Book List 2020 (& 2019)
|December 20, 2020
|Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized
Usually I list the best books I read for the year at the end of my Not-a-Gift-Guide post. I promptly forgot to add it into the 2020 post, and then looked back and realized that my 2019 list wasn’t posted anywhere on the blog either!!! The horror! I had managed to ruin my brand new computer at the beginning of the year, right in the middle of creating my normal end of year posts for the blog.
Let’s be honest, dumping a mug of coffee on the new computer and completely frying the whole thing in early 2020 was only a harbinger of what was to come…Anyways. Back to the books.
For those of you that missed last year’s list because I only posted it on facebook, here’s all the 4 and 5 star books I’ve read in 2019 and 2020. You are going to happy I’m listing 2019 books because I didn’t read much this year. My brain was too full of *other* stuff and I couldn’t concentrate long enough to string 3 sentences together reading or writing. 2020 is full of genre fiction and contains less non-fiction than any previous year. I did read non-fiction but most of them were 3 star books. If you are interested in non-fiction recommendations, check out lists in previous years.
A reminder of how I rate books: A 5 star book isn’t a perfect book. It’s a book that kept me up way past my bedtime. A 4 star book was good but didn’t grab me quite the same way. Both 4 and 5 star books I can recommend without reservation. I rate every book I read on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/melnewton) in real time and you are welcome to follow me there if you want to see what I’m reading and recommending throughout the year.
I find my most of my books because friends and family enjoyed a book and posted something on facebook about how much they enjoyed it, or sent me a message letting me know it’s a must read. Personal recommendations are so very important for authors. It’s how books get read and noticed. If you read a good book, please consider telling someone!
Unlike past years, this year I feel compelled to provide some notes on each book. Not really a description, those are easy to come by on Goodreads and similar. Just notes. This is probably being a complete over achiever, but since I’m trying to procrastinate several unpleasant projects, I’m giving into the impulse. I’m also hyperlinking each book to a goodreads description. Absolutely compartmentalized perfection for the purposes of procrastination right there…
2020 Books 4 & 5 star books
Identity Thief by Rachel Rosenthal. A short non-fiction read about someone’s experience with identity theft. One of the best in the series, which focuses on first hand accounts of crazy “can’t believe this happened” stories.
Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews (Innkeeper Chronicles). Most of the following books in the series were also rated as 4 and 5 star books. Wanna escape from the real world for a bit? Solid genre fiction that is easy to read.
The Minority Council by Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift series). This is Book #4 in the Matthew Swift series. This series has been featured in previous years as a good read. Book 4 is well worth continuing the series if you started it based on my 2019 recommendation. Thoroughly enjoyed. (Books 1 and 2 are listed below in the 2019 list).
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett. A true story of shipwreck survivors on an island. It’s a good read but not one that will keep you up past your bedtime. I find group survivor disasters, especially ones where the time frame stretches on and on to be an interesting study in human culture and behavior.
Love Wins by Rob Bell. The one won’t be for everyone, but it was a book that stayed with me after I read it, so I dutifully gave it 4 stars, even though by definition a book with caveats should have a 3 star rating. This book, combined with Holy Envy (a book featured in previous year), has informed my current view on what I believe when it comes to religion. If you are like me and grew up “Christian” but are struggling to fit the pieces of what you believe into a world view apart from the church the focuses on compassion, humanity, and love….this might help.
The Selection by Keira Cass (The Selection series). Young adult fiction. The first of the series was good, the remaining books in the series were varying degrees of “ok” and “just as good as the first one.” I have not listed them separately because who are we kidding? You aren’t going to read books 1 and 3 without reading book 2.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. This is a cookbook. I found it through a cook book club of the month. The way he uses vegetables and flavors was eye opening and several recipes in this book are now in regular rotation. Yes, some of the recipes are fussy and use non-standard pantry ingredients. But, the flavors and worth it. It’s the first vegetarian cook book I have owned that took me months to realize none of the recipes included meat until I had made 5 or 6 of the recipes. It doesn’t try to substitute for meat. It simply embraces the unique properties of plant-based things and uses them to the full potential without apologies.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher. I’m still not sure whether this was a 3 or a 4. It was not my type of book. It creeped me out. I tucked my toes under the blanket when I read it in bed. I couldn’t stop reading it. It was creepy. It is horror genre. I’m not a horror person. But I think it was good? You should read it and let me know.
Bill the Vampire by Rick Gualtieri (The Tome of Bill series). Full on warning – this book is full of guy eye rolling humor that objectifies women and the main character is as frat-boy as you can get without actually watching an early 90’s rom-com. There’s no excuse for these books and why I’m still reading them 5 books into the series except they take zero brain cells to read, have nothing to do with current events, and are possible to read after a 14 hour full ER shift full of hard decisions and mind-boggling problems. And the truth is, it was a 4 star book for me. So it makes the list. But you’ve been warned.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells (The Murderbot Diaries). Most years there is the series of the year that I discover. Murderbot is that series this year. Read All Systems Red, then read Rogue Protocol, then Exit Strategy, and then Network Effect. Every single one of them was a 4 or 5 star book.
The Better Part of Valor by Tanya Huff (Confederation series). Tanya Huff is new author for me this year. I started with this series. This particular book is the second in this series – you should start with the first one, and then read this one. Most of the books in the series were 3 stars – solid reads but not exceptional enough to make this list. This book was, but it’s not the first of the series. Good old fashion sci-fi genre fiction (even the cover reminds me of my childhood sci-fi books) with a strong central character development. I found the world building exquisite.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb Series). The sequel to this one came out this year, so I finally got around to checking it out of the library. I was thoroughly confused and unsure about everything in the book until the second half. That’s a LONG time for me to stick with a book that I’m not connecting with, but there was something about the writing and the characters (and strong recommendations from friends) that kept me going. By the end of the book it was a strong 4 star and is one of the few books I’ve read in my adult life that is probably worth a re-read now that I know the world and the characters better.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. ANOTHER new author, AND she lives in Northern California? I listened to the audio book, which is excellent. This is retelling of the post civil war, which ended because the dead rose at Gettysburg as zombies, from the view point of a young adult black women, who has been trained to fight zombies. You know you want to go read it….there’s a sequel too – Deathless Divide.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker. An odd little book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Want something a little different from your regular fiction that has a strong voice and character, with a touch of unreliable narrator? This is the book for you.
Time to Eat: Delicious Meals for Busy Lives by Nadiya Hussain. I saw her Netflix’s show and liked what I saw. Preordered her book, which came last month. I’m absolutely loving it. Her techniques and how she puts together meals, along with her ideas for future meal prep are really resonating with me. It’s easy for me to cook one of her meals and then adapt it and make endless variations that freeze well for future breakfasts and lunches. This year I’ve been particularly enjoying food with a cultural twist made by people who aren’t white people from America. Nadiya’s recipe style is her own, but there’s hints of East Indian and European fusions that are a welcome addition to the other recipes in my regular rotation.
The Huntress by Kate Quinn. No one is better than Kate Quinn at spinning a narrative. No one. I like her World War era books better than her Rome series. She’s one of the few authors that I have a hard time picking out the specific beats in her story lines and once the story gets it’s claws to me it’s a wide eyed read to the finish no matter what time of night it is and how many surgeries are scheduled the next day.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. This one took me most of the year to finish it, but it was worth the effort. Non-fiction. Read it in chunks. The pay off in understanding your own thought process will be worth it. Of course, it seems like others found the book valuable but a long read because if you search “thinking fast and slow” in Goodreads, there is an entire page of results of books devoted to summarizing this book, promising to disseminate the information from Kahneman in a concise summary. However you decide to “read” this book, I promise you it will be worth the time.
A Madness of Angels, and then the second book in the series, The Midnight Mayor, by Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift series). A later book in the series made the list in 2020. Reminds me a bit of the Rivers of London series so if you enjoyed that series you may enjoy this one.
I’ll be gone in the dark by Michelle McNamara. Yeah, I’m a true crime junkie :). About the Golden State Killer.
Evil Has a Name by Paul Holes. Ummmm…yeah this one too. Also about the Golden State Killer, but different information from a different perspective.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone. Non fiction. This one is about the woman that helped break the enigma code.
Two Henrys by Kevin Allison. In the same series as the 2020 choice of Identity Theft. Short non fiction personal story.
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders. The stand out book of 2019. Non fiction, all about how our GI tract works. It’s written in a style that I very much strive to match when I write non fiction articles about scientific topics. All the details and nuances without dumbing it down, but cutting out the jargon or other stuffy language that can get in the way of understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the biological system. Every page I turned in the book all I could think about is how *I* wanted to write a book just like this one but on an animal subject.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach. Non-fiction. If you’ve read Mary Roach’s books in the past, then you know how she approaches her subjects. This is a solid read on a subject that was surprisingly interesting.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. One of my favorite cookbooks. I use the things I learned in it every day and most of the recipes I’ve tried are now in my regular rotation. I checked the book out in the library and read the first half as a kindle book (which is the “information” part of the book), and then bought the hard copy for the last half of the book, which is the recipes. I feel like the book was better than the Netflix show of the same name.
Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick. Yeah, it’s another Donnor party book. But this one is good! And has current information that I wasn’t taught when I learned about it in school. I grew up in a town named after a member of the Donnor party, and my elementary school was also named for a Donnor party member. I drive over the mountains with their names on the passes. The Donnor party story is a thing where I live. Maybe you don’t know the story of the Donnor party. This is the book to read. Maybe you know the story really well like I did. This is still the book to read.
Holy Envy by Barbara Brown Taylor. Along with Love Wins (2020 pick), this was one of the defining spiritual books for me in helping me define what my religion means to me as an adult and how I approach religion. A very different read than Love Wins, this book spoke to me on multiple levels, including echoing my feelings when I took a world religions class in college and had the opportunity to do field trips exactly the way the author describes. It’s been almost two years since I’ve read this book but it has stuck with me.
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas. A great little fiction book….but did not enjoy the rest of the series, which I rated much lower. So you have been warned.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. This was my introduction to one of my favorite authors. This book is probably one of her best IMO. She writes fearlessly across all genres (or so it seems) so be warned! This one is straight up funny adventure fantasy, but if you pick up one of her others it might be heavily romantic or….horror. But the good news is that she’s always entertaining and a good read.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (2nd I’m a series). The previous book in the series was featured in 2018 (I think). Elizabeth Wein and Kate Quinn can battle it out for the best story teller. I often read their books back to back and in this case, happen to read their books that were also in a similar setting. Between Elizabeth Wein’s books and Kate Quinn’s…..I’m not sure I did anything but sit in a chair reading for a whole week.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Better than Spinning Silver IMO. If you sort of like Spinning Silver but didn’t love it, but liked the writing, try this one.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The book that introduced me to Kate Quinn. Like all the Kate Quinn books I’ve read it was good but not great until the 50% point. At that point it sinks its claws into you and good luck getting anything done in your real life until you are done with it. One of the best novels I’ve read. If you are trying to decide between Alice Network and The Huntress, start with this one.
Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land. A nonfiction that got a lot of hype when it came out. It’s readable and worth reading even if the ending isn’t quite as neat as you would like it to be, and the story is complicated and not black and white. Because that is what happens in real life. It’s a bit complicated and messy.