What have you been reading lately?
I originally published this post a year and a half ago — I can’t believe how time flies! I read a BUNCH of new books over the holiday break and I’ve received a lot of questions for new reccos, so I wanted to refresh it this week!
I’ve been working my way through the books on this incredible list of recommendations that I compiled from YOU GUYS and I can’t even put into words how great this list is. I’m adding some new ones to the list as well! (In no particular order)
Note: some of these are described in your words (as this originally began as a reader favorites compilation) and some of them are in mine–sometimes, however, I feel the Goodreads or Amazon synopsis provides a better description than I can, so at times I’ve included that too! I’m also working on linking all of them as we speak–kind of time consuming, haha, so that’s why not all of them are linked!
Need a cozy playlist for an afternoon of reading? Check out my Real Women Approved post on Best Spotify Playlists!
Shout out to one of my favorite people–Mary Peterson (AKA my good friend Leigh’s mom!) for texting me as soon as she finished this book, telling me I HAD to read it. I immediately downloaded it on my Kindle and holed up for an entire weekend to finish it. It was so good! I think People’s review summed it up best:
“Steeped in the rhythms and shadows of the coastal marshes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, this fierce and hauntingly beautiful novel centers on…Kya’s heartbreaking story of learning to trust human connections, intertwine[d] with a gripping murder mystery, revealing savage truths. An astonishing debut.”
I am a huge fan of my friend Grace’s Podcast, Bad on Paper–they dedicated an entire episode to Circe, so I knew I had to see what it was about. This booked rocked everyone’s world in 2018–named one of the best books of the year by NPR, Refinery29, you name it. Fun fact: I am a huge Mythology nerd (it was always my favorite part of history class and I took two Greek Mythology electives in college ?) so I figured I was the right target audience for this book.
ANYWAY. Anyone who is a fan of Mythology will know the story of Circe from The Odyssey (remember, the enchantress who turned Odysseus’ men to pigs?)–it’s just the details of that story and the depth of the characters that will be new. As the NY Times put it: “Circe,’ [is] a bold and subversive retelling of the goddess’s story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from the Odyssey as a hero in her own right.”
I will say–I have VERY mixed feelings about it. In parts I adored it and couldn’t put it down and in parts I thought it was boring. It took me longer to finish than most books (granted, I read most books in like three sittings because I’m a nerd). Overall, I think I have come to the conclusion that I really liked it, and I do think the author did an excellent job. I would definitely recommend it because I think it’s like no other book you’ll ever read.
This is another one that was highly recommended to me–I really liked it (duh, a love story AND historical fiction?)
The story follows Marisol, a young Cuban-American woman who returns to Havana after the death of her grandmother, who has asked for her ashes to be scattered there. Marisol arrives searching for the roots of her identify and unearths family secrets hidden since the revolution, and a side to her grandmother she never knew.
I loved the way the author painted such a vivid picture of Havana–it made me want to visit Cuba even more! It was a bit slow to get into, but in the end, you won’t be able to put it down!
Now THIS ONE is a page turner. After this book, I discovered that I have now finished all of Ruth Ware’s books and this was extremely depressing to me, haha! Her books are what have gotten me into thrillers! YOU HAVE TO READ IT. It is so WEIRD but so good. Here’s the Amazon description:
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s fourth novel, “her best yet” (Library Journal, starred review).
On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.
Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.
Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.
So I need to preface that The Nightingale is my absolute favorite book (the first book I read by Kristin Hannah)–ever since, I’ve been devouring all of Kristin Hannah’s books–which are all extremely different–I think a testament to how talented she really is. All are reviewed below–but aside from The Nightingale–Magic Hour and Winter Garden tie for my second favorite. (Although they couldn’t be more different, so it’s hard to choose.) Here’s the synopsis:
In the rugged Pacific Northwest lies the Olympic National Forest—nearly a million acres of impenetrable darkness and impossible beauty. From deep within this old growth forest, a six-year-old girl appears. Speechless and alone, she offers no clue as to her identity, no hint of her past.
Having retreated to her western Washington hometown after a scandal left her career in ruins, child psychiatrist Dr. Julia Cates is determined to free the extraordinary little girl she calls Alice from a prison of unimaginable fear and isolation. To reach her, Julia must discover the truth about Alice’s past—although doing so requires help from Julia’s estranged sister, a local police officer. The shocking facts of Alice’s life test the limits of Julia’s faith and strength, even as she struggles to make a home for Alice—and for herself.
Another Kristin Hannah book, but one I have mixed feelings about. I don’t think it’s nearly on the same level as some of her other books, to me it felt like a very fluffy read without much depth–I just felt like it was the same thing over and over again, and that is NOT what I expect from her books. Granted, I feel like I am not a “fluffy” beach read kind of person–but a lot of people are, so if you’re looking for an easy read that follows two childhood best friends, you’ll like it. I still couldn’t put it down in the end, but still. Eh.
It wasn’t the worst read, but it wasn’t the best. It doesn’t seem to have that many reviews (not shocking) but here’s one of them that I think describes it well:
“This terrific buddy saga about two best girlfriends who survive all sorts of escapades and catastrophes will inevitably provoke comparisons with Iris Dart’s ‘Beaches,’ but the story is all Hannah’s own.” ―The Seattle Times
THIS was the #1 book you guys told me I HAD to read! (I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that we are all WWII historical fiction nerds). I think I was the only WWII historical fiction junkie that had yet to read this book, and it definitely did not disappoint. If you loved The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and We Were The Lucky Ones, you will love this book. However, I will say–I don’t really know how to describe it…it didn’t really get under my skin (in a good/bad way) as much as the other ones did.
Maybe because you don’t fall as in love with some of the main characters as you do in the other books (you’re not supposed to) but it was BEAUTIFULLY written–and–it’s all very much true–the characters and events are all based on real people and their real stories. You can’t beat that!
THIS BOOK. I bought it on my Kindle at 12pm when I got to the pool in Mexico and by 3:30pm I was done. I don’t think I’ve ever devoured a book faster. It’s also a completely true story–the one of the author’s friends’ father and mother. It’s exactly what it sounds like–the story of the man who became the tatooist of Auschwitz–the harrowing details of his life for his three years at the camp, and the love story between he and a woman he meets while he’s there. You won’t put it down.
I thought this review summed it up so well: “To many, this book will be most appreciated for its powerful evocation of the everyday horrors of life as a prisoner in a concentration camp, while others will be heartened by the novel’s message of how true love can transcend even the most hellishly inhuman environments. This is a perfect novel for book clubs and readers of historical fiction.” (Publishers Weekly)
Reader, Christina recommended this book: “A software programmer in San Francisco unexpectedly acquires a sourdough starter and teaches herself how to bake bread. After attempting to sell it at a Bay Area farmer’s market, she gets invited, instead, to sell it at a secret market fusing food and technology. It was a quirky and charming read!”
Well, she was right! It’s so cute–quirky and charming are absolutely the two best ways to describe it. It’s just FUN–not to mention, incredibly interesting! I had known nothing about the interesting process of making sourdough before (or programming, now that you mention it, haha!)–and also it was really fun to momentarily step into her life. I absolutely loved it!
Set in WWII invaded France, it shows how two sisters helped the resistance, and risked their lives in the process in their own different ways. I didn’t want to put it down! The best I’ve read in a long time. –Alex
Jess thoughts: Oh wow. I don’t know how to put into words how much I loved this book. It’s hands down the best book I’ve ever read (although, We Were The Lucky Ones and The Alice Network come close. More on them below!) Someone described it to me as, “a story that will haunt you forever–but not in a bad way.” It’s true. I’ve since read two other Kristin Hannah books and she’s quickly become my favorite author. This is one of those few books that completely consumes you–you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else until it’s finished. I cried really hard when it ended. It will change you.
Such a good read! It’s been picked up for a movie by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. It is based in the UK–a young girl gets invited to a hen party (aka bachelorette) of an old friend who she does not have contact with anymore, yet she decides to go. It’s a murder mystery thriller. My favorite!–Alissa
Jess’ thoughts: Had this book been ANY scarier I may have not been able to read it at night, haha! But it was the perfect amount of suspense and thrill (without giving you nightmares). It has a LOT of twists and you won’t be able to put it down! I’ve never been into thrillers but this one definitely got me into them! (I read Woman in Cabin 10 next, which is further down the list!)
I’m honestly a sucker for the Crazy Rich Asian series! It kind of reminded me of Gossip Girl in a sense, but grown up and gone international. It’s got a few different story lines going on with different characters but it mainly revolves around Nick and Rachel and them going to Singapore for Nick’s best friend’s wedding.”–Loisanne
Jess’ thoughts: Remember how I said sometimes I need a break from the WWII historical fiction? I INHALED these books (there are three!) because they were so much fun to read. Loisanne described them perfectly as “Gossip Girl” set in Singapore–but it’s much better and more complex than that. It took me a bit to get into the first book, but after it gets going, you won’t put it down. I read the whole trilogy very quickly!
It follows two women in the years 1915 and 1947. In 1915, Eve Gardiner is a young British spy in Nazi occupied France, working as part of an all-female spy network during WWI. In 1947, Charlie St. Clair is a pregnant college student who runs away from her parents in Europe to search for her cousin who went missing in WWII. The two women meet in 1947, and go off on an adventure that weaves their stories together. It’s an extremely well written and an excellent mix of adventure, girl power, and romance! – Jillian
Jess’ thoughts: The Alice Network rivals The Nightingale on my “favorite book” list I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about the story. It’s another one that you’ll be dying to get home to read. As Jillian says–adventure, girl power, romance–what more could you want in a book? I will say the storyline is less tragic, a happier ending, and more romance than The Nightingale–but it doesn’t “stay with you” like The Nightingale does.
A murder mystery about a girl who hears something weird in the cabin next to her on a cruise ship while on a work trip. It sucked me in so much I forgot to get off the train at my stop one morning! –Samantha
Jess: Okay, this book was SCARY AF in the beginning. Nobody told me this! I had to stop reading it for awhile because I was home alone and it was making it hard to fall asleep, but then you get past the scary part and it’s not scary. I feel the need to add that Scooby Doo gives me nightmares so take that with a grain of salt. This is a REALLY good thriller!
I’m reading this now and loving it! It follows an architect during the Holocaust who has been hired to create secret hiding places for Jews that the Nazis won’t be able to find. –Phoebee
Jess’ thoughts: Oh man, this is another one that is very high up there. (Me with the WWII historical fiction again, I know). But this is hands down the most unique WWII fiction book I’ve ever read–it truly stands out. This is absolutely one that your guy will like just as much as you, by the way. I really started out hating the main character but he makes a very powerful transformation and you end up really loving him. The only thing that left me disappointed was that the story isn’t based on fact at all–but, I mean, what can you do?
Set against the lush backdrop of Sonoma County’s wine country, Eight Hundred Grapes is a heartbreaking, funny, an deeply evocative novel about love, marriage, family, wine, and the treacherous terrain in which they all intersect. The main character is a 30 year old attorney who lives in Los Angeles but runs back to the small family vineyard she grew up in when she finds out her fiancé has been keeping a secret from her. But when she returns home to her parents and brothers, she finds that her family has been secrets from her too.” –Sylvia
Jess’ thoughts: I’m so glad Sylvia recommended this one. I read a lot of WWII historical fiction and sometimes it gets really heavy and I just need a fun break. I read the majority of this book during our Miami trip–on the plane and by the pool! It’s such an easy read–mysterious in parts, emotional in others, and will make you feel thankful for family.
Several people recommended this one to me after I had published this blog post originally, and I finished this book two nights ago–I read it in THREE days.
To be totally honest I thought it was REALLY good but not like, the best book I’ve ever read until I got maybe halfway through and then it was just one thing after the other and it just grips you. Neal came home when I was in one part (you’ll know what part it is when you get there) and my face was pale and he said, “I know you’re probably just into your book but…are you okay?!” I couldn’t even concentrate on Monday because I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and dying to know how it ended.
However, I didn’t fully appreciate it until the ending–because the ending you really, REALLY were not expecting. (Honestly, no WWII book you’ve ever read has ever ended like this.) Also, after all of that, I read the author’s notes and realized it was all completely true and was based on HER OWN FAMILY.
Okay yeah the more I’m mulling this over, the more I will put it on Nightingale level, but probably a slower read–I think maybe because it follows a family and many of the protagonists are male–and I just identified much more emotionally with the heroines in The Nightingale. Regardless, JUST READ IT. It’s absolutely incredible.
Several friends recommended this book to me and it’s the same author as The Nightingale, but I resisted for awhile because the storyline isn’t really something I’d normally be into, but finally I took the plunge and was really glad I did. It was VERY good–at times it can be frustrating, hard to read, and incredibly sad, but I really loved the ending and it was very different from the other Kristin Hannah books I’ve read!
Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:
Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
Another incredible true story–and let me tell you, this is another story that will always stay with you. I finished this book 6 months ago but I think about Pinot Lella and how brave he is. All the time. HOWEVER…a word of caution. The ending got me. I put it down after I finished it and I cried like, harder than I should’ve. But it’s a true story, so I can’t knock the author for the ending. I’m just warning you.
Neal does not read for pleasure, like, at all, but I’m making him read this book because I know this book is what will get him into reading for fun. That’s how good this story is. (Note…it’s been months and he still hasn’t read it. I’m still holding out hope ?But I did get him to start We Were The Lucky Ones!) Here’s the Goodreads description (because I can’t do it justice):
Pino Lella wants nothing to do with the war or the Nazis.
He’s a normal Italian teenager—obsessed with music, food, and girls—but his days of innocence are numbered. When his family home in Milan is destroyed by Allied bombs, Pino joins an underground railroad helping Jews escape over the Alps, and falls for Anna, a beautiful widow six years his senior.
In an attempt to protect him, Pino’s parents force him to enlist as a German soldier—a move they think will keep him out of combat. But after Pino is injured, he is recruited at the tender age of eighteen to become the personal driver for Adolf Hitler’s left hand in Italy, General Hans Leyers, one of the Third Reich’s most mysterious and powerful commanders.
Now, with the opportunity to spy for the Allies inside the German High Command, Pino endures the horrors of the war and the Nazi occupation by fighting in secret, his courage bolstered by his love for Anna and for the life he dreams they will one day share…
I started reading this book right before the Royal Wedding on the recommendation of my friend Grace and her co-host Becca on the Bad on Paper podcast. (If you haven’t listened to it before, you will LOVE it. They talk about books and just general adulting topics and it’s amazing–it feels like catching up with friends over drinks!
Anyway, back to the Royal We–it’s an extremely easy, fun, and addicting guilty-pleasure read. It’s fiction, but inspired by William and Kate’s love story. (Although I have to admit now that I’m reading it I’m envisioning the main characters as Harry and Meghan instead of Will and Kate!) It’s lighthearted, but definitely a page-turner. It would be a great book to bring on vacation.
I absolutely loved this book–it quickly became one of my very favorites and it’s based on a piece of history I’m relatively unfamiliar with:
1914–Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance—and their lives—in danger.
2016–Kitty Fisher escapes to her great-grandfather’s remote cabin in America, after a devastating revelation makes her flee London. There, on the shores of Lake Akanabee, she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to a long-buried family secret.
Reading The Secret Wife in addition to The Nightingale lead me to read another Kristin Hannah book, Winter Garden, not long after–which is also rooted in Russian history (this time WWII) and set up in a similar way, alternating between characters and between past and present.
It’s a story of an intricate and complicated mother-daughter bond. Sisters Meredith and Nina are devastated by the loss of their father. Which left them alone alongside their cold, bitter mother Anya. Anya has kept the girls at arms length their whole lives. She offers no comfort to her daughters even in the wake of their father’s passing. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.
On his deathbed, their father makes them promise to ensure Anya tells the fairy tale one last time. All the way to the end. A truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad is unveiled, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the harrowing story of their mother’s life. What they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying. It will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are.
This book was so good. A year later I still think about it. I think it’s my second favorite Kristin Hannah book!
The Last Mrs. Parrish:
I read this awhile ago but I’ve talked about it on Instagram stories quite a bit. I feel like I ALWAYS get asked “what’s that book you were talking about on Instagram stories a few months ago?” It’s kind of like Desperate Housewives meets Dateline. (Except without the murder part ?). Definitely a guilty-pleasure read. If you need to be entertained on a long plane ride, I would definitely get this book!
One of Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks–she describes it best: “Filled with envy, deception, and power, it’s a great reading escape. And there is a thrilling twist at the end!”
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows:
Another book I chose because it was chosen as part of Reese’ book club. It’s kind of a complicated story to set up, so I’ll defer to Amazon’s description ?:
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. A law school dropout, she impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.
It was SO GOOD.
And such a fresh departure from any other book I’ve ever read and it’s SO FUNNY. There were parts where I literally laughed out loud. It’s tragic, emotional, triumphant, and feel-good all at the same time. I read it in like three days. You’ll love it!
Before We Were Yours
This one was recommended to me by my mother in law and it did not disappoint. Again…you know I’m typically a WWII historical fiction junkie, but like I’ve said with other books, this one was nice to read something from a different time. (One can only emotionally handle so many war books in a row). It was definitely a page-turner, completely different than any other historical fiction I’ve ever read, and you really fall in love with the characters.
This one’s a New York Times bestseller. It’s dubbed to be perfect for “lovers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale”. (Which prompted me to read Orphan Train directly after, but I liked this much better, but not as much as The Nightingale).
The book follows two different storylines–one in 1939, the other in present day. It’s based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals. Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country. As Amazon describes it, “Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.”
Other reader recommended books I haven’t gotten to yet:
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
“It’s about classical music and family legacies set against the Chinese revolutions of the 1900’s. It was just SO good!”–Sarah
The Wilding Sisters
A suspense/mystery about a family who moves in an old manor home in the UK and their experience living in it. It flip flops back and forth in time to something that happened in the house decades earlier and how it all ties together.”–Ashleigh
It’s about facing adversity and how to deal when life throws you a curve ball. Great especially if people like Lean In! –Jill
About two people who slowly fall in love without even talking to each other. (He reads her emails, and she stalks him at work, haha!) It deals with millennials and the struggles young professionals face. –Betsy
Final girls is the name dubbed for those who were the only survivors of horrible events. Two of the three finally come together after one of the final girls dies. It’s full of twists and turns but similar to Gone Girl and Woman in Cabin 10! –Kait
The Summer Before The War:
Don’t be intimidated by how big it is–I read it so quicly because I couldn’t put it down! I became way too invested in the characters. It’s about how these high society characters in an English town handle the upcoming life changes from World War I. – Caitlin
When Breath Becomes Air
This is an emotional nonfiction account about a man (Paul) who is curious (and afraid) when it comes to death. In this book, he has to come to terms with death and illness while being a neurosurgery resident. He always helps others deal with dying, and now he has to deal with it himself. It’s an amazing book!– Felicia
**Jess’ note: If you follow my absolute favorite blogger, Cup of Jo, you will recognize this story. This is actually her brother in law who wrote the book–her sister’s late husband. It’s been on my list for awhile, but I’m afraid it will be too sad to read. Maybe this is the final push I needed!
The Couple Next Door:
Totally dateline-esque. I kept thinking I had it figured out and then there was another twist. I was on the very edge of my seat right until the very end! –Jennie (Jess’ note: Several people actually recommended this one!!)
A memoir from Paris Vogue Editor in Chief, Joan Juliet Buck. She reflects on her life and the super interesting people she meets and interacts with along the way. (Friends like Karl Lagerfeld and Angelica Huston!) –Connie
Maybe in Another Life:
About a girl who moves back to LA (where she grew up) and runs into her high school boyfriend. He asks her to go home with him, and then the book splits and it switches between her life if she says yes, and her life if she says no. It’s AMAZING.–Charlotte
It’s SO FUNNY and a really good story for the “student loan” generation. In short, it’s about a girl whose boss has a ton of money, and she stumbles upon a check and decides to pay off her student loan debt without anyone finding out. Well, people DO find out, and it goes from there! –Laura
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk:
Lillian is loosely based on the Macy’s highest paid female advertising writer, fiction, from her perspective as an 80-something living in New York. Humorous, serious, and interesting. – Connie
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:
Everyone in their twenties needs to read this. Don is a writer trying to figure out what makes a good story. Throuh personal storytelling, moments of enlightenment, and plenty of wit, he discovers what it takes to alive a better story. If it weren’t’ for this book, I would not have taken the risk to apply for new jobs and move away from everyone I knew. It’s just so honest and relatable to anyone still trying to “find themselves.” If you’re feeling lost, like something is missing or feel stuck in a routine with no end goal, this book is everything. –Kaylee
WHEW! This is a LIST! Have you read any of these? What others were your favorite? Would love to know your thoughts!