Books

STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The days sort of blend together lately, don’t they? Cold weather, waiting for the vaccine, long days… I know a lot of people who feel like they’re sort of hitting a wall after nearly a full year of this all. Reading, as always, allows me to get lost in something new and continues to be such a comfort. With more snow on the horizon, I thought some of you might be looking for your own form of escape – so I’m sharing the 8 books I’ve read so far in 2021.

SHOP MY LATEST READS:

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid – This book was a best-seller last year but for some strange reason I had kept my expectations kind of low. Which meant I was all the more pleasantly surprised when I finally read and loved this modern day story set in Philadelphia about a young mother and her nanny. Nuanced in its portrayal of racism, female friendships, motherhood and more. Don’t wait as long as I did to read this one. (5 stars)

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl – Okay, first things first – I would have largely preferred for Jo to end up completely on her own in Little Women. But that being said, my heart will never not break when she doesn’t end up with Laurie. This book is essentially fan fiction – but I thought it was done really well. It took you right back to that extremely comforting world of the March sisters and had a believable enough story line to change the ending. If you’re a purist than perhaps changing Alcott’s ending will feel sacrilegious to you, but frankly it just felt very heartwarming to me. (4 stars)

The Harpy by Megan Hunter – Sheesh, I’m not sure what to say here. This quick read book is a fever dream inside of a nightmare marriage. A dark and twisted fairytale. A woman seeks revenge on her cheating husband as she also essentially goes mad. Read at your own risk. (2.5 stars)

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – A modern day story about a man in his 40s, grappling with a divorce, raising his children, reconnecting with old friends and balancing it all alongside career and dating. There were times that I really loved this book and others when I felt very frustrated by every single character. I’ve heard some people rave about it though so I think to each there own here. (3.5 stars)

The Mystery of Mrs Christie by Marie Benedict – This was my virtual book club’s read this month and for the most part the whole group solidly liked it. I knew next to nothing about Agatha Christie and this book made me want to go back and read some of her classic mystery novels. Told between two storylines I really loved the ones with Agatha and felt pretty meh about the ones with her husband. Overall good but extra credit for the fact that it made me want to explore some old classics (goes back to my reading goal!). (3.5 stars)

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis – I’ve been hearing about Fiona Davis’ lovable historical fiction for ages – and have had this book checked out from the library for longer than I care to admit – so I’m really glad to have finally gotten to it. 1950s New York theater world, set at the Chelsea Hotel – I did solidly like this but I’m not sure I loved it. I think because I kept comparing it to City of Girls or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo both of which I really loved. That being said I want to read her latest book The Lions of Fifth Avenue now and I’ll report back. (3.5 stars)

What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer – One of my goals for the year was to continue to expand my reading – explore new genres, read backlist titles by authors I love, etc. – and so this popular new book of poetry fit the bill. Tackling motherhood, marriage and more in accessible prose there were many of these poems that I really loved even if I didn’t closely relate to. It would probably make a great gift for a new mother. (4 stars)

The Comeback by Ella Berman – After what felt like a bit of a reading lull mid-month I started this book a few days ago and it was an instant page turner for me. A ‘Me Too’ story about a young Hollywood actress grappling with the sexual assault she faced at the hands of the prolific director that was responsible for her entire career. She’s self centered and a mess but also so broken and trying. I couldn’t put it down. (4.5 stars)

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2020

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2020 was a lot of things. But it was, despite everything, a very good year for reading. I set a goal to read 24 books and finished just over 60. From heart-swelling romances to heart-breaking memoirs, inventive new fiction to thought provoking non-fiction. It felt like an impossible choice narrowing it down to just my top 10, but below I’m sharing what made the list.

P.S. Find my best of 2019 list here and all of my book reviews here.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – I just finished this book and am still lost in its sweeping story. Read if you like an ill-fated love story, strong female lead, 18th century Paris meets modern day Brooklyn and a bit of magical realism.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah – I’ve been singing the praises of this book ever since I read it in June. Noah has an incredible life story to begin with but it’s elevated even more by his sharp witted story-telling skills. I laughed and nearly cried. One of the best memoirs I’ve read.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – I read this in January and I still find myself picturing that grand, old house, replaying scenes of Danny & Maeve parked in a car out front. The marker of a great book is when visions of it stay with me months, and even years, after reading it. Pick this up if you like dynamic family dramas and perfectly crafted novels.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo – In a series of short stories, the lives of 12 “regular” British women (mostly Black) are woven together in a rhythmic prose that read like almost life poetry. Absorbing and honest – these are the types of stories that are rarely told.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier – I love an anti-hero and this dazzling debut novel served one up that I couldn’t look away from – even as she was quite obviously self-destructing. Read if you liked the movie Juno.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Jenkins Reid has a knack for books that feel fun but also have weight to them. I loved this story of Old Hollywood glamour and a decades long clandestine love affair.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – This one broke my heart from the first to the last page. I hope everyone makes time for this book that speaks to the history of systemic racism and the lost potential of young black boys in this country.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – Another one that I’ve been fan-girling over since February when I read it. An absolute romp of a story with the much-needed bonus of diversity in the romance genre.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller – A raw and riveting memoir. It’s a difficult and absolutely essential book that tackles rape culture in this country. This should be required reading for high school students.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur – Another memoir! But they each couldn’t be more different. This one blew me away and is another one that I think about often since reading it in February. Read if you like complicated mother, daughter stories.

Here’s to 2021 being another great year for reading!

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A VERY BOOKISH GIFT GUIDE

To me, there’s nothing quite like the gift of a book. And at a time when many of us could use an escape, a good cry or a good laugh or something to inspire us – books can provide that. So without further ado – A Very Bookish Gift Guide for 2020. There are mistletoe-filled romances and challenging literary novels, books for parents, partners and friends – and yourself of course. Nearly 50 of them in total!

Disclosure: If you’re able to purchase these from your local bookstores please do so! I’ve also linked everything on Bookshop.org which is an awesome resource that supports indie stores across the country. However, in the product carousels below the images link to Amazon – as it was the best way for me to show all the covers.

Click to the next page for all of my recommendations!

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Look at me! Getting you book reviews in a timely fashion! Honestly changing the format of these posts to simply recap what I read in the past month instead of forecasting what I’ll read next and then having to stick to those really helped. So we’ll keep that going! I can’t say this was my all-time favorite stack of books but there were some gems in this batch, some light just for fun reads and a couple of more challenging books. Something for everyone!

All Adults Here by Emma Straub: I read Modern Lovers by Straub a few summer’s back and admittedly wasn’t really blown away, but I tend to lean towards literary fiction more than popular fiction. That being said – I liked this one more and felt like I was equally invested in all of the family members in the story. I also liked that there was a good representation of relationship types. This would make a great “beach read” if you’re still looking for something for the long weekend. (4 stars)

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo: I can safely say I’ve never read anything like this. Written in uniquely casual prose it took me a couple of chapters to absorb the rhythm but once I did I was hooked. This novel weaves together the stories of 12 different British women of color – giving a voice to those who are rarely the center of the story. I loved it. (5 stars)

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradel: A multi-generational story of female brewers set in the midwest. This book felt slow at times to me but I’m glad I stuck with it because the last half picked up and I liked where the story went. Best enjoyed with a cold lager, naturally. (3.5 stars)

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson: This book is a YA memoir – but honestly I don’t think you need to fall in the ‘young adult’ category to glean something from Johnson’s straightforward and honest account of growing up Black and Queer in America. (4.5 stars)

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham: A quick read that offered a light-hearted look at Graham’s career and life. It wasn’t the most riveting information but I think this would have been fun on audiobook and more-so made me want to re-watch Gilmore Girls, which is a perfect “on in the background” fall show. (3 stars)

Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson: Shifting between NYC in the 1970s and present day and following a young girl’s rise in the competitive world of ballet alongside a life-altering relationship, this book was a little bit coming of age nostalgia a little bit dark thriller. Lolita meets Black Swan. (4 stars)

The Perfect Date by Evelyn Lozada & Holly Lorincz: Set in the Bronx and featuring a diverse cast of characters, this quick read romance followed a down and out star baseball player and a hard-working single mom. To be honest I’m not sure that I really loved our leading man here but I read the entire thing in an afternoon and the other aspects of the story were still enjoyable. (3 stars)

Supper Club by Lara Williams: I heard the term “millenial malaise” the other day and this book definitely would fall into this category. If you were a fan of Sally Rooney’s Normal People or Otessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest & Relaxation I think you’d like this. Honestly, I was on the fence about those two but in comparison liked Supper Club more. (4 stars)

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Since my last reading round-up post in April, I’ve probably gotten through 5x the amount of books that I mentioned were in my “to be read” stack. What’s even better is that SO many of them were 4 or 5 star reads. Thanks for something quarantine! In order to play catch-up – I’m going to change the format of these posts a bit going forward and instead of sticking to just a handful of pre-selected books, I’m simply going to recap and review everything I’ve read since the last post. Ideally once a month. And if you’re ever curious about what I’m reading in real time – you can find that on my bookstagram account @prettywords.

Shop all my reads from 2020 so far + my 5 star favorites here (and help support indie bookstores while you’re at it!).

Writers & Lovers by Lily King: If you liked Sweetbitter or Wild – I think you’d like this story of an aspiring young writer who waits tables in Boston to make ends meet. (4 stars)

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner: One of the “fluffier” books I read these past few months but not without substance – if you liked The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society this will be right up your alley, featuring an ensemble cast of Jane Austen-lovers. (3.5 stars)

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I loved this book and truly feel like I learned a lot – Trevor approaches everything from his childhood to in Apartheid South Africa to his relationship to his mother to his insights on racism with honesty and humor. Everyone should read this book. (5 stars)

Call Me By Your Name by Andr√© Aciman: How did I wait for so long to read this book? A crushing “first love” story that just viscerally grabbed me and didn’t let go. Plus – then I finally got to watch the movie which I loved too. (5 stars)

The Caring & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray: A family torn apart by the conviction of two parents, as the daughters and Aunts try to grapple with life without them. (3.5 stars)

Pizza Girl by Jean Young Frazier: A debut novel that really dazzled me – I read this in just a couple of days and still am thinking about the antihero at the center of the story. (4 stars)

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: A pitch-perfect (pun intended) rom-com novel – make this your next beach read. (4.5 stars)

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai: An engrossing novel about a group of friends in 1980’s Chicago battling the AIDS crisis. (5 stars)

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: A quirky British rom-com of a book that has the type of lovable characters you can’t help but root for. (4 stars)

My Name by Chanel Miller: This memoir allows the world to see the famous Brock Turner sexual assault case from victim Chanel Miller’s point of view. One of the most powerfully moving books I’ve ever read, in my opinion this should be required reading for every high school student in this country. (5 stars)

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle: If you’re a fan of rom-com type reads that aren’t too fluffy, you’ll like this one. Love, loss and friendship set in (nearly) present day NYC. (3.5 stars)

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: A heartwarming story of a Black trans boy navigating high school and first love in NYC. (4.5 stars)

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: I’ve always been a fan of Steve Martin and I also love comedian’s autobiographies (a specific niche I know..) so I really liked this look into his humble beginnings and motivations behind his craft and career. (3.5 stars)

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I’ve been a fan of hers since I devoured Daisy Jones last summer and this one didn’t disappoint. (4.5 stars)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: Really just one of the most soul-gripping books I’ve read in my life, based on a real life Jim Crow-era boys reform school. Please read this book. (5 stars)

Sissy by Jacob Tobia: A “coming of gender” memoir that will make you laugh and cry, Tobia’s writing reminds me of Mindy Kaling meets the LGBTQ+ experience. (4 stars)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett: I’ve got my virtual book clubs meeting on this next week so I’m not going to say too much – but suffice to say I thought it definitely lived up to all the hype. (5 stars)

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