I don't know what I'd do without books. I like reading better than movies or TV and, sometimes, better than socializing. They keep me focused on my projects, keep me entertained when I need a distraction and, occasionally, shove in a few bits of knowledge through my thick skull. I started tracking my books on a spreadsheet in 1995 and have listened to (and sometimes read) 1609 books. This goes back to the days of Books on Tape where you would get boxes of cassettes in the mail and then ship them back when done. I had multiple boxes coming each week and one was always open in my passenger car seat and I had my Walkman going when I wasn't in the car or at work. Later I upgraded to CDs and a Discman. I even made a cross-body pouch to wear so I could carry it around. My lifetime average is 61 books a year but my pace picked up a lot in 2010 when I retired. This year I read 146 books, averaging 12/month. I wish I could read more. My wish list is long with more added every month. But don't ask me about TV or movies, I'm totally ignorant in those categories.
In my spreadsheet I rate my books and narrators. It's a way for me to remind myself to go back and look for new books by authors I love and to skip books by authors that I didn't love. In reviewing my ratings for 2020, and based on my feelings today, I'd say that these are my top 10 books of the year:
That list might be a little different next week but I'm sure that at least 5 of these books would be on the list always. I'm not worried or bothered if some of these are on your personal "worst" list, we all have different tastes. But I'd love to hear what your favorite books of the year (or December) are.
Here are the books I read in December. Some winners and a few serious losers.
Always the Last to Know
By Kristan Higgins, Read By cast
December did not get off to a great start because this book was a slog. I finished it but it wasn't because I liked any of the characters.
Here we have a family of 4. The children are 2 adult daughters and everyone is forced to start to address their "issues" when Dad has a stroke. The "issues" are basically decades of lack of communication. What follows is 12 hours of wanting to slap each one multiple times and yell, "get a grip, you were fortunate to have the life and opportunities you've been given!" This book is certainly written for today when everyone is encouraged to find the worst in their lives instead of being grateful for what they have. These are the kinds of people that I try to avoid in my real life. I found the whole thing tedious and the characters quite unlikable, especially the mother. She so obviously (and admittedly) favored one daughter over the other and now she's shocked that she has a bad relationship with the second daughter. They all found some sort of happiness in the end but boy was it a hard road to get there. Given that they all started in places of relative privilege that was no need for all the agony.
By Robert Crais, Read By James Daniels
I think I found this book through an audible Daily Deal and didn't realize until later that I had read Crais before but it's been several years. I'm not sure why I didn't real more back the because he writes a good, fast paced thriller with a tight plot and story line.
Jeff Talley is a former LAPD SWAT negotiator but the job eventually took a toll on him and his family. He's taken a chief job in a small town while he tries to heal himself and repair his marriage and relationship with his daughter. Of course, it's not a quite town for long.
One day 3 punks decide to rob a convenience store but the robbery goes bad when the owner is killed. They flee to a nearby neighborhood on the look for a car to steal. They end up taking a family hostage only this family has some business ties that complicate the entire situation.
I think I read this in a day and a half.
Freedom of the Mask
By Robert McCammon, Read By Edoardo Ballerini
This is #6 in the Matthew Corbett series and I was ready for it since I just read #5 a few weeks ago. When we last saw Matthew it was 1703 and he had been abducted and was on a ship to England and a rendezvous with his enemy Professor Fell.
This book picks up with his business partner, Hudson Greathouse along with Matthew's love, Berry Grigsby have found out where Matthew is are head to London to find and rescue him.
Meanwhile Matthew has murdered his captor on the ship and is arrested upon arrival to England and eventually ends up in the notorious Newgate Prison. He's escaped from prison by a mask-wearing vigilante. Soon he's allied with a local gang and discovers an underground world of highly addictive drugs and it all leads back to Fell.
It's an intense story with lots of interesting and well-developed characters and danger around every corner. As with all the books in the series, the story really never ends. But I think I am probably done with the series. I love murder and mystery books but this one crossed a bit too far into horror. I don't handle torture scenes well and there were some gruesome ones in this tale. I understand that book #7 is even more gruesome. I'll have to take a pass.
By Lisa Jewell, Read by a cast
Lisa Jewell is becoming one of my favorite authors. The publishers summary accurately calls this an "intricate thriller". You have to pay attention to everyone!
Saffyre Maddox has been under the care of child psychologist, Roan Fours, for 3 years when he decides that she doesn't need therapy anymore. Saffyer feels lost and abandoned. The Fours family has some of their own challenges. Meanwhile Owen Pickett is a neighbor of the Fours and his life is a mess and finds himself a member of an online INCEL (involuntary celibacy) community. When sexual attacks start in the neighborhood, Owen is the obvious culprit.
The cast narration worked really well and I'm not usually a fan.
Year of Wonders
By Geraldine Brooks, Read By Geraldine Brooks
Feeling depressed about our modern day plague? This book will put things into great perspective for you!
This tale is set in 1666 in Eyam, England and based in actual events. When the plague arrives in Eyam the village agrees to isolate themselves from the rest of the country. They work out methods of getting supplies and no one leaves. Anna Frith's husband has died in a mine accident and she's left to fend for herself and her 2 sons. She works as a housekeeper for the local minister. When plague arrives she becomes an unlikely heroine.
I enjoyed this book except for the ending. I wasn't really happy with where she ended up but I suppose it could have happened that way. The ending did not ruin the story, it seemed sort of randomly tacked on.
The Evening and the Morning
By Ken Follett, Read By John Lee
I've been waiting for this book for weeks. I like most of the Follett books and the Knightsbridge series was my favorite. This book is a prequel to that series.
It's 997 CE at the end of the Dark Ages. The Vikings are rampaging all over the East of England and the Welsh are attacking from the West.
The three focal characters are a Norman noblewoman who marries and English Alderman for love, a monk who wants to transform his modest abbey in to a learning center and a humble boat builder who arrives after the Vikings destroyed his home. Lots of family and political intrigue. Very typical Follett. If you liked his other books, you will like this one.
Find Her Alive, Detective Josie Quill Book 8
By Lisa Regan, Rad By Kate Handford
I'm always on the search for a new series to read and this book popped us as an Audible Deal of the Day. For $5 I could give it a try. Sadly, it wasn't even worth $5.
It's set in rural Eastern Pennsylvania and Josie is a Detective. Her twin sister , Trinity, has gone missing. When they discover bones everyone assumes the worst but it turn out to be another missing woman. They seem to have a serial killer.
Seriously, this is an awful book. It reads like it was written by an amateur writer. Characters are not well developed, which is surprising for the 8th installment in a series. Dialogue is juvenile. Everyone calls Josie "boss". Who does that especially when she mostly behaves like a junior detective? It's not 1970 anymore. Because the missing woman is Josie's sister she is not put in charge of the case, except that for the rest of the book she is in charge of the case. There are tons of similar contradictions throughout. Another example, Josie is in an accident caused by the suspect. She happens to be on the speaker phone with her boyfriend at the time. When the suspect hears the boyfriend's voice on the phone he leaves the scene but the boyfriend didn't hear any of the conversation she had with the suspect. Ridiculous. Also, in what universe does the FBI allow some local yokel police department take the lead in a serial killer case? It doesn't, ever. Given the clues they went through to solve it it should have take less than 48 hours but we had to drag through days of talking about people's pasts. It's a rural area and the suspect has a giant scar on his face. How hard is it to find that person? It reminded me of a 30 minute TV crime drama episode except that it took longer to get to the end.
By David Eagleman, Read By David Eagleman
All the brain cells that I lost reading that last book were renewed reading this one. I found this book because I listened to a podcast where the author was interviewed. He sounded interesting and the book sounded interesting. I was not disappointed.
The book focuses on the amazing adaptability of the brain and the stories of people overcoming serious brain damage, like missing an entire hemisphere, are so inspiring. He talks a lot about current treatment/therapy protocols for various brain injuries and diseases, like stroke and Alzheimer's. The book is very accessible for those of us without a science background. I couldn't put it down and can see myself reading it again sometime. He even did a great job narrating his own book which is a rarity of it's own among author narrators.
Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
By Stephanie Barron, Read By Kate Reading
Barron writes a mystery series with Jane Austen as the central character. They are all "nice, light reads". I picked this one because I wanted something Christmassy to read Christmas week. Jane, her sister Cassandra and her mother are spending Christmas with her brother and his annoying wife. Fortunately, as soon as they arrive, they are invited to the Vyne by the wealthy Chute family.
The festivities don't last long when someone ends up dead and it doesn't look like an accident. Told over the 12 days of Christmas, Jane helps solve the crime.
By S. A. Cosby, Read By Adam Lazarre-White
This has to be one of the hotttest books of the year to read. I had to wait a few months for it to come available. It's written by a Virginia author and set in Virginia so I was very interested in reading it. It also sounded like it my be a lot like Walter Mosley novels and Mosley is one of my favorite authors.
The story centers on Beauregard "Bug" Montage. He an outstanding mechanic, a husband and father who is devoted to his family. He used to be known as one of the best wheelmen (escape driver) around. Now his business is in financial trouble, his Mom is in financial trouble, his daughter needs tuition and his son needs braces. When an old friend approaches him about an easy jewelry store heist, he decides to participate. That's a great set up for a great story.
I wouldn't advise not reading this book because Bug is a great character. In fact, Cosby's genius is character development, all the characters are interesting and we can easily compare them to people that we have known. Well I could anyway. I knew all these people where I grew up. They are Southern Virginia through and through.
But there were 2 things that kind of annoyed me about the story. First, Bug may be close to poverty but he is not stupid. He's a very smart man and the smart Bug would have NEVER gone on this adventure with this idiot friend and allowed that friend to be in charge. Never, not in a million years. Of course, the whole thing goes south.
The other thing that bothered me was the Virginia setting. I don't understand why the author referred to real towns and cities but then made up county names and got landscapes wrong. For example, at one point the are driving from Richmond to Peaks of Otter. He mentions that they go there via Lynchburg and then talk about ears popping as they drive over the mountain. Had they driven the Blue Ridge Parkway route they would have gone over the mountain but not the Lynchburg route. That route is all east of the mountain. There were lots of weird things like that. It's not really relevant to the story, it's just annoying. Reminded me of some of the ridiculous stage setting and travel in the Crawdad Sings book.
But don't let that dissuade you from reading this if you are looking for a new African-American author to read since that's the hot genre at the moment. Cosby creates great characters and tells a good story. But if you want a better African American writer, check out Walter Mosley. I don't care what his background is, he's hands-down one of my favorite writers ever.
A Bad Day for Sunshine
By Darynda Jones, Read By Lorelei King
So, I thought I was getting a mystery/detective novel. What I actually got was a romance novel with a detective candy coating. It's not my schtick but for what it was, it was entertaining enough.
What I've learned since finishing is that Jones is a really popular author and she has a series with the main character Charlie Davidson who sees dead people. She tries to get them to pass on to the other world but sometimes they need her to solve their crimes.....or something like that. The people who love that series were a little let down that this heroine, Sunshine Vicram, is just a normal person.
Sunshine grew up in Del Sol, NM and now she's back as the sheriff. She got the job because her parents got her name on the ballot without her permission. Part of her objective in taking the job is to solve her own unresolved kidnapping and rape case that happened when she was a teen. The result of that event is her precocious 14 year old daughter, Ari.
If you like real drama in your detective novels this will not be for you. If you like some drama and light romance in your romance novels then this is your next read.
The Queen's Gambit
By Walter Tevis, Read By Amy Landon
This book is an older book, I think it was written in the 1980's. It's been brought back to popularity by the Netflix series based on it. Audible offered it as a daily deal so I decided to give it a try, it has rave reviews.....and I don't get it.
Maybe there are a ton of chess aficionados that like having chess moves read to them. Otherwise, I do not understand the love unless it's just cool to like this book. It reminds me a a mystery series that I tried to get into a few years ago where the main character talked in detail about the meals that he ate. It's all just filler. This book seemed to be half chess moves that I didn't understand, or care about, and half drug addiction and loneliness. All that was told by one of the worst narrators ever. She was breathless and slow. I had to speed up to 1.15 to get through it. I hope the Netflix series is better but I won't be checking it out.
America's First Daughter
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, Read By Cassandra Campbell
What a delightful way to end the month and year. I had read one of their other books, My Dear Hamilton, a couple of years ago and loved it. I guess I forgot about these authors until a friend mentioned that she had read this one. These authors write some of the most meticulously researched historical women's fiction that you can find.
This book is based on the life of Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph, the oldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. It's honestly researched and tells the story of the extended Jefferson family from Martha's point of view. Cassandra Campbell does a beautiful Virginia accent and the authors put you right in the middle of the story. It's a long book (my favorite) and I enjoyed every minutes of it.
12/31/2020 05:47:34 pm
Thanks for your monthly lists. I often find my new reading ideas off of your lists! We really enjoyed watching the Queens Gambit. I am sure I would be bored reading all the chess moves, but as you can imagine, they speed up a lot of that for TV viewers. Happy New Year!
12/31/2020 08:44:32 pm
Good job getting thru that many books in a month. I wish you and Chris a safe, healthy, and happy New Year!
I liked the Netflix version of Queen's Gambit. It was refreshingly different. The story is familiar - genius ability in a field, driven but lonely, with addiction as a backdrop. Her gift is presented similar to the way the character of Nash 'sees' his patterns in Beautiful Mind. She 'sees' the chess board with all the possible moves and outcomes in a flash. Fascinating.
1/1/2021 10:25:52 am
Thank you Vicki - found 3 new-to-me authors to check out (Crais, Jewell & Jones) and a new book by an old favourite (Follett). I just finished reading Barack Obama's 'A Promised Land' and it was excellent.
1/1/2021 12:49:44 pm
I am going to try several of these books! I'm trying to get into listening again. I think my lack of quilting mojo is the culprit but I'm stitching at my machines again so looking forward to some new books.
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I'm Vicki Welsh and I've been making things as long as I can remember. I used to be a garment maker but transitioned to quilts about 20 years ago. Currently I'm into fabric dyeing, quilting, Zentangle, fabric postcards, fused glass and mosaic. I document my adventures here.