What Should I Read Next? Book Recommendations for Fall


reading book in bed. Des Moines MomAs the kids return to school and cooler air makes for cozy couch nests, you might be looking for a new book to help you relax, teach you a little something, or just distract you from reality.

If only you had time for that.

On the off chance you do actually have time and just need somebody else to put a title in your hands, here are some ideas. Sometimes plot summaries don’t tell you enough so I’ve included each book’s “mood,” or at least the mood it put me in. I’m a mood reader.

Many of these are nonfiction (which is unusual for me), but I find them good for small bites. I can’t do end-of-chapter cliffhangers that keep me up all night when there are early morning school drop-offs. These essay collections also tend to work well as audiobooks for listening in the car or doing chores and other “adulting” activities.

I’m also going to plug a few of my local favorite places to get the books. Truthfully, the Des Moines Library is my only source for books, but if I had the funds to spend and the time to spare, I’d hit up one of these lovely local shops for my reads. This is by no means an exhaustive list of independent bookstores in the area. 

  • Beaverdale Books – This is my local haunt and a Beaverdale staple. Take your new purchase across the square to grab some chocolate, coffee, or pub food to enjoy while you read.
  • Plain Talk Books & Coffee – Used books and great food in the East Village. It’s a happy place to spend time.
  • Storyhouse Bookpub – My local librarian actually recommended this place. It is wonderful and it offers plenty of family-friendly events. Also, Cinnaholic is right next door. Enough said.

<< RELATED CONTENT:: Guide to Des Moines Libraries >>

Recommended Reading


The School For Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan 

If your book club needs a read offering plenty to discuss, you must try this book. A friend suggested this and it was so nice to have someone to text after each mind explosion I experienced. This is a slightly dystopian novel (although it feels very realistic these days) exploring what it means to be a good mother. Who decides what it means to be a good mother? Who enforces it? I laughed, I cried, I screamed. I might’ve thrown the book if I hadn’t been reading it on my phone. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

This is a slightly magical novel that again examines the care of children, particularly those who don’t quite fit in, such as a child who is literally the antichrist. This cast of kids is completely fantastical and utterly lovable. I rooted for the social worker-esque protagonist named Linus, who is perfectly named. He’s flawed and fearful and determined to do what’s right. The book’s ending gave me warm fuzzies, and the rest of the novel never let me doubt that Linus – and the kids – would ultimately triumph.  

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Lest it be said that I don’t know how to have a good time, I must include just one book from the genre I’m typically obsessed with: romance novels.  Evie Dunmore created a series featuring strong female protagonists called “A League of Extraordinary Women.” These British women break the cultural norms of their time (think Bridgerton era) as they fight for the right to vote and independence from men, all while falling in love with a misguided yet teachable member of nobility.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Ok, I’ll be honest. I haven’t read this one yet. However, I just found the Des Moines Public Library and Des Moines Public Schools are partnering to make this book accessible to all, complete with discussions in various branches throughout the month of October. It’s also a part of the 5th grade curriculum in DMPS, which means your kid might be reading it. What a great way to build community around a book!  


The Mamas: What I Learned About Kids, Class, and Race from Moms Not Like Me by Helena Andrews-Dryer

This is a nonfiction collection of essays by a Washington Post culture writer that reads very easily. To give you an idea of her tone, her previous book is titled Bitch Is the New Black. Her writing is quick, insightful, and enlightening. We all remember that first group of unfamiliar moms we joined/watched/tried on as new mothers. Andrews-Dryer analyzes her entry into such a group, navigating its many personalities, and delving into the unique challenge the racial differences of the group created. I laughed out loud many times but also found myself reflecting on her points long after reading. Many of her experiences are ones I will never have, which makes them all the more worth reading. 

How to Not Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn

The title says a lot but I have to downplay it. She doesn’t hate her husband (nor do I, if it needs to be said). What’s nice about this book is that it offers concrete techniques for working through various issues – financial, communication, parenting styles, etc. – without resorting to endless arguments. I didn’t agree with everything she suggests, but I found plenty of helpful nuggets to make it well worth reading. I even made my husband read a specific chapter or two and it made for interesting conversation. Well, after I convinced him to ignore the book’s title.

I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Midlife and Motherhood by Jessi Klein

If you don’t have time for an entire book, just read her opening essay on the hero’s journey as applied to motherhood. My sister-in-law shared it with me and I sent it to many of my own friends. It’s so good (and also available online). Klein previously worked as a writer for Saturday Night Live, so you know the essays are going to be funny. What’s even better is that they’re also poignant and soul-satisfying. She almost lost me when she revealed she had a night nurse and day nanny from the day she brought home her son (jealous!) but I stuck it out and I’m glad I did. Listen to the audio book to fully appreciate her sarcasm.

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet by John Green

You probably know John Green from one of his novels (The Fault in Our Stars, for one) or his amazing internet content, but this is a recent release of nonfiction essays (he also has a podcast of the same name). If you want to know what the Anthopocene actually is, you’ll have to read the book. I don’t think I’d explain it very well. But the book is about John and his forays as a kid, student, husband, dad, and creator. One of my favorite essays explores Mario Kart and the love he and his then-8-year-old son had for the game. Then he connects it to the game of life and the role of luck and skills. Brilliant. The essays are short, meaty, and good for sharing.

What are you reading?

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