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.

Janet

Three of the Five Books I Read in July 2020

July was a trying month for many of us, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to infect and kill more and more people in the United States. Some of you reading this can breathe a sigh of relief because the worst of the first wave of the pandemic is over where you are.

With all the distractions in July, I found it difficult to concentrate enough to read much. Although I finished reading five novels, I started reading several other books and just couldn’t get into them. At least that got them off my To Be Read List. In today’s blog post, I’ll talk about three of the five books I read last month.

One of the books featured today was written by a prolific author, John Grisham. I’ve read 21 of his books. The other two are debut novels by Amy Jo Burns and Lauren Wilkinson.

Camino Winds, by John Grisham

Sequeal to Camino Island
Camino Winds, by John Grisham

I started July by reading John Grisham’s much-anticipated sequel to Camino Island (See You Must Read (Some of) These Books!.) Camino Winds did not disappoint. It continues with the same characters as Camino Island. We’re on an island in Florida with Bruce Cable, the man who owns and operates the little independent bookstore in the village. Mr. Cable has an interesting group of friends. Many of the people in this resort community are mystery writers.

There is a hurricane and a murder, and it takes the bookstore owner and all his friends to try to figure out who killed their friend. The guy who gets murdered is a lawyer, so there are any number of suspects.

Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns

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

To say fifteen-year-old Wren Bird lives in isolation would be a gross understatement. Her father is a self-proclaimed preacher who keeps boxes of poisonous snakes in the shed for the purpose of handling them in church. Wren’s mother does the best she can, but she lives under her husband’s thumb. They live miles from anyone else in West Virginia. They have no mailbox because Wren’s father doesn’t want them exposed to anything from the outside world.

This debut novel by Amy Jo Burns was recommended by one of the authors on Friends and Fiction on Facebook Live. Otherwise, I might not have heard of it. If I’d known in advance there would be so many references to snakes, I probably wouldn’t have given it a chance. It took me a while to get past the snakes, but the book was so compelling I kept reading.

There are a few other characters besides the Bird family. Wren is a determined young woman and she is not going to let that mountain, it’s snake handlers, or moonshiners (thus, the name, Shiner) keep her down. You will love Wren and want to read the entire book to see what unfolds.

I highly recommend this one!

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson

American Spy is Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel. (No wonder my TBR list keeps growing!) I listened to this book. It is written in the form of a letter an American spy, who just happens to be a black woman, writes to her children to explain how and why the major events in her life and theirs came about.

I was intrigued by the novel being written in the form of one long letter. Especially since I was listening to the book, it felt like the author had written the letter to me – or was telling me her story. Somewhere along the way, I started forgetting that it was a letter, but I would remember for a short while before going back to feeling like someone was telling me a story.

American Spy was published early in 2019 and has received excellent ratings and rave reviews. It’s different from any other spy novel I’ve read.

Since my last blog post

I’m embarrassed to say that I did not work on my novel for 15 months. I’ve read books about writing and blogs about writing, but it’s been 15 months since I make changes in the manuscript. I was shocked when I figured this out! By concentrating on reading and studying books about the art and craft of writing fiction, I have neglected by fiction writing. Three weeks ago, I finally got back into the book and I’ve had a wonderful time getting reacquainted with all my characters.

I love to read, and I have a huge list of books I want to read; however, it is time for me to stop hiding behind my reading list and get back to doing the nitty-gritty work of polishing scenes and making my characters more memorable. If I miss posting on my blog one week, it will be because I’m either writing fiction or I’m sick. Assume it’s because I’m writing and didn’t get a blog post written.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read. I’m listening to The Butterfly’s Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe on Playaway while I take my daily walks. I’m reading We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page, but it’s fine print and is going slowly although extremely interesting and eye-opening. I’m reading The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott on my Kindle.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you make time to hone and practice your craft.

Please wear a mask to protect those around you from the virus. Stay safe. Stay well. We’re all in this together.

Janet

Poetry Book Arrives at Perfect Time

If you haven’t told your best friend how much you love them recently, call or write them a note and tell them now. Tomorrow might be too late.

Perhaps you noticed my weekly Monday blog post never showed up last week. My nearly life-long friend, Kay Jewett Nalbone, died on Sunday. Although not unexpected, it was difficult to accept.

When you’ve been friends for 57 years and shared each other’s joys and struggles, you have a bond. What it boils down to is that I no longer have a friend with the same memories I have.

Another long-time friend from my graduate school days, Ray Griffin, didn’t know Kay and was not aware of her declining condition. It was serendipitous that Ray’s new book of poetry arrived in the mail on Monday. If ever I needed a collection of poems to sit down with and relax, it was Monday and Tuesday.

The name of Ray’s book is Winsome Morning Breeze: A Collection of Sonnets and Tanka. It is available online or you can request it at your favorite independent bookstore. It is beautifully illustrated with watercolors by Marti Dodge.

Many selections in Ray’s book resonated with me for different reasons. Having lost two good friends since February, the last two lines of “I Was a Fool” on page 21 has special meaning for me:

“To live one’s life most fully and with zest,

One must not ever let the moment rest.”

“On Dragon’s Tail” on page 19, on the other hand, brought a smile to my face as Ray eloquently wrote about his experience of driving the portion of US-129/TN-115/NC-115 in the Appalachian Mountains known as The Dragon’s Tail due to its 318 curves in 11 miles. It is a favorite of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts and a fun drive for those of us who love to drive in the mountains. What fun!

Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

And here’s a lovely turn of phrase from Ray’s sonnet, “Fallen Leaves” on page 109: “I feel as though I am within a large kaleidoscope.”

“Daughter” on page 107 brought tears to my eyes as Ray recalls the birth of his and Ida’s daughter 31 years prior. I remember sitting on the floor and playing with their precious daughter when she was just four or five years old.

Ray and I studied political science and public administration. He had a successful 26-year career as a city manager. He is now an adjunct professor of politics in Virginia. His poems, “Barbara Jordan” on pages 85-87 and “I’m But an Old Man” on pages 73-79 are as heartfelt as any pieces in the book. I could hear Barbara Jordan’s distinctive voice from the Watergate hearings as I read the poem he named after her.

I hope I’ve shared just enough from Winsome Morning Breeze: A Collection of Sonnets and Tanka, by Ray Griffin to whet your appetite. It will be a book I will reach for often. I will read it over and over, and I believe you will, too.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Shiner, by Amy Jo Burns and We Wear the Mask: 15 True Stories of Passing in America, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Frazier Page.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have productive creative time during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.

Don’t be shy. Share my blog!

Janet