March 30, 2021

My Top 8 Reads From 2020 {Fresh from the Bookshelf}

Some of you may remember my post from early last year of  My 10 Most Eagerly Anticipated Christian Fiction Releases for 2020. I'm sure some of you are wondering how that went and if I actually read any of them, right?! Well, today I'm sharing My Top 8 Reads from 2020 and I think you will be surprised to know that only three of the books from my first list, made it onto this list! So which ones made the cut? Which of the initial books are still on the "too read" list? And what made the eight books worth recommending?

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I will start my list with the books that were on my list from the beginning of last year. The books that were on my list from last year are At Love's Command, The Gilded Lady, and Storing Up Trouble. I'm really not surprised to say that they made it to my top reads for 2020 because these are written by three of my favorite authors! Of the ones I wanted to read, I still haven't gotten my hands on two of them! ARGH! But let's get started!

1. At Love's Command (Hanger's Horsemen) by Karen Witemeyer

Ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent, but when a rustler's bullet leaves one of them at death's door, they seek out help from Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josephine's brother is abducted and she is caught in the crossfire, Matthew may have to sacrifice everything--even his team--to save her.

Okay, so this book is the first installment of a new series from Karen Witemeyer called Hanger's Horsemen. This book introduces the group of men (can I get a whoop for MALE leads?!) who will be the focus of the series. They are all ex-calvary who served with officer Matthew Hanger. The prologue of the book sets up the whole series giving backstory about the men. This story begins during the horrible massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 when nearly 300 Lakota peoples were slaughtered by soldiers. The men following Hanger see it happen and realize that it's a massacre and try to save women and children but the disaster haunts them. That is what leads them to create their band of brothers who ride to help others. I absolutely loved the way that the author set up each of the characters, especially the men. There just aren't enough Christian Fiction books with male leads. Additionally, having a female doctor during a time when women really weren't quite accepted in the male dominated world is fantastic. This book had everything I want in a story, which is why it made my list--easily. Now I'm hungrily awaiting book 2 which will release in June: The Heart's Charge which will be Mark and Jonah's story!

2. A Gilded Lady (Hope and Glory saga) by Elizabeth Camden

Secretary to the first lady of the United States, Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of high society--but is hiding a terrible secret. Immediately suspicious of Caroline, but also attracted to her, secret service agent Nathaniel Trask must battle his growing love for her as the threat to the president rises and they face adventure, heartbreak, and danger.

This is actually book 2 in the Hope and Glory saga. Each of the books can sort of stand alone, but I would NOT recommend it at all! This is about a family of siblings, so the characters cross very much. This book was lovely as it was set during President McKinley's time period and Caroline is the companion/secretary to the first lady. The book gives some awesome behind the scenes encounters based on real life of the presidency and the wave of assassinations during the time leading up to President McKinley's assassination as well. Caroline battles being in the upper crust and having a secret regarding her family. We also see some of the first of the secret service agents beginning in the book. I love that Caroline is a flawed character who for instance smokes when she gets anxious. She has to grow in her identity outside of the social life and the challenges that brings. She's a whirlwind and Nathaniel is a "stick-in-the-mud" so their relationship is also fun to watch. There is a LOT of history tucked into this book which is why I loved it. 

3. Storing Up Trouble (American Heiresses #3) by Jen Turano

When Beatrix Waterbury's train is disrupted by a heist, scientist Norman Nesbit comes to her aid. After another encounter, he is swept up in the havoc she always seems to attract--including the attention of the men trying to steal his research--and they'll soon discover the curious way feelings can grow between two very different people amid chaos.

Jen Turano is hands down my most FAVORITE comedic author. Her characters are so true-to-life hilarious that I identify with more than one of them with their escapades! I have laughed out loud reading her books more than once. The American Heiresses series is fantastic and hilarious. I already loved books 1 and 2, and I couldn't WAIT for Beatrix' story to finally happen. She is a hoot-and-holler. And when you pair it with Norman--oh my. Norman could possibly be my most favorite Jen Turano character yet. He is so right-brained and literal. He wouldn't know spontaneous if it hit him in the face--which is exactly what happens with his encounters with Beatrix! The relationship of these two characters is so fun and it will leave you just feeling good!

4. The Spice King (Hope and Glory saga) by Elizabeth Camden

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it's too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience.

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

This is book 1 in the Hope and Glory saga and where you should start if you want to try this series on for size. Gray is such a fabulously deep character. He has inner torments about wanting to protect his younger twin siblings while they are chomping at the bit to be left alone as young adults. Gray is trying to protect his family's business and integrity from those who would cheapen it. I love that Gray is a high-end food producer--especially spices who is fighting for Congress to require labeling on packages to note when it is adulterated. That is something near and dear to my heart today with GMO packaging! And sweet small-town Annabelle. She is just darling and I loved her heart as she worked to save her own family farm. I have now read all three books in the saga and I truly think Gray and Annabelle's story is my favorite. 

5. A Portrait of Loyalty (The Codebreakers Book #3) by Roseanna M. White

Zivon Marin was one of Russia's top cryptographers until the October Revolution tore apart his world. Forced to flee to England after speaking out against Lenin, Zivon is driven by a growing anger and determined to offer his services to the Brits. But never far from his mind is his brother, whom Zivon fears died in the train crash that separated them.

Lily Blackwell sees the world best through the lens of a camera and possesses unsurpassed skill when it comes to retouching and re-creating photographs. With her father's connections in propaganda, she's recruited to the intelligence division, even though her mother would disapprove if she ever found out.

After Captain Blackwell invites Zivon to dinner one evening, a friendship blooms between him and Lily that soon takes over their hearts. But both have secrets they're unwilling to share, and neither is entirely sure they can trust the other. When Zivon's loyalties are called into question, proving him honest is about more than one couple's future dreams--it becomes a matter of ending the war.

Oh my. I had no idea that this book was going to be incredibly relevant to the year 2020. Although it was written before anything happened in 2020, this book does take place during the Spanish Flu of WW1 in London. Reading about the horror of the time through the eyes of the character was very crazy. What we dealt with in 2020 was NOTHING like what they had during the Spanish Flu. Where someone would leave healthy to go to work and die on their doorstep before nightfall. The story was also excellent as it gave more background into what it was like in the Soviet Union during the revolutions leading up to WW1. I love the behind-the-scenes in the cryptography and the multiple story lines of Zivon, Lily, and the villain. I also loved seeing how Lily worked with the photography and how they were able to modify photographs long before digital photography and filters. This was a rich story and yes, sad. I teared up for sure. It was an excellent conclusion to an excellent series.

6. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

The eccentric Phileas Fogg is risking his fortune in a race against time. With his servant, Passepartout, he sets out to circle the globe — without a moment to spare for sight-seeing, storms, or delays, for ambushes, rescues, or adventure… This classic tale by Jules Verne is presented here in a new translation, complete and unabridged, with illustrations by Daniele Dickmann.

Okay, so this was a very fun one that we did to end our school year in 2020. We read it aloud for part of our geography unit and we all LOVED it. We laughed and we snickered. It is a fabulous book and a timeless story just as much to enjoy now as before. The vocabulary will let you learn new words (I sure did!), and the story is an excellent lesson in geography! When we were done, we naturally HAD to watch the movies and my youngest son pointed out every single issue that was different. This copy we have is beautiful because of the gorgeous illustrations that are included! If you haven't yet enjoyed a Jules Verne classic, this is a highly recommended one to start with!

7. Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Okay to start about the first line of this book. 
My name is Anastasia . . . The history books say I died . . . They don’t know the half of it.

Like hello?! Nadine Brandes is the author of one of my most favorite books of all time Fawkes, so as soon as this one came out I had to get it. Unlike the other ones that I've listed, this one is actually geared for young adults. But I LOVED IT. This is a totally new spin on the ancient tale of the missing princess Anastasia Romanov and it's very fresh and fun. It is history with some magical fantasy thrown in. Twists and turns as well that caught me off guard! I was glued to the book to the very end and still wanted MORE! That is a sign of an absolute winner! Now it needs to become a movie. Just saying. :) Whether you get it for yourself to read, or for your own young adult genre lover in the house, do it. In fact, as of today (3/30/2021) it's on sale for Kindle for only $1.99! 

8. To Best the Boys by Mary Weber

 Every year for the past fifty-four years, the residents of Pinsbury Port have received a mysterious letter inviting all eligible-aged boys to compete for an esteemed scholarship to the all-male Stemwick University. The poorer residents look to see if their names are on the list. The wealthier look to see how likely their sons are to survive. And Rhen Tellur opens it to see if she can derive which substances the ink and parchment are created from, using her father’s microscope.

In the province of Caldon, where women train in wifely duties and men pursue collegiate education, sixteen-year-old Rhen Tellur wants nothing more than to become a scientist. As the poor of her seaside town fall prey to a deadly disease, she and her father work desperately to find a cure. But when her mum succumbs to it as well? Rhen decides to take the future into her own hands—through the annual all-male scholarship competition.

With her cousin, Seleni, by her side, the girls don disguises and enter Mr. Holm’s labyrinth, to best the boys and claim the scholarship prize. Except not everyone is ready for a girl who doesn’t know her place. And not everyone survives the deadly maze.

Welcome to the labyrinth.

If you love Hunger Games, you will LOVE this. If you love Divergent, you will love this. This is one of the hands-down best books for young adult lit I've ever read. It was captivating and I could NOT put it down. The cover is gorgeous. The story is amazing. And I love love love love this tale of pushing the boundaries of what girls can do in a time period when girls weren't even allowed to attend university. You will be enthralled all the way to the last page! If you are looking for a book with strong female leads--THIS is it. Rhen will be someone girls will identify with. It desperately needs to become a movie--although that probably will ruin it. LOL. But I'm willing to give it a chance. Trust me, you need to read this if you love young adult lit. I happily will rank this one right up with the best-selling Divergent and Hunger Games series. It can absolutely hold its own!


So there you have it, my friends! The top 8 books of the 86 books I remember reading last year. (yes, I keep track using ). There were more that were ALMOST the best, but these are the ones that stood out the most! 

So...which ones have you read too? Which ones are going on your "to read" list? Leave me a comment below and share!


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