Books

MY 2022 SUMMER READING LIST

Can you believe that we’re already speeding headlong into summer? One of my favorite “small joys” of the season is creating a Summer Reading List. Like you used to have for school.. but you know, actually fun. My reading definitely shifts with the seasons – and in summer I gravitate towards page-turning memoirs, light-hearted rom-coms and fast paced fiction. I’m really excited to dive into the books on this list and hope you find something you might want to pick up and read too.

And in case you’re looking for more – here’s my 2020 list and my 2021 list.

Linking them all below on Amazon so they’re easy to reference, but whenever possible I suggest visiting a local indie book store or your public library this Summer!

  1. Book Lovers by Emily Henry: A buzzy beach read that’s going to be everywhere this summer. I’ve read both of Henry’s other best-sellers and think they’re really well-written rom-coms. Excited for this one.
  2. Finding Me by Viola Davis: My virtual book club’s pick for June! I’ve heard this memoir is great with her voice on audiobook so I might end up listening to it instead.
  3. Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald: One of the classics that I’ve had on my list for awhile. I picked up a copy at famed bookstore Shakespeare & Company in Paris.
  4. Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach: Literary fiction focused on two sisters coming of age, with a hint of a mystery element.
  5. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides: An academic thriller that draws on Greek mythology. Fun story: Adam and I unknowingly met the author over drinks in Paris and after exchanging emails, it dawned on me who he was as I’ve seen this cover everywhere! I can’t wait to dive into this one.
  6. Rivals by Katharine McGee: I rarely refer to anything I do as a guilty pleasure.. but liking these books definitely falls into that territory. This is the 3rd in the series about an alternate reality where America is ruled by a monarchy like our British co-horts. It’s the literary equivalent of an episode of Gossip Girl – and I (not so secretly now) really enjoy them.
  7. God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney: To redeem myself, here’s a smart literary fiction option. My book club is reading this in July and I’m excited to tackle these themes of faith and family.
  8. Taste by Stanley Tucci: Because I’m really dreaming of a vacation through Italy. This will hopefully tide me over until that day comes.
  9. Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman: I flew through this last week and really enjoyed it. A perfect rom-com beach read in my opinion – and I loved that it was based on a true story of a journalist who interviews Chris Evans and the story leads everyone to wonder what really happened between the two.
  10. Woman Eating by Claire Kohda: A modern literary take on the vampire trope. I’m reading this now and it’s a really interesting take – would make a good book club pick as I’m already wanting to discuss it with someone!
  11. Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li: An Ocean’s Eleven style art heist story from the perspective of young, first generation immigrant Americans. I’m looking forward to this one.
  12. Fly Girl by Ann Hood: A memoir of a TWA flight attendant’s stories from air travel’s 1970s glory days.
  13. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: Any excuse to stay in the dream-world of Paris for awhile longer. I actually started this on my flight so want to finish.
  14. It All Comes Down to This by Therese Ann Fowler: Sounds like it will be good for fans of The Paper Palace – a story about adult siblings dealing with family drama, set in coastal Maine.
  15. Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer: A tell all look at the “swans” that surrounded Truman Capote in New York’s 1960s society scene.

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BEST OF: JANUARY – APRIL READING

I can’t believe that the first few months of 2022 has come and gone. Because of the volume of books that I read, I found it tough to keep up with these recaps last year – so this year I’ve decided to share only the best of what I read. Rating books is so subjective, but for me – I grant an illustrious 5 stars (or a very solid 4 stars) when it’s a book that really captivates me while I’m reading it and sticks with me after I’ve finished. Whether it’s one that challenges my way of thinking or feels like a hug the whole way through. Below, the books I rated 4-5 stars so far this year.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: This book came out a decade ago and I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before this. An absolute 5 stars, this might now rank among my all-time favorite books. Set in the late 1930s, it’s a love letter to New York City – in all of its glitter and grime, ambition and abandon – as well as friendship and finding the people who are right for you, and letting go of those who aren’t. Katey Kontent is definitely a character I’ll keep with me for a long time. This is literary historical fiction at its best.

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry: I listened on audiobook and this was just… fun! Not everything I rate 5 stars needs to be brilliant literary fiction, sometimes it just needs to make me feel happy and that’s exactly what this did. I’ve read Beach Read by Emily Henry and far preferred this, I felt like the two main characters really just sparkled and I was so rooting for them both. This would in fact make a great beach read.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy: A heart-breakingly honest memoir that recalls journalist Ariel Levy’s mid-30s, with all the mistakes, relationships, grief and choices surrounding career and motherhood that came with it. There are some brutal things that happen to Levy in this book – some she brought on herself and some that no one ever deserves. She looks back on it all with levity and a hard-earned grace I really admired.

Hollywood’s Eve by Lili Anolik: I first read Eve Babitz a couple of summers ago and was completely swept away. A real life Penny Lane meets Carrie Bradshaw meets Joan Didion, she was at the white hot center of everything cool in LA in the 60s/70s. This biography managed to be capture the spirit of someone who seems impossibly hard to nail down. I loved it and have since picked up even more of Babitz’ work.

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Dark academia happens to be a very specific subsection of literature that I really love and this book explores that area in a totally new way. A modern look at morality, relationships, the divide between generations and more – this had me hooked from the very first page and never let me go.

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors: A debut novel that really I really loved (it might make my top 10 of 2022 list), this looks at the whirlwind relationship between Cleo and Frank from a mix of their perspectives as well as others close to them. It sounds like a simple story but the beauty is in the characters, their joys, their flaws and ultimately their evolution.

Permanent Record by Mark H.K. Choi: Choi is probably my favorite YA author because her stories feel fresh and young, but also sophisticated and modern. This is one of her earlier books and as usual, I totally fell for the characters and flew through it.

Left on Tenth by Delia Ephron: I heard this described as a ‘coming of “old” age book’ and I think that perfectly captures it. At 72, Ephron (Nora’s sister) is rediscovering herself in the wake of her husband’s death – when suddenly and shockingly, she falls in love again. She also falls ill. The book is a look at hope, love, second chances and realizing there’s always more life to live. Will go on my list of favorite memoirs for sure.

The Marvellous Light by Freya Marske: Maybe my most surprising reads of the year – Edwardian England! A gay love story! Secret magic! I went in blind and ended up loving it. I still think about this book often since reading it in January.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo: On Instagram I said this is for fans of Father of the Bride – not because the plots have anything in common, but because there’s a sweeping feeling of familial love in this book that reminds me of that movie. I loved this family – the Mom and Dad especially – but all 4 daughters kept me equally interested and even though they were flawed (as all families are) I was rooting for them all the way to the end.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2021

I’m set to finish 62 books this year, certainly my biggest reading year in the past decade. When I thought of picking my favorites I tried to think of the books that I still find myself reminiscing over. Whether it was the way they made me feel, a certain character in them that remained especially vivid or a storyline that really captured my mind or my heart. Below, my top 10 books of 2021.

In terms of stats – it was fun to notice that all 10 were written by women, 6 were debut works, 4 were by diverse authors, 4 were backlist titles (meaning they didn’t come out in the past couple of years) and 2 were non-fiction. 

And in case you’re looking for more: my 2020 top 10 list here and my 2019 list here.

The Paris Wife by Paula McClain – Originally published in 2012 (almost a full decade ago!) this book had been on my list to read for awhile now and I’m SO glad I finally did. This is one of those rare books that I would absolutely re-read. A love letter to Hemingway’s Paris and the woman lost to his early history.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters – Unlike anything else on this list, or that I’d read before. This debut work was hilarious and heart-breaking in equal turns. A modern story of trans identity, motherhood, and love.

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff – Another backlist title, this one from 2016, proved that if you can press pause on the shiny new releases, there is a world of amazing books that I still want to read from years past. This one blew me away in a way that a book hasn’t in a long time. A couple so complicated, so dynamic, so unbelievable yet so vividly real – I still think about them often. Another book I can’t wait to re-read in a few years.

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi – I was really excited to find this author this year and she quickly became a new favorite. Yolk is a really gripping story of two sisters and their complicated relationship set in modern New York. So few books get today’s generation’s voice right and Choi really does it well in my opinion.

She Come by It Natural by Sarah Smarsh – If you can believe it, I just read this over the course of the past couple of days (it’s short) and it made the list! It’s essentially a think piece on Dolly Parton’s life and a look at how she’s been a brash, unorthodox embodiment of feminism all these years. There’s a lot on the way she was raised – which is very similar to my own late Nan (who I adored and who not surprisingly, was a Dolly fan herself) and how she never ‘got too big for her britches’ as my Nan would say. I loved it. Long live Dolly.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller – Switching between present day Cape Cod and the main character’s often wrought childhood in Manhattan, this book was at turns dark and gripping. A complicated family dealing with the rippling effects of past traumas with settings so vivid you felt like you were there.

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz – I sometimes struggle with short story collections – I like a few, feel mediocre about the rest. Get bored and set it aside. Not the case with this debut collection of short stories, that I devoured in a day and still think about a few of the stories. Sometimes dark and always full of emotion, this author will be one I watch.

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb – One of the most interesting ‘memoirs’ I’ve ever read in that it re-told the stories of her great grandmother, grandmother and mother as they were passed down to her. Largely, it was a love letter to the strong women in her family and the bond between her and her beloved late grandmother which I adored.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett – Her second book, The Vanishing Half, made my list last year but I’m so glad I went back and read her debut novel because I actually like it even more. There are particular lines in this book I still think about months after reading it.

Olympus Texas by Stacey Swann – A dynamic family with drama as big as the gods, this story set in the ranch lands of Texas played with themes of Greek mythology while remaining completely modern and original to me. My entire book club loved it and I’m hoping it gets translated into a movie or miniseries. The female characters were some of the most interesting I read all year.

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Looking at thAT list, I definitely lean towards more complicated, sometimes darker reads – so I wanted to add in a few honorable mentions for 3 books that were completely *fun* to read.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley – An out of work actor and resident ‘Guncle’ (gay Uncle) has to take in his young niece and nephew for the summer in his Palm Springs home. Hijinks and heartwarming moments ensue. Such a feel good read.

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling – Read this next October. It’s like Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls, fun, light, and romantic with just the right amount of witchiness.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix – This was described as Dracula meets Steel Magnolias and as strange as that sounds – and as unlikely as I was to me that I would like this book – I loved it and couldn’t put it down this summer. A reminder to branch out every now and then when it comes to your reading life!

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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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