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While studying for her PhD in chemistry, RITA finalist Lisa Verge Higgins penned twelve romance novels under her maiden name. The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship was her first foray into mainstream women's fiction, followed by One Good Friend Deserves Another. Currently Lisa, an opera loving, novice archer and mother of three, is finding inspiration in women's lives and women's friendships. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their children. Friendship Makes the Heart Grow Fonder is her most recent release.

LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott

Growing up in New England just like the characters in LITTLE WOMEN, I felt a deep affinity for this Civil War-era story about the March family. The four well-educated but impoverished daughters had rich interior lives, and their coming-of age struggles to find happiness and personal freedom still ring true.  Jo was my idol, of course: A brave, creative young woman who wanted nothing more than to write fabulous stories.

INFIDEL bY Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Fearless women are an inspiration, and there’s plenty of courage in this memoir by Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  The author’s own grandmother forced Ayaan to undergo genital cutting when she was only five years old.  Though she embraced a strict interpretation of Islam initially, Ayaan rebelled at the prospect of an arranged marriage and fled to the Netherlands.  There, she re-educated herself in universal human rights and dignity.  She became a member of the Dutch Parliament and a fiery, outspoken feminist.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Brontë

Yes, I know, Heathcliff kills a puppy.  But the creepy atmosphere of the moors!  The repressed passion!  The incredibly complicated point of view!   And it has a gypsy and a ghost.  Every few years I re-read this book and I’m always captivated by the intensity of the story.  It’s a gothic-horror-romance written by a sheltered, nineteenth-century woman in her twenties.  What an imagination.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

Some people say this book is ponderous (You’re thinking about the turtle, right?)  But in high school I read it four times.  Steinbeck’s tale is not just about the Joad family, tenant farmers forced to leave their dustbowl home to seek work in California, it’s also intensely political and grapples with Big Themes like man’s inhumanity to man as well as the saving power of friendship (anyone remember the breastfeeding scene?)  THE GRAPES OF WRATH made me realize that a really good story should always have multiple layers of meaning.

THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy

When THE GROUP was published in 1963, this novel caused such a scandal that it was banned in Australia. The story follows the post-graduation lives of a group of women who all attended Vassar in the 1930s.  The problems they face are strikingly contemporary and range from sexism in the workplace, adultery, work-life balance, choices in child-rearing and even sexual orientation.  THE GROUP espoused a truth that still resonates with me today:  Women of all generations are just trying to figure out the world—it helps if we do it together.

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