Ladies Celebrating Ladies is a recurring feature in which I wax rhapsodic about books written by women that center around female characters.

In light of the news cycle the last few weeks (years? decades?), now is the perfect time to dig into some books by and about badass ladies. This time, I’ve got a retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a black heroine, a feminist Western about a band of lady outlaws, and a star-crossed teen love story with a hijabi protagonist. Make sure you’re registered to vote, then read these books!

A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney

Fist pump! This YA fantasy retelling of Alice in Wonderland is so good. It’s only loosely based on the source material, so I never knew what was going to happen next, and believe me, it’s a wild ride. McKinney has a way of tossing the reader into frenetic scenes with very little build-up, which I love—there are no slow spots, the action is just onethingafteranother. The story has the feel of a DC/Marvel movie franchise, and boasts one of the best good-to-evil villain transitions (or what I suspect will be one, guess I’ll have to wait for the next book!) I’ve ever seen. Love the diverse cast, and love seeing a black girl in the role of Alice. Fairy tales are for everyone!

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt

Finally, a Western that centers women throughout--and not just one woman, but a whole gang of them, tough and imperfect and rebellious and loyal and just gosh-dang realistic. Former slave Hattie LaCour and widowed white woman Margaret Parker are partners in crime--they and their gang of mostly female outlaws rob banks, stagecoaches, and mining offices, and they never get caught because no one believes women capable of their exploits. Lenhardt tells their story through artifacts like newspaper columns, interviews, and journal entries, which made me feel like a detective historian combing through the archives (but without all the work). I absolutely fell in love with these characters and was blown away by the breadth of diversity represented among them. How amazing to read a story that is in some ways so familiar yet centers people who are usually erased from narratives of this kind. This is the Western the canon has been missing, and it’s the perfect book to pick up if you need a hit of female badassery right about now.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

After absolutely loving A Place For Us last month, I have been on the lookout for more books about Muslim characters and families, so I snapped up A Very Large Expanse of Sea even though I don’t usually groove on contemporary YA. I have a low tolerance for teen angst, especially when the characters are privileged kids who brought their problems on themselves. But this book didn’t try my patience because main character Shirin has plenty of legitimate reasons to be angsty. It’s only been a year since 9/11, and the abuse Shirin suffers for simply existing as a Muslim in America is overwhelming. On top of that, her family has moved every year or two nearly her whole life, so she’s never been able to put down roots or get comfortable anywhere. She’s learned to keep her head down and never look anyone in the eye. But her new lab partner, Ocean, actually wants to get to know the real Shirin. Love story with big obstacles, coming right up! Shirin is a delightfully snarky narrator—I loved her voice, her sneaky humor. And, in case you need one more reason to read this book: Tahereh Mafi based the novel on some of her own experiences in high school, including learning to breakdance(!).


It’s no secret that I love and adore books written by women. Thus, in the spirit of Leslie Knope’s Galentine’s Day, I bring to you my newest recurring feature: Ladies Celebrating Ladies, in which I wax rhapsodic about books written by women that center around female characters.

This time I’ve got a historical mystery with wine, a funny Muslim romance, and the best superhero story I’ve ever read. Let’s get to it!

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

As someone who isn't particularly interested in fine wine or French culture, I was surprised how much I enjoyed The Lost Vintage. (There is currently sangria in a can in my fridge, to sum up my wine cred.) Even if you’ve never swooned over a pinot grigio or imagined yourself cruising with the top down in the French countryside, Ann Mah will make you want to grab the next flight, roll up your pant legs, and stomp around in some grapes a la I Love Lucy. There are two timelines in the book—one of my favorite gimmicks—one set in the present, and the other during the Nazi occupation of WWII. Kate is studying to become a Grand Poobah of Winesmithery (or something like that, shrug) and decides to pop on over to France to help out at the winery that has been in her family for generations. Like you do. While there, she discovers a secret trove of prized wines walled off in a hidden portion of the basement. To find out how it got there, she has to delve into some pretty uncomfortable history—whose side was her family on during the war, exactly?—and fortunately she has a fun college friend and a hunky old flame to help her on her mission. Also fortunately, there’s still time for crusty bread and soft cheeses in between all the research.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

This book is a super cute and funny romance with the chatty, diary-like style of Bridget Jones (complete with British slang!), but it’s also a really compelling look into how a person finds meaning in religion. Sofia’s choice to adhere to certain religious practices like wearing a hijab and taking breaks throughout her workday to pray occasionally makes her life more complicated, and even her own family questions why she is so dedicated when it would be easier to blend in. As the drama of her life unfolds, though, her reasons become clear. You’ll also be thoroughly entertained, as Sofia, a book publicist, is enlisted (somewhat against her will) to write a book of her own—on the topic of Muslim dating. Of course, this means she’ll actually have to date, which leads to various mishaps and misadventures that will keep you laughing even as you wonder how any of it is going to work out.

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

New favorite feel-good series! I've never been particularly into superhero stories, but now I think all I was waiting for was one that featured women. Evie Tanaka is a behind-the-scenes girl, and she likes it that way. She’s the personal assistant to her childhood best friend Annie, who now embodies the persona of Aveda Jupiter, superhero and San Francisco celebrity. Aveda is flashy, flamboyant, and fabulous, and Evie is really good at playing second fiddle. Until suddenly she’s thrust into the superhero role herself—and then the former shrinking violet has to find her inner flaming hot diva. This book has just the right amount of magic and mayhem, not to mention awesome, realistic girl friendships and just enough romance to make you sweat. Of course, we superheroines don’t sweat, we glow.