100 books like The Mad Women's Ball

By Victoria Mas, Frank Wynne (translator),

Here are 100 books that The Mad Women's Ball fans have personally recommended if you like The Mad Women's Ball. 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 Klara and the Sun

Joseph Pitkin Author Of Exit Black

From my list on fantasy-science fiction books that explore class and inequality.

Why am I passionate about this?

My science fiction and fantasy writing is concerned with the values I was exposed to growing up. As a lifelong Quaker, I have struggled—often unsuccessfully—to live out Quakerism’s non-conformist, almost utopian commitment to equality, simplicity, peace, and community. Not only have I tried to bear witness to those values in my writing, but those ideals led me to my career as an instructor at a community college, one of America’s great socioeconomic leveling institutions. My background as a speculative fiction writer has also made me into a teacher of science fiction and fantasy literature at my college, where I read and came to love the books I recommend here. 

Joseph's book list on fantasy-science fiction books that explore class and inequality

Joseph Pitkin Why did Joseph love this book?

Haunting and beautiful, it gave me a new perspective on what science fiction can accomplish: Ishiguro’s book is subtle, humane, and deeply concerned with the troubles of the real world.

This story of Klara, an “artificial friend” purchased to keep a sick little girl company, takes up questions of eugenics, artificial intelligence, and, ultimately, what it means to be a human being.

Along the way, the book explores the gulf between economic and social classes with as much care and compassion as Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy—Klara and the Sun is some of the most inspiring science fiction I have ever read.

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Klara and the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*The #1 Sunday Times Bestseller*
*Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021*
*A Barack Obama Summer Reading Pick*

'A delicate, haunting story' The Washington Post
'This is a novel for fans of Never Let Me Go . . . tender, touching and true.' The Times

'The Sun always has ways to reach us.'

From her place in the store, Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside. She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges…


Book cover of Piranesi

H.J. Reynolds Author Of Without a Shadow

From my list on unique and memorable magic systems.

Why am I passionate about this?

I read almost any genre, but fantasy is what I love most, both reading and writing. Stories are magic, but when they have actual magic in them, I’m hooked. Having studied both Film and Creative Writing at university, I love to go in-depth on storytelling and have reviews aplenty on my website if you want further recommendations. The books I’ve chosen for this list have incredibly unique worlds full of bizarre magic. When I enter a new world, I want it to be exactly that: new and exciting with a touch of the surreal. To me, these books showcase magic at its most vivid and creative. 

H.J.'s book list on unique and memorable magic systems

H.J. Reynolds Why did H.J. love this book?

I very nearly stopped reading this book–even though it’s so short as it starts off unbelievably abstract. I didn’t know what was going on, and the descriptions only added to the confusion. But I’m so glad I kept going.

The main character does amnesia in the most charming way, and discovering his past and the strange world he seems both lost in and totally at home in was absolutely enchanting. This has stuck with me ever since, like the most vivid fever dream.

By Susanna Clarke,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2021 Women's Prize for Fiction
A SUNDAY TIMES & NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The spectacular new novel from the bestselling author of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL, 'one of our greatest living authors' NEW YORK MAGAZINE
__________________________________
Piranesi lives in the House. Perhaps he always has.

In his notebooks, day after day, he makes a clear and careful record of its wonders: the labyrinth of halls, the thousands upon thousands of statues, the tides that thunder up staircases, the clouds that move in slow procession through the upper halls. On Tuesdays and Fridays Piranesi sees his friend,…


Book cover of The Golem and the Jinni

Alison Levy Author Of Magic By Any Other Name

From my list on a mythical creature’s point of view.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love mythological creatures! I grew up gravitating toward fantasy books but because I have a narcissistic parent, I got teased for reading them. To avoid the teasing, I ended up reading a lot of mythology because that was a “safe” fantasy option; reading mythology was “educational” rather than “silly.”  When I got older, I discovered that there’s a whole category of fantasy books that retell myths from alternative points of view. This subgenre opened new doors of understanding and empathy for me. Reading old stories from new perspectives opens my eyes to a myriad of different types of people and broadens my view of the world. And I’ve been reading them ever since.

Alison's book list on a mythical creature’s point of view

Alison Levy Why did Alison love this book?

The story of two mystical creatures stuck in 1899 New York who have to make their own way in the world.  Despite their different natures, they become unlikely friends and have to work together to survive. 

While I enjoyed the perspective of both supernatural beings in this book, I found the golem especially engaging. Through her eyes, the reader gets an amazingly detailed view of turn-of-the-century New York as well as the intricacies of human behavior. 

The jinni faces different challenges—he’s lost a chunk of his memory—but he also has to adapt to life among people. Wrapped in a rich tapestry of historical details, the story walks us through their processes of acclimating to human society and facing the dangers of their pasts.

By Helene Wecker,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Golem and the Jinni as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'One of only two novels I've ever loved whose main characters are not human' BARBARA KINGSOLVER

For fans of The Essex Serpent and The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock.

'By far my favourite book of of the year' Guardian

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a djinni, a being of fire, born in…


Book cover of The Mermaid of Black Conch

Therese Down Author Of The Estate Agent

From my list on lighting up your imagination and your soul.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love stories grounded in realism - but which also explore that there may be more to life than meets the eye; reasons beyond reason, for the way we dream, love, and think, and which come from unexpected sources. I love books whose characters really 'live', and stay with me, long after I've finished reading. I aspire to create such characters. In my novels, I seek to explore important themes from perspectives that often pitch rationality against what it cannot explain, or dismiss. The fiction I most love does this – whether it exploits mythology, suggests life beyond life, or uses magical realism to add ‘other’ dimensions to the ordinary. "There are more things… Horatio…"

Therese's book list on lighting up your imagination and your soul

Therese Down Why did Therese love this book?

The Mermaid of Black Conch takes a mythological creature and gives her extraordinary life, as a very real, young woman, called Aycayia.

She is caught – hooked like a prize fish - by greedy anglers, and hauled from the sea, bringing with her an already fascinating and tragic history of injustice and misunderstanding. But, she is also an object of love.

Not all fishermen are commercial opportunists… Not all men are eager to exploit beautiful and unusual women, and so begins an extraordinary rescue, and a life-affirming relationship, with many unpredictable, literally magical, and truly remarkable twists.

This enchanting book, written with breath-taking originality, is likely to spell-bind you – permanently. You’ll never again think of mermaids in the same way.

By Monique Roffey,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Mermaid of Black Conch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Escape to the ocean with the entrancing, unforgettable winner of the Costa Book of the Year - as read on BBC Radio 4.

'Mesmerising' MAGGIE O'FARRELL
'A unique talent' BERNARDINE EVARISTO
'Wonderful' BRIDGET COLLINS
'Brilliant' CLARE CHAMBERS

Near the island of Black Conch, a fisherman sings to himself while waiting for a catch. But David attracts a sea-dweller that he never expected - Aycayia, an innocent young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid.

When American tourists capture Aycayia, David rescues her and vows to win her trust. Slowly, painfully, she transforms into a woman again. Yet…


Book cover of Alias Grace

Emily Matchar Author Of In The Shadow Of The Greenbrier

From my list on historical fiction with mysteries.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love historical settings and detail – I love coming away from a novel feeling like I’ve also learned something about the world. But I also like lots and lots of plot and intensity. Historical fiction slash mystery novels hit the spot just right. Though my own work thus far is more on the historical fiction side, I do try to plot it like a mystery, with lots of questions, revelations, and discoveries to be made as you go along.  

Emily's book list on historical fiction with mysteries

Emily Matchar Why did Emily love this book?

Grace Marks was a real Irish-Canadian maid who, in 1840s Ontario, was convicted of murdering her employer. Did she do it? If so, why?

Margaret Atwood uses the lens of interviews with a (fictional) doctor to unpeel Grace’s many layers (or is she only adding lies?). Dreamy, Gothic, and tragic; I loved it. I also loved the miniseries adaptation from Sarah Polley. 

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale

Now a major NETFLIX series

Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.' Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery.

'Brilliant... Atwood's prose is searching. So intimate it seems to be written on the skin' Hilary Mantel

'The outstanding novelist of our age' Sunday Times

'A sensuous, perplexing book, at…


Book cover of A Madness So Discreet

Stephanie Carroll Author Of A White Room

From my list on gothic historical fiction on hysteria.

Why am I passionate about this?

I hold degrees in history and social science with a focus on women’s history at the turn of the century. I’ve studied the hysteria pandemic and its lasting results for over a decade. As someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and the effects of psychological abuse, I find I know these women all too well. As a writer, I’ve been inspired by other classic gothic novels like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. In addition to writing novels, I’m also a blogger and marketing consultant in southern California where I live with my blind dog, Mr. Magoo.

Stephanie's book list on gothic historical fiction on hysteria

Stephanie Carroll Why did Stephanie love this book?

Similar to Mas’ work, McGinnis paints a disturbing picture of how medicine treated “hysterical” women in unregulated asylums. The main character in this crime drama is remarkably sane considering the tortures she escapes when a detective recognizes how she can assist his search for a true madman. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of criminal psychology with the nonsense used to diagnose the women in the asylum. The delicious suspense and mysteries that follow keep you turning the pages for hours. 

By Mindy McGinnis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Madness So Discreet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery

Mindy McGinnis, the acclaimed author of Not a Drop to Drink and In a Handful of Dust, combines murder, madness, and mystery in a beautifully twisted gothic historical thriller perfect for fans of novels such as Asylum and The Diviners as well as television’s True Detective and American Horror Story.

Grace Mae is already familiar with madness when family secrets and the bulge in her belly send her to an insane asylum—but it is in the darkness that she finds a new lease on life. When a visiting doctor interested in criminal psychology…


Book cover of An Inconvenient Wife

Juliana Cummings Author Of A History of Insanity and the Asylum: Not of Sound Mind

From my list on insane asylums for those with a bizarre fascination.

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the history of the insane asylum. Aside from the sometimes barbaric treatment of patients in the asylums, I’ve discovered that there was a genuine longing to help these people. The asylum has always had such a dark image associated with it and while that may be true, I’ve always been keen on learning more about why things were done the way they were. I decided that one of the best ways for me to learn was to write about it myself and it taught me so much about the human condition, both good and bad.

Juliana's book list on insane asylums for those with a bizarre fascination

Juliana Cummings Why did Juliana love this book?

I read An Inconvenient Wife years ago and it has always stuck with me.

As I dove into my research for my book, I reread this book and was just as impressed with it as I was the first time.

Lucy is the epitome of the upper-class New York Victorian woman but only if she bends to the will of her husband and physicians. It is a classic tale of yet another 19th-century woman forced into an asylum.

Lucy is subjected not only to medications but treatment for her “hysteria” which was the common diagnosis for most women in the asylum at the time. It was brilliantly researched and written!

By Megan Chance,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked An Inconvenient Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

- Literary historical fiction is an extremely popular genre, as demonstrated by such bestsellers as Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club (Random House, 2/03) and Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White (Harcourt, 9/02).- Megan Chance is the author of


Book cover of The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris

Janet Skeslien Charles Author Of The Paris Library

From my list on ups and downs in Paris: C'est La Vie.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library and Moonlight in Odessa. Like the authors on the list I selected for Shepherd, I'm skilled at turning experiences at minimum-wage jobs into novels. I earned $25 a month teaching full-time at a high school in Odessa, which is the setting for my first novel. My second book takes place at the American Library in Paris, where I was the programs manager. Setting is the start of my fiction, because I believe that where we are from has a lot to do with who we are. I hope that you’ll enjoy these selections.

Janet's book list on ups and downs in Paris: C'est La Vie

Janet Skeslien Charles Why did Janet love this book?

The book is an insider guide to Paris and features interviews with amazing women who are making the city better and more interesting, one action, one thought, one sentence at a time. I finished the book wishing I could meet the Parisiennes over coffee to discuss the different challenges that they faced. 

By Lindsey Tramuta, Joann Pai (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In a follow-up to the popular The New Paris, Lindsey Tramuta explores the impact that the women of Paris have had on the rapidly evolving culture of their city

The New Parisienne focuses on one of the city's most prominent features, its women. Lifting the veil on the mythologized Parisian woman-white, lithe, ever fashionable-Lindsey Tramuta demystifies this oversimplified archetype and recasts the women of Paris as they truly are, in all their complexity. Featuring 50 activists, creators, educators, visionaries, and disruptors-like Leila Slimani, Lauren Bastide, and Mayor Anne Hidalgo-the book reveals Paris as a blossoming cultural center of feminine power.…


Book cover of The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution

Jeremy D. Popkin Author Of A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution

From my list on the French Revolution and the ideals that inspired it.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by the history of the French Revolution ever since my father took me to visit Napoleon’s tomb in Paris when I was four years old and tried to explain to me who he was and what he had done. For more than forty years, I have been teaching and writing about this inexhaustible subject. The Revolution’s ideals of liberty and equality still speak to us, and the vivid personalities who clashed over them, ranging from Lafayette and Robespierre to the abolitionist priest Henri Grégoire and the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, bring the subject alive. Oh, and did I mention that one of the perks of being a historian of the French Revolution is that you get to make regular trips to Paris?

Jeremy's book list on the French Revolution and the ideals that inspired it

Jeremy D. Popkin Why did Jeremy love this book?

Half of the people who experienced the French Revolution were women, and the recognition of their role in these events is one of the biggest transformations in historians’ perspectives of the past half-century. Dominque Godineau’s thoroughly documented book depicts the everyday lives of women in the revolutionary era and the activists who paved the way for modern feminist movements.

By Dominique Godineau, Katherine Streip (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the French Revolution, hundreds of domestic and working-class women of Paris were interrogated, examined, accused, denounced, arrested, and imprisoned for their rebellious and often hostile behavior. Here, for the first time in English translation, Dominique Godineau offers an illuminating account of these female revolutionaries. As nurturing and tender as they are belligerent and contentious, these are not singular female heroines but the collective common women who struggled for bare subsistence by working in factories, in shops, on the streets, and on the home front while still finding time to participate in national assemblies, activist gatherings, and public demonstrations in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in France, psychiatric hospitals, and women?

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