It’s no secret that I read a good amount of books set in NYC, as I am the founder of the Novels of New York Book Club, after all. The club has now been going strong for over three years, meeting monthly and discussing that month’s book over a healthy dose of wine. From chick lit to memoirs to crime trade paperbacks to historical fiction, we don’t discriminate on genre as long as the book is set in NYC.
Below, I’ve corralled the five best NYC books I’ve read in 2017. Any of these would be a wonderful way to #treatyoself and give yourself a good book to look forward to over the holiday season. Or, if you have someone in your life who loves reading, I bet you they’d think any of the below were the best stocking stuffer they got this year!
Best Fiction: Fake Plastic Love
When M. meets Belle at Dartmouth, they become the unlikeliest best friends. Belle is an unapologetic Romantic famous on campus for her bright red accessories and hundred-watt smile, while M. is a tomboyish Realist who insists she’ll always prefer her signet ring to any diamond. Despite their differences, they are drawn together, and after graduation they both move to New York with all the unfounded confidence of twenty-two. M. secures a job at the city’s most prestigious investment bank, and Belle turns her nostalgic aesthetic into one of the first lifestyle blogs, which quickly goes viral. Their future is spread before them, a glittering tableau of vintage cocktails, password-guarded parties, and high-octane ambition. But as they are pulled deeper into their new lives, and into the charming orbit of their Gatsby-esque new friend, Jeremy, style and substance―and dreams and reality―increasingly blur. In this fake plastic world, what do success and love and happiness even look like?
Dazzling, whimsical, and full of yearning, Fake Plastic Love is the transporting story of bright young things tested by the unsentimental realities of post-graduate life. Tipping its hat to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kimberley Tait’s gorgeous, incisive debut is a portrait of millennial Manhattan―equal parts nostalgia and modernity―that explores the timeless question: You will be a grand total of what you spend your time doing, so what do you want to add up to?
Best Chick Lit: Fitness Junkie
When Janey Sweet, CEO of a couture wedding dress company, is photographed in the front row of a fashion show eating a bruffin—the delicious lovechild of a brioche and a muffin—her best friend and business partner, Beau, gives her an ultimatum: Lose thirty pounds or lose your job. Sure, Janey has gained some weight since her divorce, and no, her beautifully cut trousers don’t fit like they used to, so Janey throws herself headlong into the world of the fitness revolution, signing up for a shockingly expensive workout pass, baring it all for Free the Nipple yoga, sweating through boot camp classes run by Sri Lankan militants and spinning to the screams of a Lycra-clad instructor with rage issues. At a juice shop she meets Jacob, a cute young guy who takes her dumpster-diving outside Whole Foods on their first date. At a shaman’s tea ceremony she meets Hugh, a silver fox who holds her hand through an ayahuasca hallucination And at a secret exercise studio Janey meets Sara Strong, the wildly popular workout guru whose special dance routine has starlets and wealthy women flocking to her for results that seem too good to be true. As Janey eschews delicious carbs, pays thousands of dollars to charlatans, and is harassed by her very own fitness bracelet, she can’t help but wonder: Did she really need to lose weight in the first place? A hilarious send-up of the health and wellness industry, Fitness Junkie is a glorious romp through the absurd landscape of our weight-obsessed culture.
Best Memoir: Books For Living
For Will Schwalbe, reading is a way to entertain himself but also to make sense of the world, and to find the answers to life’s questions big and small. In each chapter, he discusses a particular book and how it relates to concerns we all share. These books span centuries and genres—from Stuart Little to The Girl on the Train, from David Copperfield to Wonder, from Giovanni’s Room to Rebecca, and from 1984 to Gifts from the Sea. Throughout, Schwalbe tells stories from his life and focuses on the way certain books can help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully.
Best Historical Fiction: The Dollhouse
When she arrives at the famed Barbizon Hotel in 1952, secretarial school enrollment in hand, Darby McLaughlin is everything her modeling agency hall mates aren’t: plain, self-conscious, homesick, and utterly convinced she doesn’t belong—a notion the models do nothing to disabuse. Yet when Darby befriends Esme, a Barbizon maid, she’s introduced to an entirely new side of New York City: seedy downtown jazz clubs where the music is as addictive as the heroin that’s used there, the startling sounds of bebop, and even the possibility of romance.
Over half a century later, the Barbizon’s gone condo and most of its long-ago guests are forgotten. But rumors of Darby’s involvement in a deadly skirmish with a hotel maid back in 1952 haunt the halls of the building as surely as the melancholy music that floats from the elderly woman’s rent-controlled apartment. It’s a combination too intoxicating for journalist Rose Lewin, Darby’s upstairs neighbor, to resist—not to mention the perfect distraction from her own imploding personal life. Yet as Rose’s obsession deepens, the ethics of her investigation become increasingly murky, and neither woman will remain unchanged when the shocking truth is finally revealed.
Best Coming Of Age Story: An Innocent Fashion
The Devil Wears Prada meets The Bell Jar in this story of a wide-eyed Ivy League grad who discovers that his dream of “making it” at leading New York City fashion magazine Régine may well be his undoing.
Elián San Jamar knew from childhood that he was destined for a better life than the one his working-class multiracial parents share in Texas—a life inspired by Régine’s pages. A full ride to Yale opens the door to a more glamorous world, and he quickly befriends Madeline and Dorian, both scions of incredible wealth and privilege. With their help, he reinvents himself, and after four decadent years he graduates as Ethan St. James. But reality hits hard when Ethan arrives at Régine and is relegated to the lowest rung of the ladder.
Mordantly funny and emotionally ruthless, An Innocent Fashion is the saga of a true millennial—naïve, idealistic, struggling with his identity and sexuality—trying to survive in an industry, and in a city, notorious for attracting new graduates only to chew them up and spit them out. Oscillating between melodrama and whip-smart sarcasm, pretentiousness and heartbreaking vulnerability, increasingly disillusioned with Régine and Madeline and Dorian, Ethan begins to unravel.
As the narratives of his conflicted childhood, cloistered collegiate experience, and existential crisis braid together, this deeply moving coming-of-age novel for the twenty-first century spirals toward a devastating realization: You can follow your dreams, but what happens if your dreams are just not enough?
If you’re in NYC and interested in joining our book club, click here to join. What a great New Year’s Resolution that would be, right?! And do make sure to follow along on Instagram for NYC book suggestions, book events, and adorable local bookstores.
And in case you missed it, here’s the 5 best books I read in 2016.