One of the few silver linings to come from 2020’s social distancing and lockdown was reading. (I hope those phrases are banished from our vocabulary very soon!) Curling up with a good book felt safe, and also a much-needed escape from this lonely year. I like to read a variety of books – primarily novels with the occasional biography thrown in as a palette cleanser. These books – in no particular order (other than number one) made my “favourites” reading list – and are great gifts for the #booklover on your holiday list. And why a top nine list – and not the usual ten? There were only nine I felt strongly about … and another 100 I wish I had read!

TOP PICK: Where the Crawdads Sing  Fittingly, this debut novel by Delia Owens (imagine writing a book like this on your first effort!!!) was chosen based upon recommendations from my Instagram followers. It was the first book I read in 2020 and I’ve since gifted it to other book lovers. A heartbreaking story of rejection and loneliness, the story of a poor neglected young woman in the Southern states brought me to tears. I didn’t want it to end. I’m excited to watch the film starring Daisy Edgar Jones, the luminous star of Ordinary People. (Based upon the best-selling novel, this tv series can be streamed for free on CBC GEM.)

A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara  Powerful. Heartbreaking. This big slab of a book was a devastating read about the tortured life of a young man and those who loved him – or abused him. Exquisitely written, it hooked me to the bitter end but was a painful read in a difficult year. A true book lover will treasure it but don’t gift it to someone who loves rom-coms or historical romances. Be mindful as it will trigger anyone suffering from abuse, addiction or eating disorders.

WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan  I vowed to read more books by Black authors so added this Giller Prize winner to my bedside stack. The masterful story of a young boy born into slavery on a Caribbean island was a jaw dropper. The story evolved into a fantasy tale around the globe that captivated me with every chapter. And as a bonus, I appreciated that Edugyan was born and raised in Calgary. I love to support local authors and have added another of her novels to my stack. 

UNTAMED by Glennon Doyle  This honest raw book about love, family and coping was the perfect book to get me through the first month of lockdown. I often repeated Glennon’s mantra – “we can do hard things” – and watched her daily Instagram Lives to get me through that first confusing and scary month. I suggest that you read Glennon’s Love Warrior book first – it’s her memoir about divorce and overcoming her addictions. Oprah named Glennon as one of her hundred “awakened leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity”. And that’s exactly the leadership we need right now.

A PROMISED LAND by Barack Obama To be honest, I’ve never paid much attention to American political books until the past four years of Trump’s dumpster fire leadership. I cried when Obama won his first term as POTUS – witnessing the inauguration of the first Black man winning the most powerful role in the world was earth-shattering. A Promised Land is the first of Obama’s two memoirs about his Presidency. This one is a refreshing candid look at the personalities and reality behind his first term and how it signalled the changes to come. Remember Sarah Palin? Great reading for political buffs and news lovers.

ME by Elton John  I’ve been a fan of the legendary rocker for years and attended his Oscar viewing party in LA. (Zac Posen and Pamela Anderson were at my dinner table.) I wasn’t expecting his autobiography to be so honest and entertaining. Elton shares about his own poor self-image, substance abuse and famous friends. His nickname for buddy Rod Stewart is Phyllis. Elton himself was Sharon. Worth a read – and watch the film, Rocketman, too. 

OPEN BOOK by Jessica Simpson This one surprised me. I’m not a fan of Simpson’s music or her fashion collection but the raving reviews of her autobiography convinced me to pick up her book. I appreciated how the pop singer bared her soul from early sexual abuse to her alcoholism as a struggling young Mom targeted by public body-shaming and gossip about her sex life. Led by her mother, Simpson is also responsible for a BILLION dollar fashion empire. She’s needy, ditzy and so impressive. 

THE HENNA ARTIST by Alka Joshi I loved this story of Lakshmi, a young woman in the 1950s who makes a living painting intricate henna patterns on wealthy patrons. The novel will be adapted for TV and star Frieda Pinto. And Joshi is also writing a sequel. 

SEX & VANITY by Kevin Kwan  A light fizzy novel about the super wealthy behaving badly. Not as good as Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series – the main characters were so unlikeable – but I was still entertained by his name dropping and fun footnotes. 

I love to read so if you’d like to follow along, check out my Instagram @lisatant and my hashtag #tantrumreads I only post about the books I enjoyed. I don’t post negative reviews as I don’t finish books I’m not enjoying. And I always love to get recommendations. Happy reading!