Sex, reputation, and leaning in: A romance author’s favorite books of 2013

I confess: after a long day writing novels, I don’t always want to spend the evening looking at more words. Having said that, there is no greater pleasure than becoming absorbed in another author’s world.  These books are my favorites from 2013—ranging from historical non-fiction to contemporary romance, they are the books that kept me stuck on the couch, up past my bedtime, made me think or even made me want to get back to writing.


Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I loved this inspiring and motivating book. It’s a perfect balance of personal stories, research & statistics with great ideas on how to make the world better for women and men. I always thought of myself as one tough chick but this book made me see instances where I have “pulled back” rather than “lean in.” So I took notes and I’m stepping up. Watch out, world!


The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee

I was totally hooked by this tagline: An elegant world. A traditional society. And then there’s Betsey. And then I was completely captivated by this beautifully written and completely romantic novel. Set at a seaside resort in late Victorian England, Betsey is an unconventional heroine—one with a  “besmirched character” –and I just adored her for the pluck with which she tried to make something of herself. In Mr. Jones she has a upstanding hero—steady, believing in her, flawed and yet perfect all the same. I haven’t loved a book like this in a long time.


The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer by Doron Swade

This isn’t a new book, but I picked this up this year for research (hint hint about my new series!) and was totally fascinated with this thoroughly researched and well written account of Charles Babbage, the brilliant Regency thinker and inventor of the forerunner to today’s computers in the 1820’s. The author does an excellent job of portraying the character and drama not just of the original invention of the machine (and failure to build it in the 19th century) but also later attempts to finally build the difference engine for the 200th anniversary of Babbage’s birthday.


Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World by Shereen El Feki

This is an incredibly researched, thoughtful and eye-opening account of the culture around sex in the Arab world, from the intimate lives of married men and women to prostitution and pornography. It’s also about how this culture used to be so open and embracing of all kinds of sexuality before fear, shame and stigmas around sex took over. The book also examines how the revolutions of the Arab Spring are ushering in new changes in people’s personal lives. As I read, I wondered how one might change a culture to be more accepting of sexual pleasure…read more romance novels, perhaps? Or have more honest conversations about it, as this book does.


Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment by David Bodanis

The husband persuaded me to read this book with mentions of brilliant women, duels, country estates, gossip, intrigue…and it’s all truePassionate Minds is the true story of Emilie du Chatelet, a brilliant scientist and unconventional woman in 18th century France. She was also Voltaire’s lover, and the book covers their long, loving but complicated relationship. This is the kind of historical non-fiction that reads like a great novel.


What Happens In Scotland by Jennifer McQuiston

The premise is catchy—The Hangover in Regency Scotland. Lady Georgette wakes up to find a hot, naked Scotsman in her bed and a wedding ring on her finger—and no idea how either got there. This book is surprising and delightful and the voice—ah, the voice! McQuiston’s writing is utterly captivating from page one. Some readers were vexed that the hero and heroine don’t really meet until halfway through the book—but I thought it added a delicious sense of anticipation.


Reputation Economics: Why Who You Know Is Worth More Than What You Have by Josh Klein

This incredibly thought provoking book examines how technology is driving a shift in the value of a person’s reputation and how an economy based on reputation empowers individuals and entrepreneurs. It explains why terrorists used FDIC insured banks instead of an underground network based on relationships, how Target knows a woman is pregnant before she does, and why your Klout score might actually matter. Visit for more about the book and read the first chapter for free.


The Crossfire series by Sylvia Day

I initially picked up the first installment of this series as part of my research on a popular subgenre of romance novels: super sexy contemporary stories featuring a billionaire hero and the young, strong woman who soothes his angst and opens his heart to love. This new subgenre is otherwise known as “Do You Have Anything Else Like 50 Shades?” I was immediately riveted by this story about two dark and damaged characters falling in love (and have a lot of hot sex) in New York City.


Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry

This collection of vignettes reveals the working habits of artists and it’s the perfect thing to read while waiting for a train or in line at the post office. If you are an artistic sort, it’s wonderful to see how normal you are. Some artists are night owls (Thomas Wolfe), some are devoted to early mornings (W.H. Auden). Some are meticulous in their schedules (Flaubert and Trollope). Others get drunk and make art (Francis Bacon). To the surprise of no one, coffee plays a very significant role. The lack of a good, comfortable chair was a problem shared by many, including myself and the American composer Morton Feldman who said, “if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.”


The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’m currently reading the latest from the author of Eat, Pray, Love and after just 114 pages I’m ready to add this epic and enchanting novel to my list of favorites.  The book features one of my favorite subjects: the plant hunters and scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Another favorite featured here: the smart heroine discovering pleasure. Above all, the writing is so lovely (but not too writerly) that I anxiously wish to get back to writing my own books.


Check out my Must Reads Blogs or my Pinterest board of Books I Have Read And Loved for more recommended reading.


What were some of the best books you read this year? 





Kerrie Strong

Interesting! I’m currently reading Lean In. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, having heard a little about it and not being in the corporate world, I assumed it didn’t apply to me. But it definitely does.

The Signature of All Things sounds fascinating, and right up my alley. I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert on NPR and was immediately intrigued.

Thanks for sharing.

Among my favorite books last year was Summer is for Lovers, also by Jennifer McQuiston. I loved it even more than What Happens in Scotland. And if you’re into suspense/horror/post-apocalyptic fiction, I highly recommend The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Maya Rodale

I had the exact same feelings about Lean In! And I have since finished The Signature of All Things and it is WONDERFUL. Sometime’s it’s nice to read something where I can’t predict what is going to happen–but this one does end well so it’s safe 🙂 I will definitely have to check out Summer is for Lovers now! Thanks for the tip!

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