The only good thing about 2020 was the sheer number of books I was able to get through. And there were some really good books on that list. There were also some epically awful books I somehow managed not to DNF, and those deserve an honorable mention.
I’ve got my Goodreads books open and ready to refer to. We’re going to play a sort of faux-awards ceremony. Here’s the rules: There are going to be a variety of categories listed below. Some of them will be good and some of them will be snarky. Books can land in multiple categories but rest assured, every book I read this year will make it somewhere on the list.
Okay so it’s not really all that challenging, but who cares? Let’s just have some fun.
The Unexpectedly Delightful
These were books I picked up with few expectations. I wasn’t entirely sure if I would like them or not, maybe wasn’t even sure what I was walking into, but they were deliciously amazing and I would easily recommend them to any avid fantasy lover.
- Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. It’s a kids book, yes. But it’s also short, poignant, and sweet.
- The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. This is not a kids book, and it is far, far longer. But I could not put it down and I’m guessing you won’t be able to either.
- This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. I put off reading this for four years, and I’m sorry to say that I did.
- A Song of Wraiths & Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown. Everything about this book’s marketing screamed cliché YA but the marketing was wrong. This book was so good.
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. I wasn’t really sure what I was walking into for this one, but it swept me away, certainly.
- The Lost Queen by Signe Pike. It’s just the right mix of historical accuracy and magic. I never expected to rate this random audiobook so high, but in the end, I gave it a whole five stars.
The Bar Too High
This award goes to the books I had heard a lot of buzz about and was excited to get into it and see what it had to offer. In the end, these were not the worst of the worst, but I set myself up to fail with the high expectations.
- Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. Where Night Circus was magical, Starless Sea was rather bland. A little convoluted. It tried too hard.
- The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab. While it’s not a terrible book, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more if people hadn’t been raving online about how different and amazing it was.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It got a lot of buzz on social media, but it was just too slow and had so little action.
- A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green. I was swept away by An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and so had high hopes for its sequel. It wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t everything I’d hoped it would be, and so, I must place it here.
Reader’s Award for Series Completion
I’m going to give a standing ovation to fellow readers who finished these particular series. Some, it may just be that they were massive series, and not that easy to get through. Others, it was just a struggle for me to get through because they were bland or just plain annoying.
- Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. For my own reading challenge, I started the year with Lord of Chaos (book 6) and, obviously, finished the series. With fourteen books, it’s no easy series to push through, but at least when you finish the series, you can say you climbed the Mount Everest of the fantasy world.
- Renegades by Marissa Meyer. Unlike Wheel of Time, this superhero series is probably going to feel like a waste of time. It wasn’t awful. It was just cliché and predictable. Arch-Enemies and Supernova are both included on my reading list for this year.
- Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. It’s a series with an intriguing concept that just got drawn out for far too long. The ending isn’t particulary satisfying, and honestly, this more than anything else felt like a waste of time. The series finale, Five Dark Fates, is the only one on my 2020 reading list.
- The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. This series was a spectacular YA read. To be honest, it’s not particularly long, and the books themselves are a quick read, but since I read all four books this year, I think it’s worth adding to this list 🙂
Burn it With Fire
These are books that made me so angry that I wish to purge it from my memory, or at least pretend that I never read them in the first place. I do not like giving books less than three stars (I blame the American grading system), but the books on this list got one or two stars, no contest.
- The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth. I wanted to like this one, I really did. Strong Narnia vibes, with a little realism thrown in? But most of the book was subpar and angsty at best, and the ending itself made the whole thing seem worthless.
- Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. I went on a rant about this book during my reread challenge and I’m not even sorry. I don’t remember this book being so aggravating when I read it as a kid.
- Storm Front and Fool Moon by Jim Butcher. The latter’s review is going to be coming out January 8 with my next rapid book review, but here’s a little hint. I still hate Dresden.
Hollywood Made Me Do It
This is a one-two punch of an award, both for the show/movie and for the book. Whether I read the book because Hollywood got me excited to revisit the story in another medium, or whether the book made me curious about the movie adaptation, this award goes to the stories that were interesting enough to pull me in twice.
- The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The TV show became something of a guilty pleasure. It’s a dark narrative, sure, like Harry Potter but for lonely new adults, and despite myself, I really fell in love with the characters. The book was far less thrilling; I finished The Magicians but DNF’d the series because annoying protagonists are far easier to bear in visual format, I guess.
- Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. I feel like every fantasy lover knows this series is about to get a TV show, even the people who don’t feel super inclined to read the series. It was certainly a challenge, but it’s also a point of pride.
- Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. It’s such a short book that I was curious to see how they’d expanded it into a full-length movie. But there’s a danger in falling in love with one medium of a story; when it’s translated into another medium, it usually doesn’t feel anywhere close to the same.
These are not necessarily bad books. Sometimes, a narrative just follows along with tried and true methods, and all it takes is a few months before you forget having read them.
- This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. I raved about this in my review. I really did, and I stand by that. But it didn’t do much to drum up my emotions or make me question my own views, and so it will probably become one of those books I only ever think about on occasion.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I’m sorry. It’s just that… nothing really happened. It wasn’t good or bad; it was just bland.
- The Light Between Worlds by Laura A. Weymouth. I already forgot I read this book. Honestly, I didn’t realize I’d read it this year. Maybe blame that on the pandemic making time go all whacky. Maybe blame it on the book making me so mad I that I blocked it from memory. I don’t know. It just really pushed buttons.
This year I made it my mission to expand my reading horizons. I didn’t just want to read a broader range of fantasy subgenres; I also wanted to search out books written by authors that I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards.
- I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. While not my favorite of the books on the list, it was a short read, and intense.
- A Song Below Water by Bethany Morrow. This was a nice urban fantasy read. It could have used some more development in the setting department, but I still enjoyed it.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I am soooo late to the party on this one, but it was well worth the read. Both enlightening and riveting.
- Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. This book was really good at smacking me unexpectedly with things I never would have thought about, and even though there was a lot going on in the setting department, I am glad I read it.
- Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. You will not be able to put this down. Fast-paced, intense, and far better than I could have hoped.
- Long Way Down (graphic novel) by Jason Reynolds. A little abrupt and open-ended, but visually, really intense and cool, and the pacing was spot-on.
- A Phoenix First Must Burn (short stories) edited by Patrice Caldwell. As is the case with most short story collections, you’re bound to love some more than others, but most of them were charming and well-written to say the least.
Reread It And Weep
This final for-fun award goes to the several books I re-immersed myself in this year.
- Here, There Be Dragons by James A. Owen. More problematic than I remembered it, but it still held the charm of famous writers and magical lands.
- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. This is just one of those fun puzzle-game books that are almost as captivating now as they were when I was a kid.
- The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It was a simple story, certainly, based off of a fairy tale, but I did enjoy it overall. As far as kids books go, they weren’t super complicated.
- The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. If you haven’t read it yet, do.
- Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Admittedly, I can see the allure for the young avid reader, and I get why I liked it as a kid, but honestly, I have better memories of her Dragon Rider novel.
- The Graceling Realm by Kristin Cashore. With the next installment due mid-January, if you haven’t read the series yet, I always recommend them. Realistic, unconventional romances, amazing quotes, intense internal conflict, what’s not to love?
The Best and Worst of 2020
I think we cannot have a yearly wrap-up without at least picking one book to call the best, and one the worst. You may be able to guess based on my above lists. If so, consider this my TL;DR 😉 I will at least restrict these to books I read for the first time in 2020, to be fair. Without further ado, here we go.
The WORST Book of 2020: The Light Between Worlds by Laura A. Weymouth. This book wouldn’t have been that bad if the ending hadn’t completely undermined everything that came before it. There was a lot of angst and depression, sadness and grief, and instead of facing the weight of that, Weymouth took the easy way out and I am just so aggravated.
The BEST Book of 2020: Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. Honestly, there are other books I could choose, but I just fell in love with this series. The characters were so intense they should have been able to step off the page. The grand finale was executed in a way that made it confusing, but overall, stellar work by Stiefvater. Magic and mayhem, friendships and romance, the whole nine.