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Best and Worst Books of 2020: What I Read This Year

I find few things as exciting as perusing the shelves for my new favorite book...and my children feel the same way.

As a writer, photographer, creative, I have some inborn need to document my life. As a kid it was journals and stories, and art. As a teen, angst-filled writing and photos…in my late 30’s blogging, photography, and videos…For years I have dreamed of tracking my reading and Good Reads makes it easier than ever. The last two years I have also tracked it on Instagram. Well here it is, every book I read in 2020.*

*Okay, I am actually pretty sure I missed a few, and I don’t count books I have read to Apollo or the other kids for school. This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

You also may want to to check out my post: Tips on How to Read More Books.

A list of Every Book I read in 2020.

Memoirs I Read in 2020

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Dying, and Disaster by Sara Kransnosein

This book is definitely not for everyone. It involved a crime scene cleaner and deals with issues of domestic violence, prostitution, and the rougher side of life. I enjoyed this book both for the crime scene cleaning information and the compassion I gained for the subject.

Raising Ryland

Raising Ryland

This is actually the second time I have read this book about Ryland Whittington and his story of transitioning (as a preschooler) from female to male. Personal opinions aside (I don’t think they are relevant here) this is a well-written and interesting story of one family’s journey through raising a transgender child.

Black Wave by John and Jean Silverwood

From Amazon:

“Successful businessman John Silverwood and his wife, Jean, both experienced sailors, decided the time was right to give their four children a taste of thrilling life on the high seas. And indeed their journey aboard the fifty-five-foot catamaran Emerald Jane would have many extraordinary and profound moments, whether it was the peaceful late-night watches John enjoyed under the stunning celestial sky or the elation shared by the whole family at the sight of blissful pods of dolphin and migrating tortoises.”

What could possibly go wrong? A storm, a shipwreck, and near-fatal injury to name three…a great true adventure story of a family traveling together. Forget Swiss Family Robinson and read about a real family who lived through a real shipwreck.

The Unexpected Mother: A Surrogate Mother, Caught Between Science, the Law, and Humanity by Susan A Ring

This book was…interesting. In the way train wrecks are interesting.

In a nutshell, author Susan Ring was becoming a surrogate for the second time. She unexpectedly got pregnant with triplets, the intended parents wanted her to “reduce” her pregnancy (which she did…to twins). The intended parents decide they don’t want the babies, and Ring fights legally to become their legal “mother”. I am a sucker for memoirs, especially if they include one of my favorite things (BABIES) but this book?

I hesitate to leave a bad review for any type of personal memoir (though I made a real-life friend that way once) this one is bad.

Ring comes off as whiney, entitled, and mentally unstable. After this roller-coaster ride of a story, she went on to be a surrogate again! Who are these people approving her?

This book is a good reminder of why we should never treat children as pawns…

I would not recommend this book.

I Walked the Line

Hello, My Name is Johnnhy Cash

I read this book because Apollo went through a stage earlier this year where he was really into Johnny Cash. He had watched the movie Walk the Line and suddenly wanted to know everything about Johnny Cash. Unfortunately, I could only find one kids book about Cash, Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. He loved it so much that for weeks I read it to him every night before bed.

Anyway, I Walked the Line was mostly just letters written between Vivian Cash and Johnny. Not only did this make for a pretty boring read, I feel like it was a bit unfair to publish private letters written between a couple after one person is dead and unable to give consent. So skip this one, and go for the kids book instead.

Being Lolita by Alisson Wood

Being Lolita by Alisson Wood

If you have never read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, don’t. If you have, you can probably guess the subject of this book. Honest, heartbreaking, and sickening.

Don’t Wait Up: Confessions of a Stay-at-Work Mom

This is the story about a woman from a rough background, who never imagined herself as a mother. Once she had a couple of kids she struggled to come to terms with motherhood. Not a bad book, but one I couldn’t relate to because I’ve always wanted to be a mom…To be fair, I’m not her target audience. If you are, you might enjoy the book (knowing you’re not alone).

Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normal Avoid Books with Words Like “Journey” in the Title

Black Widow Memoir

Speaking of memoirs and tragedies, Leslie Streeter (unlike Susan Ring) is able to write about her personal tragedy minus the melodrama and whining. And bonus? Streeter is hilarious.

Streeter and her husband are in the middle of the legal process of adopting their infant son when her husband suddenly drops dead with no warning (um, while they were making out…for real). Left with a foster baby (to whom she has no legal right) and suddenly a widow, Streeter has to learn how to re-envision her life, alone.

This was one of the best books I read in 2020.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever

Any of you who have read my post Jesus Didn’t Call Me to Raise a Nice Christian Family will understand my affection for this book. There is plenty that author Jamie Wright and I don’t agree on. Wright is painfully honest, irreverant, and absolutely hilarious. This book isn’t for everyone. Personally, I am not a fan of Christians swearing. I guarantee my mom (love you, Mom) would be horrified by some of the things Wright says, but for someone who, more than once, had had to call the police to her own home and had a child locked up in a looney bin, this was a breath of fresh air.

This was actually my second time reading book. The first time was years before, when I was still a Nice Enough Christian to be horrified. Now, I know real faith, and following Jesus is downright messy, and it’s not my place to judge the very worst missionary or any one else for that matter.

Thank God. Literally.

Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living

Meet the Frugalwoods

I am definitely a sucker for books about minimalism, simplicity, and drastic life changes, so I enjoyed this. I had no idea until I read the book that Frugalwoods: Financial Independence and Simple Living is a popular blog.

The Big Tiny: A Build-It-Myself Memoir

The Big Tiny

As I mentioned above, I love books about drastic (perhaps crazy) moves in the name of simplicity, so of course I loved this book about a woman who build (wiht her very own hands) a tiny home on wheels.

You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too

I honestly wasn’t a fan of this book. There was nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t contain anything new for me.

A Beautiful Terrible Thing: A Memoir of Marriage and Betrayal

A Beautiful Terrible Thing

The title saysit all a memoirof marriage and betrayal. I actually listened to this as an audiobook as I sorted LEGO bricks (my othre favorite hobby). It was fine to listen to while sorted, but not a book I would choose to read (or listen to) again.

True Crime I Read in 2020

The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the Thirteen Turpin Siblings by John Glatt

You can read my full review of the book here.

This book is well-written and while I learned some new details about the Turpin family and how their life and marriage began, I am left with even more questions than I started with. Worth the read? Yes. Going to answer your burning question of why? Of how no one noticed? Of what was going on in the heads of the Turpin parents? Nope.

Torture Mom: A Chilling True Story of Confinement, Mutilation, and Murder

torture mom

About 3/4 of the way through this book I found myself wondering why in the world I was reading a story about people torturing (to death) a teenage girl. But I’m no quitter, so I forced myself to read the entire thing. I’m going to leave the Amazon description below.

In July 1965, teenagers Sylvia and Jenny Likens were left in the temporary care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a middle-aged single mother and her seven children. 

The Baniszewski household was overrun with children. There were few rules and ample freedom. Sadly, the environment created a dangerous hierarchy of social Darwinism where the strong preyed on the weak. 

In October 1965, the body of Sylvia Likens was found in the basement of the Baniszewski home, where she had been imprisoned. She was starved, beaten, burned and had the words “I am a prostitute and proud of it” carved into her stomach. 

Gertrude Baniszewski oversaw and facilitated the torture and eventual murder of Sylvia Likens. While she played an active role in Sylvia’s death, the majority of the abuse was carried out by her children and other neighbourhood youths.

The case shocked the entire nation and would later be described as “The single worst crime perpetuated against an individual in Indiana’s history”.

The emphasis in bold text is mine. This is probably what fasicnating me so much about the book…how teens were encouraged to beat and torture Sylvia and no one stood up to say it was wrong or report it to police.

A chilling book about a horrific true story.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

I'll Be Gone In the Dark

You have probably heard Michell McNamara’s name by now. She was a true crime journalist who was determined to hunt down the Golden State Killer. McNamara ran the True Crime Diary website where shhe spent a decade of her life piceing together clues on this case. Sadly, she died of cancer shortly before the case broke wide open and the Golden State Killer was caught.

The Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three

The Devil's Knot

I have always been a cynic at heart, so I’ll admit was not impressed to hear that some big name hollywood celeberies were backing the “West Memphis Three” and trying to get them out of prison where they were locked up for the murder of three eight-year-old boys. Sure, I love me some (young) Johnny Depp as much as the next gal, but that doesn’t mean I care that he believed so strongly that these three young men were innocent that he advocated for their release.

The Devil’s Knot clearly tells the story of how three teens in a small town were accused (and convicted) of murder soley on the testimony of one of the three teens, Jessie Misskelley Jr. There was not a shred of physical evidence to connect any of the three to the crime.

Misskelley has a low IQ that has been measured between 72-74. Brenden Dassey (of The Making of Murderer fame) has an IQ of 70, just for some reference.

Psychiatry.org defines Intellectual Disability (the new term for mental retardation) like this:

“A full scale IQ score of around 70 to 75 indicates a significant limitation in intellectual functioning.”

In addition to a low IQ, 17-year-old Misskelley was interrogated for 12 hours, without his parents or a lawyer present. He finally “confessed” to the murders, implicating Damon Echols and Jason Baldwin. Nevermind the fact that his confession didn’t match the crime scene, how the boys were killed, or the time frame. Misskelley, eager to please and wanting to go home, eventually repeated the information he was fed by police and confessed.

Let me tell you, this is one of my biggest fears for one of my children. He, too, has a low IQ and absolutely would “confess” to something if he felt like givng the “right asnwer” meant he could go home, get some food, and be left alone. In addition, my child had neither the vocabulary nor the ability to defend himself.

I give this book 5/5.

American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

American Predator

My Sweet Angel: The True Story of Lacey Spears, the Seemingly Perfect Mom Who Murdered Her Son in Cold Blood

Book review: My Sweet Angel by John Glatt

Click here for my full review of Glatt’s book.

I would recommend this book if you enjoy True Crime.

The Rising: Murder, Heartbreak, and the Power of Human Resilience in an American Town

the Rising

My Daddy is a Hero: How Chris Watts Went from Family Man to Family Killer

My Daddy is a Hero

Wow….what can I say about this one? If you haven’t heard of Chris Watts you either live under a rock somewhere or you are my husband. I pre-ordered this book and read it the day it was released on Kindle.

Chris Watts is a family man who finds a new girlfriend, then murders his pregnant wife and two daughters to free himself for his new “love”. This story got more media than most because Watt’s wife, Shannan Watts, was big deal in her MLM Thrive and therefore an online influencer.

This book is well written and interesting, but also frustrating because Watts tells several conflicting stories of how he killed his wife and daughters. I don’t think anyone other than Watts himself will ever really know what happened.

I would recommend this book if you enjoy True Crime.

The Perfect Father: The True Story of Chis Watts, His All-American Family, and a Shocking Murder

The Perfect Father by John Glatt

And becasue you can never read too many books about fathers who murder their toddlers and wife…here is another book about Chris Wattsh. I am a big John Glatt fan and give this book 5/5 stars.

How Now Butterfly?: A Memoir of Murder, Survival, and Transformation

How Now, Butterfly

Whew…were to begin with this one? I first heard of Paris Lee when I watched the documentary The Family I Had.

This book is written by Charity Lee who’s life suddenly falls apart when she learns her 13-year-old son, Paris, has murdered her four-year-old daugther. Initially he insitsts hew as hallucinating and though she was a demon…slowly, as the years unfold and investigations are made, it is revealed that Paris knew exaclty what he was doing that night and has no remorse.

While the story is compelling, much of the books is just journals written by Charity Lee, which can be boring a redundant. I didn’t really learn anything that I didn’t already know from the documentary.

I wouldn’t recommend this book…if this review piqued your curiosity, watch the documentary instead.

Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties

Member of the Family

The title is pretty much sums it up. This is one of a few books I wish I could unread because there are a few visuals I just can’t get out of my head.

A Killing in Amish Country; Sex Betrayal, and a Cold-Blooded Murder

I genearlly like Gregg Olsen’s books, but did not enjoy this one at all. He co-authored it with Rebecca Morris and it read more like a long newpaper article than book. I would not recommend this book.

Irreparable: Three Lives. Two Deaths. One Story that Has to be Told.

Irreparable

A crazy, wild story, and a good reminder of why not to fall in love with a coworker and have an affair.

If You Tell by Gregg Olsen

The Lost Girls: The True Story of the Cleveland Abductions and the Incredible Rescue…

The Lost Girls

This is a book I actually wish I hadn’t read. Not beause it is poorly written or borning, but because I have too active of an imagination and found the years of abuse hard for me to shake.

I recommend this book…with caution.

If Loving You is Wrong

If Loving You is Wrong

Who doesn’t love a true story about a teach who is impregnanted by her 12-year-old student? Just kidding, really. The story of Mary Kay Letourno. I remember when this story broke in 1997. Gregg Olsen does a great job of sharing this story.

Fiction Books I read in 2020

What Lies Between Us

A really weird, twisted tale of a mother and daughter and their relationship over the years. This books has several unexpected twists and turns.

Rebecca

Rebecca

Rebecca was published in 1930. I don’t normally read fiction, romance, or books this old, but I picked this up on the suggestion of a friend and it was good.

Rebecca was interesting on a couple of levels. First off, we never learn the name of the main character, the woman who is narrating the book. I guarantee Du Maurier did this on purpose. The entire story of focused on Rebecca, the first wife of Mr. Maxim de Winter and the fact that our narrator can never quite live up to Rebecca’s reputation…not to her husband, the staff of their mansion, or any one else.

This book is paced beautifully and it isn’t until the end that we learn why our narrator can’t live up to those expectations…

I definitely recommend this book.

Hannibal

Hannibal by Thomas Harris

Hannibal is book three in the Hannibal Lector series. This book is obviously full of graphic violence. I have enjoyed all of the books in this series.

BTW, did I ever tell you that Silence of the Lambs was the first forbidden movie I watched once I moved out of my parents house? For some reason, they wouldn’t let me watch it…Chuck and I watch it every couple of years, and let me just say, I will never be 100% relaxed in an elevator again.

If It Bleeds

Stephen King’s newest collection of short stories. I enjoyed, but didn’t love this book.

The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand by Stephen King

I am a Stephen King fan, but have also been in the camp of not liking the Gunslinger Series. This book was as dry and boring as the first time I tried to read it, years ago…I really don’t understand people’s passion for this book. 

Dawn by Ocavia E. Butler

Dawn by Olivia E. Butler.

This sci-fi book was orginally title Xeogenesis, which I think is a much better name. I am not likely to pick up a book called Dawn. I heard about Butler’s book on a podcast (I can’t remember which) and immediately downloaded the copy (free on Kindle Unlimited). I am going to post the Amazon description below:

Lilith Iyapo has just lost her husband and son when atomic fire consumes Earth—the last stage of the planet’s final war. Hundreds of years later Lilith awakes, deep in the hold of a massive alien spacecraft piloted by the Oankali—who arrived just in time to save humanity from extinction. They have kept Lilith and other survivors asleep for centuries, as they learned whatever they could about Earth. Now it is time for Lilith to lead them back to her home world, but life among the Oankali on the newly resettled planet will be nothing like it was before. The Oankali survive by genetically merging with primitive civilizations—whether their new hosts like it or not. For the first time since the nuclear holocaust, Earth will be inhabited. Grass will grow, animals will run, and people will learn to survive the planet’s untamed wilderness. But their children will not be human. Not exactly.

This was one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the year and I am currently reading the second book in the series.

Birdbox

Bird Box

I did a full review of the book after watching the horrible Nexflix version. Once again, skip the movie and read the book, it’s a million times better.

Hidden Bodies

The sequel to the novel, You, by Caroline Kepnes. Please, skip the TV show and delve into the mind of serial killer and stalker, Joel Goldberg. My favorite thing about these books is that Goldberg is an unreliable narrator, and you can never quite trust his view of things…

Pandemic by Robin Cook

Pandemic by Robin Cook.

Believe it or not, the first book I read in 2020 was called Pandemic. I’m sorry.

But I have to say, plot wise, Robin Cook’s book was much more interesting and fast moving than 2020 and had a more satifactory ending.

A Game of Thrones: Song of Fire and Ice

I have never seen the TV show, but definitely enjoyed the book. I was worried about all hte graphic, medevial sex I heard the TV show was full of, but the book was pretty tame. As far as sex goes, anyway.

Non-Fiction Books I Read in 2020

The Enchanted Hour is an amazing book about the importance of reading aloud.

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

This book is definitely in the top five books I have read this year. If you are a parent, grandparent, going to be a parent, or work with kids, please read this book.

You can read my full review of The Enchanted Hour here.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gwande

The Checklist Manifesto

“Atul Gawande makes a compelling argument that we can do better, using the simplest of methods: the checklist. In riveting stories, he reveals what checklists can do, what they can’t, and how they could bring about striking improvements in a variety of fields, from medicine and disaster recovery to professions and businesses of all kinds.”

If you have ever perused your medical records and found them full of errors, suspected medical mistakes, or are just absentminded and forgetful like me, you’ll enjoy Gwande’s perspective on how we can make improvements from work to our personal lives with siple checklist.

Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults

Broken Faith

Another favorite topic of mine to read about? Why, cults, of course! This was definitely an interesting read about cult I had not previously heard about. My all-time favorite cult book, though? The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and People’s Temple. Side note, People’s Temple is also my “favorite” cult.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear

Small Animals by Kim Brooks

“One morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision to leave her four-year old son in the car while she ran into a store. What happened would consume the next several years of her life and spur her to investigate the broader role America’s culture of fear plays in parenthood. In Small Animals, Brooks asks, Of all the emotions inherent in parenting, is there any more universal or profound than fear? Why have our notions of what it means to be a good parent changed so radically? In what ways do these changes impact the lives of parents, children, and the structure of society at large? And what, in the end, does the rise of fearful parenting tell us about ourselves?

I find few things as exciting as perusing the shelves for my new favorite book...and my children feel the same way.

In conclusion, I obviously read way too much true crime, and even my taste in fiction drifts to the darker side.

According to Good Reads I read 41 books in 2020, my goal was 35.

My 2021 goal is 45 books.

If you are on Good Reads, feel free to find and friend me. And be sure and leave your reading goals in the comments!

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4 Comments

  1. Nichole

    I love all Atul Gawande’s books, especially “Being Mortal”; but I’ve never read that one. I’ll have to check it out. Two books I read this past year that stood out to me are: “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk about how a person acts and reacts to different types of traumas and “Running on Empty” by Jonice Webb about childhood emotional neglect (I found it interesting from the educational/informational side of it, not so much for the solution side of it). Goals this year are to just start reading on a consistent basis instead of one binge day every other month or so.

  2. Amber

    I always love your book lists. We have similar taste in books. I marked a bunch of these to check out. Have you read any memoirs about polygamy, like Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer? That is my favorite topic to read about.

    • Renee

      Thanks for commenting! For me, polygamy books fall into the “cult” category…so of course, I love them! I haven’t read Shattered Dreams (I’ll check it out) but have read The Sound of Gravel, and several more about that specific sector of FLDS.

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