ReadWomen2014I’m so happy to have learned earlier this year from Claire, over at the wonderful Word by Word site about the #ReadWomen2014 challenge, and  I’ve written about in an earlier post.

I strongly support the objective of this campaign. Talented women writers too often fall into an unfair, second-tier category when it comes to traditional book reviews by the most influential journals and magazines. At the same time, women make up the overwhelming majority of readers around the world. With the importance of social media, why not simply bypass the traditional media in getting the word out about our favorite female authors?

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I read both male and female authors, but in recent years my preference has skewered far more to the side of female authors, so taking part in this campaign has been pretty easy for me.

Here are some of the best books by female writers I’ve read in the first months of 2014. Be sure to let me know your picks!

The Hired Man coverThe Hired Man

Aminatta Forna

I read this book while travelling in the Balkans and discussing with local colleagues ethnic tensions still simmering under the surface years after the war.

In this brilliant book, Forna follows Duro Kolak, a reclusive construction worker/handyman living in the little inland town of Gost, Croatia. His life changes when an English family moves next door, to a home they’ve bought and – with the help of Duro – plan to renovate. Very slowly, details about Gost’s past during the war begin to emerge, despite the townspeople’s attempts to ignore past betrayals, injustices, and ethnic tensions.

This story is beautifully rendered, slipping between present and past, dropping in hints and scenes from the past throughout the book. Forna does a superb job of capturing the complexity of the Yugolsav war with simple scenes, illustrating how even small towns where neighbors lived side by side for decades could resort to an ethnic cleansing that tore apart communities and families.

A beautiful, delicate story of war’s ability to tear apart the ties that bind friends and families, about memory and forgetting, and about the difficulties involved when moving on from a painful past. A must-read.

A Spell of Winter coverA Spell of Winter

Helen Dunmore

I adore Dunmore, another talented female author who deserves far more attention that she receives in the mainstream press. I decided to read her debut novel, published in 1996 and winner of the first Orange Prize (now the Bailey’s Prize).

This is the beautiful early 20th century story of Catherine and Rob, siblings who have been abandoned by their parents, and raised in the large crumbling country home of their grandfather, ‘ the man from nowhere’.

Left to their own devices in this lonely atmosphere, Catherine and Rob learn to rely on one another, until one day when their love crosses a line. This beautiful, atmospheric novel is set in the days leading up to World War I, and touches upon families, love, secrets, betrayal, and loneliness. An impressive debut novel for an author who has continued on a successful writing career.

 

Behind the Scenes at the MuseumBehind the Scenes at the Museum

Kate Atkinson

Atkinson is another author whose works impress me. I went back to read her stunning first novel – published back in 1995. And what a  debut novel it is.

This story follows the life of Ruby Lennox, beginning with her conception and following her life in a dysfunctional family in York, England in the 1950s and 1960s. Ruby as narrator is quirky and amusing as she recounts her efforts to be noticed in her indifferent family. The impressive aspect of this novel is how it weaves back and forth between the present and the past, in a  sweeping multi-generational story of Ruby’s ancestors – primarily the family’s (unhappy and frustrated) matriarchs. I loved the tiny items or incidents in the story that would later be revealed in the footnotes chapters.

A fascinating read, like all of Atkinson’s works.

Faithful Place coverFaithful Place

Tana French

This book is by an Irish author whose books I love, even if I’ve never been drawn to the genre of psychological thriller/murder mystery. But French, a trained actress, is a wonderful author, digging down deep into all the complicated layers of her complex characters.

I’ve read her first three books, and her characters all work in the same Dublin police district, and they’ve been introduced to us in earlier books. This book follows Frank Mackey, a character I remembered from the second book in the series, but who hadn’t make a lasting impression on me. Instead, in this book, French quickly reeled me in, following his messy family history (talk about unhappy families all being unhappy in their own way…) as he investigates a cold case far too close to his heart.

Twenty years earlier, when Frank was nineteen, his heart was broken when his girlfriend, Rosie Daly, stood him up the night they were to run away together to London. His entire life was marked by that event. When Rosie’s suitcase shows up, two decades later, Frank begins investigating the case, opening up long-held secrets, and embarking on a painful journey into a past he was certain he’d left behind decades ago.

A brilliant read. I’m still not a murder mystery fan, but I am a Tana French murder mystery fan, and look forward to reading more of her work.

 

These are some of my favorites that I read in the first months of #ReadWomen2014.

And you, fellow readers? Books by female authors you would recommend to read during the #ReadWomen2014 campaign?

Summer reading is before us, and I look forward to your recommendations – and your support for talented women authors!