Jeana Gockley: JPL director shares her favorite reads of 2020

Goodbye 2020, hello 2021.  

As the previous year is wrapped up and we move into the new one, it is the perfect time for me to reflect on what I read during 2020.  And just like during 2019, I kept track of all the books I read, for a grand total of 38.  That’s eight more than I read in 2019!

Of those thirty-eight titles, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Here are my top eight picks, in no particular order: 

  1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  3. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  4. The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes
  5. The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams
  6. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
  7. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  8. Group by Christie Tate 

Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens – This uber popular title was released during the summer of 2018, and remains so popular today that I had to put myself on a waiting list to be able to check out a copy.  And wow, did it live up to the hype.  I LOVED it!  Owens does an exceptional job with character development and readers will be hard pressed not to fall under the spell of main character Kya Clark.  It is a mystery, nature, and coming of age story all rolled into one beautifully crafted page turner.  

Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee –  The novel, set in Korea, starts in 1910, and focuses on a family who runs a boarding house in a small village by the ocean.  This couple has only one son, Hoonie, who was born with a cleft palate and twisted leg, who manages to survive childhood and grow into a dependable son who his parents are proud of.  Hoonie eventually takes over the boarding house with the help of his wife, and the couple have a daughter named Sunja.  As a naive, sheltered teenager, Sunja meets and falls in love with a much older, Korean man.  Unbeknownst to her, he is already married and when Sunja becomes pregnant, he offers to take care of her as his mistress.  Sunja refuses, and thus, starts a family-centered saga that readers will be unable to put down. This captivating title was released in February 2017, and I am not sure how I missed it.  If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. 

“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett –  Bennett uses her newest offering to explore the relationship between twin sisters and how skin color affects the life of each.  After twin sisters run away from their rural southern town as teenagers, each chooses their own path; with one marrying a dark skinned man, while the other decides to pass for white.  Bennett’s debut novel, “The Mothers” received a lot of attention after it’s release in 2017, but hold on to your hat, “The Vanishing Half” is even better! There is so much to think about in reading this novel.  It would make an excellent book club selection.

The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes – Set during the Great Depression, in rural Kentucky, Alice Wright is definitely out of her element.  Having grown up in a wealthy English family, her marriage to an American and a move to the United States is anything but expected.  Despite the change of scenery, her new life in Kentucky soon begins to feel as strangling as her former life. To help lessen her isolation, Alice signs up to work for Eleanor Rooselvet’s new traveling library, despite her husband’s objections.  Little does she know, this group of librarians, later known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky, will change her life.  This one is so good and worth the time.  

The Bromance Book Club” by Lyssa Kay Adams – This title might look familiar from the romance reading ideas I shared in November, but it is so unexpected here is a refresher.  Major League baseball player Gavin Scott is the main character of this second chance romance.  He goes from being on top of the world after hitting a grand slam, to drinking his troubles away in a seedy hotel room after his wife asks him to move out.  Thankfully, his friend and teammate introduces him to an all male book club where they read and discuss romance novels to help with their love lives. I could not put this book down and loved every minute of it.  It made me laugh out loud several times, and had a positive, energetic feel to it; light, fluffy, and full of emotion.

Red, White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston – When first son Alex Claremont-Diaz meet’s Henry, Prince of Wales, things do not go well.  The political rivals manage to make a mess and soon the press are having a field day.  Presidential and royal staff devise a plan for fixing this national nightmare and a public trucemaking is arranged.  What transpires is a secret romance that soon has everyone scrambling to keep it covered up.  McQuiston’s debut is funny, engaging, and escapism at its finest!  I listened to it as a download from MOLib2go (Overdrive) and enjoyed the narration immensely.  I read a quote from a reviewer that said they were “jealous of anyone who gets to experience it for the first time,” and I totally agree.  Alex and Henry shine in this sexy coming out story!

Becoming” by Michelle Obama – I wrote a full review for this one in August, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  This well-crafted, powerful memoir should not be missed. Obama’s writing is clear, accessible, and descriptive.  She does an excellent job of developing a timeline and explaining details.  The pacing is spot on and the imagery the author creates with her words will make the reader feel part of the story.  The warmth she feels for people radiates outward and her use of story and the power that it yields is phenomenal. 

Group” by Christie Tate – I found this book while browsing Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks late one night.  Reese is quoted as saying, “Have you ever read a book that made you want to hug the author?”  My interest was immediately piqued.  Christie Tate is honest, open, and narrates her messy memoir with a painfully real voice.  The book opens with Tate, a student at the top of her class at law school, describing a time when she wanted to die.  These thoughts were not unusual for her; she frequently feels alone and isolated.  Thankfully she meets Dr. Rosen, an unconventional therapist who recommends group therapy.  At first Christie is skeptical, but eventually her group will help her change her life.  While heartbreaking and raw at times, Tate’s journey is hard to turn away from.  Readers will be hard pressed to not finish this one in a single sitting. 

Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  If you have set a new goal for yourself this year, I have a fun way to start you on it – sign up for our Winter Reading Challenge. 

It is easy – log four hours of reading by January 31, and you will earn a free drink from Bearded Lady Coffee and be entered to win a selection of prizes from Beanstack and Simon and Schuster!   Plus, by logging your time read you can help us reach 80,000 minutes of reading for our community goal.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading!