Rules Of Civility by Amor Towles (Penguin, $16). Towles's novel is narrated in the first person by a woman and set in the New York of Jay Gatsby's era. The history and authenticity of the language drew me in, but what makes it all work is the humanity of the main character. Katey Kontent is equal parts romantic, idealistic, and tough-as-nails — and always very feminine, even when she is pouring herself a glass of gin and lighting up a smoke.
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (Pocket Books, $8). I recall looking at the author's photo over and over while I was reading this novel, positively stunned that a man had created a sensibility as thoroughly feminine as that of Dolores Price, among the most memorable fictional female characters I know.
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby (Riverhead, $14). Hornby's masterpiece is told in the alternating voices of four lead characters, two of them women. This book was in every way the inspiration for mine; the uniqueness of each of the voices is brilliant, and the females in particular are funny and vivid. One of them, a disillusioned 20-year-old, has a filthy mouth and a heart of gold. The other, a worn-out mother, is docile and polite and very, very sad.
In the Woods by Tana French (Penguin, $16). French's first novel, about a Dublin cop trying to uncover his own identity as he investigates a murder, is one of the best-written detective stories I've ever read.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Penguin, $10). If you've never seen the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book first. Written by a teenage S.E. Hinton, it is more nuanced, with great characters and an enormous amount of heart. Equal parts West Side Story and Butch Cassidy, it's a coming-of-age story written by a girl that feels authentic to every boy who has ever read it.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic, $87 for the boxed set). Rowling is one of the world's wealthiest women because she created the ultimate boys' fantasy world — and perhaps the most famous boy in the history of fiction.