Top Ten Books of 2020: Number 6

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt generated a lot of controversy, even before being released last January. If you want to look into that, be my guest. What I would like to focus on is the book itself, which I ended up thoroughly enjoying.

After the brutal murder of her husband and family (except for her son), Lydia finds herself fleeing from a Mexican cartel, giving up a life she loved in order to find safety in the unwelcoming arms of the United States.
Beyond that, I don’t want to spoil what is an incredibly interesting and nuanced plot – far more than I was expecting.

While the book is a fictional story, many of the situations that Lydia and her son find themselves in are ones that immigrants face every day. Whether it’s questioning whom she can trust, jumping onto a train, crossing the desert on minimal supplies, or dealing with lecherous attention, there are endless perils that I don’t believe most of us think about when we think about immigrants. While Lydia and her son are running from a cartel, there are other stories highlighted in other characters throughout the book – a woman who was kicked out of the US and is trying to get back to her naturalized son, workers who jump back and forth across the border seasonally for work, and those who really do view the US as a land of opportunity and a last hope for a fresh start.

I found the story gripping – at no point did I take it for granted that Lydia and her son would actually make it across the border. In fact, you meet enough characters along the way who don’t make it that the end of the book feels like nothing short of a miracle.

Moreover, the book feels like an empathy builder. Immigration has been a tense topic in America for the last several years, and while I think that just about everyone has an opinion, the vast majority of us have no experience with the subject. It’s so easy to advocate for keeping people in cages at the border when you forget that they are actual people and there but for the grace of God, you might be there too. We have a relative security in this country that a lot of people in Mexico do not have. While we certainly have our own share of problems in America, at no point do I anticipate having to flee on foot on Canada, not daring to access any electronics, knowing that there are people actively seeking to kill me.
American Dirt will take you out of your bubble and introduce you to other ideas and the fact that there’s a lot more nuance than we’d like to consider. Immigration isn’t a black and white issue. There’s a lot of shades and colors and lives in-between. That, simply put, is why the book comes in at number six on my top ten list. (Perhaps it should have been higher. I don’t know if I have such thought out justifications for other choices!)

Top 10 Books of 2020: Number 7

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White

As you know, I’m a big fan of Lauren Willig. I read a book by Beatriz Williams last year and enjoyed that quite a bit too – Karen White is still a mystery to me.

The Glass Ocean is set in the early 1900’s, and the story mainly revolves around the sinking of the Lusitania, to be exact. Caroline Hochsetter is crossing the ocean with her husband Gilbert. He is making the crossing to do a business transaction, while she is hoping to rekindle their marriage. However, her friend Robert Langford is on the voyage too, and she finds herself spending a lot more time with him than her cold husband.

Meanwhile, in the early aughts, author Sarah Blake is looking for an idea for her next novel. She is in financial difficulties while taking care of her ailing mother. She is looking into her family’s history, which intertwines with the sinking of the Lusitania, and she reaches out to the descendant of the Langford family to find answers.

The Glass Ocean is a novel with multiple layers of intrigue and romance. It certainly wasn’t clear to me how things were all going to shake out, other than the ship sinking. That I knew.
I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that three authors worked on this book. While different characters have distinct voices, it’s no different than any other novel with multiple narrators. I found myself trying to guess what chapters were written by Willig – and I still don’t really know.

I will admit, there was a certain amount of bias coming into this novel. As a fan of two of the authors writing in one of my favorite genres, the odds were stacked in its favor. But still, I had a very good time with it. Because I couldn’t help but want to get other things done in order to find out what happens next, The Glass Ocean sails onto my top 10 list at number 7.

Karone Visits The Cargo Hold

This is a little thing that I wrote for my daily 750 words several years ago, and is quite raw. “I’ve been writing a little bit lately about my Old Republic characters. It also just so happened that I recently realized that I could sell my old materials that I’d been hoarding and make a lot of credits. So this is also based on that.”

“You know, my lord, the cargo hold is getting awful full.”

Karone nodded in Pierce’s general direction, hoping that he would take the hint and move along.

“With all that gear, an our new passenger, maybe we ought to think about moving some of it. Moving it out of the ship, even.”

She sighed, set the datapad down on her desk and swung the chair around to face him. Pierce was standing in the doorway of her quarters, the width of his body taking up the entire frame. His arms were crossed, his head cocked. This was the problem with Pierce’s “slight inclination towards subordination” as Quinn would say – the man was going to say what he needed, whether she was inclined to hear it.

“Yes, I understand. I will take that under advisement.”

The pat phrase she used when someone needed to be acknowledged, but she did not have the desire to broach the topic further.

“She has a lot of raw materials.” Quinn’s voice echoed from somewhere down the corridor.

Karone jumped to her feet and shoved Pierce out of the way.

“What in the world are you doing?” she muttered as she stomped her way towards the cargo hold.

The first thing she saw was that all of her carefully packed crates had been torn open, and goods were strewn everywhere.

She wheeled around and jammed a finger at Pierce’s armor.

“The cargo hold would look a lot less full if you hadn’t torn it apart!”

He held up his hands defensively, and a low rumble of laughter shook his chest.

“Wasn’t my fault, my lord. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

A blue head popped out from behind one stack of crates, and Vette held up a bolt of Lashaa silk.

“It was all me. I remember when this cargo hold was completely empty.” She shook the bolt of silk free and the yards tumbled to the floor.

“I don’t even remember when we got this, do you?”

Karone shook her head.

“What are you doing in there? We have more important things to do than tear apart this junk.”

“Actually, my lord,” Quinn started to say. Karone jumped. She hadn’t seen him behind the mountain of artifact fragments. He glanced up in recognition of her surprise, and his lips twitched subtly. He then cleared his throat and looked back to the datapad in his hands. “Have you seen what some of this is going for on the GTN?”

“When on earth would I have had time to do that?” she asked, reaching out for the datapad. Quinn stepped around the artifact fragments and over a smaller pile of cloth, barely dodging a bolt of silk that landed at his feet.

She looked at the list Quinn had typed up, along with the corresponding credit estimates.

“For this?” she shook her head, bewildered.

“Yes, my lord. If I might offer a suggestion, we are going to pass by the fleet anyway. It might be a worthwhile investment of your time to unload these and see what you can get for them.”

She nodded and handed the datapad back to her captain. Darth Baras wasn’t exactly tight with the credits that her paid her for her work, but it would probably be wise to diversify her income a little. It wasn’t exactly rare for a Sith master to decide that his apprentice had out grown their use – or worse yet, gotten too powerful – and dispose of them. She could use a little insurance against that time, when, not if, it arrived.

“That is a good plan, Quinn.” She kicked a fragment as it rolled to the doorway. “I trust that you will see that all of these are re-sorted and ready to go by the time we dock?”

“I will do my best, my lord.”

“THIS ONE!” Vette shrieked from the back of the hold. A bolt of bronze colored silk waved over top of the piles of fabrics and minerals as Vette came crashing through. Quinn winced.

“My lord!” she exclaimed with a grin, “May I keep this one?”

“I don’t see any harm in that.”

Vette pulled the bolt of fabric close to her chest and squeezed.

“Thank you! Thank you! Have I told you yet that you are the nicest Sith Lord a girl could have?”

Karone laughed softly, then turned and nudged Pierce out of her way.

“Take what you want, within reason. But unless someone is bleeding, leave me to my work!”