My Favorite Books of 2020

So I read a lot this year, like a bunch, most of which due to the early pandemic. I read 140 books this year (woohoo!). For the most part I read a lot of wonderful books that were delightfully written. However, few had the extra spark of a favorite with any emotional or potent connection.

Honorable Mentions

  • Check Please: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu : This is the conclusion to a graphic novel series about hockey, baking, and love. It is incredibly sweet and has multiple healthy romances.
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge : I am not really one for non-fiction but I really enjoyed how this broke down argument. I stayed in each topic and was totally engrossed from the history of race discussions to the personal stories.
  • Cold Fire by Tamora Pierce : This is the 7th book in the Emerlan world by Tamora Pierce. To be truthful Tamora Pierce’s books always feel a little like home to me so it’s cheating a bit. I really liked the growth of the characters and class structure. I liked all new magic and it was a well-written kind of creepy.
  • A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos : This was one of the most unique fantasy worlds with family magic and deep blood feuds. We follow Ophelia in an arranged marriage to a distant ark, called the Pole. It’s a magical political game.
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow : This is an urban fantasy that focuses on sirens and black women. Tavia is a young siren who hides who she is with the help of her best friend, Effie. When the murder of siren is again justified due to “credible fear” things begin to change for them. It is smart, scary, and powerful.

Top 10

10. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This a middle grade historical fiction novel that wrecked me. Two children escape their abusive mother in the London evacuations of WWII. They find themselves staying with a woman who has closed herself completely off. It is a really hard, but beautiful story about recovery and family.

9. A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy : This is the most slept on fantasy. The magic system is intricate. The politics are ruthless. There are two princesses pitted against each other and a protagonist that is scared to survive. Please read it!

8. The Deep by Rivers Solomon: This is a book about mermaids and generational trauma. I don’t know how to describe it better. It is a must read with an incredibly unique and powerful story.

7. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I resisted for a while the hype of this romance. If for some reason you have missed it, this is the story of the first son of the United States and the Prince of England. I believed in Henry and Alex. I believed in their families. It is a one-sitting, heart-warming, edge-of-your-seat read.

6. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This is possibly the most high concept book that follows two families down generations. We open with half-sisters Effia and Esi in Ghana. Effia is married off to an English colonizer who owns one of the slave ports and Esi is imprisoned and sold into the Atlantic slave trade. Each generation was so beautifully written and despite following almost 20 different characters each voice was unique and impactful.

5. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin : Really the whole Broken Earth trilogy is stunning and grim. It is a a masterful work of storytelling and world building. It was a really satisfying conclusion. The world also expanded in a way that was astonishing but not blindsiding which I feel is a hard line to walk. Highly recommend, if you like fantasy even a little.

4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I cried at a work event reading this book. We follow twins which I love, in a dual timeline which I LOVE. There is so much about grief, love, and art. It is just took me in fully into the emotional rollercoaster of Noah and Jude (the twins).

3. Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi : This is written like a fairy tale. Whichwood is so darkly and whimsically atmospheric. Laylee is fated to wash the dead as the mordeshoor after her father abandoned her following her mother’s death. There is suffering, friendship, prejudice, failing, and ghosts. I think about this roughly once a week.

2. The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: Suffragettes and witches. That’s the whole pitch. I just want to talk about this book and these sisters. We follow three sisters that have been exiled from their family home and find themselves trying to make their own way alone when they find each other again. In addition, the chemistry between the two main couples could set a person on fire.

  1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune : I think this will end up on so many favorites list this year but truly it made my heart swell. It is a beautiful story of magic and family. A social worker is assigned to an isolated group home to determine if the children there can be trusted or will bring about the end of the world. I CANNOT oversell it!

2021 Goals and Moving Forward

I have done my yearly goals on this blog for the past several years. While for the most part I have stuck to them I think announcing goals into the void can help hold myself accountable. After this past calendar year it feels impossible to prepare for the world that is coming, like it will continue to zig and zag in every direction (murder hornets anyone?). I feel like it is impossible to plan anything, but these goals are mostly small and habit oriented.

Home Goals:

  • We moved into a new apartment this year but it has been hard to feel like home. I don’t know if this is because of the stress, due to being unable to explore the neighborhood, or because we are messy. I really want to start making more of an effort:
    • Add all pictures to the walls and more home decor
    • Start our herb garden
    • Sweep every other day

Professional Goals:

  • I am very lucky that this year I kept my job in a year of mass layoffs. I also gained a lot of responsibilities to my position and started attended networking events within the position. I still want to look for ways to find a solid career path towards figuring out what I want to do forever by:
    • Create a list of recommendations
    • Actively network in work and with our partners
    • Start taking graduate school classes

Health Goals:

  • I got weird in terms of health this year. Between stress, family issues, and lockdowns it has been hard to be, let alone feel healthy. However, I am regularly drinking water and taking vitamins and moving my body everyday. This year I hope to go one step further:
    • Eat at least one cup of vegetables everyday
    • Sleep at least 7 hours a night
    • Find an exercise that works for 1 hours a week

Book Goals:

  • Reading is basically my number one hobby. I read a lot, I read about 140 something books this past year and bought a bunch as well. I did better on diversifying my reading, as well as intentionally reading more LGBTQ+ books. I want to continue to grow and be more in this space as it is what I truly enjoy.
    • Read 120 books over the year
    • Read at least one non-fiction book every month
    • Participate and complete (1) the Around the Year book challenge on Goodreads
    • Put my money where my mouth is and have at least 1 of every 2 books I buy be authored by a person of color.

General Goals:

  • I truly love baking and want to start baking at least once a month, if not more.
  • Connect with friends more frequently
  • Go back to therapy (this could be in health but truly has more to do with follow through than anything else)

Let me know if you have any goals for the upcoming year. Happy 2021!

Books about Found Family

As we head into the holiday seasons. We find us spending more and more time appreciating the family we have whether they are the family we are born into or the family we chose. I thought I would highlights books about families that aren’t born but ones are created.

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce (Middle Grade) : This series revolves around 4 children, who find themselves alone in the world, discovering strange powers and finding a home at a school of magics.

The Twelve by Cindy Lin (Middle Grade): After Usagi’s sister is taken by the most recent round-up by the Dragon Lord to capture all those with Zodiac powers. She teams up with others to learn the history of her powers and save her sister.

The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi (Young Adult): Séverin is a hotelier in late 1800s Paris. He has spent most of his life looking for a way to reclaim his birthright within the Order. The is given the opportunity to do so but only by completing the impossible. This is a crew that have known each other their whole lives and it reads like it.

A Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (YA/Adult): Rosemary Harper needs to escape and she finds her path off her planet on a crew of the Wayfarer. The crew takes on the dangerous but lucrative job to tunnel wormholes in the galaxy. It’s a really exciting and heartfelt space adventure.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (Adult): Linus lives a quiet unassuming life in the middle of a hectic city. He works as a social worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He is sent on a mission to evaluate a home that is housing 6 “dangerous” children. Linus is supposed to determine whether the children and their caretaker, Arthur, are a danger to each other and the world.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Adult): Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by the Bolshevik court to a lifetime imprisonment in the Metropol hotel. Despite never having worked a day in his life, he develops deep bonds with the other staff and guests over the years.

September Wrap Up

September was a pretty slow reading month for me. I had a lot going on at work as well as personally, following my move to a new apartment and a death in the family. However I did read 5 books, most of which I enjoyed (3 – 5 Star; 1 – 4 Star; 1 – 3 Star). Let me know if you’ve read any of these. I’m just sorting these by date finished.

Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Renni Edo Lodge (Non-fiction) – 5 Stars: I really enjoyed this book. It was passionate and the book was broken down by arguments people make to deny systematic racism.

The Pride of Chanur by C.J Cherryh (Science Fiction)3 stars: I feel incredibly neutral about this book which is bizarre for me. I probably wouldn’t have finished if not for book club. There is a crew of all-female cat-like people who take aboard a stranger. You may like if you are into very classic sci-fi.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Non-fiction) – 4 stars: This is an incredibly important issue and should be required reading for most Americans. The reason it is 4 stars is that I personally had a harder time following the timelines.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan (Magical Realism/Young Adult) – 5 Stars: After Leigh’s mother commits suicide Leigh knows nothing for certain except that her mother has turned into a bird. This is a highly emotional story but beautiful in the end.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (Fantasy/Middle Grade) – 5 Stars: Alice Queensmeadow feels alone. This is a beautiful and whimsical story that also creeped me out more than I expected. Slight Alice in Wonderland retelling with actual magic and friendship.

Predicting my next 5 star reads

So I saw this and thought it was a fun idea. I try my best to read books I’m going to like but I think that these will be some of the top of the year. These are also books I own and am planning on reading in the coming months. I’ll follow up when I have read them all and let you know if I was right or not.

  • The Deep by Rivers Solomon – I am reading this soon for a book discussion group. I am really excited it sounds like a unique take on Mermaids and I am excited about the author.
  • Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson – I have technically already started this one but I’m on chapter 2 (so it counts). I have heard a lot of good things and my partner got it for me. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson is also one of my all-time favorites.
  • Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit – I’ve been on a non-fiction kick and it seems up my alley.
  • St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell – I genuinely know so little about this book but I feel so drawn to that I am excited in these stories.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This is our family’s book club pick this month. I have heard nothing but good things from people I trust and seems like gentle historical fiction.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book Tag!

This tag was created by A Clockwork Reader on YouTube. As I just finished my rewatch of Avatar and am making my way back through Korra and loving it, I thought this was a cool time for this tag. I loved this tag and thought the questions were really fun. What type of bender would you be? I would for sure be a fire bender.

Water


1.) Katara and Sokka: The Best Sibling Relationship

For this I am going with the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall. In the first book we follow Roselind , Skye, Jane, and Batty who are on summer vacation with their father. They are such a sweet family. The say they care for each other and the frustrations they have with each other are so real and grounded. I love that they each got their own path.


2.) Yue: Favorite Star-Crossed Lovers

The Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds: I’m not sure there is a correct way to define this love, but star-crossed seems close enough. I loved this story and it did in fact bring me to tears more than once.


3.) Blood Bending: A Book With A Disturbing/Unsettling Content

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett: This books place in a dystopian community where girls are banished for a year when they are 17 to rid themselves of the “magic” that corrupts the men in the society. It follows through in all the ways this can be interpreted the vulnerable year of banishment and how a society throughout it’s years places blame on young women for corrupting.

Earth


1.) Toph: A Character Whose Strength Surprised You or The Other Characters In The Book

Jude and Noah from I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. We follow these twins three years apart and through the story it is slowly revealed just how much weight they were carrying.
2.) The Tales of Ba Sing Se: Best Short Story/Poetry Collection

There are a lot of really good ones. I think the one that has the most stories that stuck with me is Paper Cities edited by Ekaterina Sedia. Each story is a fantasy set in a city whether real or fictional. I really like most of the stories and loved the way setting was used as the common thread.


3.) Kioshi Warriors: Best Warrior Character

This answer is only ever going to be Paks from The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon. She starts as a sheepfarmer’s daughter and joins up as a foot soldier. Then… everything else happens but she is always a warrior at heart.

Fire


1.) Zuko: Best Redemption Arc

In general I don’t think these are well done. Zuko tends to be my number one example. I feel like the best example I have is Alabaster from The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and it still doesn’t totally count. Also spoilers…


2.) Iroh: Wisest Character

Elodin from The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. He is the Master Namer at the University. It is literally his job to have an understanding of things as to name them. He is also an incredible teacher and his patience while people are taking in his learnings is unmatched.


3.) Azula: Best Downfall

Xifeng from Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. This is a East Asian inspired Evil Queen (ie. Snow White’s step-mother) origin story. So we go in knowing it’s going to end badly, however Xifeng’s descent and how far she is willing to go to get what she wants is so spirally and good.

Air


1.) Appa: Favorite Fictional Animal/Pet

Gleep! The purest little dragon in the world from Myth Adventures by Robert Asprin. He is a baby dragon and he would think you are wonderful.


2.) Aang: Purest Cinnamon Roll

Chestnutt from Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia is the first one that comes to mind. Not only is she the softest character (personality wise and literally) but she reminds me a lot of Aang. Chestnutt wants to help people but struggles with being seen as capable.


3.) Avatar State: A Stubborn Character/ A Character That Struggles With Letting Go

Stevie Bell from the Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson is incredibly stubborn. Yes, she is smart and passionate, but she is so stubborn. Stevie has a hard time letting go of a puzzle and initial perceptions of people. She makes a lot of mistakes when she can’t let go of the reins and let someone else take care of it. Super fun character to read though.

Three Dark Crowns series review (Spoiler Free)

The Premise: This series is written by Kendare Blake and published by Harper Collins. It covers 4 novels and novella bind-up of 2 stories. The story is set on the island of Fennbirn, which is isolated by a mysterious mist and ruled by factions of magic. Fennbirn is ruled by a queen from a faction of magics. In each generation of queens triplets are born with equal claim to the throne. At 6 they are separated and raised by the three major magical factions that they represent (naturalist, elemental, poisoner). The queen that survives their 16th year becomes queen and her faction rules until the next set of triplets come of age. The first book starts with Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe preparing for their ascension year that only one of them will survive.

My Review: I really enjoyed this series across the for books and two short stories I gave it an average rating of 4.3 stars. I loved the characters (my secret favorite is Braddock). For me fantasy stories that are really character driven is what gets me. All the queen are in the same situation but the way the respond to it is what moves the plot. Personally, the moral grey aspect was done well as it’s not characters choosing power or evil influences. It is one form of survival or another.

Initially, I was hesitant to pick it up because it is marketed as this big fight to the death series ( which is it I guess).If you are picking it up for the fight to the death, please know that there are a couple of epic fight scenes but they don’t first appear until the end of book 1. While the romances have a lot of chemistry, I wish they were either more or less prevalent in the page space. I am never a fan of love spells.

In short, I think the things that I didn’t like were small or because of the way the book was pitched and my expectations were off for book one. I really enjoyed a majority of this series and think it is strong all the way through, book two as a little bit of a sophomore slump but is not as notable as in other popular fantasy series.

Best Book: Five Dark Fates (Book 4) for me it is super rare to feel so happy and satisfied with a finale and it just really stood out. The Oracle Queen (short story of queens past) had me on the edge of my seat screaming. It was so fun to see how other queens have handled the ascension year.

Worst Book: The only one I didn’t enjoy was The Young Queens (short story of Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe as children). I know with these optional short stories to give new information is hard when it is optional for the main series but I got nothing out of this.

Read this series if you enjoy:

  • A fantasy series with a satisfying and wonderful conclusion.
  • Morally grey characters who make the choices that they have.
  • Powerful magic
  • Complex family dynamics

Let me know if you have read this series or if you plan to!

Middle Grade Recommendations

So Middle Grade May is coming! I personally have been leaning a little bit more towards middle grade during this hectic time in the world. Not only because I work a lot with kids who are readers and I like to have something to talk about but because the world is insane. I am feeling overwhelmed by work and life and all the pandemics. Middle Grade tends to be a lighter feeling while reading. They are easy to fly through, have familiar feelings, and often an element of whimsy.

If you like folklore/mythology and growing as a person, you may like…

  • Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
    • This is the story of Tristan Strong who is feeling weak and stuck after the death of his best friend, Eddie. He accidentally creates a portal into the world of Midpass while trying to keep the book he created with Eddie from being stolen. It is a wonderful story about myth, grief, and the power of storytelling. Fair warning: you will likely cry. Tristan Strong

If you like girl power and fighting smarter not harder, you may like…

  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
    • As with every heir to the kingdom, when the prince comes of age to wed the priests select a realm of the land to find his bride. For the first time in history a small quarry town on-top of the highest peak of Mount Eskel is chosen. Miri and the other eligible young girls in town are taken to a princess academy to learn about life beyond the quarry for the first time. It is a wonderful story of female friendship and the power of education. Truly one of my favorites.

Princess_Academy

If you like animals and meeting new people, you make like…

  • Circles in the Stream by Rachel Roberts
    • Three very different girls, Emily, Adriane, and Kara, are all drawn to the same animal preserve. There they find magical creatures  seeking refuge from their homes. The girls must find a way to harness magic, keep the animals secret, and find a place where the animals can be safe from the evil that follows. This is the start to a 12 book series and every book is worth it. I’m sorry the covers aren’t great. Circles in the Stream

If you like mysteries and have dreamed of running away, you may like…

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg
    • This one is a little bit more of a classic and one of my Mom’s favorites from her own childhood. Where a brother and a sister tired of their siblings and school decide to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While hiding in the museum they end of in the middle of a huge art mystery. mixed up files

If you like comics and are afraid of starting over, you may like…

  • Amelia Rules! by Jimmy Gownley
    • This graphic novel series follows Amelia as she moves from Manhattan with her mom after her parents divorce. She makes weird friends and handles basically, real life from school to bullies to friends that get sick. Amelia doesn’t always handle things well but she always handles them. It is a wonderfully drawn as well, just looking at it will make you smile. 51REKK68GFL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

If you like fairy tales and coloring outside the lines, you may like…

  • School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
    • I don’t know that there will be a recommendations that I can’t slide this into. I LOVE this series. Every four years 2 children or  “readers” are brought into The Endless Woods to the School for Good and Evil to train to be the heroes and villains of the fairy tales we all know. Two best friends, Sophie and Agatha, are taken away to the schools and are horrified when they are both dropped into the “wrong” one. It is a wonderful story about binaries, fate, and friendship.the school for good and evil

 

 

20 Questions Book Tag

So, I  wasn’t sure what to write for this week and then I found this tag over at Fantastic Book Dragon. I  am not sure who the original creator is… But it seems really cool and fun and I thought I would give it a try.

1. How many books are too many books in a series?

This is a hard one cause I feel like the real answer is anything in the double digits but some of my favorite series reach into the double digits. So think it depends on the world and skill of the author but MAJORITY of the time if it has hit double digits it has lasted too long.

2. How do you feel about cliff hangers?

I really like them because it encourages me to pick up the next one and not forget to continue the series. What really bugs is when the next book doesn’t pick up at the cliffhanger or it resolves in a page.

3. Hardback or paperback?

Paperback 100% I often like the hardback covers better but I spend most of my time looking at the spines.

4. Favorite book?

This is the world’s most unfair question. So here are a couple: Terrier by Tamora Pierce, All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

All the KingsMen

5. Your least favorite book?

I don’t really think I have a least favorite but the first one I remember disliking was Sarah Jane, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan in like 5th grade.

6. Love Triangles, yes or no?

Yes! As long as they are love triangle not love angles. I need for every character involved to have something to choose and lose in the stakes of this love. My best example is And I Darken by Kirsten White.

7. The most recent book you couldn’t finish?

The most recent would be Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco. I likely would have finished but the e-library loan was coming up and I just wasn’t vibing with the mystery.

8. A book you are currently reading?

I am currently reading The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory. I really like it and also I knew basically nothing about Catherine of Aragon. I know how her story ends but basically nothing else. She is fascinating!

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I believe the last book I recommended was Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao to my mom. I really think she’ll like it.

forest of a thousand lanters

10. The Oldest book you have read by publication date?

The oldest are the Odyssey, Illiad, Antigone in the B.C. but no exact publication date. The latest I can find with a specific publication year is The Account by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (1542) which was for my American Literature 1 class in college.

11. The newest book you have read by publication date?

Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire (January 7th, 2020)

12. Favorite Author?

I truly don’t know like I have no idea. There are literally so many to name a few: Susan Dennard, Patricia C. Wrede, Rick Riordan, Lemony Snicket, etc. 

dealing with dragons

13Buying books or borrowing books?

I love buying books like nothing gives me such a calm in life. But I do borrow books more I wouldn’t being able to sustain my reading otherwise.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

It is not a dislike but I never totally understood the worship of the Raven Boys series. I liked them they were okay but I with all the fans of it I feel like there is some sort of disconnect.

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Yes I am a terrible person who dog ears.

16. A book you can always reread?

Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley. Over and over and over again since I was I think nine. It speaks to my tiny soul.

spindles en

17. Can you read while hearing music?

Yeah, I can read while doing anything except like walking or drive cause that is dangerous.

18. One POV or Multiple POV?

Totally depends on the story but I think my favorite is a two POV alternating narrative.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or multiple days?

I really like days where I don’t have to do anything but pour over a book and just finish story after story. Those days are few and far between, most of the time I read a little every day.

20. One book you read because of the cover?

Only one? Most Recently: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy. And it was amazing!

A river of Royal blood

 

 

 

Universal Book Recommendations

So I know a lot of people in these unsettling times are looking for things to read. I feel like a lot of times people want really specific book recommendations like just like X,Y, and Z that they have previously read. But I think that there are lots of books that people would like if they picked it up. So here is a list of universal book recommendations that I think at the least people will enjoy reading.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot (pseudonym): This is an autobiographical collection of stories of an English vet in the 1930s. We start with James as a new young vet surgeon in Yorkshire.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I feel like most people have at least heard of this book or at least the TV show. It is a dystopian classic about a woman adjusting to a new world order.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Milo is a bored boy who is stuck alone in his room, when one day the phantom tollbooth shows up. He is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom where something is amiss. Bonus- you will learn what letters of the alphabet taste like.

Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg: Another nonfiction! (I actually surprised myself in this). Journey into the Whirlwind is a autobiography of a journalist who lived during Stalin’s reign. Most has to do with her time in the Gulag and relationship that formed in the Soviet Union.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffery: This is a classic set on the World of Pern. It follows Jaxom, a young man trying to find his place in the world as a ruler and a dragon rider. He and the white dragon (who is not supposed to exist) are try to prove their place in the world.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: This is a short mystery about a school. A school where children find their way after returning to this earth from a portal world. There is something for everyone and it’s a a quick story.

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: (Adult Recommendation) This is a graphic novel series that follows a two soldiers on the opposite side of raging galactic war have fallen in love and had a child together. It has great artwork and is a beautiful fresh story.

No matter what stories you like I think that you will enjoy these. Have fun and stay safe!