The best books about widows

14 authors have picked their favorite books about widows and why they recommend each book.

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Leaning Into Love

By Elaine Mansfield,

Book cover of Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey Through Grief

Mansfield’s poignant story of her beloved husband’s journey through cancer and his eventual death is a heartfelt telling of the intimate story of how she becomes a widow and how she meets that event with courage and spiritual exploration. She rises from the ashes of her grief and soars like a phoenix to give back to others, a brilliantly told tale.

Who am I?

Since 2012, when I was fortunate to be a companion to my dying father, I have gained a deep appreciation for the topics of death, dying, grief and bereavement. Being with him during his final moments was a vitally transformative event in my life, and subsequent developments led me to become a writer and curator of content in this field. I am now an end-of-life educator and preparedness facilitator, whose role it is to assist others to prepare for their inevitable, eventual death. Being prepared, by making informed choices and documenting them, can be one of the greatest gifts we give to our loved ones. I coach my End-of-Life Matters clients to do just that.

I wrote...

Daddy, This Is It: Being-with My Dying Dad

By Julie Saeger Nierenberg,

Book cover of Daddy, This Is It: Being-with My Dying Dad

What is my book about?

My father lived an inspiring End of Life, a journey of courage, sorrow, wonder and assurances of Eternal Love. And before he passed, he encouraged me to share the story of his transition with you. With courage and amazing grace, he lovingly prepared our family for his passing. As our time together came to an end, I was grateful to be present.

Although death is an inevitable part of life, how we choose to be-with the dying and the bereaved is up to us. I encourage you to prepare and to embrace the possibility of a lovingly supported transition and, to that end, I include some resources that may help you. Being ready to be-with is a wonderful way to live.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe

By Sara Seager,

Book cover of The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir

There can be no question greater than “Is there life outside the Earth?”. Sara Seager places her own search for planets outside the Earth - almost 5000 planets in other solar systems have been discovered in the past three decades, including Earth-like bodies - against her own life story and struggles as a scientist weathering the unexpected loss of a spouse and the raising of her two young sons. Astronomers estimate there are billions of undiscovered planets just in our Galaxy. Seager paints our very own Earth as a bright point of community and connection in the vastness of space as she gives a first-person account of the technical challenges of seeking other planets and life elsewhere.

Who am I?

As a child I was fascinated by space, planets, and the stars. Now I am a planetary scientist who has been involved with NASA’s interplanetary missions for four decades. I am curious, passionate about space exploration and discovery, and have been in leadership roles on some of these missions. I am also passionate about communicating these discoveries to the public. Learn about the planets from an expert, an insider who was there in the thick of the action during key times and who wants to communicate this excitement to you.

I wrote...

Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System

By Bonnie J. Buratti,

Book cover of Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System

What is my book about?

Join Bonnie J. Buratti, a leading planetary astronomer, on this personal tour of NASA's latest discoveries. Moving through the Solar System from Mercury, Venus, Mars, past comets and asteroids and the moons of the giant planets, to Pluto, and on to exoplanets, she gives vivid descriptions of landforms that are similar to those found on Earth but that are more fantastic. Sulfur-rich volcanoes and lakes on Io, active gullies on Mars, huge ice plumes and tar-like deposits on the moons of Saturn, hydrocarbon rivers and lakes on Titan, and nitrogen glaciers on Pluto are just some of the marvels that await readers. Learn about the search for life on other planets, and discover what it is like to be involved in a major scientific enterprise, with all its pitfalls and excitement. 

This engaging account of modern space exploration is written for non-specialist readers, from students in high school to enthusiasts of all ages.

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

By Rivka Galchen,

Book cover of Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

A surprisingly funny novel about a real-life witchcraft trial in seventeenth-century Germany that darkens as it goes on. The “witch” is Katharina Kepler, mother of the famous mathematician and scientist Johannes Kepler, who really was accused of bewitching her neighbours. The novel takes inspiration from the history book about her trial by Ulinka Rublack (also recommended) but it goes on its own journey with the evidence. Mostly narrated in Katharina’s voice, it’s moving and inventive, lifting the story out of the past and making it very immediate for the reader. As well as enjoying the writing, I learned a lot about how slow and achingly uncertain witchcraft trials could be. And isn’t that a great title?

Who am I?

I’ve been researching and writing histories of witchcraft for over twenty years because I wanted to know why people would confess to a crime that they couldn’t have committed. I especially wanted to know about women’s stories of witchcraft, and I found that fiction really helped me to imagine their worlds. I’m a Professor at Exeter University and I’m working on two new books about witchcraft trials: The Witches of St Osyth and Witchcraft: A History in Thirteen Trials. I’m trying to feel every word and give the “witches” the empathy they deserve.

I wrote...

Witchcraft: The Basics

By Marion Gibson,

Book cover of Witchcraft: The Basics

What is my book about?

Witchcraft: The Basics explores the phenomenon of witchcraft in history and fiction, from its earliest definitions in the Middle Ages through to its resonances in the modern world. It looks at case studies of witch trials in Britain and America, witches in Shakespeare and other literature, the scholarly field of Witchcraft Studies, witches as neo-pagans and activists, and witches in film and TV.

All Passion Spent

By Vita Sackville-West,

Book cover of All Passion Spent

After a lifetime of dutiful marriage, the newly widowed Lady Slane shocks her family by striking out on her own, moving from London to a suburban cottage where she will live alone and please herself (for once!). Her decision rumbles through her grown children’s lives and inspires one of her great-granddaughters to pursue an independent life herself.

I love that this book focuses on an older woman (Lady Slane is 88 years old), proving that it’s never too late to live life on your own terms. And in Deborah, her great-granddaughter, we get a glimpse of the new sort of woman who was really making her presence felt in this period: young women exploring their independence and living very different lives from their parents and grandparents.

Who am I?

All of my books and stories have at least one thing in common: strong women. I’ve always been fascinated by women who are fighters and who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Astra, the main character in A Bright Young Thing, is definitely not alone in pushing back against society’s expectations: the women in these books (and many in real life in the 1930s) also find the strength to say no, to stand in their power, and truly live life their way.

I wrote...

A Bright Young Thing

By Brianne Moore,

Book cover of A Bright Young Thing

What is my book about?

With the sudden loss of her parents, 1930s socialite Astra Davies finds herself with a heap of debts and family secrets to sort out. Faced with a loveless marriage or stepping into the unknown, she makes the audacious decision to make her own way in the world. 

But the road to financial independence is a rocky one, and it’s made more difficult when her business partner turns out to be a fool, a vengeful aristocrat goes on the warpath, and she unwittingly catches the attention of the equally hard up (but very irresistible) Earl of Dunreaven. Astra will have to find strength and skills she never knew she had if she’s going to prove that she’s more than just A Bright Young Thing.

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck,

Book cover of The Women in the Castle

I heard Shattuck speak about her book at the National World War II Museum. The story is based on her grandmother’s life in post-war Germany. It took Shattuck seven years to research and write. The women in the title are three widows with connections to the men who plotted the failed assassination attempt on Hitler. The women, wives, mothers, and lovers, some weak, some strong, join forces to try to survive the war’s aftermath, living together in a crumbling Bavarian castle. It was a book I could not put down.

Who am I?

I come by my interest in history and the years before, during, and after the Second World War honestly. For one thing, both my father and my father-in-law served as pilots in the war, my father a P-38 pilot in North Africa and my father-in-law a B-17 bomber pilot in England. Their histories connect me with a period I think we can still almost reach with our fingertips and one that has had a momentous impact on our lives today. I have taken that interest and passion to discover and write true life stories of the war—focusing on the untold and unheard stories. 

I wrote...

A Gathering of Men

By Rona Simmons,

Book cover of A Gathering of Men

What is my book about?

Candor, North Carolina. The town barber brandishes a copy featuring the May 1927 Charlotte Observer with Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis on its cross-country flight. At the outskirts of town, best friends Lake, Roger, and Jim take turns in their improvised, wheeled but wingless crate, hurtling downhill, eyes closed, imagining their future alongside Lindy. Pearl Harbor changes everything. The boys will have their chance to fly—not over North Carolina farm fields, but across Germany on bombing runs to Berlin and Merseburg and Schweinfurt facing a determined Luftwaffe. The odds of completing their tours of duty in the US Army Air Forces are slim. It is a moving tale, based on a true story, about shattered dreams and enduring friendship, duty, and honor.

The Dig

By John D. Preston,

Book cover of The Dig: A Novel Based on True Events

The popular Netflix film The Dig was based on this book, one of the few works of historical fiction that deal with ancient mounds. It tells the story of the 1930-era excavation of a Celtic Burial Mound. Not all mounds were burials, however. Some were ceremonial and their purpose remains largely unknown. The book gives a good sense of what archaeology was like a hundred years ago, both the practice and the politics behind what yielded the largest buried treasure in Britain's history.

Who am I?

To me, it seemed the ancient mounds were fertile ground for literary exploration, a living metaphor – evidence of what was likely the first places of spiritual practice in our country, ancient, unknown, and buried, what a symbol to form the basis of a novel! When I began my research, I soon came into contact with the Natchez. I attended their annual gathering and eventually became close friends with the Principal Chief of the Natchez Nation, who vetted Sacred Mounds and wrote its foreword. The book includes historical figures like the Great Sun, descended from the Sun Itself, and his war chief, the Tattooed Serpent. They are part of the tapestry of history woven in Sacred Mounds.

I wrote...

Sacred Mounds

By Jim Metzner,

Book cover of Sacred Mounds

What is my book about?

A First Nation visitor from the past visits our time to save our world, helped by the mysterious presence of the ancient mounds. A flat-out adventure story, the novel nevertheless offers clues that the mounds may be as important today as when they were first constructed. A finalist in Screenwriter's Cinematic Book Competition – with a foreword by the Principal Chief of the Natchez Nation.

Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms

By John Polo,

Book cover of Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms

Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms is a great read for widows and widowers, but really anyone that had a loss or knows of someone that has. It's excellently written, easy to read, and thoroughly engaging but mostly will make your heart smile. A beautifully told, heartbreaking love story, but mostly it will leave you with optimism and lingering warmth. It gives one hope that brighter days are ahead and love survives, even in death.

Who am I?

Rachel is a heart-minded professional specializing in current and relevant approaches in support of individuals and workplaces following a loss or trauma. She is a best-selling author, seasoned keynote speaker, and business consultant. She began her career serving in management of Fortune 500 companies, overcoming her own adversity following the sudden death of her husband while raising a 2-year-old. She was immediately confronted with the see-saw created when personal and professional trajectories collide, giving her the opportunity to provide invaluable insights about loss. Her books include best-selling Living with Loss One Day at a Time, Finding Peace, and Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared.

I wrote...

Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to Do with Your and a Loved One's Personal Possessions

By Rachel Blythe Kodanaz,

Book cover of Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time: What to Do with Your and a Loved One's Personal Possessions

What is my book about?

Personal possessions tell a beautiful story of a person’s life regardless of age. But when we find that we have accumulated too much or a loved one passes, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to do with all of these belongings. Finding Peace, One Piece at a Time provides tools for how to thin, repurpose, and redistribute these possessions in a way that can capture and cherish our memories and those of our loved ones so they continue to be with us today and for future generations.


By Abigail Thomas,

Book cover of Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life

Abigail Thomas likes to say that she didn’t know what she was doing when she set out to write Safekeeping. Memories returned and she wrote them down. Sometimes she wrote of herself in first person. Sometimes in second. Sometimes in third. Sometimes she wrote of apple cake, and of people she loved, and of unsustainable loss. No one remembers their entire life in systematic order. Few lives conform to outlines. That is why Thomas needed to invent the shape of her memoir in essays—to arrange all of its idiosyncratic pieces into an utterly compelling idiosyncratic whole.

Who am I?

The first memoir I ever read—Road Song by Natalie Kusz—pierced me in ways I did not know were possible. Kusz had written, in this elegantly crafted book, of an Alaskan childhood, a life-changing accident, early motherhood, and family love. She had written, I mean to say, of transcending truths. I have spent much of my life ever since deconstructing the ways in which true stories get told, and writing them myself. I’ve taught memoir to five-year-olds, Ivy League students, master’s level writers, and retirees. I co-founded Juncture Workshops, write a monthly newsletter on the form, and today create blank books into which other writers might begin to tell their stories.

I wrote...

Wife Daughter Self: A Memoir in Essays

By Beth Kephart,

Book cover of Wife Daughter Self: A Memoir in Essays

What is my book about?

Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays, by National Book Award finalist Beth Kephart, reflects on the iterative, composite self as she travels to lakes and rivers, New Mexico and Mexico, the icy waters of Alaska, and a hot-air balloon launch in search of understanding. Who is she, in relationship to others? Who is she when she is alone, with a pen in her hands? And how will she write the truest version of her life after spending many years teaching others to unlock their own tales? A book of interlocking essays by an acclaimed writer, teacher, and critic that engages the reader in soul searches of their own.

The Essex Serpent

By Sarah Perry,

Book cover of The Essex Serpent

In The Essex Serpent, Perry’s prose marvelously evokes both the prejudices and ignorance of the times (late 19th century), and the settings (the bleak estuarine marshes of east Essex, as well as Victorian London). Her characterisation is also excellent (you don’t always like the main protagonist, but you relate to her and feel her pain, as you do with many of the more peripheral characters). Plus, the storyline includes fossils (I like fossils, but that’s just me!). Perry also successfully applies modern ideas to the Victorian world, something to be avoided by all but the most skilled writers. Then there’s the plot, always making you wonder—is it supernatural, is it not?  

Who am I?

I am fascinated by the supernatural and love to link it with a particular setting. The books listed all inspired my writing from their pace, elegant prose, and especially, descriptive settings and atmosphere evoked from those settings (something I strive to do as an author, using places I know really well). I was lucky enough to spend my early years in southwest Wirral, with its red sandstone hills, heathland, and views across the Dee estuary to Wales. This was a perfect setting for The Face Stone, with the atmosphere of the local woodlands, especially at dusk, making it easy to imagine that ancient spirits still guarded rock and tree.

I wrote...

The Face Stone

By Lewis Hinton,

Book cover of The Face Stone

What is my book about?

Do ancient rocks and woodlands really harbour a secret that could bring about worldwide catastrophe? And can saving the health, life, and even mortal soul of one missing boy avert that catastrophe?

It is 1969. Special investigator Jack Sangster is sent to an elite school, where the son of a wealthy local family has disappeared. Follow as he navigates clues and red herrings, learning at every turn that if his eyes and ears are to be believed, the stakes linked to this case are rising at an alarming rate. Sangster tries to do the right thing even as his uncertainty rises; all the while a seemingly well-ordered and rational world is slowly revealed to perhaps be older, darker, and more chaotic than he ever imagined…

The Tutor

By Andrea Chapin,

Book cover of The Tutor

With this piece of historical fiction, we are back to “Who is Shakespeare,” and did he write all those plays? We are asked to consider parts of Shakespeare’s life where there is no historical record at all. In this novel, he did pen his plays and poems, but he had a lot of help from a smart, learned woman. Yes, another great woman behind the man story. And yet, we are allowed into not only Will’s and Katherine’s collaborative writing process but into their love story. Thus we end this list as we started with Shakespeare in love.

Who am I?

While I taught Shakespeare’s plays all my teaching career, I stayed in my lanes: Hamlet, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear. As a poetry teacher, I used his sonnets as examples of metaphor and form, but never did I consider myself an expert. However, when the idea for my novel popped into my head, I realized I had some serious reading to do. Not only did I study the facts, I delved into the fiction. While some of these books came out during my writing and others after, I didn’t lose my interest, picking up whatever new Shakespeare book appeared. These are some of my favorites.

I wrote...

The Play's the Thing

By Jessica Barksdale Inclan,

Book cover of The Play's the Thing

What is my book about?

Shakespeare professor Jessica Randall time travels back to 1598 and lands in the rooms of her favorite writer. However, things don’t go very well, as both their lives are in turmoil. Can they save each other and find a way for Jessica to return home? And will she want to? Will Shakespeare let her go? More importantly, how can they both use time to fix the wrongs in both their lives?

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