Updated: Feb 19, 2021
I have spent SO MUCH time reading since Wisconsin went into quarantine in March. Picking out *good* books can be a struggle, so I always go to friends and family for recommendations. I have not been let down! The various people I go to for recommendations have wildly different taste so I’m always getting good recs.
Also, my extremely thoughtful cousins started a book club with my grandma to keep all of our minds off of the heavy things going on this year. Our book club consists of my 86 (!!!) year old grandma, my mother and aunt, a few of my sisters, and a few of my cousins all in our 20-30’s. It is the best book club ever and we have great discussions. I’ll include all of the books we’ve read in book club in this list!
1. Summer of ‘69 By Elin Hilderbrand
*Book club book
This book is a historical novel and the perfect beachy summer (or deep quarantine lol... not quite beachy) read - it was a crowd pleaser! The story follows 4 siblings, the oldest pregnant, the only brother drafted to Vietnam, and the younger two siblings caught up in civil rights protests, a Kennedy scandal, and many coming of age experiences.
I loved reading this book because overall, this is a very “feel good” story but the historical context made it a very poignant time piece. It was also a great book to discuss with book club because our senior (:)) members lived through the major events and continued to enrich our knowledge on the time period. Read it, and let me know if you do!
2. The summer I met Jack by Michelle Gable
*Book club book
If you’re fascinated with the Kennedy’s and want something with some drama, this book is for you! This story follows the beautiful and mysterious Alicia Corning Clark, a Polish refugee who gets tangled up with the Kennedy’s and offers an alternate Kennedy family history. Alicia strikes a romance with Jack, and is eventually engaged to the rising politician. The romance between Jack and Alicia is scandalous and passionate, but always shadowed by the expectations and power of the Kennedy family. I rooted for Jack and Alicia throughout the book despite knowing how history plays out.
The discussion that followed this book was one of the best discussions we had. My grandma hated the portrayal of the Kennedy’s as money and power hungry, and the rest of us loved reading about the young Jack Kennedy. Overall, it was thoroughly enjoyed and I recommend it!
3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
The first word that comes to mind for this book is peculiar. The story follows two unlikely friends who struggle through late teenage years together, and help each other through circumstances that are often hard to navigate alone. Their relationship changes throughout the story, and there are several rounds of heartbreak. It is hard to know who has a happy ending when the book is over. But the writing is different, interesting, and charming. I cruised through this book and I’m glad I read it! There is also a short tv series made from this book that I have yet to watch.
4. Grit by Angela Duckworth
*Book club book
This is a book that will change your life if you let it! Duckworth, a self proclaimed "non-genius," has spent most of her career studying success. She interviews high achievers, studies school children, and addresses her own upbringing through her career to prove that success is driven by passion and long-term perseverance - GRIT- rather than intelligence. I loved this book. I opted for the audio-book version and listened to it when I went for walks or when I was in the kitchen. My grandma absolutely lit up this discussion because she wanted all of us to learn from the book and to change our lives while we're young. She told us many times how "gritty" she thinks we all are, and how amazed she is by what young people are capable of.
5. The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
*Book Club Book
THE BEST BOOK EVER!!!! I loved this book and our entire book club had only good things to say about it. We read this book late into quarantine, when we were all desperate for escape from the
world around us.
This book transports you to Africa and every moment I read it I was completely engulfed and didn't want to put it down. It's the incredibly sweet story of Lawrence Anthony, a man committed to saving animals, and the adventures he has on Thula Thula, the wildlife reserve he founded. The book follows the unique and special relationship he had with a herd of elephants, and the great lengths he goes to protect them and help them thrive. This is absolutely my #1 recommendation for anyone reading this list.
6. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
A coming of age story set in New York City in the 1940's. Vivian drops out of college and is sent to live with her aunt who owns a theater company in Manhattan where she enters a life of glamour and drama. Vivian finds herself as she navigates the unconventional world of theater; her relationships with flamboyant characters, her sexual experiences, and the devastation of a life changing scandal. This book is captivating and full of drama. I loved the feminism woven into this story; Vivian chases lust and love and yearns for connection but always comes back to herself and the shamelessness she embraced to become a free woman.
8. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
SUCH A GOOD BOOK! This book tackles SO MANY issues
around race and privilege in a story that is gripping and surprising. Racism is an issue that needs more attention and I loved that I didn't have to go to a text book to take away what I learned from this book. This story paints a picture of racism that seems too simple, too devastating to be true and yet is so real you can imagine it happening in your own life. READ THIS BOOK!
7. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
*Book club book
This book follows a set of identical twins who leave their small black community at 16 and decide to pursue completely different lives. The twins were inseparable until the day they weren't - one twin decides to pursue a life in which she passes for white and leaves her twin behind. Blackness vs whiteness, sisterhood, family, and history are all major themes throughout the book. We all took very powerful lessons away from this book and it was enlightening to talk about what we learned and grow together. Highly highly recommend!
8. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
*Book club book
What I love about my book club is that they are not afraid to tear a book apart, LOL. This book had very mixed reviews - half the book club strongly disliked it and the other half enjoyed it. I loved it! It's a really sweet story about women - the Pack Horse Librarians - who deliver books to families in the Kentucky Appalachians to increase literacy in the depression era. The story follows a group of strong, driven women who pave a path for themselves in a society that frowned upon their actions. The criticisms from book club were that the story was too predictable and had too happy of an ending. To be honest, I need happy endings right now!
9. Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett
I've been hearing so much about Ann Patchett so I was eager to read any one of her books! Patron Saint of Liars was the only book available at my library, and it is also Patchett's first novel! But wow, what a book. It's a story about a young woman who feels lost in her life and looks from signs from God to determine what's wrong and what's right. She's pregnant but not sure she loves the father, and ends up at a home for pregnant women. She stays much longer than she expects and the story is equal parts sad and bittersweet. I don't know that I recommend the book, but I'll never forget it.
10. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
*Book club book
Set in the Amazon rainforest, the story of discovery and relationships that makes it hard to decide between science and true love. The main character, Marina, is sent to the Amazon to finish a project that many have failed to finish before her. The culture, people, and science that Marina encounters along the way challenge her beliefs on prosperity and make her question the motives of the project. This was another book that was split on likes/dislikes amongst our book club - and I didn't love this one! If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think!
11. The Last Mrs. Parish by Liv Constantine
*Book club book
With major themes focusing on wealth, envy, and deceit, this book is full of drama and dark twists. The main character, Amber, aims to leave behind her life as a poor nobody and plots to force her way into the world of the wealthy socialites she admires at the gym. Amber lets almost nothing stand in her way, and when she finally gets everything she wants, it is not what she imagined it would be. I did not like this book at all and do not recommend it! The story felt predictable to me and I hated the darkness of several characters - and the whole book club agreed. If you read and liked it I'd love to hear your thoughts!
12. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Thrilling and dark, this story follows a woman who's gone to great lengths to separate herself from a school shooting at her high school. Ani is a successful woman at her dream job set to marry a wealthy man but holds many dark secrets that threaten to ruin the life she so carefully built for herself. I tore this book up over a weekend - it's suspenseful and it's terribly sad. There is so much to take away from this book, from womanhood to trauma to healing to forgiving, the main character experiences growth and change with each turn of the page. I found myself rooting for the main character and then dreading every choice she made. A very well written book!