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Some of my favorite reads of 2020
I hope you all had a wonderful — if weird — Christmas. I’m off from work this week and am trying to squeeze in a few more books before the year ends.
For my last newsletter of the year, I’m spotlighting some of my favorite reads during this wild year. This list is by no means a “best of” or even a full favorites list — I found the idea of compiling one of those just too stressful. It’s just a partial list of books that helped me get through a tough time.
So, what to read if …
You Love Contemporary Fiction
Long Bright River was one of the first books I read in 2020, and it remained one of my favorites of the year, no matter how many books I read after it. Liz Moore’s fourth book is simultaneously a fantastic mystery with twists that made my jaw drop and an intense, raw depiction of the opioid crisis’s devastating effect on our country, cities and families.
This book is perfect for both mystery lovers and those who typically don’t read the genre. The mystery is one of many layers — a family saga, the collapse of a neighborhood and more.
Entertainment Weekly called Such a Fun Age “The most provocative page-turner of the year,” and there’s really no better way to describe it. Kiley Reid’s debut is a propulsive, almost soapy, read about class and race. In the book’s opening scene, Emira, a Black twenty-something nanny, is accused of kidnapping the white child she babysits. The kid’s mother, Alix, vows to make it right and attempts to force a friendship on Emira.
I read this book in a single sitting in February and have thought about it every month since.
You Want a Non-Fiction Read
Caste is therare book that caused me to rethink the way I look at the world. In it, Isabel Wilkerson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Warmth of Other Suns, argues America has a caste system, similar to the one found in India. She argues that this framework will allow us to better understand our nation’s history and establish a stronger course for the future. In the hands of a lesser writer, Caste would be a dense, almost unreadable book filled with academic jargon. Wilkerson, though, has a gift for simplifying years of research and reporting into simple prose.
It’s safe to say I’ll be thinking about Caste for months and years to come.
I finished Hidden Valley Road just three days ago and I’ve already recommended it to three people. It’s that good. Robert Kolker tells the story of the Galvin’s, a Colorado family with twelve children, six of whom would be diagnosed with schizophrenia. They became of the first families to be studied by researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health, and their DNA underpins much of what scientists know about schizophrenia. The book alternates between the family’s struggles with schizophrenia and the history of our understanding of it, showing both the personal and societal effects of the disease.
I really appreciate that Kolker wrote such a sympathetic, fascinating book about mental illness, a topic that touches so many of us but often goes ignored.
You Enjoy a Good Romance
Kate Clayborn is the queen of the comfort read. Her books are funny, sweet, moving and beautifully written. Love Lettering is no exception. It depicts the romance between Meg Mackworth, who designs planners for the rich and famous, and Reid Sutherland, a Wall Street math whiz. When they meet, Meg feels stuck and is struggling with a friend breakup. On a whim, she asks Reid to wander New York City with her, looking for the best-handwritten signs they can find. On their walks, they develop a friendship and, ultimately, a romantic relationship. More than that, Love Lettering is a love letter (I couldn’t resist) to New York.
I read Love Lettering twice this year and found myself rereading Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series (about friends who win the lottery) this summer. At a time of uncertainty, Clayborn’s books gave me a few hours of contentment.
Anytime someone asked me for a book that would give them a break from the hellscape that was 2020, I pointed them to Get a Life, Chloe Brown. This interracial romance between the titular Chloe Brown and her apartment’s superintendent Red Morgan, balances humor and heat with heavy emotion. After a near-death experience, Chloe, who is chronically ill, decides to move out of her parents’ house and “get a life.” She convinces Red to help her check off the items on her “get a life” list, ranging from riding a motorcycle to camping. Surprising no one, while working through their list, they fall in love.
It’s hard to say how much joy Get a Life, Chloe Brown brought me. I’m smiling just writing this.
You’re Craving a Mystery
In mid-March, when the country shut down, I couldn’t concentrate on any book until I finally stumbled upon Baltimore Blues, the first book in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series. I binged these books about a former journalist turned PI, one after another.
The mystery structure guaranteed I would have a sense of closure at the end of every book, and they had the right mood for the moment. They’re gritty and dark without being overly gory. And, I enjoyed watching Tess grow as a person and PI over the course of the books.
As the bubblegum pink cover suggests, A Deadly Inside Scoop doesn’t get nearly as dark as any of the Tess Monaghan books. It’s the first book in a new series about amateur sleuth Bronwyn Crewse, who recently moved back to her small Ohio hometown to take over the family’s ice cream parlor. On the day of the shop’s grand reopening, Bronwyn finds a dead body and her father is later implicated in the man’s death. In between scooping cones and making sundaes, Bronwyn sets out to clear her father’s name. This book is perfect for fans of cozy mysteries, such as Krista Davis’ Domestic Diva series.
If you have a book-related New Year’s resolution — whether it's to read more books, explore new genres or read more books by diverse authors, let me know if I can help!