriage of a young couple and the bride’s scandalous cousin who threatens to destroy their happy ever after.
46. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“As a child I was captivated by the idea of the ivy-covered door that led to a secret space that the children claimed as their own. As an adult reading it again with my own children, the book is just as magical, and its exploration of the healing power of nature really resonates with me.”
Emilie Martin, Consumer Affairs Director
47. The Garden Party And Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
New Zealander Mansfield was a pioneer of the modern short story. Her stories often begin in the middle of the moment and end abruptly rather than a more traditional structure. From a woman who becomes a widow during a garden party to a young woman who sees her future flash before her eyes at a ball, Mansfield moves from grief to joy to boredom and every emotion in between.
48. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
A haunting tale that follows a young bride who marries an older man and moves into his home, the famous Manderley. Although set in a beautiful location, she finds it a disturbing place: the staff all seem to hate her and the more she finds out about his first wife’s death, the more suspicious it seems. A creepy, completely addictive read.
49. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
“An epic family drama unfolds within the covers of this book. I was so struck when I read it by how we are all shaped by the personal tragedies – small and large – that we experience throughout our lives and by the powerful need we all have to be loved.”
Emilie Martin, Consumer Affairs Director
50. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
“This is a book that still haunts me. I revisit it in my mind so often, especially since becoming a mother. I am enthralled by how it examines the concept of nature vs nurture in such a complex, compelling and chilling way.”
Sarah Tomczak, Red Editor
51. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
“Set in 1960s Hollywood, Joan Didion’s Play As It Lays follows Maria, a sedated former actress whose identity has been eclipsed by her marriage to a film producer. Consistently controlled and exploited, Maria becomes paralysed by her own life, unable to care about anything except her four-year-old daughter who is being treated in a care facility. Didion manages to tell a depressing, disturbing story in such sparse, straightforward prose. It’s an absolute must-read.”
Molly Greeves, Consumer Writer
52. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
“I love this book because you get a picture of the huge social and political upheavals of the 1840s alongside a cracking story of love, murder and divided loyalties. Elizabeth Gaskell was one of the most famous female authors in Victorian England but sometimes feels overlooked today. I’d like to highlight this fabulous book to remind us all what a great storyteller she was.”
Jo Checkley, Prima Editor
53. The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
“I grew up on Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories, first the wonderful fuzzy felt animation broadcast in the 1980s and later the books themselves. The Summer Book is written for adults and is about the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter, holidaying on the family island in the Finnish archipelago. Like the Moomins, the chapters become almost a series of short stories, funny, poignant and at times melancholy.”
Simon Swift, Digital Director
54. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
“Published in 1932, this book never fails to cheer me up, being laugh-out-loud funny. I love it so much I even had a passage read out at my wedding a decade ago. It’s the story of Flora Poste, an orphan, who goes to stay with relatives at the titular farm, a place falling apart and seemingly plagued by a dark secret. Unperturbed, Flora sets about reorganising not only the farm but also the lives of her relatives – one by one. It really is the perfect book.”
Simon Swift, Digital Director
55. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
A genre-defying collection of narratives, all from characters connected to the music industry, that come together as something totally new and exciting. Each section is written in a different style, from first person to third and even as a powerpoint presentation, which in the wrong hands could be awful, but works brilliantly here.
56. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Set in early 1960s Mississippi, The Help is told from the first-person perspectives of three women: Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, and Skeeter Phelan. Skeeter is home from college and is curious about the disappearance of the maid who raised her. What she finds out opens her eyes to the way the Black maids who work for her family and their friends’ families are treated. A very readable insight into what life was like in the US in the sixties.
57. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
In Life After Life, Kate Atkinson poses some interesting questions about fate and destiny. The story begins on a snowy day in 1910 with the death of baby Ursula. In a parallel story, Ursula lives and we follow her story as she relives the dramatic events of the early 20th century again and again. A beautifully written, compelling and genuinely innovative read. The book won the Costa Novel Award and sold over half a million copies, catapulting Kate Atkinson from much-loved author to household name.
58. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Chicago librarian Henry De Tamble suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time. On one of his trips he meets Clare who becomes the love of his life. But how can their relationship cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences? A proper tearjerker that will keep you gripped from beginning to end.
59. Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny
“Easily one of my favourite books of the last 10 years, this novel about a New York couple whose young son has Asperger’s is funny, moving, uplifting and incredibly well written.”
Joanne Finney, Books Editor
60. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
“Celestial and Roy are a newlywed African-American couple who have their whole lives ahead of them when Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to 12 years in prison. It’s a story about racial injustice but also about love, loyalty, family and a marriage that’s put to the ultimate test. This is one of the most moving, beautifully written books I have ever read and one that has really stayed with me.”
Anna Bonet, Senior Celebrity Writer
61. Small Island by Andrea Levy
“Some books just sweep you up in the story and won’t let you go and Small Island is one of those for me. Set in London in 1948, Queenie Blithe is frowned upon by her neighbours when she takes in Jamaican lodgers, but her own husband hasn’t returned since the war and she has no idea if he ever will. Interweaving the stories of the four characters, I love this book for how rich and evocative it is, but also for what it taught me about the immigrant experience, prejudice, belonging and shared humanity. I know that it made me look at the world anew after I’d finished it.”
Anna Bonet, Senior Celebrity Writer
62. The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard
“I am so jealous of anyone who hasn’t read these yet; five chunky books following an extended family through the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The writing is gorgeous, the characters (especially the women) are vibrant, complex and flawed, and the world they inhabit is immersive. A friend gave me the first when my smallest daughter was old enough for me to pick up a book again, and it helped me rediscover my reading mojo. I then bought them for a friend in lockdown who was also struggling with the aftermath of breast cancer and chemo, and she said they brought joy back into her life. Be prepared for feelings of real loss when you finish the set… either that, or immediately start again!”
Alexandra Friend, Senior Beauty Editor
63. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
“The brave, inspiring story of 14 year old Adunni, who moves from a small Nigerian village to work as a maid in the city. An unsentimental story of hope and courage, Adunni discovers her voice and the strength to stand up for herself, her education and her future, despite seemingly relentless adversity.”
Bethan Rose Jenkins, Assistant Digital Editor
64. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
“Sharp, witty and utterly original, this darkly comic book delivers a slick tale of sisterhood under the patriarchy and obliterates every trope of the classic serial killer novel. Korede is used to cleaning up after her sister’s mistakes (literally), but after Ayoola’s third boyfriend has been disposed of in ‘self-defence’, her sights turn to the doctor Korede is secretly in love with.”
Bethan Rose Jenkins, Assistant Digital Editor
65. Who Will Run The Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore
“For me, Lorrie Moore is one of the most talented novelists writing today. This tale of two women, friends since childhood, finding their feet manages that delicate dance of being outrageously funny but also wonderfully moving. I can’t recommend it enough.”
Joanne Finney, Books Editor
66. Happenstance by Carol Shields
Happenstance is two novels in one: the first part tells Jack’s story as he struggles to cope with running a home while his wife is away. In the second half it’s Brenda’s turn to tell her side of the story and how time away from her husband makes her question their long marriage.
67. Restoration by Rose Tremain
“The lead character, Merivel, is such a wonderful creation. He tries so hard to be good, but his lack of willpower and his love of the finer things in life means he constantly (and hilariously) fails. His lifelong friendship with the dour John Pearce, who is his polar opposite and acts as the human embodiment of Merivel’s conscience, is funny, touching and endearing and is the thing that I love most about this book.”
Jo Lockwood, Picture Editor
68. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
The chaotic childhoods of two sisters Ruth and Lucille, who grow up under the care of various relatives, are beautifully portrayed in Robinson’s poetic voice. A novel to savour slowly.
69. We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson
Narrated by 18-year-old Mary Katherine Blackwood (known as Merricat) who lives on the large family estate with her older sister Constance and her Uncle Julian, isolated from the rest of the community. The atmosphere Jackson creates from the first paragraph could be cut with a knife – a chilling, dark read.
70. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
“Kitchen is made up of two short stories of grief, love and gender. Inspired by “the way in which terrible experiences shape a person’s life”, Yoshimoto’s writing is comforting and tender while being sharp and real. To anyone who hates it when people write in books, I challenge you not to underline anything in this book — there are so many quotes that you’ll want to remember for years after you finish this.”
Molly Greeves, Consumer Writer
71. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Following a first-year Harvard student in the 90s, The Idiot is a raw and heartbreaking portrayal of what it’s like to be young, gifted and clueless. Its protagonist, Selin, clumsily learns how to make friends, fall in love and succeed academically with varying levels of success. Both hilarious and relatable, it’s a fresh take on the coming-of-age novel that will delight any fans of the genre.
72. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
“It would be a complete injustice not to have at least one of the seven Harry Potter books on this list as the series of stories relaying the adventures of Harry, Ron, Hermione and their wizarding friends have sold more than 500 million copies worldwide and been translated into some 80 languages, as well as spawning eight blockbuster movies, endless collectible merchandise and visitor attractions. And it’s not through marketing hype that all of this has been achieved. J.K. Rowling’s genius is that the world that she created with her pen was so compelling for children that it got even those who found reading difficult to pick up the books and then not put them down. I watched the wonderful HP effect on my own children – turning their backs on TV in order to pick up where they’d left off with the tale – and with my niece, whose nose was so consistently in the latest of the stories when she was young that we couldn’t believe her diagnosis with dyslexia at 15!
It all began in 1997 with publication of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which I read myself in a single day when I was on jury service and stuck in the waiting room before being assigned to a case – here was 100 per cent pure escapism. Magic.”
Gaby Huddart, Editor In Chief
73. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This beautiful book has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide and with good reason. This tale of love-against-the odds between an embittered quadriplegic man and the carer who is trying to give him a reason to live breaks your heart one minute, only to send it soaring again. They are both wonderful characters and you can’t help rooting for them. Keep the tissues close!
74. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The bestselling author’s first historical novel is something really special. Reimagining the story of Shakespeare’s lost son (Hamnet, who died age 11), it’s a moving tale about marriage, motherhood and sibling bonds. The playwright’s magical wife Agnes is a character you’ll still be thinking about long after finishing the book.
75. The Girl With The Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Imagining the story behind one of the world’s best known paintings, Chevalier paints a beguiling portrait of the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and his model Griet. Over five million copies have been sold of this brilliant book, and for a very good reason.
76. The Outsiders by SE Hinton
Written when the author was only 17, this novel for young adults (although adults love it too) is the story of two gangs in a small American town, told through the eyes of Ponyboy Curtis. A thought-provoking, moving read about what it’s like to be a young adolescent with little potential and few escapes. Read it for the loveable characters, whose brotherly bonds are incredibly heartwarming.
77. Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Originally published as The Price Of Salt, this moving book was recently adapted for the big screen (starring Cate Blanchett) and – deservedly – introduced it to a whole new audience. Published in the 1950s, it is known for being the first lesbian novel to portray a happy ending. It tells the story of Therese Belivet, a lonely young woman trapped in a department-store job, whose life is turned upside down by glamorous surburban housewife Carol Aird.
78. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
“Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life,” declares formidable school mistress Miss Jean Brodie. Her charm and glamour dazzle her pupils, but her grand ideas are also her downfall. Jean is one of the greatest characters in 20th-century fiction (and if you’ve seen the film starring Maggie Smith, you can imagine the whole thing read in her voice!).
79. Room by Emma Donoghue
Keep the tissues close for this heartbreaking story about a woman held captive with her five-year-old son in a single room for seven years. After the pair escape, the boy’s eyes are opened as he finally gets to see the outside world for the first time. Inspired by the Josef Fritzl case (the Austrian who imprisoned his own daughter for 24 years in the cellar of his house), it made Donoghue a household name.
80. Outline by Rachel Cusk
Set in Athens, this is the story of female writer who draws together the narratives of everyone she meets. A novel that manages to be both clever and very readable.
81. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
After his wife dies, New York journalist Quoyle moves with his two young daughters to a remote town in Newfoundland for a fresh start. While not without mishaps, the life he builds for himself there makes this a heartwarming read. The writing is funny and simple but packs a punch.
82. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
Retired theatre director Charles Arrowby retires to the coast to swim, eat and write his memoirs, but finds himself haunted by his past. However unlikeable he is as a character, Murdoch’s sublime writing and depictions of his struggle to find a new identity and sense of meaning make it a powerful read.
83. We Were The Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
This novel follows the story of a seemingly perfect family whose world is turned upside down after the daughter, Marianne, is sexually assaulted by the son of her father’s friend. Each member of the family is affected differently and their close bonds are shattered. Oates’s writing is rich, descriptive and packs a big emotional punch.
84. Girl by Edna O’Brien
Written when O’Brien was in her late 80s, this harrowing tale about the girls kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram doesn’t pull its punches. Each sentence in this short book hums with raw energy, and echoes her Country Girls trilogy in the way it focuses so intensely in the emotional lives of women losing their innocence.
85. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Strout’s deceptively simple style belies her extraordinary powers of insight. She writes wonderfully about the pettiness, rages and irritations of normal women and retired schoolteacher Olive Kitteridge is her most wonderful creation. These interwoven stories all take place in a small town in Maine and are all from different viewpoints, showing Olive’s many sides as she interacts with family, neighbours and friends, as she experiences age, loneliness, grief and love.
86. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
This intergenerational novel tells the stories of four Chinese-American mothers and daughters in San Francisco who have formed a club to play mahjong that they name the Joy Luck Club. Through their conversations, we learn about their experiences in China and their new lives in the US.
87. My Ántonia by Willa Cather
This classic novel paints an atmospheric and vivid portrait of life in the American west in the late 1800s. It’s the story of Ántonia Shimerda, whose life is told through the eyes of Jim Burden, a neighbour who befriends her and teaches her English.
88. The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
This collection of novels about the First World War focuses on the treatment of shell-shocked patients in hospital in Scotland in 1917 and the new lives they build after the war. All three books are a brilliant look at the many contradictions of war and those experiencing it – whether on the frontline or not – written with humanity and compassion.
89. Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Rhys wrote this novel as her way of giving a voice to Jane Eyre’s ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha Rochester. Set in the West Indies, the novel reimagines the life of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha’s real name) and her life as a Creole heiress before meeting Mr Rochester. A powerful feminist read full of beautiful imagery.
90. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
Not for the faint-hearted, Carter’s writing mixes fairytale with eroticism to intoxicating effect. In this short story collection, she takes familiar tales we know well, such as Red Riding Hood, and twists them into slices of chilling gothic fiction.
91. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
A modern classic that completely deserved its place on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. This thought-provoking, moving story of a dysfunctional family like no other delivers an unforgettable ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ moment.
92. The House Of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Allende is known for her particular take on magical realism. This family saga spans four generations and is set against one of Chile’s most turbulent periods in history.
93. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
A stunning modern retelling of King Lear – but rather than a kingdom, the book is about the inheritance of a father’s 1,000 acres of farmland, and the tensions which arise between the three sisters and their husbands.
94. May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes
Harry Silver has always been in awe of his younger brother George who’s always been more powerful and successful than him. Then a kiss between Harry and George’s wife, Jane, at Thanksgiving sets off a chaotic chain of events. This black comedy balances humour with poignancy.
95. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
An astonishing debut that tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother and how his childhood brain tumour affects their family. Told in a stream of thought rather than a cohesive narrative, it’s impressionistic, beautiful and truly original.
96. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
The book is split into several sections, with extracts from the central character, Anna’s notebooks. Each covers a different aspect of her life: in Africa before and during World War II, her experiences as a member of the Communist party and a short story that mirrors her own lost love. Published in 1962, it put on its pages subjects not often written about – from menstruation to female orgasm – and you can see her influence on a whole generation of writers.
97. The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula Le Guin
Le Guinn is credited as one of the first women to write sci-fi and this five book series plunges you deep into a vividly imagined world. The books start with a young boy as he learns he is a wizard and trains to harness his powers, then follows him through his journey. If you loved Harry Potter, this series is well worth reading.
98. The Children’s Book by AS Byatt
An intensely imaginative novel, set in the Victorian era and telling the story of children’s novelist Olive Wellwood. Woven through the book are real-life events but also stories within stories and it touches on everything from philosophy and religion to women’s rights and gender politics.
99. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
This sweeping Victorian fantasy offers insight into an alternative history set in 19th-century England, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Magic has long been lost to England – but two men, Mr Norrell and novice Jonathan Strange, set out to bring it back. So successful it won a string of awards and was adapted for BBC One, this is a read not to be missed.
100. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver
Like Barbara Kingsolver’s modern classic The Poisonwood Bible, this is a powerful and mesmerising epic that touches on class, poverty and climate change. Mum-of-two Dell finds herself suffocating in a life she has outgrown in dirt-poor middle America. But when she happens upon a vision, it’s the beginning of a transformation that sees her stand up to her family and the local church. Not to be missed.
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