The best books of thrilling fiction featuring brave, gutsy, badass women

Who am I?

Like my main character, Annie Hawkins Green, I’m passionate about photojournalism, and we both love to travel the world capturing images that tell our stories. My training as a photographer has led me to write novels that are visual and cinematic, affording readers authentic and immersive experiences in the places Annie takes us—Afghanistan, Milwaukee, wherever. We’re both seriously committed to empowering girls through education and go to great lengths, and some risk, to make that happen. Readers tend to think Annie and I are brave and gutsy and, well, badass. Annie is, for sure—she goes to dangerous places. Okay, I admit that many of her adventures have an autobiographical twist.  


I wrote...

Behind the Lens

By Jeannee Sacken,

Book cover of Behind the Lens

What is my book about?

Seasoned photojournalist Annie Hawkins Green survives the Taliban ambush that leaves an Afghan girl dying in her arms. Years later, seeking redemption for taking the picture she thinks cost the girl her life, Annie returns to Afghanistan to teach a photography class at the girls’ school run by her expat friend Darya Faludi. As soon as she arrives, nightmares of that brutal day come roaring back. More trouble brews when she suspects Darya’s teenage daughter is sneaking away to meet her shadowy boyfriend. Back home, her own teenage daughter wages war with her father and stepmother. Way too gutsy, Annie never backs down—even though her main comfort, poetry-writing U.S. Navy SEAL Finn Cerelli, is at the end of a satellite phone 7,000 miles away. 

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Almost Home

By Pam Jenoff,

Book cover of Almost Home

Why this book?

Pam Jenoff’s historical fiction rocks, but Almost Home is my favorite of her books. Here’s a secret: it’s her favorite, too. With its interwoven past and present storylines and breathtaking suspense, I couldn’t put it down. As a graduate student ten years ago at Cambridge University, Jordan Weiss’s life was shattered when her boyfriend drowned. Now, a U.S. intelligence officer, she finally returns to England to help her terminally ill friend, Sarah, and to make sense of decade-old secrets. As soon as Jordan arrives, she discovers that no one and nothing are what they seem. But she doesn’t give up her investigation—even in the face of grave danger. A true badass! This book kept me up all night—exactly the kind of read I adore. 

Almost Home

By Pam Jenoff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Ten years ago, American Jordan Weiss's idyllic life as a graduate student and coxswain at Cambridge was shattered when her boyfriend and fellow crew member, Jared Short, drowned in the River Cam the night before the biggest race of the year. Since that time, Jordan, a State Department intelligence officer, has traveled the world on dangerous assignments but has avoided returning to face her painful memories in England. When her terminally ill friend Sarah asks her to come to London, though, Jordan returns. Shortly after her arrival in London, she is approached by a former college classmate who makes the…


And Only to Deceive

By Tasha Alexander,

Book cover of And Only to Deceive

Why this book?

I adore Tasha Alexander’s books for their elegance and suspense but most of all for her fabulous heroine, Lady Emily Ashton. I always recommend beginning with And Only to Deceive. Lady Emily isn’t yet twenty when her Viscount husband dies on an African safari in 1887. Having married him only to escape her mother—one of her many questionable decisions—Emily doesn’t grieve. But when she reads his journals, to her surprise, she falls in love with him—after his death, which is a cool twist. With keen intelligence and amazing resolve, she solves the mystery of what really happened on his fatal trip. When she stands up to her mother, declaring she values her freedom too much to marry again, I cheer her on. Yes, she changes her mind.

And Only to Deceive

By Tasha Alexander,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked And Only to Deceive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Tasha Alexander comes a stunning novel of historical suspense set in Victorian England, meticulously researched and with a twisty plot that involves stolen antiquities, betrayal, and murder

Lady Emily's first mystery . . .

For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was just an easy way to escape her stifling home life and overbearing mother. So when her new husband dies on safari soon after the wedding, she feels little grief. After all, she barely knew the man.

Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different…


Sworn to Silence

By Linda Castillo,

Book cover of Sworn to Silence

Why this book?

Ex-Amish, Kate Burkholder is the cursing, gun-carrying police chief of Painters Mill, Ohio and a total badass. In Sworn to Silence, Kate vows to stop the Slaughterhouse Killer, but hunting him down means confronting her own past and revealing why she left her community—some deep digging she’d rather avoid. As she walks a moral tightrope and has to make decisions that could betray her family, I’m right there with her. Supported by a force of brave and sometimes quirky officers and partnering with super-sexy but troubled Special Agent John Tomasetti, Kate takes us on a hair-raising ride through the Ohio countryside. I don’t recommend reading this one if you’re home alone.

Sworn to Silence

By Linda Castillo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Now the subject of the Lifetime original movie, An Amish Murder

Sworn to Silence is the first in Linda Castillo's New York Times bestselling Kate Burkholder series.

A KILLER IS PREYING ON SACRED GROUND....

In the sleepy rural town of Painters Mill, Ohio, the Amish and “English” residents have lived side by side for two centuries. But sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community. In the aftermath of the violence, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence. Kate Burkholder, a young Amish girl, survived the terror of the…


The Defiant Hero

By Suzanne Brockmann,

Book cover of The Defiant Hero

Why this book?

The U.S. Navy SEALs in Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series are hot and hunky and as brave as they come—how I love ‘em. But there are two women in The Defiant Hero who are so gutsy and badass, they put the guys to shame. Quite a feat. Formerly posted at the U.S. Embassy in Kazbekistan, Meg Moore knows the government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. So, when her daughter and grandmother are kidnapped by extremists, she knows it’s up to her to save them. And she’ll do whatever it takes, including taking down the SEAL who’s trying to help her. Then, there’s Alyssa Locke—the best sharpshooter in the Navy and absolutely qualified to be a SEAL, except for one thing: she’s female but not about to let that stop her.

The Defiant Hero

By Suzanne Brockmann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Suzanne Brockmann's next thrilling Troubleshooters book, a woman must go on the run if she is to save her family. Troubleshooters: Danger can be addictive. 'The United States refuses to negotiate with terrorists'. Meg Moore remembered the warning from her job as a translator in a European embassy. Those same words will spell out a death sentence for her daughter and grandmother who have been kidnapped by a lethal group called the Extremists. Meg will do anything to meet their unspeakable demands; anything -- even kill -- to save her child. When Navy SEAL Lieutenant, junior grade, John Nilsson…


Anil's Ghost

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of Anil's Ghost

Why this book?

In his most atmospheric and suspenseful novel, Anil’s Ghost, Michael Ondaatje transports readers into the middle of the civil war that splintered Sri Lanka. A brilliant forensic anthropologist who was educated abroad, Anil Tissera bravely returns to her homeland determined to unearth evidence to explain the brutal campaign of murders ravaging the country. With each new discovery Anil makes, at great risk to her own safety, I find myself holding my breath. Although the powerful elite are lined up against her, she stands firm, refusing to let the guns and bombs scare her away. Steeped in centuries of culture and tradition, this is truly one of my favorite books ever. 

Anil's Ghost

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Anil's Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With his first novel since the internationally acclaimed The English Patient, Booker Prize—winning author Michael Ondaatje gives us a work displaying all the richness of imagery and language and the piercing emotional truth that we have come to know as the hallmarks of his writing.

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka, a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Amish, murder, and US Navy SEALs?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Amish, murder, and US Navy SEALs.

Amish Explore 12 books about Amish
Murder Explore 497 books about murder
US Navy SEALs Explore 21 books about US Navy SEALs

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Swallows and Amazons, Alias Grace, and Girl in Disguise if you like this list.