My Favorite Reads From 2020

Ah, 2020.

I think that sums things up.

Even though this year turned into a giant shitshow for everyone, there were some bright moments, with great books at the top of the list!

Let’s start with my personal challenge/goal, My 20 to Read for 2020.  I did manage to get through most of my list.  I’m currently reading two of my choices, All the King’s Men and Jim Henson, but I can pretty much guarantee I won’t be finishing them before midnight on the 31st.  The only other book I didn’t get to was Charles deLint’s Someplace To Be Flying, and not for lack of enthusiasm.  I started it a couple of times but just couldn’t commit myself to reading it; it’s definitely one of those books I have to be in the right mood to get into.

Now for Goodreads.  At first I put my reading challenge at 150 books.  Then, when I reached that goal by August, I upped the ante to 175.  As of this writing, December 30, I have read 209 books for the challenge, with a whopping 52,697 pages!   This was also a great year for great reads as I had more 4 and 5 star rated books than years past.  I don’t know whether I’m getting pickier with my reading choices in my old age or if I lucked out, but I’m not complaining!  I discovered a lot of new and new-to-me authors this year, explored the offerings of several indie presses, and reacquainted myself with some longtime favorites.

So how did I narrow my list down to the top 20?  It wasn’t easy!  In the end, I went with those stories I still think about, whether I read it 10 months or 10 days ago.  Some played with my emotions, others were starts of series I want to continue, still others were just damn entertaining!  It’s a mixed bag for sure, but, hey, that’s how I roll!

And so, I present to you, in alphabetical order so I don’t have to pick an absolute favorite, my 20 favorite books from 2020!

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

Only Good Indians, The by Stephen Graham Jones

Pvritan, The by Birgitte Margen

Rattlesnake Kisses by John Boden and Robert Ford

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, The by Grady Hendrix

Things That Last Forever, The by Peter W.J. Hayes

Until Summer Comes Around by Glenn Rolfe

Walk the Darkness Down by John Boden

Way of Shadows, The by Brent Weeks

Weight of This World, The by David Joy

Collections/Anthologies—

Bones Are Made to Be Broken by Paul Michael Anderson

Miami Noir: The Classics

Nonfiction—

Acid For the Children by Flea

Heart and Other Monsters, The by Rose Anderson

In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward


How was your reading year?  Did you accomplish your reading goals?  Find some great titles?  Drop me a line, I would love to hear about your favorite reads from the past twelve months!

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #103

It goes without saying that I love getting books as gifts.  And it’s helpful that my husband never knows what to get me so when I give him a list of titles he just rolls with it!

I’ll have to admit, I was interested in Singing With All My Skin and Bone for the cover alone.  But having read the first story in the collection I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy this one!  The Faster Redder Road is a collection of early works from one of my faves, Stephen Graham Jones.  The other two are titles I’ve seen floating around on Goodreads that piqued my interest.

And then there’s the creature features!

What started out as a joke on Twitter, followed by the wildly successful book, The Roo by Alan Baxter, has continued with more stories about wildlife out of control.  Added bonus:  all proceeds go to the author’s favorite animal charities!

The Week In Books

The Magpie Coffin by Wile. E. Young — 5 out of 5 stars!

I finally got my hands on The Magpie Coffin, the first in a series of Splatter Westerns put out by Death’s Head Press, and wow!!  If it hadn’t been for having to make meals and walking the dog I would have devoured this in one sitting!  Salem Covington is a man on a mission: to seek revenge on those who killed his mentor, Comanche shaman Dead Bear.  Think of a spaghetti western with a lot more bloodshed and some supernatural elements.  Highly recommend!

Baby and Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma — 4 out of 5 stars

Solo is a teenager working at a local video rental store, trying desperately to be normal and hide his past.  Baby is his coworker who is trying to deal with her own painful secret.  The story follows their growing friendship and their hidden pains.  There are a lot of issues and triggers in 400 pages, including homophobia, teen pregnancy, abortion, suicide, and mental illness.  And while I thought at times the author was trying to throw too many things into the plot, I still thought it was a  well-written, touching coming-of-age story with a nostalgic nod to the 1990’s.

The Silence of the Elves by Meg Muldoon — 4 out of 5 stars

This fun cozy mystery was a perfect pick for Christmas!  Misfit elf Holly Hopewell is kicked out of the North Pole by Mrs. Claus and sent to live and work in the small depressing town of Mistletoe.  Of course there’s a murder, a loyal sidekick, and a budding romance,  but it offers the perfect mix of mystery, humor, and sweetness.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan — 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wait, how did this chick lit/romance show up on my shelf…and why did I actually read it?!!!?!!  And actually wind up kind of liking it??!!??!!  As you know, I am not a fan of this genre, but I really needed a break from darkness (both in fiction and in real life) and I will have to admit that once I settled in and started reading, I was totally hooked.  But why only 3.5 stars?  The predictability makes it a guaranteed 3 star in my world.  The extra half star was for Nina’s passion for books.  But her naivety quickly became annoying and distracting for me, keeping it under the 4 star mark.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Snow by Howard Odentz — 4 out of 5 stars

This little kindle freebie short story is kind of cheesy but still a fun read!  Teenagers discover a drunk in the woods and steal his bag of goodies.  Let’s just say they shouldn’t have done that!

In Tooth and Claw: Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Dan Soule — 4 out of 5 stars

Another freebie surprise!  Eight stories ranging from a witch’s curse to military-trained werewolves.  I did think that a couple of the stories felt a bit abrupt, but overall a great variety, one that will have me looking for more of the author’s works in the future.


Well, we’re almost to the end of one of the strangest, stressful, and saddest years I’ve ever known (and I know I’m not alone in thinking this).  However, I’m confident that 2021 will bring brighter times for all of us.  It may not miraculously happen on January 1st (I wish!!) but hang in there, it will come.

Stay safe and sane, and Happy Reading!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Weekly Mash-Up #102 Happy Holidays!

From our house to yours, I want to wish you all the happiest of holidays.  I know 2020 has made things different and difficult (to say the least!) but I hope you all can find some peace and joy.

The Week in Books

Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman — 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Rounded up to 5 stars for Goodreads.    If you love a good psychological thriller/horror novel based on true events, make sure to mark you calendar for Whisper Down the Lane‘s April 2021 release!!  There are two storylines, with  1983 Sean and his narrative (very similar to the real McMartin preschool trials of the time), and 2013’s Richard, an elementary art teacher whose past is coming back to haunt him.  I loved the twists and turns in this novel, but perhaps the most haunting aspect was the look into the human psyche, and how easily adults and children can be manipulated into believing what others tell them as “truth.”    I can’t wait to read more from this author!

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore — 4 out of 5 stars

Whenever I need a good laugh, I know I can count on Christopher Moore and his off-kilter sense of humor.  The Stupidest Angel  did not disappoint!  There’s Christmas cheer (or lack thereof), murder, love and/or lust, a well-meaning angel bringing the dead back to life, and those said “back to lifers” concerned about eating brains and going to IKEA…yeah, you get the picture!  There are a lot of references to previous Moore works/characters, but I think anyone who wants to read a slightly twisted holiday tale will enjoy this one.

The Glitter in the Green: In Search of Hummingbirds by Jon Dunn — 4 out of 5 stars

Having grown up in Washington state, I grew up with hummingbirds.  We always had two full feeders in the spring and summer, and I have to say I pretty much started to take for granted these glimmering jewels of nature.  After reading The Glitter in the Green, not anymore!  Dunn’s enthusiasm is infectious as he travels from Alaska to the most southern point of South America in search of not only the “common” varieties but the elusive rare species as well.  Between the nature commentaries and travelogues, Dunn offers historical notes on hummingbird mythology, early scientific research, and the sad historical facts of humans destroying these birds for, ironically, the sake of beauty.  My only major critique: Dunn’s concluding comments felt abrupt and unfinished compared to the rest of the book.  Highly recommend for everyone.  Thanks to NetGalley, Basic Books, and Jon Dunn for offering an early e-copy for review.  Be sure to look for this title in April 2021!!


Be sure to check out my favorite books of 2020 and my reading goals for 2021, coming next week!

Have a safe and peaceful holiday season, and Happy Reading!

NightWorms December Theme — Slay Belles

A little Christmas cheer arrived earlier this month in my latest NightWorms package!

From the theme name, I had figured December would focus on women writers, but the gals at NW did a great job of keeping the featured titles/authors under wraps, so to speak.  Hey, everyone deserves a good Christmas surprise, right?!

And a great surprise it was!  I was stoked to find Sara Tantlinger’s Cradleland of Parasites in the mix.  I’d become a fan of her poetry after reading The Devil’s Dreamland earlier this year, and this creepy, make-your-skin-crawl look at the Black Plague did not disappoint.  Not All Monsters is an anthology featuring some familiar names and several new-to-me authors with a central theme of facing the monsters that haunt us.  Fairest Flesh is described as part historical fiction, part fairy tale, that focuses on the infamous Lady Bathory, who believed that bathing in the blood of virgins would give her eternal youth.  I’m creeped out already!!

And I realize I totally spaced on sharing the November NightWorms theme, Haunted Harvest!

Featured authors Chad Lutzke and John Boden are known for their emotion-based, coming of age horror.  Wormwood asks the question To what lengths would you go to  make friends?  And Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid takes us back to the early ’80’s where a boy and his little brother make their way through various scenarios…and meet a few ghosts along the way.  I devoured both of these books and give them high recommendations.  And the brown sugar vanilla chai tea?  Delish!!


Until next time, stay safe, wear your mask, and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #101 — Birthday Books Part 1!

Birthdays come but once a year, and this year I celebrated by treating myself to…you guessed it…books, books, books!!  While I wasn’t able to get to my favorite book store like I had planned, on Friday I did get to my favorite thrift store and found these goodies…

The Dutch House has been on my radar for some time now; I’ve heard a lot of great things about it so I thought I’d give it a shot.  After enjoying Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone earlier this year I knew I wanted to try another one of her novels.  And a signed copy of a Rennie Airth mystery??  Yes please!!

And I had an added bonus in the mailbox on my birthday…the ARC of a book I recently won on LibraryThing that I wasn’t expecting so soon!

I also went on an online book buying binge, tracking down titles from some of my favorite authors as well as getting some much-anticipated debuts.  Be sure to watch my Twitter for updated Book Mail as the packages come in!

The Week in Books

This is Not a Lie by S.C. Farrow — 4 out of 5 stars

Joel is the lead singer of an up and coming rock band in the Australian music scene of 1984.  But his closeted lifestyle and heroin addiction may lead to the downfall of the band, as well as himself.   Farrow does a wonderful job of recreating the early ’80’s, from the heavy rock bands trying to make it big to the growing fear of the rapidly spreading AIDS virus.  While drug addiction is a major focal point, the homophobia depicted that was rampant at the time is truly heartbreaking.   Highly recommend.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — 3 out of 5 stars

This novel is not so much about our doomed protagonist Oscar, but about his family and the curse that has haunted them for years.  It started out well enough, but by the midway point I found myself skimming more and more, something I normally don’t do.  I can see why it won the Pulitzer as the writing is very good, but the story itself just didn’t do it for me.


Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #100 Getting Festive?!!

When I started writing this a couple of days ago, I had planned on sharing a festive photo of our Christmas tree.  But, because it’s 2020 and I should know better than to plan anything too far in advance, I will share this instead from one of my all-time favorite shows, Schitt’s Creek

Even with the strangeness of 2020 I’m still enjoying decorating the house and baking way too many sweets!  Or maybe it’s a much anticipated trip to a real bookstore for my birthday (staying safe, of course! ) that has put me in a good mood.  Like many of you, I haven’t been able to visit the library, let alone a book store, in a looooooong time, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things work out.   🙂

It’s not that I don’t have a lot to read already on hand though.  Here are my latest…

The Week in Books

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami — 4 out of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with Murakami’s works will know what to expect from this: strangeness abounds, whether it’s murder or sex or leeches raining from the sky.  And I really can’t describe this novel any better than that!  I really liked it, but I honestly don’t know who I would recommend it to.

Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier — 2 out of 5 stars

I’m trying to be nice in these difficult holiday times so I’m not giving this story the negative stars it deserves.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read anything by Meier.  I do remember her using her main character, Lucy Stone, as a personal soapbox in past novels, especially when it came to what made a better mother (if you didn’t breast feed your kid, you were setting them up for failure, for example).  I always shrugged these things off since there was always a decent mystery to solve.  Welllll…that flew out the window with this installment.  This was beyond a minor soapbox issue, this story went full tilt into the world of politics and preaching about politics, and just bitching period, be it about the price of organic carrots or the fact that her POS car could get blown up if she doesn’t confront a suicide bomber.  It would be one thing if the main character wasn’t a pushover nervous Nellie and actually had some semblance of common sense, but the dialogues and arguments went into the ridiculous area that made me just want to throw this book in the trash.  Needless to say, this series is off of my to-read list for the foreseeable future.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Bones Are Made to Be Broken by Paul Michael Anderson — 4.5 out of 5 stars

What an awesome collection from Anderson!  There really is a bit of everything here, including a vampire’s familiar who wants more; a sci-fi ghost story; a haunting tale of two brothers with bleak futures; a mother willing to do anything to save her child from repeating her mistakes.  If you’re looking for haunting, disturbing, and strangely entertaining, you need to read this collection!!

Christmas Cupcakes and a Caper by D.E. Haggerty — 3 out of 5 stars

Not bad, but a quick note to the author:  do not guarantee “100% laughs” on the title page.  That’s just setting yourself up for disaster.  Was it fun? Yeah. Did it make me laugh out loud? Nowhere close.  I’m not sure where the laughs were at—the rape references?  The dumbass bimbo stereotype as a sidekick?  The mystery and writing were decent so I’m giving it a very low 3 stars.

Poetry

Cradleland of Parasites by Sara Tantlinger — 5 out of 5 stars!

I’m going to put this out here now: I am not a poetry connoisseur.   I grew up thinking poetry was stuffy crap we had to study in high school, words that rhymed but were incomprehensible.  But thankfully I was introduced to the good stuff, so to speak, a few years ago by a friend.  And Sara Tantlinger delivers the really good stuff (and my apolgies right now to Ms. Tantlinger, I consider myself pretty well-read but I still don’t know the difference between free verse and narrative, so I’m not sure how to properly describe your poetry! ).  This is a collection of poems that focus on The Black Plague. This is a timely piece of work that made my skin crawl and several days after reading it I am still haunted by the imagery.  This is not for everyone, but one of those works I think everyone should read.  Highly recommend.


And so until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #99

It’s December!!  Let’s get festive!!

I’ve spent the days since Thanksgiving cleaning the house and bringing out the Christmas decorations.  I must say, it’s put me in a much better mood than I’ve been in; there’s something about twinkly lights and evergreen boughs that just make me happy this time of year (or at least distract me enough to ignore the bad stuff for a bit).

I took some time on Friday to take advantage of some great Black Friday shopping deals on kindle books!  I picked up several freebies from new-to-me authors (mostly nonfiction and horror), and was super excited to find some of my wish list titles on sale for under $2!  In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters, just to name a few!!  I’m thinking of these as some early birthday books and I can’t wait to start them!!

I was going to participate in a readathon over the weekend, but I wound up only getting a couple of hours of reading time.  *Sigh* Next time for sure!!  But even with the busy holiday cooking, cleaning, and decorating, I was able to finish a few stories.

The Week in Books

The Red Door by Charles Todd — 3 out of 5 stars

With the exception of the Sue Grafton alphabet series, I have a tendency to pick up a multi-book mystery series in random order.  When I can pick up a new-to-me series in the middle and feel comfortable with the characters and ongoing situations, then I will continue to go back and read more.  Sadly, this was not the case with The Red Door.  I almost DNF’d in the first twenty pages or so because of the sheer amount of characters introduced and ambiguous references to things I’m still not clear on!  The mystery itself was pretty good, and the writing was fine, but this is definitely one of those series that you need to start from the beginning to fully understand and appreciate.

Children of the Miracle by Daniel Weisbeck — 3 out of 5 stars

One hundred years after a plague nearly wipes out civilization, a potential cure is in the works involving the mixing of animal and human DNA.  The premise of this story got my inner sci-fi nerd super excited (even though the whole plague thing hits a little too close to home at the moment).  The attention to detail in the science aspect was great, both believable and coherent.  However…I just wish the same attention would have been paid to developing the characters and action sequences.  By the mid-point, the narrative began to feel stilted and the characters all seemed to blend together.  The storyline still intrigues me enough to want to continue the series, hopefully with more fleshed-out characters and  action in the future.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Boo and the Boy by Wayne Barrett — 5 out of 5 stars!

This was listed as horror but it’s not (unless fairies and wise-cracking rattlesnakes terrify you).  This fable-like short story actually had this cynical old heart breaking a bit at the end.  Highly recommend.

The Final Haunt by R.J. Spears — 4 out of 5 stars

The title of this nine page kindle freebie pretty much sums this up.  Think of it as a very condensed ’80’s slasher movie!


I hope you all are safe and well.  Until next time, wear a mask, and Happy Reading!

December — Cozy Christmas

It’s December!  Time to sit back, relax a bit, and hopefully put aside the crappy feelings that were a staple of 2020 (at least for a little bit).  My reading tastes this month are pretty simple:  holiday-themed cozy mysteries!

I’ve read a few of Leslie Meier’s holiday-inspired cozies featuring small town journalist and aspiring sleuth Lucy Stone.  This one sounds like it has a bit of A Christmas Carol vibe so it should be fun reading.

I also have some holiday cozies lined up on my kindle, including The Silence of the Elves by Beth Muldoon and Christmas Cupcakes and a Caper by D.E. Haggerty.  Bring on the eggnog!

I am also hoping to finish a couple of my current reads, which are titles I chose for my “20 To Read In 2020”.  They are novels that require my full attention, though, so we’ll see what my reading mood is as the month goes on.

Goodreads Group Reads

Two books from my Goodreads groups stand out this month, both I highly recommend.

If you are a fan of historical fiction/literature, A Gentleman in Moscow is definitely worth checking out.  It’s one of those quiet, unassuming novels that sweeps you back in time and helps you forget the present.

 The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is what I would categorize as magical realism, with a fairy tale-like quality.  A beautiful and poignant story that fits in well with the holiday season.


Here’s to finding some fun reading for December, I think we all deserve it!

Stay safe, wear a mask, and Happy Reading!