Friday, January 1, 2021

Reading Year In Review 2020

Well, that wasn't very much fun. I think most of us are ready to put 2020 firmly in the rearview mirror and move forward into 2021 hoping for better.  Dear Lord, please be better.  2020 was a challenging year for many of you, for a variety of big and small reasons, and I'm no different.  My reading challenge every year is always to get through 100 books. I'm a slow reader by Romancelandia and blogging standards - so hitting 100 books is a pretty big deal for me. Yeah, 2020 saw me getting through 74.  Not great, especially when you consider I count DNFs, novellas, audiobooks - I count everything y'all, my challenge my rules. Here's how the number broke down:

5 Stars (A grade): 4
4 Stars (B grade): 21
3 Stars (C grade ; low B-): 28
2 Stars (D grade): 11
1 Star (F grade): 3
DNF (Did Not Finish): 7
Audiobooks: 13

These numbers are all in my usual ballpark, but 2020 saw more 3-Star reads than 4-Star reads and I always find that depressing.  Here's hoping that ship gets righted for 2021.  

Now, on to the fun part - the actual books. As a reminder, and for those of you new here, my "best of year" list is the best books I READ during said year. It's not specific to books published in that year.  There's older titles featured - mainly because I am always perpetually behind in my reading.  Now, on to the books:

The Romance (in no particular order):

The Lady's Companion by Carla Kelly (Traditional Regency, 1996) - This was my best romance read of the year and the fact it was published in 1996 isn't exactly lost on me. Gentry spinster heroine whose Daddy has ruined them financially decides to take her destiny in her own hands and accepts a job as a lady's companion to a cantankerous widow. She finds an ally and friend in the widow's bailiff. Compelling conflict, emotionally gut-wrenching, and tightly plotted. It's amazing, it's available digitally. Just read it.

To Dream Again by Laura Lee Guhrke (Historical romance, 1995) - This was a reread for me and the title link will take you to my original blog review from 2005. Second son comes home to England with the dream of making children's toys and buys the heroine's factory after the bank calls in her loan after her husband dies. Never mind she's the one keeping the business afloat while her husband chased one get rich quick scheme after another. A prickly heroine written in a time when those weren't the norm who is all out of f*cks when it comes to men. That said, parts of the story have not aged well which I detail a more in my GoodReads review. At one point the self-published digital edition was widely available but at the time of this post it's available via Kindle Unlimited.

Slow Dance with the Best Man by Sophie Pembroke (Harlequin Romance, 2017) - The Harlequin Romance line is one of my favorites because the books feel like warm hugs. Typecast Hollywood actor falls for the heroine, who is gunning for a managerial position at her hometown's Gothic manor that's been converted to a posh hotel. A fluffy concoction with the pleasing Hollywood star falls for A Nobody fantasy. I'm glad I have more Pembroke in my TBR.

Redemption of the Maverick Millionaire by Michelle Douglas (Harlequin Romance, 2020) - A hero who did the heroine dirty swoops into her adopted hometown looking to make amends, only to end up making a muck of things.  Basically this book is one long grovel, because boy howdy did the hero screw up.  Also, it's a small town romance where the author doesn't completely sweep the challenges of small town living under the rug.

Cinderella Unmasked by Susannah Erwin (Harlequin Desire, 2020) - Erwin wrote a book featuring a hero running for political office and I ended up really enjoying it. That's some kind of miracle for 2020. Heroine whose family was done wrong by hero's family ends up falling head over feet. A smitten hero in pursuit who is genuinely a nice guy (not a brooding, angsty playboy!), compelling family conflict, and a Cinderella trope that avoids heavy-handed rescue fantasy. After just two books Erwin is my newest autobuy.

Not Romance, Still Great (in no particular order):

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Nonfiction, 2018) - I read this based off Miss Bates' recommendation and this was easily the book of the year for me. At the end of 1972, Jean McConville, mother of 10, was dragged from her Northern Ireland home by the IRA, never to be seen again. It's a story of violence, of politics, where there are no heroes, and it was by far the most riveting book I had read in a dog's age. I cannot recommend it enough. I made all the incoherent great book noises during and after I finished it.

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright (Nonfiction, 2017) - I've got Sasha Devlin to thank for this recommendation and this was a great listen on audio. Kind of weird to read a book about plagues that was written pre-COVID, and frustrating in that humans have this uncanny knack for repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Engaging, written with the layperson in mind, with a touch of gallows' humor. I really enjoyed this and even learned some stuff.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey (Dystopian, 2020) - A dystopian western that's queer and feminist AF.  Fleeing an arranged marriage when her best friend (and lover) is murdered, the heroine hooks up with a subversive band of traveling librarians. It's a slim book (category romance length) so the world building isn't terribly intricate, but I loved the feminist themes of the story and got sucked into the western world like whoa.  Not a typical read for yours truly, and one that I'm hoping will become a series.

Prairie Lotus
by Linda Sue Park (Historical children's fiction, 2020) - After her mother dies, 14-year-old half-Chinese heroine moves with her white father to the Dakota territory. The author grew up loving the Little House series, while recognizing all the inherent problems with that series.  There are a lot of heavy themes in this story (racism, injustice, and the heroine is assaulted at one point - not raped) but it never feels like a heavy book. It's hopeful, with a lovely sense of place and history.  

When I started thinking about this blog post my impression was that I had a pretty dire reading year - but as I looked back I realized that there were gems - it's just said gems were buried in between mediocrity and books I'd rather forget. So long 2020. Please do let the door smack you on the way out.


azteclady said...

I really enjoy Sarah Gailey's voice, I hope they keep writing lovely, engrossing stories in this world.

Both the non-fiction books sound great, they go on my list for when I have more resilience.

Unknown said...

That is one of my top 3 Carla Kellys!

Wendy said...

AL: The Gailey book was out of my normal wheelhouse, but I really dug the western world and, well, those librarians!

Unknown: I unearthed that Kelly as part of the TBR Challenge - which just goes to show I need to spend more time diving deep into my print stash....

Jill said...

One thing I noticed this year is I actually really, really liked most of what I read to the finish (A to B+ reads), but I DNFed a lot. And sometimes when I only had a 100 pages to go. If I got caught in a book, it was deeply appreciated, but very little things would annoy me and make me drop something quickly.
It got to the point where my holds at my libraries (3!) were out of control b/c I felt like I would end up finishing 1 or 2 out of 10. I actually wiped out my holds for the new year to get a new start. I think maybe my tastes are changing? Or maybe it's just a lull. I'm definitely tracking my reading, so time will tell.
Also, I will make a plug (again!) for Carla Kelly's Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, one of my favorite romances of all time. ;-) It get warm cozy feelings just thinking about it.

eurohackie said...

That Sophie Pembroke sounds right up my alley!

I had a hard time finishing anything of length last year, so I ended up reading a lot of anthologies/short story collections etc. I had a nice little holiday bump there at the end, and I'm hoping that momentum will carry me into this year.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

I'm so behind on my new-releases tbr that I always add any pub date book I read in my best of too. Marrying the Captain by Kelly is a favorite so I added Lady's Companion to my tbr right away.
I read Get Well Soon in 2018 and oh yeah, kept thinking about it during this hellyear.
I ended up reading less than last year too and all I could concentrate on for a couple months was some KU books that umm, won't be making my best list.
Best wishes for a better 2021 for you and yours and happy reading!

Wendy said...

Jill: I know I have Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand around here someone - in print even. I need to unearth it!

Eurohackie: I really liked that Sophie Pembroke! There's a former local girl turned Hollywood actress turned Bridezilla to provide some external conflict - but I loved the internal baggage of both the hero and heroine. Plus when it's done right I find the Hollywood star who falls for "a normal person" a really pleasing fantasy.

Whiskey: LOL on the KU books. I scrounged around for Kelly's traditional Regencies back before eBooks were "a thing" and my print copies have been languishing for so long they're now all readily available in digital. Good news for readers!