best books of 2020

Best Books of 2020: Literary and Historical Fiction, Plus Some Geeky Reading Stats (and Pie Charts!)

In 2020, I read 205 books this year totaling 67,188 pages. I know reading was all over the place for a lot of people, but for me this was my best reading year on record, both in terms of quantity and quality (as evidenced by the plethora of 4 and 5 star ratings). At the same time, I genuinely think I was harsher with ratings than ever before. If I didn’t like something, I felt no pressure to pretend otherwise. If you want to see everything I read in 2020 and follow what I’m reading in 2021, check out my Reading Challenge on Goodreads. Also just be friends with me on Goodreads in general because I want to see what you’re reading and talk about it!!!! 

I’m going to start with some stats because I think it’s interesting, but if that’s not your jam, skip down to the book list!

Of the 205 books I read in 2020

156 were Fiction, 46 were Nonfiction, and 3 were Poetry collections.

164 were by female authors, 36 were by male authors, and 5 were by nonbinary authors or more than one author.

142 were by white authors and 63 were by authors of color

In terms of genre, 57 were general contemporary fiction or contemporary literary fiction, 36 were mystery/thriller/crime, 28 were memoir, 18 were general nonfiction,17 were romance, 15 were fantasy/sci-fi/speculative fiction, 14 were historical literary fiction, 9 were horror, 8 were YA, and 3 were poetry collections.

For reviews, I gave 43 5-star reviews, 84 4-star reviews, 62 3-star reviews, 12 2 star reviews, and 4 books I did not rate.

Now that my nerdiest self is satisfied, on with the rest of my favorite books of 2020!

I’ve divided my favorite literary fiction into historical literary fiction (meaning anything set before the present day) and contemporary literary fiction. I’m also tacking on my favorite romance and favorite fantastical/speculative fiction books at the end.

Best Literary Fiction (Historical)

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

It’s 1953 and Tehran is a hotbed of political turmoil and activism. Mr. Fakhri’s neighborhood stationery shop is an island of calm in the middle of it all. When Mr. Fakhri introduces his two favorite customers, Roya and Bahman, romance blossoms. The teenagers are giddy with joy, but on the night before their secret wedding, tragedy strikes. The couple is caught up in the violence of the coup d’etat and are separated…possibly forever? Heartbroken, Roya moves forward, eventually moving to California and building a life there. But when a chance encounter brings Bahman back into her life 60 years later, everything comes rushing back.

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

This book is not going to be for everyone, but this might have been my favorite book of the whole year.. If you have no background in the Christian church or interest in Christianity, I doubt this will interest you, but it spoke perfectly to my own spiritual history and struggles with faith. The Dearly Beloved tells the story of two couples who are brought together in 1963 when the two husbands are hired to co-pastor a church. Charles is an academic who was struck profoundly by the unwavering sense of truth . His faith transcends understanding and is strong and unwavering. Meanwhile, his wife Lily is an avowed atheist. He does not try to change Lily’s mind, and she does not try to undermine his beliefs and his career. Meanwhile, James is an activist and an idealist with a passion for social justice. Although he isn’t sure he believes all the tenets of the Christian faith, he has come to believe that the church is the best vehicle for him to serve people in need. His wife Nan on the other hand is a devout believer from a long line of devout believers. This is a quiet, but beautiful story about these two couples over a long period of time as they each wrestle with their beliefs, support and challenge one another, and experiences the trials and triumphs of life together.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

This book really took me by surprise. I am not typically drawn to historical fiction, particularly not set in Biblical times, but I gave this a try because I adore Sue Monk Kidd. This is the story of the fictional wife of Jesus, a woman named Anna. Not only was I engaged by the beautiful writing and storytelling, the character of Jesus the man as he is portrayed through the eyes of Anna was so compelling. I especially loved how Kidd took the words of Jesus from the gospels and wove them gently into conversations in a way that made me see Jesus as a real person instead of this disembodied voice reciting aphorisms. There is also a big feminist slant to this book since it is told from the perspective of a woman in a time when women were often treated as property. It’s really just lovely. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I don’t know what there is to say about this that hasn’t already been said. It is worth the hype. Identical twin sisters Desiree and Stella grow up as light-skinned black girls in the small town of Mallard, Louisiana (Side note: Mallard is a fictional town, but the characters actually go to the town where I went to high school several times in the book, so that was fun). At the age of 16 the twins run away to New Orleans where they end up forging separate lives. Desiree ends up returning to Mallard with her dark-skinned daughter years later after escaping from an abusive husband. Meanwhile, Stella has made her own life in California where she has been passing as white, marrying a white man and keeping her past a secret. This book is a fascinating exploration of racism, colorism, identity, and family. It’s expertly crafted and (in my opinion) it deserves all the praise it’s been receiving. 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s Homegoing is one of the best books I have read in recent years, so I was eagerly anticipating her new release. Transcendent Kingdom is nothing like Homegoing, yet I found it equally moving and provocative. Gifty’s beloved older brother died from a drug overdose after getting hooked on painkillers following a knee injury. Her mother ebbs and flows through tides of severe depression. Gifty sees the way her mother suffers and the way her brother suffered and has channeled her own pain into studying the science behind addiction at Stanford Medical School. Transcendent Kingdom follows Gifty through the past and into her present as she tries to use science to make sense of what she has seen and experienced. It explores themes of grief and love, of science and faith, of addiction and depression, of despair and hope. Part of my love for this book has to do with my personal connection to some of the characters’ experiences, specifically the extremely religious upbringing and having a sibling with an addiction, but I think this would be a compelling read even without those extra connections. 

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

This was one of several eerily apt books about pandemics to come out in 2020. This follows nurse Julia Powell working on an improvised maternity/influenza ward during the Spanish Flu epidemic in Ireland as she does her best to serve her patients in the midst of utter chaos. When help arrives in the form of Bridie Sweeney, a volunteer helper who knows absolutely nothing, Julia resigns herself to making do. But Bridie surprises and inspires her with her quick intellect and unflagging energy. Set over 3 days at the hospital, the story is equal parts hope and heartbreak as patients die rapidly from this aggressive new flu and new babies enter the world, sometimes at the same moment.  

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 

This is a gorgeous retelling of The Iliad which imagines the same events with Patroclus and Achilles as lovers. Achilles is kind of a douche, but Patroclus is such an endearing character, you can’t help but love him. The writing is beautiful and evocative and the story (especially the ending) is even more compelling and devastating than the original. I don’t think you need to be super familiar with The Iliad to enjoy this, but maybe look up a character list or something to keep all the characters straight. 

Best Contemporary Literary/General Fiction

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

This is the story of two families in LA, one Korean-American and one African-American, who have both been rocked by the same incident. Grace Park’s sister Miriam hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, but Grace has never really understood why. She sets out on a quest to reconcile the two most important women in her life. Meanwhile, a police shooting of a black teenager has brought Shawn Matthews back to the murder of his own sister years earlier. As LA erupts in racial tensions and violence, the Matthews and the Parks are brought together in an unexpected way.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

It’s been several years since I read Olive Kitteridge and now I want to reread it. Olive, Again is Elizabeth Strout at her best. This follows her typical format, reading more like linked stories than a traditional novel. She continues the story of Olive Kitteridge, a widow and retired school teacher living a quiet life in Crosby, Maine, while weaving in stories from the members of her community. Olive is no-nonsense and even a bit prickly at times, but ultimately she is looking for what we all want – connection, community, and meaning in our lives. I think I liked this even more than the first one.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid 

This is another book that everyone and their mother has talked about this year. When I first read it I thought it was just OK, but over the year it has continued to stick with me. Emira is a young black woman navigating the confusing world of her early 20’s while working as a babysitter for a wealthy white family. When Emira’s boss, Alix Chamberlain, calls her on a night out with friends begging her to come over last-minute, Emira jumps at the chance to make some extra cash. Emira takes 3-year-old Briar to a local supermarket while the Chamberlains deal with a family emergency, but the night takes a turn when a security guard at the supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar. Alix Chamberlain is outraged on Emira’s behalf. Although Emira shrugs it off and moves on, Alix can’t seem to let it go. The novel turns into an interesting commentary on performative allyship and what happens when good intentions become self-serving. 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman. 

Backman’s newest novel is about the world’s worst bank robber. It’s about a hostage crisis. It’s about a father and son police team learning to work together. It’s about grief. It’s about how to make a marriage last. It’s about connection and empathy and hope. It’s funny. It’s tender. It’s almost unbearably sweet. And I just loved it.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

It took me two tries to actually get through this book because I found it so disturbing, but it’s supposed to be disturbing. I am so glad I came back to it and finished it. When Vanessa Wye  was 15-years old, she was seduced by her 42-year old high school teacher, Jacob Strane.  17 years later, Strane is being accused of sexual abuse by another former student who contacts Vanessa hoping that she will come forward as well. But even after all of these years, Vanessa is unable to accept that what happened to her could have been abuse and  not a genuine experience of first love. 

This book is a riveting, brutal portrayal of how trauma can shape a person’s life. It explores the psychology of grooming, the abuse that is inherent in relationships with a power imbalance, how people can become trapped in cycles of abuse and even be unable to see and understand their own trauma for what it is. It is a brilliant depiction of a topic that will (and should) horrify you.

Best Fantasy/Speculative Fiction

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Shwab

I have a hard time calling this a straight-up fantasy because there aren’t like dragons or wizards or made up lands or anything like that. It is set in our world, but has fantastical elements, so I think people who aren’t into high fantasy would still like this. 

It’s 1714, and Addie LaRue wants a different life from the one carved out for her – marriage, family, housekeeping. She wants something more for herself. Mostly, she wants freedom to make her own choices and live how she wants. On the day of her wedding she escapes into the forest where she begs any powers that are listening to save her. When the Darkness answers her, she trades her soul for the chance to live a free life for as long as she wants. Her dream turns into a nightmare when she realizes her bargain also includes a curse – everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she moves out of their sight. We follow Addie back and forth over 300 years as she reconciles her life of freedom with the need to leave a mark and discovers ways around the curse.  

The characters (particularly Addie) were so well-drawn. The prose is lovely – immersive without being overly flowery. The magical elements weren’t too over the top. It’s a beautiful meditation on mortality and memory and to what degree the meaning of our lives lies in our connection to the world and to other people and our ability to leave a mark. I intentionally slowed down when I got near the end because I just didn’t want it to be over.

Best Romance

Beach Read by Emily Henry

January Andrews is a best-selling romance writer who’s not sure she believes in love anymore. She owes her publisher a new manuscript, but she is grieving the death of her father and reeling from the discovery that he had been having a long-term affair with an old high school sweetheart. In his will, he left the lake house he shared with his lover to January. Now January has moved into the lake house to get it ready to sell while she works through her grief and betrayal and tries to write her book. What she isn’t expecting is for her old high school rival to end up next door.

Augustus Everett is a serious literary fiction writer who is going through his own writing slump. He’s got an idea for a novel based on a real-life death cult, but can’t seem to get it off the ground. When January and Augustus realize they are in the same predicament, they decide the best way to break their writer’s block is to try to write outside of their usual genres. Augustus will write a romance, and January will write serious literary fiction. Shenanigans ensue. It’s so great. I laughed; I cried. I already want to read it again.

And that is IT! What’s the best thing you read this year?

My Top 10 Crime/Thriller/Mystery/Suspense/Horror Books of 2020

Merry Christmas (a little belatedly)! Hope you are all well and healthy and have had nice celebrations even if they looked a bit different this year. I’m trying to get all of my best books of the year posts up before we hit January 1st, but it looks like I won’t quite make it. Nevertheless, I am cracking on today with my favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller/Horror books. I read 43 books in those combined genres, and these were my top 10.

This year I challenged myself to try out some genres I don’t typically read, specifically horror and romance (more on that later). In the past I would have said that horror was not a genre that interested me because I’m pretty easily scared and have very vivid dreams, and I’m not really into giving myself nightmares. However, I do like a certain type of thriller or crime novel, and I’ve realized there is some genre crossover with horror. Since even I have trouble differentiating which genre some of these fit into, I’m going to mash them all together and explain a bit more in the blurbs.

Best Mystery/Thriller/Crime

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell (Domestic Thriller)

Before 2020 I had only read 1 Lisa Jewell novel (Then She Was Gone) but I remembered enjoying it, so I decided to give her new one a go. The Family Upstairs is a bit different to most of her other novels and fans seem to either love that or hate it. I (obviously) loved it. I went on to read 3 more Jewell books this year (so total of 5) and this is still my favorite.

Libby Smith has been waiting her whole life to find out the identity of her birth parents and who she really is. When Libby turns 25 she receives a letter that tells her not only who her parents were, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their Chelsea mansion. Libby quickly learns that the house has been abandoned for twenty-five years, ever since police found a healthy ten-month-old baby clean and fed in her crib while three dead bodies lay downstairs in the kitchen. What really happened to her parents? And what about the other four children who supposedly lived at the house and who vanished without a trace?

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin (Crime Thriller)

Rachel Krall is an investigative journalist turned true-crime podcaster, has just arrived in small-town Neapolis, North Carolina to cover a high-profile rape case for the new season of her show. Neapolis is a tight-knit and tight-lipped community and they aren’t all that pleased to have Rachel there. To make things even more uneasy, someone unrelated to the trial appears to be stalking her, and they desperately want her help to solve a twenty-five year old case that happened in the same town.  

I found the characters and the scenario to be believable. I liked the medium of the true crime podcast as I am an occasional listener of them. Goldin did an excellent job of balancing action scenes with summary and exposition using the podcast as interludes for commentary in a way that made sense within the narrative. It felt very relevant, though it may mean that the book doesn’t age well. I think the questions Rachel raises in her podcast are timely and important as we continue the work of the #metoo movement and challenge the systemic silencing of women’s pain and women’s voices.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore (Crime Mystery)

Kacey and Mickey are sisters who grew up as close as they come, but as adults they find themselves on opposite ends of the opioid crisis. Kacey is gripped by addiction and lives on the streets in Philadelphia. Mickey, meanwhile, patrols those same streets as a cop. Things come to a head when Mickey begins investigating a mysterious string of murders in her neighborhood and finds out that Kacey has also disappeared. While this has all of the elements of a typical crime thriller, it doesn’t read like one, which makes it much more memorable. The pacing is much slower and it is much more about character development than just plot. 

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (Crime Mystery)

I’m a huge fan of Louise Penny, and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has my heart forever. This is the 16th book in a series and I definitely recommend reading them in order because the richness of these books comes from the character development and the relationships between characters. This newest installment takes us away from the village of Three Pines in Montreal (where much of the series takes place) and over to Paris where the Gamache’s are visiting their children and grandchildren. The story centers on Gamache’s fraught relationship with his son along with the usual intrigue of uncovering high-level corruption with danger at every turn. I found the exploration of Gamache’s relationship with his son particularly compelling as it centers on is how two people in a relationship can interpret the same events in vastly different ways and assign motivations to the other person that are wildly different from what that person intended. These characters are deeply human and we see them, warts and all, and still walk away with the sense that there is goodness in the world.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (Crime Thriller, but graphic…so also Crime Horror?)

I’ve heard about this book for years and finally picked it up. On the day of the first snowfall in Oslo, Jonas’ mother goes missing. The only clue left behind is her scarf wrapped around the neck of a snowman in the yard – a snowman Jonas did not build. Police investigator Harry Hole suspects there is a link between this woman’s disappearance, and those of several other women. Hole begins the hunt for a brutal serial killer known only as The Snowman because he always attacks at the first snow of the year and  leaves behind a calling card – a snowman. This is technically the 7th book in the Harry Hole series. Although I’m sure the other books would give you more context for the relationships between recurring characters, I don’t think you need to read the others to appreciate this one. Also, fair warning, there are a LOT of characters in this book, so you might need to draw yourself a chart or something.

Best Horror/Suspense

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey (Zombie Thriller)

This is a zombie novel, which is not my thing at all. And yet, it really got me in the feels. Every day, Melanie gets strapped into her wheelchair and wheeled to school where she learns about the world from her beloved teacher Miss Justineau. And when school is over, she and the other children are strapped back into their wheelchairs and brought back to their cells with loaded guns trained on them all the while. Melanie is the brightest of the bunch, but she still can’t understand what everyone is so afraid of.

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (Paranormal Thriller)

When Maggie Holt was a young girl, her parents moved into Banebury Hall. They made it three weeks before fleeing for their lives in the middle of the night. Maggie doesn’t remember much about her time in the house, but her father recorded his version of events in his bestselling (supposedly) nonfiction book House of Horrors. Now twenty-five years have gone by and Maggie’s father has recently passed away. She is shocked to learn that her father still owned Banebury Hall, and that he has left it to her. Now a professional restorer, Maggie decides to tackle the job of revitalizing the abandoned house and getting it ready to sell. And while she’s there, she’ll try to uncover what really happened in the house all those years ago.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Psychological/supernatural horror)

Mexican Gothic is what it says on the tin – a Gothic horror novel in the vein of Rebecca or The Haunting of Hill House, but set in 1950’s Mexico. Noemi is a beautiful young socialite living it up in Mexico City. When Noemi’s father receives a letter from her cousin, Catalina implying that all is not well with her, Noemi is sent to investigate. Catalina has recently married a mysterious Englishman after a whirlwind courtship. Now she is living in his isolated mansion in the Mexican countryside cut off from her family and friends. After Noemi arrives at High Place, she realizes that the house and its inhabitants are not as they appear.

While I wouldn’t say overall that this was super scary, it is very unsettling, and I admit there were a few moments where I got the shiveries.  Also, the cover is to-die-for.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid (Psychological suspense/horror)

Jake and his girlfriend have only been dating for a couple of months. They are on their way to meet his family at their isolated farm. But she isn’t so  sure about the relationship. In fact. She’s thinking of ending things. When they arrive at the family home things begin to get…weird…and when they take an unexpected detour to an abandoned high school things get…weirder. This was a very fast read that was the right amount of weird and creepy for me to feel spine tingles but not have nightmares. Having said that, some parts of this felt very tangential. And the ending, while creepy, felt a little overlong. Like after you realized what was going on it kept going on for a little too long. But it was also kind of fun…? And I liked the character development…but did I? I am perplexed.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Creature/Body Horror)

Patricia Campbell is your typical southern housewife. She spends her days caring for her two teenage children, her doctor husband, and her declining mother-in-law. She once dreamed of a bigger life, but instead she’s found herself solidly entrenched in the mundane world of the upper middle-class in Charleston, South Carolina. The only thing she really looks forward to are meetings with her book club, a group of women who have carved out space away from their regular lives to talk about the sordid details of the harrowing true crime they read together. When a stranger moves to the neighborhood, Patricia is initially excited. Until children begin to go missing, and she suspects there is more to her new neighbor than meets the eye.

I really loved the descriptions of southern society ladies which reminded me so much of people I knew when we lived in South Carolina. This is a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously and invites the reader to lean into the campy-ness of it all. I didn’t feel particularly afraid at any point in reading this book. Having said that, there are some pretty gross scenes involving body gore/horror. There is also a scene that describes a cockroach burrowing into Patricia’s ear and she has to just sit still and let it because she’s hiding and I just about lost it. And yet…I had fun!

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Have I inspired you to pick anything up?

Best Books of 2020: Nonfiction and Memoir

This year has been a wild one for all of us. Unsurprisingly, a lot of our reading lives have been affected by 2020. I have friends who have read less than ever before, and I also have friends who have read more than ever before. I’ve been on the latter end, using reading as a form of escape from all of the things that feel too much about the world right now. In fact, I just finished my 200th book of the year. With 9 days left to go, we’ll see where I end up after the holidays. Even I don’t really know how I managed to work a full-time job and raise an infant while reading that much apart from admitting I have no social life and I don’t watch TV.  

With such a large pool of books to choose from, it seemed a little overwhelming to write about my best books of the year all in one post, so I’m splitting my posts into categories starting with General Nonfiction and Memoir.

This year I read 44 nonfiction books and memoirs. Most of these were genuinely 4 or 5 star reads for me. One nice thing about reading so many good books is that you know the ones that stand out even among other 4 and 5 star reads were really something special.

Best Nonfiction

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I read quite a few books this year about institutional racism and systems of oppression and injustice. This book is a fantastic place to start your antiracist education. One of the central ideas is that it is not enough to not be racist, we must be actively antiracist. Being racist or antiracist is not defined by a single action or belief, rather we are all constantly making choices that are either racist or antiracist and we all have moments of being racist as well as moments of being antiracist.  Another major argument is that racism is a problem with policies and institutions as much (or more) than it is a problem with individuals. We are complicit in racism when we uncritically support and benefit from policies that marginalize others. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

This is the seminal text for more of a deep dive into mass incarceration and particularly how the War on Drugs and unfair sentencing laws have effectively been used to subjugate a generation of Black and Brown people (mostly men). It is incredibly well-researched and detailed. It is impossible to walk away from this book without knowing that this system as it exists today is deeply flawed and inherently racist. 

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

If you consider yourself a feminist but you haven’t read this book, stop whatever you’re doing and go read it. This is all about intersectional feminism, and specifically reframing issues we don’t often think of in conjunction with feminism (i.e. food security, poverty, medical care, racism) as inherently feminist issues. I learned so much from this book, but in a way that was very accessible and engaging. 

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

This was equal parts fascinating and infuriating. It was honestly staggering to be confronted with the overwhelming number of ways women’s specific needs are not taken into consideration in so many everyday parts of society from public transportation schedules, to medical drug trials, to car safety, to the fit of standard uniforms for many jobs, to the lack of adequate maternity leave and its effect on women’s ability to be in the workforce. 

One of the biggest takeaways for me was that women do 75% of the world’s unpaid labour (i.e. housework, cooking, grocery shopping, childcare, etc.) which are necessary parts of human life for men and women alike. Not only is this work often unacknowledged, but it is actually penalized in dozens of ways. 

This book is chock full of facts and figures, and while it may be difficult to retain all of it, the overall message is clear – women need to be represented in decision making at all levels. Because even well-meaning men simply don’t have the same concerns and considerations. The world as it is is designed by men and for men, and that has to change. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear

As far a self-help book goes, this hit all the right notes for me. It was informative, but also super practical with clear examples of how to implement each principle in your everyday life regardless of which habits you are trying to make or break. The tone is conversational and Clear comes across as confident and knowledgeable without being condescending. I did have a few moments when he was writing about his own method of self-reflection on his habits and goals that left me feeling a little like, “I don’t think that level of intensity is for me,” but as it wasn’t a major part of the book, it didn’t take away from the overall message. 

Best Memoirs

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I’m so glad I finally read this. I’m not super well-versed in graphic novels, but I’m starting to really love graphic memoirs. Given that it is not a medium I read often, I was amazed by how impactful this was. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. 

The art style is simple, almost cartoonish, which I felt underscored the seriousness of the topic and suited the comedic, sometimes sarcastic narrative tone. This book gave me invaluable knowledge of the history of Iran during and after the Cultural Revolution as well as the experience of those living under the regime (particularly those who weren’t drinking the Kool-aid). I loved it. My only complaint is that the ending felt abrupt.

On Living by Kerry Egan

This memoir is about Kerry Egan’s work as a hospice chaplain walking beside people who are dying and their families as they grieve. If you’re thinking that sounds super depressing, you’re not wrong. But it’s also remarkably hopeful. Full of simple, beautiful insights into what it means to live and to love and what we can learn by giving others the space to talk. It is a memoir about our shared brokenness as people, but also about the gift we can offer one another by recognizing the inherent dignity in each human and the importance of every story. This is such a beautiful, moving little book.

Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho

Inferno tells the story of Cho’s harrowing experience with postpartum psychosis, her stay in an involuntary psychiatric ward, and her recovery, but it is so much more than that. The narrative flashes back and forth between the present timeline where she is in the psych ward and back through the events of her life that brought her to this moment. 

The writing is excellent. It’s descriptive and elegant without being bogged down by lots of meaningless fluff added in to sound more poetic. What really blew me away was how well crafted it was. I read a lot of memoir and have occasional aspirations to write one myself someday, and the thing I find most difficult is how to identify the singular moments and scenes out of a whole life that will illustrate exactly what you mean to say. This book does that brilliantly. Every scene, every piece of dialogue, every snippet of Korean mythology or folktales served a precise purpose. 

This book is riveting. Terrifying, electrifying, and compulsively readable. I genuinely could not put it down. 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This raw memoir about an abusive relationship is equal parts difficult to stomach and deeply moving. The structure and the writing is immaculate. It manages to be inventive and imaginative and yet easy to understand. It’s very emotional, but feels like it’s been written from a place of healing and reflection rather than a place of active pain and anger. 

Machado sheds a light on the reality that abusive relationships can and do exist between same-sex couples in the same way they do within heterosexual couples. One thing that really stood out to me was the fear the author and others in the LGBTQ community seemed to feel that exposing abuse within gay or lesbian relationships would open new doors of hatred and criticism. It shouldn’t have to be said that abusive dynamics can happen within any kind of relationship and it’s obviously not a reflection of ALL heterosexual relationships or ALL homosexual relationships. This book is a tremendous accomplishment and I cannot wait to read more from this author.

A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett

This book gets 5 stars for the content which is important and moving. Barnett is a young black attorney who gave up a promising career in corporate law to petition for clemency and reduced sentences for incarcerated individuals serving unjustly harsh sentences for minor drug crimes. The writing is fine – very straightforward-but the individual stories and the collective argument they make for major justice system reform is compelling. I would highly recommend this as a companion read with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness since it is primarily about individuals affected by the issues brought to light in that book. I would also recommend it for fans of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy.

I would love to chat about any and all of these books as well as anything you read in these categories that you really loved and would recommend! Be on the lookout for my favorites in literary fiction and genre fiction over the next week or two!