Our Favorite Books of 2020!

Well 2020 was a dumpster fire of a year. Thank goodness it’s about to end. We’ve been pretty open with our struggles we had this year when it came to our reading lists. We didn’t read as much as we wanted and don’t have as many books to pick from. So this year we are going to do something different this year. Instead of picking our Top 5 or 10 books we are just going to list our favorite books we read this year. So here we go.

  1. Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 – by Cho Nam-Joo This was such a powerful book to me. Like the main character Kim Jiyoung. I was also born in 1982 and can identify with so many of her struggles. The fact that she is Korean and I am American just goes to show how alike we are all no matter where we are from. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
  2. Deathless Divide – by Justina Ireland The sequel of Dread Nation about a Zombie apocalypse after the US Civil War. In this one we see more the aftermath of what happened and the hardships they all have to endure. Jane is the best protagonist. She’s funny, strong, and damaged but she never gives up. She’s who we all would want if a zombies ever attack and considering how 2020 went, I’m surprised they didn’t. (Beth don’t jinx it)
  3. The King of Crows – by Libba Bray The final book in The Diviner’s series was ever the sweeping epic I wanted it to be. It brought all of them together and made them all work together to defeat the King of Crows. The sad thing about this series is how so many of the problems of the 1920’s are still too relevant today. Racism, poverty war and greed all played a part in the novels and the last couple of years. I’m truly going to miss all of these characters.
  4. Midnight Sun – by Stephenie Meyer Controversial choice I know because I wasn’t very kind to it or to Edward and Bella. It has not aged well and I’ll never read it again but It was kinda fun to reminisce back to a time when I loved these books and when I was excited to go see the movies in theaters. (Remember when we could do that?) No matter what I feel about the now, I’ll always be grateful to them and Stephenie Meyer because they introduced me to a whole new genre of books that I probably wouldn’t have sought after before. So yes, It wasn’t a good book but it brought back some good memories.
  5. There’s Something about Sweetie by Sandhya Menon Sweetie is an awesome main character. Her development is amazing. The romance is adorable. I totally forgot I had read that one.
  6. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz This was such a beautiful novel about a friendship between two teenagers. I loved it so much. It broke my heart and lifted me up. It was just so great. Plus, Lin Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook.
  7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro This novel was so horrifying. The quiet romance that hid the dark realities that Ishiguro created in the novel made it such an amazing piece of speculative fiction. I was so disturbed by it.
  8. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness The world building here is neat and I’m interested in where the story is going. I didn’t read a whole lot this year, but this one did get me into the sequel. So, even though there are things that definitely annoy me, I am adding it to the list. 

What I’m Reading Now: A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

The final book in the Ember in the Ashes series I’m interested to see how this one ends

What I’m Reading Now: Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau and The Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan

I finished A Discovery of Witches on Halloween. I enjoyed it but share some of the same concerns as Kate. In fact my feelings about the book are similar to hers that I don’t feel like I need to right up my own review. I do look forward to reading the other books in the trilogy and watching the show. Now I’ve moved on to these other books. Dividing Eden I had bought long time ago and finally decided to give it a go. So far so good. The Tower of Nero is the conclusion on Rick Riordan’s expansive Heroes of Olympus Saga and I’m interested on how he wraps up over a decades worth of story for Percy, Annabeth, Piper, Apollo, Hazel and more.

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

I write this knowing that I will not able to truly express how I feel about this novel. It is equal parts breathtaking, heartbreaking and infuriating. I was drawn to this book by the title. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Kate and I have an interest in Korea and I was born in 1982. You add the feminist storyline and it had me. Kim Jiyoung quit her job that she liked to be a full time mother and wife. She starts speaking in other women’s voices which not surprisingly concerned her husband so he enlist the help of a male therapist to treat her. The novel plays out out a narrative her life as she explains it to her therapist during their sessions. Through this we see the hardships she endures throughout her life and everything that has led her to today. Like so many women of our generation, Jiyoung was encouraged to follow her dreams and pursue a career that she wanted but also expected to give it all up once marriage and children come into the picture. As the novel progresses and she gets older I could see of how the toll of constantly being undervalued, dismissed and harassed by a misogynistic society has taken on her. There are the all too familiar stories of having expectations of taking care of ones family over yourself. The expectation that her brother should get cherished because he will be the one to bring the family honor and not the sisters. The expectations that women have to do just deal with being harassed and belittled at the work place. That she will always come in second to the wants and needs to the men in her life. Every woman knows how this all feels. Growing up in the US during a time of mostly prosperity, there were things about her childhood I could not identify with but what I could was being told that the boy teasing you/bulling you means that they secretly like you. The assumption that the boys are just smarter and some how more mature and more immature then you too. I remember a specific incident in college getting a grade two points below my fellow male student even though it was a group project and we both did equal amount of the work. At least twice I was passed over for promotions in favor of a less experience male coworker. As a single woman living in New York City. I am constantly aware of my surroundings and cautious of what I say and do when I’m around men. On the occasion I went out with friends, we always make sure to text each other when we get home to check in that we all got home safely. It’s exhausting to be a woman. Admittingly, Kim Jiyoung had it harder then I did. I do admit that I have a certain amount of privilege that has allowed me to live an easier life than most. I have had some sense that Korea is a very patriarchal society based on the amount of Kdramas and Kpop I’ve consumed but how it’s illustrated here makes it feel so oppressive. It seems to be getting better but you can’t change thousands of years of thinking and traditions overnight. Jiyoung is constantly trying to find the balance of sticking up for herself but also not rocking the boat. She sees that what she is being told and taught is unfair but doesn’t what to to say or do about it. When she does stand up for herself it is often her that gets in trouble and not the man in question. Again all too familiar. It really is a wonder that after a lifetime of this abuse and oppression that all women don’t just snap. The sense of dread I began to feel as the narrative came closer and closer to her getting married was just heavy. I wished I could tell her no. Don’t do it. Don’t quit your job. Insist more that your husband give up more of his time once the baby is born. At the end we get to read the therapist diagnosis and like so many good intention men he gets so close to getting to the truth and understanding what she is really going through but in the end fails to comprehend. Mostly because it would mean he would have to start to actually see women as something other then just their wives, mothers, daughters and human beings and to do that he would have to make them people, equal and that is just too hard for too many men. So nothing changes and we all suffer for it.

What I’m Reading Now: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

This summer while Kate and I were looking for black owned businesses to support we found Cafe con Libros in Brooklyn. It’s feminist bookstore focusing on stories of womxn and girls of all identities. Earlier this week, their instagram suggested Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 and I was immediately drawn to it’s premise. (The fact it takes place in South Korea also didn’t hurt.)

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Quick Review: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

In some ways I’m sorry that I read this book now when I was so distracted because it was a good book and a solid ending to an entertaining series. It took me a month to get read it not because I wasn’t enjoying it but that I just had trouble concentrating long enough to get what I was reading. I’ve talked about my struggle to read while self isolating. I’ve been doing some thinking and realized that maybe it’s not just that I’ve had hard time concentrating during this time but I also have a hard time concentrating on reading on home. In the before time, I did most of my reading during my commutes to and from work. I would read at home but usually no more than a chapter or two right before bed. For me to read as many books as I did before, I have to change my reading habits on a whole to do it. This kind of makes me feel better. Also I have to remind myself that I need to stop holding myself to the standards of life before the pandemic because we are not living in the world anymore and may never again. So enough about that. Let’s talk about this book.

We we last ended our heroes, they have to race across the country to get to wish point before Genno, who has all the pieces of the scroll summons the Dragon and gets his wish. Unknown to Yumeko, Tatsumi and gang there is another person out there that has been pulling the strings and the task ahead of them is much tougher than they thought. Yumeko continues to shine with her brave spirit and kind heart. Despite the risk she always did what she could to protect her friends and complete strangers. This strength is ultimately what gets her and her friends through all the trials along the way. The ending was admittingly heartbreaking but powerful and maybe the most realistic way to end. Which is kind of funny when you think about because Yumeko is a kitsune, Tatsumi is sharing his body with a Demon and they are trying to stop the bad guy from summoning a Dragon to get a wish. If you are looking for a good fantasy novel based on mythology but want something not based on western stories, this is a good series to check out. The rich Japanese folktales that fill this series really gives it a lush setting that works so well with the fantasy it created.

What I’m Reading Now: Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa

So I’m an idiot. There are a couple of new books that have some out in the last week or so that I’ve been waiting for. I got a notice from one of my credit cards that I earned enough points for a gift card so I was waiting for the card in the mail. However, if I read it more closely I would have known that they sent me the GC in the email letting me know about the GC. Self isolating has not improved my comprehension skills. Anyway, this book seems like the perfect book for me to read right now. It’s loosely based on some Japanese mythology. There’s a kitsune, samurai’s and dragons. Besides, a power hungry crazy lunatic raising a dragon to take over the world, it is nothing like our current reality. I think this is just the book to get me out of my book funk!

Quick Review: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Take a bow Justina Ireland. This series is just so good. Zombies, Queer heroine, old western story. It really has it all. At the end of Dread Nation, Jane and Katherine had to escape Summerland after it was overrun by Shamblers Of course, nothing is simple for them and they suffer one tragedy after another. I got a tell you, it was interesting reading this right before Coronavirus became a global pandemic because while I don’t think people are coming back as Zombies but it’s interesting to see how the world even fictional adapted to epidemic. Let’s just say, I am not sure we are doing all that great but I digress. Jane and Katherine through the journey have to deal with some major PTSD other issues. They have seen and done some many terrible things to survive and that will do damage to the strongest person. What I love about this story is how they handle it and the importance of having a strong friendship to get your through it. Katherine saves Jane by just being supportive of her. Being there for her when she needs and taking a step back when she doesn’t. Proof that we can’t always do it alone. A lesson that Gideon could have learned. He was so sure of his own greatness that he was willing to let the world burn to get what he thought he deserved. Yeah, privilege rich white man destroys the world. I know I am not doing it justice with this review but this series is amazing and for all of you quarantined at home, I highly recommend it.

Quick Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter to the Governor. Her mother is part of the indigenous clan of her home but the Emperor has outlawed their spiirtual practices and this makes Mehr an outsider in her own home but she still practices her mother’s rituals. This of course gets her in trouble, when performs a ritual and garners the attention of the Maha, the power behind the Emperor and is tricked into marrying Amur. The Maha is a very powerful man, seen as a God among his followers and the Empire. His prayers makes the Empire strong and he does this thanks to Mehr and Amur’s people and their rituals. Mehr is a strong and brave woman. She knows this is a fucked up situation but she has limited choices. Choices is a big word in this novel. The ability of choice is sacred so the fact that Mehr’s choice was essentially taken from her is a big deal. Despite this she never stops making choices to figure out ways to save her and Amur from their servitude. She never resigns herself to her situation and gives in. She fights until the end and it’s powerful to see her fully embrace her powers. The other theme of this novel is colonialism. Mehr’s homeland was invaded by the Empire and the Emperor did all that he could to demonize her people’s culture despite the fact the success of the Empire is due to her people’s culture and rituals. It really makes you think how colonist for years have benefited from the resources of the places they colonized while erasing the cultures that they have benefited so much by. Mehr was able to take back the rituals and use them against the Maha and take back that power but so many other cultures are not that lucky.