100 Favorite Books of All Time (2020 Edition)


Way back in 2009 I published a series of posts counting down my 100 Favorite Books of All Time. I figure the list is way overdue for an update.  This time I won’t be counting it down, just one big list in alphabetical order.  Some of the books are classic works of literature and others just have a personal connection or influenced me in some way.  But I love every one of them.

I’m going to start a tradition of revising this list every year on my birthday (yes, today I turn 47), so keep an eye out every November 18th to see how this list changes.

Note: Books that are new to the 2020 list are marked in bold. Series of books are counted as one.

What are your favorite books? Do you have a list? Please share in the comments!

Book Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff


Author: Pam Jenoff
Title: The Lost Girls of Paris
Narrator: Elizabeth Knowelden, Henrietta Meire, and Candace Thaxton
Publication Info: Harlequin Audio (2019)
Summary/Review:

This novel is set during the final years of World War II and immediately after the war, and tells a story inspired by the true-life experiences of women serving as agent’s in Britain’s Special Operations Executive. The novel alternates perspectives among three different protagonists. Marie is a young woman recruited as an agent who is sent to work undercover in France not long before the D-Day invasions and has to overcome her inexperience and frequent changes of circumstance. Eleanor is the severe leader of the women’s division in France, but her strictness is due to her desire to keep her agents safe both from the enemy and from the government leaders who have no faith in woman doing espionage. 

The final protagonist is Grace, a young widowed American who finds a suitcase in Grand Central Terminal and impulsively takes a dozen photographs of women who prove to be SOE agents. Grace’s growing obsession with trying to find out who the women are and return the photos where they belong doesn’t make much sense and is a drag on the book.  Marie’s story is the most thrilling as she’s actively working in France carrying out missions she wasn’t trained for and hoping to avoid capture.  But Eleanor’s story turns out to be the most profound as it deals with betrayal and personal tragedy.

The book has a better premise than execution, but it was nevertheless an entertaining read.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn


Author: James Kahn
Title: Return of the Jedi
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1983.


Summary/Review:

The original Star Wars trilogy finishes off with this competent novelization that doesn’t veer off all too much from the movie. The best part of the book is that it does get inside the characters’ minds to give their thoughts during key scenes of the story. The Vader, Palpatine, and Luke dialogue is also expanded. Also, the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke that Owen is Obi-Wan’s brother and that Luke & Leia’s mother lived until they were 4 (which works much better than the retcon of the prequels). All in all it’s an engaging retelling of a great story.



Rating: ***

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean


Author: Susan Orlean
Title: The Library Book
Narrator: Susan Orlean
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio (2018)
Summary/Review:
Susan Orlean’s excellent work of narrative nonfiction focuses on the Los Angeles Central Library, particularly on the April 29, 1986 fire that severely damaged the building. Orlean examines the history and aftermath of the fire and reconstruction through interviews of past and current library employees and an examination of the library’s history to its origins over a century ago. The book also tells the story of Harry Peak, a young aspiring actor and attention seeker who became a leading arson suspect. The cause of the fire remains unsolved to this day.

I actually visited the Los Angeles Central Library on my visit to Southern California in 2007, and I’ve included a couple of photos below.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Zeyn Joukhadar


Author: Zeyn Joukhadar
Title: The Map of Salt and Stars
Narrator: Lara Sawalha
Publication Info: [New York] : Simon & Schuster Audio, [2018]

Summary/Review:

This novel is the story of 12-year-old Nour, who grows up in Manhattan, but after the death of her father, her mother takes the family back to their native Syria. Nour find herself an outsider, unable to speak Arabic. Unfortunately, their move to Syria coincides with a time of increasing protests that grow into the Arab Spring and then the Syrian Civil War. Nour and her family become refugees crossing the Middle East and North Africa.

Throughout the novel, Nour tells herself her father’s story of Rawiya, a girl from hundreds of years earlier, who disguised herself as a boy and has adventures traveling around the Meditteranean. The two stories interweave through the novel, intersecting in the similarities of the two protagonists.

The novel is a good story and in Nour and Rawiya has two characters that readers can identify. It’s a good introduction for young adult readers (and old adults like me) to the issues of contemporary Syria from the perspective of a child.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Empire Strikes Back by Donald Glut


Author: Donald Glut
Title: The Empire Strikes Back
Publication Info: Del Ray, 1980
Summary/Review:

The best Star Wars film gets a competent and straightforward novelization. As is the case in all novelizations, there are scenes that didn’t make it into the movie, especially when Luke is training with Yoda. The book does make it feel like more time is passing in both Luke & Yoda’s stories and the Millenium Falcon storyline whereas in the movie it feels as if everything happens in a couple of days. The only startling change is that Yoda is blue instead of green! And Harrison Ford’s famous improvised line “I know” is not in the text. It’s an entertaining read for fans of the movies.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon


Author: John U. Bacon
Title: The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism
Narrator: Johnny Heller
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2017)
Summary/Review:

As a Bostonian, we hear about the Great Halifax Explosion every year when the Province of Nova Scotia delivers a giant Christmas tree to Boston Common.  The annual gift symbolizes the gratitude they have for the people of Massachusetts being among the first to respond with relief after the devastating explosion of December 5, 1917.  Bacon’s work is a comprehensive history of Halifax during the first World War, the explosion, and its aftermath.

Bacon does a great job of finding the stories of the people who lived in the Richmond neighborhood of Halifax that was flattened by the blast.  Many of them had come to work in the port’s bustling economy, and some served in the military in Europe. Bacon also breaks down the many errors that lead to French munitions ship SS Mont Blanc colliding with Norwegian charter ship SS Imo, many of them exacerbated by wartime conditions. For example, in peacetime a ship carrying explosives flew a red flag as a warning but this was discontinued as it made ships a target for German u-boats.

Bacon also tells stories of the day of the explosion for dozens of Haligonians.  Some of them contain graphic detail such as the man who survived by landing on something soft only to discover it was a pile of human corpses.  But Bacon chiefly recognizes the heroism and self-sacrifice of many individuals and groups who helped in relief efforts and performed small acts of kindness.  This includes the great support that came from the United States and Bacon marks this response as changing the relationship between the two countries from one of hostility to one of amity.

The explosion remains to this day the largest human-made accidental blast in history.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker by “George Lucas”


Author: George Lucas (ghost written by Alan Dean Foster)
Title: Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, 1977.
Summary/Review:

Continuing our way through Star Wars novelizations, my daughter and I read this very first piece of “Expanded Universe” media.  Like other novelizations, the book contains scenes that were deleted or didn’t even make it to filming. Also, Greedo shot first and somehow that was never edited otherwise.  I find it interesting that with the larger mythos of Star Wars being created that Foster hints at story threads that wouldn’t be followed-up or would end up very different once the sequels and prequels were rolled out. He also tends to use analogies to things on Earth more than later Star Wars writers would do. A significant downside is that Foster’s descriptions of Jawa’s use horribly prejudicial terms.

Favorite Passages:

“Remember, Luke, the suffering of one man is the suffering of all. Distances are irrelevant to injustice. If not stopped soon enough, evil eventually reaches out to engulf all men, whether they have opposed it or ignored it.”

Recommended books:

Rating: ***

Book Review: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin


Author: Samanta Schweblin
Title: Fever Dream
Translator: Megan McDowell
Narrator: Hillary Huber
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

This weird and creepy horror novella set in a resort town in Argentina.  It’s narrated in a conversation between Amanda, the novel’s protagonist who slowly uncovers dark secrets from a boy named David. The book doubles as an environmental fable as the children of the town, starting with David, are poisoned by a toxin that spreads through the community, including Amanda and her daughter Nina.  The sparse novel serves as an attempt to unravel the source of the problem.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas


Author: Jeffrey Haas
Title: The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
Publication Info: Chicago, Ill. : Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, c2010.
Summary/Review:

I learned about Fred Hampton around 25 years ago when watching the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize.  The more I learn about Hampton, who by the age of 21 had made considerable ground in uniting people of various racial backgrounds around shared causes, the more I believe that the United States lost the potential of his leadership when he was murdered by the Chicago police on December 4, 1969.

This book is the only one I could find available about Fred Hampton.  It’s written by Jeffery Haas, an acquaintance of Hampton’s who served as a lawyer for the People Law’s Office, an organization that offered legal representation for the Chicago Black Panthers and other clients who had their civil rights violated by the government.  At first I was put off at how much Haas centers himself in the narrative, but soon learned that this is less of a biography of Hampton and more of an accounting of Haas and his colleagues efforts to find justice for the survivors of the police raid that did not reach fruition until a civil rights trial in 1982.

Haas details the gruesome conspiracy of the FBI, through their COINTELPRO program, to have the Chicago police raid Hampton’s apartment in the early morning hours and carry out a summary execution. Part of this plot involved a FBI informer who infiltrated the Chicago Black Panthers and drugged Hampton on the night of the raid. Despite ballistic evidence that the Panthers were only able to fire off one shot in exchange of dozens from the police, the police successfully characterized the raid as a “shoot-out” and the officers involved were exonerated.

Haas and his colleagues spent twelve years in litigation on civil rights suits to find some justice for the surviving Black Panthers and Hampton’s family.  Trials were presided over by a judge with an unhidden prejudice against the plaintiffs, and the FBI and Chicago police deliberately withholding evidence.  That any measure of justice was achieved through $1.85 million settlement in 1982 is a testament to the determination of the survivors and the People’s Law Office.  Nevertheless, the clear imbalance of the government and the law towards racism and inequality makes it hard to believe in true justice in the United States.

Favorite Passages:

“Unlike the example of a centralized and hierarchical political party like the Panthers, BLM is a decentralized coalition of community groups with a common platform. They say they are “leader full,” not “leader less.” This has the advantage that the assassination, jailing, or silencing of one leader will not cause the devastation of an organization like the Chicago Panthers faced after the murder of Fred Hampton.”

“The message of Black Power resonated with Fred Hampton.  He saw Black Power not as a tool to attack whites but as a concept to bring blacks together and build their confidence.  Fred said that “blackness was what was in your heart, not the color of your skin.” But any symbol of black unity, including the modest Afro that Fred wore, threatened many whites.”

“Fred talked with particular satisfaction about seeing the children eating and Panther members serving them.  He explained this was how people could understand socialism “through participation and serving the people.”

“What good did it do to have lawyers and courts and a constitution and legal precedent if the police under the direct control of the prosecutor could murder you in your bed? I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer fighting for justice inside an unjust system or on the outside exposing the legal system as a fraud, taking direct action against Fred’s killers.”

“It always pisses off victims of the police to learn that taxpayers foot the bill. ‘It isn’t right,’ I said. ‘But the police contract requires they be indemnified.  I wish we were getting money from them too. It might deter them next time.'”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****