Cue Girl Crush by Little Big Town. If Molly Ringwald and Judd Nelson had a baby, and that baby grew up to be an actress, and that actress wrote an authentic and candid memoir, yeah, that’s This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps. Read this when you are in the mood for a wine-fueled conversation with your richer and better-looking girlfriend about everything from marriage to body image to men in the workplace to mortifying memories from adolescence. Oh, and the hot pink book spine is an added bonus. It is Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen meets Brave by Rose McGowan. Best paired with cigarettes, tequila, chips and salsa.
The excitement about this book in the publishing world and across bookstagram (it debuted at number one on the NYT nonfiction bestseller list this week) is palpable and totally deserved. Read Three Women by Lisa Tadeo when you are in the mood for an honest and judgement-free look at female sexuality and desire today. It is narrative nonfiction and investigative journalism at its best. A feminist, contemporary version of All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. Imagine a dinner party with Kim Cattrall from Sex and the City, Diane Lane in Unfaithful and Jodie Foster in The Accused. Best paired with a whole black sea bass with Chinese long beans in a viscous black bean sauce followed by chocolate mousse and gingersnap cookies, with a sake berry sauce. XO, Tara
He did it again. Recursion by Blake Crouch is a mind-bending, time-altering, reality-twisting science fiction thriller set in NYC. Read this when you are in the mood for high-octane entertainment with intelligence, philosophical musings and notes of romance. It is The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum meets The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Best paired with a pot of coffee and black beans, three eggs over-easy, drizzled with ketchup. XO, Tara
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane is one of the most talked about novels of the summer, and I devoured it by the pool with a hard seltzer in hand. Read this when you are in the mood for a bold and unforgettable dysfunctional family drama about two neighboring families in a suburb of New York. The Gleesons and The Stanhopes are decent people who love deeply, get lost, fail spectacularly and forgive when they can’t forget. It is Commonwealth by Ann Patchett meets Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Best paired with beer, burgers, hot dogs and foil-wrapped corn on the cob. XO, Tara
Ignore the mixed reviews and try this one out. If you don’t love it by page 50, put it down. But you just might love it. I did. Read this when you are in the mood for the constant angsty tension of two millennials coming of age and falling in and out of love with each other. It is Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Best paired with salty orange soup, a bread roll with a square of butter wrapped in foil, then a piece of meat in gravy and some kind of wet sugary cake for dessert. XO, Tara
Meet my favorite book of 2019 so far. Tara Conklin’s highlighter-worthy sentences in The Last Romantics tell the story of four siblings—Renee, Caroline, Joe and Fiona—who come of age in the eighties. Read this when you are in the mood for a completely absorbing character-driven love story with just enough plot twists to keep you turning the pages. It is Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman meets Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Best paired with cans of Coca Cola and bowls of green grapes and Chex Mix and hard butterscotch candies.
I wanted to show this backlist title some love. Pick up a copy of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah when you are in the mood for a tender romance threaded through a story about a dysfunctional family set in the Alaskan wilderness. It is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens meets Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Best paired with Eskimo ice cream made of snow, Crisco, blueberries and sugar.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will come to be seen as a classic of our times. It is a novel that will change the way you look at race, class, culture, assimilation and community. At its core it is also a love story about childhood sweethearts, and I am totally here for that. Read this when you are in the mood for a sweeping saga with a headstrong heroine set against the backdrop of the immigration experience. Americanah is to Nigeria what Pachinko by Min Jee Lee is to Korea or The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne is to Ireland. Best paired with garri and soup, slices of mango glistening on pie and small brown cakes swelling with raisins.
OK, this is arguably one of the best titles and book covers of 2018. I'm just going to go on record and say that. Read this when you are in the mood for a dark, twisty comedy that mixes crime, romance and the complexity of sibling rivalry. It is The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith meets Sunburn by Laura Lippman. Best paired with tea and pineapple upside-down cake, soft and sweet.
Tracey Garvis Graves latest novel, The Girl He Used to Know, begins when Annika Rose, a woman on the autism spectrum, bumps into her old lover, Jonathan Hoffman, in a grocery store. The scene is inspired by the song Same Auld Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg and a sweet, sexy story of rekindled love ensues. Read this when you are in the mood for a heartwarming romance with fun flashbacks and unexpected plot twists. It is The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang meets the move Splash. Best paired with a cherry Italian soda and a piece of cheesecake.
Mary Laura Philpott is a real-life Carrie Bradshaw and I Miss You When I Blink is her collection of autobiographical essays. Philpott uses her X-ray vision in life’s ordinary moments to make wry observations, and in the process she shares unintentional advice about everything from marriage and work to motherhood and fulfillment. Read this when you are in the mood for warm, candid conversation with a best friend while sitting around the kitchen table and sipping wine late into the night. It is Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell meets Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis with more than a little Nora Ephron. Best paired with chicken potpie and milkshakes. XO, Tara
Imagine that you are a novelist and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wants to acquire your manuscript. That is the premise of Steven Rowling’s second novel, The Editor. It is about unlikely friendship and healing old wounds. Read this when you are in the mood to be totally charmed by the fictional journey of an author publishing his very first novel under the tutelage of the iconic former first lady. It is a more benevolent Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne meets Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Best paired with daiquiris made with ice, a healthy pour of rum distilled from molasses, a conservative amount of simple syrup, fresh lime juice and a splash of soda.
Read this when you are in the mood for a year in the life of a single Jamaican Brit who is a bit self destructive as she learns (the hard way) about love and friendship. It is Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding meets Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin, but so much less Anglo-Saxon. Best paired with a pair of fish fingers, baked beans and fried plantains. XO, Tara
Mary Beth Latham, the narrator of Anna Quindlen’s sixth novel, is quite literally “Every Last One” of us. Her busy, amiable life in an idyllic New England town revolves around her happy marriage, thriving career and three spirited teenage children. First inflammatory secrets and family dynamics simmer beneath the surface. Then life-altering catastrophe ensues. If you’re in the mood to open your heart, gasp for air, collapse on the floor and wail, read this. This book is not for the faint of heart but it is absolutely one of the most soul-crushing and gut-wrenching stories I’ve ever read. And that, to me, is worth it. It is Little Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng and This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel meets A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold. Best paired with chicken tetrazzini without the mushrooms and a big plate of brownies. XO, Tara
Robin Sloan's second novel, Sourdough, is the charming and somewhat nerdy story of Lois Clary, a young robotics engineer, and the two immigrant brothers who run her favorite takeout restaurant. When the brothers are deported, Lois receives their sourdough starter as a gift (because she is their number one eater) and sets off on an adventure of baking bread that involves robots, books and a secret society of hipster foodies. Sloan uses food to explore the boundary between science and art, human and machine. Read this when you are in the mood for a novel steeped in whimsy and philosophy. It is a meditation of sorts on authenticity and happiness. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Best paired with spicy soup and a slab of sourdough bread slathered with butter and glittering with a crust of flaky salt.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is back with her sixth book, Daisy Jones and The Six, and what a guilty pleasure it is. Told entirely through transcribed interviews, the novel is about the rise and fall of a fictional 1970s California rock band and reads like a Rolling Stone documentary. The artistic and sexual tension between lead singer Billy Dunne, recovering addict and family man, and singer-songwriter Daisy Jones, everyone’s favorite sexy bad girl, is simply delicious. Read this when you are in the mood for a romantic, tempermental and heartbreaking story about broken, beautiful people. It is the author’s own The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo meets A Star is Born. Best paired with the perfect amount of coke, perfectly timed pills and just enough champagne to keep you bubbly. XO, Tara
Special thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for an electronic advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed it so much that I chose it as my March Book of the Month.
You know what makes me giddy? Finding an author I love and then realizing she is very prolific. A Fatal Grace is the second of fourteen (so far) mysteries in Louise Penny’s adored Inspector Gamache series. This time the murder victim is a dreadful socialite who is electrocuted on a frozen pond in front of an unsuspecting crowd. Read this when you are in the mood for a classic murder mystery set in a quaint, storybook village among endearing neighbors with quirky imperfections. It is the book equivalent of Murder, She Wrote set in a Canadian Stars Hollow. Best paired with strawberry jam on fresh croissants and strong, hot coffee.
The Bear and The Nightingale—the first book in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy—is a fairy tale set in feudal Russia. Here, in a storybook cabin concealed in the thick, snowy northern woods—you will find a kindhearted father, an evil stepmother, a strong daughter and a handful of magical creatures. It is a tactile experience you will want to have right in front of a fire to warm your cold bones. Read this when you are in the mood to be transported from this world to another by words on a page. It is A Wrinkle in Time meets Game of Thrones. Meg Murry and The Night’s Watch. Winter is coming to Camazotz! Okay, I’m done. Best paired with a loaf of black bread smelling of rye and anise, boar crusted with herbs, and hot honey-wine.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie—longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and winner of the 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction—is an absolutely gorgeous work of literary fiction. It is a novel about two Muslim sisters and the brother who has been recruited by ISIS. It is told from different points of view in present day Massachusetts, London and the Middle East; and it is hauntingly beautiful. Read this when you are in the mood for a timeless and universal story of family, betrayal, grief, forgiveness, faith, love. It is a Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza meets An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Best paired with cherries and gelato and a glass of Pimm’s.
I adore young adult fiction and, boy, did Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli—the sequel to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—deliver everything I love about the genre. Especially cynical, talented, confident one minute and socially awkward an hour later Leah Burke. Read this when you are in the mood for teenage angst, after school special plot lines, and characters you would have been fast friends with in high school. It is Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell meets the John Hughes film Sixteen Candles. Note: the audiobook is narrated by Shannon Purser of Stranger Things, Riverdale and Sierra Burgess is a Loser fame; and it is pure awesomeness. Best paired with a Coke and twenty shit-tons of M&Ms.