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If you’d like to see a list of everything I’ve read so far this year, you can click here to see my year in books for 2020!
So far, 2020 has been an incredible reading year for me. Between January 1st and June 30th I read right around 75 books, and have found a number of new favorites. I haven’t read as much fantasy this year, but I still managed to find some wonderful new stories that I know will stick with me for a long time to come. Thank goodness for books, right? I don’t think I could’ve gotten through the dumpster fire that was the first half of 2020 without them. It was incredibly difficult to narrow my list down to twelve books, but I finally managed it. There will be a handful of honorable mentions at the end of this post, for those I just couldn’t bare to not include. I’m taking a page from Petrik and following three rules for my list:
1. Only one book per author.
2. Rereads don’t count.
3. The books were new to me, but didn’t have to be published this year.
Once again, I’m ranking my reads. That being said, every single book on this list was a 5 star read and I highly recommend them all. You can view my full review of each book (including the honorable mentions) by clicking the link in each title. And now, without further ado, here are my favorite books of the past six months.
12. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Publisher: Grove Press (first published: July 27th, 2016)
Just because your life doesn’t look like everyone else’s doesn’t mean you’re wrong or that your feelings and decisions are any less valid. As long as your choices aren’t inflicting actual harm on another human being, march to the beat of your own drum. Live your best life. Learn from Keiko and stop hiding who you are at your core just to please the masses. You do you. Even if that means everyone else on the planet is left scratching their heads in confusion and huffing in frustration over your refusal to conform.
11. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Publisher: Ecco (First published: October 29th, 2019)
Nothing to See Here is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. The tone is just hilarious. Lillian, the perspective character, is absolutely bonkers and I adore her. She’s tough and kooky and always afraid that she’s going to mess things up, and I just want to be her friend more than anything. This book is short and breezy without being shallow, and it completely transported me into this beyond weird circumstance in the midst of normalcy. Nothing to See Here is the best kind of crazy. If you’re looking for something that will make you laugh and remind you that your problems could always be worse, this is the exact right book for you.
10. Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
Publisher: Celadon Books (First published: May 5th, 2020)
In the past few years, I’ve developed a deep love for any memoir in which someone details their crazy childhood and how they managed to rise above it. While they are radically different, Hollywood Park is joining Educated as one of my favorites in this random subgenre for which I’ve developed such a fondness. You can tell that Jollett is a musician and songwriter. There’s a beautiful rhythm to the prose, and so many sentences struck me as lyrics hiding within a story. He tells the heartbreaking story of his childhood with grace and honesty and humor.
9. Beach Read by Emily Henry
Publisher: Berkley (First published: May 19th, 2020)
Beach Read is basically a Hallmark movie but better. Way better. If I were asked to describe the book in one word, that word would be: AWWW. It was sweet and heartfelt and incredibly funny, with enough drama and depth to keep itself from becoming overly saccharine. I can honestly say that, for the majority of the story, I was reading with a grin plastered across my face. This is a book I definitely intend to revisit, and to revisit often. Finding a new comfort read is such a wonderful feeling. And Beach Read gave me that lovely, comfy glow.
8. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Publisher: Algonquin Books (First published: January 29th, 2018)
An American Marriage gutted me. The characters it portrays are stunningly, viscerally real. And the situation in which they find themselves is heartbreakingly, infuriatingly believable. This was a story brilliantly well told. The writing was phenomenal, not in a way that made you stop and admire a sentence, but in a way that allowed you to see every line of anguish on someone’s face and hear the hurt in the lines of their letters.
7. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology, #1)
Publisher: Penguin (First published: November 2nd, 2017)
I’ve adored Greek mythology since I was a child. I’ve also always been utterly charmed by Stephen Fry. The combination of these two things was an absolute delight. Fry’s writing is a perfect marriage of class and sass, and he gives the original source material tremendous respect while never taking those sources or himself too seriously. It requires a very deft hand to so impeccably balance freshness and timelessness, but that’s exactly what Fry managed to accomplish in this collection. I can’t sing this book’s praises enough. Every single minute spent with Mythos was a pure and unadulterated delight.
6. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (The Dark Tower, #2)
Publisher: Signet (First published: May 1987)
I loved everything about this book. I’m not really sure why I’m surprised by this, but I am. I expected to like The Drawing of the Three in the same way that I liked The Gunslinger, but I love it with the same ferocity I do The Stand. It is, in my opinion, the most powerful and successful entry into the portal fantasy subgenre since C.S. Lewis penned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Yes, it’s really that good. In the pages of this book, King explored addiction, mental illness, and physical handicaps in ways that are honest yet so respectful, and that are most of all relatable. Whatever you’ve struggled with in your life, there’s something about this book that makes you feel seen.
5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Publisher: Vintage (First published: September 1992)
When my co-blogger Emma informed me that this was one of her favorite books ever, I decided to take the plunge. I’m so glad I did. Far from failing to meet my absurd expectations, The Secret History blew them out of the water and is now happily ensconced on my favorites shelf. The group dynamic reminds me of a darker Dead Poet’s Society, or a more academic Cruel Intentions. I think the group of frenemies can be be described as mirroring the Classics that bind them: decaying beauty. While I can’t speak to the rest of her work, The Secret History alone proves that Tartt is a powerhouse of an author, and I’m already itching to read more from her.
4. Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Publisher: Harper (Frist published: March 31st, 2020)
Valentine is absolutely gorgeous. The writing is so vivid and transporting that I felt like I indwelled each character during their prospective chapters. It’s also one of the most tragic, heartbreaking stories I’ve read in a very long time. My heart almost physically ached during my time reading this book. But most of all, Valentine is immensely powerful. It proclaims an almost rebellious resilience in the face of heinous adversity that is fiercely and unequivocally feminist, and I felt impacted by it at a soul-deep level. While it is definitely a difficult book to read due to the content, I absolutely recommend Valentine to any reader who wants a rallying cry to stand up for those who have been marginalized, and a reason to applaud those who live through trauma and don’t let it define them.
3. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (First published: January 30th, 2018)
If I had to define The Great Alone in one word, that word would be harrowing. I can’t remember the last time I had such a visceral response to a book. I came into The Great Alone expecting an adventure story. While there was indeed adventure in these pages, I found so much more than that. Hannah gives her readers a peak into not only Alaska, but into love in all its forms and scope and limitless variety. It is a study of all the various types of love listed above. It is a display of the tenacity of the human spirit, and how much one can overcome, especially for the sake of another.
2. Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Locke & Key, #1-6)
Publisher: IDW Publishing (First published: November 11th, 2014)
Locke & Key is insanely creative and wildly unique, the perfect pairing of medium and story. The prose is surprisingly thoughtful and complex and is perfectly matched by Rodriguez’s wonderfully detailed illustrations. I love the mythology Hill built here, and how fathomless and rife with possibilities that mythology proves itself to be. This is one of those rare series that not only starts off incredibly strong, but maintains a steady growth pace through the last page of the final installment. It was brutal and beautiful in turns and equal measure.
1. Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
Publisher: Random House (First published: May 5th, 2020)
Ghosts of Harvard is a brilliant and seamless bridging of so many ideas and genres. I am in awe of how much research went into the writing of this book, and how Serritella was able to convey so much without a single aspect feeling forced. Much like the university after which it is named, Ghosts of Harvard contains multitudes. This book is a campus mystery, a coming of age story, a scientific exploration of mental illness, a tale of espionage, a moving historical account, a romance, an esoteric dive into poetry and philosophy and faith and prejudice and a family drama. While this mingling could have led to a bloated and unpalatable slough, all of these elements were instead woven together with a level of grace and care that is truly rare.
And honorable mentions go out to:
Thank you to all the authors of these amazing books for sharing them with the world. And I know that there are some amazing books to look forward to, both in new releases and in backlist books I’m picking up for the first time. I can’t wait to see what wonderful stories the rest of 2020 holds. Reading has been such a solace during this wacky, frankly terrible year, and I hope that it has been for y’all, as well.
What are your favorite books of the year so far?