The best books about modern motherhood

Who am I?

I had a very distinct vision of what kind of mother I would be: patient, kind, and creative. And I can be all of these things, but so too can I be frustrated, furious, and exhausted beyond belief. This contradictory experience of motherhood was what I wanted to explore in Spilt Milk and is the motherhood exposed in these five books which, while very different in form, share a willingness to acknowledge the darker and less curated aspects of a relationship that can be as stifling as it is wonderful.  


I wrote...

Spilt Milk

By Amy Beashel,

Book cover of Spilt Milk

What is my book about?

What if you said the worst thing a mother could say? What if your husband found out about it in the national press? And what if, after all that, you didn't regret it?

Bea has a husband and daughter. Bea also has an appointment for a termination. Her first child changed everything - her life, her relationship, her identity. Now she has a pregnancy test and a decision to face. This is a story about the women we think we know, the choices we make, the friends who stand by us, and how the secrets we keep and the words left unsaid can be more dangerous than any lie we tell.

Shepherd is reader supported.
We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund the project for readers and authors. Please join our membership program to support our endeavor.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of My Wild and Sleepless Nights

Why this book?

Documenting a year of Clover Stroud’s fierce mother-love as her family expands with the arrival of her newborn son, this searing memoir veers far from the saccharin version of motherhood so often portrayed in fiction and on socials. 

That her five children span almost the entire breadth of childhood allows the reader a rare insight into what it means to mother simultaneously across a multitude of ages, from the visceral bond with the baby to the inevitable distance that comes with adolescence as older children begin to both rebel and repel.

Stroud’s intimate writing is as raw and euphoric as labour and something I turn to when I want to be reminded of just how deeply words can make you feel.

My Wild and Sleepless Nights

By Clover Stroud,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Wild and Sleepless Nights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Raw, elemental and beautiful.' Telegraph
'This is quite simply the best book about motherhood I have ever read.' - Eleanor Mills in the Sunday Times

Mother to five children, Clover Stroud has navigated family life across two decades, both losing and finding herself. In her touching, provocative and profoundly insightful book, she captures a sense of what motherhood really feels like - how intense, sensuous, joyful, boring, profound and dark it can be.

My Wild and Sleepless Nights examines what it means to be a mother, and reveals with unflinching honesty the many conflicting emotions that this entails: the joy…


Book cover of Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood

Why this book?

It was McNish’s poem Embarrassed – a reflection on society’s inability to cope with a mother breastfeeding her child in public – that first led me to her work. I shared it with everyone. 

Part diary, part poetry collection, Nobody Told Me is born of the same honesty and documents her experience from the moment she discovered she was pregnant at Glastonbury and through the first two years of her daughter’s life. 

There’s an immediacy that comes with the pieces being offered exactly how they were written, whether that was “at four AM, some on the loo...[or] at work”. Motherhood, especially early motherhood, has little time for polishing (of furniture or of words), and this lack of editing is, I think, what allows me to see myself reflected in the poems.

Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood

By Hollie McNish,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Nobody Told Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There were many things that Hollie McNish didn't know before she was pregnant. How her family and friends would react; that Mr Whippy would be off the menu; how quickly ice can melt on a stomach. These were on top of the many other things she didn't know about babies: how to stand while holding one; how to do a poetry gig with your baby as a member of the audience; how drum'n'bass can make a great lullaby. And that's before you even start on toddlers: how to answer a question like 'is the world a jigsaw?'; dealing with a…


Book cover of Little Fires Everywhere

Why this book?

“It came, over and over, down to this. What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” Nineties suburban America sets the scene for Ng’s second novel, which I adored for its exploration of mothering in various forms – surrogacy, adoption, abortion, and the blood that isn’t always thick enough to bond us. 

As someone who tends to write in the first person, I hugely admire Ng’s ability to move between different characters’ perspectives. The empathy she incites in her reader is a testament to the sensitivity with which she handles her varied cast. Having felt so passionately about the book, I was nervous to watch the TV adaptation but genuinely loved that too.

Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Little Fires Everywhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller!

"Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel." -Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and A Slow Fire Burning

"To say I love this book is an understatement. It's a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears." -Reese Witherspoon

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You and Our Missing Hearts comes a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their…


Fierce Kingdom

By Gin Phillips,

Book cover of Fierce Kingdom

Why this book?

A shooter in a zoo might not sound like the premise for an exploration of motherhood, but this brilliantly paced thriller is just that. On a day trip to the zoo with her four-year-old son, Joan must flee from a gunman, a task made all the more complicated by having to simultaneously negotiate the quotidian questions and tasks of parenting.

A hungry child, or one who needs the toilet, can be challenging at the best of times, let alone while hiding in an empty animal enclosure trying to avoid imminent death! Ultimately, the primary role of any parent is to keep their child alive. Fierce Kingdom puts this ordinary occupation in extraordinary circumstances, and the result is utterly compelling. 

Fierce Kingdom

By Gin Phillips,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times Book Review's Best Crime Novels of 2017

"Warning: you'll finish this in one sitting." -TheSkimm

"Expertly made thriller . . . clever and irresistible." -The New York Times

An electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she'll go to protect him.

The zoo is nearly empty as Joan and her four-year-old son soak up the last few moments of playtime. They are happy, and the day has been close to perfect. But what Joan sees as she hustles her son toward the exit gate…


I Am Not Your Baby Mother

By Candice Brathwaite,

Book cover of I Am Not Your Baby Mother

Why this book?

As Spilt Milk’s protagonist Bea Straw is a mum-blogger, I was keen to read experiences of real-life “mummy influencers”. Braithwaite’s book – part memoir, part manifesto – was of particular interest because she is Black, somewhat of a rarity in the picture of motherhood painted by social media that tends to be both very white and very middle class. 

Documenting the difficult birth of her daughter and the subsequent mishandled complications, Braithwaite exposes the many and varied ways in which women of colour are disadvantaged and endangered by racial bias. 

While light in tone, there’s a power and vulnerability in Braithwaite’s writing, and I learnt so much from this brilliant book.

I Am Not Your Baby Mother

By Candice Brathwaite,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Am Not Your Baby Mother as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER*

'Really good ... accessible, sometimes shocking, honest, and feels written from the heart' - Bernardine Evaristo

'I gobbled it in one weekend and encourage everyone - mother, or otherwise - to do the same' - Pandora Sykes

'Remarkable' - Lorraine Kelly

'Searing' - Dolly Alderton

'I absolutely loved I Am Not Your Baby Mother' - Giovanna Fletcher

'Brilliant' - Sophie Ellis-Bextor

'An essential exploration of the realities of black motherhood in the UK' - Observer

'Urgent part-memoir, part-manifesto about black motherhood' - Red

'[An] original and much-needed guide to navigating black motherhood' - Cosmopolitan

'The woman…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in motherhood, family secrets, and zoos?

8,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about motherhood, family secrets, and zoos.

Motherhood Explore 35 books about motherhood
Family Secrets Explore 123 books about family secrets
Zoos Explore 13 books about zoos

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Glass Castle, Anxious People, and The World at Night if you like this list.