In a year marked by turmoil and uncertainty, I found reading sustained me to occupy my mind, body, and soul. From my favorite genre, historical fiction, to non-fiction to biographies to young adult, my reading list this year varied and held my interest to initiate thoughtful discussions. Below are highlights of the year. I am happy to share any of them with other readers. Let me know if you’d like me to pass one along. I can send out hardcovers, links to Audible versions and “loan” my Kindle e-books. Just send me a note through my Contact page.
JANUARY – Time Travel
What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon
411 pp, Irish Historical Fiction
Commentary: I love historical fiction for the way a talented writer places the reader into a setting of the past so that we may learn from people, events, conflicts and triumphs to shape our future. Amy Harmon is one of those writers. Stepping back into Ireland during The Troubles of 1919-1921, in What the Wind Knows she weaves a seamless story while balancing facts and fiction, a demanding task for historical fiction authors.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading as a Nomad. As I packed for an annual southern migration, I loaded my Kindle with special deals offered on a daily basis from Amazon (now I share them almost daily on Facebook, follow my Author page for those posts). I also downloaded an Audible selection to hold my husband’s and my interest for 1500 miles. Labyrinth of Ice about Artic exploration and survival was a great choice.
FEBRUARY – Advance Reading
Answer Creek by Ashley Sweeney
353 pp, Women’s Historical Fiction
Commentary: While Ashley read my HF manuscript, she sent me an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of her forthcoming novel, Answer Creek. Who knew treks across the Oregon, Overland and California Trails would become popular this year? Perhaps serendipity played into the picture as February devolved into the grips of a pandemic. Walking over two-thousand miles through dust and snow put life into lock-down into perspective.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading with a Book Club, Southern Edition. One reason I love book clubs so much is that they push you to read selections you may not pick up on your own. I am fortunate my husband and I were able to make our annual trip to Florida for a few weeks to escape a New Hampshire winter. This year, I sat in on the local library’s book club meeting to discuss Where the Forest Meets the Stars. While not a top pick for me, I enjoyed meeting the men and women of Indian Rocks Beach who love reading and discussing books as much as I do.
MARCH – Classical Research
A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
68 pp, Classic Literature
Commentary: You’re never too old to pick up a classic for a re-read or an initial read. Seeking to deepen Eliza’s character arc, I chose A Doll’s House as an exploration of the concept, A New Woman of the late 1800s/early 1900s, as well as defining one’s individuality. Ibsen’s words are still relevant today, and especially during a time of heightened awareness in March, Women’s History Month.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading in Lock-Down. As the pandemic forced us inside with no end in sight, I found kindred souls on Facebook through multiple reading groups. In an effort to amass my Kindle library as the best solution to keep reading with libraries and stores closed, I engaged with several groups with polls to identify best books to read for women in history and best book series to read instead of binge-watching a Netflix series. By sharing the information back out through the FB groups, I met many new online friends.
APRIL – Book Releases COVID Style
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
288 pp, Literary Fiction
Commentary: Publishing a book requires months of planning from selling it to book stores to scheduling author tours to meet readers and sign copies of those freshly printed books. Now, insert a pandemic into that schedule when book stores are closed and travel is prohibited. You can’t change the date of the book release as it’s been slotted into a carefully orchestrated release calendar from the publisher. So, you pivot, just the way the rest of the world learned to do in the Spring 2020. For me, the highlight of April was reading Sea Wife by Amity Gaige and then hearing her speak through a Zoom author chat. Amity was one of my creative writing instructors and led the first writers’ retreat I attended. She is delightful and a gifted writer of poetic pose. I love this line: The night deepened, dark as a well, and time fell into it.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading Across Genres. April is National Poetry Month. In an effort to find slivers of humor during a pandemic, here’s a fun limerick penned by a college classmate. There once was a corona virus, Whose bad news daily did tire us. So we stayed in our homes, And enjoyed some fine poems. May their words make us think and inspire us. – Juliet Hastings. Is there a poem that stays in your heart?
MAY – Mothers & Daughters Unite
The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman
327 pp, Canadian Historical Fiction
Commentary: To prep for a June book club meeting (socially-distanced, in an open garage), I read The Home for Unwanted Girls, a gripping and heart-rending story of a mother’s never-ending love for her daughter. When did the theme of orphans’ plights creep onto best-seller lists? In the vein of When We Were Yours, Orphan Train and Sold on a Monday, Home for Unwanted Girls tugs at your heart-strings.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading for Generations. In April, I put out a call for suggestions to prepare a book list for Mother’s Day gifts. Another great response from my FB groups and which I’ll need to update for 2021 to add two new favorites, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell and Call Your Daughter Home.
JUNE – Authors & Authority
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
387 pp, Hispanic Literary Fiction
Commentary: I ignored the controversy which reared with the publication of American Dirt by an author not of Mexican descent. Instead, I focused on the story and the characters similar to the approach I employed in reading Memoirs of a Geisha by a white, Jewish man, Arthur Golden. The power and success of American Dirt comes from the empathy developed for the main character, Lydia, as she flees her home in Acapulco with her eight-year-son. She starts her journey to “el norte” to escape a shattered life at the hands of a cartel. From riding the top of freight cars, La Bestia, with other migrants to sleeping in the desert, to hiding in Underground Railroad type shelters, you are with Lydia and the others in her group every step north.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading is Sharing. Someone in Amazon’s marketing department realized the pandemic was driving an increased demand for books. Through special sale prices on new and cherished favorites, I pulled in a nice haul for myself and gifts to share for birthdays, back-to-school first days, and holidays. Is there a favorite book you like to gift?
JULY – All the Emotions
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
379 pp, African Cultural Heritage Fiction
Commentary: I absolutely love the title for The Girl with the Louding Voice and the premise of a young woman striving to find and use her “louding” voice. The backdrop of contemporary day Nigeria also educates on the country’s economic and political hierarchies and the class differences which are no different than other countries.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading to Understand. My book club responded to the call to understand the forces driving race discussions with the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m glad we did by reading and discussing The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Written for a YA audience, adults can benefit from its reading, too. Ms. Thomas’ next title, Concrete Rose, is due out in January 2021 and is already being touted as another must-read.
AUGUST – History Lessons
Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina
430 pp, Biographical Fiction
Commentary: Before Geraldine Ferrero. Before Hilary Clinton. Before Kamala Harris. There was Victoria Claflin Woodhull. Never heard of her? Me neither until I researched titles to read for my book club’s August meeting to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Woodhull’s name appeared on the 1872 presidential election ballot for the Equal Rights Party, hoping to become our first Madame Presidentess. A woman way ahead of her times, she was a marvel. Read it for yourself to find out more about how and why her platform unraveled, as well as the obstacles she faced from day one.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading with a Theme. Over the years my book club has enjoyed themed meetings, particularly for Halloween complete with costumes. This year we made the most of the August meeting to celebrate Votes for Women, especially as the prospects for an in-person Halloween meeting dimmed with COVID’s relentless march into the fall and winter.
SEPTEMBER – Tried and True
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
340 pp, Asian Historical Fiction
Commentary: Lisa See is one of my favorite authors. I think I’ve become a groupie. Shangahi Girls is the fourth historical novel of hers I’ve read. While Island of Sea Women and Snowflower and the Secret Fan are still my favorites, Shanghai Girls also embues Asian culture with a powerful theme of sisters’ relationships. Thank you, Lisa, any book you write is one I want to read.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading to Discuss. While my book club has read a few titles by the same author (Lisa See and Isabel Allende come to mind), we are always searching for other suggestions in various genres. A much-needed list transpired when I polled through Facebook for book suggestions which prompt great book club discussions. I published the initial list of 100 choices in September and will be updating it in 2021. Take my survey to add your suggestions.
OCTOBER – I Think I Love You
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
447 pp, Coming of Age Fiction
Commentary: Is it possible to fall in love with a boy who becomes a man yet only exists within the pages of a book? That’s exactly how I felt as I read The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Sam is one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered in a long time. He is real. His parents are real. His friends are real. His enemies are real. And, every emotional tug on your heart reading his story is real, especially for a mother with sons.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading with a Book Club, Virtual Edition. When I posted my love for Sam Hell through my social channels, I received a kind invitation to join a book club in CA who had chosen Sam as their October read. Missing my own book club meetings, I accepted and joined a lovely group of ladies via Zoom one Saturday morning in October for a wonderful conversation.
November – Walk with Me
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera
384 pp, Women’s Historical Fiction
Commentary: Another winner on Audible: Call Your Daughter Home. Retta, Gertrude, Annie, and I walked miles in November as they faced truths, longings and failings as mothers to daughters. A rich story of family relationships, race, and societal expectations comes to life in South Carolina circa 1920 as the three women’s lives intersect to support and uplift each other.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading is Calming. While I heard from some friends that they haven’t been able to focus on reading this year with all the distractions and worries in the world, I’m the opposite. I read more books in 2020 than any other, despite working full-time and finishing my novel. Books calm me as they carry me away to another time and place to meet new friends. I’ve featured all 47 books on individual posts grouped in three month increments. I guess my job in sales trickles over into defining the year in quarters: January – March, April – June, July – September, October – December.
DECEMBER – ‘Tis the Season
A Secret Gift by Ted Gup
384 pp, Family Biography
Commentary: Similar to Answer Creek, The Secret Gift offers another example of putting our current situation into perspective. In 1933, as The Great Depression gripped a nation, one man in Canton OH, brought humanity, care, and a glimmer of hope to its struggling residents through his anonymous benevolence. The CA book club I joined selected this moving read to remind us and put into perspective our own current situation. Five dollars from a stranger went a long way in 1933. Outreach and compassion goes a long way in 2020.
Other Highlight of the Month: Reading is a Gift. As the holidays neared, I participated in several Facebook group Secret Santa and Friendship exchanges, receiving and giving favorite books to share. I connected with other avid readers from Colorado to New Jersey to Oklahoma while also selecting titles for family members. When my son asked for a bookcase, I developed a list of bookish gifts to share with others, from stocking stuffers (did you know you can gift Kindle special deals?) to cozy blankets and blue-light magnifying glasses.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Here are a few prioritized titles on my TBR to kick off 2021:
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett for my college alumnae online book club
- The Book of Lost Names by Kristen Harmel for an online book club
- This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger as preliminary research into The Great Depression for a second novel idea
- A Time for Mercy by John Grisham as our Audible choice for the drive (hopefully) to FL
Releases from a couple of my favorite authors:
- The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner releases Feb 2, 2021
- Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly, prequel in the Lilac Girls and Lost Roses series releases Mar 30, 2021
What’s on your list? HAPPY READING!
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