What have you been reading lately?
I originally published this post a YEAR ago–I can’t believe how time flies! Ever since, I’ve been working my way through the books on this incredible list of recommendations that I compiled from YOU GUYS. I wanted to provide an update on them, as well as add some additional ones that I’ve read as well! (These are all SO GOOD. I hope you’ve got some time to hole up and read this weekend!)
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 the best book I’ve ever read (although, The Alice Network rivals it! Also 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 hard when it ended.
In a Dark Dark Wood:
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!)
Crazy Rich Asians:
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.
The Alice Network:
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.
Woman in Cabin 10:
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!
The Paris Architect:
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?
Eight Hundred Grapes:
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.
Other books I’ve read that I found outside of this list:
We Were the Lucky Ones:
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.
The Great Alone:
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.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky:
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, 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. 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…
The Royal We
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 would be a great book to bring on vacation.
The Secret Wife:
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.
The Winter Garden:
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.
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
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!–Christina
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!