Favorite Books Read in 2020

A friend recently called and asked me to recommend a good book to her. This is akin to asking someone to name their favorite child. There’s never one definitive answer. My first inclination was to tell her about the last book I read, And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane; however, I didn’t know her tastes in reading well enough to recommend a book with such a vivid and harsh title.

I looked back over the 50+ books I’ve read this year, and soon came up with quite a list of books to recommend to Kathy. I hoped by adding brief descriptions, she’d be able to choose one or more books she’d enjoy. I half-jokingly told her my list might make it into my blog in a couple of weeks. Here it is, in no particular order, in case you need a recommendation for a good book to read or give a friend.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane – Historical fiction at its best! Based on true Civil War story of neighbor against neighbor in Madison County, NC. Some gory parts, but the story is gripping and the writing is excellent. For a little more about this book, please read my December 7, 2020 blog. Here’s the link: Books Read in November 2020­­­­­.

And the Crows Took Their Eyes, by Vicki Lane

A Time for Mercy, by John Grisham – Grisham’s new legal suspense novel. A teen kills his mother’s abusive boyfriend. Will the teen get the death penalty?

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel – First book I’ve read by her, and I was very impressed. Story of children being smuggled into Switzerland to escape the Nazis. A woman develops a way to code their names so they won’t be lost to history.

A coded list of names of Jewish children smuggled out of France.
The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Code Talker, by Chester Nez – Memoir by one of the World War II Navajo Code Talkers. Fascinating story!

Code Talker, by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila

The Butterfly Daughter, by Alice Monroe – This novel weaves the annual journey of the monarch butterflies from Mexico to the US with a young woman who wants to make the trip to the place in Mexico where her grandmother (or was it her mother?) grew up near the place where the butterflies overwinter. Many twists and turns in this story.

The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott – Story of how the CIA tried to fight the Cold War with Russia by using the novel Dr. Zhivago. Trying to win the cold war with literature. Who knew? Dr. Zhivago couldn’t be published in Russia, so the US was determined to smuggle it out.

The CIA and Dr. Zhavago
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott

We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page – These stories opened my eyes to the many ways people put up a false front they present to the public in order to pass as something they aren’t. Some of these I’d never thought about before.

Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, by Jennifer Chiaverini – As the title indicates, it’s about Mary Todd Lincoln’s sisters and their relationships with each other and with her. It goes into more detail than I’d read before about Mary Todd Lincoln’s mental illness and drug abuse.

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns – Except for the fact that I’m terrified of snakes and the main character’s father is a snake-handling self-proclaimed preacher, I really enjoyed this book. It’s Amy Jo Burns’ first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she gives us next! Very well written and suspenseful.

Debut novel by Amy Jo Burns
Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson – This is a nonfiction book about Winston Churchill that reads like a novel. I found it interesting to learn about the personal connections he had with some of the wealthy people in America. Last week, Bill Gates named it as one of the five books he recommends from 2020.

#TheSplendidandtheVile #ErikLarson
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

The Man from Spirit Creek, by Barbara Kyle – This is a contemporary Canadian western suspense. Takes place in Alberta. Has to do with oil rigs and sabotage. More light-hearted reading, though, than some of the other books I’ve listed.

The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate – This is a fascinating novel based on something I knew nothing about from the history of the South after the Civil War. It’s about black families trying to reconnect with relatives and friends they were separated from due to slavery. Notices of “Lost Friends” were put in some newspapers. This book sheds light on a post-slavery topic I’m embarrassed to say I’d never really given much thought to. Shame on me!

#LisaWingate #TheBookOfLostFriends
The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain – Diane Chamberlain is becoming one of my favorite authors. She lives in NC. This novel takes place in Edenton, NC in 1940 and 2018 and is about race relations and outsiders and jealousy. An intriguing story.

Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain

Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle, by Mary J. MacLeod – Delightful true stories of a nurse whose family moves to a remote island in Scotland and, due to her experience as a nurse, she pretty much becomes the doctor on the island.

The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton – This novel takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, Ms. Clayton weaves a suspenseful story of the Kindertransport effort through which 10,000 Jewish children were saved from certain death in Nazi Germany. Those 10,000 children were taken by train from Germany to The Netherlands and from there to England. It’s based on the real Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933.

The rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany
The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

LEAPFROG: How to Hold a Civil Conversation in an Uncivil Era, by Janet Givens – The letters stand for Listen, Empathize, Assess, Paraphrase, Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude. It would be good if every American read this book during these polarized times. Or perhaps that difficult conversation you need to have with a relative or friend isn’t about politics. Maybe it’s about race. No matter what that important conversation is about, this book will give you stable, non-threatening ground to stand on as you approach the other person. Or maybe you tend to come across too forceful in your daily dealings with co-workers and need a little help navigating your workday. Good advice in this book. Easier said than done, though.

LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

Since my last blog post

Thank you, Kathy, for prompting me to make the above list!

I’ve dabbled in genealogy research a little. It’s always vying for my attention. I’ve worked on a couple of historical short stories. It’s fun when I can combine my family history research with my fiction writing!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading……

I hope you have rewarding creative time.

I hope you wear a mask in public or otherwise when around people with whom you don’t live. Just think how much better our lives will be this time next year, if we all just do the commonsense things to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Look back over the books you read in 2020. What were your favorites? I’d like to hear from you.


17 thoughts on “Favorite Books Read in 2020

  1. As I was reading your summaries I kept thinking to recommend the book I just finished. The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Historical fiction. A real person, a slave who worked as a spy for the north during the civil war. That’s mostly all that’s know. My granddaughters read it last summer and recommended it to me.

    And then, as I finished up your post, what a lovely surprise. Thank you so much. You might be interested to know I’ll be leading a ten month online conversation in the book, a chapter a month, starting in January. The Lorain historical society in Ohio is hosting it. We have three more slots to fill. No charge. It’d be a pleasure for me to have you join us.

    I’ll post a Thank you on your site later today when I’m back on my computer.

    Again, many thanks.

    Janet Ps. Not sure what happened but recently found I had to subscribe again to your site. How serendipitous

    On Mon, Dec 14, 2020 at 7:59 AM Janet’s Writing Blog wrote:

    > janetsm posted: ” A friend recently called and asked me to recommend a > good book to her. This is akin to asking someone to name their favorite > child. There’s never one definitive answer. My first inclination was to > tell her about the last book I read, And the Crows Took T” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for that book recommendation, Janet. It sounds like one I’d like. I’ll look for it. I gladly included LEAPFROG in my list. It is a timely book. I’d love to participate in the online conversation about your book! I just tried going to the website for the Lorain Historical Society, but there seems to be a glitch in the connection. I get a message saying my DNS server might be unavailable. I haven’t a clue what that means. I’ll keep trying, or maybe you know another way I can register. I also don’t know why you’d have to subscribe again to my site. Makes me wonder if I’ve lost other followers. Hmmm.


  3. Thank you again, Janet! I’ve mostly been re-reading old favorites–lots of Lee Smith recently. One new on though was EVEN AS WE BREATHE by Annette Saunook Clapsaddle–an excellent look at the Cherokee experience in 20th century NC.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re welcome again, Vicki! Lee Smith is just the best, and I love to hear her talk. When I read one of her books, I hear her lovely accent in my head. Thank you for telling me about EVEN AS WE BREATHE. I stopped and got on the waitlist for it at the library before responding to you. Sounds good. Take care.


  5. Code Talker is good, Diane. It covers Mr. Nez’s entire life. You’ll weep over the way the children were treated as the US government tried to drum the Navajo language out of them. I really enjoyed reading about the training he went through in the Army in order to do the actual coding. Fascinating! If the US government had been successful in eradicating the Navajo language, we’d all be speaking German today.


  6. Great list Janet, and wishing you a lovely weekend, stay safe and all the best. We’re now the worst province (Autonomous Community) in Spain reference COVID. Last week we were the best. I just don’t understand this. My wife and I take good care and we don’t go to crowds (there’s hardly any) and we see every one with their mask and being careful. We don’t know where this spoke came from. We will be under curfew from 2300 hours and on Christmas eve and new years eve as of 0000 hours, and gatherings can only be 6 people. I think it’s a good idea bscause if people don’t act prudently it is the obligation of the government to act to save lives. Take good care and all the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you, Francisco! I’m so sorry to learn that your province is not doing well with COVID. It seems that none of the states here are doing well. Someone dies from COVID in the US every minute. It’s out-of-control and will be months before the vaccines can make a difference. My sister and I stay at home except for necessary doctor appointments and trips to the grocery store — which we put off as long as possible. There are still people who refuse to wear a mask. They think they’re making a political statement, but I just think they’re rude and stupid. Take care, and all the best for a nice weekend. — Janet

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you Janet, I trust and hope that the vaccine will begin to help. Europe will start at the end of the year to vaccinate so I’m beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel…the numbers for the autonomous community of Valencia are the fourth highest in the kingdom so that means that they’re going down. I think that now that people can test at pharmacies and at home, more positive numbers are registered…but the important things are the wearing of the mask (mandatory by law) and social distancing. Here all restaurants are following the norms and since it’s not too cold there’s lots of outside seating (heaters are used too) and inside there are dividers and more than 2 metres distance between tables. I thank God that people here obey and cooperate and for the most part, everyone is being careful. Naturally there are those who do not but thankfully they are the minority. I just cannot believe that in the US the wearing of the mask is a political statement! That is madness! How can one go to war against science! Well, you and your sister are doing the right thing. Stay well, stay safe, enjoy the holidays with tranquility and at home and may God bless. Take good care and all the best,

    Liked by 1 person

  9. wow, what a lot of books. I’ve hardly read anything this year! But I want to and all of those sound amazing too. sometimes I just wish I could find more hours to read… (and do all the other things I’ve prioritised!)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Francisco. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. And now a second vaccine has been approved for use in the US. I believe people who choose to travel for Christmas with family are doing so at their own peril — and, sadly, at the peril of others. Some people just don’t recognize the danger in going about their lives as if nothing is wrong. You wouldn’t recognize this as the same country you once lived in. We can only hope and trust that everything will start to improve here on January 20. In the mean time, our current occupant of the White House is doing nothing and saying nothing about the health crisis. He’s playing golf and tweeting about TV ratings. He still thinks the election was stolen from him. What a sore loser! It’s embarrassing to see a 74-year-old man act like this. Behind the scenes, he continues to tear down environmental protections and who knows what else. He can still do a lot of damage in the next month. He, of course, refuses to say that Russia is behind the massive cyber attack that’s been going on since March. Putin definitely has something on him. Meanwhile, his supporters continue to send him money to help fund his baseless lawsuits over the election and his re-election campaign for 2024. I fear we haven’t heard the last of him and his cult followers. All that aside, we will have a nice Christmas, even if it is more low key than in the past. We thank God every day for His many blessings and for the free and wonderful lives we enjoy. I hope you and your family enjoy the holidays and soak in the peace and good health you have. Stay well. Stay safe. God bless you and yours. Janet


  11. Thank you so much, Sherry of http://www.semicolonblog.com for shining a light on my blog post and some of the books I enjoyed in 2020! I”m excited to learn about your blog. I’ll be checking it out today. Happy reading! I look forward to seeing your list of favorite 2020 books soon.


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