Can we all agree this has been the weirdest year? It’s not only the global pandemic we’re all trying to survive, but its impact on every little facet of my life — school transitions have been harder on my daughters, I had a huge (but wonderful!) change to my employment status, life-long habits have been abandoned and I’ve embraced a few completely new ones. It’s like everything I knew about my life has been challenged.
One of the few things that remained constant for me in 2020 is my love for reading. If you check out my post history, you’ll see that the vast majority of posts I share here revolve around reading. When we were first sent home to quarantine, I found myself with a huge increase in free time. I took advantage of book recommendations on my bookstagram account and fell in love with my library’s curbside pickup program. I’ve lost myself in books that challenged my beliefs and changed my life, but I’ve also fallen hard for fantasy worlds in books I might never have read last year. There have been so many hard things to cope with this past nine months, but I’ll always be grateful for the ways my reading life has grown and stretched this year.
Just like last December, my fellow contributors and I are sharing books that profoundly affected us this year. Some encourage personal growth, while others let us get lost in a world that was easier to live in than our own.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Something I was trying to do more of — even before the social justice movement of the summer — is to read books by more diverse authors, instead of defaulting to people who look just like me. Not only should we be reading books about racial reconciliation, but we should look to add books about the every day lives of people of other races and cultures. This book had been on my shelf for months before I picked it up, but it was one of those perfect romantic reads that you fly right through. It was so much fun to read a quirky love story about someone who wasn’t waif thin and perfect — Chloe Brown has curves, a chronic illness, and plenty of attitude. Her accidental love affair with her apartment building’s super is steamy, adorable, and unputdownable. Warning: this books contains lots of strong language and more steam than my usual romantic reads.
– Kristin F.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
“I am Ana. I was the wife of Jesus.” When I tell people one of my favorite books this year tells the story of a woman who could have been the wife of Jesus, they sometimes recoil. They wonder what kind of sacrilegious woman I must be. Then I tell them The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is a story of a woman who lived during Jesus’s time on this earth and the struggles she faced to live a life of purpose. Ana wants to learn, to write, to be more than a wife and mother, and at every opportunity, she is turned back or redirected. One review described it so perfectly: “Grounded in meticulous historical research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’s life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring account of one woman’s bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place, and culture devised to silence her.” I rarely offer 5 stars on my Goodreads list, but this book deserves so much more, and I know I will revisit it many more times.
– Chris L.
Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Remember when I said you should diversify your reading material? This was one of the biggest challenges to the status quo in my reading life this year. I requested this one as a part of a book of the month club and the things I noticed about it were that it had a fun cover and was touted as a perfect rom-com. You know what I didn’t notice? That the two characters on the front cover were both men! I was completely surprised when the main character fell in love with the prince instead of the princess, but I fell hard for the romantic relationship between these two and finished this one in record time. It’s a little far-fetched (the son of a U.S. President and the Prince of England), verrrryyyy steamy, and filled with hilarious characters and the best parents ever.
– Kristin F.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (Narrated by Dan Stevens)
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
“Each time a survivor resurfaced, people were quick to say what does she want, why did it take her so long, why now, why not then, why not faster. But damage does not stick to deadlines. If she emerges, why don’t we ask her how it was possible she lived with that hurt for so long, ask who taught her to never uncover it.” I cannot begin to do justice to Chanel Miller’s words, so I’m giving you some of her own. Chanel survived a brutal assault by a Stanford swimmer, who served only three months in a county jail, and was subjected to a media maelstrom. Her story is heartbreaking and empowering and painful and beautiful all at the same time. It makes me hope and pray that men can be better — will be better — for my girls and for yours.
– Kristin F.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
I began listening to City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert on a road trip this summer, and when the road ran out before the book, I immediately went and got the novel. From the moment this novel began, I wanted to know what Vivian’s life would look like, from the 1940s to present. Vivian tells her story with the benefit of hindsight, and she vividly brings to life her reckless youth, her (mis)adventures in New York City, and the flamboyant cast of characters she meets along the way. At every turning point, she strives to be herself, always struggling to be the woman she desires to be rather than the woman she is expected to be. I could so relate to that push and pull of expectation and inspiration and the lifelong journey to embrace our true selves and understand our worth. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she [Vivian] muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” This musing seems even more relevant during a year when so many of us have had to re-examine who we truly can be.
– Chris L.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
I have to admit, I requested this one from the library based on the cover art alone, but I am so glad I did. I’ve never been into poetry and this is a novel told in verse. I’m afraid had I known that, I would have missed out on this beautiful story. Sisters unknown to each other, separated by an ocean, brought together by tragedy. It ends in my favorite way possible — open ended and ripe for an even more beautiful story to unfold.
– Kristin F.
Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison
This is a must read for those who want to understand how racism is still impacting our society today. In her book, she shares her own personal stories and ways others can engage in bridge building. I loved her wisdom and vulnerability and it invited me into a journey of awakening and understanding of racial brokenness. I had the privilege of doing Be the Bridge as a book study, via Zoom, with several women of different backgrounds and color. The book provided eye opening history lessons in a non-threatening way and opened the door for hard, but beautiful conversations. I am thankful for Latasha’s voice and her desire to lead women to be the bridge builders so desperately needed. I know it is impacting our city and have personally seen how it is transforming lives. I highly recommend grabbing some women and going through it together!
– Melissa L.
Yes, No, Maybe So by Becky Albertalli & Aisha Saeed
This book was such a breath of fresh air. I read it cover to cover in a single day! It’s the cutest YA love story, set against the backdrop of a special election, religious and political differences, and plenty of teenage angst. It sounds pretty perfect for the year we’re living in, right? Maya and Jamie are adorable, but InstaGramm sort of steals the show. This book isn’t scandalous in the romance department and could be shared with your teen readers if you’re okay with a little strong language. Warning: the story follows a democratic senate candidate, racial and religious discrimination, and was written in response to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
– Kristin F.
Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis by Ada Calhoun
I originally picked this book at the library because sleep is ever elusive for this middle-aged momma. What I discovered in the pages of Why We Can’t Sleep by Ada Calhoun, though, was so much more. Ada Calhoun spoke to women across America, mostly those in Gen X, a generation that told women they could have it all. What she found was quite the opposite: most of these women were exhausted and unfulfilled and confused about why they felt that way. It is not a self-help book with steps to take but rather a thoughtful examination of all the forces that might be affecting a woman’s mental, emotional, and physical health. I finished the book with more understanding of myself and more encouragement that I am not alone in this “bumpy stretch of life.”
– Chris L.
The Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Mass
I definitely saved my favorite reads for last — this seven book series (it’s over 3500 pages, in total!) completely changed my reading life this year. I’m admittedly a huge fan of YA novels and one of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis says “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I am a firm believer that a well-written book is available to me, no matter the target audience. The bigger surprise is that this is a high fantasy series, which I have never considered before picking these books up. I read another series by this author (A Court of Thorns & Roses) earlier this year and was so completely hooked, that I moved right into this one. The Throne of Glass series wasn’t quite as romance-centered as ACOTAR and while I expected that to be problematic for me as a reader, I walked away without a single complaint. This series follows Caelana Sardothien, a teenage assasin living in a fallen kingdom, ruled by a tyrant. You’ll need a character map for this one — and maybe a map of their world to go along with it — because there are so many people to keep up with. Maas does a beautiful job of world building and introducing magical characters that don’t seem silly or out of the realm of possibility. The fifth and sixth books were my favorite, but I wouldn’t rate any of them less than four stars. I abandoned my entire life to finish them in a single month and woke up the morning after with a whole lot of grief for their absence in my life. Yes, I realize how ridiculous this sounds, but I’m making no apologies — this might be my favorite series of all time!
– Kristin F.
Little Women by Luisa May Alcott
The first book I read this year, and the one that brought me the most delight, was Little Women by Luisa May Alcott. Two events of 2019 inspired me to re-read this classic: the birth of my fourth daughter in the summer, giving me my own group of “little women,” and the release of the new film adaptation at the end of the year. Reading this book as a mother was very different from my first reading of the book as a young single woman. I loved the story just as much, but I related to the characters very differently. I was so endeared to Marmee, especially when she shared with Jo how hard she worked to handle her anger and overcome a short temper. There are very few books I have read more than once, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this story in a different season of life. I was sad to say goodbye to the March sisters when the book came to a close, and I plan to read Little Men (for the first time) when I have some quiet time over the Christmas break. These two classics seem like the perfect bookends to a crazy year!
– Betsy G.
We would love to hear about your favorite quarantine reads — help us add to our TBR pile for the new year by sharing some of your favorite books in the comments. Be sure to check out our book tag for even more wonderful recommendations!