Whenever I get a weekend to myself during the winter (which lately has been rare), I love to curl up with a good book. Over my holiday break, I peeled through the second half of Night Film by Marisha Pessl and got a head start to Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Because the nights are long in winter, you want to stay in but it seems impractical to go to sleep before a certain time. I know that if I’m in bed before 9pm (unless I’m sick), I’ll be up in the middle of the night ready to start the day at 3am and that’s never a good routine to get on. These are the nights I’m in my bed by 8pm, sometimes earlier, and grabbing a book. Inspired by my own reading kick lately, I’ve put together a list of five book recommendations to keep you busy the rest of winter.
Hot Mess by Emily Belden
I always love reading books or watching movies and TV shows that are based in Chicago. When a story is set in your hometown, you relate to it on a deeper level because the places and things they mention have personal meaning to you. So when the publishers for Hot Mess reached out asking if I’d give Emily Belden’s second book a chance, I was immediately in. A cheeky novel about the Chicago restaurant scene with an underlying story of girl power? Yass! Let’s get real for a second, though.
Allie can be absolutely infuriating. There were times I wanted to throw this book across the room. You feel for her and you’re behind her 100% as if she’s your best friend. But she makes you want to pull your hair out with some of the crap she makes you go through with her. Looking back, I loved Allie’s character arc. I loved watching her grow and become this bad ass independent woman. It’s a quick, easy read with a great story. I loved the behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to build a restaurant on Chicago’s restaurant row (only the most prestigious place in the city to open one up). I was a little sad that it was over but felt happy for Allie after all was said and done. Nothing is better than an ending you can get behind.
Julie & Julia by Nora Ephron
Give me a book that has to do with food, even in the smallest of ways, and I’ll read it. Julie & Julia has been on my reading list since the movie came out. I insisted on reading the book before seeing the movie and...well...I still haven’t seen the movie but I did finish the book! Before I even knew this story, I went on a little cookbook journey of my own. Inspired to improve my culinary abilities, my first adventure started with The Tucci Cookbook where I cooked through almost every single recipe over the course of a year. I did it again with A Kitchen in France hoping to master a little bit of French cooking. I’m glad that I didn’t read Julie & Julia until after these experiences because it made me relate to Julie’s journey that much more.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with this story either through the movie or the book. I can’t say anything about the movie but I can tell you that I related to Julie in the book in a significant way. In fact, I think she might be the most relatable book character I’ve ever come across. She’s stuck in this period of her life where nothing is how she wanted it to be and she’s unsure of where the future will take her. That in itself makes me want to start crying because I’ve been in this exact spot for at least a year...maybe two. Reading her talk about her feelings and how all this makes her feel - about herself and the circumstances - hit me in a very personal way. Cooking with Julia and finishing this project was a sort of right of passage for her. She needed to do it because she needed to prove to herself that she could. And when she did, she wasn’t so afraid of the future anymore. It’s a great book that’s ultimately about self-discovery and you get to learn a bit about Julia Child along the way.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
In full disclosure, Night Film is a commitment. It’s 600 pages but worth every single word. It has a slow, constant build that Pessl uses to pull you in so completely you find yourself believing some of the claims around the Cordova family. I was so convinced in the first hundred or so pages of this book that Stanislas Cordova was a real person, I actually had to Google him and make sure I wasn’t crazy. Turns out, Pessl has a talent for making her readers believe in the fictional world she creates. If you love a great suspenseful and thrilling novel that has many different twists and turns, pick up a copy of Night Film. It’s quite honestly one of the best books I’ve read in a while.
Night Film follows a reporter whose reputation was destroyed after his first try at uncovering the truth behind notorious film director, Stanislas Cordova. He’s convinced that he’s some kind of cult leader and determined to prove it. After an incident on national TV that causes him his reputation as a reporter, he loses his job and credibility. Fast-forward a few years, Ashley Cordova, the daughter of Stanislas, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse from an apparent suicide. The reporter makes it his personal responsibility to determine if her death was a suicide, if she was murdered, or if there was something else that caused her to commit suicide. His investigation into Ashley’s death and, once again, the Cordova family takes you on a wild journey where the supernatural and reality can oftentimes be confused. At no point in this book will you really know what’s going on. You might think you do, you might have a hunch, but I promise you will be constantly surprised and uncovering a new piece of information that blows your mind.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
If you can stomach the sick mind of a serial killer (basically, if you can watch Criminal Minds), you need to read The Devil in the White City. It’s two stories intertwined during the famous Chicago World’s Fair. One story follows Daniel Hudson Burnham and the creation of the fair, the other follows H.H. Holmes otherwise known as the first reported American serial killer. While you envision the World’s Fair come to life through the eyes and vision of Burnham and his creative partners, you’re also seeing the depravity of Holmes as he murders innocent women at the “World’s Fair Hotel” which he crafted to be an instrument of torture. While one story builds something and creates a wonder that had never been seen before, the other destroys life and shows the worst of humanity. Something else that had never been seen before.
Even though you follow the steps of a serial killer, I have to say that Larson did an impeccable job at keeping it tasteful and PG-13. There’s nothing too graphic but know the premeditation and sick mind of Holmes can be disturbing at times. Normally, I don’t like books that are heavy in detail but in this case, I really enjoyed learning about the city of Chicago in the late 19th century and following along as the World’s Fair came to be. No one believed that we could pull it off but the fair not only was one of the most memorable ones in history, it employed hundreds of people during a depression and caused people to unionize. There is so much historical significance because of this event and it makes me sad that they took every single piece of it down. I was trying to picture where this fair would have been and after doing a little research, it’s all parks now near the University of Chicago campus. They were so intent on destroying the fair after it ended that it almost seems as if it were a myth and not an actual historic event.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
I recently saw the trailer for the film coming out this year with Cate Blanchett playing Bernadette and I knew I had to include it in this list. In full honesty, it wasn’t my favorite read but the bond between Bernadette and her daughter Bee is pretty incredible. It’s Bee’s resilience and belief in her mother that really kept me going. While you might be thinking, “Christine, why would you include a book that you didn’t absolutely, positively love?” Easy. I’m a fan of reading the books before the movies and the movie looks like it’s going to be a hit. I might be a little biased considering I’m a huge fan of Cate Blanchett but I will most definitely be giving it a shot. She seems to give Bernadette the personality and character I felt she was missing in the book which makes me excited that she’s the one bringing her to life.