2020 Year In Review & 2021 Reading Goals

2020 has been a wild year! I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t read as many book as I did last year since we had a pandemic and needed to be home, but I did attain my goal in enjoying the books I read rather than the number.

My 2020 reading goal was simply to enjoy what I read. Here is what I learned this year:

1. Reading outside of my comfort zone: I’m proud of myself for stepping it of my comfort zone and exploring genres that I typically wouldn’t read like fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Fantasy has become one of my go-to comforts besides contemporary, romance, and thrillers.
2. Mental Health: If there was one thing I had to take away from this year, it is definitely the importance of mental health. This also correlates with reading because sometimes I would pick up a book and I may not enjoy it as much because I wasn’t in the right headspace. There were a few times this year where I picked up a book, started reading, and then put it aside because I wasn’t emotionally ready for the book. Then a few days or a few weeks later, I would pick up that same book I put down and would enjoy it so much more.
3. DNF books: This year I noticed I DNF’ed way more books than I have last year or the year before. I’m glad that I’ve been more selective on what I read especially since I’ve been wanting to focus on reading what I enjoy instead of being forced to read something.

After taking a step back, I figured that I’m going to have two goals in 2021:
1. Continue to enjoy what I read and embrace the mood reader in me!
2. Be more selective and mindful of the books I receive/request that I will be reviewing.
3. Buy less books and use the resources I have to attain books, e.x. library, current book subscriptions I’m actively using.

What are your 2021 read goals?

Favorite Books of 2020

As we wrap up 2020, reading has certainly been different this year. There were times where I could binge through book after book. Then there were times I have hit reading slumps. Here are my top 12 favorite books in no particular order – these include books published in 2020 and backlist titles that I read this year. I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I did or that you consider adding these to your TBR list!

Books Published in 2020
Romance: The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
Fantasy: Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz
Thriller: The Night Swim by Megan Goldin
Contemporary: The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons
Nonfiction: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Fantasy: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Swab
Fantasy: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Backlist Books I Read in 2020
Fantasy: The Graveyard House by Neil Gaiman
Classic: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Fantasy: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Young Adult Contemporary: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Young Adult Fantasy: A Torch Against The Night by Sabaa Tahir

What was one of your favorite books of 2020?

4 Sequels Better Than The First Book I’ve Read This Year

The second book in a series is usually difficult to write if the first book was so successful. There’s also the added pressure of the second book making or breaking the series. Below are my top 4 sequels I loved better than the first book that I’ve read this year.

A Torch Against The Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2) by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
First Book: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Take a Hint, Dani Brown (The Brown Sisters #2) by Talia Hibbert

Genre: Contemporary Romance
First Book: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
First Book: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Undercover Bromance (Bromance Book Club #2) by Lyssa Kay Adams

Genre: Contemporary Romance
First Book: The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Review: Caste

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson
Publication: Penguin Random House
Publication Date: 8/4/2020

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: “As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”

In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.

Beautifully written, original, and revealing, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents is an eye-opening story of people and history, and a reexamination of what lies under the surface of ordinary lives and of America life today.

Review: Caste is the first book I’ve read from Isabel Wilkerson. I’m kicking myself for not picking up Caste earlier. What an incredible book! Though I’m familiar with American and German history, I was blown away on Indian history regarding caste. It was fascinating to learn the caste systems in the U.S., Germany, and India and how each of those similar. I also liked the way that the author not only objectively explained what happened in the past, but how those actions have affected present day. Overall, I highly recommend reading this book. As others mentioned, I agree that this should be required reading for everyone.

Rating: 5/5

Review: The Return

The Return by Nicholas Sparks
Publication: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: 9/29/2020

Disclaimer: I received a free finished copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion. This has no effect on my opinion, review, or rating.

GoodReads Synopsis: Trevor Benson never intended to move back to New Bern, NC. But when a mortar blast outside the hospital where he worked as an orthopedic surgeon sent him home from Afghanistan with devastating injuries, the dilapidated cabin he inherited from his grandfather seemed as good a place to regroup as any.

Tending to his grandfather’s beloved bee hives while gearing up for a second stint in medical school, Trevor isn’t prepared to fall in love with a local . . . and yet, from their very first encounter, his connection with Natalie Masterson can’t be ignored. But even as she seems to reciprocate his feelings, she remains frustratingly distant, making Trevor wonder what she’s hiding.

Further complicating his stay in New Bern is the presence of a sullen teenage girl, Callie, who lives in the trailer park down the road from his grandfather’s cabin. Claiming to be 19, she works at the local sundries store and keeps to herself. When he discovers she was once befriended by his grandfather, Trevor hopes Callie can shed light on the mysterious circumstances of his grandfather’s death, but she offers few clues — until a crisis triggers a race that will uncover the true nature of Callie’s past, one more intertwined with the elderly man’s passing than Trevor could ever have anticipated.

In his quest to unravel Natalie and Callie’s secrets, Trevor will learn the true meaning of love and forgiveness . . . and that in life, to move forward, we must often return to the place where it all began.

Review: Nicholas Sparks’s latest novel, The Return, was my most anticipated autumn read. As a fan of his previous work, I had mixed feelings about this book. There were so many times I wanted to DNF this book in beginning, but I ended up finishing the book. Surprisingly, I liked the ending. First half the book is a one star, but I thought the second half of the book was four stars. The premise of the book seemed promising. I had two main issues with this book: 1) writing style and 2) main characters. In terms of the writing style, it’s told from male POV which I had no issue with, but often times the narration was tedious, most of the inner dialogue could have been skipped, and the dialogue between characters seemed forced and uncharacteristic. The second half of the book had more of the writing style that I’m familiar with from Nicholas Sparks and wished more of the book was written in this style. One of the biggest issues I had was with the main character, Trevor. Trevor was completely unlikable, too aggressive, and was trying too hard to be a southern gentleman when he isn’t one. It rubbed me the wrong way that he was basically stalking Natalie when he was perusing her. I also didn’t like that we barely knew much about Natalie and yet we are supposed to be okay with Trevor and Natalie’s sudden budding romance out of nowhere. However, I really loved the secondary characters, Callie, and Trevor’s grandfather, along with the mystery behind them. I was craving more of Callie’s story than Trevor’s. If you are a fan of his work, you may enjoy this one. If you aren’t familiar with Nicholas Sparks, I’d recommend checking out his previous books before diving into this one.

Rating: 3/5

3 Tips To Read Outside of Your Comfort Zone

This year I have stepped up my reading game by exploring genres that are out of my comfort zone. This has ultimately helped me diversify my reading and it’s helped me find some really amazing books along the way! Now I know reading genres that you don’t typically read may sound daunting, but it’s actually pretty easy. Reading out of our comfort zone can has a couple of great benefits such as encouraging us to learn new things, diversify our reading, and improving our emotional intelligence by learning to be more empathetic. Now you may be asking yourself, that sounds all great and dandy, but how do you actually do go about reading out of your comfort zone? Check out these helpful tips!

Read a book recommend by a friend or a loved one.
Reaching out to trusted friends or loved ones on book recommendations are always a great way to start. Not only does the recommendation get you out of your comfort zone, but it gives a bit of comfort knowing that someone else liked this book and it ends up being a great discussion to have with the person who recommended the book.

For example, one of my friends recommended that I watch the Hulu limited series 11/22/63 and then read the book by Stephen King. I really liked this approach because horror isn’t really thing, but the recommendation of historical fiction and sci-fi intrigued me. Once I watched the series and read the book, we had a great discussion about what aspects we loved from both and if we liked the show or the book more.

Join a buddy read/read-along.
Buddy reads on books that are out of your comfort zone are a perfect way to get a better perspective on what you’re reading. With buddy reads, there are some newbies who are reading the book for the first time and then there are others who are doing a re-read and have insights to share.

Buddy reads are super helpful to me especially for books that I wouldn’t typically pick up myself. The Jane Austen buddy reads that two of my friends hosted occasionally over the summer helped me develop my love for Jane Austen novels. Before that, I never thought I’d ever pick up a classic again because I was forced to read them for school and wasn’t sure how I felt about it. But I found buddy reads to be helpful because we were able to discuss how we felt about certain characters and interpretations of specific scenes.

Read a book from an author versus a genre.
If you can’t bring yourself to read a specific genre because you don’t know where to start or are wary of it, I’d suggest to start with an author instead. For example, for horror, you could start with Stephen King or for romance, start with Colleen Hoover or Alisha Rai.

Fantasy is out of my comfort zone, but earlier this year, I wanted to try it out. I decided to start with Neil Gaiman because I’ve heard incredible things about his work so I was very excited to pick up his books. The first book I picked up was Coraline because I loved the movie so I thought that this would be a great segue to his work. Turned it was and it opened the door to other fantasy books for me. Now fantasy has become one of my favorite genres to read!

What’s one genre that’s typically out of your comfort zone?

5 Ways To Kick Your Reading Slump To The Curb

Reading slumps…it happens to the best of us. Whether you are a professional reader or a novice, it happens to everyone at some point. Sometimes reading what would be passion then becomes a chore or something you dread. But never fear! Here are some helpful ways to get out of your slump.

What are other ways you try to get out of reading slumps? Share in the comments below.

6 Books To Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May, down below are some of my favorite books written by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Literary Fiction:
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Contemporary Fiction:
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai
Historical Fiction / Classic:
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Young Adult:
Frankly In Love by David Yoon

Have you read any of these? What books would you add to the list?

Quarantine Memoir Challenge

I’ve been seeing this around Instagram and thought I’d attempt at the quarantine memoir challenge.

THE GREAT UNEXPECTED fell upon us and now we are living on this UNACCUSTOMED EARTH. I WONDER when we will be able to get back to living like NORMAL PEOPLE again.⁣

Now more than ever it’s great to see people sharing LOVE AND OTHER WORDS and reminding each other that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Though I’m staying at home, that hasn’t stopped me from having CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS virtually to help through these unprecedented times. It also helps that stores are temporarily making PLASTIC bags free in California (they’re usually 10 cents or we have to bring our own bags).⁣

I’ve been trying to stay positive, but I must CONFESS that sometimes it feels like our lives have been FOREVER, INTERRUPTED and there is NO EXIT from this quarantine. EVERY BREATH feels like a year and it feels like February was MAYBE ANOTHER LIFE. I’ve wanted to wander out into THE SIMPLE WILD, but DON’T LOOK FOR ME because I’ll be at home. IF ONLY I COULD TELL YOU the number of times I’ve seen people not take this pandemic seriously infuriates me. Remember that this is temporary and that only NECESSARY PEOPLE like essential workers should be out and it helps if the rest of us are at home for the time being. On a lighter note, I’ve learned quite more than what I’d like to know about my neighbors especially THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS 😂. ⁣

MAYBE SOMEDAY soon we will be able to enjoy THE SUN AND HER FLOWERS. We’ll look back at this and remember ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS from this quarantine.⁣