Without a doubt, 2020 has been a year unlike any other and it will probably go down as one of the worst in a good long while. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been joy. As we head into the heart of the holiday season, we want to end the year on a high note and celebrate some inspiring stories from the past 12 months.
We met heroes such as 15-year-old Valerie Xu, who collected 12,000 masks for her local hospital during the PPE shortage, and 99-year-old Captain Sir Tom Moore, who raised millions for charity in the UK. We stood up and clapped for the thousands of essential workers and medical professionals who held our society together while we sheltered in place at home. How about when animal shelters across the nation were nearly cleaned out because so many people were adopting? Or that magical moment when our front yards became performance halls? This year, we reconnected with family and friends in new and different ways. The year 2020 also reminded us that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) was really overrated and perhaps sweatpants were a bit underrated. And of course, thank goodness for all of the amazing books and the hours of escapism those pages gave us.
Joy is really all around us…sometimes you just have to find it or make some of your own. We wish you a happy and safe holiday season, and as always, happy reading! Now on to the reviews and don't forget to check out the new books coming out in December.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett is the story of twin sisters Desiree and Stella, whose lives take very divergent paths. It is a story of the choices they make and how the consequences of those choices affect themselves and their offspring.
The twins were born in a fictional town called Mallard in Louisiana, founded by their great-great-great-grandfather after he was freed by his father, who owned him. The town was populated exclusively by light-skinned Black people. Desiree and Stella were perfect representations of the town with their light skin and hazel eyes.
After a devastating occurrence, the twins, aged 16, decided to move to New Orleans to begin a new life. Life in New Orleans was not as easy as they had imagined. Stella’s solution to the situation was to pass for white. But keeping a secret has repercussions.
This is a well-written book that kept me interested until the end.
A Burning: A Novel by Mehga Majumdar is the story of Jivan, a young Muslim woman, who lives in India. This novel is told from three perspectives: Jivan, her former teacher PT Sir, and Lovely, who Jivan has been tutoring in English. Jivan has been diligently working to make money to help her parents as she aspires to achieve middle-class status.
After many hours of work, Jivan finally has enough money to treat herself to a phone. She discovers Facebook, which she loves, and she scans the site after work to see what is happening in the world around her. There is a horrific terrorist attack at a train station near where she lives. She decides to comment about it on Facebook, and this changes her life forever.
Her former teacher, PT Sir, has political aspirations and is doing everything in his power to attain his political dreams. He is quite corrupt and will do anything for money and power, including testifying at trials where he claims to have seen the accused commit a crime when he was never there when the crime took place. Under the corrupt legal system, he is given money and another notch up in his political career for false testimony. When he hears of Jivan's situation he needs to decide whether or not to get involved.
Lovely is an outcast in town and is tormented for who she is. She can also possibly help Jivan but her choice, either way, will have lasting effects for her. Lovely is an enjoyable character and provides a bit of light-heartedness in this tragic story of three people trying to rise above their present situations.
A Burning: A Novel is a thought-provoking book about class and dreams and I highly recommend it.
The Arctic Fury by Greer Macalllister is a magnetic story of 19th-century adventurism into the unknown Arctic, not by men mind you, but by women: brave, adventurous women setting out to find a lost exploration of men. The story parallels the birth of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, (Wyoming, 1869) and is about love lost, love gained, renewed relationships, betrayal, and humankind.
It is labeled fiction, but I would consider it more like historical non-fiction. Lady Franklin of Boston and Virginia square off against each other in the courtroom and on the polar ice. Caprice, a paid-for debutant, is an unfortunate but heroic casualty. A remarkable story of survival.
I’ve found that horror is a genre with a ton of diversity, and no two stories or films are ever alike (Sarah Paulson notwithstanding). Horror can be whatever you want it to be: a traditional story of monsters and ghosts, a killer in the woods, or even just the terrifying prospect of growing up.
Brendan Deneen’s novel The Chrysalis tells of young millennials Tom and Jenny Dekker, who are forced out of their affordable Manhattan apartment and decide to take the plunge into homeownership. To add to the stress of the matter, Jenny is with child and Tom suddenly realizes that he has a lot of growing up to do (and fast). Thankfully, they find a beautiful, affordable and totally-not-haunted Victorian in New Jersey and decide to move in! But then, Tom finds the thing hidden in the basement...and nothing is ever the same again.
The book is spooky, but it’s more than just that. There are a ton of humorous and lighthearted moments in it. I found myself extremely involved in the personal lives of almost every character, and I found myself wanting more. It almost felt as if the Dekkers were old family friends. By the end of it, you’ll probably have a ton of questions about just what the heck happened, but who wants a straight explanation in their horror novel or movie?
“We’re not driving all the way out here so you can get one of those stupid ties with Santa Clauses on it, are we Dad?”
Meet the Griswolds or reconnect with them. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) is the third installment in this hilarious film series. The well-meaning, yet accident-prone family patriarch, Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, is joined by Beverly D’Angelo as his “too good to be true” loving wife, Ellen. The supporting cast includes Randy Quaid, Johnny Galecki, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“Christmas Vacation” is the perfect take on what it’s like to have all the relatives home for the holidays. With the CDC not recommending holiday travel, this movie will remind you of the crazy, exhausting, yet funny times when everyone’s in your way. Sound familiar?
“Would it be indecent to ask the grandparents to stay at a hotel?” asks one of the Griswold kids.
Your Christmas won’t be complete without the Griswolds, so sit back, get comfortable, and forget about COVID. We’re certain these outlandish Christmas scenes will remind you that “this isn’t charity, it’s family.”
2020 wasn't all bad. Here are some of our favorite things: