Fireside favorites : 10 of my favorite 2020 reads

Welcome back to another Bookending Winter post! Today’s prompt is hosted by Lauren and Becky @ Northern Plunder.

Bookending Winter is a book blogging event run by Clo and Sam, in which different bloggers host a couple of prompts each during the month of December. Anyone who wants to participate can register on the announcement post, make 3 (or more) posts during the event, and link them up on the challenge spreadsheet so others can find them easily!

Prompt Explanation : Take a look back at your favorite reads of 2020. Hopefully these will make it to someone else’s TBR for them to pass the time whilst snuggled in with a hot coco next to the fire.

At the beginning of 2020, I set my Goodreads challenge to 52 books – one a week, I thought, was perfectly attainable, seeing as I used to read a lot more than that, and my current classes at the time weren’t that time-consuming. 52 books, I reasoned, was a perfectly adequate challenge, and one I’d surely be done with in September, at the latest.

That didn’t age well. I’ve been trying my best to get through my ARCs and finish the books I currently own, to maybe get to the 52 books goal, but it might very well not happen this year. Still, I’m trying to not be too bummed about this, and this prompt serves as a good reminder that, even if I didn’t read a ton of books this year, I still read a couple of really good ones!

So here’s – in random order – my 10 favorite books I’ve read so far in 2020.

Note : ⏳ are ARCs gotten through NetGalley or the publisher, 📚 are books I own or borrowed from my local library.

5 stars books

⏳ Better sleep, better you

I enjoyed reading this book a lot! It’s full of useful information on the science of sleep – why we do it, and what we’re doing wrong – and has a ton of advice adaptable for almost every situation so that its readers can improve their sleep habits. I learned a lot by reading this – definitely would recommend as a gift for a friend interested in science or how things work, or for your friend running every day on 5 hours of sleep and not understanding why they’re feeling like crap all the time!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Happily Ever After & Everything In Between

This is the cutest and most relatable thing I have read in a very long time, and every single one of the pages seemed like a situation taken out of my own life. I laughed so much out loud reading this that my partner came over my side of the living room to check if I was okay (and if I needed snacks).

It was my first book from this author, but I’m planning on checking out her other works too!

Find it on Goodreads here.

⏳ Surrender your sons

This was… wow. Just wow. You can check out my review here on Goodreads – I wrote it right after reading and I honestly couldn’t say it better right now. Excellent novel and amazing author, 10/10 would recommend.

⏳ Perfect on paper

I was really excited to see what Sophie Gonzales was going to give us next, and she did not disappoint! You can read my full review on the blog – I wrote an entire post about it, it’s just so good – but if you’re just looking for the short version : this is an excellent queer YA contemporary, and you should definitely read it as soon as it comes out.

Find it on Goodreads here.

Related post : check out my review of Perfect on Paper, by Sophie Gonzales

📚 The starless sea

I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for months now, but nothing I can write renders it justice. While this author’s previous novel didn’t work for me at all, this one was so poetic and beautiful that it went into my favorites in January and stayed there the whole year long. I’m planning on re-reading it in the second half of December, if I get stuck on my current TBR and need a break in the form of the most beautiful prose I’ve read so far in 2020!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Leviathan wakes

I read the first three books of the The Expanse series, and rated them all 5 stars, so I’m only citing the first one here or they would take way too much space in this list. I love the narration, the different points of view, the intrigue and the space battles – everything fits neatly into place and it’s extremely entertaining!

If you like politics and spaceship, this is the book you need to pick up for the holidays. I’m waiting for next weekend to get into book 4, and I’m really excited to see what happens next!

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 The way of kings

One of my first Sanderson books, and I must admit – this one put him immediately on the list of authors I’ll automatically give a chance to, whatever the subject of his next book may be. It had been a while since I’d read such a long and good novel, and even longer since I’d started a really challenging series – I’m planning on reading more from him next year, maybe make it a small reading challenge?

Find it on Goodreads here.

4 stars books

📚 Skyward

Another Sanderson book! I rated this one 4 stars instead of 5, mostly because I do agree with some other reviewers in the sense that, even though this book was really good, it felt more like a prelude to a bigger novel than an actual first installment in a series. Still, I can’t fault the quality of the writing, and the characters were easy to love and well developed.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Maybe you should talk to someone

A non-fiction book! I love anything and everything psychology-related, so this book by a therapist about her job and her experiences with therapy sounded right up my alley. I really enjoyed reading this, even if it felt a bit longer than it should be in the end. It’s not as informative as I thought it’d be from reading reviews about it, but the experiences described in this book are very touching and complex.

Find it on Goodreads here.

📚 Aurora Rising

2020 was a pretty good year for my sci-fi loving heart! Aurora rising was a fun and easy book to read, filled with humor and nice plot twists. I liked the ending a lot, and my preorder of Aurora burning couldn’t come to my local bookseller soon enough!

Find it on Goodreads here.

What are your favorite 2020 reads ? Did you read and review any of these ones? Let me know in the comments! (And link your reviews if you did, so I can go read them!)

The Deep, by Rivers Solomon

This is going to be a short review, for a short book – but an excellent one ! 

The Deep is a novella (less than 200 pages) written by Rivers Solomon, and published in 2019. It’s shelved in adult science-fiction and fantasy on Goodreads, but I didn’t know anything about the plot when I borrowed it from the library : I just saw the cover, thought it looked nice, and decided to give it a chance. This was completely different from anything else I’ve read this year so far, and I definitely don’t regret it.

Synopsis 

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

And now for the review part :

I can’t use my usual review template for this one, because I usually split them in two parts : the points I liked, the ones I didn’t, and why – but for this book, well… I don’t have anything to put in the “disliked” category. And I really tried.

This novella is very slow-paced, and character-driven – in terms of actual story, over the nearly 200 pages of the book, there isn’t a lot of action. But that’s not a bad thing at all : it allows for more room and character development. And there’s a lot of it. 

I felt a lot for the main character, Yetu, whose development throughout the story is spectacular. A critique that’s been made is that her personality feels a bit empty in the beginning, which has been a reason to DNF the novella for some readers, but I personally think that critique is unfounded : when we see Yetu finally free of the burden of her duty to her people, she just doesn’t know who she is anymore

She’s been the historian for a long time, and it has stripped her of her identity, her own memories and experiences, and replaced it with the collective memories of her people. It makes sense, then, that she would feel “empty” – she has to work to build herself back from the beginning, and to figure out who she is and who she wants to be, apart from what she’s been told she should be all those years. It’s a slow rebuilding of her identity, step by step. 

Yetu’s escape and her subsequent journey is extremely touching, and is put into perspective with the story of her people’s origins. The authors use this opportunity to ask the difficult questions : Who are we without the knowledge of our history ? What place should memories have in our lives, in our identity as individuals and as a group ?

The writing itself is beautiful, and makes the sea floor ambience feel cold and heavy, and as terribly vast and beautiful as it actually is. The development of the lore and world-building is excellent, and blends well within the story.

When I finished this book and thought about what to develop in a review, I checked what others were saying on Goodreads and… someone pegged this book as “thinly veiled gender fluidity propaganda”. Which : 1) isn’t true (although there is intersex representation, in the fact that all members of Yetu’s species are described as intersex), and 2) wouldn’t be terribly bad if it was.

In conclusion

I greatly enjoyed this novella. If you’re in the mood for a thought-provoking, slow-paced, character-driven novella about lesbian mermaids (yes!), this is the book for you.

If you have good recommendations for books with a lesbian love interest and good character development, feel free to link them below ! I’d love to read a couple of novels with good LGBT+ representation in them.

Family Trust, by Kathy Wang

I finally had the time to read Family Trust, by Kathy Wan, during the #AGameOfBooksathon readathon !

I’ve been seeing that book everywhere for such a log time now, and to be honest, now that I’ve read it, I’m a little disappointed. I almost didn’t want to write a review, because so many people had a good opinion of it and I felt like it just didn’t live up to the hype. Some reviewers recommended it to readers who liked Crazy rich Asians, (which I loved, and reviewed here) and most of the reviews I saw before getting it myself were really positive, so I had great expectations.

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Synopsis

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

What I liked

Kathy Wang’s writing is really good, and easy to read, which is probably why this book didn’t end up in my DNF pile – I never had a moment when I didn’t understand what was going on, or who was who (which happens way too much in some books, to be honest). The pace of the story was also good, with enough action to keep the reader alert and interested, but not too much so they don’t have to .

The characters were all interesting in their own way, even though I didn’t always understand their motives for acting like they did. I loved how the author kept switching between each character’s point of view, so we could see how the others saw them, and themselves, and their opinions on the other’s stories. Each character had something new to bring to the story, and it all worked really well  as a whole.

What I didn’t like

The characters were interesting on their own, but I didn’t really feel that much engaged in their individual stories – the parts where they interacted together in me “main plot” was very interesting, but whenever those main characters were on their own, it wasn’t quite as captivating. It felt a bit underwhelming, and even though the idea of the story was really good – a dying man holding on to his secrets while his family members desperately try to secure their inheritance – I felt like it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

I also wish we had gotten to see more of Mary’s story (Stanley’s new wife, now caring for a rich old man while her own family tries to get a part of the inheritance too) – I felt like her character was a bit underdeveloped compared to the others, when her story seemed so interesting to read about !

Conclusion

I was expecting to be blown away by this story, but instead, I was left with a vague feeling of unfinished business – unsatisfying, even if the writing was very good. This book isn’t bad at all – it just didn’t work for me. It’s definitely worth reading, if you enjoy complex stories and realistic family dynamics 🙂

Overall, I think this is a 3/5 stars for me, but don’t let that stop you from trying it and make your own opinion ! (And if you do read and review it, feel free to link your review in the comments, I’d love to see what you thought about it !)

Until the day I die

As a rule, I don’t read thrillers. The ones I’ve read so far were not enjoyable, either absolutely terrifying or completely boring, and some even gave me actual nightmares. But Until the day I die, written by Emily Carpenter and published today (March 12) is the exception to this rule. With half the book set in a beautiful spa resort in the middle of the Caribbean, and two women protagonists who deal with loss and grief in the only ways they can, I just had to give this story a chance.

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It did not disappoint me.

The story begins pretty simply : Erin, her husband, and their two friends designed and created a revolutionary app that helps millions of people around the world budget their expanses, send money, check their savings accounts and plan for the future – and the future is bright. Until the day Perry, Erin’s husband, dies tragically in a car crash. Four months later, Erin is barely holding on, and her friends and family convince her that some time away from work would be the best for her.

Through the points of view of both Erin and her daughter Shorie, the author takes us on a thrilling adventure filled with suspense and unpredictable twists. Some parts are, as other reviewers have noted, a little more difficult to believe than others, but by this point, the reader is already immersed into the story, and it doesn’t ruin the final surprise at all. The way the mother-daughter relationship is depicted feels real, intimate and personal, and it’s what really pushes this book from a 3 stars rating to a 4/5 for me.

If you like colorful thrillers, family dynamics and stressful races against time (and through the jungle), don’t hesitate to give this book a chance !

I received a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

So, there’s a whole book of “oh no” comics.

Even if the name Alex Norris doesn’t ring a bell, if you have any sort of access to the internet, you’ve probably read some of his comics in the last few years. Since 2016, he has been the creator and illustrator of the now famous “oh no” comics, all of which have the same sad, disillusioned and disappointed catchphrase – and yes, people love to read them.

oh no
Oh no, from Webcomic Name, by Alex Norris

Now, the London-based comic artist is publishing a book made of 110 independent comics from his Webcomic Name series, featuring an easy-to-identify-with pink blob moving through life, one disappointment after another. The design of the comics is pretty simple, and the repetitive catchphrase could get old very quickly, but thanks to a good amount of self-awareness, it doesn’t, and manages to stay hilarious from start to finish.

Some of those panels are just plain fun (like someone’s complete failure at following a fancy recipe), and some are serious, tackling topics like the absence of motivation to do a task you really want to do, but… just can’t, or when you just want to be polite by asking “how are you” and the person you’re talking to actually answers seriously to that question – and if you’ve been in this situation, you know how much you wished you could simply say “oh no” out loud !

This is definitely a book I would recommend as a gift for the millennial you love the most in your life (or any millennial you know, really), and your friends, and yourself. It’s a short and funny read, that will leave you to contemplate the meaning of life, work, art, and where you should put a cat’s eyes and mouth when you draw them.

If you want to have some more fun, there is also a random oh no comic generator, that you can try here !

I received an ARC copy of this book by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – it will be published in april, 2019.