I had a good year where books were concerned. Not only did I publish my own second book (The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids) but I also read an awful lot of good books too. As with all my end-of-year book guides, these are books I read this year–not necessarily ones that were published this year–and really liked. Yes, they’re all by women. That wasn’t intentional, but probably speaks to the kinds of stories that call to me. I hope you find something new in this list to love too!
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This hard-to-put-down memoir will sadden you, amaze you, but most of all, stick with you. Amazon says: Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.”
If you dig the humor of books like Where’d You Go, Bernadette, you’ll like this quirky book too. Amazon says: “Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe. But before she can put her modest plan into action-life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office-but not Eleanor-that he’s on vacation. Just when it seems like things can’t go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.
I am not typically a “love story” fan, but I got completely lost in this one. Amazon description: “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.”
I wasn’t a fan of Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, but I got completely hooked by these characters and this story. I also hear this is slated to be a series on Hulu! Amazon says, “In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.”
I laughed, cried, or nodded through every single page of this book. Then I read her Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and cried, laughed, and nodded through that one too. Amazon says: “Ten years after her beloved, groundbreaking Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, #1 New York Times bestselling author Amy Krouse Rosenthal delivers a book full of her distinct blend of nonlinear narrative, wistful reflections, and insightful wit. It is a mighty, life-affirming work that sheds light on all the ordinary and extraordinary ways we are connected. Like she did with Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal ingeniously adapts a standard format—a textbook, this time—to explore life’s lessons and experiences into a funny, wise, and poignant work of art. Not exactly a memoir, not just a collection of observations, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal is a beautiful exploration into the many ways we are connected on this planet and speaks to the awe, bewilderment, and poignancy of being alive.”
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By the author of another of my favorites, The Interestings, this book follows a woman who becomes enthralled by a Gloria Steinem-type figure. It explores what it means to be a feminism today, how women help (and hurt) each other, and feels particuarly relevant right now. Amazon says, “Greer Kadetsky is a shy college freshman when she meets the woman she hopes will change her life. Faith Frank, dazzlingly persuasive and elegant at sixty-three, has been a central pillar of the women’s movement for decades, a figure who inspires others to influence the world. Upon hearing Faith speak for the first time, Greer—madly in love with her boyfriend, Cory, but still full of longing for an ambition that she can’t quite place—feels her inner world light up. And then, astonishingly, Faith invites Greer to make something out of that sense of purpose, leading Greer down the most exciting path of her life as it winds toward and away from her meant-to-be love story with Cory and the future she’d always imagined. Charming and wise, knowing and witty, Meg Wolitzer delivers a novel about power and influence, ego and loyalty, womanhood and ambition. At its heart, The Female Persuasion is about the flame we all believe is flickering inside of us, waiting to be seen and fanned by the right person at the right time. It’s a story about the people who guide and the people who follow (and how those roles evolve over time), and the desire within all of us to be pulled into the light.”
If you suspect you’re caught in the over-parenting trap (and most of us probably are!), this is a helpful prescription for lightening up. Amazon says, “In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims draws on research, on conversations with admissions officers, educators, and employers, and on her own insights as a mother and as a student dean to highlight the ways in which overparenting harms children, their stressed-out parents, and society at large. While empathizing with the parental hopes and, especially, fears that lead to overhelping, Lythcott-Haims offers practical alternative strategies that underline the importance of allowing children to make their own mistakes and develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success. Relevant to parents of toddlers as well as of twentysomethings–and of special value to parents of teens–this book is a rallying cry for those who wish to ensure that the next generation can take charge of their own lives with competence and confidence.”
Four kids have their fortunes told–then we find out if those predictions come true. Amazon says, “It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.”
As usual, Picoult takes a current hot button issue (in this case, race relations and white nationalism) and wraps an enthralling story around it. Amazon says, “Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.”
I happily read anything Kelly Corrigan writes. She uses 12 phrases she’s learning to say–from “I don’t know” to “No”–to share what she’s learned so far in life (so we can learn too). Amazon says, “It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here. In her New York Times bestselling memoirs, Corrigan distilled our core relationships to their essences, showcasing a warm, easy storytelling style. Now, in Tell Me More,she’s back with a deeply personal, unfailingly honest, and often hilarious examination of the essential phrases that turn the wheel of life.”
I didn’t find this as gripping as The Nightengale (one of my all-time favorites), but it was still a page-turner, and I couldn’t wait to see where the story took the book’s heroine. (Also, this book will either make you want to visit Alaska or never, ever visit Alaska!) Amazon says, “Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown…In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.”
I thought this book would feel like “work” to me, since I read and think about eating and nutrition all day. But I really looked forward to picking it up every night before bed and going on the author’s journey of exploring food, body image, diet culture, and why eating has become so complicated. If you’re drawn to those topics, this deep-dive is for you. Amazon says, “Food is supposed to sustain and nourish us. Eating well, any doctor will tell you, is the best way to take care of yourself. Feeding well, any human will tell you, is the most important job a mother has. But for too many of us, food now feels dangerous. We parse every bite we eat as good or bad, and judge our own worth accordingly. When her newborn daughter stopped eating after a medical crisis, Virginia Sole-Smith spent two years teaching her how to feel safe around food again ― and in the process, realized just how many of us are struggling to do the same thing. The Eating Instinct visits kitchen tables around America to tell Sole-Smith’s own story, as well as the stories of women recovering from weight loss surgery, of people who eat only nine foods, of families with unlimited grocery budgets and those on food stamps. Every struggle is unique. But Sole-Smith shows how they’re also all products of our modern food culture. And they’re all asking the same questions: How did we learn to eat this way? Why is it so hard to feel good about food? And how can we make it better?”
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