The best books about women in dangerous situations and past times

The Books I Picked & Why

The Light Between Oceans

By ML Stedman

Book cover of The Light Between Oceans

Why this book?

The young couple in The Light Between Oceans live on the barren premises of a lighthouse, in the harsh light of a treeless island. Between the polarities of sea and sky, they evade a moral dilemma. I can feel their quandry as clearly as I can see the glittering waves in an extraordinary place whose beauty cloaks danger.

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The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

Why this book?

Sisters, mother, and father travel to Africa as missionaries. I love the different voices and points of view of the sisters as they hiss and blather and rage about their extreme situation, which becomes inexorably worse. The army ant scene so traumatized a friend of mine who had read this novel that she left her cottage in the middle of the night, since a stream of ants was pouring down the wall. Such is the power of fiction….

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Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel

By Sena Jeter Naslund

Book cover of Ahab's Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer: A Novel

Why this book?

This book inspired my own writing with its detailed rendering of 19th century life. It has all of my favourite things: lighthouses, ships, horses, buggies, wharves, and whales. “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband or my last.” How can you resist this first sentence? The novel’s massive lighthouse, and the child who has lived there all her life, inform some deep part of my world view.

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Random Passage

By Bernice Morgan

Book cover of Random Passage

Why this book?

I love this book because I have lived parts of it myself — been shocked by the savage winds of winter, looked wistfully southwards towards the home I left, planted and harvested potatoes with cold fingers— as do the women in Bernice Morgan’s novel about the first immigrants to Newfoundland. This vividly told and emotional novel deserves a much wider readership. Published in 1992, it was made into a film.

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The Outlander: A Novel

By Gil Adamson

Book cover of The Outlander: A Novel

Why this book?

An astonishing book whose main character is known only as “the widow” until far into the narrative, and whose flight across the western wilderness, in 1903, is as lyrical, brutal, and visceral as a reader could want. This is a book whose writing stops you dead, even while you can’t wait to turn the page.  

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