Cluster Review (December Wrap-Up): My Final Reads of 2020

Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve written a review. Teaching in December is always a whirlwind (and teaching virtually is no exception). In order to get through these last few weeks of the year, I have been reading ravenously. It’s to the point that I’ve done little else in my free time. I decided to just embrace it and take a break from my blogging and reviewing, but now I’m back!

In this post, I will write very brief reviews of some of the stand-out books I managed to read in December. I finished my last two books of the year yesterday, which brings me to 100 total books read this year! I can’t believe it.

Many of the books I read this month were on the shorter side. Children’s books, Audible Originals, young adult novels written in verse… As I got closer and closer to 100 books, I really wanted to meet that milestone.

So, here are my (very brief) thoughts on some of the final books I read in 2020. If you’d like to know more about them, leave a comment below!

“The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah

Amazon.com: The Nightingale: A Novel (9781250080400): Hannah, Kristin: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2015
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Overall Thoughts: I loved this book! After I finished it, I read other people’s reviews of this book and many described it as “chick lit” (and not in a positive way). I guess I can see where that is coming from, but I didn’t mind it. The story is set in France during WWII, so I thought it was interesting to read a story like this with themes about the power of love (both familial, platonic, and romantic). I struggled a little bit with the writing style at first, but the story was powerful enough to overcome this. I cried several times throughout this book, and it’s a story that will stick with me for a long time.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Children of Time” by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Amazon.com: Children of Time (Audible Audio Edition): Adrian Tchaikovsky,  Mel Hudson, Audible Studios: Audible Audiobooks
  • Year of Publication: 2015
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Mel Hudson)
  • Overall Thoughts: This was probably one of the best sci-fi books I read this year! The story is told from dual perspectives of a human on a spaceship and spiders living on a terraformed planet (and yes, you read that correctly. One of the narrators is a spider). I was a little apprehensive at first, but the spider sections ended up being the most compelling parts of the story for me. It was a unique and clever story exploring themes of humanity, empathy, evolution, and the thirst for knowledge. It was maybe a little longer than necessary (with the plot dragging a little bit in the final quarter of the novel), but overall an intriguing and memorable read.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
  • Year of Publication: 1997
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Overall Thoughts: I loved this book! I loved the movie as a kid, but had always heard that the book was better. I’m actually glad I watched the movie first, because it’s not nearly as good as the book (and a ridiculously unfaithful adaptation). However, without anything to compare it to, I was able to enjoy the movie as a stand-alone story! That being said, the book was amazing. Ella was clever, stubborn, and smart and I loved following her on her adventures. It’s also a fun and unique retelling of Cinderella. I enjoyed this one immensely!
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book (for adults and children alike!).
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Piecing Me Together” by Renée Watson

Amazon.com: Piecing Me Together (9781681191058): Watson, Renée: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2017
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Format: Paperback
  • Overall Thoughts: I LOVED this book. I’ve never read a book set in Portland before, and loved feeling at home while reading this book. That being said, I felt at home in the setting, but the plot got me very much out of my comfort zone. Experiencing Portland as a white person is very different than living there as a person of color, and I’m not sure I ever fully realized the extent of this disparity in experiences. It was so eye-opening to read about the main character’s day-to-day experiences and the microaggressions she faced on a regular basis. Many reviews I read of this book described it as a “quiet” novel, and I would have to agree. However, I don’t see this as a negative thing. The novel is character- and theme-driven rather than plot-driven, and I felt this was really powerful. It’s not about anything crazy, exciting, or dramatic; it’s about the little things and how they add up over time (and how powerful they are in our lives). On a personal level, I also loved the focus on language and how it explored themes related to the power of language. I just found this book so beautiful and moving, it’s hard to put into words how much I loved it.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo

Amazon.com: The Poet X (9780062662804): Acevedo, Elizabeth: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2018
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Overall Thoughts: This book was so incredibly powerful and beautifully written. It’s written in verse, and it’s the best novel-in-verse I’ve ever read. Sometimes novels written in verse can feel kind of gimmicky, but this format truly enhanced the story. It made sense and added something to the storytelling that would have been missing had it been written in prose. This was another story that explored themes about language and how powerful it can be in discovering and expressing ourselves as well as creating positive change in our communities. I also loved how it explored the female experience and how women are often treated and objectified due to their bodies (something that is often entirely out of their control). This is another book that was beautiful and inspiring and that will stay with me for a long time.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“The Black Flamingo” by Dean Atta

Amazon.com: The Black Flamingo (9780062990297): Atta, Dean: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2019
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Overall Thoughts: This was another novel-in-verse that was really well-written. That being said, I think I would have enjoyed it more had I not read “The Poet X” right before it. The poetry aspect doesn’t work quite as well; I think it would have been more powerful if it had been written in prose with certain sections including the main character’s poetry to really highlight those parts. It also felt a little disjointed, with the character aging rapidly with no significant time markers to keep track of this at times. However, it was still an enjoyable and important novel about a mixed-race gay teen discovering drag as a way to express himself and embrace all aspects of his identity. It also explores the difference between gender and sexuality, something that is often confused. This book was different than anything I’ve ever read, and I look forward to following this author and his future work.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The Witches,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl

The Witches: Dahl, Roald: 9780142410110: Amazon.com: Books
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, Paperback | Barnes  & Noble®
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
  • Year of Publication: 1983, 1961, & 1964 (respectively)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Paperback
  • Overall Thoughts: Last year, I read “Matilda” for the first time and loved it! (Side note: This is one of the rare times when I think the movie was actually better than the book, but the book was still great!) I realized that there are so many classic Roald Dahl books that I missed out on in my childhood, so I decided to do an author study and read three of his books in a row! And I have to say, I really enjoyed all of them. They’re so quirky, whimsical, creative, and fun. There’s not much to them in the way of themes, and a lot of the quirky humor is actually kind of dark. I noticed that poetry came up in each of these three novels in one way or another (singing bugs and Oompa Loompas, witches’ spells). It made me curious to learn more about Roald Dahl and his life, and I’m excited that I can now say I’ve read these classic children’s novels (and not just seen the movies).
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend these books.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald | Audiobook | Audible.com
  • Year of Publication: 1925
  • Genre: Classic (General Fiction)
  • Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal)
  • Overall Thoughts: I initially began reading this book for a class I took in college, but never actually finished it! I know a lot about it from studying it and watching the movie, but I was determined to actually read the whole thing. The narration of this audiobook is fantastic, and kept me engaged the whole way through. It’s a classic for a reason, and I actually really enjoyed it. Getting to know Gatsby and seeing him transform from his perfect persona and reputation to his sad and desperate reality was gut-wrenching for me, and I found the author’s critique of wealth, class, and the American Dream to be fascinating (although maybe a little contrived at times). This was a surprisingly quick read with a lot to analyze and think about, and I’m glad that I’ve finally read the whole thing in its entirety.
  • Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book.
  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

Over the weekend, I am planning on publishing two more posts: The first will be my “2020 Reading Year in Review” where I will be highlighting my top books of 2020 based on a variety of categories. The second post will be a reflection on my 2020 reading goals as well as an overview of my new reading goals for 2021. So keep an eye out for those!

What were your reading goals of 2020? What do you hope to achieve in 2021?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: