Anyone else go on a reading bender in 2020? I read over 70 books last year. Being trapped at home will do that for you. Full disclosure: I actually listened to the books. I’m an audiobook kinda gal. On top of that when I realized I could use the Libby app to synch up to the library and listen for free I was all in.
Funny thing is before 2020 I rarely read. If I did read it was all self helpery, business related or my favorite craft books (duh). Each time I tried to conquer actually reading a fiction book that was not in digestible bullet points or full of colorful pictures my mind would wander. That is until I tried my first audio fiction book (The Dutch House) and experienced the wonderful escapism that no binge watched TV show could ever provide.
I realize I typically talk Christmas trees or crafts here, but what do you think I listen to while I do all those crafts and decorate all those Christmas trees? Honestly my most used craft tool this year were my wireless headphones!
The book categories are as follows…
My Favorite Books of 2020
Also, because why not – I am going to link the books to Amazon so if you purchase anything through the link, even toilet paper or moisturizer, it helps support this blog. Those library books may be free but mama has got to pay the bills.
Reading the Classics
A personal goal for 2021 is to mix in more classics. Sometimes the verbiage and sheer length of these books can be overwhelming, but I’m a big girl and can do it! Here are the few I did conquer.
OK I’ll just say it, I’m just not that into Jane Austen. I’m not much of one for romance novels even if the female lead is full of sharp wit and the family has questionable manners. The Great Gatsby was not the story I was expecting having never read it or seen the movies. It was actually a sad story not the glam flapper fest I had envisioned. The Bell Jar was very sad but at the same time kinda amazing considering when it was published. Also the way it is written sometimes almost stream of consciousness remind you that Sylvia Plath is a poet.
Horror Fiction – Books with Witches, Monsters, Vampires and Vengeful Elk
Not my typical go to genre but during Halloween I do love a good theme! Plus none of these were really scary, some were actually hilarious.
– The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – Grady Hendrix
– The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones
– Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
– The Rules of Magic– Alice Hoffman
– Interview With a Vampire – Anne Rice
I adored the Grady Hendrix book and can’t recommend it enough. More comedy than horror and as a southern gal I appreciated this book on a new level. Now I want to read ALL his books. Practical Magic (WAY better than the movie) was fun and the witchy sisters and aunts were fun characters. I had a bit of a hard time getting into the narrator of The Rules of Magic, a prequel about the young aunts. I fully intend to read the third book in this series Magic Lessons in 2021. The Only Good Indians was lots of culture wrapped up in revenge told through several small related stories plus basketball. Trust me you will never go hunting again. Not that I ever have, but now I never will. As a teenager I read all of the Vampire Chronicles. I probably got them in hardback from B. Dalton in Collin Creek Mall. Sadly my visions of re-reading the entire series will not be happening after realizing not everything gets better with age. Still a fun stroll down memory lane with the characters.
Holiday Themed Books – Romance and Family Drama
I love Christmas music, cheesy romance movies and apparently now I also love holiday themed books during the holidays. Adding this to my list of annual traditions.
– Royal Holiday – Jasmine Guillory
– One Day in December – Josie Silver
– Seven Days of Us – Francesca Hornak
– Jane and the 12 Days of Christmas – Stephanie Barron
– The Adults – Caroline Hulse
– We Met in December – Rosie Curtis
Three of these are holiday romance so bust out the mistletoe, the other three happen over the holidays but people get shot and live in quarantine. First let’s talk romance books. It was nice to read a love story where the characters are actually over the age 40 in a Royal Holiday. Cute but if you want royal romance I preferred Red, White and Royal Blue. We Met in December and One Day in December are both about young couples who keep almost getting together but then something gets in the way. I preferred the characters in One Day over We Met but if you like Hallmark movies read both. The Jane in the Jane Christmas book is Jane Austen. There is a whole series of mystery books where she is like a Jessica Fletcher solving crimes and this one just so happens over the holidays. I enjoyed both Seven Days of Us and The Adults. If they did not happen during Christmas they would both go in the dysfunctional but lovable family category.
The Award For Best Narration Goes To
When listening to audio books sometimes the narration can make or break the book. Here are a few of my favorite narrations.
– Beloved – Toni Morrison – Read by the author.
– The Dutch House – Ann Patchett – Read by Tom Hanks
– The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho – Read by Jermey Irons
– The Water Dancer – Ta-Nehisi Coates – Read by Joe Morton
Toni Morrison reading Beloved – seriously her cadence is everything. Did I mention the book is kinda like a ghost story? Could go in the horror section too. As someone who grew up in an old house that they are still very attached to I related in several levels to the The Dutch House though it’s not exactly uplifting. I know The Alchemist is supposed to be profound but maybe it just went over my head. Either way it was an interesting story/parable/lesson and I’d listen to Jermey Irons tell me that toilet paper was on sale. I think Joe Morton reading (and occasionally singing) The Water Dancer made this already incredible book about the Underground Railroad even more amazing for me.
Self Helpery, Spirituality, Memoirs and Other
I didn’t completely abandon my first love of books about bettering and expanding. I’m also throwing in a random read and some biographies.
– We Need to Talk – Celeste Headlee
– Untamed – Glennon Doyle
– The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success – Deepak Chopra
– Girl in a Band – Kim Gordon
– Wild – Cheryl Strayed
– My Year of Meats – Ruth L. Ozeki
My Year of Meats follows a fictional documentarian learning about the beef industry. This quirky read really does not fit in any categories here but still a good read. We Need to Talk will have you reflecting on your listening skills. Sadly I read it in a year where I have not gotten much practice talking with anyone. Untamed checks the memoir and self help boxes. There were too many personal stories for my taste but every so often she would say something profound that made me pause and go “daaaammmnn”. I revisit the Seven Spiritual Laws every so often because it is short and the lessons are as much about being a good person sometimes as they are about being a successful business person. Girl in a Band is for all those Sonic Youth fans and music trivia nerds like me. Wild is about a woman who needs a BIG change and made me miss my mom and want to get hiking boots.
Historical Fiction – Books About Spies, Orphans, Greek Mythology and War.
Some of these are completely set in another time period and some are told through a series of flashbacks to other eras.
– Things in Jars – Jess Kidd
– City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert
– The Alice Network – Kate Quinn
– The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
– All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr
– The Henna Artist – Alka Joshi
– The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michele Richardson
– The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
– Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate
– The Stationary Shop – Marjan Kamali
Things in Jars was a fun Victorian era CSI story with a female lead. City of Girls is for everyone who loves sewing and the theatre. The Alice Network was full of spies, French countryside, crotchety old ladies and one I really enjoyed. The Song of Achilles was a romance and a Greecian war story about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. If you haven’t read Circe also by Madeline Miller stop reading this blog post and go read that. All the Light We Can Not See is a gorgeous story about a blind gem smuggling girl/woman in occupied France with an orphaned boy/soilder growing up to be a Nazi in training. The Henna Artist could easily be on my best of list as well. Lot’s of lush descriptions of herbs, independent girl bosses and troubled relationships between sisters. The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek came highly recommended and though I loved learning about the Blue Fugates of Kentucky the book did not resonate for me as much as it did others. The Nickel Boys and Before We Were Yours were very different stories about children growing up in horrible institutions. The Nickel Boys followed the repercussions into adulthood while Before We Were Yours sent me down a rabbit hole watching OLD episodes of Unsolved Mysteries about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Fantasy Books – Time Travel, Other Worlds and Fans of The Never Ending Story.
Suspend belief for a bit and let’s get weird with time travel, androids, oceans made of honey and super powers.
– The Midnight Library – Matt Haig
– Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
– The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
– Recursion – Blake Crouch
– The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
– Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
– The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
– The Scentkeeper – Erica Bauermeister
I really wanted to love the two Erin Morgenstern books more than I did but I found the complex stories in different time lines with lots of characters hard to keep track of. This would probably be rectified if I read them rather than listened while doing other things like crafting and decorating Christmas trees. However, they were both beautiful and I want them both made into movies stat. Speaking of time travel both Recursion (which I did not love because honestly I didn’t really understand what was happening) and The Midnight Library (Kinda like A Christmas Carol meets Groundhogs Day) had readers jumping around from place to place and time to time. Never Let Me Go was sad, but I love books that have been made into movies I can watch afterwards. Kazua also wrote The Remains of the Day. The Scentkeeper had lot’s of lovely visuals and a bit of mystery with a girl, her father and a mysterious machine on an island. The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me I need to read and watch Gaiman’s Good Omens. The Red Queen had a Hunger Games vibe and is apparently part of a larger YA series.
Dysfunctional Families – Books That Remind Us Your Family Drama Could Worse.
Complex families seem to be a reoccurring theme in many of the books I read and for good reason – they make a great story.
Truly all 5 of these books could be on my top list – I loved each one. The Vanishing Half is about twin sisters finding each other after one intentionally slips away into a new life. If you saw the Hulu adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere you already know this is a great book. Also by Celeste Ng is Everything I Never Told You. A sad story about a mixed race family reeling from a death. Educated is actually a memoir but damn that family has some issues so I put it here. A girl who started out homeschooled by survivalists and ends up with a PhD from Cambridge. Yes, Again Yes was sad yet sweet and deals with physical and mental illness and how it effects two neighboring families in the burbs.
Romance – Love and Slightly PG-13 Though Not 50 Shades of Gray
Not one for total mush, but a little romance never hurt anybody.
I may be one of the only people in the world who did not love Daisy Jones and the Six. Picture the story of Fleetwood Mac as an audiobook read to you by an entire cast of different people. Red, White and Royal Blue was a very cute and funny love story about the son of a president and the Prince of England plus lots of Austin references. Could have easily been on my top list. My Not So Perfect Life was sweet story of realizing your boss is really not a bad person and I have a feeling I would like all of Sophie Kinsellas easy to digest books. The Gentleman’s Guide is full of sexual tension and adventure in 18th Century Europe (could also go in the historical fiction section). There are three in the series and I fully intend to read the other two.
Psychological Thrillers – Let’s Solve a Mystery, Wait for the Twist or Exclaim; “I Didn’t See That Coming”.
The largest category which is not surprising since these tend to be the kinds of movies and television I gravitate towards. Just be careful as there can be too much of a good thing.
– The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell
– The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
– All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
– The Husbands Secret – Liane Moriarty
– The Other Woman – Sandie Jones
– Into The Water – Paula Hawkins
– The Guest List – Lucy Foley
– Something in the Water – Catherine Steadman
– The Woman in the Window – A.J. Finn
– The Last House Guest – Megan Miranda
– The Jetsetters – Amanda Eyre Ward
– Saint X – Alexis Schaitkin
– Big Summer – Jennifer Weiner
– The Last Mrs. Parrish – Liv Constantine
My first piece of advice is not to read too many in this genre back to back or they start to run together a bit. Someone almost always dies and everyone seems suspicious. In 2021 I need to space these types of books out a bit more or perhaps cut down on them. Standouts from the list are The Husband’s Secret because it was full of the good kind of plot twists not the typical formulaic kind. The Guest List got a lot of hype this year and it was worth it, though I saw the ending coming. The Woman in the Window stood out for me but that might be because it was the first book in this genre I read and it reminded me a bit of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Big Summer was a surprise mystery – like I didn’t realize it was going to be a mystery. It was a cute story about a plus sized craft loving influencer so that part alone had me loving the main character Daphne. Saint X was another mystery novel I didn’t realize was a mystery until I started. I don’t like to read any reviews or spoilers I tend to go on recommendations for books.
My Favorite Books of 2020 – Drumroll Please…
There were so many great books I listened to this year that it was hard to narrow it down! Note that a few of these are also in other categories where appropriate.
– Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid
This book felt very relevant in 2020 with the relationship between the two main characters. Babysitting, racial profiling, influencers and a discovered connection between boss and employee. Plus I loved the narration.
– 9 Perfect Strangers – Laine Moriarty
I am so excited that I discovered Laine Moriarty this year. Of course I’ve watched both seasons of Big Little Lies based on her books and I am counting down the days until the release of the HBO adaptation of this book about 9 very different people having a reckoning at a health resort.
– Normal People – Sally Rooney
This book gave me so many emotions and I might have shouted out loud at the characters more than once. It was sad and complex and the best part is there was an adaptation made for HULU that I enjoyed as much as the book. Ugh my heart hurts just remembering the book.
– My Best Friends Exorcism – Grady Hendrix
If you grew up with a Swatch Watch, big bangs and reading VC Andrews books you are going to love this. It also wins the award for best cover art and my new life goal is to have Doogie Horner illustrate a VHS style family portrait for me. Just as good as The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – tongue and cheek horror that will make you laugh more than scare you.
– Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gale Honeyman
Quirky female leads take two spots in my best of list (Marianne from Normal People reminded me of Eleanor). Not really a love story as much as a story of a lonely depressed girl finding friendship with two unlikely dudes.
– The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
I did not love the ending of The Great Alone but that did not stop this book from making the top of my reading list. This harrowing tale of a girl growing up in Alaska is kinda like Educated meets Wild with murder, romance and doomsday preppers.
– Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal
Apparently Reese Witherspoon and I have very similar taste in books as I read 17 from her book club list and 3 made it into my top 10 including Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows. A young woman is teaching a writing class to a group of older Indian women all the while trying to solve a mystery and find love.
I’d also like to mention that just because I did not love a book from the list above does not mean I didn’t like it. I didn’t walk away from any titles wishing I could get that time back or debated returning them to the library unfinished. All of them were entertaining in their own ways. Have you read any on the list? Got any suggestions for 2021? My goal is top 100 books this year so I need to hear ALL your favorite books.