Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Best Books of 2020

This was a year like no other, and I think my reading reflects that. I spent a lot of time listening to Simon Vance and Hugh Fraser reading, and Victorian true crime pulled me out of the pandemic doldrums temporarily.

Pre-covid Realism

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter (2020) 
No one quite gets the difficulties of contemporary womanhood like O'Porter. This one has some wonderful commentary on beauty standards and relative happiness.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary (2020) 
I bought Everett's debut The Flatshare in February for one of those Buy 2, Get 1s at the Heathrow W.H. Smith (oh, back when we could travel!), but it was this up-ending of millennial and geriatric life where she really hit her stride.

Oh So Mysterious

The Move by Felicity Everett (2020) 
Your husband buys and decorates a lovely remote cottage for you as a form of apology for his indiscretions. But is their rekindled romance and rural idyll as perfect as it seems?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020) 
Foley follows up The Hunting Party with another multi-viewpoint mystery circumscribed by geographical isolation. The remote venue for a wedding party is populated with more enemies than friends.

Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (2020) 
The sophisticated structure of this novel, set among fundamentalists in remote Appalachia, delves itno the life-long friendship and secrets of two women.

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holisinger (2014)
The poet John Gower, bereaved and blind, investigates the murder of a young woman thought to be a spy in Chaucer's London. Wonderful period details, just enough arcane language, and political machinations in a world that overlaps our own more than we might have thought, followed up with The Invention of Fire

The Trouble Makers by Celia Fremlin (1975) 
Fremlin's slice-of-post-war-life about neighborhood gossip is just one of her fabulous novels with a soup├žon of suspense and dash of class-consciousness. 

Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White (1942) 
White wrote The Lady Vanishes, but this novella is wonderfully social and claustrophobic. She is especially good at ambiguity. 

Stranger than Fiction

The Ripper story is one you think you know, but Rubenhold asserts that the "canonical victims" might not be prostitutes. This delves into each of these women's backstories, showcasing the range of female experience, dependence upon men for support and the range of social services available for the unhoused and destitute. 

An Alabama woman marries an Englishman, and her beauty secrets could be blamed for the arsenical poisoning of her older, hypochondriac husband. Lots about crime and punishment in Victorian England, and the dialogue between cotton production state-side and the weaving trades of the Midlands. 

I had long been a fan of Dr. Whitcher, but this is great exploration of the social shifts which led to more modern divorce laws in the U.K. and female desire. I really cannot wait for The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story.

Scholarship is pushing me towards an interest in the long eighteenth century, and this is a fascinating social history, literacy in particular, with all sorts of nuances I never knew.

Early on, I read this historical account, offering near-perfect contextualization for our current crisis. Includes so many parallels with the current viral spread, with its conclusion offering a glimmer or two of something like hope.

Mr. X and Mr. Y by Donald Brown (2016)
True crime, self-published by newspaperman who covered this East Alabama case as a cub reporter in 1959. It is a fascinating story of a young farm woman pushed to the brink.

We don't hear enough about life in sheltered housing, and this fascinating account of like in a Dutch old-people's home is terrifically funny. There is a sequel, On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

SO MUCH nonfiction. SO MANY mysteries. SO MUCH time to read. I am counting my blessings!