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?

The Raven Cycle: A Fangirl’s Love Letter

“Gansey looked up to them, and she saw in his face that he loved this place. His bald expression held something new: not the raw delight of finding the ley line or the sly pleasure of teasing Blue. She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, the strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.” –From The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

There have been books that have utterly shook me, searing themselves into my soul, and I didn’t shrink from the screaming heat of the branding iron. Harry Potter was the first–really the only–series I fangirled over. I read the first book sometime in my early teens. I shared a room with my two sisters, my bed a solitary twin that laid perpendicular to their bunk beds, so I think I was in eighth grade. I can remember the exact moment, laying back on my bunched up blankets and pillows, holding The Sorcerer’s Stone, that I fell in.  

My love for that series was swift and lasting. As each book came out, it became ingrained even deeper in my thoughts, who I was becoming. I have not read a series until now that has transfixed me so completely. The plots over all seven books are certainly intricate. But more than that, it was this orphaned outcast I loved so much, and his aggregate of emotions upon entering a world it seemed had been designed just for him (and designed just to destroy him!) for how much it feels like home.

After that, there were other, standalone novels that moved me to that same degree. The Catcher in the Rye, because well, Holden Caulfield is my spirit animal. Jane Eyre and later Villette for their lonely, harrowing, emotional, full protagonists. Years and years after Harry Potter, The Fountainhead nearly killed me. Again, it was a solitary outcast of sorts, Howard Roark, and his electric relationships to the other alive characters that took my breath away. The year my daughters were born, during my maternity leave, Carry On reminded me of my deep love for Harry Potter. And then there was Uprooted, because Jesus Christ, how can a novel have that much magic, and horror, and emotion, and love? But still, no series that caught me up quite like The Boy Who Lived and his story.

Now, I have come face to face with what will most certainly be a life long adversary, for I will forever have to fight for headspace with this series even now that I have breathed its final breath.  The Raven Cycle starts with The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. A psychic’s daughter sees a spirit on the corpse road, which means he will be dead within the next year. That non-psychic Blue Sargent can see him means he is either her true love or she is the one who kills him. Considering her family of psychic women have all predicted she would kill her true love with a kiss since forever, she isn’t precisely excited by either scenario. Especially when she meets the boy of the mysterious spirit to see he is a very much alive and very much the bastard that she has come to think of the private school Aglionby boys. Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are on a quest to find and wake the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, and Blue is willing to overlook Gansey’s faults (and the constant whisper of her hand in his impending death) to join them.

Maggie Stiefvater’s art

The series is so much more than this starting point, this single moment in a universe of moments, each as powerful and vibrant as all the others. But I did not expect what came next, which made the novel–and the following three –all the more mind-blowing.

The Raven Cycle has, not only, “it all” but so much of “it all” that I feel very near to combustion when I think about it. Three-dimensional-walk-out-of-your-dreams characters, palpable tensions, tragedies, the crisscrossing strings tying events, places, and characters together, and an atmosphere so terrifyingly alive, I could feel it breathing against my ear.

I read the entire saga in June, and in August, started listening to the audiobooks, because I was dying to hear Will Patton voicing Kavinsky, a character from the second (and my favorite) book in the saga, The Dream Thieves. I was not disappointed with his performance.

kavinsky ronan
Art by Cassandra Jean at cassandrajp.tumbler.com***

Listening to the books so soon after reading them allowed me to appreciate all the concentric circles, the resonating themes, the sheer magnitude and power of this idea. 

One article claims the series is “a meticulously crafted cycle that rewards rereading in heaps” (don’t read these essays until you’ve read the series). And when I reread it less than two months later–listened to it–I enjoyed it even more the second time around for this reason, the intricacy, and magic, and infinity of it all.

“There were many versions of Gansey, but this one had been rare since the introduction of Adam’s taming presence. It was also Ronan’s favorite. It was the opposite of Gansey’s most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia. But this version of Gansey was Gansey the boy. This was the Gansey who bought the Camaro, the Gansey who asked Ronan to teach him to fight, the Gansey who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn’t show up in other versions…Ronan didn’t really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Gansey was burning.”  –From The Dream Thieves

I am so in love with these books, these characters, I have an ache in my chest when I am looking around listlessly, trying to remember what it was that had my heart so high in the sky–and then remembering: The Raven Cycle. And how it’s over. But lo, it is not. Maggie Stiefvater is working on a new trilogy for Ronan, my favorite character in the series (hint: ALL the characters are my favorite). You have time to read these damn books before the era of the new trilogy dawns. Please read or listen to the audiobooks and come back and tell me what you think. I will never tire of singing this series’s praises.

I will be going to see Maggie for her All The Crooked Saints signing in October. I wish I could smash all these words into a concise, heart-felt utterance of the crush I have on her brain and my devotion to and adoration of this world she’s created. Instead, I’ll probably just stand in front of her smiling like I’ve been body-snatched and forget my own name. Alas, this will have to suffice.

***Don’t look up fanart because spoilers! Listen to this song the author wrote instead–it conveys the tone of the series so beautifully