Gathered thoughts on the best books I’ve stumbled upon, shared for you to retreat into too. Join my newsletter to get my book of the month in your inbox. A quick note that this page contains affiliate links.
February 2024: Arrangements in Blue by Amy Key
Told against the backdrop of Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, this is Amy Key’s beautifully heartfelt and vulnerable memoir from 2023 about building a life without romantic love.
As she goes about creating a home, caring for herself, and choosing whether to be a mother, Amy Key shares her notes on love and making a life alone, without shying away from painful realities or the many forms of connection, love, and care that often go unnoticed outside of romantic partnerships.
This is such a raw and contemplative book – no matter your relationship status, I hope you love it too.
January 2024: Collected Works by Lydia Sandgren
A Swedish bestseller from 2020 now published in English, Collected Works is a wonderfully literary and complex novel about love, power, and art – and what leads us to make the pivotal decisions that change the course of our lives.
At over 700 pages, it’s a long, long book that seems to move at a glacial pace. And yet, I was completely immersed in Sandgren’s Scandinavian world of cafes packed with students and blustery streets in winter.
Bringing together the realms of academia, books, and art with the story of a publisher’s missing wife, you can think of Collected Works as something like The Secret History meets Sally Rooney in Gothenburg.
December 2023: The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer
For all the magic of your favourite childhood books, just in a book for grown-ups, read The Wishing Game.
The Wishing Game is your ticket to the chocolate factory, a glimmer of hope in the darkness, and the promise of kindness after a long string of disappointments. And just a really special book.
This 2023 fiction hardcover debut by Meg Shaffer is the story of twenty-six-year-old teacher’s aide Lucy Hart, who’d do anything to adopt Christopher, one of the kids in her class who lacks a loving home after the loss of his parents.
Broke and feeling hopeless, Lucy dares to dream when Jack Masterson, the author of the Clock Island books that helped her survive her lonely childhood, announces he’s finally written a new book.
There’s only one copy, and only one person will win it. Along with three other contestants, Lucy finds herself on Jack’s island where she opens the door to magic, connection, and new beginnings.
My full review – The Wishing Game: comforting nostalgia and the magic of hope
November 2023: Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley
If you love heartwarming stories that don’t shy away from real life, Four Seasons in Japan is your book. If you’re at something of a crossroads in your own life and work, there’s even more reason to read it.
In short, it’s a cozy book about… Japan through the seasons. Directionless characters finding a new path and purpose. Omniscient cats. Creative work. Studio Ghibli vibes. Mountaineering. Love. Loss. A reminder to put down your phone and head to the mountains instead.
There are a few stories within the book – each one delightful – starting with that of Flo, an Oregon-born translator who’s living in Tokyo and achieving her dreams but feeling more lost and empty than ever.
This is a lovely, heartfelt, and gently transformative read, and one of the best books about finding a new path in life that I’ve come across in 2023.
October 2023: The Bird Hotel by Joyce Maynard
After finishing The Bird Hotel – far from the warmth of the book’s setting, on the train from Copenhagen to the northern tip of Sweden – my overwhelming thought is that it’s a rare type of book; a novel that feels so richly of a place, or more precisely, the feeling of being in a place.
That place is La Esperanza, somewhere in Central America (and likely based on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, where the author has made a part-time home and part-time living as an innkeeper).
But to zoom in, the novel’s central location – at least in my eyes – is the patio of La Llorona, the hotel at the heart of the book. When I think back to The Bird Hotel, I can perfectly picture sitting with a cup of coffee overlooking the lake as the sun rises, fishermen head out on their boats, and birds skim the water; just as our main character, Irene, did every morning.
Above all, The Bird Hotel is a beautifully penned celebration of an anonymous yet crystal-clear location, as well as one woman’s journey to finding a place to belong and understand herself, her past, and the world.
September 2023: A Storm of Infinite Beauty by Julianne MacLean
Julianne MacLean’s 2021 novel These Tangled Vines, a multi-generational love story set in dreamy Tuscany, is one of my go-to recommendations for laid-back summer reads.
So when I was searching for an easygoing yet gripping novel to tumble into while on holiday this summer, an advance copy of Julianne MacLean’s A Storm of Infinite Beauty (published this month) was exactly what I wanted.
This novel isn’t quite as light as These Tangled Vines, but I loved the flashbacks, the slow uncovering of the past, and the down-to-earth side of an iconic (fictional) star.
With a blend of romance and historical fiction, think Taylor Jenkins Reid meets Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. You’ll uncover a multigenerational plot, an emotional love story, buried secrets in the past, and wild and powerful nature in Alaska (one of my favourite settings!)
August 2023: Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Published on August 1st, Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is perfect for laid-back summer reading.
Read this for a hazy evocation of slow, dreamy summer days under cherry trees while the wonderfully clear and self-assured narrator (who reminded me of Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy Barton) describes to her three daughters her time as an actress in her twenties.
I’ve loved escaping into this peaceful book that, in the novel’s present, offers a totally different perspective of Spring 2020 than anything else I’ve read. Patchett creates a world that’s hopeful, cozy, and reassuring, painting a masterful picture of motherhood, family, and the moments that make us.
July 2023: Darling by India Knight
If you’re looking for a delightfully charming (and funny) comfort read, look no further…
Crafted as a contemporary retelling of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, Darling is a witty story of fresh starts, courage, and feverish romance.
Teenage Linda Radlett feels herself destined for greater things – and a love story that she absolutely won’t find in her family’s sprawling farmhouse in Norfolk.
When she moves to London to become a model, Linda achieves a fresh start: but life is unromantic, dark, and complicated.
But one day, feeling at her lowest, she spontaneously boards the Eurostar train to Paris where love and transformation await.
June 2023: The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer
Reading The Collected Regrets of Clover has been utterly wonderful. It’s felt like therapy and existential coaching rolled into the pages of a book, really.
This is the life-affirming story of Clover Brooks, a woman in her thirties who became a death doula in New York City after her beloved grandfather died alone when she was travelling.
However, while spending so much time with the dying, Clover realises she’s ignored her own life. That is until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send her on a trip across the country to uncover a forgotten love story – and perhaps, her own happy ending.
It’s not a book to speed through in a single weekend, but it is a thought-provoking, heartwarming story to retreat into that’s packed with life lessons.
May 2023: Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati
There are several excellent new books out this month, and choosing my book of the month was more of a challenge than usual.
I so nearly chose The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese’s new book published over a decade after his incredible Cutting for Stone. It’s an astoundingly ambitious novel that I loved reading (here are my thoughts on Goodreads.) But it also contains a lot of trauma.
Even though I thought it was fantastic, it’s a book that will tear you apart. If you’re in a place where you can handle that – as well as a huge, all-encompassing book that comes in over 700 pages – I’d absolutely recommend it.
But for now, following the more feel-good, healing philosophy of this website, I made another choice: Clytemnestra by Costanza Castati. This is one of a couple of new Greek myth retellings this month (the other being Atalanta by Jennifer Saint), and it’s a wonderful debut.
It’s a book brimming with power, fury, love, and vengeful strength and a perfect choice if you loved Madeline Miller’s Circe.
April 2023: What Looks Like Bravery by Laurel Braitman
I tried not to pick another memoir for my book of the month, but after reading this wonderful book by Laurel Braitman, I was left with no choice. (However, I did have one runner-up: Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Daniel Silva’s gripping 2022 thriller that I loved reading last month.)
What Looks Like Bravery is Laurel Braitman’s incredibly wise book about love, loss, and healing after the death of her dad, the man who taught her how to keep bees, outfish grown men, and fix carburetors.
Read it for one woman’s healing journey through multiple wildernesses, each forcing her to find bravery she wasn’t sure she had. As she navigates northern New Mexico, western Alaska, her own Tinder app, and the wildfires that threaten everything and everyone she cares about, Laurel teaches us that hope is a form of courage. What’s more, love after loss can be what finally sets us free.
March 2023: Enchantment: Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May
Katherine May’s bestselling book Wintering is one of the most beautiful memoirs of rest and recuperation for burnout. Now in March 2023, Katherine has released this gorgeous new non-fiction book about wonder in an anxious age.
Enchantment is a spellbindingly beautiful look at how we can awaken our wonder and marvel at the world when we’re facing anxiety.
February 2023: Lost and Found: Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz
There’s a specific category of non-fiction books I keep falling in love with. They’re gentle but deeply meaningful; humble but spellbindingly insightful into the joy, wonder, and miracle of living.
Lost and Found is one of the best memoirs I’ve read lately, and I hope you’ll love reading it too.
This is Pulitzer Prize winner Kathryn Schulz’s collection of reflections on grief, gratitude, and happiness – more specifically, the big and small things we’re losing throughout our lives, alongside all that we find along the way.
January 2023: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
“Virtual worlds can be better than the actual world. They can be more moral, more just, more progressive, more empathetic, and more accommodating of difference. And if they can be, shouldn’t they be?”
Books like this should come with a little note that instructs you to take a week off after reading. Since I finished reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, I’ve allowed myself a bit of time to just sit with my thoughts and let them percolate.
If you find joy in creating what didn’t exist before and diving into the depths of your imagination, read this. If you love games, read this. Actually, if you’re a person and haven’t read this yet, read this.
(That said, the book does come with some trigger warnings, including suicide and gun violence.)
It’s a marvellously crafted novel that’s clearly the result of an awe-inspiring amount of work. And that’s fitting, really, because the book is very much about work – in the most creative, all-encompassing, and collaborative way. I adored it.
More books like this: 10 books like Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
December 2022: A Line in the World: A Year on the North Sea Coast by Dorthe Nors
“Me, my notebook and my love of the wild and desolate. I wanted to do the opposite of what was expected of me. It’s a recurring pattern in my life. An instinct.“
I wasn’t sure if I was in the right mood to read A Line in the World. It seemed heavy going, and I wanted something light and hopeful in the lead up to Christmas.
I decided to give the first few pages a chance – largely because I now live in Denmark, I know very little about Jutland, and I love nature writing. Maybe it would be a good fit for next year, I thought. But I soon realised that I had to keep going.
A Line in the World is a stunning memoir; graceful and lyrical, but with a powerful roar in there too.
Read it if you loved The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, or any other quietly powerful and introspective memoirs rooted in wild nature.
November: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
I’m reading The Island of Missing Trees this November and it’s so gorgeously written. This must be the first book I’ve ever read that features the perspective of a fig tree, and it’s just so delicately and thoughtfully crafted.
It’s 1974 on the island of Cyprus, and two teenagers from opposite sides of a divided land meet at a tavern in the city they call home. In the centre of the tavern, growing towards the light in a cavity in the roof, is a fig tree that witnesses everything.
Decades later in north London, sixteen-year-old Ada Kazantzakis has never visited the island where her parents were born. But as she seeks to detangle years of secrets, she does have one connection to the land of her ancestors: a Ficus Carica growing in the back garden of their home.
Like The Overstory, this stunning book from 2021 by Elif Shafak makes it difficult to look at the trees around you in the same way.
October: Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
This is so real, I immediately thought when I started reading Elizabeth Strout’s last book, Oh William! (and kept thinking, throughout the novel). There’s something so quietly vulnerable, humble, and honest about Strout’s Lucy Barton books.
I’ve stayed away from books about the pandemic until now; I wanted reading to be my escape from it, not a reason to think more about it. But I feel like there’s now been sufficient distance for me to read books like this one. And Lucy by the Sea just felt so… therapeutic.
In this third book of Strout’s Amgash series, which you can read as a standalone or start with My Name is Lucy Barton, it’s March 2020 and Lucy’s ex-husband William pleads with her to leave New York and escape to a coastal house he has rented in Maine. Lucy reluctantly agrees, leaving the washing-up in the sink and expecting to be back in a week or so. As weeks turn into months, Lucy and William spend their long, quiet days thinking about their complex past together and the connections that sustain us in the hardest moments.
Author Rachel Joyce says of the book: “Lucy by the Sea might be my favourite Elizabeth Strout novel yet. Such grace, such empathy, such exquisite and sharp observation – and yet so very much itself too. No one else writes like Elizabeth Strout.”
I hope you enjoy it too.
September: The Bear by Andrew Krivak
Since reading The Bear, I’ve recommended it as one of the most calming books I’ve read for a long time, perfect bedtime reading, as well as a fantastic choice if you’re looking for books set in wild nature.
That’s maybe a little unusual, considering it’s ultimately a book about the end of humankind. It’s the story of the last two people on Earth, a father and daughter living self-sufficiently close to nature in an Edenic future. They hunt deer, fish for trout, forage pine needles for tea, and walk for weeks to get salt from the sea.
The Bear is a tale of loss, but it’s also quietly moving, exquisitely beautiful, and overwhelmingly tender.