• Abigail Woodruff

Favourite Books of 2020

Updated: Apr 10

Ah, yes. 2020. The year where I was going to prioritise writing over my reading to try and make some headway on a dream of mine. When the world started to 'burn', however, I found that my mind was not in a good state for creating, but rather wanted to get lost in a world that had already been created for me. This year was a record-breaking year for reading and I highly doubt that I will be able to read like this again.


2020 was the year that I somehow managed to get 131 books under my belt! For this statistic, I feel like giving myself a huge pat on the back. While my writing may have taken a backseat (I mean...I still wrote a novel-length memoir of my summer abroad), I filled my time with a hobby that expanded my mind and allowed me to look at the world (or fantastical worlds) with more open eyes and empathy.


Some things that I noticed with my reading last year is that I found myself leaning back on Fantasy. I thought I had outgrown the genre, but I found a niche within it that I fell head-over-heels in love with- 'fairytale-esque fantasy'. I want it to feel like it fell right out of a classic collection of multi-cultural fairytales. If it has that vibe, I will most likely love it. 'Uprooted', 'The Night Circus', and 'The Bear and the Nightingale' were all books that had that kind of vibe.


I also found myself drawn to Classics and Memoirs. The Classic Community has been a great sense of comfort to me and I have so enjoyed getting lost in a story that people over centuries have fallen in love with. Memoir, I have realised, is the most similar to what I like to write myself and I have been so inspired by the incredible lives and experiences that people have written about.


Now, enough of my babbling, here are my top 10 favourite reads of the year 2020.


10. Strange the Dreamer (duology) by Laini Taylor

Am I cheating by making a duology number 10? Probably, but I don't really care. I adored the first book in the series, however the sequel blew me out of the water. This being said, all of the world-building and character introduction in the first book is imperative to the story, so I like to think of them as one giant novel just split into 2, ya know?


This duology follows a man named Lazlo Strange who finds himself obsessed with a land called Weep that nobody else seems to remember. When he finds himself there, he is introduced to a world beyond his greatest imagination. The plot is wildly imaginative and the writing is lyrical and intricate. As soon as I finished the first one, I HAD to pick up the second. I love that feeling. Would highly recommend for those 'fairytale' fantasy vibes.



9. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

They say that it is either Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, or Charles Dickens that will make somebody fall in love with classics. For me, it was Oscar Wilde, but I do enjoy a good Austen or Dickens novel, so I thought it was time that I gave Hardy a try. Boy, was I not disappointed. This book is about an average girl and is almost entirely set in the rural English countryside, but I have never been so enthralled with a story in my life. Hardy is oddly progressive for a Victorian man and he points out the double-standard of 'purity' in women and men. The story follows a young woman named Tess whose family rely on her to keep them afloat. When she is raped, her image is shattered and life becomes exceptionally complicated for a woman trapped by Victorian virtues. Her story is eye-opening and heart-wrenching. Would highly recommend the audio book for this one!



8. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

I read one of the short-stories from this collection in a multi-cultural literature class when I was in university and remember feeling like my heart and been ripped out of my chest and stomped on repeatedly, so when I saw this incredible cover, I took it as a sign that I needed to read the entire collection of short stories. You all know how I like to be emotionally destroyed when I read my books.


This books is a collection of stories from women that live in the apartments at Brewster Place. It is a look at how people view race, sexual orientation, and also an incredible look at trauma and and familial turmoil. Each story follows a different women, but oftentimes their stories are interwoven into each other's. It's definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it's an incredible work of art.



7. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This book has been out since 2006 and it has been raved about so many times that I am sure you don't need my opinion on it, but if you would like it, this is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read. Walls lived such a fascinating life and you will find yourself shaking your head in dismay, gasping with fear, and wanting to hug all of the Walls siblings within the pages. It is an incredible look at loyalty and family (in a way that you are not expecting).


The book 'Educated' by Tara Westover took the world by storm, and while I found the plot to be utterly fascinating, I struggled to connect with her writing. This was not the case with 'The Glass Castle'. I read this book in one day because I could not put it down. The storytelling intrigued me that much. This book, in my opinion, deserves all of the praise that is showered upon it AND more.


6. A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Laura Wood was a new discovery for me this year. I saw her mentioned in one of my favourite Booktuber's videos and was entranced by the shiny gold covers of her books (so pretty). I was also very intrigued about the fact that she wrote YA historical fiction. While I love the YA age-group, there is a distinct lack of historical fiction among its' shelves.


I absolutely adored 'Under a Dancing Star' as well, but 'A Sky Painted Gold' has stuck in my mind all year as one of the most sweet and complex YA romances that I have ever encountered. It takes place in a sleepy Cornish village in the 1920's and has all of the Gatsby vibes but better! Wood looks at family relationships (of the healthy and unhealthy variety), complicated female friendships, and of course the swoon-worthy love interest. A wonderfully, underrated novel.


5. The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

I had no idea what I expected from this book when I picked it up on sale at ASDA, but I will tell you that I was not expecting it to be in my top 5 books of the year. Not only is this an incredibly well-researched look at Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane (the five women who were murdered by Jack the Ripper), a fantastic insight into working class Victorian England, and a fascinating piece of work, but it is a look at the discourse that gives the murderer/perpetrator the power and keeps the 'victims' in a place of inferiority.


It's so easy to just say 'the five women who were notoriously killed', but they all had beautiful and complex lives. Some of them partook in sex-work and for others there was no evidence of that, but regardless, they were human beings whose lives were taken from them too soon.


4. Beach Read by Emily Henry

In my opinion, this is everything that a romance novel should be. There was this incredible balance between saccharine sweet and strong angst that gave it a very unique vibe. Not to mention that there was also depth and thoughtfulness to the prose that was completely unexpected from a yellow cover with people wearing swimsuits on the front.


This book follows two authors who have been through recent tumultuous events that has sent them into full-on writers-block. They decide to swap genres (literary fiction and romance respectively) and to help each other write out of their comfort zones. While the romance is steamy and wonderful, there is also a deeper discourse on abuse and family. Only romance novel i've ever read that has made me cry! Ha!


3. The Choice by Dr. Edith Eger

The Holocaust is something that has been increasingly fascinating to me. Not only that human kind was able to perform such acts of cruelty, but that the survivors have been sources of light, love, and forgiveness after experiencing so much hate and death first-hand. The resilience that I read in Holocaust memoirs is some of the most powerful magic to be found in the pages of a book, and Dr. Edith Eger's magic is the most extraordinary that I have found yet.


Her memoir is unique in that only a quarter or so is actually in the concentration camp and the rest is a look at her life afterwards and how she she survived with the PTSD and survivor's guilt. It was incredibly profound and made me evaluate my life and what I found important.


2. And Every Morning, the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

Would it really be a yearly favourite round-up if Mr Backman was not on the list? Nope! This man continues to wow me year after year with writing that seems to gut-punch me over-and-over until I can't breathe because it is so simultaneously beautiful and painful. If you are looking to weep so much that you get a migraine, then this is the book for you.


This little novella (all 97 pages of it) is about a man who is trying to describe his dementia and fear to his grandson. It takes place partially in his mind as the memories are erased and I kid you not when I say that I cried throughout the entirety of the book. Backman just understands my heart and soul and can get me every time.


1 Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

And the number one book of the year.... is this gem!!! Not only did I fall in love with every single character in this story, but I was so distraught when I left the world that I immediately had to binge-watch the entirety of the original Anne of Green Gables series, but also the new Netflix version 'Anne with an E'. I also have an entire mood-board dedicated to Green Gables and have added Prince Edward Island to my travel list. I can't get enough! Montgomery somehow managed to create the most wonderful world for me to lose myself in when I was not allowed to leave my home. Needless to say, I will be continuing the series as soon as I can find a box set of the books that won't require me to take out a second mortgage on the house. A well-deserved winner!



What were your favourite reads of the year? Have you read any of the ones on my list? I would love to hear about your 2020 bookish proclivities!


Thank you for taking the time to read about my reading year, I appreciate you all!


xx,

A.C. Woodruff

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