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.

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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:

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:

 

Review: Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

I wish I could gift the book Best Friends to my younger self. I guess that’s what you have little sisters for – to make their childhood a bit more bearable. Sequel to Hale’s graphic novel, “Real Friends“, Best Friends explores the confusing in-between period of time where you’re no longer a kid, aka sixth grade *cue scary sound effect*

Shannon Hale managed to yank out all those suppressed memories from those early school years. Everything covered in Best Friends reminded just how glad I am not to be in the sixth grade *shudders*. The boys being mean just to appear ‘cool’, the girls being in constant competition, the petty fighting, the gossiping. How did we all survive that? And more importantly, why do little kids act so mean? I guess that’s why I’m studying Psychology.

Speaking of, yes, I still cannot stop analyzing the characters I encounter in books. This must be like book editors who can’t mentally stop correcting the writing they read in their free time. It’s simply impossible after you read the DSM to not look for signs of a disorder in every behavior. Like Jon Ronson wrote in his book The Psychopath Test:

“I wonder if I’ve got any of the 374 mental disorders,” I thought.
I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.

So reading Best Friends where Shannon Hale covers anxiety and OCD (presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both) was really interesting to see unfold within such a young character. I can’t stop thinking about her spiraling thoughts.

I’d recommend this book for many reasons (relatability, mean girls, finding your voice), but the mental health aspect made the book stand out for me.

This here paints the picture so clearly. “The worries were wrong” is so powerful.

This showcases the cycle of obsessive thoughts and taking momentary comfort in repetitive behaviors or mental acts like praying or repeating words silently.

Oh, and the gorgeous art by LeUyen Pham grew even more detailed and colorful this time around. Here are some of my favorite parts of Best Friends:

I wasn’t sure at first of the story within a story aspect, but if you want to buy my immediate love feature the ocean in your book.

It was also interesting how she featured writing as a tool of escapism when her friends didn’t want to play pretend anymore. It starts with the little things and then grows into something bigger… I mean she has multiple books out now.

Don’t stop! I loved that her teacher encouraged her writing (and that Shannon Hale included the real paper her teacher graded.) Having a teacher believe in you grants so much confidence when you’re young – or at any age, really.

…Until she grows tired of you too. Ugh!!! Those friends. I forgot all about those friends… Don’t bring me back to sixth grade, please. Ever.

Oh, that art!! I loved it when the art would suddenly change in style. It brought the story to life for me. So good!!

This page convinced me. I want a third book with Shannon in middle school or high school, please!

Me during this pandemic. Hovering in this cruel cycle of wanting to know what’s going on but also coming out of it with less knowledge and more fear. I only noticed the fear mongering in the media when I compared watching the news VS watching something I enjoyed. Wow. What a difference in mindset afterward. Do an experiment and notice your emotions after watching the news VS after watching your favorite movie or favorite Youtube channel. It will make you want to never watch the news again. Who wants to feel full of despair and anxiety? Not me.

Ah! What a powerhouse. Like my favorite Sarah J. Maas quote: “My name is Celaena Sardothien,” she whispered, “and I will not be afraid.”

This is what this book granted me: solidarity. We’re not alone in our thoughts.

READ THIS BOOK! Gift it to your younger siblings, cousins, neighbors. It’s so insightful and fun and thoughtful. I want a third book!

Oh, and help out this college girl by buying my books on Depop. I’m selling my books on Depop because I’m moving soon. If you’re looking for popular YA books; poetry; books full of dogs: foreign editions of books… Come take a look here