Book Talk, Reviews

My Favorite Books 2020

I can’t believe that 2020 is almost over. In some ways, the year flew by; in other ways, the year dragged its feet through molasses. One positive thing came out of 2020, though: I read some amazing books this year! Here are just a few of my favorites.

Blood Heir, Amalie Wen Zhao

A beautiful, dark, brutal, and emotional read, this story takes place intricately-created worlds a la Leigh Bardugo and is full of characters with memorable personalities. A lot of YA can get formulaic or predictable the more you read, but Blood Heir kept me guessing at what would happen next. At one point, I was genuinely fearful about who might not make it out alive! From the very first page to the very last, Amelie Wen Zhao creates a full world with realistic characters and satisfying twists and turns. I highly recommend this book to fans of Leigh Bardugo, Megan Bannen, Katy Rose Pool, and Morgan Rhodes.

Not Even Bones, Rebecca Schaeffer

Mesmerizingly dark, deeply imaginative, and full of chilling danger, Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer creates a haunting world full of complex characters who are all at once vivid, likable, and morally grey. The story is fast-paced and immersive; I loved every second of Nita and Kovit’s journey. There are twists, turns, and betrayals, all of which I never saw coming (and for an eagle-eyed bookwyrm like me, that’s not always easy). Not lacking in imagination, and definitely not for the faint of heart, Not Even Bones is gory and just pure suspense. I can’t wait to read book two!

There Will Come a Darkness, Katy Rose Pool

What an exciting and mysterious beginning to an epic tale! Pool follows several key characters throughout their journey to fulfill or avoid the inevitable prophesied doom of the Graced. Every chapter begins with an engaging hook and maintains the reader’s interest from beginning to end. Each character has a purpose, though that purpose may not be as simple as it seems at first. There were times when I had to pause and stop reading because I came across a line that was just too profound and beautiful (typically at the beginning of chapters). I’m excited to continue with the series and find out what happens next. Each situation is perfectly detailed and planned, even if the characters themselves are not aware of their own unique purposes. I was utterly captivated!

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood

This may come as a somewhat unpopular opinion, but to me, The Testaments beats The Handmaid’s Tale any day. Atwood’s sequel follows three new characters who each offer a fresh perspective of Gilead through their differing viewpoint chapters. One woman from each perspective (holding a place of power in Gilead, holding no power in Gilead, and having already escaped Gilead) allows for a more informed reading experience. Suspenseful, emotional, and heartbreakingly triumphant, The Testaments is one of my favorite reads this year. While I wasn’t entirely sold on The Handmaid’s Tale (some scenes were very difficult to read, as those familiar with the book will attest), The Testaments stands out to me as worthy of all the praise and hype it received.

Flame in the Mist, Renee Ahdieh

I had such a good time reading this book! It’s always refreshing to read a fantasy story that doesn’t take place in a Western setting with the typical knights and princesses. Instead, Ahdieh opens up an entirely different world, full of refreshingly unique characters and predicaments. Mariko is a strong-willed protagonist, and the supporting characters are all memorable and full of personality. In addition to all these good points, there are also many descriptive passages that are distinct and beautiful. I can’t wait to continue the journey in book two!

Virgin and Other Stories, April Ayers Lawson

Raw, heartfelt, and unspeakably honest, Virgin and Other Stories is a collection of deeply personal stories that grip your soul and never let go. I was fortunate to learn from April last year at the Rainier Writing Workshop, and she absolutely practices what she preaches.

Lawson weaves uncomfortable situations with a darkly human tone, not without its sense of humor, the stories explore sexuality in a close, thoughtful way. I highly recommend this book for everyone who loves thought-provoking stories that cut deeply!

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Aimee Bender

Every time I read Aimee Bender’s work, I’m stunned and inspired all over again. I am in awe of Bender’s otherworldly writing style, fantastical story ideas, and the raw humanity behind each one. My personal favorite short story in this collection is “Loser,” the story of a young boy with an odd talent for finding things. Bender’s affinity for writing ethereal magical realism stories that are well-paced is amazing, as is her ability to make each impossible situation feel not just possible, but emotional and real. For readers of magical realism and deeply personal ideas cloaked in odd situations, I highly recommend this collection!

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

My brother made me read this book because of the strange narration and he felt like he couldn’t explain it; the only way to share the experience was to have someone else read the book. And what an experience it is!

What started out as an intriguing tale of four summer friends turns into a mysterious story full of twists, turns, and secrets — and the Sinclair family has their fair share. As Cady pieces together the truth about her family and her life-changing accident, the writing style takes on a scattered, stylized form that flows like pure poetry. This book emotionally wrecked me. So of course, I’m recommending it so that it can wreck others! This is one of those books that demands a second or even third reread. I can’t explain it: you have to read it for yourself.

Meet Behind Mars, Renee Simms

Meet Behind Mars is an introspective and insightful collection of short stories from the incredible author, Renee Simms. I had the pleasure of meeting getting her to sign my copy of this book, which I’ll always cherish!

Each protagonist uncovers something about themselves and the world around them, and so does the reader. My favorite stories, “Who Do You Love?” and “Meet Behind Mars,” are especially thought-provoking. I highly recommend this collection; you don’t want to miss out!

The Bird and the Blade, Megan Bannen

For the longest time, I had this book just sitting on my shelf. Then, at a loss of things to read, my sister picked up The Bird and the Blade, read it, and then told me I absolutely had to do the same. She said that it would break me.

Well, this book broke me, in the best and worst way possible. Every story beats leads fluidly into the next, and each character’s motivation is believable, emotional, and more than anything, raw. This is an example of what great writing can do: When I finished the book, I had to remind myself that these are just characters and not real people. This story is gorgeous, memorable, and sincere! It didn’t just break me; it remade me.

Olivia Twist, Lorie Langdon

This is a smart, charming, and romantic retelling of Dickens’ classic, Oliver Twist. There are several changes to the original, the most prominent of which is the gender-bent protagonist, Olivia. Honestly, I found this book way more enjoyable to read than the original (that’s subjective; Dickens well-loved in the literary community, but I just never got into his writing style). Langdon’s approach to historical fiction makes me want to read more from that genre. Olivia and Jack are fun to follow on their adventure, and their story is dangerous and wonderfully sweet. I heard of this book when a coworker recommended it over on The Scribe Source’s blog, and after adding it to my list of book recommendations article, I figured I had to read it, and I was not disappointed!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. I remember seeing it all the time on the display tables at Barnes and Noble, but I was wary of the cover (I guess this is one of those times when I really shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover). I thought the book was going to be haunting, that it would give me nightmares or something (I’m a coward). But I ended up learning so much from this book!

An odd tale of peculiarities, charming friendships, and complicated yet poignant mysteries of the past, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and her aforementioned gifted wards allow a reader to believe in the fantastic. Jacob’s experience on his journey feels somehow universal despite the story’s focus on the strange. All at once charming, disturbing, and inspirational, this book uses photos in a way that enhances the sensory experience and adds to the mystery. It is haunting, in a way. But in the best way possible.

Hustle, Jason Skipper

I’m saying right now that Jason Skipper is a fantastic writer and a fantastic person. I got him to sign my copy last year, and I’ll always love the care he took in giving his autograph.

This book made me feel so much that I didn’t expect to feel. Chris’s story is written in such a raw and honest way, making each stage of his coming-of-age story feel heart-breaking but natural. I highly, highly recommend this book, as it taught me all over again what it feels like to hate and love a character (or, multiple characters) at the same time. It’s also told in a non-linear style, with moments in time popping up and disappearing as Chris continues his journey.

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson

This book. Oh lord, this book.

From the very first page, I knew this book was going to be crazy good. The prologue is what drew me in (to me, it’s about as perfect as a prologue could ever be), and the insanely tight, clean, suspenseful action, highly interactive characters, and just enough mystery are all aspects of the book that kept me reading. This book is fantastic, a superhero story that highlights the not-so-heroic parts of superhuman power, as well as the most super parts of the ordinary human. I highly recommend this book, and I can’t wait to read the next one! Sanderson is a genius.

A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab

This book is everything I didn’t know I needed: magic, many worlds, odd but lovable characters, interesting but hatable villains, and of course, beautiful writing from V.E. Schwab.

I was hooked from beginning to end; every moment was pure magic, and I never wanted the story to end. Schwab has a very particular style, and her tone of narration and her voicing are whimsical, matching the magic of the worlds she creates. Though I don’t wish that I lived in several of these versions of London, I do wish that I, like Kell, had a very peculiar petticoat.

Fullmetal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa

I think this is the first time I’ve ever recommended manga (or any comic book, for that matter). I only started reading manga recently, when I realized that I could re-experience my favorite anime, at least those that were adapted from this type of source material. And, Fullmetal Alchemist being my absolute favorite anime, I was not disappointed.

Arakawa’s imagination, humor, and inventiveness never fail to astound me. She creates compelling characters, a beautiful and intelligent world, and one of the coolest magic systems! Arakawa wastes no character, no matter how small. Action-packed, beautifully drawn, and an instant classic, Fullmetal Alchemist will always have a spot on my bookshelf.

The Savior’s Sister, Jenna Moreci

I was so excited when I realized that I was getting an ARC copy of The Savior’s Sister. Reading its predecessor, The Savior’s Champion, was an absolute blast, so you can only imagine my excitement in getting to read the companion novel early.

Jenna Moreci is an absolute queen. This book is dangerous, brutal, and spectacular. I adore seeing the story of the Sovereign’s Tournament from Leila’s point of view; for her, the events of the first book are just as horrifying for her as they are for Tobias. I’m in love with this writing style and the characters that make up this full world!

The Lady of the Watchtower, Nancy O’Toole Merservier

I was so excited that Nancy O’Toole Merservier shared this collection of magical short stories with us, so you can imagine how psyched I was that I even got to interview her before the book was released earlier this year. I’ll always be in love with her books, whether it’s superheroes or magical beast-women.

These six stories are beautiful, emotional, and every bit as whimsical and brutal as the classic fairy tale! “The Lady of the Watchtower” and “The Fox” are especially enthralling. If you’re in love with magic, this is the anthology for you!

Photo by John Michael Thomson on Unsplash