I don’t care what the calendar says (I feel like all my book roundups start this way), it is winter. And you know what that means: a winter reading list, because it’s that time of year again where we just cozy up with a good book. Or at least, that’s what I do. In honor of that, I’ve compiled my winter reading list. Please note that this is not a comprehensive 2021 reading list, which will be coming ASAP. (In more realistic terms, probably like, January.) But for now, here are 14 books you can dive into, from spicy romance to twisty thrillers to poignant historical fiction.
I could have included this in a fall roundup, but given that Christmas is in the title, it didn’t feel right. If you already watched The Princess Switch: Switched Again and all the other Christmas movies on Netflix but still need your holiday romance fix, pick up a copy of A Princess for Christmas. It’s basically got everything you loved from Princess Switch or Princess Diaries: a fictional kingdom called Eldovia, a princess who’s in way over her head, finding love in unexpected places. Leo, a cab driver in New York City, picks up Princess Marie of Eldovia and ends up with more than he bargained for—namely, a gig driving Princess Marie around for the remainder of her NYC trip. He doesn’t expect to fall for the princess, or that he will end up in Eldovia for Christmas.
What would you do for the “perfect” life? That’s what Cat and Neena, two neighbors in Silicon Valley, are duking it out over. Cat Winthorpe seems to have it all: a beautiful house, social standing, and William, her dreamy husband. And that’s precisely what Neena Ryder wants: Cat’s husband. Neena tries to scheme her way into William’s life; meanwhile, Cat has a secret of her own that could blow up her charmed life. While the ending may not completely take you by surprise, Every Last Secret is a fun and fast ride.
If you, like me, are still sad you finished Last Tang Standing, Diana Ma’s latest novel serves up a similar dose of fun, relatable, hot mess fiction, with a Lizzie McGuire Movie-esque twist. Really doesn’t get more fun than that. Gemma Huang disappointed her parents by foregoing college to pursue an acting career, which is how she finds herself living in LA with three roommates, barely scraping by. Things start looking up when she takes a gig in a production of M. Butterfly in Beijing, only to realize she apparently is the doppelgänger of one of Beijing’s most notorious socialites. And there might be a reason for that…
If the name Alyssa Cole sounds familiar, good—it should! I’ve been raving about her new thriller, When No One Is Watching, and she also has a romance novel coming out. And I can’t even figure out how to do my job plus one hobby and still have a somewhat normal sleep schedule. SMH, some people can really do it all. Anyway, How To Catch a Queen is the first book in the new Runaway Royals series. Shanti Mohapi weds the king of Njaza, and with it, her dreams of becoming a queen finally come true. What she hadn’t imagined since she was a little girl? Nobody in the kingdom respects her. The King is equally perplexed, since Shanti has all the answers to solve Njaza’s problems… except nobody will listen to her.
If you want Love, Actually but in book form, this is basically it. It’s about Minnie Cooper, whose New Year’s birthday has always been a source of woe in her life—especially because her mother missed out on winning the cash prize for giving birth to the first baby of the year born in London, thanks to a guy named Quinn Hamilton, who was born just moments earlier. Even worse, he stole her name! When Minnie runs into Quinn at, where else, a New Year’s party, she’s surprised to find herself wanting more.
‘White Feminism’ by Koa Beck (January 5, 2021)
We didn’t stop reading antiracist books in the summer, and Koa Beck, former Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel, has a new book out that is a necessary read. Beck explores how feminism has been commodified, and how it excludes women of color, from the suffragettes to corporate feminism, and how we can fix it for future generations.
Protagonist Abby signs up for a DNA test and gets more than she bargained for: she finds out she has an older sister. But not just any sister: Savannah Tully, an Instagram model. Abby’s plan to find out how tf this happened? Meet up with Savannah at summer camp and find out the truth. But there are a few problems, or else this would be a sentence and not a book: Savannah is a total narc, so getting the truth isn’t as simple as it seems. Plus, Abby’s crush works at the camp. Oh, and Abby’s parents are hiding a secret that could blow everything up.
Ok, so. I think we’ve maybe reached a point where WWII fiction is an escape again and not a harbinger of things to come? Fingers crossed it stays that way. With that said, Lana’s War is set in 1943 Paris, where Lana Antanova witnesses her husband being executed by the Gestapo—right when she was about to tell him she was pregnant. A few months later, Lana is approached to join the resistance, putting her face to face with the man who killed her husband. Taking up residence with a wealthy Swiss industrialist in a villa, Lana helps Jews escape. Obviously, the Nazis want to stop her, and Lana has to try to protect herself, everything she’s worked for, and the people she’s beginning to love.
From the author of The Au Pair comes another suspenseful read set in a creepy Gothic manor. Raven Hall is a sprawling manor in a coastal plain in eastern England. In 1988, 14-year-old Beth Soames is taken there by her aunt to stay with the Averell family. Beth quickly becomes like one of the family, until the Averells ask her to play a twisted game, and nothing is the same after that. Cut to 2019, when Sadie Lawson, a struggling actress, shows up with a suitcase and a dossier of the role she’s meant to play: a weekend guest. Can’t be too hard, right? Right, except the house feels haunted, the party guests feel off, and the host is not what they seem.
Julie Carrick Dalton’s debut gives me serious Where The Crawdad Sings vibes. Its protagonist is forestry researcher Cadie Kessler, who’s on the verge of a breakthrough that could help prevent serious damage to the wilderness. But then she gets a message from her estranged childhood best friend, and the two have to face a dark secret that they’ve kept hidden for over 25 years. As drought, foreclosures, and wildfires spark tensions between locals and displaced migrant farm workers, Cadie has to decide how far she’ll go to protect herself and the forest she loves.
Hall’s debut tackles gang life in Jamaica and pushes the limits of how far a teen will go for his family. Frankie Green gets a coveted scholarship letter, which should be his ticket out. Until his father gets shot, and he finds himself joining his uncle’s gang to pay for his father’s medical bills. Is there such thing as a point of no return? And is it too late for Frankie to build the life he’s always wanted?
Think of The Obsession like the YA book version of You. Instead of Joe, we have Logan. Instead of Beck, we have Delilah. Some might call Logan a stalker, but he just thinks he’s romantic. Besides, nobody likes Delilah like he does, and they’re meant to be together. All he needs is the right moment to convince her they’re meant to be. When Logan witnesses Delilah kill her abusive stepfather, she may not have much of a choice but to be with Logan.
A little bit of romance, a little bit of historical fiction, Wild Rain tackles women’s rights, suffrage, and Black American history in Reconstruction-Era Wyoming. Did you know Wyoming was a pioneer in women’s rights and women’s suffrage? I didn’t either, but its territorial legislature passed a law in 1869 that gave women the right to vote. So with that in mind, Spring Lee, a property-owning Black female rancher, moves to Paradise, Wyoming. She has one rule: she does not need a man. Until she meets Garrett McCray, a Washington reporter who escaped slavery. When a dark spot from Spring’s past comes back to light, her ranch, her safety, and her newfound love are all on the line.
The third book in Rai’s Modern Love series, First Comes Like is about Jia Ahmed, a 29-year-old beauty influencer who doesn’t have time for love. But when a Bollywood legend slides into her DMs… well, that only happens once in a lifetime. Meanwhile, Dev Dixit grew up as Bollywood royalty, but his world was rocked by his brother’s unexpected death, and Dev finds himself as the guardian for his teen niece. Unable to deal with the constant public scrutiny, Dev sets off for America, where, one night in Hollywood, he meets a beautiful Instagram influencer. He’s surprised that he’s intrigued by her, and all the more surprised to find out someone has been catfishing her, posing as Dev. Who tf is catfishing Jia? And is Jia and Dev’s relationship doomed from the start?
Twentysomething Grace Porter is a straight-laced overachiever who just got her PhD. Which is why it’s totally out of character when she goes to Vegas, gets hammered, and gets married to a woman whose name she doesn’t even know. After that trip, Grace does yet another unexpected thing and goes to New York for the summer to spend time with her new wife. But you can’t run from your problems forever, and soon, Grace’s come knocking at her door.
Images: Sincerely Media / Unsplash; Bookshop
The holidays are coming up, and for most of us that means a significant amount of downtime where we have like, nothing to do. All the TV shows are on hiatus, and despite the stereotype, there are rarely ever any good movies to see on Christmas. (I would know, I was forced to go see Unbroken a few Christmases ago because nothing else remotely decent was playing.) That’s where this archaic invention called “books” comes in. There’s a book for every occasion and every person. Whether you’re book shopping for yourself or your friends and family, here are a selection of new releases for everyone in your life.
‘I’m Judging You’ by Luvvie Ajayi: For Your Sassy Friend
Listen up, judgy judges (so like, all of you if you read this site, I assume). I’m Judging You is probably the most entertaining book you will read all year. In a series of essays, culture critic and blogger Luvvie Ajayi slams basically every part of modern culture, from everyone’s godawful social media habits (no, it’s not okay when you do it) to organized religion to people in relationships and many other areas in between. She says everything you’ve ever thought while angrily scrolling through Facebook, only way funnier and more eloquently. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry… of laughter, you’ll fucking love this book and be gifted with a new set of vocab words with which to judge people. And you’ll (probably) be motivated to do better. The hardcover copy with a new bonus chapter just came out on November 21, so there’s even more comedic material to savor.
‘Dinner At The Center Of The Earth’ by Nathan Englander: For Your Woke Bae
If you have that one friend who won’t STFU about politics—and I’m not talking about your uncle when he has too many Scotches at any family meal, but I guess maybe him too—they would probably enjoy the latest from Nathan Englander. Basically, this novel centers around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but not in a pedagogical way. It’s a work of fiction, and all the characters’ lives are shaped by this conflict in varying ways—it’s at once political and an escape from the political. Does that make any sense? IDK.
‘Seven Days Of Us’ by Francesca Hornak: For Your Dysfunctional Family Members
If you liked The People We Hate At The Wedding from our summer reading list, the next stop on your dysfunctional family book train needs to be Seven Days of Us. If you thought your family was fucked up, just wait till you read about the Birches, a British family who is forced to quarantine themselves for seven days over Christmas when Olivia, the eldest daughter, returns from curing the HAAg virus in Liberia. Think of it like, if one of your family members was traveling to South Sudan at the height of the Ebola crisis. Yep. Stressful. And like any dysfunctional British family, everybody’s got their fair share of life-ruining secrets they’re trying to keep—not so easy to do when you’re cooped up in a house with only each other for a week.
‘The Broken Girls’ by Simone St. James: For Your Dead Inside Friend
If your friend is truly dead inside in every sense of the word, and a little bit indecisive, she will breeze through The Broken Girls. Set in a quaint town in Vermont where a creepy abandoned boarding school is located, The Broken Girls flips back and forth between 2014 and 1950. This book has a little bit of everything—murder, ghosts, corruption, and more—for whatever morbid cause she’s into.
‘Girl In Pieces’ by Kathleen Glasgow: For Anyone Who’s Going Through Some Shit
A fictional, more poetic Go Ask Alice, this heartbreaking book follows Charlie Davis, who, at 17, has already gone through more shit than I hope any of us will have to face in a lifetime. Along the way Charlie has developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms and picked up some bad influences, but setback after setback, you’ll nonetheless root for her from start to finish. Anyone who’s dealing with something tough—or really, anyone who’s human—will take comfort in reading this testament to human resilience. Or at the very least, it will be reassuring to know you could have it much, much worse.
‘One Of Us Is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus: For Your Angsty Little Cousin
Truth be told, this book is basically The Breakfast Club, but with murder. Are you sold? Because that’s all I’ve got—but really, it’s all you should need. Your angsty teenage cousin probably won’t know the difference, because they’re too young to think The Breakfast Club is anything other than the name of your brunch crew’s group chat. *Sobs* I am ancient.
‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart: For Anyone Whose Life You Want To Fuck Up
Full disclosure, this book came out in 2014, but I only just read it this year and I was so affected by it that I keep recommending it to everyone I know at all times, regardless of the current topic of conversation. This YA novel is about Cadence, a 15-year-old who lives for the summers which she spends with her family on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Don’t be fooled by the YA categorization; the writing is stunning, almost like a series of prose poems, and will grab you by the collar and pull you in from the very first sentence. At the climax comes a revelation that will shake you—I’m not exaggerating when I say I had a visceral reaction to it. I almost cried; I almost puked; I was haunted for days afterward. Anyone who is the same after reading this book probably isn’t human, so gift it with caution and be prepared to ruin lives. In the best way, I mean.
‘I Had A Nice Time And Other Lies: How To Find Love And Sh*t Like That’ by The Betches: For Your Single Friend
Would it be a reading list if we didn’t include one of the best books ever? Hardly. This cuffing season (kill me), get your single friend a no-nonsense dating advice book. Let’s be real, she’s not doing anyone any favors by “being herself” or “waiting for love to come find her” like all the bullshit clichés suggest, so let us
violently push gently nudge her in the right direction.
Images: Ben White / Unsplash; Amazon (7)