I can’t let 2020 completely disappear without providing a list of my favorite reads from the year. I read fifty-five books, and you can see all of my reviews on my Goodreads Challenge HERE (for past years too).
So many books, so little time. I already have a LONG list of want-to-read books for 2021. And the idea that so many fabulous, life-changing stories await, thrills me.
Now, on to my favorite reads of 2020.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
by Bryn Greenwood
Whoa. This story truly is chock full (and shockingly full) of ugly and wonderful things. It is absolutely not for everyone, but if you can get past the age difference of 13-year-old Wavy and 20-something Kellen, you might see the root of a relationship grounded in love. Disgusting, tragic, brilliant, lovely, cringe-worthy, extremely well written—All the Ugly and Wonderful Things will give you ALL the feels. You’ll despise and love the characters. You might even do a little personal soul searching. This book provides a reminder that life is not black and white or cut and dried.
Favorite quote: I liked to play at tragedy, but she drank it out of her baby bottle.
by Kent Haruf
This book has been on my shelf for years and why I waited to read it, I have no idea. But as soon as I finished it, I put on my mask and rushed to the bookstore to buy the next two in this series. Boo! My Barnes & Noble had neither on the shelf! So I ordered the next in the series—Eventide (which I promptly read and loved equally as well), and I am still looking forward to reading the third, Benediction.
Kent Haruf’s prose is sparse, beautiful, and haunting. His characters, the McPherson brothers, have become two of my favorite characters in all of literature. Haruf also wrote Our Souls at Night which is ah-mazing.
(Sadly, Haruf passed away in 2014.)
Favorite Quote: We’re willing to put up with a lot from you men, but in the evening we want to hear some talking.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell
by Robert Dugoni
This feel-good, coming-of-age story has a male protagonist and a cast of characters who are now part of my family. Addressing themes of bullying, family strength, and keeping the faith, this quiet story was a salve during such a contentious time. I adore an ordinary character who displays extraordinary traits. Don’t you?
Favorite Quote: There come a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.
by Elizabeth Wetmore
This powerhouse of a first novel has a strong, well-developed cast of female characters—I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. With strong writing and a gritty West Texas setting, it ranks very high at the top of my favorite reads in 2020. A young girl is raped in an Odessa oil field and the surrounding women seek justice. Of course they do. If there isn’t a movie, I’ll be shocked.
Favorite Quote: Every book has at least one good thing…Love stories and bad news and evil masterminds, plots as thick as sludge, places and people she wishes she could know in real life, and words whose loveliness and music make her want to cry when she says them aloud.
by Catherine Lacey
A young girl is found sleeping on a church pew, and the small southern town sets out to figure him/her out. Boy or girl? Black or white? Child or young adult? No one knows and “Pew” isn’t talking. This story brings up topics of race and bias, prejudice and belonging, religious pigeonholing, small-mindedness. Oh, so timely… As Pew drifts from family to family, she becomes the town confessor; all the while remaining silent. As the story builds to the town’s Forgiveness Festival, all I could think of was Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery. Something is amiss, that’s for sure. For fans of literary fiction and southern gothic. Excellent in my opinion.
Favorite Quote: A person has to be careful about the voices they listen to, the faces they let themselves see.
The Only Woman in the Room
by Marie Benedict
The Only Woman in the Room is historical fiction about Hedy Lamarr who escaped a Nazi-sympathizing husband before WWII, became a Hollywood icon, and invented/patented a torpedo communication system (the foundation for what is now used in wireless devices). Who knew???! An absolutely incredible story about a woman who was largely celebrated for her beauty and criticized/overlooked when she used her brain.
Favorite Quote: Rulers and movements may rise and fall, but the power of money always prevails.
by Jeanine Cummins
Powerful and compelling, this gripping story is about an immigrant mother, her young son, and their attempt to escape the Mexican drug cartel. What an apt story for this time in history when immigrants are often treated as criminals. This book will make you grateful for your warm bed and roof overhead. It might even stir empathy for those seeking a better lot.
Favorite Quote: Trauma waits for stillness. Lydia feels like a cracked egg, and she doesn’t know if she’s the shell or the yolk or the white. She is scrambled.
A Woman of Independent Means
by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
I read this oldie for the first time and discovered a hidden treasure. A Woman of Independent Means is told entirely in letters written by Bess throughout her life from 1899 to 1968. I particularly enjoyed the references to familiar Dallas streets and places; reading about historic events through her eyes was, well, eye-opening. This book is a homage to the lost art of letter-writing and a reminder there are a lifetime of books waiting to be discovered.
Favorite Quote: Time is a cruel thief to rob us of our former selves. We lose as much to life as we do to death.
This Tender Land
by William Kent Kruger
This Tender Land is a charming, heartbreaking story of redemption and love—Huckleberry Finn meets Before We Were Yours. The journey of four runaway children—two brothers, one Native American, and a young girl—is nothing short of magic. Set during the Great Depression with a cast of colorful characters, William Kent Kruger is one of my favorite, new-to-me authors.
Favorite Quote: The beauty isn’t in the jewel itself, but in the way the light shines through it.
A Long Petal of the Sea
by Isabel Allende
This rich historical saga set during the Spanish Civil War, provided a history lesson on a period/place unfamiliar to me. A Long Petal of the Sea is love story about people and the power of home. The characters are complex and layered. The meticulous research performed by this author, unfathomable to me.
Favorite Quote: If one lives long enough, circles close.
Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson
Quirky, humorous, peculiar, this unputdownable book is about kids who catch on fire and the girl who cares for them. A quick and breezy read with wit, snark, and larger life lessons swimming beneath the surface. Oh, there’s plenty to see here!
Favorite Quote: Things are bad and crazy and chaotic. But you ride it out and you don’t let it hurt you, and then there’s this stretch of time that is so calm and perfect. And that’s what was always worth waiting for.
See? 2020 had definite bright spots. I met a few incredible protagonists, traveled back in time, laughed, cried, and gnashed my teeth, went to court, felt the magic of words.
I could have easily added several more of my 2020 reads to this list, but sometimes a girl has to call it a day/year.
What did you read in 2020 that you highly recommend?
Did you set a Goodreads Challenge for 2021?
I’m giving away an Audible copy of American Dirt. For a chance to win, comment on the Blog or Facebook post and tell me what you are reading now. I’ll randomly choose/announce a winner on January 17.
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
Great informative reviews! I read 58 books iVn 2020 with according to goodreads the shortest book has 65 pages and the longest book has 791 pages with average book length of 355 pages. Interesting! My goodreads chakllenge for 2021 is 50 books. One and a half down and many on my wish list. I also loved Kent Haruf’s books. Charles Martin was my favorite storyteller in 2020. Happy reading and writing!
Talya Tate Boerner says
My goal for 2021 is 50 also. I love Goodreads. The reading challenge statistics are fascinating!
Talya Tate Boerner says
I’ve still not read Charles Martin! It’s nice to know I have a great author waiting in the wings.
So glad to read your book recommendations and agree w “so many books, so little time”. I’ve only read one, “Plainsong” so you’ve provided a list to add to my list. I also want to add in “ favorite quote” idea from each book I read. I haven’t kept track of how many I read per year…but maybe I can go back and estimate. Between keeping a “real book”, and typically two audio books going at a time… probably in the 40-50 range. Currently I’m listening to “”Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell (non fiction) and “Where Somebody Waits” by Margaret Kaufman (fiction, setting is Arkansas). Add me to your giveaway, please! Julie
Talya Tate Boerner says
If you loved Plainsong, you will love Eventide (several of the same characters). You should join Goodreads if you haven’t already. It’s a great way to find books and fellow readers. I’ll add your name!
Jodell Wright says
I also read and enjoyed four of the books on your list. The narration on the audio version of Valentine was outstanding. This Tender Land is on my TBR list. Thanks for the recommendations! Happy New Year!
Talya Tate Boerner says
I agree!! I listened to the Audible version of Valentine. Loved it.
I should have edited my comment! 😂 Lots of errors.
Linda McLaughlin says
Loved the list. Haruf (have read and loved all of his books) and Krueger are two of my favorite authors. In 2020 I loved Harry’s Trees by Cohen, The Hollows by Montgomery and The Miracles of the Namiya General Store by Higashino (my favorite of the year). It is so helpful to get new ideas from all who post here.
Talya Tate Boerner says
Thank you for these recommendations. I am adding them to my Goodreads list NOW. Yay.