It is that time of year! Book review time! For the last few years, I’ve read at least 52 books/works and written about them (2017, 2018, 2019). The list below includes all of the books I’ve read this year. To be honest, I didn’t think I would make it to 52 books with everything going on but here we are with 57! I read every genre and have continued to tackle my personal goal of reading all of the classics. This year was surprisingly very nostalgic. There were many sequels to books I either didn’t expect or didn’t know existed.
Like every year, I waited till the end to pen this write-up, which was a mistake because I have lots of opinions. My opinions are either very strong or very indifferent.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (2010) 1007 pages, fantasy– No one can build a fantasy world like Brandon Sanderson. His writing, his drawings, his imagination. He doesn’t spell out the plot…he sprinkles it like parsley on pasta and I eat that shit up. It is a long book (one of four currently) but YES, a must for fantasy readers.
The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman (2019) 658 pages, fantasy– Pullman continues to expand the His Dark Materials world with this second book in the Book of Dust trilogy. Taking place when Lyra is a young adult, this novel explores concepts of daemons and soul-splitting. Continuing to challenge the ideals of Christianity, Pullman does a good job of bringing philosophical questions to our minds without making them boring. I am excited for this trilogy to wrap up; supposedly the third book will take place after The Amber Spyglass.
Saga 3 by Brian Vaughan (2014) 300 pages, space opera comic book– Hands down the most beautiful comic book drawings that I have seen to date. The story line of book 3 wasn’t as good as 1 and 2 but I will continue to follow this space opera as they publish these larger bound books.
Iron John: A Book About Men by Robert Bly (1990) 268 pages, fiction – This book is the masculine version of “Women Who Run With Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. An parable of what it means to be a man, Bly explores manhood through the telling of a man’s journey from boy to old man based on the Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale. It is wild, it is fantasical, and it was interesting to read after having read the woman’s version last year. There was, however, a lack of good things said about women…that we are more of a price and impediment than a partner (just reading between the lines). Perhaps the development of man includes the exclusion of a feminine partner.
Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb (2007) 444 pages, non-fiction– I have to admit that reading this one right as the 2020 pandemic came into existence kinda sucked. This book covers “black swan events” and how they impact society. This book was educational and showed how hindsight was 20/20 with events that some would deem as black swans when they were really quite evident (as seen with COVID).
From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women by Jennifer Gunsaullus (2019) 272 pages, non-fiction– Written by a friend and fellow San Diegian, this was a quick read. It gives good practices and stories regarding becoming more mindful with sex and sexuality as a woman in today’s world. Jenn is a sex therapist who is very non-judgmental about sex, which is a blessing. Follow her on FB.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844) 700 pages, fiction/classic literature– 1) I didn’t know Alexandre Dumas was black so learning that was cool. 2) This is a great story of four men and their adventures as part of the King’s guard in France. I only knew the Wishbone version of The Three Musketeers up to this point so reading the actual novel filled out the meat of the story. This was originally a serialized novel (which means a single chapter was released at a time in the newspaper) so the chapters always leave off with a hook to get you excited for the next chapter. I love serialized novels and really miss this style of writing/apprehension. This book is followed by Twenty Years After, then The Vicomte of Braglonne (which includes The Man in the Iron Mask).
Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (2015) 288 pages, fiction/literature– This is the long awaited sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I saw many reviews about how this book made Atticus Finch into a member of the KKK…which goes to show how people’s reading comprehension sucks. The book was an interesting insight into a grownup Scout and how backwards the South continued to be while she continued to grow ethically and chronologically. However, Harper Lee didn’t want the book published; her estate chose to publish the rough draft anyway (for money, I presume).
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek (2019) 251 pages, non-fiction– meh. Sorry, Jared.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s’ Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997) 336 pages, fiction/fantasy– A classic that I read to my son before we watched the movie. I grew up with this series so it was nice to share this with my kid. The second most-read book of the seven (Prisoner of Azkaban was the best) by me, I have the first four books in beautiful illustrated copies. Highly advise getting them. ALSO the deluminator used in the first book to take out the streetlights is brought back around book six, which is just a tiny example of why I enjoyed HP as a child…revisiting and explaining magic further was just cool.
The Hive by by Aaron Johnston and Orson Scott Card (2019) 396 pages, fiction/science fiction– This is the second book of the Second Formic Wars trilogy as part of the Ender-verse. It is interesting that OSC started outsourcing his biggest universe’s writing but hey, it works.
The Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman (1967) 311 pages, fiction/literature– Easy read, kinda pointless story in today’s feminist world but it is a good window into the 60s and what it meant to be a “crazy” woman with a mind of her own. So many books are important because of when they were published and what that meant for society…when in retrospect it doesn’t seem like a big deal. Contextual publishing can mean a lot…
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010) 381 pages, non-fiction– Holy. Crap. If you want to learn about ethical practices in medicine, please read this book. The writer discusses her desire to find out about Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were removed and used in science experiments without her permission or knowledge. The writer researches the Lacks family, desperately trying to bring awareness to the horrible treatment of a black family for “science”. A story of scientific advancement with moral complications, we get insight into how blacks have been mistreated in science. I learned so much from this book, and advise others to read so we can debate ethical practices and whether retribution should be paid.
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965) 412 pages, science fiction- Touted as one of the best science fiction novels…I thought it was meh. #sorrynotsorry. I don’t know, maybe I read it too late in my exploration of science fiction to really feel like it was original. If I take into account the year it was published…sure, I guess it was okay, but Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote equally as good novels almost 80 years earlier. I hate that there are so many Dune novels too because I feel obligated to read more even though I wasn’t impressed with the first one.
The Plague by Albert Camus (1947) 320 pages, fiction/classic literature– HA I picked this book up the week before bookstores closed because of this year’s plague. I have to tell you, reading this book during the outbreak of COVID was surreal. What Camus discussed in 1947 was almost word for word the experience with humanity that I was seeing around me in 2020. He discusses humanity through isolation and disease and I WISH everyone would read it because our experience this year was lived 100 years ago.
It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn (2016) 258 pages, non-fiction– I learned that trauma impacts our DNA! Otherwise, kind of a pointless (to me) self-help book that might help others more than it helped me. I wanted to say generational trauma wasn’t real before reading this book, but yes, yes it is. So opening that view of trauma was impactful for me.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964) 185 pages, non-fiction– This was a charming insight into the head of Ernest Hemingway as he lived in France and wrote. It resonated with me as he described sitting in a cafe watching people and claiming that they were now his…
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (2020) 517 pages fiction/dystopian– Ever wanted to read about the creation of a villain? This novel is about President Snow, yes, the asshole from the Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins surprisingly whipped out some awesome character development where you really end up hoping he would be a good person….which, as you know, he isn’t. Read Hunger Games first and then you absolutely have to read this book. Not so much brain candy but brain pasta…tasty and filling.
Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis (2019) 341 pages, non-fiction– Mattis is the “father” (or zaddy) of the Marine Corps. We Marines are so proud of him because he’s a bad ass and also not an idiot. Reading his take on the Marine Corps over the years, hearing him discuss his choices during battles, listening to his guilt over the deaths of the men and women his choices killed…all of it was amazing. I don’t know if people outside of the Marines/history buffs would enjoy it but I really did.
Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley (1994) 768 pages, fiction– FINALLY THE ENDING I WANTED for Gone with the Wind. Obviously not written by Margaret Mitchell but this is the recognized sequel to Gone With the Wind and I am just pleased as punch. It was really long but it shows growth for Scarlett…and honestly it was the best. Rhett shows up, Ireland is involved, and sometimes it is very much 1990’s romance-y (Margaret Mitchell would never) but this book soothed a wound in my heart I didn’t know existed.
The Only Woman in the Room by Heather Terrell (2019) 336 pages, non-fiction– Hedy Lamarr is an idol of mine. Beautiful, talented, innovative…Hedy is known first as a Hollywood actress of the late 40s and 50s. But did you know she was married to a Nazi and fled during WWII? She was a JEW! She also invented frequency-hopping that allowed the Allies guide torpedoes without the Axis powers knowing. Holy shit. Informative book, okay writing, fantastic subject matter!
A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing (1988) 69 pages, play– An American man and a Russian man meet in the woods to discuss nuclear weapons stances for their respective countries…or do they? This was a cool play about the passing of a torch between two men who have surreal jobs, where every word used is crucial and can mean the difference between life and death for millions. I enjoyed it. Very quick read.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926) 333 pages, classic literature– Not my favorite Hemingway. I always appreciate the “give a fuck-all” attitude of the characters of the post WWI era though. People also seemed more adept at side-stepping direct questions back then too…I will definitely not remember this book outside of the fishing trip and realizing they walked around with fish in the heat for hours. Please don’t ask me to discuss beyond the amazing invention of refrigerators.
Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian by Firoozeh Dumas (2003) 210 pages, non-fiction– decently humorous true story about an Iranian girl who grew up in America PRE 9/11 and written POST 9/11. It is always nice to get a look into a different culture, although I didn’t learn much specific to Iranian customs in this book. Obviously the hatred for Muslims increased post-9/11 and she addresses how that felt.
Battle Born by Max Uriarte (2020) comic book/military– Max killed it with White Donkey (no pun intended). However, I felt like Battle Born was lacking…and I wanted to fight him for his portrayal of female Marines in the first few pages. Overall though, Max’s views are progressive (which may piss off some people)…the imagery is great, and the comic pauses were necessary and done well.
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson (2014) 354 pages, non-fiction– Must read for 2020. Heartbreaking look at the criminal system and systemic racism from a black lawyer who fights for wrongfully accused blacks in the South. Very educational, very tough to read (emotionally), but very important.
Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Stanley (2004) 65 pages, play– This was a delicately written play about sexual abuse and racism in a Catholic school…which seems to hit all of the wickets of “shit you don’t talk about”. It is uncomfortable to see the characters play out their own histories with a boy getting lost in the mix. I guess it was turned into a movie.
Tampons, Dead Dogs, Other Disposable Things by Shairi Engle (2019) play– Sometimes there are literary works that make me feel like I just “don’t get it”. This was one of them. Shairi is a San Diego native who I have met (virtually) and a lovely person. Perhaps it is because I read the screenplay and didn’t see the play but this story was very abstract…and I think we as readers could analyze every aspect of the play for a deeper meaning…I hope to see it in production; maybe it would translate better for me
Twilight LA 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith (1994) play– “April 26, 1992…there were riots on the streets tell me where were you…”So Anna wrote a play about the LA riots that is just dozens of monologues of different characters involved (cops, family members, rooftop Koreans, etc). I thought this was great to read! Educational…and monologues are fun.
Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (2020) 658 pages, fiction/fantasy– brain candy. It is Twilight from Edward’s point of view so nothing is really a surprise. But you get to see a different side of your favorite teenage book. She does explain more things like how his abilities feel.
Castaway by William Broyles (1998) screenplay– I hated the movie. I missed the whole psychological point of it. But the screenplay?? Holy shit, I missed so much! Was I just hating on the hours of silence and not paying attention or was Tom Hanks not selling it to me? Either way, I liked reading the screenplay with the added INTENT of the actor…I finally understood why Castaway was good.
Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger’s and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers by John Elder Robison (2012) non-fiction– First hand insight from a man who has autism and how it has impacted him, this book opened my eyes to what an autistic mind can look like from the inside. The processing of information, the emotional disconnect, and the daily struggles were all new to me. Informative.
Loving Mr. Spock: Understanding a Lover with Asperger’s Syndrome by Barbara Jacobs (2004) 362 pages, non-fiction– This woman loved/dated an autistic man for years and wrote this book about her experiences. Her experience is not indicative of every autistic relationship (because old boy was a straight asshole a lot) and she seemed to enjoy mothering him to the detriment of herself. However, there were a lot of quizzes for an autistic partner and a neurotypical partner which can be good conversation for couples on either side of the relationship. She left a bad taste in my mouth but hey, some experiences can suck and she is free to write what she wants.
My Lobotomy by Howard Dully (2007) 306 pages, non-fiction– A horrible true story about a 12 year old who was given a lobotomy…the writing was strange, detached…but it brings up interesting ethical questions about medical treatment of minors in the realm of mental health (which is something super close to my heart as a child who was given psychotic medicines). It was ultimately a “happy” story but it really wasn’t…a whole life stolen…
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870) 426 pages, early science fiction– Evidently 20,000 leagues is distances traveled under the sea and not an indication of depth. Popular misconception or am I just a doofus about distance? Jules Verne’s imagination of what was under the sea comes pretty close to reality, with some artistic licenses for the science behind the traveling.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (2006) 752 pages, fantasy– Yet another of Brandon Sanderson’s worlds…not his best work but still entertaining. Following a female hero who isn’t a frigid bitch was nice. Learning a new form of magic (metals!) was fun, and Brandon does a great job of explaining it. That man’s imagination, I swear.
Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson (2007) 816 pages, fantasy– continuation of the world building of the first book. Definitely keeps you hooked.
Mistborn: Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson (2008) 572 pages, fantasy- Great and tidy conclusion to the trilogy with a twist I didn’t see coming. I wish he had stopped writing this universe after Hero of Ages.
Mistborn: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (2011) 336 pages, fantasy- So it is 300 years after the first three novels and it is suddenly a western?? I hate it and only read this because I felt obligated and just wanted more tie-ins to the first trilogy…which he did write so there was that…
Mistborn: Shadow of Self by Brandon Sanderson (2015) 405 pages, fantasy– I still wasn’t comfortable with the western aspect of Mistborn and the disillusion of the magic but whatever, I’m committed.
Mistborn: Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson (2016) 470 pages, fantasy- I do love Brandon’s writing of women. End of the trilogy. Meh.
How to be Parisian Wherever You Are by Mas Sophie (2016) 149 pages, informative– Thanks to Emily in Paris (Netflix), I read this and solidified my decision to move to Paris and open a bookstore and lay on a chaise lounge smoking a cigarette with bougie music and a glass of wine. I immediately went and bought a bunch of lingerie. I am not joking.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964) 178 pages, nonsensical fantasy– Roald Dahl is one of my favorite childhood authors and my kiddo loved reading this one with me. The Oompa Loompa songs are way longer and cooler in the book than in the movie and they can’t remotely be held to the same tune. Still, same story line plot(ish). Unique writing style full of humor and wit.
Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier (1938) 353 pages, Gothic fiction– I swear to god movie adaptations ruin everything. I saw that Netflix was making a movie about a book and HAD to read the book first. Thank god I did because this book was fantastic and the movie missed everything. It was way creepier in the book and the development of the relationship between the man and wife just makes more sense. If you’re going to watch the movie, stick to Alfred Hitchcock’s black and white version. The remake was horrible. But read the book first.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) 280 pages, Gothic fiction– “Wisdom is knowing that Doctor Frankenstein is the monster”…it is interesting how many novels of this era are story inceptions. The story is a story about a story within a story. That is probably the most notable point of this novel, besides the fact people who create life tend to shy away from the damage they do in creation, which tends to make things WAY WORSE. Just own up, you cowardly doctor. Gross.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012) 480 pages, romance– Interesting story of a woman who is the companion to a suicidal paraplegic and falls in love with him; however the writing was juvenile and had weak subplots. I guess it got turned into a Netflix movie. Meh.
The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho (2006) 253 pages, fiction– So I dislike the Alchemist with a passion, but this novel by Paulo resonated with me as a complex woman and a mother. Quick read and witchy, there may be hope for this author yet.
Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson (2011) 289 pages, thriller– This was a page turner because I couldn’t see where it was going. A woman loses her memory every time she sleeps and tries to unravel what happened to her by writing in a journal. It was an easy thriller.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Dehlia Owens (2018), 384 pages, mystery/fiction/romance– This was an easy read and surprisingly not boring. It follows a girl who grows up in a swamp in the South and the trials she goes through (life and criminal). It was heartbreaking at times but redemptive. I would suggest this book for easier listening that isn’t brain candy.
A Promised Land by Barack Obama (2020) 768 pages, non-fiction– This is the first of Obama’s books I have read and I really enjoyed it. I listened to the audiobook and it was read by him (which is way cooler). He is such an eloquent writer and speaker so the book was soothing. He wrote about his life prior to the presidency briefly but really honed in on the campaign trail and the first few years of his first term. He mentioned he would have a second book to cover the rest of his time. I cried at the end of the book when he spoke on Bin Laden’s death. Regardless of your political viewpoints, I think you should read this book. What I love about Obama is that is admits where he messed up; that kind of humility and honesty is hard to find in politics. He keeps it real. 10/10 recommend.
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (1937) 354 pages, mystery– It was a typical Agatha Christie novel. I was able to figure out the killer within the first 10 pages but kept reading because I was on vacation and it was easy reading.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866) 576 pages, classical literature- Russian literature isn’t all death and misery but this book sure was. Dostoevsky does a fantastic job of arguing philosophical points within his character’s conversations
Carol (or The Price of Salt) by Patricia Highsmith (1952) 324 pages, fiction/romance– I have never read a lesbian novel before! Surprising, right? Well, this book is set in the late 40s/early 50s when that lifestyle is punishable. What an interesting insight to the questions and concerns of people who just want to love each other in a society that won’t allow it. And the fact it was published back then is just amazing!
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (2020) 305 pages, non-fiction- Matthew has been through some not-great stuff. His story-telling is really fun and he is very personable so this book (inspirational/story-telling) was very easy to digest. He also manages to tell very personal stuff without revealing all of the details, which is something I struggle with. You know he isn’t telling all…and you don’t need him to cash in his privacy for us to relate.
Utopia by Sir Robert More (1516) 365 pages, socio-political satire– More was one of King Henry the VIII’s statesmen who was excommunicated for not going to his wedding to Anne Boleyn. It seems like Karl Marx removed puritanism from Utopia and wrote the Communist Manifesto… They are eerily similar. Marx evidently believed in revolution being required for communism while More’s Utopian world (not labeled as communism) was decided by all citizens after being conquered by an outside country. It is strange that the idea of utopia still contains slavery, war, and hunger….the prose was boring but the concepts align so much with Marxist communism that I enjoyed mentally comparing as I read.
Ready Player Two by Earnest Cline (2020) 385 pages, science fiction– I really wanted to like this book. The first book was really fun and unique, but this one felt like the writer was having an existential crisis. The story was rushed in places and slow in others, and 40% of it was spent on Prince world. There was also a very huge plot hole that I blame the editor for missing regarding the time usage of the technology. It just felt like a shitty follow-up and makes me think Earnest Cline’s one claim to fame will be Ready Player One (because Armada sucked too). Do not advise.
48 Hours: A Novel by William R. Forstchen (2019) 335 pages, suspense– So William wrote One Second After, which I enjoyed because he posed scenarios in the event of an electromagnetic pulse taking out all technology and what would happen in America. This book went into the scenario of a solar flare taking out the world and how the government would handle the end of times (lol for another book that makes you realize how bad Covid has been handled). Unfortunately (for me), this was decently sprinkled with religious undertones, which makes sense for post-apocalyptic musings, but the writer focused on Christianity while discussing how the WORLD handled end times. Since Christianity isn’t the only religion in the world, it seemed ignorant.
Awards by Me:
Most Inspiring: A Promised Land
Most Heart Wrenching: Just Mercy
Most Relatable: Witch of Portabello
One I Would Never Recommend: Ready Player Two
Alright, thanks for reading this hunk of reviews. Happy reading for 2021!