Whatcha Reading? My Top Picks Lately (A Very Mixed Bag)

First off, welcome, welcome you boodles of new readers! I’m so happy to have you!


Since I cannot seem to keep up with what’s new (who can?), I try at least to keep up with what’s good. What have you read recently that blew your skirt up? Here are some of mine lately, in no particular order. Caution: sentence fragments:

The Knockoff, by  Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. (2015) A fun, light read I couldn’t wait to curl up with at bedtime, it’s set in the glamorous, albeit rapidly changing world of New York fashion publishing as it is transformed by the Internet and the fickle habits of mellineals. Savvy, lovely, technologically-challenged fashion editor Imogen is bullied by ill-mannerd tech-bitch Eve, who not only aims to topple her but to humiliate her in the process.  #WehateEve #WeloveImogen #WelovewatchingEvegetherjustdesserts. Revenge is satisfying and stylishly dressed. And P.S. Being a lady never goes out of style. 

The Knockoff, by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

Married Sex, by  Jesse Kornbluth. (2015) Also set in New York, in the everyday lives (well their everyday lives anyway) of a professor, a lawyer, and a photographer. What happens when one of a married couple wants to stray, and the other says it’s okay, until it isn’t. Possibly two of the best sex scenes EVER written, but it isn’t a naughty book, per se. It’s smart, soulful, complicated, and provocative in a way that perhaps only Jesse Kornbluth could write, because he is all of those things himself. No surprise the movie rights were snapped up even before the book found a publisher.

Married Sex – A Love Story, by Jesse Kornbluth

Hey, and before we continue, may I just say that you’d be in fine company if your go-to source for great books, music, tv, and movies,  was HeadButler.com, penned by, you guessed it, Jesse Kornbluth. I’ve said it before and am happy to say it again.

Speaking of love stories:

The Longest Ride, by  Nicholas Sparks. (2014)I know. Schmaltz-city, but I couldn’t help myself. When my husband came home from the movie (starring Clint Eastwood’s son Scott) and cried when he told me about it, I had to read it. Set in North Carolina (yay!), and starring a Southern cowboy, a Yankee co-ed, and an elderly Jewish couple, amid  rodeos and contemporary art. (Guess who does which.) A sweet love story with the coolest, you-never-saw-it-coming twist at the end. 

The Longest Ride, by Nicholas Sparks

And now the ultimate un-schmaltz:

Red Notice – A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder.  Oh.  Em.  Gee. This really happened in modern-day-oligarch-ruled-ridiculously-corrupt Russia, and it scares the sh*t out of me. The “one man” in the subtitle, btw, is the author. His intelligence and courage is testament to the power of one man to make a difference, to choose action over victimization. Jack Reacher has nothing on this guy, and for that reason, men especially love this book (though my all-girl book club is reading it this minute) If I see a dude wandering around a bookstore, I ask him if he’s read this. So #buttinsky, but they thank me. Handsome stranger in Bookhampton this summer, am I right?

Red Notice, by Bill Browder

Need a breather after that.

The Sunday Philosophy Club (and others) by Alexander McCall Smith.  Set in Edinburgh, first in the series about philosopher, amateur detective, and classical music devotée Isabel Dalhousie, who has an eye for younger men and a nose for suspicious circumstances.  Characters and stories that are completely engaging and a joy to read. They are also refreshingly absent horror and violence, of which there is no shortage elsewhere (See Red Notice…)  I’ve listened on my iPhone to four of these so far, charmingly read by a Scot. Isabel is so good, yet so human. She makes me think. She makes me a better person. I also now speak with a slight Scottish accent, which some say is an improvement over my NC drawl.

The newest in the series, The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, is just out.

The Sunday Philosophy Club – an Isabel Dalhousie Novel, by Alexander McCall Smith

Quirky, funny:

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion. (2014) Have to say I was initially irritated by the Asperger’s-afflicted main character and put off by tough girl Rosie in the ever alluring, fast paced world of scientific research and university politics in Australia. Umhmm. Zzzzzz… And then I fell in love with them, as you will, and laugh out loud along the way. Beware the pin pricks of awareness as you recognize the degree to which even our most banal, quotidian, social  interactions are cushioned by thousands of little lies.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

More serious, historic:

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah. Occasionally I do read actual literature of the kind that is nominated for prestigious prizes, which can intimidate one, not to mention automatically means the books might be difficult to read, i.e., dull. But this one is not. This is a gorgeously written novel set in wretched World War II France about a brave young woman whose courage and cunning are both compelling and inspiring. Knowing that the tide of war was turned grace à women like Isabelle Rossignol, who lived and in some cases died in unspeakable ways, and not all that long ago… reminds us of the importance of standing up for what we believe and the power of one. Isabelle’s more timid and conventional sister, who stays at home in the country looking after her child and the German officer she is forced to quarter, reminds us that morality is not always clear, and that courage comes in many forms.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

While we are being serious… in matters of life and death particularly:

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande. Non-fiction. Dr. Gawande practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and he writes about medicine for The New Yorker. Other than that he is a total slacker. We all talk, blog, tweet, Instagram, and obsess about living well. I, for one, would also like to die well. If I live long enough for my body to expire of natural causes, or if I contract a terminal illness, I want to be clear about my choices so nobody’s confused and nobody’s conflicted, which does your family the biggest favor EVER. Based on his own patients, and poignantly his own physician-father, Gawande frames the conversation and explains options conventional medical practitioners–well-meaning as they are–may not. If I were Queen, I would decree that everyone over 21 read this book. If my parents were still living, I would ask my sister to read it with me and to discuss with me and with our parents. In this day and age, Being Mortal –which we all are–is a must-read, period.

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

Whew, got a little heavy on you there, I know. But really really really so important.

Sooooo…. let’s go for a walk in the garden, Charlotte Moss’ fabulous garden to be precise:

Garden Inspirations, by Charlotte Moss. (2015) I’ve been lucky to see Charlotte’s  garden for myself and to experience her legendary hospitality, but this book is almost better than being there because you don’t have to leave. In addition to the creating of her own garden, the designer leads us through a handful of the world’s most important and influential gardens and tells us how they both affected and influenced her. Beautiful pictures–mostly taken by her–and a lively, intelligent text. 

Garden Inspirations, by Charlotte Moss

And lastly, what I’m looking forward to now…

My Paris Dream, by Kate Betts. Have skimmed it and will seize it when I return to New York. Everyone loves Kate, and I can’t wait to meet her. Also can’t help but think about The Nightingale’s Paris compared to Kate’s. Wow.

My Paris Dream by Kate Betts

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough. (2015) This is another one I buttonhole people in the bookstore to read, and I haven’t even read the dern thing yet. I bought it for my husband, who goes through books like Sherman through Georgia. When he gets  excited about a book, he pretty much tells me every single thing in it whether I want to hear it or not, and so I wait til I’ve forgotten some of it to read it for myself, and it’s like reading it for the first time. Because this is where I am in life.

Now where were we?

Oh, Wright. Who these guys were and what they did is mind-boggling. I’ve forgotten the many fascinating details His Grace regaled me with, except that they invented the first daggum airplane that actually, you know, flew. Which sort of changed the WORLD.

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

Speaking of the world, am I the only person in it who hasn’t yet read

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee? I confess I am conflicted about it but feel obligated as a Southerner and writer to read it. So I will. Eventually.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

And let’s end, for now, with another walk in the garden I gleefully anticipate…

At Home in the Garden, by Carolyne Roehm. (due October 2015) I dare say it’s not going out on a limb, or even a perfectly trimmed boxwood hedge, or peony stem, or the delicate handle of an exquisite porcelain teapot, to say that Miss Carolyne will have another glorious success here with yet another volume of lush, blooming, perfectly styled beauty in the garden, in the house, at the table, and everywhere you turn. That’s who she is. Love her.

At Home in the Garden by Carolyne Roehm

So what about you? Come ‘on, spill.

Until we meet again, F

*The sheer effort and excellent information in HeadButler.com  make it a joy to read and to click through to Amazon, which is how the site makes money. I’m proud to call Jesse a friend, but my own personal benefit begins and ends there. He did give HG and me a copy of his book, and he reviewed The Bee Cottage Story. Just so you know.


Categories Blog, Books


  1. I am highly sceptical re: authorship of GO SET A WATCHMAN. Do NOT believe it is an orginial manuscript pre-dating TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
    Contains anachronistic diction, phrases. Wonder how many “editors” worked on the book. Read it if you like, but don’t buy the book.

  2. Wow! Excellent reviews and book recs! Thanks! I have heard the author of Being Mortal on NPR and have been so moved, so thanks for the reminder to get this. I recently listened to the reading of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, after I took my son and youngest child to college, as a way to distract myself from what I just done. Boy, did it do the job! When I got home I plugged in my headphones to find out what happened every chance I got! It is read by 3 talented english actresses who fit their characters perfectly. I read Go Set A Watchman, and reccommend it for the new Scout, Jem and Dill stories alone. My schmaltz read was Blueprints by Barbara Delinsky. My “award winner” was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and it was brilliant! And now I’m reading Sue Grafton’s latest Kinsey Milhone Novel called “X”. Love it already! And of course, The Bee Cottage Story by the lovely Frances Shultz! A beautiful heartwarming, funny story about healing through creating a gorgeous home! I pick it up every chance I get and smile. Love you!

    1. Well thank you, Miss Leslie, I think you outposted me! One (at least!) of my Insta-friends mentioned Girl on the Train, and I listened to it same as you–was riveting. Anthony Derr’s All the Light was, as you say, brilliant, shimmering even. I’m enjoying all the talk about Watchman, if for no other reason than to be reassured that people care about writers and writing! Sue Grafton–gotta get on that. Thank you, too, for your kind words about Bee, as ever, F

  3. You and I are in book sync and I have read or are reading most of your same choices! One I would add is The Third Plate by Dan Barber because, well, you know, I love food and I love reading about food and he is doing some incredible things in the world of food. Also just started Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal and enjoying that. Again…there’s the food thing. Let’s go eat and talk about food books! xoxo

  4. Frances
    Thanks for the book list. Read some and have some on
    My list. And trust your judgement. As for Go Set a Watchman. I really
    Loved it. I tried to read it as standing on its own. And so surprised at some
    Of the comments. I thought of it as so autobiographical …so putting myself in
    The 50s and the fact the Nell had been the NYC… Idealistic and young and
    Goes back to visit when so many changes are in motion. I truly think you can relate
    And understand this book if you are from the south. Atticus was a fair and just lawyer
    And it was blind justice to him ( no matter the color of ones skin) but small towns had leaders. He was one. He understood slower moving southerness and methods of
    Making change smoothly. In this point in time Nell was rembering as scout. Atticus could do no wrong. She just hadn’t quite grown up enough to understand how he was handling leadership.

  5. THE CR BOOK FOR SURE is on MY LIST!WHAT A BEAUTIFUL woman she is…….I would imagine you know her?I have ALL of her books and one special one she signed to me……….at my cousins Nursery.I would imagine you would be aware of Rogers Gardens in Corona del MAR?If not you need to take a spin down the 405 and check it OUT!Especially during the HOLIDAYS!

  6. I adored “The Rosie Project” but understand your hesitancy! Thank you so much for sharing all of these great reads. I thoroughly enjoy your blog : )

  7. Aftter your recommendation I checked out The Longest Ride and I am enjoying reading it very much!
    About twenty years ago I had the joy of spending two Summers at Pamlico Plantation outside Washington North Carolina.
    I came to love the beauty of North Carolina, the historic places, and
    the Outter Banks and the lovely friendly people.

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