2020 was another great year for reading! I am so grateful for this hobby of mine. This year, I fully embraced my book-loving self and have even included some more bookish hobbies into my life. I proudly exceeded my reading goal this year and read 42 books – 2 over my intended goal.
I started listening to more books on audio and came to realize the true importance of diversifying your reading life and engaging with Black and POC authors. I am also continuing to make the intention to read more books about anti racism and how to engage with racial reconciliation as a white Christian. I included some of those books in my favorites list and will continue to update you all when I come across some great ones.
This year was also the year of the Little Free Libraries! If you don’t know what Little Free Libraries are, check them out here and see if you can find one in your neighborhood.
I also fully committed to buying books from local and small bookstores this year. I, of course, continue to support and LOVE my local Booksmans and, some days, just went there to sit among the huge shelves to be comforted. Caleb and I continue to try and stop in a local bookstore every time we are in a new city. Due to the lack of travel this year, we were only able to do that in two different cities. We checked out the Sedona Friends of the Library store and found tons of books and cute bookish ornaments and we came across this cute local bookstore in Sea Ranch, California when I was there photographing an elopement. I also TREATED myself the other day to a stack of books at Mostly Books, my favorite Indie in Tucson and continue to buy from them curbside during the pandemic. I also purchased a ton from Tucson’s Friends of the Library online sales. Bummed that the in person sales paused for COVID reasons, but excited that all their inventory is all online ($3-$5 used, great condition books in cause you need an excuse to support the local library) 😉
OKAY! Now to the books. As in the past, these books are not necessarily books that were published in 2020 but my favorite books that I read this year. I’ll give you a synopsis as well as a link to where you can buy them online that supports indie bookstores (or just buy them from your local indie bookstore, because, you know, AMAZON WILL BE FINE) okay, off my soapbox. Here we go…
This list is a little longer this year because I read more. So, in no order…
This book is set in Depression-era Kentucky and follows a band of strong women who have become apart of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new initiative as “traveling librarians.” These women are dubbed packhorse librarians, traveling by horse throughout rural towns to deliver books to families and individuals who otherwise would not have access to them. The townspeople (namely the men) seek to find problems in their work and threaten to shut down their operation. These strong women band together to protect each other and to protect the project they so believe in. It was an incredibly moving story! This was 5/5 starts for me and one of my early favorites.
Sidenote: for those of you who have read “Me Before You” by this author and didn’t like it because of how sad it was, this book is INCREDIBLY far from that one, subject and content-wise. I never read Me Before You but I’ve heard it’s incredibly different and I hope it doesn’t keep you from picking this one up!
#2 and #3 The next two books are in a series that is inspired by a royal romance. Some might say it’s inspired by Prince Charles and Kate Middleton and some might say it relates more to Harry and Meghan Markle. I’ll let you be the judge.
The Royal We is the first in the series and then…
Bex Porter is an American who goes to Oxford for a semester abroad. There she meets dreamy Nick, who happens to be in line for the British throne. Of course they fall in love, but it’s not light and breezy for long. Nick comes with the baggage of his royal family and Bex is now navigating the baggage that her twin sister, Lexi brings as she as made herself a part of Bex’s new life in England, too. This book is so fun, quick and witty. It’s full of so many British colloquialisms that I legit had to look up. The writers are two entertainment bloggers so they know how to write and engaging and juicy plot. These were both 5/5 stars for me and I definitely recommend picking them up if you’re interested in light reads with royal themes.
#4 and #5 Two more light reads with real themes but wrap up nicely. These two books are beautiful stories that might make you tear up, but they’re also light and fun with a touch of romance. “Things You Save in a Fire” follows Cassie Hanwell, a female fire fighter, strong, courageous and a little bull headed, as she is asked to make a big sacrifice in her life that changes her in multiple ways. This books does deal with sexual assault. The details are not graphic nor is the description of the actions, but I did want to include that warning. In light of all the changes Cassie goes through, she is asked to face healing and forgiveness and the possibility of letting someone in. I finished this, as well as “How to Walk Away” in a couple of days!
“How to Walk Away” also follows a female lead through some unexpected and unprecedented changes in her life. Everything she’s worked toward and hoped for is taken away after a tragic accident. She is forced to reexamine her life and who she let’s into it in a major way. This book also deals with forgiveness and healing and, fun fact, the plots of these two books are linked in a cool way! You’re going to have to read them to find out how!
#6 Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a book I wish I would’ve read long ago, but whose words and stories have stuck with me. I would encourage everyone to read this to learn about the broken legal system in America and how it is designed to benefit white men over people of color. Author, lawyer and founded of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson writes about his plight to fight for those most desperately in need: the poor and wrongfully condemned. This book was so incredibly insightful and powerful. It follows Stevenson and the different cases he has of wrongfully convicted men on death row, his fight for them and his fight against a broken system. This is a great introduction into systemic racism and the tangible ways it plays out in our country. Highly recommend and great on audio.
#7 Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. In a similar vein, but through a fictional lens, Such a Fun Age tells a modern story of racism through the format we have become all too familiar with: a wrongfully accused person of color and the consequences of that accusation. This story follows Emira Tucker, babysitter of 2-year-old Briar, as she navigates a situation that, quite honestly, she would rather not be apart of. One night, affluent white blogger, Alix Chamberlin must call on her nanny in an hour of need. Emira Tucker takes Briar to a grocery store at night, to entertain her, while Alix deals with some issues at home. Innocently dancing through the aisles at the store, Emira gets confronted by a security guard, suspicious of a Black woman holding a white child in this store. What happens next sends Emira down a road she’s not actually sure she wants to go down and causes Alix, her employer, to make choices out of protection (for herself or for Emira, we’re not sure). This is such a perfect example of what racism can look like today and gives beautiful nuance to these scenarios we are seeing on the news. It humanizes Emira in a way that’s so needed and causes the reader to put themselves in her shoes and consider what they would do. Despite it’s depth of theme, this is a quick and easy read and I can’t wait to see what else this author writes!
#8 One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
Fans of the Bachelor, listen up!! This is a book you’re going to gobble up so quickly! Bea Schumacher is a plus size blogger who gets recruited to be on the fictional show “Main Squeeze” (a la the Bachelor) and what ensues is hilarious, full of heart and growth for both Bea and the men she encounters. Bea goes on the show with the hopes of supercharging her career buts ends up finding much more. I read this book so quickly! Very quick and witty and perfect for lovers of the Bachelor franchise! Need I say more?
#9 I don’t know what took me so long but I FINALLY read “Becoming” by Michelle Obama this year and I’m SO glad I did (and watched her documentary a couple times). The memoir follows Michelle from a young girl, through her college years, to the White House and and beyond. It details all the incredible movements she dedicated herself to both as the First lady and outside of that position. This book really brought humanity to two people (herself and Barack) that were often scrutinized by the media. It was beautiful to read about their inner lives and the passions they have for the people of America. It is not a political book (Michelle is actually pretty adamant about her dislike of politics) but rather details a story about the sacrifices a family makes for this country and its people. Highly, highly, recommend.
#10 Know My Name by Chanel Miller is definitely a heavy hitter. If you didn’t already know, Chanel was the unnamed “Emily Doe” in the prominent rape/sexual assault case with Brock Turner (the Stanford swimmer that got three months in jail [eye roll] ) ANYWAY. Chanel’s memoir gives her account of the trial and all that she went through during those long years. Not only is the story so important to read, Chanel’s writing is absolutely poetic and magnetic. Her use of metaphor astounded me and, even though this was non fiction, it read quickly for me. Though the story was heavy and uncomfortable at times, and sometimes straight up made me mad, reading it made me so proud of who she is and the trauma she overcame and what she’s done with her life as a result of it. PICK UP THIS BOOK.
#11 What Alice Forgot By Liane Moriarty When Alice wakes up on the floor of a gym and can’t remember anything about her life (let alone, why she’s in a GYM when she hates exercising!!), she realizes that the husband she thought she loved she’s now divorcing, and all the people she couldn’t stand she’s now spending time with. As Alice tries to piece together her life, desperately tries to hold on to what she once believed to be true, and seeks to find a way to mold them together. This story is really sweet, thought provoking and funny. Try this if you want a light read to make you laugh!
#12 Beach Read by Emily Henry received a lot of hype this year, and I think it was well deserved! This book follows a romance writer who, after a series of traumatic personal events, no longer believes in love and a moody literary fiction author who just might need to start believing in happily-ever-after. These two meet in neighboring beach houses, where they’ve both gone to escape and write, what they hope to be, their next great novel. They’re both bogged down by writer’s block and decide to mix things up. January, the romance writer, will now attempt to write the Great American Novel, and Augustus, the literary snob, will dip his toes into romance. What ensues is one of the best “romance” novels I’ve read. This books deals with real life issues and examines what it takes for a person to keep going despite enduring heartache after heartache. It was one of my favorite books of 2020! It does have a couple steamy scenes, so keep that in mind if that’s something you’re not comfortable with reading.
#13 The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas I don’t know why it took me until this year to FINALLY read this book, but I’m SO glad I did. The Hate U give follows 16-year old Starr Carter who lives between two worlds: her fancy prep school and the poor neighborhood where her and her family live. She lives trying to balance these two worlds and identities. This becomes much harder to do when her childhood friend Khalil is killed at the hands of a police officer when Starr is in the car next to him. Both unarmed. Khalil soon becomes a nationally known name and conspiracies and lies come out about who he was. Starr is torn between what to do because she was the only person who was with him that night and who knows the truth. Starr wants to speak out but is scared of endangering herself the community she loves. This book is AWESOME and incredibly relevant. This book is perfect for all ages, but I think it would be great if you’re looking to start a conversation with your middle school or high school aged kids about racism, police violence and racial injustice in America, today. It is a quick, fast paced read. I also loved the family dynamics in this story. You really come to love all of the characters. I now pick up anything Angie Thomas writes. If you haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK!
#14 A Place for Us by Farheen MIrza is one of the most beautiful books I read all year. This story follows an American Family from India and the ways in which each member’s lives are affected by their Islamic religion, their culture and how those things play out living in California, USA during and post 9/11. The book follows a long timeline, going through the early, middle and late stages of this family’s life, the choices they make, how each person is affected by those choices, and the heartache and warmth that results. Warning: this book did make me cry but it’s such a moving tale of two parents seeking to give their children better lives, and how the children rebel and conform with those desires. This book also allowed me a peek into Indian culture and I enjoyed learning more about their traditions and celebrations as well as the Islamic faith. One of my favorite books of the year so far. The story has stuck with me and I’ve given it as a gift a couple of times. I am excited to see what else this author puts out!
#15 The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (apart of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series) This is the final novel of the series and follows mysterious and beautiful Alicia Gris along with the Sempere Family (who we’ve met throughout the other books) as they uncover one of the most scandalous conspiracies in all of Spanish history. I loved how this novel tied the other three in the series together. It follows kidnappings, murders and conspiracies all tied to the Franco regime to discover that the corruption present is even worse than anyone could have imagined. I would not recommend starting with this book if you are new to the series. Though the author does say you don’t have to go in order, but I recommend starting with the Shadow of the Wind as it introduces the Cemetery of Forgotten books and it’s amazing cast of characters. I recommend this series for all book lovers and for those who appreciate getting to know the setting as another character. The series is, all at once, mysterious and spooky and gothic and spine tingling and romantic and heart warming and beautiful.
#16 The novel that has probably stuck with me the most this year is The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. This books follows the Sorenson family: Marilyn and David and their four daughters over the span of 50 years. We meet Wendy, the eldest, a widower who helps herself to younger men to soothe the pain of loss; Violet, a litigator and mom who battles anxiety and constantly compares herself to her older sister; Liza, a neurotic professor who unexpectedly becomes pregnant with a man who has issues of his own; and Grace, the youngest daughter who is just trying to live up to her parents’ and sisters’ lives and expectations. If you love a good family drama, THIS IS FOR YOU. This books does deal with mature themes and traumatic experiences such as stillbirth, miscarriage, adoption and death of a loved one, so if you don’t feel like you’re in the place to read about such things, maybe refrain. Though this book was sad at times, it deeply affects your heart and forces you to reckon with the idea of forgiveness and reconciliation after being hurt. I loved (and sometimes hated) this cast of characters, but ended up rooting for them all!
Well, that’s it! All 16 of my favorite books I read this year! Ha! I truly hope that one or two (or maybe three or four) books here stuck out to you and that you’ll pick them up. If you do, let me know your thoughts! I love to know when a book I recommend resonates with another reader. Reading has brought so much joy to my life and I hope that picking up one of these books engages the reader inside of you, too!