Books

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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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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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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