My holiday plans never require me to go too far from home. Our extended family is both minimal and local, so on days like Thanksgiving, my family and I are usually back in our PJs by 8 p.m. and delving into movies or books for the rest of the night. My low-key holiday break last month meant I had plenty of reading time, and after a stint of feeling very meh about the books I finished, November finally delivered with some fantastic reads!
I had some of the books below pre-ordered or on hold for what felt like forever, but they were well worth the wait. You can expect to see one of these appear in an upcoming post on my favorite books of the year!
Kate: The Future Queen, by Katie Nicholl (★★★★☆)
I downloaded this in a moment of impatience when my library holds seemed perpetually stuck on the #1 spot. I’ve read another Kate Middleton biography in the past, but this one is by Katie Nicholl, a very reputable royals reporter. Following Kate’s life right up to after she gave birth to Prince George, the book is definitely the most comprehensive take on her that I’ve read. It included details about her family and her relationship with Prince William that I never heard before, and you’d be hard-pressed to find some royal dirt that I haven’t come across.
I finished this before all of the recent stories about Kate and Meghan Markle feuding emerged (I think the reports are exaggerated and come from a slightly misogynistic media perspective). Given that news, thinking about the royals has stressed me out lately, but Kate: The Future Queen was the perfect definition of easy, breezy reading. Yes, I know what’s going to happen, but it’s nice to just jump into a non-fiction story that has a happy ending.
I can never go too long without making one of these posts! For me, actors that encapsulate characters usually come to mind moments after a book introduces someone new. I’m then unable to really separate the story from these faces, and playing casting director always feel like a secret reading bonus. Below are some of my recent dream-casting choices for if these books ever became movies!
1) Leighton Meester and Michael Zegen as Ruby and Andrew (Girls on the Line, by Aimie K. Runyan)
“I refuse to marry a man who spends his life in a dark room, longing for the sun but lacking the backbone to stand and open a window.”
I’m that weird 20-something who has never seen Gossip Girl and doesn’t really have any desire to, but I’m loving Leighton Meester in Single Parents. She appeared quite quickly as the resilient, determined Ruby, a Philadelphia society woman who answers the Army Signal Corps’ call for female phone operators during World War I. As a working-class son of Irish and Italian immigrants, Andrew immediately reminded me of Michael Zegen from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While his character is a bit of a dope, Zegen strikes me as an old New York type who will always step in to help you at a dire time, which fits Andrew perfectly.
Happy November! This is my favorite time of year — the weather has finally realized it’s autumn, Oscar bait movies are hitting the theaters, and the general merriment and chaos of the holiday season is in the air. While I have several contemporary reads coming up on my library holds list, I mostly read historical fiction in October. Four of these books were NetGalley ARCs, but two of them have since been published and are receiving some well-deserved praise!
Although the ratings of this lineup suggest the books were fairly average, the majority of them had special elements that really stood out to me and kept me invested.
One Day in December, by Josie Silver (★★★★☆)
In her early twenties near the Christmas holidays, Laurie spots a man waiting on the street below from the top deck of a London bus. They make eye contact and have an inexplicably strong connection. Laurie and her best friend Sarah spend the next year searching London for the mystery man. She finds him the following Christmas when Sarah introduces him as Jack, her boyfriend. The rest of the book follows Laurie and Jack over the next several years, becoming close friends while avoiding the fact that they once shared that special moment.
I’ve come to the later half of my notebook of quotes from stories, picking excerpts for this post that are from my last year or so of reading. I’ve even almost reached the end of the physical notebook that I started writing in right before my junior year of high school. Only a few blank pages remain, and soon a collection seven years in the making will be complete. I’ll definitely be on the hunt for a book from the same company so the next edition will last just as long. Still, thinking about that girl who began the notebook and where she was in life is bittersweet.
This particular post is also special because it includes an quote that sums up why I scribble down the pieces of writing that stick out to me. I love when a book perfectly explains the way I feel about something, and the list below are just a few that have really captured the phase of life I’ve experienced during the past year.
“The next time she tried a stage door, she wouldn’t place her trust in someone else. It was always the same old story. You can only rely on yourself.”
London Belongs to Me, Jacquelyn Middleton
While I don’t like the extremity of this thinking, this quote’s special to me because it’s a lesson I came to terms with in London. Although I ended up loving the people in my study abroad program, specifically my four flatmates, it took me time to adjust and warm up to so many new people. In the meantime, I learned that you should never rely on others to ensure a good experience — trust yourself to pull that off! I went on so many solo excursions that semester, seeking out the exact opportunities I wanted to and leaving London with a strong sense of independence I didn’t have before.
“Brute, raw masculinity contrasted with gentleness is the most attractive thing on earth.”
The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
September started out as a slow reading month. I hadn’t found a book I absolutely loved in forever, but after starting a Netgalley account toward the end of the month, my slump definitely improved. I’m still having some trouble with reading consistently, but I think the more the fall season progresses, the more books I can get through. Colder weather means more of an excuse to stay inside and read!
Part of what initially delayed my book count this month was attempting to read The Kiss Quotient and The Wedding Date. These two books have gotten so much hype in the blogging community, and initially, it looked like they would live up to those high standards. I loved that they both had unique heroines and, particularly in the case of The Kiss Quotient, provided insight into the minds of people who are rarely highlighted in fiction. But other than focusing on underrepresented perspectives, the overall stories weren’t very remarkable or investing to me. I couldn’t get on board with either author’s writing style, basically confirming to me that lately I crave stronger writing in order to really enjoy a book. I ended up abandoning both books about halfway through. I wanted to like them so badly, but they just weren’t for me.
Luckily, my September reading material drastically improved after I left the books behind. Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying!
Good Luck With That, by Kristan Higgins (★★★☆☆)
Count this as more of a 3.5-star read. Authors never come to bookshops near me, so when I found out Kristan Higgins was making an appearance to promote this book at a new indie bookstore 15 minutes away, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to see her. Good Luck With That follows Marley and Georgia after their longtime friend from weight loss camp, Emerson, passes away from complications with obesity. Her death inspires the two women to achieve the simple goals they all listed as teens and assumed were only attainable if they were skinny.
The conversation about this book online and at the signing was definitely multifaceted and opinionated. Addressing weight and body image in a way that helps people relate to book characters rather than feel isolated from them is complicated, and you can’t please everyone. While I’ve never had problems with my weight, I’ve always had on-and-off struggles with my self image and liking the way I look. Georgia and Marley definitely expressed some of my own feelings about self-esteem, but overall, this wasn’t my favorite Higgins book. The writing, setting, and family relationships didn’t stick out to me as much as past reads have, but the book’s focus is definitely a good conversation starter.
These are some of my favorite posts to write. As seen by all of the posts filed in my ‘If These Books Were Movies’ tag, I love talking about a certain actor who appeared almost instantly as a character in a book I was reading. I’m attempting to write a novel now, and I’ve loved putting together a secret Pinterest board of the actors I envision as my characters. The dream castings mentioned in this edition were particularly strong and quick to materialize — Hollywood producers, take note!
1) Julia Roberts and Rachel McAdams as Birdie and Cady (Campaign Widows, by Aimee Agresti)
“Talent could protect and insulate you against the world in so many ways, she had always thought.”
A lot of the characters in this ensemble novel actually appeared very clearly to me, but Julia Roberts as a D.C. socialite whose marriage is failing and Rachel McAdams as the plucky TV producer who has moved her life to D.C. for her fiancé’s career were utter no-brainers. Birdie is an older woman whose fabulous campaign parties make up for the personal turmoil she often faces in regards to her philandering husband, while Cady makes the best of her producer job at a local, lowly ranked morning talk show as her fiancé jets off as a staffer on a prospective presidential campaign. Cady reminded me a lot of McAdams’ Morning Glory character, while Birdie just had the composure Roberts has in so many roles.
I definitely fell behind in reading during August. I really don’t enjoy the end of summer, but not for the reasons you may think. I hate sticky, extreme August heat and the slowing effect it has on me, and two weeks into the month, I inevitably just want autumn, sweaters, and a better feeling of structure back in my life. August was so disgustingly hot this year that it definitely affected my desire to read, and it didn’t help that the books I ended up finishing were a little difficult to get into and not incredibly memorable overall.
In August, I also failed in my goal to read The Handmaid’s Tale once again. I just haven’t been in the mood to take on a such a bleak read, so I may just start the TV series soon and pick up the book if I still want to after seeing the show. I’ve also been on library waitlists for The Wedding Date and The Kiss Quotient for what feels like forever, but my turn with the books should finally come up this month. So, fingers crossed for a more enjoyable reading month after August’s slight letdown!
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan (★★★☆☆)
I would actually rate this as a 3.5-star read. I managed to read Crazy Rich Asians right before seeing the movie adaptation, which was an unexpected win. In case you haven’t followed the hype around this story the past few months, Kwan’s first book of his trilogy series follows Chinese-American Rachel as she and her boyfriend Nick visit his extremely wealthy family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Rachel tries to adjust to the cultural differences and some friends and family members’ disapproval of her, while some of Nick’s relatives face their own issues leading up to the anticipated wedding celebrations.
Happy August! I had a pretty great reading month in July. Within the first few days, I finished a non-fiction book I started in the last week of June, read the perfect romantic comedy to go along with the summer season, and returned to the YA genre for the first time in years. In the later half of the month, I encountered some books with slower, more unexciting paces, but finished July with a beautiful book that totally won over my English major heart.
Some of my early reading plans for this month include picking up Crazy Rich Asians and Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story collection, and I have some fun-sounding books on my Kindle that I bought through my Amazon ebook deal emails. July was definitely a month of preferring to read rather than watch TV or movies. so we’ll see how August goes. Until then, enjoy my insights on the seven books I read in July!
American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, by Leslie Carroll (★★★☆☆)
I get that it’s way too soon to read a book about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle that really gets it. I think the reason the only royal family biography I’ve finished and really loved was Sally Bedell Smith’s Elizabeth the Queen is because so much of the Queen’s life and reign is already behind her. Delivering a book that feels comprehensive and accurate about any other member of the family is trickier because they’re either still too young or haven’t risen to their full power yet. Wouldn’t you rather read a biography about Prince Charles that handles how he took over his mother’s role as ruler rather than what he’s been doing the past decade to pass the time?
That being said, while reading this, I did learn a lot about Meghan’s upbringing and young adult life that I didn’t know before. The craziness of her love story with Harry still gets me every time. This book shifted between Harry and Meghan’s lives and what they were doing at parallel moments, eventually culminating in how they met and became engaged. Seeing as it was published before the actual royal wedding, the book flanders a bit at the end, hence the lower rating.
Playing with Matches, by Hannah Orenstein (★★★★☆)
I saw this debut author speak at Her Conference on a book-writing panel last summer, and since then, we now work for the same company. I’ve never met her, but I definitely recommend following her great Twitter feed. Based on Orenstein’s own experiences working as a New York City matchmaker, Playing with Matches is about a recent college grad who snags a matchmaking job in Manhattan out of desperation. Working with much older and experienced clients, she basically has to fake it till she makes it. When her longtime boyfriend betrays her, one of her client’s hunky matches may soon complicate the professional approach she has to maintain over her clients’ love lives.
I don’t cry over books as easily as I do in reaction to movies or TV shows. To this day, I can only recall physically crying and even sobbing upon completing maybe two books ever. But I definitely register when I’m so emotionally impacted by a story that I feel numb upon finishing it and need to take a moment for that finality to sink in. No matter how long ago I read these specific books or how well I remember the plot’s fine details, I have a pretty solid memory of when I have that visceral, overwhelming reaction to a story.
I’ve read some great books recently that are relatively happy and engrossing, but the thought of talking about the sadder books that grabbed a fierce hold of me just popped to mind. There are spoilers mentioned below, so proceed with caution if you plan on reading any of these books.
1) Now I’ll Tell You Everything, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
I’ve definitely spoken about my intense reaction to the last book in Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series before. The last story, Now I’ll Tell You Everything, was released early in my freshman year of college, and I read the entire book in one sitting soon after it arrived in my school mailbox the week of its publication. These books were in my life for so long that I genuinely have no memory of how I discovered the series or how old I was when I first started reading them. Unlike the previous books, which each usually covered a few chronological months in Alice’s life, Now I’ll Tell You Everything spanned from Alice’s college years to her sixties.
I’ve been so distracted with work and other writing projects that I’ve definitely been putting off a recap of my June reads. Plus, I’ve delved into such enjoyable books this month in July that the books below haven’t exactly stuck out that much since I finished them. It wasn’t until the end of the month that I realized most of what I read was non-fiction, but it seems that I’ve recently gone through phases of preferring non-fiction or documentaries over literary fiction and TV shows. Anyone else feel that way every now and then?
July has already gone down a significantly different path in terms of what I’ve read. While I’m so excited to eventually share what books I’ve read in the past two weeks or so, here’s what I have to say about the five books I read in June.
From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, by Nancy McCabe (★★★☆☆)
I received this memoir / literary critique for Christmas a few years ago, and while I read about half of it soon after getting it, I never picked it up again. I rarely buy books because of a lack of storage, so I’ve been trying to chug through the stories on my shelves that I somehow haven’t read yet. McCabe’s book follows her adult journeys to the real-life settings of her favorite childhood books, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables books, and Little Women. She takes these trips with her young daughter, who is usually quite indifferent to the meaning of these locations, and looks at these classic stories from her grown perspective, often becoming disappointed with how problematic the stories actually were.
Like many girls, I reread the Little House books so much as a kid, but as I’ve mentioned before, I love going back to the Anne books and try to reread Anne of the Island at least once a year. I’m also fiercely protective of Anne Shirley, and McCabe’s critique of those books didn’t sit well with me. I get that, as an academic, it was her job to be critical of the stories, but at certain points, it just seemed like she was finding reasons to complain. I did like some of McCabe’s insights, but I was glad to part with her voice at the end of the book.