From feminist novels to explorations of love: the most enthralling new reads for March

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Sarah Shaffi
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Inspirational women abound in March, which is only appropriate for the month in which International Women's Day takes place.

To inspire you, there's Catherine Mayer's look at the need for gender equality in Attack of the 50ft Women (the book has one of my favourite jackets of 2017 so far) and Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, an illustrated history of 100 brilliant women. And 100 inspirational women talk about the poems that make them cry in, well, Poems That Make Grown Women Cry.

What it means to be a woman in love is explored in Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me and Dorit Rabinyan's All the Rivers. The latter was banned in schools in Rabinyan's native Israel for the depiction of its central relationship.

Rachel Rhys' A Dangerous Crossing, Helen Dunmore’s Birdcage Walk and Polly Clark's Larchfield are three very different books which both see women placed in unexpected and sometimes dangerous situations.

And of course, we can't forget the men. George Saunders' astonishing debut novel (he's previously published short stories) Lincoln in the Bardo is like no novel you've ever read, and the brilliant Mohsin Hamid, who never fails to deliver, explores love and what it means to be a refugee in Exit West.

Happy reading.


  • Attack of the 50ft Women by Catherine Mayer

    Mayer, accidental co-founder of the Women's Equality Party, explains why gender equality is good for everyone in this book, which is part history of the WEP and part study on how men and women are treated differently in various areas across the world.

    Particularly fascinating are the looks at how other countries are trying (or failing) to tackle gender inequality, with a focus on Iceland, which held a Women's Day Off in 1975, leading to substantial changes to help bring about gender equality. 

    Empowering and full of hope, Attack of the 50ft Women made me feel 50ft tall. Glass ceilings beware.

    HQ, £20

    Get it here


  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

    Ok, this is technically a children's book, but trust me, your life needs Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

    Funded via Kickstarter, the book tells the stories of 100 inspirational women from around the globe and through history, from Malala Yousafzai to Serena Williams. Each figure gets two pages - one tells her story in the style of a fairy tale, the other is an illustration of the woman done by one of 100 female artists from around the world.

    Absolutely beautiful - get one for yourself and one to inspire a woman in your life.

    Particular Books, £14.99

    Get it here

  • Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

    Stay With Me is the story of Yejide and Akin, deeply in love but with an increasingly strained relationship as they try to have children while weighed down by their own expectations and those of their family and community. Exploring how faith and superstition sit alongside each other, the novel is intimate, yet is set against the backdrop of political upheaval in Nigeria in the 1970s.

    Looking at how grief, motherhood and how sometimes you just can't stop loving someone, Stay With Me is exquisite and heart-rending.

    Canongate, £14.99

    Get it here

  • All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan, translated by Jessica Cohen

    A love story set against the backdrop of what is arguably the world's biggest political divide. In New York, Israeli translator Liat meets Palestinian artist Hilmi. Through autumn and winter they fall in love, but both know their relationship is only temporary and will never work once Liat returns to Tel Aviv.

    Banned in Israel for its depiction of a taboo relationship, All the Rivers is a touching, raw and gorgeous love story with an ending which snatched the air from my lungs.

    Serpent's Tail, £8.99

    Get it here

  • Larchfield by Polly Clark

    Split between two timelines, this novel, set in Helensburgh on Scotland's west coast, explores loneliness and the need for human connection.

    In the present, pregnant poet Dora moves to the small town with her husband Kit, and soon finds herself at odds with her neighbours, who have the community on their side. Increasingly vulnerable, Dora discovers that another poet - W H Auden - also lived and wrote in Helensburgh. In 1930 we follow Auden as he takes a teaching position at a local boys' school, where he must keep his sexuality under wraps.

    Clark's novel is elegant and poetic, beautiful and haunting.

    Riverrun, £14.99

    Get it here

  • A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys

    In 1939, as England stands on the brink of war, Lily boards a ship which will take her to Australia, where she will spend two years as a maid. Expecting to spend the voyage seeing the world and enjoying a series of balls and parties, she soon finds herself caught up in the lives of her fellow passengers - bored society couple Eliza and Max, the charming and mysterious Edward, and fascist George. By the time Lily arrives in Australia, war will have been declared, two passengers will be dead and Lily's life will have completely changed.

    From its intriguing opening, A Dangerous Crossing - part drama, part crime novel - had me hooked. You'll want to read this in one sitting.

    Doubleday, £12.99

    Get it here

  • Poems That Make Grown Women Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden

    Women including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Yoko Ono, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman and Meera Syal each share a poem that has moved them to tears, with an introductory piece explaining their connection to the poem.

    A lovely collection that will, if you're like me and don't read a lot of poetry, expose you to wonderful works admired by wonderful women.

    Simon & Schuster, £9.99

    Get it here

  • Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

    It's 1792, France is in the midst of a revolution, and Lizzie Fawkes is married to property developer John Diner Tredevant, who has heavily invested in Bristol's housing boom. Lizzie grew up in Radical circles - her mother is a writer, her stepfather a pamphleteer - and while Lizzie seems okay in her marriage, she also strives for independence. As Diner's housing development is threatened, his passion for Lizzie, which has always had a hint of darkness, turns threatening.

    Dunmore just writes so effortlessly, Birdcage Walk is a joy to read.

    Hutchinson, £16.99

    Get it here

  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

    Mohsin Hamid can pack more emotion, wit, and just plain good writing into 240 pages than most other authors can with triple the space, as evidenced by his latest Exit West, which takes us on a journey with Saeed and Nadia, a young couple who meet at an evening class and begin to fall in love, amid the backdrop of an oncoming war.

    As the situation becomes increasingly dangerous Saeed and Nadia decide to take a chance on one of the mysterious doors that is opening in their city, and which will take them to another country.

    Exit West is a love story with a hint of dystopia and is by turns funny and tragic. And by telling the tale of refugees, it could not be more relevant.

    Hamish Hamilton, £16.99

    Get it here

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

    If the phrase weird and wonderful was ever appropriate, it's to describe Saunders' debut novel.

    Lincoln in the Bardo takes place on one night, as Abraham Lincoln keeps watch over the body of his young son in a graveyard. The book is narrated largely by three dead men whose spirits remain in the graveyard, and they're occasionally joined by other voices, while some chapters examine Lincoln through a series of extracts from non-fiction works.

    Challenging what a novel can be, this is a rich and rewarding reading experience.

    Bloomsbury, £18.99

    Get it here


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Sarah Shaffi

Sarah Shaffi is a freelance journalist and editor. She reads more books a week than is healthy, and balances this out with copious amounts of TV. She writes regularly about popular culture, particularly how it reflects and represents society.