Books

10 FALL BOOKS TO READ THIS SEASON

I tend to read “seasonally” whenever I can – lighter books in the Summer, longer classics in the Winter. In the Fall I like to read books with an autumnal feeling. Ones that feel like a cozy hug or have a hint of magic. Below – the top 10 books I’d recommend picking up this season.

  1. Practical Magic Series by Alice Hoffman: Okay, okay so this is actually 4 books, but I’m counting it as 1 since it’s a series. Following a generations of a family of witches, the first in the series inspired the classic 90s movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock – I’ve seen it a million times and it never gets old. Then there’s Rules of Magic – set in the 60s/70s in NYC and my favorite of the series so far. Last year brought Magic Lessons which is old Salem and has a very cozy feeling and this Fall will be the last book – The Book of Magic. Honestly I’ve loved them all.
  2. The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller: This is the perfect summer into fall book to me. Set at a lake house in Cape Cod, a family convenes as their lives diverge. It has an incredibly strong sense of place (you feel like you’re in the cabin with them in the woods) and vivid, complicated characters. I couldn’t put it down and it’s absolutely going to make the cut as one of my top reads of the year.
  3. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix: Described as Sweet Magnolias meets Dracula – this is the vampire story I doubted I’d even like and ended up loving. It’s a mix of early 90s small suburban town nostalgia meets campy thriller. Just trust me.
  4. The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson: I read this book last October on a whim after seeing it as a staff recommendation at The Strand and it exceeded my expectations. It reminded me of ‘Are You Afraid of The Dark?’ in that it was sort of nostalgic and kitschy without being actually scary and had so much heart to the story. If you lean toward literary fiction but want something that feels seasonal, I think you’d love this.
  5. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: This one is pretty lengthy but if you’re looking for an engrossing slow burn, world-building type novel to disappear into this Fall, this is it. Sisterhood, sorcery and suffragettes set in “New Salem” during the early 1900s. A cozy, magical book that I really enjoyed last Fall.

6. The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: Basically the literary version of an episode of Gilmore Girls. This was such a sweet comforting read set at a small town bed & breakfast in Vermont. You’ll want to hug this book at the end.

7. Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs: If you like David Sedaris but want something that’s slightly seasonal – I loved this one. Burroughs is one of the few authors that I find myself truly laughing out loud to and these sharply written

8. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: Set between early 2000s Brooklyn and late 1700s Paris – this is a sweeping story about a young woman trapped in time after making a deal with the devil. I loved the settings and the longevity of the storyline and while there’s an obvious suspension of belief with the premise – there was so much that felt really real to me.

9. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn: I rarely go in for the blockbuster thrillers but I loved this one when I read it a few years back. A Hitchcock Rear Window-esque story with a reclusive woman who watches her neighbors from her New York apartment but things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t watch the Netflix movie and go in spoiler-free.

10. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: I basically just put this on every list because I love it so much – but there’s something about a drama-filled family story with this really vivid house at the center that feels right for reading in the Fall. Plus there are some ‘coming home for Thanksgiving’ plot points that tie it in. And if you are more into audiobook – Tom Hanks reads this one and it’s just a delight.

SHOP FALL BOOKS:

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER NINETEEN

My last book club post was in April and suffice to say.. I’ve read a few books since then. 20 to be exact. I’ll keep these reviews fairly concise in light of that, but wanted to check in as we’re just past the halfway point of summer and I’m on 8 out of 15 from my Summer Reading list. Hoping the tackle the rest between now and Labor Day weekend. And hoping that you find a great book or 2 to try out of the below list. There’s a little bit of everything on this list!

Yellow Wife by Sadeqa Johnson: This was one of my virtual book club picks earlier this year and while I’ve read quite a few books on slavery, this one stood out because I knew almost nothing about the history of “yellow wives” – enslaved Black women who were the daughters of slave owners and then, due to their mixed race, were able to become the wives of slave owners. It was a tough read at times but really eye-opening. (4 out of 5 stars)

Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul: Historical fiction about First Lady Jackie Kennedy and famed opera singer Maria Callas – and the way their lives intersected due to their complicated relationships with Greek tycoon Onassis. I felt like this dragged in a few parts but overall I really liked this glimpse into these women’s lives post-JFK. (4 out of 5 stars)

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: Among the most honest and wrenching books I’ve read on grief. Zauner chronicles the ups and downs of her relationship with her mother, explores her relationship to her Korean heritage through food and shares the illness and ultimate death of her mother with startling clarity. This was another book club read and we all were blown away by it. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett: The Crown meets Agatha Christie – this murder mystery has the Queen solving crimes. If you like a who-dunnit but thrillers are too much for you, this might be a good pick! I ultimately think mystery isn’t really my genre. (3 out of 5 stars)

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: I’d heard people rave about Groff’s writing for years and I don’t know what took me this long to get to it… because, damn. A book that instantly joined the rankings of my favorite literary fiction of all time. Go into it blind and let the story lead you. (5 out of 5 stars)

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi: One of the best YA books I’ve read. Choi’s writing is razor sharp and her characters are so believably modern. There was a romance at the heart of this but also friendships and a complicated mother daughter relationship that I thought was really well done. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver: Coming off of several back to back 5 star reads, this one fell a little flat for me, but I know others really enjoyed it. I think I struggled to connect with the main character and wished for less in the middle of the story and more surrounding the ending. (3 out of 5 stars)

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi: After reading Emergency Contact I was quick to pick up Yolk by the same author. It was like the older sister – with more mature content and more of an edge. I loved this story of sisters but to give fair warning – if disordered eating is a difficult subject for you – please proceed with caution here. This book is brutal at times but worth it in the end. (5 out of 5 stars)

Beach Read by Emily Henry: This book was a really popular fiction release last summer but I hadn’t gotten around to it until this year – and I’m glad I did! It was a quick read and a fun, romantic comedy with an ‘enemies to lovers’ trope which I always find fun. I want to read Henry’s ‘People You Meet on Vacation’ next. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Luster by Raven Leilani: This one fits into that category of “millennial malaise” to me- think Normal People and My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Luster tackles modern issues of race and class alongside its central, troubled relationship and while there were moments that felt brilliant to me, there were others that were really difficult to get through. Which I think was Leilani’s intention here… but still. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

The Switch by Beth O’Leary: In much lighter fare, The Switch was just delightful. So rarely do you get a main character in a book that is in her 70s – finding love, building friendships and going on adventures. This book reads like the movie The Holiday in which a Grandmother switches places with her Granddaughter so that both of them have a chance to reignite their lives. A bit predictable but I honestly didn’t mind. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Enchateé by Gita Trelease: I only read ‘fantasy’ in pretty specific scenarios and this book – witches in Marie Antoinette-era Versailles and Paris ticked all the right boxes. It was a really fun escape read. (4 out of 5 stars)

Find Me by André Aciman: This is the follow-up story to Call Me By Your Name – a book that I love so much I kept my expectations very low going into this one. And you know what? I was reallyyy pleasantly surprised. It’s not a straight forward sequel and many years have passed – but you get to return to these characters and that rich world of Rome and Paris and I just loved the way it twisted and turned slowly towards the ending. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: Another book club pick and while almost everyone in the group really liked it, I struggled a bit with the writing. The concept – of a young woman exploring alternate versions of her life – was one I really liked but I think the execution ended up feeling slightly cliché for me. That being said, I think there were some nice lessons in it and if you are looking for some words of affirmation about life, this could be it. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer: This is probably the first middle grade book I’ve read since well, middle school. Who cares, sometimes it’s fun to read something really PG and sweet! I read it in an afternoon and it had a modern-day Parent Trap vibe and a really cute grandma side character that made me smile. I wish I knew a 13 year old to pass this book along to. (4 out of 5 stars)

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Admittedly I didn’t love this book like I loved Daisy Jones and The Six or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but Reid’s latest was still a really fun read. I devoured it in a day – which felt fitting since the entire book takes place over a 24 hour period in Malibu. And it actually subtly crosses paths with Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo’s stories. A family drama and wild party setting are almost always a win for me. (4 out of 5 stars)

The Guncle by Steven Rowley: Hijinks and heartswells abound in this story about Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP for short) who is an out of work actor hiding out in Palm Springs when he unexpectedly has to take his young niece and nephew into his care. I loved it. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland: Set in Atlantic City in the 1930s, this story is centered on a singular tragic even that sets into motion a series of family secrets that ripple throughout the course of a summer. I loved this one and think it’s perfect for fans of historical fiction like Lilac Girls or family dramas like Everything I Never Told You. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Under the Rainbow by Celia Laskey: The premise is that a LGBTQ committee gets sent to live in what’s voted America’s most homophobic town. They’re meant to infiltrate and essentially try and change the minds of the towns residents. Each chapter is from a different person’s point of view, with lots of intersection in the stories. Some of the chapters made my heart hurt but I loved the premise of this story. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb: I adored this book. It’s a memoir written from the perspective of Kalb’s grandmother and tells the story of the lineage of strong women in their family. For anyone that had a special relationship with their grandmother as I did – this one will hit all the right notes. The ending had me in tears. (5 out of 5 stars)

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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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