A 2020 in books

I usually finish my annual Goodreads Reading Challenge with plenty of breathing room, but 2020 has been anything but a usual year.

So I’m still uncertain if I’ll meet my annual goal as the year rapidly comes to a close. Chances are – with yet another government-mandated shutdown (because science), I will.

Nevertheless, I’ve read some interesting novels in 2020, so thought I’d share the reviews I’ve done this year in case you’re looking for some enjoyable reading material in your lockdown or (preferably) non-lockdown state.

Happy reading to all as we ease into (hopefully) a better 2021.



Io e te – Niccolò Ammaniti

If you don’t read Italian, you can read this short but powerful coming of age story in English, translated as You and Me. I’m not always an Ammaniti fan despite having read much of his work, but this is the type of story where his writing is best – his ability to get so convincingly into the mind of awkward, teenaged Lorenzo. As a reader, I felt a deep sense of unease as I observed the delicate balancing act young Lorenzo is living, trying to conform to his parent’s ideas about how he should behave and who he should be, while constantly holding in his true feelings. Read my full review.

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

I gravitate towards multi-generational, multi-narrator stories that tell a tale through different perspectives, something this novel did successfully. I liked the fact that, as a reader, I felt privy to more information about each of these characters than the family members living side by side, in the same house, on a daily basis. I enjoyed the well-developed characters adjusting to shifting times. A beautiful and complicated family portrait. Read my full review.

Park Avenue Summer – Renée Rosen

The backdrop to this novel is 1960s Manhattan, with a new generation of young women working to carve out lives and careers for themselves in the Big Apple. Young Alice Weiss meets Helen Gurley Brown, the newly hired editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, and obtains a position as Gurley Brown’s secretary, at a time of upheaval for the magazine. This is a fun read, well researched, with well-developed characters and a great sense of setting. Fun to be a fly on the wall at the Cosmo offices in the 60s. Read my full review.

I leoni di Sicilia – Stefania Auci

I love historical fiction, so I was eager to read this family saga set in Sicily in the tumultuous years stretching between the 1790s to 1860s. This is the story, currently only available in Italian, of Paolo and Ignazio Florio, who move to Palermo, Sicily from their native small town of Calabria. We see Palermo change hands of various powers, including Napoleon’s France, the Bourbons and the Kingdom of Naples and the two Sicilies, and finally, Garibaldi’s Red shirts. The Florios – perhaps not being deeply tethered to local society themselves – are quick to shift loyalties in order to obtain favorable trade relations. Read my full review.

Critical Incidents – Lucie Whitehouse

Placed on administrative leave from her high adrenaline job as a homocide detective with London’s meropolitan police, Robin Lyons returns, with her teen daughter Lennie in tow, to the place she’d escaped from years earlier: her hometown of Birmingham. Equal parts detective story and journey of self discovery, Critical Incidents is a well-written and addictive page-turner. Read my full review.

Miss Iceland – Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir

Set on the remote island nation in the 1960s, this novel tells the story of Hekla – named for a volcano that erupted at the time of her birth – who moves from her rural farming town of Dalir to the captal city of Rejkjavik to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. Miss Iceland is a beautifully written quiet and reflective story, one which draws heavily upon the island’s stark nature and harsh environment and the characters’ tendency to stoic introspection. Read my full review.

The Last Collection – Jeanne Mackin

This is the tale of two rival fashion designers, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, that unfolds primarily in pre-World War II Paris. Despite some weaknesses in the storytelling, it was a fascinating foray into the lost world of Paris couture and the strong-willed women who dominated the elegant Paris ateliers of the pre-war era. Read my full review.

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