While this year has been good for literally nothing else at all, it's been kind to my reading list for sure. All the extra time at home, all the face-paced MA comp exam reading/panicking study sessions (only to slow down and actually comprehend), and the long anxious nights of trying something new and crazy in the midst of a pandemic only to distract myself with comfort books (and ultimately quit and again distract myself from that reality with more books!) So yeah... books have been a big thing for me this year.
This article is all about what I read this year! From my favorites, to my "lets not talk about them" reads, to "man, I wasted that money," here are my 2020 reads (so far... I see you last few days of the year!) I've tried to document them all, but of course there are always one or two that don't get recorded and disappear from memory forever... so here's about 99% of what I've read this year!
Overall Favorite Books of the Year:
Red Rising series by Pierce Brown
I can't tell you how much joy and amazement this series brought into my life in 2020. I feel like it was the book love of my life all along, I just hadn't met it yet. That sounds cheesy, but Pierce Brown's Red Rising series is a masterpiece, both in plot and execution. I look at his talents and I gawk... then I read the book over again (or, more recently, refuse to finish book five because book six isn't out yet and I'm not prepared for that pain). Since I read this book in May, I have literally not stopped thinking about it. Instant number one favorite (which I've never been able to say before). It pulls in Greek mythology, politics, social construction, desire, destiny, fate, philosophy,evolution, humanity, and so much more.
Red Rising follows lowborn Darrow of Lykos. Young and idealistic, Darrow is content to live and love beneath the surface of mars, where he and other lowReds mine gas in order to terraform the surface of the planet and bring other people (higher colors in their caste system) to the planet. The youngest Helldiver on Mars, Darrow is talented and brash, the golden boy of his community. However, when his people don't get the rewards they earned, Darrow's young wife takes matters into her own hands, pushing Darrow into something he tried to stay willfully ignorant to.
“They pushed and pushed for so long. They knew I was something dangerous, something different. Sooner or later, they had to know I would snap and come to cut them down. Or perhaps they think I'm still a child. The fools. Alexander was a child when he ruined his first nation.”
2. Romola by George Eliot
Romola has definitely stuck with me since I read it. It was one of the exam tests for my Master's Comprehensive exam back in February. This was one of my first books of the year, and I definitely read it with a lot of weight on my shoulders, knowing that if I didn't understand and connect with the book it would likely affect my ability to graduate with my master's degree. Logging my study hours, I spent night after night flipping through the pages of Romola, pleasantly surprised that I truly enjoyed the novel, despite the way it came into my life. Not an easy book to understand, the novel focuses on political, religious, intellectual, and artistic life in Florence, Italy, in the fifteenth century.
Beginning during the tumultuous time following the expulsion of the ruling Medici family from Italy, George Eliot weaves the tale of a young woman, named Romola, who is the only daughter and assistant of a blind scholar. Believing in her father's brilliance, Romola advocates for her father to be recognized across Florence for his contributions, for his great mind.
When Romola marries a young man who is kind to her father, seeing him for the educated and important man that others simply write-off, she believes that she and Tito have the same goals in life. However, when the young man becomes duplicitous in both love and politics, betraying her now-deceased father's legacy, his actions challenge Romola's desires and beliefs, forcing her into an intellectual, religious, philosophical, and sociological awakening.
“Romola had had contact with no mind that could stir the larger possibilities of her nature; they lay folded and crushed like embryonic wings, making no element in her consciousness beyond an occasional vague uneasiness.”
3. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
This novel was one that I knew I needed to read. I began hearing so many good things about it, seeing quotes pop up all over the place, and I picked it up in May, just before Red Rising. As a self-proclaimed freak for The Iliad, it took me a little longer to read The Song of Achilles namely because I already love the cannon so much. Having read the text multiple times throughout undergrad, I was plenty happy with the story, content to let that version of events remain true and strong in my head. However, The Song of Achilles didn't deviate from the original. Like The Aeneid by Virgil, it simply picks up on a thread in the original text and brings it to life in vivid color.
The Song of Achilles is the expanded story of Achilles, the son of a water nymph and the human man who forced himself on her, and Patroclus, the boy who serves the young demi-god. The Iliad portrays a love between the men - never explicitly stated as being romantic - that sends Achilles into a rage against his murderer and desperate to die alongside his lover/"friend". Madeline Miller's adaptation remains faithful to the original story of the Trojan War, but it begins earlier, detailing how Achilles and Patroclus met and grew together. She turns each other them from being martyrs and gods into portrayals of humanity. Even Achilles, the half-god, half-human prince, becomes this artfully constructed image of what it means to walk the line between destiny and choice, between obligation and responsibility, between right and wrong.
“I conjure the boy I knew. Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms. The memories come, and come. She listens, staring into the grain of the stone. We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”
April Whittier is a huge Gods of the Gates fan... in fact, she's been writing fan fiction about the TV show for years, only sharing this passion with other fandom writers online. However, moving to a new city and a new job, April is determined to share all of herself with the people in her new life. Tired of hiding after a childhood of being told her plus-size body was too much, April posts a photo of her cosplay online, catching the attention of fat-shamers, trolls, and Marcus Caster-Rupp, the TV heartthrob and actor who portrays Aeneas - the very character that April's been writing (smutty) fiction about online!
Marcus, however, also has a secret. Throughout his seven-year career as Aeneas, he's been playing dumb, literally and figuritively. From his fans to his parents, Marcus's biggest acting job is setting up his own persona. Desperate to keep his life private, his heart armored, and his career out of jeopardy (by accidentally sharing too much about the show with hounding reporters), Marcus fine tunes his shallow playboy appearance. That is, until he swoops in to save April from online humiliation, offering to go out with her to make the cruel comments stop. What he doesn't expect is for April to see the cracks in his facade. Even more than that, he's shocked to discover that he really wants to be known. Is known. Just not as himself. April is Unapologetic Lavinia Stan, an online fanfic writer, and he's AeneasWouldNever! Her editor and online best friend. Not that he can tell her who he is.
2. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
O'Farrell's novel is a fictionalization of Hamnet Shakespeare's short life. The only son of William Shakespeare, Hamnet died of the Bubonic Plague when he was just eleven years old. His death, flipping back and forth from his parents' meeting, marriage, and early life together, comes expectedly, but devastatingly, for his mother Agnes, his father, his family, and the readers.
In this novel, O'Farrell crafts a story of stifling family relationships, personal identity, expectation, identity, and grief. Through the guise of Hamnet's death, O'Farrell gives an homage to motherhood, to marriage, and to what it means to craft their lives from the remnants of what went wrong.
Four years after Hamnet dies, his father writes Hamlet, immortalizing his child in what will be the most iconic play in human history.
Cemetery Boys is the story of Yadriel, a young trans boy who's determined to prove his true gender to his family of brujos and brujas. After being pushed aside (rather than be recognized as a brujo, not a bruja), Yadriel takes matters into his own hands, moving forward with the (male) brujo ceremony that will prove he's a boy.
But after Yadriel succeeds in claiming his magic, he accidentally summons the wrong dead boy. Stuck with a spirit who doesn't want to pass on, anxious to solve his cousin's disappearance, and desperate to mark his place in his brujx family, Yadriel finds himself bound (and growing close) to Julian Diaz as they hunt for answers surrounding the deaths and disappearances of Yadriel's cousin and Julian himself.
Most Surprising Finds:
An Atlas of the Difficult World by Adrienne Rich
It's not fair to call this book a "find" since it was another required for my MA comprehensive exam, but it surprised me in how easily I was able to understand Adrienne Rich, how powerful and intentional she is with her words, and the breadth of topics and identities that intersect not only in this book, but also in her life. I find her fascinating, her poetry powerful, and her impact revolutionary. No exaggeration. If you don't know Adrienne Rich, it's time to read some poetry and do some research.
This poetry book, while complicated and personal, didn't speak to me with every line, but Rich, as a human, writer, and woman, stood out to me across her pages. She was a big piece of my exam, and I look forward to reading Hilary Holladay's new biography, The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography.
2. The Forbidden Man by Karina Hale
This was the very first book I read in 2020, beginning the night before and finishing early New Year's Day. It's a romance book about a forty year old woman and physical sports therapist who's hired by a professional football (soccer) team following a difficult and public divorce. Relieved to get away from the reminders of the life she had before (and the job she shared with her ex), forty-year-old Thalia Blackwood moves from Manchester, England to Madrid, signing on to work with the athlete of Real Madrid.
Starting with the new team, Thalia meets young star, playboy, and media darling, Alejo Albarado, who's opportunity to be great all-but-disappears when an injury takes him out of the game. Desperate to save his career, Thalia and Alejo find themselves thrown together on a regular basis and growing closer than age, position, their jobs, and society deem appropriate.
3. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Honestly, I don't read nonfiction that often, especially memoirs or autobiographies. I prefer my history fictionalized like Hamnet, for example. However, I'm a fan of Trevor Noah, and I flew through his book in about a day. Born a Crime details the early years of Noah's life, growing up during Apartheid in South Africa, where it was illegal for while and black people to mix, let alone have children. Even though it's a story about his life, the book pays tribute to his mother, for being fearless, loving, tough, and revolutionary.
Hidden most of his life from South African officials and neighbors who would report him, Trevor grew up mostly with his mother for company. His portrayal of their relationship shines on the page, both bittersweet and sometimes difficult to read. Noah doesn't falter in his appreciation for his mother and for the life and values she gave him, despite the laws banning his existence.
This was one of my most-anticipated books of the year, and maybe that's where I went wrong. I expected so much from These Violent Delights, but I found it to be a watered down version of what I was looking for. As I mention in my review (link above), it is Young Adult rather than Adult fiction, so of course it can't delve too much into the violence and dark relationships that thrive in the Shanghai of the author's creation (and real world history), but I think maybe it was a mistake to make a book like this YA. It limited how dark the book could really be, and with the characters supposedly unmoral and desperate to do what they have to, the book really missed the mark on making them feel authentic in that way. Eventually we're supposed to understand that "oh, they're not really bad (or if they are, it's excusable)," but we knew that all along because it's YA, and "morally gray" is really just alluded to rather than portrayed.
I wrote an entire blog about this book (see the link above), and I enjoyed it. I read it fairly quickly, felt with the main character, experienced the anxiety of the moving to a new country, not knowing the language, and being bound to a man who you didn't choose. I liked it for what it was, but it could've done a lot more in bolstering the relationship between the main characters and speaking on the role of family you leave behind versus family you make.
See the review for details!
3. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
I'll say that I found this book too simplified. At it's most surface level, it's the story of a young trans boy who isn't accepted by his family. Kicked out of his parents house, he moves in with a sister who left when he was a child. From there, despite trying, it doesn't do much more than deal with that circumstance in very straight-forward, sometimes boring, ways.
The story hits home with a lot of people, namely young trans kids, and I can admit that this book might've missed its mark because it's like not for me; however, even if the story doesn't match with my own struggles, it should've spoke to me and my compassion. I feel for the characters - I can place them into the real world and want to protect them and see them happy, but the book itself didn't soar.
I know it'll help a lot of kids who are struggling with their identity and being accepted (or not), but as a work of art, it fell flat, especially compared to other books with similar themes. It was a clearcut romance that didn't lead up well, and a character whose story arc remained too mundane (and not in the bringing beauty to life through art way that so many others succeed at). It wasn't bad, but I just really wanted more from the writing itself. The storyline could've been so much more if told with the right tones and the right words.
Least Favorite Books of the Year:
Ever heard, "if you don't have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all"?
Yeah, that's these books... but for the sake of this blog, I'll give a little insight into my issues with the following novels.
I don't even know what to say about this book. I have a hard time selling it at the bookstore because it's 180 degrees different from what I've come to expect of Marie Lu. As you'll see in the rereads section just below this one, I reread my favorite of her books this year, Warcross and Wildcard, and I loved them just as much as I did the first time. That reread prompted me to buy Skyhunter with hopes that the switch from SciFi to Fantasy would be seamless and welcome. However, Skyhunter is simply bad. The world-building is shotty, the relationships are insta-love with no foundation, and the writing was meh. The concept might've been cool had the other turned the one unique part into something more than a gimmick, but it really was just a bad regurgitation of fantasy cliches, and I struggled to get through it.
This book was given to me as an ARC to review, and from the beginning I knew it was going to be a hot mess. Like Skyhunter, the coolest aspect was used more as a gimmick than any real plot device. I wanted Amish fiction turned on its head, instead what I got was a willfully naive adult character who acted like a child (not just naive, but stupid) and a plot that was overly complicated and read like a first draft. I finished the book for the sake of the review, but I might've broken my No DNF rule for this one.
3. The Perfect Date by Evelyn Lozada
What even was this book? Coming out of my Spoiler Alert hangover, I was on the hunt for another romance book that could live up. I chose The Perfect Date for the single mom meets athlete angle (because as we can tell from The Forbidden Man, Challenge, Endurance, Surrender, Dominate, Ride, Anton, Reckless in Texas, and a few more, I love sports romances...); however, this book was sooo poorly written. The characters were thrown together and supposedly liked each other despite having zero chemistry. The MC fell "in love" with the guy after watching him play with her son's baseball team from afar (for about 15 minutes, I might add, after he just followed her there for no reason). AND he kept getting hurt just so she (a nurse) had to help him get medical attention without anyone finding... hurt by playing with kids in a park, hurt by running, hurt for the tiniest reasons (when really he should know better if his year-old injury is that bad). Basically, I just really didn't like it, and I'm mad I wasted my time and money on it and got no relief from wishing I could read Spoiler Alert again for the first time.
Warcross by Marie Lu
Warcross is the first Marie Lu book I ever read, and definitely my favorite by her. It centers around a world where virtual gaming is a full-body experience. Able to log in and virtually go online in VR, virtual reality video games are huge, culminating in a worldwide competition known as Warcross. More than a video game, the technology influences everyday life, allowing some to escape from reality and others profit in order to survive it.
Destitute, on the eve of eviction, and desperate to hold her ground in a world that's trying to shlep her off, Emika Chen settles in to watch on the night of the Warcross competition, only to accidentally hack herself into the game. Visible not only to the players, but to the millions of people watching, including the illusive young creator.
Terrified that she's about to be arrested, Emika quickly exists the game, raging at her outdated and glitchy hardware, thrown into a panic about what her life will amount to now. However, Emika is shocked when she gets a call from creator and billionaire Hideo Tanaka - not to repremand or punish her for glitching into his game, but to offer her a job: come to Tokyo, join the Warcross games, search for other security breaches, and report back... to him.
2. Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick
Hush, Hush is an oldie but a goodie. It's one of those that have that iconic early 2000s feel. I read it in high school for the first time, caught up in Patch Cipriano like ever other teenage girl. In my reread as an adult, I found the book entertaining still, if not a little much (as were the times).
Hush, Hush is a fantasy romance book centering around high school student, Nora Gray, when a new boy suddenly appears in school. Patch Cipriano is dangerous, blunt, and interested in making her uncomfortable all the time. Going out of his way to be a nuisance, Nora is beyond aggravated when she's partnered with Patch in science, their teacher eager for her to help him get back on the right track. In trying to track down Patch and save her grades, she brings more than she expected into her life.
She quickly discovers that something's not quite right about Patch, and she's torn between wanting him in ways she can't explain and wanting to go back to her life before he walked into her classroom.
3. Measure for Measure by Shakespeare
I don't think Measure for Measure needs much explanation, but it wouldn't be my yearly wrap-up reading list if there wasn't some sort of Shakespeare on the list. While Hamnet sort of qualifies, I was excited to see this text on my MA exam reading list!
I find Measure for Measure to be one of the more complicated plays in Shakespeare's repotoire. Even though it was classified as a comedy in the First Folio (its first publication in 1603) and continues to be classified that way, it's definitely one of his "problem plays." The premise centers on the Duke of Vienna, who decides to leave and hand control of the city to Angelo. Posing as a friar, Duke Orsino watches as Angelo goes crazy with power, punishing people for laws that were never upheld before while breaking them himself. Whether he's aware of his own hypocrisy is a topic of debate, but the play questions morality, virtue, sin, autonomy, power, self-identity, punishment and fairness, and so much more. While it's not one of my favorites (not to say I dislike it), I've read it multiple times throughout my education, and another layer of thought always presents itself.
Reading Goals for 2021:
1. Diversify what I'm reading in terms of genre and representation. I want to explore books in other genres and be pleasantly surprised (such as Born a Crime). Genres I want to explore more of are nonfiction history books, memoirs, and biographies. As for representation, I want to dive into OwnVoices books with characters that do more than make an argument for why that culture/identity/etc. is valid. I want to see diverse characters living their lives and filling all the same roles that cishet white characters have for years.
2. Keep a better record of all the things I read, including articles and essays. I really wanted to include the rhetoric essays that I read this year, but I felt like even though they had an impact on me and read more similarly to novels than scholarly articles, they technically are articles for class. It does frustrate me that this isn't a true record of everything I read this year, because I was reading five to seven articles a week for my classes in between all of these books, but it feels like the articles don't fit here, and the rhetoric essays don't really fit in either list, so I left them all off for now. I would like to blog about some of the influential rhetoric/philosphy reading I did this year, so look forward to that!
Additionally, I want to keep a better record of my first impressions of books, my favorite quotes, the format I read them in, etc. I plan on creating spreads in my Bullet Journal for each book; I just have to decide what I'd like to include in that!
Reading List for 2020:
The Forbidden Man by Karina Halle (Kindle Unlimited)
Placing College Writing by Nathan Shepley (Paperback)
Romola by George Eliot (Paperback)
An Atlas of the Difficult World - Adrianne Rich (Paperback)
Measure for Measure - Shakespeare (Paperback)
Digital Rhetoric - Douglas Eyman (Paperback)
Altered Carbon - Richard K. Morgan (Paperback)
Warcross - Marie Lu (Hardcover)
Wildcard - Marie Lu (Hardcover)
Crescent City; House of Earth and Blood - Sarah J. Maas (Hardcover)
In the Beginning - London Miller (Kindle Unlimited)
Until the End - London Miller (Kindle Unlimited)
The Final Hour - London Miller (Kindle Unlimited)
Darklight - Bella Forest (Kindle Unlimited)
Darkthirst - Bella Forest (Kindle Unlimited)
Don't Think of an Elephant - George Lakoff (Paperback)
Pretty Lies - Bethany Kris (Kindle Unlimited)
Blindsided - Amy Daws (Kindle Unlimited)
Ride - Harper Dallas (Kindle Unlimited)
Challenge - Amy Daws (Kindle Unlimited)
Endurance - Amy Daws (Kindle Unlimited)
Captivated - Bethany Kris (Kindle Unlimited)
Surrender - Amy Daws (Kindle Unlimited)
Dominate - Amy Daws (Kindle Unlimited)
Imagine Me - Tahereh Mafi (Hardcover)
No Perfect Hero - Nicole Snow (Kindle Unlimited)
The Guinevere Deception - Kiersten White (Hardcover)
Bone Crier's Moon - Kathryn Purdie (Hardcover)
Hush, Hush - Becca Fitzgerald (Paperback)
Crescendo - Becca Fitzgerald (Paperback)
Silence - Becca Fitzgerald (Paperback)
Finale - Becca Fitzgerald (Paperback)
Aurora Rising - Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristof (Hardcover)
Aurora Burning - Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristof (Hardcover)
The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller (Paperback)
Anton - Brenda Rothe (Kindle Unlimited)
Where the Lost Wander - Amy Harmon
Red Rising - Pierce Brown (Paperback)
Golden Son - Pierce Brown (Paperback)
Morning Star - Pierce Brown (Paperback)
Iron Gold - Pierce Brown (Paperback)
Pink - Bethany Kris (Kindle Unlimited)
Sweet Dandelion - Micalea Smeltzer (Kindle Unlimited)
Call Me By Your Name - André Aciman (Paperback)
I.O.U - Kristy Marie (Kindle Unlimited)
Confess - Colleen Hoover (Paperback)
Reckless in Texas - Kari Lynn Dell (Kindle Unlimited)
Born a Crime - Trevor Noah (Paperback)
Midnight Sun - Stephanie Meyer (Hardcover)
After - Anna Todd (Kindle)
After We Collided - Anna Todd (Kindle)
After We Fell - Anna Todd (Kindle)
After Ever Happy - Anna Todd (Kindle)
Red, White, and Royal Blue - Casey McQuiston
Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase (Kindle)
Howl's Moving Castle - Dianne Wynne Jones (Kindle)
The Library Window - Margaret Oliphant (Paperback)
Normal People - Sally Rooney (Paperback)
I Wish You All the Best - Mason Deaver (Kindle)
Skyhunter - Marie Lu (Hardcover)
A Deadly Education - Naomi Novik (Hardcover)
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue - V.E. Schwab (Hardcover)
Red Winter - Anette Marie (Kindle Unlimited)
Dark Tempest - Anette Marie (Kindle Unlimited)
Immortal Fire - Anette Marie (Kindle Unlimited)
Cemetery Boys - Aiden Thomas (Hardcover)
Lush - Anne-Marie Yerks (ARC Digital)
Sons of Ares I - Pierce Brown and Rik Hoskin; Art by Eli Power (Hardcover)
These Violent Delights - Chloe Gong (Hardcover)
Sons of Aries II; Wrath - Pierce Brown and Rik Hoskin; Art by Eli Power (Hardcover)
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories - Holly Black (Hardcover)
Kaitlyn and the Highlander - Diana Knightly (Kindle Unlimited)
Time and Space Between Us - Diana Knightly (Kindle Unlimited)
Paper Wife - Laila Ibrahim (Kindle)
Spoiler Alert - Olivia Dade (Paperback)
The Perfect Date - Evelyn Lozado (Paperback)
40-Love - Olivia Dade (Kindle)
Spellbreaker - Charlie N. Holmberg (Paperback)
Hamnet - Maggie O'Farrel (Hardcover)
Ten Rules for Faking it - Sophie Sullivan (Paperback)
Thanks so much for checking out this blog and browsing my 2020 reading list! I'm currently in the middle of reading two books, so more might be added to this list by the end of the year! Given any free time, who knows how many books I can squeeze in still!