It’s one of my favorite times of the year, that time of year when I share everything I read in the past twelve months. This year I definitely devoured fiction. It was my “comfort” during a year filled with unexpected turns. Highlights: The Stationary Shop remains my favorite stand-alone fiction of 2020. My favorite series was the DC Smith police procedural by Peter Grainger. I can’t say enough about them, anyone who likes Louise Penny should rush to get them! Quick note about this series: they are self-published so you can only read them on Kindle or listen to the audiobook (which are wonderfully narrated by Gildart Jackson). But it’s a wonderful chance to support an independent author who also is an incredible writer.
My numbering system reflects the Goodreads numbering system with five stars (*****) being excellent! I also make note of which books were audio vs. hard copy. Here’s what I read in 2020:
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow****
This book was weirdly wonderful although it was a bit hard to get into and I almost gave up a few times. The “story in a story” was hard to stay with in the beginning until the connection was made clear. The less said about the plot the better I think. Just go into it knowing nothing and see where it takes you and if you like it. It’s quite a journey.
The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali***** (audio)
From the very first page this novel grabbed me and didn’t let go until the end. The writing was incredibly sensory, bringing to life the sights, smells, and tastes of Iran in a vivid way. The plot was well paced and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. A book hasn’t made me care about its characters this much for a long time. Kamali writes about grief, love, disappointment, and regret in a way that is hard to describe. It’s also a timely book for this moment, as the background highlights American-Iranian tensions in a way that is easy to understand (this isn’t the point of the book, but a backdrop for the story). If a book makes me cry by the end, you know it was a good one. 🙂
Together Tea by Marjan Kamali**** (audio)
This was a delightful book! I loved “The Stationary Shop” more, because it was so brilliant, but this one was wonderful too. It had a decidedly lighter feel. I loved the duel storyline of mother and daughter. I appreciated the author creating the tension of what it must feel like to be an immigrant and feel in-between. How often one feels not quite at home in either the home of their birth or their adopted home. They are always a bit at odds with both. This was kind of the main theme of the story. Where, exactly, does one belong? I am so happy to have discovered Marjan Kamali’s work and becoming immersed in Persian culture in her stories.
An Accidental Death by Peter Grainger****
But for the Grace by Peter Grainger****
Luck and Judgement by Peter Grainger****
Persons of Interest by Peter Grainger****
In the Bright Future by Peter Grainger*****
The Rags of Time by Peter Grainger****
Time and Tide by Peter Grainger*****
A Private Investigation by Peter Grainger*****
Songbird by Peter Grainger*****
On Eden Street by Peter Grainger****
I discovered Peter Grainger by stalking Cindy Rollins’ Good Reads page and after her high praise I knew I had to try them. I was looking for a new series after finishing all of Louise Penny. They are free on Hoopla too and I listened to all of them on audio! I grew to love DC Smith and his sarcastic humor. The series starts out with Smith as a detective still mourning the loss of his wife to cancer when he is given a young new detective to train who is the son of a former partner. These books have such a compelling main character whose layers it takes a whole series to uncover.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe****
The story of how Okonkwo’s life falls apart due to personal pride that collides with European Colonialism with tragic consequences. Poignant and a rare book told through the African perspective.
A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie**** (audio)
I LOVED this book. I really liked Duncan Kincaid and am glad that between this series and the Peter Grainger DC Smith books I’m stocked with mysteries for a long time while I wait for Louise Penny and Flavia de Luce novels to be published. If you like British mysteries, then I think you should try this book.
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers*** (reread)
This was my second read through and I love the wit of the Lord Peter Wimsey books. This is the first one that features Harriet Vane—who makes them all more worth the read—in my opinion. Classic British mysteries from the Golded Age. No one is quite like Sayers and Christie.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn****
The depiction of one day in the life of a man serving time in a Soviet work camp, the Gulag system, and how he survives. This book was ground-breaking when it was first published, making known what had been kept silent for so long under Stalin’s dictatorship. This goes into the category of something I appreciated and see the significance of more than enjoyed.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman***
This was one of the most uniquely strange books I have ever read. Still not sure what I think about it. Can’t even describe it. A lot of people love it but I’m still left scratching my head.
Emma by Jane Austen***** (audio)
Emma read by Emma Thompson, what’s there not to love? And it’s more of a theatrical presentation vs. a straight reading, a delight!
The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey**
I just could not get into this book. I kept pressing on thinking it would get better but it didn’t. I found the main character highly annoying.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner***
An enjoyable book that wasn’t either amazing or terrible. Just a charming read with a fun nod to Jane Austen.
A City of Bells by Elizabeth Goudge***
Elizabeth Goudge is for those who like old-fashioned writing. Rich with description and character, the plot is gentle. Usually there is a place in the middle I have to push myself through to finish it. But I’m always glad I did. Her books are filled with comfort and hope and I always feel like a better person after reading her.
Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw****
This books was delightful and old-fashioned in some ways but so relevant in others. I loved the witty dialogue, although I DO wish the ending was a little more concrete. Such great characters and Shannon perfectly captures that angsty age between high school and college and the stress of trying to figure out what to do with yourself and where you belong and how weighty that is.
All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny****
I like how this one jumped into the action a bit faster than usual!
The Guest List by Lucy Foley***
I was really looking forward to this book but it was just ok for me. I felt crude for crude’s sake at times, and everyone was so unlikeable! I mean, the plot twist/reveal was great, but it wasn’t worth the unenjoyable experience of slogging through the awful characters, for me at least.
Farm Girl by Corinne Cunningham****
When I read a book by a friend I’m always a bit nervous, I want to like it, you know?! I’m so thrilled with my friend and independent author Corinne Cunningham’s debut novel. It reminded me a bit of a Hallmark in all the best ways without any of the aspects. There’s the theme of finding community by going back to the place where one grew up, but Cunningham pulls out more depth in that experience than the common romance. She creates compelling characters and a setting you just want to enter into. The perfect novel for anytime of year but especially perfect for autumn!
The Huntress by Kate Quinn**** (audio)
My biggest complaint with historical novels is when they don’t “feel” historical. When the language, setting, or details just don’t ring true to the time period. This one felt very authentic, and I listened on audio, which helped. The reader did a great job with the accents. There’s Boston accents, Russian, and British accents so listening to this one is particularly fun. The story centers on three main characters whose lives become woven together as they search for “The Huntress,” a Nazis sympathizer who is a killer of children, refugees, and a soldier on the run.
Christmas at the Grange by T E Kinsey*** (audio)
A fun quick listen (about two hours) for Christmas that feels similar to Christie.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson***** (reread)
I first listened to this novel two years ago and decided it time to relive it and buy the hard copy. This book made me laugh and cry and I have missed the wonderful characters since it has ended. I was captivated from the first chapter. Agatha, Beatrice, Hugh, and Daniel definitely found their way into my heart like few characters do. The dialogue in this book reminded me of Jane Austen, sharp-witted repartee with perceptive one-liners into human nature. Her descriptions were perfect to pull you back in time to the W.W. I era and the small social dramas within the town of Rye. It is a comedy of manners with a more serious undertone of war that never gets too overwhelmingly dark due to the humor. This book is not for everyone. It is decidedly English in flavor and feels old-fashioned, just what I like. But if you liked the sharp wit of Lady Violet of “Downton Abbey” and the banter in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” then I think this book will delight you.