2020 Book Challenge Quarter 4: 26-52

Azerai La Residence Hue, Vietnam
Cute lil bookshelf at the Azerai La Residence Hue

Hello. My name is Samantha, and I finished my 2020 Book Challenge of reading 52 books with about 2 hours to spare before the clock struck midnight.

I really did it! Boy was book #52 a power read which, yes, I actually read and didn’t just listen to at 3x speed! I kind of can’t believe I just finished half of my book challenge in the last quarter? Like did I really only read Searching for Sylvie Lee back in October?!

Anyway, I made it. Here’s an overview of all the books I read in Quarter 4 of 2020. May I be much, much better at pacing myself in 2021.

WARNING: “THOUGHTS” section may contain spoilers!

All I Read from October – December, 2020

SearchingforSylvieLee | Book Challenge 2020

26. Searching for Sylvie Lee

QUICK SUMMARY

Sylvie Lee has gone missing while visiting with her dying grandmother in Amsterdam, and her little sister, Amy, must go and figure out what has happened. Told from alternating POVS between Sylvie in the past and Amy in the present.

THOUGHTS

This might be my pick for the best book I’ve read this year, which is a high order because I feel like I read a lot of really good books this year. I think I just really related to Sylvie’s internal struggles and I felt for her that she was around 30 and didn’t seem to find a place where she was comfortable with herself.

The mystery is definitely intriguing, though it becomes pretty obvious it’s not some crazy murder or kidnapping early on. It’s mostly a story about a woman who seemed to have everything and felt like she had nothing. Quite a few plot twists I don’t want to even give away here!

Surprise Me | Book Challenge 2020

27. Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

QUICK SUMMARY

A couple realizes they’re going to be married for a long time and have a bit of a panic attack. They decide to try to keep things interesting by surprising each other which results on all kinds of Kinsella-esque shenanigans!

THOUGHTS

Definitely needed a lighthearted Sophie Kinsella novel after Sylvie Lee, and that’s what I got. Kinsella has by far been my favorite novelist for a while when it comes to these fun, romantic comedy books. I also like that her storytelling has matured with each new release, so it feels like they’ve grown with me.

Sylvie and Dan make for a cute couple, and I was 100% dying at some of their foibles. Also Sylvie’s character growth was a pleasant surprise as she goes from “Princess Sylvie” to, you know, a grown-up.

NothingLikeIImagined | Book Challenge 2020

28. Nothing Like I Imagined by Mindy Kaling

  • Author: Mindy Kaling
  • How I Read: Audible (Kindle Unlimited)
  • Category: Essays/Memoir
  • Location: Los Angeles
  • Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Just some fun essays from Mindy Kaling on life in LA!

THOUGHTS

My ultimate idol, Mindy Kaling!! Of all the things I’m a fan of — her acting, her directing, her script writing, her producing choices, her fashion choices — it’s her books that I love the most of all. While this isn’t exactly a follow-up to her Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? and Why Not Me? it does still have her funny voice and excellent storytelling.

Not all of the essays are home runs (“Once Upon a Time in Silverlake” probably comes in last for me), but even when she’s not 100%, she’s still more entertaining than most storytellers. My personal favorites were probably “Kind of Hindu,” a look at her reexamining her ties to the Hindu faith, and “Help is on the Way,” which is the sweetest essay of love for the woman who helped her in her early days of motherhood.

IOweYouOne | Book Challenge 2020

29. I Owe You One

  • Author: Sophie Kinsella
  • How I Read: Kindle (Library)
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: London, England
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Fixie Farr is a walking doormat. Her prettier older brother and sister walk right over her when it comes to their family-run shop. Her dead father, in his own way, kind of walked over her when he insisted on “Family first,” having to know 2/3 of his kids are walking jerks. Her mother, in her own way, unknowingly walks over Fixie when she unwittingly guilts her into holding the family together while also keeping the shop afloat. Even Ryan, the boy she’s had a crush on since she was a preteen, walks right over her with his California good looks and ridiculously inflated sense of ego.

This all changes when she meets Seb and saves his work laptop from sure destruction in a coffee shop one fateful afternoon.

THOUGHTS

So, I put a bunch of Sophie Kinsella books on hold, expecting them all to have a long wait time! Unexpectedly, three of my books came in at once and I found myself doing some long reading sessions to keep up! I Owe You One came up for availability right as I started Surprise Me, so I found myself with two back-to-back Kinsella reads!

This was a very cute read. Like Seb is wildly unrealistic as a male character so I could enjoy the romance without finishing the book and spiraling into a “Will I find love?” mood. More than their very unrealistic love story, I mostly loved watching Fixie begin to stand up for herself! You know it’s going to come, but man, watching her fade under pressure too many times to count in the first half the book was insanely frustrating.

The Lover | Book Challenge 2020

30. Lover

QUICK SUMMARY

She’s a poor French teenager, and he’s rich Chinese man in colonial Vietnam (Indochina). This is their story.

THOUGHTS

This book is basically a memoir of Marguerite Duras’s affair with a Chinese man during her teenaged years living in Saigon and Sa Dec, though it’s technically fiction. The book is very winding and dreamy so some descriptions of the Mekong are lovely while the story telling may seem a little choppy.

It’s funny because it’s the kind of book that just would not fly today. She’s way too young, and it’s weird to have a book set in Vietnam and so inherently Vietnamese and…not include a single Vietnamese character.

TheSecretLifeofVioletGrant | Book Challenge 2020

31. The Secret Life of Violet Grant

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle (Library)
  • Category: 1900s Fiction (1960s & pre-WWI)
  • Location: NYC in the 1960s, pre-WWI England and Germany
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Vivian Schuyler, of the very well-to-do Schuyler family, has a charmed life in 1960s Manhattan as she pursues journalism much to her mother’s chagrin. Her curiosity is piqued when a suitcase meant for someone named Violet Schuyler is sent to her from decades past. Who is this mysterious great aunt that no one talks about? Told in alternating POVs between Violet in pre-WWI England and Germany and Vivian in 1960s NYC.

THOUGHTS

I looooved this book! My friend, Sher, recommended it to me and said she thought I’d like it, and she wasn’t wrong. I went on to read like four more Beatriz Williams books this year and am kind of addicted to this fun, WASP-y world she’s created!

Viv is SUCH a fun character and the tale of “What happened to Violet Grant?” keeps you guessing.

TravelingWhileBlack | Book Challenge 2020

32. Traveling While Black

  • Author: Roobens Fils
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Memoir
  • Location: All over the world
  • Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

A series of essays from Roobens Fils of Been Around the Globe about traveling as a black Frenchman.

THOUGHTS

Hehe had to support a fellow travel blogger! Loved reading about Roobens’ experiences and his take on being black, especially from a French point of view vs. American.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo | Book Challenge 2020

33. The Ghost Bride

  • Author: Yangsze Choo
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Late 1800s Historical Fiction, Supernatural
  • Location: Malacca, Malaysia
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Li Lan is the daughter of an impoverished but respected widower when she’s offered the chance to marry the son of the wealthy Lim family. Only one thing — he’s dead and this is a ghost marriage. After this proposal is made, Li Lan finds herself getting stuck in dreams of the Chinese afterlife and soon finds herself on a journey she never thought she’d be on

THOUGHTS

Oooh this was such a unique book and another favorite read of this year. Malacca was on my list to visit this year if I made it to Malaysia, so it was fun reading about it in book form!

The whole afterlife is fascinating and the way the world is built and the mysteries unfold made me instantly want to read everything else Choo has!

From Scratch by Tembi Locke

34. From Scratch

QUICK SUMMARY

Ughhhhhhh a heartbreaking memoir about how Tembi Locke’s Italian husband, Sal, and how she must pick-up the pieces when he succumbs to cancer.

THOUGHTS

Ohhhh I loved this. I can’t believe it’s a true story. PS I Love You but real life and much more complex. I love the way Locke brought Sicily alive for us as readers, especially when it came to food and her husbands’ hometown. Absolutely brokenhearted reading about how they fell in love knowing he would eventually pass away!

One to Watch | Book Challenge 2020

35. One to Watch

QUICK SUMMARY

Bea Schumacher has made a name for herself as a plus-size fashion blogger and when a post she writes critiquing “Main Squeeze” (fictional “Bachelor”) goes viral, she’s offered a spot to be the next star.

THOUGHTS

Sher also recommended this book to me (she’s good at picking them!) and I was obsessed! It actually had a pretty long waitlist at the library, so it was quite a few months before it became available! I loveeeed Bea so much, and her insecurities body and otherwise just really hit home.

I’m just saying I will take back every scathing comment I’ve ever made about “The Bachelorette” if any of these dating reality shows invite me to be the star lol. I will absolutely take a bunch of men pretending to like me, picking two+ destinations to travel to (obvs dragging production over to Jeolla in Korea and maybe somewhere fun in Europe like Romania, Croatia, or Slovenia), finding some celebrity guest to meet, and the influx of followers which will strengthen just about any brand deal I want to make the in the future.

But actually, this is a very cute book and Bea just deserves the world whether love is involved or not. Her family and friends are awesome, and I like guessing who she’ll end up with, though I kind of guessed when they got to the final few.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang | Book Challenge 2020

36. The Bride Test

QUICK SUMMARY

Khai, a Vietnamese-American on the spectrum, believes himself incapable of love so he avoids dating like the plague. His mother on the other hand wants grandchildren, so she takes it upon herself to find him a wife… by going to Saigon to find one! Her pick is Esme, a young woman she accidentally meets cleaning the bathroom of the hotel she’s meeting potential brides in. Esmse has a summer to make Khai fall in love with her and thus elevate her and her family’s life out of poverty. POV goes between Khai and Esme.

THOUGHTS

I really loved this book! It’s a very cute romantic read and I loved Esme’s determination in finding her way in California. Obviously, it’s pretty unrealistic but I can handle that with a fun story and good chemistry with the leads. It gets pretty steamy which was a fun surprise lol.

Also reading this made me realize just how used to Vietnam I’ve gotten! Like a lot of the Vietnamese references would’ve probably gone over my head otherwise but I found myself going, “Ah!” a few times when Esme referenced something.

37. The Kiss Quotient

  • Author: Helen Hoang
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: San Jose, CA
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Stella Lane is 30 and so far her only experience with romance or otherwise has been… pretty terrible. So she decides to hire a male escort to help her fix this problem. Cue Michael Phan, a hooker with a heart of gold who’s just trying to fix the financial problems his father left them with while putting his own dreams on hold.

THOUGHTS

You’re actually meant to read this book before The Bride Test, but I read them backwards. If you thought Khai and Esme’s story was unrealistic, this one is pure fantasy lol. It’s still very fun, and Helen Hoang just has a charming way of writing (not to mention the steam). If TBT was filled with sexual tension, this one is like 10x more as the summary might suggest.

I do wish Michael had been like, a fraction more realistic. A half-Asian hottie who’s: straight, wants to design clothing, is amazing in bed, has a heart of gold, loves his family and has a close relationship with them, and falls in love with our main character? I mean, c’mon.

Circe by Madeline Miller | Book Challenge 2020

38. Circe

  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Greece
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

We really only know of Circe a little through The Odyssey but what we know about her in the context of Greek mythology paints the picture of a much more interesting character than what we’ve seen so far. In this book Madeline Miller tells Circe’s story through her eyes and takes us through the centuries of Ancient Greece.

THOUGHTS

I mean, The Song of Achilles is definitely one of my favorite books ever and the way Miller gets into these famous mythological characters’ heads is purse magic. Like I’m sad she doesn’t have a hundred books like Circe and TSoA for me to get lost in!

Circe is such an interesting character who I just want to hug for most of the book. I said in my 2020 recap that one of my lows is dealing with loneliness, and Circe’s loneliness is, frankly, next level. Imagine being so immortal and destined to be stuck on an island for all of existence? The immortal figures in her life revile her and the mortals she loves are, well, mortals.

I was genuinely curious where Miller would take us and how she would end the story, and I’m pretty pleased with where we wound up.

One Day in December by Jose Silver | 2020 Book Challenge

39. One Day in December

QUICK SUMMARY

Love at first sight? Laurie first sees Jack from the bus after a long day and the spark is so instant, she spends the next year searching London high and low for him. When she does find him, it’s because he shows up as her best friend, Sarah’s new boyfriend.

THOUGHTS

Ok, I picked this book because I got my friends, Stephanie, Megan, and Kayley to agree to a little online book club (despite our VERY different time zones). Since December was our first meeting, I jokingly picked One Day in December because it’s a light read and, you know, December! I’d had it in my Goodreads to-read list for a while, and I will admit I’m a bit of a sucker for romance stories that span quite a few years in a series of missed opportunities. Maybe a part of me is hoping I’ve already met my true love but we both needed to grow up separately and we’ll come together later in life. I’ve obviously read One Day and Love, Rosie and watched the movies too many times lol.

Anyway, this book was so beyond frustrating, I texted our group chat and said, “The lack of communication is giving me full body cringe every time I start a new chapter.” Over all, I do like the story, but I didn’t love the execution. I feel like the organization is really choppy, so you don’t get enough time with the characters to really care about them. It felt kind of like the Spark’s Notes version of a story?

Like towards the end, we’re told Sarah, Jack, and Laurie have this special bond that growing up together in your twenties will create, but…. idk? I felt like we didn’t spend enough time in those years for me to believe this. I’m trying to think of how this book could’ve been presented better, and I’m drawing a bit of a blank. Maybe expand it to have first person side from Sarah? Or only have it from one person’s POV? Maybe condense the time hopping more, similar to One Day, where we only peek into their lives in the month of December? Even out the narratives? I feel like we really only get Jack’s first-person POV when it relates to Laurie whereas Laurie is a bit more fleshed out.

Also tbh, justice for Oscar. And, saying this as someone who’s never had a relationship in her life, I feel strongly that before you commit to marriage or even a serious relationship, you need to lay all your romantic cards out on the table!

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan | 2020 Book Challenge

40. Sex and Vanity

  • Author: Kevin Kwan
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: Capri, Italy + NYC + Hamptons, NY
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Kwan is back with his tales of ridiculous wealth! This one follows Lucie Churchill as she joins a childhood friend’s splashy wedding in Capri, Italy and finds herself inexplicably attracted to George Zao.

THOUGHTS

This one takes place during the Capri wedding as well as a a few years later when Lucie is a wealthy twenty-something getting ready to marry an obnoxious, WASP-y man and still thinking of George Zao.

TBH It was pretty lacking after we got to the present day, and I remember finishing it going, “That’s it?” None of the characters are that well-developed or even that interesting! Still, Kwan can build a fun, luxury world, and Capri is one of my favorite places, so I had fun ~virtually~ returning!

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi | 2020 Book Challenge

41. The Wind Up Girl

  • Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Location: Futuristic Bangkok, Thailand
  • Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

In a future dystopian Bangkok where most natural food no longer exists, is an intriguing, complex tale that involves corporations, a Japanese wind-up girl stuck as a sex slave, and an overzealous captain.

THOUGHTS

To be honest, this is not a book I’d recommend listening too. The world is too complicated, and I think I’d like to read this again in the future but actually read it so I can process through the characters, terminology, and world a lot better!

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella | 2020 Book Challenge

42. Mini-Shopaholic

  • Author: Sophie Kinsella
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: England (London suburbs)
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Bex is back at it again with her many misadventures and shopaholic tendencies, only this time she’s got a toddler going through the terrible twos.

THOUGHTS

I haaaaattttteeedddd this whole book. Maybe because I read it in 2020 and not 2010 when it was published? Just everything made me eye roll, and Bex had all the maturity of a peanut. I used to find the Shopaholic books fun escapism but idk, this one was terrible. Apparently the ones after are just as rubbish, so I think my time with the Becky Brandon is over.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

43. North and South

  • Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Classic Literature
  • Location: Milton, UK (stand-in for Manchester)
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Margaret Hale is from the genteel south of England. John Thornton is from the industrial north. Personalities clash when she and her family must move to the factory town of Milton.

THOUGHTS

My classic novel of the year! It’s what you’d expect with a classic English novel. I enjoyed the commentary on what factory life and the mistreatment of the workers. The romance is also typical classical romance though maybe even more restrained. We don’t even get a kiss!

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo | 2020 Book Challenge

44. The Night Tiger

  • Author: Yangsze Choo
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: 1930s Perak State, Malaysia (Ipoh)
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

Ji Lin is stuck as a dressmaker and dancehall girl in the hopes of paying off her mother’s debt without letting her step father or step brother know. Ren is a houseboy who must find his former master’s lost finger within 49 days so he doesn’t wander the earth forever.

THOUGHTS

Why does Yangsze Choo only have two books?! I could get lost in these historical worlds she creates in Malaysia for days. I loved The Night Tiger and was genuinely intrigued as to where it was going to take us to get to the end!

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman | 2020 Book Challenge

45. Britt-Marie Was Here

QUICK SUMMARY

A bit of a follow up to My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, this follows Britt-Marie after she flees to a nothing town called Borg after finding her husband cheating on her.

THOUGHTS

Ahhhh I love Fredrik Backman. His stories are just so… beautiful. he makes mundane, prickly people lovable and mundane, unremarkable places magical. If you love his other work, you’ll love reading about Britt-Marie!

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

46. A Hundred Summers

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Rhode Island
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

As a huge hurricane starts to approach Rhode Island in 1938, Lily Dane must brace herself for a personal hurricane — the arrival of her former fianc√© and best friend who are now married.

THOUGHTS

It was just okay. Probably my least favorite Beatriz Williams book — just too full of cliches and I really just didn’t by Nick and Lily falling for each other in the first place. Their whole first meeting was basically “I like you because you’re not like other girls” lol.

47. Summer Wives

QUICK SUMMARY

Winthrop Island has two worlds — the wealthy summer vacationers and the Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers. When Miranda Schuyler arrives as her mother marries the wealthy Hugh Fisher in 1951, she’s thrust into a scandal that has ramifications 18 years later.

THOUGHTS

I actually really loved this book! It balances three time periods and two narratives really well, though a lot of it kind of makes you a bit … uneasy. And very glad you live in the 2000s and not the 1960s as a woman.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin | 2020 Book Challenge

48. The Last Romantics

QUICK SUMMARY

Fiona Skinner is a renowned poet in, like 2079. In her last major event, she decides to tell the full story of her family, beginning with the death of her father and, what is known as, the Pause.

THOUGHTS

I really like Conklin’s writing style and I liked the idea of this book, but the execution was just a bit too messy. It could have cut out a lot of extra crap and fixed the POVs and made something even more poignant.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn | 2020 Book Challenge

49. Bridgerton: The Duke and I

QUICK SUMMARY

Daphne Bridgerton and Simon, the Duke of Hastings come up with a plan to court each other. Simon can fend off the mothers of the ton and Daphne, by association to a duke, will become the most desired marriageable woman!

THOUGHTS

I hated this book, which says a lot because I automatically readjust my expectations when it comes to regency romance novels. The show is a riot and I watched it twice, but I have no desire to read this book again or any of the other books in the series!

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

50. Tiny Little Thing

QUICK SUMMARY

A follow-up to The Secret Life of Violet Grant (not really). This is about Tiny, Violet’s oldest sister. Tiny is the type of woman groomed to be the next First Lady, and that’s exactly what her picture perfect husband aims to be someday.

THOUGHTS

It wasn’t my favorite Beatriz Williams book but I did like reading about Tiny and how she finally overcomes this weird box her mother has put her in since childhood. It’s also pretty important for the third book, Along the Infinite Sea, which I really liked!

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage | 2020 Book Challenge

51. A History of the World in 6 Glasses

QUICK SUMMARY

Explore the world and its history in six different glasses: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola.

THOUGHTS

I really liked this book, though it’s definitely more Western leaning. I wrote a bit of my thoughts and my favorite tidbits here.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

52. Along the Infinite Sea

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: 1930s & 1960s Historical Fiction
  • Support Local / Shop Amazon

QUICK SUMMARY

When Pepper Schuyler goes to Cocoa Beach to sell the newly fixed Mercedes Benz from Tiny Little Thing, she gets way more than she bargained for in its buyer, Annabelle Dommerich, who has her own story to tell.

THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed this book! It’s very different from the first two of the Schuyler sister series. While Viv shares her story with Violet Grant, and Tiny has her story all to herself, Pepper is very much a background character for most of this book, which is much more about Annabelle’s story in 1938 France and Germany. I don’t mind as Annabelle’s story was wild, but I did love the character of Pepper and would’ve love to see more of her in a book!

Annabelle’s story is quite interesting in that I both didn’t know who her husband would be when all was said and done and who I wanted it to be. Still kind of chewing it over even now.

WHAT a journey, y’all! I can’t believe I actually managed to read 52 books this year with how slow it started out. For my own amusement, I’m going to do a little recap in another blog post to see where my reading took me this year as well as how I’ve “improved” from 2018 and 2019! I already know I’ve been reading on my kindle way more than listening, which I’m pretty happy about!

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