Top 8 Physical Books of 2020

As rough as 2020 was, being stuck in quarantine sure did make more time for reading! Without my commute to work, I listened to fewer audiobooks but was also able to get to more books in my physical TBR pile! Even with the reading slump I hit this summer (amidst pandemic wedding planning), I still managed to read an astounding (for me, anyway) 100 books, with many of my favorites being from the very beginning and very end of the year.

I have my top books divided up among physical books and audiobooks (since this greatly impacts the reading experience). I considered dividing the lists by genre or by target audience (adult, young adult, children’s), but decided to go by format instead since a great book can be written for any audience and from any genre. I also didn’t commit to a specific number of books to acknowledge for each category, I just identified my standout reads from the year and ranked them within that range.

Without further ado, here are my top physical books of 2020!

Book Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones

This was a children’s book I was really looking forward to reading. Earlier this year, I watched Hayao Miyazaki’s film adaption and enjoyed it! It wasn’t my favorite Miyazaki movie, but it was whimsical and fun and I’d heard the book was even better (as it usually is). I have to say, watching the movie and reading the book ended up being very similar experiences. If you loved the movie, you’ll love the book. If you were indifferent about it, the book might not quite be enough to change your opinion.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Howl’s Moving Castle” is a whimsical, joyful story with clever, funny, endearing characters.

Book Review: “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” by Claire North

One of my reading goals this year has been to read more science fiction because it’s not a genre I normally gravitate toward. The premise of “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” sounded really intriguing, so I was excited to finally be able to download this one on Audible. However, if anything, my experience reading this book only reinforced why I don’t normally read sci-fi… It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t great either.

Spoiler-Free Review: “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” tells the story of Harry, a man who never really dies, but continues to relive his life over and over again. It’s kind of like “Groundhog Day,” but

Book Review: “A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book” by Phil Bildner

Over the summer, I made it my goal to read every book of which I have a novel set in my classroom. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use them this year (it’s looking like I won’t since I don’t currently teach students in-person), but I figured if I could read each one and document my thoughts on them then I would be better prepared to lead book clubs (sometimes called literature circles) when the opportunity arose. I managed to read through most of them early this summer, but I kept putting this one off. It seemed very sports-centric and I was initially put off by this. It didn’t seem like anything that would interest me, so I was a little apprehensive about starting it. However, I could not have been more wrong. This book ended up being one of my favorites of all of the novel sets I have in my classroom. It did feature sports, but in a way that tied in to all of the other storylines and themes and made it feel worthwhile. With a diverse cast of characters and so much heart, this is easily one of the best children’s books I’ve read this year.

Spoiler-Free Review: “A Whole New Ballgame: A Rip and Red Book” is a story about a fifth grade year full of changes, surprises, and growth…

Book Review: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Though the audiobook version of “Little Women” clocks in at a daunting 19 hours and 37 minutes, it didn’t feel long at all as I enjoyed living life through the March sisters’ eyes. I thoroughly enjoyed this classic novel, and am excited to finally be able watch the most recent movie adaptation! I wanted to wait to watch the movie until I had read the book, and I’m excited to see how they adapted such a classic (and long) novel. While there are certainly some themes and plot events that are a little outdated, I felt that overall it was largely ahead of its time and an important piece of work that paved the way for women in literature (both authors and the possibilities for female characters).

Spoiler-Free Review: “Little Women” is a classic novel about family, growing up, and friendship…

Book Review: “The Hypnotist’s Love Story” by Liane Moriarty

I was really excited to finally get to listen to this audiobook. The second audiobook I ever listened to was “What Alice Forgot,” also written by Liana Moriarty and narrated by Tamara Lovatt Smith! I loved “What Alice Forgot,” and Tamara Lovatt Smith was an incredible narrator (with a great Australian accent), so I couldn’t wait to experience this author-narrator team again. The summary describing a hypnotherapist, her new lover, and his stalker who is already stalking the main character without her realizing it was so intriguing. Unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to my expectations. Nothing really happened beyond the blurb on the back of the book; I kept waiting for more to happen but it never did. That being said, it was still entertaining enough and the hypnotherapy aspect was interesting and unique. Continue reading below to see my full thoughts on this book.

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Hypnotist’s Love Story” is a light novel with an interesting premise that doesn’t live up to its potential…

Book Review: “I Found You” by Lisa Jewell

If you listen to audiobooks, when do you most often listen to them? For me, I typically listen to them in my car during my commute to work. However, since starting to work from home in the spring, my consumption of audiobooks has drastically decreased. I realized that I really missed this effortless way to read (especially as I hit a slump in my reading of physical books as well), and so I’ve been trying to find a way to get into listening to books again that works with my new quarantine lifestyle. I’ve discovered that it’s a great way to make chores more pleasant! Not only that, but it actually motivates me to clean, do laundry, dishes, etc. because it gives me an excuse to keep listening to my audiobook! My apartment is the cleanest it’s been in months now. I chose “I Found You” by Lisa Jewell as my most recent listen because I listened to another book of hers earlier this year and loved it. And I’m so glad I did; it sucked me in right away and way very hard to “put down.”

Spoiler-Free Review: “I Found You” is an intriguing and suspenseful novel that will hold your attention all the way to the end…

Book Review: “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate

“The One and Only Ivan” is a book that’s been on my radar for quite a while, and I was so excited to finally get to read it! I’ve heard great things, but I tend to be apprehensive about books featuring talking animals. However, this book was filled with so much heart and wit, I couldn’t help but love it.

Spoiler-Free Review: Based on a true story, “The One and Only Ivan” is a story full of heart about a silverback gorilla named Ivan…

Book Review: “The Meaning of Birds” by Jaye Robin Brown

I’m so excited to finally get to do a full review of a book I just finished reading! I went through a bit of a reading slump in July, so it feels good to be back on track. I started reading “The Meaning of Birds” in mid-July, but at the time I was juggling a new puppy and wedding planning, which didn’t leave me with much energy for reading. This book was different than any other young adult book I’ve read, so I’m really looking forward to sharing my review with all of you. In the next paragraph you can check out my spoiler-free review, and below that you’ll find a much more detailed review broken up into relevant categories.

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Meaning of Birds” is a heartbreaking, unique story about Jess, a teenager who loses her girlfriend, Vivi, suddenly and unexpectedly while still dealing with the grief of losing her father at a young age…