Man for everything that 2020 was, reading was somewhere that I really excelled. I read around a total of 110 books (plus or minus one or two as I am writing this before the year is technically over…) and gave an average rating of almost 4 stars! That’s a personal record for me on both accounts and I’m just very pleased with how the year went…in reading terms at least. Today I am going to talk about the best, worst, disappointing, and surprising reads. I’m covering all 4 because I find that a book might be disappointing, but not the worst I read, and I really want to make the distinction between the two (as it affects whether others will pick up the book). I want to say, when you’ve read over 100 books, it gets really hard to cherry pick what goes where and when you’ve read so many highly rated books, it gets even harder. This was not easy to do, so please note that. You can find a full list of the books I read on Goodreads (username is ACuppaCosy).
One more note before we get into this…this is highly based on enjoyment and memory. What I do when I compile these lists is I mark out all of the books that I’ve read in the year and then highlight those that stood out for one reason or another. There may be 2-star books that didn’t make it to this listing at all, similarly for 5-star books. There isn’t really any massive rhyme or reason, but I will try and give a brief explanation of why each book ended up where it did.
I’ll start with Worst and make my way up to the Best books of my reading year…
Worst Books of the Year
Verity by Colleen Hoover (2 Stars) I mean…this book was a dumpster fire of garbage from start to finish. I spent the entire time reading it in absolute anger and disgust. Would not recommend, and it is no longer a part of my collection. I feel like it should also be noted, this is the only Colleen Hoover I’ve read, and I picked it up for the “thriller” aspect, and that was overshadowed by the disgust and anger at the rest of the book.
The Wives by Tarryn Fisher (3 Stars) This book had me until the last section, where it went in a completely unnecessary and wholly detrimental direction. I won’t spoil it, but I don’t really recommend this book and it is no longer part of my collection either.
Disappointing Books of the Year
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (3 Stars) I had very high expectations for this book and I feel like it just…had too much going on for the book to be a true success. The author was trying to do too much, so there was a lot that felt disjointed and incomplete.
Misery by Stephen King (2 Stars) This was just…not it for me. I don’t even know what it was, it just wasn’t what I wanted out of a Stephen King novel? It felt like a movie script…and to be honest, I loved the movie.
Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan (3 Stars) This book is the epitome of disappointment for me in 2020. I had such HIGH hopes and expectations and in the end…it seemed very rushed, not fleshed out, and only a skeleton of what it could have been. I know that you can’t compare one work to another, but after the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (which was top of my list the year I read it), this was massively…not good.
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (3 Stars) This one almost didn’t make the list, but I felt like I needed to include it as it was…disappointing. A literary mystery involving some of the great literary mysteries and out came one of the most predictable flat stories I think I’ve read in recent years.
Surprising Books of the Year
American Royals by Katherine McGee (4 Stars) Ok, this book surprised me as it was the first time that I had read what is basically royal fan fiction. I’m a massive royal fan (borderline obsessed), but I had never really dipped my toe into this sphere of books. This set me off on a course of royal books that I hadn’t expected, and I loved every minute of it.
The One by John Marr (5 Stars) I don’t know what I really expected from this book. I picked it up on a whim recommendation and thought it was going to be ok. It had choppy short chapters from a wide cast, but that ended up working out so well in this books favor. It kept propelling the story forward, kicking the stakes up, and made for an un-put-down-able story.
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (3 Stars) I thought this was going to be a sure-fire success of a book, a woman wants to open a bookstore in a town that has…other ideas. And while I enjoyed the commentary and spitfire nature our protagonist displayed; I found this book to be depressing as hell at points. So, there’s that.
Anxious People by Frederik Backman (4 Stars) This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and it was…not what I was expecting? Or rather it was, but it wasn’t. Frederik Backman really lays it all bare, the full nature of humans when pushed to their limits, and how closely we are all tied together. Surprising, Depressing, Beautiful. It’s in most surprising as I was surprised just how depressed it made me, which is also why it isn’t in the best book category.
Best Books of the Year
The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett M Graff (NR) This book is an absolute masterpiece. I listened to the audio book and not only does that illicit a certain type of reaction, but I actually learned quite a bit of things from 9/11 that I hadn’t known, or hadn’t truly understood.
Circe by Madeline Miller (5 Stars) This was easily one of the most beautiful stories I’ve read since maybe The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was just beautifully written, epically told, and emotional.
The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (4 Stars) The book that got me back on my way into fantasy reading, this story was one I was eyeing since its release. Finally, when it was purchased for me as a gift and I was given a chance to buddy read it with someone else, I fell head over heels and I’m still thinking about it.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (4 Stars) This might as well just include all of the Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read this year. He is a master at his craft, and I am in awe at what he has done. I put off reading his books for so long and while I’m bummed that I did that, it also means that I am reading the books as they are being released (as of now) or binge reading them rather than waiting on end for the next book.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (4 Stars) This was an odd book to pick up during a pandemic…considering it’s about what happens when the world is attacked by a virus, but I did it and I’m glad that I did. I really enjoyed how Mandel wove the hitting of the pandemic, Shakespeare and theatre troupes, and the dystopian era of the world. It was incredibly realistic, so maybe don’t read it at the height of a global pandemic.
Between the World & Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (NR) I don’t like including nonfiction memoir books (for the same reason I don’t rate them- it feels like placing value on a life), but I’ve included two this time because of the writing and storytelling. Coates is an incredible writer, and he writes in an accessible manner.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NR) I mean, I’m a massive Trevor Noah fan as it is, and I feel like he really hits it out of the park in this memoir. We get an understanding of what life was like for him, how he learned reality, and how he tried to better that reality. It also really made me value and appreciate what he says even more, as I feel like he has actually seen the things that we only have a secondhand knowledge of.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (4 Stars) I debated on this one as I don’t know that it is truly one of the best books (especially when compared to some of the others on my list), but man I really LOVED this book. Talk about intriguing premise, but the writing, the unfolding of the story, and the final twists that just don’t seem to stop made it a perfect quick thriller.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (4 Stars) This was a book that was described as a thriller, but offers up so much more than a mystery to solve. It tackles some of the very real issues in our society today and for that reason, I found this book to be so well done. It has a little bit of everything, a little bit social justice, a little bit romance, and the slightest hint of mystery.
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (5 Stars) This book had me in a sobbing blubbery mess. A Coming-of-age novel for the modern era of technology, this book is incredible. Anyone of any age can take something away from the story and gain insight into the “modern teenager”. I don’t have much more to say than, read it.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (5 Stars) Again, like Sanderson you might as well just include this entire Daevabad trilogy, which I binge read in 3 weeks. I’m obsessed and after finishing the third had a gaping hole in my heart that stopped me from reading entirely for a couple of weeks. Incredible.
Some Random Honorable Mentions (because I can’t help myself apparently)
A Heart So Fierce & Broken by Brigid Kemmerer (5 Stars) This second novel was excellent, and I am very much anticipating the third in the first part of 2021.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie (4 Stars) Another excellent short story collection. I have enjoyed every book by Chimamanda that I’ve read so far, and I’ve definitely got a couple on my 2021 reading plans.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4 Stars) This was easily the weirdest, yet fun book I think I read in 2020. It was similar to Catherine House, but better (I read them both in the same time frame) and if you want something questionable, strange, and just a thinking story, this is for you.
Mobituaries by Mo Rocca (NR) Finally, a fun one to finish off, Mo Rocca talks through all of the “deaths” of various lesser-known trends, people, vehicles, and so forth. It is hilarious but interesting to learn all of these facts.
And there we have it! A full breakdown of the various books that I have wanted to talk about in depth all year. If you’ve made it this far, kudos to you, I hope you enjoyed and maybe got a recommendation or two out of it!