I have a huge soft spot for women’s fiction. I prefer my women’s fiction to be light (really light) on the romance, but, these days, they just blur together. I really hate it when romance just overtakes the story. At that point, it may as well just be romance and forget about the women’s fiction because the woman’s identity becomes so wrapped up in the romance. Fortunately, I did have the honor of reviewing some lovely women’s fiction novels that were more in line with what I adore about the genre, though only one really stands out.
But I can’t go on and reveal my top women’s fiction read without discussing some honorable mentions!
This year, I read less than 20 women’s fiction novels. Considering it’s one of my favorite genres, I’m disappointed there weren’t more. But there’s still 2021 and I’m hoping to up that number next year. Still, many of the women’s fiction titles I’ve read have been memorable.
Like Pretending by Holly Bourne. It was so far from what I expected I shouldn’t have fallen in love with it, but it was, well, perfect. It’s serious and lighthearted. It made me cry and it made me smile. It deals so heavily with trauma from rape, but with such a compassionate hand. It’s a beautifully layered story that’s truly about a woman finding herself. Everything about it felt intentional and touched my heart in so many ways. Was it easy to read? Absolutely not. Was it sweet, though? Oh, yes, there were some really beautiful moments. Is it a book my son and daughter will be told to sit down and read? Oh, yes. They can fight me all they want.
Are there some books I won’t want my kids to read? Oh, yes. They tend to be the racier, sexier ones. I don’t look for romance in my women’s fiction, but they blur so much that it’s almost impossible to tease them out, and sometimes I just enjoy the book description so much that I don’t care it’s listed as women’s fiction and romance. Like Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, What You Wish For by Katherine Center, and The Friendship List by Susan Mallery. Now, I actually enjoyed the first and third books. Spoiler Alert was both sweet and serious and I loved how both main characters had histories they were working hard to overcome. Of course, I wanted to smack Marcus a few times, but I absolutely adored April. It also had quite a bit about fanfiction, which was completely new territory for me. The Friendship List was just sexy and fun. It’s about two lifelong friends who decide it’s time to live life. They screw up a lot, but end up with really good guys. I especially loved the relationship between teaching colleagues Ellen and Keith who find themselves on a bus tour of the West Coast with a bunch of high school seniors. Nothing could possibly go wrong! There was nothing really wrong with What You Wish For. It was cute. It was sweet. But the romance overtook the story and that just didn’t do it for me. Still, I think it’s a good romance read.
Looking for a good, clean women’s fiction/romance read? Home at Summer’s End by Alys Murray, A Good Heart by Lisa Volz, and The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke would have to be my picks. Romance features heavily in all of them, but they’re all sweet and clean. The focus was on the emotional and friendship parts of a relationship while also presenting some strong women. Home at Summer’s End involves a beautiful single woman wanting everyone to get off her back about being single, so she enlists an actor in town to shoot a movie to be in a fake relationship with her. And we all know how fake relationships in books work out. A Good Heart is a novella, but it really packed it in. It’s about a nurse in an assisted care facility and the grandson of her favorite patient. I loved the nurse’s struggle with wanting the relationship and her career. The Lost Love Song was so sweet and so sad. Told from the man’s perspective, I liked how broken he was at losing the love of his life, but loved the idea of his late girlfriend’s last song bringing him together with a woman who is self-assured enough to keep going with her life.
And then there are the books that hurt a little. The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season by Molly Fader and The Last Charm by Ella Allbright hurt my heart. The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season was gorgeous and focused on three generations of women, but they’re all dealing with their own demons, their own traumas while learning to become a family again. The Last Charm completely broke my heart at the end. But the journey was so worth it. It was gorgeous and featured the beautiful friendship turned romance of two kids who lived in the same house at different times. Centered around a charm bracelet, it hits on every main event and all the emotions around them.
And the ones with gorgeous female friendships. I really enjoy reading about friendships in women’s fiction. To me, it’s just one of those elements that makes women’s fiction. As well as that awful woman everyone hates, but who is really hiding something broken about herself. The friendships I came to love, including that in The Friendship List, were in The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill and The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison. Okay, The Cookbook Club disappointed me, but I really liked the idea of three women become friends while sharing food! It was really a very delicious book. Everything else left me starving, though. I can’t say the same of The Summer Villa. That one was fun and felt real. Centered around three women who become friends when they stay at the same Italian villa, it chronicles how their friendship grew and what happened to them years later.
So, that’s not all of the women’s fiction novels I’ve read, but I feel like I’ve written enough words. There’s also Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie Grazer that was fun, but also had me more than a little annoyed; Something to Live For by Richard Roper that was definitely more about a more than slightly weird man who works in the death department in London; Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim that I loved because it explored life in a Chinese family with a dash of magic (and made me miss my own Chinese family terribly because I read it after the pandemic started, so I sometimes block this one from my memory even though I really did love it); and Never Say No by Elizabeth Neep that was more like a horrifying version of the movie The Devil Wears Prada.
But my absolutely favorite women’s fiction read of this year?
It had all the elements I’ve been fruitlessly looking for in women’s fiction. It’s exactly how I like it. A strong female with a career in a competitive male-dominated world, a beautifully stunning location, wonderful female friendships, one woman figuring herself and her life out, and very little romance. While the beginning wasn’t exactly note perfect, I still had a wonderful time reading about Sophie trying to get back on her feet at her family’s chateau in France. A chef, Sophie dreams of leading a Michelin-starred restaurant, but her dreams in NYC are dashed as easily as salt, leaving her at a loss as to who and what she is. When her beloved grandmere, whom she hasn’t seen in years because of her selfish late mother, has a stroke, Sophie flies to France to discover her grandmere was built up an amazing business with two restaurants and a hotel on the chateau’s grounds. She develops a really fun relationship with an English woman, but her sister has it out for Sophie. And let’s not forget the handsome boy Sophie used to play with is now all grown up. Seriously perfection in a women’s fiction novel for me
So, there you go, the 16 women’s fiction novels I’ve read this past year. Some highs, some lows, some I wish I hadn’t read, some I’m so glad I did read. Do you have a favorite women’s fiction novel from this year?