The best books about troubled women struggling to hold it together

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up as the child of a damaged, resentful mother certainly took its emotional toll and led me to embark on some pretty destructive early relationships. After a series of painful personal losses I spent time as a single mum, struggling to parent, deal with grief and hold down a job as a TV producer. I tried self-help books, therapy, and nicotine to get by, but it was the support and humour of women who had survived their own ordeals which enabled me to come out the other side. But as a writer and a reader I'm intrigued by troubled women, the traumas that shape them, and the things they do to survive.


I wrote...

The Mistake I Made

By Sam Hepburn,

Book cover of The Mistake I Made

What is my book about?

The Mistake I Made is a psychological thriller about an outwardly successful interior designer whose personal life has hit rock bottom. She’s childless and newly divorced, her mother has early-onset dementia and she’s lost touch with the father she adored. In despair she attempts to reboot her stalled existence by volunteering with a couple of charities. She befriends a guilt-ridden dying woman who enlists her help to right a terrible wrong she committed as teenager; and she becomes a mentor to a newly released prisoner who is trying to put his murky past behind him. But her plans for a better, more fulfilled new life of her own implode when she makes a truly terrible mistake.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Sharp Objects

Sam Hepburn Why did I love this book?

Scarred by a manipulative and narcissistic mother Flynn’s brilliantly drawn protagonist Camille Preaker is a lonely, disturbed, alcoholic, self-harming mess.

But her spiky resilience and Flynn’s wonderful prose, fearless exploration of intergenerational trauma, and depictions of small-town American life drew me into Camille’s inner and outer struggles and made this book strangely uplifting. The novel drips with dirt, blood, grime, and brutality, so beautifully and unflinchingly described I devoured it in one gulp.

By Gillian Flynn,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Sharp Objects as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW AN HBO® LIMITED SERIES STARRING AMY ADAMS, NOMINATED FOR EIGHT EMMY AWARDS, INCLUDING OUTSTANDING LIMITED SERIES

FROM THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF GONE GIRL

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family's Victorian mansion, Camille finds…


Book cover of The Woman in the Window

Sam Hepburn Why did I love this book?

This book is a dark study of chronic agoraphobia brought on by guilt, tragedy, and loss.

Medicated by alcohol and prescription drugs Anna’s only real links with the outside world are via her computer screen and the view from her window. As is so often the case for damaged women the world doubts her sanity and so, at times, does she. When she witnesses a terrible crime Finn traps us inside Anna’s head and forces us to share every shred of her fear, frustration, and doubt as she battles her demons and fights to be believed.

I was with her for every lung-crushing, pulse-quickening, heart-stopping step of the way.

By A. J. Finn,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Woman in the Window as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NUMBER ONE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

OVER 2 MILLION COPIES SOLD!

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by 20th Century Fox, starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore

'Astounding. Thrilling. Amazing' Gillian Flynn

'One of those rare books that really is unputdownable' Stephen King

'Twisted to the power of max' Val McDermid

'A dark, twisty confection' Ruth Ware

What did she see?

It's been ten long months since Anna Fox last left her home. Ten months during which she has haunted the rooms of her old New York house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too…


Book cover of Her

Sam Hepburn Why did I love this book?

In her character Emma, Lane paints a painfully relatable picture of a career woman trapped by the daily grind of motherhood.

Emma takes entry-level anti-depressants to get through the day (been there, done that) and yearns for a spark of intellectual and emotional stimulation to make herself feel validated. This makes her easy prey for glamorous, predatory artist, Nina. I was silently screaming at Emma to back away before it was too late while revelling in Lane’s exquisite descriptions of middle-class suburbia and the casual sleights inflicted by Emma’s thoughtless, selfish husband.

This is domestic noir at its darkest and most devastating best. 

By Harriet Lane,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The ultimate frenemy thriller' [NOW MAGAZINE] The smash critical hit from the publishers that bought you GONE GIRL.

You don't remember her . . . but she remembers you.

Two women; two different worlds.
Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold.
Nina is sophisticated and independent - entirely in control.

When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn't the first time the women's paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did.

But what exactly does Nina want from her?
And how far will she go in…


Book cover of The Woman in White

Sam Hepburn Why did I love this book?

My long-held obsession with Victorian sensationalist fiction is probably why I write psychological thrillers.

The Woman in White has always been an inspiration and for me one of its most intriguing characters is Laura Fairlie, whose emotional frailty, like that of so many women, makes her prey to the hideous machinations of abusers who seek to control her. Unlike modern women however, she is not merely at the mercy of people, she is at the mercy of the restrictive laws of the society in which she lives.

And yet, with the help of determined friends, her extraordinary stoicism, and some pretty outlandish coincidences she manages to survive against the odds. Hurrah!

By Wilkie Collins,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

HarperCollins is proud to present its range of best-loved, essential classics.

'The woman who first gives life, light, and form to our shadowy conceptions of beauty, fills a void in our spiritual nature that has remained unknown to us till she appeared.'

One of the earliest works of 'detective' fiction with a narrative woven together from multiple characters, Wilkie Collins partly based his infamous novel on a real-life eighteenth century case of abduction and wrongful imprisonment. In 1859, the story caused a sensation with its readers, hooking their attention with the ghostly first scene where the mysterious 'Woman in White'…


Book cover of Rebecca

Sam Hepburn Why did I love this book?

I love everything about this book but especially the skillfully crafted inner journey of its emotionally insecure heroine.

When she marries dashing Maxim de Winter she is young, naïve, alone in the world and so self-effacing that we never even learn her name. After their arrival at his ancient family seat, she is thwarted and undermined by his housekeeper and she plunges into fear and self-doubt, constantly measuring herself against the beauty and accomplishments of his glamorous first wife.

Slowly however she begins to find an inner strength and when secrets from Maxim’s past threaten to destroy him it is her quiet sense of self that rescues him from the emotional rubble and enables them both to survive. 

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

* 'The greatest psychological thriller of all time' ERIN KELLY
* 'One of the most influential novels of the twentieth century' SARAH WATERS
* 'It's the book every writer wishes they'd written' CLARE MACKINTOSH

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .'

Working as a lady's companion, our heroine's outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory…


You might also like...

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

Book cover of A Diary in the Age of Water

Nina Munteanu Author Of Darwin's Paradox

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Ecologist Mother Teacher Explorer

Nina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This climate fiction novel follows four generations of women and their battles against a global giant that controls and manipulates Earth’s water. Told mostly through a diary and drawing on scientific observation and personal reflection, Lynna’s story unfolds incrementally, like climate change itself. Her gritty memoir describes a near-future Toronto in the grips of severe water scarcity.

Single mother and limnologist Lynna witnesses disturbing events as she works for the powerful international utility CanadaCorp. Fearing for the welfare of her rebellious teenage daughter, Lynna sets in motion a series of events that tumble out of her control with calamitous consequence. The novel explores identity, relationship, and our concept of what is “normal”—as a nation and an individual—in a world that is rapidly and incomprehensibly changing.

A Diary in the Age of Water

By Nina Munteanu,

What is this book about?

Centuries from now, in a post-climate change dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may provide her with the answers to her yearning for Earth’s past—to the Age of Water, when the “Water Twins” destroyed humanity in hatred—events that have plagued her nightly in dreams. Looking for answers to this holocaust—and disturbed by her macabre longing for connection to the Water Twins—Kyo is led to the diary of a limnologist from the time just prior to the destruction. This gritty memoir describes a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in romantic love, nobility, and female friendship?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about romantic love, nobility, and female friendship.

Romantic Love Explore 852 books about romantic love
Nobility Explore 84 books about nobility
Female Friendship Explore 120 books about female friendship