As the Crow Reads: My 2020 Top 10

It has been my pleasure over the last few months to review locally written books for you in The Advocate. But those aren’t the only books I’ve read this year; in fact, I have read 40 books this year at the time of publishing this article. So, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite books that I have read in 2020. Some of them are written by local authors, others simply touched my heart, made me think, or just plain entertained me.   

This book gave me all the feels. It’s the book that inspired my idea to do book reviews for The Advocate in the first place, because I just had to tell everyone I knew about it. You can read that review here, but don’t stop with the review. If there is one book on this list that everyone should read, it’s Being Mortal. Written by surgeon Atul Gawande, this book offers new perspective to death and dying, and how we can help our loved ones and ourselves live fully. While you might think it’s a depressing subject, the book is incredibly uplifting and will leave you with a new way of thinking about mortality.   

I was in the middle of reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin when civil unrest broke out over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. It’s a book I have always wanted to read, and it was an incredible look into our past as a nation. While in some ways it shows a reader how far we have come since its publication, in other ways it highlights how deeply sown the currents of racism and white supremacy are in the United States. It was eye-opening and heartbreaking, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. A word of caution; this book is an incredibly difficult read. There are uses of words and thoughts that no longer have a place in our culture, as well as brutal scenes of family separation and the cruel treatment of slaves. It is not a book to be taken lightly, or to be read with anything but the utmost respect for the people of color who inspired the story.   

Written by local author Marjorie Sandor, The Secret Music of Tordesillas is a beautifully portrayed story of the musician who lived with Juana I of Castille, the Spanish queen known as “La Loca.” A tale of secrets, betrayal, and fear, it’s also filled with moments of pure light and hope. It follows Juan de Granada, who comes to the castle as a young Jewish boy and is brought into the princess’s service as a musician. The story is told from his perspective at the end of the Queen’s life when he is interrogated by the Holy Office. Painted flawlessly over the canvas of intrigue and mystery surrounding Juana’s court, it is a perfect blend of historical fiction and mystery.   

If you’re interested in a tale that blends together adventure, justice, love, and science, this is the story for you. Based on real facts about Einstein’s race to prove relativity, the book follows the journey of two young Jewish siblings in Russia who are trying to beat Einstein to the proof of gravity bending light. The first novel by Rachel Barenbaum is a story that will captivate you completely from beginning to end.   

When Jen Hatmaker is at speaking events and people ask her which of her books they should read first, she always says Interrupted. It’s a book about the ways that God calls us to love our neighbors and how that doesn’t just mean loving them from afar. Christians need to be in the trenches, working for the betterment of God’s Kingdom, and providing care to those who need it most. This book challenges every part of the “Prosperity Christian Mindset” showing that worldly possessions and pursuits are not what Christian life is about. It dramatically challenged and changed my personal faith journey and how I serve those around me.   

Beautifully crafted and filled with suspense, The Underground Railroad tells the story of escaped slaves and the train that quite literally ferried them to safety. You won’t be able to forget the characters, and you’ll worry about them when you’re not reading. I found my heart racing in fear when they were close to capture and leaping for joy when they were set free. It’s a compelling read and is filled with adventure and the harsh realities of life as a runaway slave.   

Local author Keith Scribner weaves a tale of remembrance, redemption, and forgiveness in this gripping tale. The main character, Cole, left town as soon as he could after his father murdered his mother. He moved across the country and hasn’t been back since, but now his father is out of prison and suffers from crippling Dementia, and Cole’s son is headed down a dangerous road. Together, the three men spend the summer learning to forgive both themselves and each other. A compelling novel that had me in tears more than once.   

I have to be honest, I put off reading this book. I’m adverse to trend reading, and everyone and their mother seemed to be reading this, and I figured that it was probably just another southern romance novel. I’m very happy to report that I was dead wrong. In a story that is anything but routine, Where the Crawdads Sing recounts the life of a girl who was abandoned by her whole family and was shunned by the community. She grew up alone and isolated, and when a murder happens in the town, the residents all suspect her, even with her clear alibi. This story has a little bit of everything – mystery, romance, suspense, science, and even aspects of a thriller. Plus, I think I love it even more just for proving my instincts wrong.   

I finished this book recently, and it was everything I didn’t expect. Margaret, the daughter of a book collector, is summoned by the illustrious author, Vida Winter, who has never told the truth of her autobiography to anyone. Now, she is ready to tell all, and she has selected Margaret to help her. The two form a close bond, and as the story unfolds, the mystery of who Vida Winter truly is will shock and amaze you. Filled with cautiously guarded secrets and unbelievable surprises, this story will have you guessing up until the final page and beyond.   

 I did not truthfully enjoy this book; so why is it on the list? Because I believe it is the most important book for women’s reproductive rights that has been written in this decade. Red Clocks is brutal and graphic, in all the right and necessary ways. It details what America would look like if reproductive freedoms for women were all but outlawed. In a story harkening us back to The Handmaids Tale, author Leni Zumas will have you on the edge of your seat and may even change the way you think.   

Bonus Books  

I hadn’t read Anne of Green Gables before this year. When all of my friends were reading it, I was the kid that was so obsessed with horses that I was reading all of the Pony Pals books instead. What a lovely, simple story this book is, and it would be perfect for reading out loud to little ones. It’s a great way to teach kids new, old-fashioned words. This story has so much imagination and fantasy in it that it will compel children of all ages, even adult ones.  

I love everything Beauty and The Beast, and this take on the classic story was no different. It tells the tale of Isabeau and The Beast from the Beast’s perspective. A charming novel, with enchantment and fantasy all rolled into an elaborate story of the Prince and his Princess and how they will make a way in this world together. It’s a perfect winter read and would be well-paired with hot cocoa and Christmas cookies.   

By Kyra Young