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.

Top 10 Books of 2020: Number 8

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

Surprisingly, it’s not a spoiler to say that Florence Adler dies. The real story in this book is how the family copes with her loss, as well as keeping her death a secret from her sister, who is confined to bedrest during pregnancy.
The story is set in the summer of 1934, before good pre-natal care, before cell phones, and before social media. It was hard enough to keep such a tragic story under wraps back then – this is one of those stories that could not occur today.

Despite the story being centered around Florence’s death, she is little more than a catalyst for the growth of the other characters. Because she dies so early, everything we find out about her comes posthumously, through the memories of the other characters.

One reason I loved this book was that every character had a clear arc. I feel like by the time I finished the book, I could have plotted out what happened to each character easily. There were no lampshades here. Each character had choices to make that not only affected their own lives, but their interactions with the other characters. The characters in this book were very well written, in my opinion.

Mind you, this book isn’t what you’d call light hearted, but there is a good amount of levity throughout, so it’s not as depressing as you might think, given the premise. If you like historical fiction, this book is well worth your time.

For the fantastic characters and the “couldn’t put it down” aspect of this book, Florence Adler Swims Forever earns a spot in my top 10 for 2020.

Top 10 Books of 2020: Number 9

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

As I told you in my last post, I am a sucker for historical fiction. This book is that, and it does not disappoint.

Set primarily in World War II era France, Eva Traube’s life is upended when the Nazis start ripping Jews from their homes. She ends up at a small town on the border of Switzerland, and falls in with a network of people working to usher vulnerable individuals across the border.

I don’t know if it’s just the book clubs I’m in, or whether there is actually a lot of books about World War II lately, but I feel like I’ve read more than my share of World War II fiction over the last few years. That said, Lost Names was very good. It managed to be both at times gut-wrenching and uplifting. While the “Jew in hiding” story is not an uncommon theme, watching a character become empowered and sure in her skin while helping others is not super common, and it was a delight to read. Plus there was romance. It was well done, and that’s always a bonus in my book.

Now, let me tell you about the one thing I really didn’t care for about the book. It’s a trope I’m really not fond of in writing, and in this case, it involves heavy spoilers for the novel. So, if you haven’t read the novel, but you’re interested, please avert your eyes.

***SPOILERS START HERE***

So, throughout the story, Eva falls in love with Remy, but things are far too treacherous for them to do anything about it. Well, they end up doing that whole “we’ll meet when this is over” thing in secret code, and then Eva waits for him…and waits. Finally, she meets someone else, moves away and has a decently happy life with this fella. In 2005, (where the story has been periodically popping in and out of) she goes back to Paris where – surprise! She finds Remy.

Here’s what I, personally, loathe: Why not just let her be happy with Remy without a 60 year interlude? After all she goes through, and this is fiction, why not just give her that?
But also, what about this poor chap she married? While the book says that she was happy, it does so in such a way that feels very clear that he was no Remy, and that she never spoke of Remy until the events in 2005. I thoroughly dislike this trope of, “she married this guy and he was good enough!”

***SPOILERS END HERE***

On the whole, I was really engrossed in the story. There were characters I loved and felt for, and there were characters I vehemently disliked, and all felt very well-written. I’m not sure I’ll go back and read the book again – heaven knows I barely have time for unread books, let alone to go back – but I liked it enough that, for now, it’s sitting on my keeper shelf. If I do decide to part with it, I’m going to try and pass it on to a friend rather than tossing it in the donation box. That’s how I know that I really adored it.

So because I really couldn’t put the book down and couldn’t help but feel connected to the character despite being nothing alike, The Book of Lost Names snags the number nine spot on my top ten list for 2020.