This was a lot of fun to create and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
My Favorite Fiction Book of the Year:
Sportcoat walks into the courtyard of the Cause Houses Housing Project and kills the project’s drug dealer in broad daylight. From that point forward, James McBride introduces us to a wide cast of the most delightful characters in Deacon King Kong! Everybody is touched by the shooting in one way or the other, and McBride shows us that his cast of characters are flawed, but real and honest and so incredibly beautiful. This is one of my all-time favorite books (and my introduction to James McBride)!
My Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year:
Heading into this book, I thought I had a good understanding of the racial issues so prevalent right now. But Isabel Wilkerson quickly humbled me, showing me that I only understand on a surface level and that I have a long, long ways to go to reach the depths of this issue. This book was a paradigm shift for me. I now see racial injustice, systemic racism, and the work ahead of all of us differently. Caste took it from a general concept and made it personal. Maybe it’s the cumulative effect – from watching the last horrifying 8:46 seconds of George Floyd’s life on tv to the riots all over the country on television – but it hit me in my heart and I am grateful. Caste is an absolute masterpiece!
The Book I’d Most Like To Reread Again ASAP:
Freshwater is an interesting journey. For the first bit (seriously, only like 20 pages or so), I was unsure of what I was reading. I was thoroughly confused and it wasn’t resonating with me. But then I hit my stride and I settled into it. I liked it well enough. Then, about halfway through, my mind started to blow up. And by the end, it was all the way blown up and I am in total shock and awe at what a masterpiece it was.
The Book I Couldn’t Put Down:
Saving Ruby King is the kind of book one wants to read so slowly because its truly something to be savored. Catherine Abel West’s writing is a thing of beauty. I can’t say enough good things about this book…I was deeply touched by the depth of each of the characters, how lies and secrets continually shook up these two families and affected several generations, and the life-changing strength a loyal friend can be for someone.ound and forced me to do some real introspective work.
The Most Underrated Book:
I love dark, gritty, and atmospheric novels and Shiner certainly belongs in all of those categories! This hypnotizing story takes place in the Appalachian Mountains where Wren is raised by a snake-handling father and a mother that only ever wanted to escape this place with her best friend, Ivy. One day, Ivy walks into a fire and Wren’s father performs a healing on her…thus, setting in motion a series of events that changes everything.
The Most Overrated Book:
I know, I know! Everyone seems to be loving The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, but I was bored to tears! Literally nothing happened no matter how many pages I turned. While the writing was wonderful – very atmospheric and magical – there was just no plot to match that beautiful prose.
The Best Memoir of the Year:
I got so much more than I expected with Open Book, and listening to it on audiobook was a true delight! Jessica Simpson is vulnerable and honest about all aspects of her life – from her failed relationships to her excessive drinking to her tense relationship with her father. Simpson doesn’t hold anything back and it’s one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve read!
The Most Unique Storyline:
Within the first few pages of Interior Chinatown, I had tears running down my face. Then a few pages later, I was chuckling under my breath. This book really has it all – and there’s a lot of nuance you have to dig through as a reader. It profoundly affected me and I have found myself thinking about it off and on since I finished earlier this week.
The Best Coming-of-Age Book of the Year:
When Adunni is a 14-year-old, her father marries her off to an old man who already has two wives, but no sons. Her sole purpose is to bear him a son, but after a tragedy happens, Adunni is forced to run away. She then becomes a housemaid for a wealthy woman in Lagos. There, she meets some of the best (and worst) people and she fights for her dream of furthering her education to become a teacher and to have a “loading voice”. While parts of Adunni’s story is hard to read, the core of who Adunni is and what she stands for is heartwarming. I couldn’t help but cheer her on and hope the best for her.
The Most Distressing Book:
Reading Severance in the middle of a pandemic was distressing enough, but there was a whole lot more to it than just that simple parallel. Satirical in its take on American culture, I found Ling Ma making pretty accurate correlations, which equally humored me and made me incredibly sad. As Americans, we’re highly immersed in capitalism and our lives seemingly revolve around work. But when a pandemic hits, is that work or materialism going to save you (spoiler alert: no)? While Ma lent a kind of joking tone to some of the questions she raised in this book, it also had such an element of truth to it that it quickly became quite profound and forced me to do some real introspective work.
The Best Debut of the Year:
Not only does My Dark Vanessa read like nonficiton, it’s a compelling read that I couldn’t put down! Told in duel timelines, it’s ultimately about a teacher and his inappropriate relaionship with a student. The effects of his behavior have long repercussions, and as a mama to a teenage daughter, I appreciated how Kate Elizabeth Russell portrayed the masterful (and subtle) manipulation sexual predators are capable of. This is a dire warning and one I took to heart.
The Best Audiobook of the Year:
Greenlights isn’t just a book – it’s an actual performance by Matthew McConaughey! Truthfully, it can be a bit over the top at times, but also well worth it! I was drawn to McConaughey’s personal story, but even more so drawn to the universal anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book.
The Best YA of the Year:
Lovely War is set during The Great War (WWI) and it follows two couples and the hardships they must endure while trying to navigate a world at conflict. It has romance, friendship, strength, and survival…weaving it all together in the most beautiful way. The best part of the book is that the narrators of the story are a rich cast of Greek mythological characters, making this one unique premise for a book!
The Book With the Scariest House:
While Mexican Gothic could have been better – there were a lot of technical things and Moreno-Garcia wrote so nuanced that I’m sure I missed a lot of things – but as far as that house goes…it thoroughly creeped me out making it one of the most atmospheric books I read all year!
The Best Cover:
The cover of The All-Night Sun is GORGEOUS…not a single picture I’ve seen has done it justice!
The Book That Broke My Heart:
In my opinion, Betty is one of the most underrated books of the year! Betty and her father (really the whole Carpenter clan) were characters I won’t ever forget. Their story is hard to read at times, but there was also something so hopeful in it all. I never reread books, but I’m looking forward to returning to this story again soon!
The Most 2020 Book of 2020:
If there were a book that demonstrated 2020 perfectly, Leave the World Behind is it! I know this one was incredibly divisive, but for me, the commentary on society’s (over) dependence on technology and our mistrust of others really nailed some of the largers issues that came out of 2020. The whole vibe of not really knowing what was happening, how quickly travel was suspended in the face of the unknown, and the way our homes became our sanctuaries was just too relevant to the year we’ve had!
The Book That Started Off Slow But Then Really Picked It Up:
I wasn’t sure about this one for the first 100 pages or so, but then Writers & Lovers opened up into the most beautiful meditation on grief and the mundane details of every day life. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down, but also wanted to read slowly in order to savor every word of it. I literally smiled and hugged the book when I finished!
The Most Eye-Opening Book:
A Knock at Midnight was an incredibly powerful memoir, but also a narrative nonfiction assessment of the corruption in our justice system that knocked my socks off! Barnett opened my eyes to unfair and biased drug laws. She humanized the women behind bars that are mostly paying for these ridiculously harsh sentences, and she gave her readers a wake-up call to where these laws need to be reformed and changed.
John and Naomi captured my heart as they traveled the Oregon Trail in the 1850s. Where the Lost Wander is a piece of historical ficiton that I haven’t read a lot about, and I was captured by the trials these people encountered out among the wilds of the Great Plains of America. This book was addicting and kept me up into the wee hours one night to finish!