Favorite Reads of 2020

Like everything else in 2020, I didn’t quite hit my reading goal. In fact I missed it by one – I read 99 books, out of my goal of 100. I was almost through number 100, but prioritizing family time (and probably spending too much time scrolling on my phone), made me to set it down yesterday. This morning I rolled over in bed, listening to my kids play Minecraft Dungeons in the living room, picked it up and realized I’d only had 3 pages left (3!), as the rest of it was a preview of the next book.

So, in sum, I missed my goal by three pages and 8 hours. Goodbye 2020.

Continuing in this trend, as I write this, WordPress and Goodreads are continually crashing and reloading, making my usual method of drafting this annual post not impossible, but exceedingly burdensome. I may return later (I will not), but for now I’ve just posted covers and my brief comments.

Anyhow, I read some amazing books and graphic novels this year! As always lots of fantasy and romance, which rarely make this list, but remain excellent escapes. Just like prior years, I only include graphic novel collected volumes, not individual issues. Also, many of these books didn’t come out in 2020, that is just when I read them. After the highlights, I’ve shared some honorable mentions and pictured all the books I finished this year.

“There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.” ― Bertrand Russell

My Favorite Books in 2020

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

by Kim Michele RichardsonKatie Schorr (Narrator)
My review from January 6, 2020: This novel was striking, sometimes very hard and heart breaking, fascinating, and very well written. I was/am pretty unfamiliar with this period of time in Kentucky and the condition which causes blue skin – so this was educational and engaging. Our main character is gracious, humble, brave, and stubborn. I listened to this as an audiobook and the performer was very good. Her gentle accent and inflections really added to the story.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

by Nghi Vo
I read this in October 2020. This short novel was compelling and beautiful in so many ways. Unexpected results and very unconventional writing. The imagery created intrigue – and any confusion it caused only made me read on more urgently.

Comfort Me With Apples: More Adventures at the Table

by Ruth Reichl
I finished this novel on June 24 2020 and I was so sad to see it go. Ruth’s life is simultaneously an impossible, picturesque, almost liberal-cliché ideal but also raw, honest, flawed, and tragic. Her relationship to food and the food industry feels honest and equal parts inspiring and disappointing (in the experiences she has). Her affairs and marriage are really honestly portrayed here, as well as her heartbreaking adoption story. This memoir is unafraid and brutal while also being full of whimsy, passion, humor, wit, and most importantly excellent recipes (I made the crab cakes – delicious).

The Bear and the Nightingale

by Katherine Arden
I finished this novel in June 2020 and almost wish I’d held it for a winter night. This take on Russian folklore is magic but gritty and cruel. I love folklore and fairytales, and particularly enjoy the older versions or modernized takes, meaning versions that include the hardships, horrors, and pains that inspire storytelling in first place. This did not disappoint. I also enjoyed the authors notes on the lore’s history: “Morozko is the name of the Russian Jack Frost, a winter demon who is sometimes benevolent and sometimes cruel. He features in multiple fairy tales. What I found interesting about this character though is he has his mythical roots in slavic paganism, as a dark god of winter and death called Chernobog. He evolved over the years from a pretty powerful deity to sort of a wicked fairy-tale creature, and finally (after some European influence) to Ded Moroz, the Russian Father Christmas. I found this journey (from wicked pagan god to giver of treats to children) absolutely fascinating.”

Writers & Lovers

by Lily King
I finished this novel in March 2020, and it left me with lots of reflections, feelings, and judgements. This novel is funny but also sad and relatable.

Escaping Exodus

by Nicky Drayden
The concept of this novel is… well… bizarre? Imaginative? Insane? Possibly one of the most thoughtful environmental metaphors ever (maybe)? If you enjoy science fiction, fantasy, space travel, and social commentary, read this book. Seske Kaleigh is an engaging protagonist you find yourself cheering for again and again.

City of Girls

by Elizabeth Gilbert
When I finished City of Girls in mid April 2020 it was just what I needed. Sometimes, when the characters are good enough, stories have the luxury of meandering around without any meaningful conflict for 200+ pages. This is one of those. The first half of this book is purely scene-building and I ate up every drop. Then you have your major conflict but the following 200 pages are essentially character development, in which the only notable conflict is that WWII is one of the partial backdrops. Yet, somehow, I want to meet Vivian and listen to her for hours. This worked for me, despite its lingering pace. Maybe it’s because it never went more than a page without mentioning fabric, cocktails, or sex? I’m here for it.

In at the Deep End

The first book I finished in and 2020, and it was appropriately titled. This is an intense read; both extremely sexually graphic and very, snort your tea out your nose, funny. It makes you uncomfortable, but in a way that sympathizes you to the main character’s choices.

I often read books that fall in or intersect with the romance genre and as such they typically include a couple of sex(y) scenes, including relatively frequent LGBTQA relationships given the novels I choose, but never have I read a novel that so unapologetically rejects flowery similes for private parts. No “pearled” nipples or “the heart of my heat” here. The author talks about sex bluntly and honestly relates it back to how human’s make choices, feel about others, and manage their lives. It is graphic? Yes. Is it real? Yes.

She calls it like she sees it and the outcome is a honest look at the act of sex, humans, obsession, and comfort zones.

Some others to highlight…

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini is a very long book, which almost deterred me at first, but it moved pretty quickly. Like a lot of action-adventure stories it felt like the whole story was moving from place to place constantly and I don’t know that I could confidently pick out a “middle” but regardless I enjoyed the journey. Kira is an excellent narrator and relatable.

I fell hard for Ellery Adams’ mysteries this year. These are cozy and easy reads. While the happy ending is assured and the characters predictable, the mysteries themselves are complex and I’m often surprised by the culprits! Her novels are an excellent way to spend an evening leaving the world behind.

…and speaking of mysteries, it goes without saying that everything I read by Agatha Christie takes me to a new place and time. Clever beyond words. My favorite this year was Cards on the Table.

I try to make a point of reading some “classics” every year, some re-reads and some new to me. This year I read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a re-read), The Best of Isaac Asimov (probably only considered “classic” by nerds, but I care not for your judgements), and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The Asimov collection starts in his early(ish) life as an author, the first story being published in 1939 and spanning some work through the 1970s. I hadn’t read any of these before. In particular, in the early works, it was notable that the only female characters were wives, whereas in some of his later novels characters like Susan Calvin were instrumental. That said his creativity, clever but simple wit, and mastery of the human condition shines through. True “before it’s time” classic science fiction.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of those American classics I swore I had probably read in high school lit, but after listening for a hour, I knew I hadn’t. It’s classic dystopian science fiction and every other page is a remarkable quote or takeaway. Tim Robbins narration was intense, rapid, and moving.

On The Edge by Ilona Andrews – The Ilona Andrews team always craft a complex mystery with remarkable world building. I found the first chapter and this one to be a bit too wordy and full of set up but eventually got into it. The book covers though? They’re embarrassing (I usually check these out from the library instead of on my Kindle) especially when the mystery is good and the romance is so secondary to the plot. 

Finally, this is probably the first year in the past five I haven’t included my favorite authors on this list – Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, and Terry Pratchett (who is sadly deceased, but whose full catalog I have yet to complete). While I read some pieces of all of them this year, none were my favorites of theirs, though all still fantastic. That is to say, if I were trying to convince someone else to read them, the work of theirs I read in 2020 isn’t where I’d have them start so I omitted it here.

Full Pictorial List

I don’t want to do negative here, so I won’t call any titles out, but don’t consider the below covers endorsements. I read some real stinkers this year too.