It’s no surprise that I love books. Each year, I set a goal to read fifty books with GoodReads‘ reading challenge. That’s nearly one a week, but considering how I often can binge books (and especially series) fifty books seems reasonable for my life and reading appetite. In the last few years I’ve either come right below or above that goal.
In 2020, I read 107 books.
What?! Even I was surprised how much and fast I was reading. I think it’s safe to say that reading was my coping mechanism in the early days (and wee hours of the morning) of the pandemic. I read two YA series in mid-March within a week of each other (six books total). So why such a high number? Or, perhaps the better question is how? (Maybe I’ll tap into that later.)
I attempted to catalog the books I was reading with a monthly round-up sharing what I loved about the book, its book blurb, and recommended a similar book. That lasted about four months. I may try to pick it up again in 2021, but who knows. Maybe quarterly favorites would be more reasonable?
Favorite Books of 2020
I read a variety of genres, but I do favor young adult (YA) fantasy, historical fiction/fantasy, magic realism, RomCom/romance, and books on the Christian life. I like what I like and I’m not afraid to read it.
My top 10 favorite books of 2020, across genre borders are books that sat with me, that I talked to people about incessantly, shared often, or books I wanted to discuss with others:
- Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman – What can I say? Alice Hoffaman’s Practical Magic series feels like honey and lavender, summer’s rain and moonlit lights. It’s magic and wonder. It asks questions of what is love, really? and examines the lengths you’ll go to protect those you love. Magic Lessons is her most recent book in the series (written in reverse order) and chronicles the life of Maria Owens, the matriarch of the Owens women. It’s part historical fiction, part magic realism that casts an enchanting spell.
- Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – I don’t really consider myself a fan of horror, but apparently many people considered this horror. So maybe I like horror? Or at least horror that has magic realism and alludes to Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights, mixing in, new to me, a little colonizer history of the British in Mexico.
- The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer – There’s romance, there’s mystery, history, Italy, and a little bit of accidental time travel. Also, it’s set in Siena months before the plague hits. Welcome to pandemic reading!
- Dread Nation by Justina Ireland – Y’all! This one…Zombies! Civil War! The undead start rising at the Battle of Gettysburg! Maybe you wouldn’t think a Civil War era book on zombie uprisings and survival wouldn’t be so relevant to today’s world…except it is. (review here)
- The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley – Split between a present day writer on a research trip and the character she is writing in her current novel, who just might be her ancestor. The story takes place in present day Scotland and in the past during the early years of the Jacobite rebellion. There’s mystery, romance, political/historical intrigue. It’ll make you cry and Google Slains Castle. (It’s the first book in the Slains series.)
- Beach Read by Emily Henry – I love how Beach Read will most likely be labeled “women’s fiction” but it does what I love best about the genre: it tells a complicated story of people and life and pain with growth and love and hope. And if there’s a happily ever after…or a happily for now, then so be it. A story is not belittled by hope.
- Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – This was magic and myth and I didn’t want it to end. It’s historical fantasy set in early medieval Ireland and was a beautiful, haunting, and healing retelling of “Children of Lir” and “The Six Swans.” A sister must journey to rescue her brothers by weaving and then sewing them shirts from the painful nettle plant, but she must remain mute until her task is finished or her brothers remain geese forever. Of course, there are many interruptions, obstacles, and the sweetest romance. It’s the first book in the Sevenwaters series.
- This Too Shall Last by K.J. Ramsey – Ramsey provides a much needed service to the church with her book, This Too Shall Last: Finding Grace When Suffering Lingers. In a culture that is more testimony/success stories than persevering in the dark, it can quickly and easily feel that if you suffer (from chronic illness to miscarriages to career disappointments to depression), then you are a faulty (and failed) Christian not able to maintain the faith hype. This is a needed respite, wading in the truth that God is with you and loves you in suffering, even when it lingers.
Author I Fell in Love With
Susanna Kearsley, author of The Winter Sea, Mariana, The Firebird, The Rose Garden. Her novels are a bit like settling in by the fire for a long winter’s night. They’re cozy and sweet, but will also pull at your heart strings and leave you in a wistful, misty-eyed state of wonder.
- Deerskin by Robin McKinley – One of my favorite fairy tales, and one I hope to give my own retelling one day, is “A Thousand Furs.” I’d loved Deerskin because it faced trauma and how one might realistically respond to the horrible trauma of rape and incest, but it also Lissar’s journey to coming back to life, so to speak, after trauma.
- Daughter of a Thousand Years by Amalia Carosella – This was such an interesting read. It’s the story of a college professor who practices the pagan faith of her Norse ancestors, complicated by the fact that her father is a conservative, Catholic politician and the pushback she receives from students and colleagues. There’s also a parallel story line following a woman (one of her ancestors?) who sets to make her way in the male-dominated Norse culture, first in Iceland then in Vineland (Nova Scotia). It was my first audiobook of the year, I spent my time listening to it while chopping onions and simmering soups.
YA Series: The Folk of the Air This series by Holly Black was the perfect binge read. The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing. It was not only a great distraction from life, but it’s just hands down good storytelling and worldbuilding. It’s a portal contemporary fantasy with court drama, a devilishly sarcastic prince (who you still can’t help but root for), a sword wielding heroine, fae, folklore, and, yes, even a little romance. It’s the kind of series where you want to linger just a little longer. Cardan’s tweets can help with that. Oh, and his letters to Jude. Just know they’re full of spoilers.
YA Contemporary: Tweet Cute or The Bookworm Crush Many of my long gardening hours this year was accompanied by Young Adult books. These two were my favorite. You can read my reviews for both books here.
YA Fantasy: A Song Below Water for its relevance to today’s world and racial injustice, as well as its use of myth and creatures in an ubran, contemporary setting. Sisters of Sword & Song for it’s sisterly love and non-typical hero and heroine. The Near Witch is just all around lyrical and lovely. It harkens back to old world fairy tale and folklore storytelling. Also, strong Gaiman vibes. Also, Sky in the Deep.
YA Retelling: House of Salt & Sorrows is a dark, slightly horror but maybe more gothic, retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The sisters are dying off one by one, strange things are happening in their home, and handsome new faces appear, but–can they be trusted?
The Court of Miracles chronicles the complicated underworld of Paris years after the failed revolution (an alternative historical timeline!). To me, it’s like Les Miserables (which it pulls heavily from and the author loves) meets Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
East is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. I loved Pattou’s use of maps as part of destiny and how the four winds are people in different geographical locations in this retelling, it brought a realness to a story imbued with magic.
History & Social Issues
Stamped is an investment. It’ll take a long time to read, but it is well worth it. Stamped traces the history of racist ideology from Europe to how it has shaped the foundation of America, throughout our history to present day. Kendi shows that you can change your mind, that racism changes with time and policy, and nothing is ever as clear cut or simple as we want it to be.
The Color of Compromise – This is a book every American Christian should read. Tisby tracks the major thoughts and ideas in government as well as theologians and denominational bodies through time periods of US History. It’s sad to know the American church often looked the other way or actively participated in the violence of racism. We will continue to struggle to understand our present and how we got here if we don’t take an honest look at our past. It may not be an easy read, but it is necessary to see how the American church aided, abetted, and many times upheld, racism in America.
The Book of Waking Up – This was the perfect book for weeding and planting and pruning. It’s part Haines’ own story, but also mine too on how we all have our addictions and coping mechanisms. It follows the idea that we may quit one thing, but fill it with another coping mechanism, another addiction to cover our pain and discomfort. Haines writes beautifully on how when we wake up from our addiction we should wake up to Something.
Life & Holiness – I have wanted to read something by Thomas Merton for a while now and in fall of 2019 picked up this book at a little shop in Franklin, TN. It was strangely appropriate for what 2020 was with its commentary on race, faith, and fear of politics. It was a book that illustrated how holiness should impact your life and interactions of the world.
When Narcissim Comes to the Church – This was both a needed and healing book for me. Each time I picked it up and read DeGroat’s words I felt a little less crazy and a little more rooted myself. It explores how narcissim affects the life of the church from narcissists as laypeople, pastors, and even in parachurch ministries, as well as in family relationships and how church bodies can, essentially, have a narcissist group think personality.
DeGroat is gracious and empathetic, believing that narcissists are deeply wounded people who can heal, but that narcissists also cause great damage–whether intentional or not–to the people around them. It revealed things to me about my own life, family, and church. It’s not a book to be afraid of, but one that has the potential to lead to repentance, restoration, and healing.