Convictionby Denise Mina (2019) - this thriller winds around a true crime podcast with ties to the main character - Anna - and how her life implodes on one very average day when her husband announces he is leaving her for her best friend, and her past suddenly comes rolling in. With help from an anorexic rock star and the beauty of Scotland and Southern France, Anna tries to find the truth about her past, and her present and save her life and the lives of those she cares about. AJ Finn picked this as a New York Times Best Crime Novel of the Year. I say, give it to the hard to buy for and add an extra for yourself to just enjoy.
Winter Counts You Had Me at Hola
Memorial by Bryan Washington (2020) - I honestly do not know how to describe this book other than wonderful. There is something unique about the prose, but I just can't name it. There is definitely something unique about each of the three main characters and their friends and family, but that is also hard to name. So what I will say is read this and enjoy your plunge into the lives of Mike, Benson (who are lovers and roommates) and Mike's mother Mitsuko and how their time together helps them each realize what they want from life. Short plot Mike cooks, Ben takes care of young children, Mitsuko is visiting from Japan while Mike is in Japan taking care of his estranged father. The unusual situation of Ben living with Mike's mother while Mike is away provides adventure, learning and clarity.
Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld (2020) - OK I laughed out loud after the first four or so pages of jokes sunk in. I think this speaks to Mr. Seinfeld's sense of humor; it's not that every joke is hilarious it is just that he gets you into a rhythm of seeing the absurdity of how humans interact and act and once you are there, everything he says is funny, very funny. The book is set up by decades. Mr. Seinfeld gives an intro about where he was in his life and humor to start each decade and then what feels like every joke he wrote that decade follows, and then the next decade begins. It honestly was the perfect thing to get me out of my covid/election/climate change/political hatred depression for awhile. I recommend reading it over the course of a few days/few weeks to spread the laughter.
Killing With Confetti By Peter Lovesey (2019) -- Just what I needed a police procedural centered around a decent human about a mobster marrying into a Police family and the chaos that ensues. Spending time in Bath England was a nice bonus. And now I have a new mystery series to consume; Peter Diamond of Bath's police Department, and main character in this series seems like a good person to spend a winter with.
Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (2020) - Galbraith continues to entertain. The length is impressive and yet you keep turing pages, not with fatigue but with genuine curiosity about what happens next to the two main characters -- detetive agecy partners Cormoran Strike, a war veteran and Robin xxx - a woman recovering from bad marriage and the ongoing affects of a rape when she was a college student.
Sarah Taylor's new Maggie D'Arcy novel
A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (2020) - I LOVED this novel of a girl growing up in Uganda during Idi Amin's regime and it's aftermath. At 13, Kirabo is ready to discover her mother's identity. Kirabo has been raised by many women in the small Ugandan village of Nattetta—her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts—but her mother is missing. So she begins sneaking away to spend time with Nsuuta, the local witch, learning about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet, as well as the fact Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”—an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women. Kirabo’s journey is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an exploration of what it means to be a modern girl. Enjoy this saga!
Hamnet by Maggie OFarrell (2020). This novel reminded me of how much I loved Ms. OFarrell's Instructions for a Heatwave. And also how much I love good historical fiction. This novel explores the events leading up to and effects of death of Shakespeare's son from the Plague. It reminds you of how behind every genius is a family with needs. It reminds you loss is everywhere and how we react is unique and personal. And I must admit in the midst of covid, I read the plague aspects with greater interest than I would have a year ago. For lovers of Shakespeare and of good stories, well-told.
We are All Adults Here by Straub (2020) - A light but deep look at parenting in the 21st century and the best we can do is make mistakes, but not the same ones twice. Just left me feeling happy.
Rodhamby Curtis Sittenfeld (2020) - This gifted author reimagines Hilary Rodham Clinton's life as one in which she does not marry Bill Clinton. Has me thinking about both my assumptions about Mrs. Clinton and how the choices in my life determined who I am.
by Julia Alvaerz
Bunny by Mona Awad (2020) -- did not like could not get into. I am sure I am missinfg something.
Dominicana 10% Happier: How I tamed the Voice in my headby Dan Harris (2014) - A skeptic shows us all how meditation can make us (and the people around us) happier.
You'll Miss Me When I am Gone by mary (2018) - collection of insightful apparently raw essays about life in the USA.
A Stranger on the Beachby Michele Campbell (2020) - Ms. Campbell's latest thriller pits townies against wealthy beach home owners and shows us how poor choices shape our lives. You know the train wreck is coming and you can't look away. Camino Winds by John Grisham (2020) - It reads like a movie plot but I needed the comfort of a Grisham during Covid 19 and after significant time with Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell.
Beach read .by Emily Henry - she's a romanc hes a serious fiction person they trade jobs love ensues.
Big Summer by Jennifer Wiener - bridesmaid murder etc..
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel (2020) - The final in Ms. Mantel's Trilogy did not disappoint. I love this series. Time spent in Henry VIII England was nice mental travel from Covid-19 Vermont, although the references to the plague definitely meant something different in book 3 than when I read one and two years ago. Thomas Cromwell proves to be a fascinating character and well worth three large tomes.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King (2020) -- While it was a slow start for me, I eventually loved this and ended up reading and loving it in one 4 hour swoop during a night of insomnia. The plot revolves around Casey, a woman in her late 20s, struggling to complete her first novel while waiting tables at a prestigious Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant and juggling a complicated personal life. I would guess the character is somewhat based upon Ms. King, but I have no way of knowing. I enjoyed time spent in Cambridge and in 1997 as well. As IndieNext wrote in their review - "I don’t think there’s a single unnecessary word in the whole thing. Writers & Lovers is a joy to read, a gift from a writer at the top of her game.”
House of Beauty by Melba Escobar (2015 in Spanish, 2018 in English) - a murder mystery among Bogota's elites and the people who serve them. Perfect for a rainy Sunday Covid isolation day. Great insight into the lives of different classes in Colombia and a well plotted twisty tale -- even though from page one you know what happened.
Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon (1952) - a look at the psychological affects of racism on Blacks.
Trace Elements by Donna Leon (2020) -- the plot almost does not matter to me at this point in the series-- this time a water pollution scandal leads to murder. It is the time spent with beloved characters I've grown to know over the years. Although the numerous food descriptions were missing this time so I felt less hungry than usual.
The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell Antonio (2020) - Reality TV, fried Chicken, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and rural Kansas combine in this deceptively simple story of what happens when social media and small town life collide. Mae, Amanda, Barbara, Nancy, and their unique neighbors are all portrayed with love and quirks. The plot revolves around who will win a reality show's designation of best fried chicken in town and the messes those cameras can uncover (literally and figuratively as one of the characters suffers from extreme hoarding). What it really revolves around is how where we grow up shapes us, how family is lovely, horrific, and definitely complicated, and how we are all doing the best we can in this life. KJ Dell Antonio seems to have taken her years as a NYTimes columnist and best selling author observing how good and bad parenting occurs and turned it into a terrific, fun, and insightful debut novel about how families are formed and changed by the distinctive people in them.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (2020) - Controversy about who gets to tell whose stories abounds surrounding this book. I am grateful for that discussion being so public; and, I won't address it here. Instead, I will say that I am glad for this novel. Like one of my favorite books ever - Urrea's Into the Beautiful North (Ms. Cummins references Mr. Urrea in the novel) this book brings the lives of immigrants forward. With so many immigrants in the world, with so much politic weight being given to immigration in the USA, these stories are essential as we decide how to respond as countries and as human beings. The four main characters Ms. Cummins introduces us to in this book show us life as a refugee as someone trying to escape horrific conditions, which are compassionately portrayed. Her writing is moving. Towards the end some of the characters seemed to be inserted mostly to allow the plot to explain immigration and the crossing, and that was distracting. But don't let it get in the way of reading this book and having a lot of discussions about immigration that start with the migrants' perspectives and needs as show in this novel.
What A great Age by (2020) I wanted this to be better than it was. I see this as a book she wrote because her message was so important. And it is! Yet in doing so she created a group of people it is hard to like. And not that characters have to be likeable; But I do need hope that someone will change. I need someone to hang my hat on and that was hard to find. However somehow I still am glad I read this book.
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor (June 2020) - A terrific atmospheric thriller set in Ireland and Long Island. You will love the main detective Maggie d'Arcy and her colleagues and friends as they try to solve the mystery behind a series of abductions and deaths of women along the Irish coast. A mystery that is personal as it involves the disappearance of Maggie's cousin Erin 23 years prior.
2020 Kids and YA
The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden (2020) - A story of emotional abuse, the costs of poverty, and the importance of friends, school and learning to stand up for yourself and those you love, and that that learning requires help to be successful - you can not go it alone especially if you are a 7th grader. Zoey and her three siblings from different fathers live with their mom and her boyfriend in a trailor, a significant upgrade from their last apartment on their own. And the cost of this upgrade becomes too unbearable, Zoey, with the help of a teacher, debate club, and some friends learns the ability to help resides in herself. An excellent book for kids about the cost of emotional abuse and how its ability to take away who you are and replace it with doubt about your worth is as deadly as physical abuses.
Loretta Little Looks Back (2020) - A collection of stories about life in the USA as a Black person over multiple generations of the same family. Based in the author's own family lore, this collection is a great way for younger readers to understand history and the spirit of people to survive and thrive despite circumstances beyond their control.
Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse (2020) - This graphic novel follows Effie, a newly orphaned, and dropped on the Brooklyn doorstep of her previously unknown aunts (Selimene, and Carlota) in the dark hours of the night. Things don't start well as one of her aunts spends their initial time arguing with the person dropping Effie off that she could not possibly take care of a teenaged girl, nothing like feeling unwanted to make you feel at home. And yet, as the days unfold, there is something about the aunts weirdness that forms a bond between the three. The bond is helped by two very kind new friends at school and a small crush on an actual rock star. If nothing else, Effie's life has certainly gotten more interesting. A truly great book for probably 4th grade and above. Full of thoughtfulness, laughs, magic, witches and superb illustrations, I am hoping this is only book one in a long line of graphic novels for kids (and adults).
One Time by Sharon Creech (2020) - Ms. Creech captured my heart with Love that Dog and other books. It has been awhile since I have read her work and I am so glad I rediscovered her. This book about the magic a terrific English teacher can create. Gina has a vivid imagination and colorful, not Gap clothes. She also has a new neighbor, great parents, and a new teacher. All combine to illustrate how fantastic life can be when we pay attention, are generous in our assumptions and actions, and experiment to find our passions. Enjoy.
Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (2020) - ZJ has a fabulous life in Maplewood - three tight friends, a fun mom, and a dad who is famous for scoring touchdowns and is in tune with ZJ's desire to be a musician, not a wide receiver like him. Then his dad starts to change, he becomes angry, he forgets ZJ's friends, his head hurts all the time. This novel so well crafted by Ms. Woodson (a favorite author of mine) closely examines how we all react when change comes roaring into our lives, and how the future can be so different from the past and still ok.
Stand Up, Yumi Chung by Jessica Kim (2020) - One small lie, Ok not so small, but unintentional, spirals into an adventure about the importance of family, how new friends can change your world, and finding one's true self. In it, Yumi Chung's dreams of being a stand up comic are not understood by her parents, hardworking US immigrants from Korea who are fighting to keep their restaurant alive and provide a better life for their two daughters. Yumi's parents send her to SAT boot camp so she can earn a scholarship to her prep school; she stumbles into a summer camp for comics. Can she do both? which side of her life wins? Comic or respectful daughter? Can her parents save their restaurant? This book is funny, heartfelt and sad all at once. An especially great book for preteens who are trying to express their true selves without being disrespectful or ungrateful, or anyone looking for a relatable heroine.
Apollo series Book Five by Rick Riordan (2020)
Prairie Lotusby Linda Sue Park (2020) - This book describes life in the American West during the 19th century from the perspective of a biracial teenager. Hanna's Chinese heritage is an hinderance to her desire to attend school and work in her father's dress good shop in their new hometown on the prairie. Hanna’s adjustment to her new surroundings, which primarily means negotiating the townspeople’s almost unanimous prejudice against Asians, is at the heart of the story. In the afterword the award winning author states she wrote this in response to the lack of representation of non white people and the outright racism expressed by "Ma" and other characters in the Little House on the Prairie Series. reading this reminded me of all that I did not notice or ignored when I read Little House five decades ago; my privilege shows and I thank Ms. Park for setting me straight with a strong heroine, historical accuracy and great prose.
Apollo series Book four
The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (2020) - Somehow this book manages to squeeze in abortion rights, voting rights, police brutality, gun violence, budding musicians, and the trials and tribulations of teen age romance all without being preachy or condescending. The romance will bring in the readers looking for a little insight into dating life, the political activism will hopefully attract many others, and the fact all the action unfolds on voting day highlights the importance of that one simple and profound act. Enjoy!
Red, White and Royal Blue by xxxx (2020) - While you could anticipate a lot of the plot, it was a lovely escape to live in a world where the President of the USA after the 2016 election is a divorced white woman, her kids are bi-racial (white and Mexican-American), her chief of staff is a Black woman, the main family friend is the first openly gay US Senator, and their son is bi-sexual. What an alternative universe. Just read it and enjoy.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (2020) - The YA version of Mr. Kendi's National Book Award Winning and bestselling book - Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America - is all you wish it to be. Very clearly and pointedly, Mr. Reynolds retells Mr. Kendi's work and in doing so tells story of racism in the world, them many forms it take, and offers ideas of how to deal with them. A great book for any kid trying to gain some understanding and a great resource for any adult trying to help kids. As Publisher's Weekly stated in their review "Reynolds (Look Both Ways) lends his signature flair to remixing Kendi's award-winning Stamped from the Beginning...Told impressively economically, loaded with historical details that connect clearly to current experiences, and bolstered with suggested reading and listening selected specifically for young readers, Kendi and Reynolds's volume is essential, meaningfully accessible reading."
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay (2020) - A blended family in need of a home moves into a house and strange things begin to happen. The poser of books in this tale is truly magical. Abi, the now middle child of this new family reads and reads and reads and finds that the books seem almost real and leave behind traces of each scene (the scent of salt air, damp books when reading about the ocean. Her new older brother Max loses his best friend and survives his first crush. Her younger brother Louis has a visitor that is all too real. Read it, escape and bit and enjoy rooting for this new family.
The Next Great Jane by KL Going (2020) - A lovely tale about the coast of Maine, and following your heart, with a bit of Jane Austen thrown in. Jan'e parents divorced her mom moved to LA to find fame in Hollywood, leaving Jane with her oceanographer father in their small Maine town. Then her mom and her fiance come to visit and take her back to LA. A visiting writer and her family just might provide all the answers Jane needs.
Again and Again by e. lockhart (2020) - Adelaide Buchwald finds herself with her dad living on the grounds of the prep school where here father teaches and she attends (barely) for the summer while her mother is back in Baltimore helping her younger brother survive his addiction issues. Complicating matters, her first love of her life just broke up with her. She finds herself floundering grounded only by the dogs she walks three times a day for her father's fellow teachers who are away for the summer. Told in the style of Groundhog day with many outcomes for each scenario Adelaide finds herself in, this book has you rooting for everyone, and lovingly shows you the horrific aspects of teen addiction on family members.
If These Wings Could Fly by Kyrie McCauley (2020) - This debit novel unflinchingly illustrates terrifying aspects of domestic violence and the bonds of sisters, and the refuge school provides many kids. Leighton and her sisters are the only people in Auburn, Pennsylvania unbothered by the thousands of crows that have invaded their town. She's a senior and dreaming of the scholarship that will take her away, and dreading the scholarship that will take her away from protecting her sisters from the chaos of life with their abusive father.
The Extraordinairies by TJ Klune (2020) - a queer coming of age story involving superheroes in real life and on
Catherine House - A gothic YA thriller about a 3 year "college" where past scandal haunts everyone and things are definitely not as they seem. The Baker's Secret by Stephen Kiernan - WII, Normandy Occupation, DDay and the way a young woman whose hope is absent still helps her neighbors survive.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019) - I love books by Jason Reynolds (and became a huge fan of him as a person after being lucky enough to meet him multiple times). Thus, the fact he blurbed this novel was the reason I picked it up when looking for a book for this post. In this novel for kids, the main character, Jude, is introduced to us while living in Syria with her family - dad, mom, and an older brother. A few pages in, with her mother pregnant again, only Jude and her mom move to the USA so the baby can be born in a safer place. They land in the home of Jude's uncle, aunt, and cousin, who is around Jude's age. The story follows what it is like for Jude to navigate her new school, being Muslim in America, and worrying about the family she left behind. The story is full of moments of sadness and warmth, told with great heart. Bonus -- the book is written in free-verse poetry meaning fewer words per page - helpful with reluctant readers. Enjoy!
Be You by Peter Reynolds (2020) -- Another inspiring and lovingly illustrated book by Peter Reynolds. This one directly inspires us all to just be ourselves. From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (2019) - Ms. Marks's debut novel combines social justice issues - the number of black men who are incarcerated and the more mundane concerns of being a pre-teen girl in this story of a 12 year old Zoe - and her quest to get to know the father she has never met as he is incarcerated and her mom forbids contact.