Tag Archives: in the bleak midwinter

My Favorite Books of 2020

5 Dec

At the end of every year I like to blog about my favorite reads—the books I couldn’t put down, the books that shocked me, the books that will stay with me forever—and this year is no different. I’m going to be talking about my 2020 favs. If you’re interested in my previous years, here’s 2019, 2018, 2017. To add a little clarity, these are books that I read in 2020, not necessarily books that released in 2020. You can see the full list of books that I’ve read this year on Goodreads.

This year, I read a total of 96 books (though I admit I’m still adding to it)! It’s kind of funny actually. Last year, I remarked that it was the year of the audiobook, because I listened to a lot of them while driving for my day job. Well, that came to a screeching halt this year. I’ve been working from home since March, so I haven’t listened to many audiobooks this year. Instead, I spent a lot of time reading Webtoons and re-reading old favorites. I guess you could say it was the year of nostalgia for me. But there was still plenty of new reads, too! Out of all the new reads I came across, these were my favorites. 

Favorite series:

The Folk of the Air trilogy by Holly Black

I was way behind on this trend and picked up this trilogy for the first time this year. It’s also my audiobook exception. I listened to all three during my commute to work before the pandemic sent me home, and I gotta say that I devoured these. I started taking the long route just to listen to more (or sitting in my driveway after getting home from work just to listen to the next scene). The audiobooks are fantastic. I, like many YA readers, loved this trilogy from beginning to end. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I found Jude so easy to cheer on. Cardan had to grow on me (but that’s the point!), and the magic was super fun. The second book was probably my favorite. But in the end, I am convinced that Holly Black is the queen of fae. 

Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy

Sci-Fi: Skyhunter by Marie Lu: I’m a huge fun of Marie Lu, so I’m always looking forward to her latest. This book is wild, and I especially loved the first half. It was really imaginative, from hints of our world as a lost-past, to vampire-zombie-like beasts that are attacking everyone, my heart was pounding. I knew I’d love it from the opening pages alone.  

Dystopian: All These Monsters by Amy Tintera. I picked this up on a whim when I saw it while scanning the library catalog. If you loved 2009 dystopian books, this is the perfect read. It has all those elements that you used to love, plus some. Clara, the main character, is really easy to root for, and I think the second book will be even more explosive! 

Fantasy: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: If you want to sink into prose like it’s a warm, rose-petal bath after a long, terrible day, then this book is for you. I definitely think it’s among Schwab’s strongest work. It’s slow, but in a delicious way. So if you need constant action, it might not be for you. But if you want an emotional discovery of what happens when a woman wishes for independency from a god of the night, then pick this up immediately. You will not be disappointed. 

Favorite Contemporaries

Favorite Thriller: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo. I’m starting this off with a trigger warning: TW: sexual assault, especially to do with college campuses. This book was hard to read, but oh so worth it. It deals heavily with themes of sexual assault, especially in regard to what is happening on college campuses. That said, it’s about a professor who is taking matters into her own hands and killing men who have done horrible things but weren’t punished. It’s a brutal, raw book, and I couldn’t put it down. But the trigger warning should not be taken lightly. Take care of yourself while reading, and be careful when recommending it to others please!

Contemporary: Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan. (It’s also a movie now!) I read this at the very, very beginning of 2020, but it has stayed with me! It starts off in Missouri, which is where I currently live. At the time of publication, a minor could only get an abortion with a parent’s consent form. Since then, Missouri has shut down all abortion clinics. So this book was really timely. It follows the story of a girl who wants an abortion in Missouri, but can’t get one, until an old friend offers to help drive her to New Mexico. An insane road trip happens, and you have a really great story about friendship and family, while tackling some important issues. 

Verse: The Truth Project by Dante Medema: This book is written in verse and follows a girl who takes a genealogy test only to learn that she is the result of an affair—one her father and siblings don’t know about. It’s a powerful story and such a quick read. Definitely recommended. 

Favorite Fun Categories

Favorite debut: Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen: Ever is sent away on what is supposed to be an educational Taiwan trip over the summer, but it turns out to be a place where usually strict parents look the other way. For the first time in her life, Ever has lots of room for rebellion, parties, and boys. I won’t lie, I am Team Xavier, and I really hope we get to see more of him in the sequel. This book is so much fun. 

Favorite What-is-happening-right-now: Horrid by Katrina Leno: This was my favorite horror read. I picked it up over Halloween and read it in one sitting. It’s such a quick read, and it slowly immerses you in the uncomfortable until you are stuck flipping pages, gapping. It’s so good, and the ending—CHILLS.

That book I should’ve read forever ago, but finally got to it: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson: This book is also that book. You know, the one I should’ve read forever ago, but somehow just read this year and totally loved. It sat on my TBR pile forever, and now I have no idea why. Goes to show you that sometimes you can find those favorite reads in those unread books piling up on your nightstand. If you love magical prose and books that are magic, then this book is for you. It’s one of my favs. 

Biggest surprise: 

Creatures by Chrissy Van Meter: I think I heard about this book through Shelf Awareness, a library newsletter, but don’t quote me on that. I just remember seeing the cover, stopping, and reading the description, then needing to read it. Friendly warning, you will feel like you are drowning while reading this book—which is the whole point. Talk about atmosphere. It is done with terrifying perfection in this novel, and that alone makes me recommend it to everyone I know. The content is really focused on family sins and how generational trauma is passed on from one person to another, but you will feel like you’ve lived in a coastal lobster village after putting it down. SO. GOOD.

Webtoons

I needed to make an entire section dedicated to Webtoons this year, because I read so many of them and loved them even more. If you haven’t yet checked them out, I highly recommend doing so. In case you missed it, I also wrote a small article: What Novelists Can Learn From Webtoons. That said, my top three are:

Thriller/Mystery: The Purple Hyacinth, which follows a cop who teams up with a serial killer’s henchman to catch the ultimate crime boss, a person who caused an act of terror ten years prior. Did I mention the cop can tell when someone is lying? Also, this Webtoon has the best soundtrack ever. 

Fantasy: Siren’s Lament: A young adult fantasy romance that really focuses on grief, loss, family, and friendship after Lyra, who’s broken hearted falls into the sea and is kissed by a merman. The exchange is supposed to turn him back into a human and her into a mermaid, but instead they both get stuck in-between. Now the mystery must be solved before Lyra turns into a full mermaid and loses her memories—and her chance at love.  

Sci-Fi: In the bleak midwinter: A sci-fi for all terminator fans. Really, though, I’m not even the biggest fan of the terminator, but I LOVE this webtoon. It starts in the present day, but quickly devolves into the future, where Anya finds herself immortalized against her will, and the world as she knows it is gone, robots hunting down humans. Did I mention that she has a soulmate timer? (A timer that goes off when you meet your soulmate??? AND it goes off when she meets one of the killer robots.) Dun. Dun. Dun.   

Ultimate favorite:

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: I read this front to back without stopping, which was a big deal in 2020. I had a really hard time getting into books this year, I won’t lie. Not because I don’t love reading, but because this year was so damn hard. THIS book made me forget everything, and that is why it gets my favorite slot. It follows Avery, who inherits a lot of money from a total stranger, but there’s one rule: She must live in the mansion for one year, and the mansion includes the billionaire’s four grandsons—not to mention dozens of head-twisting puzzles that Avery must solve in order to understand why she inherited his wealth. It’s full of mystery, family secrets, a true tragedy, and a little bit of falling in love. I cannot wait for book two. 

I hope you found some books you might check out! I would also love to hear about your favorites. I’m always looking for recs. 

Who knows? Maybe one of your recs will be on my favorites list next year. 😉 

Happy reading!

~SAT

One Writer’s Staycation & How You Can Recharge At Home

20 Jun

I recently took a week-long staycation, which consisted of me laying around my house doing absolutely nothing productive. I won’t lie, it was bliss. 

Usually, I like to talk about writing and publishing here on the blog, but I realized one vital truth while I was out: Breaks are a part of writing. If you don’t take breaks—if you don’t live—you’ll eventually suffer from burnout. To be honest, I’ve been suffering from burnout. (I should take my own advice from 2016: How to Avoid Writer Burnout.) This was my first week-long vacation in three years. Maybe more. I honestly can’t remember. Between moving and changing jobs three times, I found it incredibly difficult to justify a break. Now I realize I didn’t need justification. Working hard means getting breaks. (Granted, it’s easy to say this in retrospect. In reality, I honestly couldn’t afford to take much of a break until now, but that’s another discussion for a different day.) 

In the end, breaks are important. They can also be inspirational! In fact, I was inspired to be a little nicer to myself by writing this blog post instead of the more detailed one I had planned. (Considering how long I was gone, I’m a bit swamped with catching up with work and revisions at the moment.)  

For fun, I thought I’d share my staycation ideas with you, especially since these ideas are social distance friendly, on the cheaper end, and might just help you have a day to unwind. 

First and foremost, I promised myself two things when I went on my staycation:

  • No “serious” writing: What do I mean by serious? I mean anything that you plan on pursuing seriously. For me, that meant NOT working on my revisions. It’s not much of a vacation if I replace it with my other career, right? I actually made this mistake once during my last trip. I flew the whole way to Charleston just to pull out my laptop and work on a R&R for an agent that ended up quitting before I finished the rewrite. Biggest vacation regret ever. 
  • Staying offline as much as possible: As a writer and program manager who manages social media, I spend an ungodly amount of time staring at screens, let alone being online. I promised myself I’d log off as much as I could. And I did! TBH, it was my favorite part. I think this is a good idea for many of us. The internet is an awesome place, but it can also be very distracting. In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged on for “just five minutes” only to realize a half-hour has passed. For this reason, I recently took Facebook and Twitter off my phone, and it’s been a godsend. 

So, what did I do during my staycation? 

  • Baking Day: I love baking. It keeps me off my phone and computer, and I get to have a delicious treat after. Recently, I haven’t been baking as often, but this past week, I baked my first Japanese roll cake. (Strawberries and cream!) I definitely recommend choosing something you’ve always wanted to try but have never felt energized enough to pursue. It was so satisfying! 
  • Spa Day: I had a spa day with cucumber/lemon water, face masks, Epsom salt, etc. 
  • TBR catch-up: Here’s the thing, I have A LOT of books I want to catch up on. But reading many of those novels felt a lot like industry research to me, even if they are books I personally want to read. So I set out to catch up on my Webtoons. If you haven’t given Webtoons a chance, I highly recommend them. I caught up on Siren’s Lament, SubZero, In the Bleak Midwinter, and Midnight Poppy Land. The artwork is beautiful, and so are the stories. 
  • Fondue Night: Who needs a fancy restaurant when you can recreate one at home? I made fondue and chocolate dip, picked up all my favorites, and had a blast. 
  • High Tea: Before everything shutdown, I went to high tea at a local historic house that happens to also post their recipes online. Check it out. You can have high tea at home! 
  • Movie Night: I’ve fallen behind on many of the films I’ve wanted to see the last few years, so I set aside some time to watch Get Out and Knives Out, and they were both amazing! 

Basically, there’s lot of fun activities you can do at home, and you don’t even need to take significant time off to do so or spend lots of money. Most of these could be done on the weekend. I’m definitely going to partake again! And hopefully, I’ll have less burnout this year, more laughter and fun, and my work-writing-life balance will be—well—more balanced. 

How do you recharge?

~SAT

P.S. When I made it back to work this month, I was awarded Mid-Continent Public Library’s Maggie Jackson Community Spirit Award, which is given to a library employee who dedicates extra time and energy to their community. I was totally blown away. Working at The Story Center over this past year has been a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see where the next year takes our community. Keep sharing your stories, everyone! The world needs them.

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