My Top 5 Women’s Fiction Novels of All Time

dog yearGuest blog by Ann Garvin, author of The Dog Year

Asking me what my top 5 women’s fiction novels of all time is like asking my mother (who has dementia and is pleasantly confused) what her favorite food is. She loves food, likes all kinds of food, but can’t reproduce her favorite food in thought or in the kitchen because once she eats it, she forgets it.

I’m a little like that with books, even books I dearly loved. There have been so many wonderful books in my life. Women’s fiction books that have changed the way I think, helped me decide during a difficult time, and probably defined me in ways I don’t even realize.

I have some that have stuck with me more than others and I’m not sure why. It’s possible that they just hit me at the exact right moment and now they are with me forever. Here are a few I came up with as I wrote this but ask me again in a month and I might have a whole new list.

  1. Mother’s Day by Barbara Holland (Doubleday, 1980) and then re-released as In Private Life in 1997 (Akadine Press). Barbara Holland wrote like Erma Bombeck would have written if she were a few snorts into a bottle of scotch and possibly depressed. She writes about motherhood and each sentence holds a hard truth. She writes in that mix of funny and sad that I aspire to and only achieve every so often. Holland did it in every paragraph and even before I was a parent or a writer, I admired her ability to get life right.
  2. The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg (Ballantine, 1996). I was 34 and newly married when I read this book, the story of a 50-year-old woman who impulsively leaves home after experiencing a slow loss of self over many years of marriage. It was the first of Berg’s books I read, and I found myself hand-copying some of her phrases onto slips of paper later to read the passages over the phone to friends. This is an unusual choice for a young woman in her first blush of coupledom, but Berg has the ability to bridge age and experience with emotion. I went on to read almost all of Berg’s other books, becoming a longtime fan of her way of getting the complexity of people right, almost every single time.
  3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stocket as far as I’m concerned is the perfect bridge between short story and novel. I know many people didn’t like this book because the protagonist, Olive is such a difficult character. I love difficult characters. Once, an agent who I was speaking to about representation said to me, “You’re such a nice person why do you write such difficult characters?” I thought to myself, it’s because I’m secretly difficult and I don’t have the courage to be outwardly so. I like a person who embraces their sadness and needs or disappointments and doesn’t cater to societies desire for nice girls or constant happiness. I’m not saying I want people to be ugly and angry for the sake of it, but I do like the honesty of admitting to feeling less than wonderful –actually acting like it rather than suppressing. I think that Elizabeth Stockett showed the humanity of the people in her book brilliantly and isn’t that what writing is about?
  4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Say what you want about Eat, Pray, Love –that it was the selfish ramblings of a self-centered woman, that it was a classist view of the world, whatever, but that’s not how I saw it. I saw it as one woman’s story of getting unstuck in a life that she felt entirely stuck in. It didn’t matter to me that what she was “stuck” in other people might actually aspire to, nor did it bother me that she had the means to do this journey where others don’t. The book wasn’t a how-to, or a you-should it was like a letter from a girlfriend. It was a modern day quest, it took courage, and it was written in the voice of an engaging, funny, reflective person who disliked in herself everything readers disliked in her. I know the question is about novels but Eat, Pray, Love read like a novel so I included it here.
  5. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I’m breaking the rules I think suggesting a novel written by a man is women’s fiction. But this book is such a wonderful exploration of women, exploitation, relationships, and longing that I had to include it. It’s one of those novels that I believe are truly timeless and can and will be read for generations. You love the characters but you also wonder how you might fare if placed in that culture under the reign of men. It’s a wonderful read and nothing about it should be limited to men and or women only.

Book Blurb:

Dr. Lucy Peterman was not built for a messy life. A well-respected surgeon whose patients rely on her warmth, compassion, and fierce support, Lucy has always worked hard and trusted in the system. She’s not the sort of person who ends up in a twelve-step program after being caught stealing supplies from her hospital.

But that was Lucy before the accident—before her husband and unborn baby were ripped away from her in an instant, before her future felt like a broken promise. Caught red-handed in a senseless act that kept her demons at bay, she’s faced with a choice: get some help or lose her medical license.

Now she’s reluctantly sharing her deepest fears with a bunch of strangers, avoiding her loneliness by befriending a troubled girl, pinning her hopes on her husband’s last gift, and getting involved with a rugged cop from her past. It’s only when she is adopted by a stray mutt and moves her group to the dog park that she begins to truly bond with the ragtag dog-loving addicts—and discovers that a chaotic, unplanned life might be the sweetest of all . . .

Buy: The Dog Year

Garvin - Author Photo - Credit Matt Boatright-SimonAuthor Bio: Ann Garvin worked as a registered nurse while finishing her doctorate in exercise psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is a professor of health and nutrition at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. Additionally, she teaches creative writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire. She is the author of one previous novel, On Maggie’s Watch. She lives in Wisconsin.

Review: Rearranged by Ruth Saberton

Rearranged by Ruth SabertonReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Synopsis: Mills Ali already has a life of her own and dreams of working for an Asian magazine. She has tonnes of friends and thinks she has it all, but her parents want to arrange a marriage for her that will kill any chance of her having the life she has built for herself. If she marries the man they have picked out for her, she will have to adopt the role of a dutiful and obedient wife who stays at home and has children to him. This might sound a bit Regency to her, and it horrifies her deeply, but what can she do to change her situation? Find a man of her own?

Review: Reading this immediately took me back to college where I first remembered writing a project on Asian culture, and was told about a recently married Asian woman who was willing to show me some of her dowry. I felt like the woman at the start of this novel, amazed at the amount of red on her clothing, hands, face etc and smiled at the humour the authors showed. Mills thinks she’ll not be lucky enough for her parents to get her a decent man, she thinks they are more likely to find :

“some interbred third cousin with a monobrow and more overbite than Goofy.”

What endeared me to this is the setting as Mills lives in Bradford, and as I am in England, so I could easily make the connection and understand how the character was feeling at the prospect of marriage to who she terms a Chi Chi the giant panda lookalike. Though mentioning Boy George and Marilyn Manson in one sentence worked for me in ways you can’t imagine. What you as a reader notice is that Mills is a woman in her own right and has her own idea of how she wants to live her life. It is her parents who have other ideas of how they want her to spend her life. If she wanted to she could have her own business as she has a business head on her shoulders, and wants to rise above the stereotypical role originally meant for Asian women.

Good bits:
The cover art is beautiful complete with Mehndi inspired background.
The start of the story is highly funny – and recommended.

Bad bits:
Her naughty family thinking they could get her married off to a man she doesn’t know.

Final Thoughts: For me Rearranged by Ruth Saberton was the most unlikely novel to catch my attention this year, but the setting, Mills Ali character and the non-stop humor made this a definite 5 star review. I would recommend this to anyone who likes humor in their romance novels and some fun with their turkey and stuffing this Christmas.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: Rearranged

Review: Three Sisters (Blackberry Island, Book 2) by Susan Mallery

three sistersThis book is not an anthology, but there are three stories intertwined in it. Three Sisters is the nickname for three Victorian houses on a cul-de-sac and with a name like that, it is easy to see that the three women who own it will become as “sisters” in their friendships to one another.

Romantic relationships are at the heart of the novel, but it is not your traditional romance novel. It’s more women’s fiction with romantic elements. I found two of the three stories very depressing for much of their page time and should come with a warning label for some readers. The issues in the novel are not lighthearted ones and could be tough to read emotionally for some women.

One woman deals (or not) with grief over the death of her infant son and it is destroying her marriage. (Her husband isn’t handling it any better and gets drunk to avoid his grief.)

Another woman is struggling in her marriage because she needs order and perfection to counter her childhood abusive relationship with her mother. Her needs, which are silent and never spoken, affect her household and all her children see her as the bad guy. (How could her husband who indicates knowing this tragic past, say/think the things he did and not be more sympathetic or handle his own concerns/needs better/sooner?)

The last woman faces the challenges of new beginnings after her fiancé dumps her at the altar and runs off with his secretary to get hitched in Vegas. I by far, enjoyed her story the most. I liked her, her new fella, and the daughter.

Each of the married women’s struggles is handled with respect, but the story is at times very much a downer. It’s not until over halfway through the book that things start to look up for the two married women on the street, but getting there was painful for me. Their husbands also had to come around and I wasn’t convinced by one of them for a while because it seemed like all the blame was on the wife. Not fair.

The book will tug at your heartstrings, but you have to ask yourself do you want them to be tugged so hard? It ends happy. I give 2 Stars for the married couples’ stories and 4 Stars for the single gal’s story…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Buy: Three Sisters (Blackberry Island)

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Review: Semi-Sweet by Roisin Meaney

Summary: Hannah Robinson gets dumped by her longtime boyfriend days before she’s going to open her new shop, Cupcakes on the Corner. Even though he’s told her he’s leaving her for another woman she can’t quite believe it’s happened. Everyone loved Patrick, including her, she didn’t even know things were bad with them… and even her mother was certain there would be wedding bells before long. What a nightmare! Her best friend, Adam, gives her his birthday as the deadline to get the shop up and running and successful, which she’s determined to do, even if Patrick’s new girlfriend is pregnant and bombshells keep landing on her head and the lives of those around her, specifically family friend Alice.

Review: Semi-Sweet switches POVs with several characters examining all aspects of love and romance across several different couples. You get inside cheating Patrick’s head (props for this), sweet Adam’s mind, the nervous wreck of Hannah’s, and also into a slew of other side characters including Patrick’s new girlfriend, Adam’s sister, Hannah’s mom, the new girlfriend’s mom, Hannah’s mom’s friend/boss Alice, and so on, which can a little confusing as sometimes you don’t know which head you pop into for a sentence or two.

Life isn’t easy for the characters as you watch them muddle through their relationships in this small Irish town where everyone knows everyone. Other people’s problems cut into Hannah’s new romance and among them are alcoholism and a child’s death, which turned the novel into a downer for me personally.

Recommended: If you read chick-lit novels, contemporary women’s fiction, books on love and loss, or want to simply find out just how much scum Patrick is, this book is for you.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Buy: Semi-Sweet: A Novel of Love and Cupcakes

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When the Sizzle Fizzles

by Malena Lott, guest blogger and author of Fixer Upper

I get why romance novels soak up market share and win over the hearts of women.  From “the meet” to the “the first kiss” to the first whatever else and I love you, we are completely swept away and fall in love with the hero right along with the heroine. It’s an escape, and as busy wives, mothers and workers, we need one.

While I write light women’s fiction, I always include romance in my book. Now, she might either get the guy or get rid of the guy, depending on what’s best for her, and she may not end up with whom we think she will in the beginning. You know, kind of like real life.

In FIXER UPPER, my third novel, Macy Baxter desperately wants the guy she’s married to – the handsome, charming blue-blooded politician, Trevor – to show her she means more than his political campaign and ambitions. He’s a workaholic and they have become mere roommates. When he misses her surprise 35th birthday – which his secretary planned – she hightails it for the heartland to mend her broken heart and hope distance will make the heart grow fonder for the both of them.

Macy has some big choices to make. What if her plan to stay on at the farm and vineyard don’t make Trevor see what his life is missing without her? What about her first love, the gorgeous carpenter, Carter Stockton, who she hasn’t quite gotten over yet? Or Ian “the Brain” Winger, who has come back to Wakefield after selling his company – TrueMatch.com – for millions, to turn the abandoned hospital into a second home while licking his wounds from his recent divorce?

Real life is a renovation project. We’re constantly growing, changing and deciding who we want to be and whom we want to be with. Relationships – both familial, marital and friendships – come and go and morph as we grow into ourselves. It’s natural for that to happen with love, too.  I’m no expert in matters of the heart, but I do know keeping the love alive begins with showing your mate that they matter and reminding them through words and actions how much you love and appreciate them.

Too bad Senate candidate Baxter missed that episode of Oprah.

Buy: Fixer Upper

Malena Lott is an award-winning writer and the author of three novels. Her latest release, FIXER UPPER, is available in the Kindle store and other digital formats. She resides in Oklahoma with her husband, three kids, and dog. She is pleased to report plenty of sizzle with her husband of seventeen years, Rod Lott. www.malenalott.com