Top Book Picks of 2020

First, I am addressing the ginormous elephant in the room: 2020 was a rough year (for us all), mainly thanks to Covid. When I see anything with the numbers 2020, I get a small chill thinking back to the mass stress and anxiety that we all experienced this past year. But, now that I have addressed the worst part of 2020, I think it is time to talk about some positive aspects that came from a hectic year. Being forced to stay at home allowed me to do some searching and focus on the things that truly make my soul happy and peaceful, which I hope that others were able to find a light in the darkness as well. Though I didn't read as much as I would have liked, I found some comfort in the pages of some good books. In addition to my lack of reading, I also neglected Mountain Mama Book Reviews, rarely writing any blog posts. As I move forward in 2021, I hope to be more attentive to the books on my shelves, the posts on my website, and the friends and family who I connect with over a good book. In the spirit of connection, I wanted to write a brief post to share my favorite books that brought me joy through a year full of uncertainty, which I hope these books will do the same for you!

(Disclaimer: This year I did not give a ranking or pick any certain genres, I just decided to choose books that simply brought me joy. I will be providing a brief description of each book, and a little bit of insight from my own mind on my experiences with each book).

1) Radio Girls by Sarah Jane - Stratford

The Great War is over, and change is in the air, in this novel that brings to life the exciting days of early British radio…and one woman who finds her voice while working alongside the brilliant women and men of the BBC.

London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.

Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.

My favorite part of the book: The characters! It was fun to see Maisie's journey of self-discovery, all while working for the glamorous and fascinating BBC.

2) The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don't simply move into a haunted house--they build one. . . .

In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate have abandoned the comforts of suburbia to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this beautiful property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the local legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. With her passion for artifacts, Helen finds special materials to incorporate into the house--a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse--objects that draw her deeper into the story of Hattie and her descendants, three generations of Breckenridge women, each of whom died suspiciously. As the building project progresses, the house will become a place of menace and unfinished business: a new home, now haunted, that beckons its owners and their neighbors toward unimaginable danger.

My favorite part of the book: I loved the feeling I got when I read this book - an eerie, hair-raising feeling. If you are like me and you love a good ghost story, then you will probably get the same feeling reading The Invited.

3) Sophie & the Bookmobile by Kathleen M. Jacobs

When Sophie's family moves from New York City to West Virginia, she not only has to leave her friends and the city and library she loves so much, but she has to figure out what will happen when she discovers that there is no library in her new town. But when she discovers something called a bookmobile and other new treasures, all is right with the world.

My favorite part of the book: Though I don’t have children to read to yet it was a special read, and one day look forward to sharing it with my children. As I read Sophie & the Bookmobile I was reminded of my love of books that began at a young age, which has continued on to this day. In addition to the wonders of books (and bookmobiles), Sophie’s story is a great reminder that change can be good, despite our fears or thoughts that say otherwise. See my full review for Sophie & the Bookmobile here.

4) Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

Discover the classic, behind-the-scenes chronicle of John E. Douglas’ twenty-five-year career in the FBI Investigative Support Unit, where he used psychological profiling to delve into the minds of the country’s most notorious serial killers and criminals. In chilling detail, the legendary Mindhunter takes us behind the scenes of some of his most gruesome, fascinating, and challenging cases—and into the darkest recesses of our worst nightmares.

During his twenty-five year career with the Investigative Support Unit, Special Agent John Douglas became a legendary figure in law enforcement, pursuing some of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers of our time: the man who hunted prostitutes for sport in the woods of Alaska, the Atlanta child murderer, and Seattle's Green River killer, the case that nearly cost Douglas his life.

As the model for Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs, Douglas has confronted, interviewed, and studied scores of serial killers and assassins, including Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Ed Gein, who dressed himself in his victims' peeled skin. Using his uncanny ability to become both predator and prey, Douglas examines each crime scene, reliving both the killer's and the victim's actions in his mind, creating their profiles, describing their habits, and predicting their next moves.

My favorite part of the book: This book is like the number one book any true crime fan should read, not just because it comes from one of the "founding fathers" of the FBI's behavioral analysis, but it is full of knowledge and truly fascinating stories. Warning: The book is graphic, given the nature of the crimes and serial killers discussed in the book.

5) The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

Anita Diamant’s “vivid, affectionate portrait of American womanhood” (Los Angeles Times), follows the life of one woman, Addie Baum, through a period of dramatic change. Addie is The Boston Girl, the spirited daughter of an immigrant Jewish family, born in 1900 to parents who were unprepared for America and its effect on their three daughters. Growing up in the North End of Boston, then a teeming multicultural neighborhood, Addie’s intelligence and curiosity take her to a world her parents can’t imagine—a world of short skirts, movies, celebrity culture, and new opportunities for women. Addie wants to finish high school and dreams of going to college. She wants a career and to find true love. From the one-room tenement apartment she shared with her parents and two sisters, to the library group for girls she joins at a neighborhood settlement house, to her first, disastrous love affair, to finding the love of her life, eighty-five-year-old Addie recounts her adventures with humor and compassion for the naïve girl she once was.

My favorite part of the book: Addie is such a strong and wonderful character that seems to accurately relay the struggles of the era the book is written. It was an emotional book for me, and I may or may not have shed a few tears.

6) Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, teachers, and boyfriend. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her. And then she was gone. Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together ten years after her daughter goes missing, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Though Poppy is a bright and intelligent child, it is her striking resemblance to Ellie that shocks Laurel. And now, despite the possibilities this new relationship brings her, Laurel is haunted by the questions she is desperately trying to put behind her. Questions that bring back memories of the time before her daughter's disappearance and an odd home invasion that occurred years after Ellie was gone. Questions that all come back to what happened to her daughter.

My favorite part of the book: A twisted and eerie thriller, Then She Was Gone, was a fun and fast paced read. It is one of those books where you can imagine where the story is leading, however, the author gives such effort to detail that the ending is difficult to wholly predict. See my fill review for Then She Was Gone here.

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