14 Books To Read When Life Gets Tough

by Emma Oulton

I don’t know about you, but when things get tough, the first place I always turn is my bookshelf. Snuggling down with a comforting book can make all your worries seem a million miles away (especially if you’re also drinking wine at the same time). Of course, the choice of book is crucial. Some people look for something gentle and reassuring in their times of trouble — but I prefer something a little more... troubling. Reading about people’s problems helps me put my own into perspective; if I’m not battling ghosts, lawsuits, or secrets that have been buried for generations then maybe my work dilemma isn’t that bad after all.

These 14 books are exactly what the doctor ordered. They’re all written by women and about women — and their complicated lives. So when things get tough, rest assured: you’re never alone. Whatever you’re going through, someone else has been through it too; in fact, someone’s probably been through worse. On the pages of these books, you might find friends to turn to who totally understand your problems; you might find advice, guidance, and moral support; you might just find a story so gripping you don’t even have time to remember your own tricky situation. Either way, you’ll feel an awful lot better by the end. (Or maybe that’s just the wine talking.)

1. Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán

Libby Miller has always been a proud optimist — until her husband drops a bomb on their marriage and a doctor delivers her terrible news. In an effort to have a "last holiday," Libby leaves her life behind in Chicago and heads straight to the Caribbean, where she learns the difference between the “perfect” life and actually living. With a new relationship on the horizon, Libby might just risk everything to live and love a little longer.

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2. Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

If there’s one person fully qualified to give lessons in bravery, it’s Cheryl Strayed. Drawing from the experiences of her life, this collection of quotes pulled from her multiple writings is full of thoughts, instructions, and food for the soul to help you live a daring life — even when things get scary.

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3. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the poster child for smart, inspirational women writers, and in Big Magic, she gives her unique perspective on the creative process by encouraging us to let go of our fears. The books is filled with insights about how to achieve creative challenges and milestones — and the struggles you’ll face along the way. So when nothing seems like it’s working out, Big Magic will help you realize you’re not alone.

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4. Beautiful Affliction by Lene Fogelberg

Lene Fogelberg has been sure since she was a child that she would die young — but nobody believes her. Her sanity in shreds, she eventually moves with her family from Sweden to the U.S., just in time to be diagnosed in the last stages a fatal disease. This honest and hard-hitting memoir is testament to the love and strength that can be found at the edge of tragedy.

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5. The Barter by Siobhan Adcock

The Barter is a ghostly psychological thriller about two mothers living parallel lives across two different centuries. In 1902, Rebecca is walking away from her husband, and in the present day Bridget is walking away from her career to raise her daughter. But nobody else seems to notice the horrifying presence that has entered their home — and each woman is headed toward a terrible ordeal of her own making.

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6. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

From the outside, Lotto and Mathilde have the perfect marriage — but as this book explores their love story over 24 years, a labyrinth of secrets are revealed underneath. Lotto and Mathilde’s stories are told one at a time, and their unique perspectives suggest that truth may be overrated after all...

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7. Shattered Blue by Lauren Horowitz

When Callum transfers to 16-year-old Noa’s Monterey boarding school, their similarly tragic pasts draw them together. But when Callum’s mysterious past reveals some supernatural secrets, Noa realizes that to love him, she’ll first have to sacrifice herself.

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8. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Oh, Rainbow Rowell, you never disappoint. Simon Snow is the Chosen One — but his girlfriend’s just dumped him, even his mentor is avoiding him, and he can’t seem to get his powers under control. Carry On is like Harry Potter for pessimists — and this Fangirl spinoff is just what you need when life’s got you feeling a little bit useless.

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9. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

Since the sudden disappearance of their teenage sister 20 years ago, Claire and Lydia haven’t spoken. The two sisters are now living drastically different lives — Claire is married to a millionaire, while Lydia is a single mom who can barely afford to pay the bills — but both women are equally scarred. When Claire’s husband is murdered, the old mystery is reopened, and the sisters are thrown back together to discover the gruesome secrets hidden by each once-beloved member of their family, including the sister they once lost.

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10. BIGLAW by Lindsay Cameron

Mackenzie Corbett has battled sleepless nights and horrible bosses to win her high-paying job and trophy boyfriend. So when an investigation threatens to take all of that away, there’s no way she’s going down without a fight. In BIGLAW, the truth is exposed about the cut-throat world of New York law firms.

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11. Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain

Sometimes it can feel like the past is always catching up with you, no matter how fast you try to run from your mistakes. Molly Arnette ran away from her family 20 years ago, and now that she’s undergoing background checks to prepare for adopting a baby, her secrets are coming worryingly close to the surface. But as she tries to make peace with her past, she finds that she’s not the only one in her family with secrets.

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12. Sleeping with the Enemy by Tracy Solheim

Jay McManus is the millionaire owner of a football team currently being sued by its own cheerleaders, and Bridgett Janik is the lawyer hired to defend him — and she’s also his ex. In this sexy, off-limits romance, Jay and Bridgett rekindle their romance while tracking down the anonymous blogger who’s aiming to destroy Jay’s reputation. Talk about complicated.

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13. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Once again, Mindy Kaling proves that you can stress about life and still be confident. Despite her glamorous life, Kaling’s struggles are still totally relatable: trying to make new friends, trying to lose weight without trying, and trying to fit in. Whatever’s getting you down, Mindy gets you.

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14. The Admissions by Meg Mitchell Moore

In The Admissions, Meg Mitchell Moore reminds us that even when things seem perfect, there’s always more going on behind the scenes. The Hawthorne family have money, top careers, and beautiful children destined for Harvard, but the pressures of staying on their perfect schedule mean the family starts to unravel. Equal parts delightful and devastating, The Admissions is a cautionary tale about trying too hard to stay on top.

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Image: Ravi Roshan /Unsplash