The best novels with women paving their way in a man’s world

Who am I?

I’ve written ten books for children and adults inspired by women throughout history, ones about American outlaws, war-time heroes, resistance groups, and activists. I enjoy learning, researching, and shining a spotlight on the women who shape our world today. In A Betting Woman, the presence of three names for a single woman intrigued me. I wondered how one name bled into the next and how life winded to a seemingly unappealing nickname, given to Eleanor after she’d taken a man’s last dime during a card game. Still, Eleanor kept the moniker for over a decade as she carried on. I hope you’ll enjoy her story, along with the other strong women featured on this list!

I wrote...

A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache

By Jenni L. Walsh,

Book cover of A Betting Woman: A Novel of Madame Moustache

What is my book about?

Born Simone Jules, reinvented as Eleanor Dumont, and largely remembered as Madame Moustache, A Betting Woman is a historical novel inspired by the tumultuous life, times, and loves of America’s first professional croupier of modern-day blackjack, bringing to life an intrepid and entrepreneurial real-life woman who lived on her own terms.

The books I picked & why

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Circling the Sun

By Paula McLain,

Book cover of Circling the Sun

Why this book?

I completely lost myself in Paul McLain’s prose and storytelling, along with her character of Beryl Markham. In the novel, Beryl wants to be a horse trainer. She does in fact become one, which made her the very first female horse trainer, and I love that she’s portrayed as an intrepid, resilient, entrepreneurial female who tackles a man’s world and transforms her life and legacy through ambition and sheer will. One of my favorite quotes from the book illustrates this so well: “We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all—are you? The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.”

The Other Einstein

By Marie Benedict,

Book cover of The Other Einstein

Why this book?

Marie Benedict’s novels are known for introducing us to overlooked women throughout history, In The Other Einstein, we meet Mileva Einstein. I’m so glad to have learned more about her. I knew very little about her relationship with Albert Einstein—and how he often overshadowed her. Still, Mileva—like Beryl—is someone who breaks the female norms of their time and who seeks to make it in a man's world. Though—like Eleanor Dumont—she often has to bend to men and outside forces while she tries to remain true to herself.

Girl in Disguise

By Greer Macallister,

Book cover of Girl in Disguise

Why this book?

This novel demanded my attention from the title and cover alone. From there, it further clinched my interest when I learned it highlighted the life and times of the real-life Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton agent. I absolutely adored her pluck, her resoluteness, her successes, her cleverness (in both mind and tongue), and, ultimately, how she was a trailblazer.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

By Patti Callahan,

Book cover of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Why this book?

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is the improbable love story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. And, at the novel’s onset, their coupling truly feels improbable. While in an unhappy marriage, Joy is very much married. She has young children. Joy has health issues. Joy and C.S. Lewis are separated by a body of water. Yet, Joy is also a very tenacious woman, which also included Joy inserting herself into conversations and places women at that time didn’t frequent. I wholly respect how Joy creates a new life for herself.

The Yellow Wife

By Sadeqa Johnson,

Book cover of The Yellow Wife

Why this book?

The Yellow Wife is a story about Pheby Brown, an enslaved woman who is sold to a man named Rubin Labier, who is the owner of a jail known as the Devil’s Half-Acre. There, Pheby becomes Rubin’s mistress, and certain expectations, along with limitations, are forced upon her. While Pheby is presented as Rubin’s “wife” and their children are legitimized by his acknowledgment of them, Pheby is far from free. She is very much at the mercy of Rubin and his world. But Pheby is strong and determined. And I delight in how she fights for freedom for herself and her children.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in love triangle, women in the sciences, and Illinois?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about love triangle, women in the sciences, and Illinois.

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