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HOLIDAY BOOKS TO READ THIS SEASON

It’s officially holiday romcom reading season! By this point in the year, my mind typically of mush from my full-time job and an otherwise busy schedule, so a couple of years ago I started gravitating towards really light, fun holiday books in December – and it’s since become one of my favorite seasonal traditions. Sure, they’re sometimes a little bit cheesy, but they’re also full of heart and go down easier than a cup of eggnog. Besides this year’s new releases I’ve also included a few that I loved from years past as well as a couple that aren’t romance focused at all – but still perfectly seasonal. Happy holiday reading!

And a friendly reminder – I’ve linked these to Amazon so that you can easily see what they are – but independent bookstores need your support, especially at the holidays. And since it’s Small Business Saturday, why not pick one of these up from your favorite local shop?!

On My Reading List This Year:

The Holiday Swap by Maggie Knox: I’m reading this now and it’ a mix between movies The Holiday and The Parent Trap (a city to country + twin swap) plus both twin sisters are bakers, one as a host of a British Bake Off-esque show and one in a family run bakery. Lots of hijinx so far.

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer: I finished this last week and honestly, it was so fun to learn all about the traditions of a holiday that I’m only surface-level familiar with. There’s not a ton of diversity in these holiday books, but this one did a really nice job of weaving that into the storyline – apparently the author, similarly to the main character, suffers from chronic illness as well. I loved the bubbe (grandmother) character too.

A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire: From the author of Wicked (that inspired the award-winning musical), this book is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Wild Swan’ fairytale – and takes place in New York City at Christmastime in the 1960s. It’s one of the books I’m most looking forward to this season.

The Christmas Dress by Courtney Cole: This one centers on an unlikely friendship between a young aspiring fashion designer and an older resident in her same apartment building and a certain dress brings them together. As previously mentioned, I love when older women get to be main characters in books (it so rarely happens) – so this one was an easy sell to me.

Eight Perfect Hours by Lia Louis: A blizzard traps two people together one night and then fate keeps bringing them back together. Feels a little like Serendipity which is one of my all-time favorite movies.

Always in December by Emily Stone: A woman who hates the holidays runs into a man who gives her a reason not to. Set in New York, London and Edinburgh (three places I love) so this was an easy sell to me.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin: Paris at Christmas.. in a bookstore. Need I say more? I actually picked this one up last year and didn’t have time to get to it so I’m hoping to this year. Sounds very sweet.

Past Favorites:

One Day in December by Josie Silver: The one that started it all. I read this 2-3 years and was instantly hooked on this genre. It’s a classic girl meets boy, girl loses boy to girl’s best friend story. And takes place over the span of almost a decade and I couldn’t put it down.

In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren: It’s Groundhogs Day meets Christmas in this book giving one girl many chances to get it right.. or wrong. A fun, festive read I liked last year.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva: A reimagined tale of what Charles Dickens life looked like as he wrote his beloved Christmas Carol. I loved going back in time to 1800s London and reading this fictionalized account of how his family and friends (and mainly himself) might have showed themselves in his famous work of literature.

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris: I’ve mentioned it many times but Sedaris on of my favorite authors. This compilation of his holiday-themed essays is a short, funny read that includes reflections on his time spent working as an elf in Macy’s Santa-land.

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory: Loved that the main couple in this book was in their 50s roughly, it had a Royal storyline (the daughter is a stylist for a Kate Middleton type Duchess) and was diverse (all of the main characters are Black) – and a fun trip to London too! A nice book if you’ve had your fill of the usual 20 somethings falling in love.

The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss: This was one of my favorites that I read last year. The main character is reluctantly seeking love after focusing on a career that she loves and balancing relationships with her family and friends. She felt really well-rounded and realistic. Spoiler – love ensues.

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER TWENTY

I swear I blink and another 3 months has passed since my last book round-up. This will be my last general reading recap for the year before I share some fun holiday book recommendations (hopefully late next week!) + my top 10 books of the year at the end of December.

Anna K by Jenny Lee: This is a YA retelling of Anna Karenina – set in modern day NYC. So basically it’s classic literature that reads like an episode of Gossip Girl. I have never read the original or watched any of the movies.. which I don’t think you necessarily need to, but I do think it would help to give you more context. I found it a little bit plainly written but I did think the dramatic UES friend groups/love interests and the concept were fun overall. (3 out of 5 stars)

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz: I don’t read a lot of short story collections but I’d heard really rave reviews of this debut author’s work and this didn’t disappoint for me. There are some trigger warnings here for sexual assault, suicide and other sensitive content – so proceed with some caution. But the writing was beautiful and Moniz managed to really envelope you in a world in just a few short pages before moving on to the next story. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller: This book gripped me from the very first page and didn’t let go until the end. There’s been a lot of hype around it, but for me – it totally lived up to the praise. A complicated love and family story that takes place between Manhattan and a family lake house on Cape Cod. It will definitely make my personal top 10 books of the year list. (5 out of 5 stars)

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton: I took this on a girl’s weekend trip and read it in a day by the pool. I really liked Alderton’s portrayal of a woman in her early 30’s that’s at a different place in life than some of her closest friends and is also moving into a new phase in her relationship with her parents. Not to mention a messy love life. This felt in some ways like a modern day Bridget Jones and would make a great holiday gift for a friend. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Come Fly The World by Julia Cooke: I haven’t read much non-fiction this year, so it was fun to pick this one up for my virtual book club. The book follows the true story of a handful of Pan Am stewardesses in the late 60s-early 70s as well as the history of the airline itself. There were some parts that felt a little boring, but I loved learning about the Vietnam War operations that these young women were a part of as well as some of the frivolous stuff like how their uniforms evolved over the years. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge: Well.. they can’t all be winners. I probably wouldn’t have finished this one if it hadn’t been for it being a pick from my New York book club. The story is based on the true life of the first female black doctor in America, during Brooklyn’s reconstruction era. However, the slow pace and the fact that all 3 main characters were seemingly very unlikeable, made it a miss for me. (2.5 out of 5 stars)

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling: It’s not too late to squeeze in one more ‘fall’ book and since this one will likely only take you a day or so – it’s perfect! Think Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls. A very fun little witchy romcom of a book that somehow managed to not be cheesy. (4 out of 5 stars)

The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Last year, I read The Vanishing Half – along with seemingly the rest of America. And I liked it. But I loved The Mothers, Bennett’s debut novel. There was something more honest about it to me and yet still beautifully developed. It’s a story of motherhood and love in many forms, set against the backdrop of a small church community in a sleepy California town. (5 out of 5 stars)

Mrs. March by Virginia Feito: It’s a skilled author that can make you want to follow a deeply flawed, unreliable narrator down the rabbit hole. But that’s what Feito manages to do in Mrs. March. A psychological thriller set between Thanksgiving and New Years in NYC, you find yourself losing touch with reality alongside the main character in this one. I really like it but it’s dark.. so have something light to read after. (4 out of 5 stars)

Olympus, Texas by Stacey Swann: If you read Paper Palace and think… what’s next? It’s this. I loved the writing, the dynamic, complicated family, the strong sense of place, and the subtle hint at Greek mythology. My book club is reading it this month and I can’t wait to discuss it with the group. (5 out of 5 stars)

Honorable mentions to the two audiobooks I listened to these past couple of months, Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling and Yearbook by Seth Rogan. I love memoirs on audiobooks because the author is the one to narrate – and especially in the case of these two very funny people – you get the benefit of their comedic timing in the pacing of the story. Both were fun and easy listens.

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LET’S CATCH UP 11.6.21

It’s been, frankly, a week. I commuted into my office in Brooklyn 4 days instead of 2 this week, had plans after work more nights than not and, thanks to a Covid-exposure – I had to cancel a flight I was supposed to take today at the last minute. I’m fine (tested negative), but exercising an abundance of caution because of where I was headed. As I said, it’s really been a week.

Regardless – it’s set to be a pretty fall weekend here in New York and I’ve got some really fun blog stuff on the agenda to shoot and get prepped to share. Here – the rest of what’s on my mind, on my bookshelf and in my shopping cart.

ON MY MIND:

  • I saw The French Dispatch (the new Wes Anderson movie) in theaters the other weekend and, as expected, loved it. It’s extremely dense… stories within stories within stories. Meaning you could watch it multiple times and notice something different each time. But mainly, it’s an ode to creatives. And expats in France. And Timothe√© Chalamet. What’s not to love? I’m hoping to catch Spencer – the Princess Diana movie starring Kristen Stewart this weekend.
  • I’m really trying to wrap my head around the fact that there’s only about 7 weeks left of this year. This is my friendly reminder to check in on your finances. Do you have enough budgeted for holiday spending? Are you within reach of the yearly goals you set? There’s still time to pivot if need be. And if you need extra help – here’s a post I wrote at the start of this year about prioritizing your personal finances.
  • While I’m by no means a master chef, I do like to have a handful of tried and true recipes that are easy to make and I know we’ll like – this soup recipe from blogger Liz Adams always hits the spot on a chilly night. I’m planning to put it on the menu for this upcoming week.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I’ve been in a bit of a book rut this past month. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that work is crazy busy or after a long year I’m just too tired to mentally connect. Short stories always feel like a nice alternative to longer fiction when I feel this way – and I just started Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King. So far, so good.
  • Next week my virtual book club is chatting about Mrs. March. It takes place in New York around Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s so it’s well-timed. But don’t expect warm and fuzzy festive feelings. It’s a strange psychological thriller about one woman’s inner unraveling. I really liked it but you’ll want to read something light afterwards.
  • Speaking of light, I love a holiday-themed rom-com this time of year. The Ex Hex was SO cute (think Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls) and I just picked up a handful of Christmas-themed books (plus one for Hanukkah!) that I’ll review later this month. Here’s my round-up from last year.
  • This coffee table book – English Designers At Home – would make a great gift for that friend of yours that dreams of running away to the Cotswolds someday. Ahem.. me.

IN MY CART:

  • I really like Halloween and Thanksgiving, but I love Christmas. Which means I’m not above decorating early. How cute is this city brownstone ornament? While we won’t get a tree until after Thanksgiving, I might break out a bit of garland soon.
  • After last holiday season, mainly spent tucked away at home, I’m eager to celebrate in classic New York fashion this year. I’m thinking tickets to see the Nutcracker and this bow top with a vintage party skirt?
  • Speaking of festive – I’m absolutely torn between these mary-jane heels in patent silver or perky plaid. And by torn I mean I’m close to buying both. Help.
  • It’s suddenly very much coat weather here in New York. I’m going to be sharing a few next week, including this chic black and white option that can be dressed up or down.
  • I always find myself needing new pajamas this time of year and want ones that feel comfy, look nice and are reasonably priced. Plus I prefer shorts with a long-sleeved top. It’s a specific ask. These could be winners.

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5 NEW BEAUTY PRODUCTS I’M USING THIS FALL

I should begin my reminding you all that I’m about as novice as it comes when it comes to skincare. But in the past few years I’ve been trying to branch out and give my skin a little more love and care. Recently, quite a few brands that I’ve admired from afar offered to send me some of their new product to try – almost all of them clean beauty – so I was eager to give it a go. I’ve been using all of these for at least 1 month now to really get a true sense of how they work and if I’d incorporate them into my routine. I’m happy to say that the below 5 items made the cut.

  1. Kiehls Micro-Dose Retinol Serum – I’ve been afraid to try anything with retinol for years now. I’ve read all sorts of things like it takes a month or so for your skin to react then calm down. It makes your skin super sensitive to the sun. Etc. All of it just felt like too much hassle when I otherwise slap some moisturizer on and call it a night. But when Kiehls offered to send this low dose micro Retinol cream I was curious. I’ve been using for about two months now and I can honestly say I love it. I use it every other night and haven’t experienced any sensitivity or adverse reactions. In fact, I kind of felt like I could see the positive effects (subtle lessening of fine lines, more even skin tone) right away. I’ll definitely be repurchasing when I run through this bottle.
  2. Merit Mascara – I was frankly skeptical about “clean” mascara. For some reason I felt like it wouldn’t last all day or wouldn’t have the same kind of volume as my regular brand? Consider me converted. This doesn’t smudge, clump or flake at all on me and I typically have mascara on for like 14+ hours on a work day. Gives the same if not better volume as my old brand and the biggest benefit is that it doesn’t irritate my eyes at all, which used to sometimes be an issue for me.
  3. Urban Decay Vice Lipstick – My skepticism over clean mascara also extended to lipstick until I tried Urban Decay’s Vice options. The satin/cream and matte finishes both have nice saturated, long-lasting color (my favorite is ‘The Big One’ – a warm red) and when you think about how much lipstick you ingest while wearing it.. it’s kind of a no brainer to make the switch to a cleaner option.
  4. Beauty Counter Overnight Resurfacing Peel – I’ve never tried Beauty Counter before but heard plenty of people singing their praises for years now so was eager to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve been using this overnight resurfacing peel on the nights when I don’t use the micro-dose retinol serum and the combo is proving to really even out my skin tone. This one helps to minimize pores too which I love and generally feels like the perks of using a mask without the messiness or annoyance of having to rinse it off. I’m the absolute laziest when it comes to nighttime routines so this is a clear winner for me.
  5. Beauty Counter VitaminC Serum – It smells like a cross between oranges and eucalyptus to me and has this really great consistency that’s thicker than a serum to me but lighter than a lotion, if that makes any sense? Either way, I’ve been using this every morning since I got it and it gives me this even, glowy, dewy complexion – like I just walked out of a facial appointment. It’s pricier but I don’t even use moisturizer in the morning’s anymore with this and a little goes a long way – so worth it in my opinion.

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LET’S CATCH UP 9.24.21

ON MY MIND:

  • I watched the premier of The Wonder Years reboot this week and had all the feels. I grew up watching the original and it’s one of those shows that just makes me really nostalgic for being that age. Not to mention that Winnie Cooper remains a major style muse for me. I love that they’re heading back to that era but showing another perspective.
  • Adam and I are both in pretty busy seasons of work, but I’m determined to carve out time for some fun date nights and a day trip or two this Fall. Hopefully we can make it back upstate and maybe I can convince him to see a Broadway show with me? I’d love to catch Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite.
  • I’m probably late to the game here but I’ve been listening to Kacey Musgraves new album Star Crossed on repeat. So good!
  • I’m finally getting a full weekend at home after being away at least partially for the past 6 weekends in a row (cue me coming down with a cold last week). I plan on hitting up the Union Square farmer’s market for pumpkins and switching my wardrobe over to fall clothes!

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I finished The Mothers by Brit Bennett last week and really loved it. It was her debut novel and I found that I liked it more than The Vanishing Half – which was so popular last year. There was something more subtle and searing about this one and I loved the way it explored motherhood from many different angles. Regardless – I’m sure I’ll be reading anything Bennett comes out with from now on.
  • Claire and I (my other half @prettywords) both are reading Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead right now and are totally swept away. It’s really fun to be reading at the same time so we can discuss and it makes the fact that this is a 600 page novel feel a bit less intimidating. The story moves back and forth through time, focusing on a female pilot in the 1950s, her parents in the 1910s and the actress playing her in a movie in 2010s.
  • My New York book club chose Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Harlem Shuffle, as our next book and I’m really excited to see what this one is like. I love The Underground Railroad and Nickel Boys, but this latest book is apparently a bit of a departure from those and more of a suspense/mystery.
  • If you read my Fall reading post then it should come as no surprise that I pre-ordered Alice Hoffman’s last book in the Practical Magic series – The Book of Magic. I can’t wait until it arrives in early October.

IN MY CART:

  • I mentioned on IG stories but for the first time in a long time I’m really excited about fashion again. And I’ve got the overflowing online shopping carts to show for it. Trying not to go crazy but who am I to resist a cute plaid mini skirt on sale?
  • I’m the worst when it comes to buying new makeup. After my favorite eyeliner was down to a stub I finally reordered a new one. It’s a bronze-y brown that’s not too metallic but has just enough shine to brighten up my typically tired eyes.
  • It’s ironic that after spending the last decade working in the jewelry I rarely buy any. This pearl and onyx ring feels like a piece I’d wear forever though. Thinking of treating myself after a big year at work.
  • Blame it on the pandemic or just my getting older but my threshold for uncomfortable shoes has dropped drastically. Inez convinced me of their comfort with these strappy sandals and I’ve only heard rave reviews about their boots. I can’t stop thinking about these perfect tan suede ankle boots and code STEELE15 gets you 15% off.
  • I’m always stalking this brand for sales and finding this floral mini dress at 70% off feels like a major steal. So cute for those date nights I mentioned!
  • I love the idea of these high waisted drape-y trousers. They remind me of some of my favorite 90s sitcom working women like Helen Hunt in her Mad About You years.
  • With my 2 day a week commute to Brooklyn, I’ve found myself officially needing to carry a “commuter back-pack”. My last one was from this same brand and has held up great for 6 years but it finally needs a replacement. I like it in black this time around.

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