Guntersville Public Library

Best and Worst of 2020

 

2020 has been a year for the books (see what I did there? Lol). But all the quarantines and stay-at-home orders have given us time to read some really great books, and a few awful ones. Here are the Guntersville Public Library staff picks for the best and worst books we read in this historic year.

Best

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Con: It’s not about a library. But this is the book for anyone who ever wondered what their life would be like if they could right past regrets and make different choices. It really makes you reflect on your own life and come to terms with all the “what ifs”. – Mandy

 

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

This is not a book full of conflict and plot. This is an experience. A slow walk through Fate and Time. It is Alice in Wonderland meets The Neverending Story meets Narnia meets The Shadow of the Wind meets Every Heart a Doorway. Do not read this expecting a linear story. The Starless Sea is a labyrinth of storytelling, each storyline weaving in and out in a maze of gorgeous prose and haunting descriptions of ancient underground libraries, snowy castles and inns, and paper worlds with once burned dollhouses. There are pirates, but not really. Rabbits that are not really rabbits, but may be a pirate that was once a girl. There are cats. If you are someone who needs questions answered and resolutions met, this may not be the book for you. If you enjoy mystical settings and narratives, lyrical prose, and metafiction then welcome to your next literary obsession. After all, what is the ending of one story if not but the beginning of another? (Side note: This is a truly OUTSTANDING audiobook.) – Leigh Ann

 

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, Yes was my first and favorite read of 2020. This is a story of two families living before, during, and in the aftermath of a tragedy. I love generational family dramas and I couldn’t put this book down. For lovers of drama and family sagas. – Jessica

 

The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager

The Smallest Lights in the Universe is a moving memoir of a brilliant astrophysicist working through her grief after her husband dies. She weaves together parallels between the science of her work and her life that are beautifully written and incredibly insightful. Her writing is raw and unabashedly honest. This memoir is science heavy, but she expertly explains the science in a way that is easily understood and really captures the beauty of the universe. – Joyce

Stoner by John Williams

I used to think no culture could capture the human condition in book form better than the Russian classics. A friend recommended this book to me with the promise that, “It reads like the Russians,” so I was immediately interested. I was completely blown away by this book with it’s honest, heartbreaking plot and completely relatable protagonist. It’s genuinely one of the best books I’ve ever read. – Lauren

 

 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

My favorite read of 2020 was Michael Chabon’s massive novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Chabon ties together the history of Superhero comics, Jewish folklore, and world events that shaped the 40’s Golden Age Comics. Joe and Sam’s creation, The Escapist, symbolizes hope and triumph against unlikely odds. Kavalier and Clay cover the entire globe, from Prague to New York and even Antarctica. There are tons of celebrity cameos like Salvador Dali and Stan Lee. Chabon’s novel will take you on such a roller coaster of emotions–grief, laughter, and edge-of-your-seat tension– that the 600+ pages will fly by. It was the most immersive book I’ve ever read, and I can’t recommend it enough. – James

 

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

I remember cataloging the book when it came in (2014) and saying to myself I would never read a book with this many pages (788), and it was a series. Well never say never. A friend of mine asked if I had read this book and I told her no because I don’t read books that big, there are too many great authors for me to spend that much time on one. Well she told me I was missing out on a really good story so I picked up the book and started reading. She was absolutely right, I hated when I had to put the book down to go anywhere. There is a lot of research the author did about the South and what people got away with just because they happened to know the right people. I couldn’t wait to finish the book so I could get the next one. – Debbie

 

 

Worst

The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

The domestic thriller genre is usually my sweet spot, and I really liked Paris’s Behind Closed Doors. But this one began to get more and more predictable and ended with a big, old “Meh”. – Mandy

 

The Dry by Jane Harper

I gave up less than 50 pages in when the main character (who, BTW, is named AARON and everyone in the book calls him AARON, yet for some odd reason the third person narrative refers to him as Falk. “Falk said…Falk thought.” WHY???) inserted himself into an active murder investigation and the main investigator just lets him browse through the crime scene looking at financial records.

THAT IS NOT HOW REAL LIFE/MURDER INVESTIGATIONS WORK

Also, now I know the murder is going to have to do with some kind of financial records/book keeping/probably gambling cause it’s a small town/thing.

Flat characters, formulaic plot, contrived dialogue. – Leigh Ann

 

Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

Lost Roses is the second book written in the Lilac Girls series. I loved Lilac Girls and historical fiction so I assumed I would enjoy this as well, but that was not the case! Lost Roses tells the stories of three women living during WW1 in Russia, New York, and Paris. To be set in such interesting locales with the backdrop of a fascinating time in world history, this book is awfully boring. It’s very long and painfully dull. If you’re a fellow lover of historical fiction, I’d skip this. – Jessica

 

I longed for this book for over a decade. My love for the Twilight series and nostalgia alone should have been enough to propel me eagerly through this latest installment. Sadly, my enthusiasm waned quickly and finishing the book felt like a monumental chore. It was terribly redundant and overly drawn out. At almost 700 pages, it is a good bit longer than the first book, but offers very little new information about the original story or the characters I fell in love with. Basically, we learn two things: Edward is insanely whiny and Stephanie Meyer can write at length about uninteresting aspects of the story while completely passing up the opportunity to delve deeper and give us more.  I finished it, but felt frustrated and cheated the entire time. – Joyce

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

I’m embarrassed that I’ve read this, but I’m sharing with the hope that others will learn from my mistake. When the pandemic hit, Disney offered this book as a free download for Kindle. Being a sucker for the villain’s perspective, I read it, and it was a horrible decision. Granted, this is probably considered JF or YA/Teen at best, but that’s no excuse for poor, cheap writing. Save yourselves. Stay away from this one. – Lauren

 

Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson

My least favorite read of 2020 was the graphic novel/comic Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson. The comic is an alternate-timeline Soviet-Superman who leads the USSR after the death of Stalin. I wanted to like this so much, and the artwork was fantastic. However, the storyline was unengaging, slow-moving, and just plain boring. While there were plenty of action scenes, it did not have the excitement that I’ve come to expect from DC Comics, and especially from Superman. In fact, Superman was unlikeable, and not in the anti-hero sense–he was just dull. I’m usually a fan of alternate-universe stuff, and I enjoyed the premise of this one—but Superman: Red Son fell far short of my expectations. – James

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

My least favorite book this year was “Station 11” by Emily Mandel.  I know a lot of people that loved that one but I don’t like switching from one timeline to another. I remember finishing the book which is unusual for me to do if I don’t enjoy the first 51 pages but apparently it held my attention enough that I wanted to finish the story. – Debbie

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