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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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LET’S CATCH UP 4.12.21

Hi! It’s been awhile. I think this may have been the longest time period I’ve gone without publishing a post in the history of this little blog.. and after 8 or so odd years of blogging, I needed the break. As I’ve mentioned, I started a new job at the end of last year and it’s a been an exciting time with lots to learn and big projects to tackle. Add in my usual March blues and I just really didn’t have the mental bandwidth to be churning out content for the past month or so.

That being said, I thought I’d dust off the cobwebs so to speak with a little life catch-up before jumping into so other posts later this week (spring shopping! a post-pandemic bucket list! the books I’ve been reading lately!). Below – what’s been on my mind, on my bookshelf and in my cart lately.

ON MY MIND:

  • Last week I got my first dose of the Modern vaccine and am just feeling so hopeful about the rest of the year ahead. Plus endlessly grateful to the scientists, health care workers and Dolly Parton for making it all happen. I’ll be sharing my ‘post pandemic bucket list’ later this week!
  • A couple of months ago I signed up for the James Clear newsletter (which provides quotes, advice and little tips for habits and happiness) and it’s the best thing in my inbox ever since. I loved this quote from last week – “If you never fail, you’re only trying things that are too easy and playing far below your level… If you can’t remember any time in the last six months when you failed, you aren’t trying to do difficult enough things.”
  • I watched the new Audrey Hepburn documentary on Netflix last week and highly recommend it – I knew very little about her early childhood and knowing that makes her incredible grace and kindness seem all the more profound. I need to carve out time to watch Roman Holiday soon.

ON MY BOOKSHELF:

  • I’ve got a round-up coming later this week of the books I’ve finished over these past couple of months but I’m reading A Children’s Bible right now and it’s got a pandemic vibe that I can’t look away from. It’s like a grown-up, apocalyptic Goonies.
  • If you’re in the mood for lighter fare – I’m almost embarrassed by how much I like American Royals and the sequel Her Majesty. It’s like Gossip Girl meets The Crown and you’ll read them both in a matter of days.
  • I’ve got so many good books in my TBR (to be read) stack for this spring and summer. I’m between reading Fates and Furies (a backlist title that’s been on my reading wishlist for years) or Nick (an imagined prequel to The Great Gatsby) next.

IN MY CART:

  • I’m waiting on these wide leg, off-white jeans to arrive in the mail and I’m really hoping that they’ll be a homerun because I can already think of a million ways to wear them.
  • Earlier this spring I was swooning over the lavender version of this preppy cardigan and shell set, but now I’m fixated on buying it in neon. A classic with a major twist – I’d wear it with cut-off jean shorts and tan legs on the weekends or with a crisp mini skirt to the office.
  • I love the look of these affordable statement earrings – they’ll be great for Zoom calls.. but also al fresco date nights. I’m hoping for more of the latter this spring.
  • This travel inspired oversized button down almost looks vintage and would look great tied up with high waisted shorts or tossed on over a bathing suit.
  • I absolutely do not need another straw bag. But if I got one – it would be this one with a monogram.
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TIPS FOR A MONTH OF NO SHOPPING

For those of you joining me in Frugal February – we’re over halfway through! I thought I’d share a few of the tips and tricks I use to get me through a month of no shopping – or really any time when I want to tighten up the purse strings for a bit.

  • Set Parameters: To begin, I set some ‘rules’ for myself so that I know precisely how I want to approach the month. For me – I can spend money on groceries and pharmacy necessities (meaning toothpaste is fine but not nail polish). I also throw in a chai tea about once a week and take-out maybe twice in the month. Otherwise things feel a little too strict. But set your own guidelines here.
  • Find a buddy: Even if they’re not actually doing the challenge with you – I find it’s helpful to tell someone and then you’ve made yourself more accountable. For instance – I’ve told all of you!
  • Calculate Your Savings: Look at your budget and see exactly how much you have in discretionary spending each month – and then you’ll know how much you’ll save. This is such a strong motivator and if it helps, you could divide that number by the number of days in the month and do an automatic transfer to your savings account every day. Each day you’ll see your efforts stacking up!
  • Plan for Future Purchases: For the last couple of years I’ve used these shopping free months as a chance to clear through my closet and identify things that were missing. Then when I was ready to shop, it wasn’t an impulse buy but a calculated purchase I knew I wouldn’t regret. Window shop and save website links that you’ll want to come back to when you’re shopping again.
  • Clear the Clutter: Clean out your kitchen and bathroom drawers. Organize your closets. Donate what you don’t use. It’s a great practice in reminding yourself that you really don’t need so much ‘stuff’ and will make what you feel grateful for everything you already have.
  • Hide from Temptations: Unsubscribe from newsletters, mute accounts on social media, drive home a different route so you don’t pass the shops that tempt you. Tell your friends your plans and that you’ll catch up with them next month. Whatever it takes to not pull focus from your goals.
  • Find Free Treats: When you feel like you need a hit of something “new” – try swapping clothes with a friend, taking out a book from the library or cooking a new recipe at home.
  • Think Big Picture: Whenever I feel like I’m faltering during a no shopping month, I remind myself of the big picture. The amazing vacation we’ll someday take and how this month of savings will cover X amount of it. Or that if you invest what you’ve saved – it will have grown to X amount by the time you retire. It’s easy to feel like you want a new sweater in the moment, but remind yourself of the bigger payoff down the line.

Sweatshirt + Joggers c/o NYDJ

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MY WARDROBE STAPLES

I realized that for all my talk about focusing on building up my ‘wardrobe staples’ over this past year or so, I hadn’t taken the time to share exactly what those were. From a flattering black mini dress that can be layered or worn alone to the softest bra I’ve ever worn – below, all the pieces that I own, love and wear constantly. Some of these pieces I’ve been wearing for years and others are more recent finds that I find particularly rave worthy.

  1. Converse Sneakers – White sneaker trends tend to come and go (don’t even get me started on the $500 Golden Goose sneakers that look ‘scuffed up’ on purpose…) – but to me, Converse will always be in style. I buy one new pair every year or so depending on how unkind New York streets have been to mine and because I prefer a worn in but not totally tattered look.
  2. High Rise Ankle Length Jeans – At 5’4″ these skim my ankle bone and have a flattering slim cut and nice high rise. Plus a medium rinse that pretty much goes with everything. They’re kind of the Goldilocks of jeans.
  3. Wireless Nude Bra – Possibly made of actual butter. This gives the shape of wearing a real bra but feels better than a sports bra. How is this possible? I’ll never know.
  4. Lace Balconette Bra – If I’m not wearing the aforementioned butter bra, I’m in one of these unlined lace balconette styles.
  5. Black Mini Dress – I’d been looking for some form of this dress for ages and this one is just perfect. I can layer a collared shirt underneath or a sweater over. Looks great with heels, flat or boots. It’s perfect. Runs small though so I sized up.
  6. Black Ballet Flats – Audrey Hepburn in a shoe. These are Italian leather and continue to mold to your feet. They are on sale right now and I’m almost certain I am going to nab the nude color.
  7. Neoprene Backpack – Thoughtfully designed, comfortable to wear and very durable. I’ve had mine for several years now and it’s the perfect size to tote to the gym or as your personal item for travel.
  8. White T-Shirt – These are drapey but not clingy. Lightweight but not see through. Basically perfect. I size down to an XS as they run pretty big.
  9. White Button Down Shirt – I like my white shirts to be slightly lived in looking – so you can wear them under a blazer or throw them over a bathing suit. I take a size 4 in these so that there’s plenty of room to breathe. Nothing worse than button gaps on a button down.
  10. Cashmere Crewneck Sweater – I now own this sweater in 3 different colors (size small) and have had the oldest one for 3+ years I think. They hold up very well in a delicate wash and hang dry and are now at a crazy good sale price. I will likely grab the black color to round out my collection.
  11. Reversible Leather Belt – I buy a size small and then poke a couple of extra holes so that I can wear it on my hips or up high on my waist. Great quality, I probably won’t have to replace this for decades.
  12. Black Crossbody Bag – I prefer a small bag and this one is the perfect size for essentials and then some. I got this one maybe 6 years ago and I’ve basically put it through the ringer since then. Caught in rain, traveled with it, carelessly tossed it around. It’s worn in beautifully.
  13. Double Breasted Blazer – Deep navy wool with gold double breasted buttons and a boxy, but not oversized fit. This is my dream blazer. And if the brand was good enough for Abraham Lincoln.. it’s certainly good enough for me.
  14. Striped Breton Tee – A French maritime brand from the 30’s, I bought mine in Paris but I found the same brand available and offering sleeve monogramming here which would be a nice touch. I now have 3 of their tops and they hold up so well.
  15. Straight Leg Jeans – These are the most recently purchased item on this list but I’m a big fan already. A true 90s fit – high waist, straight leg, no stretch. I find them super comfortable and surprisingly flattering. I took my usual waist size but as they loosen up I actually probably could have sized down.
  16. Leather Satchel – This is kind of the ultimate ‘work’ bag. Big enough to fit a laptop and your packed lunch, but not so huge that you feel like you’re carrying a suitcase on the subway. I like that this is really minimal in terms of hardware too. Clean and classic. Another item I know I’ll have for decades.

SHOP MY WARDROBE STAPLES:

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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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