Apparently we’re halfway through 2020, but what even is time anymore??! I don’t know about you all, but basically the only good part of this year has been the books I’ve read. I haven’t always managed to read consistently: there are stretches of time where I’m not able to focus on anything at all and others when I’m inhaling books. In spite of that, I’m still managing to be slightly ahead in my Goodreads goal. I’d love to increase my reading rate during the second half of the year, but I’m realistic enough to know there will be some weeks when way more doom scrolling than reading happens.
Books have been a much-needed antidote to this shitty year and I have no doubt that they will continue to be. The ability to access eBooks with my newly acquired library card and my Scribd subscription has been a saving grace during isolation/quarantine. It’s enabled me to read more broadly and take chances on books I otherwise would never have picked up.
I love the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag because it’s the perfect way to take stock and reflect on my reading year so far. If the second half of the year goes as well as this first, I’ll be very happy indeed!
Without further ado, let’s get to the questions:
Best Books I’ve Read So Far
My favorite read of 2020 is currently a tie between Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang. Both are emotionally impactful, thought-provoking, unique novels with stunning prose and unforgettable characters.
When I look back on the first half of the year however, there are two standout books that will no doubt end up having the biggest impact on my 2020 reading year: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. The fact that I fell head-over-heels in love with both means that I have two new, immersive series (the Thomas Cromwell trilogy and the Neapolitan novels respectively) to enjoy.
Best Sequel I’ve Read So Far
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. I’ve made myself wait to read the final two Neapolitan novels, but I can only imagine I’ll love them just as much, if not more so.
I also thought A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn was a fun sequel. I enjoyed it even more than the previous book in the Veronica Speedwell Mystery series, and am currently reading the fourth installment as we speak.
A New Release I Haven’t Read, But Want to
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and Writers & Lovers by Lily King are the two 2020 releases that I’m currently most excited to read. In fact, I’m planning to start The Vanishing Half this week since my (eBook) library hold has come in. I was blown away by Brit Bennett’s debut The Mothers and can’t wait to see how she’s tackled similar themes/plot as Nella Larson’s phenomenal classic Passing. And I’ve been anxiously awaiting Lily King’s next novel after reading and loving Euphoria.
Most Anticipated Releases For the Second Part of the Year
You can see a whole list of my 15 most anticipated releases here, but the two I am most excited about are: Summer by Ali Smith and Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I’ve pre-ordered Summer and put in an early library hold for Hamnet.
I feel awful saying this since she seems like such a lovely person whose content I enjoy, but I wasn’t impressed by Anne Bogel’s I’d Rather Be Reading. It felt repetitive, slightly unoriginal, and didn’t hold my interest. I was disappointed not to be able to add it to my list of favorite books about books. I do still love that cover however.
While I did really enjoy The Animals of Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey, it sadly fell a bit short of my (too?) high expectations. It was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I think it’s just a case of me getting my hopes up too much. I still found it to be an engrossing and atmospheric read, but ended up giving it three stars instead of the four or even five I had envisioned.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha was disappointing in that there were moments towards the beginning in which I thought for sure this was going to be a four/five star read. Ultimately, this didn’t live up to its potential for me. It wasn’t as fleshed out as I had hoped and felt more like an earlier draft than a final novel. Since it is a debut, I’m very interested to see what Frances Cha writes next. I really liked her social commentary and point of view and look forward to seeing how her writing develops.
Hands down the biggest surprise has been how much I loved Wolf Hall and the first two books of The Neapolitan series. These are books I’ve attempted to read in the past and simply wasn’t interested in. I really didn’t think that either series was going to be for me or that I was going to be able to get on with Mantel’s or Ferrante’s writing style.
However, I thought this year would be a good time to give each another try, and I’m still shocked by the outcome. I did not expect fall in love with either series, let alone to even like the first novels enough to want to keep reading. For whatever reason, everything just clicked this time around.
New Favorite Authors (Debut or New to Me)
Carmen Maria Machado, C Pam Zhang, and Bernadine Evaristo are three authors whose writing absolutely blew me away. All three of their works are going to stay with me for a very long time and I can’t wait to read more from them in the future.
Additionally, I’m so glad I finally got around to reading Hilary Mantel, Eva Ibbotson, Jacqueline Woodson, and Colson Whitehead. All phenomenal writers who I wish I had read sooner.
Underrated Gems I’ve Discovered Recently
I really enjoyed the charming Tom Tiddler’s Ground by Ursula Orange, another of the criminally underrated Furrowed Middlebrow novels from Dean Street Press.
If you take one thing away from this post, I hope it’s the inspiration to pick up How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang. It’s such an extraordinary read and it deserves to be much more widely known.
Rereads This Year
I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done any rereading so far this year. I always intend to return to an old favorite or give a previous read anther try, but I just end up being seduced by first-time reads.
I do however intend to remedy this with a reread of both Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice as part of this month’s #JaneAustenJuly (more to come on that soon). I’m very excited to return to the world of Austen; it’s been way too long since I last visited!
Newest Fictional Crushes
Although it might be a bit of a stretch to call them my crushes, I did really like Quin Sommerville from The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson and I found Gus Everett to be pretty dreamy in Beach Read by Emily Henry. Younger me certainly would’ve crushed hard on Quin. It’s a shame I didn’t read Eva Ibbotson as a young teen!
Newest Favorite Characters
I think my single favorite character would have to be the witty, inquisitive, and bookish January Scaller from The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow. I also really loved The Flatshare‘s Tiffy and Leon, especially as a couple.
The characters that are probably going to have the most lasting impact on me however, are Elena and Lila from the Neapolitan novels and he, Cromwell from the Thomas Cromwell trilogy. Saying goodbye to those three when I’ve finished the respective series is going to be rough.
Books That Made Me Cry
It turns out the three books that made me cry this year have a lot in common. They’re all books about family and loss written by women of color.
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee
Books That Made Me Happy
I’ve really needed some books that end with happy ever afters lately. Here are some of the books that improved my mood, put a smile on my face, made me swoon, made me laugh out loud, and/or lifted my spirits so far this year:
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
Well Met by Jen DeLuca
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Most Beautiful Books I’ve Bought/Received So Far This Year
I was gifted a gorgeous hardcover edition of Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade, while I bought myself the colorful paperback edition of The Foundling by Stacey Halls. My most recent beautiful book acquisition is an ARC of The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart that I was lucky enough to win in a Goodreads giveaway.
I’m hoping to read all three of these beauties before the year is over.
Favorite Book-to-Film and Book-to-TV Adaptation
I absolutely adored this year’s Emma adaptation. What a charming, lush, and witty film! I’m so grateful they decided to release it on VOD early; it was the perfect escape from the hellish and stressful first few months of the pandemic. I’m planning to re-watch it for the third time later this month.
The first season of My Brilliant Friend proved to be another perfect escapist watch. I really enjoyed being transported to 1950’s Italy and thought it was a masterful adaptation. Very much looking forward to watching season two later this summer, preferably with an Aperol spritz or Negroni in hand!
And like the majority of the Internet, I also fell hard for Normal People. It truly was a perfect adaptation of the source material and very, very bingeable.
Books I Need to Read by the End of the Year
While there is a huge list of books I’d ideally like to read by the end of the year, I’m not going to put any pressure myself to do so. Reading is a lifeline and a form of escapism now more than ever, so I’m simply going to read (or not read) whatever books I feel like at any given time.
My only real goals are: to finish the Neapolitan series, complete the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, and to read more books by women of color. I also have several library holds that I will of course have to read by a certain date once they come in. I’d love to squeeze in more nonfiction, classics, and short stories, but again, I’m not going to stress if that doesn’t happen organically.
eBooks Currently on My Library Holds Shelf:
Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
How has the first half of your reading year been? Have you done the Mid-Year Freakout tag? Feel free to leave a link to your tag and/or respond to any of the prompts in the comments below. I always love reading everyone’s answers to this tag each year!