Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Reading Challenge: 2020 Final Book Choices and Thoughts

 I set a GoodReads goal of 45 books for 2020, a few more than I had last year. It was a terrible year for many different reasons and in many different ways, however, it was not a terrible year for reading. After getting home from work and cooking dinner, I more often than not found myself laying in bed in my pjs reading. I may not have blogged a whole lot but many mornings found me reading some Robert Frost or Walt Whitman little by little, alternating prose and coffee. It was needed. I hope the reading continues but the insanity abates. The books I reviewed previously are in teal and the new books listed are in purple with a quick blurb of my thoughts along with my rating:

*= meh       **= good/decent        ***= go read it

1. Quickie- 200 pages or less.
Ask Baba Yaga: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles by Taisa Kitaiskaia is a pocket-sized Dear Abby but written by a much darker, mysterious, yet wizened soul. Baba Yaga's pithy advice is wrapped in layers of moss and slippery wordsmithing but holds the bare mouse bones of truth. My daughters and I enjoyed reading them out loud and guessing what she meant by her advice. I already pre-ordered her next volume. ***

2. On the briny- a saltwater reading experience.
House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin Craig was an autographed book I picked up on a whim while browsing the OwlCrate webstore. I also picked up a Hagrid umbrella and count that the better of the two purchases. While I liked the atmospheric elements of this salt water encrusted island kingdom, the characters lacked depth. I liked it as a light fluffy semi-thriller where the maids are all empty headed lasses. **

3. Ready set read- Finish a series, or start a new one.
Fifth Wave/Infinite Sea/Last Star by Rick Yancey was a book series my youngest started reading. She encouraged me to read it too so I did, then we watched the movie. The book is a dystopian alien doomsday thriller where in the end you are not sure if you are truly the alien or not. Who do you trust? A decent YA series. I liked it enough to finish it. **

4. Memory lane- a book you missed out on from childhood.
Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving seemed like a classic children's story that I should have read by now. I enjoyed the animated Disney rendition and the far-from-the-storyline version by Tim Burton. I also quite enjoyed the original from which these were born. It was a quaint tale with an intriguing ending. The other short stories within were a pleasure as well, especially the one about the Bridegroom. ***

5. Name dropper- get proper with a titular character [named after the book's subject].
Circe by Madeline Miller was just as amazing as I had heard it was. A moving myth about the origins of Circe and how she often showed more humanity than her turning-men-into-pigs rap gives her credit for. I fell in love with her. I think you will too. ***

6. Magical realism
Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is a trilogy that features the coming of age story a young assassin with goals of revenge set in a fantasy world where there is no moon, only three staring suns that lap each other creating seemingly endless never nights and a brief true dark. It is a series to read for fun. The footnotes were either humorous or annoying depending on my mood. It was smutty, cussy and angsty. I read all three and did not regret it but I also did not hold on to them. **

7. Make it the year of the lycan- read a wolfish book.
Moon Called by Patricia Biggs is better known as the Mercy Thompson series. My reading buddy gifted me the first one and I went out and bought a few more. This is an urban paranormal fantasy about a female mechanic who happens to be a shapeshifter (she is not a wolf but yes, there are wolves involved) and the shenanigans that she gets pulled into. I rather enjoyed it as a shameless adventure that made me laugh and smirk and turn the page. I look forward to reading the rest. ***

8. Eye candy cover
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski is the first book in the Witcher series. This is my idea of eye candy, white haired mutant humanoids with gruff demeanors and soft hearts out to save mankind. Kind of. I mean, once I saw Henry Cavill cast on Netflix I knew I had better start collecting. I know the show is short lived but these books are awesome in and of themselves. You have to search up the reading order as they were not written/published in chronological reading order. I am finishing up the second book as I type this and will finish them all by the end of the year I am thinking. I love the Russian take on folklore that brings to mind Bear and the Nightingale from earlier in the year. If you like fantasy, give this a whirl. ***

9. A tear jerker- I'm not crying, you're crying!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was recommended to me by my sister, Darby, ages ago. I knew I wanted to get to it but then my Aunt Chris literally dropped it in my lap. As soon as I finished up whatever I was reading at the time, I dove right in. It is a bittersweet story of an orphaned girl child growing up in the lowcountry marshes of the Carolinas where herons are silent mothers and raccoons are boisterous brothers. She grows to become a self made scientist with no formal education and soon becomes entangled with some boys from in town. I was crying at the end. But they were good tears. ***

10. Get lost in time- book set in the future or past, or both.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders had comic question marks floating above my head for the first few pages but then when I caught on I had realized I sped through 1/3 of the book in one sitting! A comical, blithe, heart rending tale about some ghosts who keep President Lincoln's newly departed son company overnight and the turmoil and tenderness that ensues. ***

11. A book you'd turn to when feeling blue.
The Poet of Loch Ness by Brian Jay Corrigan was bought purely for the melancholy painting of a foggy Scottish morning and the book jacket teaser of a star crossed love. It was beautiful to read and poignant as well. I cannot really say much without spoiling it but it is about loves of old meeting loves of present and how a woman can hold both in her heart at the same time. ***

12.  Cover Text Intertwined With Images: big 2019 novel trend.
The Binding by Bridget Collins was an unexpected breath-taker. I had a feeling I would enjoy the narrative of a young man who is taken from the farm and called to the often maligned task of binding books, which carries a connotation of witchcraft. But the twists and turns that evolve had me gasping and flipping pages backward and trying to unwind the tangled threads of love and loss. I will be reading this one again. ***

13. Stay Golden with gilded pages or shimmering cover accents.
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse looked promising. It was touted as a medieval French tale of the holy grail and the modern race to find it. It takes two story lines of the (same?) woman (or else her eerily exact descendant), one in the past and one in the present, and their perils to protect the holy grail secret from their evil sister. It runs parallel but instead of building the suspense it falls flat. Like I said, promising. But I hated it. I finished the first book but then gave it away with the rest in the set very quickly. Poor writing. Poor characters. Poor time spent reading dreck. *

14. Do you have a nightlight? Read something spooky if you do.
Carrie by Stephen King has always come across by eyes. Usually when Stephen talks about his own writing. I think it was his first true hit so it held a special place for him. Although I think I read that he considered Pet Semetary to be the creepiest. Anyway. Carrie was scary. I felt so bad for her. I could feel the religious fervor pouring from the pages from those scenes with her mom. Gave me the shivers. Enjoyed reading it. Now I need to see the movie. ***

15. Borrowed book- library, lil’ free library, or friend, don't forget to return it!
Sphere by Michael Crichton was one I borrowed from my daughter. We love reading Crichton. This one was decent. An alien (?) craft is discovered at the bottom of the sea and a team of experts is called in by the government to explore. What is tangible morphs into the intellectually abstract. The movie was a painful hoot to watch after too. Some great actors in it! **

16. Seek the throne-heraldry or castle on the cover.
The Half-Drowned King/Sea Queen/Golden Wolf by Linnea Hartsuyker was a bracing Viking trilogy that spanned all the chilly seas and isles along Scandinavia and beyond. It follows the young Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild as they fight for their lands, lives and loves. Enemies often become allies and brothers of the heart can be found to be traitorous. A thrilling saga. ***

17. New-to-you author
The Vine Witch by Luanne Smith was fast and enchanting read about a legacy of witches who tend to vineyards, one in particular is cursed and comes back to find the world changed. This reads as a quick morsel without too much thinking needed but fun nonetheless. **

18. A centenarian book, one that is 100 years or older. 
The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens was published in 1840, so well over 100 years old. It was a tender yet heart breaking read that had oddly funny moments. It was about an elderly uncle who ran a curiosity shop and the young niece he was raising. A rather unscrupulous conniver seeks to disrupt the old man's life and all those who love his niece as they run to escape the pugnacious devil who pursues them. ***

19. Our pets are the best of us. Read a story with a dear dog or cherished cat companion.
A sweet friend gifted me All Things Bright and Beautiful and when I went to read it I discovered it was the second book in a series. So I gently put it down and shopped around until I found its predecessor: All Creature Great and Small by James Herriot. Rather than this story be about one particular beloved dog or cat, it is about many pets that are held in high esteem, along with several cows and horses too. I greatly enjoyed reading this book. It follows a budding veterinarian through the English countryside as he gets his legs under himself through the guidance of his capricious new boss. This is memoir-esque and written really well. Having been around livestock I can appreciate many of Herriot's moments. If you love animals and England and quaint stories of hard workers, you will love this. It has humor and romance to boot. I cannot wait to read the rest. ***

20. Colorless- a stark cover with only black/white/gray.
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo is one I picked up while in the Keys. It was a quick read that outlined why white people are reactive, sensitive and racist. Some of it mirrored ways I had acted in the past, things I still need to work on and it gave me a lens as to why those reactions happen. I needed it. I need more. I have beefed up my bookshelf to grow myself and deal with some of the ugliness I carry around. ***

21. Forest Bathing- trees on the cover, in the title or as subject matter.\
American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow has easily been the most intellectual and fascinating book I have read so far this year. It was an eye opening if not heart shriveling accounting of how America evolved through the lens of her trees and forests. From the liberty tree in Boston to President Washington's gardens, from the Washington D.C. cherry trees to the Dutch Elm Disease and founding of our national park system, this chronicles the impact we have had on our environment and highlights just how much we depend on our trees. ***

22. Generation Z- A teen or young adult author.
Chandler Klang Smith might not be precisely Gen Z but she is often described as one of the best up and coming young authors. So that counts right? At any rate, this book reads like a fresh faced and sharp witted young adult wrote it. The Sky is Yours is nothing like I have read before. It takes place far into the future (301970) to be exact and follows a defunct Kardashian-type playboy who is mostly know for his reality TV show presence. He comes off as an idiot. Hell, he is an idiot. But he also shows promise of rising above his Idiocracy upbringing (have you ever seen that movie?? this book is the better written version). This book was hilarious, raunchy and well written. The characters leap off the page in vibrant hues. I want to read it all over again just for fun. ***

23. Book based on a real event- true story based fiction, or non-fiction. 
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut was a deceptively fast read. Not having had the high school discussions of symbolism or themes, I must say I pulled from this book the horror that men and women have to pocket in their hearts when they are faced with war. How it can warp the soul and mind. It makes me think of all the soldiers with PTSD and how terrifying it must be to try to transition from something as horrendous as death abound to the mundane and benign. This satire on the bombing of Dresden during WWII was interesting to read. ***

24. Reading rebel- a controversial book, or featuring a literary rebel.
Congo by Michael Crichton probably isn't very controversial except for animal rights regarding Amy the chimp being in captivity. Or maybe to folks who don't believe in evolution. Either way I stuck it in this slot and I don't remember why. It was a typical adventurous Crichton read with heavy doses of science and ancient yet somehow advanced primate colonies deep in the Congo. **

25. Illuminated Illustrations: a book with photographs or art within.
I have been on an herbalism journey this past year or so. I have read a handful of herbal books but this one has been my favorite so far: The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman. He provides the holistic approach to health and discusses use of the whole plant for many various aliments and issues. I like his writing style and world view. He is gentle yet grounded. Some of the holistic herbalism authors can be a bit flighty or swing so far into the metaphysical that there isn't much substance to chew on. I found myself highlighting a lot of pages and recipes. This will be a book that gets abundant use. ***

26. 20/20 Vision. A book that helped you to see something clearer. 
I finally got around to read 1984 by George Orwell. I think it was best I read it as an adult rather than a high schooler. I am sure we all know the parallels between this book and the world today so I will spare waxing about it. However, I did enjoy reading as much as anyone could I guess ("joy" being those fleeting and stolen moments I suppose). I do see why it should be required reading. ***

27. Gold Star. You get one just for reading a book. Your choice.
Skink- No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen is a kid's book about an old geezer who happens to be a former governor of Florida who slinks around the Everglades or shoreline or pinelands looking for jerks to set to rights. Wayward kids usually get pulled into his shenanigans. A student of mine pushed this book on me and I couldn't let him down. It turned out to be a rather funny and entertaining read. It was good enough for me to keep reading this kid's recommendations. **

28. The White Whale- book on your tbr forever, a weighty book, or one you couldn't bring yourself to read before [or that you think will be the end of you].
If The Stand isn't a white whale of a paperback I am not sure what is. I am still kind of reeling over the fact that I read this during a pandemic. The opening pages were a bit of surreal fortune telling from the past. I quickly fell into interest following the converging storylines where the ultimate battle of good versus evil plays out. And will continue to play out for all of mankind's time on Earth. I am happy I spent those chunks of hours reading this beast. ***

29. Home is where the heart is. A house on the cover. 
Little Green by Tish Cohen is the first one star of the year. I figured it would come. A horrid telling of an insipid marriage that is falling apart. The wife is self-centered, the husband a martyr, their handicapped daughter is caught in the crosshairs until she is kidnapped. Reading this book at times made my tummy hurt. If I hated the characters any more I would have to up the stars just because the author created something so viscerally repugnant that she deserved it, but she didn't so I won't. *

30. Old Fashioned: A book with a table of contents.
Candlenight by Phil Rickman is a spooky mid-90's mysterious thriller set in a small hamlet in Wales where the magic of Druids may still be alive and... well?? The town rebukes the efforts of Englishmen to settle and it follows the trials of Giles and his wife Claire who recently inherited a home there. I loved the story telling and scene building and language. It was a bit drawn out but I forgive its long windedness and I find I still think about it every now and again. ***

It was a good year for reading. Some other books I read but were not on the list: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King **, Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton***, Sleep No More by Greg Iles*, Frost The Poet and His Poetry by David Sohn ***, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley **, Literary Witches: A Celebration of Magical Women Writers by Taisia Kitaiskaia ***, The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury ***, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman ***, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson **, The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra*.

Jay from The Scented Library and I are working on a new reading challenge for next year if you wish to join us. I look forward to further exploring my bookshelf and the many worlds it contains. What were some of your favorite books you read this year? Do you have any recommendations for me for 2021? 


  1. Hey Julie
    Yasmine here it's been a long time since I've written to you but I read the blog faithfully. My absolute favorite hands down author is Love Belvin. Contemporary Romance at it's finest, highly recommend. I remember mentioning thiftbooks to you years ago. Happy Holidays ❤

    1. Hey Yasmine!!! You DID and I am so grateful to you for doing that! I shop ThriftBooks anytime I need a book in particular. SO many purchases have been made there thanks to you. I will make sure to pick up some Love Belvin. I enjoy a good romance. How have you been doing? Wonderful, I hope!! Have a nice holiday week!!

  2. Nice work! I read The Fifth Wave when it first came out and then forgot there were others lol. I have Lincoln in the Bardo on audio but am kind of intimidated by it. Agree totally on Labyrinth--it sounded like it was right in my wheelhouse but I don't think I got even halfway through. My Dickens doorstop this year was Bleak House and I loved it! Have a wonderful holiday <3

    1. Thanks!! There was lots of good reading to be had. I wasn't sure I would like 5th Wave but it surprised me. I ended up being glad I read the whole thing through. I am still kind of bummed about Labyrinth. Glad I wasn't the only one who thought it didn't live up to it potential. Sometimes I worry I am being too harsh.

      I will keep an eye out for Bleak House. I have not read as much Dickens as I would like. I am always pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoy his books once I get going.

      Thank you, Kate! I hope you have a wonderful holiday too. We are staying home but still cooking. I am going to make pie crust tomorrow. Are you going to be cooking anything or taking it easy?

  3. Thank you for these recommendations! If you haven't read "Braiding Sweetgrass" I'd recommend it as one of the best I've read this year. As a gardener I think you'd be smitten. Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. I have not read "Braiding Sweetgrass" but I will absolutely pick it up next time I run across it. Thank you so much for the recommendation. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving and that your holiday season is warm and bright!

  4. It’s been five years since I’ve been able to start and finish a book. I don’t usually have that problem, but I suppose work stress kept me from enjoying one of my favorite hobbies. With that all behind me, I decided to try again with all my free time. Happy to report I FINALLY finished a novel front to back. Go me! It was a new-to-me author, Greg Iles. The book was called The Quiet Game, a first in a series about a literary author/former attorney who returns home to Mississippi where racism and political scandals run amok. Needless to say, I have purchased the others in that series.

    Hope you and yours had a wonderful Thanksgiving!! XOXO

    1. Hey Amber!!! Sorry for the late reply! We were on Thanksgiving break then we had a whirlwind week of teaching before being thrown into quarantine again. Between the holidays and going from online to brick and mortar and back again I am definitely behind on my blogging game. I can totally understand not being able to read much when running a business. It had to be terribly time consuming. I am so happy you got back into a book!!! HUZZAH!!! Jay and I made a new reading challenge for 2021. I hope you can join us if even for a book or two. :-)

      Funny you mention Greg Iles! I read his Sleep No More this year and it was my first book by him. I will have to look into The Quiet Game. I love mysteries/thrillers and such. Heck. Who am I kidding? I love all genres.

      Guess what?! I got a new Jeep. :-) It is red too, just like yours. Not a Rubicon by any means but I love it. We took it up to the Georgia mountains and got some clay on her. It was fun. :-)