Best Books of 2020: New Friends

Yesterday I posted to say I’d completed my 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge by achieving my goal of reading 130 books last year. I’d been asked which was my favorite. I can’t possibly name only one favorite. In fact, I realized I needed separate categories for the old favorites I re-read in 2020 and the best of the books that were new to me in 2020. I already listed my five favorite re-reads of 2020. Now I’m choosing my favorites of the books I read this year for the first time. But again, I’m finding it hard to narrow down the list. I’ve managed to get it down to six, so that’s what I’m going with. These are in alphabetical order.


  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama
  • The Book of Dust (Book One in La Belle Sauvage), by Philip Pullman
  • Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge,
    by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
  • A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen
  • The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict
  • Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

Two of those are nonfiction, two are fiction based on fact, and the other two are fiction.

Becoming and Never Caught, are nonfiction about two U.S. presidencies. Becoming, of course, is former First Lady Michelle Obama’s excellent autobiography. Never Caught tells the story of Ona Judge, a slave owned by the Washingtons; her escape prompted a no-holds-barred search by the first President, who abused the power of his position to try, unsuccessful, to get her back.

The Only Woman in the Room is a novel based on the true story of Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, who grew up in Austria and left her powerful arms dealer husband when she realized he was supporting the Nazis; after moving to California, she used knowledge she’d learned from him about weaknesses in Germany’s targeting capabilities for torpedoes to design a new system that was later adopted by the U.S. Navy, which did not credit her as the inventor until the 1990s. That was only one invention by this brilliant woman, who was praised for her beauty but only wanted to be recognized for her intellect.

A Night Divided is a young-adult historical novel about a Berlin family that is divided when the wall goes up overnight, separating the city into East and West. The teenage sister and brother left in East Berlin gradually become convinced that they have to get themselves and their mother out, and come up with a risky plan. I was fascinated by this book because I have read so little fiction about this particular historical time and place.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a bestseller, an evocative novel set in coastal North Carolina, with lush descriptions and an enticing mystery. The other novel on my list is The Book of Dust, which is the first book in the new trilogy set in the same universe as Pullman’s earlier, wonderful series, His Dark Materials. (The first book in that first trilogy, The Golden Compass, is on my list of favorite re-read books for 2020.) The Book of Dust is a prequel, providing background about Lyra’s birth and her journey to Jordan College.

To be honest, this list isn’t absolute. Ask me a different day and I might give a different list of my favorite books of the year. I am not very good at choosing favorites, when it comes to books I love.

Now I’m trying to set my reading goal for 2021. I may go for 130 books again, but I’m also considering aiming a little higher or even a little lower. At one point this year, I found myself seeking out shorter books to read, when I needed to catch up. I hate the thought of choosing books based on length. Maybe a goal of 125 will give me a little more breathing space. On the other hand, there are so many books on my to-be-read list!

Happy New Year! And happy reading in 2021!

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