The One That Looks Back at 2020

Throughout 2020, and most of 2019, I went on a bit of a personal journey where I moved out of the fog of motherhood and began to discover things I love all over again. Everyone prepares you for the sleepless nights, the non-stop diaper changes, and everything else that comes along with being a mom. But no one prepares you for how you almost forget what your hobbies are, what you enjoy doing in your “you” time that refills you. 

It started in December 2018 when I realized it had been too long since I read a book. I made a goal to read 20 books in 2019, and – to my surprise – I stuck to it and surpassed my goal. I kept pace for 2020 (already passing my goal of 20 books). I was somehow juggling work, being a mom (to human and fur babies), and making time for something I enjoy. It felt empowering.

Then came Summer 2020 when I decided to pick up a hobby I had in college – blogging. Now, I’ll admit I don’t write or post as much as I want to (reference notes above about work and motherhood), but it has still been so much fun writing, discovering #bookstagram, and once again finding time in my days to do something for me. 

I know 2020 has been an extremely difficult and heartbreaking year, but in all of this time we’ve been spending at home, I’ve had a chance to discover who Ciera is again. That is at least one positive. 

So – let’s look back at 2020 and all of the adventures I went on. 

The One That Comforted Me Through Hard Times ..

When the pandemic first sent us all home in March, I needed something easy and fun to read. Something that could distract from the craziness of the world while also guaranteeing I would not end up sobbing at the end of the book. Re-reading one of my favorites from high school was a comfort move on my part, and it worked out well. 

I was a little concerned The House of Night Series (I read Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted, and Tempted) wouldn’t be as enjoyable to read as the first time through, but I was wrong. It had been long enough that I had a general idea of where the story was going but was still surprised as the story unfolded. 

Zoey Redbird, her native American heritage, and new popularity/importance at The House of Night, a school for young fledglings (baby vampires), took me on a wonderful journey and brought me comfort during a very unsure time. While I only read a handful of the books in the series, I plan to finish in 2021.

The One That Pulled Me In On Page One ..

If you haven’t read The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness get in your car and go buy it immediately. The remaining books in the trilogy are still on my TBR, but this was one of the fastest “pulled-me-in” moments of the year for me. Full disclosure – slap a hot, possessive vampire into a story and I am ALL OVER that. A friend of mine calls it my “vampire porn.” Think Twilight, True Blood, etc. 

Throw a truly powerful witch, who doesn’t even know how powerful she is into the mix and it’s the perfect concoction.  

I can’t wait to follow Diana and Matthew into the past in the remaining books of the All Souls Trilogy in 2021 (starting to feel like most of my 2021 reads will be sequels to 2020 favorites). Because I’m terrified of spoilers, I’m waiting until I’m done with the trilogy before jumping into the television show. 

The One I Will Not Be Recommending ..

There are two answers here. First, The Collector by John Fowles, which was so off-putting I couldn’t get past page ~50. This starts with a man stalking and kidnapping a girl. Not completely out of my wheelhouse of plot lines. However, the narrator is the kidnapper, which gave me the creeps all over. I’m not sure why this particular novel elicited a negative reaction – enough to make me stop reading the book. This hasn’t been the case before with books like Lolita by Vladimir Nobakov, which is one of my favorite novels and is similarly disturbing. 

The second book I won’t be recommending is The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk. This was the first of his novels I didn’t enjoy (see review here), but overall it didn’t hit the mark as a thriller. But, don’t worry, I won’t be writing Palahniuk off my list of favorite authors. He’s dazzled me enough with my favorites like Rant and Choke that I’ll still be stalking the “P” section at the bookstore waiting for his next release.

The One That Stole The Show ..

You are likely tired of hearing me rant about Betty by Tiffany McDaniel at this point, but it’s a beautiful book and it remains at the top of my list (see review here and discussion post here). If I were to rewrite some of my early blog posts where I list out my favorite novels, something on there would likely be replaced with Betty

The story of a young Native American girl and the struggles she encountered within her family and from pure prejudice in her community was so riveting and powerful, I think it will remain on my top 10 list for the rest of my life. Reading the story through the eyes of a young girl who witnessed racism, death, rape, psychosis (in others), and more in a lyrical, almost poetic, way changed my life. It created within me a new idea of what perseverance and strength are. If Betty can survive and flourish following everything she experienced – there’s nothing I can’t handle. 

For context, while this is a fiction novel it was based on the author’s mother’s childhood, which creates so much power behind the words. 

In 2020 I read:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Junkyard Cats by Faith Hunter (on Audible)

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast 

Betrayed by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Chosen by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Untamed by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Hunted by P.C. and Kristin Cast

Tempted by P.C. and Kristin Cast

White by Bret Easton Ellis

City of Glass by Cassandra Claire (on Audible)

Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer – Review Here

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell – Review Here

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel – Review Here and Discussion Post Here

The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk – Review Here

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson – Review Here

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens – Review Here

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – Review Here

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce – Review Here

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

Let’s Talk About It – Betty by Tiffany McDaniel


There are spoilers in the post below. If you haven’t read Betty, talk a look at my book review here, which is spoiler free. 

Book club has come and gone, and I still want to talk about Betty by Tiffany McDaniel. This book has so much to unpack and discuss. I’m not doing it justice with just a simple book review. If you haven’t read Betty, I cannot recommend it enough. This book will change your life. 

I could sit here and write for ages about all of the different elements of this novel, but for the sake of time (and attention span), I’m going to focus on three that stood out to me. Depending on your background and experiences, you may have walked away from the book with different thoughts on Betty’s story, and I would love to hear from you and talk about it. The layers of Betty are so many that, like following roots from a tree, no one comes out in the very same place or has the same path.. That’s what is so beautiful about it. 

The Journey from Girl to Woman

Each woman in this novel considers her transition to womanhood differently. For most of the women this revolves around losing their virginity and how the loss of childhood or innocence brings you fully into adulthood. The problem with this idea, as is seen many times throughout the novel, is that womanhood can be thrust upon you without your consideration or consent. 

Betty’s mother, Alka, is forced into womanhood when her father rapes her. I see this more as a forcible removal of her innocence, which in turn can transition to her shifting from girl to woman. Alka’s father removed her ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. 

Alka no longer has a flowery vision of the world, and she ensures that her daughters do not either. It’s hard to stomach the stories she tells and the way she talks to her daughters, but it’s almost as if she’s trying to prepare them for something she knows is coming – heartbreak. 

Much like her mother, Fraya doesn’t have a choice when her brother Leland rapes her, ultimately causing her to grow up faster than any of her other siblings. She is taking care of her younger siblings like she is their mother (often criticized by their mother for it) and even terminates a pregnancy with the bark of a tree at a young age.

Flossie, Betty’s other sister, makes casual mention of the boy who took her virginity, who told Flossie she owed him. But with Flossie it’s almost as if she expects this, like somehow being raped is how a girl properly loses her virginity. To me, this is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the sexual violence throughout – most of the woman accept this as the standard and what should be expected and experienced. 

“My sister was just another girl doomed by politics and ancestral texts that say a girl’s destiny is to be wholesome, obedient, and quietly attractive, but invisible when need be. Nailed to the cross of her own gender, a girl finds herself between the mother and the prehistoric rib, where there’s little space to be anything other than a daughter who lives alongside sons but is not equal to them. These boys who can howl like tomcats in heat, pawing their way through a feast of flesh, never to be called a slut or a whore like my sister was.” (Betty, p. 279)

Betty, despite being the youngest and, one would naturally assume, the most impressionable, doesn’t accept the prevalent rape and sexual assault as her own fate. She’s telling this poetic story, and very clearly influenced by her family around her. We see her try to change the color of her hair and cake on make-up to try and make herself look like her siblings. But, when it comes abusive from men, she refuses to give in to the standard or what her mother and sisters would probably argue is inevitable. 

Betty stands strong and decides her own path, from standing up for herself when confronted by her principal to telling the young boy “no” when he tries to touch her breast. We see her journey to womanhood, not through one traumatic incident that yanks her away from childlike innocence, but throughout a personal voyage through individual lessons, stories, events, and ultimately coming to grips with the reality of her family. 

The most stark example of this transition, in my opinion, is when she finally confronts her brother, Leland, and tells him she knows he raped Fraya and he had no right to use her like that. She threatens him with a shotgun, reveals that his biological father is really the grandfather, and eventually scares him off so that he never returns. In this moment we see her finally use her voice to confront the demons in her family. 

Her bravery, strength, and refusal to lie and hide away the secrets of the past are powerful and inspiring. 

Taking It to the Grave

Secrets. They are sprinkled throughout the pages, but we begin to see a change in Betty as she decides not to take the stories of her family – the lies, the secrets, and even the happiness – to the grave with her. She sees the impacts secrets have on those around her and the damage that can be done. 

Most apparent are Alka and Fraya. Alka held the secret of the rape by her father, and the aid of her mother in these endeavors, close to her chest her entire life, but she decided to tell Betty. It brings perspective and protectiveness for Betty and how she interacts with and takes care of her mother. She sees this woman, who has endured the unimaginable, begin to unravel. 

Then, of course, there are the secrets Fraya kept close – Leland constantly raping her and the forced abortion that almost took her life. Fraya, despite a few moments where she understandably falls apart, is one of the most resilient characters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She did not let these pieces of her life become her whole existence. She moved away from home, got a job, wrote songs, and, in the end, was talking about leaving their small town in Ohio behind to start a new life. Although Betty never helped Fraya confront the truth about Leland when she was alive, Betty promises to tell her story in the end. 

“‘The only guilty one is you. And one day, when I write this story, you’ll open the book and find small slivers of mirror. Not everywhere, just over the names I’ve given the devil. When you collect the slivers and out them together, it’ll be your reflection that you see…’” (Betty, p. 441)

Loss and Heartbreak

The last topic I felt couldn’t be ignored is the constant presence of death, loss, and heartbreak throughout this novel. Aside from the rape and prejudice and racism throughout, there is so much death. Betty seems to be constantly saying goodbye to family members from her infant siblings she never met to her brother and sisters to a grandfather she hated. 

This is where Landon Carpenter, Betty’s father, really shines through. He dedicated his life to his family. He met a woman in a cemetery, thought he got her pregnant, and in that moment just decided it was his job and he would love them and care for them until the day he died. Other than Betty, he is the most spectacular person in this story. Watching the relationship between Betty and her father develop is so amazing to watch. He holds her up and I think, ultimately, he’s how she makes it through to the end – growing stronger along the way. 

“‘When I took a step forward, the hands took it with me. I realized then that the whole time I thought I’d been walking alone, my father had been with me. Supportin’ me. Steadyin’ me. Protectin’ me, best he could. I know I had to be strong enough to stand on my own two feet. I had to step out of my father’s hands and pull myself up out of the mud. I thought I would be scared to walk the rest of my life without him, but I know I’ll never really be without him because each step I take, I see his handprints in the footprints I leave behind.’” (Betty, p. 452)

Betty loses her brother Trustin, sister Fraya, sister Flossie, and her father Landon – all while trying to find her place in the world. Her whole world was crumbling around her and somehow she came out at the end stronger and more resilient. She is someone I hope to be like. I will spend the rest of my life trying to be more like Betty. 

Have you read Betty? Let me know what stood out to you about the novel. This is definitely one I will be talking about for years to come.

Book Review – Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed. 

A simple review wasn’t enough for this one. Betty needs her own playlist, which you can find here on my Spotify. 

Reading the novel Betty by Tiffany McDaniel is akin to undergoing a spiritual and emotional awakening. The stories woven into these pages are mythical and terrifying but somehow also beautiful and uplifting. You watch a young girl “come of age against the knife” but somehow instead of being broken into pieces, she’s built stronger with each turned page. 

Every time I was pulled away from reading Betty’s story, I could not stop thinking about her in our moments apart. Even now, after finishing the novel, I think about where she is now, how did the rest of her life play out? I want to know her. I want to surround myself with people like her. But, most of all, I want to be more like her. 

“What it boiled down to was a frenzied hope that there was more to life than the reality around us. Only then could we claim a destiny we did not believe was our own.”

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel, page 133

This journey captures the feminine experience, being at the disposal of the men and the world around you, with lyrical and heart wrenching prose. However, it still allows space for men who lift women up. The balancing act between true evil and goodness, and everything in between, is so spectacularly done when describing the various men (and women) Betty encounters; I’m not sure any author could begin to compare. I felt Betty’s pain. I felt her mother’s pain. I felt her sisters’ pain. And I wanted to hold them, and tell them everything would be okay. In them, I saw my friends, sisters, mom, and every woman I have had the pleasure of knowing who have experienced pain throughout their lives. 

Tiffany McDaniel does not stray away from the violence inflicted on women throughout our lives from family members and friends and men in positions of power. She shows that it’s not the color of your skin or the money you make or the profession you have chosen – at the end of the day you are either good or evil and there is no inbetween. You either have a soul nestled in the bridge of your nose or you don’t have one at all. 

I cannot recommend this novel enough. Go, now, to your closest (local) bookstore and pick this one up. Clear your schedule and grab a box of tissues. You have not read poetry until you have experienced the words written on these pages and the stories they tell. 

Buy Betty here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

Have you read Betty? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment or send me a message letting me know what you thought of the novel.