A Taste of the Best of 2020

Readers, it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? It’s hard to believe we’re even ready to talk about our favorite fiction and nonfiction books of the year. Many of us, and many of you, have found books to be a welcome escape, reading our way through all this year has thrown at us. Traditionally the staff compiles a list of the ten fiction and ten nonfiction titles from the year - the books that reminded us why we love to read so much and show us the power of the written word. Here I offer you a little appetizer to whet your appetite:

I’ll start by briefly mentioning my own personal favorite of 2020, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. I wrote about this back in June, and haven’t read or listened to anything since that I’ve found to be so surprising, immersive and thought-provoking. I’m not alone, it’s also a best of the year pick from Nancy and Laurie, as well as a New York Times Bestseller, a Good Morning America Book Club pick, and long listed for the National Book Award.

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October Grab Bag

We’re in the last three months of the year. I’ve noticed the light changing and the leaves falling and all I want to do is read books that make me happy. Here’s a collection of books that have been a pleasure to read! 

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

This is a reissue of an earlier Katherine Center title after the success of her last three books, How to Walk AwayThings You Save In a Fire, and What You Wish For. Sometimes in earlier books you can tell that an author hasn’t quite hit their stride yet, but I found Happiness for Beginners a totally satisfying reading experience. And her protagonist, Helen, though recovering from a divorce, wasn’t paralyzed in the hospital or suffering from seizures, so she is already starting ahead. Helen signs up for a wilderness survival course in the backcountry of Wyoming in an attempt to find herself again a year after divorcing her husband. Never mind that the course she’s chosen to do is regularly reviewed as being dangerous and the participants prone to injury. Or that her brother’s friend, Jake, has also enrolled in the same course. Or that when Helen actually gets there she realizes she’s the oldest person on the program. Helen is determined to make the most of her experience and no matter how much she struggles to find her footing, sometimes literally, she keeps going. Even though there’s a delicious thread of romance throughout, what I enjoyed just as much was how Helen is brave enough to keep uncovering and admitting to herself who she is and what she wants. For anyone who wants a truly happy read, the clue is in the title.

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Time for a Mystery?

When the Island Books staff got wind that Louise Penny’s newest Chief Inspector Gamache book would be published early September, we knew our customers would be interested. Sure enough, after brisk pre-order sales, a shelf full of All the Devils Are Here hardbacks waited to be picked up by eager readers on September 1st. More than one person has remarked on the fact that we keep the full Chief Inspector Gamache series on hand in the mystery section, but it has less to do with the enthusiasm of the staff for the series, though we are fans, and more with the reality that person after person on Mercer Island keeps discovering the series and buying them by the handful.

Chief Inspector Gamache is a wonderful mystery series in the best of times, and now, as we keep hearing from over the counter that reading has become an escape, they would be a satisfying reading project. For anyone who has yet to discover Louise Penny, these are contemporary mysteries, set in the fictional town of Three Pines, on the border of Canada and the US in Quebec. The inhabitants of Three Pines are quirky, to say the least. With All the Devils Are Here, the series stretches to sixteen books and I find with each successive book, the psychology of the characters and the mysteries deepen. I’ve rarely, if ever, been able to guess who did it in a Louise Penny mystery, and for the last several I’ve not even tried. Now I just let her take me along for the ride and cross my fingers that everyone comes out okay at the end.

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