Books

THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER TEN

I’ve been reading so many books this summer that I nearly forgot to go back and write the reviews on this batch! I have long days at the lake house/in the park to thank for that (plus stress at work that leads me to want to escape into a good book to blame for it). Last time I checked in, I committed to 5 books and I breezed right through them all and for the most part really love each one! Below my reviews + what I’ve already moved on to next on my shelf. And you can find all of my book club posts here.

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Black Swans by Eve Babitz: What an unexpected treat. This collection of short storeis reads a bit like Joan Didion meets Carrie Bradshaw if she were a 1960s Hollywood groupie. There were times I would write her off completely as a vapid valley girl and in the next sentence she would write something so beautiful I’d be searching for my notebook to copy it down. The stories are about the city of Los Angeles and her wild times… and sober days… living there. I loved this and it set me up nicely to get into the 1970’s LA rock ‘n roll scene that led right into reading Daisy Jones. (4 out of 5 stars)

Normal People by Sally Rooney: I expected to love this based on the rave reviews I was seeing everywhere – and I did like it… but I haven’t found myself highly recommending it to anyone. The novel follows a long up and down relationship between a young girl and guy as they struggle to define themselves both separately and together. While the portrayals of the main characters were honest and in depth, there was something slightly forgettable about the entire storyline – just teetering on the edge of being fully engrossing to me. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid: This book on the other hand was exactly as fun as I hoped that it would be – I honestly may read it again this summer (it only took me a day and a half I was so into it!). Written in a really interesting documentary style of interviews, the novel follows a band that rose to quick fame in the 70s and then broke up. Very ‘Almost Famous’ – a movie I love deeply, so consider that a major compliment. (5 out of 5 stars)

Blue Nights by Joan Didion: Ohhh Joan. Her book ‘The Year of Magical Thinking‘ about her husband’s death and daughter’s illness is in my top 10 favorite books of all time. ‘Blue Nights’ didn’t knock that out of place, but I really loved it too. This one is about her daughter’s death and once again Joan’s incredible ability to cut through the heart of one of life’s most trying experiences and really examine her own closest relationships is so moving. (5 out of 5 stars)

Goodbye, Vitamin: Funny and heartfelt this was a quick read that I ended up loving after picking up on a whim at the library. This novel follows the story of a woman in her early 30s who moves back home for a year when her father is diagnosed with dementia. Sometimes when things get the hardest in a family, it’s exactly when you need to find the humor most – and this book does that to great effect. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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I’m going to be closing out the summer reading as much as I can. My stack this month includes Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (all buzzy, relatively new fiction), Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (non-fiction following the true love lives of three American women – in vastly different scenarios – I’ve heard SO many rave reviews of this) and Leading Men by Christopher Castellani (which just seems like a fun, summer read). Happy reading!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER NINE

After a bout of slow reading this spring, I really hit my stride again as we kicked off summer. And I’ve got no plans to slow down. Doesn’t it feel like there are just a million great book out right now? Below, the books I just finished (from here on out I’m going to be using a 5 star rating system so it’s a little easier to explain how much I liked or disliked each one!) and the big stack that’s waiting on my shelf next. Plus – see all of my past book club posts here.

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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: Based on a true story, this book was set during WWII and followed the life of a New York socialite, a Polish woman and her sister who were sent to a concentration camp and a female Nazi doctor who worked at the camp. This wasn’t what I was expecting (without knowing the full story I thought it would be a little bit fluffier), but it ended up being unexpected and much more in depth. I like it but not sure if I loved it. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

French Exit by Patrick DeWitt: Short and sweet I read this romp of fiction in a single day at the beach – following an eccentric mother and her even more eccentric son as they flee New York and head to Paris. It was dark and witty and weird. Probably not everyone’s taste but I loved it. (4 out of 5 stars)

Maid by Stephanie Land: A memoir of a young single mother, sharing her descent into poverty and the ways in which the, often broken, system in our country keeps many there. It was a realistic re-telling of what life looks like when you clean houses for money that still barely covers the bills and work hard for a young child that you never have time to see thanks to the very same work. If you’ve ever for a second questioned how someone could end up on food stamps.. you need to read this book. I didn’t love it as much as other memoirs (Educated is hard to top for me), but I really liked it. (3 out of 5 stars)

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: This book topped the stack for me. An unexpected telling of the intersection of two families across two generations. I loved her writing style, the characters, everything. (5 out of 5 stars)

Next month I’ve got ambitious goals. Black Swans by Eve Babitz (think Valley of the Dolls but non-fiction), Normal People by Sally Rooney and Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (both at the top of the best-sellers lists this summer and I couldn’t resist), Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (reflections on her daughter’s death – her book about her husband’s death ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ is one of the best things I’ve ever read) and Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (a story of reaching an age where you’re the parent and your parents become the children). Happy reading!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER EIGHT

I’m not quite sure why it took me over 2 months to read 2 books, but here we are. I’m looking forward to warmer days when I can read in the park or spend a weekend at the lake, reading beside the water – pretty much my all time favorite activity! Anyway.. below are my thoughts on the books I read in March/April and what’s on my shelf next. And if you’re looking for more – you can always find all of my book club picks here.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: First of all, drop whatever political baggage you’re holding at the door. This book isn’t here for that. This is the incredible true story of a woman born on the south side of Chicago, raised in a one bedroom apartment who went on to graduate with a law degree from Harvard and become the first African American First Lady this country has ever seen. It’s such an incredible story about the power of knowledge, hard work and resilience. It’s a story about what it means to be a young black girl in Chicago and how if you don’t like what that story typically is – you can fight to write a different one for yourself. It’s about marriage through difficult times and motherhood through crazy circumstances. It’s a human story and I highly recommend it.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: This book is by an Italian author and was translated into English and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that for me, there may have been a little something lost in the beauty of the translation. This is also the first in an anthology (The Neopolitan Novels) of four books and something about that kind of seemed daunting in the back of my head while I read it, like I’d still have so much more to read. All that being said, it’s still a precisely crafted novel about the story of friendship between two young girls – starting at about aged 5-6 and ending at age 16-17 taking place in a small village in Italy in the 1950s. Painting a complex story about coming of age mixed with poverty, family relations, education and community that felt like a slow burn – in a good way. And by the end? I still knew I’d have to pick up the next book at some point.

Next up: I’ll be reading Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (a novel based on the real-life story of a WWII-era New York socialite and a renegade group of concentration camp survivors), Maid by Stephanie Land (the memoir of a working mother’s will to survive), French Exit by Patrick DeWitt (a romp of a story about an Upper East Side Mother and Son who fall from grace and flee to Paris), Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (a multi-generational novel about how a decision by two people can affect families for years to come), and Black Swans by Eve Babitz (about the wild world of NYC in the 80s and 90s). I’ve got a lot of reading to do but I’m so excited about all of these books. Hope you’ll pick one or two of them up for yourself!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SEVEN

January was a big reading month for me, but coming off of the amazing books I read at the end of last year (see that list here) I knew I wanted to kick off 2019 by diving right in. Below, what I read this past month, plus what I’ve got on my shelf for February:

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena: To be fair, I think this is about what I expected out of this book. A thriller that follows two sets of neighboring couples and a central crime – I think that if the writing had been stronger I could have felt more captivated by this. That being said, if you’re generally thrilled with thrillers this one isn’t without its exciting twists and turns. All in all I’d give it a ‘B’.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: An American classic I had somehow never read, I’m so glad I made time for this. I think sometimes we forget to go back to the classics, favoring newer fiction that’s “popular” instead – and at nearly 600 pages including plenty of jargon from the mid-1800s this wasn’t necessarily a breeze to read. But the story itself is timeless and was certainly a pre-cursor to a million novels that followed. Louise May Alcott, a feminist and suffragette, proved that women’s stories and voices were important, even if her characters were just living everyday lives. Sidetone: I can’t wait for the new film adaptation to come out at the end of this year. Could there be a more perfect Laurie than Timothée Chalamet?!?

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon: All in all really interesting if you like historical fiction – since there was a lot of true history to be learned from this one. This book follows the story of a woman claiming to be Anastasia Romanov – the young Russian princess who was believed to have been killed, along with her entire family, during the Russian revolution on the early 1900s. It flips back and forth over the span of 40 years telling a captivating story. I was definitely most invested in the early Romanov story since I know admittedly so little about Russian history. After I was finished this book I actually went on to do some internet research to learn more about the family’s story – I love a book that teaches you something you never even knew you would be interested in.

A Wild Swan And Other Tales by Michael Cunningham: From the author of The Hours (a book I love) this is a collection of well known fairy tales, with a modern (decidedly adult) twist. They’re short and simple so I ended up reading a few each night before bed and it was a fun way to end the month after a few heavier books. Added bonus – there are really cool black and white illustrations every few pages that help bring the stories to life.

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Since it’s a short month I narrowed my reading list to just two stand-out books for February. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante – translated into English but originally an Italian novel – that I’ve heard great things about. It follows the story of two women growing up in Italy over the course of their lives and is apparently the first in a trilogy set to become a TV show. And Becoming by Michelle Obama – on my list for month’s now and I can’t wait to dive in.

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER SIX

It’s been since September since my last #SteeleMaidenBook Club post (where did October, November and December even go?!), but I’m back and planning to be able to stick to a more regular, monthly schedule for these posts in 2019. If you want to see everything I reviewed in 2018 – you can find those posts here. Below, what I read this Fall (hint, some of the best 4 books I read all year) plus what I’ve got on my shelf for January. Happy reading!

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer: This novel follows the life of a young, millennial woman throughout college and the beginning years of her building a career in New York. Touches on the complexities of relationships (both female friendship and romantic involvements) and the ultimately what kind of drive, motivation and sacrifice it takes to rise to the top in any given industry. I really liked this overall, however I will say that I didn’t love it as much as I loved Wolitzer’s earlier work The Interestings. Maybe it was because I never really connected with the main character? Either way there were some interesting side stories here and I think it’s worth a read for sure.

Calypso by David Sedaris: Consistently one of my favorite authors, Calypso felt a bit different than some of Sedaris’ earlier memoirs in that he’s middle-aged now and has been dealing with some of the messier bits of life (his mother’s death, sister’s suicide, the hurdles of being in a multi-decade relationship). He handled the topics with his signature mix of bizarre hilarity and self-depricating honesty. Highly recommend.

Marlena by Julie Buntin: I picked this book up on a whim from one of my favorite little bookstores back home in PA and was so pleasantly surprised. The novel focuses on the life-shifting friendship of two young high school aged girls – and while the specifics of the storyline are likely not one many of us can relate to (I hope, as things get fairly dark), the feelings of the magic of those types of friendships are really universal in my opinion. Also just really beautifully written. Totally exceeded my expectations which is the best kind of book to me.

Educated by Tara Westover: I had high hopes for this book after reading so much great press and it didn’t disappoint. Tara shares her real life story of growing up in rural Idaho to a family of extreme Mormon preppers (meaning they feared the government, banned modern medicine and forbid the children from receiving a formal education as they prepped for a Y2K-like fall-out of society). Not only are the specifics of this story unbelievable but it’s also an incredible tale of one woman’s bravery to fight for the education that she deserved. Everyone should read this book.

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For the month ahead I’m tackling Little Women by Lousia May Alcott (a classic I somehow never got around to and feels like a good winter read), A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham (a collection of re-imagined fairy tales from the author of The Hours), The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (a popular thriller that I hear is going to be made into a TV series) and I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon (historical fiction recommended to me by a dear friend and fellow book lover).

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