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A Look Back: Five Star Books

2020 is coming to an end, and for my own curiosity, I thought I would share the books that moved me in the last 12 months. I count December 2019 in this collection since I’m obviously not done with December 2020 yet.

Vicious – The first book in a duology by VE Schwab. All of her books usually garner a four or five star for me. In this book, there are two scientists trying to figure out how to give themselves special powers. And when they finally figure out what it takes, things go horribly wrong.

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern’s most recent book. I love her lyrical writing and fantastical settings. A man finds a scene of his life written in an incredibly old book. Upon further investigation, he finds an entire world of magic that is on the brink of trouble.

The Stationery Shop – I love this book by Marjan Kamali because it addresses pregnancy loss and mental health, though it is not really a part of the main plot. Two lovers get separated during a revolution. Decades later, they are reunited and discover exactly what happened and why it happened on that fateful day in history.

When God Made the World – Any book of Matthew Paul Turner usually gets a five star from me (as you will see on down this list). The illustrations are beautiful. Lovely children’s book that explores God’s creation and how we play a wonderful part in it.

The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands – One of my absolute favorite nonfiction/self-help books this year. Lysa Terkheurst shares the beauty of boundaries and changes the perspective of saying no to waiting to say the best yes.

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – The other favorite nonfiction/self-help book. Written by sisters Amelia and Emily Nagoski, it explores stress as a study and how to work through it to live a healthier, slightly more sane life.

Don’t Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life – Sweet memoir kind of book from Anne Bogel, who has a blog (Modern Mrs. Darcy) and a podcast (What Should I Read Next). Very appropriate book for this year.

Lovely War – Julie Berry Novel set mostly during World War One. The twist of this book is that the author incorporates Greek Gods who narrate the story. Aphrodite is trying the tell Hephaestus what love is when he finds her in the arms of Ares.

This Tender Land – William Kent Kruger novel that gives both Odyssey and Tom Sawyer vibes. Set during the Great Depression. Odysseus and Albert escape the abusive boarding school in the North and travel along the Mississippi river in hopes to reunite with their aunt.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth abut the American Church’s Complicity in Racism – Jemar Tisby’s excellent look at the history of the American church and slavery. I learned so much about how everything has evolved throughout time and how it has complicated everything today.

A Darker Shade of Magic – One of my hands-down favorite authors, V. E. Schwab. This was probably the series that put her in the spotlight, though I read some of her other novels first. It really does live up to the hype. The story takes place in London but there are four Londons, four worlds, once connected by magic. But when one world fell, it was shut out in hopes of containing the destruction. However, Kell and Lila have stumbled upon something that could change and destroy everything.

The Jane Austen Society – Natalie Jenner’s novel. Another historical fiction set in the town of Chawton, England after World War II. The town is known as one of the last places Jane Austen resided, writing some of her last novels there. A group of people connect over her books and seek to preserve her memory when the famous estate her brother owned might get sold off by its owner. TW: There is pregnancy loss in the book, but it is well-handled

All the Colors of Christmas – The second Matthew Paul Turner book on this list. No surprise here. Very beautiful book for Christmas that talks about the different colors that we find during this season, including ourselves as part of the beautiful picture.

How to Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi’s memoir-esque book about his journey to becoming more antiracist. It includes history and the people who inspired him along the way.

The House in the Cerulean Sea – This absolutely lovely book by TJ Klune is magical, fantastical, sweet, heartbreaking, and the closest thing to a perfect story. Linus Baker is a social worker who observes orphanages of magical creatures to see whether they are appropriately caring for their wards. When he is given a special assignment, his isolated, quiet life is turned upside-down in the most delightful way. Lucy was my favorite character.

Middlegame – A Seanan McGuire alchemical story about two people created as counterparts to each other and how they try to stop the end of the world. Beautiful, hopeful and heartbreaking.

What are some of your 5 star books this year?

Middlegame: A Review

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 star

This book was in a Page 1 Subscription box. If you haven’t tried this subscription, I highly recommend it. They send a carefully selected book based on your reading interests, wrapped in brown paper, along with a few bookish treats. Check out my instagram (@katyslifestory) for more, as I frequently share my monthly treats.

The world in this book is based in alchemy, but even if you aren’t completely knowledgeable in alchemy, the world is so well-written that it’s hard to get lost. There are a lot of twists and turns that feel like getting lost, but everything gets revealed and explained down to layman’s terms. Outside of that, the plot is a bit difficult to explain.

Roger and Dodger are two kids, around seven years old, when they are introduced. The book follows them as they grow up on opposite sides of the country. Roger is a language prodigy and Dodger is a genius with numbers. When they are very young, they are able to talk to each other through what is described as quantum entanglement. As they grow up, they realize that they are two parts to an even bigger, more nefarious plot, which they must figure out before it is too late.

The book moves back and forth in time, specifically forward in time to one specific point which is done over and over, and each time a little more is revealed. Until finally we reach that same point towards the end of the book. McGuire expertly leads the reader through the maze of knowledge and discovery without revealing anything too early.

The characters are relatable in the loner, coming of age, kind of way. It is easy to root for them, to feel for them, to understand their loss and pain. They connect with the reader really well. Erin is also a relatable character, specifically to those who have a penchant to organize life around them.

The story is a quest, both to a specific place and to learn more about oneself and grow confident in who a person is meant to be. The plot is fast-paced, especially in the last 100 pages, which seemed to fly by as each action brought on another action until the finale. The rules in this world were interesting, and there were references to scientists and authors who used a lot of metaphor in their writings, connecting that they were all alchemists. Some Easter eggs might be lost on a reader who doesn’t know much about alchemy, but it is still a fun ride regardless.

There is a substantial amount of profanity in the book. Also, there is some sexual content, as this follows two people from about the age of 7 to almost 30 so there is sometimes sex, however not explicit or steamy. There is a significant amount of violence in this books. Trigger warnings for suicidal attempts. There is murder, horror movie style, described fear. The books opens with the words “There is so much blood.” It is a bloody book.