Books That Got Me Through 2020

The one good thing about 2020 was that I finally found the time to catch up on my rising pile of books. Here are some of the books that got me through 2020.

HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman

2020 was a hellish year. So it would be hardly surprising that the most interesting books that got me through it have been the trilogy, His Dark Materials. Every book in this trilogy was a page-turner. Lyra’s journey throughout the trilogy has been shown in such a vast, fantastic way. And it was not just the fascinating places and characters that she met along the way that made the books gripping. But it was also about the situations where she had to make decisions without complete knowledge of the possible ramifications of each decision. There were parts in Lyra’s journey throughout the trilogy where the saying, “Ignorance is bliss” was apt for her.  

Also, the character growth shown throughout the trilogy was beautiful. The most villainous characters, in the beginning, ended up somewhere in the gray area. I loved the way Philip Pullman showed the dichotomy between reason and passion. The most scientific character with the curiosity to seek more knowledge had a passionate nature. And the most devoted character was shown to be someone who acts with reason while doing the best to avoid clouded emotions. These are the sort of books to read if anyone wants to experience a thousand emotions in about 1200 pages. 

LUCKY MAN by Michael J. Fox

While the world was grappling with the unexpected surge of a viral disease, I read about the legend grappling with an unexpected disease as his career surged aboard the DeLorean. Reading about his journey from childhood to the day that he had to leave Spin City was just so poignant and humbling. From being broke and defeated in LA to when he became a household name to when he had to step back from it all was a rollercoaster of emotions. I have never been as hooked by a memoir before. It was so compelling, reading about him looking back on his childhood and the traits that he carried with him through the future, the emotional struggles that he faced through the years while landing different acting gigs. It truly felt like I was reading a hero’s journey. He did not defeat all the monsters. But he kept fighting through with his comrades by his side.

PRETTY GIRLS by Karin Slaughter 

It had been a long time since I read a mystery thriller, and this book reminded me why. Because the truth is horror genre is thrilling, and the thriller genre is horrifying. The horror genre is generally fantasy-based but, mystery thrillers have a realistic setting making them scarier.

But despite all the nightmares I had after reading this, I would call this book a masterpiece. The way it was written from different character perspectives with letters from their father connecting the dots between chapters was beautiful. It is hard to imagine the amount of research and the kind of mindset that the author must have required to write some of the grueling scenes. But the main thing that had me hooked to the book was the way it began with a personal loss and eventually unraveled a wider net of people responsible for a lot more than that one loss. Also, the way the main character tried to separate her memories and her current insights into someone close to her was gut-wrenching to read. So, to sum it up, it was scary and sad with a punch in my stomach, to say the least.

REMEMBER ME by Mary Higgins Clark 

Is there such a genre as a cozy thriller? Because this was both. It was intriguing, and the way all the characters’ lives wove in with each other made it seem like a cozy small-town mystery. From the woman suffering from Alzheimer’s to the local realtor/childhood friend to the widower to a waitress at a local bar, they were all interconnected with threads that kept weaving chapter after chapter. And, the way the author integrated elements of mental trauma and historical houses of pirates with an intriguing backstory made this book an epic page-turner. It was refreshing to read a crime thriller set in a close-knit community where a character dealing with personal trauma overcomes the killer despite being picked as an easy target. In the end, it was her wit and tenacity that caught the killer and not some amateur sleuth.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman 

A ghostly version of The Jungle Book with a boy raised in a graveyard made this book a fun read. The fact that every chapter was like an episode of a comedic fantasy made it more fun. It showed great adventures that Nobody would take you on.

If I ever recommend a reread, it would be this book. Every chapter had a sweet theme to it. Some were about friendship when the boy met a human visiting the graveyard and a witch buried without a headstone. Some have the theme of revenge when he scares the bullying kids from school or when the villains who killed his living parents came after him and his friend. Some of the chapters had lighthearted themes like celebration through the Dance Macabray or education when he was taught to fade out or made to learn all the sounds of supernatural creatures. If you have read this before, you can crack it open on any page and go on an adventure that Nobody has seen before.

Gritty Girls in a Pretty Pickle

I began 2020 with Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. It has been a while since I have read crime thrillers. And let me tell you this one scared the pants out of me. Estranged sisters, a grieving father, and a perfect husband. It was like a wonderful castle in the air that began shattering piece by piece. Karin Slaughter had me hooked.

I had to know more about the mastermind behind the thriller. I found a podcast where she talked about writing Pretty Girls and her life as an author. 

Now I would love to share some of the juicy nuggets of inspiration.

Thrills & Chills

I always write horror stories with fantasy or science fiction elements induced in it. Personally, I find it easier to create humane monsters than monstrous humans in fiction.

Thriller is about hiding things in plain sight.

– Karin Slaughter, (88 Cups Of Tea)

In the podcast, Karin Slaughter says that she feels anesthetized to shocks as she has read a lot of crime fiction. She also talks to people working in the field for her research. So, crime stories generally don’t shock her. But it does make her feel sad that they are still happening.

On the edge of lightness & dark

When Karin Slaughter is writing about something dark in a book, she balances it with some sort of lightness.

Remember to have a balance between lightness and dark, no matter what story you are writing.

– Karin Slaughter, (88 Cups of Tea)

In the podcast, she pointed out that unrelenting darkness isn’t the kind of book most people read. They want to see the character’s humanity, character’s reaction to the story and see something such as survival.

Flaws are fabulous

As writers, we love putting our characters through the wringer. Sometimes the goodness in them shines. But no character is perfect. As human beings, it is the flaws that make the characters endearing.

Karin Slaughter doesn’t make her characters superheroes since people in real life are a blend of good & bad. There is no perfect person. There is no wholly good & wholly bad person.

Writing Pretty Girls

I read Pretty Girls in 3 days and it has been a long while since a crime thriller book has hooked me this way. The main character Claire was a complicated woman. She is beautiful, thin & athletic, has a wealthy husband. Her life is perfect & you think she is going to be a certain type, but she is a different one. In this book, Karin Slaughter has shown Claire’s prickly side as well.

Characters’ voices should be distinct. No matter which page you open, you should recognize the character from their voice.

– Karin Slaughter, (88 Cups of Tea)

She also needed the beat of the father’s letters as the letters play out at key points in the book that gives clues to the next chapter. What amazed me the most about this book was that she did not have an outline for it, and she had written it in 12 weeks. But she had thought about it for months before writing it.

Writing Pains

We all have our writing pains. So does Karin Slaughter. In the podcast, she mentioned that it’s not the story that’s the hard part. But it’s figuring out how to implement the story & how the characters will express the story.

The key for any writer is figuring out how to express that story through characters that people want to spend time with.

– Karin Slaughter, (88 Cups of Tea)

As readers, we want to find out what the character wants to do next. That’s the difficult part.

Steps to Success

I love different genres whether it is fantasy, slipstream, science fiction, or pure horror. But it has taken me a long time to write my stories without limiting myself to a single genre.

Karin Slaughter loved reading crime fiction. But she didn’t think that she could write crime fiction. So, she was writing historical fiction in the beginning. Everything opened up when she wrote her 1st book. The 1st draft was done in 17 days. But she got a ton of rejections from agents. It crushed her when the historical novel didn’t go through.

Her proudest moments were when she was nominated. Even though she sold a gazillion books, she was always happy to be appreciated. Success for her is being able to tell the stories she wants to tell.

You can check blogs about authors that inspire me:

You can check the whole podcast at 88 Cups Of Tea

Around the century in 360 days

Every year, I try to read books by authors that I had never got the chance to read before. This year, I got the chance to read books by authors spanning from 1920 to 2019. Now, let us dive into the wormhole of the bookish time machine. 

H.P. Lovecraft

This year I read a lot of his works. But the ones that stuck with me were The Call of Cthulhu and The Tomb. I found his writing style to be quite intriguing as it felt like a mishmash of bedtime stories and personal journaling. 

Philip K. Dick

The story Beyond Lies The Wub by Philip K. Dick introduced me to science fiction with a literary beat. A creature talking about not being eaten as dinner. I don’t know if it falls under biology or gastronomy, but this is the most literary science fiction I have read this year. 

Shirley Jackson

I enjoyed reading the book We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson. I loved the way her horror style showed a sense of normalcy. She did not have to create monsters like Cthulhu because the monsters were inside the characters’ thoughts and perceptions themselves. What was normal for the characters in that book would have been horrifying for the readers. 

Ursula K. Le Guin

This year, I read The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. This is the first time that I got a chance to read one of her works. Even though it was published in 1973, the writing has such a dystopian contemporary feel to it.  

Clive Barker

I had never even heard about Clive Barker before I came across the book Abarat. It is a YA fantasy novel where Candy finds a world hidden in the boring Chickentown. It was a fun book to read as Candy went on her adventures and brought me memories of enjoying Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, and Wizard of Oz books.  

Suzanne Collins

I had watched all the Hunger Games movies. But I never got the chance to read the books. So this year, I read the first book in the Hunger Games series. The way it is written from Katniss’s perspective was gripping. The first-person narrative got me hooked as Katniss introduced her world, her challenges, and her dilemma. It was a great book to dive into as the character goes through some scrapes and bruises and not just the ones you would find in a standard YA book. 

There are books written by our favorite authors. Then there are books written in our favorite genres. But there is something surreal about reading books which are written decades apart by different authors. No matter the time or the person, the stories still resonate with us.