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15 Unforgettable Books for Women, Recommended by Women Who Love to Read

Updated: Apr. 04, 2024

Female bookworms—including authors, professional book reviewers and book influencers—weigh in on the books for women they think everyone needs to read

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15 Unforgettable Books For Women, Recommended By Women Who Love To Read

Books for women, by women

There’s something extra exciting about diving into a new read recommended by someone I trust—a friend, a bookish colleague or even my favorite author. And the more steeped someone is in the world of books, the more I trust their opinion. Think about it: Some people literally make their living from books. They spend their time crafting edge-of-your-seat thrillers, swoon-worthy romances or thought-provoking books for women. They interview famous authors. They regularly review advanced reader copies (or ARCs, as insiders call them) from publishers.

So when it came time to round up the best books for women, recommended by women, I knew whose brains I wanted to pick. I spoke to four women who live and breathe books: bestselling and debut authors, a book podcaster and a bookstagrammer. I’ve rounded up their top picks (and offered one of my own!) for unforgettable books for women everyone should read.

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About the experts

  • Kristy Woodson Harvey is the New York Times bestselling women’s fiction author of 11 novels, including The Summer of Songbirds. She is also the co-founder of the weekly podcast Friends & Fiction, where she and her co-hosts have interviewed more than 400 authors.
  • Cookie Navarro is the bookstagrammer—book reviewer and Instagram influencer—behind @cookie.the.bookee. She is a romance aficionado who reviews novels for her more than 42,000 followers. Last year alone, she read or listened to more than 400 books.
  • Eve J. Chung is a Taiwanese American writer and human rights lawyer. Her professional experiences combating sexual and gender-based violence have made their way into the stories told within her debut novel, Daughters of Shandong, coming out in May 2024.
  • Barbara Zito is a freelance writer, author and Women’s Fiction Writers Association member. Her debut novel, Lucky Stiff, was published in 2023.

Maame
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1. Maame by Jessica George

Recommended by: Me!

Let’s kick things off with one of my favorite books for women, Maame. The word maame has many meanings in Twi, a language spoken in Ghana, but in author Jessica George’s case, it means “woman.” Published in 2023, Maame is a coming-of-age story about Maddie, a 20-something who juggles a fraught relationship with her long-distance mother with taking care of her ill father while growing increasingly frustrated with being the only Black person in every meeting at work. Ultimately, Maddie must look inward to learn who she is and wants to be. This is just one of many books by Black authors that belong on your shelf.

Why I love it: My life has unfolded very differently from Maddie’s, but this book was so tender, so real, that it made me burst into tears and ache for her like a long-lost friend. And in the end, isn’t that what fiction is all about: pulling us into a life unlike our own and making us see and feel the world in a new way? I wholeheartedly recommend Maame to every woman I know.

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How To Walk Away
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2. How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

Recommended by: Cookie Navarro

Published in 2018, this New York Times bestseller is contemporary romance at its finest. When How to Walk Away opens, Margaret Jacobsen—aka Maggie—is poised to step into the best chapter of her life. She’s engaged and just landed her dream job. But when a life-changing accident lands her in the hospital, she’s forced to see her life and loved ones from a different angle. Witty and wistful, this beautiful romance is an excellent read for women at a significant crossroads in life.

Why she loves it: “Katherine Center did a phenomenal job of taking me on a journey in this book. Not only was the story she crafted captivating, but her ability to convey the complexities of loss, grief, betrayal and very human reactions was impressive. This is a great read for a binge-reading session because you never want to put the book down.”

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Good For You
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3. Good for You by Camille Pagán

Recommended by: Barbara Zito

Recommended by Zito as “a heartwarming weekend read,” this 2023 enemies-to-lovers romance is perfect for fans of Emily Henry and Kate Clayborn. After an embarrassing meltdown at work, Aly Jackson is retreating to the lake house her brother left for her when he died a year ago. The problem? It seems that Wyatt, her brother’s old best friend, already lives there.

Why she loves it: “Camille Pagán is a master of depicting memorable characters as they muddle through their very messy lives. In her latest novel, we meet Aly, whose meltdown at work forces her to take time off to finally deal with the grief of her brother’s death and a traumatic upbringing. Sounds dark, right? But what I love about Pagán is that she tackles big, important issues with hope and humor—and yes, a bit of romance never hurts, either.”

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Blank
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4. Blank by Zibby Owens

Recommended by: Kristy Woodson Harvey

Set to publish on March 1, 2024, Blank is the debut novel of Elizabeth “Zibby” Owens, host of the Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books podcast. Bestselling author Annabel Monaghan has said it “explores marriage, parenting, friendship and the competitive high jinks of the book trade with the perfect amount of wit and light-touch humor.” Sounds like a great book club pick to me!

Why she loves it: “This fun, fast-paced debut is pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh, smile and think, Oh my gosh! She feels the same way I do! Blank is a satirical look at the writing and publishing worlds that keeps the pages turning, but at its core, it’s also a look at marriage, motherhood and the sometimes impossible expectations women place on themselves. This is the perfect escapist read for anyone who could use a novel that feels like an indulgent treat.”

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The Diamond Eye
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5. The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Recommended by: Eve J. Chung

Looking for an unforgettable book inspired by a fascinating woman who really existed? Kate Quinn’s 2022 novel, The Diamond Eye, is the WWII-era story of a librarian turned warrior. Quinn brings her signature storytelling and attention to period detail to this historical fiction novel based on the life of Lyudmila “Mila” Pavlichenko, known as “Lady Death.”

Why she loves it: “A ‘woman’s place’ should be wherever she wants it to be, but in practice that is still not the case. That is why I loved this book, which is based on the true story of Mila Pavlichenko, a Ukrainian sniper who fought for the Soviet Union during World War II. Women’s contributions are often neglected in male dominated roles, including in battle, and Quinn does a great job shedding light on this heroine.”

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Black Girls Must Die Exhausted
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6. Black Girls Must Die Exhausted by Jayne Allen

Recommended by: Cookie Navarro

The first in a trilogy that explores what it means to be a modern Black woman, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted finds 30-something Tabitha Walker just before she finds out that she may never be able to have children. The thought sends Tabitha into a spiral of medical tests and relationship woes that can be salvaged only by her nearest and dearest: her grandmother, plus a tight circle of friends we’d all be lucky to have. This is one of the best fiction books for women in their 20s and 30s—or anyone who knows them.

Why she loves it: “Not only is the story gripping, but I found what was being said between the lines of this novel very thought-provoking. I especially thought the parts where the main character and her family reflected on race were enlightening and important.”

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Varina Palladino's Jersey Italian Love Story
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7. Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story by Terri-Lynne DeFino

Recommended by: Barbara Zito

Touted as My Big Fat Greek Wedding but set in Jersey, Terri-Lynne DeFino’s 2023 Varina Palladino’s Jersey Italian Love Story is a multigenerational tale of family, food and modern love. Meet Varina. She’s widowed, sure, but she’s enjoying life just fine. Well, until her daughter and mother decide it’s time to find her a boyfriend so she won’t die alone. This is a laugh-out-loud read to gift your grandmother, mother or grown daughter.

Why she loves it: “I know exactly what it’s like to be part of a large, extended Italian American family, so it was a real treat to discover this hilarious yet poignant book that teaches us it’s never too late to fall in love or make new friends. It’s told from multiple character perspectives, but Varina is indeed the glue that keeps her family together—including good friends who are like family. As soon as I finished it, I bought a copy for my mother.”

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The Book Of Lost Names
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8. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Recommended by: Kristy Woodson Harvey

This 2020 page-turner is inspired by a true story. When Eva Traube Abrams was a young woman, she worked forging documents to help Jewish children flee Nazi-held regions. But she and her handsome co-forger also secretly recorded the children’s real names so they could be found later. When the book of names resurfaces decades after the war, an older, wiser Eva must decide whether to reveal her truth. (If you or another woman in your life are interested in reading more about WWII, check out our must-read Holocaust books recommended by experts.)

Why she loves it:The Book of Lost Names, one of my favorite books, is a total must-read—or reread! A testament to true love, the bravery of everyday heroes and the power of books to connect us all, this is a novel for anyone who is longing for a deeper read that will also leave their heart feeling full.”

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White Chrysanthemum
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9. White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

Recommended by: Eve J. Chung

This riveting feminist book from 2018 is for serious bookworms unafraid to read about brutal real-world tragedies. In White Chrysanthemum, Hana and Emi are two Korean girls living under Japanese occupation during World War II. One day, Hana is abruptly abducted and forced to become a “comfort woman” in a military brothel. Emi grows up and makes a life for herself in free South Korea, but she never stops wondering what happened to her sister.

Why she loves it: “In the past decades, former ‘comfort women’ have stepped up to demand accountability. I appreciate that Bracht, through storytelling, has helped amplify their voices.”

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The Things We Keep
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10. The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth

Recommended by: Cookie Navarro

Published in 2015, The Things We Keep is one of bestselling author Sally Hepworth’s earliest books. It’s the poignant story of a 38-year-old woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Being dropped off at Rosalind House, an assisted-living facility, seems like the end. But what if it could also be a new beginning? This character-driven contemporary novel has a sweet, unexpected love story that will stick with you long after the last page—it’s classic book hangover material.

Why she loves it: “The topic of this book was fascinating to me—two young people who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and they fall in love. This book is unlike anything I’ve read, and Sally Hepworth did an amazing job of getting me in my feels with this one. If you’re in the mood for a good cry, pick this one up!”

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Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice For Murderers
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11. Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Recommended by: Eve J. Chung

Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is the perfect pick for anyone who loves curling up with a cozy mystery. The irrefutable star of this 2023 novel is Vera Wong, shopkeeper turned detective. She’s out to catch the killer who dared to leave a dead body in her tea shop. (The mess!) If only she didn’t keep getting distracted by friendly conversations with suspects and meddling in her son’s nonexistent love life…

Why she loves it: “Sometimes we all need a book that gives us an emotional lift. Sutanto is a comedian, but this book does more than make you laugh out loud. It is also a tender story about an older woman and found family—perfect for any time your heart needs a jumpstart.”

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This Is How It Always Is
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12. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Recommended by: Cookie Navarro

Laurie Frankel’s 2017 LGBTQ book begins with a child named Claude. Claude was born a boy but wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn, Claude’s parents, love and accept Claude’s identity but wonder if their friends and family will feel the same way. So they decide to keep Claude’s identity a secret. But secrets like this can’t stay hidden forever. This Is How It Always Is is a must-read for grandmothers, mothers, sisters, teachers and friends of trans people—or anyone, really.

Why she loves it: “This is a thought-provoking, enlightening, heartbreaking and heartwarming novel about identity, gender stereotypes, family and the difficult and impossible decisions parents have to make. I think everyone would benefit from the learning and reflection that can be gained from reading this book. This is a great book to read with a friend or book club because there is so much to discuss about it.”

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Take My Hand
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13. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Recommended by: Eve J. Chung

This is no beach read, but it’s an essential pick for women (or anyone!) that the Washington Post called “a jewel of a book” when it was published in 2022. “[Take My Hand] is about the forced sterilization of Black women and girls in the 1970s and follows a nurse and two young girls at a federally funded clinic. Perkins-Valdez highlights an important part of American history that should never be forgotten,” says Chung.

Why she loves it: “I thought a lot about this book after I read it, especially since it was based on true events in my own country that I wasn’t familiar with.”

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The Mountains Sing
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14. The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Recommended by: Cookie Navarro

Published in 2020, The Mountains Sing was Vietnamese poet Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s first English-language novel. It’s a multigenerational saga about how the Trần family survived war, famine and a quickly changing society. What makes it such an excellent book for women, and especially women interested in reading more Asian and Asian American authors, is its focus on the strength and persistence of two Vietnamese women: Trần Diệu Lan, who went on the run to escape the Communist government in the first half of the 2oth century, and her granddaughter, Hương.

Why she loves it: “Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s writing in this book is lyrical and vivid. She masterfully weaves the stories of many characters in multiple generations together to tell a gripping and heartbreaking tale. This is the kind of book you’ll want to take your time with, absorbing the historical details and tragedies of that time.”

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Savannah Blues
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15. Savannah Blues by Mary Kay Andrews

Recommended by: Kristy Woodson Harvey

Some of the best books for women dive into the thick of complicated marriages, tricky parenting, issues of sexism or racism, work-life balance and even midlife crises. But sometimes all a girl wants is a breezy, escapist summer read. For that, there’s 2002’s Savannah Blues, a razor-sharp, spirited tale of revenge, romance and suspense in Savannah’s historic district.

Why she loves it: Savannah Blues isn’t one of [Mary Kay Andrews] newest titles, but it was the one that got me hooked on her writing—and one that I recommend to everyone! It’s a classic Mary Kay mix of a plucky, well-developed heroine, a gorgeous Lowcountry setting, a second-chance romance and a whodunit!”

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Why trust us

At Reader’s Digest, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. For this piece, Leandra Beabout tapped her years of experience as a reader and journalist covering the book world, and then Tracey Neithercott, Reader’s Digest Book Editor, gave it a rigorous review to ensure that all information is accurate and offers the best possible advice to readers. For this piece, we relied on reputable primary sources, including women’s fiction authors, a book podcaster and a bookstagrammer. We verified all facts and data and backed them with credible sourcing, and we will revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies.

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