Patricia’s Top Ten Reads of 2020
This year I am so grateful to have found this wonderful community of women reviewers that is With A Book in Our Hands. I have finally found an outlet for sharing my love of reading and great new discoveries. Thanks to NetGalley for making so many great books available. For my top 10, I have tried to select books that others may not have, so that we can “share the wealth” that is the authors we love, but I know there will be repeats, because, let’s face it, we love our authors (you know who you are!). So…in no particular order – here’s the list!
Favorite New Discovery
Seraphina Nova Glass
Oooh this was so good! It’s a rare book that has such a complex list of characters, yet manages to maintain consistency and tie everything up without missing any of the connections. I love when everyone is a suspect and there are so many circumstantial events that you can’t predict which of the characters is the real threat. The only thing that threw me off a bit was that Faith was a therapist but resorted to pills and alcohol for anxiety and stress relief. But oh my gosh, that twisty ending had my heart pounding. I can’t wait for Glass’s next book to be published!
Favorite Author (there were many, so I had to pick one!)
The Other Mrs.
As a huge Mary Kubica fan, I couldn’t wait to read this book! While I enjoyed her previous books much more, this one was a bit more complex. We follow Sadie as she moves with her husband from their home in Chicago, giving up her job as an emergency room doctor, and pulling her sons out of school. Their new location, on a remote island off the coast of Maine is due to an inheritance, and guardianship of Will’s moody niece. Then the murder happens. Suspicion falls on almost everyone at one point. The description of the atmospheric island is so detailed that you will actually feel like you are there with Sadie, isolated, stuck in a snowstorm (never a good thing!). There was a lot of foreshadowing, so I was able to figure out what happened, but the why was a huge twist! As long as Ms. Kubica keeps writing, I know I’ll always have a good book to read!
Best International/Translated Novel
I was pleasantly surprised to find this book was set in Copenhagen, and that the author was able to evoke the setting, especially the artists’ colony. There did seem to be some grammatical errors in translation – at one point it seems the name of the murdered girl was transposed with that of her roommate. It was hard to read without tripping over some of the names (not the fault of the author, purely my own ignorance). But the author’s great sense of dry wit and turn of a phrase were enjoyable and kept me reading to see what observation she would make next (e.g., “He felt as if a merger of fifty incompatible companies had taken place in his body overnight.”) The unfolding of the suspects came at a steady pace; I loved that there were no surprise characters, no deux ex machina to throw us off course, just a very complex and sophisticated story line.
Best Sci Fi/Techno Thriller
The God Game
This interesting novel combines all the elements of philosophy, religion and technology that anyone has ever questioned or wondered about. While it initially felt like a YA book, it quickly became interesting. Before technology, there was the philosophical question “are you reading the book, or is the book reading you?” (the Neverending Story); now there is the question of “are you playing the game, or is the game playing you”. I recently found out there is a book that names this thought phenomena – “The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game”, based on the writings of Philip K. Dick. The God Game takes this theory and places a group of teenagers in the middle of a huge morality play – who will do the right thing and what are the consequences of a) doing the right thing or b) not doing the right thing? Is there a way to “win” the game? The book is fast paced, written in a manner that allows you to visualize what the players are seeing through their Aziteks. I would love to see this made into a movie – the graphics would be amazing!
Most Emotional Mystery
B. A. Paris
So many secrets! And all because the secret holders don’t want to cause another person hurt or pain. But what is more hurtful – finding out someone has kept something important from you that would impact your life. Or that person caring enough about you to let you have one more happy moment?
Those are the questions that torture Livia and Adam as they both hold onto knowledge of events until those events become so intertwined, even the secret holders can’t unravel them fast enough.
This story was very emotional for me on so many levels. I cried (there – I said it) (several times). Paris once again keeps that haunting sense of anticipation of what happens next – thus, the suspense is taut and true Paris style.
Good Morning, Monster
In this fascinating book by Catherine Gildiner, each of the five stories reveal the sufferings of patients from the beginning of her practice to her post retirement. The stories are tied together by a theme – she regards each patient as a hero, for their ability to survive the traumas that brought them to her office.
Told in the tone of Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), Gildiner presents each case with all of its warts and moles – even the mistakes she made along the way – with empathy and humor. She clarifies where practices may have differed from current trends or knowledge in psychology, and she provides updates on the current status of her patients. Her explanations of cultural differences, how they affected her patients, and how she learned from her patients, really was an eye opener into how oppression and misunderstanding can wreak havoc on a person’s psyche.
Her explanations of maternal attachment and use of the Harlow monkey films took me back to my abnormal psych courses in college but took it a step further by relating it to her patient and providing an insight into this important developmental milestone.
I would love to see another five stories from Gildiner – we have so much to learn from her!
My Pick for Book of the Year (or how to define 2020 in a nutshell)
This was a white-knuckle book about the potential hazards of a relationship that appears too good to be true.
What would it be like to date a man or woman who gave you everything you needed, and even some things you didn’t even know you wanted? Would you ignore the red flags of isolation, lies and misdirection? Or would you be so desperate for love that you made excuses for your partner’s strange behavior?
Although the “first date” of the title comes about through an online dating site, the story could describe any controlling relationship. But is it just Alex who is controlling Hannah, or are her friends also guilty of controlling her through their not-so-subtle eye rolls and comments?
If you are looking for an entertaining book that has great pacing, full-on suspense and a twisty ending, add First Date to your “to be read” shelf today!
My Most Read Author of 2020 – K. L. Slater
The Girl She Wanted, The Apartment and Little Whispers
The Girl She Wanted
Holy cow, there’s a lot going on in this book!
I thought the story was going down the “angel of mercy” track, but boy was I wrong! There are so many secrets (well, doesn’t everyone have secrets?), but K.L. Slater does a great job of letting you know you don’t know the whole story.
Her characterization takes us from empathizing with Carrie, a nurse in a hospital who is a wonderful support to her sister Alexa and so great with her niece Florence, to suspecting her of the horrible things she’s accused of. Alexa develops from someone we are worried about, to becoming almost strident in her defense of her sister. And don’t even get me started on Alexa’s husband, who tries to control her behavior from his job away from home. All that is to say, you will get pulled into the plot so quickly that you won’t even realize how badly these characters are behaving. As the suspense mounts, you won’t even know who to root for because really, they all seem guilty.
Full disclosure, I am a total K.L. Slater fan!
This book stayed with me for days after reading it. K. L. Slater never disappoints! At first I was put off thinking that the main character, Freya, while a strong and smart woman, was so naïve about the goings on of the new apartment she and her daughter Skye move into. First – she gets the apartment for a song! That should have been her first clue. But then there are the odd tenants, the noises, the landlord’s strange rules. But then I realized, I’m reading a suspense novel, of course I know something sinister is about to happen. I loved the atmospheric descriptions of Adder House and its occupants. It was also interesting that the story was based around the true story of Little Albert. And of course, there was a great surprise ending!
I didn’t think K. L. Slater could top the last brilliant book, The Apartment. Well, I was wrong! Slater knocks another one out of the park with her story of a family suddenly enriched by the husband’s (Isaac’s) new job His signing bonus is large enough for them to get out of debt, buy a house in an upscale neighborhood, and put their son in a quality school.
As Isaac’s wife Janey becomes a part of the “inner circle” of influential moms at her son’s school, her husband warns her not to share the family’s business, especially not to talk about his work. Because of Isaac’s long hours at his job and Janey’s growing isolation, she slips and shares something she shouldn’t have with her neighbor, Tanya. Things start to spiral out of control when Janey spots Tanya’s daughter in town when she should be in school, and then there’s an issue at the school.
You will guess that there are so many people keeping secrets, but the way they are revealed was masterful!