2020, favorite reads, recommendations, Wrap-Up

Favorite Fiction Reads of 2020

In my last post, I talked about the books I gave 5 stars in 2020, but those were 8 out of the 100 books I read, so I wanted to talk about some other great books that I read last year. Below are ten fiction books I read in 2020 that I would definitely recommend.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War is the first in a fantasy series based on real events in Chinese history. Rin is an underdog who gets into an elite military academy where she has to prove to the others students and teachers that she deserves her spot there. While at the school, she discovers shamanistic powers that will turn her into a dangerous weapon when the country becomes embroiled in war. Rin was not my favorite character but I enjoyed the other side characters and I thought the world-building was well done. I also read the second book in the series, The Dragon Republic, in 2020 and it is an excellent sequel. Trigger warnings for all of the things.

The Last Human by Zack Jordan

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this to review for Booklist, and I really enjoyed it! This is a sci-fi debut about Sarya, who is the last human in the universe. When her home is destroyed, Sarya sets off on a journey in a stolen spaceship with a ragtag group that includes a rebellious spacesuit and a super genius ball of fluff. Pursuing Sarya are two omniscient beings: one who wants to resurrect the human species and one who wants to extinguish it. I found this to be witty and humorous while contemplating on themes such as classism, lack of freedom and the meaning of destiny.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a contemporary novel about a girl named Eva who is a culinary prodigy that grows up to be a renowned chef. The story is told in vignettes from various people who come into contact with Eva and how she touches their lives, either on purpose or inadvertently. Eva is a little bit of a Mary Sue, but the writing gave me Fredrik Backman vibes and he is one of my favorite authors. I will definitely be trying Stradal’s other novel, The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

Brunch and Other Obligations by Suzanne Nugent

This was another ARC I received for review for Booklist, and I also enjoyed this one! This is about a group of friends: Molly, Leanne, Christina, & Nora. The latter 3 women are really only friends because of Molly. When Molly dies, she leaves a request for the 3 women to meet up for brunch once a month for a year. Over the year the women grieve the loss of their friend together and learn they have so much more in common than they thought. It was witty and charming and a great debut.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium #1) by Stieg Larsson

This one was a reread for me, and I’m sure a lot of you have already heard of it and/or read it. I think it still holds up; Lisbeth Salander is still a kickass character and the mystery is still compelling. My one complaint is that Larsson focused a lot on Lisbeth’s looks which was just sort of uncomfortable and gross. But the action and characters made up for that and I would definitely recommend the first 3 of the series.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

One thing I love about reading historical fiction is learning about pieces of forgotten history. Granted, The Nickel Boys is based on the tragic history of the Dozier School for Boys. The Nickel Boys follows Elwood Curtis, a young man growing up in the 1960s who is sent to a reform school called “The Nickel Academy” after being unfairly sentenced. Once he’s there, it’s clear that there is no reform, only horror. When he becomes friends with Turner, Elwood begins thinking about escaping Nickel. Once a plan is put in action, there is no escaping the consequences. I listened to this on audiobook and thought J.D. Jackson did a great job. I just wish the book was a little longer so that there would be more time to connect to the characters. The fact that Whitehead could convey such heartbreak and horror (again, this is based off of A REAL SCHOOL) in so short a novel though is a testament to his writing skill.

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana is what I call a “quiet” story, in that not a lot happens plot-wise; the plot is essentially a character study where you’re just reading about the character’s development (or lack thereof). In this case, we’re watching a young teen named Ana get married off by her parents to a man twice her age, and after the wedding he takes her to New York City circa 1965. Over time, we watch Ana grow into her own person and become more empowered, all while getting accustomed to the new country she now calls home. I just really liked the writing style and was always hoping things would work out for Ana. If you like character-study-type storytelling, you may enjoy this one.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This is another one you might have already heard of because it was really popular a few years ago. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is about A.J. Fikry (duh), a curmudgeonly bookstore owner who has recently lost his wife and is slowly isolating himself from his community. When a baby is left at the bookstore, A.J. embarks on the adventure of living and connecting with humans again. I thought this novel was sweet and charming and essentially a love letter to books. Scott Brick reads the audiobook, which I definitely recommend.

Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

After reading Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, I knew I had to check out their other work. And Freshwater did not disappoint! Emezi is skilled in writing short novels with engaging prose and packed with multiple themes. Freshwater is a semi-autobiographical contemporary that follows Ada who was born “with one foot on the other side”. When Ada experiences a traumatic event, the selves inside of her take control. I listened to this on audiobook which really adds to the reading experience because it is narrated by Emezi.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Finally, we have this short novel about a sister who may well be a serial killer. Korede is the older sister of Ayoola, who is beautiful and used to getting what she wants. Korede is used to helping Ayoola get out of ugly situations–even those that result in murder. Ayoola has claimed self-defense every time, but this is the 3rd boyfriend Korede is helping to dispose of. Korede has loved her sister too much to turn her in, but when Ayoola catches the eye of Korede’s crush, Korede begins to wonder if she should at last tell the truth. For a novel about a serial killer, this one was actually kind of fun because of the deadpan writing style. I would definitely check out anything else Braithwaite publishes.

So those are some of my favorite fiction reads from last year! Have you read any of these? Let me know what your favorite fiction reads of 2020 were in the comments below.

Until next time,


January 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

In January I read 9 books, which is pretty on average for me. I read a mixture of genres in a variety of formats, and here they are below!

Uppity Women of Ancient Times by Vicki Leon

This was a carryover from 2019. Vicki Leon writes about forgotten women of history in a snarky, accessible way that reminds me that there are people out there who know how to make history fun. I have a couple of her other titles on my shelf that I hope to get to this year.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kang

Another carryover from 2019. This is the first in a series that follows a war orphan named Rin who earns her way into a top military academy in a fictionalized Asian country. There, she discovers an ability to talk to the gods that will either be her triumph…or be her ruin. I listened to this on audiobook and thought the narrator did amazing. I will definitely be reading the second in the series.

You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks, and Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano

My last carryover from 2019. Chocano discourses, in a selection of essays, on society’s message to women on who we are *supposed* to be. Spoiler: be whoever the fuck you want. The most interesting takeaway I had from this collection is Chocano’s comment on how in the traditional hero’s journey, it’s a pretty straight trajectory, but in a heroine’s journey, it’s a spiral as we must struggle with being who we truly are over society’s expectation of us.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

This was my IRL’s book group pic for January. It’s about a woman who’s daughter is kidnapped and being held for ransom, and to get her back she has to kidnap another child. Interesting concept but bland execution. We all agreed the first half of the book was good but could have done without the second half. I listened to this on audiobook and thought the narrator did a good job though.

The Last Human by Zack Jordan

I received this as an ARC (advanced review copy) from Booklist to review, which you can read here. This is a science fiction novel that comes out in March with lots of interesting characters on an adventure. I found it really enjoyable and good for fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

River Runs Red by Scott Alexander Hess

This was a book I read for a committee I’m on at work. It’s historical fiction about a young man, Calhoun, who enters into an affair with an older architect named Clement. Another society guy, Belasco, has it out for Clement and threatens Calhoun with exposure of their affair. They get into fisticuffs and Calhoun ends up wounding Belasco in self defense. Belasco has Calhoun arrested for attempted murder. Shenanigans ensue. The representation is important but the writing was meh.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: a Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

One of my reading goals for 2020 is to read a professional development book each month. As a branch manager of a public library, I think it’s important that I develop myself as much as I develop my staff. Luckily, I’ve found a reading buddy at work to read with me, and for January we read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I liked the writing of this because it was simplistic but engaging. I find some management books to be like “fact…statistic…anecdote…tip….washrinserepeat”. With this one, because it read like a story I was able to engage with it more and take more away from it. It definitely made me want to evaluate my team and see where we could improve.

Lost at Sea by Erica Boyce

This is another ARC I received from Booklist for review, so when that review is available I will link it here. This is a contemporary set in New England about the ramifications for a seaside community when a beloved fisherman goes missing.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

Finally, I finished the month of January with The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. I was first introduced to Amy Tan when I read her novel The Valley of Amazement a few years ago, and have been trying to read her backlist ever since. I enjoy Tan’s writing and I liked the different timelines, but overall the characters weren’t anyone that I had a deep connection with. I will still continue on with Tan’s backlist though!

So how did your reading go in January? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? Let me know!

Until next time!