While this year has been filled with so many challenges and things that are not my favorite, but I did still manage to read quite a bit in 2020, all things considered. I listened to 70+ books last year, so not all is lost, right? Today I thought I’d highlight some of my favorite books of 2020 and hope that you might find something to add to your reading list. This post contains some affiliate links.
The Midnight Library
Since reading this book, I have been touting it to anyone who will listen. I plowed through it in two days, and was sad that it ended. The Midnight Library is a completely different premise than anything I’ve listened to before, which I guess it what makes it so compelling. Imagine being able to see/experience your life as it would be if you had made different choices, done things differently. Big decisions, or small. This book takes you on that journey. It’s a fantastic read.
The Kitchen House
The Kitchen House is a work of historical fiction, but with beautifully developed characters that you come to know and love. It takes place during the early 19th century, and centers around Lavinia, who was orphaned and brought to the United States as a child from Ireland. She is raised with the house slaves, who essentially raise her as one of their own, while also being part of the lives of the family living on the plantation. Essentially, living with a foot in both worlds. It’s a beautifully written story of love and family, struggle and determination.
This Tender Land
I loved Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, and while This Tender Land is a different story altogether, Krueger does what he does best – storytelling.
I don’t feel like I can do justice in describing this book, so I’m going to rely on Amazon to do it for me…
“1932: Located on the banks of the Gilead River in Minnesota, Lincoln School is home to hundreds of Native American boys and girls who have been separated from their families. The only two white boys in the school are orphan brothers Odie and Albert, who, under the watchful eyes of the cruel superintendent Mrs. Brickman, are often in trouble for misdeeds both real and imagined. The two boys’ best friend is Mose, a mute Native American who is also the strongest kid in school. And they find another ally in Cora Frost, a widowed teacher who is raising her little girl, Emmy, by herself.
When tragedy strikes down Mrs. Frost, it’s the catalyst for a series of events that will send Odie, Albert, and Mose to rescue Emmy and flee down the river in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi, leaving a dead body in their wake. Soon, they are wanted by the law, and they know that Mrs. Brickman will stop at nothing to track them down for dark reasons of her own. Over the course of this unforgettable summer, Odie, Albert, Mose, and Emmy carefully make their way through the small river towns and big cities filled with people who are by turns desperate and generous, cruel and kind. As they search for a place to belong, these four remarkable children will lose their innocence but gain the strength to survive in the face of terrible loss.”
If you love great stories, I feel confident you will love this book.
No Time Like the Future
I saw Michael J. Fox talking about this book and also read articles ahead of reading it myself. I’ve always been a fan of his, and was interested in his take in this book. He’s always been such an optimist given the cards he’s been dealt, and in this book, he’s been dealt some really crappy cards on top of what he’s been dealing with already. He continues to be an inspiration even in dealing with some challenging times.
The Book of Lost Friends
Before We Were Yours is a book that Lisa Wingate wrote before this one, and is one of those books that just sticks with you. So, when I discovered The Book of Lost Friends, I knew she had another story to tell that was worth listening to. The Book of Lost Friends ties two eras together, bringing together a story of the past to the current day.
“Louisiana, 1875: In the tumultuous era of Reconstruction, three young women set off as unwilling companions on a perilous quest: Hannie, a freed slave; Lavinia, the pampered heir to a now destitute plantation; and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half-sister. Each carries private wounds and powerful secrets as they head for Texas, following roads rife with vigilantes and soldiers still fighting a war lost a decade before. For Lavinia and Juneau Jane, the journey is one of stolen inheritance and financial desperation, but for Hannie, torn from her mother and siblings before slavery’s end, the pilgrimage west reignites an agonizing question: Could her long-lost family still be out there? Beyond the swamps lie the limitless frontiers of Texas and, improbably, hope.
Louisiana, 1987: For first-year teacher Benedetta Silva, a subsidized job at a poor rural school seems like the ticket to canceling her hefty student debt – until she lands in a tiny, out-of-step Mississippi River town. Augustine, Louisiana, is suspicious of new ideas and new people, and Benny can scarcely comprehend the lives of her poverty-stricken students. But amid the gnarled live oaks and run-down plantation homes lie the century-old history of three young women, a long-ago journey, and a hidden book that could change everything.”
Thicker Than Water
I have been captivated by the whole story behind Elizabeth Holmes and the rise and fall of her company, Theranos. If you haven’t read or heard about it, I highly recommend it, because it’s downright fascinating. There is a documentary called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley” that details it pretty well, along with coverage in the Wall Street Journal of her lies and deceit surrounding the work of her company. Thicker Than Water is a audiobook featuring the whistleblower in this story. It’s a whole different side of the story that is compelling, terrifying and inspiring all at once.
The Darkest Child
Some of the books that I come across really just blow my mind in how one’s childhood could unfold. The Darkest Child is one of those books.
A description from Amazon:
“Pakersfield, Georgia, 1958: Thirteen-year-old Tangy Mae Quinn is the sixth of ten fatherless siblings. She is the darkest-skinned among them and therefore the ugliest in her mother, Rozelle’s, estimation, but she’s also the brightest. Rozelle—beautiful, charismatic, and light-skinned—exercises a violent hold over her children. Fearing abandonment, she pulls them from school at the age of twelve and sends them to earn their keep for the household, whether in domestic service, in the fields, or at “the farmhouse” on the edge of town, where Rozelle beds local men for money.
But Tangy Mae has been selected to be part of the first integrated class at a nearby white high school. She has a chance to change her life, but can she break from Rozelle’s grasp without ruinous—even fatal—consequences?”
Hidden Valley Road
While this book is a heavy read, it’s one that you won’t easily forget. Hidden Valley Road is the story of a large family (12 children, including 10 boys), and how six of the ten boys developed schizophrenia. It was difficult to read at some points, but on the flip side of that, this family has been used as a case study for mental illness, schizophrenia, in particular. It shows how so little was known about the illness during the timeframe of the book, and while great strides have been made, there is still much to learn.
Calypso was the first book I listened to from David Sedaris, and I was laughing out loud within five minutes. If you’re looking for some good humor and wonderful storytelling, give David Sedaris a try. He is a wonder at both, recapturing stories of his own life with his self-deprecating nature.
Big Lies in a Small Town
Diane Chamberlain has become another favorite author of mine, and Big Lies in a Small Town is a great example of why that’s the case. It weaves together two stories of past and present, and is one of those books that finishes without loose ends, but also without feeling rushed or abruptly ended. It’s the story of a woman who is in town to do an art restoration project, for which she was hand selected (in exchange for getting out of prison early, for a crime she didn’t commit). And in the process of this restoration project, she uncovers so much more. It’s an intriguing story that you won’t want to end.
Have you read anything lately that’s worth sharing? What were your favorite books of 2020? I’d love to hear about them!
If you’d like to check out some of my favorite books from the past, check them out here:
Kerri HatfieldJanuary 8, 2021 at 1:59 pm
Your reviews are spot on. Even the books I haven’t read, many are by authors where I’ve read their other books or were on my to read list! Do you ever go on to Goodreads and review your books? I’d love to see your thoughts on the other 60 books you’ve read!
JennyJanuary 10, 2021 at 12:08 pm
I need to be more regular about reviewing books when I actually finish them, because honestly, unless they’re really good, I forget them very easily! Isn’t that terrible? Or maybe just a symptom of old age? 😉
Vicki BrawleyJanuary 8, 2021 at 2:18 pm
I am so glad to see a post from you! I always enjoy reading your thoughts on books you have recently read. Unlike you I was unable to read during this pandemic. Hoping to get back to it!
JennyJanuary 10, 2021 at 12:07 pm
I didn’t read as much as I usually do, but am always happy when I get back into a routine of reading (and when I find great books!). I went through a bit of a streak of books that were just so-so, which gets frustrating. But, the great books pull me right out of it!
JuliaJanuary 8, 2021 at 2:28 pm
Thanks for the book recommendations! I love to read and these sound great.
Nan SchnabelJanuary 8, 2021 at 4:22 pm
Thanks for your reviews and book list. I hate to admit but I haven’t been reading like I used to and I really need to get back into it. You’d think during this pandemic I would have taken advantage of all that free time. I’m a lover of David Sedaris too and think that I’ll have to start with his on audio books. Having heard him several times n person there’s just something about his voice that I think would add to my pleasure. In the meantime, I do have a stack of books I’m determined to attack but I’ll keep your reviews & lists close at hand and hopefully next year I will have finished many of them.
JennyJanuary 10, 2021 at 12:06 pm
I know that I went through some book “downtime” this year as well – which I agree, seems counterintuitive! I love David Sedaris’ audiobooks – they really give the stories little extra something. He’s a marvelous storyteller!