The best books about middle-aged women

8 authors have picked their favorite books about middle-aged women and why they recommend each book.

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More Than a Woman

By Caitlin Moran,

Book cover of More Than a Woman

Despite the title, I think that any gender can draw something from this book. It is the sequel to her phenomenally successful book “How to be a woman”, which quite frankly changed my life and made me decide to have children. This new book can be read as a stand-alone and charts Caitlin’s thoughts on her late 30s and 40s. It begins with her usual hilarious and irreverent tone, speaking about the pressures put on you by children, parents, work, best friends, basically everything. It suddenly becomes very serious in a way I didn’t expect though, and the message of balance is one that is important for anyone to read in this way. I rarely say this and mean it but… it made me laugh and it made me cry.


Who am I?

I am an astrophysicist. I am a mother. I am an author. I am a cleaner of dishes, a cooker of meals. I am a daughter, a friend on the end of the phone, a reader of bedtime stories, and the one who hugs away the tears and kisses it better. But I am also just me. Emma. And the books I read are always to escape or understand the internal fight I have between identities and the feeling that pursuing one is failing all the others. Lift yourself above it all, breathe, and read yourself into a different world.


I wrote...

First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time

By Emma Chapman,

Book cover of First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time

What is my book about?

Astronomers have successfully observed a great deal of the Universe’s history, from recording the afterglow of the Big Bang to imaging thousands of galaxies, and even to visualising an actual black hole. But when it comes to understanding how the Universe began and grew up we are literally in the dark ages. In effect, we are missing the first one billion years from the timeline of the Universe.

Incorporating the very latest research into this branch of astrophysics, this book sheds light on this time of darkness, telling the story of these first stars. Emma Chapman tells us how these stars formed, why they were so unusual, and what they can teach us about the Universe today.

The Women's Room

By Marilyn French,

Book cover of The Women's Room

I read this book over thirty years ago and despite not returning to it, count it as having a significant impact on my work. It is an emotionally charged and powerful book, and I remember being incredibly angry, and sad, and passionate for change. It introduced me to feminism and feminist literature. It shone the light on the need to hear women’s voices in the public realm.


Who am I?

In 1995 I performed with the Women’s Circus (Australia) at the 4th International Conference and Forum on the Status of Women in Beijing. Our show was called Leaping the Wire and presented thirteen women’s stories from Amnesty International through physical narrative. My story was about a Brazilian woman who had been shot and killed for identifying the police who had rounded up her son and a group of his friends. The Brazilian women expressed their gratitude that I had told their story when they could not. I believe women’s stories are important to be told, to be shared, and I made a commitment to make our stories accessible, first through theatre, and now through my novels.


I wrote...

Dancing the Labyrinth

By Karen Martin,

Book cover of Dancing the Labyrinth

What is my book about?

When Cressida falls pregnant, her overwhelming fear is that she will pass on her father’s violent DNA. It takes an ancient matriarchal culture to teach her otherwise.

Dancing the Labyrinth moves between contemporary and ancient Crete in this tale of a young woman from an abusive background who discovers the veiled history of Europe’s most advanced civilization of the Bronze Age – the Minoans. It is a powerful and profound celebration of women’s resilience, courage, and indomitability.

Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

By Sue Halpern,

Book cover of Summer Hours at the Robbers Library

A teenage girl in Maine steals a dictionary at the mall and is sentenced to do community service in her small town’s library. The middle-aged head librarian there has exiled herself from a divorce accompanied by public scandal. A much younger New York City stockbroker who had piles of money turns up in town after losing everything in the 2008 crash. He believes his aunt’s savings booklet from a bank long subsumed by another—he just needs to figure out which one—will put him back on his feet. I love how gently this novel reveals these damaged characters’ foibles and hopes. They seem to have nothing in common, yet they heal each other. And there is (spoiler alert) a sexy little romance between the librarian and the stockbroker.

Who am I?

I’m a creative director in Vermont with a few favorite things: laughter, standard poodles, and happy endings—in life and in fiction. Romance fiction abounds with young heroines and happy endings. But I prefer reading about mature women like myself, women who have experienced their share of disappointments yet face life’s challenges with courage and humor. I like the elements of both genres in one juicy book. After much-frustrated searching, I gave up and wrote the story I wanted to read. My wise, middle-aged heroine still has lots to learn about grief and joy, and learns many of those lessons with men—in bed.


I wrote...

Willing: A Contemporary Romance

By Leslie Morris Noyes,

Book cover of Willing: A Contemporary Romance

What is my book about?

Liz Silver has lost her creative spark. Her career success is tied to the enthusiasm she brings to her wedding photography, but losing that spark threatens her livelihood. What gives? Her life is perfect, isn’t it? She has a delightful daughter, supportive friends, and glorious Vermont to call home. Armed with the wisdom and humor her Jewish ancestors stitched into her DNA, Liz begins looking for solutions. The men she casually takes to bed along the way force her to consider whether her vow to leave love behind is the problem. Traveling a road potholed with old grief, Liz discovers a new way of seeing herself, a career reboot, and, just maybe, the partner of her dreams—if the potholes don’t get her first. 

Dirt Music

By Tim Winton,

Book cover of Dirt Music

I just love this book. Again, it’s set against such an evocative landscape – this time in Western Australia. It tells the story of a tentative love affair between a reckless poacher and the wife of a wealthy landowner – and the inevitable fall-out. There’s even a soundtrack to go with it – Winton’s a musician too.

The writing’s so pitch-perfect that I had to keep stopping to scribble phrases down. It’s that good. Why is it about survival? As well as Luther Fox, the poacher, struggling to get over the tragedy of his past, the last third of the book focuses on his walkabout up north to Coronation Island, where he deliberately shipwrecks himself. Cue the wilderness: scavenging, hunting, sheltering. True, haunting, survival in its rawest sense as he battles to redemption.


Who am I?

Both my books have a survival theme. Whether it’s foraging for mushrooms, wild camping, or trying to survive lockdown, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between endurance and creativity; what happens when humans are pushed to their limits. After teaching English in a secondary school for 25 years, I decided that I wanted to write a book of my own. I hid away in my caravan in West Wales, living off tomato soup and marshmallows, to write The IslandThe books on this list represent the full gamut of survival: stripping yourself raw, learning nature’s lore, healing, falling, getting back up again. Ultimately, to read is to escape into story. To read is to survive.


I wrote...

The Island

By Olivia Levez,

Book cover of The Island

What is my book about?

Frances is alone on a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. She must find water and food. She must survive. And when she is there, she also thinks about the past. The things that she did before. The things that made her a monster. Nothing is easy. Survival is hard. And so is being honest about what happened before. Slowly, Frances learns to survive and see that the future is worth fighting for.

The Island is a gripping and thoughtful story about a girl who didn’t choose the life she has but digs deep to become the person she always wanted to be. All is not lost but some things are hard to find.

Love Among the Recipes

By Carol M. Cram,

Book cover of Love Among the Recipes

Even though this book has an element of girl-meets-guy-in-Paris, I included it under the title of ‘books set in France that go beyond the rom com’ because it was so refreshing to read about a woman of a ‘certain age’ who comes into her own during a stay in Paris. The protagonist struggles with real-life issues, not the usual Emily-in-Paris dilemmas. Cram knows Paris like the back of her hand and deftly titillates all the senses with her food-inspired passages.

Who am I?

I am a Paris-born, award-winning artist and author. Although I have lived on four continents, France is in my blood and draws me back time and again. It’s no surprise that countless novels are set in France – and Paris in particular. My debut historical fiction L’Origine: The secret life of the world’s most erotic masterpiece marries my three passions – History (I majored in French history), Art, and Literature. I'm the recipient of six literary honors and my freelance articles and blog posts can be found on platforms such as HuffPost, France Magazine, DailyArt Magazine, Bonjour Paris, The Book Commentary, and BookBrunch. I hope you enjoy the eclectic range of books on my recommended list!


I wrote...

L'Origine: The Secret Life of the World's Most Erotic Masterpiece

By Lilianne Milgrom,

Book cover of L'Origine: The Secret Life of the World's Most Erotic Masterpiece

What is my book about?

L’Origine is an award-winning historical fiction that traces the remarkable odyssey of a 19th century painting so scandalous it was kept hidden for a century and a half, passing clandestinely from hand to hand across centuries and continents. It is a story of survival, replete with Turkish pashas, French revolutionaries, and nefarious Nazi captains. Today, Gustave Courbet’s notorious painting hangs in the world-renowned Orsay Museum in Paris.

As the first artist authorized by the Orsay Museum to re-create Courbet's L'Origine du monde (The Origin of the World), I was thrust into the painting's intimate orbit. The experience inspired me to share my story and the painting's riveting adventures with readers beyond the confines of the art world. 

Unbecoming

By Lesley Wheeler,

Book cover of Unbecoming

Cynthia, a forty-something English professor in the throes of perimenopause, develops unusual abilities and slowly learns to channel them, with help from a visiting faculty member from Faerie. I was lucky enough to read this book in an early draft, and then in its final version. What I love about this novel is how it treats magic as yet another weird thing that happens to you as you get older. I also relished watching Cynthia figure out her new powers in the context of ordinary life: navigating faculty politics, being a mom, working on her marriage. A smart, wry twist on the School for Magic trope.


Who am I?

When I was ten, I found a book on witchcraft on the shelves of my local bookstore and eagerly set out to learn how to practice magic. I had very little success—one rain spell maybe worked, but to be honest, rain was in the forecast anyway. So instead I became a novelist who likes to write about people who can do magic. I love books that not only sweep you into other worlds but show you how it really feels to live there. I hope these five novels give you a truly magical escape. 


I wrote...

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

By Emily Croy Barker,

Book cover of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

What is my book about?

Emily Croy Barker’s enchanting debut novel offers an intelligent escape into a richly imagined world. With an appealing female protagonist, cinematic storytelling, wry humor, and clever literary references, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic has captured the imaginations of readers everywhere.

During a miserable weekend at a friend’s wedding, eager to forget about her disastrous breakup and stalled dissertation, Nora Fischer wanders off and somehow finds herself in another realm. There, she meets glamorous Ilissa—who introduces Nora to a decadent new world—and her devastatingly handsome son, Raclin. But when the elegant veneer of this dreamland shatters, Nora finds herself in a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. And the only way she can survive is by learning magic herself.

Gray Hair Don't Care

By Karen Booth,

Book cover of Gray Hair Don't Care

It is exactly what the author’s tagline says: A feel-good later-in-life romance. This book resonated with me for multiple reasons. First, I love a second chance romance. I love the inherent tension of characters hauling great big trunks of baggage into a relationship. Second, I stopped coloring my hair in 2018, and have been embracing my own gray. It’s not an easy step for many women to take, and I love that Karen wrote about a woman who not only accepts this outward sign of her maturity, but rocks it for all it’s worth. 


Who am I?

Reading and writing romance about characters who are beyond the first blush of youth is important to me because these characters represent who I am and the people I know. We live in an unapologetically youth-centric culture. When I wrote my first book, I wrote about a 40-year-old heroine, not realizing that in traditional romance publishing, no one over 30, maybe 35, gets to fall in love. Well, I had news for them. I joined forces with some other like-minded readers and writers and we created a group on Facebook called Seasoned Romance, where we say you’re never too old to fall in love.  


I wrote...

Love Game

By Maggie Wells,

Book cover of Love Game

What is my book about?

Kate Snyder is at the top of her game. A former Wolcott University player, the WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist is now a coaching legend at the helm of the #1 college women's basketball team. But the university hires a football coach trying to escape scandal―paying him a lot more than she earns.

Danny McMillan had hoped for a smooth transition at Wolcott, but the fiery Coach Snyder made that impossible. Every time he and Kate are in a room together, snark and sparks fly. Danny gets her frustration, but her pay isn't his problem, right? When Kate and Danny finally see eye to eye, their sparks turn into something even hotter...and they need to figure out if this is more than just a game.

The Slaves of Solitude

By Patrick Hamilton,

Book cover of The Slaves of Solitude

Patrick Hamilton has a wonderfully simple and direct style, and is always utterly compelling, no matter if he’s writing about ordinary people going about their daily lives. This wartime novel seems to happen a long way from the war itself, though it is set in Maidenhead, which was far enough away from the capital to be thought safe for evacuees. We spend our time with a wonderfully cliquey and gossipy set of boarding house tenants who constantly compete with each other and have their own little wars and conflicts. Like many of Hamilton’s novels it has a theatrical quality, reading it is almost like watching actors performing on a stage. Indeed, one of the characters is an actor, and theatre provides a note of redemption in this beautifully bleak novel. 


Who am I?

My novel Nourishment is loosely based on stories I was told about the war by my parents who lived through it. My mother was a firewoman during the Blitz and my father was in Normandy after the D-Day landings. They married during the war. I wish now I’d written down the stories my parents used to tell me. There was always humour in their stories. My parents could both see the absurdity and the dark comedy that can sometimes be present in wartime situations, especially on the home front, and I hope some of that comes through in Nourishment.


I wrote...

Nourishment

By Gerard Woodward,

Book cover of Nourishment

What is my book about?

Nourishment is set during the Blitz and is the story of Tory Pace, who lives with her elderly mother in southeast London. Her husband Donald has been missing in action for several months and is assumed to be dead. When a letter from him arrives from a prisoner of war camp, she is thrown into turmoil by the unusual request he makes. Her mother has always strongly disapproved of Donald, but this request of his is beyond the pale. No decent woman would comply, and certainly not her daughter. Or would she?

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