Life

MY 2021 SUMMER READING LIST

Last year I made myself a ‘Summer Reading List’ and it was a fun way to prioritize a set of books for the months ahead. I’m happy to say that my goal since last year to read more broadly (different genres, diverse authors) has really enhanced my reading life and I feel like I’ve got a really great mix lined up for myself right now. Hope you find something on this list that you’ll be excited about reading this summer as well!

1. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – After devouring Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – this is my most anticipated “beach” read of the summer. In all likelihood, I’ll read it in a single day on the dock at the lake.

2. Anna K by Jenny Lee – A modern retelling of Anna Karenina set in a similar world to Gossip Girl. Claire (my other half @prettywords) read this last summer and loved it and the sequel is already out, so if I love it too I can jump right into that one next.

3. Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge – Inspired by one of the first Black female doctors in the US, set in reconstruction-era Brooklyn – this is the next book club pick for my New York group and one that’s been getting a lot of good buzz lately.

3. Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland – A family saga that spans generations and begins in 1930s Atlantic City. This one has been on my list for a while now!

4. Find Me by André Aciman – The follow up to the best-selling Call Me Your Name (which I finally read last summer and just absolutely fell in love with) – while I know it won’t live up to the first book, hearing from those characters again will be worth it to me.

5. Luster by Raven Leilani – This book has been all over #bookstagram since it came out last year and I want to see what all the buzz is about.

6. The Switch by Beth O’Leary – I like to balance some more literary books in the summer with a few that are short and sweet and feel like a hug. Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare was that way for me last year and this one (about a grandmother and granddaughter who swap lives á la The Holiday) sounds so heartwarming

7. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – Claire sent me her copy of this after reading it – and while it’s not my usual genre, when she loves a book I usually love it too. I think it’s essentially a robot story? I’m going into it blind which I often like to do with books that Claire recommends and just trust that the story will take me where I need to go.

8. Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson – A story about young divorced women staying at a Dude Ranch in Reno in the 1930s. This gives me City of Girls vibes which means I’m very excited about it.

9. Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion – A new curated collection of early short stories from Didion. I’ll read almost anything she writes.

10. The Mothers by Brit Bennett – After reading The Vanishing Half last year I wanted to go back and read an earlier work by Bennett. The Mothers sounds equally compelling.

11. Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – A YA novel that explores themes of identity and justice from an author that has been receiving (what seems like) very well-deserved accolades lately. Pet is apparently like a modern day monster story.

12. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – Our virtual book club pick for July, this one imagines a library that continues the other stories of your life – the missed chances or what-ifs. I think it will make for a good chat!

13. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi – A complicated story of sisterhood, I’m waiting patiently for this on hold at the library right now after seeing so many people rave about it online.

14. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates – This book came out 20 years ago and I’m so glad that Claire read it recently and recommended. It’s an intimate reimagining of Marilyn Monroe’s life and the real story behind the star everyone thought they knew.

15. Come Fly the World by Juila Cooke – A look at the golden era of travel and the Pan Am Stewardess life that was glamorized along the way. Bonus points for having such a great cover.

SHOP MY SUMMER READING LIST:

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A POST-PANDEMIC BUCKET LIST

There was a time when I was making seasonal bucket lists pretty regularly, but during the past year I can’t say I had all that many activities to put on the list. With our second vaccine dose schedule for the first week of May – the spring and summer ahead suddenly feel buzzing with opportunities.

To note: I realize that some of these activities are things that you personally might have been doing for months now.. or oppositely, that you’re still not comfortable doing. Feel free to make a list that’s all your own!

In no particular order (and aside from seeing friends and family!) here’s what I’m most looking forward to:

  • Manicure/pedicure – I haven’t been to my favorite neighborhood nail salon since February 2020. I cannot wait to treat myself to this again! It’s a little luxury that I’ve sorely missed
  • Movies in the theater – seeing movies at the theater is one of my favorite things to do. Alone, with a friend or on a date night – as long as I’ve got a fountain Diet Coke, pack of Twizzlers and 2 hours with no distractions, I’m happy.
  • Try a few new restaurants – While we’ve been to our local favorites for outdoor dining this past year, we haven’t really been out and about to try new restaurants ‘just because’ and I really want to get back to that. It’s one of the joys of living in this city after all. On my list (these aren’t necessarily ‘new’ places but more so ones that have long been on my list to try): Minetta Tavern, Gupshup, Carbone, The Tyger and Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse.
  • Visit a museum – I actually did go to the Met on a weekday late last year and it was really limited tickets so things felt plenty safe, but I’d like to visit some others that I haven’t been to in a long time now like the MoMa or the Natural History Museum (which I’ve never been to!)
  • Road Trip – Pre-pandemic, Adam and I were exploring more of the surrounding areas in New York – from Montauk and Sag Harbor out east to Hudson and Woodstock upstate. I’d love to plan a few summer road trips to continue to see more of the greater NYC area.
  • Sunset Sailboat Cruise – I’ve always wanted to do one of these chartered sunset sails around Manhattan and hoping this summer I finally can make it happen.
  • Explore a new neighborhood – I really want to get out and explore areas of the city that are lesser known to me. Chinatown is high on my list this year (the thought of fresh dumplings seems like reason enough) and the Upper West Side which I just never really have a ‘reason’ to travel up that way, but always strikes me as lovely. May need to watch the quintessential UWS flick ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in preparation.
  • Live music – This is probably the thing that Adam and I miss the most – whether it’s a big show at Madison Square Garden or a tiny jazz quartet at our favorite little neighborhood spot, live music is the soundtrack of this city to me. This one might not happen until later in the summer or early fall here but when it does, we’ll be there with bells on.
  • Travel! – I mean, this goes without saying. Due to our work schedules this also probably won’t happen until late summer/early Fall but I am itching to pack my bag and stamp my passport again. Now.. where to?!

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

While I haven’t managed much writing lately (on the blog or on my personal projects), I’ve managed quite a bit of reading these past couple of months. I’m pleased to say it was a pretty wide range of genres (memoir, new fiction, romance, literary and historical fiction) and quite a few 5 star reads in this batch. So if you’re looking for your next book, I think there’s a bit of something for everyone in here. Happy reading!

SHOP THE POST:

Outlawed by Anna North: I’ve been describing this book as True Grit meets Handmaid’s Tale. A western with a feminist spin. While I could have done with a little less detail in some areas and a little more in others, overall I was wholly along for the ride and would definitely recommend this one. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller: I love a good memoir as well as books set within the publishing world – this book combined the two and followed Miller’s journey as a young, female literary editor at Esquire in the 90s in very much a man’s world. It also largely followed her relationship with the infamous author David Foster Wallace. There were times when I really enjoyed this and other times when I wanted to scream at her as she accepted frankly unacceptable behavior from Foster Wallace and male colleagues – writing off their indiscretions in favor of their literary genius. A reflection of the times? Definitely. Would I have liked to see more distinction in her reflections on that time? Hard yes. (3 out of 5 stars)

To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters: If you binged Bridgerton and are in need of something to fill the void, this Regency-era romp of a romance will do just that. It’s actually part of a series but I hadn’t read the first book and this one totally stood alone. I read it in probably a day or two and had fun doing it. There’s not a ton of gravitas here, but that’s not why you’re reading this book. Read it for the fun and the flirtation and enjoy. (3.5 out of 5)

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: Hemingway had 4 wives, but Hadley was inarguably the true love of his life. His first wife, the ‘Paris’ wife – she was with him when he was just a young man in Chicago with big dreams. When they moved to Paris, poor and struggling to break onto the scene in the 1920s. When he was becoming the Hemingway that we all now know. This book is Hadley’s story and I loved. every. word. I rarely re-read books but in a few years I definitely want the joy of picking this up again. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: After reading The Nickel Boys by Whitehead last year, I knew I wanted to explore more of his work. I think I loved The Underground Railroad even more. Beautifully conceptualized and captivating at every harrowing turn, you will be rooting for Cora’s survival as an escaped slave from the first to the last page. I will warn you that there are parts of this book that are very painful to read – and I imagine that would be the case no matter your race. But that likely makes it all the more important to read and absorb. I will be thinking about this book for a long time to come. (5 out of 5 stars)

American Royals + Majesty by Katharine McGee: After a few more ‘serious’ reads I wanted something light and stumbled into American Royals. I had seen this book make the rounds on Instagram a couple of years ago and dismissed it, but found it at a discount and thought – why not? I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I liked the first book. I’ve been describing it as Gossip Girl meets The Crown. It’s fairly predictable and glossed over in most parts, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t rip through the first book and then immediately go out and buy the sequel. I suspect there will be a third and if/when there is – I’ll be reading it. (4 out of 5 stars)

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: It’s safe to say you won’t have ever read a story like this one. Peters is the first trans woman to ever be nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and it’s well deserved as I think this is the boldest new voice I’ve read in a very long time. There is so much heartache is this book but also humor and incredible honesty, as a trio of cis and trans women navigate family, relationships and their shared future. (5 out of 5 stars)

From Scratch by Tembi Locke: This book had been on my shelf for a long time and I finally wanted to check it off the list. I’m not giving anything away by saying that this is a memoir of Locke’s love story with her husband who she met in Italy (her a young black college student abroad, him a Sicilian chef) and then lost to cancer a number of years later. It had a definite Eat, Pray, Love vibe and while it was enjoyable and there was a lot of heart in it – I hate to say that I was hoping for a little bit more of their love story in Italy instead of so much of the book being devoted to her coping with his death, largely alongside his mother (fully understanding that this is entirely her story to tell and perhaps she didn’t want to share as much of those special happy memories). I think this book would resonate strongly though if you’ve lost a partner or loved one or if you have in laws that you have ever struggled to connect with. (3 out of 5 stars)

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet: I read this book in a day and still am not fully sure that I understood it all. But that ‘leave you wondering’ feeling I think is the beauty of this book that felt in some ways like a post-modern, literary version of The Goonies meets Lord of the Flies. In a not so distant future there is a group of scrappy young kids and teens on vacation from NYC with their ambivalent parents in a rented house on Long Island for the summer. A climate change-charged storm ensues and from there you’re just along for the ride. The writing style is captivating and leaves enough gaps for you to draw your own conclusions in a lot of ways. This is literary fiction and it won’t be for everyone but it’s short and I highly recommend giving it a try. (4 out of 5 stars)

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker: This book frankly, wrecked me. I don’t read a lot of twist and turn-y suspenseful novels but I couldn’t put this one down. There’s something in it that is reminiscent of a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird (without being racially charged) and also something that reminds me of Eleven and Hopper’s relationship in the show Stranger Things (without the sci fi element). The book is largely a discussion on justice. On who is good and who is bad. On what you’ll do to protect the people that you love. I loved it and I’ll be thinking about the main characters for a long time to come. (5 out of 5 stars)

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LET’S CATCH UP 4.12.21

Hi! It’s been awhile. I think this may have been the longest time period I’ve gone without publishing a post in the history of this little blog.. and after 8 or so odd years of blogging, I needed the break. As I’ve mentioned, I started a new job at the end of last year and it’s a been an exciting time with lots to learn and big projects to tackle. Add in my usual March blues and I just really didn’t have the mental bandwidth to be churning out content for the past month or so.

That being said, I thought I’d dust off the cobwebs so to speak with a little life catch-up before jumping into so other posts later this week (spring shopping! a post-pandemic bucket list! the books I’ve been reading lately!). Below – what’s been on my mind, on my bookshelf and in my cart lately.

ON MY MIND:

  • Last week I got my first dose of the Modern vaccine and am just feeling so hopeful about the rest of the year ahead. Plus endlessly grateful to the scientists, health care workers and Dolly Parton for making it all happen. I’ll be sharing my ‘post pandemic bucket list’ later this week!
  • A couple of months ago I signed up for the James Clear newsletter (which provides quotes, advice and little tips for habits and happiness) and it’s the best thing in my inbox ever since. I loved this quote from last week – “If you never fail, you’re only trying things that are too easy and playing far below your level… If you can’t remember any time in the last six months when you failed, you aren’t trying to do difficult enough things.”
  • I watched the new Audrey Hepburn documentary on Netflix last week and highly recommend it – I knew very little about her early childhood and knowing that makes her incredible grace and kindness seem all the more profound. I need to carve out time to watch Roman Holiday soon.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I’ve got a round-up coming later this week of the books I’ve finished over these past couple of months but I’m reading A Children’s Bible right now and it’s got a pandemic vibe that I can’t look away from. It’s like a grown-up, apocalyptic Goonies.
  • If you’re in the mood for lighter fare – I’m almost embarrassed by how much I like American Royals and the sequel Her Majesty. It’s like Gossip Girl meets The Crown and you’ll read them both in a matter of days.
  • I’ve got so many good books in my TBR (to be read) stack for this spring and summer. I’m between reading Fates and Furies (a backlist title that’s been on my reading wishlist for years) or Nick (an imagined prequel to The Great Gatsby) next.

IN MY CART:

  • I’m waiting on these wide leg, off-white jeans to arrive in the mail and I’m really hoping that they’ll be a homerun because I can already think of a million ways to wear them.
  • Earlier this spring I was swooning over the lavender version of this preppy cardigan and shell set, but now I’m fixated on buying it in neon. A classic with a major twist – I’d wear it with cut-off jean shorts and tan legs on the weekends or with a crisp mini skirt to the office.
  • I love the look of these affordable statement earrings – they’ll be great for Zoom calls.. but also al fresco date nights. I’m hoping for more of the latter this spring.
  • This travel inspired oversized button down almost looks vintage and would look great tied up with high waisted shorts or tossed on over a bathing suit.
  • I absolutely do not need another straw bag. But if I got one – it would be this one with a monogram.
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TIPS FOR A MONTH OF NO SHOPPING

For those of you joining me in Frugal February – we’re over halfway through! I thought I’d share a few of the tips and tricks I use to get me through a month of no shopping – or really any time when I want to tighten up the purse strings for a bit.

  • Set Parameters: To begin, I set some ‘rules’ for myself so that I know precisely how I want to approach the month. For me – I can spend money on groceries and pharmacy necessities (meaning toothpaste is fine but not nail polish). I also throw in a chai tea about once a week and take-out maybe twice in the month. Otherwise things feel a little too strict. But set your own guidelines here.
  • Find a buddy: Even if they’re not actually doing the challenge with you – I find it’s helpful to tell someone and then you’ve made yourself more accountable. For instance – I’ve told all of you!
  • Calculate Your Savings: Look at your budget and see exactly how much you have in discretionary spending each month – and then you’ll know how much you’ll save. This is such a strong motivator and if it helps, you could divide that number by the number of days in the month and do an automatic transfer to your savings account every day. Each day you’ll see your efforts stacking up!
  • Plan for Future Purchases: For the last couple of years I’ve used these shopping free months as a chance to clear through my closet and identify things that were missing. Then when I was ready to shop, it wasn’t an impulse buy but a calculated purchase I knew I wouldn’t regret. Window shop and save website links that you’ll want to come back to when you’re shopping again.
  • Clear the Clutter: Clean out your kitchen and bathroom drawers. Organize your closets. Donate what you don’t use. It’s a great practice in reminding yourself that you really don’t need so much ‘stuff’ and will make what you feel grateful for everything you already have.
  • Hide from Temptations: Unsubscribe from newsletters, mute accounts on social media, drive home a different route so you don’t pass the shops that tempt you. Tell your friends your plans and that you’ll catch up with them next month. Whatever it takes to not pull focus from your goals.
  • Find Free Treats: When you feel like you need a hit of something “new” – try swapping clothes with a friend, taking out a book from the library or cooking a new recipe at home.
  • Think Big Picture: Whenever I feel like I’m faltering during a no shopping month, I remind myself of the big picture. The amazing vacation we’ll someday take and how this month of savings will cover X amount of it. Or that if you invest what you’ve saved – it will have grown to X amount by the time you retire. It’s easy to feel like you want a new sweater in the moment, but remind yourself of the bigger payoff down the line.

Sweatshirt + Joggers c/o NYDJ

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.