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5 Books for Every Woman's Bookshelf

A recommended reading list by Marshall, whose new novel The Secret History of Audrey James is out now. 

Book Cover The Secret History of Audrey James

The Secret History of Audrey JamesHeather Marshall's follow-up to her bestselling debut, Looking for Jane—is a poignant, gripping novel about a pianist in Berlin on the cusp of World War Two and the choices she makes that echo across generations.

Inspired by true stories of courageous women and the German resistance during WWII, this captivating novel is about the unbreakable bonds of friendship, the sacrifices we make for those we love, and the healing that comes from human connection.


Book Cover The Vagina Bible

The Vagina Bible, by Dr. Jen Gunter

As anyone who has read my novel Looking for Jane will know, I'm an unapologetically outspoken advocate for women's inherent rights to their own bodies. But in owning our bodies, we should also take the time to learn as much as we can about them, because that knowledge and understanding lends us power and confidence. The Vagina Bible is a highly readable manual that fills in all the many gaps where the public school curriculum fails girls in teaching them not just about what their vaginas do ("they bleed once a month and sometimes get infected. Class dismissed!"), but how they truly work in concert with the rest of the body and, crucially: how to love and care for them. She also has a book called Blood, all about menstruation, and if you're in the menopausal season of your life, The Menopause Manifesto.

Book Cover The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

This is a feminist classic for good reason, and has of course seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the small screen adaptation of the novel. I don't need to summarize much here, but Atwood's deep dive into the impact of religious (or allegedly religious) and political extremism on women's rights to their bodies and lives is, unfortunately, timeless. I think it deserves a re-read every few years as a reminder that women's rights always hang in the balance, and their defense requires constant, active vigilance. 

Book Cover Women Talking

Women Talking, by Miriam Toews

This book has what I think is one of the most brilliant titles of all time. In this novel based (horrifyingly) on true events, Toews reveals the profound possibilities that open up when women just start talking to one another about the realities of their experiences, and what to do about them. It's an emotional read that digs into the concepts of gender-based limitations, justice, and power, and how women can shift those power imbalances by the simple act of talking. The novel was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award and the stunning masterpiece of a screen adaptation by Sarah Polley took my breath away.

Book Cover Ten Thousand Roses

Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution, by Judy Rebick

My mother gifted me Ten Thousand Roses when I was a teenager just starting to get comfortable with the idea of the big F word: feminist. It's a collection of oral histories from Rebick and other women who were the proverbial boots on the ground throughout the Canadian second wave feminist movement, advocating for abortion rights, equal pay, childcare, anti-racism, and equality for women that was eventually entrenched in S.28 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This book formed a huge part of my research process for Looking for Jane, and it's one I come back to again and again when I need a jolt of optimism and inspiration from the women who came before me.

Book Cover Unearthing

Unearthing, by Kyo Maclear

This memoir was the winner of the 2023 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction, and its themes and messages are almost universally relatable. At its core, Unearthing is about truth and storytelling, the lies we tell others and ourselves, and the often unresolvable complications of the mother-daughter relationship. Poetic and set against a backdrop of gardening, this memoir explores grief and loss, and how to move on when our lives take a turn we didn't expect. It also reminds us of how our roots are sometimes so deep beneath the surface that we never know exactly where they might end up, or what they will connect with. 


Book Cover The Secret History of Audrey James

Learn more about The Secret History of Audrey James: 

Sometimes the best place to hide is the last place anyone would look.

Northern England, 2010:

After a tragic accident upends her life, Kate Mercer leaves London to work at an old guest house near the Scottish border, where she hopes to find a fresh start and heal from her loss. When she arrives, she begins to unravel the truth about her past, but discovers the mysterious elderly proprietor is harbouring her own secrets…

Berlin, 1938:

Audrey James is weeks away from graduating from a prestigious music school in Berlin, where she’s been living with her best friend, Ilse Kaplan. As she prepares to finish her piano studies, Audrey dreads the thought of returning to her father in England and leaving Ilse behind. Families like the Kaplans are being targeted, and the stakes grow higher by the day. Restrictions tighten, the borders close to Jews, and rumours swirl about people being apprehended in the street and shipped off to work camps.

When Ilse’s parents and brother suddenly disappear, two high-ranking Nazi party members confiscate the Kaplans’ upscale home, believing it to be empty. In a desperate attempt to keep Ilse safe, Audrey becomes housekeeper for the officers while Ilse is forced into hiding in the attic—a prisoner in her own home. As war in Europe threatens, it isn’t long before a shocking turn of events pushes Audrey to become embroiled in cell of the anti-Hitler movement: clusters of resisters working to bring down the Nazis from within Germany itself. But resistance comes with risk, and before the war is over, Audrey must decide what matters most: saving herself, her friend, or sacrificing everything for the greater good.

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