And That’s a Wrap 2020: Surprises and Disappointments

In just a few days, it will finally be the end of 2020. And you know what that means…it’s time to wrap up the year that was! Well, reading wise, that is. First up are the surprises and disappointments I discovered this year among the 60 books I read.

Every year there are books I go into expecting (or hoping) for something amazing, only for them to fall short. Then there are others which I pick up not expecting much at all and find myself very pleasantly surprised. These books don’t always end up part of my favourites & least favourites of the year but I feel like it’s interesting to have a look back on them all the same.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

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The Dutch House was my first experience with Anne Patchett and although I’ve heard good things about her novels, I certainly never expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. The story is set over a period of several years and focuses more on characters than plot. It’s a slower paced read which somehow manages to fly by and acts a lot of like a modern fairytale. It’s wonderfully written and I really loved the focus on the relationship between brother and sister, Danny & Maeve. Some of my favourite moments were scenes involving them simply sitting and talking about their childhood home. This was also one of the few audiobooks I listened to this year and I can highly recommend the soothing voice of the lovely Tom Hanks.


In a Holidaze – Christina Lauren

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After a bleh experience with The Honey Don’t List (and hearing not great things about the prior release), I went into In a Holidaze with low expectations. I was really happy to find an adorable, fun Christmas romance perfect for ending a rubbish year. Friends to Lovers isn’t usually one of my favourite tropes but Christina & Lauren are doing their best to change my mind. The story revolves around Mae who joins her family and their friends for Christmas at their usual cabin. She gets stuck in a ground-hog day type time loop after making a plea to the universe to help her find happiness. This gives her the chance to pursue a relationship with her long time crush Andrew. Not my favourite CLo book, and it could have used more of the groundhog day element but an enjoyable ride all the same.


Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

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As much as I’m trying to avoid using the same books in multiple wrap up posts, this had to be included. I loved Conversations with Friends and was not expecting to at all. I bought it on a whim for something different and went in with low expectations, mostly because I read Sally Rooney’s Normal People in 2019 and only rated it 2.5 stars. For some reason, things that bothered me about Normal People, such as Rooney’s aversion to quotation marks, just didn’t feel like a big deal anymore (perhaps I’m more used to her style?). Weirder still, almost none of the characters are particularly likeable or “good” people and yet, I was so invested in what happened to them. I’m 100% positive that I’ll reread this in the future.

You Deserve Each Other – Sarah Hogle

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You Deserve Each Other was the second book I tackled during my romance binge in September. Before then I had never even heard of Sarah Hogle or this book (it’s her debut). Considering romance reads can be hit or miss, I wasn’t really sure how this would go, but it was so good! It was such an enjoyably fresh take on the enemies to lovers trope (which I love) and I certainly didn’t expect to laugh out loud and get hit with the feels as much as I did. It’s about a engaged couple named Naomi and Nicholas who don’t get along anymore but both are too stubborn to call off the wedding. What follows is a combination of trying to get the other person to back out and attempting to repair the relationship. I’ve already added Sarah’s next book to my anticipated releases for 2021.

The Toll (Arc of a Scythe 2#)- Neal Shusterman

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I love the first two books in this series. They’re fantastic and I rated them 5 and 4.5 stars. So as the last book, The Toll had some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, it just didn’t get there for me. Behold my disappointed but solid 3 stars. My main issues: the story felt like it dragged and went on for longer than it needed to, I thought the direction of the book was kind of odd, the two main characters barely interacted at all (Rowan’s storyline felt especially pointless), and I was very disappointed with what happened to Goddard’s character. Not what I was hoping for or expecting at all.

The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue – V. E. Schwab

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You all know how much I love Victoria Schwab, but sadly I was in the minority on this one. I liked TILoAL but wasn’t bowled over. Trust me, the disappointment hurt because it was probably my most anticipated release of the year. For me, this book had so much potential and while I thought the writing was beautiful, the themes it tackled were great, and I appreciated the ending, there were just aspects of the story and characters which were a miss with me. The book follows Addie who makes a deal with a dark god for immortality. The catch is that no one retains memory of her after she disappears from their sight. Two-hundred years later she comes across a bookseller named Henry who somehow remembers her.


Mexican Gothic – Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Ah, Mexican Gothic. The part that kills me the most is that only weeks before reading this, I included it in a 5-star predictions post. I was so deflated. It’s set in 1950s Mexico and revolves around a socialite named Noemi, who, after receiving a troubling letter, travels to a country mansion to check on her newly married cousin. She soon finds that there is something wrong with the house and the family that live there. The atmosphere is fantastic. It’s beautifully eerie and perfect for a Gothic horror novel. I was also quite fond of stubborn & confident Noemi and appreciated the idea of the different mystery elements for her to solve. But it was the flat surrounding characters, lack of chemistry between Noemi and her love interest, and the bizarre direction for the story’s climax that let me down.


Blood for Blood – Ryan Graudin

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Wolf by Wolf was one of my favourite reads of this year – good characters, great balance between action and quieter moments, a dramatic ending… So, as you’d expect, I went into the sequel hoping for something just as enjoyable. Sadly, while I ended up giving it 3 stars, Blood for Blood just didn’t hit the same highs for me. I was disappointed in the direction taken with some of the characters (especially Felix) and not as keen on this book’s version of the journey plot which was mostly a roadtrip back to central Germany. Things dragged at points and there were times where it felt as though very little was happening. Worth reading to complete the story but definitely an easy inclusion on this list.


What were some of your biggest surprise and disappointment reads of 2020? Not necessarily your favourites or least favourites but books that turned out different from what you expected for better or worse.

My Favourite Reads of 2020 (So Far)

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a few years now (you poor souls) will know that I like to do a mid year check-in of sorts with regards to my favourite reads. The main reason being that it’s always fun to compare the halfway year list to the final top ten books at the end of the year – what’s come out on top, what’s been bumped off by something I enjoyed more, and so on. To keep things fair, re-reads are excluded because how boring would that be?

Now, by this time last year I’d read 39 books which was a decent number to pick a top 10 from. In 2020, so far, I’ve read…err..well…27 books. Yes, I know. But hey, I did say at the beginning of the year I was going to take things at my own pace. So no complaints. However, with a lower number of books to select from, instead of doing a top 10 this year I’ll be doing a top 6 for my mid-year post.

Here they are, in no particular order:

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara | Review

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If you’ve read my review for this book, you won’t be surprised to see A Little Life on this list. I loved this novel, which is such a strange word to use considering how difficult the content is and the fact that it broke my heart into a million pieces then drove a steamroller over them. The book follows a group of four university friends who move to NYC together and showcases the highs and lows of their lives over several decades. The writing is stunning and the characters are beautifully crafted. Although it’s a long book and has a couple of issues, it’s definitely worth the time investment and boxes of tissues you’ll go through in the last hundred or so pages.


Starsight – Brandon Sanderson | Review

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Skyward was my favourite read of 2019 so the fact that I enjoyed Starsight as much as I did was an enormous relief. It’s quite a different story from the first book in terms of the narrative direction, pacing and characters but still super engaging. Sanderson massively expanded his universe in this book which would ordinarily be a bit of a worry for me, but here it was done in such an interesting and logical way. I also really appreciated the growth and development of Spensa, the MC, in this book and I’m really excited to see how this continues. These books are quickly becoming one of my favourite series. I’m just ridiculously mad that I have to wait over a year for book 3, especially after THAT ending.


Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin | Review

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I’ve praised Wolf by Wolf repeatedly since I read it back in March (only because it’s so good!), so the fact that it’s showing up on this list isn’t a shock to anyone. I love competition narratives, historical fiction, fantasy, strong heroines, romance that doesn’t completely take over, and tragic backstories, so this book has pretty much everything I could possibly want. Set in a world in which the Axis won WWII, the book deals with an epic motorcycle race which our shapeshifting lead, Yael, enters in the hope of getting close enough to Adolf Hitler to assassinate him. The pacing is good, the story engaging, the characters likeable, and it ends on a twist that definitely makes me keen for book 2.


The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

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I would never have expected to enjoy this book as much as I did. Like A Little Life, The Dutch House is set over a period of several years and more about characters than plot. It’s a slower, quieter read which unfolds very much like a modern fairytale (wicked stepmother included). The book revolves around the relationship between a brother and sister and their connection with their childhood home, the titled Dutch House. It’s very well-written, with some of my favourite scenes consisting of Maeve and Danny simply sitting and talking with one another. Also, having listened to the audiobook, I can definitely vouch for the narration of the wonderful Tom Hanks.


The Diviners – Libba Bray

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I’m really mad that I put off reading this for so long because it was such an enjoyable read! The Diviners is so different from a lot of the other young adult books I’ve read which was super refreshing. The 1920s setting is wonderfully vivid, full of life and easily one of my favourite parts of the book. However, it also has a dark and engaging story and a diverse group of characters that are layered, rich and likeable. Also, my magic/special ability loving little heart was very much in her element with this one. I definitely see why this is such a popular series and I predict I’ll be giving the sequel a go some time in the next few months.


Becoming – Michelle Obama

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This is another book I read early in 2020 and have mentioned my love for several times since. Becoming is a fantastic autobiography (I say with my very limited experience of biography reads). I really enjoyed learning about Michelle’s life all the way from her childhood on the second floor of her great-aunt’s house in Chicago to her time as FLOTUS in The White House. In retelling her journey, Michelle touches on so many valuable topics and she does it with such grace and engagement. This is a book I honestly think everyone would take something away from. Even if you’re not a massive fan of Michelle Obama, I would have no hesitation in recommending it.


What are some of your favourite reads of 2020 so far? I hope that while the events of the year have been downright awful, your reading has been the complete opposite. Here’s to many more amazing books in the next six months!

And That’s a Wrap: March and April 2020 (+ O.W.Ls Magical Readathon Results)

Another two months of this crazy and unpleasant year down. Slowly, at least in the southern hemisphere, we’re making our way towards winter time. Horray! I’ve read some really great books over the last two months (and some pretty average ones), and, despite the struggle, ended up completing my O.W.Ls magical readathon with almost all the subjects I wanted to.

March

I had a great month of reading in March numbers wise. I read nearly everything on my planned TBR except one book and ended up finishing on a total of eight books. Considering I read about four a month at the moment, this was a nice surprise.

The Diviners – Libba Bray ★★★★.5

Why did I put this off for so many years? The Diviners was like and yet so different from other stuff I read. I loved the 1920s New York setting, which was so vivid – the language, music, costumes, controversies, attitudes. The other standout was the great cast of characters each with their own quirks, personalities and special abilities. The story was engaging, fabulously dark, and a little bit ballsy for a YA novel. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the rest of the series and getting to know the characters even better. Bring on the ghosts and magic.

Red Rising & Golden Son (red rising 1 & 2) – Pierce Brown ★★★★.5 & ★★★★★| Reviews

These two books were rereads for me and both were just as good the second time around. It’s always nice to reaffirm your original feelings about a book or series. I finished them in about a day or so each because, much like before, once I started I couldn’t stop. Red Rising still has a slow start (which is the reason for the less than 5 star rating) but overall I love it. This is definitely one of my favourite series.

The Bromance Book Club – Lyssa Kay Adams ★★★.5

As far as romances go, this was a pretty cute and original story. I really enjoyed the fact that instead of focusing on two people falling in love for the first time it was about a couple working on saving their marriage. The story gets contrived at points, the characters frustrated me a teensy bit, and I wish I’d been able to laugh a bit more, but overall an enjoyable and sweet read. Plus, bonus points for the smart commentary on sexism and gender roles. A very self aware romance!

The Clockwork Angel (The infernal devices 1#) – Cassandra Clare ★★★★

Considering I haven’t read this since it first came out about ten years ago, I knew going in I’d probably feel differently about it. It’s definitely still good – a great setting, likeable characters, and the story’s pretty enjoyable as well (if slow at points). However, I will say that I found Tessa a bit blander, Will more angst-y, and the humour not as laugh out loud funny this time around. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for it? Jem is still a precious cinnamon roll though and I love his and Will’s friendship.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett ★★★★.5

One of two surprises this month, I really liked this one! The Dutch House is the first Ann Patchett book I’ve read and it’s so nice to finish something where the hype is accurate. This isn’t my typical read but there’s something about well-written books which follow certain characters through chunks of their lives which stick with me. It’s a slower, quieter type of read (sort of a modern fairytale) which focuses heavily on the relationship between two siblings and their connection to their childhood home. Some people won’t be so keen, but I found it weirdly relaxing. Then again, it may just be Tom Hanks’s soothing narration on the audiobook…

Jane Anonymous – Laurie Faria Stolarz ★★

I was super intrigued by the concept for this one – a teen who gets kidnapped and has to try to reintegrate into her life after 7 months in captivity. I liked the structure of the book in switching back and forth between the past and present, and the way it dealt with Jane’s mental state following what happened. Yet, for some reason, I couldn’t get into the story or connect with the characters. It also didn’t help that I could see the “twist” coming from miles away which ruined the suspense somewhat. However, this might be a case of it’s not you, it’s me.

Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin ★★★★.5 | Review

Surprise of April no. 2. Wolf by Wolf is my new hidden gem recommendation. It’s an alternate history story set in a world in which Germany and Japan won WWII. They celebrate their victory every year with an epic and cutthroat motorcycle race which, this year, the resistance decide to use as an opportunity to assassinate Hitler. The plot has great momentum, I really liked the characters (especially the lead, Yael, a shapeshifter and survivor of Auschwitz), the romance doesn’t overwhelm the story, and it ends on an exciting note. I’m massively looking forward to reading the sequel.


April

In April I participated in the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon hosted by G at Bookroast. If you missed my original post about the readathon, you can find it here. Normally I find that readathons spur on my reading but this time around, it put me on the verge of a slump. The first half of the month was very slow. I ended up putting one book down 100 pages in because I knew I wouldn’t finish anything else if I continued. In the end, I was able to read enough to fulfill the subject requirements for my career choice, Trader of Magical Tomes, and one of the two bonus courses I’d planned to do. However, this was only because the comic I intended for my second bonus course fit the prompt for Charms (and made up for the book I abandoned). Phew!

history of magic: Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb 1#) – Tamsyn muir ★★★★

This is definitely one of the weirder things I’ve read. It’s also confusing, dark and quite unique. So pretty much what people said it would be. I have complicated feelings toward GtN. While I enjoyed it and was super interested in the world, magic and characters, there’s not a lot of explanation for things and feeling massively lost through large chunks of the book certainly put a dampener on it. It also takes a little bit of time for the plot to find momentum. However, there’s so much awesome potential here and I’m excited to see what happens in the sequel.

transfiguration: Sword of Destiny(The Witcher 0.75#) – Andrzej Sapkowski ★★★★

Weirdly, I think I enjoyed this second short story collection more than the first. Geralt does a lot less monster slaying here but the adventures were so much fun – mermaids, a quest to kill a dragon, Geralt running around Novigrad with Dandelion trying to catch a shapeshifter… I wasn’t as fond of the Yennefer related material (it reads very melodramatic, but perhaps it’s the translation?) but really enjoyed Geralt and Ciri’s introduction. A pretty easy read. I’ll likely pick up the first novel further down the line.

Ancient runes: The Honey Don’t List -★★.5 stars | Review to come

This wasn’t my original choice for the Ancient Runes prompt but it’s what I felt like reading by the time I got around to completing it. I went into this one with low expectations after reading some mediocre reviews and while it definitely wasn’t anywhere near as good as other CL books I’ve read, it wasn’t a bad read either. The concept was decent and I liked that there was a good focus on both of the romantic leads’ individual stories. However, I wish there had been more humour and much more time devoted to building the romance.

Charms: Fence Vol. 1 – C.S. Pacat, Johanna the Mad, Joana Lafuente ★★★★

My usual attitude towards anything sports related is: Zzzzzz… So I was super surprised by how enjoyable this was! It’s pretty short (being a comic) but the story’s fun, the characters have strong personalities, and it’s quite funny too. I even went looking to buy the second volume as soon as I finished. It’s safe to say I’ll be continuing with the series.

Herbology: Morning Star (Red Rising 3#) – Pierce Brown ★★★★★ | Review

Just like my re-reads of books 1 & 2 in March, this was similarly amazing. Morning Star is my favourite book of the series and I loved getting to experience it a second time, despite all the emotion the darn thing involves! I’m sure I’ll read these books again in the years to come. Now, I’m ready to try my hand at Iron Gold again, finally.

I bought a few books over the last couple of months and after feeling ready to start requesting ARCs again, I ended up getting two Netgalley approvals as well, Bookish and the Beast & Mexican Gothic, which I’m looking forward to. Here are the new additions to my shelf which I still have yet to read.

My blogging has been lower in frequency lately, especially this month due to my new Animal Crossing addiction *facepalm*. Still, here are the posts if you missed them:

Instead of blogging, reading and taking photos for my bookstagram, these are some of the things that have been occupying my time lately.

With the whole cinemas being closed thing, I’ve been watching more new TV than movies. However, shortly before everything shut, my sister and I went to see the latest adaptation of Emma which I enjoyed. It does get a little slow around the middle but otherwise, it’s good. The scenery and costumes are great and Anya’s really well suited to the role.

TV wise, much like with The Circle, in March I caved to FOMO and watched Love is Blind. I know, I know. As expected, it was a mindlessly enjoyable trainwreck. Also in March I binge-watched my way through season 3 of Elite, one of my favourite guilty pleasure shows.

More recently, I finished Normal People. I’ve read the book the show is adapted from and surprisingly, this is one of those cases where I liked the adaptation a lot more, despite the two being very similar. While I was lukewarm about the book, I thought the show was great. It’s shot wonderfully and the acting is fantastic and heart-wrenching. I found the linear storytelling much easier to follow and the slightly altered ending was a big improvement. I’ve also already hit the soundtrack up on Spotify.

And, last but not least, I recently bought myself a Nintendo Switch Lite and a copy of Animal Crossing New Horizons and…it’s taken over my life. I named my island Isla Sorna, after one of the islands in Jurassic Park, and have been fishing, chopping trees, selling fruit, and getting into the stalk market! This thing chews up hours of my time and I’m having so much fun designing my island.


And that’s a wrap on March and April 2020! I hope you’re all well and taking care of yourselves under the difficult circumstances. Let me know what you’ve been up to and the books/things that have been getting you through social distancing/isolation.

March TBR: Challenging Myself and Some Re-Reads

I don’t usually do posts like this, mostly because my mood reader little self hates boxing herself in unless it’s for a readathon. However, this month I feel like a small challenge (6 books instead of my usual 4 of late) and providing a sense of structure to March. One of the reasons for abandoning a large yearly reading goal for 2020 was to encourage myself not to be afraid to tackle bigger books and do re-reads. This month I feel like doing some of the latter. Here are the books I’ll be reading and re-reading this month:

RE-READS

Red Rising (red rising 1#) – Pierce Brown

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I first read the original 3 books in The Red Rising Saga back in early 2018 and absolutely loved them. Books 2 & 3 ended up sharing the no. 2 spot on my top 10 of the year and I count the series as one of my favourites. Lately I’ve been really craving a re-read and my recent purchase of Dark Age (book 5) has only made the feeling stronger. I still haven’t gotten around to reading Iron Gold (book 4) but I’m expecting that the momentum from re-reading the first three will carry me through into finally finishing it. I’m so keen to get back to Pierce’s amazing characters, exciting action and wonderful world building.

Clockwork angel (The infernal devices 1#) – Cassandra Clare

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Yes, I am caving to the Chain of Gold excitement. I can’t help myself. I know, I know, okay? I get terrible FOMO! My problem is though, the last time I read The Infernal Devices books they’d only just been released! In other words, I was 15 when I read Clockwork Angel. FIFTEEN. Baby Ashley. Anyway, my point is that I feel an extremely strong need to do a re-read of the series to (a) see if they’re still as enjoyable and (b) refresh my memory of the characters and world in this timeline. I’m kind of worried they won’t hold up, but I guess I just have to put my faith in Will Herondale and his cannibalistic ducks.

NEW READS

The Diviners (The Diviners 1#) – Libba Bray

I’m cheating with this one slightly as I started reading it in late Feb and am close to finishing it now. But as I’ll complete it in March, it counts towards this month. I remember picking up this book at the bookstore multiple times in recent years but somehow it took me until this year to buy it. Clearly I was sleeping on it in a big way. I never realised just how much love there was for this series about a group of teens with special abilities facing down ghosts in 20s New York. The last book in the series was released last month so at least I don’t have to wait in between installments.

The Bromance Book Club – Lyssa Kay Adams

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To balance out the heavier fantasy and sci-fi reads for this month, I thought I’d slide in this fun, little romantic contemporary about a bunch of baseball players in Nashville who start a romance book club to help them with their relationships. The MC, Gavin, turns to the club for help when his wife, Thea, requests a divorce. These types of books are always great mood boosters when you’re having a not so great day (or week) and I seem to fly through them very quickly. Hopefully it’ll give me a laugh and a few ‘aww’ moments. Plus, if I like it, the follow up novel – Undercover Bromance – releases this month.

The Dutch House – Ann Patchett

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I’ve been sitting on an audible credit ever since I finished Becoming by Michelle Obama last month. This is mainly because I had no idea what to use it on but I feel pretty happy about my decision. The Dutch House has a 4.22 average Goodreads rating, it’s narrated by the loveable Tom Hanks, and it’s less than 10 hours long. Sounds good to me. Designed as a sort of modern fairy tale and taking place over five decades, the book focuses on a dysfunctional family, specifically the bond between a brother and sister, and their connection with their childhood home. It’ll likely be very different from the things I normally read but I’m looking forward to it.

All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban

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I’m probably starting to push it numbers wise for me at this point but eh, why not add another one. All Your Twisted Secrets is actually an upcoming release and will come out on the 17th. Based on the pricing for hardbacks that I can see, I’ll likely be kindle-ing this one. This book definitely captured my attention the first time I came across it – a dinner party in which a group of students are locked in with a bomb and forced to choose one among them to die by poison or risk all getting blown to smithereens. It’s a pretty exciting concept. Hopefully the execution of the idea is just as good. Fingers crossed.


That makes 6. I’m hoping that due to the sheer enjoyment factor I’ll get through a few of these faster than I ordinarily would. Also, since I’ll be covering physical, e-book and audiobook formats, I’ll be able to read multiple books at the same time. Anyway, we’ll see how things go.

What books are you tackling in March?