It may have been a miserable year, but at least it moved right along! Just like that we are closing the chapter on 2020 and opening a new one for 2021. Every year, it is interesting to look back on our year of reading, watching, and listening and thinking about what was going on at the time, and that is even more true this year. Here are the Staff Picks of 2020, and we hope you enjoy looking at our favorites.
First up: Linda
All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny
It seems that every year Penny’s books are in my top 5, and this one may be her best ever. For the first time the setting is outside Quebec, in Paris, where we get a taste of neighborhoods and daily life. We also get a good look into the history of the Gamache family and the dynamics of their relationships. Every member of the family gets involved with this one. Once again Armand’s character is tested to the extreme. Will he, can he, do the right thing, even if his family’s lives are at stake? The mystery is as contemporary as today’s headlines and the plot intricate. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, intelligent and clever, holding my attention and building suspense right up to the explosive climax. I didn’t know who the villains were until the smoke cleared. If I could, I’d give this one 10 stars.
The Red Door by Charles Todd
This makes an even dozen in the Inspector Rutledge series, set in post WWI Britain. We start with a young wife from a small village, longing for her husband to come home from the war. She paints the front door red as a welcome home surprise for him. Then we visit a married man in London, going to the bank. On the way home he has an overwhelming fear for his young son, and lapses into panic and paralysis. Thus begins the knot that Ian Rutledge has to untangle. What do these two have in common and how does that set off a string of deaths encompassing the distance between them? This case is well plotted, intricate, and beautifully written. Beware the red herring. I never guessed the culprit. I give this one 5 stars.
The Stranger Diaries by Ellie Griffiths
This is a stand-alone book by the author of the Ruth Galloway mystery series. It is quite the departure from her usual fare, having a definite gothic feel to it, dark and brooding. Clare Cassidy is teaching a course on her favorite gothic writer R. M. Holland. The book opens with the beginning of one of his old stories, two men on a train and the story of a secret society and unexplained death at the school where Clare teaches. Then we move to the present time and real life. Clare’s best friend is killed. Next to her body is a note from that story. From there the story is told from three different perspectives, Clare’s, the detective’s, and Clare’s daughter, intertwined with the telling of the original fictional story. Those perspectives and the story that started it all are expertly interwoven into a seamless mystery that will hold you captive until the end. It is suspenseful and a little spooky. As an aside, also interesting to me was the assumption on the part of Clare about the thoughts of the other two people, and what they were actually thinking, and vice versa. It was a study in how we think we know what others are thinking based on our own state of mind. It was brilliantly done – 5 stars.
This Netflix movie rated PG13 and written, it seemed to me, with teens in mind, was quite original and fun to watch. Enola is Sherlock’s little sister, left in the care of Mycroft after her mother’s disappearance. Mycroft intends to send her away to a finishing school to make a proper young lady of her. That, however, is not what Enola wants. So, of course, she runs away, hoping to find her mother. Along her way she encounters a young man about her age who has also run away from his family, whose motives toward the young man do not appear honorable. And the game’s afoot! Enola is every bit as clever as her brother. Acting as protagonist and narrator she leads us on a merry adventure filled with excitement and danger. This movie is a great escape from the stresses of our time. I give it 5 stars.
The Long Call by Ann Cleeves
This is the first in new series by the author of the Shetland and Vera Stanhope mysteries, and is just as intriguing. The book begins with Detective Matthew Venn standing outside his father’s funeral. He has been estranged from his ultraconservative religious family for years and doesn’t want to be noticed. While there, he gets a call telling him that a body has been found on a nearby beach, and off to work he goes. Soon he finds himself in charge of the investigation, which makes it impossible to avoid his family and the issues that divided them. Ms. Cleeves writes an engaging story with well-drawn complex characters in a setting so real, you will think you hear the gulls screeching. I didn’t want to put this one down.
Julie’s Top Picks of 2020:
Lyndsey’s Top Picks of 2020: