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.
‘A Princess For Christmas’ by Jenny Holiday (October 13, 2020)
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.
‘Every Last Secret’ by A.R. Torre (December 1, 2020)
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.
‘Heiress Apparently’ by Diana Ma (December 1, 2020)
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…
‘How To Catch A Queen’ by Alyssa Cole (December 1, 2020)
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.
‘This Time Next Year’ by Sophie Cousens (December 1, 2020)
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.
‘You Have A Match’ by Emma Lord (January 5, 2021)
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.
‘Lana’s War’ by Anita Abriel (January 12, 2021)
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.
‘The Perfect Guests’ by Emma Rous (January 12, 2021)
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.
‘Waiting For The Night Song’ by Julie Carrick Dalton (January 12, 2021)
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.
‘Your Corner Dark’ by Desmond Hall (January 19, 2021)
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?
‘The Obsession’ by Jesse Q. Sutano (February 2, 2021)
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.
‘Wild Rain’ by Beverly Jenkins (February 2, 2021)
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.
‘First Comes Like’ by Alisha Rai (February 16, 2020)
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?
‘Honey Girl’ by Morgan Rogers (February 23, 2021)
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
Holiday season is upon us, which means we’re all about to spend more time with our families, like it or not. Maybe you and your family all get along swimmingly. If so, you probably can’t relate to anything I’m going to say from here on out. So let’s say your family is a little… shall we say… eccentric. Maybe your dad won’t stop asking you why you’re not dating anyone (just lucky, I guess). Maybe nobody wants to tell your aunt that her stuffing tastes like cardboard, and she keeps piling it onto your plate until the glob of stuffing is taller than your head. Maybe one half your family is suing the other half of your family over your great uncle’s estate, and you were all summoned to a remote island to collect the inheritance. If your family is f*cked up in any sense, then you’ll want to take a gander at my dysfunctional family reading list. I guarantee you that, as twisted as your family is, it’s got nothing on these families. Unless your family is like, covering up a murder or something. In which case, stay right where you are, I’m calling the police.
‘River Bodies’ by Karen Katchur
If you thought you had daddy issues, just wait until you meet Becca, the protagonist of River Bodies. Becca grew up in a small town, where her dad was the chief of police. While initially they were close growing up, as an adult, Becca resents the sh*t out of her dad for reasons you’ll later come to understand. But when her dad gets sick and doesn’t have much time left, Becca is forced to return to this small town, where a scary biker gang roams at night and those who ask questions aren’t taken kindly. Becca will confront her family, her upbringing, and her repressed memories. There’s family drama, there’s biker gangs, there’s murder—this book is what would happen if Riverdale were realistic.
‘The Intermission’ by Elyssa Friedland
What if you don’t want to end your marriage, but you just want to take… an intermission? That’s what fictional couple Cass and Jonathan Coyne toy with in this insightful novel that came out over the summer. Cass and Jonathan go on a break (*Ross Geller voice*) and explore what life is really like without their other half. Whether Cass and Jonathan get back together after the intermission, you’ll have to read to find out. If you’re getting bummed out that every person on your Instagram is getting engaged, read this book to remind yourself that marriage isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
‘The Towering Sky’ by Katharine McGee
The Thousandth Floor trilogy comes to a close with The Towering Sky. I’ve sung this series’ praises before, because it’s basically Gossip Girl meets Game of Thrones but it’s set in the future. (And really, it’s only like GoT because of the incest. But still, this book bangs—no pun intended.) This series has everything: infidelity, incest, con artists, and much more. Yes, your family might bicker at the Thanksgiving table. But on the thousandth floor, up so high, everyone has that much further to fall…
(They really should hire me to write the book jackets.)
‘The Au Pair’ by Emma Rous
If you’re looking for a family that’s f*cked up with a bit of a thriller element and elements of the supernatural, look no further than The Au Pair. That sounds crazy, but trust me, the novel is very much grounded in reality. Point of view toggles between a the past narration of Laura, a young woman who escapes her past by becoming the live-in au pair to a young boy, Edwin; and the present-day telling from Seraphine, Edwin’s sister. When Edwin and Seraphine’s dad dies in an accident, Seraphine starts questioning who she really is and where she came from. The only person who can give her those answers? Laura, Edwin’s old au pair, only she’s not willing to talk.
‘House of Gold’ by Natasha Solomons
Set in pre-WWI Austria and England, House of Gold follows the Goldbaum family, one of Europe’s most prominent and wealthy Jewish families. (They’re bankers, go figure.) Heroine Greta Goldbaum is a spitfire who does not abide by the rules of the time. This is even more apparent when she ends up in a mismatched marriage—personality-wise, not politics-wise. After war breaks out, Greta is forced to choose between her two families: the one she married into, and the one she grew up with.
‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is a socially inept loner with no friends, no career prospects, no relationship… and she is completely fine with that. Or so she thinks. You’ll be rooting for this weirdo as she navigates promotions, makeovers, dancing, and friendships. There’s also an element of suspense in this book. Eleanor’s relationship with her mother is a bit of a murder mystery in and of itself—think We Were Liars or Sharp Objects. There’s a reason this made Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and I really hope HBO makes it into a limited-run series.
Images: Toa Heftiba / Unsplash; Amazon (4); Sparkpoint Studio