Against the odds of graduate school’s rigor and demand, I’ve actually read books for fun this year! Some of the books I’ve read were old favorites of mine I took the time to revisit: The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, and The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart. I also read a few nonfiction, non-school books this year, including The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison, White Awake by Daniel Hill, and Bloodlines by John Piper – all books that I would highly recommend.
I also read at least nine new fiction books and two nonfiction books on writing this year. I felt like I haven’t read so much or so quickly in so long, which is even sweeter to me while I’m in the midst of a rigorous graduate program. So, as we close out 2020—with much celebration and high hopes that the new year will be kinder—I wanted to provide some snapshot reviews of the new fiction books and writing-related nonfiction books I read this year. Below, I list each book in the order I read them, rate each on a 3-star system (an homage to Orion’s Belt and my name), and give a brief summary of why I liked the book.
Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson (3/3 Stars)
What a way to start off the year. This book was so good for my writer’s soul and one I will return to frequently. I wrote a full review of this book back in January – you can read it here.
Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (3/3 Stars)
I adore Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and this third installment was just as incredible as the first two. The story went places I didn’t expect and kept me captivated all 1200 pages. Though I rarely emote visibly while I read, I audibly squealed with both fear and delight, laughed aloud, and even cried actual tears. I didn’t want the book to end, despite its length. This book also finally answered questions I’d been asking since early on in the first book, which made it even more satisfying. I’m so excited to read the fourth installment. Oathbringer was definitely the best read of 2020 overall.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (3/3 Stars)
Andrew Peterson recommends this nonfiction book in Adorning the Dark, so when I stumbled upon it at a local bookstore, I snatched it up. Like Peterson’s book, L’Engle’s Walking on Water was a breath of fresh air for my writer’s soul. More than that, L’Engle’s book challenged me as a writer to seize the time I have, be fearless in my writing, and see my writing as Christian ministry. Reading her words felt like conversing with an old friend. Indeed, if we had crossed paths with each other, I do think we would be friends. It is another book I will return to repeatedly.
Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows (2.5/3 Stars) and Crooked Kingdom (2/3 Stars)
These books have been recommended to me by so many people over the years, and now that I’ve finally read them, I do see why they’re so popular. The character writing is incredible – every character has complex and contrasting motivations that always make the scenes entertaining and suspenseful. I personally liked Six of Crows more than Crooked Kingdom. Six of Crows had so many twists and turns and reminded me of the earlier Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Six of Crows kept me on my toes, and I was never sure how Kaz and the crew were going to succeed or get of the situations they encountered. Crooked Kingdom had some similar moments, but I personally didn’t find the twists and turns as compelling in this book. Also, some of the events in Crooked Kingdom seemed unnecessary and left me frustrated by the end of the book. Still, I enjoyed both books and think that Bardugo excels at writing amazing characters, which was the highlight of the duology for me.
Romanov by Nadine Brandes (2/3 Stars)
Nadine Brandes’s historical fantasy novel was fun to read and I liked her creative take on the history of the Romanov family. I appreciated the historical accuracy mixed with a creative magic system, as well as the strong thematic arc. The story did take a while to get going, but the second half of the book was emotionally moving and suspenseful. I prefer Brandes’s Out of Time trilogy, but Romanov was still an enjoyable read.
Light Between Oceans by M. L. Steadman (2/3 Stars)
What I expected to be a charming story ended up turning into a complex, tragic, and unexpectedly intense novel. I thought the way the plot progressed made perfect sense, and I felt for the characters involved in the conflict. There are points during the story where the book gets repetitive, but overall it did capture my interest and attention.
Brandon Sanderson’s Skyward (3/3 Stars) and Starsight (2.5/3 Stars)
This is my second Brandon Sanderson series to start reading. After reading Skyward, I must say I’m a fan of his fantastic slow-burn introductory novels to his series so far. The way he poses numerous questions not to be answered until later in the series and yet never once loses my attention and interest as a reader is impressive. I didn’t want to put the first book down and definitely read at least a hundred pages in one sitting…despite having homework to do. Though I do watch a lot of sci-fi television shows, I haven’t read a lot in the genre, so the book was a treat to read and easy for me to understand and visualize. I also love Spensa, the protagonist. The second book, Starsight, was just as engaging and intriguing as the first. My only nitpick of the book is that the story takes a sudden shift that felt a little random, convenient, and like a sudden leap between where the first book left off. But I still enjoyed the story and especially loved M-BOT’s character development. I can’t wait for book three!
Savanna Roberts’s Thief (2.5/3 Stars) and Merry Men (2.5/3 Stars)
Roberts’s Robin Hood retelling is fantastic. I read the first book, Thief, in less than 48 hours (again, despite having homework to do), and absolutely loved it. The story has plenty of twists, action, and tension throughout. Marion is an exceptionally compelling character, and it’s easy to like her and feel for her, despite the decisions she makes. Merry Men starts off a bit slower, but its character dynamics kept me engaged even when the plot didn’t feel as clearly defined. I also appreciated the realistic treatment of the characters dealing with the trauma and hurt they experienced in the first book and during the events of the second. I’m impatiently waiting for the third book…
Jenni Sauer’s Rook Di Goo (2.5/3 Stars)
This is the best fairytale retelling I’ve read to date. What I appreciate about Sauer’s approach to this Cinderella retelling is that she focuses on a new, inventive storyline of her own creation that ends up working nicely with key moments from the original fairytale. The original fairytale doesn’t drive the plot; the unique storyline, characters, and world does—and it works really, really well. The characters are relatable and well-developed too, and their dynamics are fun and entertaining. Overall, it’s a wonderful story and I look forward to the future books of this series, for sure. It was a great read to end 2020!
There you have it, my 2020 Reading Recap. Have you read any of the books I reviewed here? What did you think? If you haven’t read all of these books, which sounds most intriguing to you?
I wish you all a happy (almost) new year! May your 2021 be filled with hope, joy, and good books.