holiday book list 2011

Last year around this time, I posted a quick list of my top ten favorite books that I read that Fall. This year, I’ve had a few requests for the same so here it is! All of these books I’ve read and absolutely adored (other than The Buddha in the Attic, which I’m going to start today but I anticipate being great as well).

Sometimes I get worried that I talk about books too much on this blog, which is a food blog, afterall. But then all of your encouraging comments, tweets and emails tell me to keep going….so I do! I hope you enjoy these books as much as I have. To me, there is absolutely nothing better than curling up next to the fireplace and reading for hours on end with a cup of tea in my hand. Reading really is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

1. Girl in Translation

If you follow me on Facebook you know that I just read this entire book on my flight back to California the other day. That’s right; I read the entire book. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop and before I knew it, I was in my cramped seat on the plane sobbing my eyes out. This book reminded me one of my other favorite books, The Joy Luck Club.

2. How to Love an American Man

I reviewed this book a few weeks ago but wanted to share again how amazing I think it is! This and Drowning Ruth remain the two best books I’ve read in 2011, which is saying a lot! It’s such a sweet story of finding true wisdom in the old fashioned values of our grandparents. Kristine hit the nail on the head with her grandma’s relationship advice and immediately after reading it, I called both my mom and my own grandma and told them they needed to pick this one up…stat.

3. These is My Words

I had to include this because I just sat for three hours on my couch last night anxiously flipping clicking through the pages, feeling like I was there in the Territories with Sarah back in 1885, shooting rattlesnakes and making hotcakes for dinner. It goes without saying that if you are (were?) a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, you will LOVE this book. I especially loved it because I’ve been working on my own family history lately, who also settled in Alabama and Texas around the same time.

4. The Violets of March

Part historical fiction set in the 1940’s and part contemporary fiction, this book is a total gem! I’m anxiously awaiting Sarah Jio’s next novel, Bungalow, which will be out next month! I couldn’t put this down.

5. The Buddha in the Attic

Like I said earlier, I haven’t actually read this one yet but it’s on my list. It’s about Japanese mail order brides in the 1920’s and looks incredibly interesting. The book is set on the boat coming over from Japan and also San Francisco, which I love reading about in that time period. If anyone has already read this, let me know how it is!

6. Bloodroot

A Southern dark and lyrical novel about the tragic life of one family in the mountains of Tennessee. It was kind of depressing but I liked it all the same. I took a Southern literature class in college and this reminds me of the type of book that might have been on the roster, had it been published seven years ago.

7. Drowning Ruth

Ah, my favorite book of 2011! And it’s not even new! Actually, it’s quite old but for some odd reason I never picked it up before now. I absolutely adored this book. I love books set in Minnesota and Wisconsin because that’s where my mom’s side of the family is from and I love reading historical novels based there. I also loved the author’s writing style and the element of dark mystery involved. If you haven’t yet picked this up, read it first!! You won’t be disappointed.

8. The Soldier’s Wife

If Drowning Ruth and How to Love an American Man were my top two favorites this year, this novel set in the island of Guernsey during the second World War is easily my third. Strangely enough, I did not care for The Guernsey Literary and Sweet Potato Pie Society, which friends have told me is very similar. However, I relished every page of this book and felt like I was there on this tiny island in the Atlantic with war all around me. I immediately recommended it to my mom, who loved it as well!

9. How to Be an American Housewife

I read this book a few weeks ago and am purchasing a copy to bring to my grandma when I go visit my grandparents next week. It’s exactly the type of story I love: a mother daughter tale of two clashing cultures and finding peace amidst their differences. You may think “another Joy Luck Club?!” but I think this book is more like Shanghai Girls than anything else, which I loved as well. It’s another one of those books that alternates between present day and the 1940’s, and was the perfect book to cozy up to at night before bed.

10. When We Were Strangers

Whew! You probably know by now that I really love historical fiction. And within that genre, one of my favorite sub-genres is the life of immigrants in the early twentieth century. Maybe it sounds weird to some, but I think it’s just so incredibly interesting. This book is the story of a girl that comes over from Italy during that time period and the story of her trying to survive as a dressmaker in Chicago. It reminded me of Elizabeth Street, if you’ve read that (I did and loved it as well!).




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  • Laura @ She Eats Well
    November 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I am at work but all I really want to do right now is go home, purchase one of these books, and read with my Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Mint Green Tea in hand. It’s a cold and foggy San Francisco day…perfect for reading! Thank you for the inspiring recommendations!

  • Heather @ Curly Girl Kitchen
    November 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing! Some friends and I started a book club this year, and it’s great motivation to make time to read, which I’ve always loved, but get too busy for sometimes. These books sound wonderful, I will add them to my list! πŸ™‚

  • Kristen @ Chocolate Covered Kristen
    November 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    So funny – I need to load up my Nook and typed in your URL to go back through your book reviews and had this post to greet me. πŸ™‚ Downloading How to Love and American Man as I type this.

  • Kim
    November 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Love your book lists! Keep them coming!

  • Annie @ Naturally Sweet Recipes
    November 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    What a great list! I LOVED these is my words! I’ve been wanting to read a few of the other ones. Thanks for the post!!

  • Emily
    November 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Love your list! I’m a Women’s Studies major and we often read novels about young women immigrants. My favorite this far is “Almost a Woman” by Esmeralda Santiago!

  • Jamie @ A Healthy J.D.
    November 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Love your list! I just started reading When She Woke and I cannot put it down. I ended up staying up way past my bedtime and reading half of it last night. I think you should definitely check it out.

  • Hilliary @Happily Ever Healthy
    November 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Instead of being at work I would love to be curled up at home with a cup off coffee and a good book! I am working on finishing American Wife… I cannot put it down!

  • Allison (Allison's Delicious Life)
    November 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    YAY! Thanks for the recommendations! I can’t wait to check these out.

  • Katy M
    November 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    What happened to Music Monday? I miss it!

    Your book recommendations look great, I look forward to trying some of them. I have one for you too – The Dirty Life: On Farmking, Food and Love (

  • Joelle (on a pink typewriter)
    November 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    LOVE this list! I just joined a book club and our first book is going to be Girl in Translation I think.. Drowning Ruth sounds like my type of book also.. I also read Violets of March, btw, and loved it.

    Right now I’m finishing up The Marriage Plot and you were totally right- it’s fantastic! I can barely put it down.

  • Erin W.
    November 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I just picked up ‘How to love an american man’ today – and cannot wait to start reading it tonight.

    Jenna, you should add a book list tab/folder. You are my go-to for book reco’s. Thanks!

    • Erin
      November 29, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      you definitely should jenna! i am always adding your recommendations to my amazon wishlist.

      • Julie K
        April 4, 2012 at 6:49 pm

        I know this is an old post but the other ladies are right, you should have a book tab. I ALWAYS start with your site when I’m looking to order a new slew of used books from Amazon.

        • jenna
          April 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

          it’s in the works! πŸ˜‰

  • carly {carlyklock}
    November 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Definitely referencing this on my next trip to the bookstore! I can’t wait to curl up with one of these.

    One of the only good things about winter!

  • Morgan
    November 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Yay! I’m so glad you do this. I am always looking for good reading recommendations. Thanks!

  • Leslie Means @ Her View From Home
    November 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    LOVE how much you love to read! I was so blessed to have my father read to me each and every night – and I have loved it ever since! My girls sure love their books too! Thanks for the great list!

  • Laura
    November 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    i’ve read 5 of these books thanks to your earlier recommendations! love them all. i pass them along to my mom and i don’t think she can handle all the sadness and depressing nature of some of them… there is definitely a theme!

  • aislin @ scribbles by a.
    November 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    i love love love that i have read 4 books on this list!
    and have another on my ‘must read’ list! 5/10 is pretty darn good for me! i must recommend ‘The Hangman’s Daughter’. just put it down. amazing!

  • jamie @ jamelfamela
    November 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you! I was also on a plane on the way back to California yesterday and I read a whole book- Have you ever read the Housekeeper and the Profesor? SO good- such a beautiful story. I recommend it. And I will be heading to the library this week to rent Girl in Translation this week for sure. Thanks for this list!

  • CheezyK
    November 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Wow, you’ve certainly added some interesting sounding books to my ‘to find’ list. Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  • kalli
    November 28, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    i read how to love an american man because of your review and loved it. thanks!

  • Danielle
    November 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I love the book reviews. Last night I was trying to decide what my next book would be and decided to look at your suggestions first. I ended up with The Marriage Plot. So far so good!

  • sherri
    November 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    stayed up all night reading how to love an american man. thank you for your excellent recommendation, jenna! now i’ve a stack of diane chamberlain novels waiting to be picked up from the library. here’s a cookbook recommendation for you plenty by yotam ottolenghi.

  • Lisa @ Dishes of Mrs. Fish
    November 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I always love your book lists! It makes picking out new books so much easier for me! Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the choices at the bookstore!

  • Lauren from Lauren's Latest
    November 28, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Yay! I’m always looking for good books to read! Thank you thank you!

  • Stella
    November 28, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the list. I read How to Love an American Man based on your review and have since recommended it to my sisters and friends. I know I would not have picked it up without your review. Please continue your reviews!

  • Bev Weidner
    November 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Dad gum you read a lot! I read a lot, but not THIS much. Maybe 2012 will be a BIG READING YEAR FOR ME. This comment is boring, I’m realizing.

  • Heather
    November 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I love that you post book reviews! I’ve actually put “How to Love an American Man” and “Drowning Ruth” on my Christmas this year for the hubs! I’m not an overly obsessed historical fiction fan but I loved “Memoirs of a Geisha” and pretty much anything by Frank McCourt….have you ever read the Red Tent? I blasted through that one in a week!

  • Karen
    November 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I loved Girl in Translation…a sweet, heartwarming, memorable book! Though in all honesty, I wasn’t wild re. Violets of March.

  • Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga
    November 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks for the book reviews & suggestions.

    And that Coffeemate French Vanilla coffeecreamer…I’ve been addicted to that stuff for the past decade. I love it so! A book and that in my coffee..perfect.

  • Alyssa Trobacher
    November 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Please don’t ever stop these lists! If I’m being honest the only reason I’ve read as much as I have this year (like 10 times more then any other recent year) it’s because of your personal recommendations. Your taste in books seems very similar to mine, which means I can pick up any of the books you suggest and LOVE them! Thank you so much for taking the time to write these posts.

  • jean
    November 28, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    i just got my kindle so i was searching your blog for your suggestions. Thanks!!!! Can’t wait to load them on.

  • Samantha
    November 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Okay, can I just say how insanely jealous I am of all the kindles I see bloggers with lately?
    I’m being mischievious here; but I am living in the ice ages: LIBRARY πŸ™‚

    Honestly, i miss buying books so much, but there’s something about purchasing them that has a downside: it requires money and i have none πŸ™‚

    On that note, interesting list. I’m not sure their my kind of reads. I did read an Anita Shreve book you mentioned before and it was good, but not great (for my personal tastes). I read another a few months back called “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” which was decent also (again, a good book, just not my typical choice).

  • Deanna
    November 28, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    You are like my book soulmate! I have loved every book that you’ve recommended that I’ve read, and many times, the books that I love, end up on your reading list! I can’t wait to read some of these titles. The latest two books that I’ve read and would recommend are ‘Secret Daughter’ by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and ‘The Secret Lives of Dresses’ by Erin McKean. I just could not put down either of them!

  • Jennifer
    November 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I read the Soldier’s Wife based on your recommendations and loved it! Some of my favorites from this year have been Sarah’s Key and The Hunger Games!!!

  • RJ
    November 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    I LOVED Drowning Ruth!! One of my all time favorites. Love your book reviews – keep them coming!

  • Cait's Plate
    November 28, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Loved this post! I just started a verrrry long commute so I’m going to need good books!

  • kellyo
    November 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Please don’t stop these lists! The only one I’ve read so far is The Violets of March…loved it!!!

  • Heidi
    November 28, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Keep the book lists coming …love it!!

  • jessica
    November 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I LOVE your book posts, and hope they continue. We have similar tastes, so to get these great recommendations is wonderful! Keep it up!

  • Liz
    November 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Please keep sharing books! I love the cooking & baking, but I’m also a HUGE reader and love when people share reviews of good books πŸ™‚

  • i'll do this later
    November 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    random: i also use coffeemate in my coffee =) the italian cream kind.

  • Cheree
    November 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    I have added several of these to my “to read” list. I absolutely adored “These Is My Words.” Thanks for the reviews!

  • Meghan
    November 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Oh yay, I’m so glad you read ‘These is My Words’! I knew you’d love it!

  • Hannah
    November 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Hi Jenna, thanks for the list of new-to-me books! Your blog is the first resource I use when I’m standing in a bookstore. Loved The Kitchen House and Secret Daughter based on your recs.

  • Lisa @ The Gonzo Gourmet
    November 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Jenna I love your list and need to check out your rec’s. I loved American Housewife…I’m also a fan of mother/daughter stories, plus this one takes place in my home town so I loved it even more. Have you picked up Invisible Bridge? Amazing. Plus it’s so long and how great is it to get caught up in a book that’s 700+ pages?! Thanks for sharing your list.

  • esmemerrie
    November 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    oh! I can’t wait, I think I’m going to need to hunt down a few of these to read on the plane to Florida!!

  • Heather Michelle @ A Sweet Simple Life
    November 29, 2011 at 4:28 am

    Love your books reviews, Jenna. I read Bloodroot in one sitting on a flight home from Texas a few weeks ago and loved it. I already asked my hubby for How to Love an American Man for my stocking stuffer… Crossing fingers…

  • Meg
    November 29, 2011 at 6:12 am

    I read and loved the Midwife’s Confession based on your reco, so I know I can’t go wrong with these and have added most to my lists! Thanks!

  • Donna
    November 29, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Please keep up the book recommendations!!! I usually read every book you recommend – right now I’m on the Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and I can’t put it down!!

  • Paige
    November 29, 2011 at 7:37 am

    I bought How to Love an American Man after your last suggestion- I’m excited to read it over Christmas!

  • Jesse
    November 29, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Have you ever read Daughter of Fortune? [or House of Spirits if were speaking Isabel Allende] I feel like you would enjoy it…

    Thanks for the book recommendations!

  • sarah (sarah learns)
    November 29, 2011 at 7:56 am

    i’ve read a couple of these after seeing your recommendations! i second your reviews of a soldiers wife and when we were strangers. i couldn’t put them down!

    i have violets of march & bloodroot waiting for me at home to finish my current book (american wife). πŸ™‚

    thanks for posting this list!

  • Carly
    November 29, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Jenna I just love your recommendations! Thanks for sharing…your love for books has definitely inspired me to turn off the computer & get to the books! I just bought How to Love an American Man – I’m at the very beginning but I love it so far. Have you read the Hunger Games yet? My sister recommended it and I read it over Thanksgiving and LOVED it. I was a little apprehensive at first because I didn’t think it was my typical genre but I truly could not put it down. I would love to hear your thoughts on it (if you’ve read it, if you want to, if you don’t, etc).

  • mel tardy
    November 29, 2011 at 9:46 am

    You might have already heard of these, I didn’t have the time to read through all the comments first….BUT HAVE YOU READ THE CONTINUATION TO These is my Words?
    It’s Sarah’s Quilt and Star GArden. Awesome reads!!! And especially wonderful since I live here in AZ where it was all written about.

  • Maria
    November 29, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Thanks for posting this, I’m always looking for new books to read. Drowning Ruth is probably one of my favorite books to date. So, so good!

  • peacebeme
    November 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for these book recs! I love this list and plan on reading several.

  • Corrie Anne
    November 29, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you thank you for this list!! I always love your suggestions!!!!!! And I’m dying for a good book!

  • Tracy
    November 29, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Keep the book list and reviews coming! I always look forward to your book reviews.

  • Kelly
    November 29, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    I loved loved “These Is My Words!” Loved! The rest of them in that series are good, but not as good as the first!
    Will try some of your other recommendations over the holiday.

  • Amanda
    November 29, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the book recommendations! I am traveling a bunch in the next few weeks and I will need a lot of airplane reading!

  • Gina
    November 30, 2011 at 6:54 am

    I LOVED How to Love an American Man and have now recommended to many of my girl friends and mom! I am now reading Girl in Translation and have had a hard time putting it down. Thanks for the great book recommends!! Have you read Unbroken? I recently read, and probably one of my all time favorites.

  • Clare Sand
    November 30, 2011 at 7:49 am


    I love your book recommendations just as much as I love your food.
    Please keep them coming!

  • The Norwegian Book Girl
    November 30, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I have found your blog whilst searching for reviews of The Kitchen House, which I recently read and adored. I have ordered a lot of the books you have loved this year and can’t wait to get into them. I will be following your blog for reading gems from now on.

    Have a great week.

  • Jill
    December 1, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Please don’t even think about not having your book reviews. I know you’re known primarily as a food blog but I love your book lists. I’ve read some amazing books due to you. I’m so thankful for it–it’s like a whole new world open for me. Also I love your readers reviews–have gotten quite a few good books to read from there.
    I love your recipes but I also look to your blog for good books to read.

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  • Alison
    December 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    I read “The Soldier’s Wife” based off your recommendation a while back. it easily became one of my favorite books!! Thank you. I have added a few more to my list.

  • Allison
    December 16, 2011 at 7:14 am

    AHH! I just read These is My Words and Sarah’s Quilt…THEY ARE AMAZING! Love them! I really didn’t want them to end. THANK YOU THANK YOU! I’ve loved every single one of your book recommendations – they do not disappoint! More more more!

  • Evi
    December 16, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Thanks for all of the book recommendations! My book club is meeting next month and I will definitely have to pass these on!

  • jamie @ jamelfamela
    December 28, 2011 at 10:10 am

    just read girl in translation. than you SO much for the recommendation- i LOVED it and i was also sobbing by the end of it!!! ah, next i must read joy luck club, i guess!

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  • Jean Kwok
    January 12, 2012 at 5:43 am

    I just came across this – thank you so much for writing about GIRL IN TRANSLATION! I’m thrilled you enjoyed it and much gratitude also to the other readers who have posted kind words about my book. I’ve linked to this on my Facebook fan page:
    I’ll be following your blog from now on too – love food and books as well!
    Jean Kwok