To kick-off to rosé season, the BookBabes read Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. As a group of self-professed wine lovers, we have to admit our wine knowledge was limited to boozy afternoons on the North Fork. Luckily, as the book follows the author’s journey through sommelier training, it covers almost everything about wine—tasting notes, etiquette, restaurant wine lists, vineyards, the science of taste/smell, and even a bacchanalian wine orgy.
While it can get a tad technical (keeping track of the wine/grape varieties can seem daunting), the writing style keeps you laughing (we still can’t over the description of one wine as “asparagus farts”). We also loved that this wealth of knowledge came from a female perspective, which led to some interesting insight (and discussion) into the struggles women still face in the hospitality industry.
There were many practical takeaways from this book, but, as one of the BookBabes enthused, “the best part was learning the hack to ordering the best wine for your buck at restaurants.” With so much wine knowledge under our belts, we’re excited to venture out and try some new kinds of vino.
Madame Fourcade's Secret War
As a group focused on women’s stories, when a referral to read Madame Fourcade’s Secret War crossed our inbox, we were immediately intrigued. Having read quite a few WWII-set books in the past, we are always searching for new stories that highlight the bravery of young women during the war. While many fiction books about female spies are making their way to the bestseller lists, we were particularly thrilled to see an incredible work of nonfiction on the same topic.
The book, which reads as smoothly as a novel, details the riveting story of Marie Madeline Fourcade, a young woman who led France’s largest spy network against Hitler during the war. Her story has been suppressed and omitted from history books, so it was both astonishing and inspiring to read about the intricacies of building her network, passing encrypted messages, and caring for over 3000 fellow spies.
Through Marie Madeline Fourcade’s story, author Lynne Olson sheds light on some of the most common insecurities that women in the workplace face in the modern era. Our conversation at book club centered on the fascinating ways in which she overcame her doubts as a female leader during a time when opportunities for women were vastly more limited than they are today. A truly inspiring and instructive read.
Where the Crawdads Sing
After seeing Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens EVERYWHERE online (this book is basically an influencer), we were dying to add it to our reading list. Not only is it a #1 New York Times Bestseller, but Reese Witherspoon is producing the movie adaptation with her production company, Hello Sunshine—and we are so here for it!
This book can be devoured in a few days (even in one day, as demonstrated by one illustrious BookBabes member who live-instagrammed her one-day reading binge), so it’s a perfect vacation or weekend read. What could have been a rather depressing story of hardship (an elementary-school-aged girl is abandoned by her family and also ostracized by her community for being poor, so she raises herself) turns into an absolute page turner, thanks to these elements: Love triangles, f*** boys, murder, women in STEM, self-reliance, extra-marital affairs, and court-room drama.
The main character (Kya) is incredibly inspiring (one comment that kept echoing through our discussion was that no one thought they could survive on their own if abandoned at such a young age). Though fantastical at times, the author balances Kya’s feats with real, human flaws, both small (like fear of intimacy) and large, which helps enforce a tone of authenticity and establish nuance throughout the novel. With so many exciting story lines and complex characters, we can’t wait to see how this will play out on the big screen.
Brave, Not Perfect
Do you wish you took more chances? Do you ever regret missed opportunities? Do you punish yourself endlessly for tiny mistakes? If so, this is the read for you. Reshma Saujani’s book is perfect for anyone trying to be a #GirlBoss or just make bolder decisions every day.
In Brave, Not Perfect, the author explores how girls and women are systematically conditioned to be perfectionists and how devastating the effects of that can be. Saujani calls out how girls are rewarded for being “good” because they follow rules and processes (which encourages a fixed mindset), while boys are expected to be wild and are given more permission to test limits and make mistakes (which encourages a growth mindset). The idea that it’s “perfection or bust” really resonated with the BookBabes. So many of the anecdotes Saujani puts forward—declining to submit a job application because you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications; feeling like you are “bad” at a school subject (especially STEM) and abandoning it; declining to voice your opinion at work for fear of not being taken seriously—elicited head nods and enthusiastic agreement during our group discussion. However, this mentality holds us back. In reality, we should accept these setbacks and use them to improve instead of punishing ourselves for not living up to an impossible standard.
Saujani’s book contains many anecdotal stories from her own life as well as of people she has met, but one of our favorites is about her run for Congress in 2010. Even with a lot of hype surrounding her campaign, she ended up losing her race with only 19% of the vote. Despite this setback, she picked herself back up and founded Girls Who Code without any experience coding herself. While she doesn’t claim to have perfected the art of being brave, she does acknowledge that being able to bounce back from a very public failure like that is something we should all work towards. The book has several ways of trying to break the perfectionism cycle, so we hope you’ll check it out and start putting your bravest foot forward!
Next Year in Havana
Marisol’s family follows every toast with “Next year in Havana,” hinting at the possibility of returning to the country they fled during the revolution of 1959. Finally, in 2016, Fidel Castro’s death makes reentry possible, and Marisol, our modern-day Cuban-American protagonist, finds herself smuggling her Cuban-born grandmother Elisa’s ashes into Cuba to find a final resting place.
The narrative alternates perspectives between Elisa’s in 1959 and Marisol’s in 2017 as both experience Cuba and fall in love with rebellious men (I mean, who doesn’t love forbidden affairs with bad boys on Caribbean islands?) BookBabes has a group of die-hard romance fans who loved this, and one reader even binged the book in a day while on vacation! And who could blame her? When so much of the story focuses on a suave Cuban man with chiseled abs who can drive you to the beach in his meticulously restored classic car and then serenade you with his saxophone… your mind starts to wander…
While romance steals the show, there is also a focus on identity as both women’s narratives explore what it means to be a Cuban outside of Cuba. This was relatable to members of the BookBabes, as many are American-born (like Marisol) but strongly identify with countries they have never (or rarely) visited and find themselves questioning their own authenticity after being in contact with people raised in those cultures. Few things are more relatable than imposter syndrome, and even those who didn’t connect with the love-at-first-sight plotline found this engaging.
The aspects of unsanctimonious love, political turmoil, seductive Latin men, and self-discovery make Next Year in Havana a fun summer read. The book will definitely inspire you to learn more about Cuba and maybe even plan a trip there to see the same sights Marisol sees on her journey to her family’s homeland.
The Female Persuasion
You may think that a women’s book club would be the least contentious place to discuss a novel rooted in feminism…but you would be wrong. This divisiveness is itself a strength of The Female Persuasion, as it compels readers to examine themselves and their biases. While this isn’t strictly novel about feminism (the story revolves around a character being transformed by a mentor truly touching her life), we loved seeing how this theme was the backbone of the book.
As we follow the life of protagonist Greer from high school through college and into early adulthood, we are presented with different iterations of feminism across generations and genders, all offered up for the reader’s critique. Our group found this to be quite polarizing. The narrative includes examples of the more “woke” feminism that is prevalent with millennials and Gen Z’s today (as presented by Greer’s non-conforming friend Zee), as well as the feminism launched by older generations (as evidenced by Greer’s hero and boss, the Gloria Steinem-adjacent Faith), which is dominated by white privilege.
While the book is jam-packed—spanning nearly 15 years and several characters’ perspectives—the pace of the story is reminiscent of the banality of everyday life as it is experienced in real-time, reminding us that living mostly feels inconsequential until we stop and look back. The story is permeated by tragedy (death), betrayal (backstabbing), and scandal (international relations disaster), and ultimately we see how these burdens take a toll on the characters, surfacing their flaws and exposing them to criticism within the story and from the reader. Overall, The Female Persuasion is a more complex novel than one may expect from its rainbow-colored cover and that’s a good thing when examining friendship, love, and feminism.
Captivating for both fiction and nonfiction lovers, High Achiever is one of the best books we read this year. A quick, I-couldn’t-put-it-down type of a read, we felt like we were living the IRL Orange is the New Black. Former opioid addict Tiffany Jenkins tells the captivating story of her struggle with addiction—one she maintained while dating (AND LIVING WITH!!) her police officer boyfriend.
Dark, witty, sarcastic, and truly unbelievable, Tiffany’s narration of her own life as an addict is so incredibly raw that we felt like we were fighting the battle and feeling the withdrawals in her prison cell right alongside her. Tiffany’s style of writing is not only captivating but also hilarious. We couldn’t help but appreciate the sense of humor that accompanied her story from beginning to end, as well as her redemptive journey.
BookBabes, a New York City-based book club, was born from brand strategist and former fashion publicist Victoria Natenzon’s desire to combine her love of reading with her passion for fashion and beauty (while drinking wine, of course). She teamed up with friends Caroline Schimmenti and Stacey Stewart, and the three started hosting monthly book clubs with brands like Rent the Runway, J. Crew, Kendra Scott, Amika, Outdoor Voices, Burrow, and Uber, ensuring they always had an exciting new location that could accommodate a large, diverse group.
One of the benefits of hosting book clubs with brands is the large size of the venues, (most often a retail location) which allows BookBabes to bring together groups of 50+ members (no easy feat in New York City), ensuring there are voices from many different perspectives. Connected by a shared love for reading, the membership base consists of a diverse group of women from varied backgrounds, who represent a wide range of professional industries, including finance, law, fashion, beauty, tech, real estate, non-profits, and photography. Aside from the added dimension this variety adds to the book discussion, it also creates opportunities to seek advice (like if you work in beauty but have questions about finance), network (there have been a number of successful job referrals), and of course, many members become friends outside of BookBabes.
As a female-founded club, BookBabes’ mission is to support women authors and women’s stories. Each month, the club picks one fiction and one nonfiction read and participants choose to read one or the other. Some of the books they have read include Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Becoming, Daisy Jones and the Six, Educated, The Year of Magical Thinking, Cork Dork, Sweetbitter, and Crazy Rich Asians.
A year ago, the BookBabes couldn’t have imagined they would be hosting 3+ events a month each with 50+ attendees. Luckily, many people are just as interested in reading as the founders are but don’t want the stress of organizing and planning their own book club with friends. Victoria, Caroline, and Stacey aspire to make book clubs a fun alternative to your standard happy hour or brunch. Currently, the BookBabes founders are excited about increasing their brand partnerships to bring more new and interesting offerings to members, teaming up with Read it Forward and Random House to make sure they get insider info about the hottest new books, and—one day—expanding their events outside of New York City.
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Not in New York? You can read along with them here on Instagram: @bookbabesnyc, or if you are NYC-based, check out their upcoming events here. Or, read below for some exclusive reviews of some of their most recent reads.
Featured image: Courtesy of BookBabes