The books that (almost) got away

Adrian Liang on December 28, 2020
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The books that (almost) got away

The Amazon Editors spend all year reading in order to find the best books for customers. We talk about those great reads here on the Amazon Book Review or pick those books for Best Books of the Month.

But every year there are always a few books that we never got around to finishing, despite our best intentions.

Here are the books we are devouring completely before the year is through.


Luster by Raven Leilani

I'm outing myself: I never finished Luster by Raven Leilani, one of the books of the year. It's not because I wasn't as obsessed with her as everyone else, it's just that we already had a bunch of fans on our team and other books had to be read. (Excuses, excuses, I know.) So before the new year, I'm taking the time to read this spectacular debut that so many have raved about and laughed into the night with. —Al Woodworth


Deacon King Kong by James McBride

I’ve had an advance copy of Deacon King Kong for almost a year now. Even when I moved from a house to an apartment in April, which necessitated a painful downsizing of my book collection, I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of this novel. Especially since my colleague Al Woodworth described Deacon King Kong as “a propulsive and comic neighborhood epic set in the 1960s with a cast of characters that are beguiling, boozed-filled, and larger than life.” Sold. My Christmas gift to myself will be finally sitting down to enjoy a novel my fellow editors have been recommending all year. —Vannessa Cronin


Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

I've read most of the picks for Amazon's Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2020, but one that's still on my list to read is Things in Jars. Vannessa sang its praises way back in the beginning of the year when it was released and I keep meaning to listen to the audiobook or find time to read the book. This Victorian crime novel begins with a kidnapping, and the pipe-smoking detective Bridie Devine is hired to find the missing child. But this is not your typical mystery, and as Kidd delves into London's gritty underworld, a cast of unusual characters starts to appear. This is said to be a book filled with rich detail and plenty of sharp humor to go along with a chilling story. I've really got to get to this before the year is out. —Seira Wilson


The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

Even as a devoted literary fiction reader, I’m a big fan of Erik Larson’s nonfiction oeuvre and have read everything he’s written, save The Splendid and the Vile. I just thought, Yet another book on Winston Churchill? Womp, womp. But it’s been needling at me, especially on the heels of such a tumultuous year, because this book paints a portrait of another contentious time, one that also desperately needed a steady hand on the tiller, and fortunately Churchill met that moment. While Larson’s skilled pen transports us to the Blitz, The Splendid and the Vile gives a surprisingly intimate peek into Churchill, his family, and his “Secret Circle”—the individuals who counseled Churchill and buoyed his spirits when things seemed especially bleak. There are certain larger-than-life figures who become more caricature than human. That’s boring, and Larson is anything but boring, so I’m excited to learn more about this man I naively think I already know enough about. —Erin Kodicek


Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

It’s a little silly that I allowed this book to get away from me. I am a big fan of McConaughey’s work. And his life—as much as I knew about it before starting this memoir—has always been interesting to me. But it wasn’t until McConaughey’s book, which he describes as “not a traditional memoir,” started surfacing on best seller lists—and staying there and staying there—that I picked it up. What a great book it has turned out to be. Not a self-help book, Greenlights is a book about his approach to life. I love that. It will make you think differently, and it will make you realize that, as things seem to be spinning wildly out of control around us, we can reach inside and find a little McConaughey within ourselves. —Chris Schluep


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Last summer, I wrote an article about the books I wanted to read on my summer vacation. And while I got to nearly all of those books, the one I still have on my to-read list is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Pachinko was a National Book Award finalist in 2017 and is described as an epic family saga. It opens in early 1900s Korea with a teenage girl becoming pregnant by a wealthy man she later learns is married. This is exactly the kind of book I love to read—I’m always hooked by an epic family saga. But while we have the best jobs ever, sometimes it can be challenging to read books you missed the first time around. I’m not complaining—I love my job. But it’s hard to justify a 500-page book that was published three years ago when there’s a 500-page book being published in a few months that we may want to recommend as a Best Book of the Month. And while I won’t really be going anywhere when I take some time off over the holidays, I’m planning to carve out some purely selfish reading time to finally start (and finish!) Pachinko. I’m a devoted tracker of my reading on Goodreads, so please follow me (sarahgelman@) there to hold me accountable. —Sarah Gelman


Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate

When people ask how many books I read a year, I often answer, “Well, I start a lot of books…” Throughout the year I put down a lot of books when someone else on our team is deeply passionate about it, and I can therefore use my precious reading time to start another read. Group fell into that category—a book I loved when I started it, but Sarah Gelman was such a big champion of the book that I moved on to something else that needed reading at that moment. Finally—finally!—I’m picking Group back up again. This is the true story of a young woman who, desperate for real connection, joins an unconventional therapy group in which all secrets are bared and all fears tackled. And I mean all. Tate’s sense of humor and pithy observations make every scene memorable, and I’m looking forward to finishing this brave and hilarious journey alongside her. —Adrian Liang


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