1) The Family, by Naomi Krupitsky
The general gist I knew about this book before reading it was “The Godfather, but women.” My Italian grandfather grew up in Brooklyn with guys who either ended up in the Mafia IRL or pretended to be in the Mafia in movies, and strangers regularly tell my dad he resembles Al Pacino. So, this book felt like it would be somewhat familiar territory.
In The Family, Antonia and Sofia are the daughters of two best friends recruited by the mob in the mid-twentieth century in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. The girls are inseparable until Antonia’s father disappears, causing new feelings about this society that has sucked in their families. Antonia becomes disillusioned with this lifestyle, while Sofia is determined to prove her worth to the men in charge.
The book has a slow start, but once the girls grow and begin following their own, separate paths, the story just envelops you and refuses to let go until it ends. Family dramas taking place over decades are my catnip in fiction, and this was no exception.
2) Duke, Actually, by Jenny Holiday
This is actually the second book in a romance trilogy, but like most books that fall into that category, you can read it without knowing the first couple’s origin story. Introduced by their best friends (Book 1’s featured pair), Eldovian baron Max and New York-based professor Dani are both over relationships and love. All they need from each other is friendship, but growing feelings between them might complicate that plan. A well-written, funny contemporary romance is my catnip.
3) What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love, by Carole Radziwill
Never had I ever watched an episode of the Real Housewives franchise until 2022. In the mood for something light, I started Real Housewives of New York this summer, and, quite frankly, this might have been one of my best decisions of the year. The series has brought me such joy and laughter, and I’m convinced no other city will live up to it. I’ve since delved into New Jersey, and while the first two seasons were a masterpiece, it’s just not RHONY. Atlanta will likely be my next experiment once I finish New York (Season 12 and counting!).
Of the New York housewives, I most identify as a Carole Radziwill with some early-season Bethenny Frankel in the mix. Carole is Kennedy-adjacent, having married the son of Jackie’s sister who was best friends with JFK Jr. Her memoir covers the start of her career at ABC News, meeting Anthony Radziwill, and growing close with John and his eventual wife Carolyn Bessette. The hook comes in when Anthony is diagnosed with cancer, ultimately dying less than a month after John and Carolyn died in a plane crash.
Say what you want about RHONY‘s ghostwriter plot, but I loved Carole’s observations about grief and mortality. To suddenly lose your husband and your best friends within a matter of weeks is a devastating, unique perspective, and she was able to capture that heartbreak so strongly.
4) The Mutual Friend, by Carter Bays
I’m still double-checking both sides of the Central Park bike path months after reading this. Written by one of the co-creators of How I Met Your Mother, The Mutual Friend shares the series’s zany humor and observations in the best way. Think of it as a Love Actually-esque tale of interconnected characters throughout New York City combined with gorgeous, heartbreaking writing about humanity, particularly in this digital age. I went into this not knowing the scale of the story, and I highly recommend going in as blind as possible and then enjoying the ride.
5) This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub
Confession: none of Emma Straub’s other books have been big hits with me. Given this pattern, I was a little skeptical about This Time Tomorrow. I’m so glad it proved me wrong! It’s a gorgeous, often heartbreaking love letter to New York City, families, and recognizing the magic of everyday life only in hindsight.
On her fortieth birthday, Alice is content with her life, but her father’s ailing health is a lingering worry. The next day, she wakes up back in 1996 on her 16th birthday, when her adoring single dad is well and thriving. With this new gift to revisit her life’s small and big moments, Alice must decide if there’s anything that she would change about the ways things are.
6) When You Get the Chance, by Emma Lord
YA is a hit or miss for me now that I’m closer to being thirty than a teenager. Some of it reads too young to resonate, but every now and then, a YA book plucks my heartstrings and then I’m all in my feels. When You Get the Chance was definitely one of those cases.
Millie is an aspiring Broadway star raised by her single, dorky dad in Manhattan. But apart from knowing that her creative streak comes from her mother, she has never actually known her identity. When she stumbles across her dad’s LiveJournal from 2003 (today’s YA is trippy when you realize the parents were young adults in the 2000s), she might just have enough fuel to spend the summer tracking down her real mom. The blog entry points to three different possibilities a la Mamma Mia!, which kicks off a citywide adventure throughout the arts industry to discover the truth. Throw in an unexpected plot twist toward the end, and I was a blubbering mess for this one.
7) Small Mercies, by Eddie Joyce
I actually first read this back in 2015, when it made my list of the year’s favorite books. This past summer, I was thinking about how my experience of middle-class, humble, and hardworking Long Island is so rarely represented in media. My mind then drifted to this novel and its Staten Island setting that explores just that. It focuses on growing up in an insular, self-deprecating community in the shadows of a legendary metropolis and how the paths of those who leave and those who stay differ.
I decided to include what I wrote back then about this:
It is one of those stories that just wraps you up in a blanket of vividness, relatability, heartache, and all those warm fuzzy feelings that signify you finding a classic. Joyce’s debut novel introduces us to the Amendola family, Staten Island natives who lost the youngest of their three sons in the fall of the Twin Towers. The story shifts between past and present, exploring the minds of the parents, sons, and the third son’s widow as she starts dating again several years after 9/11. The book explains how location and hometown affect one’s personality and life choices, and Staten Island almost becomes another character unto itself.