Even before quarantine started in March, I knew I was going to read a lot more in 2020, given that I started the year without a full-time job. What has changed since January is how I choose my books. Before this year, my book choices were primarily based off Reese Witherspoon’s book club, or the NYT book reviews. When quarantine started, I joined several Facebook book club groups that immediately changed my book selection. Fortunately for my bank account, I started a new job in April, so I could buy books again and replenish my own library, which was close to being re-read (again). As the seasons changed, and libraries re-opened, my bank account and bookshelves were strained by overuse, so I started getting books at the library, something I probably had not done since college. I started reading books that I probably would never have read if I were buying the book because there was no fjnancial commitment, and I was not married to the book being on my shelves for eternity.
So I will end this year by giving you some of my favorite reads since the end of summer, and some of my favorite books I’ve read over the last 12 months.
Best of 2020
These were my favorite books from 2020 – summaries and my reviews are in an older post here.
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
The Henna Artist, Alka Joshi
What I’ve Been Reading Since August
In September, I started getting books from the library as my bookshelves were full, and my credit cards weary.
The House on Tradd Street, Karen White
I started with the Karen White novels, most notably her Tradd Street series. It combined some of my favorite subjects: historical buildings, history and ghost stories. The main character, Melanie, is also as OCD and compulsive about proper grammar as I am, so of course I have some admiration for her!
The first book in the series is The House on Tradd Street. Melanie is a realtor that specializes in historic homes in Charleston, but she lives in a modern condo. She doesn’t see why people want to buy houses that are money pits, but it makes her the most successful realtor in the city, so why should she complain? Throw in a strained relationship with her divorced parents, a pesky writer who is enamored with her, and a few ghosts that like to chat with her, and the books just flow out of Karen White’s head. The rest of the Tradd Street series also feature Melanie and other historic homes in Charleston, as well as a few of the main characters from the first book. So far, I’ve also read Return To Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street and The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, both Tradd Street and otherwise.
The Forgotten Room, Karen White
I just started a collaboration that Karen White did with Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams that starts during World War II. I’ve read several other collaborations like America’s First Daughter, My Dear Hamilton and Ribbons of Scarlet, so I’m curious if this trio of authors will do as well as the other authors I’ve read.
Summer Country, Lauren Willig
Speaking of Lauren Willig, this novel was recommended by a Travel book club I belong to that focuses on a hook from a different country each month. They picked this historical fiction novel set in Barbados in October, and I was happy to join in. The novel goes back and forth between the 1850s and the 1810s. A young English lady comes to Barbados with her cousins after she inherits a sugar plantation in Barbados. Despite the 40-something year age gap between the stories being told, several themes prevail: race, class and society’s norms. Secrets slowly become uncovered and formed during both periods, and the reader is rewarded when the questions are answered at the end.
The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah
This year’s reading has been dominated by two themes, it seems to me: Indian female authors, and World War II fiction. The Nightingale was my favorite of the latter. Other novels by Kristin Hannah that I’ve read have been what you would call “chick lit” but this one was definitely a heavier work. The Nightingale follows two sisters in France during World War II, both with excruciatingly painful stories to tell, which was probably not that uncommon for the time period or the setting. One sister says goodbye to her husband as he goes off to war, leaving her behind in the French countryside with their daughter. The other sister lives in Paris with her father, and they are forced to leave the city with thousands of other Parisians. The sisters’ paths converge during the story, and because the book starts in modern times told from the perspective of an older French woman, you are led to believe that it could be one of the sisters. Which one though, and is it really one of the sisters?
Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (and Their Muses), Terri-Lynne DeFino
A book about writers? And Bar Harbor, Maine, where I had just visited last summer? I was intrigued. Of course, Terri Lynne DeFino didn’t disappoint. Like The Summer Country, this book jumped between two stories, but they were somewhat related. The book opens as famous writer, Alfonse Carducci, comes to live at the home and be with many of his contemporaries and fellow literary legends. Most of the story is told through the eyes of Cecibel, an orderly who has suffered a terrible accident in her past. You slowly find out more of her story as the book progresses, and as more details emerge, Cecibel also emerges. The other story is a fictional tale told by Alfonse and some of the other writers in residence, and the parallels between the story they are writing and the story they are living become apparent soon enough. I really hope this becomes a movie because Bar Harbor is a beautiful setting, and the flashback scenes of the fictional story set in the 1940s and 1950s would be something to see!
Midnight at Blackbird Cafe, Heather Webber
The first of two books I read this year about Southern women and baking… and neither disappointed, but they were fairly predictable with their plotlines, and sometimes that’s just what you need. In ‘s small town in Alabama, everybody knows everybody’s business, and you’re often the last one to find out news when it’s about yourself. Anna Kate returns to the home she never knew, where her mother grew up, and her grandmother ran a diner and bakery, which she left to Anna Kate when she passed. As Anna Kate gets to know the people in the town that knew her grandmother and mother so well, but she knew so little about, she finds out there’s more of the town in her than she ever knew. Add in some family drama, these crazy blackbirds that sing to you if you eat the pie that you get at Blackbird Cafe, and bird watchers who show up to see the blackbirds flock at midnight, and you have yourself a true Southern masterpiece!
The Secret To Hummingbird Cake, Celeste Fletcher McHale
This was the second book about Southern women and baking… the two just go hand in hand, right? Celeste Fletcher McHale takes us to a small town in Louisiana where three women who have been best friends since kindergarten get thrown some doozies in life as adults. Marital strife, pregnancy, and some heartbreak follow these women as the book progresses, but do you ever find out the secret to hummingbird cake? That’s the real question!
Now I’m hungry, and either need pie, cake, or both! After I finish The Forgotten Room, I’ll turn to Party of Two, and then The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I have 10 more books on hold at the library after that… it’s an addiction, y’all.
Happy New Year, and happy reading as you turn the page into a new year.