In January, I finished eight books with nearly as many currently in my Kindle queue. With as cold and dreary as it’s been this winter, there’s been nothing that gives me greater pleasure than curling up in my cloud of a bed with Ella and checking off new books in my reading list.
Here’s what I’ve read thus far in 2021:
Majesty by Katharine McGee
If you haven’t read American Royals, you need to start there for context on how Beatrice rose to the position of Queen. I really loved American Royals and how it told the perspective of an imagined American monarchy through four different young women narrators (the heir, the spare, the spare’s best friend and the arch nemesis). The second book, Majesty, wasn’t quite as compelling—a lot of the book follows Bea’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female monarch among a male Senate—but I was still satisfied by the ending and hope McGee is teeing up to turn this into a full-blown series. It’s classified as young adult romance, but every adult I know who has read it has loved this series (even my 69-year-old father!).
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
I spent the first 90 percent of this book waiting for the action to happen, then the last 10 percent realizing we weren’t even going to have a substantial plot per se. Then, I pondered whether this was a good book or a dud on Instagram, and so many people—most of whom were as perplexed as me—wrote me saying the fact that they can’t stop thinking about it makes it the former.
The book starts with a family from the city going to a remote area of the Hamptons for vacation when the alleged owners of the house show up that night asking to stay at the house because NYC’s power grid is out. Are they who they say they are? Are they there to harm Amanda and her family? What’s going on with this blackout in New York? Is the world ending? There’s not a lot to tell you about the book other than this; however, a few people told me that the truth of the matter is that it’s probably pretty accurate to what it would be like to be in an apocalypse, having no clue what was going on in the early days. Ultimately, I wanted to love it (it was written by a former coworker of mine), but didn’t, especially not during the dark times of a pandemic when an apocalypse hasn’t felt that far off.
The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer
Not to be confused with All the Light We Cannot See, this book is also a World War II historical fiction read, but it takes place in rural Nazi-occupied Poland where 15-year-old farm girl Alina Dziak is forced to grow up fast as her betrothed leaves her for the frontlines and her family is torn apart by the war. As seems common in this genre of fiction, the book takes place in two different timeframes: present day when frazzled mom Alice is called to the hospital because her grandmother has had a stroke—which winds up cracking wide open a past she did not know her beloved grandmother was a part of as she struggled to communicate with Babcia via her autistic son’s voice-assisted app—and back in 1942 as Alina learns key survival techniques that ultimately will keep her alive.
You know I love me some WWII fiction, and I really loved this book, though it wasn’t initially one I was super jazzed about digging into. It was extremely well-written and engaging, and I appreciated reading about a different part of the Nazi occupation I was not previously very familiar with. Everyone who loves a good war novel should add this to their list. I can’t wait to read The Warsaw Orphan when it comes out this summer.
Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein
After any war novel, I like a good palate cleanser, and Head Over Heels was a pick in one of the online book clubs I follow. And while it would definitely fall under the category of “chick lit,” don’t be deceived by the cover—it actually has more serious subject matter than you might expect. Former elite gymnast Avery Abrams moves back to her hometown after her life in LA falls apart following a bad breakup. As she’s trying to piece her life back together, she gets a job as an assistant coach of an Olympic hopeful at a local gym, which helps her finally address her own failure to make the Olympics. There’s a gym romance, there are toxic coach-athlete relationships, and there’s a Larry Nassar-esque scandal (trigger warning for anyone who has gone through sexual abuse). Ultimately, any fan of gymnastics will appreciate this book.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
“Worst hostages ever.” The words the bank robber says throughout this at-times slow, but increasingly more engaging read about a gaggle of house hunters who find themselves hostages in a bank robbery gone awry while they’re at an open house for an apartment somewhere in small-town Sweden. What starts as a precarious situation devolves into great character development of the hostages as they spend the day peeling back their layers like an onion and forming unlikely relationships with each other and their captor.
I almost gave this book up, but I’m so glad I didn’t. In the end, I was crying happy tears, and it was such a quirky and beautiful portrayal of the many different kinds of friendship, messy as they may be. I loved Backman’s very different style of writing and have already put several on hold like A Man Called Ove at my local library.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
As I was struggling to get into Anxious People in the beginning, I set it aside for an evening and picked up The Night Swim, which I promptly finished the next morning. It’s quick, it’s engaging, it’s a plot you’ll want to stick with until you figure out whodunnit. For lovers of true crime or Mary Kubica novels, this is the pick for you: Former court reporter-turned-podcaster Rachel Krall travels to a fictitious town in the Outer Banks to cover a very public trial for the third season of her hit podcast. Along the way, she finds herself also wearing a detective hat as a mysterious local woman enlists her help to find out what happened to her sister who died 25 year prior. (Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault.)
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
While One Day in December wasn’t my favorite book ever, I did enjoy it and thought the writing was tight, so The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was added to my list shortly after it came out last year. In the opening pages, our protagonist Lydia is planning for a wedding to her childhood sweetheart who she’s been with for half her life; on his way to meet her for her birthday dinner, he dies in a terrible car crash. Not exactly how you expect a book to open, eh?
As a way to cope with the grief, Lydia starts taking sleeping pills that bring Freddie back to her in her dreams; pretty soon, she’s “visiting” him every night. The book takes on Awake versus Asleep chapters so you know what’s real life and what’s just Lydia’s dream world. This was another novel I was thisclose to ditching around 15 percent as I wasn’t into the chapters that focused on the dream-world Lydia—at least at first. But I am so glad I stuck with this, as it poses the “what if” kind of Sliding Doors alternate life you see in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and it just has such a sweet ending. Please read this book!
The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
THIS BOOK, Y’ALL. I knew based on book bloggers’ recommendations that it would be incredibly steamy, but I had no idea how poignant, heartbreaking and eloquently written it would prove to be, as well. The basic gist is that rockstar Hayes Campbell (allegedly based on a certain British boy band alum) is one of the biggest heartthrobs in the world; he falls for a fan’s mom during a meet-and-greet—only the catch? She’s double his age. They engage in a global tryst, and it gave me so much wanderlust, reading about Paris and South America, Malibu and New York.
While this is not the book to read if you’re a prude, I did quite love the aspect of a woman regaining her own identity post-divorce. Also, our main character Solène is an art dealer, and you know I couldn’t get enough of the art world storyline! Though The Idea of You came out four years ago, it truly rose to prominence during the pandemic. Love a good sleeper hit! It was quickly optioned by a studio, so just know there’s a movie hit somewhere down the line.
This month, I officially gave up on The Heir Affair (sequel to The Royal We) and finally moved onto another Elin Hilderbrand book, Winter Solstice, though just noticed it’s the fourth in a series, so I imagine I’ll go back and read the first three eventually. I also hit the jackpot at the library with Mexican Gothic, The Death of Vivek Oji, American Dirt and Big Summer all currently on my Kindle.
What books are you loving right now?