The best books on badass mothers

Why am I passionate about this?

The first time I learned that I was raised by a “bad” mother was when I was in the first grade. The teachers complained that my mother hadn’t shown up for parent-teacher conferences and never could get me to school on time. But I knew what they did not, that my mother worked a lot and was raising kids all her own and yet still had time to take us to the library to read books that were well beyond the ones at school. Because of my highly iterant life raised by a bookish and neglectful mother, I have always been interested in the relationship between children and their less-than-perfect mothers.


I wrote...

A Country You Can Leave

By Asale Angel-Ajani,

Book cover of A Country You Can Leave

What is my book about?

My novel, A Country You Can Leave, is a story that centers on the lives of Lara, a biracial Afro-Cuban-Russian girl, and her Russian mother, Yevgenia. It opens with their arrival at the Oasis Mobil Estates, a somewhat ne’re-do-well community located in the California Desert.

Part love story, part coming of age, it’s a novel of (I hope) the right amount of humor and suffering. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of White Oleander

Asale Angel-Ajani Why did I love this book?

This lush book, written in 1994, is now something of a classic.

Ingrid is scorned by a man that she sees as being beneath her so she poisons him, and is sent to prison, leaving her daughter Astrid to navigate a series of foster care and adolescence all on her own.

The sweep of descriptive language is lush and languid as the California it depicts. I read this book repeatedly when it first came out, I felt Astrid’s pain as my own. 

By Janet Fitch,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked White Oleander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

White Oleander is a painfully beautiful first novel about a young girl growing up the hard way. It is a powerful story of mothers and daughters, their ambiguous alliances, their selfish love and cruel behaviour, and the search for love and identity.Astrid has been raised by her mother, a beautiful, headstrong poet. Astrid forgives her everything as her world revolves around this beautiful creature until Ingrid murders a former lover and is imprisoned for life. Astrid's fierce determination to survive and be loved makes her an unforgettable figure. 'Liquid poetry' - Oprah Winfrey 'Tangled, complex and extraordinarily moving' - Observer


Book cover of Olga Dies Dreaming

Asale Angel-Ajani Why did I love this book?

At the heart of this book is a mother who appears mostly off stage but is truly the director of this fabulous story of a brother and sister trying to define and live their own American dreams in the shadow of US colonialization of Puerto Rico.

It’s a great read. Biting, funny, and political.

This is a book I press into everyone’s hands these days. It’s a book that speaks to many people, who have ever tried and failed to both be of family and get away from family. 

By Xochitl Gonzalez,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Olga Dies Dreaming as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK · WINNER OF THE BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY PRIZE • INTERNATIONAL LATINO BOOK AWARD FINALIST

A blazing talent debuts with the tale of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots—all in the wake of Hurricane Maria

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Kirkus, Washington Post, TIME, NPR, Vogue, Esquire, Book Riot, Goodreads, EW, Reader's Digest, and more!

"Don’t underestimate this new novelist. She’s jump-starting the year with a smart romantic comedy that lures us in with laughter and keeps…


Book cover of The Son of Good Fortune

Asale Angel-Ajani Why did I love this book?

The Son of Good Fortune (Excel) has an outrageous single mother who defies societal expectations. Maxima, a former B-movie action star in the Philippines, runs an online scam siphoning money from men.

She dominates the book with her humor and zest for life, even as she is forced to live in the margins as an undocumented immigrant, raising a child all on her own.

This is a funny and smart and poignant book. I loved the mother in this book and felt for her son, Excel, deeply.

By Lysley Tenorio,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Son of Good Fortune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Recommended Book From:
USA Today * The Chicago Tribune * Book Riot * Refinery 29 * InStyle * The Minneapolis Star-Tribune * Publishers Weekly * Baltimore Outloud * Omnivoracious * Lambda Literary * Goodreads * Lit Hub * The Millions

FINALIST FOR THE JOYCE CAROL OATES PRIZE
WINNER OF THE NEW AMERICAN VOICES AWARD

From award-winning author Lysley Tenorio, comes a big hearted debut novel following an undocumented Filipino son as he navigates his relationship with his mother, an uncertain future, and the place he calls home

Excel spends his days trying to seem like an unremarkable American teenager.…


Book cover of Nightbitch

Asale Angel-Ajani Why did I love this book?

Not quite a tale of eating her young, but this book is a great one for restless new mothers grappling with the demands of motherhood and the pull of a life and dreams that were formed in the freedom of the childless years.

This is a dark book with enough raw and funny moments that you never question its premise. It’s a fun read and a great book for a new mother.

By Rachel Yoder,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Nightbitch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this blazingly smart and voracious debut novel, an artist turned stay-at-home mom becomes convinced she's turning into a dog. • "A must-read for anyone who can’t get enough of the ever-blurring line between the psychological and supernatural that Yellowjackets exemplifies." —Vulture

One day, the mother was a mother, but then one night, she was quite suddenly something else...

An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler's demands, only…


Book cover of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Asale Angel-Ajani Why did I love this book?

This book takes the idea of “badass” to another level of meaning and measure.

Here, Hattie is a mother of twelve children of various stories and in some ways, a stand-in for all mothers who made the migration north from the deep south of the United States. She’s tough but loving and endures the kind of struggles that would knock many people down.

It’s a book that keeps you turning the pages. 

By Ayana Mathis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Twelve Tribes of Hattie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

'I can't remember when I read anything that moved me quite this way, besides the work of Toni Morrison.' Oprah Winfrey

'Mathis traces the fates of Hattie's 12 children and grandchildren over the course of the 20th century . . . [it] is remarkable.' Sunday Times

'Ms. Mathis has a gift for imbuing her characters' stories with an epic dimension that recalls Toni Morrison's writing.' New York Times

Fifteen years old and blazing with the hope of a better life, Hattie Shepherd fled the horror of the American South on a dawn train bound for Philadelphia.…


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The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

Book cover of The Last Whaler

Cynthia Reeves Author Of The Last Whaler

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Arctic adventurer Eternal optimist Unrealistic realist Foodie Teacher

Cynthia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This book is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station in the Svalbard archipelago when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. 

Beyond enduring the Arctic winter’s twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold, as well as Astrid’s unexpected pregnancy.

The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…

The Last Whaler

By Cynthia Reeves,

What is this book about?

The Last Whaler is an elegiac meditation on the will to survive under extreme conditions. Tor, a beluga whaler, and his wife, Astrid, a botanist specializing in Arctic flora, are stranded during the dark season of 1937-38 at his remote whaling station when they misjudge ice conditions and fail to rendezvous with the ship meant to carry them back to their home in southern Norway. Beyond enduring the Arctic winter's twenty-four-hour night, the couple must cope with the dangers of polar bears, violent storms, and bitter cold as well as Astrid's unexpected pregnancy. The Last Whaler concerns the impact of…


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