7 Contemporary Women-Centric Novels You Shouldn’t Miss

Books with strong female leads penned by women from all over the world

7 Contemporary Women-Centric Novels You Shouldn’t Miss
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Books with strong female leads penned by women from all over the world

When it comes to women authors writing contemporary fiction with strong female leads, there is a wealth of unexplored treasures out there in the world.

Here are some hand-picked book recommendations by women authors that every reader would be able to appreciate. There are books written by white women and women of colour, dealing with various topics like standing up to bullies, living with mental health issues, and finding love when you least expect it. The books are listed in no particular order.

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

1. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Romance/Psychological Fiction
What makes it stand out: The flawless queer romance angle thrown in

Image: Goodreads

Evelyn Hugo is a Hollywood actress famous for her stunning looks and her Academy award-winning performances. But most of all, she is notoriously well-known for her scandalous private life, with her seven failed marriages. As someone who has been tight-lipped in the media about her personal affairs all her life, the world is shaken when Evelyn agrees to write a reveal-all biography. Everyone hopes it will answer the burning question in their minds: she had seven husbands, but who was her one true love?

Taylor Jenkins Reid does a fabulous job of showing the struggles of being a woman in Hollywood in the 80s, of the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations, and the toll it takes on one's mental health and personal relationships.

“You do not know how fast you have been running, how hard you have been working, how truly exhausted you are, until somewhat stands behind you and says, “It’s OK, you can fall down now. I’ll catch you.”

Parts of the book read like pages out of a celebrity gossip magazine, but what ties it all together is the down-to-earth humanity of the characters. Evelyn is portrayed as somewhat of an enigma, a woman everyone envies, but no one really wants to be friends with. Driven and self-motivated, she is someone who has built her career from scratch in a world designed to pull women down. And yet, in all the glories success brings her, she finds her life is empty, devoid of true friends or someone to come home to.

Why you should read it:

The book is a brilliant portrayal of a strong female character and stays true to its premise. While the final reveal didn’t come as too much of a shocker, I believe everyone should read this book for the brilliant portrayal of the travails of everyday life and the miracles love can bring about.

2. The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

Genre: Literary fiction
What makes it stand out: The parallel storylines — one in Turkey and another in the US, with the protagonist being a 40-year-old woman

Image: Goodreads

This is the story of Ella, a forty-year-old housewife in Northampton living with the knowledge that her husband and her teenage children have outgrown their need for her. The knowledge weighs heavy on her heart, but she finds herself in a state of denial, desperately clinging on to the version of reality that she had lived for 20 years — that they are a happy, closely-knit family with no cracks running down the spine threatening to tear them apart.

Ella comes across a novel by sheer chance that ends up changing her life. Written by the mysterious Aziz Zahara and titled Sweet Blasphemy, the novel is set in Turkey of the 1200s and chronicles the mysterious relationship between the poet, Jalal-ud-din Rumi, and his mentor, Shams of Tabriz. Shams is a wandering dervish who comes into Rumi’s life most unexpectedly and turns everything upside down — the relationship dynamics among his family members, his disciples, even his understanding of Islam. This disassociation helps Rumi lose his worldly ideologies and get in touch with his deepest, most fundamental values.

“Every true love and friendship is a story of an unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we haven’t loved enough.”

On the surface, it might feel like Shams is talking about romantic love, but his words can be interpreted in many ways. After all, love itself can’t be defined. It comes to us in many forms, the simplest and purest of which is the kind of love one feels for their Creator.

Why you should read it:

I believe this book has the power to make readers rethink their life and the way they set their priorities. But more than everything else, this book will change the way you look at love.

3. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: Romance/Psychological Fiction
What makes it stand out: Representation of depression and PTSD

Image: Goodreads

A classic example of a likeable book with an unlikeable protagonist. Eleanor is a clinically depressed 31-year-old, bumbling through life and showing us the world through her eyes. She has a perfectly-functioning world, and her mental illness is not a part of her identity. The way she looks at the world is unique, and at parts, completely relatable. Some parts of the story are endearing, some gut-wrenching, and some are laugh-out-loud funny. In spite of that, the book gives the reader a lot of food for thought to chew on.

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.”

Why you should read it:

Overall, this book makes for an incredible read that had my heart juggling between one emotion and the next. The author did a tremendous job bringing such wonderfully unique characters to life. What I loved the most about the book was how well the author dealt with the protagonist suffering from a debilitating mental illness, without resorting to cliches.

4. When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Genre: Domestic Fiction
What makes it stand out: The compassionate take on a refugee’s life

Image: Goodreads

A story scattered through two generations — about a family in Afghanistan whose world is torn apart when the Taliban arrives. Struggling with loss and desperation, the story traces the lives of Fereiba and her teenage son, Saleem, who journey through countries and continents, seeking asylum in a new land, a new home.

The book is a shining, brilliant piece about the resilience of the human spirit, about the strengths a person can muster when they are pushed to their lowest lows. It’s the story of fighting on, of building hope when the world denies you light.

“Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day.”

Why you should read it:

The author has done a wonderful job of drafting the characters and showing their struggles. The story is painful in a way that will make the reader more sensitive towards the poor, the less fortunate, the ones who are uprooted from their homes and denied the basic human rights.

5. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Genre: Suspense, Psychological thriller
What makes it stand out: The unreliable narrator and chilling climax

Image: Goodreads

I am a fan of thrillers in general and psychological thrillers in particular. Having read several books of that genre, I have come to have some general theories, some preconceived notions, and I am, in general, very good at guessing what the story might be. But this book defied all that. Nay, it took all my guesses, grabbed them by the throat, and threw them out the window.

Yes, it was that good — I am not exaggerating. The ending was brilliantly executed. The characters are flawed to the extent that a reader shudders every time the narrator goes, “I did something bad. I swear I didn’t mean to.

Why you should read it:

The start is a bit slow, but have some patience. There is a reason for all that, and that reason is BRILLIANT. All the seemingly unconnected threads come together brilliantly towards the end and will leave you reeling with shock. After all, how can you NOT like a book that begins with-

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

6. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genre: Young adult fiction
What makes it stand out: The poetic prose

Image: Goodreads

This is the story of how a young black girl, Xiomara Batista, uses slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship with the world.

The whole novel is written in verse. I had listened to the audiobook performed by the author, and I was mesmerised by the power in her words. Elizabeth Acevedo is a true performer who knows how to captivate her readers and hold their attention.

The story was powerful and had plenty of takeaways about a woman growing up in a male-dominated world, but what makes this book soar are the strong characters. The side characters are written to have very different personalities and voices from the protagonist, and they stand out in their own way. The backstories of the characters are so well interwoven to the plot, that a reader can almost expect a character to behave in a particular way (the author doesn’t disappoint; the consistency and character growth is spell-binding).

“And I think about all the things we could be
if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.”

Why you should read it:

I believe every reader should read this book for the strong feminist message it carries and how powerfully the author shuns ant attempts at body-shaming and victim-blaming. For such a short book, this one is infinitely rich in emotion and passion.

7. Every Ugly Word by Aimee L. Salter

Genre: Science fiction/Young adult
What makes it stand out: Raw portrayal of bullying

Image: Goodreads

When seventeen-year-old Ashley Watson walks through the halls of her high school bullies taunt and shove her. She can’t go a day without fighting with her mother. And no matter how hard she tries, she can’t make her best friend, Matt, fall in love with her.

For the graphic descriptions of bullying and violence it contains, this is not an easy book to read. But, I believe everyone should go through it, for it delivers a powerful message: no matter how hard the world slams you, only you have the power to pull yourself up from the mess and rebuild your life.

“You can’t control how other people hurt you. But you can control how you hurt yourself. It isn’t what happens to you in your life that destroys you. It’s what you do about it.”

Why you should read it:

The writing is gripping, and the ‘ticking time bomb’ nature of the narrative keeps the reader hooked until the end. Yes, it’s a short read, but, it is one that will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

(Bonus) What did Tashi do? by Anangsha Alammyan

Genre: Cybercrime Thriller

Image: Goodreads

A beautiful woman. An anonymous stranger. A spine-chilling nightmare that blurs the thin line between online bullying and a full-blown real-life ordeal. In a fast-paced, mind-numbing tale of misplaced trust and poor data security, blackmail and friendship, lust and a love that had gone cold years back, will the protagonist Tashi be able to regain control over her life and win the fight against the anonymous stranger on the internet who seems to be one step ahead of her, no matter which direction she chooses to go?

“Strength can be found by opening our hearts to let the people who love us in.”

Why you should read it:

This novella impresses upon the reader the impact cyberbullying and blackmail can have upon a woman’s life. It attempts to sensitise men about the struggles women expose themselves to in today’s digital world and make people aware of what information they should share online.

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