More of The Best Books From 2020
Today’s guest post comes from my friend Amber King, who I’ve collaborated with in the past. Amber owns her own Life Coaching business and is the Assistant Dean of Students at Montana State University. She’s also currently a PhD student in adult and higher education.
For as long as I’ve known Amber, she writes an annual book review of all the titles she read the previous year and shares it on FaceBook each January. This year, I invited her to submit it to me as a guest post so my readers can get some perspective other than my own!
I’ve always loved reading! In elementary school, I was the one weird kid who got super stoked about sustained silent reading time. I loved the magical worlds books could transport me to.
When I was in high school, my Aunt Jackie told me she wished she’d written down every book she ever read. She inspired me to do the same, and I took it a step further to create an ongoing list of every book I ever read, rated on a 1-5 scale.
I’ve been a part of several book clubs in my adult life, from Portland, to Syracuse, to Bozeman. Inspired by my book club friends, somewhere along the way, I decided I should write up a “review” of the books I read each year, to share my reading experiences with my friends. They seem to enjoy it and it always spurs conversation about one of my favorite things (BOOKS!!!)
And so, years later, I still write up my thoughts every January. My reviews are less about the details of the books, and more about my emotional experience reading. I rate them based partially on how I feel as I’m reading them and solidify those ratings by how I feel when I finish each book. I list them in the order I read them throughout the year.
Two things to be aware of as you read my reviews:
1. My current book club cycles through themes. As a group we pick a theme and each month the host picks the book and hosts the discussion. We are currently meeting virtually. You are welcome to join us! You will see reference to the themes my book club read this year in the reviews.
2. I have tried to complete Ramona’s Reading Challenge to no avail the past few years. This year, I was determined to read books in all 12 categories for her challenge. And finally, I did it! And she was nice enough to offer to post my thoughts as a guest blogger on her site to keep me accountable and to share my thoughts with her readers.
So here is my list for 2020. It was a weird year. We all got locked inside during quarantine. I had to cancel multiple trips both nationally and internationally. I got a little obsessed with social media and had to remind myself I love reading more than my phone. But we made it!
Amber’s 2020 Reading Year in Review
1. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
I was on a big thriller kick for a while and this book kept popping up. I definitely enjoyed figuring out what psychopath in the book was the villain. As this was the first book I read in 2020, I honestly can barely remember the ending. It was entertaining, but apparently not super memorable.
2. Conviction by Denise Mina
This was my friend Julie’s pick for our book club’s theme of “Books on a Celebrity Book Club List”. This comes from Reese Witherspoon’s list. I did not enjoy this book, but I was definitely in the minority. Most of my fellow book club members loved this crazy action book with its entangled plots. I felt like it jumped around too much and didn’t seem realistic enough and I didn’t like the characters. I was kindly reminded by my fellow book club friends that realism is not always the goal in books. (Fun fact: Ramona also disliked this book!)
3. How to Stop Feeling Like Shit by Andrea Owen
Even though I didn’t finish Ramona’s book challenges in the past, I still try to read through the categories in the following years. This was a choice from her 2019 challenge. The category was “A book with ‘How to” in the title”. I vaguely remember this book. I’m sure it had some helpful nuggets, but nothing really stands out. I mean, I guess it worked because I don’t feel like shit… lol!
4. We Hope This Reaches You in Time by r.h. Sin & Samantha King Holmes
I was obsessed with this husband/wife poetry duo in 2020. Nursing a broken heart, I dove into their poetry on Instagram and let their words help build me back up. I ordered this book (their new book at the time) along with a daily calendar of their poems. They spoke to me. They saw me. And they helped me remember who I am and what I deserve.
5. This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps
I didn’t expect this book to be one of my absolute favorites of 2020, but I couldn’t put it down! Before reading this book, Busy Philipps’ career had only been on my periphery. I vaguely remembered her in Dawson’s Creek (which I’m currently binging on Netflix). I was stoked about her performance in Freaks and Geeks (if you haven’t seen this, do yourself a favor and watch it). And I was aware of her smaller roles in movies like He’s Just Not That into You. Turns out, she’s hysterical, and relatable. Her formative years seem to parallel many of my experiences as we both navigated high school in the 1990’s. I appreciate her sarcastic sense of humor and her continued dedication to being authentic. I now enjoy following her journey on Instagram.
6. The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
My friend Kim recommended this book for me years ago, but I got stuck somewhere in the middle and put it back on my bookshelf, with the intention of returning to it at a later date. Apparently, quarantine was that time. I chose this book as my pick for the book club’s cycle of the theme “Books that are also a movie/tv show”. I wasn’t really thinking of the ironic similarities between this book as we entered the pandemic, but I should’ve known better picking a post-apocalyptic novel. Grateful every day that (so far) COVID hasn’t turned us into zombies.
7. Unrequited by Lisa Phillips
I randomly picked this book up from my local library’s used book sale a while back. Stuck inside during quarantine, I picked it off my shelf and fell into the anecdotal stories and research behind unrequited love. I was trying to understand my own unrequited love from the previous year and found the normalizing of my experience helpful in my healing process. I also chose this book to fulfill Ramona’s 2020 Reading Challenge category of “A book with an emotion in the title”.
8. Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski
This book was recommended to me by my therapist and a former co-worker. Considering how very few of us had sex education that was actually effective in truly understanding our bodies and desires, this book was the sex-ed class I’d always wanted! The author weaves her experiences working with clients along with research and a thorough understanding of how our bodies and minds work when it comes to sex. This book goes way beyond the sideways diagram of the flaccid penis and the inner workings of the uterus that we all learned about in school. It was also a bonus that the title fit Ramona’s 2020 Challenge category of “A book with song lyrics in the title” (thank you Kurt Cobain)!
9. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling
I probably should’ve read this book when it first came out, as it seems a little dated now since The Office has ended. It was a fun little journey into the head of one of the show’s writers and actors. And now I follow Mindy on Instagram.
10. The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
This was truly a book that caught my eye by the cover and the title. It screamed FEMINISM to me, so I figured I had to read it. It was an interesting novel following characters through their lives in feminist careers.
11. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
I’ve wanted to read this book since Julia Stiles thrust it upon Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You. I chose it to fulfil Ramona’s 2019 Challenge category of “A book mentioned in another book.” It’s kind of scary how something so dated can still reign true today and how much we still need to change to work toward gender equality.
12. Call of the Wild by Jack London
My mom chose this for our book club theme of “Book that is also a movie/tv show.” I didn’t expect the dog to be the narrator but enjoyed a new perspective. Brutal at times. This completed Ramona’s 2020 Challenge category of “A book with a non-human narrator”.
13. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
This was my friend Karie’s choice for our book club theme of “Book that is also a movie/tv show”. It was a fun escape from real life. I wasn’t sure who I wanted the protagonist to be, or if I liked the characters, but I did enjoy the magical element and the movie wasn’t too bad either. This also fit into Ramona’s 2020 Reading Challenge for “A young adult novel”.
14. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I actually picked this book as my choice for book club’s “A book written by a non-American woman of color” theme back in 2018, but didn’t get around to finishing it until this year. I adore this author and have enjoyed watching her TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story” as part of teaching US 101 – First Year Seminar in the past. Although this book is sold as a novel, many people believe it is based on the true story of her life. Even though that point is up for debate, I used it for Ramona’s 2020 Book Challenge category of “A novel based on a true story”. Adichie is a skilled storyteller and I really enjoyed her character’s development along their journeys.
15. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is amazing. If you haven’t read her work, you should. Although A Handmaid’s Tale is her most famous writing, I’ve also enjoyed some of her less known books such as the Madd Addam trilogy and The Blind Assassin. Critics say this story is closest to her writing about her actual life. I related to the character being bullied, but being too scared to speak up and how those experiences follow us throughout our lives. I specifically chose this book for Ramona’s 2019 Reading Challenge category “A book with your favorite animal in the title or on the cover”.
16. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Lily picked this one for a book club’s “A Book that is also a movie/tv show” theme. I was surprised in how I fell in love with the story. It was fantastical and magical and empowering. To be able to change people’s emotions with food is an amazing skill, one in which to some extent, I believe certain people truly have. I can recall how delicious something that is made with love tastes. I have heard this book is a trilogy, but the other two books have not been translated into English. This was my first experience realizing I did not have access to reading materials because I did not speak the language and it made me think about how that may be an obstacle for so many non-English speaking folks and how I take that privilege for granted. This book fell into the category of “A book translated from another language” for Ramona’s 2020 Challenge.
17. Shrill by Lindy West
This was my second favorite book of the year. I’ve been meaning to read it after devouring the TV series on Hulu (Aidy Bryant and I are kindred spirits). Lindy is funny and honest and authentic and strong. I love her voice and you’ll see some of her other books in my 2021 review. I also lovingly follow her on Instagram and even sent her a thank you message for writing this book. This book fulfills the category of “A book you heard about on TV/radio/podcast” for Ramona’s 2020 Challenge. (Fun fact: This is the only book that Ramona and I both read in 2020!)
18. Didn’t See That Coming by Rachel Hollis
My friend Kim and I had talked about our thoughts on Rachel Hollis previously and decided to read this book and discuss it together when it came out. There are parts of Rachel Hollis’ branding that I like and find empowering and there are others that I don’t quite agree with. I found it so interesting that she wrote this book with the focus on healing from her brother’s suicide, and then ended up editing it as she was going through her divorce and quarantine. I enjoyed this book much more than Girl Wash Your Face. And I’m excited to see where Rachel will go next now that she is free to be her authentic self without her previous partner.
19. Swimming for Freedom by Tera Bradham
I started working out at Orange Theory Fitness right before quarantine last year. Tera was a coach at our studio in Bozeman and I adore her. She was fun and encouraging and has great energy. Turns out she was not just a great coach, but also a published author. She gave us the one sentence summary of her book, that she had been the fastest swimmer in her age group in the country at one time, but then got injured, and it took years for doctors to figure it out. I bought signed copies for me and my mom. I was super stoked because I absolutely love getting books signed by the author. I enjoyed reading her memoir and learning about her life as a competitive swimmer. I did not expect that her Christian faith would be such a significant part of her journey in her book, and respect that this is one of the tools that helped her survive.
20. One Day in December by Josie Silver
As the end of the year grew closer, I realized I still had four books left to finish Ramona’s 2020 Reading Challenge. One of my last categories was “A book with a month in the title”. After some searching and some suggestions from Ramona, I chose this one. It was like a weird version of Bridget Jones.
21. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
This book was my choice for Ramona’s 2020 category of “A book that’s centered around a holiday”. As I started reading it, I thought, gee this sounds familiar. I finally Googled it and realized I had seen the movie years ago starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. Then I was kind of mad at myself because in realizing this, I sort of ruined the ending for myself.
22. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
I have meant to read this book for years now, but never got around to it. My family’s livelihood revolved around fly fishing, as my parents owned a fly-fishing store in Montana for 25 years. I remember riding down to the movie theater with my family to watch the movie when it first came out. I remember Brad Pitt’s fly-fishing double, Jason Borger, visiting our store and feeling a little starstruck. In reading the story all these years later, I noticed how the movie moved things around and created a new timeline. The book includes two additional stories about the author’s experience working backcountry crew in Montana. I specifically decided to read this book this year to complete Ramona’s 2020 category of “A book set in the state you live in”.
23. Fifty Shades Freed by E. L. James
I rounded out the year by finishing up the fanfiction trilogy of the Fifty Shades series based upon the Twilight books. It was my choice for Ramona’s 2020 challenge category “A romance novel”. I had started reading it in 2012 but stopped because it focuses on the main characters’ wedding and marriage and I was just diving into my own divorce at the time. I remembered being swept up in the Fifty Shades world when the first book came out. Finishing up this third one was rough. This relationship was so unhealthy and abusive and the depiction of a BDSM relationship was so inaccurate that I wasn’t even entertained by the sex scenes. He makes her feel guilty for using a safe word! That’s not a healthy kink relationship! I was mad the whole time I read it. I wished Anna would reach out to DV support services and Christian would get the therapy he so desperately needs. This was my least favorite book of the year.