2020 favorite books

Six books I read in 2020 that have stuck with me since I read them

I read many good books this year, but for one reason or another these are the books I keep thinking about.

Four of the six books are by new-to-me authors. Three of the them are audiobooks from my library so I probably wouldn’t have read them if I couldn’t have gotten them from the library. One book–The Bond was a Kindle Unlimited book. I’m really liking my KU subscription. I’ve found so many new authors and good books to read!

This was so fun to read. It was also such a good book about a plus-size main character who is a fashion blogger with a huge following. She agrees to come on a popular reality TV show as the star with lots of single guys vying for her affection.

She agrees to the show because she’s tired of the size zero young women the show usually has who don’t represent American women. Not everything works out as she hopes, but there are laugh out loud moments as well as cringe worthy moments. This is a very readable story, but it also has important messages (without being preachy) about our self-image and the way women are portrayed on social media as well as on television and in movies.

This was so well done. I don’t usually read romances, but I loved this book. I felt such empathy for both the main characters–Khai Diep and Esme Tran. They are both trying so hard to understand the world they live in.

I like the way the author portrays both characters. Esme is a mixed-race girl from Viet Nam where she’s never been treated as though she’s worthy because of her mixed race. Khai Diep is autistic and doesn’t want a relationship because he doesn’t understand feelings and doesn’t think he has any feelings. His family knows he just processes things differently than other people. And his mother wants him to be happy. However, he’s content with his routine, his job and his life the way they are. He doesn’t like change. Esme grew up in Viet Nam and has worked hard to provide for her daughter, mother and grandmother. When she’s offered the chance by Khai’s mother to come to America and meet Khai and perhaps marry him she jumps at the chance to have a better future.

I like the way the author portrays these two people. She really seems to understand how they feel and would act and react to the situations they find themselves in.

This was quite a unique book. I thought the world building was well done. The people of this world use genetics and people are created in a lab. Dinitra grows up fearing men because of their violent nature and because her world is only filled with women. A war was fought in the past by the men in their world so women took over and only use men as sperm donors.

When she graduates from her school she’s chosen to train 12–a fierce mutant dog. She’s terrified of the dog at first, but finally the two bond. The dog is supposed to help finally kill the rebels that beset her world. However, Dinitra and 12 are kidnapped by the rebels and she learns that what she’s thought of her world isn’t all true. I love the bond between Dinitra and 12. I’ve read other reviews who call this a story of a girl and her dog. And that’s certainly true.

A Deadly Education has many overtones of Harry Potter, but this school for magic users is a much scarier place. It’s not good to be alone in this school. Sometimes people alone in a hallway disappear and are never found again. People don’t have friendships in this school. However, an alliance can keep a person alive, but it can turn deadly, too, if you aren’t useful to the people in your alliance. Plus if you’re not from a wealthy family you probably can’t form an alliance.

Galadriel “El” Higgins is an outsider from a poor family and doesn’t have alliances, but she’s learned how to stay alive. She’s a grumpy, sarcastic character and no one really likes her. . . maybe because most of the students have heard of the dire prophecy made about her. She hopes to catch the eye of an important enclave so that after she graduates they will employ her. Therefore, she’s furious when Orien Lake, the most popular boy in the school and a member of the New York enclave, keeps saving her life. How will she make herself notable if she Orien Lake keeps interfering?

I listened to the audiobook and I thought Anisha Dadia did a great job capturing the snarky, sarcastic tone that El uses. She was easy and fun to listen to. Even though there are dark patches in this book it was a joy to read. I like finding out more about this world and more about individual students. I often don’t like young adult books because of the silly angst, but I didn’t find as much of that as I feared. These students are trying to survive to adulthood!

I was unsure if I wanted to read this book (and I’ve owned the book for months). I love Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series and was afraid I would be disappointed. This first book was very different from the Ruth Galloway series, but I loved it and want to find out more about DS Harbinder Kaur!

The Stranger Diaries is a mystery, but the Gothic story “The Stranger” by R.M. Holland is gradually told throughout the book along with the modern murder mystery. “The Stranger” is more in the Gothic horror genre, but perhaps because I read it gradually it didn’t scare me! (I don’t like horror.)

R.M. Holland is central to the book. He lived during the 1800’s in one of the buildings which is now a school where much of the book takes place. One of the characters, Clare Cassidy, is an English teacher at the school and is writing a book about Holland. A friend of Clare’s is killed and there seems to be a connection with Holland.

I felt Clare was the main character in this book even though the series will continue and is entitled “Harbinder Kaur.” DS Harbinder Kaur is one of the police officers who is investigating the murder. I wonder if the author will keep Harbinder more in the background of these stories. She’s certainly a character I’d like to know more about.

The story is told by different characters so we’re aware when they lie or hold something back from the police. We aren’t always certain we’re learning everything they know. I thought the author did a very good job the way she wrote the book.

I loved this! The characters are real and fun. I’d love to have them as friends though I’m not sure I could keep up! I like that many of the characters are retired, but that doesn’t mean they’re retired from life. Elizabeth is my favorite. I love the way she tests her memory with a question each day on her calendar of something that happened a couple weeks before. One day she asks herself what number was on a license plate. And she remembers! I think as we grow older testing our memory is something we all do.

The characters seem real to me–with both good and bad qualities. The characters act in surprising ways. The mysteries surprised me. The whole book surprised me! I am glad I had the audiobook of this. The narrator is Lesley Manville and she really enhanced the story for me.

What books were your favorites last year! Have you read any of these books?

A funny thing happened

. . .  on my way to catch up with the October Daye series. a-red-rose-chain

But I’m not laughing.

I’ve had a frustrating week. Just a series of different things happening. Reading the wrong book is just one of those frustrations!

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire is one of my favorite series, but I’ve fallen behind. I knew I already had the books I needed to catch up and I knew a new book was coming out in the series so it was time to start reading.

Late one night after I finished a book I decided to figure out which book to read in this series. I could have sworn I checked the last book I reviewed in the series and Goodreads. And I figured out A Red-Rose Chain was the book to read. I must have been dreaming!

The book grabbed me immediately. But now and then I thought . . . “I don’t remember when that happened.” However, I dismissed that little discomfort by thinking . . . “it’s been awhile since I read this series and I’ve just forgotten certain parts.”

the-winter-longHowever, as I got further into the book the discomfort became more insistent. I decided I’d better check again and sure enough I hadn’t read the book before A Red-Rose Chain.

I hadn’t read book number 8–The Winter Long . . . I already have it on my Kindle and it was waiting patiently for me to figure out my problem.

So now I’m part way through A Red-Rose Chain and enjoying it, but I think I really need to put it aside and read The Winter Long.

It starts out with great opening sentences:

The woods were dark, filled with strange shadows. They twisted and swirled independent of any light source, making the space beneath the towering sequoias look treacherous and wild.

However, I haven’t read much more than that and haven’t read more in A Red-Rose Chain either. I had another book I was reading (I often read several books at once) and I finished that (A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny).

And as I said this was a frustrating week. Starting the wrong book just added to my frustrations and I haven’t come to terms with it yet. 😦

So I hope to read The Winter Long soon so I can get back to A Red-Rose Chain!

Maybe I’ll read another book in between–space things out more . . . .

Has this ever happened to you? Have you accidentally started reading the wrong book in a series? What did you do about it?

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“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death!”

So yesterday I wrote a little bit about my love for A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I feel like I said almost nothing about the book and there’s more I wanted to write about, so this is post 2. This post is mostly about Dickens writing about the French Revolution. I don’t think it really counts as a spoiler for me to say that once the French Revolution portion of the story gets going, the French peasants are going to kill a lot of people and they’re going to do it some really awful ways. That’s just history. I’ll alLibertyLeadingthePeopleso say that once they start doing that stuff, it becomes really difficult not to view them as an extremely unlikable bunch of people, but this is where Dickens is really amazing. He’s spent the earlier part of the book painting such a brutally moving picture of the life of the poor in pre-revolution France that you can totally understand why they end up murdering all these people later in the book. Here’s an example where he’s speaking of the French peasants:

“A people that had undergone a terrible grinding and re-grinding in the mill. . . The mill which had worked them down, was the mill that grinds young people old; the children had ancient faces and grave voices; and upon them, and upon the grown faces, and ploughed into every furrow of age and coming up afresh, was the sign, Hunger. It was prevalent everywhere.”

One of my favorite passages from the book is a description of the frenzy of a crowd of peasants in Paris to collect and drink every drop of wine from a dropped and broken wine cask. They scoop it off the muddy ground, they soak their scarves in it and wring the wine into their mouths, they chew on the broken pieces of the wine cask to suck out all the wine they can. This scene manages to be funny while highlighting the extreme poverty of French peasants before the revolution. It also foreshadows the blood that will eventually stain the streets and people of this neighborhood once the revolution begins.

“A shrill sound of laughter and of amused voices–voices of men, women, and children–resounded in the street while this wine game lasted. . . The wine was red wine, and had stained the ground of the narrow street in the suburb of Saint Antoine, in Paris, where it was spilled. It had stained many hands, too, and many faces, and many naked feet, and many wooden shoes […] One tall joker. . . scrawled upon a wall with his finger dipped in muddy wine—BLOOD. The time was to come, when that wine too would be spilled on the street-stones, and when the stain of it would be red upon many there.”

This book manages to make you feel for both the peasants and the aristocrats, even though in the beginning of the story you despise the aristocrat429px-Cruikshank_-_The_Radical's_Armss and by the end you are repulsed by the peasants. It really left me with an intense feeling of the general awfulness of this kind of conflict. Given the horrible way the peasants are treated, I really can’t say they shouldn’t have had their revolution. But then reading about the terrible things that happen to the aristocrats, even if you agree that they deserved to be overthrown, it still made me cry to read about them being sent by the hundreds and thousands to La Guillotine:

“It sheared off heads so many, that it, and the ground it most polluted, were a rotten red. It hushed the eloquent, struck down the powerful, abolished the beautiful and good. Twenty-two friends of high public mark. . . it had lopped the heads off, in one morning, in as many minutes.”

I was going to end this post by talking about the ways in which the tragic costs of revolution seen in A Tale of Two Cities really made me think about the current situation in Syria, but that’s probably a bit heavier than my mom really wants me to get on her blog. And at the end of the day, it’s not really the point of the book. I think it’s more important to say that even though the Revolution is the backdrop for a large part of this book, A Tale of Two Cities is really mostly about love. The love of a father and daughter, of a husband and wife, and of a man who loves a woman he knows he can never have, but who loves her enough to want nothing but happiness for her. I haven’t done the book justice in these two short reviews, but hopefully some of you will still want to read it anyway!

How does a person fall in love with A Tale of Two Cities?

Hi, this is Karen. As my mom said, I’m hoping to write in occasionally with book reviews, so hopefully this first one won’t be so off topic that it gets me kicked off the blog!A Tale of Two Cities

I’m starting with a review of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I know this isn’t the type of book my mom usually reviews on her blog, but she told me I could write about any books I wanted, and I really loved this book. I’d never been particularly interested in reading A Tale of Two Cities because it sounded like kind of a boring book, but wow, was I wrong! This is an amazing story, full of romance, unrequited love, mysterious imprisonment (“Recalled to Life!”), and all the drama and violence of the French Revolution. And lots of sad and terrible and occasionally wonderful things happening to people and being done by them to others. Plus, Dickens has such an amazing gift for words and imagery. I suppose since he’s one of the greats of English literature this shouldn’t surprise me so much.

You might wonder how I ended up reading A Tale of Two Cities in the first place if I thought it was going to be boring. The answer is pretty simple. A guy I had a big crush on loved this book and read me the passage quoted below during one of those marathon nights of conversation where you’re both getting to know each other and pretending to find everything the other person likes to be profoundly interesting. I went and bought the book in a rather transparent attempt to impress him, but now, 3 years later, he’s long gone and I have a book that has a permanent place on my list of favorites. So here’s the first section of A Tale of Two Cities that I ever heard; and even after reading the whole book it’s still a favorite quote of mine:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of death itself, is referable to this.”

When I first heard this, I struggled with the idea that at the deepest level, even in the closest or most intimate relationships of life, there will always be some ways in which no ever truly knows you, or at least some things that no one ever knows. It seems at first incredibly lonely, to imagine that there will always be parts of yourself, thoughts, opinions, dreams, secret hopes, that are so delicate or dangerous that you never share them with another soul. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it really is true. I’m a big fan of sharing about my life with the people who are close to me, but there are personal doubts and worries that are too personal even for my closest confidants, and sometimes it seems like I might jinx myself or sound foolish if I voice the deepest hopes of desires of my soul. This quote has also altered my perspective somewhat when I interact with other people. As a new person in a new city, I feel like I’m a “profound secret and mystery” to pretty much everyone I meet, and they are certainly a mystery to me. I tend to be a little quick to form opinions about new people I meet, so I find that it’s useful to think of this quote and remember that there’s a lot more to people than the personality that they may present at work or otaleoftwocitiesaudiobookut at a bar or on a first date. People are complicated and I shouldn’t be so quick to think I know or understand them. And even with people I know really well, I shouldn’t assume that they really share everything with me. But I’m getting off topic. . .

This post is getting long and A Tale of Two Cities is a book with lots of plot twists and turns and a ton of great characters, none of which I’ve actually talked about at all. I don’t want this to turn into a book review though, so I guess I’ll just let you read the book to find out about the story. Or if you don’t want to read the book, try listening to the audiobook. I have the version from Audible.com narrated by Simon Vance (really excellent version!). I will warn you though, I listened to this last month while doing mundane things in the lab, and although it made my days go by really fast, there were some sad or touching sections that caused me to cry at my lab bench. Very embarrassing. I had to pretend I was having a terrible allergy attack.

I may write a bit more about this great book tomorrow, so if I got you at least a little interested in this fantastic classic, stay tuned for more tomorrow!