The best novels about struggling women turning their lives around

Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to stories about underdogs overcoming adversity in different ways. There were times growing up when I didn’t feel like I fit in with my peers, and I’m sure that’s contributed to this fascination. There’s just something so satisfying about a character who others think is down for the count getting back up and winning. As a writer, my women’s fiction stories often center around characters who are in need of personal growth. Overcoming challenges and choosing a truer-to-self path are common themes. That’s why the books on this list found their way to my heart.

I wrote...

These Numbered Days

By Anna E. Collins,

Book cover of These Numbered Days

What is my book about?

When Annie Wolff’s ex-husband dies, she breaks her self-imposed exile and returns home to Washington to make sure her kids are okay. Annie hasn’t seen Grace and Connor in eight years, and with her in-laws making a bid to adopt them, this is her last chance to set things right. She only hopes the depression that once sent her running will remain in check.

As she’s drawn back into the lives of her now-teenage kids, Annie also stumbles into the path of Wic Dubray—the handsome woodworker who leases her a room. Now, Annie must navigate old memories, hostile relatives, her wavering mental health, and a growing fondness for Wic for a chance to win back her children, her life, and maybe find love.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Why did I love this book?

The transformational journey of the main character, Eleanor, in this book is profound and very touching. Eleanor lives a predictable, lonely, atypical life that fulfills practical needs, but overlooks any emotional connections because she’s never felt she “needed” those. It’s only when she meets a fellow underdog at work and slowly comes out of her shell that her past wounds start to heal. Eleanor is a very unique person, and being in her head was eye-opening for me. Truly a story that will make you both laugh and cry, and that stayed with me for a long time.

By Gail Honeyman,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

"Beautifully written and incredibly funny, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is about the importance of friendship and human connection. I fell in love with Eleanor, an eccentric and regimented loner whose life beautifully unfolds after a chance encounter with a stranger; I think you will fall in love, too!" -Reese Witherspoon

No one's ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of…

Britt-Marie Was Here

By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of Britt-Marie Was Here

Why did I love this book?

I love how Backman is able to pinpoint human nature with very small means. Britt-Marie as an aging, thorny character jumps off the page and instantly made me sympathize with her. Following her journey from feeling stuck to walking out on her cheating husband and finding herself the unexpected caretaker of a recreation center, was so invigorating. Every step of the way, the softening of her edges as her authentic zest for life and interest in new acquaintances arise made the book unputdownable. I will read whatever Backman writes.

By Fredrik Backman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Britt-Marie Was Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and Anxious People captivates readers with this “warm and satisfying” (People) story “about a woman rediscovering herself after a personal crisis…fans of Backman will find another winner in these pages” (Publishers Weekly).

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not…

The Thorn Birds

By Colleen McCullough,

Book cover of The Thorn Birds

Why did I love this book?

I love an epic family saga, and this book has it all—sweeping Australian countryside, forbidden love, family conflict, and, most of all, a struggling girl growing up to find herself, her voice, and her strength through whatever life throws her way. Meggie Cleary may not have been born with any advantages, but she makes the best of what she’s given and overcomes. Her metamorphosis from unfavored girl to strong woman deserves regular re-reads.

By Colleen McCullough,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Thorn Birds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A phenomenal worldwide bestseller since 1977 THE THORN BIRDS is a robust, romantic saga of three generations. It begins in the early years of this century when Paddy Cleary moves his wife and seven children to Drogheda, an Australian sheep station, owned by his autocratic and childless older sister. For more than half a century we follow their fates, particularly those of Meggie, the only Cleary daughter, and the one man she truly loves, Ralph de Bricassart - stunningly handsome, ambitious, and a priest. As background to the Cleary family's lives there is the land itself: relentless in its demands,…

Book cover of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Why did I love this book?

A neurodiverse heroine who fights bad men with her superior hacker skills? Lisbeth, the main character in this gripping police procedural/thriller (and the sequels), has lived a rough life that might have rendered most broken, but her determination and grit see her come out on top in a way that’s truly satisfying for anyone who’s ever wanted to “stick it to the man.” I could not turn the pages fast enough.

By Stieg Larsson,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder - and that the killer is a member of his own tightly-knit but dysfunctional family.

He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history.

But the Vangers are a secretive clan, and…

What Alice Forgot

By Liane Moriarty,

Book cover of What Alice Forgot

Why did I love this book?

I love an unreliable narrator, and what’s more unreliable than a woman who has lost her memory? Liane Moriarty is masterful in giving the reader just enough information to follow along in the mystery with Alice as she tries to puzzle together what’s happened to her life in the ten years she’s “lost.” The story is thought-provoking in the best way, forcing the reader to think about how we all sometimes get stuck in a rut that might lead to a place we never really felt we chose. It made me wonder what me ten years ago would think if she suddenly woke up in my life today.

By Liane Moriarty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked What Alice Forgot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author behind the addictive, award-winning HBO sensation BIG LITTLE LIES comes the compelling and thought-provoking story of love, life and memory

'Gripping, thought-provoking and funny' MARIE CLAIRE

How can ten years of your life just disappear?

Alice is twenty-nine.

She adores sleep, chocolate, and her ramshackle new house.

She's newly engaged to the wonderful Nick, and is pregnant with her first baby. But there's just one problem.

That was ten years ago . . .

Alice slipped in her step-aerobics class, hit her head and lost a decade.

Now she's a grown-up, bossy mother of three…

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