Fall 2020 reading recommendations

Blanche’s Book Club: 2020 Fall Reading Guide.

Happy Labor Day! Every year, I let Labor Day be the unofficial start of the fall season. This year, I don’t think I’m the only one who’s jumping into the season a little bit early. I mean, they’re putting out Halloween candy already and you can already get pumpkin-spiced lattes.

Feel free to light the pumpkin candles, pour yourself a mug of cinnamon coffee, and grab your favorite blanket… it’s that time of year again!

I put together several reading guides each year, but this one is always my favorite. Why? I think the fall season is sort of a second chance at a fresh start before the year is over. It’s the quiet before the holidays, and in Texas, it means the weather isn’t quite so spicy.

So, I’ve rounded up a dozen titles — mostly new, a few not-so-new — that are all fit for the season. Let’s dive right in!

‘Cobble Hill’ by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Welcome to Cobble Hill — an eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood — home to four married couples and their children. 

  • Mandy is underwhelmed by motherhood & is faking a disease to gain the attention of her ex. 
  • Peaches is the new school nurse involved in a love triangle. 
  • Roy is a British novelist looking for his next plot.
  • Tupper has a warehouse of prosthetic limbs. 

Throw in two hormonal teenagers, a ten-year-old pyromaniac, a drug dealer pretending to be a doctor, and a lot of hidden cameras, and you’ve got a combustible mix of egos, desires, and secrets bubbling in brownstone Brooklyn.

Cecily Von Ziegesar wrote the “Gossip Girl” series and well, I’m thrilled to see her name in print again. This sounds different, but I’m all about a Brooklyn-based drama!

‘When No One is Watching’ by Alyssa Cole

We are still in Brooklyn with this one (swear not all of the titles are in Brooklyn) and Sydney Green’s neighborhood is changing. Gentrification is happening before her eyes. Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

Free Kindle UnlimitedBut Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

I saw this book at a reading event I attended on Zoom and although I’m not normally big on thrillers, this is the time of year to pull them out! Plus, this book has had tons of buzz around it — I’ve also heard such good things about Alyssa Cole.

‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood.

For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.  
 
Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

I am a sucker for a campus-based story, and having grown up in the Midwest, this was one I couldn’t pass up. Really curious to dig into it!

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

This is an oldie, but it’s the first time I’m seeing it. Donna Tartt has been on my radar since “The Goldfinch” (the movie was just as good as the book!) and this one sounds eery… perfect for fall.

‘Admission’ by Julie Buxbaum

It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer. She’s headed off to the college of her dreams. She’s going to prom with the boy she’s had a crush on since middle school. Her best friend always has her back, and her mom, a B-list Hollywood celebrity, may finally be on her way to the B+ list. It’s good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer—at least, it was, until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in smoke. Now her mother is under arrest in a massive college admissions bribery scandal. Chloe, too, might be facing charges, and even time behind bars. The public is furious, the press is rabid, and the US attorney is out for blood.

As she loses everything she’s long taken for granted, Chloe must reckon not only with the truth of what happened, but also with the examination of her own guilt. Why did her parents think the only way for her to succeed was to cheat for her? What did she know, and when did she know it? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to be complicit?

I SEE you, Julie Buxbaum! I love it when fiction follows real life, and this sounds super shady, but delicious. This one doesn’t come out until December 1st, but it’d be the perfect read to close out fall and jump into winter reads.

“What You Wish For” by Katherine Center

Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living. But she wasn’t always that way. 

Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen. 
But he wasn’t always that way. 

And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.

As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all. 

I attended an online author event featuring Katherine Center and she was so amazing! I was really excited to attend the event after I read this book description — it hits me on a personal level and I cannot wait to read it.

‘Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Misfortune” by Roselle Lim

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant. 

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around—she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

This book was on a TBR list from a few authors I admire, so i quickly purchased it (but haven’t read it yet). It speaks to me in a way that surprised me, as I walked through San Francisco’s Chinatown just last year. I have also heard that the food descriptions in this book are DEVINE.

‘Buy Yourself the F*cking Lillies” by Tara Schuster

By the time she was in her late twenties, Tara Schuster was a rising TV executive who had worked for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and helped launch Key & Peele to viral superstardom. By all appearances, she had mastered being a grown-up.

But beneath that veneer of success, she was a chronically anxious, self-medicating mess. No one knew that her road to adulthood had been paved with depression, anxiety, and shame, owing in large part to her minimally parented upbringing. She realized she’d hit rock bottom when she drunk-dialed her therapist pleading for help.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies is the story of Tara’s path to re-parenting herself and becoming a “ninja of self-love.” Through simple, daily rituals, Tara transformed her mind, body, and relationships, and shows how to

• fake gratitude until you actually feel gratitude
• excavate your emotional wounds and heal them with kindness
• identify your self-limiting beliefs, kick them to the curb, and start living a life you choose
• silence your inner frenemy and shield yourself from self-criticism
• carve out time each morning to start your day empowered, inspired, and ready to rule
• create a life you truly, totally f*cking LOVE

This is the book Tara wished someone had given her and it is the book many of us desperately need: a candid, hysterical, addictively readable, practical guide to growing up (no matter where you are in life) and learning to love yourself in a non-throw-up-in-your-mouth-it’s-so-cheesy way.

I’m not sure where or how I stumbled upon this title, but I’m all about a self-help book this year! It’s not too late for any of us to turn things around and have the rest of 2020 be… not terrible 🙂

‘The Saturday Night Ghost Club’ by Craig Davidson

Growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls — a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place — Jake Baker spends most of his time with his uncle Calvin, a kind but eccentric enthusiast of occult artifacts and conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turns twelve, he befriends a pair of siblings new to town, and so Calvin decides to initiate them all into the “Saturday Night Ghost Club.”

But as the summer goes on, what begins as a seemingly light-hearted project may ultimately uncover more than any of its members had imagined. With the alternating warmth and sadness of the best coming-of-age stories, The Saturday Night Ghost Club is a note-perfect novel that poignantly examines the haunting mutability of memory and storytelling, as well as the experiences that form the people we become, and establishes Craig Davidson as a remarkable literary talent.

I thought this story sounded sweet in a way, and very much like the stories we enjoyed growing up. I already bought it and am excited to see where it goes.

‘One More Croissant for the Road’ by Felicity Cloake

Part travelogue, part food memoir, all love letter to France, One More Croissant for the Road follows ‘the nation’s taster in chief’ Felicity Cloake’s very own Tour de France, cycling 2,300km across France in search of culinary perfection; from Tarte Tatin to Cassoulet via Poule au Pot, and Tartiflette. Each of the 21 ‘stages’ concludes with Felicity putting this new found knowledge to good use in a fresh and definitive recipe for each dish – the culmination of her rigorous and thorough investigative work on behalf of all of our taste buds.

I stumbled across this one and I’m so glad I did — I love food memoirs! I also thought this would be a good escape since we can’t go to Paris right now…

‘The Overdue Life of Amy Bylar’ by Kelly Harms

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

Yet another one I stumbled upon, but it’s got such great reviews. Plus I love the idea of an escape to New York City!

‘A Good Neighborhood’ by Therese Anne Fowler

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son. Xavier is headed to college in the fall, and after years of single parenting, Valerie is facing the prospect of an empty nest. All is well until the Whitmans move in next door—an apparently traditional family with new money, ambition, and a secretly troubled teenaged daughter.

Thanks to his thriving local business, Brad Whitman is something of a celebrity around town, and he’s made a small fortune on his customer service and charm, while his wife, Julia, escaped her trailer park upbringing for the security of marriage and homemaking. Their new house is more than she ever imagined for herself, and who wouldn’t want to live in Oak Knoll?

But with little in common except a property line, these two very different families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers. Told in multiple points of view, A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today — what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye? — as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending star-crossed love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

I actually bought this book earlier this year with the intent of reading it in the fall months — seems perfect for today’s challenges, and I’m looking forward to diving in.

…And that’s a wrap on the Fall Reading Guide! Are there any books on here you’ll be adding to your list? What other books will you be reading?

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