Saturday, January 16, 2021

My Top 20 Books of 2020

 One upside to 2020 is that it provided plenty of time to read a little more than you usually might. In 2019 I had so many things going on I maybe read three books total for the whole year. I didn’t really start reading till about halfway 2020, but I was able to read about forty-seven books in total for 2020 and some of them were just really standout books. 

I always admire an authors’ ability to weave together a story and give their character various traits that either make the bounce of the page or feel like the best friend you didn’t know you needed. Since I read I few more books in 2020 than I did in 2019, I thought I would put a list together of twenty of my favorite books I either read or listened to on audio this past year. So… in no particular order, here is a roundup of my twenty must-reads from 2020!

One// The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah, is the second book I ready for 2020. Like 10 or 15 years ago, which now seems like a lifetime ago, I read my first Kristin Hannah book, Firefly Lane, maybe I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the storyline or her style of writing, but I remember thinking at the time it was a good book, but I wasn’t tempted to read another one of hers. A couple years ago I kept hearing such wonderful things about Hannah’s book, The Nightingale, and I thought that I give it a read, and I am so glad I gave her books a second chance, The Nightingale was an amazing read, amazing story line, writing, and just everything about it was so well done. The Great Alone is right us there with The Nightingale; her ability to tell a story and the details she works in is something to be praised. 


For Leni Albright, there was always a level of uncertainty to her life – she had been the new kid at school more time than she would like to remember and she was never in one place long enough to truly feel like it was ‘home’. Her dad Ernt, a former POW, came home from the war a changed man who is unstable and has a violent temper. When he loses another job and the opportunity to move to Alaska presents itself Ernt makes the impulsive decision to move his family to America’s last frontier. 


At first, Alaska seems like the answers for all they have been hoping for. The community is spread out, but made of strong men and women willing to help the Albrights prepare for their first winter. Leni grows to identify Alaska as home and finds herself as well as love there. Unfortunately, Lani and her mother soon come to realize that when the nights grow longer and darker in Alaska it only makes her father worse. The worries of bears, wolves, and other Alaskan wildlife fads once it becomes evident that her father only gets worse as the nights become increasing longer, an it is up to Lani and her mother to save themselves. 


The Great Alone is a story of how resilent the human body can be, how strong a person can be when they need to be, and how fragile things can seem. 


Two// The Lost Girls of Paris, by Pam Jenoff

One morning Grace Healey finds herself being forced to take a detour through Grand Central Terminal - where she stumbles upon an abandoned suitcase. When Grace opens the suitcase to find a dozen or so pictures all of young women. She quickly leaves the station with the photos in hand. A little while late she is confused as to why she felt so compelled to take the photos with her, going so far as to try to track down a proper way to return the photographs to their proper owner. 


Grace learns that photos belonged to Eleanor Trigg, who unfortunately passed away earlier in the day. Trigg was the leader of a network of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during WWII to act as spies and aid in the resistance. With the help of an old friend Grace sets off on a quest to find out about the women in the photos, what they did during the war, and what happened became of them. 


The Lost Girls of Paris is so beautifully written and highlights the important rolls that women played during WWII. If you are a fan of historical fiction this book is definitely a must-read. 



Three// Where The Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

This book has been on my ‘books to read’ list for at least a year and a half! I actually had the audio on loan from a friend {for 6 months} last year, but things were so crazy I couldn’t even find time to listen to them… fingers crossed that 2021 doesn’t get any crazier than 2020… Before I start I have to say I am amazed that this is Owens first book; she wove every aspect together so well to create such an enticing narrative.


As beautifully as it is written it is also somewhat of a painfully sad storyline at times. The story is set in a small, rural, 1950s North Carolina town and revolves around the childhood, and later adulthood of Kya Clark. As the youngest member of the Clark family she is slowly abandoned by every member of her family, starting with her mother, than her four older siblings, and lastly her father who is the reason why the others left and why they landed in the isolated marsh lands of North Carolina.


Kya is drawn to the land and at times views nature as the only thing that has not left her. She soon becomes known as the ‘Marsh Girl” by the towns people leading to a feeling of further isolation and not belonging. Despite everything she manages to survive on her own starting at a very young age, turns her love of the marshlands into being a central point of her life, is found at the center of a town crime, and even manages to find love in more ways than one. 


This murder-mystery, coming-of-age, southern fiction novel is just stunning. Although heart-wrenching at times, this is an amazing novel that will no doubt join the ranks of such book as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sound and the Fury; an instant classic. 


Four// Feels Like Falling, by Kristy Woodson Harvey

I love Kristy Woodson Harvey’s books for the spring and summer season. She writes the most perfect books to read while sitting on your back porch or to tuck away in your beach tote to late pull out and read by the water. Her style of writing unfailingly transports you to a new town and a set of characters that you will undeniably love. 


Harvey intertwines the lives of two women whose lives are in turmoil and their future unknown. This book just goes to show you that you never know exactly what is around the corner and people seem to come into our lives at just the right moment in time. This book will have you laughing, crying, and cheering for each character with each turn of a page. 


Five// The Southern Side of Paradise, by Kristy Woodson Harvey

This is the third {and sadly, last book} in The Peachtree Bluff Series. Over the year I have absolutely fallen in love with the Murphy family with their family drama, the different personalities of the mother, Ansley, and that of her three daughters that are intermingled throughout the family, and their lifestyle in Peachtree, North Carolina. Each book in the series centers around a sister – the first book starting with the oldest sister and the last book ending with the youngest sister, Emerson. 


Emerson is recently engaged to her old high school boyfriend, has been casted in the role of a lifetime, has everything right at her feet, yet something seems off…


This book is full of southern charm, page-turning drama, and heart-felt emotions in every corner. {A more in-depth review is soon to come!}. A summer must read, especially for those who have sisters in their family!


Six// Girl In The Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse

I think this particular book is technically classified in the young adult genre {make fun of me all you want, but I love YA novels; it’s my guilty pleasure}, and it is such a fantastic read, especially if you love historical fiction. 


Girl In The Blue Coat is set in German occupied 1943 Amsterdam. The main character, Hanneke, becomes the main finical contributor for her family. She works at a funeral home where the owner works in the black market. She spends her days procuring and delivering black market good to her regular paying customers. One customer, whom she knew before the war started, asks a favor of her that will lead her into more complicated waters and drudge up memories of her deceased boyfriend who passed away fighting on the front lines early on in the war. 


This book is such a quick read and will have you turning pages up until the late hours of the night.


Seven// The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

I have gotten super into audio books. Listening to music while I was  working out or getting ready for the day started to make me antsy, so I tried audio books, and it’s so much more relaxing listening to a book on audio than music some days. 


The Dutch House is narrated by Tom Hanks and hearing him narrate this book just makes the whole story. The story is told from the perspective of the younger brother, Danny. The story of The Dutch House is spread over five decades. Danny starts at his and his sister’s, Maeve childhood. His father originally purchased the Dutch House as a surprise for his wife after he came into some money by making a few smart real estate investments after World War II. 


The house in one way or another takes more than it gives and for the most part Danny and Maeve can really only depend on one another. It is a beautifully dark story that will leave you mesmerized at certain points. 


Eight// Educated, by Tara Westover

Educated is another book that I listened to on Audio and Tara Westover does a beautiful job of telling the story of her life. It is truly amazing the amount of determination the human spirit posses and the amount of courage and perseverance it took Tara Westover to rise above and make her own way in the world.


Truly an amazing story; cannot recommend enough


Nine// Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

This is such a well-told story that unfolds in a beautifully tragic way. I have heard such wonderful things about this book and was excited to finally read it. 


The story alternates between the late 1930s Tennessee and present day South Carolina. Before We Were Yours is told through present day Avery Stafford and 1939 12 year old, Rill Foss. 


Rill Foss and her four siblings live on the river in a shantyboat. On the night her mother gives birth at a hospital to twins, while still under the effects of medication she is convinced to sign her children over to The Tennessee Children’s Home. At first the children are assured that they will be returned to their parents, but once the truth becomes more apparent Rill tried with all her might to keep her brother and sisters together. 


Avery moves back home with the intention of helping her family through her father’s health crisis and possibly to take over his position. A function at a nursing home leads her to meet to Mae, who she later finds out plays an important role in not only her life, but also her family’s.


Ten// We Were The Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter

We Were The Lucky Ones is without a doubt a must-read! Any book that is set in World War II Europe, in my opinion, is a difficult subject matter to write about, and Hunter was able to do it in an almost poetic way. 


We Were The Lucky Ones is inspired by the true story of one Jewish family who is separated at the start of World War II and survive to be reunited at the end. It is truly a story of just how far love and hope can carry one’s spirit even in the worst of times. 


Eleven// Summer of ’69, by Elin Hilderbrand

Is there anyone out there who can honestly say that they don’t love Elin Hilderbrand books? She always does such a great job of capturing her reader’s attention and weaving the different lives of her characters together. 


Summer of ’69 is about the Levin family, their summer in Nantucket {who else could use a beach trip right now?!} and the many family secrets that will surface throughout the summer and how the family comes together to help one another. 


Twelve// Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train has been on my ‘books to read’ list for literally years, and I cannot believe that it has taken me this long to actually read. It is a touching read that demonstrates the power of resilience, second, third, and maybe even fourth chances, and the power and effect an unexpected friendship can have on your life.


Thirteen// The Things We Cannot See, by Kelly Rimmer

About two years about I read The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, and it is still the one of the best books I have read in ages. I have heard a few people compare this book to The Nightingale, so I obviously had to read The Things We Cannot Say. 


Rimmer did such a wonderful job of intertwining the past with the present and slowly revealing family secrets and a window into a young woman’s daily life during World War II


Fourteen// Next Year in Havana, by Chanel Cleeton

I listened to this book on Audible while I went on walks, and can I just say that this is a perfect book to listen to on Audio. With the narrator’s inflictions and accents it really did bring the story to life. 


The granddaughter of Elisa Perez travel’s to Cuba with her grandmother’s ashes, to scatter them in the place that she loved most. In her quest to do so, she uncovers the life her grandmother lived, her love life, and the political unrest that eventually forced them out of Cuba and to seek refuge in Miami.


Fifteen// In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle

This is one of those books that you can loose yourself in and read in one day, easily. It is moving, clever, and powerful.


Remember when you were fresh out of college or grad school and one of the first questions asked in an interview was “Where do you see yourself in five year?” Well, a very ambitious lawyer knows exactly where she will be in five years, but unfortunately {and sometimes fortunately} life throws us all a curve ball that might throw us off of that perfectly envisioned five year course we once had in mind. Truly a story that will be loved by all and will at times pull at your heartstrings 


Sixteen// Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman

I loved this book and the writing style of Backman. He added humor to moments and situations that shouldn’t have any humor to them at all, but this oddly just made the book so memorable, in a very good way. All I can say about this book is that everyone should give this book a go – highly recommend!


Seventeen// One Day in December, by Josie Silver

I have been meaning to read this book for years, and it was such a sweet Christmas story, that wove together friendship, love, family, and unexpected obstacles and sacrifices that must be made in life sometimes. It takes you through the lows and highs of life and is definitely a holiday must read!


Eighteen// The Magpie Society, by Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

I love Zoe Sugg as a blogger, a vlogger, and an author. She just always seems to have such a fantastic disposition and outlook on things, even during challenging times. 


Confession, I have read her Girl Online series and loved all three books, so needless to say I was pretty excited to learn the she was coming out with a new series and the first book did not disappoint. Sugg has coauthored The Magpie Society with Amy McCulloch and the two really did a great job with this first book. If you are a fan of Young Adult books and mysteries, this book is a must read!


Ninteen// When We Left Cuba, by Chanel Cleeton

This is a follow-up book to Next Year In Havana – it is the story of one of Elisa’s sister’s, Beatriz, who is a character that practically demands a book all of her own. 


The Cuban Revolution took many things away from Beatriz Perez, but most important to her, her brother. She is recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Castro’s inner circle and is pulled into the dangerous world of espionage. She finds herself caught between Cuban American politics and an affair with a senator, who just happens to be close friends with JFK. IN the end Beatriz is forced to make a choice between her past and future. 


Twenty// Such A Fun Age, by Kiley Reid

Does Reese’s Book Club picks ever disappoint? This book is so appropriate to a read and in timing with the societal views and times that surround us. 


Alix Chamberlain is a mother of two, married to a news anchor, and has build her success on a confidence driven brand, and encourages other women to do the same. As Alix seeks a babysitter for her daughter, she settles on Emira, who is a little lost in life, Alix of course only wants to find a way to help. Emira begins to date someone from Alix’s past, which unearths plenty. 

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