9 Empowering Books About Dynamic Women Pursuing Their Dreams

August 19 2020

We are one week away from Women’s Equality Day! This year, August 26 also marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. To celebrate, we’re recommending some of our favorite novels about women in the early 20th Century as they pursue their dreams and discover newfound freedoms both in the United States and abroad.

The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant

An unforgettable novel about a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century, told “with humor and optimism . . . through the eyes of an irresistible heroine” (People) from the acclaimed author of THE RED TENT. 

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The Boston Girl
Anita Diamant

Girl Crazy: 15 Literary Ladies You’ll Want to Know

Here’s a party game for you: Can you name a “girl” book? Of course you got GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, but there are lots of other girl books that you’ll want to add to your reading list. Whether you like thrillers, literary fiction, or history, these “girls” all have one thing in common—they are compulsively readable.

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The Women of the Copper Country
by Mary Doria Russell

From the bestselling and award-winning author of THE SPARROW comes “historical fiction that feels uncomfortably relevant today” (Kirkus Reviews) about “America’s Joan of Arc, the courageous woman who started a rebellion by leading a strike against the largest copper mining company in the world. 

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The Women of the Copper Country
Mary Doria Russell

From the bestselling and award-winning author of The Sparrow comes “historical fiction that feels uncomfortably relevant today” (Kirkus Reviews) about “America’s Joan of Arc”—the courageous woman who started a rebellion by leading a strike against the largest copper mining company in the world.

In July 1913, twenty-five-year-old Annie Clements has seen enough of the world to know that it’s unfair. She’s spent her whole life in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan, where men risk their lives for meager salaries—and have barely enough to put food on the table for their families. The women labor in the houses of the elite, and send their husbands and sons deep underground each day, dreading the fateful call of the company man telling them their loved ones aren’t coming home. So, when Annie decides to stand up for the entire town of Calumet, nearly everyone believes she may have taken on more than she is prepared to handle.

Yet as Annie struggles to improve the future of her town, her husband becomes increasingly frustrated with her growing independence. She faces the threat of prison while also discovering a forbidden love. On her fierce quest for justice, Annie will see just how much she is willing to sacrifice for the families of Calumet.

From one of the most versatile writers in contemporary fiction, this novel is an authentic and moving historical portrait of the lives of the crucial men and women of the early labor movement “with an important message that will resonate with contemporary readers” (Booklist).

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Crossing the Horizon
by Laurie Notaro

Soar back to the fearless 1920s with #1 New York Times bestselling writer Laurie Notaro—beloved author of THE IDIOT GIRLS’ ACTION ADVENTURE CLUB—in a “captivating historical” (Kirkus Reviews) novel that tells the true, little-known story of three aviatrixes in a race to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. 

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Crossing the Horizon
Laurie Notaro

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City of Flickering Light
by Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay—“one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal)—transports us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the raucous Roaring Twenties, as three friends struggle to earn their places among the stars of the silent screen. Perfect for fans of LLA LANDand RULES OF CIVILITY. 

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City of Flickering Light
Juliette Fay

Juliette Fay—“one of the best authors of women’s fiction” (Library Journal)—transports us back to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the raucous Roaring Twenties, as three friends struggle to earn their places among the stars of the silent screen—perfect for fans of La La Land and Rules of Civility.

It’s July 1921, “flickers” are all the rage, and Irene Van Beck has just declared her own independence by jumping off a moving train to escape her fate in a traveling burlesque show. When her friends, fellow dancer Millie Martin and comedian Henry Weiss, leap after her, the trio finds their way to the bright lights of Hollywood with hopes of making it big in the burgeoning silent film industry.

At first glance, Hollywood in the 1920s is like no other place on earth—iridescent, scandalous, and utterly exhilarating—and the three friends yearn for a life they could only have dreamed of before. But despite the glamour and seduction of Tinseltown, success doesn’t come easy, and nothing can prepare Irene, Millie, and Henry for the poverty, temptation, and heartbreak that lie ahead. With their ambitions challenged by both the men above them and the prejudice surrounding them, their friendship is the only constant through desperate times, as each struggles to find their true calling in an uncertain world. What begins as a quest for fame and fortune soon becomes a collective search for love, acceptance, and fulfillment as they navigate the backlots and stage sets where the illusions of the silver screen are brought to life.

With her “trademark wit and grace” (Randy Susan Meyers, author of The Murderer’s Daughters), Juliette Fay crafts another radiant and fascinating historical novel as thrilling as the bygone era of Hollywood itself.

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The Flying Circus
by Susan Crandall

The award-winning, national bestselling author of WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVEYARD sends an unlikely trio on an exhilarating adventure high above the American Midwest of the 1920s in a spirited “entertaining surprise” (Publishers Weekly) of a novel in league with WATER FOR ELEPHANTSand THE AVIATOR’S WIFE. 

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The Flying Circus
Susan Crandall

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The Girls At the Kingfisher Club
by Genevieve Valentine

With THE GIRLS AT THE KINGFISHER CLUB, award-winning writer Genevieve Valentine takes her superb storytelling gifts to new heights, joining the leagues of such Jazz Age depicters as Amor Towles and Paula McLain, and penning a dazzling tale about love, sisterhood, and freedom. 

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The Girls At the Kingfisher Club
Genevieve Valentine

This dazzling story of love, sisterhood, and freedom reimagines the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses as Jazz Age flappers who escape their father’s Manhattan town house each night to dance in the city’s underground speakeasies. If you loved Rules of Civility or The Paris Wife, be sure to tuck this bewitching novel into your beach bag.

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Before I Met You
by Lisa Jewell

Jazz Age London, a passionate and forbidden interracial romance, and the unbreakable bond between a bright young woman and her eccentric grandmother come together brilliantly in this gem of a novel from the New York Timesbestselling author of THEN SHE WAS GONE. Perfect for fans of DOWNTON ABBEY, TWENTIES GIRL, and THE CHAPERONE. 

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Before I Met You
Lisa Jewell

After her grandmother Arlette’s death, Betty is finally ready to begin her life. She had forfeited university, parties, boyfriends, summer jobs—all the usual preoccupations of a woman her age—in order to care for Arlette in their dilapidated, albeit charming home on the English island of Guernsey. Her will included a beneficiary unknown to Betty and her family, a woman named Clara Pickle who presumably could be found at a London address. Now, having landed on a rather shabby street corner in ’90s Soho, Betty is determined to find the mysterious Clara. She’s ready for whatever life has to throw her way. Or so she thinks . . .

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The Woman in the Photograph
by Dana Gynther

Set in the romantic glow of 1920s Paris, a captivating novel about New York socialite and model Lee Miller, whose glamorous looks and joie de vivre caught the eye of Man Ray, one of the twentieth century’s defining photographers. 

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The Woman in the Photograph
Dana Gynther

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A Short History of Women
by Kate Walbert

A profoundly moving portrait of the complicated legacies of mothers and daughters, A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMENchronicles five generations of women from the close of the nineteenth century through the early years of the twenty-first. 

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A Short History of Women
Kate Walbert

Walbert’s novel opens in 1914 Britain at the deathbed of Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette who starves herself for the cause, and whose choice is echoed in the stories of her descendants. Told in a kaleidoscope of voices and with a richness of imagery, emotion, and wit, A Short History of Women illuminates the ways in which the lives of our great-grandmothers are carried throughout generations.

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By Off the Shelf Staff | November 30, 2020

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