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

The Foundation

A good friend of mine made a recommendation that a good way to start this blog would be to let you know what my favorite novels are – a way to share what has inspired me the most.

The books below shaped my viewpoints of the world, myself, and everyone around me and provided such beautiful storytelling that I’ve been unable to forget. There is no clear algorithm for what type of book will resonate with me. Sometimes it’s the gorgeous prose, other times it’s just a unique and interesting story, and often it’s that I’ve fallen deeply in love with a character and cannot let go or move on.

I urge you to come at this with an open mind. Some are controversial novels, so take them for what they are. I will also warn that some have violent, graphic, and disturbing content, so please read through the description before buying. 

Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis

Seems appropriate to begin this list with the book that inspired the name of my blog – Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. I read this book in college (and all of the Bret Easton Ellis books) at the recommendation of a friend. That friend will always hold a special place in my heart for introducing me to my favorite author. This book imprinted on my soul and the Ciera who finished the book (in about a day) was not the same girl who first opened the cover – mainly centered around my now steadfast principle of wearing nothing but Wayfarers. 

I followed the main character, Clay, through what can only be described as one hell of a journey you would never expect and can absolutely predict. I couldn’t help but embrace the world of juvenile drugs, parties, and unfulfilling personal connection. As Clay moved through his visit back home to California, I felt his sadness, loneliness, and despair as he realized nothing around him would stay the same. You will walk away from this novel with a different viewpoint of the world around you.

Over the years, this book has remained at the top of my “favorites” list and it’s not going anywhere. The phrases “people are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles” and “Disappear Here” will have entirely new meanings once you’ve made it through this novel. 

Buy Less Than Zero here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

You will not find another book or story like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Situated during the time of Hilter’s rise in Europe, this book dives into the life of two boys who change the (fictional) world. This story had me laughing, crying, and falling in love from beginning to end, and really is a no brainer for my Foundations list. It’s a bit longer than most on this list, but it won’t feel that way when you’re reading. You will be begging for more once you’ve read the last page. (Luckily, there’s enough Chabon titles out there to go around.) 

Buy The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

You may struggle at the beginning to keep up with the unique style of writing in A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. But, by the end, you will feel a mix of love and hate toward the main character, Alex, and find yourself easily moving through the pages. The flow of the ideas throughout this novel will lead you to question the institutions imposed on us, especially the institutions meant to tame the “criminals” among us. You will be itching for a trip to the milk bar and adorning a bowler hat by the time you turn the last page. 

Every time I read this one I learn something new, experience something unique. It’s worth every moment I’ve spent absorbed in the words of this novel (and the movie is pretty spectacular, as well). 

Buy A Clockwork Orange here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (AKA Being Flynn) by Nick Flynn

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City // Being Flynn by Nick Flynn is another book that left a lasting mark in my life. Having also grown up without my biological father present, I relate on a personal level to the author’s struggle to reconnect with his father. This is the only non-fiction novel on the list, and that’s likely why. The desire to rekindle a lost connection is something I can empathize with and have danced with the idea myself. A child’s desire (no matter how old they are) to be loved by their mother and father will never completely fade. We all do, hopefully, reach the age where understanding the reality will overshadow the childish need for connection, but it’s still a very real feeling we all struggle with in some form or another. This experience is displayed perfectly in Nick Flynn’s biography. 

I’m not sure if this novel will impact others in such an intimate way, but regardless it’s a gorgeous story of second chances. 

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

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

At this point I’m probably really racking up on the “banned books” theme, and I won’t stop here. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov effected me in a different way. For full disclosure, this is a story, at the heart, about child molestation, but as you read through you see that it is so much more. At times, it can be difficult to stomach what the flowery language is describing, but the cadence is captivating. I often find myself reading passages from Lolita out loud to really hear how the words sound. Like most of the books on this list, I read this while in college. I’m beginning to think I did most of my impactful reading while walking the halls of UNC Charlotte. 

Definitely one of the more (but definitely not most) controversial books on this list, the writing is beautiful, the story is heart wrenching. A good follow-on read is The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by Sarah Weinman. It provides a historical and in-depth look into the creation of the novel. If you enjoy Lolita, you’ll find this one interesting, as well. 

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

Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey by Chuck Palahniuk

I’m going to be completely honest with you, after reading two or three times I’m still not sure I completely understand Rant. Chuck Palahniuk builds a completely overwhelming and insane story that is somehow also logical and systematic, the writing like silk flowing from one outrageous scene to the next. The switching of narrators does get confusing at the beginning, but as you learn each person’s tone and voice it starts to flow easier. 

This book is on the list, not because of any emotional connection, but because what Palahniuk accomplishes in creating this one-of-a-kind world and story is something I think every reader should experience. I will also make a plug for all Palahniuk novels – I have yet to read one I didn’t enjoy. 

Buy Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

I know, I know, (Bret Easton Ellis again). This book is vile and terrible and how could I POSSIBLY have it on my list of favorite novels!?! My answer – only Bret Easton Ellis could write a story like American Psycho in such a confusingly engaging way. This story is horror literature at it’s finest, and I’m not even sure if that is how Ellis would categorize it. I could not sleep after reading this novel, and I still only revisit if the sky outside is bright and sunny. Written as a satire against male-ego driven society, it points out very real and terrifying possibilities.

I will say the largest change I saw in my life after reading this one is being more aware of how 95 percent of the time, the person you are talking to is not listening. Patrick Bateman and his colleagues personify what a sociopath and/or psychopath really looks like. And they remind you … they are among us. The scariest people are likely the ones who seem perfectly normal and successful.  

The underlying story here, the satire and humor (although very dark) is all consuming. The few times I’ve read this one, it’s been a cover to cover event. Full disclosure – there are two specific chapters I now skip every time I read because they haunt my nightmares – no, I will not tell you which ones. I have experienced them once and that is plenty for a lifetime. I will say, that is a testament to Ellis’s writing and how real his stories feel. 

Because of this novel, and Less Than Zero, I will read everything written and published by Ellis, no questions asked. 

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

P.S. – If you are a fan of Bret Easton Ellis and want to hear more about the “making of” his novels and life, read his most recent book White

The House of Night Series by P.C. and Kristen Cast

There are 12 books in the House of Night Series by P.C. and Kristin Cast – the first being Marked. These are the epitome of young adult fantasy literature. If you love teenage drama, mixed with vampires and the end of the world – this series is absolutely for you. 

I’m currently reading the whole series for the second time. It’s a different experience as a 30-year-old woman than it was as a high school teenager, but it’s still a fun read. It’s also easy flowing and nice to read if you don’t have a lot of time or brain power (shoutout to my fellow parents). This series also provides a unique take on the vampire myth, which I always find entertaining. 

Buy the first book in the series, Marked, here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Probably one of the most “classic” on the list, I first read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury on recommendation of Georgia Hardstark of the My Favorite Murder Podcast. It did not disappoint. Unfortunately, there are a lot of parallels in today’s world with this science fiction masterpiece, which definitely impacted my perspective a good bit. There is no humor here, only destruction and heartbreak, but it’s gorgeous. This novel – or collection of interconnected stories – will change how you interact with the people and world around you. It will bring to light the terrible effect we have on this world, and likely in the future, other worlds as well. 

Buy the Martian Chronicles here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

No list of my favorites would be complete without The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. As you can imagine, reading this series as a kid changed my life. I had a safe place to hide in these books. I remember reading through each book in one sitting, waiting up until midnight on book release nights, and, of course, all of the midnight premieres of the movies. I often find myself wishing I could be the girl dressed in her best Gryffindor attire as she waits for the midnight reveal of Prisoners of Azkaban. That girl was happy and present and did not have a single care or stress in the world. That’s what these novels do for me. 

I know most of you have read these at this point, but if you haven’t it really is a journey worth taking.