TOP READS OF 2020 – # 1-10 

Yesterday, I took you through some of my favorite reads of the year, today we have reached the pinnacle. Like yesterday, I’m writing today in reflection and am linking to my original reviews.

Here are numbers 1-10:

1 – The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Well, my number one even surprised me. I did not love The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton and was tentative about giving him another chance. With Evelyn, the concept was so ingenious, trying to solve a murder by viewing it through different characters eyes. The real challenge for me is that I need a character connection to really love a story. And that made many of the chapters really hard to read because I just didn’t like and maybe even suspected the character who’s chapter I was reading.

So for me to tell you that the main reason I loved The Devil and the Dark Water was the characters, you’ll probably laugh. This story had maybe one of my favorite characters of all time, actually it had two characters that I just adored.

This is one of those cases where I am super grateful for Netgalley. I would not have purchased this book just based on my experience with Evelyn, but it didn’t cost me anything to wish for it and boy was I glad I did. I’ve since gone on to purchase a beautiful signed copy from Waterstones… look at those sprayed edges!

You can read my full review here:

2 – Greenwood by Michael Christie

I spent most of the year anticipating that this one would be my number one for the year. In 2018, my favorite read of the year was Richard Power’s The Overstory, an epic read about trees and those who love them. Greenwood is a beautiful generational story that uses the rings of a tree to guide you through the life of one family. The way the story is told certainly catapulted this story into the top ten for me but the story itself is intriguing and thought provoking. If you love nature and generational stories, this one will blow your mind.

You can read my full review here:

3 – Devolution by Max Brooks

Bigfoot is real… need I say more?! Written in the style of a first hand account, this one is both haunting and scientifically interesting. If you can handle a little gore, bump this one up your list.

You can read my full review here:

4 – Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez

Meet my favorite YA fantasy of the year! Isabel Ibanez has woven (pun intended) the most beautiful story. If you like The Children of Blood and Bone, then I think you will enjoy this one. It takes place in a South America inspired world and the magic that Ibanez has created is absolutely stunning. Ximena is a lovely heroine who reminded me a lot of Fie from yesterday’s The Faithless Hawk. She is fierce and loyal and creative. The political intrigue in this one is Game of Thrones worthy. I have gotten approved on Netgalley for the sequel and I am dying to read it!

You can read my full review here:

5 – The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

I have never wanted a fictional character to be real more than I with Adunni! Lots of my least favorite books this year were books who treated women in the worst ways. Adunni is a woman who had been through the absolute worst and always shone with resilience and positivity. She is the best of the future generation and the type of girl who will change the world whether she knows it or not. And in this case, she knows it. This story left me with such a high. Another amazing story out of Nigeria, I’ve fallen in love with Nigerian authors this year and I hope you will too!

You can read my full review here:

6 – The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Two Nigerian stories about marginalized people in a row? Well, like Adunni, Vivek will stun you. But in a completely different way. I do not want to give away many details here but this story will break your heart a million times over.

I got this one originally via Netgalley, but I went on to buy a copy for my shelves because I loved it so much! You can read my full review here:

7 – Burn by Patrick Ness

This book completely took me by surprise and had me spending the rest of the year digging into Ness’s backlist. Burn reimagines the world in the 1950’s if there were dragons but not in an ‘oh my god dragons are amazing’ or an ‘oh my god how fearsome’ way. When a Sarah’s family is forced to hire one, their views on this creature begin to change. When a person ends up murdered, everyone wants to blame the dragon but Sarah knows the truth. Where the story goes is really fabulous and is about acceptance and kindness but I don’t want to give you details without spoiling anything. Check it out!

You can read my full review here:

8 – Mexican Gothic by Silvia Garcia-Moreno

Where to start with Mexican Gothic?! This story is super creepy! Like yesterday’s choices of The Woman in the Mirror and The Ancestor, this story involves a creepy old house with secrets that will blow your mind. There have been lots of spoilers out there but I will not tip the hand. Just suffice it to say, when Noemi goes to stay with her cousin’s new in-laws she has no idea what she’s getting herself in for! You will revel in her rebellious spirit to not want to be a cowed, obedient woman of her time. She’s fiercely loyal and will do anything to save her cousin. The reveal will curdle your stomach and completely have you freaked out. If you have a strong stomach, check this one out!

You can read my full review here: This one was a Goodreads Choice winner for 2020 so you don’t have to just take my word for it.

9 – Raybearer by Jordan Ifuenko

I struggled with where to put Raybearer on my list. I listened to this one on audiobook and it was FABULOUS! This is a wholly character driven story with Tarisai being one of the most beautiful heroines I’ve ever read. When I debated, I could have swapped this and Woven in Moonlight in the rankings but the magic in Woven pushed it over the edge for my personal preferences (also Raybearer did a time jump mid-story which I generally dislike so that nudged it down just slightly). But the beauty of Aritsar and the strength of Tarisai growing up alone and isolated and then suddenly having to immerse herself in a competition to win a spot on the Prince’s council was inspiring. Do yourself a favor and listen to this one on audiobook, the narrator brings such depth to the story. Dying to see where this story goes.

You can read my full review here:

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

Let me start by saying I am obsessed with Grady Hendrix’s work, just like Patrick Ness above, as soon as I read this one I dug into his entire backlog. Second, I am a totally vampire obsessed person. Ok, now that is established, this book was not what I expected at all.

It’s set in the South in the 90’s and it perfectly encapsulates that culture. I’ve seen so many folks harping on the treatment of women and minorities in the book but that was true to the time. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The story needs those elements to underpin why these women in their book club would fall under the spell of someone like James. When the book club is tired of their fluffy selections, they pick up true crime novels and it gets into their heads big time. A vampire naturally uses and abuses people and which ones are easier to pick off? The marginalized. If you can’t see past that context and struggle to read about people being marginalized at all, this one won’t be for you. I think adding that element made it all the more brilliant.

You can read my full review here:

These are the stories I just can’t forget and will always recommend to my reader friends. I take you through each in detail over on, if you’re interested in how I made these choices head over there for more details.

Thoughts on these selections? Any of these you loved or hated?  Let’s chat in the comments!

~ Dana

Least Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, it’s that time of year again – list time! 2020 has been a real turd of a year but it was a banner reading year for me. I’ve read more than 260 books this year and I’m going to spend the next few days counting them down. I thought I’d start with the negative so that we can get it out there and move on. I hate to dislike a book. I am a rare DNF-er, I will push and push and try to find the lesson or the glimmer of love in a story but this year I’ve got 7 books that just were not for me. And believe me, this is more of a judgement on me than the books, I know that! Feel free to leave comments when you think I’m wrong… I’m happy to chat or reconsider.

#1 – Anxious People – Fredrik Backman

I had never heard of Backman before I joined Bookstagram, but he is a well adored legend over there so when I saw that his new release was coming up on Book of the Month, I decided to go for it. This book is about a group of hostages and they’re not interested in being hostages. It’s meant to be a clever, witty story with a heart at it’s center. Which, it was. It was just a story that was trying to hard to be witty and clever for my personal taste. Everyone else seems to love it but it just frustrated me. The very end gave me pause and redeemed my rating slightly but still this one hangs for me as one of my least favorites.

You can read my full review:

#2 – The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Sorry, I don’t have a photo of my own for this book because it didn’t last long in my house. It was a rare DNF for me at 150 pages. When I saw the gorgeous cover and the interesting description, I scooped this one right up and dove in. 150 pages in, there had yet to be one page that interested me. I just had no interest in Linus and the folks he met in the house just seemed too contrived for me. Maybe I’ll try it again someday but the 500 books on my TBR shelf would be quite cranky if I did.

There is no review on this one for you to check out because I don’t review books I don’t finish.

#3 – The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

Unreliable narrator. Harpy women. Backstabbing. It has lots of elements that make modern thrillers excellent. But this one was everything that holds women back in this world and I despised it!

You can read my full review here

#4 – Saint X by Alexis Schatkin

Saint X was one of my most anticipated books of 2020, I was so intrigued by a fictionalization of the Natalee Halloway story. I expected it to be a twisty thriller with lots of interesting clues and suspects. But it was a much more psychological delve into moralities and ethics and while I did push through to finish it, there were big sections I found myself skimming. I’m not sure whether it was the angle of the story that didn’t do it for me or the writing style but this one was a disappointment for me.

You can read my full review:

#5 – The Dutch House by Ann Prachett

This one goes into a category with Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone for me, it’s a well written book and an interesting story but way too depressing for me. It’s a story about divorce and the impact on the children even as they grow. I know that my dislike of this one is all me but this one put me in a real book slump and it took quite a while for me to pull out of it.

You can read my full review:

#6 – A Song Below Water by Bethany C Morrow

Another rare DNF for me, I was so excited for this story. It’s about sisters and has magical elements but the way it was written was so confusing for me that I really struggled. I gave it 100 pages and then bailed. Unlike The House in the Cerulean Sea I have kept it because I know in principle it should work for me so maybe I’ll pick it up again in the future and feel differently.

There is no review on this one for you to check out because I don’t review books I don’t finish.

#7 – The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry

I really branched out this year into trying some contemporary romance and rom coms and found that they are very hit or miss for me. The thing I hate most are books that make women look stupid and flighty and act as though that is cute. Well, this is one of those. I finished it as I was hoping for a conclusion that worked for me but alas, no. Roxy remained utterly a mess throughout.

You can read my full review here:

So, there it is your first countdown of the 2020 wrap-ups. Sorry to start with the negative but it’s a Monday so why not? I consider it pretty positive that I could only find 7 I disliked enough to talk about them out of more than 260!

What was your least favorite book of 2020? Do you think I’m wrong about any of the choices above? Which one should I reconsider?

~ Dana

REVIEW: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

“That time always ends a second before you’re ready.

That life is the minutes you want minus one.”

“Small places make for small lives. And some people are fine with that. They like knowing where to put their feet. But if you only walk in other people’s steps, you cannot make your own way. You cannot leave a mark.”

“‘I think there are many ways to matter.’ He plucks the book from his pocket. ‘These are the words of a man – Voltaire. But they are also the hands that set the type. The ink that made it readable, the tree that made the paper. All of them matter, though the credit goes only to the name on the cover.'”

What is there to say about Addie LaRue that hasn’t already been said? I enjoyed this beautifully written story about a cursed woman dealing with the everlasting impact of a rash decision made on fleeting emotions. To escape a life as someone’s wife and possession in the early 1700’s Addie wishes her future away and begs for freedom, when a dark figure answers her call and gives her what she wants, she realizes what a horrible mistake she has made. Like any fairy tale with a genie in a bottle or a fairy godmother, her wish comes at a great cost. In this case, she has lost her soul and the price of freedom is an eternity where no one will ever remember her.

We follow Addie through the ages and see where her “freedom” takes her and how hard she works to leave a mark on the world. I found these parts of the book interesting but what I really relished in was her desire to make that dark figure pay for having made such a deal with her. Her efforts to best the god and make him regret cursing her the way he has was the real meat of the story for me.

I definitely think this one deserves all of the positive praise it is given, although for me it was slightly long in some areas and short on detail in other areas where I wanted to sink in. It was my first read by Schwab but has me looking forward to trying another!

How important is it to you to be remembered or make your mark in this world?

~ Dana

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!! 🎄🎅🏼🎁

Hope Santa has treated everyone well! And to all those not celebrating… Happy Friday!


“Above and behind them the Dipper turned on its great handle as if to pour night itself out onto the dreaming continent and each of its seven stars gleamed from between the fitful passing clouds.”


News of the World was one of my favorite reads in 2016. It’s beautifully written story about a piece of history that I was completely unaware of. Captain Kidd travels from town to town to read the news so that folks who can’t read or afford a paper (which is most people), can understand the headlines of the time. His life changes when he is asked to transport a young orphan with a troubled past to her relatives.

It’s a fabulous book and I’m hoping the movie will be as well, I mean Tom Hanks can do no wrong in my eyes, so I’m sure it will be!

Anyone else excited for this movie release today?

~ Dana

REVIEW: The Afterlife of Holly Chase

“He said, ‘Without stories, we’re all just lonely islands.

‘Stories let us see and hear and feel what someone else does,’ she explained. ‘They build bridges to the other islands. That’s why stories are so important. They create true empathy.'”

First off, let me start by saying that I love a Christmas Carol. This modern YA retelling is everything I wanted it to be. Holly Chase is a Scrooge and when the ghosts try to save her, they fail. The penalty for her unchanged ways is death and an assignment as one of the ghosts. There she needs to work each year to help other Scrooge’s see the error of their ways. She and the other ghosts analyze the potential Scrooge’s life for characters that mimic the ones from the original story (Marley, Fezziwig, Cratchit etc).

I thought the idea was a really ingenious way to bring a classic story into current relevance. Holly was a rich, selfish millennial who began to see the error of her ways as she starts to analyze another Scrooge’s behavior. When she falls for this Scrooge, she wants to save him more than herself and thus we have a story within a story.

I thought this was really well done and was exactly what I was hoping for when I chose my Christmas week reads.

What character from the Christmas Carol do you identify with the most?

~ Dana

REVIEW: One Day in December

Meh, not a bad story just not one for me. It’s well written and I’m sure it works for lots of people, but the storyline in this one was super frustrating to me.

First, two folks fall in love when seeing each other for a quick second in public. Now as someone who met her husband on the subway, and does believe in the principle of love at first site, you’d think this would speak to me. But my husband and I had a spark but not all encompassing love at first glance. These two imagined a whole soul sucking relationship and threw everything they had into the idea of it. When they meet again, he is dating her best friend and they both just pretend they’ve never met. If they just had a normal conversation at this point, story over.

Basically these are young kids choosing to fake happiness and ignore their actual feelings. This ideation is what leads to divorce and mid-life crises. I get that it’s a story and that this is what people actually do, but I can’t look at this as a story to uphold with hearts and butterflies for people to aspire to.

This is not me intending to trash an author or their work, it’s simply a difference of opinion on whether this kind of story is good for mass consumption. This is why I’m selective on romance picks, I have very particular views and these are the type of people I judge for their decisions and the harm they cause others with their selfishness in the name of valor.

I feel like I’ve been fair with my rating, because while my opinion of the story and characters has dropped it slightly, I am acknowledging the writing and the author’s work.

How do you rate a book you don’t quite love?

~ Dana

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe

Ok, finally a holiday rom com-y type book that I enjoyed. I am a sucker for a Pride & Prejudice retelling or in this case, tribute. The characters in this (despite the fact that they were uber rich) were quite real and easy to get to know and relate to.

At its heart the story was about love, loyalty and following your gut towards happiness. Darcy had a great character arc, she went from strong, arrogant and completely closed off to her emotions to quite a sweet, openhearted person.

I also liked that the story actually had winter and holiday elements rather than a quick allusion to it being Christmas time. It was just the positive, festive easy to read story I was looking for to get me in the holiday spirit.

Have you ever had a kiss under the mistletoe?

~ Dana

Star ratings

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Let’s talk star ratings… everyone does these differently. Do you use a critical, analytical system that is consistent every time? Rating based on the technical execution of the story including both exposition and structure? Or do you rate it based on how the book impacted you personally? Whether you enjoyed reading it or it made you feel all the feels?

For me the star ratings are simply about how I feel about the book when I finish it. It’s totally subjective and decisions based on emotion and not critical analysis and logic. I save the text of the review to talk about the technical execution, unless that’s all there is to save it from getting no stars…

It’s not a perfect system, I’ll admit I often look back at my star ratings after I’ve had serious time to reflect and wonder what was I thinking initially. This has led to me going back later to adjust ratings and also re-buying books I previously gave away. Seriously! 😳

So here’s how I do it:

  • 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This is a book I’ll never forget, one that I can’t stop thinking about or changed my view on the world. I would likely re-read it and one that I’ll always recommend if asked.
  • 4 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ A book I loved and will probably get a space on my shelf but isn’t a shoe-in for a re-read or a recommendation.
  • 3 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ These are books I enjoyed but it’s a ‘like’ not ‘love’ situation, I may have found it uneven or well executed but not well written or well written but the plot was slightly lacking. I would potentially recommend it but with caveats. This category is also often used for books in categories that I don’t gravitate towards (romance or self help) where the book is well done but maybe not for me.
  • 2 ⭐️⭐️ Books that I did not enjoy or were poorly written but had some redeeming factor.
  • 1 ⭐️ This rating is used when a book is either seriously flawed or a DNF and leaves me wondering how it got published. A DNF that is poorly written gets no stars and just a DNF but a DNF that is just not for me but might be enjoyed by someone else gets a single star with that explanation.

I am honest about every book I read and record my reviews on Goodreads regardless of the star rating. But for here on my blog or on Instagram, I will only publish 3 stars or above. I want my spaces to be positive and about books I want to talk about. You’ll rarely see me ranting negatively about a book that I know an author put their heart and soul into and many people likely love. I simply will be clear that the book wasn’t for me but will try to find some redeeming factor to focus on.

How do you do your star ratings?

~ Dana

HOLIDAY REVIEW: Carols and Chaos

Well, I’ll admit I’m not one who rushes for holiday reads but I decided this year to make a stab at finding some yuletide reads to get me in the spirit. In Carols and Chaos I was expecting a light, frivolous Christmas romp but what I got was much more intrigue than I expected. Think of one those Downton Abbey episodes with a scandalous mystery at it’s heart.

Matt and Kate make no bones about it that they like each other, a real smack in the face to the normal romcom tropes that abound these days. They are both in the employ of two great families whose son and daughter are courting. They know they must operate under the rules of propriety while the two families are together for the holidays but find themselves quickly embroiled in a mystery after one of the footman goes missing. The two sleuth about the town, using her connections and knowledge of the area and his guile and brawn. They get in quite a few scrapes trying to find the footman and bring him home.

Giving this one ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫 as it surprised me with a little meat behind the holiday romance.

What’s your favorite Christmas carol?

~ Dana

Author Appreciation Post

First let me start by saying I am a huge Charlie Holmberg fan! She was this knack for creating strong but relatable female characters and fantastical magical worlds that are unique, creative and yet easy to immerse yourself in.

When I read Spellbreaker, I immediately fell in love with Elsie and was dying for the conclusion of her story. The villain in this duology is great in that their motives aren’t malevolent but the actions they take to achieve their goal are. I love a story with a moral gray area that makes you think.

The growth of the relationship between Elsie and Bacchus was fun to follow. They grow from cautious circumstantial allies into a loyal, fiercely protective duo. It’s a slow burn relationship that was a much more comfortable read for me than some of the YA insta-love, overwhelming passion in 2 seconds relationships that seem to fly off the shelves.

This is a great, fun conclusion to the series that you won’t be able to put down. I wouldn’t hate another story in this world! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ These would make a great gift for the magic lover in your life. Spellmaker will release in March.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.

What are you reading this fine Saturday?

~ Dana