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My 10 Favorite Books of 2020 (so far)

Cindy Burnett
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10 Favorites of 2020

Cindy Burnett's 10 favorite reads of 2020 (so far) include two creepy tales, a historical tale about Vietnam and a story set in 1976 Odessa, Texas.

The first third of 2020 is over, and what a start to both the year and the decade it has been. Reading has provided a good distraction for me from the stress of the pandemic. While I struggled to focus enough to read when the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S., I eventually started Nick Petrie’s Peter Ash series and in less than two weeks I had read all five of them. I am sure I will always associate this series with the coronavirus (which I doubt is a connection that Nick Petrie would love to hear about). The latest installment came out in January and is listed below along with stories about Mosul, Iraq, our National Park system, the dangers of social media, a tribute to a grandmother, and more. 

So many good books have come out already this year, and I really had trouble narrowing it down. Here are my top 10 reads for the first third of 2020:

  1. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano - Dear Edward is one of the most beautifully written and poignant tales that I have read in a long time. This book tells the story of Edward, a 12-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash, and his attempt to carry on in the aftermath of this horrific event. The story alternates between the lives of the passengers on the doomed plane and Edward’s life following the crash. While the subject matter is obviously sad, the book itself is ultimately uplifting, life-affirming, and just plain fantastic.  I cannot say enough good things about this wonderful and unique tale. 
  2. Father of Lions: One Man’s Remarkable Quest to Save the Mosul Zoo by Louise Callaghan – Father of Lions tells the tale of the ISIS occupation of Mosul, Iraq, in the mid-2010s through the lens of Abu Laith and his determination to save the animals in the Mosul Zoo at any cost. Callaghan’s focus is on the civilians in Mosul, people who had already been living under tense and somewhat restrictive conditions due to the ongoing war in Iraq even before ISIS arrived. Callaghan infuses the story with the cultural, societal and religious norms found in present-day Iraq, and Father of Lions is a captivating and timely read.
  3. Followers by Megan Angelo - Followers is a thought-provoking, sometimes frightening, look at today's society, specifically the use of social media and smart devices and the complete loss of privacy that results. Toggling between 2016 and 2051, Angelo follows her three main characters as they navigate a world dominated by the worst effects of social media. The book is a complete page turner, and her insights and perceptiveness regarding cell phone and social media usage are intriguing and more than a little scary. 
  4. Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park by Conor Knighton – In this gem, Knighton recounts the year he spent traveling to every national park in the U. S. The parks are grouped by theme instead of location, and the book is interspersed with humor and character. Knighton highlights the importance of our national parks, how various parks received their designations, and how climate change and over-visiting is impacting these beautiful sites. Leave Only Footprints will definitely make my top 10 books of the year.
  5. The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai - Beautifully and lyrically written, Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s English debut follows multiple generations of the Tran family against the backdrop of Vietnam’s heartrending 20th century history. From the rise of the Communist government in North Vietnam to the years of conflict during the war itself, The Mountains Sing highlights the impact and cost of the rise of Communism and the subsequent Vietnam War on the Vietnamese people from their perspective. While I have finished the Tran’s story (and needed lots of tissues), their experiences will stay with me for a very long time.
  6. Nobody Will Tell You This But Me: A True (as Told to Me) Story by Bess Kalb – Bess and her grandmother Bobby shared a special bond, and when Bobby died at age 90, Bess was devastated. To honor Bobby, she decided to write a memoir from Bobby’s perspective utilizing the many voicemails, emails and texts Bess had kept. Channeling Bobby, Bess conveys the advice she received (sometimes hilarious, sometimes critical but always heartfelt) and tales from Bobby’s childhood. I laughed, I cried, and I did not want it to end.
  7. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James - The Sun Down Motel is a creepy, rundown motel serving as a pit stop for travelers on their way through Fell, New York. But as Viv and Carly, two women 35 years apart, learn there is someone or something else living at the Sun Down, they both are determined to find out who or what is haunting the motel. St. James’ pacing is perfect, and the book is awesomely creepy but not overly scary. Once you pick this book up, you will not put it down until you have turned that last page.
  8. Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore - Wetmore’s debut novel takes place in 1976 Odessa, Texas, a town centered around the oil business and filled with men who have come to work in the oil fields. Following the brutal attack of a teenage girl by an oil field worker, the town struggles to come to terms with the crime. The tale slowly unfolds through the perspectives of numerous women in the town. Wetmore’s lyrical prose and stark descriptions of the dusty landscape and impact of oil discovery on the region create a haunting and ultimately redemptive tale that I could not put down until I reached the last page.
  9. The Wild One by Nick Petrie - The Wild One is the fifth book in this fast-paced and intelligent mystery series. The protagonist Peter Ash fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan and struggles with a unique form of PTSD as he continues to reintegrate into society. Each book in the series involves a unique and timely mystery, and the characters are the best part of the books. In this installment, Peter heads to Iceland to help recover a kidnapped child. I highly recommend the entire series – I have been telling everyone I know to read these books.
  10. The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James - I am loving the continued revival of gothic tales, and this one is an enthralling modern gothic tale that reads like a classic one. Centered around Winterbourne Hall and the family that owns it, the de Grays, The Woman in the Mirror is deliciously creepy and so much fun to read, and the ending will make you gasp.

Bored at home and want to discuss books with people over Zoom or are you looking for an online book club? Conversations from a Page has launched a Curated Book Discussion program and the next one is on May 12 (New York Times bestseller Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore, which is set in Odessa, Texas) (cost-$5 or $30 for an annual pass). Email [email protected] for more info. 

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram or Cindy’s Reading Recs.

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