If 2020 was good for one thing, it was reading more than I ever have before (well, since I was little and read ~12 picture books a day). I read so many books that had been on my to-read or to-read-read list for ages, as well as some new releases and a few that I wouldn’t have read if not for outside stimulus. And I know many of you can agree because I’ve seen your Goodreads Challenges and how most people on my friend list surpassed their goals this year! Congrats!!
Since reading about books is just about as much fun as actually reading them (do you agree?), let’s take a walk through my 2020 reads!
WUTHERING HEIGHTS | 4*
All my life I’ve avoided books by the feminist authors Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters because I assumed they were too girly. I know, what?? This was my first taste of 1900’s women’s literature and I was blown away! This was Emily Bronte’s only novel and she is said to be a literary genius. This book is a whirlwind, and is in fact, filled with LOADS of drama. But she is smart and witty and forceful, and if you have never read anything in this category either, this is a great place to start!
THE CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG | 5* and 4*
Okay, I hate that I grouped them together, too. They’re such different books! The Call of the Wild is sweet and will make your heart mush when you think about how clever and loyal dogs are. White Fang, on the other hand, is downright chilly. The arctic is cold, the people are lonely, and the dogs rip each other apart in almost every chapter. But if you love dogs, the wild, and snow, these reads will stick with you forever. (Also, let’s talk about how great of a writer Jack London is! He leaves out everything that’s not important and somehow brings to life scenarios that humans have no overlap with but makes them innately relatable.)
A FAREWELL TO ARMS | 4*
Aww, Hemingway. This fictionalized account of his time serving on the Italian front in WWI was so real, it made you feel like you were right there with him the whole time. The pacing is slow but steady, with each sentence being so full of life you hardly notice how slow moving the plot is. I have a soft spot for this novel because I think it shows Hemingway before he hardened and “manned up” in his later years. The difficulty of the war contrasts with the tenderness you can feel in his soul. I couldn’t follow all of the battle geography, but I think this would be an excellent read for students wanting a glimpse into the World Wars.
OEDIPUS REX | 5*
Ever since reading this in high school and loving it, I’ve wanted to pick it up again. I have this giant crush on all things ancient Greece, and sometimes I wonder if it’s really founded, but then I read something like this and continue on in the love of Greek wisdom and culture. It amazes that Sophocles lived 2,000 years ago, but tells such a dramatic story filled with comedic moments and pointing to wise choices and communication. If you’ve never read it before, it’s an easy read and I think you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy it. If not, leave the Greek authors to me!
THE PEARL | 5*
This is my perfect beach read. Short, clearly written, a classic, some tie to a beachy theme or setting, and a story that will stick with you for years to come. A poor Mexican man and woman suddenly come upon a great wealth, but it threatens to destroy their family and community. This is a folk tale retold by Steinbeck, and it’s full of hope, tragedy, and love.
TENDER IS THE NIGHT | 3*
The Great Gatsby is probably my favorite novel of all time because of Fitzgerald’s incredible ability to craft a sentence filled with beauty, magic, and truth, but his other works have so far fallen short for me. In Tender is the Night, you are struck with some of that fantastical writing that turns an ordinary thought or scenario into a universally relatable, emotionally deep fact, but the plot falls apart halfway through and loses direction. The story starts out as a passionate love almost-affair, but turns on its heel to follow the married couple’s relationship as they drift apart. And as they drift apart, so does the plot. It’s fascinating if you’re interested in the Fitzgeralds themselves, as this novel supposedly mirrors their own lives. But if you’re looking for a great work of art, Tender is the Night doesn’t quite hit the mark.
THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY | 5*
This sweet Korean folk tale about a cooped-up chicken who dreams of hatching her own chick was the perfect read for this newly pregnant, incredibly nauseous lady over Thanksgiving break. It is as simple as a children’s story, and the beginning of each chapter is illustrated to boot. But the themes are deep and universal, covering longing and desire, courage, loss, and unconditional love. Everyone with a heart should read this!
THE GLASS HOTEL | 4*
(This was a book club pick that I suggested, but somehow missed the discussion for! Such a bummer because I loved it and thought it was so interesting. Ugh! I would love to discuss if you have read this one too!!) This book was unlike any I have read before. Mysterious, quirky, a bit fantasy, and a little punk, I loved not knowing what was going to happen next! The chapters jump around in time and between characters, piecing together several mysteries over the course of the book, including a girl who vanishes off an ocean liner, her druggie half-brother, and a murder threat written on a hotel window in Vancouver. In the end, the character development becomes greater than the plot unraveling, which you mostly figure out several chapters before the end of the book. I highly recommend this one to mix up your regular reading schedule and suck you in.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE | 3*
I apparently gave this 4 stars on Goodreads, but I don’t really know why I did that, because I definitely look back on this as a solid 3 stars. This was my first Agatha Christie, and I will say I was disappointed. The writing is fast, and the intrigue is strong, but THERE IS NO WAY OF GUESSING THE MURDERER!! I guess that was her goal?? But I hate that even if you wanted to, you could never figure it out. Basically, she created a practically-unsolvable mystery, and then told you the story of it but without giving any clues to really solve it. That bugs me, as I’d like to be able to at least TRY to figure it out. I would’ve also preferred watching this as a movie, where you could get to know the characters better, because she doesn’t spend a lot of time on that. But it was intriguing and easy to read, so points for that. Read it on the beach.
THE 7 1/2 DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE | 5*
Okay, I’m glad I read the Agatha Christie earlier in the year because it gave me a greater appreciation for this book, which was my FAVORITE OF THE YEAR. Unlike the Christie novel, Turton floods his pages with detail and multi-dimensional characters. A young woman dies at the end of the day, and the main character is forced to relive the daily cycle, inhabiting a different body each day, until he solves the mystery. I absolutely loved the intrigue, the differences in each character, the gloomy old British castle setting, and the extra sci-fi element to it. If you pick this one up, convince a friend to, too, so you can discuss the deeper theme of how every person sees and experiences the world differently!
SCI-FI / DYSTOPIA
1984 | 5* (But seriously considered a rating of 1* because I hated the ending so much)
Speaking of cold, were we? I had somehow missed reading this in high school or college, and was expecting it to be quite similar to A Brave New World and most modern dystopian movies. NOT SO! If you have never read this book, let me give you a big fat warning that it is NOT uplifting. It is bone-chillingly frightening. That said, it is no doubt some of the best writing in history. So, do with that what you will. Personally, I enjoyed reading it (great writing!), couldn’t wait for it to be over (depressing/terrifying story), and afterwards couldn’t stop thinking about it and discussing it for weeks. There’s a lot to be learned from the story, and many of the themes corresponded scarily close with today’s political world.
PERELANDRA | 4* (debatable)
Where to begin with this book? I have so many thoughts. First, this is somewhat of a reimagining of the Garden of Eden, before sin came along. I absolutely loved Lewis’s imagination of how glorious life would be if there were no sin to mess things up, and only God and His creation to completely, utterly enjoy. Of course, there is conflict in the story, and I won’t spoil what it is, but after the first few chapters, things start to go downhill for the main character. It is very tense for a LONG TIME. With the stress comes major philosophical ponderings. Lewis goes really deep and really theoretical. I dig that kind of stuff, but some parts were way over my head, and it got pretty dull at times. I would say Perelandra is worth reading, and would make for some good discussion, but be warned that it’s not very light or easy to understand.
THE HISTORY OF BEES | 2*
This book was completely okay. There was nothing really wrong with it, but there was nothing really right with it either. It’s supposed to be a dystopian story about what would happen to the world if bees disappeared, but honestly just saying that is more interesting than the story itself. My biggest complaint is that in two of the three separate storylines, the bee disappearance is somewhat of a mystery or unforeseen, which ends up making the climax of both storylines incredibly anti-climatic, since we obviously know what happens. The characters are all pretty annoying too. Skip this one.
PURPLE HIBISCUS | 4*
This year was significant because I joined my very first book club! The pandemic had just begun (remember 10 million years ago?) and my friend invited me to join her book club that was just starting and would be meeting virtually. So, even though I was getting ready to move to a new state, I got to be part of a group of intelligent, deep women and discuss thought-provoking questions and themes of a different book each month. I’ve loved it! So anyways, our first pick was Purple Hibiscus, which gives the first-person perspective of an incredibly shy Nigerian teenager who learns to respond to the world around her, form her own opinions, and take bold actions despite her fear.
STATE OF WONDER | 4*
Sigh. I really wavered between a 3 star and a 5 star rating for this book. I LOVED the setting and plot idea, a million times over!! A biologist makes a life-altering discovery in the middle of the Amazon jungle, but is so out of touch that no one knows if her secret is real or she’s making the whole thing up. As a person whose lifelong goal has been to explore the Amazon jungle ever since she learned about it in kindergarten, getting to live vicariously through the characters was a dream come true. The writing was enthralling, too. It felt like there was always action going on (even though it took about half the novel for the main character to even get to the jungle.) However, the ending SUCKED. Not the main plot, but a sub-plot point the author chose was just a horrible decision and didn’t need to happen. So, major points were deducted for a great book, but a disappointing ending. Moving on…
A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA | 2*
I don’t have a lot to say about this one. A book club pick that wasn’t my choice of writing style. It’s generational, and if you care anything about a cohesive story, you will hate this book because the author ruins the plot every time you turn the corner. (Literally, major plot points are summarized in one sentence. So much for anticipation or description!) The story is kind of beautiful in itself – it spans the course of decades, from the Spanish civil war to immigrant life in Chile to the family dynamics that tie the main characters together. Honestly, it felt like the author had more to say about politics than she did about the characters. But I’d love to hear your opinion if you read it and thought differently!
IF I HAD YOUR FACE | 3*
Korean beauty standards. I despise them. Same can now be said for the self-focused motivations, barely-strung-together relationships, and dark anger portrayed in this novel. Shudder! I just couldn’t find a single thing to relate to in this book. BUT, because it’s not similar to my normal lifestyle at all, I learned a lot about how tense life in South Korea is for many people and the loneliness that many people suffer there. To be completely honest, it sounds like a real-life dystopia. I sincerely hope this book isn’t typical of most people’s lives, but I’m sure it rings true for some. Very eye-opening, but pretty depressing. Warning: the content is strong and inappropriate for teens.
THE PARIS WIFE | 4*
Back to Hemingway. As much as I love him as a writer, he failed a lot in the women department. Did you know he was married four times? This historical fiction novel imagines the thoughts of Hadley, Hem’s first wife, with whom he lived in Paris. Hadley seems like the sweetest person, and I love how she grows as a result of knowing Ernest. I knew they wouldn’t end up together in the end, but not knowing much else about their relationship made for an interesting read. It’s definitely sweeter if you’re familiar with his other works, as many are referenced as plot points and almost-quotes. Read A Moveable Feast first, if you haven’t, as well as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, which both take up large parts of the storyline.
BEWARE, DAWN! and THE NOUVELLE AMIE DE CLAUDIA | 2* and 3*
I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I read the Babysitter’s Club. I started picking them up in grad school when I had zero extra brain power, but wanted a light read. It’s fun, you should try it! I also highly recommend the series for intermediate language learners!
Okay, here comes the non-fiction section! I will try to be more brief with these!
MEDITATIONS ON THE TRINITY | 4*
I loved these devotional snippets that shared and interpreted powerful scriptures about who our God is. Almost every one left me more in awe of God and with a greater understanding of His character.
MAKING PEACE WITH CHANGE | 5*
This book helped me SO much. We have had a LOT of change in our lives, and this year threw a ton at us all at once. Global pandemic, cross-country move, new jobs, purchasing a home for the first time… what DIDN’T change?? Gina helped me process through my emotions and spoke Biblical truth over my feelings and situation. I read each chapter soooo slowly, and we also processed with a small group who was reading the book together. Highly, highly, highly recommend for anyone in a new season of life!
DELIGHTING IN THE TRINITY | 5*
I LOVED this book on the Trinity!! Every believer should read this. It opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about the Father, Son, and Spirit, and each of their roles in salvation, their relationship with each other, and how I can relate to them.
IMITATING GOD IN CHRIST | 1*
I thought this book was awful. Not that I disagreed with what he said, I just… don’t really know what he was trying to say. He talked in circles and never really made a point.
WHEN HELPING HURTS | 3*
I pretty much understood the premise of the book just from reading the cover, but there were plenty of challenging questions to ask yourself while doing missions, humanitarian work, or development. This is mainly written for church leaders, which is my only complaint because it’s definitely applicable to a wider audience. Every pastor and missions director should read and follow these practices.
HUNGER AND HOPE | 4*
My professor wrote this book chronicling his time in the peace corps and working in agricultural development. I loved the stories he shared that showed his recipient’s humanity and friendship, and it was loaded with practical application. Keeping this as a reference for the work that I do with rural farmers!
TRAVEL / FRANCE
THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE | 5*
You think you know what hygge is, but there’s so much more to it than just candles and coziness! I loved learning what makes hygge cozy (spoiler: it’s the contrast between scary, foreboding, cold, or lonely weather or scenarios) and how the Danes practice hygge in every day life (speaking of candles, most people light AT LEAST three at a time!). Great winter read.
PROVENCE, 1970 | 3*
I guess I didn’t read the back cover description very closely, because I didn’t expect this to be about the RELATIONSHIPS between the famous food writers of the 1970’s who lived together in the South of France. It was way less memoir-y and too much kind-of-but-not-really drama between people I’d never heard of. Still, it was enjoyable to read and made me want to cook and eat French food.
A YEAR IN PROVENCE | 4*
This was my first of Peter Mayle’s memoirs about his time living in the French countryside, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve read a lot of French memoirs, so nothing was too groundbreaking, but his writing is funny and entertaining. I’d definitely like to read his later works, but they aren’t super high on my list.
THE NEW PARIS | 5*
Am I the only person who actually reads coffee table books? I bought this when I was still missing Paris tremendously, and reading it made me ache for my home in the 2nd arrondissement! Lindsey really hits the nail on the head for what Paris is like TODAY, and not just the touristy, Instagram, 5-things-you-must-do-in-Paris version. Several of the places she mentioned were some of our favorite spots in the city (Fontaine de Belleville and Candelaria, to name two), and many more were on my list that I never made it to. I learned a ton about how Paris has changed and developed into who she is today, and I’m dreaming of the day I can go back to visit more of the places and people she wrote about!
DIRT | 5*
This book. This is definitely tied for my PICK OF THE YEAR, non-fiction edition. Mary’s story of resilience and overcoming poverty is unreal, but her writing is even better. Seriously, I want to read a million more of her words!! She makes a story come to life. I won’t give you any spoilers, but the way Jesus shows up in her life is incredible. PLEASE read it, and let me know so we can talk about it together!!
EXPECTING WONDER | 4*
A friend of a friend wrote this sweet collection of essays about how becoming a mother changed her. I’m so glad I got my hands on it before we started trying to get pregnant, because she addressed honestly many of my thoughts and fears. I love that reading this was like reading a blog post or talking to a friend, and it helped me realize that mothers come in all shapes and sizes, and even an overthinker, planner, logical person like myself can be transformed by the magic of motherhood.
That’s it! I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but hopefully you found one or two recommendations to add to your list! What was your favorite read of 2020 that I MUST add to my list??
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2 thoughts on “2020 Reads”
Thanks! I think it was just not my style, but a lot of people loved it! I would just say go in knowing it’s not plot-driven, but it covers some fascinating topics.
Love reading your year in books! I agree with your opinion on Tender is the Night/Great Gatsy! Intrigued by your review of A Long Petal of the Sea because it was highly recommended by Stephanie Shaul, whose opinion I generally trust. Excited to ask her for more feedback in person before I add it to my TBR list 🙂