Favorite Books of 2020

Whew, we’re back! Last year was a bit of a whirlwind. As I set reading aside a bit, I finally took the plunge to dedicate myself to my uni studies and travel around a bit (who remembers when that was still possible?). For once, I got to feel like the main character in my own life… After years of living vicariously through books, being able to get a taste of adventure was fulfilling.

But these wrap-up posts are so fun to look back on (Favorite Books of 2016, 2017, 2018), and I regret not taking the time to make one last year. We’re here to mend past mistakes.

The books featured in this post could just as easily be added to the list of books that cover a sliver of my personality. I want to remember what books helped shape me each year. It’s like you don’t notice that you’re quoting something/someone until you go back to the origin of when you started saying something. Reminiscent of an older post: My Favorite Book Quotes: The Books That Helped Shape Me Through their Words.

Given the limited time I spent reading non-textbooks nowadays, I have to be careful with what I pick out. A season, a reason, or a lifetime is how I like to choose my books. I want books that add something more to my life, instead of just hitting a certain number of books read in one year. This is that post.

Oh, and if you’re looking for more books to read, check out my Depop to start off this new bookish year right. Here’s a sneak peek, simply click on the image to go through to the link:

To backtrack, the year of 2019 can luckily be summed up with one grandiose book:

Call Down the Hawk

This book was a powerhouse because it gave me resolution on a character I always wanted more of in TRC: Declan Lynch. It did not disappoint. Niall Lynch? Tears. Museum romance? Yes, please. Siblings and dream things? Give me more. This book left me wanting and aching for more.

Maggie Stiefvater excels at giving words to thoughts. Lines like: “It was so impossible to live life backward.” Gives voice to such introspective moments. The smallest of details make up so much of the big things. I live for this kind of writing. It’s my something more. I mean, my twitter (@bookspoils) is full of her words.

It’s these words come into my head every time I experience something similar covered in her books. Like this next quote pops into my head nearly every week as I reach my own day I tend to avoid:

“It was a Wednesday. Declan remembered that, because for years he’d considered Wednesdays days of bad news. Maybe he still did. He wouldn’t schedule something on a Wednesday if he could help it. Magical thinking, probably, but it felt like midweek still soured things.”

This kind of writing is so rare.

I like returning to authors who made up the best of my reading years because their new books always bring me back to that turning point. I can devour their newest work in one day. I have to. It’s so rare nowadays for that to happen. I cherish it now.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bookspoils.jpeg

In 2020, I took the plunge and ventured into many Classics™: Pride and Prejudice. Eat Pray Love. Twilight. The best of the century, one could say. I’m still figuring out if I’m kidding or not. These three are featured on my list not because of the story they created, but rather for what they granted me. Each taught me something new: to enjoy myself, to ask for help, to swoon over Mr. Darcy… Pick your fighter.

Eat Pray Love

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Did I enjoy Eat Pray Love? Weirdly, yes. I was initially skeptical what this popular book among middle-aged women could offer. But its effortless writing style makes it so easy to devour.

Like I said, I’m not here to rave about the story. I’m still mulling that one over. I wanted to include this book mainly for the way it acted as a catalyst for this year. In particular, the chapter where Liz’s friend recommends her to “write a petition” to ask for an end to her overbearing sorrows…. Seeing all your struggles and pain written black-on-white grants you some peace of mind for a beat. I thought, what’s the worst that can happen in writing it all down, too? I read this book in February. Then March 2020 happened. So yeah, I look at that letter as “Girl, what did you do.” Jokingly, of course. The power of this book…

Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer

Finally giving in and reading Twilight for the first time was mainly to get me out of my quarantine funk. As I put in my review, I’m extremely bored and being stared at by Edward Cullen seemed like a great alternative. Enough of refreshing Youtube.

I had the most fun with the dramatic insolence displayed in this book. It was silly and over-the-top and romantic and problematic. All the components for a great book to live-tweet. Which I did. And then compiled into a review: Psychology Student Reads Twilight by Stephenie Meyer For the First Time. Give it a read for a nice walk down memory lane, hopefully without stumbling like Bella.

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice was the first book I read after lockdown ended, but it was also the last book I read before starting to seriously dedicate myself to my studies. No more reading for fun in the middle of the week. It symbolizes a piece of freedom in my mind ever since.

This book came mainly as an answer to my struggles with romantic heroes in current books. After watching the 2005 movie adaption, I couln’t stop thinking about the characters. I wanted to get inside Darcy’s head. What was he thinking when he silently started at Lizzie across the room. The book granted me some clarity.

And I couldn’t have done it without listening to Jennifer Ehle’s voice guiding me along as I read. Like I wrote in my review of the book, listening to her read brought me that same nostalgic comfort of being read to by your favorite teacher in third-grade.

And yes, Mr. Darcy’s character glow-up is still reverberating to this day.

“You might have talked to me more when you came to dinner.”
“A man who had felt less, might.”

My review says it all: Cynical Hopeless Romantic Reads Pride and Prejudice

I’m still waiting for my Mr. Darcy (i.e. after his character development)… And I’ll wait.

Oh, and I have a movie review up to quench the thirst of the ancients: You Have Bewitched Me Body and Soul, Mr. Darcy. How could I not?

The Dutch House

by Ann Patchett

The true star of this year is the one and only: The Dutch House. This book gave voice to the lifelong struggle of lost childhood homes and the true bond of older sisters as stand-in mothers. I never knew I needed a book to represent that part of life till this landed in my hands.

I want to reread this book so badly, but I don’t want to relive the hurt the characters went through. Does that make sense? The power of this book is felt acutely by the fact that it still hurts to write about. Don’t worry, this isn’t A Little Life. The Dutch House isn’t loud; its pain travels quietly through your love for these characters as you watch them grow up. Maybe the movie Boyhood would be a better comparison. This book holds so many brilliant passages about growing up, losing and regaining parts of yourself, and yet, it’s painful – too much like real life. The quiet truths of living life, like this clip from Boyhood voices, “I just thought there would be more.”

But above all, I appreciate it for restoring this tiny hope that lost childhood homes aren’t lost forever. There’s this infinitesimal hope to get it back. Just depends on how patient you are. I’ll check back here to report if the book was right. Future me, I really hope so.

I still stand by the opening statement of my review, if you needed any convincing to read this book, take this next passage as your sign:

(it’s a bit long but so worth the read)

“Mothers were the measure of safety, which meant that I was safer than Maeve. After our mother left, Maeve took up the job on my behalf but no one did the same for her. Of course Sandy and Jocelyn mothered us. They made sure we were washed and fed and that our lunches were packed and our scouting dues paid. They loved us, I know they did, but they went home at the end of the day. There was no crawling into bed with Sandy or Jocelyn when I had a bad dream in the middle of the night, and it never once occurred to me to knock on my father’s door. I went to Maeve. She taught me the proper way to hold a fork. She attended my basketball games and knew all my friends and oversaw my homework and kissed me every morning before we went our separate ways to school and again at night before I went to bed regardless of whether or not I wanted to be kissed. She told me repeatedly, relentlessly, that I was kind and smart and fast, that I could be as great a man as I made up my mind to be. She was so good at all that, despite the fact that no one had done it for her.”

What a passage. And what a year.

If you’re looking for more books to read, check out my Depop to start off this new bookish year right (and help this college girl pay for her textbooks). Shipping costs can be personalized to your area. Send me a message on Depop to set it up. Here’s a sneak peek, simply click on any of the images to go through to the link:

Fangirl Reviews Fangirl, Vol. 1: The Manga by Sam Maggs, Rainbow Rowell, Gabi Nam

Prepare for an epic Battle of the Books in this review of Fangirl VS Fangirl, vol. 1. I’m going to start with an alarming statement: This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book.

*REWIND TO MY FIRST IMPRESSION*

Nothing might top the excitement I felt before opening this illustrated adaptation of my favorite book. Maybe having a movie adaptation. This is the closest I might get to that wish. I thought it was going to be like having fanart of all my favorite scenes. I mean, I have two reviews up on my blog where I talk all about my love for these characters: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi) & Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. And even more reviews of Rowell’s other books. Landline was a recent favorite for all the introverts seeking love.

Of course, I couldn’t tame the temptation of starting this book even though I was a week before an important exam… This perfectly mirrors my experience of reading Fangirl back in January 2014 for the first time, also known as the night before my math exam. I started the book before going to bed thinking it would help calm my nerves before the exam and help me fall asleep… Oh, I had to force myself to part from this book at 2am – not because I was tired (Fangirl made me feel alive) but because I couldn’t possibly think straight if I didn’t go to sleep right then and there. It’s funny the way life circles back to you.

I remember my thoughts at school that day, after reading Fangirl into the night, centered entirely on Levi. I had never before expended such intense emotions for a book. I missed being away from these characters. Is that love?

I felt like talking about Fangirl to anyone willing to listen like these characters were real people I knew. I had to hold myself back from letting all my thoughts spillover. What an experience… It’s what made me start looking for more books to read instead of browsing for new popular Wattpad stories (fans of The Cellphone Swap hit me up*).

I can’t put into words all that Fangirl got me through. It was my first physical copy of a book I loved. When I’d get bored with whatever library book I was reading Fangirl would be the book I would reach for. Anytime I was sad or anxious, I would flip to a page in Fangirl to cheer me up. Anytime an important event happens in my life I hear quotes from the book in my head mirroring my thoughts. Like when starting something new and hearing Cath’s “In new situations, all the trickiest rules are the ones nobody bothers to explain to you. (And the ones you can’t Google.)” Y’know, the best of lines. 

Bottom line: This book means the world to me.

I thought I was being patient by taking my time with this adaptation instead of devouring it in one sitting. I even wrote in my notes: me being able to actually put the book aside to sleep before an important day? You know what that is growth.

I was even glad for my patience because I needed the comfort of this world after the monstrosity of that exam. In hindsight, it wasn’t patience so much as avoidance of the impending disappointment that was slowly creeping up the more I read on.

It started out fine enough at first with the initial excitement still shaping my reading experience. I was just so grateful to be back in a world I so love and cherish with new insight. Then came the first few moments of doubt creeping in with thoughts like, “Huh, why did they change that?” “Huh, why did they leave that out?” I pushed it aside thinking it was just the first few pages getting used to this storytelling. The more it happened the heavier my disappointment. In some cases having lines omitted was a big no-no. Her waking up in a new place voiced one of the most iconic lines. Why get rid of it? At one point, I started numbering each disappointment so it would be easier to find for my final review. I took endless notes. I stopped enjoying the storyline and was more focused on what next iconic line would be reduced. My only hope was to reach my favorite scene with Levi, aka reading The Outsiders.

Narrator: And that’s when she realized this is the first installment out of four and what if it ends before the best of scenes appears and she would have to wait who knows how many months more. Despair set in.

Spoiler: I hate that I skipped ahead. To my disappointment, the narrator was right. This installment ends right when things were supposed to pick up in the storyline.

I remember being utterly shocked at my realization that I was actually not enjoying this book. At all. And that’s why I wasn’t devouring it in one sitting. How was it that deep inside I knew (aka my avoidance) but it took a full day for my head to catch up? Freud was right all along. I never even considered myself being unhappy with this book as an option. It was either love or super love. Oh, youth.

Throughout my reading experience, I kept feeling like this manga was just here to complete a deadline because it took all the best lines from the book and put them on paper and c’est tout – nothing is happening on the page to bring the words alive. We already read the storyline once. The words existed before this point. This book can’t depend on the words moving us. So the art should be here as a distraction from the words. Make me feel the storyline through art so that we don’t depend on the words to move the story along. We already know what happens.

Also, it made it extremely hard to empathize with Cath in here when all her inner dialogue is essentially gone and we’re only left with what she says to others, which can come across as quite aloof and rude. Like Levi put it in the original book: “I can see why you and Reagan hit it off.” He got up to follow her. “You can both be extremely brusque sometimes.”

He’s right that other people might perceive her that way, but in Fangirl when you read her inner monologue, you can empathize with her actions. This is not the case in this manga adaptation when the majority of her inner monologue is wiped away.

Me agreeing with Wren? Unheard of. Until now. This scene might’ve legit unleashed my wrath. It triggered my flight or fight response.

In the book, you can see Cath feeling overwhelmed before this scene by all the new territory and the accompanying intense fear and anxiety she’s experiencing. You get inside her head. Here you just get this scene where her sister is trying to include her and Cath’s like, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Give us some character building so we’re on Cath’s side here. You can’t just dump it on us and expect to side with her. And one page of seeing her lonely isn’t going to cut it. We need to get inside her head.

Case in point of info dump #1:

So much T E X T.

I was supposed to get all the feels when seeing Levi… Instead, I was perplexed by the choice of art wherein Abel looks more like Levi than Levi does. I mean, let me ask the audience:

THAT’S ABEL?? He literally looks like Levi on the cover art of Fangirl…

I mean even her dad looks more like Levi than Levi does in this adaptation…

I am confusion.

Levi looks more like Gansey from The Raven Cycle with this golden prep boy aesthetic. Let’s all recall that he’s supposed to be a cute farmer boy in green Carhartt.

I guess my main disappointment in this volume stems from the art – not the style but the fact that it doesn’t add anything to the storyline. It’s like when the choreography to a song is about what the lyrics are literally saying, instead of moving your body to the feel of the song so that the audience can feel it too. I want to be moved by the words through art and not have the art transcribe the text. This is especially seen in the above info dump #1.

Shouldn’t that be the whole point of adapting a book that already exists into comic book format or manga? To re-experience the story through the art so that it feels like reading it for the first time. This is not that. These characters don’t move. There’s no life in them. I can’t imagine them talking when I close the book, you know? In the best of books, you can imagine the characters moving outside the storyline. That’s what fanfiction is about when the world is so alive you can imagine any scenario with your faves. This is what it felt like in the original book. It works so well in the original because the inner dialogue is so integral to the story.

This adaptation was making me hate my all-time favorite book. Dangerous territory for me because sir, those are my emotional support characters.

I feel like Cath when Reagan is critiquing her poster: “leave them alone, they’re in love.” They took the best parts of the book and barely gave it the time of day it deserved. All the best moments are either left out or just done poorly. I wanted this adaptation to feel like when I see fanart of my favorite scenes: Alive. I left grossly let down. And you can see I wrote this whole thesis to let it all out.

The only thing that benefited from this manga style was the Baz and Simon storyline, which is all too easy to skip over in the original book, but really fit in with this format. Maybe that’s because in Fangirl they appear so stiff and formal that this book could only benefit them.

I have this tiny sliver of hope that the next volume will pick up in speed and align the art more with the feel of the book. Also, I hope it features my favorite reading scene… All that’s keeping me afloat right now.

I guess this is why some things are better left imagined in your head rather than see it executed poorly. This is why we can’t have good things. Read my reviews of the original book instead to get a good laugh and a feel for how good this was supposed to be: Why I Fangirl over Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Spoilers: Levi) & Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I have no other words left, only this line from vine which says it all: Fuck your chicken strips.

  • Fans of the story until Chapter 18 iLike Him because Tallon turns into a stranger real quick from teasing and joyful to brooding and low-key annoying.

Support this thesis of a review by checking this book or its rival through Amazon preview:

Review: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

Had the sudden urge to check out one scene from this book and ended up rereading all the scenes with Mitch in one quick succession. (Yes, I still skip the pages only to read the scenes with Mitch/Blondie).

Is this my favorite book couple? No. Is this my favorite romance? Yes. Make it make sense…

It’s just that I take so much joy in the actual romance scenes of this book that I don’t even care for the fact that the couple doesn’t fit that well together. Similarly to my reading experience with The Hating Game: I love the romance, hate the couple.

Let me paint the picture with this scene showcasing the little things that make this book stand out to me:

“Honestly, I’m too tired for this shit.’ As Jess said it, she felt it. ‘Exhausted. Do you know I’ve been out every night for the last six nights?’
‘You’re a legend.’
‘That’s what I was aiming for. Legend status.’
He smiled, squeezing her with his thighs. ‘Sit down.”

The emphasis put on simply displaying tender touches instead of rushing to check off big milestones is the definition of romance™. I want more!!! Which is probably why I keep coming back to Summer skin time and again. But it’s also why I’m perplexed by this book. I mean it has hands down one of the best romance scenes I’ve read, and yet, it degrades itself in the second half by including so many unnecessary drama scenes. Why? I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: This is a romance book, we’re here for the romance!!

I mean, Mitch is the kind of guy you see repeatedly women complain about in advice columns with his hot-and-cold behavior: “If a guy wants to hang out daily but avoids getting personal does that secretly mean he really likes me?” Yeah, just the kind of guy you dream about… I felt legit sorry for Jess for having to put up with him simply because she’s addicted to his touch. Something as little as Mitch refusing to give his phone number to her aggravated me (he refuses multiple times, ugh). If anything, the social distancing rules now in place keep guys like Mitch away. Far, far away.
Like I said, I had more respect for him as Blondie because at least Jess put him in his place. Also, hot.

Oh, and funny looking at the dates of my previous reread to notice that I read it around the same time last year. There are cosmic forces at work with this book. Like I noted at the end of my review: their sexual tension traveled into the future to remind me to reread it.

My previous reread impressions on October 13, 2019 (shared on Goodreads):

When you intend on only going back to reread one chapter and end up awake till nearly 4am to finish the book… Help. It’s those damned Coca-Cola cans.

Also, why did I end up enjoying Mitch when he was simply known as “Blondie” more? The thrill of Jess’s electric chemistry with him at the start was everything. It’s why I kept reading on and on. I’ll be the first to admit that his “Can I touch you?” worked all too well on me. I really enjoyed them challenging each other to see who would push the line too far. But that only seemed to happen at the start.

So the end turned into a bit of a let down with Mitch constantly disappearing, basically ghosting Jess, only to turn up intoxicated at her doorstep. Rinse and Repeat. Mitch’s quick remarks as “Blondie” and Jess’s feisty remarks putting him in his place were simply too good to be replaced with this wishy-washy behavior.

As a disclaimer, I tried reading this back in May 2016 and dnf’d it because “Blondie” turned into “Mitch,” and it really wasn’t doing the same for me at the end. But given that it’s been three years and I could still recall scenes so vividly, like the Coca-Cola cans and the construction workers scene, really speaks volumes about this book. It was written so well that their sexual tension traveled three years into the future to remind me to reread it.

Check out where the fun begins through this Amazon excerpt: