The most recommended books about spinsters

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to spinsters, and here are their favorite spinster books.
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Book cover of Alice James: A Biography

Megan Marshall Author Of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life

From my list on women’s writing on women’s lives.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the grown-up little girl who loved to read. I loved novels and children’s biographies—Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Annie Oakley. I imagined that if I could learn to write books that inspired readers and moved them to tears like my favorite books, I would have accomplished a great good. My first biography, The Peabody Sisters, took twenty years and won awards for historical writing. My second biography, Margaret Fuller, won the Pulitzer. But what matters more than all the prizes is when people tell me they cried at the end of my books. I hope you, too, will read them and weep over lives lived fully and well.    

Megan's book list on women’s writing on women’s lives

Megan Marshall Why did Megan love this book?

Alice James changed my life as a writer. It completely opened up the field of biography and pointed the way to the work I’ve been doing for almost four decades: writing women’s lives. Before Alice James, biographies had to be of famous people, usually men. Here was a book about the little sister of the great novelist Henry James and the eminent philosopher William James, a woman who had essentially done nothing with her own talent and brilliance except—luckily!—keep a diary. Jean Strouse read that diary and used it as the entry point for a whole book about the dynamics of an extraordinary family, about women’s choices in 19th century America, about invalidism and suppressed ambition. It’s a riveting psychological tale full of poignance and unexpected heroism.  

By Jean Strouse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Alice James was the youngest child and only girl in a family that produced two of the most brilliant individuals in 19th-century America. Her elder brother, William, became the foremost psychologist of his time and her second brother, Henry, its greatest novelist. Her story reveals a troubled, highly intelligent woman who struggled to extract a sense of meaning and self from a life that had every outward appearance of failure. She was articulate, politically radical, funny, wise, difficult and intensely involved with her brothers and friends. This portrait sheds new light on the history of women, on the nature of…


Book cover of The Unsuitable

Maxine Kaplan Author Of Wench

From my list on for NPCs at heart.

Why am I passionate about this?

Hi! I'm Maxine Kaplan and I'm a writer who is also a genre magpie. My favorite thing to do as a writer is to take a background character, or non-playable characters in gamer-speak, and make them real. What’s an archetype? It’s a type. A character described by their occupation—the princess; the femme fatale; the tavern wench (ahem)—basically the tropey background players that nobody feels the need to unpack as idiosyncratic individuals, with vibrant inner lives. This list is full of books that do this sooooo well.

Maxine's book list on for NPCs at heart

Maxine Kaplan Why did Maxine love this book?

This book combines a lot of potentially tired gothic signifiers into one slim package. You’ve got the tortured ghost of the young mother. The scarred young shut-in nearing spinsterhood. The domineering aunt tasked with marrying her off. The cold and distant father just as eager to unload her. However, none of these tropes go where you expect them to go. Iseult Wince, the titular unsuitable young woman, has an inner life and motivations that are deeply weird—borderline horrifying, but most importantly, weird, and all her own. Spinsterhood is the least of her problems. 

By Molly Pohlig,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Molly Pohlig's The Unsuitable is a fierce blend of Gothic ghost story and Victorian novel of manners that’s also pitch perfect for our current cultural moment.

Iseult Wince is a Victorian woman perilously close to spinsterhood whose distinctly unpleasant father is trying to marry her off. She is awkward, plain, and most pertinently, believes that her mother, who died in childbirth, lives in the scar on her neck.

Iseult’s father parades a host of unsuitable candidates before her, the majority of whom Iseult wastes no time frightening away. When at last her father finds a suitor desperate enough to take…


Book cover of The Wheel Spins

Elisabeth Grace Foley Author Of Land of Hills and Valleys

From my list on vintage mystery-suspense.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved history, devoured mystery fiction, and scribbled my own stories. Today I combine all those passions by writing books in classic mystery-suspense style, but set in the place and the period of history that fascinates me the most: the American West. I firmly believe that the Old West should be treated not merely as a myth or a set of tropes, but a historical period in its own right, and so I love to use it as the setting for character-driven stories drawing on my favorite elements of the mystery genre.

Elisabeth's book list on vintage mystery-suspense

Elisabeth Grace Foley Why did Elisabeth love this book?

Traveling across Europe by train, Iris Carr re-enters her compartment to find that a friendly, talkative spinster who had befriended her has disappeared—and no one else will admit she was ever there at all. Why? The answer must be found before the train reaches its destination, and Ethel Lina White crafts a nail-biting race against time while also delving deep into the motivations of a tight cast of characters—exploring what leads some people to lie, and how an initially isolated and self-centered heroine becomes someone desperate to uncover the truth.

By Ethel Lina White,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Oldtown is a historic place where rich people live. The sisterhood also lives there. The group, known as the ""Black Nuns"", had healing powers. But in Oldtown, the killer works, and a series of murders plunged the inhabitants into blind, reckless horror.


Book cover of The Killings at Badger's Drift

H L Marsay Author Of A Long Shadow

From my list on classic English murder mysteries.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up binge-reading murder mysteries and promised myself that some day, I would write one too. A Long Shadow is the first book in my Chief Inspector Shadow series set in York. Luckily, living in a city so full of history, dark corners, and hidden snickelways, I am never short of inspiration. When I’m not coming up with new ways to bump people off, I enjoy red wine, dark chocolate, and blue cheese—not necessarily together! 

H L's book list on classic English murder mysteries

H L Marsay Why did H L love this book?

This is the book that launched the popular television series Midsomer Murders. Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, who unlike most fictional detectives has a happy home life, is called in to investigate the death of Miss Simpson, an elderly spinster. With the help of Sergeant Troy, he uncovers hidden scandals, rivalries, and secret affairs. The two men soon discover that Badger’s Drift isn’t as idyllic as it first appears.

By Caroline Graham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Killings at Badger's Drift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Badger's Drift is an ideal English village, complete with vicar, bumbling local doctor, and kindly spinster with a nice line in homemade cookies. But when the spinster dies suddenly, her best friend kicks up an unseemly fuss, loud enough to attract the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. And when Barnaby and his eager-beaver deputy start poking around, they uncover a swamp of ugly scandals and long-suppressed resentments seething below the picture-postcard prettiness. In the grand tradition of the quietly intelligent copper, Barnaby has both an irresistibly dry sense of humor and a keen insight into what makes people…


Book cover of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

James Lawless Author Of Letters to Jude

From my list on understanding experimental and literary fiction.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a novelist, poet, and short story writer born in Dublin, Ireland. I have always been interested in literature particularly books which I deem as works of art and which throw light on the human condition, something which I try to do in my own work. I have broadcast my poetry and prose on radio and write book reviews for national newspapers. I divide my time now between Kildare and my little mountain abode in West Cork. 

James' book list on understanding experimental and literary fiction

James Lawless Why did James love this book?

I was so moved when I read The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne that it inspired me to write my novel with my protagonist Laurence J Benbo as a male equivalent of Judith Hearne, an innocent exploited by an uncaring world. The quotidian details of Judith’s life are delineated brilliantly by Moore in all her wretchedness reminiscent of some of the characters in Joyce’s Dubliners which Moore would have read and which possibly influenced him. The dark surroundings of Judith’s life lead her into a fantasy world aided by her one necessary weakness—alcohol. But, as Moore points out, it doesn’t have to end tragically. There is a glimmer of hope with life going on, but nothing as before.

By Brian Moore,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of The Guardian’s “1,000 Books to Read Before You Die”

This underrated classic of contemporary Irish literature tells the “utterly transfixing” story of a lonely, poverty-stricken spinster in 1950s Belfast (The Boston Globe)

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.

Hailed by Graham Greene, Thomas Flanagan, and Harper Lee alike, The Lonely Passion of…


Book cover of Too Much Flesh and Jabez

Corin Reyburn Author Of Binary Stars

From my list on speculative fiction for dismantling the patriarchy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a non-binary, neurodivergent, queer speculative fiction writer who loves a good revolution story—whether that’s a quiet, personal revolution, or a big, explosive overthrowing of the 1%. These books have helped me create my own odd fictional worlds as well as space for my psyche to survive in. I wanted to represent a variety of perspectives here from writers who are subversive, LGBTQ, BIPOC, and, for lack of a better word, brave. As a university writing teacher, I believe that the written word holds power and drives us closer to a utopia, or at least towards a more colorful future community where all are welcome and supported.

Corin's book list on speculative fiction for dismantling the patriarchy

Corin Reyburn Why did Corin love this book?

The only male author on this list, Coleman Dowell’s Southern Gothic tale is included because it contains some of the most nuanced writing of female characters I’ve ever encountered. Too Much Flesh tells the narrative of a well-endowed farmer named Jim, his petite wife Effie, and a young man, Jabez, whose mutual obsession with Jim leads to, well, something of a frenetic climax. A story within a story, the tale is told to us by a “spinster schoolteacher” (the book was published in 1977), Miss Ethel, who channels her sexual repression into this story of the farmer.

Neither Miss Ethel nor Jim’s wife, Effie, come across as one-dimensional—they feel and act like real people on the page. Dowell himself was gay and deftly handles this queer narrative in a way that is somehow both quiet and stunning, and makes an interesting case study for the time period and genre. And…

By Coleman Dowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Too Much Flesh and Jabez as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Coleman Dowell's "Southern Gothic" is a novel about sexual repression. Miss Ethel, a spinster school teacher, decides to write what she calls a "perverse tale" about one of her former students, a Kentucky farmer named Jim Cummins. Endowing him with unnaturally large genitals, she spins a tawdry tale of his frustrated relationship with his petite wife. Expressing all the bitterness of "an old woman's revenge," Miss Ethel's tale is nonetheless a sensitive depiction of rural life in the early years of World War II.Dowell's masterful use of the tale-within-a-tale to explore psychological states makes "Too Much Flesh and Jabez" a…


Book cover of Along a Storied Trail

Amanda Cabot Author Of The Spark of Love

From my list on to forget you’re living in the 21st century.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books. And, while I read in a variety of genres, from early childhood on, my favorite stories were the ones that began with “once upon a time.” My fascination with historicals started with one of my father’s few books from his childhood, The Cave Twins, which introduced me to a world far different from suburban America. For me, the appeal of historicals is the opportunity to learn about another era and to escape from the modern world. And so, if you want to escape from what seems like an endless pandemic, I invite you to explore the worlds six talented authors have created.

Amanda's book list on to forget you’re living in the 21st century

Amanda Cabot Why did Amanda love this book?

One of the things I admire most about Ann Gabhart is that her stories are predictable – predictably wonderful, that is. There’s no predictability about her characters and plots. When I pick up one of her books, I know I’ll be transported to a different time and place and that while I’m immersed in her story, I’ll forget reality. In Along a Storied Trail she took me to rural Kentucky and a little-known (at least to me) part of history as she told the story of a packhorse librarian during the Great Depression. Her descriptions are so vivid and the dialogue so realistic that I felt as if I were there along with Tansy and Perdita. This is a story to savor, Gabhart’s best one yet.

By Ann H. Gabhart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Along a Storied Trail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Gabhart's skillful use of period details and the Appalachian landscape lend plenty of atmosphere to accompany the lessons of hope, compassion, and fortitude amid hardship. This is her best historical inspirational yet."--Publishers Weekly starred review

"Gabhart crafts an absorbing story that deeply explores the rich tradition of storytelling."--Booklist

***

Kentucky packhorse librarian Tansy Calhoun doesn't mind the rough trails and long hours as she serves her Appalachian mountain community during the Great Depression. Yet she longs to find love like the heroines in her books. When a charming writer comes to town, she thinks she might have found it--or is…


Book cover of Sutton's Spinster

Alyson Chase Author Of Disciplined by the Duke

From my list on naughty historical romance to heat up your nights.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up reading nothing but mystery novels, which is why when I discovered romance, I found the ones I liked the best had a bit of intrigue to them. As Alyson Chase, I write Regency romances I like to read: full of adventure and mystery, deep emotional connections, and, yes, quite a bit naughty. Character is the most important thing to me, whether as a writer or reader, and the books on this list are full of characters you can’t help but fall in love with.

Alyson's book list on naughty historical romance to heat up your nights

Alyson Chase Why did Alyson love this book?

One of the tropes I always one-click is the well-bred lady with an earthy, pull-himself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of guy. Sutton’s Spinster gives you all that and more. Jasper has built his wealth by running a successful gaming hell. When two young daughters land on his doorstep, he finds himself in need of a wife. Octavia dreams of creating a gossip journal, but needs a partner to provide the start-up funds. The heat between these two lights up the pages. I love how Jasper reacts to suddenly becoming a father, and how he transforms from a hard and cutthroat businessman to something softer because of Octavia. Scarlett Scott delivered with this one.

By Scarlett Scott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sutton's Spinster as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From USA Today bestselling author Scarlett Scott comes a deliciously wicked new Regency series...

Jasper Sutton, London’s most dedicated scoundrel, needs a wife. He needs one quickly. He needs one yesterday, in fact. His requirements are precise. She has to be capable of mothering the wild twin daughters who have unexpectedly appeared in his life. She must also possess the patience of a saint and the understanding of an angel. Better still if she is plain and has no expectation of a true marriage. He is not about to reform his ways. But how is he to find such a…


Book cover of Miss Percy's Pocket Guide

Bjørn Larssen Author Of Why Odin Drinks

From my list on Terry Pratchett collaborations that never happened.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a Pratchett fan since I first read The Colour of Magic in 1986. I was nine and suddenly obsessed. When he died, I cried; when I found out he left me – us – one last gift, I cried again. The best satire doesn’t just make you laugh through the tears and cry with laughter; it makes you think. Over the decades, Pratchett perfected this art. Nobody can replace him, although many authors, including myself, try to follow. Searching for them between the rock and the trying-too-hard place, sometimes I find diamonds. May they shine as brightly in your eyes as they do in mine.

Bjørn's book list on Terry Pratchett collaborations that never happened

Bjørn Larssen Why did Bjørn love this book?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that someone with a name like Miss Mildred Percy, a noted spinster living under her overwhelmingly generous and loving sister’s roof, does not inherit dragons’ eggs. Or bump into helpful and – one can’t help but notice – broad-shouldered, hat-wearing, single vicars. She’d swoon herself into dehydration if she knew what was still to come: raising a baby dragon (named Fitz); a proper Bad Boy villain with little money and relentless motivation (named Belinda); and, perhaps the most difficult, finding her own agency. Agnes Nitt would never. Perdita X Dream, however, might…

Miss Percy is the best book I’ve read in 2021 – it felt as if I inherited a manuscript signed by three of my favourite authors. Couldn’t recommend it more.

By Quenby Olson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miss Percy's Pocket Guide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.

Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…

Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.

The egg - as eggs are wont to do - decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”

But England has not…


Book cover of 4.50 from Paddington

Janet Dawson Author Of Death Rides the Zephyr

From my list on mysteries on (and off) the tracks.

Why am I passionate about this?

As soon as I found out about Zephyrettes, I knew I had to write about these real-life train hostesses who rode the rails on the old California Zephyr, which existed from 1949 to 1970. The only woman on a train crew, someone who keeps an eye on passengers and situations, anticipating and solving problems—who would be better placed to solve a mystery on a train? Jill is my traveling Miss Marple. I’m a former newspaper reporter, Navy journalist, and have been writing for decades, first the Jeri Howard series, then the Jill McLeod series, and lately a book featuring geriatric care manager Kay Dexter, The Sacrificial Daughter.

Janet's book list on mysteries on (and off) the tracks

Janet Dawson Why did Janet love this book?

Another Christie, out of a handful of books Dame Agatha wrote set on trains. Much as I like Poirot, I love Jane Marple, the quiet spinster from St. Mary Mead who knits, knows everyone, and is well-schooled in human nature and foibles. Talk about powers of observation. In this classic, Miss Marple’s friend Mrs. Elspeth McGillicuddy is traveling by train. At a moment when two trains are traveling side by side on different tracks, she looks out the window of her compartment and sees a man strangling a woman. The railway authorities don’t believe her—quelle surprise! With no other witnesses, no suspects, and no corpse, who will believe her? Jane Marple, of course, who has a plan to out the killer.

By Agatha Christie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 4.50 from Paddington as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Agatha Christie's classic Miss Marple railway mystery, reissued in a beautiful new classic hardcover edition designed to appeal to the latest generation of Agatha Christie fans and book lovers.

'Oh, Jane! I've just seen a murder!'

For an instant the two trains ran together, side by side. In that frozen moment, Elspeth witnessed a murder. Helplessly, she stared out of her carriage window as a man remorselessly tightened his grip around a woman's throat. The body crumpled. Then the other train drew away.

But who, apart from Miss Marple, would take her story seriously? After all, there were no suspects,…