The best historical fiction books featuring badass women (that do not take place during WWII)

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been a history lover, but often find myself thinking about the untold stories. The people who were not writing the history books or commanding armies or ruling countries. I’ve always been more inspired by everyday people, especially women, who fought daily battles we know very little about. I find myself seeking out their stories. I love to imagine these women’s lives. What motivated them, what frightened them, what angered them. That’s what I’m most passionate about. Finding and telling their stories.


I wrote...

Signed, A Paddy

By Lisa Boyle,

Book cover of Signed, A Paddy

What is my book about?

Ireland, 1848. Fourteen-year-old Rosaleen watches her mother die. Her country is reeling from the great potato famine, which will ultimately kill more than one million people. Driven by a promise and her will to survive, Rosaleen flees her small coastal town.

She eventually arrives in America at the birth of the industrial revolution and is filled with hope and a new sense of independence. Yet the more Rosaleen becomes a part of this new world, the more she longs for a community she lost and a young man she can’t forget. Through a series of both heartwarming and tragic events, Rosaleen learns that she can’t outrun the problems that come along with being Irish. And maybe, she doesn’t want to.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Valentine

Lisa Boyle Why did I love this book?

Valentine handles some very heavy topics beautifully.

Many of the characters are connected by only one thread: they are women trying to survive in West Texas in the early 1970s. It centers around a brutal incident and the quest to find justice for a Mexican teenage girl who was violently assaulted.

Throughout the story we get such an intimate look at these women’s lives. I felt like I knew them. I felt like I was sitting right next to them in their kitchen or on their front porch.

These women were all hardened by the trials life had thrown at them, and were battling the urge to protect themselves with the urge to protect one another. I loved this book because it was just so honest. 

By Elizabeth Wetmore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A top ten New York Times bestseller. With the haunting emotional power of American Dirt and the atmospheric suspense of Where the Crawdads Sing: a compulsive debut novel that explores the aftershock of a brutal crime on the women of a small Texas oil town.

'The very definition of a stunning debut' Ann Patchett

'Brilliant, sharp, tightly wound, and devastating' Elizabeth Gilbert
'Quite simply one of the best books I've ever read' Jeanine Cummins, author of American Dirt

Mercy is hard in a place like this. I wished him dead before I ever saw his face...

In a place like…


Book cover of The Giver of Stars

Lisa Boyle Why did I love this book?

Have you ever read a book and thought, I want to be that woman?

I want her courage, her strength, her grit. I promise you that you will feel that way about Margery. A gun-toting Kentucky native, Margery is part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling library “the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.”

The Giver of Stars follows Margery and Alice—the book’s main character and immigrant from England—along with the other librarians as they not only change the locals’ lives with their book deliveries, but also take on the mining company’s attempt at using dirty methods to acquire more land.

There’s also a terrifying flood, a few love stories, and a murder trial. This book made me want to get my butt up and make a difference in the world!

By Jojo Moyes,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Giver of Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER | A REESE WITHERSPOON X HELLO SUNSHINE BOOK CLUB PICK

"A great narrative about personal strength and really captures how books bring communities together." -Reese Witherspoon

From the author of The Last Letter from Your Lover, now a major motion picture on Netflix, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond in Depression-era America


Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve, hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when…


Book cover of Night Wherever We Go

Lisa Boyle Why did I love this book?

Night Wherever We Go follows a group of enslaved women in mid-nineteenth-century Texas.

The failed and desperate farmer who owns these women has brought them to Texas to breed them. I recommend this book because it explores an aspect of chattel slavery that is often glossed over.

Slavery is discussed as an institution that thoroughly dehumanized everyone involved. But what exactly that means, to dehumanize, to be dehumanized is not always explored in such depth.

These women band together in a form of quiet, collective resistance. They come from a variety of backgrounds and have different religious beliefs. They don’t always get along, but they band together anyway, because if one falls, they all do.

The ending isn’t happy, but it’s real. It stayed with me for days after I finished it. 

By Tracey Rose Peyton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Night Wherever We Go as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A hugely impressive debut' SARAH WATERS

'A powerful and inspired achievement. This one is not to be missed' NATHAN HARRIS

'Extraordinary... I'm not sure I've recovered from the experience of reading it, or ever will, or ever should' ELIZABETH MCCRAKEN

'A haunting, powerful and utterly unforgettable read' RACHEL HENG

An intimate look at the domestic lives of enslaved women, NIGHT WHEREVER WE GO is an evocative meditation on resistance and autonomy, on love and transcendence and the bonds of female friendship in the darkest of circumstances.

On a struggling Texas plantation, six enslaved women slip from their sleeping quarters and…


Book cover of Book of the Little Axe

Lisa Boyle Why did I love this book?

Book of the Little Axe follows one woman at two ends of her life, spanning from the late 1700s to the early 1800s.

One thread follows who she will become—“Ma,” wife to an Apsáalooke man and mother to three children—and the woman she was before, “Rosa,” a daughter and sister in Trinidad. A third thread follows a man named Creadon’s diary.

This book explores so many important and complex topics like what it means to be family, what it means to belong, and what it means to accept yourself. I loved how deep Francis-Sharma dives into the feelings of shame and pride and fear that the characters feel.

I felt those same things and it made me physically ache for them.

By Lauren Francis-Sharma,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Book of the Little Axe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A BOOKLIST EDITOR'S CHOICE BOOK OF THE YEAR

Ambitious and masterfully-wrought, Lauren Francis-Sharma's Book of the Little Axe is an incredible journey, spanning decades and oceans from Trinidad to the American West during the tumultuous days of warring colonial powers and westward expansion.

In 1796 Trinidad, young Rosa Rendon quietly but purposefully rebels against the life others expect her to lead. Bright, competitive, and opinionated, Rosa sees no reason she should learn to cook and keep house, for it is obvious her talents lie in running the farm she, alone, views as her birthright. But when her homeland changes from…


Book cover of The Hundred Secret Senses

Lisa Boyle Why did I love this book?

Amy Tan is a master at telling stories that explore the complex dynamics of family relationships.

I’ve read a lot of her books, but The Hundred Secret Senses is my favorite because I adore Kwan, the main character’s half-sister from China. Kwan has a special secret that she can see and speak to ghosts, but Olivia always dismisses her as a little crazy and only pretends to believe her stories.

I love this book because it made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions and because it was so relatable.

We all have family members that we both love and can’t stand at the same time. This book goes back and forth between the 1990s and the 1800s.

If you love books about sisters, you need to read this one!

By Amy Tan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hundred Secret Senses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stunning reissue of an international bestseller, from the author of 'The Joy Luck Club' and 'The Bonesetter's Daughter'.

Olivia Yee is only five years old when Kwan, her older sister from China, comes to live with the family and turns her life upside down, bombarding her day and night with ghostly stories of strange ancestors from the world of Yin. Olivia just wants to lead a normal American life.

For the next thirty years, Olivia endures visits from Kwan and her ghosts, who appear in the living world to offer advice on everything from restaurants to Olivia's failed marriage. But…


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I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

Book cover of I Meant to Tell You

Fran Hawthorne Author Of I Meant to Tell You

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Museum guide Foreign language student Runner Community activist Former health-care journalist

Fran's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not a criminal, she stumbles into other secrets that will challenge what she thought she knew about her own family, her friend, Russ—and herself.

I Meant to Tell You

By Fran Hawthorne,

What is this book about?

When Miranda’s fiancé, Russ, is being vetted for his dream job in the U.S. attorney’s office, the couple joke that Miranda’s parents’ history as antiwar activists in the Sixties might jeopardize Russ’s security clearance. In fact, the real threat emerges when Russ’s future employer discovers that Miranda was arrested for felony kidnapping seven years earlier—an arrest she’d never bothered to tell Russ about.

Miranda tries to explain that she was only helping her best friend, in the midst of a nasty custody battle, take her daughter to visit her parents in Israel. As Miranda struggles to prove that she’s not…


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