I was going through my book roundups on the blog the other day and wanted to re-feature some of my favorite titles that I read in 2017. No matter your favorite genre, you’re bound to like at least one of these!
In no particular order…
1) The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo
Amazon summary: Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.
Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.
My take: It seems like everyone loved this book this past year, and I don’t blame them. Both IRL friends and blog friends raved about this book, and once I got a copy, I tore through it in days. A lot of the situations that the main characters encountered reminded me of my own experiences, and you can bet I was sobbing by the end. I think everyone I know who read this could relate to it on some personal level, especially if they dated/met someone in college, lived in NYC, etc.
2) We Could Be Beautiful, by Swan Huntley
Amazon summary: Catherine West has spent her entire life surrounded by beautiful things. And yet, despite all this, she still feels empty. After two broken engagements and boyfriends who wanted only her money, she is worried that she’ll never have a family of her own.
Then at an art opening Catherine meets William Stockton, a handsome banker who shares her impeccable taste and whose parents once moved in the same circles as Catherine’s. But as William and Catherine grow closer, she begins to encounter strange signs. Her mother, now suffering lapses in memory, seems to hate William on sight. Is William lying about his past? And if so, is Catherine willing to sacrifice their beautiful life in order to find the truth?
My take: I still talk about this book with people because I thought it was so addicting! I was sucked in to the plot line right away and went back and forth between feeling bad for the main character and also wanting to mock her. When I picked it up I hadn’t necessarily thought it would be as intense as it was. If you like a good psychological thriller, this is for you.
3) Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris
Amazon summary: Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.
Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.
Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.
My take: This is one that I talk about ALL the time and still get goosebumps thinking about. It was the perfect thriller in that it wasn’t too complicated to follow but still had tons of plot twists that surprised me every time. It’s one of those ones that you’ll feel bad about liking so much because it’s so dark and twisted, but you just can’t put it down because…omg.
4) After I Do, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Amazon summary: When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.
Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?
My take: I’ve said this before, Taylor Jenkins Reid just rules. I’m always drawn into her work right away and was so curious what would happen between the couple profiled here. I started this book on a plane ride and couldn’t put it down because I honestly felt like I knew the characters (and was definitely jealous of their cuteness but also intrigued about their “decision”).
5) Cancel the Wedding, by Carolyn Dingman
Amazon summary: On the surface, Olivia has it all: a high-powered career, a loving family, and a handsome fiancé. She even seems to be coming to terms with her mother Jane’s premature death from cancer. But when Jane’s final wish is revealed, Olivia and her elder sister Georgia are mystified. Their mother rarely spoke of her rural Southern hometown, and never went back to visit—so why does she want them to return to Huntley, Georgia, to scatter her ashes?
Jane’s request offers Olivia a temporary escape from the reality she’s long been denying: she hates her “dream” job, and she’s not really sure she wants to marry her groom-to-be. With her 14-year-old niece, Logan, riding shotgun, she heads South on a summer road trip looking for answers about her mother.
As Olivia gets to know the town’s inhabitants, she begins to peel back the secrets of her mother’s early life—truths that force her to finally question her own future. But when Olivia is confronted with a tragedy and finds an opportunity to right a terrible wrong, will it give her the courage to accept her mother’s past—and say yes to her own desire to start over?
My take: This was the best “rom com” type of book that I’d read in a long time. I feel like it’s hard to find a book that isn’t too cheesy or doesn’t lack essential/realistic details, but this book, which was part historical/mystery and part love story, didn’t disappoint. I recommended it to a friend who also loved it–it’s the perfect thing to curl up with when you just need to escape!
6) How to Murder Your Life, by Cat Marnell
Amazon summary: From the New York Times bestselling author and former beauty editor Cat Marnell, a “vivid, maddening, heartbreaking, very funny, chaotic” (The New York Times) memoir of prescription drug addiction and self-sabotage, set in the glamorous world of fashion magazines and downtown nightclubs.
At twenty-six, Cat Marnell was an associate beauty editor at Lucky, one of the top fashion magazines in America—and that’s all most people knew about her. But she hid a secret life. She was a prescription drug addict. She was also a “doctor shopper” who manipulated Upper East Side psychiatrists for pills, pills, and more pills; a lonely bulimic who spent hundreds of dollars a week on binge foods; a promiscuous party girl who danced barefoot on banquets; a weepy and hallucination-prone insomniac who would take anything—anything—to sleep.
This is a tale of self-loathing, self-sabotage, and yes, self-tanner. It begins at a posh New England prep school—and with a prescription for the Attention Deficit Disorder medication Ritalin. It continues to New York, where we follow Marnell’s amphetamine-fueled rise from intern to editor through the beauty departments of NYLON, Teen Vogue, Glamour, and Lucky. We see her fight between ambition and addiction and how, inevitably, her disease threatens everything she worked so hard to achieve. From the Condé Nast building to seedy nightclubs, from doctors’ offices and mental hospitals, Marnell “treads a knife edge between glamorizing her own despair and rendering it with savage honesty.…with the skill of a pulp novelist” (The New York Times Book Review) what it is like to live in the wild, chaotic, often sinister world of a young female addict who can’t say no.
My take: I LOVED this one, and not just because Cat Marnell grew up in my hometown and talked a bit about that throughout the book. I was fascinated by the way her addiction shaped her life and how her relationships and career suffered as a result (particularly because I also have a magazine background). I would like to re-read it soon after I tackle some of the other books on my long list!
7) After Perfect, by Christina McDowell
Amazon summary: Selected as one of the year’s “Fifteen Books You Need to Read” by the Village Voice, Christina McDowell’s unflinching memoir is “a tale of the American Dream upended.” Growing up in an affluent Washington, DC, suburb, Christina and her sisters were surrounded by the elite: summering on Nantucket Island, speeding down Capitol Hill’s rich back roads, flying in their father’s private plane. Their life of luxury was brutally stripped away after the FBI arrested Tom Prousalis on fraud charges. When he took a plea deal as he faced the notorious Wolf of Wall Street Jordan Belfort’s testifying against him, the cars, homes, jewelry, clothes, and friends that defined the family disappeared before their eyes, including the one thing they could never get back: each other.
Christina writes with candid clarity about the dark years that followed and the devastation her father’s crimes wrought upon her family: the debt accumulated under her identity; her mother’s breakdown; her own spiral into addiction and promiscuity; and the delusion that enveloped them all. She shines a remarkable, uncomfortable light on a family’s disintegration and takes a searing look at a controversial financial time and also at herself, a child whose “normal” belonged only to the one percent. A rare, insider’s perspective on the collateral damage of a fall from grace, After Perfect is a poignant reflection on the astounding pace at which a life can change and how blind we can be to the ugly truth.
My take: I also cannot stop thinking about this one! I was amazed at how Christina’s life was turned upside down after her father’s arrest (she’s also a DC-area local, which made her story all the more interesting to me). Her writing is powerful and tells such an intense story of loss and betrayal. I also love how she wrapped up the book as she described a serendipitous trip back to her hometown.
8) Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
Amazon summary: From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.
The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.
A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large segment of this country.
My take: An insightful take at an often overlooked population in the US, Hillbilly Elegy was by far one of my favorites this year. I sent a copy to a friend who grew up in the rural South and was curious about the book, and he–and his parents–greatly enjoyed it. This book raises a lot of important questions and perspectives at such a challenging time in our country–it’s truly a must-read for all. It would be a great one for a book club!
9) The Opposite of Loneliness, by Marina Keegan
Amazon summary: Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at TheNew Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash.
Marina left behind a rich, deeply expansive trove of writing that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation. Her short story “Cold Pastoral” was published on NewYorker.com. Her essay “Even Artichokes Have Doubts” was excerpted in the Financial Times, and her book was the focus of a Nicholas Kristof column in The New York Times. Millions of her contemporaries have responded to her work on social media.
As Marina wrote: “We can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over…We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” The Opposite of Loneliness is an unforgettable collection of Marina’s essays and stories that articulates the universal struggle all of us face as we figure out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to impact the world. “How do you mourn the loss of a fiery talent that was barely a tendril before it was snuffed out? Answer: Read this book. A clear-eyed observer of human nature, Keegan could take a clever idea…and make it something beautiful” (People).
My take: This is a hard one to summarize into a short blurb, but all I can say is that this was a powerful collection of stories by a talented young woman, and I wish I’d picked it up sooner. Marina’s insight and level of detail is amazing and inspiring, particularly for a college student.
10) Tie: The One that Got Away, by Leigh Himes, and A Window Opens
The One that Got Away: Meet Abbey Lahey . . .
Overworked mom. Underappreciated publicist. Frazzled wife of an out-of-work landscaper. A woman desperately in need of a vacation from life–and who is about to get one, thanks to an unexpected tumble down a Nordstrom escalator.
Meet Abbey van Holt . . .
The woman whose life Abbey suddenly finds herself inhabiting when she wakes up. Married to handsome congressional candidate Alex van Holt. Living in a lavish penthouse. Wearing ball gowns and being feted by the crème of Philadelphia society. Luxuriating in the kind of fourteen-karat lifestyle she’s only read about in the pages of Town & Country.
The woman Abbey might have been . . . if she had said yes to a date with Alex van Holt all those years ago.
In the tradition of the romantic comedy Sliding Doors and Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World, Leigh Himes’s irresistible debut novel tells the funny and touching story of an ordinary woman offered an extraordinary opportunity to reboot her life, explore the road not taken, and ultimately, find her true self–whoever that may be.
A Window Opens: “A winning, heartfelt debut” (Good Housekeeping), A Window Opens introduces Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a (mostly) happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.
Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up, and her work takes an unexpected turn. In the midst of her second coming of age, Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all but, what does she really want the most?
My take: Both of these explore the challenges of family life while still being overall light reads. They’re probably more for women who are married with children, but as a single 20-something I still enjoyed both stories, which explore the paths we take in life and the never-ending question of whether we’re making the right decision. Again, they’re definitely more within the cute “rom com” category but lack the cheesiness and focus more on “real” things, at least in my opinion.