My 12 Favorite Reads from 2020

Something I’ve been doing a lot more of lately is reading. I’ve always been a HUGE reader, but due to lack of time had gotten away from it. Now I’m making time for it. So here are my favorite books I read during 2020.

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FICTION

The Institute by Stephen King

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’ parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents – telekinesis and telepathy – who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and 10-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.”

In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.

My Thoughts: This book reminded me of Stranger Things, but only Eleven’s “origin” story. It’s a mix of suspense, creepy, mystery, touching, and sadness. This is one of the longer books I read in 2020, clocking in at 576 pages, but unlike some of King’s other books, I don’t feel like it was needlessly drawn out.

“He was only twelve, and understood that his experience of the world was limited, but one thing we was quite sure of: when someone said trust me, they were usually lying through their teeth.”

-STEPHEN KING, THE INSTITUTE

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My Thoughts: This is a beautifully written book. It’s full of descriptive writing that draws you even further into the heartbreaking story. There, of course, is a bit of a murder mystery, but that’s not ALL there is in this book.

“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

– DELIA OWENS, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

My Thoughts: This book isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s a romance and it’s a steamy one! And of course, it does have some cheesy parts. I absolutely LOVED this book. It’s a good palette cleanser for quick fun read after reading something a little heavier (or scary!).

“The trick is to find that one person who can give it back as good as they can take it.”

– SALLY THORNE, THE HATING GAME

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, 19-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My Thoughts: This book is super creepy. It was one that I wouldn’t read at bed time, this was only a day time read. Even thinking about it now, I’m a bit creeped out, still, and want to nail my closets shut (read it, you’ll understand then). This story has really stuck with me, even after several months! Definitely a good one to read in October!

“I think people see what they want to see…But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

– JENNIFER MCMAHON, THE WINTER PEOPLE

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening, her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face and then never speaks another word.  

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London. 

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations – a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

My Thoughts: I love a good physcological thriller. This one delivers. It has it all – a good story that delivers a good twist! Normally, I can pick up on what’s going on and see the twist coming, but this one did a good job keeping me on my toes and needing to read just one more page to see where it went!

“You become increasingly comfortable with madness – and not just madness of others, but your own. We’re all crazy, I believe, just in different ways.”

– ALEX MICHAELIDES, THE SILENT PATIENT

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

My Thoughts: This was the shortest book I read last year, but it was SO GOOD! Honestly, this was a book that I listened to in audiobook form and I was able to listen to it in one day, while doing a puzzle. And I would HIGHLY recommend this book in audio form. It’s read by Neil Gaiman, himself, and he does a fantastic job of pulling you into the story. While this book has magical and fantastical elements, it’s still so relatable and heartbreaking. This book is definitely worth a weekend afternoon of your time!

“Nobody looks like what they really are on the inside. You don’t. I don’t. People are much more complicated than that. It’s true of everybody.”

– NEIL GAIMAN, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away.
 
Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

My Thoughts: This book is heavy and not for the faint of heart. It deals with suicide, self harm, incest, and molestation. Not at all what I was expecting. And while it’s very dark and definitely hard to get through, I haven’t stop thinking about it. The Roanoke Girls isn’t going to be a book for everyone, but if you know what to expect going in you can appreciate the tough topics this book delves into.

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

– AMY ENGEL, THE ROANOKE GIRLS

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, mother, their teenaged son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

My Thoughts: I love a good physcological thriller with an unreliable narrator, when they’re done well. You never know what’s real, what’s not, what’s imagined. This book does it pretty well. I did figure it out about 3/4 of the way through, but I will say the ending was much more exciting than I figured it would be! And there is more than one “twist”, so even if you figure it out partially, you still may be surprised.

“I was fighting for my life. So I must not want to die. And if I don’t want to die, I’ve got to start living.”

– A.J. FINN, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

  • Enjoy a drunken night out.
  • Ride a motorcycle.
  • Go camping.
  • Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
  • Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
  • And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

My Thougts: This is such a fun romance! It’s funny, heartwarming, at times silly and cheesy, and at times a bit steamyand other times it’s absolutely heartbreaking. It’s definitely not a just a sterotypical romance and deals a lot with deeper issues. The writing in this book is fantastic! This is another one I listened to as an audio book and the performance was amazing! It really helped me distinguish from the characters and was just a really good time. The best part of this book is it is a three book series, this being the first one. And the last two follow Chloe’s two other sisters, Dani and Eve. So if you enjoy this book you have two more follow ups you can continue with! I’m super excited to read/listen to the next two, myself!

“Love is certainly never safe, but it’s absolutely worth it.”

– TALIA HIBBERT, GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN

NON-FICTION

I definitely don’t read as much non fiction as I do fiction, but I do read some. And here are a few of my favorites from last year.

Educated by Tara Westover

Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. When another brother got himself into college, Tara decided to try a new kind of life. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
 

My Thoughts: This is a fascinating look at how education can be such a tool for freedom in life. I loved getting a look inside the author’s life in the survivalist seclusion of her family. This book is not only full of the author’s life stories, but it also contains some really important life lessons, looks at mental illness, and so much more. It truly is a great read. And again, I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was a good one. Definitely would highly recommend this audiobook!

“My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

– TARA WESTOVER, EDUCATED

Red Notice by Bill Browder

This is a story about an accidental activist. Bill Browder started out his adult life as the Wall Street maverick whose instincts led him to Russia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, where he made his fortune.

Along the way he exposed corruption, and when he did, he barely escaped with his life. His Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky wasn’t so lucky: he ended up in jail, where he was tortured to death. That changed Browder forever. He saw the murderous heart of the Putin regime and has spent the last half decade on a campaign to expose it. Because of that, he became Putin’s number one enemy, especially after Browder succeeded in having a law passed in the United States—The Magnitsky Act—that punishes a list of Russians implicated in the lawyer’s murder. Putin famously retaliated with a law that bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world, and also the story of how, without intending to, he found meaning in his life.

My Thoughts: Another audio book that I listened to and it was so well done. It is a little slow starting out, but honestly, the beginning to this book and understanding where the story started is so important. If I’m being honest, I thought about putting this bok down in the first half more than once. But I am so happy I stuck with it. Never did I think I would cry during this book, but the last third was heartbreaking and at times infuriating. Learning the how and why of the Magnitsky Act has helped me understand why political activists are so important.

“The less poeple know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep at night.”

– BILL BROWDER, RED NOTICE: A TRUE STORY OF HIGH FINANCE, MURDER, AND ONE MAN’S FIGHT FOR JUSTICE

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff

What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted David Sheff’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first warning signs: the denial, the three a.m. phone calls—is it Nic? the police? the hospital? His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every treatment that might save his son. And he refused to give up on Nic.

My Thoughts: This book is a really honest look at a father’s struggle through his son’s meth addiction. But more than that, it takes a look at his and his son’s entire life together. The good and the bad. David Sheff doesn’t leave out any of his failings, nor does he look at anything through rose colored glasses. It’s all there. This book has also been turned into a movie, titled by the same name. I haven’t watched the movie so I can’t say how closely or loosely it follows, but the book is such an eye opening look. There is also a book, titled “Tweak” written by David Sheff’s son Nic. Again, I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to. It follows the son’s journey through his own eyes, so it will just lend another perspective. I can’t wait to see how the two books align and where they differ.

“Anyone who has lived through it, or those who are now living through it, knows that caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself.”

– DAVID SHEFF, BEAUTIFUL BOY: A FATHER’S JOURNEY THROUGH HIS SON’S ADDICTION

I hope you all enjoy these books as much as I did! I’ll be back with my favorites from January and February, later, but in the meantime if you want to follow along with what I’m reading you can follow me on Goodreads.

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