Books of 2020

Due to health and other life complications, over the last several years I haven’t been able to read as much as I would have liked to. I was lucky to finish more than a few books in a year, so it’s been something of a surprise that in this year that has been hellish in so many ways, I was actually able to get in a lot of reading. Part of that was because my youngest reached a slightly more independent stage, so she doesn’t insist in being in my arms at all times. Another part of is that I just simply gave up on managing any of my responsibilities that didn’t absolutely require my attention right away. (There is a bathroom in our house that I’m pretty sure must be haunted by now because the neglect has made it a prime location for all things creepy.) 

I don’t think I’ve ever put together one of those lists of all the books I’ve read in a year. Probably because it would hardly have counted as a list. This year it actually seems like something worth doing. Even just as a reminder that reading voraciously is one of the few things from 2020 that I want to take with me into 2021. I’m not going to try to remember every book I read, though. Just the ones that really stuck with me. So, in roughly the order I read them, here goes:

The Living by Isaac Marion (final book in one of my favorite series)

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell (Swoon)

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow (I’ve been gifting this to everyone I know)

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard (Best slow-burn, enemies to lovers story of the year?)

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (Oh, Ronan Lynch)

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman (Lovely)

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow (Magical and poignant)

Roar by Cora Carmack (Haunted me for several days following)

Onyx and Ivory by Mindee Arnett (Very cool world building)

A Blade so Black by L.L. McKinney (Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.)

The Unselected Journals of Emma M. Lion: Volume 3 by Beth Brower (I tell everyone these books are the perfect fall read.)

Merciful Crow by Margaret Owens (Got so into my mind I dreamt about it.)

I also got to be a reader for Volume 4 of Emma M. Lion and for a steampunk sci-fi by Kathy Cowley, both of which I loved. Kathy has The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet coming out in April 2021, so be on the lookout for that.

Christmas 2020

Our Christmas was a less lonely one than some of our other friends and family had. Both my parents and my husband Jordan’s parents live in town, and we quarantined with extra care for the couple weeks leading up to Christmas so that we could see them. We did Christmas Eve dinner with my parents–a prime rib roast that Jordan made following an Alton Brown recipe–and we checked in on Zoom with some of my siblings. My mom’s losing her hearing and my two children were running wild. Two things which added to the already inherent chaos of a group video chat, but it was nice to see the faces and hear the voices of everyone who tuned in. My mom is also on medicine that makes her tired and appears to mess with her memory, so that every time she talks about the call she seems to entirely forget the presence on it of one of my sisters. I haven’t had a chance to tease my sister about it yet, but she should be aware that teasing is definitely coming.

Christmas morning, we follow a tradition of my family’s from when I was a kid. We line up in our upstairs hallway, the kids each hold one of our sets of jingle bells and shake them as we sing a carol and make our way downstairs to our living room where the presents await.

(Two children in Christmas-themed pajamas hug each other and laugh. One child holds a menagerie of stuffed animals.)

After opening presents and leisurely getting ourselves ready for the day, we went to my husband’s parents’ house for more presents and food. My son’s favorite presents seem to be his several LEGO sets and his video games. He was not impressed by the books he received, but he does love reading and being read to, so I anticipate he’ll enjoy them more as the year goes on. Our youngest–nearing two years old–still wasn’t old enough to entirely understand what was going on, but she picked up on the concept of presents almost immediately and was excited and entertained by everything she was gifted.

(Two books. On the left, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls in black and pink and green. On the right, Circe, in black and gold.)

Unlike my son, I was incredibly pleased with the books I received. Circe and The Gallery of Unfinished Girls from my husband, and How to Read a Suit from my in-laws. This last one will come in handy in research for both my writing and my sewing. I also got some games I used to play with my family when I was a kid, and I’m excited to play them with my own family now. We already tried out Labyrinth, and it was as fun as I remembered. Next will be Rummikub. A classic.

(A hand holds a copy of the book How to Read a Suit: A Guide to Men’s Fashions from the 17th to the 20th Century. Its a brownish maroon with an image of a man’s figure wearing a mustard-colored suit from the 17th century.)

Christmas is my favorite holiday, but I think I’ve always loved the build-up more than the actual day itself. At least, the come-down from the high of the season tends to start toward the end of Christmas Day and always leaves me feeling a bit of melancholy. This year it waited to hit until the morning after. Partly, probably, due to the help of the show Bridgerton, which I binged in less than 24 hours and which I… almost loved? (Maybe I’ll write more on that later, but my qualms lie in the presence of a sexual assault scene–why???!!!–for which the character never seems to feel remorse, and which the show seems to want us to feel is justified?) Aaaanyway, it’s hard to fully give into melancholy when I’m immersed in a sweeping period romance, but once the melancholy did hit, I let myself indulge in it for a couple days, and now I’m ready to start doing real life again. Which is good, because tomorrow is Monday and real life is coming whether I want it or not.

February Comfort Reads

One of these things is not like the others, haha. No really. I read a ton this month. At least, way more than I probably should have, considering what other responsibilities I could have been attending to. And since—what with reacting badly to new meds and also reacting badly to a routine dental procedure—I spent a large portion of February feeling really sick and really sorry for myself, most of what I read last month ended up being my go-to comfort: Georgette Heyer. (Every book except one.)

I grew up on Georgette Heyer. You could almost say she was my first ever comfort read, if you ignored my earlier obsessions with Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club and Lloyd Alexander and many others. So, I guess, she was more like the comfort of my puberty years, and she’s stuck with me since then.

I wouldn’t put her in the same category as Sweet Valley High and Babysitters Club, though. Those books were fun, but I’d say that Georgette Heyer was more like masterful. A master of dialogue, of story structure and development, of vibrant and lovable characters. I talked about her a little in my list of Romance Novels You’ve Got to Read, but here are some of my thoughts, specifically, on her books that I (re)read in February:

the-unknown-ajaxThe Unknown Ajax:

This is a book I accidentally inherited from my grandma (as in, I borrowed it and never remembered to give it back), who was the owner of a large collection of Heyer books, and who, I believe, spurred my mother’s love of Heyer. (Who then introduced me to Heyer in turn.) Plot: The Unknown Ajax is about Anthea and Hugo, who are essentially ordered to marry each other before they’ve even met. Once Anthea has Hugo’s assurance that he will not offer for her, she decides it’s alright for them to at least be friends, and before she knows it his presence in her life has become indispensable. Anthea’s witty and willful and Hugo is hilarious and kind and far, far more competent than anyone imagines him to be—which makes for some excellent humor. Oh, and there’s also a dose of adventure and intrigue, so how could you ask for more?

cousin-kateCousin Kate:

I think this is one of Georgette Heyer’s closest homages to a classic Gothic romance, although the heroine, Kate, is more practical and perky than the dramatic heroines of most Gothic romances. Plot: Kate is penniless and in the middle of trying to find a paying job, when her wealthy, titled aunt appears out of nowhere and invites her to stay with her and her husband and very handsome son in the country for the summer. It sounds like an ideal situation, but once she’s there, Kate discovers that her aunt’s intentions for her future are just a little bit creepy. Enter the alluring, trustworthy cousin-by-marriage Phillip, and the real adventure begins. The only thing that this book could really use more of is banter between Kate and Phillip, because, let’s be honest, that’s primarily what we all read Georgette Heyer for.

the-talisman-ringThe Talisman Ring:

Okay, this one is definitely in my top ten Heyer books. It is pretty nearly perfect and I go back to it again and again. Sarah Thane is one of my favorite heroines ever. Soooo funny. I wish I could be her when I grow up. The banter between her and Sir Tristram Shield is so great, and there’s very nearly enough of it. Plot: When Tristram is asked by his dying uncle to take care of (by marrying) Eustacie, his much younger, hilariously dramatic, French-born cousin,  she thinks (being so very dramatic) that her only choice is to run away and become a governess. In the midst of her escape she accidentally runs into another of her cousins, Ludovic, who has been in hiding since being wrongfully accused of murder. She finds him in the midst of an act of smuggling–which gets him shot. In her efforts to help him escape the law once again, they cross paths with the intrepid and fun-loving Sarah Thane who insists on being part of their adventure. Together with Sir Tristram–who never really wanted to marry Eustacie anyway–the three of them set about trying to prove Ludovic’s innocence (of the murder) so that he can live a normal life again. Heyer’s handling of plot tropes that would normally be absurd or cheesy is first-rate. She turns them into the perfect balance of fun and hilarity. This is one of her “older” heroines too (late twenties—so OLD, ha ha!), which always seem to be my favorite.   

fredericaFrederica:

Now this one—it’s probably in my top three Heyer books. It’s more subtle, I think, than most of her others, and I guess you could say it feels more filled out too. More complete. The romance develops more naturally and delicately. The characters feel more real to me, in many ways. Every time I read it—and I read it probably once a year—I feel sad to see it end. Plot: Frederica, with three younger brothers and one younger sister, has been managing her family’s affairs for years, ever since her father grew sick and subsequently passed away. In an effort to give her younger, extremely beautiful sister a chance at an excellent marriage, Frederica brings the whole family to London and enlists the help of her very, very distant cousin, the Marquis of Alverstoke, to get them started in polite society. Frederica believes herself to be an old maid and plans on never marrying, and Alverstoke only gets involved with her for the sake of annoying a couple of his sisters, but before he knows it he’s falling in love with her and her entire family, and little by little Frederica realizes she’s in love with him too.

arabellaArabella:

I think I had only read this once before now. I bought it with my birthday money, since I was in such a Georgette Heyer mood this month, but to be honest, now that I’ve read it again, I think it may be one of my lesser favorites of hers. The characters have potential to be incredibly charming and the idea of the plot is a lot of fun, but it just isn’t as masterfully executed as most of her others. I think the “show don’t tell” adage is kind of annoying as a writer because I think how you write a book depends on what the story needs (rather than quippy writing rules), but I do think this book was a little heavy on the telling. I’d love to see it made into a movie, though… And I’d probably still recommend it to anyone who is simply in the mood for a fun romance. Plot: Arabella, daughter to a vicar and eldest of a whole horde of other children, is invited to stay with her rich godmother in London for a season. All the hopes of her several sisters are pinned on her marrying well (so that she can help them marry well too), and she sets off with the best of intentions, but on the way she encounters the arrogant and incredibly fashionable Mr. Robert Beaumaris, who annoys her so badly that she pretends to be a rich heiress to try and put him in his place. He is so amused by this that he decides to make her “all the rage” in town, giving her his particular, (usually) much sought-after attention, which she accepts cheerfully enough, telling him that she’s well aware that being seen with him can only help her socially. Tumbling into one entanglement after another on Arabella’s behalf—all because of her avid philanthropic tendencies, which make it impossible for her not to act when she sees injustice being done—Beaumaris discovers he’s falling in love with her despite himself. And Arabella—who still thinks he believed her lie about being an heiress—is sure that he would never love her if he knew the truth. (Note: can I just say how glad I am that they started doing these new book covers? I used to be too embarrassed by the old covers to take them out into public, haha.)

And now for the thing that is not like the others…

station-elevenStation Eleven:

This is definitely not a romance novel, ha ha. Though it is written with a lot of love for its characters. It was given to me for Christmas by my cousin and good friend, who can always be counted on to gift great books. Plot: It’s the story of, essentially, the before and after of a disease-ignited apocalypse. I can’t say I’m typically drawn to the post-apocalyptic genre in a general way, but Station Eleven is a work of art. It weaves together the stories of so many characters who are all connected in important but also subtle ways, managing to make each character matter to you—make each of them incredibly human—sometimes through the smallest of vignettes. The book is chilling and compelling and beautiful. I loved every second of it, and when I hit the last page I thought my heart was going to explode. I think I would like to live in the mind of the author for a little while, just to see what it’s like in there.