20 books featuring seasoned female protagonists

20 books featuring seasoned female protagonists

In the past year, I’ve heard a certain reader request over and over, both in my everyday life, here on the blog, and on my podcast What Should I Read Next: readers are looking for good books featuring female protagonists who aren’t just in their twenties and thirties.

And they don’t want these older women to be quirky old ladies, or magical grandmothers, or elderly curmudgeons who manage to charm you anyway—no, these readers want to read about women who seem real and relatable, whose fictional lives are similar to their own. Society may push older people—especially older women—to the sidelines, but must that be true in our books as well?

With that in mind, today I’m sharing books that put the stories of older female protagonists front and center. The experiences of the women portrayed in these books varies wildly—there’s something for everyone here—but the common thread is seasoned female protagonists who can carry their own story.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in comments, and please share your favorite titles along these lines as well.

20 novels featuring seasoned female protagonists

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Major Pettigrew is your typical model citizen: honest, dedicated, and dignified, devoted to tradition and order. He has clear ideas about what is acceptable, is absolutely inflexible, and sticks to his principles in all situations. Major Pettigrew's friends and neighbors can't believe he'd befriend Mrs. Ali, a Pakistani immigrant who doesn't understand their ways, but they bond over their common experiences and a shared love of reading. A winsome story with an unlikely hero -- a widower who was raised to believe in propriety above all falls hopelessly in love with someone who is completely wrong for him, at least by the standards of his small English village. More info →
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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

I'll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed middle-aged governess Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the best day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Light, charming and utterly delightful (though FYI, this was first published in 1938 and some conversations and attitudes feel quite dated to modern ears). More info →
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The Year of Pleasures

The Year of Pleasures

Over her long career, Berg has consistently written strong female characters at many ages and stages. In this book, I appreciate her portrait of small town life, her recently widowed 55 year old protagonist, and the significance of different kinds of friendship to the story. When the main character was in a bad way, it wasn’t a man who came to her rescue—it was her friends. (Fun fact: Liane Moriarty cites Berg as her favorite author and early inspiration.) More info →
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The Shell Seekers

The Shell Seekers

This family saga tells the story of three generations of a modern British family, brought together again during a time of crisis, all of whom have been burned by love and must figure out how to move forward. The novel, like so much of Pilcher's work, is full of interesting, well-developed, flawed-but-likable characters, and at the heart of the story sits 64-year-old Penelope Keeting, a woman who's decided to take stock of her life and make some changes before her time runs out. More info →
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The Enchanted April

The Enchanted April

This endearing classic begins when one reads an advertisement for a small tumble-down medieval castle addressed to “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” She is suddenly struck by desire on this dreary, dripping day and finds a partner-in-travel to get away for a month. The two friends seek out two strangers to make a party of four women—one young, one old, two somewhere in the middle. As they travel to the Italian castle and spend the month finding out what they have in common, they find they are all unhappy with the life they find themselves leading. It's no spoiler to tell you: they come into their own. More info →
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Housekeeping

Housekeeping

The debut novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead. Despite the novel's title, the story is one of loneliness, transience, and loss. Set in the isolated (and imaginary) town of Fingerbone, Idaho, Robinson unfolds the story of two sisters and the stream of temporary caregivers that enter their lives, one after another, after the death of their mother and grandmother. If you're a physical book lover, the pocket-sized titles from Picador are beautiful. More info →
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Elizabeth Is Missing

Elizabeth Is Missing

Author:
This psychological mystery features a deeply unreliable narrator, but not for the usual reasons. The story focuses on Maud, an 81-year-old woman whose dementia is rapidly worsening. She's convinced her friend Elizabeth is missing, but because of the dementia, no one believes her—not the police, or her son, or her well-meaning daughter. But in moments of clarity, Maud becomes convinced that another life is at stake, and she has to untangle the mystery before her encroaching illness makes it impossible. More info →
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A Piece of the World: A Novel

A Piece of the World: A Novel

The author's working title (and desired title) for this work was Christina's World, named after the Andrew Wyeth painting so many of us fell in love with the first time we laid eyes on it. In this biographical novel, Kline upends the narrative, telling the story from the perspective of the portrait's subject, "middle-aged" spinster Christina Olson. Probing, thought-provoking, and extremely discussable. More info →
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The Jane Austen Book Club

The Jane Austen Book Club

Pen/Faulkner Award winner Karen Joy Fowler's underrated ensemble is made up of Austen lovers (and neophytes) of all ages, but it's the comic bon mots from senior member Bernadette (who has, she declares, decided she's "letting herself go") that sparkle. Throughout their six-month agreement to read all of Jane Austen's novels together, marriages come to the brink, friendships are formed (in various levels of suitability) and, as in any good Austen-inspired story, a letter plays a part. More info →
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Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night

Author:
This is reminiscent of my all-time faves Wallace Stegner, Wendell Berry, and Marilynne Robinson. I found this up-close look at an unlikely relationship between two long-time acquaintances, both of whom lost their spouses years ago, in small-town Colorado completely absorbing, and Haruf's hits just the right tone with his light touch. This is definitely one of those books where the flap copy doesn't do it justice. More info →
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Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge

Retired schoolteacher Olive is not keen about the way her small Maine town is changing. Through a series of interconnected short stories, we get to know Olive’s family and some of the townspeople as they each grapple with their respective problems, including infidelity, suicide, eating disorders, domestic violence, and more. This may sound like a dismal colllection but each story is written with care and offers some hope as Olive comes to have a better, more honest understanding of herself and those around her. Strout fans, take note: there's a sequel coming this October. More info →
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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

I'd been thinking of reading this for a year, but a friend talked me into it, saying that every member of her diverse book club loved this—the twenty-somethings and the sixty-somethings. That got my attention. It's the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish takes a walk in late-night Manhattan, on a very specific mission. As she walks, she reflects on the life she's lived, the people she's known, and where things began to go wrong. This reminded me of J. Courtney Sullivan's The Engagements because of the strong women at the center of each. More info →
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Clock Dance

Clock Dance

Author:
Willa is a sixty-something woman whose track record with men isn't great, as we see through scenes set when she’s 11, 21, 41, and finally 61. They patronize her and expect to be waited on, while Willa doesn't stand up for what she wants. Willa doesn't even know what she wants. But then one day the phone rings, with news that a far-away family needs her help. Even though Willa has no real obligation to help these strangers, she settles in to the rhythms of the family's life, finding herself appreciated for herself for the first time. I enjoyed this quiet novel with characters you can root for (and root against, depending). More info →
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Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

In this light-hearted mystery, a Bavarian widow moves to Sicily and rediscovers her love of living. "On her sixtieth birthday my Auntie Poldi moved to Sicily, intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view." So says Poldi's nephew Michael. But life gets in the way: when Poldi's handyman goes missing, Poldi resolves to find him—with the help of the sexy police Commissario and a host of quirky Italians. Her quest brings Poldi back to life, and all she loves about it—namely prosecco, men, and gossip. Big-hearted and funny, smart and escapist: it's like taking your own Italian vacation. A delightful surprise and I'm happy the series continues. More info →
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Unsheltered

Unsheltered

Kingsolver found one heck of a subject for the historical element, an American scientist I'd previously never heard of named Mary Treat. Kingsolver writes that she is explicitly addressing the events of her time, but she does that in part by looking back: her double narrative follows the life-changing decisions and uncertain times experienced by two separate families, one hundred years apart, who both live in the same home in Vineland, New Jersey. Barbara Kingsolver is a must-read author for me. I love her work, especially The Poisonwood Bible. At 466 pages, this is a long book, but I inhaled it. I loved the clever linking of the chapter titles—pick up the book and you'll see what I mean. More info →
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The Last Romantics

The Last Romantics

Author:
Conklin’s sweeping family saga covers nearly a hundred years in the life of the Skinner siblings. The story is narrated by one of the siblings, a 102-year old poet. When a fan asks her a personal question at a reading, it prompts her to take a look back at her family's complicated history. I loved this so much I included it in the Minimalist Summer Reading Guide for 2019. More info →
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Celine

Celine

Author:
After loving The River so much I put it in the Summer Reading Guide, I immediately wanted to read everything Heller has ever written. Celine is a 60+ private investigator and artist in New York City, and perhaps the reason the character rings so true is that Heller based the character on his mother, also a detective and artist in NYC. In this story, a young woman seeks out Celine to help her find her father, who's been missing for decades, so Celine and her partner head to Yellowstone National Park, where it becomes clear someone wants this man to stay missing. Read this for the way Heller writes about nature and explores the intersection of family, privilege, and the secrets we keep. More info →
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Quartet in Autumn

Quartet in Autumn

Author:
This character study focuses on four 60-something office workers living in London during the 1970s right as they are about to retire. It’s an examination of what can happen to single people as they age. The two women retire first and then the men follow but their paths continue to cross thanks to unexpected events. Marcia, Letty, Norman, and Edwin are quirky and unique, leading to a poignant tale filled with Pym’s humor. If you've never read Pym, this is a good place to begin. More info →
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Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

Author:
When Miss Julia’s husband dies unexpectedly, she has the chance to find out who she really is, now that she’s no longer beholden to her sterile, loveless marriage. But when a woman claims her child belongs to Miss Julia’s late husband, the Southern pillar of the community finds herself in the center of a scandal. It’s time for her to rise to the occasion and boy, does she! More info →
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The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax Series Book 1)

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax Series Book 1)

What do you do if you’re a widow with grown children who is rather bored with life? Why, become a CIA agent, of course. In her seventh decade, Mrs. Emily Pollifax proves her life has only yet begun. (FYI This was written in the 1960s and there are some dated expressions and attitudes.) More info →
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For further reading and listening:

This post was largely inspired by episode 175 of What Should I Read Next: Your library called and they want their books back. (A full transcript is also available.)

Coincidentally, the more recent episode 190, There’s nothing like a little bookish momentum, also addresses this topic. For more fabulous book suggestions, check out the show notes for that episode.

And finally, I just finished one book and am halfway through another that feature strong women of a certain age: the first is Jasmine Guillory’s October release Royal Holiday; my audiobook in progress is J. Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

Readers, what are YOUR favorite books that fit this category? Please load up our TBRs with your suggestions here in comments.

P.S. 12 great books that celebrate the power of female friendship, and 10 books in translation for Women in Translation month.

132 comments | Comment

132 comments

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  1. Julie Z says:

    For books featuring the “older woman experience”, I love May Sarton and Anita Brookner. I am now 61, but read almost all of Sarton’s books while in my 30s.

    • Dona Scott says:

      I have read May Sarton years ago and have also read all of Anita Brookner’s novels. I can remember thinking that Brookner’s female protagonists were totally alien to me but I was fascinated by them. Why didn’t they get out of their miserable circumstances and find a better life?

  2. Anna Kraft says:

    I just finished a book called “Queen Bee Goes Home Again” by Haywood Smith. The protagonist was a 60-year-old female who found love! It’s an easy and fun read that might be great for someone looking for an older female protagonist.

  3. Raela says:

    I just finished reading The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan, the author of the delightful The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, and it features a 50-something heroine. I read it in one sitting, and it was a light, charming read even though it deals with a missing person and spies. The heroine begins the book as the bossy, busybody village woman who is usually the antagonist–or at least an annoyance–in most stories. Seeing her come into her own was sweet, funny, and fun!

    • Debbie Ball says:

      OOooh one of my all time favorites and I have a vintage copy! Also in a Brit vein my librarian friend recommended The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths which is a strong 40ish archeologist helping unravel a murder.

  4. Allison Wolfe says:

    I loved The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. Ona Vitkus is 104 yrs old. An 11yr old Boy Scout has been coming over for the last 7 weeks to help her with chores. They form an unlikely friendship. 3 weeks later, the boy’s dad shows up to finish what his son couldn’t. Lovely story about second chances.

    • Emily says:

      I agree! I thought for sure this would be on the list. I will caution you that I listened to the audio book. I think that is why I found the main character so likable, even though I should have every reason NOT to like her. Maybe this doesn’t fit the “relatable” box exactly, but I think it should be part of this list!

  5. Jennifer Bailey says:

    I have really enjoyed the thriller series by Becky Masterman, starting with Rage Against the Dying, that features Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent. There are 4 novels in the series so far. I just finished the newest one, We Were Killers Once, and loved its twist on the facts surrounding the Clutter family murder that Truman Capote wrote about in In Cold Blood.

  6. Rosemary Mackey says:

    Thank you for this marvelous list. I’ve read a couple, but the majority of titles are new to me. I plan to dive in immediately!

  7. Tory says:

    Barbara Kingsolver reads the audiobook for Unsheltered herself and I loved it! Reviews are mixed though, so listen to a sample first to see if it’s for you.

    Although the lead is male, one of my favorite things about the Inspector Gamache books is that all the main characters are in their 50s. I’m a good number of years away from that myself, but I get tired of reading about 30yo white New Yorkers all the time!

  8. Elizabeth Dehghani says:

    Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty leads with Frances Welty, a 52 year old woman. I enjoyed the book, though it sort of garnered mixed reviews. My attention was held throughout, and it pulled me from other tasks, which is a litmus test for me. If I don’t have thoughts of ‘when can I go read my book’ then it’s not a great one.

    • Mary Kay says:

      Jeanne Ray (Ann Patchett’s Mom!) wrote her first novel at age 60, and all of her books feature a “seasoned” female lead. Her most recent book, “Calling Invisible Women”, specifically addresses how women are often ignored as we age. Jeanne came to my book club’s discussion of “Calling Invisible Women” and told us that one of the reasons she started writing novels was because she didn’t see many middle-aged and older women protagonists. (Getting Jeanne to come to our book club involved chasing Ann Patchett down the street, but that’s another story!)

    • Vikki says:

      I just finished Nine Perfect Strangers and really liked it. I hesitated because of the mixed reviews, but I’ve loved her other books, so I checked it out. Glad I did!

  9. Nancy McCanless says:

    The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Finley. Great story of a grandmother’s quest to find her grandson. It is science fiction but the story of the grandmother and her friend make it a great read.

  10. Jayne says:

    Thank you. I have read many of these books, and wrote down a few titles. I’m 53 and am getting frustrated by the decisions made by younger protagonists.

  11. Lisa Reinhart says:

    Wonderful list, Anne, with a variety of subject matter! Beginning in September, my monthly book group will be reading books based on strong women over the decades which is a favorite genre of mine. Recent favorites include “Calling Me Home” by Julie Kibler and “Vox” by Christina Dalcher. At present, I’m in the midst of “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kadish and am loving 64 year old historian Helen Watt, who privately suffers from Parkinson’s disease but displays an uncanny vigor in her public conduct.

  12. Janice Cunning says:

    I also love The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields which traces a woman’s life from her birth to her death in her 80s. It is written as a fictional autobiography. Carol Shields is my favourite writer as I so enjoy her characters and how she writes about women’s real lives and inner journeys.

  13. granne52 says:

    I’m delighted that Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind made the list. There are now about 20 books in the Miss Julia series, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. Light and entertaining.

  14. Birgitta Qvarnström Frykner says:

    Well many favourites above mentioned, aktually started reading the von Arnim yesterday. Would also suggest the Lady Hardcastles stories about an older lady and her maid with a really exiting life before settling down in an english village

  15. Aleigh says:

    As soon as I read the blurb I immediately though of LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK and was hoping it made the list. One of my absolute favorite reads!

  16. Ellyn says:

    Check out Marie Bostwick’s books, specifically the cobbled court series. The women are strong and brave and I want them all to be my friends!

    • Kim says:

      How about some nonfiction? Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail by Ben Montgomery was an amazing story!

      • Mary Jane says:

        I recommended Ben Montgomery’s Grandma Gatewood Takes A Walk to two book groups. Then I had him come to speak to them both—he is a lively and interesting speaker! His second book, The Leper Spy, about a once celebrated, now unknown, woman with leprosy who spied for the Allies in the Philippines during WWII—also fascinating and true!

  17. Laura says:

    I love these recommendations so much! I am enchanted with L.M. Montgomery’s short stories. So many of them have a sweet, refreshing romance for seasoned characters. I also love Cranford!

  18. Rachel E says:

    Love the Isabel Dalhousie series from Alexander McCall Smith as at the start of the series she’s been somewhat “left behind” as she’s single in her 40’s and although very privileged (and aware of it) feels out of step with others her age. She’s feels morally obligated to everyone, is imaginative and slightly oblivious. I adore how gentle and kind Smith’s writing is about her and how her story develops.
    I also appreciate in his 44 Scotland Series for characters such as Domenica (my family still laughs about her expedition to research pirates and the incident with the Spode tea cup).

    • Mary Jane says:

      I thoroughly enjoyed his #1 Ladies Detective series! He, too, is a droll and light hearted speaker whom I had the pleasure to meet.

  19. Carrie says:

    Can’t wait to read these titles! I would add “The Season of Second Chances” by Diane Meier and “Still Life with Bread Crumbs” by Anna Quindlen.

  20. Barb says:

    She may be a cliche but I still love Miss Marple. White fluffy hair, knitting in hand, and steely sense of right and wrong. Also Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver detective novels. Prim governess turned south…she’s a classic!

  21. Jeannette says:

    The matriarch in the Damerosehay Trilogy by Elizabeth Goudge. Also the memoir books, the Crosswick Journals by L’Engle, (not fiction). And the book A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich is a story of a woman as she ages.

  22. Michelle Wilson says:

    Great list…lots of variety. I really liked your use of the descriptor ‘seasoned’ as opposed to older or mature. Yay, Anne! Also, thanks just for hearing us and giving such a lovely, thoughtful response.

  23. Janelle Carlson says:

    Thanks so much for this list Anne. It’s just what I’ve been looking for!
    A lovely, intelligent, mature woman was a huge selling point for me in Meet Me at the Museum. Thank you Anne Youngson!

  24. I love this list of books and unfortunately, I will sound like a broken record for anyone that’s read my other comments on past blog posts… BUT, I have to recommend Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck! It is SO good! It is all about a woman of a certain age in China who is trying to figure out what she wants for her life. She lives in a very traditional society but discovers that the rigors of the culture no longer fit with who she feels that she is anymore! So… she finds her husband a second wife. (Yipes!) But, what ensues is a beautiful unfolding of a very complex character.

  25. Debbie says:

    I’ve read a number of these, and look forward to trying the others. So happy to see you mentioning Barbara Pym. I stumbled upon her books in the library when I was in my 30s, half a lifetime ago, and have loved her ever since.

  26. Debi Morton says:

    Thank you so much! I’m a good deal past 50, and love reading books featuring “well seasoned” women. I’ve read about half of these, and many others will go on my TBR.

  27. Cathy Carvin says:

    Isabel Allende has not been mentioned yet. I learned about her from the WSIRN podcast that originally prompted this topic. Both In the Midst of Winter and The Japanese Lover are high on my recommend list. It’s nice to see yourself when you read….lots to be added to my TBR.

  28. Kathy says:

    I do think that books about women living full lives in their 50s and 60s is different from end-of-life reflection books. I’m wincing a bit that these two are being lumped together in this post. It’s representations of the former that is so missing in books.

  29. Carole Cornell says:

    Thank you for this list! I have read less than half of them, so I’m delighted to add so many to my TBR LIST. And then some great suggestions in the comments. At this rate, I’ll be busy reading for a very long time.

  30. Thank you! As a woman of a certain age (57) I long to read more books about strong female protagonists who are my age and not rescued by a man. I recently read Elizabeth Berg’s latest book and it reminded what I’ve been missing from this wonderful writer. Now you’ve provided me with a long list of books to read. Thank you!

  31. Jan says:

    I would recommend Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman, who also wrote A Man Called Ove. He writes so well about difficult people and why they’re worthy of our love and attention. I also just recently read Celine by Peter Heller (having read about it on this blog) and have been recommending it to everyone I know. I love this whole list and will be adding many to my TBR list.

  32. Michelle Walker says:

    What about Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Such a moving story….even more powerful than the fabulous movie based on the book.

  33. Kae Kirkwood says:

    The Thrush Green and Fairacre books by Miss Read (Dora Saint) have a seasoned school teacher for the protagonist in each series. They are lovely, cozy books set in small villages in the British countryside, and offer a wry, gently humorous look at the characters populating these fictional villages. Comfort reads!

  34. Angela says:

    Mrs Polifax is one of my favorite characters of all time!! I’m so glad she made the list! And Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is also a wonderful older woman!

  35. Andrea says:

    Winter Solstice was a really pleasant audiobook. Loved Enchanted April. Really enjoyed the audio of Nella Last’s War, Nella Last’s Peace, Nella Last in the 1950’s.
    Under the Tuscan Sun – Book (not movie). The Hare with the Amber Eyes – (both memoirs), Audio version of Belgravia.

  36. Julie says:

    What a great idea for a post. I would agree with another comment that L.M Montgomery has a variety of stories with characters of different ages.
    The first book that came to my mind with a “seasoned female protagonist” is Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer. I read this a few years ago when I needed a light hearted read. Mrs. Saint is determined to help her new neighbors, but they don’t always want her kind of help. What I liked about the book is the intergenerational relationships that develop as well as the idea that we all make mistakes. The idea for the character of Mrs. Saint, as the author reveals, is based on historical facts from Post WWII. My own grandmother and her siblings lived through both WWI and WWII and I saw some of their own reactions to this time of their lives reflected in the character of Mrs. Saint.

  37. Tiffany says:

    The No. One Ladies Detective Agency by Andrew McCall Smith is a must for this list! It’s set in Botswana and the protagonist, Mme Ramowatse is spunky and gutsy. It’s a delightful series, each book clocking in around an efficient 200 pages.

  38. Lenita Virtue says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if I’m repeating. Here are two featuring MUCH older protagonists: 1) An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten, translated from the Swedish. Maud is 88, and you do NOT want to be her neighbor. A slight book, only 184 pages, but worth every one of ’em. 2) The mystery series by Cynthia Riggs,set on Martha’s Vineyard. Victoria Trumbull is a 90-something botanist/detective. Just charming!

  39. I would add Three Things About Elsie, which is a great book about an older woman trying to remember what happened in her past as she lives in a retirement community. It’s much more than I expected it to be and is a wonderful story.

  40. LIBBY MCCANDLESS says:

    Two wonderful books I did not see on this list yet are “A Song I Knew by Heart” and also “Jewel,” both by Bret Lott.

  41. Susanne says:

    Sandra Antonelli has written several seasoned romances, but my favourite is the series, ‘In Service’: At Your Service, Forever in Your Service, and Your Sterling service (a short story). They feature a female butler and a jaded male spy. Humour, action, conflict – I loved this series!
    Cheers, Susanne

  42. Kat says:

    Inger Ash Wolfe’s Hazel Micallef series – Fair warning, these are pretty dark mysteries, but my mystery book group really liked the one we read (The Calling) despite not generally being huge fans of “dark things.”

  43. Rachel says:

    Blix from Matchmaking for Beginners! She stole the story in my mind! Also One in a Million Boy that I got from one of your summer lists years ago!!

  44. What a fantastic list of recommendations – thank you! I was so glad to see Karen Joy Fowler make the cut, she writes incredible characters. I would add to this list The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing; the main character is in her 40s (if I recall correctly), and it’s a weird book with a weird structure but in a GOOD way, I devoured it!

  45. Ginny says:

    Glad to see someone else mentioned Sandra Antonelli’s books. I too really enjoyed her In Service series! All her female protags are of a certain age and have a lot of life and smarts.

  46. Janice Wilson says:

    So many great titles here. Thanks for the suggestions!
    I will add ‘Remembering the Bones’ by Canadian author, Frances Itani.

  47. Carol says:

    Wow, what a treasure …. great list and suggestions from comments. I’ve been yearning for something like this. I’m set for life! Well….my reading life. Loved One In A Million Boy and Olive Kittridge.

  48. Barb says:

    I’d like to recommend ‘Bolder: Making the Most of our Longer Lives’ by Carl Honore. Not fiction, but a great book about how we look at aging and how we need to adjust our thinking. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable read with great stories of people in their later years doing really great and sometimes strange things. I found it very inspiring as someone who is approaching 60.

  49. Dana says:

    I’d have to recommend the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. While it never says her age, in the first book, she’s introduced as a confirmed spinster and believes she’s too old for all that “stuff”. She does meet someone, and the series covers 30 or so years, so there’s plenty of adventures. Amelia’s entertaining, she has very set opinions about things and is quite unconventional for the time

  50. Crystal says:

    This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evinson and Siracusa by Delia Ephron would be great choices, too.

  51. Mary Jane says:

    Having Our Say, is a surprising look at the Delaney sisters, well “seasoned” at 101 and 103. Their book (non fiction) tells of their long, accomplished lives as a dentist and a home ec. teacher. As women of color, their stories are of great determination and accomplishment. I also loved their daily schedules, at their “ripe old ages”. If they can do it, so can we!

  52. Julie says:

    Special thanks to everyone who posted ideas here. I’m 61 , and have gotten discouraged , leaving through so many of the newer books , because most are about people much younger than me. I can’t relate any longer to the dating years, early marriages, having small kids, etc. This is great to find a list of books with people around my age that still have some life in them .
    I’d like to recommend 2 nonfiction, both excellent. The Ride of Our Lives by Mike Leonard , and Driving Miss Norma. Both are so good ! ❤️

  53. Debra Alice Black says:

    I applaud, ‘Enchanted April’ as well as The Scent of Water. I would like to offer another, Miss Garnet”s Angel. Of a mature aged women who stays in Venice for a long visit. Perfect.

  54. Jennifer O. says:

    “Saints for All Occasions” by J. Courtney Sullivan and “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler are two that come to mind. Both cover many years, though, so the characters are both young and grow older through the story.

  55. Stephanie Jumper says:

    I know fantasy fiction isn’t really the genre around here, but Terry Pratchett has written several of his Discworld books around a central cast of three witches, two of which fall squarely into the “seasoned” age group and who are unequivocally some of my favorite literary characters of all time. Magic aside, the snarky relationship between Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax (and the fact that they are just total bosses) is what I aspire to in my later years.

  56. Emily Avers says:

    An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine is wonderful. Hopefully the experiences of the protagonist aren’t going to be recognizable to most people reading this blog because she lives in Beirut but it’s a wonderful story anyway.

  57. Katie says:

    The Anna Pigeon mystery series by Nevada Barr. Anna is in her early 40s when the series begins. She’s a Park Ranger and each novel takes place in a different National Park. While some of the situations she finds herself in can at times seem like a bit of a stretch, she’s such a kick-butt female protagonist that I feel like that makes up for it!

  58. Fiona says:

    I am excited to see the Mrs. Pollifax books on this list. You rarely see them mentioned anywhere. I have read them all and she is one of my all time favourite characters. The relationships with the other characters are wonderful. Interesting settings too – China, Albania, Mexico City, etc.

  59. Mallika says:

    Any suggestions for fantasy novels with older (35+) heroines? I love the Blackthorn and Grim series, but I don’t think the author will be writing more. ☹️ Thanks!

  60. Dee says:

    I recently finished The Little French Bistro. While it’s not a perfect book, the protagonist is over 60 and is not cozy or cranky and is not a grandmother or a sleuth. She is a very real woman with regrets and buried hopes who has an opportunity to make a change in her life. The fact that it takes place in Brittany is a bonus!

  61. Tammy Lee says:

    MC Beaton’s series with Agatha Raisin. Raised in the city, Agatha is a 50ish owner of a successful advertising firm in London. She has always dreamed of living in a cottage in the country, specifically, the Cotswolds. She sells her firm and retires to her county cottage dream, only to discover it’s not entirely her cup of tea. She butts into a police investigation and discovers she has a back for detecting. She can’t cook, bake or garden, but she great at fundraising and chasing after her bachelor neighbor!

  62. Susan Snare says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the Australian author/journalist Liz Bryski who writes specifically about this age group. She has a number of novels well worth reading including Last Chance Cafe, Gang of Four, Food,Sex & Money.

  63. Penny says:

    I love the D.E. Stevenson Miss Buncle series. I don’t remember how old she is, but the series has the old world flavor that I love.

  64. Alison says:

    In the fantasy genre, I love Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The protagonist is finding her way after her children have grown up and her mother has died. She is hemmed in by traditions, and finds her way out. It won many awards.

  65. Patty says:

    Two of the many books by Jon Hassler of the small town of Staggerford, feature Agatha McGhee, a spinster, seasoned retired teacher: A Green Journey and Dear James. Wonderful!

  66. Rachel says:

    Just finished Celine last night and loved it! I would have never read it had I not seen it in this post so thank you!

    When you said it was based on the author’s mother, I had no idea that it’s more like her biography with a fictional mystery tacked on! Celine and Pete are such well-rounded characters it wasn’t all that surprising to realize the book is a tribute to her life and her partnership with Pete.
    A reviewer on Goodreads posted these links giving the background:
    https://www.vaildaily.com/entertainment/author-peter-heller-releases-newest-book-celine-at-the-bookworm-march-7/
    https://brooklyneagle.com/articles/2014/08/23/obituary-caro-heller-brooklyn-artist-who-reunited-families-dies-at-80/

  67. Beth says:

    The Enchanted April is one of my all-time favorite movies but I didn’t realize it was a book. Excited to add it to my TBR list, Thanks you!

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