BOOKS TO GET YOU IN THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT:

To preface, you’re going to need to go into this genre knowing that they’re mostly the book equivalent of a Hallmark movie. The love stories are always predictable and some of the lines might make you cringe – but there is nothing more satisfying to me this time of year than curling up with a cup of hot chocolate and reading something equally sweet.

Mistletoe & Mr. Right by Sarah Morgenthaler: This is the second book in the Moose Springs series, which I didn’t realize, and despite not having read the first this one can totally stand on it’s own. I like the dynamic between Lana & Rick, the Alaskan setting and the ‘tourist vs local trope’ that was going on here. Funny and sweet.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris: A hilarious collection of short stories that follow Sedaris through holiday hijinks including his time spent working as a Macy’s Elf. I feel like this is one you could re-read every year and not get tired of.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa De La Cruz: What I thought was fun here was that it was a modern re-telling of Pride & Prejudice, set at Christmas, and with reversed roles – so Bennett was male and Darcy was female, and her best friend, Bingley, was gay. That being said – there’s some fairly cringe-y writing in this one and the characters were less developed than I would have preferred. But you can probably read it in a day or two and if you’ve already read some of the others on this list, why not?

One Day in December by Josie Silver: I read this last year and loved it. Star-crossed lovers and a backdrop of London at Christmas-time, so you know I was sold. I would read this again.

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory: The holiday romance genre is sadly pretty lacking in diversity – so I was happy when I found Royal Holiday which features a Black couple in their 50s. Another tourist meets local storyline with a little bit of a Royal family threadline and a London backdrop. Also – this is part of a series too, but I hadn’t read the others and everything still made sense.

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren: I think this ties with One Day in December for the holiday romances I’ve like most so far. While I wasn’t initially sold on the Groundhog’s Day meets Christmas premise, the writing was sharp, heartfelt and believable and I really fell in love with the whole crew of characters.

The First Time We Met by Jo Lovett: There is technically only a small thread of Christmas in this book, but it starts and ends there so I’m including it on the list. It was also just an overall cute love story with a couple in their 30s/40s juggling kids, past marriages, etc. I like when the characters have a bit of baggage that makes them feel real.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva: To break up the modern holiday romance theme in so many of these others, I also picked this up from the library and am looking forward to reading. It’s the story of Charles Dickens as he creates his famous Christmas Carol story.

Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin: Sold to me as ‘a love letter to Paris, old bookshops and happily-ever-afters’ – I couldn’t resist. I’m planning to read this next!

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss: I’m saving this to have something to read a little closer to Christmas and it’s the one I’ve been most looking forward to. It’s set in the English countryside and our leading lady is in her mid-30s. Feels like Bridget Jones meets The Holiday!

BOOKS THAT ARE THOUGHT-PROVOKING:

Between lighter reads this year I challenged myself to try and read a diverse group of books that really pushed me to view the world through experiences very different than my own. The below all blew me away.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller: Miller’s memoir recounting her experience as the victim in the now infamous Brock Turner/Stanford rape case. This book manages to be both an intimate re-telling and also a broad discussion of the ways in which rape culture continues to persevere in this country. This book should be required reading in high school.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Easily one of the best books I read this year this is such a profound story of the history of racism in this country. While it’s fiction, it’s based on an all too real reform school for boys in Florida.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I’m a big fan of memoirs and this is one of the best I’ve read. Noah is a sharp observer and a resilient survivor in the face of the post-Apartheid South Africa he was raised in. There was so much heart and humor in this book. I would have loved to listen to this on audiobook too so that I could hear his accent.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: This book read like poetry to me. Parenthood, race, class – this multi-generational story set in Brooklyn was short but wasn’t afraid to tackle heavy subject matter with it’s unique and beautiful prose.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore: The true story of the young women who worked in Radium factories in the 1920s and 30s and the heartbreaking journey of their compromised health and the legal battles that followed.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo: The interwoven story of 12 womxn, this is a beautifully diverse story that has one of the most unique writing styles I’ve ever read. I tackled this with my NYC book club and we had so much to discuss.

BOOKS TO MAKE YOU LAUGH:

In 2020 I find most of us need a good cry or a good laugh. The below will provide the former (and on some occasions, the latter too!).

The Best of Me by David Sedaris: An all new anthology collection of his short stories that would be wonderful for first-time Sedaris readers or die-hard devotees like myself. This is on my personal holiday wishlist.

Sissy by Jacob Tobia: Tobias’ memoir about the journey to understanding their gender and sexuality has all the pop-culture quip of Mindy Kaling’s writing with all the heart of Queer Eye episodes.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong: This book is an honest look at a family going through a difficult time – but it’s written with so much heart and humor. I don’t often laugh out loud when I’m reading but I did here.

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt: While probably not for everyone, I loved the dark, macabre humor of this story about a mother and son with a complicated relationship and a flair for the dramatic.

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost: I haven’t read this yet but I was already a fan of Jost’s from SNL and when I heard a podcast interview with him discussing this book I knew I needed to add it to my list. And before you think that a man this good looking couldn’t possibly be a skilled writer – know that he majored in Russian literature. At Harvard.

BOOKS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SWELL:

From the requests I’ve gotten from fellow readers, many of us are looking for the comfort food version of a book right now. I’m all for it and luckily have read so many books that pulled at my heartstrings this year. All of these feel full of hope and love.

The Once & Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Witches and Suffragettes collide in New Salem. While there’s quite a bit of fantasy going on here, at the heart of the story are 3 sisters, their relationships and unique paths and struggles. I found myself stopping often to re-read lines.

Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I’ve been singing the praises of this book all year and so I figured why stop now? It’s a romp of a romance between the son of the first female US president and the royal Prince. So fun and smartly written.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: Set in the English countryside this story unites a group of lost souls over their shared love of Jane Austen. It had snippets and themes from Austen herself and was such a sweet story of friendship and relationships.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: As a general romantic fiction story, I found this to be pitch perfect. Pun intended as it features a washed up pro-baseball player and a new widow.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: A young Trans boy, attending an arts high school in NYC navigates their new life and new love interests. This would be good for young adult readers but I honestly really loved it too. Callender is a much needed diverse voice in this genre.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A quirky British love story with a premise that’s slightly off the wall and honestly shouldn’t work but so completely does to me. Sweet but I’m pretty sure I also cried I was so invested in this story.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: An Old Hollywood story with a major twist. I’ve been a fan of Reid’s writing since Daisy Jones and the Six and I think I liked this one even more.

BOOKS FOR THE LITERARY LOVER:

For the person in your life that’s looking for something a little heftier than the popular fiction picks. While I think many of these have widespread appeal, they’re a bit denser and more niche. They also happen to be some of my very favorites that I read this year.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: An absolute favorite, this book just swept me away into the lives of siblings Danny & Maeve. The house, their time in New York, the evil stepmother. Patchett can do no wrong.

Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson: Southern gothic in style, this coming of age story features a foreign exchange student who landed in the back woods of Alabama and is coming to terms with his spirituality and sexuality. This was so unexpected but I loved it.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyong Frazier: A debut novel that really knocked my socks off. If you liked Juno, this felt like a literary version. I love a flawed protagonist with complicated history and an unreliable version of things.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: I’m reading this for my next book club so I can’t give a review just yet – but the glowing reviews I’ve read seem to speak for themselves. A sweeping, time travel tale.

Circe by Madeline Miller: I read this last year but it really deserves a spot here. A modern re-telling of the Odyssey, this time focusing on a female point of view from the Goddess Circe. I did not think I was into mythology and this firmly proved me wrong.

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer: I’ve been looking forward to the release of this poetry collection since following Baer on Instagram for the past few years. Her reflections on motherhood, relationships, feminism and more always feel so poignant.

BOOKS TO PRETEND THAT YOU’RE TRAVELING:

Books have allowed me to feel like I was still traveling this year – taking me to far away places that I love as well as destinations I’ve never visited. All of these captured the distinct feel of the locations in which they were based.

The Paris Hours by Alex George: While there was a lot of heartbreak in this story, it somehow still felt so hopeful and comforting to read. Set in Paris in the 1920s the city truly came alive in this book in a non-touristy way.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: If you missed this popular pick last year, it’s still very much worth picking up. Not only will it transport you to New York City, but also back in time to the glittering world of Broadway circa 1940s.

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani: The Italian coast, summer, 1950s. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Their lovers. This book was glamorous but also honest and raw.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur: Dreaming of Cape Cod in the Summer? This book will take you there. You’ll also be on a wild ride of the true story of her mother’s affair along the way.

Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman: Head to the sweeping countryside of Northern Italy and prepare to fall in love with the surroundings as much as you do Olivier and Eliot. One of the great literary love stories of all time in my opinion. I can’t believe I waited until this year to read it.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl: A memoir recounting her days at Gourmet magazine in the heyday of publishing (late 90s/early 00s), jumping between New York and Paris – you really felt like you were in the world of it all with her. Very fun to read.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal: If the Midwest is home for you (or maybe it once was and you are missing it) – this book, about a multi-generational family of female beer brewers, really seemed to capture the mood.

BOOKS FOR THE PERSON WHO BINGE WATCHED…

Were there any among us that didn’t get sucked into a TV binge at some point this past year? Many of the biggest hits were based on books themselves, but in the case that you’ve already read the book – I’m suggesting something similar.

…Little Fires Everywhere | The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: An examination of identity through race, motherhood, class and more. I read this with my book club and it was a hit. This would be a perfect gift for your friend who couldn’t get enough of Little Fires Everywhere (also a great book by the way).

…Election Coverage | A Promised Land by Barack Obama: If you’ve got someone in your life that did a political deep dive this year, Obama’s much anticipated new book could make a great gift. I haven’t read it yet, but this may be one I try on audiobook!

…The Great | A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Ann Fowler: A young Ava Smith marries into the dynasty of the Vanderbilt family and goes on to rule the Gilded Age. I just picked up this in paperback and can’t wait to read over holiday break.

…Normal People | Writers & Lovers by Lily King: One to watch, I’m a definite fan of King’s writing (and for the record liked this book much more than Normal People in book or TV form). Young love, career struggles, family complications set against Boston’s restaurant world.

Pandemic News Coverage | Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: I read this a couple of years ago – when a post-apocalyptic, virus-ridden United States seemed like a fantasy concept for a book. I really want to go back and re-read this post-2020. It sounds like a nightmare but there was a lot of beauty and hope in this book.

…Emily in Paris | In Five Years by Rebecca Serle: Okay, okay so this is set in New York instead of Paris – but we’ve got a young female lead trying to navigate tricky love and friendship and making sense of a career in an all-consuming city. There’s a definite similarity. I read this in a single day.

…The Crown | 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown: Raise your hand if Princess Margaret is the most interesting member of the Royal family to you. Rogue and radiant – this books gives an incredible insider’s glimpse into some of her antics.

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