Books

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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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2019

I was originally going to save this post for the last week of the year, but it occurred to me that some of you may be in need of an affordable or last minute gift idea or something to read while you’re on a plane during holiday travel or have days off work. So for that you’ll need a great book. Of which I’ve read many this year. Here – the 10 best books I read in 2019 (in no particular order). A few of these are going to be fully reviewed in my next Steele Maiden Book Club post before the end of the year, but in the meantime I wanted to include them here. Get yourself to a local bookstore (or express ship it through Amazon if you’re in a pinch) and happy reading!

1. Circe by Madeline Miller: An obvious choice for fans of greek mythology or fantasy fiction, but a surprising choice for those who don’t think they are (like myself) who still may end up loving this story (like I did).

2. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo: For your favorite feminist. Or honestly, for the man in your life that could use some perspective. This non-fiction is a striking read that speaks to human desire and emotion in a really raw way.

3. Becoming by Michelle Obama: From yourself to your mom to your boss, there’s something in this story that will likely speak to every woman in your life. An incredibly inspiring reflection from a humble and hard-working woman that just so happened to become the First Lady.

4. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: For all your best girlfriends (especially the one who just moved to New York City). This story is a love letter to youth and freedom and the city that I love so much.

5. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: If you worshipped Penny Lane in Almost Famous (and I still do) you’re going to love this book. Like reading a memoir straight from the members of your favorite 70s rock band.

6. Blue Nights by Joan Didion: For anyone that considers themselves a Didion disciple – but would be particularly poignant for someone who has lived through loss this year. Her words on living through the loss of her husband and daughter are both relatable and also unfathomable.

7. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Smart fiction at its best, Ann Patchett pulls you into a world so believable you’ll forget it doesn’t truly exist. For anyone who

8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: If you haven’t already read the beloved story, now is certainly the time before Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation comes out at Christmas. Perfect for a young girl just getting into reading on her own or a grown woman revisiting the classics.

9. Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs: Totally different than anything else on this list – Augusten Burroughs memoirs always get me. This one in particular about the next chapter of his life and staying true to his witch-y roots really spoke to me – and gave me a good laugh.

10. Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl: For the foodie in your life or the one nostalgic for the days when the publishing world lived large in New York – this easy read is such a fun romp through 90s-00s at Gourmet Magazine.

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THE STEELE MAIDEN BOOK CLUB: CHAPTER ELEVEN

It’s taken me two months to get through my last round of book club picks, with some that I loved and one that I couldn’t even finish (which almost never happens to me!). Below – my thoughts + what’s stacked up on my shelf for the month ahead.

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My Year of Rest & Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh – While I can’t say this book was a feel good read (perhaps the exact opposite).. it was definitely interesting. Okay it was depressing. But interesting too. It’s essentially a cautionary tale about a younger generation becoming disillusioned and out of touch with reality and follows one girl’s desire to escape it all. (2.5 out of 5 stars)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – This one isn’t a feel good book either (apparently that was my accidental theme here), but it’s a book that speaks to trauma, loneliness and human connection. There are definite moments of humor in here too and overall I really enjoyed it. I’m going to a book club meet-up in a few weeks that discusses this and I’m interested to hear what everyone thought of it. (4 out of 5 stars)


Leading Men by Christopher Castellani – Historical fiction based on Tennessee Williams and his real life, long time partner Frank Merlo, the story flashes between the 1950s and present day – following a group of characters that met while traveling through Southern Italy in the 50s. Overall I really enjoyed this story for the American literary cast and the fact that all of the “love stories” were less conventional than popular fiction usually focuses on. That being said, I definitely found some parts to be slow and it took me more time than expected to get through this. (3.5 out of 5 stars)


Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – Ahh. I really wanted to love this. The concept is so interesting (set in modern day London, but following the mythical story of three generations of women who bake magic gingerbread and are essentially from a fairytale land. In the first chapter I was so full of hope and loved the writing.. but somewhere around the middle I couldn’t keep going. The writing style became more and more scattered to me and I just had to set this one aside. I’d say it was just me but I had two friends who tried the book and felt the exact same way. (1.5 out of 5 stars)


Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book which usually makes me feel cautious, but this was an incredible work of non-fiction that was unlike anything else I’ve read. It follows the true lives of three women and their honest accounts and feelings about their love lives. I heard some critics of this book that said they found the situations extreme and the details cringeworthy + wanted the hear the men’s side of the story. I couldn’t disagree more. I found the honesty to be so refreshing and thought that there’s so much relatable truth in each woman’s story – the common theme I think was that we’re all just seeking acceptance and love, no matter the circumstances. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

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I’m so excited about the stack of books I’ve got lined up next – City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love – this fiction story follows 1940’s showgirls in NYC, basically my dream book and several people have already told me how much they think I’ll love this one), Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl (follows the wild world of publishing at CondéNast and Gourmet Mag back when it was all booming), Circe by Madeline Miller (this one is out of my normal lane but I’m excited to dive into the world of Greek mythology), The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (because who doesn’t love Mr. Rogers?) and lastly – because it’s October and I love a theme Toil & Trouble by Augusten Burroughs (I’m a big fan of his brutally honest and hilarious memoir Running with Scissors so I’m excited for his brand new book). Now who wants to give me 2 extra hours every day to read? 

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