The best novels inspired by the real lives of kick-ass women

Who am I?

I was never much of a history student. Facts and figures rarely stick in my brain until I have a character—their feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams—to pair them with, so I rely a lot on historical fiction to understand different places and times. I’m also a believer that our culture too often serves up the impression that marginalized people have forever hopelessly struggled, held back by those in power. But there are so many true stories that reveal the opposite, in this case, women fighting for their dreams and winning! I aim to bring these stories to light in a way that keeps the pages turning. 

I wrote...

Leaving Coy's Hill

By Katherine Sherbrooke,

Book cover of Leaving Coy's Hill

What is my book about?

Leaving Coy’s Hill is inspired by Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and the first woman to speak out on women’s rights in the US. While she was perhaps the most famous woman in the country in the mid-1800s, she was rather purposely erased from history by her own friend, Susan B. Anthony. In writing this novel I wanted to breathe new life into a woman driven to create change in a deeply divided nation and determined to stand on the right side of history despite painful personal costs. NY Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt says, “What could be more timely than Sherbrooke’s gorgeously fictionalized and page-turning account of Lucy Stone?... A stunning look at timeless issues…all told through the lens of one extraordinary heroine.”

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Invention of Wings

Katherine Sherbrooke Why did I love this book?

I think of this novel as a prequel of sorts to my own book, because it is inspired by the life of Sarah Grimke, another abolitionist and pioneer of women’s rights who, along with her sister Angelina, was an idol of Lucy Stone’s. The book opens on Sarah’s 11th birthday when she is gifted a slave, "Handful,” a gift she has no interest in keeping. Kidd makes the courageous choice to tell the story from both Handful’s and Sarah’s perspective, giving us very different views of pre-Civil War life in Charleston and what it takes to defy the rules in hopes of escape. At times harrowing and equally uplifting, this is a gorgeous and inspiring story.

By Sue Monk Kidd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees and the forthcoming novel The Book of Longings, a novel about two unforgettable American women.

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty "Handful" Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke's daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something…

Book cover of Circling the Sun

Katherine Sherbrooke Why did I love this book?

I love historical fiction that opens the door to a lesser-known side of a classic story. Beryl Markham was a record-setting pilot in Kenya in the 1920s, familiar with breaking down boundaries of all kinds. She was also the “other woman” in the love triangle made famous by Out of Africa, the memoir written by Karen Blixon (under the name Isak Dinesen). Both women pine for safari hunter, Denys Finch, but as an adventurer determined to make her mark, Markham’s life is defined by much more than purely romantic desires. I am a big fan of Paula Mclain’s work, but in my view, this is the best of them all.

By Paula McLain,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Circling the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestseller

As a young girl, Beryl Markham was brought to Kenya from Britain by parents dreaming of a new life. For her mother, the dream quickly turned sour, and she returned home; Beryl was brought up by her father, who switched between indulgence and heavy-handed authority, allowing her first to run wild on their farm, then incarcerating her in the classroom. The scourge of governesses and serial absconder from boarding school, by the age of sixteen Beryl had been catapulted into a disastrous marriage - but it was in facing up to this reality that she…

Book cover of Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O'Keeffe

Katherine Sherbrooke Why did I love this book?

I’m fascinated by historical fiction that sticks to the “facts” of a person’s life but imagines and richly describes that person’s inner world—in this case Georgia O’Keefe’s. The novel focuses on the young painter’s love affair with Alfred Stieglitz, an established photographer and art dealer. Before the art world knows Georgia O’Keefe as a ground-breaking artist in her own right, she is introduced as the female nude in Stieglitz’s photographs. Does her art gain notice in part because of this scandalous introduction, or does it merely eroticize her and her work? And while she learns much from Stieglitz, what does this relationship cost her? This book is masterfully “painted” with O’Keefe-like brush strokes that assemble a tantalizing picture and still leave much to the imagination.

By Dawn Tripp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Georgia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In a dazzling work of historical fiction in the vein of Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, Dawn Tripp brings to life Georgia O’Keeffe, her love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to become an independent artist.

This is not a love story. If it were, we would have the same story. But he has his, and I have mine.

In 1916, Georgia O’Keeffe is a young, unknown art teacher when she travels to New York to meet Stieglitz, the famed photographer and art dealer, who has discovered O’Keeffe’s work and exhibits it in his gallery. Their…

Book cover of The Movement of Stars

Katherine Sherbrooke Why did I love this book?

Maria Mitchell, raised as a Nantucket Quaker, was the first woman to discover and name a new comet, no easy task in the 1840s when women were not meant to study astronomy, let alone when her only instrument was a small telescope on an island roof. Brill takes artistic license with Mitchell’s story, adding nuance and detail likely outside the scope of her research, and delivers a riveting tale of a woman determined to live her dreams, no matter how high the barriers to achieving them.  

By Amy Brill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Amy Brill's The Movement of Stars tells a story of illicit love and extraordinary ambition.

It is 1845, and Hannah Gardner Price dreams of a world infinitely larger than the small Quaker community where she has lived all 25 years of her life - for, as an amateur astronomer, she secretly hopes to discover a comet and win the King of Denmark's prize for doing so.

But she can only indulge her passion for astronomy as long as the men in her life - her father, brother and family friends - are prepared to support it, and so she treads…

Book cover of Euphoria

Katherine Sherbrooke Why did I love this book?

Add to the list of extraordinary women mentioned above, the anthropologist Margaret Mead. I’m embarrassed to say that I knew little of Mead and her ground-breaking work before reading this book. The novel centers on (another) love triangle between three scientists studying the Kiona tribe in New Guinea in the 1930s. The personal struggles of these three anthropologists living in sometimes harrowing circumstances cover profound emotional territory. I also found the rituals of the tribe fascinating. And the inherent conflicts that abound when observing while living inside a community make for page-turning intrigue. Despite renaming her main character Nell Stone, I heard King speak about her detailed research. This novel offers a rare glimpse into the life of yet another woman for the ages.

By Lily King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller

From the author of Writers & Lovers, Euphoria is Lily King's gripping novel inspired by the true story of a woman who changed the way we understand our world.

'Pretty much perfect' - Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Rodham

In 1933 three young, gifted anthropologists are thrown together in the jungle of New Guinea. They are Nell Stone, fascinating, magnetic and famous for her controversial work studying South Pacific tribes, her intelligent and aggressive husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson, who stumbles into the lives of this strange couple and becomes totally enthralled. Within months…

You might also like...

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in romantic love, love triangle, and South Carolina?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about romantic love, love triangle, and South Carolina.

Romantic Love Explore 799 books about romantic love
Love Triangle Explore 70 books about love triangle
South Carolina Explore 44 books about South Carolina