Books

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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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FIVE

The Steele Maiden: Fall Reading List

August (and much of September!) has flown by, so I figured I better jump in with another round of #SteeleMaidenBookClub picks before we officially kick off Fall this weekend. I kept to my plan of reading a wide variety this past month and find it so much more interesting than sticking to just one genre. Below, everything I read since August and what I’ve got stacked up on the shelves for the rest of September/October. Happy reading!

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta: If you’ve got a spare afternoon and don’t want to waste it on reality TV but want that same kind of laughable drama-type escape – I suggest this book. About a single mother in her 40s grappling with her son leaving for college and the dating scene now in front of her. Nothing ground-breaking here, but pretty fun nonetheless.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: Man I love when a book surprises me. Not in a thriller, edge of your seat kind of way (although that’s great too), but in a ‘I didn’t think I’d love this book and now I do’ kind of way. This book really did that. This is a YA book (which I never read.. and now realize perhaps I should change that) recommended to me by one of my closest friends – so I figured I’d give it a shot. Beautifully imagined, it tells the story of a not so distant future, post-apocalypse. There are a lot of different character stories but I found myself interested in all of them and weeks later – I’m still thinking about this book.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: Not for the faint of heart, this is a long book. Which is why I didn’t get to my fourth book (The Female Persuasion) at all last month. In spite of the length, it’s magnificent. And I don’t use that term lightly. I’ve always been really interested in the lives that shaped my favorite famous creatives (from Yves Saint Laurent to Joan Didion to now, Bruce Springsteen) and the way that this autobiography takes you inside his upbringing, his early days, years on the road and relationships – all through that classic American voice of his – is really incredible. I promise you will never hear the song Born to Run the same way again. Highly recommend. And now, I’ll be busy looking up how to win the lottery tickets to see his broadway show. *Note: my friend listened to this on audiobook while I was reading the actual book and since it’s read by Mr. Springsteen himself I almost wish I had done it that way. Also, I think you may be able to get through it a bit quicker with this approach.

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The Steele Maiden: Fall Reading List

For the month ahead, I’m tackling The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer first, then jumping into David Sedaris’ new book Calypso (he balances heartbreak with hilarity in such a perfect way – his writing is some of my very favorite), then Educated (a recent best-seller based on a true story that I’ve been itching to get my hand’s on) and finally Marlena by Julie Buntin (looks like a quick fiction read about a troubled friendship and flashbacks of youth).

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FOUR

The Steele Maiden Book Club: August

And we’re back with another chapter of my #SteeleMaidenBookClub (and what is quickly becoming one of the posts I look forward to the most each month). In July I really switched up the type of books I was reading (you can see last month’s here), from my standard, go-to fiction, to a more diverse range. And I was thrilled with the results. Below, my thoughts on July’s reading + what I’ve got on my shelf for August. Hope you’ll find something here you might like too!

The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn: Without giving anything away – the story is set in New York and centers on a woman who has a fear of leaving the house so she spends her days watching her neighbors through the window. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller (I guess there was Gone Girl a few years ago, but aside from that it’s probably been a decade) and this one didn’t disappoint. Although I must really be out of practice at reading thrillers because my co-worker read this in the weeks after I did and totally guessed one of the major plot twists that I hadn’t suspected. Alas. Either way it was a quick, edge of my seat read that I really enjoyed. Not surprisingly, it’s going to be made into a movie. Do yourself a favor and read the book first.

Motherhood by Shelia Heti: Where do I start with this one? It was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It follows a loose storyline but is essentially just a stream of conscious, honest account of a 30-something year old woman thinking about her decision whether or not to have children. If you’ve wanted to be a mother since you were 5 years old or already are one.. this honestly might not be for you. But if you are a woman, who even once in her life has had the fleeting (or reoccurring) thought ‘I’m not sure if I’d be a great mother’, ‘I’m not sure if I really want to have kids’, ‘I’m not sure if kids would fit into the life I had dreamed for myself’, ‘I’m not sure if I want to have kids with my current partner’ etc. etc. – then I think this would really hit home.

I didn’t agree with everything here, but I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that for most of my life I’ve rarely heard women brave enough to say ‘I’m not sure if motherhood is for me’. I know a few who spoke about it being a firm no and almost all of the rest who seemed to follow the same societal script of ‘I can’t wait to get married and have kids’. Neither is right or wrong – but that grey area? It doesn’t get discussed as often as I think it should. Below, a few of the passages that I found particularly striking (and then I’ll move on):

“I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

“Being a woman, you can’t just say you don’t want a child. You have to have some big plan or idea of what you’re going to do instead. And it better be something great. And you had better be able to tell it convincingly – before it even happens – what the arc of your life will be.

“It suddenly seemed like a huge conspiracy to keep women in their thirties – when you finally have some brains and some skills and experience – from doing anything useful with them at all.”

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: This was a tough one. Not because I didn’t love it (I really, really loved it), but because I think I was secretly searching each page for an answer as to why his life would end the way it did. Anthony Bourdain is someone I always greatly respected and admired, and this book only cemented that. He was a man that lived really fully and wasn’t afraid to make mistakes or start over. I like a person that I think would have my back in a bar fight and he would certainly be one of those people. Aside from all of that, this book is sort of a exposé on all things in New York kitchens. It’s hilarious, humbling and at times heartbreaking. I finished the book with such an respect for the people who make a living in a kitchen, but not all the answers. Aside from the fact that sometimes it seems, even the best of us can get lost along the way. I only wish someone had been there to have his back in the fight.

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For this upcoming month I’m sticking with a variety of types of books since I loved the results of that in July so much. I’ve got Mrs. Fletcher (a romp of a read apparently), Station Eleven (YA fiction set in the aftermath of an apocalypse), The Female Persuasion (a very-buzzy current fiction pick that I’m excited to dive into about female relationships between mentors, friends, bosses, etc.) and Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography) on my shelf for August. Feel free to read along with me!

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER THREE

The Steele Maiden Book Club: Chapter Three

Back in the Spring I kicked off #SteeleMaidenBookClub and not only has it encouraged me to devote way more time to reading this year (the way I used to before endlessly scrolling Instagram became a thing), but it’s also become on of my favorite posts to write here on the blog. So without further ado – my third installment (you can see the last post’s here and here) and if you want to see/hear me talk about this month’s book club picks I’m going to be posting a short video to IGTV here.

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt: This was the story of a young girl in the 1970’s who runs away with her high school teacher. It flips between her story (which takes some twists and turns) and the story of the sister she left behind and the woman who raised them. I think I ended up liking the flashback stories more than the ones that followed the main character.. but in general it was a good, easy read. This could make it into your beach bag this summer for sure.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: I love, love, loveddd this book – but I think that’s largely because I really related to it. The story follows Lillian’s life – flipping between when she was a copywriter/ad executive in New York in the 30s/40s and now, in the 1980s when she’s a much older woman, still living in the city. So much of her feelings towards her career and this city felt so much like my own which I rarely find in characters. But even if you’re not a Manhattan or nothing diehard, this book was very well-written and fun look at one woman’s life at two very different time periods.

The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride: Ahh… where do I start? I guess on the first 5 pages because honestly that’s all I could bear to read of this book. It is very rare for me to start a book and not give it at least 100 pages, but honestly the dialect is so difficult that I just couldn’t muster through it. Maybe in the winter when I’m cooped up with nothing but time I’ll come back to this, but in Summer I wanted a book that sparked my imagination or sucked me in page by page. Not something I had to read slowly in a silent room. Let’s put this one on the shelf, shall we?

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After feeling like I picked only ‘new fiction’ this past month, I wanted to really switch it up for the month ahead – and I’m particularly excited about these three picks (full disclosure: I snuck ahead and have already started/finished some of these and they’re gooood). The Woman in the Window is an edge-of-your-seat thriller (perfect for the beach or tearing through on a rainy day), Motherhood is writer Sheila Heti’s honest account of her inner struggle to decide if being a mother is for her or not and Kitchen Confidential was Anthony Bourdain’s first book and after being such a fan of his, I wanted to go back and hear more about where he started. This book is a tell-all memoir about his early days in the kitchen’s of New York City… the good, the bad and the ugly. So far I know I’ll never be eating fish at a restaurant on a Monday night again.

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