December 11, 2020

Chelsey’s End of Year Wrap up

Here are ten of my favorite and most memorable reads from 2020!
Have you checked any of them out yet?

2020 All Time Favorite:
28 Summers
By Elin Hilderbrand – Little, Brown & Company

Jake and Mallory enter into a “same time next year” pact and vow to spend Labor Day Weekend together every year, no matter what.

It was amazing to me how I strongly I felt for these characters. Hildebrand weaves a rich story full of history and passion. Even though the premise was horrifying to me (cheating on your spouse every single year with the same person), I was still pulled in by the romanticism of the idea. Hildebrand used a variety of strategies to keep us rooting for Mallory and Jake, even when we weren’t necessarily on board with what they were doing. I particularly loved how each summer opened up with what was going on that year in the world. The fun pop culture references brought me back and some of the points were well place foreshadowing tools.

This was a beach read but it wasn’t light. With strong themes such as infidelity, loss of a loved one, divorce, the #metoo movement, feminism, and so much more, this is a fantastic book for a bookclub. I can’t recommend this book enough and it’s without a doubt my favorite Hildebrand novel to date!

2020 Favorite Thriller:
Don’t Look For Me
By Wendy Walker – St. Martin’s Press

Five years after the death of the youngest member of their family, the Clarkes haven’t recovered. Molly feels particularly guilty as she was the one who struck and killed Annie in a tragic but fluke car accident.

Molly is on her way home when evening when she runs out of gas and gets caught in an oncoming hurricane. She is relieved when a man with his daughter picks her up and brings her back to his house to wait out the storm. But Molly’s anxiety radar is on high alert, particularly when the man refuses to bring her back to town the next day and his daughter, Alice, seems to know a bit too much about her. When confronted, the man traps Molly in a barred room, keeping her captive and forcing her to spend time with Alice for extended periods of time.

This novel kept me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t flip the pages fast enough! There were enough red herrings to keep me guessing but the pieces played out perfectly. The character development was really well done and the tragedy the Clarke family experienced was heartbreaking.

2020 Favorite Horror:
Tender is the Flesh
By Agustina Bazterrica – Scribner

Dark and twisted, this short novel explores a future world where consuming or coming into contact with animals is lethal to humans and cannibalism has been legalized and normalized.

This is truly an incredible story. I typically struggle with translated works but the translation from Spanish to English was exceptional. This story was extremely unique and delved into the human psyche, relationships, and the impact of trauma.

I love going into books blind but I strongly recommend reading the synopsis for this one. If you’re horrified by the subject matter, this book will not be for you. It’s extremely graphic and horrific for the majority of the book.

If we weren’t currently experiencing a pandemic of worldwide proportions that has impacted nearly every aspect of every human life, I would think this story was fantastical and wildly far fetched. However, we are in an unpredictable and unprecedented pandemic and this novel really opens your eyes to the “what ifs” lurking in the shadows ….

2020 Favorite Romance:
One to Watch
By Kate Stayman-London – Dial Press

Instagram famous, plus-sized fashion blogger meets the Bachelor!

Filled with drama, emotion, and hilarity, this book has it all. I loved the reality TV aspect, the different formats of the story (blog posts, emails, texts, articles, etc.), and the modern feel. I also loved that although the focus of the story was certainly body image and body diversity, it tackled so much more. This book touches upon super relevant topics including racial diversity, interracial relationships, gender and identity, asexuality/aromatic individuals, infidelity, and more. Though it addressed so much in a short amount of time, I felt that the author did a fantastic job of normalizing these topics and I hope to see more of this in the books we read going forward.

Finally, I found it really refreshing and unique that although Bea’s size was at the heart of this story, the author never once alluded to her actual weight or waist size. We fell in love with Bea for Bea, insecurities and all.

2020 Favorite “Own Voices” Novel:
Members Only
By Sameer Pandya – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Members Only takes place primarily over the span of one, horrible week. Raj, an Indian man born in Bombay and living in the United States since he was 8, is asked to join the membership committee for his family’s (mostly white) Tennis Club. When the Browns, a black couple, is sponsored to join the club, Raj is thrilled. So thrilled in fact, that he gets in his own way and nervously blurts a phrase that is construed as a racist remark during the Browns’ membership interview.

Raj’s luck goes from bad to worse back at school on Monday. During a routine anthropology lecture, a student films a piece of his lecture which includes a philosophy that criticizes Christianity and America. The video is posted to an online forum where Raj is accused of being racist against whites. Anonymously, the student also files a formal complaint against Raj with the dean of the college. Now, not only is his reputation at stake, but also his job.

My heart went out to Raj. He is a relatable character – someone we all see a bit of ourselves in. I could feel my anxiety building as Raj made one terrible decision after another. Raj had a kind heart and his missteps seemed to come from places of insecurity rather than any malicious intent. I really lauded Raj’s sense of self, ability to treat others kindly even when he was being mistreated, and propensity toward forgiveness. The writing was excellent and the backstories Raj told provided authenticity and depth to his character.

This book was an ever present reminder of how quickly a situation can get out of hand, especially given the current social media climate.

This is a must read!

2020 Favorite Novel by an Indie Author:
The Weight of a Moment
By Michael Bowe – Villa Campanile Press

An emotional story about friendship, family, redemption, and forgiveness.

After an embarrassing moment of weakness goes viral on the internet, Tom Corbett’s life is completely upended. His marriage is collapsing, his children are ashamed and dealing with their own mistakes, and he loses his job. Defeated and purposeless, Tom jumps at the chance to move to the small town of Shelbyville when his uncle passes and unexpectedly leaves him the family farm.

Nick Sterling, our narrator and an acclaimed journalist, is fighting his own personal war. Afflicted by his inner demons, Nick self medicates with alcohol and drugs. No longer a journalist for the reputable Philadelphia Post, Nick moved back to his hometown of Shelbyville, purchased the local Sentinel, and releases a short paper every two weeks or so to keep himself afloat and his habits financed.

The two broken men cross paths and form an unlikely friendship. Restoring the farmhouse and building a new guesthouse begins to open and address wounds the men were too afraid to confront. Unexpected discoveries about themselves, the land, and their histories form the foundation for healing and forgiveness.

Exceptional writing and character development weave a descriptive and emotive narrative. I felt extremely connected to Nick and Tom and rooted for their success and happiness. This novel was surprising in all the best ways and I’m eager to read Bowe’s other work. 

2020 Favorite Memoir:
Hollywood Park
By Mikel Jollett – Celadon Books

Mikel is a child of the universe. Born into the Synanon cult, he was given to The School at six months old to be raised by the community, rather than his biological parents. Mikel’s mother escaped the cult and took her sons, Mikel age five and Tony age seven, with her. Tony and Mikel’s father, Jimmy, drifted in and out of their early lives. He had also been part of Synanon and moved to California when he left the cult. By age ten, Mikel was smoking cigarettes and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Tony was constantly getting in trouble and quickly showing signs of drug and alcohol addiction. 

This was an incredible story of survival and perseverance and Jollett’s writing was emotional and transportative. The honesty and self-reflection, -awareness, and -analysis were refreshing and humbling. I originally expected this memoir to be more about Jollett’s time in the cult, however, because he left at five years old, it was more his life story after the cult and the cult’s impact on his entire being. A life full of trauma, abuse, love, and confusion, Hollywood Park is a memoir I won’t soon forget. For anyone with any interest in psychology and the impacts of trauma, neglect, and abuse, this one’s for you.

2020 Favorite Young Adult Novel:
Clap When You Land
By Elizabeth Acevedo – Quill Tree Books

Two girls living worlds apart are connected when their Papi dies and they each learn that he had another family.

Based on the true story of Flight AA587 that crashed in November 2001 on its way from NYC to the DR, this was an emotional and powerful story. Though Papi led a double life while he was alive, his death brought upon a merging of the two families. This book explored so many deep themes such as love, loss, grief, lies, deceit, heritage, and the bonds of blood.

Written in prose form, I was intimidated at first that it would read too much like poetry, where every word is a double meaning and nothing can be overlooked. However, Acevedo did an exquisite job of letting the language flow and tell its own story. No detail was overlooked. From the chapter separators, to the literal type on the page, the amazing cover (with or without the jacket!), and the unnamed main character, the intention and execution were utter perfection.

I did struggle at times because I felt like the two girls, Yahaira and Camino, had quite similar voices. I would often have to flip back and check which girl was narrating. Additionally, the story felt rushed (the entire story takes place over two months) and I was left with so many questions and a longing for more.

I read this book with a buddy read and highly recommend it for a book club. There are many story lines and deeper themes to explore, questions to be raised, and issues to hash out. I can’t recommend this one enough.

2020 Favorite Audio Book:
His & Hers
By Alice Feeney – Flatiron Books/Macmillan Audio
Narrated by Stephanie Racine and Richard Armitage

Anna is a successful news anchor for the BBC but when Kat Jones returns from a two-year maternity leave, the news agency feels obligated to give Jones’ her slot back, pushing Anna down the totem poll. Back in the field, Anna is sent to cover a murder that occurs in the quiet town of Blackdown.

The DC on the case, Jack Harper, is a little too connected to the murder victim for his liking. In fact, he slept with the woman last night. The crime scene becomes even more potentially dangerous for him when his tenacious ex-wife, Anna Andrews, shows up to cover the murder.

It becomes apparent that the murder in Blackdown is the work of a serial killer and at every step, Jack is looking more and more guilty.

Told from three different perspectives – Jack, Anna, and the killer – we gained different pieces of the story and learned a lot of the characters’ histories. There were points in time where I was convinced that just about every character might be the killer.

The audio was fantastic. I loved the use of multiple narrators and the voice change machine for the killer. The narrators were easy to connect with and the level of theatrics was perfect.

All in all, this was a wild ride!! This book will surprise you and keep you on the edge of your seat. I absolutely recommend it!!

2020 Favorite Reread:
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
By Bryn Greenwood – Thomas Dunne Books

It’s not often I’m willing to read a book twice – there are just too many great books to read to spend much time going back and rereading any! But All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was an exception I made to my “no rereading rule” and I am so happy I did. I loved it the first time and I loved it even more the second.

The second reading allowed me to appreciate the controversy on a deeper level. I was able to remove myself from the nuances of the story and understand why this book has upset so many people. For me, however, the controversy and inappropriate relationship between Kellen and Wavy made the story that much more powerful.

Ultimately, this is a story of perseverance, love, heartbreak, and sacrifice. Though I’ll add a note of caution, this will always be one I recommend and a book that will stick with me forever.

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