Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Laura's Top 14 Books of 2020


I read a lot of great books in 2020.  What can I say about 2020?  Although it has been one heck of a year and my socializing is definitely down, it has caused an uptick in my reading.  I noticed I read a lot more romance this year as I focused on comfort reads.  Did your reading habits change in 2020?

 I had so many books that I loved this year that it took me awhile to trim it down to a top 14 list.  I couldn't quite get it down to top 10.  These books are books I read and that stuck with me long after the last page was turned. 

These books were not necessarily books published in 2020, but they were books I read in 2020.  I did not include books that I was rereading, but only books that I’ve read for the first time. They are only in the order of when I read them through the year of 2020.  And now without further ado, my top fourteen books of 2020.  I’ve linked them all to my review of them if you’d like to learn more about them.

  1. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
  2. The Hunting Party and The Guest List by Lucy Foley
  3. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
  4. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  5. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
  6. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  7. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
  8. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
  9. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
  10. When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
  11. The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel
  12. Clouds by Laura Sobiech
  13. Anxious People by Fredrik Bachman

Other books I loved this year, but didn’t quite make my top 14 included:

  1. To Tell You the Truth by Gilly MacMillian
  2. The Rescuer: One Firefighter’s Story of Courage, Darkness, and the Relentless Love that SavedHim by Jason Sautel with D.R. Jacobsen
  3. Olympic Pride, American Prejudice:  The Untold Story of 18 African Americans Who Defied Jim Crow and Adolph Hitler to Compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Deborah Riley Draper and Travis Thrasher
  4. When Life Gives You Pears:  The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan
  5. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
  6. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
  7. Loathe at First Sight by Suzanne Park
  8. Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner
  9. No Judgements by Meg Cabot
  10. The Bookshop on the Shore by Jenny Colgan
  11. If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlene

For more top books from the past, check out my lists from 2019, 2018, 2017 & 2016, 2015, 2014, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.

What were your favorite books of 2020?

A Timeless Christmas by Alexis Stanton

Title:  A Timeless Christmas

Author: Alexis Stanton

Read by:  Kate Rudd

Publisher: Hallmark Publishing / Dreamscape Media

Length: Approximately 6 hours and 52 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Hallmark Publishing / Dreamscape Media through Net Galley.  Thank-you! 

 Megan Turner is a historical reenactor at the beautiful historic Whitley Manor.  The owner, entrepreneur and inventor, Charles Whitley, mysteriously disappeared in 1902.  One day, a mysterious man appears in the study claiming he is Charles Whitely.  Does this explain why Charles disappeared in 1902?  Why did Charles time travel to 2018 and how can he return to his time?

 I liked this charming tale.  Charles is a fish out of water exploring the wonders of the modern era.  He also has time to ponder why he doesn’t celebrate Christmas and think about what is truly valuable in life.  Charles also helps Megan to realize that she needs to move forward in life and ask her advisor for a recommendation to move on with her career.  As the two find themselves falling in love, what will they do when Charles returns to the past?

 I love time travel movies and novels and thought this was a sweet one.  I enjoyed the clean romance and I see that there is a new Hallmark movie version of this book this year.  I definitely need to check it out.

 Kate Rudd was a great narrator.  I like how she had unique voices for the characters

 Overall, A Timeless Christmas is an enjoyable time travel clean Christmas romance.

Monday, December 28, 2020

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote


 A Christmas Memory is a collection of three short stories written by Truman Capote.  I’ve previously read In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.  This collection is unlike anything I’ve read by him before.  It’s a tender recollection of memories of his time as a youth living with elderly cousins in rural Alabama.

 Truman’s parents divorced when he was a very young child and had a bitter custody battle over him.  This led to him being raised by cousins, three elderly spinsters and a bachelor, in a rural town.  As he looks back on his childhood in the 1930’s living with his cousins, Capote realizes these were the happiest times in his childhood.  In particular, the childlike sixty-year-old Miss Sook Faulk took care of Truman, was his friend, and confidante.  She was a shy woman who was a very good person.

 In the first story, “A Christmas Memory,” Miss Sook, Queenie the rat terrier, and Buddy (Truman Capote) make fruitcakes to show people they care about them.  They scrape together all of their money for the ingredients and send them off to loved ones when they are complete.  They don’t have much, but they love to make others feel loved.  This story has one of the most poignant endings of any story I have ever read.  I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

 In the second story, “One Christmas,” Buddy travels to New Orleans to visit his father for Christmas.  The visit doesn’t turn out as he imagines, and he longs for his home back in rural Alabama.  Luckily when he returns home, Miss Sook helps to explain the true meaning of Santa Claus.

 In the final story, “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Miss Sook invites Buddy’s nemesis, Odd Henderson, for Thanksgiving dinner with the family.  Will Odd show up?  Miss Sook shows Buddy her humanity in this story.

 Reading this collection, I want to make homemade fruitcake now.  This collection of short stories was very touching and perfect for the holiday season.  I feel bad for Buddy’s childhood, but happy that he had such a friend as Miss Sook.  Even more powerful, I’m glad that he was able to memorialize her in these stories.  They are short stories, but are filled with humanity, the spirit of joy and giving, and love and loss.    

 Favorite Quotes:

“It's bad enough in life to do without something YOU want; but confound it, what gets my goat is not being able to give somebody something you want THEM to have.”

 “I could leave the world with today in my eyes.”

Overall, A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote is an unforgettable collection of stories.  I highly recommend it.

 Book Source:  Purchased from Amazon.com

Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

 

I enjoy Phillipa Ashley’s novels.  She writes great character driven stories set in England that are typically filled with family drama.  I read a Christmas novel by her last year and knew I needed to read once again this year.  Ashley did not disappoint with another great Christmas novel.

 Last year at Christmas, Lottie became engaged to her boyfriend Conner after he swept her off her feet on a Cornwall vacation.  Unfortunately, back at home, Conner got cold feet and broke off the engagement.  Lottie didn’t have time to fully morn that loss as she discovered her sister, Steph, had cervical cancer and needed her help caring for her two daughters.  Lottie accepted a new job at a Lake District grand estate, Firholme, as an event planner.  Her first big event is a surprise Christmas wedding for Conner and his new fiancĂ©e.  Lottie has to get over the shock and get this event planned for this estate to be successful.  Will she be able to move on from her feelings for Conner?  Will she be able to move on with handsome estate groundskeeper, Jay?  What is the mystery behind Jay’s sadness?

 I enjoyed all of the characters in this novel and the planning of a Christmas wedding.  I also liked how the book dove into love and loss at the holidays and how to move on from that sadness to celebrate the season again.  If you are estranged from your family – how can you go back?  I really enjoyed the side characters as well.  I really want Steph to have her own spin off novel.  It’s set up well for a good one.  It was a good romance and story.

 Favorite Quotes:

“It’s easy to think everyone’s having an amazing time, surrounded by family.  The truth is that almost everyone is struggling with something:  bad memories, the tensions simmering.”

 “No matter what had happened, he loved them.  He always had even if that love had laid buried under and avalanche of disappointment and bitterness.”

 Overall, A Surprise Christmas Wedding is a delightful romance set in the Lake District of England that is filled with great characters and rumination on how to get back on your feet after a great heart break.

 Book Source:  Purchased from Amazon.com

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday


 Princess Marie of Eldovia is in New York to speak before the United Nations and to try to repair relations for important trade deals for her small European country.  Running late to an important party, she yields a cab.  Leo Ricci is actually done with work, but when his sister Gabby sees a princess in a fancy gown, she knows they need to help her.  Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her New York tour and then invites the two back to Eldovia to celebrate Christmas.  Will Leo and Marie find love for Christmas?

 I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  I loved the witty banter between Leo and Marie.  I also loved that they were two lonely people who had lost loved ones and were looking for a way forward.  They were both nice people that truly cared for others.  They at times had a Han Solo / Princess Leia type relationship with Leo calling Marie the wrong titles just to be funny.  I also loved that the book was self-aware with Leo saying at one point that Marie was the princess of a fake Hallmark movie type country.  That made me laugh out loud!  The book did get steamy towards the end, so it veers out of Hallmark territory.  I was excited to see that there will be a follow-up called Duke, Actually that will be out next Christmas.  I am looking forward to it!

 I would be remis to not mention that Marie is a mechanical engineer and Leo is an architectural student.  Marie even talks about how she took a history of civil engineering course at college.  Long time readers of this blog will know that I am always looking for mentions of engineering in novels.  I found it and I loved it!!  I would love to see more heroines that are also engineers.

 I love the cover of this book.  It not only matches one of Marie’s outfits in the book, but it has a classic 1950s feel to it.

 Overall, A Princess for Christmas was delightful and fun holiday romance.  I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next book in the series!

 Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Noel Letters by Richard Paul Evans

 

Title:  The Noel Letters

Author: Richard Paul Evans

Read by:  Helene Maksqud

Publisher: Simon & Shuster Audio

Length: Approximately 7 hours and 17 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Shuster Audio.  Thank-you! 

 It’s not Christmas without a Richard Paul Evans audiobook.  The Noel Letters is the fourth book in the Noel Collection, but it is a standalone novel.  I look forward to listening to the new Evans Christmas book every year.

 Noel Post arrives in Salt Lake City to visit her dying father, but discovers she is too late.  She has been estranged with her father Robert since her mother’s death. Noel is at a low point in life with her job and her husband leaving her.  She is at a crossroads and is trying to determine what to do with her life.  As she tries to wrap up her father’s affairs, she works in his bookstore, Bob Books and learns more about her father.  Was her past what she thought it was?  How can she move on to a better future?

 I liked how Noel was able to grow in the book and come to terms with her past.  It allowed her to move on to a more fulfilling future.  I loved the details of her work as an editor in New York City and with authors.  I also loved bookstore details as well.  It’s my dream to own or work in a bookstore.  My only negative with this book is that I felt that Noel’s father Robert was made out to be a saint when he maybe shouldn’t have been.  Everyone said he was wonderful and the perfect person, but the decisions he made in the past in regard to Noel and his wife seemed suspect.  As a parent, I was annoyed that he never talked to Noel honestly about the past or tried to connect with her.  As a teenager, she could have been told the truth.  It’s nice that he thought about how to connect with her through letters after he died, but I wish he would have tried while he was alive.  I do agree though that sometimes in death you find out things about loved ones that you didn’t know before.  For my grandparents it was stories about their youths or things they did as an adult that I didn’t know about.  It made me see them in a new light when I heard these stories at their funerals.

 Helene Maksqud is a good narrator.  I especially loved the music that the audiobook in the intro and conclusion of the book.

 Overall, The Noel Letters was a good Christmas audiobook about forgiveness.


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


We read A Christmas Carol for our book club this month.  Books have been delayed through the library, so we wanted to make sure that we had a book to read.  We’ve now set up books through summer so we can order books ahead of time.  Have you had to make any changes with book club due to COVID?

 A Christmas Carol is a class story and I’ve reviewed it a few times on this blog.  I’m not going to go through the synopsis again, but I noticed this time that the version I’ve been reading since childhood was abridged!  I read the full version this time.  It’s such a short novel, I’m not sure why they abridged it.  All I could think of that they took out is that Dickens is VERY descriptive about food.  I loved the description.    The kindle version I read was a Penguin classic version and I really liked the introduction.  It gave great information about Charles Dickens and his Christmas novels.

 In book club, we noted that the book gets quite dark, when the third spirit shows people bartering over Scrooge’s belongings.  It was sad that people took the blankets and clothes from his dead body. 

 A Christmas Carol is such a part of our culture now with plays, musicals, movies, TV shows, cartoons, audiobooks, kids’ books, retellings, etc.  It’s amazing.  My personal favorite is Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I also love the 1938 movie staring Reginald Owen.  Dickens usually wrote such long novels, it is funny that his most endearing book is one of his shortest.

 What are your thoughts about Christmas Carol?

 Book Source:  I read an antique version I bought years ago and a kindle Penguin classic version I bought from Amazon.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Wrapped up in Christmas Joy by Janice Lynn


 

Title:  Wrapped up in Christmas Joy

Author: Janice Lynn

Read by:  Alexander Cendese; Rachel L. Jacobs

Publisher: Hallmark Publishing / Dreamscape Media

Length: Approximately 8 hours and 17 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Hallmark Publishing / Dreamscape Media through Net Galley.  Thank-you! 

 Sarah Smith has inherited her aunt’s beautiful home, and she dreams of making it into a bed and breakfast by Christmas.  Her aunt was like a mother to her, and her friends, fondly called the Butterflies, are still around keeping tabs on Sarah.  Sarah lives in the small town of Pinehill Kentucky.  As part of her aunt’s group of friends, she loves to make quilts, especially quilts of honor for soldiers overseas.  Bodie Lewis has returned from military service and is looking for the woman who made the quilt that helped to keep him together after a tragedy.  He is surprised to not find an old lady, but a beautiful young lady who mistakes him for a handyman answering her ad.  He decides to stay and help Sarah out as she helped him.  Will Bodie tell Sarah the truth?  Will Sarah get her bed and breakfast open in time?  Will the two find Christmas spirit and love?

 If this sounds like a good Hallmark movie, it is because it is from Hallmark Publishing.  I enjoyed listening to this audiobook.  The narrators were good with a slight southern accent and the story was a nice clean romance, with a lot of Christmas joy.  I really loved the Butterflies.  They provided great comic relief and I loved their care for Sarah.  I also always love a good story where an old home is getting fixed up.

 I am slightly confused though.  As I went to post this review, I keep seeing descriptions of a different story.  I checked and this is the book title and author that I downloaded from Net Galley, so I think it is correct.

 Overall, Wrapped up in Christmas Joy is a delightful Christmas audiobook which is perfect for fans of Hallmark type movies.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Cookbook Club by Beth Harbison

The Cookbook Club was a delightful book about three very different women in the greater DC area who are going through a lot of life changes and meet each other in a cookbook club. 

 Margo Everson has her world shaken when her husband Calvin leaves her and moves across the country.  As she tries to determine where to take her life next, she starts to follow “Boozy Crocker” on Instagram and discovers there is a cookbook club in her area.  She attends a meeting and makes new friends.  Margo loves to cook and makes YouTube videos to show her parents and their Florida community friends how to make healthy meals.  She also has an old farmhouse her ex-husband doesn’t want that she needs to fix up.  When an old friend comes to town for some time away and decides to become the tenant, Margo may rectify missed opportunities from the past.

 Trista Walker was a lawyer, but she recently left the firm to take over a bar / restaurant.  It’s her dream to bring her unique vision of meals to the city and make is a success. What better way to try out recipes than on a cookbook club? 

 Aja Alexander meets her boyfriend’s very wealthy mother and decides to help her out with her gardening problem.  Things become awkward when she realizes she’s pregnant and her boyfriend dumps her.  How will Aja move forward?

 I enjoyed all of these characters and their stories.  I also loved the cooking and food discussions as I love to cook myself.  There are some recipes at the end of this novel that I need to try out – they look fabulous.  The author published four cookbooks before she started writing women’s fiction, so she knows what she is writing about.  I also love that she started cooking as a child with Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls.  I enjoyed that as well when I was a child.  I love that this book shows the power of friendship, believing in yourself, and good food.  It was a delightful read in such a dreary year.

 Overall, The Cookbook Club is a charming character driven story with descriptions of wonderful cooking and food.  I enjoyed it!

 

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow Books. Thank-you!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Christmas Calamity at the Vicarage by Emily Organ

Christmas Calamity is a fun Christmas cozy mystery.  This novella is set is the small English village of Compton Poppleford.  Mrs. Churchill and Miss Pemberley are a pair of elderly sleuths.  They are very excited about the Christmas party at the Vicarage, in particular because there will be a mince pie pile.  When the choirmaster is murdered, Mrs. Churchill becomes the prime suspect.  Will she track down the murderer before she herself is arrested?  More importantly, will she ever find a slice of mince pie?

 This was a very fun novella.  It was a quick read that was full of humor and a good mystery.  I love Christmas mysteries.  This one had great elements in it including secret passageways, mistaken identities, and a great love affair.  This is my first book by Emily Organ and it certainly won’t be my last. 

 Overall, Christmas Calamity at the Vicarage is a delightful Christmas mystery!

Book Source:  E-copy purchased from Amazon.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Christmas Ever After by Karen Schaler


Author Riley Reynolds stopped enjoying Christmas as a girl after her father died around the holiday. Since then she travels with her mother to Hawaii to celebrate Christmas in the sun.  After her last book bombed, Riley’s publicist has announced she is “Miss Christmas” and will be holding a Christmas Camp with selected fans to talk about what Christmas traditions and plots should be in her next book, which will be a Christmas romance.  The problem is that Riley doesn’t have any Christmas traditions to share.  What will she do to get out of this mess? 

 To make matters even more complicated, Riley has a disastrous television interview where she mentions a great love in her life.  Her three ex boyfriends are sure they are the one and decide to join the Christmas Camp.   Will Riley find love this Christmas?

 I love Karen Schaler’s Christmas books and Christmas Ever After was a delightful addition to her repertoire.  Schaler also wrote the Netflix movie, A Christmas Prince, which is a holiday favorite in my house.  I liked how this book had a nod to her previous book, Christmas Camp, which I also enjoyed.

 I loved Riley’s story as she discovers what she wants in life while also rediscovering her Christmas spirit.   The romance in the novel was also perfect. It was a delightful escape novel.  If you are a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies, this would be the perfect book for you. I would love to see this as a movie.

 Favorite Quote:

“This weekend I’ve been reminded of how special Christmas really is and that what matters most are family, friends, faith, your community, spending time with the people you love, honoring old traditions, and creating new ones.”

 Overall, Christmas Ever After by Karen Schaler is a delightful Christmas novel that rediscovers the spirit of Christmas.

 

Book Source:  E-copy for review from NetGalley.  Thank-you!

 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Black Kids by Christin Hammonds Reed


 

Title:  The Black Kids

Author: Christina Hammonds Reed

Read by:  Kiersey Clemons

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: Approximately 7 hours and 16 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster Audio.  Thank-you! 

 Where were you during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles?  The Black Kids is a coming of age novel set with the backdrop of the riots happening in LA.  Ashley Bennett is a wealthy African American teenager that is the only black kid in her premier group of friends at school.  After the riots happen, Ashley starts to notice the subtle and not so subtle racist things her friends say.  She thought she was one of them, but is she?  Will Ashley figure out who her real friends are?

 I thought Ashley’s journey and coming of age was interesting. I liked her growing awareness of herself, her family, her history, and how other kids at school were treated. I liked the discussion of how Ashley is asked to represent her entire race to her all white group of friends, and how tiring that could be. This book takes place in 1992 during the end of my 8th grade year.  I loved the cultural references in the book – they were a lot of fun.  I liked the other characters in the book such as her sister, Jo, and wish we had more time with her rather than Ashley’s awful friends.  

 I did have a hard time connecting to Ashley as a character.  I think it was because she came from a very wealthy family and came off as very spoiled in her stream of conscious narration.  I like that she did become more self-aware throughout the course of the book and came to terms with herself as a black woman in America. I also suffered from the same problem I’ve had with other books.  It was advertised as the next The Hate U Give, a book I loved.  This is nothing like The Hate U Give so I came in with incorrect expectations for the book.

 I did enjoy listening to this as an audiobook, particularly because it was a stream of conscious narration.  Kiersey Clemons was Ashley to me.

 Favorite Quotes:

“Sometimes being different means hiding pieces of yourself away so other people's mean can't find them.”

 “You can't tell people to pull up on bootstraps when half of them never had any boots to begin with, never even had the chance to get them.”

Overall, The Black Kids was an interesting coming of age novel set with the Rodney King riots in the background.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren


 

Title:  In a Holidaze

Author: Christina Lauren

Read by:  Patti Murin

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

Length: Approximately 7 hours and 40 minutes

Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster Audio.  Thank-you! 

Are you looking for a fun holiday romance?  In a Holidaze would be perfect for you.

 Mae Jones spends her Christmas every year at a cabin in Colorado with her family, and her parent’s college friends.  Together they are all like one big happy family . . . except that Mae has an unrequited crush on Andrew, the son of her parents’ best friends.  Mae seems struck in a rut with work and love and unable to move herself beyond her insecurities to make a change.  On the way to the airport at the end of the vacation, her family is involved in an accident.  Mae wakes up on the plane heading TO the holiday vacation as if it and the accident never happened.  Mae ends up repeating her holiday again, and again.  What is going wrong that is causing this holiday to repeat?  How can Mae make a change to improve things?

 I listened to this on audiobook and Patti Murin was a great narrator.  It was a great story and I looked forward to listening to the audiobook every day.  I thought this story was very fun, filled with great humor.  It was a Christmas version of Groundhogs day.  I love how Mae learned how to go for the things she wanted in life, including love.  The comedy and romance were great in this novel.  This is more on the steamy side of a romance novel.  The ending was perfect.  I just wish I could have kept reading more!

 Favorite Quotes:

“I ask the universe, simply: Can you show me what will make me happy?”

 “It never occurred to me that you might be mine.”

 Overall, In a Holidaze is a humorous Christmas romance that is perfect for the season.