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2020 reading list: sixteen books to read

each year i say i'm going to put together a list of books to read and each year i never do. well, 2020 is THE year. after a few good books at the end of 2019, i decided to put together my recommendations for a 2020 reading list.

i recently finished the book midnight at the bright ideas bookstore and ohmygod. after about chapter three -- buckle up -- because you're in for a ride full of twists and turns.

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Bedazzling, addictive, and wildly clever, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a heart-pounding mystery that perfectly captures the intellect and eccentricity of the bookstore milieu and will keep you guessing until the very end.

with that book done and my next one started (my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry), i figured it was time to plot out the rest of my reading for 2020. as i've said previously, i'm an amazing procrastinator. so, it shouldn't be a surprise that we're almost two full months into 2020 and i finally put together my 2020 reading list.

i've talked for a few years about doing a book challenge and i usually read about one book. my younger self, and all of my book it pizzas, would be ashamed.

so, damnit, it's done. i'm doing it. look out 2020.

for this reading list, i tried to branch out from just doing thriller/suspense/murder books ... but the list ended up being as scattered as my mind is most days.

anyway, enjoy! if you've read any of the books below, leave me a note with your thoughts ... or just let me know what's on your reading list.

*please note that this article contains affiliate links.*

1. my grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry (currently reading)

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Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

a comedic option for your 2020 reading list.

2. before we were yours

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Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

a dramatic option for your 2020 reading list.

3. where the crawdads sing

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For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life--until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

a dramatic/mystery option for your 2020 reading list.

4. the keeper of lost causes

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Carl Mørck used to be one of Denmark’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of cold cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead...yet.

Darkly humorous, propulsive, and atmospheric, The Keeper of Lost Causes introduces American readers to the mega-bestselling series fast becoming an international sensation.

a dark comedic option for your 2020 reading list.

5. the starless sea

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Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues—a bee, a key, and a sword—that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library hidden far below the surface of the earth.

6. fool me once

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Former special ops pilot Maya, home from the war, sees an unthinkable image captured by her nanny cam while she is at work: her two-year-old daughter playing with Maya’s husband, Joe—who was brutally murdered two weeks earlier. The provocative question at the heart of the mystery: Can you believe everything you see with your own eyes, even when you desperately want to? To find the answer, Maya must finally come to terms with deep secrets and deceit in her own past before she can face the unbelievable truth about her husband—and herself.

7. the killing lessons

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When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper's isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it's the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it's just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims—women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them—has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she's losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

8. the murder of roger ackroyd

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Roger Ackroyd knew too much. He knew that the woman he loved had poisoned her brutal first husband. He suspected also that someone had been blackmailing her. Then, tragically, came the news that she had taken her own life with an apparent drug overdose.

However the evening post brought Roger one last fatal scrap of information, but before he could finish reading the letter, he was stabbed to death. Luckily one of Roger’s friends and the newest resident to retire to this normally quiet village takes over—none other than Monsieur Hercule Poirot.

9. perennials

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Set in Mississippi, Perennials explores the complicated relationship between two sisters whose lives have gone in different directions, but converge for their parents’s 50th wedding anniversary in their hometown. Questions about the significance of roots and the power of resilience make this a great discussion book. 

10. my dark vanessa

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Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

11. after alice

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When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.

12. how to walk away

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Margaret Jacobsen is just about to step into the bright future she’s worked for so hard and so long: a new dream job, a fiancé she adores, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in a brief, tumultuous moment.

13. the rules do not apply

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All her life, Ariel Levy was told that she was too fervent, too forceful, too much. As a young woman, she decided that becoming a writer would perfectly channel her strength and desire. She would be a professional explorer—“the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.” Levy moved to Manhattan to pursue her dream, and spent years of adventure, traveling all over the world writing stories about unconventional heroines, following their fearless examples in her own life.

But when she experiences unthinkable heartbreak, Levy is forced to surrender her illusion of control. In telling her story, Levy has captured a portrait of our time, of the shifting forces in American culture, of what has changed and what has remained. And of how to begin again.

14. always in vogue

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Vogue was a newly formed weekly society magazine when Edna Woolman Chase arrived on its staff in 1895 at the young age of 18. Alongside its second owner, Condé Nast, she went on to remodel it into the institution we know today. Just a few days before he died, Condé wrote to Edna to express his deepest gratitude for her role in the creation of Vogue: ‘… without you I could never have built Vogue. We have built this great property together.’

15. the things we cannot say

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Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced...and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it.

a dramatic option for your 2020 reading list.

i hope you've enjoyed my recommendations for a 2020 reading list. let me know what you're reading this year!