What does an English major that minored in Women’s Studies (feminism) read when she wants a light-hearted escape? Try my best dozen books, full of inclusive and fun or personal growth reads that made my 2022 better!
I have to thank my dear friend Anna Vig, who started it all by sending out a couple copies of Elin Hilderbrand’s latest novel. It was so fun to chat with friends (virtually) as I got back into paper books, something I haven’t done since college! I’ve since read the most books I’ve ever read in a year (29!), and I’m sharing my top dozen books with you!
Speaking of chatting with friends, I’d love you to join our Naughty Book Club, we read one book a month so you can pace along around 5 pages a day – totally doable! And now onto books, books, and more books!
Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown is the one physical book I’d ask you buy. It is a reference book of feelings. And being able to have common language around our emotions opens us up to be more understanding of the people experiencing them. I enjoyed this book so much that I also listened to the audio book and then would revisit pages at night. I gifted it to multiple people; loved it!
In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.
Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.
Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”
Best Escape (Beach Read)
Hotel Nantucket, the book that started it all! I love a book that sends my suspicions in a different direction and truly gives me a little surprise ending. This was so fun, and a perfect mix of silly, sweet, and serious. Beware: you’ll want a vacation to Nantucket after!
After a tragic fire in 1922 that killed 19-year-old chambermaid, Grace Hadley, The Hotel Nantucket descended from a gilded age gem to a mediocre budget-friendly lodge to inevitably an abandoned eyesore — until it’s purchased and renovated top to bottom by London billionaire, Xavier Darling. Xavier hires Nantucket sweetheart Lizbet Keaton as his general manager, and Lizbet, in turn, pulls together a charismatic, if inexperienced, staff who share the vision of turning the fate of the hotel around. They face challenges in getting along with one another (and with the guests), in overcoming the hotel’s bad reputation, and in surviving the (mostly) harmless shenanigans of Grace Hadley herself — who won’t stop haunting the hotel until her murder is acknowledged.
Filled with the emotional tension and multiple points of view that characterize Elin’s books (The Blue Bistro, Golden Girl) as well as an added touch of historical reality, Hotel Nantucket offers something for everyone in this summer drama for the ages.
yes, 2 of these are tied, I am sneaking you a baker’s dozen of books
Beach Read by Emily Henry was my first Emily Henry book and I just loved it her sardonic sense of humor and surprising sexy scenes! You’ll find this is one of two of her books on this list because I devoured all of them once I fell in love with her writing style.
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Practical Magic series by Alice Hoffman (see also: Magic Lessons, The Book of Magic, and Rules of Magic)
The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.
For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.
One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…
Puddin by Julie Murphy, a companion to the beloved Dumplin, I enjoyed this one more than the first! And if you enjoy it, don’t miss the 3rd of 3: Pumpkin. Julie’s writing is fun but also transformative, if you allow it.
It is a companion novel to Dumplin’, which follows supporting characters from the first book in the months after Willowdean’s star turn in the Clover City pageant.
Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined.
Best Audio Book
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was not at all what I expected. My only 10/10 stars of all of these books because it not only successfully surprised me, but also it made me laugh, cry and was inclusive. Plus, I love that all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s hit audio books are read by a full cast – Daisy Jones is another I loved that’s coming to TV soon!
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
28 Summers is the 2nd of only two Elin Hilderbrand books I’ve read – and they both made the list. I really, really enjoyed the historical format of this one. It was immersive to remember where you were each of the summers referenced back. To think about how little moments in time can change a lifetime; and how people are more than the boxes we like to put them into. The timeline allowed me to truly escape within the book, to feel a part of it. And, to reflect on how people change with time.
By the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Summer of ’69: Their secret love affair has lasted for decades — but this could be the summer that changes everything.
When Mallory Blessing’s son, Link, receives deathbed instructions from his mother to call a number on a slip of paper in her desk drawer, he’s not sure what to expect. But he certainly does not expect Jake McCloud to answer. It’s the late spring of 2020 and Jake’s wife, Ursula DeGournsey, is the frontrunner in the upcoming Presidential election.
There must be a mistake, Link thinks. How do Mallory and Jake know each other?
Flash back to the sweet summer of 1993: Mallory has just inherited a beachfront cottage on Nantucket from her aunt, and she agrees to host her brother’s bachelor party. Cooper’s friend from college, Jake McCloud, attends, and Jake and Mallory form a bond that will persevere — through marriage, children, and Ursula’s stratospheric political rise — until Mallory learns she’s dying.
Based on the classic film Same Time Next Year (which Mallory and Jake watch every summer), 28 Summers explores the agony and romance of a one-weekend-per-year affair and the dramatic ways this relationship complicates and enriches their lives, and the lives of the people they love.
Most (progressively) Romantic
If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy is the first in a series of Disney re-telling in modern times (Meant To Be series). If you love romance-based reality and don’t feel like you “fit in” then this updated Cinderella story is for you! I have so many of Julie Murphy’s books in my Amazon favorite’s, but I think this one is my favorite of all-time. There was some really fantastic writing that weaved a lot of important, progressive modern concepts into a seamless story, without hitting you over the head. If you need to be reminded you’re worthy – of self love as much as the love of others – this will serve more of a purpose than just a lovely rom-com.
After having just graduated with a degree in shoe design, and trying to get her feet on the ground, Cindy is working for her stepmother, who happens to be the executive producer of America’s favorite reality show, Before Midnight. When a spot on the show needs filling ASAP, Cindy volunteers, hoping it might help jump-start her fashion career, or at least give her something to do while her peers land jobs in the world of high fashion.
Turns out being the only plus size woman on a reality dating competition makes a splash, and soon Cindy becomes a body positivity icon for women everywhere. What she doesn’t expect? That she may just find inspiration-and love-in the process. Ultimately, Cindy learns that if the shoe doesn’t fit, maybe it’s time to design your own.
I also highly recommend the 2nd in the series, By the Book by Jasmine Guillory, which is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast.
Actually Helpful Self Help
Untangled by Lisa Damour was so helpful when we expanded our family; raising 4 teens, one of whom is a biological female led to confusion on the best ways to understand, have empathy, and parent. This book was transformative!
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Lisa Damour, Ph.D., director of the internationally renowned Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls, pulls back the curtain on the teenage years and shows why your daughter’s erratic and confusing behavior is actually healthy, necessary, and natural. Untangled explains what’s going on, prepares parents for what’s to come, and lets them know when it’s time to worry.
In this sane, highly engaging, and informed guide for parents of daughters, Dr. Damour draws on decades of experience and the latest research to reveal the seven distinct—and absolutely normal—developmental transitions that turn girls into grown-ups, including Parting with Childhood, Contending with Adult Authority, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself. Providing realistic scenarios and welcome advice on how to engage daughters in smart, constructive ways, Untangled gives parents a broad framework for understanding their daughters while addressing their most common questions, including
• My thirteen-year-old rolls her eyes when I try to talk to her, and only does it more when I get angry with her about it. How should I respond?
• Do I tell my teen daughter that I’m checking her phone?
• My daughter suffers from test anxiety. What can I do to help her?
• Where’s the line between healthy eating and having an eating disorder?
• My teenage daughter wants to know why I’m against pot when it’s legal in some states. What should I say?
• My daughter’s friend is cutting herself. Do I call the girl’s mother to let her know?
Perhaps most important, Untangled helps mothers and fathers understand, connect, and grow with their daughters. When parents know what makes their daughter tick, they can embrace and enjoy the challenge of raising a healthy, happy young woman.
also recommend: The Enneagram Made Simple
Most Tissues Used
Every Summer After by Carley Fortune is exceptional for an author’s first book. It is the most vivid of all the books I read this year. I can still imagine the characters, in their scenes. I’m not usually one for coming-of-age stories, but this was well doe with complex emotions told from the grown characters in modern time. I am already excited about her upcoming next release!
They say you can never go home again, and for Persephone Fraser, ever since she made the biggest mistake of her life a decade ago, that has felt too true. Instead of glittering summers on the lakeshore of her childhood, she spends them in a stylish apartment in the city, going out with friends, and keeping everyone a safe distance from her heart.
Until she receives the call that sends her racing back to Barry’s Bay and into the orbit of Sam Florek—the man she never thought she’d have to live without.
For six summers, through hazy afternoons on the water and warm summer nights working in his family’s restaurant and curling up together with books—medical textbooks for him and work-in-progress horror short stories for her—Percy and Sam had been inseparable. Eventually that friendship turned into something breathtakingly more, before it fell spectacularly apart.
When Percy returns to the lake for Sam’s mother’s funeral, their connection is as undeniable as it had always been. But until Percy can confront the decisions she made and the years she’s spent punishing herself for them, they’ll never know whether their love might be bigger than the biggest mistakes of their past.
Told over the course of six years and one weekend, Every Summer After is a big, sweeping nostalgic look at love and the people and choices that mark us forever.
Six summers to fall in love. One moment to fall apart. A weekend to get it right.
Steamy & Heartfelt
Book Lovers by Emily Henry is hailed as one of Goodread’s top books of 2022 and “a rom-com lover’s dream of a book.” And, it also explores familial relationships in a wonderful way. I love the witty dialog as I’ve come to expect from Emily, but I was pleasantly surprised at the heart and soul of it. I cried, laughed, and definitely enjoyed the steamy scenes!
One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming….
Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.
Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small-town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.
If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
The Girl with all the Gifts by M. R. Carey is not your average zombie book. If you think you already know this story because it came out as a movie a couple years ago, let me assure you – you do not. They ruined the end. I loved the book’s version much better!
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.” When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin, and Neil Gaiman.
Best Book (that’s watchable)
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson became a sensational movie, because of the powerful writing and story telling. Bryan is incredible, as is his story of justice and redemption. If this doesn’t motivate you to be the change, I don’t know what will!
An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.
Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.
One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.
Now an excellent major motion picture, HERE.
If you have a book lover in your life, or someone who you think would enjoy a good escape for a mental vacation, I hope this list helps you all enjoy 2023 just a little bit more! I’ve linked all these books and more I read and recommend here. I can wait to share even more books in the new year!
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