Discuss: Reading Recommendations, Part II

Sep 28, 2012

At the start of the summer, I asked you to tell me about your favorite books.  I was looking for some new reading material, and you ladies had some great recommendations.  Here are a few of the ones I read and liked, and a few I found on my own.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, by Susan McNeal (I can’t wait for the sequel!)

Dearest Friend, A Life of Abigail Adams, by Lynne Withey

Heartburn and I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron

The President’s Club, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

Senator Mansfield, by Dan Oberdorfer

Now that we’re moving into fall, I was hoping a few of you could fill me in on what was good from your summer reading lists.  As I mentioned last time, I like historical books and smart chick lit (Please, don’t say 50 Shades of Grey, I’m begging you. I had my emotionally abusive relationship with a handsome and brooding guy, I don’t want to read about someone else’s.).

I loved how passionate you were about your recommendations last time, let’s see what you have for me this time.

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  1. KB says:

    I love Jennifer Weiner's books. Most recently I've finished Fly Away Home and Then Came You, but in my experience you can't go wrong with any of her books.

  2. Kelly says:

    I'll second the recommendation for Unbroken. Not my usual genre, but I absolutely loved it! Definitely a must-read.

  3. T says:

    Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.

  4. Maggie says:

    “Devil in the White City” is one of my favorite books. I always feel like I'm reading a novel– the characters are so complete. I heard his new book “In the Garden of Beasts” is supposed to be just as good.

    My favorite book that I've read recently is “100 Years of Solitude.”

  5. NXM says:

    How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran

  6. Whitney says:

    Anything by Sloane Crosley, she's an easy read. I've been pretty engrossed with Zelda Fitgerald right now and her biography by Sally Cline is great.

  7. SC says:

    Gone Girl is all the rage now.

  8. S says:

    Light and (relatively) fluffy: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

    Historical/little bit heavier: 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I typically loathe sci-fi/fantasty novels, but this one is nothing like his previous stories. Awesome book with lots of historical trivia and JFK conspiracy theories.

  9. Ellie says:

    Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Seriously one of the most amazing books I've ever read in my life. I cried BUCKETS.

  10. EL says:

    Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

  11. JK says:

    I might have suggested the Paris Wife before, but that was great. I also read and liked Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano and the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society. These are all historical fiction, if you like that– which I do! 🙂

  12. may says:

    Try “Turquoise” by Ayshe Talay-Ongan. It's not historical, but part of the book takes place in Turkey in the 1980's, and it does transport you to that time and place. The main character is a bit over the top, but very relatable.

    I also really liked “On the Island” by Tracey Garvis Graves. It's about 2 people stranded on a deserted island. LOST, minus sci-fi stuff, plus romance. Not really “smart” but definitely fun.

    Also highly recommend “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories,” by Luis Sepúlveda, which is set in a small Ecuadorian village. It's a really lovely story.

  13. TA says:

    I absoultely love “On the Island” by Tracey Garvis-Graves. It's like “Blue Lagoon” meets “Survivor.” I bought the book and finished it in one night. I couldn't put it down.

  14. GoGoGo says:

    If you liked the Abigail Adams book, go here to listen to her amazing letters.


    If you like historical novels, early American history and fascinating women, Sally Hemmings by Barbara Chase-Riboud will knock your socks off.

  15. CH says:

    Ugh, I could not get in to “Devil in the White City.” Why was a book about a serial killer and the World's Fair so slow and boring?

    For a light read, I'll put in another recommendation for “Gone Girl.” I liked “1Q84” but you have to be prepared to invest – it's long and weird. Right now I'm in the middle of “A Hologram for the King” by Dave Eggers – really enjoying it so far.

  16. MK says:

    Sutton by J.R. Moehringer (Historical Fiction)
    Shadow Queen: A Novel of Wallis Simpson by Rebecca Dean (Historical Fiction)
    Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Light Fiction)

  17. CB says:

    I second the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – it sounds crazy, but it's pretty great.

    I also just finished The Kingmaker's Daughters by Phillipa Gregory and while it wasn't the most amazing book I've ever read, the historical insights were fascinating.

  18. nicci says:

    Nonfiction: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. A former ruffian becomes an Olympic contender and then a World War II bomber. Unbelievable story about mental resilliance with shocking details of Japanese POW camps. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Again, outstanding and eye opening. Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff. Through pretty horrible, true stories, he makes the case that the oppression of women is the No. 1 human rights problem of our time. It's not all downer-y, though. There are uplifting parts.

  19. adrienne says:

    i hated gone girl. the first half was intriguing but the second half was just WTF.

    i really love the glass castle by jeannette walls and where we belong by emily giffin (any of her books actually, i thought i hated chick lit until i read her stuff)

  20. Katie says:

    If you enjoyed reading Erik Larson's Devil in the White City, you should read his new book In the Garden of Beasts! I love reading his books because you always learn so much.

    I have also heard that the Paris Wife is very good.

  21. K says:

    Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese was a bit slow at first, but by the end of it I was completely in love with the story. It's long but so worth it. – Historical Fiction based in Ethiopia & New York

    I also just finished Cheryl Strayed's Wild, which was a quick but engrossing read. You definitely felt like you were on the journey with her. – Memoir

    I also recommend In The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. It's another long, rather slow read at first, but once you get into it, you can't put it down. – Historical Fiction based in South America

  22. SB says:

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. One of the best books I've read in a long time. It's (literally) magical. Love this book.

  23. B says:

    How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis – a great story of friendship, with a DC/Virginia bend. This one hit close to home for me in many ways.

  24. Jamie says:

    Berlin 1961 – a really good insight into the Kruschev-Kennedy talks in Vienna and the building of the Berlin Wall.

  25. K says:

    Any book by Jeffrey Eugenides or The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

    If you don't have an account already, I also highly recommend goodreads.com. It's a great place to keep track of all the books you want to read and books you've already read. I just popped it open on my phone to see what some of my recent favorites were and I added a bunch of the suggestions people just made.

  26. Nina says:

    Some things I have read recently and enjoyed: Possession by AS Byatt (awesome, academic, funny, super cool storytelling structure), White Oleander by Janet Fitch (so good, so sad), Get Happy a Judy Garland bio (interesting woman and an interesting look at the golden age of film), and The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (ladies and social mobility, not much has changed in almost a hundred years).

    My favorite books are Gone With the Wind and Master and Margarita. For the later I INSIST on the Pevear-Volokhonksy translation: https://www.amazon.com/Master-Margarita-Penguin-Classics/dp/0141180145/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348848954&sr=1-4&keywords=the+master+and+margarita

  27. lisa says:

    I second “In the Garden of Beasts,” “The Night Circus,” and “Paris Wife.” Also, “Day After Night” is excellent. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (even though it's a downer), “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” “Skeletons at the Feast,” and “Just Kids” are also very good.

  28. Mags says:


  29. B says:

    The Hangman's Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch.

  30. XF says:

    I second How To Be a Woman for a light but funny read.

    Also, Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline is a MUST read for anyone who is interested in fashion.

  31. Belle says:

    I couldn't get into Gone Girl. I didn't like the way the female character's diary entries were written.

    Loved 11/22/63, forgot to mention that one.

    I tried on Garden of Beasts, maybe I'll give it another whirl.

  32. Blair says:

    I can't say enough good things about Gillian Flynn's “Gone Girl”. I know everyone is talking about it, but it truly lives up to the hype. I started it at 5PM on a Friday and was finished by noon the next day. It's utterly compelling.

  33. MM says:

    For smart chick lit, I've been enjoying stuff by Barbara O'Neal and Sarah Addison Allen – both authors have a bit of magical realism, but there books are really sweet reads that don't make you feel like you've wasted your afternoon. (I think actually that I may have picked up the Sarah Addison Allen rec here during your first post on this, so thanks to whoever put that suggestion out there!).

    Also, I've been really loving the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley – totally funny and smart series set in post War England about a 11 year old girl who solves murders – not my usual stuff, but really great reads.

  34. Blair says:

    Oh Belle- wrote my comment on Gone Girl before seeing yours- those diary entries are the type of the iceberg. If you can give it another, once you get past them, the entire game changes!

  35. Kate says:

    Yes, Belle, please keep reading Gone Girl! I think your feelings might change.

  36. C. Michael says:

    Loving Frank by Nancy Horan was so good. It's about architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his lover, Mamah Borthwick. It's well-researched and beautifully written. You will likely cry/sob. I was like, “No I won't!” ….My Estee Lauder MagnaScopic mascara was everywhere. The book cover is so FLW: https://www.randomhouse.com/rhpg/lovingfrank/ Happy reading!

  37. Ellen says:

    I'm a huge historical book fan. If you liked dearest friend, you would love the “ladies of liberty” centric books by Cokie Roberts. If you like historical books about non American topics, I loved “We Two” (about Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) and “Princess: The Six Daughters of George III“.

  38. Leanne says:

    “The Baker's Daughter” – historical fiction in 1945 Germany and present day El Paso, TX. Reminiscent of “Sarah's Key” if you read that. Amazing read.

  39. Libby says:

    I second Loving Frank. I didn't know the story of FLW, so the end was a huge shocker to me. If you don't know, go read the book, you will be in tears.

    I just read the Handmaid's Tale – I can't believe I have never read it. It was quick, engrossing and haunting.

  40. Kristen D says:

    “Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures” by Emma Straub — 1930s Hollywood historical fiction

  41. HM says:

    Our tastes are probably different in literature, but this summer I had a WWII kick going on and I read both “Rena's Promise” by Rena Kornreich (the life story of how she made it through Auschwitz) and “Tamar” by Mal Peet (not a bad novel about Nazi-occupied Holland, but written more for young adults I think. It was an easy read).

    I'm currently trying out “Casual Vacancy” by JK Rowling. I just want to see what she has been up to since Potter.

  42. JMK0316 says:

    Seconding Caitlin Moran's How to be a Woman.

  43. Kim says:

    I second Glass Castle by Walls. It's way better than some other stories of growing up with crazy parents & poor (Like The Liars Club, which I just didn't really like). It has a much more cohesive narrative & overarching story.

    I'm a huge fan of Masterpiece Mystery & have loved the Wallander series. The books are even better! Although I'd already seen the series, they certainly didn't ruin the books. Start with the first one, Faceless Killers. If you don't want to get into a series, try The Man from Beijing, a stand alone novel. It is fantastic & I couldn't put it down. It starts with a slaying of a entire Swedish town except for one house.

  44. nicci says:

    Ooh I second Glass Castle, Henrietta Lacks and Guernsey Literary etc. (I totally thought it would be cheesey but I ended up loving it.) And ditto the comments to read the second part of Gone Girl! I had the same thoughts as you about the diary but then BOOM.

  45. MOH says:

    History/biography: read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” It has some biography, history, legal implications of research and informed consent, and good journalism.

    Light Chick Lit: “Austenland” by Shannon Hale, another young adult author whose writing is smart and light and funny. If you are a Jane Austen fan and like the film versions of her novels, you should appreciate this book the takes a light-hearted, self-depreciating approach to Austen-obsessions. Plus, this only took me 2 hours to read.

  46. LC says:

    Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is fantastic– a glamorous story set in 1930s NYC, with an ambitious female lead.

  47. Kristen says:

    Definitely try the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I loved this one!
    The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book about people researching the legend of Dracula, which sounds boring but is fascinating. It creeped me out so much I would jump at every little sound while I was reading, but it never gave me nightmares.
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is loosely based on a true story of a small village during the plague.
    The Monk by Matthew Lewis is Gothic lit at its finest (or craziest).

    Now I really wish I was at home curled up with my book right this moment.

  48. Kristen says:

    Forgot to mention, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, a murder mystery set in the USSR.

  49. KBL says:

    I loved Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. I agree The Historian was pretty great, too! Just Kids by Patti Smith is one of the best memoirs I've ever read.

  50. Natalie says:

    I love the Lady Emily series by Tasha Alexander.

  51. Amy says:

    I enjoyed the Rules of Civility as well.

    I'd also recommend A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan if you haven't picked it up yet.

  52. kjb says:

    Just discovered your blog and I really enjoy it!
    I am currently reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. It is the sequel to Wolf Hall which one the Booker Prize in 2009.
    It is about Henry VIII/The Reformation/Anne Boleyn/etc, but told from Thomas Cromwell's point of view.
    It is historical fiction but not I the chick-lit style of Philippa Gregory's novels.

    It is a little difficult to follow her dialogue but you get used to it.

  53. Kit says:

    If you're looking for historical novels and you don't mind mysteries, I'd recommend “A Free Man of Color,” by Barbara Hambly. It has a very unique setting: French-speaking New Orleans during the 1830s. The protagonist is a free black doctor who was trained in Paris, but returns home to New Orleans. The book is very well-researched and is packed full of fascinating details about the aristocratic French Creole society of New Orleans, as well as free and slave black society. New Orleans was pretty unique at that point in time and the author makes it come alive.

  54. Reader says:

    The Pink Carnation Series is good smart chick lit, with a dose of historical fiction along side a modern narrative thrown in.

  55. Jessica says:

    State of Wonder by Ann Patchett was fantastic. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was another favorite of the summer. Don't be turned off by the theme if baseball isn't your thing – the story goes much deeper.

  56. eal4c says:

    I second Wolf Hall – a fascinating portrait of political maneuvering. The prose takes a while to read with fluency, so stick with it.

  57. Have you read Attachments by Rainbow Rowell? It probably falls in the chick-lit category; it's really smart, funny, has great, relatable characters, I could literally not stop reading.
    Also, I recently read The People's Queen by Vanora Bennett, a really great historical fiction book set in 14th century London.

  58. Clover Adams
    Once Upon a Secret

  59. Adriana says:

    The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is one of the best books (memoirs) that I have EVER read.

  60. eb says:

    I have a handful from this summer: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller – sort of reminds one of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, as it's about a man surviving post-disaster/end of the world scenario – however, it's beautifully written and is has glimmers of hope (and some romance). I am generally not interested in this genre of literature, but the writing is incredibly compelling and I couldn't put it down.

    Also read Crossing the Borders of Time by Leslie Maitland, her family's (true) story of surviving and escaping Germany (via France) in WWII – and also the story of her mother's first love. This one had me tearing up.

    Lastly, I highly recommend both of Cheryl Strayed's recent books – Wild (the memoir) and Tiny Beautiful Things (a compilation of her advice column).

  61. Ann says:

    Loved Mr. Churchill's Secretary and, like you, cannot wait to read the next one!. Very much enjoyed Wild by Cheryl Strayed (makes me want to go hike the Appalachian Trail!) and Unbroken. Night Circus gave me a serious book hangover and I plan to read it again just to see what I missed the first tiem around.

  62. Shauna says:

    I just finished reading two that I recommend. The first is A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion by Ron Hansen (the fellow who wrote The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford), a fictionalized account of a sensational murder trial in 1927. Noirish, and a wild surge of guilty pleasure. The second is Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, his first novel I believe which I usually find to be a good clue to a good read. I thought for the longest time reading this that I knew how it was going to end, but I didn't…

  63. Lexi says:

    Not sure if I suggested them last time, but Kate Morton's books are wonderful. She's an Australian writer, and her books take place in England, for the most part. There are three, and a fourth coming out soon! The Distant Hours, The House at Riverton and The Fogotten Garden. The House was my favorite, but all were wonderful. Historic fiction.

  64. Marisa says:

    The best book I read all summer was called “Lunch in Paris” by Elizabeth Bard. I think it fits the “smart chick-lit” category, with some extra cultural pizazz and delicious recipes to boot!

  65. Emmy says:

    Secondly many of these recommendations. These were the best books I read this year:

    Where Do You, Bernadette (hilarious)
    On Beauty
    This is How You Lose Her
    A Visit from the Goon Squad (on rock and roll)

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