We are (finally!) at the beginning of 2021, making it time to look back at the best, the worst and the sometimes weird of my 2020 reading. I read 134 books this year, including finally picking up a lot of very good ones that had been languishing on my To Be Read list for years – and a few that turned out to be terrible too!
1) Best of…
I’ve been splitting my “Best of” books for the past several years, so that I can highlight the ones that were best in very specific ways.
1A) Best Premise: Incarnate by Jodi Meadows – I loved this concept of a society where everyone reincarnates and remembers their past lives. So fascinating to explore what that makes the world look like. The sequel went some odder directions, but I’ll probably pick up the third one eventually.
1B) Best World Building: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – I thoroughly enjoyed this sci fi adventure. The characters and plot were good, but I especially liked the world (galaxy) they were in. A little bit Star Trek (a galactic alliance of species), a little bit Star Wars (those species are really, really different from each other), and quite a bit Firefly (a ragamuffin crew with a Wild West feel), it still felt totally unique. Humans aren’t very important in the galaxy, there’s a lot of exploration of the very different alien cultures, and by and large everyone is really accepting of those differences. Very cool place to explore.
1C) Best Romance: One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, but I really enjoyed this one. I liked how the heroine’s character was explored through her choice between the two men, and her romance with each was convincing and powerful – but I was still happy with how it wound up!
1D) Best Hero: Elliott from In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan – This was a wonderful, satirical take on magical school stories, and the hero, Elliott, was everything I wanted him to be: sarcastic, irritable, bad-tempered but totally on the ball. Doesn’t sound appealing, but he was wonderful! He brings a backpack stuffed with pens and highlighters to magic school (complaining loudly about quill pens) and has serious questions about why fourteen year olds are being sent into battles. He’s awesome.
1E) Best Series: The Wayward Children series by Seanan McGuire – I love these books about children (teenagers, really) after they return from journeys into magical lands. Beautiful, lush writing, fascinating world-building, and lovely insights into people – and familiar types of stories, turned on their heads.
1F) Best Nonfiction: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman – Reads like a story, but has great insights on parenting. The French have some very good ideas!
1G) Hardest to Put Down: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – I stayed up late reading this one, and I only do that about once every five years. Super intricate, incredibly complicated time travel-ish murder mystery, this just kept twisting and twisting and twisting. Absolutely fascinating and masterfully put together.
2) Worst Book: The Librarian by Christy Sloat – Billed as travel into books, it was actually time travel using books…which could have been fine, except it was also extremely inconsistent, both factually and in the character’s actions. I did this one on audiobook and found myself repeatedly saying out loud, “wait, why are you doing that?” I found the heroine mildly annoying, and the romance felt shallow – I’m pretty sure her main attraction for the hero was that he was from the 1800s and she kept showing up wearing yoga pants. Just saying…
3) Most Disappointing: The Heroines by Eileen Favorite – Presented as the story of a girl who lives at an inn where heroines of classic literature go when their story becomes a bit too much, the premise sounded amazing. But the heroines were sadly cardboard, the story went weird directions (including into a mental institute???) and the finale involved Heathcliff (of Wuthering Heights) in a role where virtually any other hero of literature would have been better cast.
4) Most Surprising (in a Good Way): Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman – This was an odd, short book that’s very difficult to describe but was quite lyrical and intriguing. Einstein is trying to work out his theory of relativity, but that’s a barely-there frame story, while the bulk of the book is a series of short chapters, each imagining a universe where time works in different and intriguing ways. Very odd, but very interesting.
5) Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2020 To Read It: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – The story of the Biblical Dinah, I first had this book recommended to me in high school. I vaguely meant to read it, but also put it off partially because I assumed Dinah’s rape would be central to the story, as it is in the Bible. Turned out Diamant interpreted that portion differently so there was no rape in the book after all. Despite that it was still a remarkably grim book, but interesting, and I’m glad to have finally checked it off my mental list.
6) Most Hilarious Read: Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer – I didn’t read a lot of funny books this year, but I did read this Obama-Biden mystery novel. Seriously – it’s a mystery novel starring Barack Obama and Joe Biden, post-presidency, and it was everything I hoped for and more. Very funny, surprisingly well-written for the bizarre-sounding premise, and not a bad mystery even.
7) Most Satisfying Read: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – This was a pretty good book, particularly when we were in the heroine’s journal rather than the hero’s reflections. But mostly, it just felt good to finally read Anne Bronte, and complete the Brontes. I love Charlotte, strongly dislike Emily’s one book (see above re: Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff), and Anne falls in the middle somewhere.
8) Most Looking Forward to in 2021: Definitely Across the Green Grass Fields, the next installment in the Wayward Children series. Happily, it’s due out January 12th!
I think that rounds things up! So what have you been reading? What were some of your best and worst of 2020?