My Favorite Reads of 2020

Well, this has been an… interesting year. If you can name it, chances are it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about the strength many of my acquaintances possess. I truly wish they hadn’t needed to use so much strength and determination to make it through the year, but if wishes were horses, we’d all be eating steak. Anyway, I digress.

While the year has been all kinds of horrible for most, the books I’ve been fortunate to read were amazing. I rounded up my favorites but there is absolutely no way I can rank them in order from one to ten. Instead, they’re here with zero rhyme or reason, just a huge amount of appreciation. Without further rambling, here are my top ten 2020 reads:

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

This book was absolutely brilliant. I went into it with ridiculously high hopes, and they were more than fulfilled. There was a tension throughout that had me riveted, and Turton’s fantastic writing style kept me hooked from start to finish. Review

The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Holy guacamole, this book is awesome! My last book of the year (I might finish the sequel in time, but that’s a big might); I totally went out with a bang. The Queen of Blood had me riveted from start to finish. I should apologize probably to the family for all the things I didn’t get done while I was ignoring the real world to read this. Review

The Ventifact Colossus by Dorian Hart

This was a skillful and unique twist on questing fantasy. I loved all of the characters, each of which brought their own struggles and strengths to the group. This felt like a wonderful throwback to the type of book that spawned my love of the fantasy genre. The sequel was equally fantastic, and you can find my reviews for both books here: The Ventifact Colossus and The Crosser’s Maze.

Knight’s Ransom by Jeff Wheeler

I truly loved Knight’s Ransom. It had an Arthurian feel to it that I found engrossing. While larger things are going on in the world, the book followed mainly one man and focused on his character growth. There was no Big Bad poised to destroy life as everyone knows it, but the world still felt big, and the personal stakes felt just as important. Review

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn

This book was just flat-out fun. Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, was an entertaining character, and his partners in crime were just as great. I particularly loved the heists they planned since they never ever worked out as expected. Review

Hollow Road Dan Fitzgerald

Hollow Road was extremely good. Its sequel, The Archive, made me tear up. That doesn’t happen often at all. This is an incredible series and I am dying to continue it. My review for Hollow Road can be found here. My review for The Archive can be found here.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Both this book and its sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, were phenomenal. Gritty detective novel meets fantasy in this series and works extremely well. I loved the main character, Fetch Phillips, who is drowning in both regret and alcohol. His narrative voice was wonderful and I can’t wait for the next installment in the series. Review

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If not for The Write Read Blog Tour that I took part in, this book wouldn’t have been on my radar. That would have been a shame, because it was so enjoyable. It was a bit like the movie Knives Out sans cable knit sweaters. I really liked going along with the main character as she tried to solve the mysteries presented to her. Review

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

Feathertide was gorgeous. I really could stop there. The prose sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It’s a masterpiece and I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. Review

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

This book was flat-out fantastic! It was the perfect combination of witty and thought-provoking. I highly recommend this one. I loved it so much! Review

So, there you have it. This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? Here’s to many more wonderful books in 2021!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Young Adult Edition

I read a pretty broad variety of books, both in age range and genre. I’ve already talked about great gifts ideas for both middle-grade and picture book readers. Today I’m moving on to young adult readers. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or shopping for yourself (totally allowed), I think these are some of the best of the best.

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to the Write Reads on Tour, I was able to read an ebook of this before its release. I loved it so much that my husband surprised me with a physical copy. Full of puzzles to solve, and characters with questionable motives, this mysterious scavenger hunt of a book was a blast to read. You can read my original review of The Inheritance Games here. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery.

The Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake

Oh, how I love this series, the first book of which is Three Dark Crowns. Led by a cast of strong female characters, these books center around a desperate struggle between three sisters to be Queen Crowned-because only one can survive to rule. Each sister has a different power (my favorite is Katharine, the poisoner), and the way they’re used is incredibly creative. The world is large and complex, and the characters are complicated and three dimensional. I especially appreciate the high stakes in the series: no character is untouchable. As a huge bonus, the series is already finished, so there’s no waiting impatiently for the next book to release.

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine

This is the first book in the Great Library series. It imagines a world in which the Library of Alexandria did not burn down. Instead, it became a controlling power, banning the ownership of books. The only books allowed to be read have to be okayed by the Library itself and we all know the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Enter Jess, a smuggler of books who finds himself in an accidental rebellion, together with a fantastic group of characters. This book is fast paced and full of action and intrigue.

Two Like Me and You by Chad Alan Gibbs

I read this book due to a glowing review by another blogger, and it introduced me to a fantastic author. Edwin is reeling from a bad breakup when he is assigned a group project with a new student. Somehow they end up “breaking” a WW2 veteran named Garland out of a nursing home. The three of them go on a madcap race around France, in search of Garland’s long-lost love. On the way, Edwin himself learns a little bit about love and an awful lot about life. Both heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is on my “everyone needs to read this” list.

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I have actually mentioned this book on another list: books to read after (or instead of Harry Potter). Now, bear with me: this book is only like Harry Potter in the vaguest of ways: there’s a school for magic users, a main character who is always attracting trouble, and two best friends/partners in crime. That is where the similarities end. This is full-on fantasy, in a completely (and fully developed) fantasy world. It is not geared toward children or middle graders, and the characters aren’t kids. The writing is amazing, which is to be expected from author Tamora Pierce. You can’t go wrong with anything she’s written.

So there you have it. Any of these books would make great gifts for the YA reader in your life. What are some YA books that you think would make excellent gifts? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

For the authors: thank you


I’ll start this post by saying the now overused phrase, it’s been a tough year. I kind of think that’s the unspoken assumption at this point: “I’m doing well” (considering it’s a tough year), or “It’s been a bad day” (in the middle of a tough year). The book community isn’t exempt from the “tough year” unfortunately. I could go into the nitty gritty, but smarter minds than mine have already done that. So, this one is for the authors: you are appreciated.

I know it must be a discouraging time for so many of you, either with news you might have received, or just with life in general. Being an author is not for the faint of heart. You do not have it easy. To take the words in your mind and share them with others requires a massive amount of bravery. It also requires being willing to relinquish a little bit of your vision, knowing that the reader will picture your characters differently in their mind than you do. That takes guts.

This year has been full of changes in schedules, jobs, and lifestyle. There has been worry, and there has been loss. I cannot tell you what a godsend it has been to be able to curl up with a book – either an old friend, or a new discovery – and leave it all behind for a bit. From familiar favorites such as Dragonlance and The Night Circus, to more recent favorites, like The Ventifact Colossus and The Devil and the Dark Water, these books have kept me calm(ish).

Authors, what you do is important. So, so important. You aren’t just writing words on a page. Rather, you are building an escape pod. Your words are reminding us that even though we’re all stuck in our homes bunker-style, we aren’t alone. Good still exists and so does hope, laughter, creativity, new worlds, and mystery.

So, THANK YOU. Thank you for all you do. Keep writing. We’ll keep reading.

With Love,

A Voracious Reader

The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes- The Write Reads Ultimate Blog Tour

A Cinderella story with deadly stakes and thrilling twists, perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying and Knives Out.

Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is.

To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes. Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Dave at the Write Reads for including me in this blog tour. I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

Riddle me this: what book is full of mystery, puzzles to solve, possible murder attempts, and a plot that keeps you guessing? The answer is obvious! It’s The Inheritance Games, of course!

This book was so much fun! It follows Avery, a wildly intelligent girl who has been struggling to make ends meet. She learns that she has been left a large fortune by Tobias Hawthorne, an obscenely rich tycoon. She would be overjoyed, but she can’t overlook one fact: she’s never even met the deceased man. Question number one? Who is she to him, and why did he leave her his fortune, excluding his relatives?

This book features a cast of unique and not necessarily trustworthy characters. There’s Avery’s older sister who has a connection to a skeezy guy; Skye and Zara, Hawthorne’s daughters; Zara’s husband; and Tobias Hawthorne’s grandsons, who were very close to Tobias and were pretty much a lock-in for the massive inheritance. The grandsons are: Nash, a self-made cowboy who has a thing for saving people; Xander, the youngest who seems less-than-interested in everyone else’s machinations; Jameson, who is incredibly helpful (but who knows why?); and Grayson, who feels that Avery has somehow taken advantage of Tobias Hawthorne. There’s one catch: in order to claim the inheritance, Avery has to live in the late Tobias’ estate with these people of questionable ethics. Everyone in the book has their own motivation, and secrets abound.

There were so many great things about this book! First of all, I loved that the riddles weren’t obvious, and neither was the solution. I was guessing and figuring things out right along with Avery, which was a blast. There was one “reveal” which I figured out early on, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book. Instead, I had a major fist pump moment (“Yes! I knew it!”) and every other solved answer was completely out of the blue for me. Another thing that I enjoyed was that, even though it would have been easy to slip into the tried and true mystery tropes, the author neatly avoided falling into that trap.

There was the whole complicated love triangle doomahickey but, seeing as it was part of the game and possibly just a clever redirection, it didn’t really bother me. It was also kept in the background of the story instead of taking priority, which I appreciated. Avery had a good head on her shoulders and was not as easily hoodwinked as I think certain characters were expecting. No spoilers from me, I promise.

I fairly flew through this book of mysterious happenings, and I loved every minute! I’m incredibly happy to know there will be a sequel, since I’m not ready to leave Hawthorne Manor and its inhabitants behind. Do yourself a favor and read this book as soon as humanly possible.

Why is Sherlock Holmes So Popular? It’s Elementary

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Every once in a while, a book character comes along and changes things. Not just for one reader (although that is also a huge accomplishment), but for society in general. This character moves from the page to everyday culture. This is what has happened with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Phrases like, “The game is afoot,” and “no s***, Sherlock” are ubiquitous. Almost everyone at least knows who Sherlock Holmes is. Now, the question is: why? Sherlock himself is actually a very unlikable character. He’s too smart for his own good, is constantly making everyone else look less-than-competent, and is less demonstrative of his feelings than others often are. So, what makes this unlikable character so darn likable?

I think a good chunk of his charm is the way he was written. Arthur Conan Doyle was fantastic at bringing his characters to life. He could also craft a mystery like no other. Even though some of the conclusions Holmes comes to border on the impossible, Doyle makes the reader want to suspend disbelief. We like thinking that there is someone out there who can solve the difficult problems and can bring the bad guy to justice. Of course, it does bear mentioning that literary Holmes did not, in fact, solve every case. That only serves to make him an even more interesting character. Contemporary mysteries almost always end with “good” prevailing. Seeing know-it-all Holmes be wrong every once in a while only serves to make him a more three-dimensional character.

Whatever the reason, Doyle’s famous detective has given birth to many books, movies, plays, and TV shows that all aim to do one thing: show their love of Sherlock Holmes. There are books that are at least partially inspired by Holmes, such as Jackaby by William Ritter and A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro; books that include their own versions of the actual characters, such at the Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andy Lane and Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (although, I would never have thought of Mycroft in the way he’s written); and of course, more TV and movie adaptations than you can shake a stick at. Basil Rathbone’s version, and the incredible BBC TV show happen to by my favorites on screen.

At any rate, I’ve noticed something rather odd: it seems that more people are enjoying the things based on Sherlock Holmes than reading the original itself. Honestly, though, I think it’s important to read the original Conan Doyle stories. Aside from the fact that they are fantastic, they will bring a deeper appreciation to the other versions that we all enjoy. If, like me, you have a love of the one and only Sherlock Holmes, I’ve listed a few new takes on the famous detective below. However, if you haven’t read the original Sherlock Holmes, I implore you to give them a go.

– A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Thodora Goss (I haven’t read this one yet)
-The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by John Joseph Adams
Moriarty by Anthony Horrowitz
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Jackaby by William Ritter
– Young Sherlock Holmes by Andy Lane
Sherlock Holmes- The Improbable Prisoner by Stuart Douglas

Which ones have I missed that I need to read?

The Last to Die by Kelly Garrett

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Sixteen-year-old Harper Jacobs and her bored friends make a pact to engage in a series of not-quite illegal break-ins. They steal from each other’s homes, sharing their keys and alarm codes. But they don’t take anything that can’t be replaced by some retail therapy, so it’s okay. It’s thrilling. It’s bad. And for Harper, it’s payback for something she can’t put into words―something to help her deal with her alcoholic mother, her delusional father, and to forget the lies she told that got her druggie brother arrested. It’s not like Daniel wasn’t rehab bound anyway.

So everything is okay―until the bold but aggravating Alex, looking to up the ante, suggests they break into the home of a classmate. It’s crossing a line, but Harper no longer cares. She’s proud of it. Until one of the group turns up dead, and Harper comes face-to-face with the moral dilemma that will make or break her―and, if she makes the wrong choice, will get her killed. (taken from Amazon)

This was an oh dear book for me. The premise – a small group of friends, and the murderer is one of them – seemed interesting, but it lacked something in the execution. I’ll try to put my issues with this book into words, but please bear with me. My train of thought often jumps its track.

I will say that the author made a gutsy choice: not a single character is remotely likeable. I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. It was tough to read a book filled with horrible people, though. The closest thing to a decent character is the main character’s sister, Maggie. Unfortunately, she was side character who wasn’t in the book nearly enough to balance the feeling of ick the other characters ooze.

As horrible as the characters all are, the main character is the absolute worst. Her internal dialogue is filled with scathing insults of her “friends,” she starts fights, frequently thinks about ways she can make people mad, and is flat-out horrible. One line in the book reads, “Nah, she wouldn’t kill herself. No way. She’d find some other way to get revenge.” How flipping awful is that? I think that line was the breaking point for me. I can’t stand when books imply suicide-as-revenge. That trope needs to go. I kept reading in the hope that one of the characters would grow a moral compass, but it never fully happened.

In this book, a group of privileged, bored teens take turns breaking into each other’s houses on a dare. They steal from their rich parents and get a rush out of it. Eventually, that starts to bore them too, so they decide to steal from someone outside their clique. That leads to murder, and suddenly anyone in the group could be next. The final motive felt a little forced to me. I couldn’t figure out what the impetus was, everything switched up so quickly.

I will say that the author’s idea was an interesting one. It just really didn’t work for me. As much as I can understand why this book might be enjoyable for many people, there were too many things that rankled at me. I won’t go out of my way to read anything else by this author, although I wish her the best of luck with this book and her writing career.

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

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Be careful of the dark, dark wood…

Especially the woods surrounding the town of Fir Haven. Some say these woods are magical. Haunted, even.

Rumored to be a witch, only Nora Walker knows the truth. She and the Walker women before her have always shared a special connection with the woods. And it’s this special connection that leads Nora to Oliver Huntsman—the same boy who disappeared from the Camp for Wayward Boys weeks ago—and in the middle of the worst snowstorm in years. He should be dead, but here he is alive, and left in the woods with no memory of the time he’d been missing.

But Nora can feel an uneasy shift in the woods at Oliver’s presence. And it’s not too long after that Nora realizes she has no choice but to unearth the truth behind how the boy she has come to care so deeply about survived his time in the forest, and what led him there in the first place. What Nora doesn’t know, though, is that Oliver has secrets of his own—secrets he’ll do anything to keep buried, because as it turns out, he wasn’t the only one to have gone missing on that fateful night all those weeks ago.

For as long as there have been fairy tales, we have been warned to fear what lies within the dark, dark woods and in Winterwood, New York Times bestselling author Shea Ernshaw, shows us why. (taken from Amazon)

Here’s what I thought the book was going to be: an old, misunderstood woman rescues a boy and nurses him back to health. As she does so, she comes to care for him as a son, leading her to try to solve the mystery of what happened the night he went missing. I was WAY off. This is about two teens who have one of those “instant connections.” You know – the kind where they both think they’re destined to be together forever, despite not knowing anything about each other. Oh – and ignoring the fact that there’s a possibility that one of them is a murderer. So, you know. It’s your usual boy-meets-girl – meets weirdness story.

If you’ve followed my blog for long, you know this sort of book is not my thing. It’s on me; I completely misunderstood the plot when I bought this book. I’m going to do my best to proceed as though this is something I’d normally read, and review it accordingly. Please bear with me and wish me luck!

Firstly, let me say that Shea Ernshaw did an excellent job of describing not only the setting, but the feel of the story. It takes place in an isolated, snowed-in area, near a forest that’s known to be haunted. There’s a boys’ camp across the lake, but that’s it. It was very well communicated that if anything were to happen, the few people up there would have to fend for themselves. It’s an interesting way to raise the stakes and one that she put to good use here.

The characters, while not what I expected, were likable. Oliver, in particular, was a fascinating character. He started out with a spotty memory, which turned into secrets as he slowly began to piece things together. I liked that he was an unreliable character. He clearly couldn’t be trusted but the question is: are his secrets harmless?

The story itself was just okay. I knew each twist before it happened, and the ending was a bit of a letdown for me. I’m not a huge fan of the deus ex machina trope (is that a trope?), and it just didn’t work for me. However, I have a feeling that I’ll be in the minority on this opinion. If you like stories where something random happens to suddenly save the day, this one’ll be right up your alley.

Over all, if you’re into supernatural mysteries with more than a hint of romance, this book will be one for you. It’s not my thing, but it’s a skillfully told representative of that type of story.

Devil’s Porridge Gang by Colin Garrow- Damp Pebbles Blog Tour

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1969. In a town where nothing happens, a gang of kids uncover a kidnapping plot.

In the days following the excitement of the moon landings, a group of criminals plan to kidnap the son of a Government rocket engineer – but they don’t expect a gang of kids to get in the way…

Sam Todd dreams of adventure and longs for something exciting to happen for him and his friends. When he and the gang try to add a touch of excitement to their lives by stealing empty bottles from a pop factory, they are easily caught. But the consequences lead them back to the factory where they begin to uncover a villainous scheme.

Thank you to Damp Pebbles and the author for providing me with a book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book is available for purchase now.

This book was an interesting one to me. It took me a little bit to get into because the dialogue was very different than what I’m used to reading. Once I got the hang of it, however, I really enjoyed this book.

I loved the strong nostalgic feel of this book. I kept thinking of the Hardy Boys throughout. These kids are fun to read, and have more than a hint of danger-seeking. My favorite character was Sam. He was so loyal! He was just a great kid. The book switches points of view, though, so that each character is explored.

This is an entertaining romp, one that would be great for older kids, or adults who like good, nostalgic fun!

The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

This book was fantastic! Steeped in Norse mythology, and utterly creeptastic (add that to your vocabulary: if “fleek” can be a word,  “creeptastic” can be too), this was just what I needed .

Martha senses things about people just by touching their clothes. It started after she fell out of the twisted tree at her Mormer’s (grandmother’s) house, and became blind in one eye. Trying to get answers for this disturbing development from the one person she suspects might know something about it, she runs away to see Mormer- only to learn that she’s dead and that a teen boy has been living in her house.

The book quickly picks up an incredibly eerie atmosphere: out in the middle of nowhere with a huge storm coming, something outside (a wolf- or worse?), ghosts inside, and questions that need answering,  Martha has to face the truth of the Twisted Tree and who she is.

At less than four hundred pages, this is a quick read, perfect for an evening cuddled up with your warm drink of choice. Actually, the shortness of the book is the only thing that I felt even a little negatively towards, and that’s simply because I enjoyed it so much that I wanted it to continue.

The book builds to a crescendo, the mythology aspect is incredibly interesting (although a few liberties have been taken), and the relationship between the two main characters is one of the few I’ve read in a long time that didn’t annoy me. It was natural-feeling, and didn’t distract from the plot-line at all.

This is Rachel Burge’s debut novel, and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. If you’re looking for an eerie read, this book is for you.

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Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when they were thirteen, Brynn and Mia’s best friend was murdered. Everyone thinks they did it, obsessed over a fictional world called Lovelorn. The thing is, they didn’t. In this book, Mia and Brynn decide to “go back to Lovelorn”, face their past, and try to discover what really happened.

This isn’t the sort of book I normally read. I have a very vivid imagination which means that thrillers can easily get to be too much for me. However, this was done in such a way that I was able to handle it. Not only that, but I was hooked. It’s much more than a who dunnit; it’s a study of human nature, and an examination of the many different facets of a person that the world doesn’t see.

I loved the way reality and a made-up world collided in the book as Mia, Brynn, and a few other characters tried to figure out the mystery. I was on the edge of  my seat, wondering whether the author would actually choose to divulge the answer, or leave me forever wondering.

The writing was skillful, weaving a story that was more about the survivors and how their lives were affected than about the murder in and of itself. That being said, there were a few difficult parts that I had to rush through: mainly, brief mentions of self-harm in two separate places, and a vague allusion to harassment.

I liked that the main reason the girls were suspects (aside from being the best friends) was that the murder matched one that they had described in a fan fiction they’d written; a fan fiction that no one else had read. I also thought the final few sentences in the book were flat-out brilliant.

All in all, while this isn’t a book I’ll reread, I did find it engrossing. I suggest it, but with the caveat that it does deal with some sensitive material. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, this is right up your alley.

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