Books

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.

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER FOURTEEN

I have to say – all these weekends and evenings spent at home are kind of my book-loving heart’s dream! That is, if it didn’t come with the anxiety of a global pandemic outside my windows. Honestly, the first week or so of quarantine I couldn’t read more than probably 15-20 minutes at a clip before needing to pick up my phone to check the news. But in the past few weeks I’ve settled in and have really been getting through my “to be read” stack. Also, it seems like a true lifetime ago but a couple of these books I read while we were on vacation in St. Pete Beach, Florida at the end of February/beginning of March. What I wouldn’t give to be poolside with a frosé in my hand and a good book in the other right now…

Alas, my reviews on the books I’ve just finished and what I’ve got stacked up next. And if you’re looking for more – see all my book club posts here.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott: This was a book I’d seen around quite a bit and picked up on a whim at the library. It takes place during the Cold War and follows a typist turned spy for the CIA as well as the USSR mistress who inspired Doctor Zhivago. While I often really like historical fiction, I’m not really a big fan of “spy” stories and found myself a little bit bored with some of the characters. I powered through but I’m not sure I’d resoundingly recommend it to anyone. (3 out of 5 stars)

Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me by Adrienne Brodeur: I devoured this memoir in a day or so on vacation and loveddd it. It’s the almost impossible to believe story of a mother and daughter irreversibly bonded over the mother’s extramarital affair. I love memoirs and this is one of my favorites I’ve ever read. (5 out of 5 stars)

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I’m way late on reading this as it was such a best-seller last year, but I’m SO glad I finally picked it up because this book is exactly what the world needs right now. A fantasy love story between the son of the first female US president and a British royal prince. If you want to escape into a fun romp of a romance right now – this is your ticket. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin: Historical fiction inspired by the real life friendship between mid-century society queen Babe Paley and author, and enfant terrible, Truman Capote. While this book definitely wasn’t an altogether “feel good” read (Babe and Truman had a darkness under all of the high fashion and fancy parties and this story delved into that) I love thinking about that glamorous time in New York City and this was an interesting backstory to many of the names I’ve known from afar. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: This book says so much with so little. In brief, abbreviated chapters the story of three generations unfolds. Race, marriage, parenthood.. resilience. It’s a short read but so beautifully written. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller: This was the first book I read since staying at home and it was basically the literary equivalent of comfort food. A light read story about a Boston elite baker who moves to a small town in Vermont to work at a cozy inn. Hijinks and, as expected, love ensues. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

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Next up I’ve got a couple of new release (Writers & Lovers), a couple of non-fiction (Modern Love and Know My Name), a rom-com type read (The Flatshare), and two that have been on my list for a long time (The Care & Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls and The Great Believers). Should be a good stack!

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STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger: If you’re a fan of Big Little Lies, you’ll like this drama-filled dynamic in this story. Focused on a group of parents and children in an idyllic Colorado town as parental pressures to succeed, children’s attempts to define themselves and long-held secrets start to unravel a group of old friends. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga: This book got a ton of buzz but it was a tough one for me. I don’t mind a dark story – in fact I often really love them – but I don’t know that I ever truly was able to connect to the characters. Also, this was originally written in Polish and then translated, and despite thinking it’s super important to read writing from other points of view and cultures, I do think that a little bit of the finesse of the native tongue always gets lost in translation. So.. buyer beware? (2.5 out of 5 stars)

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine: Like a love letter to language itself, this is a quick read about the lives of two twin sisters with an affinity for grammar and a healthy amount of sibling rivalry. I loved the quick-quipped writing and the way the sisters lives intertwined. (4 out of 5 stars)

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner: From 1950s through present day this story follows two sisters and their search to find themselves as they understand and define their relationship with each other, their mother and the women closest to them. While I didn’t think this book was perfect I thought it was a great example of how much, and how little, has changed for women since mid-century. (4 out of 5 stars)

Marilou is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith: A coming of age story told through the strangest and darkest scenario, set in rural Pennsylvania. There’s plenty of heartbreak in this story but it’s so beautifully written you find yourself wanting more of it. One of my favorite books I’ve read so far this year. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: Already honestly one of my all time favorite books. I wanted to live inside this story and certainly want to read it again. Centered on the relationship between siblings Danny and Maeve and the house that raised them, broke them and largely defined them. I can’t say enough good things here – just please go read it. (5 out of 5 stars)

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I’ve been reading more than ever this year thanks to the extra push of starting a new #bookstagram IG account with my best friend from college Claire (you can follow along here) – so I’m already through several of these and can’t wait to share what I think with you all!

My stack includes: The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott, Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin, Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller.

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER TWELVE

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I just realized that my last book club post was in 3 months ago (!) but honestly the time between October and the end of the year always flies by to me. So here we are. A new year and a new stack of books. Below – my reviews for the books I finished (many of which were some of the best books I read all of last year!) and what I’ve got on my shelf to read next.

P.S. In case you missed me mentioning it, my best friend from college and I started a new Instagram account @prettywords dedicated solely to our love of all things reading. A #bookstagram if you will. It’s been so fun to create a little space that has no pressure and is all about one of things I love most in life. Follow along if you want, but don’t worry – I’ll be continuing these posts as well!

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Circe by Madeline Miller – This book really took me by surprise. I’m not usually a fantasy genre reader but after hearing good things about this book I picked it up on a whim from the library and really fell in love with it. A Greek mythology story that spans literally thousands of years but somehow still manages to be a page turner. Highly recommend. (5 out of 5 stars)

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King – A look at the life and work of the inimitable Fred Rogers. This book was admittedly, pretty dry. But at the same time it was super endearing to hear the back story of such a known and loved public figure and I found myself collecting tidbits of parenting tips for the future. I definitely skimmed some bits – but my friend Claire listened to this on audiobook which I think may have been an even better option to easily digest. (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl – This memoir follow’s Ruth’s time as the Editor in Chief of Gourmet magazine in the late nineties/early 2000s. A time when Condé Nast editors were celebrities in their own right and magazines had seemingly unlimited budgets. Such a fun look into a glittering world that I always dreamed about from afar. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs – Aside from David Sedaris, Burroughs (who wrote Running with Scissors) is one of my favorite authors in a genre I like to call ‘anecdotal memoirs’. Short stories about their lives and observations about the world around them are told with equal parts honesty and humor. This particular set of stories focuses on the theme that Burroughs is in fact, a witch. I read it around Halloween which was fun, but honestly I would have loved it any time of year. (5 out of 5 stars)

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert – Last year I waited months for this book to come out. I bought a signed copy as soon as I could get my hands on one. And then I didn’t open the book for about 6 months. As friends read it and text me to say how much I’d love it, I waited.. already knowing I’d be sad once I’d finished it. Which is silly I know. But as suspected I loved this book. And was in fact sad once it was over. It starts out in New York in the 1940s in a whirlwind of showgirl glamour and ends quietly in the same Gramercy neighborhood that I live. It’s so much fun and also heartbreaking and just all around wonderful. (5 out of 5 stars)

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To be honest, this post is so delayed that I’m already halfway through the next stack – so expect another round of reviews soon! Most of these are recent library finds aside from Marilou is Everywhere which was recommended to me and The Dutch House which I’ve been excited about ever since getting bit by the Ann Patchett bug last summer when I read her novel Commonwealth. Happy reading!

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