Elizabeth’s 10 Favorite Reads of 2020
You don’t need to hear from me about what a challenge this past year has been. You already know that the masks, the social distancing, the missed celebrations and the working from home have all significantly impacted us. Some of you fellow readers might even have lost loved ones during this ghastly year, and I send to you my most heartfelt condolences if tragedy struck. If this year has proven anything, it’s that respect, support, love and kindness are some of the most powerful forces on earth, and we need them now more than ever before.
For that reason, I’m only going to summarize those reads that lifted me in 2020. Only those novels that transported me, educated me and thrilled me will be in this list. Because the last thing this year needs is a mini complain session about the books that left me feeling disappointed. Who needs that when we’re starting to see a light at the end of this tunnel? So, here we go – Elizabeth’s 10 Favorite Reads of 2020!
The Great Unexpected, by Dan Mooney
This is the most adorable book that I encountered this year. The novel is about Joel, who despises living in a nursing home. The same routines, the same people and the same medications make for uneventful days that plod by. Enter new nursing home resident, Frank, who’s immensely outgoing and charming. In true odd couple fashion, we somehow wind up with two new best friends. Joel and Frank soon start getting into wild mischief, and I promise that their friendship will make you grin from ear to ear. This novel brims with heart and shenanigans, and I know that you’ll love it!
The Chestnut Man, by Soren Sveistrup (translated by Caroline Waight)
There’s a psychopath terrorizing Copenhagen, who leaves handmade dolls at every crime scene. I’m not going to say much about this one, because I don’t want to give anything away. But I can say that the characters are phenomenal, the plot is perfectly twisted, and the story flies by at a break-neck pace. Every time they think they have this creep, he slips away. You will NOT be able to put this thriller down.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
I know, I know. It took me forever to finally pick this up, and I’m SO thankful that I finally did! I’m sure that everyone who has already read this coming-of-age story is nodding in agreement that this novel is just fantastic. I loved every moment spent with Francie Nolen and her family, and I still miss them. The characters are so intricately drawn that you’ll feel like you’ve known them forever. Thanks to this novel, I quickly ran out and bought more Betty Smith. Next on my list is Tomorrow Will Be Better.
Things In Jars, by Jess Kidd
At this point, I’m pretty sure that Jess Kidd could re-write a phone book and I’d still love it. This was my 3rd Jess Kidd novel, and Things In Jars didn’t disappoint. I found this to be much darker than her earlier works, but that didn’t stop the charm from peeking through. I was rooting for so many of this book’s characters that it felt odd when I actually came across the villain. The magic of Jess Kidd’s novels is that they’re the perfect blend of reality and the otherworldly. Bridie, Cora, Ruby and Christabel will all steal your heart and will delightfully remind you that there may be ghosts among us.
Exile Music, by Jennifer Steil
This is a sprawling tale that starts in the 1930s of Vienna and follows the life of Orly, her wonderfully musical parents, and her amazingly benevolent older brother. Life is beautiful until the Nazis arrive, and the family suddenly finds itself unbearably separated and on the run. Orly and her parents find refuge in the mountains of Bolivia, which came as a complete shock to me. I had no idea that Bolivia opened its doors to Jewish families during WWII when so many countries slammed theirs shut. Orly pines for her best friend back in Vienna, but also determinedly sets roots in her new home. This is a very powerful novel; it will leave a mark on your heart.
Florence Adler Swims Forever, by Rachel Beanland
The 2020 book that made me ugly cry. I was an absolute wreck when I finished this story. The novel, which is actually based on the story of the author’s great-great aunt, is a wonderful testament to love, heartache, and the bonds that hold families together during unfathomable grief. The story revolves around a tragedy that befalls the Adler family, and how they try to cope. After the family experiences an unexpected and devastating loss (don’t worry – that’s not a spoiler), Esther Adler makes the surprising decision to keep the news from her pregnant daughter, at least until the baby is born. This yanks the entire family into an exhausting web of secrets and lies, and you wonder how any of them will come out unscathed. This is beautifully written and utterly raw, and I loved every page.
999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, by Heather Dune Macadam
I was speechless after reading this account of nearly one thousand young, unmarried Jewish women who were forced onto trains in Poprad, Slovakia in March 1942. They were told that they were leaving for work, when in fact they were on their way to Auschwitz. After countless interviews, talking with historians and meeting with survivors and their relatives, Heather Dune Macadam carefully tells a truly unfathomable story. What these young women endured was beyond comprehension. The fact that some survived almost three years in a concentration camp and lived to tell the tales is a miracle, and a testament to their strength, their spirit and their sisterhood. This is such an important read. Highly, highly recommend.
Golem Girl, by Riva Lehrer
Memoirs are not often at the top of my TBR pile, but something about this one drew me in. I’m so happy and thankful to have read this extraordinary book. To say that Riva Lehrer is an amazing woman is an understatement of epic proportions. Riva was born in 1958 with spina bifida at a time when disabilities were viewed through a dark and unforgiving lens. Riva’s childhood was riddled with countless surgeries, pills and hospital stays, but it seemed as though every procedure made her emotionally stronger. By the time Riva is an adult, she’s an accomplished artist and teacher. This memoir is as beautifully written as it is emotionally charged, and I envy the students that are now in Riva Lehrer’s classes. There is so much to learn.
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, by Annie Lyons
I have to confess that I started the first few chapters and thought that I was experiencing A Man Called Ove deja vu. But then I stopped being a curmudgeon and let my heart expand for Eudora, Rose and Stanley. And boy, did I fall hard. Truly, another book that celebrates life is always welcome. This novel is packed with gentle kindness, and the world needs more of that. A lovely read.
Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout
If you read and loved Olive Kitteridge, you’ll adore Olive, Again. Olive hasn’t changed much in her senior years, as everything that pops into her head still comes shooting out of her mouth at about 100 miles per hour. But as cringey as some of her situations are, you can’t help but love Olive, as she’s all heart. I particularly loved how Olive shared the stage with her neighbors and friends in this installment, and how they all painted an imperfect and wonderful picture of a real community. Olive might tell you that she doesn’t like what you’re wearing, but you can always count on her to be there when you need her the most. This is a wonderful book!
And there they are, my favorite reads of 2020. I hope that your holidays with family and friends are wonderful, and I wish you back-to-back page-burners in 2021!