Six Books That Nail Motherhood


As summer approaches, magazines and websites will be compiling their summer reading lists and telling you what you should read. Every list has its own slant, or bias:

Best beach reads!
5 books to bring on your girls getaway!
Steamy romances for your summer staycation!

All with exclamation points.

If you’ve never been a big reader and don’t understand that friend who’s always got her nose in book, please pull up a chair and listen closely:


If you don’t like to read it’s probably because you haven’t met the right book yet.

I love books because I love a good story. I love to be inspired and excited and scared. I love seeing how other people’s minds work. I love the anticipation of wondering what will happen next: if the people drifting apart will get back together, and thinking about what I would do in a similar situation. I don’t read to be intellectually challenged or to learn. I read to be entertained and to lose myself in a different world.

I’m drawn to stories that scare me, stories that reflect my worst fears and stories that make me extremely happy or desperately sad. Yet I’m also drawn to things I can relate to, things that reflect my own life in some way. And because this phase of my life revolves almost exclusively around motherhood, and difficult choices, and trying to keep my sh*t together on a daily basis, I’ve compiled the following list of books that nail it in one way or another. It might not be pretty and not all of them are happy stories but each one, in some way, has a deeply affecting and unique take on what it means to be a mother.


The funny ones


I Don’t Know How She Does It, by Allison Pearson

One review called this book “the national anthem for working mothers” and I couldn’t agree more. Kate Reddy is a wife, mother and executive in the financial industry. She eventually realizes that something in her hectic life has got to give but along the way she makes hilarious, touching, and incredibly real observations about the obsessions, choices and challenges that drive working mothers everywhere. I know women who loved it and women who hated it; women who saw the fictional Kate Reddy as a hero and women who thought she came off as a neglectful, disengaged mother who’d rather deal in high finance than take her kids to the park. It’s the mommy wars in print, but funnier.


A Window Opens, by Elisabeth Egan

In A Window Opens, Alice Pearce is kinder, gentler version of Kate Reddy who’s forced to “lean in” to a new job in a new industry when her husband starts his own business. As Bridget Jones so accurately pointed out, when one area of your life starts to go well, everything else falls spectacularly apart, and when Alice becomes preoccupied with work, her marriage, her closest friendship and her father’s health all take a turn for the worse. She goes through the predictable “having it all” questions but what makes this novel special is that she does it with grace, candor and humility. She’s extremely likable and relatable, a woman we’ll all see bits of ourselves in.


Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

One by one, Liane Moriarty dismantles the image of the “perfect” family with hilarity, sharp insights and a hint of darkness. The novel begins with a sudden death, but “who done it?” is the least compelling part of the story. Madeline is, in many ways, the kind of woman I wish I was: ruthlessly efficient, insanely reliable, brutally honest and endlessly kind. Female friendships, family secrets and small town politics feature heavily as well. You won’t be able to put it down and then when you do, you’ll rush to pick up Moriarty’s earlier books including The Husband’s Secret.


The not-so funny ones


The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner

Despite growing up in a polygamous community and a home with no electricity and running water, Ruth Wariner manages to tell her story without an ounce of self-pity. Ruth and her many siblings, several of whom she will go on to raise when she flees to California at age 15, are carted back and forth between Mexico and the Unites States throughout their childhood as their parents search for work and welfare cheques. Ruth eventually turns a clear and critical eye to the practices of her community and is forced to confront the fact that her mother, Kathy, is never going to “save” her children from a life of squalor, danger and abuse. Kathy’s story is every bit as compelling as Ruth’s because despite wondering how a mother could ever let her children live like that, you might also see a woman who tried her best and genuinely thought she was doing right by her children. This is a story about the many complexities of motherhood and how the choices we make as women can resonate so deeply amongst our children.


The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman

In the early days of each of our adoptions I would have nightmares that my daughter’s birth parents would return and, by some crazy technicality, be able to take her back. The thought of finally finding, loving, then losing a child is one that makes my blood run cold. And yet I continue to be drawn to stories where my worst fears are realized, as though reading about them demystifies and takes away their power to ever come true.  In The Light Between Oceans a baby literally washes up on the shore of a childless man and woman, and their choice to keep her echoes across the ocean. This is a gripping, heartbreaking tale about how powerful our desire for a family can be and how a mother’s love doesn’t require a birth tie to be the strongest and fiercest force in her life.


When The Moon Is Low, by Nadia Hashimi

How far would you go to protect the ones you love? It’s a common literary theme and one most of us can’t enough of. In this book Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is forced to flee Afghanistan for England with her three children when the Taliban come to power. The story of her journey illustrates how little everything else matter when we do, or don’t, have our family safe beside us. Their journey through Iran, Turkey, Greece and Europe will stop your heart and beautifully illustrate a mother’s desire to stop at nothing to provide a better, safer life for herself and her children.


Happy Reading! Tweet me your favourites or what’s on your must read list @wineandsmarties or comment here.



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Picture of Jen Millard

Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @jennemillard or at

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