In December, I announced that I was going to sunset my monthly on my nightstand posts, as they were starting to feel more like a chore and I wasn’t sure if anyone was actually referencing them to find books—especially since I share everything I am reading over on my Instagram Stories. When I made this announcement on Instagram, several people reached out and asked if I would consider bringing these back as the text is much easier to read on my blog than on Instagram Stories and the search functionality is much better. I so appreciated that feedback and decided that bringing these posts back on a quarterly basis could be a great compromise—these posts won’t be as frequent as they once were, but still often enough I can recommend books soon after reading them.
Given I decided to change up the frequency of these posts, I also wanted to change up the format. I’m now going to categorize books by what star rating I give them on Goodreads. My ranking system is as follows:
- Five Stars: an amazing book I could not put down and/or stop thinking about once I finished it; would highly recommend reading it!
- Four Stars: a great book that stands out above your average read that I would highly recommend reading.
- Three Stars: an average book that I generally enjoyed, but if you asked me for a book recommendation, I’d probably recommend another title first.
- Two Stars: a terrible book that was hard to finish; I would not recommend reading it.
- One Star: a book that was among the worst I’ve ever read. You probably won’t see too many of these because I usually DNF (do not finish) these books and don’t count them towards my yearly reading goal.
As is custom on these posts, I wanted to call out that I’m part of a program where Random House will send me some of their new titles each month. I’m under no obligation to post about any titles I receive, so I really can tell you my own opinion (good or bad!) about them. I’ve starred the books Random House sent me for free below. I’m so lucky to be sent books and am really grateful for the opportunity to partner with Random House in this way. And, as always, you can follow along with what I am reading in real time over on Goodreads.
Happy reading—and please let me know if there’s been anything good on your nightstand lately.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. However, I started this book before Russia invaded Ukraine and given a large portion of the plot is based on the siege of Leningrad, it might hit a little too close to home right now.
Meredith and Nina are sisters, but polar opposites. Meredith stayed home to run the family business, while Nina travels the world photographing it. But when their dad is on his deathbed, they find themselves home again, standing alongside their cold mother, Anya. As children, their mother didn’t really show them any love and their only connection to her was the Russian fairytale she would sometimes tell them at night. On his deathbed, their dad makes Meredith and Nina promise to make their mother tell them the whole story — which takes them back to the unexpected truth of Anya’s life in Russia during WWII.
The Mismatch by Sara Jafari *
A great coming-of-age and will-they-won’t-they story, Soraya just graduated from university and thinks it’s time she finally gets the experience she couldn’t because of her strict Muslim upbringing. And she thinks her classmate, Magnus, is the perfect way to get it. They have very little in common, so she decides she’ll have a little fun with him and get her first kiss out of the way before she really begins to date someone. There’s no way she could actually fall for him, right?
Reminders of Him by Colleen Hoover
Did I stay up until 1:30am one night reading this book even though the ending was entirely predictable? ABSOLUTELY! I love Colleen Hoover and am always so impressed with her range; this one definitely fell in the romance category—and unlike Verity or Layla, I did not need to read it with the lights on—hah!
Kenna just got out of serving five years in jail and heads straight to the town where it all went wrong, hoping to meet her four-year-old daughter, Diem, for the first time. The only problem? Everyone in town thinks Kenna left Diem’s father, Scotty, to die on the side of the road. The one person who doesn’t completely shut the door on Kenna is Ledger, the local bar owner…and Scotty’s best friend.
The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul
If you love historical fiction like I do, Gill Paul is an author you need to check out—I loved her two books about the Romanovs especially. This one was great, and admittedly, it took me a while to finish it because I spent a lot of time going down the rabbit hole on Egyptian history between chapters. And, if you’re a Downton Abbey fan, the protagonist grew up at Highclere Castle!
Lady Evelyn is the daughter of the Earl of Carnarvon, and instead of wanting to go to high society balls, she travels with her dad to Egypt and is there when King Tut’s tomb is discovered. Flash forward 50 years, after a great life with her husband, she is losing her memory. Though her health is failing, she wants to help a historian studying anxiety Egypt—and the historian is not shy about asking about artifacts mentioning from the tomb. Her line of questioning unleashes a chain of events that seem to change everything.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
I am probably the last person on earth to have read this book! I really enjoyed it and read it in less than 24 hours. So much of it made me think about how society “tames” us into a certain way of thinking. Glennon is an incredible storyteller—part memoir, part advice book, there’s a nugget for everyone in here. And, I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I think this is one of the best ones ever.
Second Half by Kelsey Chittick
This was a beautifully written memoir, and you’ll definitely want to have tissues nearby when you read it. Kelsey met her husband, Nate, at UNC and they fell in love and got married. Nate played football in college and went on to win the Super Bowl when he was playing in the NFL. At age 42, he dies unexpectedly of a heart attack in front of his children while Kelsey is on vacation—and her memoir poignantly looks at how she and her children have tried to pick up the pieces and process their grief.
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
I got into Fiona Davis books last year and put off reading this one because I hated the cover. I know that’s not how you’re supposed to judge a book, but we’re only human, right? Terrible cover aside, I liked this one a lot and it follows the usual Fiona Davis archetype—half told in the present day, and half told in the past; part mystery, part historical fiction. In the 50s, Darby arrives to NYC to go to secretary school and boards at a hotel for women. She’s assigned to the floor where all the models live, but she doesn’t fit in with them at all, so she befriends the maid, who introduces her to a seedier side of NYC, downtown at the jazz clubs. Fast forward to the present day, and the hotel has been turned into condos, with many of its guests forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with the hotel maid lives on, and one resident, Rose, is determined to get to the bottom of it.
The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis
I am working my way through the Fiona Davis canon, and this is her newest release. I loved it—sign me up for a trip to The Frick as soon as possible! Before reading this, I didn’t know much about Henry Clay Frick or Helen Clay Frick, so I went down the rabbit hole one night; that definitely ruined some of the plot of the book for me, but I don’t care much about spoilers. I just wanted to flag in case you do hate spoilers—definitely stay off Wikipedia!
The story flips between 1919 and the 1960s. In 1919, Lillian’s life is turned upside down—her work has dried up, her mom died of the Spanish flu, and she is wrongly accused of murder. She stumbles upon an employment opportunity at The Frick mansion to work for Helen Clay Frick. She’s pulled into a web of romantic drama, stolen family jewels, a murder, and family secrets. Fast forward 50 years later, and Veronica is dismissed from a Vogue shoot at The Frick Museum, but gets stuck there in a snow storm. While there, she finds a series of hidden messages in the museum that will lead her to the truth about a decades-old murder.
The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Charlie lives in working-class East Nashville with his single mom when he’s offered a scholarship at an elite private school in Belle Meade, an affluent suburb. There, he’s quickly taken under the wing of Arch Creigh and the Haltoms, a wealthy family who treats Charlie like one of their own. But as Charlie is about to step into a life he could have, he realizes the world of privilege comes with a downside, too—secrets, deceit, and some questionable morals—and has to decide what kind of life he wants to live. I really enjoyed this one—it had a ton of depth + examined the concept of privilege in such a thoughtful way.
The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post *
Allison Pataki’s memoir Beauty in the Broken Places was amazing, so I was excited to pick up a work of fiction by her. This was the best book I read while in Hawaii!
Admittedly, I didn’t know that much about Marjorie Post before picking it up, but this is a historical fiction story based on her life—from her humble beginnings to entertaining Washington society to offering to donate the Mar-a-Lago to the US Government. I am definitely adding her DC estate, Hillwood, to my summer bucket list.
If you liked Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I think you would enjoy this one a lot!
Running Wild by K.A. Tucker
The Simple Wild series by K.A. Tucker is a must read if you haven’t read it yet! It follows the love story of Calla, a city girl who comes to Alaska to repair her relationship with her estranged father, and Jonah, who’s a rugged Alaskan pilot.
This is a continuation of the series, but a spin-off of sorts, as it follows Marie, the veterinarian who is featured prominently in the other books as she is in love with Jonah. I liked this one, but not as much as the original three books. That being said, if there is a fifth book, I’d absolutely read it ;).
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This one was recommended to me by a college friend and it’s really endearing! Don is a brilliant, but socially inept, genetics professor who decides it is time to put science behind finding a wife. He creates a survey to find his perfect partner—but his best friend sets him up with Rosie, who meets none of his criteria. But Don is intrigued by her quest to find her biological father, and offers to help given his genetics background. As they spend time working on what’s dubbed ‘the father project’, an unlikely relationship develops.
The only thing I’ll say about this book is the author notes in his acknowledgments that he wrote this book very quickly—and that makes a ton of sense because the ending felt really rushed and unsatisfying. Luckily, there are two more books in the series…
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
This was the sequel to The Rosie Project, which I really liked and found to be so endearing. I didn’t love this one as much—but it was a continuation of Don and Rosie’s love story and a look at the next chapter of their lives.
The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion
And this was the third and final book in the Don Tillman & Rosie trilogy—with this one being my least favorite book by far. It jumped about 12 years in time and follows Don and Rosie raising their son, who like Don, may also be on the Autism spectrum.
Where the Grass is Green and the Girls are Pretty by Lauren Weisberger *
I feel like the college admissions scandal storyline is overdone, so while I found this one enjoyable, I didn’t love it. Peyton has it all—a loving husband, a talented daughter, and a seat at one of America’s top anchor desks. But then the illusion of perfection begins to crack—and Peyton’s husband is arrested for allegedly buying their daughter’s way into Princeton.
But You’re Still So Young by Kayleen Schaefer
While interesting, I think you can find a lot of articles online that also hit on this topic more succinctly. It’s basically a sociological look at how millennials are delayed on the five traditional markers of adulthood (finishing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, having kids). While interesting, there wasn’t a ton of tangible action and I kind of wanted it to be more optimistic? I think I wanted this to be a Meg Jay look at your 30s, and that it was not.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult *
Like many, Diana and her boyfriend, Finn, have a trip planned in March 2020—until Covid shows up. Finn, a surgical resident, tells Diana it’s all hands on deck at the hospital, but that she should still go on the trip without him. Once Diana arrives in the Galapagos, her trip goes awry as the whole island enters a quarantine.
Like most Jodi Picoult books, there’s a huge twist you don’t see coming. I liked this one, I didn’t love it. My favorite Jodi Picoult book remains Leaving Time—it is so good if you haven’t read it!
With Love From London by Sarah Jio *
When Val was 11, her mom left her to move back to London. She was raised by her dad in California and always hurt by her mother’s actions. Fast forward to present day, and Val is 30, recently divorced, and a little lost in life. To top it off, she learns her mother has passed away and left her the deeds to her apartment and the Book Garden, the bookstore she owned—both in London. Val decides to head across the pond, hoping to learn more about her mom while mourning the relationship they never had. While there, she realizes her mom’s life was more complicated than she ever imagined.
It’s Better This Way by Debbie Macomber *
Debbie Macomber books are always very saccharine, but they make for great mindless beach reads. Six years ago, Julia’s husband left her and his new girlfriend was nasty throughout the whole divorce process. The couple’s adult children take Julia’s side. Fast forward to present day and Julia moves into a condo complex where she meets a handsome resident, Heath, in the gym. As she and Heath grow closer, their friendship blossoms into love. But they realize despite having only adult children, combining their families isn’t going to be as easy as they thought.
One Night on the Island by Josie Silver *
I loved One Day in December so much and was so-so on The Two Lives of Lydia Bird—I would put this one somewhere in the middle of those two, but I would definitely recommend it.
Spending her 30th birthday alone is the last thing dating columnist Cleo wanted. At the urging of her boss, she takes a sabbatical to a small island off the Irish coast to reinvigorate her life. Only problem? When she goes to check in to her cabin. Mac is there, too, claiming he booked it for the weekend…and the next ferry doesn’t arrive for a week.
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Save Me the Plums was one of my all-time favorite memoirs, so I was excited to read more of Ruth Reichl’s work! This was a memoir about her time as the food critic for the NYT where she had to change her disguise and identity frequently so restaurants wouldn’t recognize her. This one was such an enjoyable read!
I love this breakdown of your star ratings! I’m all over the place with mine so you’ve inspired me to be more intentional with what makes a book a 3, 4 or 5 star read!
Thank you so much — it took me a long time to get to this system, but I really think the intentionality helps!