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 Historical Novels I Read in February 2020

For me, the month of February can be summed up in three words. Best laid plans.

What actually happened

I thought I’d get a lot of reading done in February while being confined to my home with a fractured leg. I discovered it was hard to concentrate. I only completed three books in February. When given the opportunity to read 24/7, it loses its appeal – or at least it did for me. Added to my concentration problems was a hospitalization due to a pulmonary embolism. It was quite a month!

Since I didn’t get anything posted on my blog last Monday, I’ll try to get back on my weekly posting track now. I’ll try to finish writing “FixYourNovel #4 – Characterization, Part 2” for next Monday.


Moving on to today’s topic

Some readers look for a blog post the first Monday of the month about the books I read the previous month, so that’s what I’m doing today. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, you might like one or more of these three books.


The Last Train to London, by Meg Waite Clayton

As usual, I can’t remember how I heard about this historical novel. I’m glad I did, though.

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

Meg Waite Clayton did extensive research and wrote this book over a 12-year period. She takes you to Germany in 1938. Through several real people, she 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.

The references to closed borders and Hitler’s accusations about “the lying press” sent chills up and down my spine as an American. The parallels with the policies of the current United States president are striking and frightening to those of us who value our democracy.

There are gut-wrenching scenes of parents putting their children on trains with admonitions to make the most out of the museums and educational opportunities they’ll have in England. The children are entrusted to strangers with promises from their parents to somehow get to England and reunite with them.

No child under four or older than 17 years old was allowed to go. Each child was assigned a number. When they arrived in England, they were reviewed by prospective adoptive parents on Sundays.

As is stated in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book, “Although fiction, this novel is based on the read Vienna Kindertransport effort led by Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer of Amsterdam, who had begun rescuing smaller groups of children as early as 1933. She was, to the children, Tante Truus.”

I regret to quote the following from near the end of the book:

“Efforts to effect similar transports to the United States, through the Wagner-Rogers Bill introduced into Congress in February of 1939, met anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic opposition. A June 2, 1939, memo seeking President Roosevelt’s support for the effort is marked in his handwriting ‘File no action. FDR.’”

I hope you get a chance to read this excellent historical novel.


The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The ophthalmologist who treated me for shingles in my right eye several years ago was an avid reader. During my frequent appointments, we often discussed our favorite novels and authors. He introduced me to the novels of Stuart Nevillle and Adrian McKinty. I finally got around to reading my first novel by Mr. McKinty last month.

Police suspense novel set in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland
The Cold, Cold Ground, by Adrian McKinty

The Cold, Cold Ground was Mr. McKinty’s twelfth novel, but it introduced a new character, Sean Duffy, a Roman Catholic police officer in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. At least one of my immigrant ancestors came to America from Carrickfergus, so I was immediately drawn into the story. My ancestor was a Presbyterian, though, which has always intrigued me in light of “The Troubles” between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. I just don’t understand Christians hating other Christians, but that a topic for another day.

Back to the novel… Duffy is often put in awkward situations since he is one of only a few Roman Catholic police officers in Carrickfergus.

In The Cold, Cold Ground, a serial killer is making a statement, and Duffy is determined to solve the case and see the murderer brought to justice. There have been two murders. No one else suspects a connection except for Duffy.

I look forward to reading other Adrian McKinty novels.


A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

I was really on a roll last month with good historical novels! I wish I had remembered more details from the Latin American history courses I took in college. Some of that information would have been a helpful backdrop while reading this novel about the Spanish civil war in the 1930s.

You may wonder what Latin America had to do with a late-1930s civil war in Spain. I wondered the same thing, so I was in for an education.

A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende

Hundreds of thousands of Spanish citizens fled across the mountainous French border when General Franco and his Fascist followers overthrew the Spanish government.

In A Long Petal of the Sea, you follow a pregnant young widow, Roser, and her army doctor brother-in-law, Victor Dalmau, as they join 2,000 other refugees on the SS Winnipeg, a chartered ship to Chile. The voyage is chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. He described Chile as “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” Hence, the name of the novel.

The day they arrive in Chile just happens to be the day World War II erupts in Europe – September 2, 1939. The novel spans decades and four generations as these refugees make the most of their new lives in Chile while always yearning to return to their beloved Spain.

Isabel Allende, the author, was born in Peru and grew up in Chile. Since she was the first author to donate an autographed book for the autographed books auction held by the Friends of the Harrisburg (NC) Library some years ago, Ms. Allende holds a special place in my heart.

The novel was beautifully-translated into English by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading a memoir, Inheritance:  A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, by Dani Shapiro and listening to Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett.

Thank you for reading my blog post. You have many things vying for your attention and time, so I appreciate the fact that you took time to read my blog today. Please visit it every week to see what I’m up to.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read any good books lately? Share your thoughts with us.

Janet