The best books on women pushed to the edge

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a woman and so like all of us who have lived long enough, I have been pushed to the edge. I’m fascinated with what society tells us we are and are not meant to feel or express. In part this is because I teach emotional intelligence and empathy, also because I am the mother of four and the more emotional literacy I have, the richer my life is. I’m not interested in having any emotions disavowed for anyone of any gender. I teach wholehearted leadership with my company Pilot Light and also speak to school students and other groups about feminism, gratitude, courage, pornography, creativity, overwhelm, and vulnerability. 

I wrote...

The Dangers of Female Provocation

By Zoë Coyle,

Book cover of The Dangers of Female Provocation

What is my book about?

Odessa Odin has it all – a successful career, an adoring husband and a close circle of friends to whom she is fiercely loyal. On the surface they’re living a glittering London life of wealth and cosseted privilege, but underneath this veneer lies painful truths of betrayal, neglect, and unfulfilled ambitions. For the women, there’s just too much to lose.

When Odessa discovers her husband is having an affair, her carefully constructed life falls away, and the mask slips to reveal a vast reservoir of rage, fed up with the ways the patriarchy stack the odds against her sisterhood. Training her sights on her friends’ husbands, Odessa becomes an avenging warrior – aiming to chasten them into being better partners, picking them off one compromising situation at a time…

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

Zoë Coyle Why did I love this book?

I inhaled this non-fiction book like a fever dream.

It pulled together the boiling cauldron of the #MeToo movement with such brilliance and clarity that I felt like Traister had taken me by the hand and flicked on the lights.

It also reframed female anger for me, as an emotion that society shames women for and that we have been conditioned to silence and dislike within ourselves.

That all may sound incendiary and to a point it is, but the book is also eminently readable, and I’ve handed it to many men, who’ve read it reluctantly but come back to tell me that it was life-changing for them too.

The distillation is that the playing field is still not level for the genders and that healthy female rage is a powerful and vital force.

"On some level, if not intellectual then animal, there has always been an understanding of the power of women's anger: that as an oppressed majority… women have long had within them the potential to rise up in fury, to take over a country in which they've never really been offered their fair or representative stake. Perhaps the reason that women's anger is so broadly denigrated—treated as so ugly, so alienating, and so irrationalis because we have known all along that with it came the explosive power to upturn the very systems that have sought to contain it."

By Rebecca Traister,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Good and Mad as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journalist Rebecca Traister's New York Times bestselling exploration of the transformative power of female anger and its ability to transcend into a political movement is "a hopeful, maddening compendium of righteous feminine anger, and the good it can do when wielded efficiently-and collectively" (Vanity Fair).

Long before Pantsuit Nation, before the Women's March, and before the #MeToo movement, women's anger was not only politically catalytic-but politically problematic. The story of female fury and its cultural significance demonstrates its crucial role in women's slow rise to political power in America, as well as the ways that anger is received when it…

Book cover of Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes

Zoë Coyle Why did I love this book?

"This book is about what happens when women are the storytellers too – when we speak from our authentic voices, when we flex our values, when we become protagonists in the tales we tell about what it is to be human."

I reference this wonderful, non-fiction book in my novel several times. Once when Odessa the main character sees it on her bookshelf.

Another time when Odessa talks about the shocking myth of Cassandra, who was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo but when she wouldn’t sleep with him he cursed her that no one would believe her.

And the third reference is at the end of my novel, Odessa’s dog bears Casandra as her mighty name. As an embodiment of all that will be listened to and believed. Cassandra Speaks had a profound impact on me as a woman, a mother, a sister, a human, and as a writer.

"The world would have been different - and better - if women had had an equal say in the development of literature, medicine, chemistry, physics, peace, and economics. Better, not because women are better, but because they are more than half of humanity, representing more than half of what it means to be human."

By Elizabeth Lesser,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What story would Eve have told about picking the apple? Why is Pandora blamed for opening the box? And what about the fate of Cassandra who was blessed with knowing the future but cursed so that no one believed her? What if women had been the storytellers?

Elizabeth Lesser believes that if women's voices had been equally heard and respected throughout history, humankind would have followed different hero myths and guiding stories-stories that value caretaking, champion compassion, and elevate communication over vengeance and violence.

Cassandra Speaks is about the stories we tell and how those stories become the culture. It's…

Book cover of The Natural Way of Things

Zoë Coyle Why did I love this book?

This Stella prize-winning novel is so mysterious, the ominous atmosphere shudders off the page.

It’s a modern-day parable about ten women who are abducted and held prisoner in the Australian desert. Gradually they realised the common thread between them is they’ve all been involved in a sex scandal with a powerful man.

Wood ingeniously takes to the patriarchy with a blow torch. It’s breathtakingly powerful. Reading the final line, I shut my eyes and my heart hurt. In a good way. 

"Would it be said they were abandoned or taken, the way people said a girl was attacked, a woman was raped, this femaleness always at the centre, as if womanhood itself were the cause of these things? As if the girls somehow, through the natural way of things, did it to themselves."

By Charlotte Wood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Stella Prize
Winner of the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Fiction
Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award
Shortlisted Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for International Dublin Literary Award
Observer Books of the Year 2016

'Beautiful and savage - think Atwood in the outback.' Paula Hawkins, Observer

She hears her own thick voice deep inside her ears when she says, 'I need to know where I am.' The man stands there, tall and narrow, hand still on the doorknob, surprised. He says, almost in sympathy, 'Oh, sweetie. You need to know what you are.'

Two women…

Book cover of Hot Milk

Zoë Coyle Why did I love this book?

This mesmerised me and I still think about it often.

A daughter has taken her mother to Spain to see a doctor who they hope will be able to cure her from a mysterious physical paralysis. 

This is a throbbing sun-bleached, Mediterranean world, explorations of troubled familial bonds, of the nature of sexuality, an examination of exile, reminding me at times of Virginia Woolf in its interiority – and the writing is masterly: “My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.”

A constellation of symbols scattered throughout with such a deft touch that it left me in love with Levy and wishing she was my friend in real life not just in the magic world of the written page.

By Deborah Levy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Plunge into this hypnotic tale of female sexuality and power - from the author of Swimming Home and The Man Who Saw Everything

'Propulsive, uncanny, dreamlike. A feverish coming-of-age novel' Daily Telegraph

'A triumph of storytelling' Literary Review

'Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach. My laptop has all my life in it and knows more about me than anyone else. So what I am saying is that if it is broken, so am I . . .'…

Book cover of Fingersmith

Zoë Coyle Why did I love this book?

This 19th-century story is all the things, with a saucy illicit undertow it explores identity, love, deception, and heredity.

It’s written in two halves, two voices of the women whose lives are intertwined and ultimately who fall in love. It challenges hetero-patriarchal norms of Victorian England and yes, it is another feminist novel but it’s also erotic, eminently readable, and with a totally satisfying and brilliantly crafted ending.

Fingersmith is an archaic term for a petty thief, but given the content of the story, it is evidently a double entendre. Waters is so clever it makes you want to clap. I burst with admiration whenever I read her. 

"I felt that thread that had come between us, tugging, tugging at my heart - so hard, it hurt me. A hundred times I almost rose, almost went in to her; a hundred times I thought, Go to her! Why are you waiting? Go back to her side! But every time, I thought of what would happen if I did. I knew that I couldn't lie beside her, without wanting to touch her. I couldn't have felt her breath upon my mouth, without wanting to kiss her. And I couldn't have kissed her, without wanting to save her."

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Oliver Twist with a twist…Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times Book Review

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man,…

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Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

Book cover of Wrightsville Beach

Suzanne Goodwyn Author Of Wrightsville Beach

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing all my life, but was never able to find my voice until I had my daughters. It was for them I wrote “Wrightsville Beach”. I wanted to show them what a good relationship should look like and how their decisions make a difference in where they will go. I want my readers to relive that feeling of falling in love and to be sent in unexpected directions, as life so often does to us. I want you to enjoy it so much, you don’t want to put the book down until it’s finished and once you do, to sit and reflect on it, savoring the feeling it has left behind.

Suzanne's book list on smart women trying to figure it all out

What is my book about?

Two years ago, devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Hank Atwater went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested. Since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess feel connected to each other in a way neither has ever felt before.

But when Hank’s past leads to a frightful incident, it ends their relationship. Jess leaves to work on the beach with sea turtles, thinking about what really happened that summer with Hank, while Hank sets out to find his own path in hopes of one day winning her back.

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

What is this book about?

Two years ago, Hank Atwater made a terrible mistake. Devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Rob, he went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested for aggravated assault. Sober since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck.

Working a dead-end delivery job, Hank uses surfing and running to deal with being ostracized as he waits for his probation to end. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess…

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