It may be a month and a half early, but like most of us, I’m tired of 2020 and ready to move on.
While high points were generally few and far between this year, there were some fantastic books and audiobooks that got me through everything.
I’ve written about some of my favorites in previous columns, but here are four titles that are well worth your attention as we say goodbye to a year like no other.
‘We Ride Upon Sticks’
“We Ride Upon Sticks” by Quan Barry will forever be the book that I associate with the heart of the stay-at-home period of 2020. The 1989 Danvers High School girls’ field hockey team, with their chant of “FIELD FIELD FIELD! HOCKEY HOCKEY HOCKEY!” provided the audiobook soundtrack for those uncertain, confusing days where everything was kind of a blur, but not in a good way. The team makes a pact with the devil (written in a notebook featuring the face of teen heartthrob Emilio Estevez — this was the 1980s, after all) that leads them from loserdom to the state field hockey championship. The characters are pitch-perfect. I knew these people in high school; their big hair and their recklessness and their unyielding team spirit. It’s campy, nostalgic fun, and we need more of that in our lives right now.
‘How to Catch a Queen’
Alyssa Cole’s romance novels are a must-read for me, and her latest, “How to Catch a Queen,” may be her best yet. Sanyu was raised to be the king of Njaza, a small African country, but he’s lived under the thumb of his father for so long that he’s unsure of his ability to rule.
Shanti is a commoner whose ambition and drive lead her into an arranged marriage with Sanyu, but royal life isn’t what she expected.
Shanti knows that Sanyu is capable of greatness, but first he needs to learn that “king” doesn’t mean “authoritarian and unwilling to compromise.”
Although Njaza is a fictional place, Cole makes it real, giving it a rich history, with distinctive culture and traditions, and fans of Cole’s earlier stories will be excited to see updates from some of their favorite characters.
‘The Office of Historical Corrections’
I don’t read short stories very often, but whenever I do, I enjoy them so much that I realize that I should be reading more of them. This was the case with Danielle Evans’ highly-anticipated new collection, “The Office of Historical Corrections.” Evans is a skilled and insightful observer of human nature, and these stories, collected over the past decade, tackle a variety of subjects, including grief, racism, forgiveness and belonging. It’s difficult to choose a standout in this strong collection, but the titular novella, which involves a government office with the ambitious mission of correcting inaccuracies in the historical record, is brilliant. If you enjoy audiobooks, this collection features a cast of superstar narrators, including several of my personal favorites: Shayna Small, January LaVoy, Nicole Lewis and Adenrele Ojo.
‘Oona Out of Order’
Time travel stories are nothing new, but a time travel story where someone travels to a random year of their life at midnight every New Year’s Eve? That’s the predicament that Oona Lockhart faces in Margarita Montimore’s ebullient debut, “Oona Out of Order.” The story opens in 1982, and Oona’s biggest predicament is whether to stay in New York with her band or go to London to continue her education. Then, suddenly, it’s 2014, she’s 51 years old, and she’s lived a whole life that she knows nothing about. And every year after that, the same thing happens. Sometimes she’s younger, sometimes she’s older, but she’s always a little bit wiser after it’s over. It’s charming, escapist fun that will leave you thinking about how your own life might look if you’d lived it out of order. It would be as confusing and disorienting as ... 2020.