Thursday, December 31, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2020

It's my favorite time of the year for bookish content. Give me all the "Favorite Reads" and "Best Books" posts. 

I had a hard time selecting my favorites this year. 2020 made for a different kind of reading year for me. I did more rereading this year than I have done in probably a decade. Rereading was one thing that helped me manage the stress of 2020 and all that it entailed. I was thinking about creating a category for "Favorite Reread," and for pure, nostalgic enjoyment the winner would have been New Moon. But, because it was already so hard to narrow this list down to 12, I decided to not to include it after all. 

The other big reading trend for me this year is that I read a lot of historical fiction. I guess getting away from my own time and place sounded really nice in 2020. 7 of the 12 books on this list are historical fiction and 2 are history books, and honestly, it was hard to keep it to that. 

This year I'm back to favorites from all publishing years. 7 books on this list were published in 2020 and the other 5 were published prior to 2020.

Onto the categories.

Another fantastic and hilarious book by the Lady Janies. Listening to this book was so much fun. So many Annie Get Your Gun references. So many werewolves. This book is borderline ridiculous, but it made me laugh out loud. There aren't enough funny books out there. 
Favorite Pandemic Book: The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Earlier this year I created this post all about the many, many plague and pandemic books I've read. Believe it or not, I could now add several more books to the list, so I decided to make it a favorite category. This eerily timely book is set in Ireland during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. The main character is a nurse in a maternity ward for flu patients. This book is really fantastic, and I've thought a lot about it as the year has gone on. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Call the Midwife, WWI historical fiction, and/or anyone who is drawn to pandemic/plague stories. If you, like me, check all three of these boxes, this book will make you very, very happy indeed.
I read quite a few Young Adult and Middle Grade history books this year both on my own and with my boys. This one was my favorite. The twelve essays cover a wide range of topics from the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette's favorite portraitist to Sally Hemings' years in Paris with Thomas Jefferson to the Mutiny on the Bounty. It really was a fascinating look at a fascinating year, and I want to read the other book in the series, 1968, as well. 

Favorite Series: Scythe by Neil Shusterman
I listened to the three books in the Scythe series right in a row in February. I can't tell you how long it had been since I'd binged a series. Why didn't anyone tell me this series involved a sentient AI? I definitely would have picked it up sooner if I had know. If you too have a strange fascination with books with sentient AI, pick this series up ASAP. 
Favorite World War II Book: We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
As with most years, I read quite a few WWII books. I do host World War II Wednesday, after all. This year for my favorite of the WWII books, I'm selecting this story about teens in the United States' Japanese incarceration camps. I loved that Traci Chee told this story with 14 narrators. It allowed her to examine multiple perspectives and experiences in the camps and in the trenches. 

Favorite Nonfiction Book: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
I highly recommend this book as a good introduction to issues concerning race and racism. It's very accessible, readable, and informative. Also, the audiobook is read by Bahni Turpin, and she's one of my favorite voice actors. 
Favorite Book Club Book: King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild 
In the so-called "Scramble for Africa" King Leopold's plunder of the Congo is one of the worst of many horrible atrocities. If you are at all interested in Africa, history, or desire to understand a bit better the legacy of colonialism, this is an excellent tome. It made for a great book club discussion, and I think we all felt a little more informed after having read it.

Favorite Post-WWII Book: They Went Left by Monica Hesse
Narrowing my favorites down to one WWII book was impossible this year, so, although this category is a bit of a cheat, just roll with it. They Went Left is the story of Zofia, one of the 11 million people who were displaced due to WWII. She and her brother, Abek, were separated at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and, now that the war is over, she is looking for him. This book is so heartbreaking. It's both a very beautiful and very difficult read because Zofia's trauma is so visceral. I really loved it. The writing is excellent, and it conveys the pain and hope of Zofia's journey so well.
Favorite Historical Fiction: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Set in the 1950s in New Orleans, Josie is the daughter of a brothel prostitute who is dreaming of getting away from the French Quarter and going to an elite college. Then she gets entangled in a murder mystery. I have read all of Ruta Septys's books, and I loved them all, but this one is my favorite.
This books is is based on the life of Stefania Podgorska. She was a teenager taking care of her six-year-old sister, Helena, and living in Przemsyl, Poland during World War II, and she hid thirteen Jews from the Nazis in her attic. This story is a nail biter. There are so many close calls. It's remarkable it turned out as well as it did. I highly recommend the audiobook. It's read by Beata Poźniak, a Polish actress who now works in LA. She knew Stefania and Max personally and that connection really added to the reading. 
Favorite NTTBF Book: A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti 
Before the world shut down, I went to Dallas for the third year in a row so that I could attend the North Texas Teen Book Fest with my Book BFF. In preparation for the event I read 30 books, so it seemed most fitting that I would have a NTTBF category this year. A Heart in a Body in the World is the very definition of a "hard-hitting contemporary," and it definitely explores some timely topics. The story weaves Annabelle's present, as she runs across the entire United States, with her past as traumatic memories resurface even when she'd prefer they stay buried. It's a beautiful and visceral and powerful read.

Favorite YA Contemporary: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
Y.O.E. You over everyone. Layla has been Cleo's best friend since she was twelve-years-old. They start sophomore year as close as ever but slowly their friendship implodes. By Christmas it's over. Ashley Woodfolk's sophomore novel is so excellent. Although, told from Cleo's perspective, it's clear that Cleo made some huge mistakes too. A friendship breakup can be so devastating, and I love that I ended When You Were Everything feeling like, although they went through a lot, both of these characters are going to be okay.

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