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Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews

By Popcornandpandas @popcornpandas

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews

Welp, 2020 hit all of us like an unexpected ton of bricks. Between trying to stay safe and healthy with the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning to school at home/homeschool, running a health + fitness business from home, focusing on important movements like Black Lives Matter, trying to keep my family happy and myself mentally For the most part, all is okay. We are safe, healthy, thriving...we have jobs. We have truly tried to be grateful and appreciate what we DO have this year, and it's forced us to look inward at what is most important and WHO is most important. We have done our best to control what we can control and live for those silver linings.

My blog was obviously not a huge priority in the last year. It kinda fell off the wayside when everything hit the fan. In the mode of survival, it just didn't seem essential, and something had to give.

But a year later, we are still here in this pandemic, still doing school at home, still running a business from home, and trying to do all the things, but I've been truly missing this space. I started this blog over 8 years ago as a creative outlet, and this year I want to get back to that. I want to keep this space as a place to fuel that creative spark and passion and to feel excited again. When everything else in life seems overwhelming, I want to have that comfy space to come back to. For you to come back to.

It might look a little different around here. While my love of fashion started this blog, these days I'm living in sweats and I'm not going out to the stores to try things on. But I hope to continue to use this space as a place to relate, create, inspire, and provide value to you as a reader on a variety of topics from mom life, food, creative projects, fitness, health, fashion, books, travel (when we can), entrepreneurial life, and more.

While, I didn't have much time to blog last year, I DID have time to read. Having the kids home day in and day out, we spent a lot of time reading, and it was also a bit of an escape for me when the world got too crazy and overwhelming. Anyone else feel that way? Like, this world is too crazy right now. Lemme just dive into a different world for a bit! I guess it's better than diving into the wine bottle, though I did my fair share of that in 2020 also. What can I say? I'm human.

People always ask how I have time to read? But it's really just like anything else that I would make time for. I make time to work out, to eat healthy, watch a favorite show, work my business...and just the same I PRIORITIZE time to read. Whether it's just 10-15 minutes a busy day...or I don't move off of the couch for 2 hours on a weekend evening (I know, I'm super wild and fun these days haha), I make sure I fit it in, because it brings me joy. For those hoping to read more this year, I suggest starting with a small daily goal and make it a habit...pretty soon it will be routine.

OKAY....without further ado...I know I have a problem with talking (and in this case, writing) way too 2019, I didn't quite make my goal of 26 books, but THIS past year, I slayed my goal out of the park at 36. Much of that likely had to do with the fact that homeschool life came into the picture this last year, so I read a lot of children's literature with my kids along with my own novels. I share all of my books as I read them on my Instagram page saved in my highlight reel and also using the hashtag #popcornbookclub if you care to keep up throughout the year...but here is my yearly recap from 2020!

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews


I really loved this book! It was recommended (and loaned) to me by my grandmother who is a very avid reader, and I'm so grateful! While I have it in the fiction section because things have been changed, this book was based on a true story and a scandalous history of which I'd been unaware. It was an incredibly heart-wrenching book at times, especially reading as a mom. The fact that some terrible things happened to children and families under the guise of something good is horrifying and sad. I liked how the author wrote the story as a back and forth present and past narrative with different narrators leaving you wanting to learn more about what happened to the characters in the story and uncover the mystery of what would become of their future. I highly recommend this book!

Jodi Picoult never ever disappoints and this one lived up to the expectation for me. I love how she can take such difficult/heavy topics and offer each varying lens and perspective, always giving you a view to see the other side of what you may believe. That said, it was a little difficult for me to follow with the backward timeline format chosen. There were a lot of characters, and I found myself getting lost over who was who and the order of events, especially during the first half of the book. It did all come together though in the end along with a few twists!

This book was amazing! This work of historical fiction explores race through two unforgettable characters, twins Stella and Desiree Vignes. It is a story about family bonds, sisterhood, motherhood, about trying to fit in, racism, identity, and love. The novel does a great job of depicting lots of separate worlds and then colliding them into one seamlessly. I definitely recommend. I believe this book will be adapted for the screen, and you can bet I'll be watching.

Wow. Wow. Wow. This one came out of nowhere. A friend of mine recommended this book to me ages ago (thanks, Kathy!), and it's been on my list, but I hadn't picked it up until this year. I am SO glad I did. This is the kind of book that every woman should read. It was extremely powerful. It was about love and strength and making difficult decisions. How making the right decision isn't always as easy as it might seem from the outside. It's not at all what I expected it to be, but that was kind of the best part about it. I highly recommend this book, and now I'm wanting to track down every Colleen Hoover novel I can find.

I really enjoyed this book! It was juicy, sexy, romantic, political, royal, happy, sad, all of the above. It covers topics of race, bisexuality, US politics, immigration, family, and more. Ultimately, the book celebrates being unafraid to be your authentic self and love triumphing over anything else.

This YA novel was written by the wife of a friend I used to work with in the animation world! I had been wanting to read it for awhile, and I'm SO glad I read it this year! This was a very moving story involving many serious topics such as child abuse, physical/emotional abuse, self harm, death, family, teenage romance, sex, secrets, and more. This book was emotional and sad at times, but also showed love and strength through powerful characters. It reminded me of the Colleen Hoover novel I read but with younger characters and for a younger audience. I definitely recommend this one.

I have pretty much enjoyed everything I've read from Ms. Ware, and this was no different! It started out a bit slow, but by the middle, I was racing to the end to see what was going to happen! It was dark, creepy, and eerie and kept me entertained with lots of little twists and reveals in the 2nd half of the book. I enjoyed the main character and her tarot cards! In a Dark, Dark Wood still remains my fav I've read from this author, but this one was worth a read!

Shari Lapena knows how to write a thriller! This book was entertaining, suspenseful, mysterious and keeps you guessing. Lapena always has you wondering about your neighbors after you read her books! This one involved a teenage break-in. I enjoyed this one, and if you like her style, you will like this one too, though An Unwanted Guest is still probably my favorite from her!

This was a new thriller author for me, and I very much enjoyed her style! I love a good murder mystery, and this book kept me engaged and excited to keep reading. The story was action-packed, the characters were dynamic, and I would absolutely read more from this author!

This was my first Sager novel, and I really enjoyed it! It was creepy, spooky, ghostly, mysterious, thrilling, and dark. I enjoyed the main character, and I had a lot of fun unpacking the secrets along the way to discover the truth of this haunting tale!

I read this book in 3 days. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into too much detail, but do you ever have one of those books where you were disappointed by the end or certain reveals, but you enjoyed the experience of reading the book so much?? I had problems with many of the plot twists and didn't love the end, but I truly couldn't put the book down and the writing style was totally gripping and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. For me, it was worth the experience of reading, but be prepared to finish it feeling disappointed with how it turned out!

This is one of my favorite authors for a beach read or a snow day. Easy to read and always fun. Lots of interesting characters with interwoven stories, secrets, and drama. This one was a bit of a mystery as well, and I couldn't wait to find out what had happened to two of the main characters. Groundbreaking literature? Not so much. But a quick, fun read? Absolutely.

This one is out of my "typical" novels I gravitate toward, but you know I'm always open to reading and learning new things! We did a Native People homeschool unit study (and I will share the book we read for that later), and this book was recommended as an adult selection to go along with the children's study. It was a longer read, but I really enjoyed it! I would call this historical fiction as it takes place in the Florida swamp in the 1800s. It starts with wild cattle roaming, and as the years roll on, the land transforms and the people transform over time. It's both happy and sad to watch both the land and society change. It discusses themes of strength, family, friendship, the environment, nature, race (white, black, and Native relationships), survival, hard work, and more. I enjoyed the raw, authenticity of the characters during this time period as well. It was not a fast paced book by any means, but it was educational and enlightening for me, and I'm glad I took the time to read it.

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews

Nonfiction/Personal Development/Memoir

Wowwww. This memoir was one of my favorites that I read this past year. Do yourself a favor and find a copy of this book! I snagged it from the library right before quarantine started having no idea what exactly I was getting into. This book gives you ALL the feels. At times it's shocking and gut wrenching, but you are always curious and you are truly rooting for the author the entire time. Such a brace memoir of a young girl trapped in an "alternate" society/family growing up and discovering how she fits within all of it. An incredible read.

I really liked this book! I originally bought this book for me, but I found it even more useful as a parent who wants to raise children with grit as the author's passion and research into grit and children really shines through! I definitely recommend this book to any parent or anyone looking to follow a passion in their lives!

I read this book at peak quarantine, and it was definitely what I needed. Stressing out during the chaos was doing nothing to serve me, or anyone else quite frankly. I only had a certain amount of f*cks to give on any given day, and they had to be used wisely! This book isn't really about giving zeros f*cks, but more about saving them for what truly matter. About dropping all the crap that doesn't light you up and focusing in on what means the most. The world slowing down while the craziness swept through last year made us all take another look at our values and priorities. This book didn't really offer anything GROUNDBREAKING for me, but there were a TON of great REMINDERS right when I needed to hear them the most. I was definitely glad I picked it up.

I thought this book had a lot of great ideas and I loved the overall theme that your mind and thoughts basically control everything in your life. I enjoyed and I'm glad I picked it up. However, it felt a little repetitive at times and it was a slow read for me. I always got something out of it when I read it, but I wasn't always super excited to pick it up, so it was sort of a sign that I liked it okay, but didn't love it.

Early on in my coaching career, a fellow coach shared such an inspiring video by Steve Harvey that changed the trajectory of her life, so when I saw this book sitting in the Little Free Library in my neighborhood, I had to grab it. Because he's such a funny guy, I wasn't sure how serious I could take it, but if you read Steve's story, he really put in SO much hard work and effort and belief and GRIT to get to where he is today. His book didn't really offer anything new for me, but I found it very inspiring and I love that he offered some action steps to reach your goals.

I was so excited to read this book by friend and fellow blogger Alex! We met back in 2012 in my early blogging days, and we even met and did a shoot together in my neighborhood. How cute is she? Anyway, now she is a published AUTHOR, how cool is that? She spent a of time in Denmark as an exchange student and the idea of hygge they practice there sparked her to write this book! With the crazy pandemic this last year, this book really resonated with me. Of course, we couldn't take action on all of her suggestions (like inviting and hosting people over for a meal), BUT it helped to appreciated the little things and find joy in the simplicity of say, lighting a candle or reading a book with a hot cup of tea. It also helped to find the joy in the mundane day to day as well, create better connections with my family, and find or create joy in the space we inhabit. I think she has some wonderful ideas and it helped to reframe my mindset during a difficult year!

Oh yes yes and more yes. If you haven't read any Glennon yet, you are missing out!!!!!! I would start with first as you may not appreciate it as much if you skip ahead to as her journey will continue to grow and change, and I liked reading in order of her growth. I absolutely LOVE how Glennon shares stories. She is so raw and speaks her truth so very bravely. She goes through some PAIN and UGLY stuff, and at times it's tough to read, but she does not turn away from any of it. In Love Warrior she is still in throes of her journey and figuring things out, and by Untamed you really feel like she has found herself and where she is supposed to be. (I never read Carry On, Warrior btw but I don't feel like I missed out by not reading it, though who knows.) Her story is so very powerful and inspiring. It makes you reflect on your own life and inspires home and courage to be brave as your own authentic self. Highly recommend both of these memoirs.

In my journey toward keeping up the fight toward achieving an antiracist society, I picked up this book, and it's definitely one of the best I've read this entire year. We obviously have a giant problem in our country that isn't going to have a resolution right away. It's going to take systemic change to undo an entire evolution of racism throughout history. We may not have all the answers, and many of us (myself included) have been way too quiet in the past, but the very least we can do going forward is to educate ourselves and continue to do better than we have before. I loved this book because Reynolds breaks down Kendi's original history book and expresses his remixed "not history book" almost as if he is a young college professor speaking right to you in engaging, conversational language. He takes complex ideas and make them simple to understand. He shares missing pieces to the America story that never showed up in history class at school, while simultaneous inspiring hope for a brighter future. He keeps you engaged the entire time, I learned a ton, and I couldn't put it down. It's perfect for young adults as well as older adults and it was a terrific read. Also, fun fact for my Maryland friends, like me, Reynolds also grew up in PG County.

It took awhile to formulate some words after reading this one. It wasn't really meant for my eyes to read. It was a letter to the author's teenage son. It was as if I was peeking into an alternate world that was literally in my backyard - PG County, DC, Baltimore, MD, NYC - all places I have spent a majority of my life - yet an entirely different view. It was so beautifully written and heartfelt and gut wrenching and uncomfortable and wonderful at the same time. I won't lie, after reading, I dug in deeper through the interwebs to dissect the passages, because I felt like I might not be intelligent enough to grasp all the meaning, and I wanted to make sure not to miss a thing. This is not the type of book that is straightforward to the point with historical facts and hope for the future. In fact, I'm not sure the author left it on a hopeful note. But what he did do was bare his soul and his experiences authentically and bravely with his son. Anyone who picks this up will not be able to deny the power of this book.

Last year, I did something I NEVER ever anticipated or expected I would do in my life. I sent in a withdrawal letter to withdraw my kids from public school with a Letter of Intent to Homeschool my children. WHAT? 2020 you have really outdone yourself!!! A few weeks later, I ended up re-enrolling my oldest back in a new public school which he would attend remotely, but I had already dove in deep into homeschool life with this book and the research that came along with it, and I am forever changed. We have very much adapted a homeschool lifestyle this past year, minus the fact that we wish could have some more social opportunities, and this book played a HUUUUUGE role in my ability, knowledge, resources, and confidence to get me there. This books breaks down what homeschooling truly is, the different options available, how homeschooling can be very individualized and how to plan a year that works for your WHOLE family. She also includes a lot of her own helpful printables you can copy to actually execute your plan going forward. After reading this, I had such great grasp on the steps I needed to take to move forward with our homeschool plan and what life had thrown at us. And I actually felt EXCITED about it! This book (along with some very encouraging friends) allowed me to sideline my fear about this new experience and take on the challenge with enthusiasm.

I absolutely LOVED this book!!! I would recommend this to any parent regardless of whether or not you're homeschooling, because our children are ALWAYS learning with us in every aspect of life! This book helped me to realize that our children are constantly learning and that WE can actually learn from them too. It gave me the power to let go of some things and embrace this crazy chaotic year and find the joy in it. It boosted my confidence as a homeschool mom and allowed me to understand how to cultivate curious and creative learners and thinkers. How we don't always have to follow the "plan" and sometimes the best lessons are the ones that weren't planned. I loved Julie's stories and the way she writes. She also has some incredible ideas and strong novel-based curriculum that we have incorporated into our daily lives and routine that have truly been magical and essential to our homeschool experience. I am ever so grateful for this book!

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews
I included two adult books in the photo above that I discussed previously, because while they were personal development for me, they were essential to our homeschool journey and ultimately the children's literature chosen for our read alouds.

Children's Literature

(These are all books I did as read alouds with my children that I wanted to include for the parents I have reading this post, and also because most of them are excellent reads even as adults!)

We absolutely LOVED this book! This was the first novel we read as we were dipping our toes into homeschooling this summer. The story is told through the eyes of a wolf named Swift, who was an extremely brave and likable character. This novel is based on a true story of a real wolf in Oregon who was separated from his pack and tells of his journey to survive. The writing was beautiful and descriptive with amazing depictions of nature. The illustrations by Monica Armino were also stunning. The story was adventurous, full of courage and bravery. We also learned a ton of about wolves and the Pacific Northwest area. Both my 7 and 5 year old loved it as did I. It might be our favorite so far.

While I had watched the movie as a child a million times, I don't think I ever read this book as a child! We read this novel together and did our first Brave Writer Dart study along with it, and it went so well! My kids fell in love with the characters, and we had so much fun with it...creating artwork together, discussing the story, taking little quizzes, learning about the anatomy of spiders, and we even had our first ever "Book Party" to celebrate when we finished. You wouldn't even know that I have arachnophobia HAHA! After the book, we also watched the newer version of the movie which everyone enjoyed! Definitely recommend this classic!

This was another read we absolutely loved! Roz was such an amazing character and I love how this novel infused nature with technology. It's an action-packed story of survival, friendship, parenthood, and adventure. We also loved and tried to recreate the beautiful artwork in this one. When we finished this one, we had a wild nature robot electronic dance party which the boys were obsessed with, and they cannot WAIT to read the sequel together.

We read this book along with our Biomes and Ecosystems Unit Study (created by Jodi Mockabee that we LOVED and I HIGHLY recommend). While we loved the unit study, I will say that we LIKED this book. We enjoyed the story, the characters, and learning about wild ponies, but I think the chapters just read a little slower for us and it was harder to keep their engaged attention. They may have been on the young side for this one, but it just wasn't quite as adventurous as the last few we read to keep them excited to open the book each day.

These characters were super adorable!! We loved this little magical world! This was a fun, interesting book about a magic hat that transforms things when they are put inside. The illustrations were delightful and we had fun drawing the characters on their clouds. It did read a little slow for us, maybe because it's been translated from Swedish to English, and I found myself trying to push through some of the chapters. But we did have a magical little party afterwards complete with pancakes, so all in all, it was a win!

I read the entire Harry Potter series on my own some years back, but it's been even more fun reading it to my oldest! (My middle guy isn't super hooked yet, but every now and then he will listen in too) We had a lot of fun reading this one over the summer outside in my parent's hammock. From flying cars, transformations, and giant spider attacks, and finale twist, we loved all of Harry's wild adventures in this book, and we're currently reading the third!

I actually read this one on my own as I think my boys were too young for it right now, but I am absolutely saving it for when they get a little older (middle school perhaps) as it's an excellent and very important read. This is a fictional middle-grade novel that tells the story of a twelve year old black boy who is shot by a white police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real one. Through the book, the boy is a ghost who can see his family and the aftermath of how his death has affected everyone, including the community. He meets the ghost of Emmett Till as well as the daughter of the police officer...the only living person who can see him. The book was very well done, telling the thoughts and feelings of many different characters in the story, and it's a completely relevant read in regard to everything that has happened this last year.

This book went along with out Native People unit study by Jodi Mockabee, and we really enjoyed it! I never realized how much my 2 year old had been listening to these read alouds until he started running around the house saying "Omakayas, Omakayas," the main character's name. It tells the story of a 7 year old girl from the Ojibwa tribe and her family. At times, it was depressing and sad...discussing the smallpox outbreak and how it negatively affected family members was a little difficult, especially while going through the COVID-19 pandemic, but overall, I'm glad we read this. It's part of history and culture and ultimately I felt it was important and educational for all of us. If you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, I think you will definitely appreciate this novel (and maybe the whole series perhaps) viewing this time period in history from a different lens.

Popcorn Book Club: 2020 Book Reviews


It's rare that I buy a cookbook, so you know if I invest in one, it better be good! Haha. With all the cooking this last year, we were craving some new ideas, and these didn't disappoint!

I followed Rachel on Instagram and she just makes healthy food look and taste SO delicious! Her food always includes healthier swaps/options for ingredients, and love that her recipes are ones that fuel, yet never leave you feeling deprived! Many of her recipes are also gluten free or paleo friendly if that's your jam. When I saw she had a cookbook coming out, I had to have it! My fav recipe so far is her Enchilada Pie! The roasted turmeric carrot fries are also delish, and. she makes some yummy desserts too. You can also find more of her recipes on her blog

As I'm writing this, I'm realizing this whole time I didn't realize there were two volumes of this cookbook! I thought I had the original, and didn't know I actually had the second one! Whoops! Haha! Now I'm curious about the first one as this one has to do with gathering and we didn't do much of that the last year LOL! That said, it's a beautiful book with a huge selection of recipes and includes how to make a lot of things from scratch. That honestly terrifies me a little, but the kid's have been enjoying baking with me lately so who knows, maybe I will get inspired! This is more of a classic style cookbook as opposed to an overly healthy one, but it makes me excited to have some delicious options for when we're able to host people to come over again!

This book was at the top of my Christmas list this year, and I was so excited to get it and support my friend, Mary! Mary is also a University of Maryland grad (go Terps!) and she runs an amazing blog called Mary's Whole Life which she started after her diagnosis with Celiac Disease. Her recipes are all gluten free, paleo, and many are Whole 30. They are also QUICK, easy (she's a mom of 3 also!) and delicious. Some of my favorites include her sheet pan sausage recipes, cashew chicken green bean stir fry, and baja fish taco bowl. You will absolutely find some incredible go-to recipes in her book to throw into your weekly rotation.

If you're still must really love books like me! Thanks for sticking around, and I hope these reviews were helpful! I've already put a dent into my 2021 reading goal, and can't wait to share with you.

What do you think...I post updates regularly on The Gram, but do you like the yearly recap here, or would you prefer more frequent updates on the blog as well?

Lastly...while my list is already a mile high, I ALWAYS have room for more recommendations! Please share some of your favorite reads in the last year so we can all add them to our lists! 🙂

XO + Happy Reading!


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