Crissi Langwell’s Top 12 Books of 2020

This year, I challenged myself to read 12 books. Of course, I knew I’d blow past that goal since last year I read 92 books. But there was a method to my low-ball reading goal. Last year’s goal had been to read 100 books, and by the end of the year, I realized all the flaws in setting myself up for such a huge reading goal. 

  1. I chose books I knew I’d read fast instead of choosing books I knew I’d enjoy. 
  2. I rushed through reading without savoring stories I loved. 
  3. If someone asked me about a book I read, I couldn’t tell them because my gnat-sized memory couldn’t retain what I’d read!
  4. If a book affected me deeply, I didn’t have the freedom to stop reading and just live in the last book for a while. 
  5. I burned out on reading by the end of the year and gave up on my goal with only 8 books to go. 

Last year’s challenge taught me that I never want to challenge myself to read a certain amount of books again. Still, the part of me that will always love challenges insisted I keep up with Goodreads Reading Challenge, just so I can keep track of the books I read throughout the year. So, to appease my inner control freak, I’ll continue creating reading goals and tracking the books I read through the year. 

That said, in 2020 I read a total of 52 books (so far), and almost all of them were good! There was one book I read twice in a row because I loved it so much. There was another that made me stop reading for at least a week because it hit me so hard in the feels. And a few had me living in their worlds even when I wasn’t reading because I couldn’t stop thinking of them. There is at least one I smuggled to work and read while I was on the clock (okay, maybe more than one). And then there’s the one that changed my life (read to the end for that one).

I’m not going to talk about all 52 books I read this year because that will be a very, very, very long post (you can find all 52 of them here at Goodreads). But I will share about 12 of the books I loved the most in a slightly less long post (it’s still long, lol).

Note: This post includes affiliate links, and every book is my personal choice for this year’s favorites.

Do you have any favorite books you read this year? Share in the comments!

Crissi Langwell’s Top 12 Books of 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens

I’m sure this book tops almost everyone’s list, as it was the best selling novel for both 2019 and 2020. For being Delia Owens’ debut novel, I bow down to the queen. 

At any rate, I read this book at the beginning of the year on the bus ride home from a Reno trip with my work (remember those days when we could do fun things like this???). I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down. I cried tears on that bus ride. I devoured the words. And when I was done reading it, I went right back to page 1 and began reading again….this time, slower. 

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a young girl who’s given a rotten deal in life when, one by one, her family abandons her at a very young age. Young Kya must care for herself, and becomes the subject of folklore about the wild thing living in the swamp.

This novel is a love story, a look at society and prejudice, and a story of resilience. I was changed after I read it. It’s full of rich writing, stirring passages, and gorgeous description. Almost a year later, and I still think of this story. If you haven’t bought into the hype yet, I suggest you do it now. 

Sorrow, by Tiffanie DeBartolo

I read this book recently, and I consider it up there with Where the Crawdads Sing in reference to the emotion just dripping from the pages. Tiffanie DeBartolo may not have the following Delia Owens has amassed, but in my mind, she deserves it. All of her books have left me speechless, surprising me with how much they pull me in, and Sorrow was no different. 

Set in Mill Valley (Tiffanie DeBartolo’s hometown, and a hop, skip, and a jump from my town of Petaluma), the setting of this story was almost like another character. DeBartolo weaves in the trees, the scents, and the small town businesses into a story of a broken man at the end of his rope. Then he meets a woman who is so full of light and mystery, it’s like his soul has been calling for her since before he came into existence. Unfortunately, fate throws a wrench into their love story, and the results are devastating. 

This book had me holding my chest, reading in between projects at work, and staying up late at night so I could finish one more page. Just one more page. It also gave me the best/worst book hangover, preventing me from reading anything else for at least a week while I recovered from this beautifully written heartbreaking love story. This was definitely a book about the human condition, full of weights and pulleys. I predict I’ll re-read this one very soon. 

A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas

Oh Sarah J. Maas, what are you doing to me? Here, just take all my money.

This is the second book of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, and my second time through reading this series. This book is the one that made me realize this wasn’t just a book series, but an object of idolatry. The angst, you guys. I swooned over Rhysand and the whole Night Court. I devoured this book along with the rest of the series. I am counting the days until Book 4 is out. And now I’m reading Maas’s Throne of Glass series while I wait (which I’m also obsessive about). You guys, I even got a half sleeve tattoo of flowers and leaves that makes me feel a tiny bit Feyre

Have you jumped on the the Sarah J. Maas train? Because I’m now a passenger for life. 

No Bad Deed, by Heather Chavez

I was super excited about this thriller from debut novelist Heather Chavez because she’s not only a seriously good writer, but she’s also my friend. Chavez and I worked together for years at our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, and I remember when this novel was just a thought. Then she landed a huge publishing deal and it’s landing on all these book lists, and I couldn’t be happier for her. But more than that, I couldn’t think of a more deserving book to receive so much attention, because it absolutely kept me turning pages. 

No Bad Deed starts with a violent crime in process, witnessed by a mom who intervenes…and may have put her family in jeopardy because of it. The story has so many twists and turns, many you won’t see coming, and all of them making it hard to put the book down. 

Also, remember the name Heather Chavez. She’s currently working on her next thriller, to be released soon. I was lucky enough to be one of her early readers of this upcoming book, and let me tell you, it had me on the edge of my seat.

142 Ostriches, by April Dávila

I’ve known April Dávila since we went to high school together, and both of us have quietly kept up with each other’s writing careers. So when Dávila released her first book, I was more than honored when she asked me to be one of her early readers and be a part of her book tour. I knew she was a talented writer, but I was unprepared for how good 142 Ostriches really was! My attention was caught by the fact that there were ostriches involved. However, the story is so much more. 

Raised on an ostrich farm, Tallulah is just getting ready to spread her wings and leave the family farm when her grandmother dies, leaving the ranch to her. Suddenly, all her dreams for a different life are put on hold as she tries to manage the farm, figure out how to get out of it, and manage a few life complications that include her love life and some family drama. 

Even though this book is named 142 Ostriches, those huge birds are just a fraction of why it’s so good. I found Dávila’s characters to be so believable, and I really loved Tallulah. I savored this book, and I think you will, too. 

Dust, by Hugh Howey

I am admittedly late to the Hugh Howey club, but now that I’m here, I get the hype. I must have had Wool, the first book from the Silo series, for years before I finally read it, and each book of the trilogy was better than the last, which ended with Dust.

If you don’t know, Hugh Howey is kind of a God in the self publishing world. Way back when he was a normal human like the rest of us, Howey worked at a bookstore while writing short stories within his Silo world. He eventually self-published these short stories, and they took off. Like, really took off. The short stories became his book, Wool, followed by Shift, and ending with Dust, which I read this year. Now Howey is traveling the world in his yacht, living every author’s fantasy life. 

Why did Dust make the cut? Because it’s good. Because Howey kept upping the stakes for the characters, making their lives impossibly worse. Because the ending of this book was so beautiful it made me cry. 

I loved this series. And I get why Howey can now afford to sail his yacht around the world. Because this writing master earned it. 

Followers, by Megan Angelo

You know what I love about this book? I love how it addresses all our addictions to social media and reality TV, and talks about the good and bad of it. It also addresses the desire to pull away from it, and how hard that can be. And it’s all done through a very entertaining, interesting, and kind of dark story. 

There are three story lines in this book, and they all intertwine. One is about the wannabe novelist who makes money writing click-bait articles about celebrities (been there, hated that). Another is her friend who managed to gain a huge following based on fabrications. And the third is a woman who grew up in the reality TV spotlight, where the world watches her every move…until she walks away. 

I definitely questioned my own following habits after this one, along with how I use social media. 

The Bright Side of Going Dark, by Kelly Harms

This was another social media eye opener of a story. The Bright Side of Going Dark begins with Mia Powell, a social media influencer with tons of followers, who lives the perfect life on her platform. Her real life, though, is going down the drain. So she takes a break – an unheard of phenomenon with influencers, and begins costing her followers and sponsors. 

Enter Paige, a loner techie who looks down on social media in general. Paige’s sister, however, idolizes Mia to dangerous levels. So Paige quietly hacks Mia’s account to keep it going, with an intention of offering hope to her sister. 

There were many moments when I wanted to hide my eyes as disaster after disaster unfolded. But I also loved how I got to see both sides of the social media influencer coin – how it’s beneficial for followers and influencers, along with how it can be unhealthy. 

Note: One of the characters in my next book is a social media influencer. I definitely learned some things through Harms’ book, and it helped me shape the direction of this character in my own book.

How to Walk Away, Katherine Center

Oh Katherine Center, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

How to Walk Away is the book that started my Katherine Center obsession. I am officially a fan! Center is the queen of romantic comedies, and this one was a perfect introduction to her books. It’s the story of Margaret, a woman who is just about to enter the life she’s been working for – a new job, a new fiance, a new apartment – when she’s in a plane crash that leaves her with a spinal injury that takes her ability to walk. Suddenly, everything she was looking forward to starts slipping away, all while she struggles with her physical limitations. 

You know what I loved about this story so much? Margaret is not some sob story main character. She’s a fighter. She’s funny and likable, and I wanted to kick everyone who wronged her in the balls. 

And then there was the romance… Let’s just say it’s definitely swoonworthy. 

If you’re looking for smart, funny, interesting romance novels, Katherine Center is one author you’ll want to look up. 

Beach Read, by Emily Henry

My favorite part about this novel was the fact that it involved two writers who knew each other before they were famous, and now are in secret competition with each other. I loved how it addressed the paralyzing feeling of long term writers block (been there!), jealousy over other writers’ successes (been there!), and all the low-key ways writers stalk each other to figure out the secret of the other’s success (uh, am I being a little too revealing?). 

My other favorite part was that the story had the perfect amount of angst and sweetness. Plus, it had so many delightful sentences, like “I hoped I looked very pretty, for an overripe tomato.” And also, “when I watch you sleep, I feel overwhelmed that you exist.” 

I think this book released in the summer, and is definitely a beach read, but with substance. There was a ton of wit, and a ton of swoon, which all added up to a really satisfying read. 

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

Confession: I did not enjoy The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern’s first novel. So many people did, but I could not get into it at all. So I kind of dragged my heels when The Starless Sea released. The only reason I picked it up was because one of my friends could not stop talking about it. Through her relentless raves about the book, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try it. 

Holy hell. I wanted to live in this book. 

First off, a warning.

I went into this book blind. So I was a little lost when the book started off with one short story, and was then followed by what seemed to be an unrelated story. And so on. Beautiful stories, but what the heck? 

And then, wham. In one of the stories, the character sees himself in a story he’s reading, and it all begins to make sense. 

This is a story inside of a story inside of a story. 

Sound confusing? It’s not. At least, not the way Morgenstern tells it. I was with her every step of the way as her characters traveled through storylines and created others. And when it ended, I sighed. This was another one of those books that left me with a book hangover, and I don’t regret it one bit. It’s also a book I would read again. 

Oh, and for those who have read it? I officially want a fancy Max of the Wild Things costume. 

The F*ck It Diet, by Caroline Dooner

I end my list of favorite books with The F*ck It Diet, a book that officially opened my eyes to the damage I was doing in the name of diets, and stopped my dieting cycle once and for all. Yes, this is the life-changing book I referred to at the beginning of this post. I read this book on the heels of doing Noom, and ended up so frustrated that all I did was lose the same 10 pounds I always lose when I diet. 

I actually found this book through Instagram when it featured one of Dooner’s posts, which said something along the lines of “You are not alive to just pay bills and lose weight.” It was like a light bulb moment, because all this time I’d been striving for a specific number on the scale, and felt unworthy as a human because I couldn’t lose weight. And I was tired. Tired of failing. Tired of feeling ugly. Tired of feeling worthless. Tired of feeling like I should be doing more but could not find the space to do it. 

You read all these diet books or follow diet influencers, and the message is always about how if something is really important to you, like losing weight, you’ll find a way to make it happen. If you don’t, you obviously aren’t making it a priority. You guys? I have a lot of priorities, and they’re all competing with each other. Weight loss has always been something I want. But feeling hungry and tired from the efforts? It was ruining my life. Not only was I NOT losing weight, but I felt depressed, exhausted, and completely obsessive about food – what I could and couldn’t eat, when I got to eat next, what I’d eat after that, what the person next to me was eating…

The F*ck It Diet was my introduction to intuitive eating, but it started exactly where I needed it to – saying FUCK IT to diet culture. It gave me permission to eat, especially when I was hungry. It showed me that gaining weight is not a crime, nor does it make you less of a person. It doesn’t even make you ugly. 

In the beginning, I basically ate every single thing I was craving. I mean it. All that stuff I “couldn’t” eat before? I ate it. You guys. BREAD. It’s so good. 

I know that sounds terrifying. It was to me, too. But man, did I enjoy it. 

And yes, I gained weight. Not a lot, but enough that I had to go up a pants size. I know that sounds terrifying. Trust me, I’ve had my freak out moments about it. I’ve also felt tempted to go back to dieting to shed the weight. But then I remember how dieting wasn’t working for me before, and how much happier I am to not have all these food restrictions to adhere to. My favorite is when my husband makes me a meal and I can eat everything on my plate. Not just the veggies and protein, but the carbs, too. Sometimes even dessert. It’s magical. 

You know what’s also magical? Having energy. After a couple months of eating anything I want, I’ve lost that weird sluggishness I’ve been carrying around for years. I’m now starting to incorporate exercise back into my life, not to lose weight, but because my body craves movement – and I have the energy to move. 

The biggest change, though, is that I no longer feel obsessed about food. My whole F*ck It Diet binge is now tapering off into something that looks a little more like normal eating. Just knowing that I can eat anything I want makes me not feel the need to eat everything in sight. I can keep a package of cookies in the kitchen without feeling the need to eat all of them. My husband can grab a snack, and I don’t need to steal bites. I’m not worried about what my next meal will be because I’m fully satisfied with food. 

I know this is long, and this book truly deserves its own post, but The F*ck It Diet changed my way of thinking about food and my body, so it has to be on this list. If you’re struggling with diet culture and food issues, this might be worth reading. 

If you made it this far, you’re a champion! I know it’s long, but I hope it helped you find some new books to read. You can also check out my books, which are all available here

Happy reading!

1 thought on “Crissi Langwell’s Top 12 Books of 2020”

  1. I love the realization you came to about setting stretch goals for the sake of hitting a goal for the sake of the goal and how easy it is to lose sight of the purpose along the way or worse, the possibility for some to feel disappointed if they don’t hit it their goals. 92 books and 52 books in back to back years is amazing! That’s more books than most will read in a lifetime!…a valuable lesson for me and others. I read two of these, Where the Crawdads Sing and 142 Ostriches. Loved em both!

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