Books

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 André 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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MY SUMMER READING LIST

Remember when you were in high school and they’d assign summer reading? And you’d dread it and wait until August to even pick up the first book? Well this is like that… but way better. I usually just pick my next book based on my mood (or something I’ve selected for my Steele Maiden book club posts), but as I was looking for ways to put a fun twist on what will likely be a somewhat quiet summer – I thought why not make a big list filled with books I can’t wait to read?!

Below – the 15 books I’ve got stacked up for the summer. Many are new release fiction, but there a couple of older titles in there I’ve been meaning to get around to plus a couple of memoirs. I can’t wait to dive in!

And lastly – these pictures are from a recent Talbots feature in which I shared some of their most comfortable styles alongside some of the books I’ve read and loved lately. See their full feature here! The photos also serve as a peek into our apartment and all of the little corners I tend to curl up in to read – including my favorite perch, our fire escape.

  1. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner – a group unites over their love of Austen in post-war English countryside.
  2. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – sweet romantic fiction set in small town Maine.
  3. Stray by Stephanie Danler – a memoir from the author of Sweetbitter
  4. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – Hemingway, 1920s, Paris – need I say more?
  5. All Adults Here by Emma Straub – already on everyone’s summer hits list.
  6. From Scratch by Tembi Locke – a memoir set in Sicily, for those dreaming of an Italian getaway.
  7. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion – one of the last few works by Didion I still haven’t read.
  8. Euphoria by Lily King – after loving her new book Writers & Lovers I wanted to go back and read her debut novel.
  9. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin – I’m always fascinated by reading about what makes some of the most brilliant minds in entertainment tick.
  10. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – the story of a young girl who loses her uncle to AIDS and becomes unlikely friends with his partner in the wake of that loss.
  11. The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess – set in Cape Cod against the backdrop of the glittering publishing world, this feels like it will be a good beach read.
  12. More Miracle Than Bird by Alice Miller – historical fiction based on the mesmerizing woman who played muse to W.B. Yeats.
  13. Supper Club by Lara Williams – the story of a secret society where women come to feast at night.
  14. Murder at Kingscote – a thriller set in Victorian-era Newport, RI.
  15. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – this has long been on my reading wishlist and I loved Daisy Jones & the Six last summer.

SHOP THE BOOK LIST:

SHOP THE OUTFITS:

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