The best books on women overcoming odds and doing extraordinary things

Why am I passionate about this?

Laurie Gough is a journalist and award-winning author of three memoirs: Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey; Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours; and Stolen Child: A Mother’s Journey to Rescue Her Son from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Over twenty of her stories have been anthologized in literary travel books and her books have been translated into several languages. She has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, and has written for The Guardian, The L.A. Times, Maclean’s, The Walrus, USA Today, Salon.com, The National Post, Canadian Geographic, among others.


I wrote...

Kiss The Sunset Pig: A Canadian's American Road Trip With Exotic Detours

By Laurie Gough,

Book cover of Kiss The Sunset Pig: A Canadian's American Road Trip With Exotic Detours

What is my book about?

Laurie Gough is heading west across the USA in a beater car named Marcia, hoping this is a homecoming to the land of her dreams. Back in her early twenties, she lived in a cave on a beach in California for six days and found purpose in her life, listening to waves in the moonlight. The trouble is, she’s now lost that enthusiasm. As she makes her way across the country, meeting a variety of eccentric characters, she recalls her adventures of the last decade – in Greece, the Arctic, Sumatra, the Yukon, Korea, Thailand, Jamaica – trying to discover where she lost her younger, more free-spirited self.  As she closes in on the place of her dreams, she peels back the layers of cynicism that life builds up around us, and finds that our old selves may be still inside us if we only bother to look.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley

Laurie Gough Why did I love this book?

Romantic Outlaws is the fascinating double biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, telling the story of two extraordinary women—a mother and daughter who never met—who were centuries ahead of their time, each embracing feminist ideals that in the late 18th century made them social outcasts. They dared to believe that women were equal to men, eschewing the “marriage market that sold women’s love for carriages and pin allowances.” Mary Wollstonecraft was the philosopher and revolutionary writer who first championed equal rights for women. (Also, her Letters Written From Sweden is the first travel memoir to focus on personal impressions of a place rather than just geographical facts.) And of course, her daughter Mary Shelley was part of a challenge to pen a ghost story, along with husband Percy Shelley and Lord George Byron. Mary’s Frankenstein won the contest hands-down. 

By Charlotte Gordon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Romantic Outlaws as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

***AS READ ON BBC RADIO 4***
NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER

'A gripping account of the heartbreaks and triumphs of two of history's most formidable female intellectuals, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. Gordon has reunited mother and daughter through biography, beautifully weaving their narratives for the first time.' Amanda Foreman

English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and author Mary Shelley were mother and daughter, yet these two extraordinary women never knew one another. Nevertheless, their passionate and pioneering lives remained closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies eerily similar.

Both women became famous writers and wrote books that changed literary history,…


Book cover of Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family

Laurie Gough Why did I love this book?

This riveting memoir tells the story of how Miep Gies and her husband hid Anne Frank’s family from the Nazis for over two years. Risking her life every single day—and almost getting caught several times—Miep brought food, emotional support, and news of the war to Anne’s family in their hiding space. The writing is beautiful and heartfelt. Miep claims she was only doing what any decent person would do—and there were many unsung heroes of the Holocaust—but she went far above and beyond to protect them. “It seems we are never far from Miep’s thoughts,” wrote Anne in her famous diary. I read this cover to cover while travelling in the Netherlands and was staggered by this woman’s courage.

By Miep Gies, Alison Leslie Gold,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Anne Frank Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For the millions moved by Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, here is Miep Gies's own astonishing story. For more than two years, Miep and her husband helped hide the Franks from the Nazis. Like thousands of unsung heroes of the Holocaust, they risked their lives every day to bring food, news, and emotional support to its victims. From her remarkable childhood as a World War I refugee to the moment she places a small, red-orange-checkered diary -- Anne's legacy -- into Otto Frank's hands, Miep Gies remembers her days with simple honesty and shattering clarity. Each page…


Book cover of Educated: A Memoir

Laurie Gough Why did I love this book?

Born into a cult of deranged religious survivalists in the Idaho mountains, Tara Westover was never allowed to go to school and was completely isolated from society. She spent her childhood salvaging from her dad’s junkyard and stockpiling canned goods for the “End Days”.  With a mentally ill father and violent brother who beat her, nobody was watching out for this girl but somehow she knew there was more to the world than her family’s religion. She schemed to apply to university without her parents knowing, and once there, heard the word ‘Holocaust’ for the first time in her life. From there, she never stopped educating herself. This beautifully written and inspiring memoir deserves all the accolades it has received.

By Tara Westover,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE MULTI-MILLION COPY BESTSELLER

Selected as a book of the year by AMAZON, THE TIMES, SUNDAY TIMES, GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES, ECONOMIST, NEW STATESMAN, VOGUE, IRISH TIMES, IRISH EXAMINER and RED MAGAZINE

'One of the best books I have ever read . . . unbelievably moving' Elizabeth Day
'An extraordinary story, beautifully told' Louise O'Neill
'A memoir to stand alongside the classics . . . compelling and joyous' Sunday Times

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the end of the world. She was never put in school, never taken to the doctor. She did not even have a birth certificate…


Book cover of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Laurie Gough Why did I love this book?

This book has stayed with me for years. In this sweeping memoir that’s a window on the female experience of 20th century China, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives of her family members: her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s smashed idealism as a young Maoist; and Chang’s own experience of torment and murder during the Cultural Revolution. All her life she’d been brainwashed into believing that Mao was god-like and could do no wrong. Then one day, by chance, she finds a smuggled copy of Newsweek where Mao is criticized for causing a famine. Her world crumbles and from that moment, she bravely makes the decision to disavow everything she’d grown to believe was real. 

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wild Swans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans: a popular bestseller which has sold more than 13 million copies and a critically acclaimed history of China; a tragic tale of nightmarish cruelty and an uplifting story of bravery and survival.

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family - the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother and the daughter herself - Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China's twentieth century.

Breathtaking in its scope, unforgettable in its descriptions, this is a masterpiece which is extraordinary in every way.


Book cover of Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback

Laurie Gough Why did I love this book?

I read this book in my twenties and then again in my forties and loved it just as much the second time. With her four camels and dog, Robyn Davidson trekked from Alice Springs westward across Australia’s desert all the way to the ocean. Her eight-month journey was often gruelling but just as often it was joyous and exhilarating. She endured sweltering heat, lecherous men, poisonous snakes, and more than once, her camels vanished in the night and she’d spend days searching for them. As she walks, she contemplates life while immersed in the staggering beauty of her surroundings. This is the kind of transformational odyssey that compels you to explore this planet before it’s too late.  

By Robyn Davidson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A revised, reissued fortieth anniversary edition of this prize-winning, bestselling account of one woman's solo journey across 1,700 miles of Australian Outback 'I experienced that sinking feeling you get when you know you have conned yourself into doing something difficult and there's no going back.' So begins Robyn Davidson's perilous journey across 1,700 miles of hostile Australian desert to the sea with only four camels and a dog for company. Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous…


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Sea Change

By Darlene Marshall,

Book cover of Sea Change

Darlene Marshall Author Of Sea Change

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Romance Reader Regency Romance Fan History Buff SF & Fantasy Fan

Darlene's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

David Fletcher needs a surgeon, stat! But when he captures a British merchantman in the Caribbean, what he gets is Charley Alcott, an apprentice physician barely old enough to shave. Needs must, and Captain Fletcher takes the prisoner back aboard his ship with orders to do his best or he’ll be walking the plank.

Charley Alcott’s medical skills are being put to the test in a life-or-death situation, Charley’s life as well as the patient’s. Even if she can save the American privateer's brother there will still be hell to pay—and maybe a plank to walk—when Captain Fletcher learns Charley…

Sea Change

By Darlene Marshall,

What is this book about?

High Seas, #1

David Fletcher needs a surgeon, stat! But when he captures a British merchantman in the Caribbean what he gets is Charley Alcott, an apprentice physician barely old enough to shave. Needs must, and Captain Fletcher takes the prisoner back aboard his ship with orders to do his best, or he'll be walking the plank.

Charley Alcott's medical skills are being put to the test in a life-or-death situation, Charley's life as well as the patient's. Even if she can save the pirate's brother there will still be hell to pay--and maybe a plank to walk--when Captain Fletcher…


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