Saturday, July 04, 2020

Favorite Books of 2020

Halfway through 2020. How many of you are with me, agreeing that 2020 can't be over soon enough? No theater; no movies; no concerts; no visits with family and friends; no dinners out. All we have left are books. So, I'm going to remind you about ten books. These ten books are the best I've read so far this year. It doesn't mean they'll be on my favorites list by the end of the year, so let's celebrate them now. (You owe this annual look back at the first half of the year to Jen Forbus who asked me just once to do this, and I've done it every year since.) I'll never say these books are the best books of 2020, and several weren't published this year, but they're my favorites so far.

I don't think the cover is right for Mary Kay Andrews' Hello, Summer, but I love the story. At the last minute, Conley Hawkins loses a prestigious job and is forced to return home and work for her sister at the family newspaper in a small town in the Florida Panhandle. I'm a sucker for stories featuring newspaper reporters. Try this one with a newspaper team that digs for answers, a driven reporter, small town secrets and small town romance, along with the love and arguments that come with family.

Tracy Clark's What You Don't See is the best Cass Raines mystery yet. The Chicago PI agrees to act as bodyguard for a media diva just to help a friend. But, when her friend is left in critical condition while trying to protect their client, Cass ups her game and begins to investigate the client's past.

Emily Henry's Beach Read is another book with a cover that doesn't match the storyline, but I'm sure it picked up readers because of the cover art. January Andrews is a romance writer who has had writer's block ever since her father's death. Augustus Everett is a bestselling literary author who is her next-door neighbor at a beach house for the summer. He was her rival in college, and she always felt he looked down on her. Now, the two agree to swap writing styles for the summer. He'll try to write a happily-ever-after story while she'll try to write a literary novel. They'll both finish a novel, and they'll learn something about each other and the writing process. This is meatier than the cover makes it appear as it probes the lives of two writers with troubled backgrounds.

The Lady Most Willing... was a laugh aloud treat. Julia Quinn, Eloise James, and Connie Brockway joined forces to write a historical romance set in 1819 in  Scotland in which the laird of his clan kidnaps brides for his nephews. They return with a carriage, four women, and an angry duke who was asleep in his own carriage. It's a fun romp that has a terrific closing scene. It's the Scottish version of one of my favorite musicals, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. (I read this one twice.)

I have to include a second historical romance on the list. They got me through the first month of the pandemic. I couldn't read for two weeks, and then I latched onto Sarah MacLean's books. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover was the funniest in her Rules of Scoundrels series. MacLean's women stand out. Pippa wears glasses, and the hero sees her as "his brilliant, bespectacled bluestocking". She's a complicated woman who understands she would have had more education and opportunities as a man. She asks a partner in a gaming hell to ruin her two weeks before her wedding, and even offers to pay him. It's a fun, lusty romance.

The Blues Don't Care by Paul D. Marks takes us back to Los Angeles during WWII. Bobby Saxon turns reluctant detective in order to perform as the only white musician in an all-black swing band. When one of the band members is accused of killing a German, Bobby's the only one with the right credentials to investigate. He's white. He's also Roberta, trying to live as a man in a society that won't accept him.

Sarah Morgenthaler's debut is just a fun contemporary romantic comedy. In The Tourist Attraction, a diner owner, Graham Barnett, falls for a tourist despite his normal dislike and hands-off policy. In fact, he is so hands-off he named his diner The Tourist Trap and fights off tourists who try to approach the local moose, Ulysses. But, Zoey Caldwell, who saved all her money for her two week bucket list trip to Alaska, wins over Graham Barnett.

Hide Away by Jason Pinter makes the list because of the heroine (heroine?). As you can tell from the list, I appreciate complex women, and they don't come more complicated than Rachel Marin. She and her two children were once victims of a horrendous crime. Now, she tries to fly under the radar, living in a new community in Illinois. But, when the former mayor's sudden death hits the headlines, Rachel steps up, convinced the woman did not kill herself. The local detectives won't believe everything she tells them, so she turns vigilante to get justice for another woman.

Katharine Schellman's debut mystery, The Body in the Garden, came out in April. With libraries and bookstores closed, and people still in shock, this appealing historical mystery was overlooked. Newly widowed Lily Adler teams up with a navy captain and an heiress from the West Indies to investigate a murder that Lily overheard. She was willing to leave the investigation to the authorities until she learned they had been paid to drop the case. Set in London 1815, this is an intriguing story of class, race, and society.

I can't speak highly enough about Sarah Stewart Taylor's The Mountains Wild. Again, I read this book twice, interviewed the author, talked with her for a virtual event, and raved about it to anyone who would listen. Taylor launches a new series featuring Maggie D'Arcy, a Long Island homicide cop who heads to Ireland twenty-three years after her cousin Erin disappeared there. It brings together a cold case, a police investigation, multiple time lines, and a love letter to Ireland. I have the feeling this one will be on my final favorites list.

Have you looked back to the first part of the year? Do you have favorite books for 2020 yet? If you like strong, confident women, I don't think you can go wrong with the books on this list.


Jeff Meyerson said...

Nice list. I definitely agree with you about this year so far. Yes, we had good things - we spent January, February, and half of March in Florida - but it has been all downhill since then. Once they started closing things - the weekly farmers' market was first - we saw the writing on the wall and, after a few days of debate, made what was the right choice for us and came home. Otherwise, who knows how long we would have been stuck there. It would be one thing had we owned an apartment as cousins of mine do, but we don't. Then it was two and a half months of medical issues, surgery, and now a slow recovery. So no, you will get no argument about writing off 2020.

I haven't even thought of Best Books yet. Jackie did read and enjoy the first Sarah MacLean book, but forgot about her until I reminded her recently. I have read some good books but I don't recall any I would consider great.

I'm ready to pack up the rest of the year and start fresh in 2021.

Grace Koshida said...

Great choices, Lesa! I agree with about What You Don't See and the Mountains Wild. I saw Jason Pinter read an excerpt of Hide Away which was riveting, so I bought the book but it's on the TBR mountain.

Like you and Jeff, I wish that the first half of 2020 could be re-done. But there are signs here in Ontario (and Canada) that we are over the worst of COVID-19 for now. Eating out on a restaurant patio or having coffee with a friend yesterday (outdoors) were rare pleasures. And our public libraries have opened for curbside pickup of holds so I was able to get the 6 holds that were "ready" since March 15.

That being said, my reading mojo is still not fully back. So, I decreased my 2020 Goodreads challenge to 130 (from 180) which is a downer.

And my other planned 2020 trip to attend the Sacramento Bouchercon and vacation in the Bay Area has of course been cancelled. We'll see what the virtual event they are planning to hold will be like.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.
And Happy Fourth of July!

Nann said...

My favorite books of 2020 -- so far:
* Simon the Fiddler, by Paulette Jiles
* The House by the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune

Lesa said...

Right with you there, Jeff, as long as we can pack up Covid-19 as well. I'm ready to move on.

My sisters were so-so about Sarah MacLean's books, but One Good Earl was funny, my favorite of her books.

Lesa said...

Grace, I'm sure Canada is ahead of the U.S. because you tried to do everything right, unlike this country (sigh). But, I'm ready to move on.

I think you'll like Hide Away when you get to it.

Lesa said...

I've read really good things about The House by the Cerulean Sea, Nann. I read Simon the Fiddler, but I didn't like it as much as News of the World.

Janet said...

Vineyards of Champagne by Juliet Blackwell.

Lesa said...

Very good book, Janet!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

What fun! I love lists - especially book lists!
I'll have to go back and look at my list of book I've read so far this year. (Keeping that list on my the side panel of my blog is helpful!). But two that pop immediately to mind are Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman and All the Devils are Here by Louise Penny.
Happy Fourth!!

Lesa said...

It was fun, Kaye. It's nice to look back at what I enjoyed. And, it helps at the end of the year when I picked my favorites for the whole year. I received the Louise Penny earlier this week, so I'm looking forward to it!

Happy 4th to all of you! Love you!

Pat S. said...

Lesa I just want to let you know how much I appreciate all of your book reviews and recommendations. I have already read several of your ones for this year and have several on my TBR list. You have introduced me to many authors through the years that I continue to follow that I may not have discovered on my own, and you have surprised me with some of your selections......which I have enjoyed too. I also know that during this year of enforced sequestering that I have enjoyed books from different genres for a change of pace and have been waiting as well for favorite authors whose next books have been delayed. Hopefully we will slowly be getting back to a time when we can go into bookstores and libraries once again.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Pat. You don't know how much that note means to me. That's exactly what I hope to accomplish here. I love to help readers find new authors and new books. And, it's a safe place to come and talk about books, and right now, how we're surviving in 2020.

I don't know where you're located in the country, or the world, but we're reopening 4 of our library branches on Monday. I hope you're library will be open soon, or at least open for curbside service. I know it's scary for those of us who are staff.

Take care of yourself. That's what is most important.

SandyG265 said...

I’m ready for this year to be over. The thing I feel the worst about is that my mom is going to be 93 this month. We usually have a family BBQ but can’t do a big party for her this year, I took her to get her hair done yesterday and it’s the first time she’d been out of the house since March. It’s hard for her being stuck in the house so much but not really safe for her to go out much.

Two books that I enjoyed were Til Death by Annette Dashofy and South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber. Our library is reopening for inside pickup at 25 percent occupancy on Monday and they have begun filling new holds. I have 6 to pick up and more in transit.

Lesa said...

Sandy, There are a lot of things I don't miss, but I do miss family. And I do feel bad for those seniors whose very lives depend on isolation. It's so sad. I’m sorry you all can't give your mother the celebration she deserves.

I’m happy, though, that you're going to be able to pick up your holds.

Take care of yourself and your family.

DJ said...

Lesa, I just finished The Mountains Wild per your recommendation. It was wonderful ! Can’t wait for the next one. Thanks. This year I also enjoyed the Red Lotus by Chris Bojhalian and Kate Smith’s Have You Seen Me.

Lesa said...

Thank you, DJ, both for the comment about The Mountains Wild, and for your comments about the books you enjoyed.