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While you wait for The Women

Kristin Hannah's latest novel, The Women, has had a big hold list and has popped up many many times on our Facebook post "What are you reading?" since it was released in February 2024. I haven't read it yet, so here's a description from Publishers Weekly.

"Hannah's emotionally charged page-turner (after The Four Winds) centers on a young nurse whose life is changed by the Vietnam War. Before Frankie McGrath begins basic training for the Army in 1966, her older brother Finley is killed in action. Frankie excels as a surgical nurse in Vietnam and becomes close with fellow nurses Ethel and Barb. After Ethel's tour ends, Frankie and Barb gets assigned to the base at Pleiku, near the Cambodian border, where some of the heaviest fighting occurs. There, she reunites with Navy officer Rye Walsh, Finley's best friend, and they become lovers.

"When Frankie returns to the U.S., she's met with indifference for her service from her parents, who are still grieving her brother's death, and disdain from people who oppose the war. She leans on alcohol and drugs while struggling to acclimate to civilian life. Though the situations and dialogue can feel contrived (Rye, after announcing he's re-upping, says to Frankie at the close of a chapter, "I'm not leaving my girl"), Hannah's depictions of Frankie tending to wounded soldiers are urgent and eye-opening, and a reunion of the three nurses for Frankie's benefit is poignantly told. Fans of women's historicals will enjoy this magnetic wartime story." –Publishers Weekly

If you're waiting for your hold on The Women or have read it and are looking for other powerful reads, here are novels I recommended about strong, brave women. If you want more reads about brave women, check out these March 2024 releases and see the booklist at the end of this article.

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

book cover prairie at nightThe Patron Saint of Liars is Patchett's first novel and it's my favorite book of hers. Since it was originally published in 1992, you might have missed it. The strong women in this story are pregnant women (mostly unwed) in Kentucky in the 1960s. Rose is the outlier at Saint Elizabeth's home for unwed mothers. She was actually married but is so unhappy with her husband that she tells the nuns her husband died.

At first Rose is planning to give her baby up for adoption like everyone else in the home. The longer she's at Saint Elizabeth's, the more she gets to know the other pregnant girls and women. They face many struggles – shame, physical pain and the emotional pain of giving up their babies for adoption.

Rose bonds with one of the nuns as she takes on the role of kitchen assistant and becomes a mother figure for many of the pregnant women/girls. She starts to reconsider her plan as she builds a relationship with the home's handyman.

This is a tale full of heartbreak and heart mending, building relationships and dealing with complicated pasts and futures. I highly recommend this book.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

book cover apple with left side grayWritten by a neuroscientist, Left Neglected, gives us a fictional look inside a rare, but real medical condition. In her bestseller Still Alice Genova made me feel what it would be like to have early-onset Alzheimer disease. In this book I felt what it would be like to have a traumatic brain injury where I was unable to perceive anything happening on the left side of my body. Genova's characters are so well written that the stories are completely engrossing and believable.  

Sarah is a career-driven young mother who suffers a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Now her brain ignores everything on her left side. Not only can she not move the left side of her body, but she can't see people who stand on her left. In her recovery Sarah must learn how to function now and how to deal with the fact that she may never regain left side awareness. Her recovery includes lessons in forgiveness, acceptance and adaptability with her body and her relationships.

"As Sarah Nickerson works her way through a devastating brain injury and back into her hectic life, she is forced to re-evaluate what really matters. I dare any reader to not do the same after reading this book." –Ann Hood, bestselling author of The Red Thread

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

book cover kentucky mountains and woman on horsebackDuring the Depression Alice has just moved to Kentucky with her new American husband Bennett Van Cleve. She's hoping to escape the stifling life she had in England. But small-town Kentucky is not at all what she imagined. Living with her overbearing father-in-law and being new to the country is challenging.

When she hears about a new program to deliver books on horseback, Alice signs up. Delivering books in the Kentucky mountains is a physical and social challenge. As Alice learns the ropes she bonds with the other horseback librarians, gets to know the poor women struggling to keep their families afloat and faces the dangers of a few men who don't want any woman, especially a foreign one, in their business.

This book really pulled me into the story. I connected to Alice's struggles, awkward social interactions, friendships, fears and her joy. You'll laugh and cry as you cheer on Alice and her fellow horseback librarians.

I also highly recommend The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and its sequel The Book Woman's Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson. These books are also about the Kentucky horseback librarians and are equally enthralling.

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

girl standing on the shore and jellyfish in the skyThis story is about a brave girl, so it's a little bit of a stretch for these read alikes. However, it's such an amazing novel that I'm including it. The Thing About Jellyfish is a captivating book about 12-year-old Suzy whose best friend, Franny, died by drowning. While they had started to drift apart as Franny became one of the cool kids in middle school, Suzy had not given up on their friendship.

Suzy has stopped talking to anyone and is desperate to figure out why Franny died. She spends all her free time doing research on jellyfish, which she's sure were the cause of Franny's drowning. Suzy's also trying to figure out if there will ever be a place for her in the middle school social structure. At the same time Suzy's parents and brother are doing everything they can to get her to talk again.

This is a beautiful story about grief, adolescence, friendship and perseverance. It's a quick middle grade read that will stay with you long after you finish it.


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