The best books with feisty, female protagonists

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish writer, based in the USA after living in eight countries. I spent thirty years following work, family, and love, and my experiences seep into everything I write—so there are often elements of travel in my books. Thirteen years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and underwent life-saving surgery. That experience gave me a new perspective on the power of the human spirit, and our ability to forge new and unexpected paths, in the face of adversity. I love to read about and create characters that take on life’s challenges and find inner strength they didn’t know they had. That’s why feisty female protagonists appeal to me. 


I wrote...

The Child Between Us

By Alison Ragsdale,

Book cover of The Child Between Us

What is my book about?

This is an emotionally charged story about the unique bond between sisters, the destructive nature of long-kept family secrets, and what it truly means to be a mother. It explores loss, self-discovery, and the beauty in accepting what life delivers even when it is what you least expected—or didn’t know you wanted.

The Child Between Us is a heart-wrenching story about an impossible choice and what it really means to be a mother. Readers who love Kate Hewitt, Jodi Picoult, and Diane Chamberlain will be utterly gripped.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Signora Da Vinci

Alison Ragsdale Why did I love this book?

Feisty female protagonists don’t come any better than Catriona Da Vinci. The Renaissance was a dangerous time for women when they were marginalized and bound by societal constructs. Not this lady, though. She was a brilliant, single mother—an alchemist and risk-taker. She devised a scheme that allowed her to be part of her illegitimate son, Leonardo’s life, which was nothing short of genius. She did what she had to do to protect him, no matter the cost to herself. She reminds me of my two amazing sisters and the lengths they would go to be there for their children, and for that—Catriona is my hero.

By Robin Maxwell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An enchanting novel on the life and origins of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, as imagined by the author of the “absolutely superb” (Diane Haeger, author of The Secret Bride) Mademoiselle Boleyn.

A young woman named Caterina was only fifteen years old in 1452 when she bore an illegitimate child in the tiny village of Vinci. His name was Leonardo, and he was destined to change the world forever.

Caterina suffered much cruelty as an unmarried mother and had no recourse when her boy was taken away from her. But no one knew the secrets of her own childhood, nor could…


Book cover of Miss Benson's Beetle

Alison Ragsdale Why did I love this book?

Margery Benson is a spinster and teacher-turned adventurer. She escapes her humdrum life to pursue a passionate belief in something that takes her to the other side of the world. This book spoke to me because it’s rooted in the bravery of taking that leap of faith that could make or break you. I’ve done that twice in my life, switching careers and continents to achieve my dreams, and both times, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

By Rachel Joyce,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Miss Benson's Beetle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE WILBUR SMITH ADVENTURE WRITING PRIZE | BEST PUBLISHED NOVEL
WOMAN & HOME BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR and A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

'The perfect escape novel for our troubled times.' PATRICK GALE

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in…


Book cover of The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew

Alison Ragsdale Why did I love this book?

This book turned me into an avid Wesley fan. Aside from her genius at creating characters that face their flaws head-on and then blow a giant raspberry rather than conform—parts of Poppy’s situation mirrored my own at the time. A longtime love had dumped me, then promptly changed his mind, leaving me questioning everything I believed to be true. Poppy bravely takes on a slew of challenges with humor and grace, grabbing back the reigns of her spiraling life. It’s easy to fall in love with a gutsy character like that.

By Mary Wesley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Vacillations Of Poppy Carew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A novel by the author of "Jumping the Queue".


Book cover of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Alison Ragsdale Why did I love this book?

Another feisty and this time slightly odd character, Eleanor Oliphant reminds me of a good friend of mine. She is honest to the point of brutality. She has a deadpan way of delivering a line that leaves you holding your breath to see if she will burst out laughing or simply nod sagely. Eleanor has low expectations, and the warmth of an unexpected human connection takes her by surprise. She lives her life her way and gives her opinions freely, and her awkwardness and eccentricities only make the reader love her more. 

By Gail Honeyman,

Why should I read it?

24 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?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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…


Book cover of The Passion of Artemisia

Alison Ragsdale Why did I love this book?

Artemisia Gentileschi was a 17th-century Italian Baroque painter. One of the most fascinating and progressive artists of her time, she was also the first woman ever accepted into the prestigious Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. Her personal life was riddled with turmoil—from rape to torture and public humiliation, but she endured it all to pursue her passion for painting. Many artists sacrifice for their art, but this woman took on an entire city and the Inquisition, and still went on to paint what are considered some of the most brilliant paintings of all time. For me, she is the quintessential feisty female protagonist, beating the odds and the establishment and standing tall. 

By Susan Vreeland,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Susan Vreeland set a high standard with Girl in Hyacinth Blue.... The Passion of Artemisia is even better.... Vreeland's unsentimental prose turns the factual Artemisia into a fictional heroine you won't soon forget." —People

A true-to-life novel of one of the few female post-Renaissance painters to achieve fame during her own era against great struggle. Artemisia Gentileschi led a remarkably "modern" life.  Vreeland tells Artemisia's captivating story, beginning with her public humiliation in a rape trial at the age of eighteen, and continuing through her father's betrayal, her marriage of convenience, motherhood, and growing fame as an artist. Set against…


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The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

By Nicholas Ponticello,

Book cover of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

Nicholas Ponticello Author Of The Secret Order of the Scepter & Gavel

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Who am I?

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Nicholas' 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Vanderough University prepares its graduates for life on Mars. Herbert Hoover Palminteri enrolls at VU with the hope of joining the Martian colony in 2044 as a member of its esteemed engineer corps. But then Herbert is tapped to join a notorious secret society: the Order of the Scepter and Gavel. As a new pledge, Herbert has to prove himself in a series of dangerous initiation rites, even if it means risking his life and the lives of his friends.

Many years later, when Herbert thinks the scandals of his youth are finally dead and buried, a murder occurs in the Martian colony, and Herbert starts to suspect it is linked to the secret Order of the Scepter and Gavel of his past.

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