100 books like Sister Noon

By Karen Joy Fowler,

Here are 100 books that Sister Noon fans have personally recommended if you like Sister Noon. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Jump-Off Creek

Mary Volmer Author Of Reliance, Illinois

From my list on badass 19th century American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t write about well-behaved women. I prefer rebels and outcasts, women who, by choice or circumstance, live outside of social norms. 19th-century American history is full of such women—if you know where to look. Hint: not in most public-school textbooks. They’re found, instead, in archives and libraries, in old newspapers and journals, in family letters and autobiographies. The characters in my most recent novel, Reliance, Illinois, were inspired by badass 19th-century women, such as Victoria Woodhull, Mary Livermore, and Olympia Brown. Each of the novels in the list below were inspired by or based on audacious women. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!  

Mary's book list on badass 19th century American women

Mary Volmer Why did Mary love this book?

An immersive and atmospheric novel, The Jump-Off Creek follows a taciturn widow named Lydia into the Oregon wilderness where she hopes to homestead. Resourceful, fiercely independent (and determined to stay that way) she nonetheless finds herself drawn into a bedraggled community of homesteaders and frontiersmen. Yes, there’s a love interest, but that is a subplot, not the story. The story is one of survival and grit set in a landscape as beautiful and unforgiving as the weather.

Molly Gloss is a master storyteller. I find each of her books quite different but equally compelling. The Jump-Off Creek might be my favorite only because it was my first taste of her work. And, of course, I remain in awe of the indomitable Lydia.

By Molly Gloss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jump-Off Creek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A reading group favorite, The Jump-Off Creek is the unforgettable story of widowed homesteader Lydia Sanderson and her struggles to settle in the mountains of Oregon in the 1890s. “Every gritty line of the story rings true” (Seattle Times) as Molly Gloss delivers an authentic and moving portrait of the American West. “A powerful novel of struggle and loss” (Dallas Morning News), The Jump-Off Creek gives readers an intimate look at the hardships of frontier life and a courageous woman determined to survive.


Book cover of I Shall Be Near to You

Mary Volmer Author Of Reliance, Illinois

From my list on badass 19th century American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t write about well-behaved women. I prefer rebels and outcasts, women who, by choice or circumstance, live outside of social norms. 19th-century American history is full of such women—if you know where to look. Hint: not in most public-school textbooks. They’re found, instead, in archives and libraries, in old newspapers and journals, in family letters and autobiographies. The characters in my most recent novel, Reliance, Illinois, were inspired by badass 19th-century women, such as Victoria Woodhull, Mary Livermore, and Olympia Brown. Each of the novels in the list below were inspired by or based on audacious women. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!  

Mary's book list on badass 19th century American women

Mary Volmer Why did Mary love this book?

You’ve just been married when civil war breaks out and your husband goes off to fight. What do you do? Remain at home, waiting? Rosette cuts her hair, dons men’s clothing, and goes off to fight alongside her husband. If this sounds far-fetched, you’ll be intrigued to discover that the novel is based on a firsthand account, which the author discovered on the shelves of a university library while in search of something else entirely.

I’d come across a handful of true accounts of women dressed as men while researching my own gold rush novel. I didn’t know, until I read McCabe’s novel, that hundreds of women had fought as men during the American Civil War. If that’s not badass, then I don’t know what is.

By Erin Lindsay McCabe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Shall Be Near to You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Civil War.

Rosetta doesn't want her new husband, Jeremiah, to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. When Jeremiah leaves, Rosetta decides her true place is by his side, no matter what that means, and follows him into war.

Rich with historical details and inspired by the many women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You…


Book cover of Woman of Ill Fame

Mary Volmer Author Of Reliance, Illinois

From my list on badass 19th century American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t write about well-behaved women. I prefer rebels and outcasts, women who, by choice or circumstance, live outside of social norms. 19th-century American history is full of such women—if you know where to look. Hint: not in most public-school textbooks. They’re found, instead, in archives and libraries, in old newspapers and journals, in family letters and autobiographies. The characters in my most recent novel, Reliance, Illinois, were inspired by badass 19th-century women, such as Victoria Woodhull, Mary Livermore, and Olympia Brown. Each of the novels in the list below were inspired by or based on audacious women. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!  

Mary's book list on badass 19th century American women

Mary Volmer Why did Mary love this book?

The forthright honesty and the audacity of Nora Simms, narrator of Erika Mailman’s Woman of Ill Fame, is stunning and nearly as compelling as the murder mystery at the center of the novel. Set in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the novel takes us into the city’s bordellos, which, like the rest of the state, have been infected by a get rich quick at any cost ethos. The cost for many of Nora’s colleagues is high. Women of ill-fame are being killed, one by one, and only Nora is capable and willing to wade through layers of deception to discover the identity of the killer and to save her own life. 

Nora is not your typical damsel in distress and that might be why I love this book so much. She’s not a “good” woman, by society's standards, but she is one of the most surprising…

By Erika Mailman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Woman of Ill Fame as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Looking for a better life, prostitute Nora Simms arrives in Gold Rush San Francisco with a plan for success: to strike it rich by trading on her good looks. But when a string of murders claims several of her fellow women of ill fame, Nora grows uneasy with how closely linked all of the victims are to her. She must distinguish friend from foe in a race to discover the identity of the killer.

"I LOVED Woman of Ill Fame! Nora Simms is hilarious, heartbreaking, tough, perceptive...and one of the most engaging characters I've ever met between the pages of…


Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Animal Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…


Book cover of The Secrets of Mary Bowser

Mary Volmer Author Of Reliance, Illinois

From my list on badass 19th century American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t write about well-behaved women. I prefer rebels and outcasts, women who, by choice or circumstance, live outside of social norms. 19th-century American history is full of such women—if you know where to look. Hint: not in most public-school textbooks. They’re found, instead, in archives and libraries, in old newspapers and journals, in family letters and autobiographies. The characters in my most recent novel, Reliance, Illinois, were inspired by badass 19th-century women, such as Victoria Woodhull, Mary Livermore, and Olympia Brown. Each of the novels in the list below were inspired by or based on audacious women. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!  

Mary's book list on badass 19th century American women

Mary Volmer Why did Mary love this book?

Lois Leveen uses a mixture of fact and well-researched speculation to bring Mary Bowser, a largely unknown Civil War hero, to the page. Free and educated in the North, Mary Bowser returned to slavery to spy on the Confederacy in the household of Jefferson Davis. This much, at least, is known about the woman. Leveen imagines Bowser’s early life, braids in national history, and leaves us breathless with wonder at the courage and audacity required to complete the assignment Bowser accepted.

I love novels that pick up where the historical record ends, especially novels that do so lovingly and with such tender respect for the real woman lost in history.

By Lois Leveen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Based on the remarkable true story of a freed African American slave who returned to Virginia at the onset of the Civil War to spy on the Confederates.

Author Lois Leveen combines fascinating facts and ingenious speculation to craft a historical novel that will enthrall readers of women’s fiction, historical fiction, and acclaimed works like Cane River and Cold Mountain that offer intimate looks at the twin nightmares of slavery and Civil War. A powerful and unforgettable story of a woman who risked her own freedom to bring freedom to millions of others, The Secrets of Mary Bowser celebrates the…


Book cover of Suicide Blonde

Theresa Griffin Kennedy Author Of Talionic Night in Portland: A Love Story

From my list on to help you discover what makes people tick.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I think of who I am, as a writer and a human being, I remember the words of prolific Portland poet Dan Rapheal, who wrote the foreword to my book of poetry, Blue Reverie in Smoke: “...the reader must look carefully to get a full picture of the poet herself—tender, no nonsense, quietly observing and juggernauting to make things as she thinks they should be.” I’ve never forgotten Dan’s astute appraisal of me, and it surprised me. It seems that's how I’ve always beensomeone who quietly observes, never unmoved by what I see, just trying to make sense of it, sometimes successful in that endeavor, and oftentimes, not successful at all. 

Theresa's book list on to help you discover what makes people tick

Theresa Griffin Kennedy Why did Theresa love this book?

In Suicide Blonde, the lead character Jesse tries to sustain a connection with her beautiful bisexual boyfriend, Bell, who though he loves her, cannot refuse the allure of sex with strange men and seems to be regularly “dipped in sleaze.” Jesse becomes caretaker of Madam Pig, an old obese beauty queen who lives in a crumbling old house. The paint peels in the wind with only vacant lots and industrial buildings nearby, as Madam Pig swills red wine and vomits down staircases. I loved this book for the lonely dystopian feel and the way Jesse seems utterly alone in the world. I also loved the natural way Stienke writes about sex. I learned a great deal from her graphic content, learning how to actually write sex into litertaure. The book is not for the faint of heart and does not have a happy ending, but in its way, it…

By Darcey Steinke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Suicide Blonde as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jesse is a twenty-nine-year-old adrift in San Francisco's demi-monde of sexually ambiguous, drug-taking outsiders, desperately trying to sustain a connection with her bisexual boyfriend. She becomes caretaker and confidante to Madame Pig, a grotesque, besotted recluse. Jesse also meets Madison - Pig's daughter or lover or both - who uses others' desires for her own purposes, and who leads Jesse into a world beyond all boundaries.

As startling, original and vital as it was when first published, Suicide Blonde is an intensely erotic story of one young woman's sexual and psychological odyssey, and a modern cult classic.


Book cover of Women and the Everyday City: Public Space in San Francisco, 1890-1915

Sarah Fayen Scarlett Author Of Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

From my list on architecture and social identity in industrial America.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I was a kid I would cut out graph paper to design my ideal house. When I was in college, I walked into a class called American Material Life and had my eureka moment: “This is how I want to learn about people in the past!” I realized. I’ve been doing that ever since, first as a museum curator and now as a history professor. Houses, furnishings, and the way people interact with the built environment can reveal the complexity, diversity, and beauty of human lives.

Sarah's book list on architecture and social identity in industrial America

Sarah Fayen Scarlett Why did Sarah love this book?

Jessica Sewell’s book Women and the Everyday City makes us feel like we’re walking the streets of turn-of-the-century San Francisco. She combines traditional architectural history sources like floor plans, maps, and historic photographs with diaries written by women from varied class and ethnic backgrounds to piece together their experiences of the city. My favorite section uses advertisements and published memoirs to demonstrate that women without the economic means and cultural capital to be welcomed in downtown department stores or even some of the local grocery stores had much more complicated choices to make as they navigated everyday needs like finding transportation, buying food, and creating community. She compares the urban public imagination with how the city was actually built and experienced—just like theorist Henri Lefebvre suggests!

By Jessica Ellen Sewell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women and the Everyday City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Women and the Everyday City, Jessica Ellen Sewell explores the lives of women in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. A period of transformation of both gender roles and American cities, she shows how changes in the city affected women's ability to negotiate shifting gender norms as well as how women's increasing use of the city played a critical role in the campaign for women's suffrage.
Focusing on women's everyday use of streetcars, shops, restaurants, and theaters, Sewell reveals the impact of women on these public places-what women did there, which women went there, and how these places were changed in response…


Book cover of How to Make an American Quilt

Joan Rudd Author Of Building Solid: A Life in Stories

From my list on growing into womanhood in different locations.

Why am I passionate about this?

"Two tickets to ride!Most people get only one life.... and on only one coast. This book is an overview of an era 1948-2020 of cultural shifts and expectations for "girls". At seventeen I left my family and NYC for college, a commune, and then art school on the West coast. Visual artist, woman, mother, and descendant, Joan describes the lifetime challenges that she has met with creativity, humor, and resilience. Two NW cities, two marriages, and two sons born 23 years apart inspire many of her stories. 

Joan's book list on growing into womanhood in different locations

Joan Rudd Why did Joan love this book?

How to Make an American Quilt is a novel stringing together wonderful interconnected stories told across a couple of generations and incorporating descriptions of sight, smell, and touch. “I am not the kind of person to throw something away just because it is broken. I would not waste what could still be of use,” says one of the main characters who goes on to explain that quilts are made of “spare time” and “excess materials.”

By Whitney Otto,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Make an American Quilt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Remarkable . . . It is a tribute to an art form that allowed women self-expression even when society did not. Above all, though, it is an affirmation of the strength and power of individual lives, and the way they cannot help fitting together.”—The New York Times Book Review

An extraordinary and moving novel, How to Make an American Quilt is an exploration of women of yesterday and today, who join together in a uniquely female experience. As they gather year after year, their stories, their wisdom, their lives, form the pattern from which all of us draw warmth and…


Book cover of Spectacle

Hugh Sheehy Author Of Design Flaw

From my list on the world as a dream.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve loved fiction that excites my mind and imagination since I was very young. I spent a lot of time in the library growing up, mostly reading horror and historical narratives. Later, I became interested in music, painting, film, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, religion, and politics. I’m not an expert in anything—I’m too driven to make things to be a good scholar—but these are the subject areas that inform what I write.

Hugh's book list on the world as a dream

Hugh Sheehy Why did Hugh love this book?

This is one of the best, most alive short fiction collections published in the 21st Century. Steinberg’s fictions are generally powerful, but the episodes and sentences that compose them tend to be compelling in their own right. So while the individual narratives in this book are brilliant short fictions on their own, the sentences or thoughts that construct them have an electrifying effect few writers can manage.

By Susan Steinberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An inventive new collection from the author of Hydroplane and The End of Free Love

* A San Francisco Chronicle, Complex, Flavorwire, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Largehearted Boy and Slaughterhouse 90210 Best Book of the Year *

In these innovative linked stories, women confront loss and grief as they sift through the wreckage of their lives. In the title story, a woman struggles with the death of her friend in a plane crash. A daughter decides whether to take her father off life support in the Pushcart Prize-winning "Cowboys." And in "Underthings," when a man hits his girlfriend, she calls it…


Book cover of Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure

Lori Mortensen Author Of Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey

From my list on children’s books about people who made a difference.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an award-winning children’s author of more than 100 books, including many biographies. I first fell in love with biographies when I was a child and read about young blind and deaf Helen Keller. Blind and deaf? I couldn’t imagine. Yet, page by page, as I stepped into little Helen’s world, I felt as if I experienced her struggles, triumphs, and tragedies right along with her. I discovered that in spite of her great challenges, she succeeded. That’s why I love biographies and why I write them. I hope my biographies open a door into someone else’s world that can remind readers that they can succeed too, in spite of obstacles in front of them. I try to write the sort of picture books I love—funny, whimsical, captivating, and unforgettable.

Lori's book list on children’s books about people who made a difference

Lori Mortensen Why did Lori love this book?

I’m a big fan of Don Brown and this is one of my favorites. In this biography, we follow the adventure of Alice Ramsey who was the first woman to drive across the United States. It was 1909, so no easy task since there weren’t any interstates, road maps, or gas stations. Yet, Alice, along with her companions, set off. Magically, Brown lets us go along with them as they ramble past farms and fields, muster their way down roads clogged with pigs, dig themselves out of muddy holes, and urge the car across vast moonlit deserts, and over the grueling Sierra Nevada mountains. Alice’s grand adventure not only celebrates a woman’s first, but takes us along for the long, extraordinary, bumpy ride. Bravo Alice! Bravo Don Brown!

By Don Brown,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don Brown introduces us to yet another little-known heroine. On June 9, 1909, twenty-two-year-old Alice Ramsey hitched up her skirts and climbed behind the wheel of a Maxwell touring car. Fifty-nine days later she rolled into San Francisco, becoming the first woman to drive across America. What happened in between is quite a tale! Through words and pictures, the author shares this story of a brave and tenacious young woman who followed her vision to conquer the open road - even when the road was nothing more than a wagon trail. Alice Ramsey's adventure offers a unique perspective on turn-of-the-century…


Book cover of Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir

Vanessa McGrady Author Of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

From my list on adoption and what it means to be a family.

Why am I passionate about this?

I don’t just write stories, I study them. I’ve noticed that nearly every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath. As an adoptive mother and advocate for continuing contact with birth families, I love stories about adoption, because no two are alike. They give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.

Vanessa's book list on adoption and what it means to be a family

Vanessa McGrady Why did Vanessa love this book?

In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination, and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much, but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.

By Jillian Lauren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything You Ever Wanted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Best Memoir of 2015, "This memoir is compulsively readable and full of humor and heart."-AdoptiveFamilies.com

"A punk rock Scheherazade" (Margaret Cho) shares the zigzagging path that took her from harem member to PTA member...

In her younger years, Jillian Lauren was a college dropout, a drug addict, and an international concubine in the Prince of Brunei's harem, an experience she immortalized in in her bestselling memoir, SOME GIRLS. In her thirties, Jillian's most radical act was learning the steadying power of love when she and her rock star husband adopt an Ethiopian child with special needs. After Jillian loses…


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