11 Empowering Reads, Recommended by Women-Owned Bookshops

Ahead of International Women's Day, we share the books that are resonating with women right now.
Great books recommended by women-owned bookshops.
Great books recommended by women-owned bookshops.

It’s times like these that getting lost in a good book couldn’t feel more welcome – whether you’re absorbed in a real-life story, a fantasy world, or a poetry you just can’t stop reading.

So, ahead of International Women’s Day, it feels the perfect moment to share recent reads that women are connecting to. HuffPost UK asked 11 women-owned bookshops on Bookshop.org to recommend the stories and words that have stopped them in their tracks recently – and made them feel empowered.

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

Tracy Kenny, manager at Kett’s Books in Wymondham, Norfolk, an independent community bookshop run by volunteers, says this was the first fiction book to change her life. “As a refugee story of fleeing abuse, it’s familiar; but it opened my sheltered eyes to the realities many women have faced throughout history. The story got deep into me: to this day I cannot serve rice without remembering Weili and Hulan’s hunger; I cannot see a baby stand crying in a cot without recalling Wen Fu’s rage. This book taught me understanding and compassion, perhaps because the strong bonds of female friendship, with all the messy parts that come from really loving someone, resonated and helped me see we are much the same, and we all have the ability to change.”

Children's Bookshop, Muswell Hill, London
Children's Bookshop, Muswell Hill, London

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari

Sanchita Basu de Sarkar, owner of the Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hill, London, says this is perfect for children of 10+. It tells the story of Imtiaz, an adopted girl, who finds the ghosts of Indian ayahs trapped in her new house. “Mythology entwines with history, and generations of forgotten women guide Imtiaz on a thrilling journey across London, and help save her home,” she says. “This is the sort of book we love in the bookshop, as it hands a baton onto its young readers and asks them to go forward and discover their own stories.”

Sex, Power, Money by Sara Pascoe

Asher Darling, owner of Darling Reads, Horbury, West Yorkshire, says she’s constantly recommending this second book by the comedian and well-know TV face. “It’s funny, smart and totally fascinating but it’s also a really important exploration of what makes us human and about how society and prejudices are formed,” she says. “I think it’s knowledge we should all be armed with!”

Revolting Prostitutes by Juno Mac and Molly Smith

Ruth Wainwright, founder of Brighton’s Feminist Bookshop, says: “This is thought-provoking, at times confronting and ultimately compelling exposition of the global sex worker rights movement. Their writing brilliantly weaves well-researched, logical argument and cross-country comparisons with stories, advocacy and a call for us to place fundamental human rights at the centre of our decision making.”

Lift As You Climb by Viv Groskop

Emma Corfield-Walters, owner of Book-ish in Crickhowell in Wales, chooses a “straight talking, but also positive and encouraging” read. “This book has made me re-evaluate my relationship with ambition,” she says. “I no longer think ambition is a dirty word reserved for those who need to invest in all the latest trends and claw their way to the top just to have it. The time to cheerlead and talk others, as well as ourselves, up is upon us. We can only change things by being a part of this community, throwing away our old ways and get talking about equality in a way that feels entirely the norm.”

Viv Groskop
Viv Groskop

A Working Mother by Agnes Owens

Sally Pattle, owner of Far From the Madding Crowd in Linlithgow, West Lothian, discovered Owens when she was working for Birlinn Ltd – her Scottish publisher – in 2012. “From the first page of her novella A Working Mother, I was hooked,” she says. “Her short stories capture Scottish working class lives with unflinching humour and a stark gaze, made all the more real because this was her life.

“Born in 1926, the daughter of a shipbuilder, Agnes married twice and was a mother seven times over. By the time she died in 2014, she had experienced unimaginable hardship and loss, including the murder of one of her sons outside the family home. She didn’t start writing until she was 51 and was discovered in a local writer’s club by Liz Lochhead. Despite being critically acclaimed, Agnes never made the leap to commercial success – she was described by Lochhead as the most criminally neglected writer of her age and I have to agree! Pick up a copy of complete short stories or novellas – you won’t regret it!”

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid:

Mel Griffin, owner of Penarth’s Griffin Books in Glamorgan, Wales says this recent read moved her. The debut novel from African American writer Kiley Reid. “deftly explores issues of race, class and gender in a compelling narrative in which the young female protagonist ultimately forges her own path,” she says. “It left me with so much to think about, including aspects of my own behaviour and assumptions.”

Feminism Interrupted, Disrupting Power by Lola Olufemi

Alexia Pepper de Caires, founder Back To Books & co-founder of NGO Safe Space, which campaigns around #AidToo, the rising voice against sexual harassment and assault in international development, calls Olufemi a young Black British writer with a powerful mission. “Published in 2020, this accessible book supports sex workers, trans people, Muslim women, making a case against prisons and state structures of violence,” she says. “A critical read for our times.”

Feminism Interrupted, Disrupting Power by Lola Olufemi
Feminism Interrupted, Disrupting Power by Lola Olufemi

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

Francesca Wilkins, owner of The Margate Bookshop in Kent says this book addresses the “sharp corners that have been sanded off the history of feminism”, by telling stories of more complex figures. Lewis argues that women’s history should not be a shallow hunt for heroines. “But many of its trailblazers have been tidied away for not being ‘nice enough’ or because they later distanced themselves from the movement,” says Wilkins. “Whether or not we should celebrate these women is up for debate, but to recognise them is to understand that changes in history are brought about by conflict and compromise. If we want to embrace our strength and raise our voices, it’s empowering to feel that we can do so while also allowing ourselves to be difficult, complicated, flawed.”

My Darling From The Lions by Rachel Long

Miranda Peake, owner of Chener Books in East Dulwich, London chooses a debut collection of poems. She says: “This striking first collection deals very much in our contemporary reality, with race, gender and class at the heart of them. However, the worlds of dream, superstition and religion are treated with equal importance as Long weaves them skilfully through her landscape, imbuing many of these poems with an unexpected sense of enchantment. I loved it!”

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

Sarah Lutyens, co-founder of Notting Hill’s Lutyens & Rubinstein bookshop, picks this “intensely personal” biography of Sandra Pankhurst, “a trans woman who, in the course of a traumatic life founded a very successful company specialising in the cleaning and clearance of the houses of people unable to cope with mess, with an obsession to hoard, with addiction, and with life itself. Sandra is an irresistible flawed heroine whose respect for the dignity of her clients shines. Her story – and those of all the characters – is unexpected and enlightening. Sarah Krasnostein is a writer with an incredible gift for empathetic observation and the writing skills to convey everything she sees with insight but not judgment. It was short-listed for the Wellcome Prize a couple of years ago and deserves to be a classic’.”

Bookshop.org is a book-buying site that supports independent bookshops, with reading recommendations from real booksellers.