A Game of Thrones: The Illustrated Edition
George R. R. Martin
Arya Stark is arguably one of the fiercest, most bad-ass female protagonists of our time. She’s a fearless leader who is not afraid to kick butt and take names … to add to her list. There are several other strong women featured in this fantastical series like Cersei, Daenerys, Sansa, Catelyn, etc. You get the gist. If you want to feel inspired and completely empowered, be sure to add these books to your TBR pile and then watch the show on HBO.
Melissa Scrivner Love
Melissa Scrivner Love’s masterful debut thriller centers on a woman named Lola who lives in South Central Los Angeles and is involved in the Crenshaw Six, a small but powerful gang. Lola is constantly underestimated and plays the role of submissive girlfriend, despite being much smarter, tougher, and more ruthless than most men. She becomes a leader in a man’s world, and as the gang faces deep trouble, her skills, quick thinking, and leadership become their only hope of survival.
Into the Water
Paula Hawkins, author of the number one New York Times bestseller The Girl on the Train, returns with her second novel, Into the Water, a psychological thriller. When a single mother is found dead at the bottom of a river, her fifteen-year-old daughter is left in the care of her aunt, Jules, who is fearful of being in town, as she believes more danger is lurking than meets the eye. Deep, dark secrets bubble to the surface when it’s discovered that Jules’s sister wasn’t the first to drown in the river, and certainly won’t be the last.
Time's a Thief
Francesca “Chess” Varani experiences the gritty ins-and-outs of college life at Barnard in mid-eighties New York. She grows up quickly as she encounters everything from toxic friendships, damaging love affairs, and difficult decisions that change her future. As more and more time passes, she finds herself caught up in the choices she’s made, and perhaps more importantly, the ones she didn’t. Chess is always looking back, always wanting something more than she has.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant struggles when it comes to socializing with others, and tends to not have a filter when she holds a conversation. She feels content with her life of isolation, with weekends usually consisting of frozen pizza, vodka, and phone calls with her Mum. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the clumsy IT guy from her office with questionable hygiene. Eleanor begins to discover things about herself that she never knew existed and finds something she wasn’t looking for in the first place.
Saints for All Occasions
J. Courtney Sullivan
Sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their quaint village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the more responsible sister, while Theresa tends to be more mischievous. When Theresa winds up pregnant, Nora comes up with a plan that changes both of their lives forever. From the New York Times-bestselling author of Maine, this moving novel demonstrates the hope, sacrifice, and love between two sisters, and the secret that drives them apart.
The After Party
Joan Fortier is a southern belle and socialite in 1950s Houston, Texas. Tall, blonde, beautiful, and strong, she is a force to be reckoned with. Every man wants her, and every woman wishes to be her. Cece Buchanan, Joan’s best friend, is either her chaperone or her partner-in-crime, depending on whom you ask. But when Joan behaves erratically the summer they turn twenty-five, Cece considers it her responsibility to put an end to the madness, forcing Joan to make one extremely difficult choice.
Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession
In this second novel of the epic Six Tudor Queens series, author and historian Alison Weir dives into the sixteenth century and explores the story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s most infamous wife. She was an avid reader who was way ahead of her time, understanding the inequalities suffered by women, and the damage caused by the patriarchal society she lived in. Her compelling life, and death, forever changed her nation.
Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator in Weike Wang’s Chemistry discovers that her passion for chemistry is dwindling. She feels like a failure and is constantly reminded of her shortcomings by her peers, her adviser, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always set high expectations. When her loving boyfriend, a fellow scientist, proposes to her, she finds herself in a bind; she doesn’t want to settle down before finding success on her own.
Graham Cavanaugh’s second wife, Audra, longs to become closer with his first wife, Elspeth, and chooses to befriend her despite her husband’s disapproval. Audra pushes Graham to get on board with establishing a friendship with his ex-wife, leading to the three of them sharing dinners, holidays, and several glasses of wine. This humorous novel from the celebrated author of Single, Carefree, Mellow centers on the challenges of marriage, the joy and heartache of raising children, and the curiosity about the path not taken.
This evocative coming-of-age novel highlights the enduring power of female friendship as it follows the lives of two young women: Rachel Rivkin and Fiona Larkin. Rachel and Fiona have been finding that their relationship is becoming more complicated with each passing year, and when tension reaches an all-time high after their first year of college, their differences drive them apart. But when tragedy strikes, Rachel and Fiona are forced to come together to confront their pasts, and the adults they’re becoming.
The Shark Club
Ann Kidd Taylor
One summer day on a Florida beach, two extraordinary things happen to Maeve Donnelly. First, she is kissed by Daniel, her ultimate crush. And second, she is bitten by a blacktip shark. Even after the attack, Maeve is unafraid of the ocean. Eighteen years later, she is a fearless, world-traveling marine biologist with the goal of discovering more about the minds of misunderstood sharks. Maeve has always been confident, but when she returns home to the legendary Hotel of the Muses, she finds herself in a perplexing situation, unsure of what to do next.
Girl on the Leeside
Kathleen Anne Kenney
Siobhan Doyle lives a quiet life in the Irish countryside, aspiring to be a poet and to retire to a life of books. She’s stayed with her Uncle Kee ever since her mother’s untimely death, and hasn’t really thought twice about his overprotective nature, because she is completely content with not leaving home…until a visiting American literary scholar awakens Siobhan to the possibility of a fulfilling life away from The Leeside. Shortly after meeting this charismatic newcomer, Siobhan learns that her father is still alive, and makes a decision that changes the course of her life.
Watch Me Disappear
Olive’s mom, Billie, vanished on a hiking trail a year ago, but the pain of the loss is still fresh and deep. Olive has grown to be extremely distant and quiet, shying away from all of her relationships, including the one she has with her father. But when Olive starts having visions of her mom, she turns to her father for help, and they both begin to uncover the truth about Billie. From the bestselling author of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, this propulsive novel is perfect for fans of Big Little Lies.
Before Everything is a remarkable novel about the power of friendship and love among a group of women who have stuck together since they were girls. They’ve gone through everything together, from wild adolescent adventures to midlife turning points. Now, as Anna, the group’s trailblazer and brightest spark, enters hospice, they gather to do what they’ve always done—talk, laugh and help each other decide on plans for the future in Anna’s rural Massachusetts home.
The author of the stunning New York Times bestseller, The Widow, returns with a brand-new novel of twisting psychological suspense featuring journalist Kate Waters, who is determined to uncover the truth behind the remains of a child found in an old house in London. As Kate investigates, she discovers connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. As mysteries from the past unfold, it becomes clear to Kate that the story is not so simple, and some secrets are meant to stay hidden.
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
From the award-winning author of No One Is Here Except All of Us, this imaginative novel focuses on a wealthy New England family in the 1960s and ’70s that suddenly loses their fortune, and their bearings. Fourth-grader Cricket is left alone to take care of her kindergarten-age twin brothers when her parents run off to pursue reckless fantasies. Luckily, Cricket is loving, witty, and resourceful, and wise beyond her years.
For far too long, female protagonists were rare in literature, living in the shadows of their male counterparts. Though this was presumably because of the way society functioned, it only maintained the idea that women are secondary to men. It’s exciting and refreshing to see a gradual shift in direction as time progresses, with women making their presences as the focal points of upcoming novels known more consistently than ever. After all, they are brave, innovative, powerful, and provocative, in all the best ways.
It’s time for women to bathe in the glory of the literary spotlight, and time for us to give them the appreciation they deserve. Here’s a list of exceptional books that feature fierce female protagonists at the centers of their own stories. And if you want even more great reads for women, check out our list of Must-Read Books for Women.