Five Best Reads of 2020

There are less than two weeks left in December, but as surely as my kids will wake early on Christmas morning, my reading will slow during the Winter Break. It is for that reason that I decided to close out my reading list for the year and reflect on the stories I discovered. I read a lot of books in 2020, (60 to be exact) and while many, many of the works captivated me, there were a few that stood out above the rest. So, please, if you need inspiration on your next perusal at the library or are looking to grow your To-Read shelf, I encourage you to check out these novels.

1. Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley

This book is, hands down, my favorite book of the year. Maybe of the last two years. Everyone needs to go out and read this story! I imagine English teachers are trying their hardest to get their hands on extra copies, because there is so much within these pages to dissect and study. There’s anxiety, growth, grief, generosity, friendship, and adventure.

Smiley is a genius, really. She understood that in order to cover such an array of human feelings and nature, she needed to remove the human aspect from the equation. By making the main character a horse, Smiley took away distractions and let the readers focus on what was really important. Like how one yearns to set out on a new path but is terrified to do so. Or how one small act of kindness has a ripple effect. Or even how, sometimes, everyone needs a little freedom and adventure in their life before settling down to work.

I keep my bookshelf small. Only the few special stories that I want to read over and over again, year after year, are given a spot. But I can say with confidence that Perestroika has earned a place. She’ll fit in quiet nicely between Gatsby and East of Eden.

2. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

If you enjoy tortured families, the Dutch House fits the bill. The story of two siblings, Danny and Maeve Conroy, the book dives deep into the topics of betrayal and forgiveness. It reminds me of a broken vase glued back together. The sadness, the tragedy, of its history is blatant and on display. But within those imperfections is where the beauty shines. The prose, specifically the content covering the Conroy’s house, are the lines in the vase. They stand out, gorgeous above the rest.

3. The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Sick of the same old story? Looking for something dark and twisted? From the first page, The Chain pulls you into its passenger seat and doesn’t let off the gas until the last chapter. The premise, a criminal ring running off a domino effect, one parent kidnapping a kid in order to free their own, is so horrifying you can’t help but turn the pages. I applaud Adrain McKinty for creating a storyline I had never seen before. Originality in books is as rare as a warm day in wintry England.

4. The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle

It’s not often I don’t see an ending coming in books. As a writer, I come into books with a different perspective than some people. Where the casual reader sees an entertaining backstory, I see an important plot point. Inconspicuous heirlooms or adornments become weapons in my head. However, Rose Carlyle did the impossible with me.

She fooled me not once.

But twice.

A book about twins, an inheritance, and a race to have a baby, I was impressed when I didn’t see the climax’s twist until it was right in front of my face. But then in the very last chapter, Carlyle got me again. It took me by surprise to such a degree that I had to go back and reread a particular sentence. Simply because I couldn’t believe the truth of it.

This is Carlyle’s debut novel, and I am looking forward to seeing what works she produces in the future. I hope she can keep my on toes again.

5. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Another book about vampires? Aren’t they a little outdated?

Why, yes, to a certain extent. Vampires have had their time in the sun (er, well, in the dark, I guess I should say) and the horrors of bloodsucking is a tired theme. So why did I read yet another one and how did it make it onto my Top 5 list?

Well, the actress Genevieve Padalecki started a book club on her blog, Now and Gen, and this was her first story picked. From the beginning, I realized Southern Book Club was much more than a horror story.

Combine the quirky humor of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet with the nostalgia of ABC’s The Goldbergs and you have a tale of the stereotypical housewife in the late 90’s. Look past the vampires, and you’ll see a toxic marriage, injustice in the south, and America’s dependence on casseroles.

Honorable Mention: “The Life of Chuck” by Stephen King (from If It Bleeds)

I’m breaking the rules here a bit, because “The Life of Chuck” is not a novel but rather a short story. But if I’m talking about stories that stuck with me this year, I could not skip over Chuck.

If you want to see genius writing at work, Stephen King delivers that here. He tells the tale of Chuck’s life (and eminent death) backwards. As in, you are delivered the end first, then travel, quick and beautiful, back through the years. King reminds his readers that sometimes the small, spontaneous moments in your life stay with you the longest. He lifts you, promotes hope, when he tells Constant Readers that you can be just an ordinary accountant and still feel like the world to people.

Author: Alicia W.

Hello, I am a military spouse and mother of two. Together, my family has lived in three countries and traveled to dozens more. Combining my love of adventure with my passion for writing, I hope my website helps others create their own "awfully big adventures."

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