If you’re like me and you’ve been trying to figure out what books to snuggle up in the sunshine with this summer, look no further. Here is a wildly diverse list of reading options from strong women writers and/or featuring awesome women characters.

Now this is a long list – YAY OPTIONS – so I totally understand if you don’t want to scroll through all the way. Just use the menu below to jump by genre!

P.S. Starred * entries are books that I’ve read and recommend!

Biographies and Memoirs

Novels

Young Adult

Story Collections

Science Fiction

Essays

Poetry

Non-Fiction

Mystery


*Lipstick Jihad – Azadeh Moaveni

“As far back as she can remember, Azadeh Moaveni has felt at odds with her tangled identity as an Iranian-American. In suburban America, Azadeh lived in two worlds. At home, she was the daughter of the Iranian exile community, serving tea, clinging to tradition, and dreaming of Tehran. Outside, she was a California girl who practiced yoga and listened to Madonna. For years, she ignored the tense standoff between her two cultures. But college magnified the clash between Iran and America, and after graduating, she moved to Iran as a journalist. This is the story of her search for identity, between two cultures cleaved apart by a violent history.” – Goodreads

Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

“And then, on Thanksgiving 2013, Shonda’s sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything.

The comment sat like a grenade, until it detonated. Then Shonda, the youngest of six children from a supremely competitive family, knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.” – Amazon

Bossy Pants – Tina Fey

“Sketch comedy, meet sketch narrative.

Goosing the conventions of a traditional memoir, the book opens with a chapter called “Origin Story” and focuses on a small number of life-defining events.” – WaPo

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

“Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen.” – Goodreads


Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawsom

“For most of my life I’ve battled depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders, but I wrote this book less as a manual on how-to-survive-mental-illness and more of a compendium on how-to-thrive-in-spite-of-your-brain-being-a-real-bastard. Some of it is very serious and some of it is very funny, but I hope you’ll find that all of it is honest, baffling and relatable in ways that may make you question your own sanity.” – The Bloggess

Tracks – Robyn Davidson

“Enduring sweltering heat, fending off poisonous snakes and lecherous men, chasing her camels when they get skittish and nursing them when they are injured, Davidson emerges as an extraordinarily courageous heroine driven by a love of Australia’s landscape, an empathy for its indigenous people, and a willingness to cast away the trappings of her former identity. Tracks is the compelling, candid story of her odyssey of discovery and transformation.” – Amazon

*Between Two Worlds – Zainab Salbi

“Zainab Salbi was eleven years old when her father was chosen to serve as Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot, her family often forced to spend weekends with Saddam where he watched their every move. As a palace insider, Zainab offers a singular glimpse of what it is like to come of age under a dictator.” – Amazon

*Drawing Blood – Molly Crabapple

“Molly Crabapple isn’t a conventional role model, but she’s walking, talking, unsilenceable proof of a woman’s power. Her memoir, Drawing Blood, is an essential read for all young women. It’s a gripping narrative built on a foundation of perfect details. She’s fervent in pursuit of her dreams and brutally honest about how difficult that chase is.” – Driven

*The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

“On Dec. 20, 2003, while her daughter, Quintana Michael, lay comatose in a hospital bed, Didion watched her husband, John Gregory Dunne, die of a heart attack. In May of 2004, Didion began typing notes to herself: “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” By December, she had written an account of her responses to Dunne’s unexpected death. She makes her central observation early on: “Grief when it comes, it is nothing we expect it to be.” Toward the end, she echoes: “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it.” – Slate

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

“Midway on her life’s journey, Cheryl Strayed found herself in dark woods. Or a quarter-way, really: At the age of 26, motherless, divorced, dabbling in heroin, adrift from her stepfather and siblings and her own former self, Strayed made her way to California, hoisted a backpack, and set off to hike 1,100 miles in the wilderness, from the Mojave Desert to a place on the Oregon-Washington border called Bridge of the Gods. ” – Vulture

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened –  Jenny Lawson

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir is a poignantly disturbing, yet darkly hysterical tome for every intellectual misfit who thought they were the only ones to think the things that Lawson dares to say out loud. Like laughing at a funeral, this book is both irreverent and impossible to hold back once you get started.” – The Bloggess

Appetites: Why Women Want – Carolina Knapp

“Caroline Knapp addresses the following question: How does a woman know, and then honour, what it is she wants in a culture bent on shaping, defining and controlling women and their desires? She uses her own experiences as a powerful exploration of this issue.” – Goodreads

Plenty Ladylike – Claire McCaskill

“The female senator from Missouri shares her inspiring story of embracing her ambition, surviving sexist slings, making a family, losing a husband, outsmarting her enemies—and finding joy along the way.” – Simon and Schuster

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jnovels

The Vagabond – Colette

“A rousing novel of love and guile, of vulnerability and vituperative wit, of poetry and self-empowerment, a slim volume scored with little wisdoms, sumptuous descriptions and the “heroic vanity” of an unforgettable cast.” – The Guardian

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

“For me, Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece of prose, as emotionally satisfying as it is impressive. There is no novel I love more.” – Zadie Smith

*Little Bee – Chris Cleave

“Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.” – Little Bee’s dust jacket (It’s truly an incredible read with a story I don’t want to spoil. Pick it up NOW)

Dietland – Sarai Walker

“The novel doesn’t rest with a predictable message of sugary self-acceptance:Dietland swerves suddenly and powerfully from chick lit to revenge fantasy” – NPR

White Teeth – Zadie Smith

“Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence.” – Amazon

The Awakening – Kate Chopin

“When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.” – Goodreads


The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert

“The prose is modern and accessible, leaning on plot rather than language to draw readers in. Gilbert has established herself as a straight-up storyteller who dares us into adventures of worldly discovery, and this novel stands as a winning next act. “The Signature of All Things” is a bracing homage to the many natures of genius and the inevitable progress of ideas, in a world that reveals its best truths to the uncommonly patient minds.” – The New York Times

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Adichie is a word-by-word virtuoso with a sure grasp of social conundrums in Nigeria, East Coast America, and England; an omnivorous eye for resonant detail; a gift for authentic characters; pyrotechnic wit; and deep humanitarianism. AMERICANAH is a courageous, world-class novel about independence, integrity, community, and love—and what it takes to become a ‘full human being.'” – Booklist

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi

“It stands up to the hype. Taiye Selasi writes with glittering poetic command, a sense of daring, and a deep emotional investment in the lives and transformations of her characters. There is a lot of crying in this novel, lots of corporeal observations of the pain inflicted by social experience and the ties of love. But the tears flow lightly through passages of gorgeous description and psychological investigation, leaving behind a powerful portrait of a broken family – “a family without gravity” – in the throes of piecing itself back together.” – The Guardian

On Beauty – Zadie Smith

Among the many tasks Zadie Smith sets herself in her ambitious, hugely impressive new novel is that of finding a style at once flexible enough to give voice to the multitude of different worlds it contains…Its principal family alone, the Belseys, comprises its own little compact multiverse of clashing cultures: the father a white English academic, the mother a black Floridian hospital administrator, one son a budding Jesus freak, the other a would-be rapper and street hustler, the daughter a specimen of US student culture at its most rampagingly overdriven. Still more worlds open up beyond them as their lives unravel out through the genteel Massachusetts college town to which they have been transplanted: Haitian immigrants, hip-hop poets, New England liberal intelligentsia, reactionary black conservatives…” – The Guardian

The Boston Girl – Anita Diamant
“An unforgettable coming-of-age novel about family ties and values, friendship and feminism told through the eyes of a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century.” – Goodreads

A Secret History – Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.” – Amazon

Room- Emma Donoghue

“The parent-child bond, she says, is “the most unstable, unpredictable kind of love story — and it’s asymmetrical in that you will always worry for them, and they won’t necessarily worry for you.”

Parent-child relationships are often written in ‘banal and sentimental’ ways, she says. ‘With Room, I was trying to capture the essential drama of parenting.'” – NPR

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A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

“Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?” – Goodreads

Graceling – Kristin Cashore

“Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing.” – Amazon

The Song of the Lioness – Tamora Pierce

“The Song of the Lioness quartet is the adventurous story of one girl’s journey to overcome the obstacles facing her, become a valiant knight, and save Tortall from conquest.” – Goodreads

The Books of Bayern – Shannon Hale
“Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.” – Goodreads

The Chanters of Temaris trilogy – Kate Constable
“Calwyn has been raised in the confinement of Antaris, learning to practice chantment in the Power of Ice as one of the Daughters of Taris. Her sheltered life is shattered by the arrival of Darrow, a sorcerer from the lands outside the ice wall and a man who awakens Calwyn’s barely stifled sense of adventure. Darrow is pursued by Samis, once his friend and now a powerful enemy who seeks absolute power by becoming master of all nine chantments. Calwyn helps Darrow escape and the two travel together. They face dangers, sorrow, and fear in their quest to save the lands and peoples of Tremaris from the evil power that Samis seeks. During a final encounter in the Desolate City, Calwyn learns the extent of her own powers and the enduring value of friendship.” – Scholastic

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Drenched – Marisa Matarazzo

“Fusing magical realism and fantasy with the heart of the here and now, Matarazzo has established a singular style. As she shifts effortlessly among startling plotlines and peculiar characters, she celebrates the fluid sorcery of love—in its ardor, its ugliness, all of its uncanny and magnificent manifestations, proclaiming love the most wondrous magic of all.” – Goodreads

*What is Not Yours is Not Yours – Helen Oyememi

“This is the magic of Helen Oyeyemi. Each story is a fairy tale. But it’s not all sparkly utopias full of endless gardens of love. Instead, she plays on the magical qualities of reality. She shows the multidimensional ways in which we understand who we are, the moments we live through and the memories we lock away.

Throughout this collection, Oyeyemi proves that fairytales aren’t an escape from reality but rather a lens through which we can understand the broken and confusing parts of life.” – Driven

Nice Big Amerian Baby – Judy Budnitz
Budnitz, at heart, is a political writer, and a number of her stories are powered by anger at the disparity of wealth between the first and third worlds, and the obliviousness of the privileged to the suffering of the oppressed. The collision of Budnitz’s earnest political agenda with her subversive narrative imagination gives these stories their distinctive feel. At her best, Budnitz invents outrageous plots that somehow carry the weight of truth.” – The New York Times

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SciFi

Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

“When unattended environmental and economic crises lead to social chaos, not even gated communities are safe. In a night of fire and death Lauren Olamina, a minister’s young daughter, loses her family and home and ventures out into the unprotected American landscape. But what begins as a flight for survival soon leads to something much more: a startling vision of human destiny… and the birth of a new faith.” – Amazon

Who Fears Death – Nnedi Okorafor

“In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.

Reared under the tutelage of a mysterious and traditional shaman, Onyesonwu discovers her magical destiny–to end the genocide of her people. The journey to fulfill her destiny will force her to grapple with nature, tradition, history, true love, the spiritual mysteries of her culture-and eventually death itself.” – Goodreads

The Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai

“You’ve got a girl who smells kind of like dorian fruit (i.e. not so good) and another who transforms into a fish, a woman, and a snake alternately. Oh there are also cybernetically engineered factory workers and video games where you swallow birds and get beat up by police as “work.” It’s about love, labor condition, the Asian diasporic experience, and funny smells. It’s pretty much unlike anything you’ve read before.” – Bustle

Dawn – Octavia Butler

Lilith lyapo awoke from a centuries-long sleep to find herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. Creatures covered in writhing tentacles, the Oankali had saved every surviving human from a dying, ruined Earth. They healed the planet, cured cancer, increased strength, and were now ready to help Lilith lead her people back to Earth–but for a price.

Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula LeGuinn

“When the human ambassador Genly Ai is sent to Gethen, the planet known as Winter by those outsiders who have experienced its arctic climate, he thinks that his mission will be a standard one of making peace between warring factions. Instead the ambassador finds himself wildly unprepared. For Gethen is inhabited by a society with a rich, ancient culture full of strange beauty and deadly intrigue—a society of people who are both male and female in one, and neither. This lack of fixed gender, and the resulting lack of gender-based discrimination, is the very cornerstone of Gethen life. But Genly is all too human. Unless he can overcome his ingrained prejudices about the significance of “male” and “female,” he may destroy both his mission and himself.” – Amazon

Oryx and Crake Trilogy – Margaret Atwood

“The starting place is a point some way into the future, where a character called Snowman is contemplating the devastated landscape around him and his own situation as probably the last human left on earth. Woven through Snowman’s struggles to survive among genetic mutations and in the face of gradual starvation is the tale of his past as a naive young man called Jimmy. Jimmy watches as the world hurtles towards a catastrophe that is masterminded by his friend, an over-ambitious scientist called Crake.” – The Guardian

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*The White Album – Joan Didion

“I think most people will recommend Didion’s Slouching towards Bethlehem as her best essay collection, but my favorite will always be The White Album. It’s personal, it’s spiritual and it addresses social issues of the time which somehow manage to be relevant today.” -Me, Sam (lol)

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens – Alice Walker

“Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Among the contents are essays about other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the antinuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid memoir of a scarring childhood injury and her daughter’s healing words.” -Amazon

*A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf

“This is woman in fiction… A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words and profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read; scarcely spell; and was the property of her husband,” – Woolf

Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

“When you need an outlet for your outrage, when you need a laugh, when you need to know you aren’t the only one suffering through man-splaining, you need to turn to Rebecca Solnit’s slim but splendid essay collection.” – Bustle

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*E-mails from Scheherazad – Mohja Kahf

“Perhaps Kahf’s most impressive accomplishment is her ability to bring together beauty and pain in the same breath, to write poems that encompass history and human endurance as well as joy, that testify to the fragility and power of the human heart. . . . This is Kahf’s ultimate message: that religion and ethnicity and color and nationality are as nothing in the face of simple humanity; that spirituality and life are beyond all of these, that no creed or ideology may be taken as justification for harm.” – Lisa Suhair Majaj

And Still I Rise – Maya Angelou

“In this inspiring poem, Maya Angelou celebrates the courage of the human spirit over the harshest of obstacles. An ode to the power that resides in us all to overcome the most difficult circumstances, this poem is truly an inspiration and affirmation of the faith that restores and nourishes the soul.” – Goodreads

*A Thousand Mornings – Mary Oliver

“The poems of Mary Oliver are prayers that anyone can pray. They are spacious and simple, expansive and ordinary. They don’t require us to believe in anything in particular, but they do ask us to pay attention to that fleeting and particular space of a moment.” – On Being

*Zaatar Diva – Suheir Hammad

“ZaatarDiva is poetry about love, politics and art, all coming out of Hammad’s bag of zaatar. The poems in this collection are at once seductive and dangerous; they are possessed by a singular lyricism and awareness.” – Amazon

Salt – Nayyirah Waheed

“Salt is a journey through warmth and sharpness. This collection of poetry explores the realities of multiple identities, language, diasporic life & pain, the self, community, healing, celebration, and love.” – Goodreads

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nonfic

The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler

“I decided to talk to women about their vaginas, to do vagina interviews, which became vagina monologues…At first women were reluctant to talk. They were a little shy. But once they got going, you couldn’t stop them. Women secretly love to talk about their vaginas. They get very excited, mainly because no one’s ever asked them before.” – Eve Ensler

*The Chalice and the Blade – Riane Eisler

“The legacy of the sacred feminine.

The Chalice and the Blade tells a new story of our cultural origins. It showsthat warfare and the war of the sexes are neither divinely nor biologicall yordained. It provides verification that a better future is possible—and is in fact firmly rooted in the haunting dramas of what happened in our past.” – Amazon

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

“Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.” – Goodreads

*The Woman’s History of the World – Rosalind Miles

“Rosalind Mile’s Book is on e which has been written to alleviate a genuine injustice, the ignoring of women’s role in history.” – The Sunday Times (London)

(this book changed my life when I read it in high school).

The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir

“What does it mean to be a woman? Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpiece explores the idea of womanhood through the ages through a philosophical, historical, and cultural lens. Groundbreaking and prolific, The Second Sex will challenge the way you look at being a woman.” – Bustle

Off the Sideline – Kristin Gillibrand

“In Off the Sidelines, Gillibrand is the tough-love older sister and cheerleader every woman needs. She explains why “ambition” is not a dirty word, failure is a gift, listening is the most effective tool, and the debate over women “having it all” is absurd at best and demeaning at worst. In her sharp, honest, and refreshingly relatable voice, she dares us all to tap into our inner strength, find personal fulfillment, and speak up for what we believe in.” – Random House

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mystery

The Secret of the Old Clock – Carolyn Keene

“The book, ‘The Secret of the Old Clock’, that started it all off focuses on a missing will that Nancy seeks out on behalf of her friends and struggling relatives of the deceased, The Crowleys. Wealthy Josiah Crowley had passed away and his money went onto greedy heirs, the Topham sisters. Nancy hears about a will Josiah Crowley made and goes in search of it to help her friends get their rightful inheritance. Along the way, she must track down a couple of burglars who have stolen the Topham’s furniture, and a clock that holds Josiah Crowley’s secret.” – Ebay

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

“Ten . . .”
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U. N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .”
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .”
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die.

“Seven . . .”
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?” – Amazon

One for the Money – Janet Evonavitch

The New York Times bestselling blockbuster novel from Janet Evanovich that began the wildly entertaining Stephanie Plum series.

Watch out, world. Here comes Stephanie Plum, a bounty hunter with attitude. In Stephanie’s opinion, toxic waste, rabid drivers, armed schizophrenics, and August heat, humidity, and hydrocarbons are all part of the great adventure of living in Jersey.
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Big thank yous to those who contributed suggestions to this post:
Jessica Porter, Lizzie Kirch, Rachel Sanderson, Michael Galant, LA Blake, Leandro Fefer, Hetali Lodaya, Adaeze Okoli, Lauren Matheny, Lincoln Pennington, Abby Reimer, Lindsay Carbonell, Becky Deutmeyer Quick, Justina Vasquez, Rachel May and Haley Hamilton.