No judgment on yet another Swift-inspired book review title. I can’t help who influences me!
OK, so thrillers and mysteries don’t find themselves on Big Little Literature that often. I can’t provide an explanation for this other than I usually get swept up in other genres. So I was looking forward to something different with my latest read, My Sister, the Serial Killer.
Despite what the title says, I didn’t get any thriller or mystery vibes — though a lot of readers and critics certainly did. Yes, there are some murders, and there is tension about the culprit being caught. But this novel, with themes of abuse, family, and loyalty, doesn’t remind me of any other book I’ve read in those genres. In fact, it’s completely different than any book I’ve read.
It’s funny and dark and has just the right amount of f**ked-upness. Do I feel weird saying I appreciated how refreshing this book was? Even if the “refreshment” stems from a serial killer and a sister who takes care of the body? Ehhh I never professed normalcy.
Nobody could have predicted where 2020 would take us or, rather, not take us. All this time at home, though, hasn’t been all bad, and books were — once again — a constant companion. I’m incredibly thankful for the characters who became friends and the narratives that granted me an escape, and of course, I’m forever grateful for the authors whose creative minds told stories and enabled my imagination.
But let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see how all 30 books rank for me in the year 2020 (with my super cool artwork I created on Canva).
I’ve had an interesting year of reading. There have been a few lows and some definite highs. I’ve read blissful and entertaining books, as well as downright depressing ones. The full year has been a whirlwind, but I did manage to get in some solid reading. Let’s take a closer look at my stats as of Dec. 26, 2020:
Read 10,230 pages from 30 books — Goodreads for the win again — compared with 10,904 pages across 31 books the year before (though I’m trying to finish one more before Jan. 1, which would put me at my goal for the year).
The above stats do include one book that I’ve finished but haven’t yet reviewed (coming January 2021). Once, I include that one, my average flameworthiness for the year will be 3.9 flames, just higher than 2019. Now let’s take a look at the individual rankings:
Flipped through one two-flame book, which is a huge improvement from 2019’s five.
Finished six three-flame books, which matches last year’s total.
Enjoyed 14 four-flame books, which is more than 2019’s 11.
Indulged in seven five-flame amazing reads, which is two less than last year.
Anybody else love stats and data and totally nerding out on it, especially when it’s related to books? Nope? Just me? Well OK then. In that case, it’s time for the most important part of my 2020 bibliophile review: assessing my resolutions that I set for myself back in January. Did I hold myself accountable and obtain my goals?
Yes, all three Jasmine Guillory books have T.Swift lyrics in their review title. I can’t help it these two women absolutely kill it in their respective careers.
And when I say Guillory is killing it, I mean it; she may just be sliding her way into my favorite author slot. I can say that confidently after reading three of her five novels. I knew I’d found a stellar author after reading The Proposalin 2019, and recently reading her debut, The Wedding Date, confirmed it for me. I loved it so much that I instantly threw away by #tbr list to divulge into Guillory’s next chronological novel, The Wedding Party.
I read two Guillory books in less than two weeks, and it may have been the two best literary weeks of 2020. The Wedding Party didn’t quite top her previous two books I’d read, but I still enjoyed every moment of it. And Guillory once again gave me everything I loved in her previous work: realistic characters with depth, diversity, entertainment, wit, and a whole lot of love — both literally and euphemistically.
In a recent #grateful post, I wrote how virtual book events have been a true joy in a year full of crap. One of those events featured author Yaa Gyasi. I previously didn’t know much about her new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, but I had read her debut, Homegoing. If her previous work indicated anything, her latest would surely impress me. Somehow her spoken word at that event transcended just as powerfully as her written word, and I was captivated for the full hour. Also, I’d love for her voice to narrate my life. (Sorry, Morgan Freeman.) I couldn’t wait for Transcendent Kingdom to show up at my apartment.
Gyasi definitely didn’t let me down and even stepped up her already-impressive literary game with her sophomore publication. It’s hard to put down this novel, and Gyasi will get the best of your emotions. (Fair warning: It’s emotionally tough to read.) She deserves every ounce of praise she’s earned for her second book. In a year full of garbage fires, this is the type of flame we actually need and should be grateful for.
I keep an ongoing to-do list on my phone. Every time I finish a book, I add the future review to that list. Every time I think of an “Extra Extra” idea, I add it as well. For the last six months, the top of that list has read “Why I Don’t Have One-Flame Reviews.”
It’s not that every book I read is five-flame fabulous or that I go too easy on books. On the contrary, I tend to round down if I initially want to give a book half of a flame. Earlier this year, I realized that the reason I don’t have any one-flame reviews is because I likely wouldn’t even finish a book if I felt that harshly toward it.
Well, that all changed when I picked up a book that’s received quite a bit of attention in 2020 and that was written by an author whose previous work I thoroughly enjoyed. Before reading The Book of Lost Friends, I knew that — in addition to liking the author — this novel fell into the historical fiction realm, took place after a war, and had powerful themes about literature. All things considered, it was certainly poised to be a top contender for my annual “Ranked” list.
Not long after I started it, though, I heard that familiar echo of the white savior and the tone-deaf decision for a white woman to write from a Black person’s perspective, and it irked me in every single way. To a lesser degree, I also was bothered by incongruent storylines, stereotypes, unfulfilling foreshadowing, and an overabundance of detail. I guess there’s a first for everything.
Mental health seems to be an increasingly common theme in literature. Amen. In fact, books are part of the reason why I started analyzing my own mental health and recognizing that I needed to take better care of it. I recently opened up about starting therapy back in May, and I really believe that reading about so many book characters’ experiences with therapy and about their struggles influenced me to seek help too.
Sometimes books about mental health struggles can intensify your own though. It’s not that they’re bad, but when you’re feeling sad, reading about someone else’s sadness — though making you realize you’re not alone — makes you spiral. That’s what happened recently when I read the profound novel, A Little Life. While it was both beautiful and tragic, the latter quality seemed to take over my own feelings.
So was I ready to pick up another novel dedicated to the same topic (not to mention just weeks before the election during a pandemic)? Fortunately, The Existence of Amy didn’t give me those negative thoughts and feelings. Rather, I felt a kinship with the main character — even if her experiences were completely different than my own — and I felt a rush of emotion for those closest to me who have helped me along the way. I didn’t finish this book feeling anxious and sad; I left it feeling hopeful and grateful.
I know I know. It’s a very odd title, but does it grab your attention and reel you in? Of course, and that’s why it’s a great title. That’s what great books deserve, and that’s exactly what Shaffer’s novel is.
I read this novel at the beginning of the pandemic (apologies for the delay!), and it easily earned four flames. It was moving, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming, and just a great story. It’s also a movie on Netflix that came out in 2018. Many people have recommended this book to me, including my friend Danielle, who I watched this movie with virtually (#coronavirus). After indulging in this adventure yet again — as well as Michiel Huisman who dreamily plays Dawsey Adam — I decided to take the movie and book toe to toe.
I’ve talked several times about not growing up with people who looked, lived, or believed differently than I did, and that lack of diversity influenced my life. When it comes to family, though, it doesn’t matter where you grow up or how you’re raised; we can all relate to having familial disputes.
If there were ever a year for family disagreements, 2020 would smoke the competition. With a heated election, a pandemic, and racial conversations heightening all of the emotions, there are bound to be intense disagreements among family. I’ve definitely experienced my fair share in recent months.
So I was interested that varying viewpoints and morals between a daughter and her family served the focal point for Amulya Malladi’s The Mango Season. Traveling to a new country and reading about a culture completely different than my own made it that much more dynamic.
Let’s be frank: There’s a lot of shit in the world today. And 2020 alone is the largest dumpster fire imaginable. So with all the sadness, injustice, hypocrisy, and frustration in the world, I try to find joy wherever possible.
Let me be frank again. There isn’t an ounce of joy in A Little Life. So was this the greatest book for me to be reading or the smartest choice right now when I’ve consciously tried to avoid depressing books in this terrible year? No, no it was not.
But was it a good book? Definitely. It was beautiful and moving and insightful and heartbreaking and possessed all the qualities that make great literature so powerful. And yes, I am glad I read this book and so thankful for my coworker in Germany (yes, Germany — what a saint) who bought this book for me after our many, many discussions about how much he loved it.
Seriously, though, I could have done without 800+ pages of sadness.