Top 10 Books of 2020: Number 2

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, published in 2016. Her second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, was good, but having read it right on the heels of Homegoing, I much, much preferred the first. This book is incredibly engrossing, and I found myself wanting to read just one more chapter while also wanting to save and savor it.

The book follows two daughters of one woman – they don’t know each other, and they never will. One daughter is captured and taken to America as a slave. The other marries a British official and stays in Africa. Each chapter that follows is a story from one of their descendants, ending many generations later. Because of this structure, Homegoing almost works like a series of short stories with a theme, rather than a cohesive novel. Nevertheless, I loved this book. Part of it is definitely because I find myself wondering what happened to characters after the novel ends – and this book repeatedly scratches that itch for me. Sometimes, the lives of the characters improve and their descendants are better off, but often, they’re worse off or face consequences their ancestors never intended.

That’s another thing I loved about this book – sure, it’s sweet and romantic when two characters abandon their settled lives to start fresh where no one knows them. But when the story picks up with their daughter, we find that while the couple was happy, their circumstances have been dire for many years – so much so that no one wants to marry the daughter because they believe she’s cursed. Consequences abound when a story has to carry over multiple generations. But the stories are both heartbreaking and satisfying.

I’ll be honest, I don’t tend to gravitate towards novels about African culture. I have relatively little understanding of it, and I probably wouldn’t have picked this on my own if it weren’t for Barnes and Noble choosing Transcendent Kingdom as one of their book club picks. But I am so glad that I read this book. It was so well done, from start to finish.

Read Homegoing. You won’t regret it.

Top Books of 2020: Number 3

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is the retelling of the goddess, character from the Odyssey, underrated daughter of Helios. I love the idea of myths, however, I’m not super well-versed in them. This book gave the feel of a myth, while not feeling unwieldy or hard to understand. The scale of it felt both epic and satisfying, and I’d love to read Miller’s other mythological themed book The Song of Achilles.

What I really enjoyed about this book is that Circe, while immortal and part god, still has a lot to learn, and she does throughout the course of the book. Circe has some really good character growth – while Circe doesn’t exactly start out unlikeable, she transforms from a naive girl whose punishment makes her easy to pity, into a clever force to be reckoned with.

While it’s probably a more engaging story if you’ve read the Odyssey, being familiar with it isn’t a requirement to enjoy this book. It’s quite fun on it’s own.

For having very memorable characters, and an epic story that spans continents and generations, Circe makes my top 10 at number 3.

Top 10 Books of 2020: Number 4

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

I suspect that this one of Scalzi’s lesser-known novels. He has a couple bigger series, and wrote Redshirts, which is a novel that parodies shows such as Star Trek. (Okay, it mostly parodies Star Trek. But it’s a brilliant book.)

Agent to the Stars is fairly self-explanatory. Tom is a Hollywood agent to a few c-list celebrities, when he’s offered the opportunity of a lifetime – to represent the first alien actor on Earth. But here’s the catch: the yherjk aren’t exactly easy to sell. They’re extremely foul-smelling blobs – friendly, sure, but not exactly America’s Next Top Alien.

One thing I appreciate about Scalzi’s writing is that for being a sci-fi writer, his books are extremely approachable. He doesn’t get caught in the weeds with high tech detail that average folks like me don’t understand. It’s sci-fi that is very readable, and I love him for it. He’s also cheeky, in a way that kind of reminds me of Terry Pratchett.

So it always disarms me when Scalzi pulls a hard turn and suddenly the story becomes poignant and thoughtful.

I listened to this novel via Audible, and let me say, it feels like a great choice. Wil Wheaton is a great narrator, and does Scalzi’s books justice.

Because it was a great, engrossing read (listen) and one of the most straight up fun reads for me this past year, Agent to the Stars makes my top 10 list at number 4.