Summary of Goals and How I Did
Clearly, I was overambitious for myself in 2020, but to be fair, I’m sure none of us imagined the turn this head would take. I remained very focused on some of my major goals, while veering off course on and even forgetting others.
- Goodreads Goal: I think lockdown made me Super Reader, which is weird, because my day to day wasn’t significantly altered. I started at a respectable (for me) 300, increasing it as I surpassed each goal, until I ended up at 760 (which I also somewhat surpassed at 764).
- Diverse authors: see below stats. Generally, I did pretty well in terms of reading pretty widely, reading from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.
- PopSugar/reading challenges: I had no memory that this was a goal, and why I selected this one in particular. They went out the window very quickly. I did participate in the Ripped Bodice’s annual Summer Bingo, as well as FallIntoRom Bingo and the ongoing (till the end of February) SnowInLove Bingo.
- Diversify blog content: yeah, this one was a fail. I am still getting a ton of engagement on a now-somewhat outdated post about racial diversity, so I guess it’s a partial win? I just wish those people would have seen my thoughts have evolved somewhat now I’ve seen Bridgerton, as I expressed in that review, and The whole point of that original post was a reaction to the reactions for the casting with little context, with the new review having more depth and exploration to the topic.
Fat Rep: 8
Authors with Disabilities: 3
- Historical Romance
- Medieval: 7
- Tang Dynasty: 2
- Feudal Japan: 1
- Georgian: 11
- Colonial.Revolutionary: 3
- French: 1
- Regency: 149
- Victorian: 58
- Civil War: 5
- Reconstruction: 2
- Western: 22
- Gilded Age: 23
- Opium War: 1
- World War I: 3
- 1920s: 2
- World War II: 2
- Civil Rights: 2
- Recent/Contemporary/Post 1970s History: 1
- Contemporary Romance: 152
- Paranormal Romance
- Paranormal 14
- Steampunk: 4
- Time Travel: 3
- Fantasy: 16
- Futuristic: 2
- Sci-Fi: 2
- Romantic Suspense: 7
- Contemporary/Women’s Fic: 37
- Historical Fiction: 109
- Science Fiction: 17
- Fantasy: 92
- Horror: 2
- Christian Fiction: 43
- Mystery: 20
- Race Theory: 9
- History: 29
- Bio: 12
- Literary Criticism: 1
- True Crime: 3
- Humor: 3
- Politics: 2
- Classic: 3
- Verse: 3
New-to-Me Authors: 567
DNF: 35 (some counted as part of the total, some not)
Other Random Goodreads Stats
Pages Read: 226,250 (likely skewed due to weird calculation stuff with editions and only reading partial bits of some books at one point)
Books read: 764 (possibly skewed due to edition shelving errors)
Shortest book: Once Upon a Time in Silver Lake by Mindy Kaling (11 pages)
Longest book: Have Yourself a Merry Little Scandal anthology (1,777 pages), (disputed, due to only having read the Nicola Davidson novella the first time around)
Average book length: 296 pages
Most popular: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Audible Audio by Rosamund Pike)
Least Popular: Beastly Beauties and Gentleman Monsters by Sabrina Dorre
Average rating: 4.0
Highest rated on GR: A Virtuous Ruby by Piper Huguley
Best Books of 2020
I held myself to more or less the same standards as I did the previous year, prioritizing the books I felt were memorable and impactful in the long term. And given parts of 2020 felt like they were eons long, it was definitely a good test for the lasting impact for a lot of these and how I continued to think about them long after I read them.
- The Prince of Broadway by Joanna Shupe: While I absolutely enjoyed both of the entries in the Uptown Girls we got this year (I believe publishing counts late December releases toward the following year?), this one edged out its successor due to the strength of its characters. In particular (Fuck Yeah) Florence. It’s rare to meet a historical heroine that doesn’t want marriage or children, and doesn’t inexplicably change her mind by the end of the book, along with her hero, but in this case, Florence remains strong in her convictions. This is also one of the best crafted revenge plots I’ve ever read, simply by making the change of having Clay be upfront about his intentions with Florence from the start. There is still some heartbreak due to lying by omission, but I appreciated that he respected her from the start, and that, while he is using her, she’s also using him, and it ends up becoming a beautiful partnership.
- The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan: Courtney Milan came back with a vengeance after her rough patch. On the heels of the implosion of RWA she was at the center of last December and the resulting reckoning with racism in the industry, she released this unapologetically inclusive book with a half-Chinese duke with more affinity for his Chinese roots and the grumpy Chinese sauce making heroine he’s adored for years. It’s wonderfully fluffy, but also full of Milan’s penchant for historical research, rooted in Milan’s own family history.
- Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton: There are two duke-related things I hate: the general presence of alpha dukes, and the lack of understanding some have about the conditions for disinheritance. This is one of those books that gets it right on both counts. Sebastian having to unlearn his privilege by making his own way is great to watch. Pairing him with the hard-working Ivy for a delightful twist on the boss/employee dynamic also makes it a winner.
- The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham: No doubt my favorite book of the year. While it’s definitely not for everyone, due to the amount of sensitive content and high angst factor, I liked how Scarlett Peckham worked to examine and subvert the rake archetype, exploring the ways it is possible and also critiquing why we cannot apply the trope to a cis woman as we do to a cis man because of social stigmas, at least not in a historical. And one of the things I also appreciated is the way the story really examines Sera’s demons; a lot of traditional rake narratives have this undertone of trying to fill a void and having mental health issues that are magically fixed because they find “the One.” While I do feel there is absolutely a need for more sex positive stories for women who unapologetically love sex, I also appreciate this book fully exploring it as a coping mechanism and not having her find love with the right person be her sole source of healing, as I feel this is something that is touched on in traditional rake narratives, but rarely fully explored.
- Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean: This book was absolutely a surprise for me, as the first two Bareknuckle Bastards books were pretty “meh.” I was blown away by this one with its competent heroine in Grace and Ewan now repentant and seeking to win back the woman he loves. The bananas overarching plot of the series also concluded in a satisfying way, indicating that love wins over money or power.
- Love is a Rogue by Lenora Bell: Lenora Bell moves away from her typical devilish dukes with hearts of gold for this one with a dynamic that hits a bit closer to home for her (she’s married to a carpenter and admits this story was inspired by how they met), following a roguish carpenter and a bookish wallflower. In some ways, it is rather tropey, but it is so in the very best way. Beatrice won me over in her first appearance in Bell’s previous book, and she and the lady knitters are in action once again for some fun series setup potential. Ford is also roguish in the best way, while also being nuanced, with a conflict that really stands out for how he navigates his own cross-class romance after having seen the destructive impacts for himself.
- Confessions in B-Flat by Donna Hill: A moving and relevant read, I loved how it depicted the romance between two people fighting for civil rights, but with two different methods. They learn from each other, grow together, see their love tested due to their struggles, and ultimately triumph, providing a hopeful story for readers as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to fight in the present day in a similar vein to their forebears. The text is also interspersed with photos and links to video clips of civil rights leaders, corresponding to events portrayed in the book, creating a truly immersive reading experience that allows the reader to feel like they are truly living history through the book.
- Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews: This one almost didn’t make the list, but then I started thinking about it again after getting into a Twitter fight with someone over the fact that certain now infamous historical characters need therapy, and they asked, in response, some outlandish stuff, like inclusion of jacuzzis (mixed in with some stuff that does actually happen in this fant-historical genre, like the prevalence of women surviving childbirth). But I digress. I love the way this book depicts in such a realistic way that still feels appropriate to the time period. I loved that Beryl’s depression received care from talking things through with the local curate, Mark, translating to them falling in love in such a sweet way. It’s such a standout portrayal of an issue that continues to be stigmatized, both in fiction and real life.
- The Gold Digger by Liz Tolsma: I have a morbid obsession with Belle Guinness’ story, and I love that Liz Tolsma breathed new life into it with an exploration of family ties through the perspective of Belle’s sister who begins to become aware of who Belle is upon the arrival of the brother of a man who answered Belle’s ad.
- Lush Money by Angelina M. Lopez: Cis man billionaires? So overrated (with the exception of Blake from Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, an honorable mention for this list). Lady billionaires? Bring ‘em on! While I have yet to continue the series, this is the book that taught me a lady alphahole is exactly what I like, even if the men make me want to stick pins in my eyes. Roxanne is a freaking badass! Not that Mateo isn’t intriguing as well, because he absolutely is. And despite the potentially” ick” concept, it totally works and is ultimately swoonworthy!
- Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade: Olivia Dade is one of my favorite discoveries this year, and her Avon debut is perhaps my favorite of hers (although the competition is stiff!) I loved its allusions to fandom culture (which I can understand might be alienating to some people who aren’t as well versed in it), and the unapologetic body positivity.
- Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall: Hall once again demonstrates his range as an author by making the rom-com his own. Luc strikes the perfect balance of being troubled, yet still sympathetic, and Oliver is just the sweetest, making for one of the best fake relationship books I ever read.
- Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert: Yay for bi rep! Dani is an example of a wonderful sex positive heroine. And Talia Hibbert being the master of creating such nuanced characters as she is, surprised me with adorable romance-reading Zaf, defying his outer appearance of broody toughness. The way she flipped the script on the typical tropes of grumpy/sunshine and romantic/skeptic was wonderful. And the way it depicts proper mental health care, including characters going to therapy is also something to celebrate, given the continued stigma toward mental health and the ways some romance tropes can reinforce that.
- Call Me Maybe by Cara Bastone: The strength of this one is in the balance between storytelling and great production quality. Vera and Cal are such endearing characters, and with the two voice actors bringing them to life, I couldn’t help but feel like I was experiencing a real life couple bonding instead of just reading a book. The plot was original and the plot twist around Cal’s identity incredibly well executed.
- The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs: I read a lot of books with a variety of endings, but few impact me emotionally for extended periods of time. But with this one, I contemplated the tragedy that was Lucia Joyce’s life for weeks. I mourned the loss of such potential due to the fact that mental health care was so rudimentary in her time, and the fact that she was also a woman, so while her father may have exhibited similar demons, he at least could call it a part of his genius. And the way she was pretty much abandoned after he died, as she had such a horrible relationship with her mother…it was too awful.
- Jackie and Maria by Gill Paul: While it’s definitely not historically accurate, this book definitely sent me on a journey of feels, from sadness to rage to happiness at the ultimate triumph of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Maria Callas. They went from friendly acquaintances to bitter rivals over their love for the same man, who used and betrayed both of them, and I can’t express how much I wanted to strangle him (and then remembering he was already dead). The final moments when the two were finally able to get over their resentment with one another is truly beautiful, and truly reinforces the idea that women should not let worthless men come between them.
- Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin: The Brontës as a family have always intrigued me due to their shared genius, and the ways the dark tragedy of their lives is often mirrored in their most famous works. But while the sisters thrived and became famous authors (even if solely under pseudonyms, in Emily and Anne’s cases) before their premature deaths, their brother, Branwell, was considered the family failure, with an uneven work ethic, descent into drug and alcohol addiction, and a torrid affair with the married Lydia Robinson, the wife of his employer. This book explores the situation from Lydia’s perspective, and while she’s hardly sympathetic, I think her portrayal was also nuanced to show why she was this way, showing how she was conditioned due to her gender and station, so her behavior can at least be rationalized on some level.
- The Romanov Empress by CW Gortner: Maria Feodorovna is one of the Romanov family that hasn’t received as much discussion in history books as her more notorious and ill-fated son and daughter-in-law, but I loved how CW Gortner reimagined her, both as Nicholas’ mother in the wake of the growing turmoil and as a woman in her own right. I loved her relationship with her sister, Alix (Queen Alexandra of the UK and wife of Edward VII) and her marriage to her husband, Alexander III. She lived a tragic life, but was a survivor through and through, and I love how the narrative captured her hope to be reunited with her family, even though the reader knows what really happened.
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: This was a bit of a surprise to me in how much it resonated with me. I liked how, amid all the books focused on Black issues, this one dared to tackle the everyday microaggressions and fake wokeness on the part of allies that all of us who are not Black should use as a cautionary tale about how not to behave.
- My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell: This is a fabulous book for the MeToo era, looking at the complexities of being a victim and a survivor of sexual abuse, especially when it happened as a teen and at the time, the person deluded themselves into believing it was love. It never romanticizes the issue, but allows you to follow Vanessa on her journey toward realization and healing on her own terms.
- The Night Swim by Megan Goldin: Another MeToo-inspired story, yet a very different take, from an outsider covering a case and finding herself on a quest to get another victim justice. With so many questions and twists and turns, the story demonstrates how there really is no closure in such circumstances.
- When No Is Watching by Alyssa Cole: It’s often concerning when a romance author tries another genre, but with suspense baked into Alyssa Cole’s writing DNA already, and her tendency to not shy away from the tough issues facing Black people, the transition (although that may be the wrong word, as she is still much very much a part of Romancelandia) feels seamless. This story builds on the very real-world fear of gentrification, and how racism is steeped in our country’s history, juxtaposing that with the “boogeyman” that inspires many of the racist actions on the part of white people against Black people. The story is gripping and educational, and still has a bit of a romance that will leave readers satisfied.
- Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee (series so far): This was a case of an author taking something I wasn’t sure I’d be into (the mafia world) and making me love it by adding flawed, dynamic characters and a culturally rich contemporary Asian inspired world. The family/clan dynamics are so interesting, and I love how the characters do see real consequences for their ambition.
- The Burning (series so far) by Evan Winter: While I can’t say how my opinions will change going forward, these first two entries have been perfect, capturing the evolution of a revenge plot to perfection. While not my favorite trope in any genre, I like the way it analyzes the grief and anger that sent Tau down this path and the consequences arising from it, with a real examination of the choices he has going forward to create the potential of either continuing down this path or realistically reevaluating his choices.
- The Poppy War (series) by RF Kuang: this is a great example of a comparable read to the previous pick in a spiritual sense, and one that explores the full extent of corruption and going down that dark path. Rin also has a lot of anger, but she, being modeled on the despotic Mao Zedong, goes deep into the darkness and reaches that point of no return, yet never stops being an engaging protagonist to read about, and one I was sad to part from upon finishing the third bookz
- You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson: A fluffy gem of a book, I love how it took a concept that I’m not super interested in, that of a character competing for prom queen, and got me invested. Instead of following a super glam character, it follows intelligent Liz hoping to take advantage of the scholarship awarded to the prom king and queen. The tensions are high between competitors, and I liked how the book flipped the script by having Liz fall for one of her competitors, resulting in a fresh take on a familiar story.
- The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert: This is a very important book in a pivotal year in American politics. It highlights the importance of voting and counteracting voter suppression tactics against legal citizens, in this case (and many other cases) Black people. To see Marva so passionate in getting young people like her coming of age to register and cast their ballots is beautiful to see. And Duke’s growing awareness about the importance of the power of his vote through his rights being challenged is also incredibly powerful.
- This is My America by Kim Johnson: This book is another poignant book about Black issues and their impact on Black youth in particular. Focused on the way mass incarceration has impacted Black people and their families disproportionately, I rooted for Tasha as she fought for changd, and I have started to become more informed about the situation, reading nonfiction books that also tackle the issue (The Real Jim Crow makes a wonderful companion to this book).
Favorite New Authors
- Olivia Dade: In my several years of romance reading, it’s been rare to come across unapologetically fat, or even just plus-size heroines who don’t have to change to get their HEA. But Olivia Dade’s heroines don’t, and their fatness isn’t something they let define them, even as they do embrace in the face of fatphobia. She also writes heroes who aren’t (usually) Hollywood/model type hunks (the aforementioned Spoiler Alert being the exception), and they love the heroine as she is no matter what.
- Scarlett Peckham: One of the two authors who made me see the appeal of the hotter historical. And the fact that her heroines are the complex, alpha ones in their relationships appeals to my id in a big way. While The Rakess is my favorite for how it unpacks and analyzes the rake and ruined woman tropes, the first two in her Charlotte Street series are awesome as well.
- Nicola Davidson: The second of the two authors to, er, turn me on to the erotic historical. While I didn’t feel any of her books quite fit within the parameters I’d set for myself when making the list, I like that she consistently strikes that balance between story and sex. And the one full length book I read from her, Duke in Darkness, absolutely deserves an honorable mention for being poignant in its depiction of PTSD, in addition to the excellent romantic and sexual chemistry.
- Mimi Matthews: I’ve fallen out of love with a lot of historicals on the sweeter end (well, a lot of historicals period), but Mimi Matthews is the exception, perhaps because her plots are so unique. I haven’t read many of her books yet, something I hope to change in 2021, but I like how she can write a soft story about a heroine dealing with depression and finding love and healing in the same person, and switch gears to a story of revenge and reunited love. Her style is very distinct and evocative, and I always feel a balance of satisfaction and longing for more as I finish her books.
- Cara Bastone: Her work was the biggest surprise to me this year, starting with the stellar Call Me Maybe, leading me to pick up some of her other work, as opposed to the other way around, where I felt compelled to try to adjust to the audio format due to an author I was already familiar with choosing to work with Audible. But regardless of the primary medium of consumption, Bastone is a talented, unique writer that actually had me excited to read her work, in spite of not being into contemporaries that much up to this point.
- RF Kuang: The Poppy War is an exemplary first fantasy trilogy from a young up-and-coming author, one that shows Kuang’s talent that I hope will continue to shine through going forward. She writes a unique and compelling take on fantasy, that isn’t afraid to be dark and gritty, taking its protagonist, Rin, into the darkness and breaking readers’ hearts as they become invested in her journey and are conflicted with the tough choices she makes.
- Fonda Lee: She has really challenged me this year by making me root for the complex antihero, while also drawing the line between making these characters all sympathetic and relatable yet not romanticizing what they’re engaging in. She also expertly translates her own real life skill with Kung fu into some of the most compelling and original fight scenes I’ve ever read.
- Evan Winter: Yet another author who explores some dark themes, but does so in his own way. I love his passion for fantasy as a genre that is recognizable in his writing and what I’ve seen in his online presence, yet how he also conveys the importance of wanting to provide a book for his son to be able to read someday, given that most of the authors in the fantasy genre are white. While he takes a less research-grounded approach than the prior two authors on this list, he has his own cultural background that he infused into the text of his stories in a compelling way.
Goals for 2021
Since my goals for 2020 were kind of a mixed bag, I definitely want to keep them reading oriented and around giving myself joy. While I do still plan to taking risks in terms of diversifying my reading, a lot of it
- Goodreads Reading Goal: I don’t know what the future holds for me once again as the COVID situation continues to evolve. I could get a job in 2021, maybe I won’t. I’ll probably start off modest (by my standards anyway), but I still haven’t fully decided.
- Stop giving authors (and “styles?”) chances on the off chance “the next will be better”: My gosh, did I do this a lot. From the disastrous to the just plain dull, I feel like I’ve continued to reach for authors who’ve either been up and down for me because of stylistic elements I do like and getting burned by the stuff I really don’t, or finding myself really burned by authors writing in styles and genres I’ve soured on. I’m not going to write off any debut authors I see potential in without giving a second chance, but I plan to break the cycle with some I’ve just picked up out of habit, and found myself usually frustrated. The exception to this is Alyssa Cole. I have not loved all her contemporaries, but I enjoyed them enough that I’m not annoyed by them the way some of these other authors’ work annoys me. And the f/f book next year gives me a lot of hope it could be better, and I’m not just saying that out of habit this time!
- Continue reading diversely (BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people w/ disabilities, etc.): I don’t plan on setting an amount to reach for once again, but I hope that I can continue to consistently reach for books that are outside the typical white, allocishet, able bodied, Christian narrative. I found so many good stories this year that covered so many unique experiences, even within the same marginalizations, and it was rewarding to see some that mirrored aspects of my own life, and enlightening to read about the experiences of others, and I hope to continue doing that going forward.
- Participate in more reading prompt events (at least 2, including Ripped Bodice Bingo, but am encouraged to do more): Clearly, I thrived primarily in the social aspect of the reading challenges, which is ironic, given I typically am a bit of a lone wolf. So, in the spirit of that, I’m going to make a goal that I will continue to participate in book bingos and other readathons if I find them manageable, with a goal of one being the Ripped Bodice Bingo (provided it happens next summer, which I hope it will), and at least one other event. However, SnowInLove, which is ongoing from December 2020 to February 2021, will not count toward this goal for 2021.
- Finish writing my short story/start working on book one of my romance trilogy: This one is more of a writerly goal, something I haven’t talked about much on here. But I am working actively on a short story that will be published in a charity anthology by Romance Cafe Books, who I’ve reviewed for in the past. I’ll probably have more info when I’ve finished and submitted and everything is more finalized, but yeah, it’s coming out in June! And I’m hoping that could be a prequel to a historical romantic suspense series I’ve been planning for a while, but haven’t been sure where to start.