What I Learned From Reading Female Authors Only Last Year

February is Women In Horror Month, so I thought I’d talk a bit about having read 44 books last year all by women authors. These 44 books were not all within the horror genre, but because this is a month celebrating underrepresented authors in an underappreciated genre, I’m squeezing this post in 🙂

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So, 44 books all by women. What trends did I see? What was evident when reading only women authors that might not be evident when reading between genders? What was surprising or disappointing? The answer to all of these questions, folks, is nothing. That’s right.

I had gone into this endeavor thinking that, perhaps–and yes, I know I expose my own bias here–I would read a lot of romance, regardless of genre. This is partly because I lean toward these types of stories, but also, even when I intentionally pick up something that doesn’t feature an epic romance, I kind of expect it. However, I was mistaken in considering, for even a moment, that romance is at the core of most novels by women.

The goal of this post is to reinforce that authors are authors and books are books, and we shouldn’t be dividing them by the “types of books women write” versus “the types of books men write”. If anything, last year, reading all female-penned novels (and a book on craft), showed me that to think in such categories falsely represents any author and artist. This tweet from YA author Maggie Stiefvater demonstrates my point.

Though I’m reluctant to even divide these up by genre, I thought I’d review some of the badass reads that stood out last year. Bear in mind, I only read a select set of genres; by no means, did I do a sample of every fiction genre.

Standout (Badass) Reads of 2017

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

First up is the horror master who resurrected the gothic genre in the 20th century. You may not know this but Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a story by Du Maurier. Both of these books elicited all over body chills. There were a couple scenes in Jamaica Inn that will forever stay with me in my vault of scariest moments while reading. Rebecca was more of an all over eeriness and discomfort, the horror of the psychological. Both of these are horror classics.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This tome was a literary goliath. It was everything I had hoped it would be–intimate portrayals of each larger-than-life character, epic friendships, scholarly atmosphere, and a timeless, mythic feel to the entirety of the story.

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

This was an enjoyable, eye-opening book on the craft of writing. I appreciated the unique approach to showing a writer’s mindset and decision-making process while working on a short story. The three stories were all strong and varied, making it an invaluable addition to any shelf that already bears On Writing by Stephen King.

The Foxhole Court, The Raven King, All the King’s Men by Nora Sakavic

No softness here. Sports, brutality, fatal competition, and hungry hit-men. I was propelled through the series over two feverish weeks. There were a couple times, the events were so gruesome, I had to put the book down. Funny thing is, I have almost no interest in sports, but Sakavic’s descriptions of her fictional sport Exy were riveting.

Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi’s dystopian superhero series is so much more than meets the eye in the first book. The series even transcends its genre. In Juliette, the reader experiences this awe-inspiring transformation of a girl, broken by her parents, her dying world, and her government. This series is an impressive psychological study of the effects of war and the war a person can have within herself.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

You know this book has made an impact on me, as I’ve talked about it before, in a post about unexpected horror and a round up of my favorite 2017 reads. I recently started listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and I can see how Novik expertly invokes her predecessor in the fantasy genre in Uprooted. This novel is mythic and dark and utterly moving.

Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

A scathingly sharp, perilously witty, modern day bildungsroman–about a young woman, imagine that.

Middle Grade Mavens: Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling.

While both The Song of the Lioness series and the Harry Potter series are listed as YA, Alanna: The First Adventure and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are middle grade novels. I adore that both of these series grow up with the readers; but even for starting so young, neither of these first books shy away from life, death, or violence. As a reader who is oftentimes propelled through story by romance, these series don’t have a heck of a lot of it, but they’re succinctly and thoughtfully plotted, populated with amazing characters, funny, and addictive.

The Brontës

Finally, we cannot forget the indomitable BrontĂ« sisters: Charlotte BrontĂ«’s Villette has been attributed to as the first modernist novel before the term was coined. It is overtly feminist, as its main character is seeking economic independence, but it is also devilishly sensual, fierce, and despairing. Anne BrontĂ«’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only subtly feminist but also presented a dark tale of vice and deception, and an outright battle between innocence and corruption, subjects of which a woman in her day should have no knowledge.


Do you agree that there should be no difference between how we perceive novels by women versus by men? What do you think about this cross-section of epic reads by women? Do you have any of your own to suggest?

6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

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This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

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A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, Nest, Looking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

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And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane Eyre, House of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the BrontĂ«s’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last BrontĂ« descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the BrontĂ« legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the BrontĂ« ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?