As for my most recent roundup, the books I’ve highlighted below range from light and easy reads to memoirs and more intense and thought-provoking novels. Of course there’s always a decent dose of historical fiction in my book roundups since that’s my favorite genre!
And just in case you’d like to check out my past book recommendation posts, you may find them here:
15 Books I Recently Read and Loved
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I am purposefully putting Daisy Jones & The Six at the top of this list because it was the best book I read in 2019. I selected the book after looking for another novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid since I enjoyed The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo so much and it was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. To say I was blown away by Daisy Jones & The Six is an understatement. I thought the book was immensely creative and believable. It feels like you’re reading a memoir and the book is written through a series of interviews with an iconic band from the 1970s. (As I began reading, I actually Googled the band to see if they were real because it felt so real… and now I wish Daisy Jones & The Six existed because I want to listen to their music!) I was immediately invested in the story line and found myself wanting to talk to everyone about this book because it captivated me so much. The book follows Daisy Jones & The Six from the band’s beginnings to the reason behind their split following their Grammy win. The characters are captivating, the “interviews” are thought-provoking, humorous at times and incredibly interesting. Read this book ASAP!
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott
The Secrets We Kept popped up on my radar from my mom and proved, once again, to be a great recommendation. It combines real events in history with an imaginative plot line that kept me entertained and engaged from beginning to end. The book centers around Doctor Zhivago and is inspired by the true story of the CIA’s plot to get the novel in the hands of Soviet Russia where no one would publish the novel by Boris Pasternak. The novel follows the life of Pasternak’s mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara, and was sent to the Gulag for being an “accomplice” to Pasternak. It also offers a glimpse into the lives of two secretaries-turned-spies at the CIA and their assignment to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR and bring it to print where it could be read around the world and, eventually, get the novel into the hands of Russians to change their hearts and minds.
Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Meet Me in Monaco was an unexpected delight. I admittedly went into the story not knowing much about Grace Kelly and her real-life wedding to the Prince of Monaco but that seemed to only increase my enjoyment of this novel. The book has heart and intrigue and kept me engaged the whole time. Though fictional, I enjoyed the way the story was woven into a true event in history.
Set in the 1950s, Meet Me in Monaco takes place in the middle of the paparazzi mayhem surrounding the wedding of the 26-year-old actress to Prince Rainier. Though Grace Kelly is a focal point of the story, we see glimpses of the soon-to-be princess through the lens (literally) of James, a photographer sent to capture images of Grace Kelly during her visit to Cannes during the famous film festival where she first met the prince and the woman who immediately catches his eye, Sophie, an ambitious but struggling perfumer whose chance meeting with Grace strikes up a life-long friendship.
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
This recommendation comes with one big disclaimer. I downloaded Miracle Creek on my Kindle before a flight to New York and ended up stuck with it. I will fully admit that had I not been stuck with this novel on the plane, I likely would’ve stopped reading this one for one glaring reason. I have a hard time reading novels that involve the death or mistreatment of a child. This book has that from the very beginning but something about the author’s writing pulled me in and once I was off the plane and had the opportunity to select a different novel, her writing drew me back to Miracle Creek. Throughout this book, I found myself reading some of the author’s sentences over and over again because they were so masterful. While this book was hard to get through at times, it was also a great read in the end.
Miracle Creek is full of twists, intelligent writing and a plot line that kept me guessing. The book is set in a small town in Virginia and follows a group of people who are connected through their involvement with a hyperbaric chamber thought to cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. When the chamber explodes, killing two people, it becomes obvious the explosion was not an accident. Who is really to blame for this horrific accident? The answer to this question unfolds in the courtroom as the suspect changes and more and more questions arise.
Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson
This book was a blog reader recommendation and it was exactly what I was looking for after two back-to-back intense reads. I wanted an easy, breezy read and Matchmaking for Beginners fit the bill but with more depth and less eye-rolls than a typical beach read.
The book follows the life of Marnie MacGraw, who recently became engaged to Noah, a man she’s convinced will give her the ordinarily wonderful life she’s always wanted. During an engagement party for Marnie and her fiance, she meets Noah’s great-aunt Blix, a matchmaker the family considers completely crazy. Marnie is instantly put at ease with Blix and drawn to her infectious personality. When Marnie’s marriage explodes after only two weeks, she’s left devastated and blindsided when she learns she’s inherited Blix’s Brooklyn townhouse after Blix passes away. Marnie remembers Blix’s words that promised her she was in for a big, big life and wonders if the woman truly was crazy until she begins to fall in love with the townhouse and the odd characters Blix surrounded herself with in her very odd, very beautiful life.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
As a reader who loves historical fiction, The Nightingale has been on my radar for several years. It was constantly recommended to me but for some reason I always resisted reading it. I think this stemmed from the fact that people always talked about how sad it was and how it made them cry numerous times. I’ve read a bunch of WWII historical fiction novels and am no stranger to how challenging it can be to read a book set during this time. Remembering the atrocities that happened during WWII is heart-wrenching and horrible and yet I still find myself feeling inspired by the resilience of the people who faced these unthinkable horrors.
With 41,000+ reviews on Amazon, clearly The Nightingale is a beloved book. To be honest, I thought it was slow to start. I had a hard time getting into it but once I did, the book really took off and I couldn’t put it down. I took several days to read the first half but flew through the second half in a single evening. It’s the kind of book that is impossible to stop thinking about once its over. I cried numerous times (anything involving children destroys me) but found myself once again in awe of the bravery of so many — especially women — during WWII.
The Nightingale follows the lives of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac, two young women who are very different in many ways but find themselves connected again through the horrors of war. Vianne is a young mother who ends up with a German captain billeted to her home during the war after her husband leaves to fight. Vianne and her daughter must learn to live with Captain Beck as they struggle deeply with the danger around them and impossible choices that continue to come their way.
Isabelle, Vianne’s younger sister, is a strong-willed 18-year-old determined to do something to fight against the Nazis in the war. Isabelle end ups up part of the Resistance and what follows in her life is a series of incredibly brave and terrifying assignments she willingly accepts over and over again in an effort to help others. Despite Isabelle’s always-on-the-run role in the war, she finds love and purpose during wartime, something she initially thought was impossible.
America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
America’s First Daughter is the “untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter” and follows the life of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, a bright, devoted woman who becomes fiercely dedicated to her father following her mother’s death. While I obviously know about Thomas Jefferson and have read about his relationship with Sally Hemmings, the woman he enslaved who was the same age as his oldest daughter, I didn’t know anything about Patsy and I am finding this book to be both educational (though it is non-fiction, it’s also clearly very well-researched) and interesting, as it covers the Patsy’s life through a lens that touches on historical events, relationships (notably her love with her father’s secretary, William Short), family loyalty, her father’s devotion to his country and freedom despite owning slaves and more.
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
Over the course of the past few months, I’ve come to realize there’s a sub-genre within historical fiction that I really enjoy. I’m sure there’s a proper name for it but since I don’t know what it is, I’ll just lay it all out there. I love it when authors incorporate real people into their novels along with their fictional main characters and imagine a whole story around these fictional relationships. I only began to recognize my enjoyment of this type of a novel when I began reading Carnegie’s Maid, another historical fiction book that imagines a forbidden relationship between the lady’s maid of the mother of Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Carnegie himself.
If this type of a novel appeals to you as well, I highly recommend Carnegie’s Maid. The main character of the book, Clara Kelley, is a smart, ambitious Irish immigrant who recently came to America with the hope of securing employment that would allow her to send money back to help her family struggling in Ireland. Luck is on her side as she steps onto American soil and she finds herself serving as a lady’s maid to the mother of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist and increasingly wealthy businessman. As the story unfolds, Clara becomes increasingly close to Andrew and a relationship develops that carries more than just feelings. Clara and Andrew covertly meet to discuss Andrew’s businesses, as Clara’s sharp intellect and interest in his companies have proven invaluable to Mr. Carnegie. The question is what will happen if and when the relationship between Andrew and Clara is discovered? And what will the Carnegie family think if they come to realize the lady’s maid they initially believed came to them from a higher-class Irish family is actually the daughter of a poor farmer who initially lied to secure her position within their home?
THE PERFECT COUPLE BY ELIN HILDERBRAND
After reading America’s First Daughter, I was in the market for an easy read with a little mystery. I turned to Elin Hilderbrand’s novels because in the past they’ve been fluffy enough to not feel too heavy but interesting enough to keep me fully engaged. While I did guess the ending of the book, it took me a while to piece everything together so I wouldn’t say it’s overly predictable from the beginning. I wish it had more of a “wow” factor for me when everything was revealed but I’d still recommend the book to anyone looking for an easy yet intriguing read.
The Perfect Couple centers around the wedding of Celeste and Benji, the seemingly perfect couple behind what is sure to be the wedding of the year on Nantucket. When a member of the wedding party is found dead on the beach the morning of the wedding, all of the sudden Celeste and Benji’s perfect day turns into a nightmare. Everyone is a suspect in the suspicious death and as the story and mystery unfolds, secrets are revealed, relationships are tested and seemingly perfect families and couples are revealed to be anything but perfect.
The German Midwife by Mandy Robotham
I stumbled upon The German Midwife on Amazon when I was on the lookout for a new historical fiction novel to read. The premise of the novel immediately intrigued me, as the book follows Anke Hoff, a prisoner held captive in a concentration camp whose skills as a midwife catch the attention of prominent members of the Nazi party. Anke is taken away from the camp when she is selected to be the midwife for Eva Braun, the woman believed to be pregnant with Hitler’s child. The German Midwife is a story that is incredibly hard to read in parts but Anke’s journey is one filled with strength, courage, survival, and, to her surprise, even love.
One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Once I find a talented author whose novels I enjoy, I often go on a bit of a reading spree with their work (I’m looking at you, Beatriz Williams and Sarah Jio) and Taylor Jenkins Reid was my obsession at the end of 2019. Though it’s hard to top Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I enjoyed her earlier work as well. In her books that touch on relationships and romance, she has a way of creating characters who seem so real and writes in a way that I find myself highlighting her words as I read because they feel so poignant.
The premise of One True Loves instantly captivated me. Emma Blair married her high school sweet heart, Jesse, and built a life with him that she loved and adored. They were passionately in love and living a life of travel and adventure when Jesse suddenly goes missing following a helicopter crash over the Pacific Ocean. Emma is left heartbroken and unsure how to move forward. She moves out of their California home and back to her small childhood hometown in Massachusetts where she helps run her parents’ bookstore. It is there that, years later, Emma crosses paths with Sam, a friend she knew from her high school days when they worked together at the bookstore. Emma finds herself falling for Sam and is soon engaged with a man she loves deeply. And then Jesse returns. He somehow managed to survive stranded for years on a small piece of land and dreamed of the day he’d be reunited with Emma. Now faced with an impossible decision — choosing her husband or her fiance — Emma struggles to figure out whether it’s possible to have more than one true love.
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J.B. West with Mary Lynn Kotz
My mom recommended Upstairs at the White House and while it took me a bit to get into, once it got going, I found my groove and looked forward to reading this book before bed every night. Upstairs at the White House is the historical account of J.B. West’s 28 years at the White House. West worked in the White House first as the assistant to the chief usher before becoming the chief usher where he was responsible for directing state functions, weddings and funerals as well as overseeing renovations and handling the personal requests of the First Ladies. West’s stories are personal and interesting without feeling gossipy or disrespectful which I really appreciated about the author. (In my mind, this also speaks volumes with regard to West’s character and the trust he likely built with the first families.) This is not to say the book is boring or glosses over national crises or dramatic events that occurred during West’s time at the White House. The book still offers insight into the personalities of six presidents and first ladies and was an interesting historical account of one man’s time in the White House during various presidential administrations.
Maybe In Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The premise of Maybe In Another Life immediately intrigued me. Hannah Martin, a 29-year-old woman who is still trying to figure out her life, moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles. She moves in with her best friend, Gabby, and Gabby’s husband and following a night out at a local bar to celebrate Hannah’s arrival back home, Maybe In Another Life splits into two storylines.
Taylor Jenkins Reid has a wonderful ability write books that leave me thinking about them days, weeks and months later.
AFTER I DO BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID
Okay, okay I promise this is the last Taylor Jenkins Reid book I’ll be mentioning on this list! It was another winner and I’d add it to you’re reading list if you’re a fan of her other work. The premise of After I Do seemed a little Sex and the City-ish but ended up having a lot more depth to it, which, having read other work by the author, I’ve come to expect. Lauren and Ryan find themselves in an unhappy marriage. They’re both miserable and are doubting whether or not they even love each other anymore. Neither Lauren nor Ryan are completely ready to call it quits and agree to take an entire year off from their marriage with the hope that they will miss each other and realize that their relationship is worth saving and fighting for once the year is up. As their year apart unfolds, Lauren finds herself missing Ryan, not missing Ryan, learning more about what makes her happy, what she values in a partner and what she wants after marriage. The question is, after a year is up, will Lauren and Ryan want to make it work? Is their marriage worth saving or is heartbreak inevitable?
AMERICAN ROYALS BY KATHARINE MCGEE
I liked this book quite a bit but I have a few very important things to say about American Royals before you go out and read this one. First, when you read this book, know going into it that it is the first book in a series. I did NOT know this and at the end of the book I was annoyed because there are about a million loose ends. However, I clearly liked the book enough because I was extra annoyed the sequel wasn’t out yet because I wanted to read it immediately! Second, this book gave me serious Gossip Girl vibes but with a little more depth and creativity. If Gossip Girl and and teenage drama isn’t your thing, you might want to pass on this one but if you’re looking for a book that feels like an escape and is oddly addicting, pick it up immediately!
As you may have predicted, American Royals follows the royal family of America, as the author creates an alternate universe where a monarchy rules America and the royal family is packed with drama. From an all-to-perfect princess set to be queen with a secret that could threaten the crown to forbidden romances and betrayal, American Royals is an intriguing read that made me feel like I was curling up on the couch to watch a guilty-pleasure TV show on The CW at the end of the day.
Question of the Day
What is the best book you recently read?