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.

2020 Book Challenge

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

52. Along the Infinite Sea

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

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Cocoa Beach & Europe
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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.

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

51. A History of the World in 6 Glasses

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.

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

50. Tiny Little Thing

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!

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn | 2020 Book Challenge

49. Bridgerton: The Duke and I

The beginning of the Bridgerton series with Daphne Bridgerton and Simon, the Duke of Hastings, court each other so that Simon can fend off the ton and Daphne can be more desirable.

  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Regency Romance
  • Location: London, England
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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!

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin | 2020 Book Challenge

48. The Last Romantics

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 Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

47. Summer Wives

When Miranda Schuyler arrives to Winthrop Island 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.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams | 2020 Book Challenge

46. A Hundred Summers

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 fiancé and best friend who are now married.

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Rhode Island
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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.

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

45. Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie flees to a nothing town called Borg after finding her husband cheating on her.

  • Author: Fredrik Backman
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: Borg, Sweden
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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!

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo | 2020 Book Challenge

44. The Night Tiger

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.

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

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

43. North and South

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.

  • Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Classic Literature
  • Location: Milton, UK (stand-in for Manchester)
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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!

Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella | 2020 Book Challenge

42. Mini-Shopaholic

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.

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

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi | 2020 Book Challenge

41. The Wind Up Girl

In a future dystopian Bangkok is an intriguing tale that involves corporations, a Japanese wind-up girl stuck as a sex slave, and an overzealous captain.

  • Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Location: Bangkok, Thailand
  • Shop Amazon

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!

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan | 2020 Book Challenge

40. Sex and Vanity

Lucie Churchill joins a childhood friend’s splashy wedding in Capri, Italy and finds herself inexplicably attracted to George Zao.

  • Author: Kevin Kwan
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: Capri, Ital, NYC, Hamptons
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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!

One Day in December by Jose Silver | 2020 Book Challenge

39. One Day in December

Laurie sees Jack from the bus one day and the spark is so instant, she spends the next year looking for him. When she finally finds him it’s because he’s her best friend’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!

Circe by Madeline Miller | Book Challenge 2020

38. Circe

A re-telling of Greek mythology through Circe’s eyes.

  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Greece
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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.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang | Book Challenge 2020

37. The Kiss Quotient

What happens when Stella hires a hooker with a heart of gold…

  • Author: Helen Hoang
  • How I Read: Kindle / Library
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: San Jose, CA
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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.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang | Book Challenge 2020

36. The Bride Test

What happens when Esme, a young Vietnamese woman, comes to San Jose to marry Khai, a Vietnamese-American man on the spectrum, without his prior knowledge.

  • Author: Helen Hoang
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Modern Fiction
  • Location: San Jose, CA (with a little touch of Saigon)
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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.

One to Watch | Book Challenge 2020

35. One to Watch

When plus-size fashion blogger Bea Schumacher goes viral for critiquing “Main Squeeze” (fictional “Bachelor”), 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.

From Scratch by Tembi Locke | Book Challenge 2020

34. From Scratch

A heartbreaking memoir about how Tembi Locke must pick-up the pieces when her Italian husband, Sal, 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!

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo | Book Challenge 2020

33. The Ghost Bride

Li Lan, daughter of an impoverished but respect widower, is offered to become a ghost bride to the wealthy Lim family. Once accepted, she begins having dreams of the Chinese afterlife and everything changes.

  • Author: Yangsze Choo
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction, Supernatural
  • Location: Malacca, Malaysia
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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!

TravelingWhileBlack | Book Challenge 2020

32. Traveling While Black

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

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

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.

TheSecretLifeofVioletGrant | Book Challenge 2020

31. The Secret Life of Violet Grant

When Vivian Schuyler gets a suitcase for someone named Violet Schuyler, she’s determined to figure out what happened to this long lost aunt and why no one will talk about her.

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

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.

The Lover | Book Challenge 2020

30. The Lover

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.

IOweYouOne | Book Challenge 2020

29. I Owe You One

What happens when the personification of a doormat saves a man’s laptop from sure destruction in a coffee shop one 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.

NothingLikeIImagined | Book Challenge 2020

28. Nothing Like I Imagined

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.

Surprise Me | Book Challenge 2020

27. Surprise Me

When a couple realizes they’re going to be married for a long time, they panic and decide to keep things interesting by surprising each other.

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.

Searching for Sylvie Lee | Book Challenge 2020

26. Searching for Sylvie Lee

When Sylvie Lee goes missing in Amsterdam, her little sister, Amy, must go figure out what happened.

  • Author: Jean Kwok
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Women’s Fiction
  • Location: Mainly Amsterdam
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

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!

WhattheWindKnows | Book Challenge 2020

25. What the Wind Knows

After losing her grandfather, Anne Gallagher returns to Ireland to spread his ashes and is pulled back through time to 1921 where she’s mistaken for her missing great-grandmother.

  • Author: Amy Harmon
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ireland
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Autumn has told me to read this book for at least a year now, after she said I should read Amy Harmon’s other book, From Sand and Ash. The book is, of course, a love story, and it bounces between Anne’s POV and Dr. Thomas Smith, who was best friends with Anne’s great-grandparents and acts as a guardian for Owen, her beloved grandfather. Their romance grows slowly as we’re pulled into a tumultuous Ireland as it fights for freedom from England.

I personally loved it, as I’m a sucker for impossible romances. Who knows? Maybe my soulmate is really some guy from the 1800s and when I’m 30-something I too will be pulled back in time. LOL

AyeshaatLast | Book Challenge 2020

24. Ayesha at Last

Ayesha is a clever woman who just wants to pay her uncle back while Khalid is an uber conservative Muslim man who means well but sticks his foot in his mouth regularly.

  • Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Romance
  • Location: Canada
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Such a cute story! It’s compared to Pride and Prejudice, which I could totally see. Khalid is a very prickly, judgmental-without-meaning-to-be Mr. Darcy and Ayesha is a smart and self-assured Lizzy Bennet. We even have our Lydia in the form of Ayesha’s cousin, Hafsa, who is every bit the spoiled princess.

Sometimes I just wanted to shake Ayesha and tell her, “Hey, man, didn’t you know we opened this book with Khalid staring at you moonily from his window?! Of course he’s in love with you!” And other times, I wanted to shake Khalid and say, “Dude, you have got to relax a bit. You not relaxing is why you keep sticking your foot in your mouth!” But, honestly, that’s why you just love them both and root for them the whole book.

My favorite character, though, is Amir. I appreciate the chaotic good he brought.

ButterflyGarden | Book Challenge 2020

23. The Butterfly Garden

What happens when the FBI discover a garden where girls are kidnapped and tattooed with butterfly designs.

  • Author: Dot Hutchison
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Mystery/Thriller
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I remember finishing this book and going, “this is the definition of a beautiful nightmare.” I just… there are no words. I can’t imagine getting kidnapped, tattooed so elaborately, raped constantly, and then just wait to die… Just….

SoulofanOctopus | Book Challenge 2020

22. The Soul of an Octopus

Sy Montgomery loves octopuses and has taken it upon herself to study and learn about these special but misunderstood creatures.

  • Author: Sy Montgomery
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Nonfiction
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

The cover and marketing for this book make it sound way more interesting than it actually was. Like I thought it’d be a book about octopuses, not a book about some person who likes learning about octopuses via an aquarium.

I’m also deeply troubled by the lack of discussion around the ethics of capturing them in the wild to study them in an aquarium, especially as she often mentions behavioral problems in the new additions!

CleopatrasDaughter | Book Challenge 2020

21. Cleopatra’s Daughter

Follow Cleopatra Selene – the famous Cleopatra’s daughter as she and her brothers must move to Ancient Rome.

  • Author: Michelle Moran
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Egypt & Rome
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Over all, I liked this story more than I thought I would given that it mostly takes place when Selene is younger (so not much romance lol). The real life Selene is so interesting that I wished the book had been longer and followed her into adulthood! Elissa recommended this other series about her to read and I already have them all on my Kindle.

Also, I’m kind of here for Juba’s Mr. Darcy treatment.

TrulyMadlyGuilty | Book Challenge 2020

20. Truly Madly Guilty

The book follows three couples in the aftermath of a backyard party that went wrong.

  • Author: Liane Moriarty
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Fiction
  • Location: Australia
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I read a Goodreads review that basically said, whoever does the marketing for Liane Moriarty’s books does her a great disservice by trying to make all her books seem like thrillers. I’ve read almost all of them now, and I’d say Big, Little Lies is the only book that comes remotely close to a thriller or mystery novel. Like even the title of this book makes you think something awful and salacious happens at this random party but when the reveal comes, you go, “That’s it?!”

For me, Moriarty is really good at developing characters out of seemingly normal, uninteresting people and making mundane suburbia intriguing. I wish people marketed to those strengths instead of making all her novels seem like a “whodunnit” story. Then I’d be way more receptive to the plot reveals.

Flatshare | Book Challenge 2020

19. The Flathshare

Tiffy Moore needs a new flat fast and winds up in a Flatshare with Leon Twomey.

  • Author: Beth O’Leary
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Romance
  • Location: London, UK
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

After a stretch of quite a few more serious books, I was definitely looking for a more lighthearted romantic one to enjoy. The Flatshare is one of those romantic books that’s just a bit unrealistic and still real enough you could maybe see it happening to someone! The characters really are so charming, and I enjoyed getting both their point of views. I was cracking up at different parts of the book, especially when they finally meet in person!

Queenie | Book Challenge 2020

18. Queenie

Queenie is the titular main character who just can’t seem to quite catch a break.

  • Author: Candice Carty-Williams
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Women’s Fiction
  • Location: London, UK
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Ohhhhhh, Queenie. I’ve never wanted to give a fictional character a hug more. Sure, some of her problems arise from very poor decision-making, but others are simply flung at her. She basically has a lot of unresolved issues with her relationship to her race, her relationship to men, and her relationship to her family and friends — all of which she refuses to confront head on. Sometimes I just wanted to shake her and say, “No do NOT have sex with the creepy man who hits on you!”

Someone decided to market this book as a modern Bridget Jones, but I really don’t think the two stories relate much at all. Maybe that they’re both British? I don’t know, but this book delves into much darker topics. While there are some funny moments and Queenie is both a witty and clever narrator, her obstacles throughout the novel won’t exactly leave you giggling.

AmericanPrincess | Book Challenge 2020

17. An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew

This book weaves together the complicate life of Allene Tew.

  • Author: Annejet van de Zijl
  • Translator: Michele Hutchinson
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Biography
  • Location: All Over
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Good lord the life of Allene Tew. More than that, I really liked how the author used her story to teach us more about the world of the wealthy from the turn of the century through two world wars and the the fifties. I can’t even imagine how much research van de Zijl did because Allene was hardly a hugely prominent figure. Her life is a bit more obscure, though still very much entwined with big historical figures.

HereticQueen | Book Challenge 2020

16. The Heretic Queen

As a sort of follow up to Nefertiti, this is about the famous Nefertari and her rise to becoming one of the most well-known queens of Ancient Egypt as well as her love story with Ramses the Great.

  • Author: Michelle Moran
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Egypt
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Ahhh such a good story! Like Nefertiti, I didn’t know much about Nefertari or even Ramses the Great, except that he was often who biblical scholars pin as the pharaoh from Exodus. First of all, Nefertari and Ramses are some of the best known rulers of Ancient Egypt and this is best seen in real life at Abu Simbel.

And what we’ve discovered of their lives from these temples tells us a lot about how much they must have loved each other. Gotta love an epic romance, especially when both characters are quite strong and smart in their own rights!

Out of the Silence | Book Challenge 2020

15. Out of Silence

This memoir is from Eduardo Strauch who was one of the survivors from the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash, otherwise known as The Miracle of the Andes.

  • Author: Eduardo Strauch with Mireya Soriano
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Korea and Japan
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

The translation and, presumably, original work are really beautifully written. Strauch looks back at his experience not only surviving the crash and subsequent 72 days of survival in freezing, inhospitable conditions as well as what happened afterwards. But really what much of the book is about is what he’s learned from this crash and how it shaped his outlook on life. A pretty quick read that gives you some interesting food for thought.

LastTraintoKeyWest | Book Challenge 2020

14. The Last Train to Key West

As the now infamous 1935 Labor Day Hurricane is approaching Key West, we meet three women who are dealing with their own demons. Mirta Perez has married an American man who seems to be caught up in dangerous business. Elizabeth Preston just wants to find her long lost brother, who’s the only family she has left. And then there’s Key West local, Helen Berner, who’s stuck in an abusive marriage and just wants to get away.

  • Author: Chanel Cleeton
  • How I Read: Physical Book
  • Category: Romantic Comedy
  • Location: A City
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I absolutely loved Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba, so I was super excited to pick up the next book set in that world. I do think we lose a lot in her splitting up the story between three narrators, and I remember not feeling as connected to any of the women or stories as I did with the other two.

I don’t know that I’d recommend going out of my way to read this, but it’s a good book if you’re missing this world Cleeton has created or are interested in Key West’s history. For me, it’s to tide me over until her next book, The Most Beautiful Girl in Havana, is released!

Esther | Book Challenge 2020

13. Esther

Esther takes a look at the famous biblical story from the points of view of its titular character as well as Harbonah, the main eunuch to King Xerxes.

  • Author: Angela Hunt
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Old Persia
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Admittedly, I don’t know much about the story of Esther. While I learned random and specific bible stories growing up (Noah, David, etc), I really couldn’t tell you a time I thought about her story. So, obviously, I had to review it before I dove into the book. This video does a really good overview but if you’d rather dive in totally blind, you can do that too.

Over all, I really liked the story. It’s about a period in time I really don’t know much about, and I always like feeling like I’m transported somewhere new with a book. I do think the storytelling wasn’t as strong here, especially as I read it right after Nefertiti. It’s told from Esther and Harbonah’s points of view in the first person, so they both should be our main characters and we should have full access to their thoughts and feelings. However, Esther starts to become more of a distant figure than a real person as the book goes on, and I lost my connection with her, which is a shame.

Nefertiti | Book Challenge 2020

12. Nefertiti

From the point of view of her sister, Mutny, here’s a look at Nefertiti’s rise to power.

  • Author: Michelle Moran
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Ancient Egypt
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Elissa picked this book for our book club, and I’m so glad she did! It’s exactly what I look for in a good story. I felt like I was transported to Egypt and privy to a very intriguing life we realistically know next to nothing about. In fact, as soon as I finished, I started planning a 30th birthday trip to Egypt (in two years lol)!

Highly recommend. We’re reading the sequel, The Heretic Queen next!

The Last Bathing Beauty | Book Challenge 2020

11. The Last Bathing Beauty

Betty Stern has her whole life ahead of her in the summer of 1951 but one summer romance will change all of it.

  • Author: Amy Sue Nathan
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Upstate New York
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I mean… It’s not really a shock what changed her life, is it? Nothing about this book is particularly new or unique, except maybe the commentary on being Jewish in the fifties and how it impacts Betty’s choices and life. I wasn’t that into the present day stuff, and I wish they’d fleshed out the past scenes and relationships a lot more. Also given us steamier romance scenes. What’s a rating below G?

OpenBook | Book Challenge 2020

10. Open Book

A memoir of iconic pop star and fashion mogul, Jessica Simpson.

  • Author: Jessica Simpson
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Memoir
  • Location: Texas, LA, & all over

THOUGHTS

Of all the celebrities I idolized in my youth, Jessica Simpson was at the very top. It’s crazy because I’ve been such a hardcore Taylor Swift fan for so long, but my love for J. Simp actually predates her! When I was a preteen Jessica was the celeb you wanted to be. She was more relatable, to me at least, than Britney or Christina or even Mandy, who was moving into acting at the time. I wanted her hair (the volume not the color), and she was constant body goals because she seemed to manage her 5′ 2″ frame perfectly. Plus when you watched her on TV, she seemed… normal! LV always on her arm rich, but still normal!

Well, anyway, Jess has obviously taken a back seat to her mega stardom as she’s altogether stopped singing and is, you know, busy with her billion dollar clothing company. Now that she’s older and is able to reflect on her crazy life, she’s letting us all in on what was really going on (hint: not remotely glamorous or fairytale). The craziest part is how all her anecdotes can easily be found online as the paparazzi has been in her life since her debut.

It’s actually become one of my favorite books ever, believe it or not. Her messages and lessons and the way she talks about her faith are refreshing and down to earth, and it reminded me of why she was my favorite all those years ago. If you buy the Audible version, you can hear her read it and listen to some of her new (!) music.

ThePassionAccordingtoCarmela | Book Challenge 2020

9. The Passion According to Carmela

Told from the various points of view of divorcée Carmela Vasconcelos, her brother, Lucas, and the Argentinian she falls in love with, Ignacio Deheza, we’re taken into the Cuban revolution and its aftermath.

  • Author: Marcos Aguinis
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Cuba
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

For a book with passion in the title, there is… not a lot of passion. Maybe it was the way it was translated, but the book just felt oddly dry considering it’s about Cuban rebels fighting for social justice under Batista. If I were to direct someone who wanted a good fiction book set during the Cuban revolution… this would not be it.

I do think it does a good job of taking us through that initial fighting in the jungles to the utter disillusionment as Castro begins the communist dictator we know him as in real life, but the narrative is just really choppy. Maybe if the author hadn’t kept switching between three first-person narratives and a third-person one?

EllaEnchanted | Book Challenge 2020

8. Ella Enchanted

A Cinderella re-telling! Ella of Frell was cursed at birth with the “gift’ of obedience, and after her mother’s death she must find a way to break the curse.

  • Author: Gail Carson Levine
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: YA Fiction
  • Location: Frell & Kingdom of Kyrria
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I mean, of course once I finished Ogre Enchanted, I had to revisit my young adult favorite, Ella Enchanted! I’m so happy this book holds up so well. Even Autumn still loves it, and it is very hard to get her approval let alone her praise of something.

Ahhh this book brought back so many good memories! I must have read it in elementary school, and I remember hotly debating with my friend over whether the book Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix was a sequel or not. I was obviously right in that it was not, but no amount of evidence would change her mind.

Anyway, if you didn’t read it when you were younger, I recommend reading it now! Definitely one of those books I’ll have my kids read someday.

OgreEnchanted | Book Challenge 2020

7. Ogre Enchated

A prequel to Ella Enchanted. When Evie turns down her best friend, Wormy, she’s turned into an ogre and has 62 days to find someone else to propose until she can no longer change.

  • Author: Gail Carson Levine
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: YA Historical Fiction
  • Location: Kingdom of Kyrria
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Uhhh did you know Levine wrote a prequel to Ella Enchanted? I didn’t either; Autumn told me! Obviously downloaded it instantly and read it all on my Kindle during my plane ride over to Vietnam.

What a fun premise! Besides absolutely loving Evie and Wormy, we get a look at Ella and Char’s parents before events of Ella Enchanted. Specifically, we figure out why Ella’s mom, who is amazing, winds up with her total putz of a father!

MyGrandmotherAskedMetoTellYouShesSorry | Book Challenge 2020

6. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Seven-year-old Elsa is tasked with apologizing to all the people her recently passed grandmother has wronged.

  • Author: Fredrik Backman
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Denmark
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Fredrik Backman, back at it again! This is the guy who wrote the lovely The Man Called Ove, and I’m pleased with how this story turned out too. Instead of a grumpy old man, we get a grumpy young girl dealing with the loss of her rebellious grandmother.

It’s a good one for anyone dealing with losing someone close, and, of course, it has all the charm that I expect from a Backman novel!

Still Waters | Book Challenge 2020

5. Still Waters

A murder mystery on the vacation island of Sandhamn in Sweden.

  • Author: Viveca Stein
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Thriller
  • Location: Sandhamn, Sweden
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I definitely liked this one! The murder mystery was fairly interesting, but what I loved more were the descriptions of Sandhamn, which is a real island in the Stockholm Archipelago. In order to best showcase why these murders are so shocking to the locals, the author fully paints this picture of how lovely and idyllic Sandhamn is, especially in the summer. I found myself wanting to go if I make it back to Sweden in the warmer months!

If Beale Street Could Talk | Book Challenge 2020

4. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

Tish is a 19-year-old girl newly pregnant while her boyfriend, Fonny, is in jail after being falsely accused of a crime. The story goes between how they got together and their fight to get him out of jail.

  • Author: James Baldwin
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Political Memoir
  • Location: All Over the US
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

When I finished listening to this book, I just wanted to scream, I was so frustrated. Which I’m pretty sure is exactly how the writer wanted you to feel because that’s what many, many families of wrongfully incarcerated black men feel on the daily. Goal achieved, James Baldwin, goal achieved.

Norwegian by Night | Book Challenge 2020

3. NORWEGIAN BY NIGHT

Sheldon is a grumpy 82-year-old veteran who witnesses the murder of his neighbor and and finds himself on the run in Norway with her young son to get away from his Balkan gangster father.

  • Author: Derek B. Miller
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Thriller
  • Location: Oslo, Norway
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I strongly disliked this book. I listened to it at 2x speed while staying up all night to finish a puzzle (don’t ask), and I just kept hating the main character more and more.

When I looked at the summary, I thought we were going to get a sort of charming/thriller tale about a grumpy old American man and a young Albanian boy bonding while on the run from the baby daddy. If the author were really clever, it’d also be an interesting commentary on how both characters are immigrants in Norway, but you’d only describe the Albanian as so while Sheldon gets to be an American or an expat in Norway.

But, alas, all we got was a 2D thriller with 1D characters. Of course the great big evil is the Albanian war criminal father and his thug buddies. Really, I just don’t get why this book needed to be written if I’m being honest. Nothing about it is fresh or new or remotely compelling. Heck, you don’t even get interesting descriptions of the Norwegian landscapes as they’re on the run! Why did this even need to be set there?!

the girl who wrote in silk | book challenge 2020

2. The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

A dual timeline book. In the present, Inara Erickson is going through her deceased aunt’s island home when she discovers a beautifully stitched piece of fabric. Meanwhile over a century into the past, Mei Lein, is Chinese-American who is forced from her home in Puget Sound, during a particularly anti-Chinese time.

  • Author: Kelli Estes
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Washington, USA
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

Yeah, this one is going to tug at your heartstrings. You just know a historical novel based round racism is never going to be a pleasant read. While I vaguely knew of the racism Chinese immigrants faced in the West when they first began settling; I actually hadn’t read too many books that are set so far back (this one is 1886).

Definitely recommend if you enjoy these kinds of books. I listened to it on Audible (free with Kindle Unlimited) and got pretty swept up in the story.

The Photograph of Hye Mi Bae | Book Challenge 2020

1. The Photography of Hye Mi Bae

Following the blueprint of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, this book follows Hye Mi’s obsession with her youth after her photograph is taken.

  • Authors: Giuseppe Rositano and Oscar Wilde
  • How I Read: Kindle
  • Category: Fiction
  • Location: Seoul, South Korea
  • Shop Local // Buy on Amazon

THOUGHTS

I’ll admit, I started this one in 2019, and it took me forever to read. I don’t know why! I never read The Portrait of Dorian Gray, so I’m not sure how much of this book borrows text from the original since it’s technically by the author and Oscar Wilde. I was prepared to not like it, but I was actually pleasantly surprised.

A lot of the formatting and editing on the Kindle edition could use some work, and it irks me that they kept switching back and forth between how they ordered the names (it should be Bae Hye Mi) and how they kept translating words that really should just be left in Korean (older brother/sister sounds awkward in English, so just stick to oppa and unni).

Anyway, I do think the author knew something about Seoul unlike another book I read, which I shall not name, and it was a clever commentary given how looks-obsessed Korean culture, and particularly Seoul culture, is.

And that’s everything I read in 2020!

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