Life

10 FALL BOOKS TO READ THIS SEASON

I tend to read “seasonally” whenever I can – lighter books in the Summer, longer classics in the Winter. In the Fall I like to read books with an autumnal feeling. Ones that feel like a cozy hug or have a hint of magic. Below – the top 10 books I’d recommend picking up this season.

  1. Practical Magic Series by Alice Hoffman: Okay, okay so this is actually 4 books, but I’m counting it as 1 since it’s a series. Following a generations of a family of witches, the first in the series inspired the classic 90s movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock – I’ve seen it a million times and it never gets old. Then there’s Rules of Magic – set in the 60s/70s in NYC and my favorite of the series so far. Last year brought Magic Lessons which is old Salem and has a very cozy feeling and this Fall will be the last book – The Book of Magic. Honestly I’ve loved them all.
  2. The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller: This is the perfect summer into fall book to me. Set at a lake house in Cape Cod, a family convenes as their lives diverge. It has an incredibly strong sense of place (you feel like you’re in the cabin with them in the woods) and vivid, complicated characters. I couldn’t put it down and it’s absolutely going to make the cut as one of my top reads of the year.
  3. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix: Described as Sweet Magnolias meets Dracula – this is the vampire story I doubted I’d even like and ended up loving. It’s a mix of early 90s small suburban town nostalgia meets campy thriller. Just trust me.
  4. The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson: I read this book last October on a whim after seeing it as a staff recommendation at The Strand and it exceeded my expectations. It reminded me of ‘Are You Afraid of The Dark?’ in that it was sort of nostalgic and kitschy without being actually scary and had so much heart to the story. If you lean toward literary fiction but want something that feels seasonal, I think you’d love this.
  5. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: This one is pretty lengthy but if you’re looking for an engrossing slow burn, world-building type novel to disappear into this Fall, this is it. Sisterhood, sorcery and suffragettes set in “New Salem” during the early 1900s. A cozy, magical book that I really enjoyed last Fall.

6. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: Basically the literary version of an episode of Gilmore Girls. This was such a sweet comforting read set at a small town bed & breakfast in Vermont. You’ll want to hug this book at the end.

7. Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs: If you like David Sedaris but want something that’s slightly seasonal – I loved this one. Burroughs is one of the few authors that I find myself truly laughing out loud to and these sharply written

8. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: Set between early 2000s Brooklyn and late 1700s Paris – this is a sweeping story about a young woman trapped in time after making a deal with the devil. I loved the settings and the longevity of the storyline and while there’s an obvious suspension of belief with the premise – there was so much that felt really real to me.

9. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn: I rarely go in for the blockbuster thrillers but I loved this one when I read it a few years back. A Hitchcock Rear Window-esque story with a reclusive woman who watches her neighbors from her New York apartment but things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t watch the Netflix movie and go in spoiler-free.

10. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: I basically just put this on every list because I love it so much – but there’s something about a drama-filled family story with this really vivid house at the center that feels right for reading in the Fall. Plus there are some ‘coming home for Thanksgiving’ plot points that tie it in. And if you are more into audiobook – Tom Hanks reads this one and it’s just a delight.

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SEPTEMBER, A FRESH START

To me, September always feels like a fresh start. No matter how old I get, it still reminds me of the unnerving promise of a new school year. Brand new shoes to break in and pencils to sharpen. The first crisp chill in the air that finally allows for sleeping with the windows open. Anything seems possible again in New York in the Fall.

This year has not been short on challenges for me. Largely at work but personally too and, quite obviously, for the world at large. In a lot of ways I found it just as hard as 2020. And I don’t think I’m alone in having spent much of the year sort of stagnant (or languishing as the New York Times so aptly coined it). And on top of that, last Fall was extremely stressful so I don’t really feel like I got to savor it. So more than ever I feel gripped by the desire to use this next season to the fullest. To slow down in the little moments while simultaneously adding fuel to my bigger pursuits. To feel like my best self. Or, at the very least, some some slightly improved, slightly more sane version of myself.

I want to get back to being creative, just for creativity’s sake. Taking photos, writing, playing the piano. I want to get back to exploring the city. Back to date nights and dressing up on a Tuesday just because. Dust off the shoes that have been similarly languishing in the back of my closet for a year and a half. I want to go on long walks in the cool morning air, treat myself to fresh flowers and get a regular manicure. I want to be better about creating a balanced work/life schedule and at the same time – allow for spontaneity.

September is always a fresh start. What will you do with it?

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ON AGING: FILTERS, FILLERS AND CLEAN BEAUTY

Lately on Instagram, I feel like I’ve been bombarded with young women (barely touching 30) talking about their Botox, their exorbitant facial treatments, their lip fillers. While I appreciate the transparency and I’m a strong proponent of women doing anything they want with their bodies – this constant pressure to erase all signs of aging feels untenable. And that if you haven’t surgically plumped and prodded your face yet, then you should be sure to use a filter that makes it look like you have.

Personally, I think it’s a gift to develop wrinkles. It means you’ve lived. I look at women with “age” on their faces and wonder what wisdom they’ve accrued during their years in a world that’s all too often brutal on them. A perfectly preserved face frankly seems like you’ve had a slightly boring life. I’m not proposing that you don’t take care of yourself – wear the sunscreen, moisturize. Switching to a clean beauty can’t hurt (Merit Beauty sent over this mascara and lip gloss as my first intro to clean beauty and I’m really impressed with the quality of the products). I’m just saying maybe you spend some of that time and money on other means of personal fulfillment too?

All this to say – I mentioned these thoughts the other week on Instagram and shared a few quotes to offer a different perspective. And you all had such a positive response I figured I’d share them again here in case you wanted to refer back. You do you.. but me? Give me those sun spots as souvenirs.

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER NINETEEN

My last book club post was in April and suffice to say.. I’ve read a few books since then. 20 to be exact. I’ll keep these reviews fairly concise in light of that, but wanted to check in as we’re just past the halfway point of summer and I’m on 8 out of 15 from my Summer Reading list. Hoping the tackle the rest between now and Labor Day weekend. And hoping that you find a great book or 2 to try out of the below list. There’s a little bit of everything on this list!

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson: This was one of my virtual book club picks earlier this year and while I’ve read quite a few books on slavery, this one stood out because I knew almost nothing about the history of “yellow wives” – enslaved Black women who were the daughters of slave owners and then, due to their mixed race, were able to become the wives of slave owners. It was a tough read at times but really eye-opening. (4 out of 5 stars)

Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul: Historical fiction about First Lady Jackie Kennedy and famed opera singer Maria Callas – and the way their lives intersected due to their complicated relationships with Greek tycoon Onassis. I felt like this dragged in a few parts but overall I really liked this glimpse into these women’s lives post-JFK. (4 out of 5 stars)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Among the most honest and wrenching books I’ve read on grief. Zauner chronicles the ups and downs of her relationship with her mother, explores her relationship to her Korean heritage through food and shares the illness and ultimate death of her mother with startling clarity. This was another book club read and we all were blown away by it. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett: The Crown meets Agatha Christie – this murder mystery has the Queen solving crimes. If you like a who-dunnit but thrillers are too much for you, this might be a good pick! I ultimately think mystery isn’t really my genre. (3 out of 5 stars)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: I’d heard people rave about Groff’s writing for years and I don’t know what took me this long to get to it… because, damn. A book that instantly joined the rankings of my favorite literary fiction of all time. Go into it blind and let the story lead you. (5 out of 5 stars)

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi: One of the best YA books I’ve read. Choi’s writing is razor sharp and her characters are so believably modern. There was a romance at the heart of this but also friendships and a complicated mother daughter relationship that I thought was really well done. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver: Coming off of several back to back 5 star reads, this one fell a little flat for me, but I know others really enjoyed it. I think I struggled to connect with the main character and wished for less in the middle of the story and more surrounding the ending. (3 out of 5 stars)

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi: After reading Emergency Contact I was quick to pick up Yolk by the same author. It was like the older sister – with more mature content and more of an edge. I loved this story of sisters but to give fair warning – if disordered eating is a difficult subject for you – please proceed with caution here. This book is brutal at times but worth it in the end. (5 out of 5 stars)

Beach Read by Emily Henry: This book was a really popular fiction release last summer but I hadn’t gotten around to it until this year – and I’m glad I did! It was a quick read and a fun, romantic comedy with an ‘enemies to lovers’ trope which I always find fun. I want to read Henry’s ‘People You Meet on Vacation’ next. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Luster by Raven Leilani: This one fits into that category of “millennial malaise” to me- think Normal People and My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Luster tackles modern issues of race and class alongside its central, troubled relationship and while there were moments that felt brilliant to me, there were others that were really difficult to get through. Which I think was Leilani’s intention here… but still. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The Switch by Beth O’Leary: In much lighter fare, The Switch was just delightful. So rarely do you get a main character in a book that is in her 70s – finding love, building friendships and going on adventures. This book reads like the movie The Holiday in which a Grandmother switches places with her Granddaughter so that both of them have a chance to reignite their lives. A bit predictable but I honestly didn’t mind. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Enchateé by Gita Trelease: I only read ‘fantasy’ in pretty specific scenarios and this book – witches in Marie Antoinette-era Versailles and Paris ticked all the right boxes. It was a really fun escape read. (4 out of 5 stars)

Find Me by André Aciman: This is the follow-up story to Call Me By Your Name – a book that I love so much I kept my expectations very low going into this one. And you know what? I was reallyyy pleasantly surprised. It’s not a straight forward sequel and many years have passed – but you get to return to these characters and that rich world of Rome and Paris and I just loved the way it twisted and turned slowly towards the ending. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: Another book club pick and while almost everyone in the group really liked it, I struggled a bit with the writing. The concept – of a young woman exploring alternate versions of her life – was one I really liked but I think the execution ended up feeling slightly cliché for me. That being said, I think there were some nice lessons in it and if you are looking for some words of affirmation about life, this could be it. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer: This is probably the first middle grade book I’ve read since well, middle school. Who cares, sometimes it’s fun to read something really PG and sweet! I read it in an afternoon and it had a modern-day Parent Trap vibe and a really cute grandma side character that made me smile. I wish I knew a 13 year old to pass this book along to. (4 out of 5 stars)

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Admittedly I didn’t love this book like I loved Daisy Jones and The Six or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but Reid’s latest was still a really fun read. I devoured it in a day – which felt fitting since the entire book takes place over a 24 hour period in Malibu. And it actually subtly crosses paths with Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo’s stories. A family drama and wild party setting are almost always a win for me. (4 out of 5 stars)

The Guncle by Steven Rowley: Hijinks and heartswells abound in this story about Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP for short) who is an out of work actor hiding out in Palm Springs when he unexpectedly has to take his young niece and nephew into his care. I loved it. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland: Set in Atlantic City in the 1930s, this story is centered on a singular tragic even that sets into motion a series of family secrets that ripple throughout the course of a summer. I loved this one and think it’s perfect for fans of historical fiction like Lilac Girls or family dramas like Everything I Never Told You. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey: The premise is that a LGBTQ committee gets sent to live in what’s voted America’s most homophobic town. They’re meant to infiltrate and essentially try and change the minds of the towns residents. Each chapter is from a different person’s point of view, with lots of intersection in the stories. Some of the chapters made my heart hurt but I loved the premise of this story. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb: I adored this book. It’s a memoir written from the perspective of Kalb’s grandmother and tells the story of the lineage of strong women in their family. For anyone that had a special relationship with their grandmother as I did – this one will hit all the right notes. The ending had me in tears. (5 out of 5 stars)

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LET’S CATCH UP 7.24.21

It’s been a long week. A long month really. But I’ve finally got my feet propped up, watching the Tokyo Olympics and thought I’d catch up. Below – what’s been on my mind, on my bookshelf and in my cart lately.

ON MY MIND:

  • When I’m not rooting for team USA this weekend (how can you not be charmed by Simone Biles?!?), I’m hoping to go to the movies and see Roadrunner in theaters, the documentary about Anthony Bourdain.
  • My sister and I booked a weekend away at the end of August and I can’t wait to hop on a plane to go sip cocktails poolside for a couple of days. I’ll definitely be packing these heels (shown above) that are miraculously comfortable after a year spent largely in slippers. Code: STEELE15 gets you 15% if you want to try the brand for yourself.
  • After realizing I was spending wayyy too much time on my phone in the evenings, I wanted to find something to do with my hands while I could still watch TV with Adam. I ordered an embroidery kit from a small, female owned British brand – The Fabled Thread – and have been having the best time slowing stitching in the evenings. It’s going to take me awhile since it’s pretty intricate but it’s so satisfying watching it come together.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I hate reading on a Kindle or iPad, but I tried listening to audiobooks for the first time ever this year (borrowed from the NYPL using the Libby app) and with the right book and the right circumstances, I surprisingly love them! I’m currently listening to Yearbook, Seth Rogan’s memoir, which is narrated by him. He has such a distinct voice and hearing him read it allows for comedic timing, so the jokes really land. It’s highly enjoyable so far.
  • In actual hard copy books – I finished Florence Adler Swims Forever this week. It’s the story of a Jewish family living in Atlantic City in the 1930s and an event that sets in motion a series of family secrets and change. I really liked this one – I feel like fans of WWII era historical fiction (Lilac Girls comes to mind) would like this a lot.
  • And I’m nearly done Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb. It’s a memoir from the perspective of her grandmother (as told to Bess throughout her life). Not only is it a really interesting way to write a book, her grandmother and their relationship is so, so special and reminds me a lot of my own late grandmother. I’m flying through it and already don’t want it to end.
  • I’m just about halfway through my Summer Reading List and will share reviews on the books I’ve ticked off so far tomorrow! I started Libertie today and so far so good.

IN MY CART:

  • I’ve been really conscious these past couple of years of trying to build a wardrobe that I’ll love and wear for a long time to come. Part of that has meant leaving behind most of the fast fashion that I shopped in my 20s and discovering and investing in brands with higher quality and a much better fit. I’ve had my eye on Veronica Beard blazers for ages now and their summer sale is an extra 20% off. How chic is this collarless black blazer? I’d keep this in my closet forever.
  • Why are great jeans (that aren’t like $300) so hard to find? I recently bought this wide leg pair and judging by the reaction in my DMs – you all loved them. I’m also likely going to pick up this slightly more relaxed pair from a brand that I know and love for quality denim.
  • I’d wear this cute little checked cardigan set with cut-off jean shorts now and with those wide leg jeans and suede mules later this Fall.
  • I’m almost ashamed to admit that I haven’t made the switch to ‘clean’ beauty products with so many great options out there – but after noticing my usual mascara was starting to bother my eyes after long days, I was more than happy to try Merit Beauty’s Clean Lash Mascara when they reached out to me. I’ve only been using for a few days, but so far so good! And it doesn’t hurt that their packaging is wayyy prettier than my usual drugstore brand.

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