My top ten favorite books of 2020

One good thing can be said of 2020. I read a lot of good books. Coming up with my top ten for the year was a bit of a challenge because of this. I mean, I read The Exorcist this year and it didn’t even make it into the top ten. But if I’m going to have a challenge, I can think of worse ones. 

Not all of them came out this year, this is just the first year I read them. This isn’t news to anyone who’s read my previous year-end round-ups. You’ll find all sorts of genres represented here. Some books I’ve done a full review on, some I haven’t. One I haven’t even finished reading yet, but it’s so awesome already that it had to make my top ten. No matter what differences these books may have, they all have one thing in common. They were damned good.

If you want to follow along with what I’m reading all year long, you can do so on Goodreads. Now, on to the list. 

The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambridge 

If you need to get your life in order, this is the book you need to do it. I have never read such in your face realistic business advice. I cried multiple times while reading it.

Top of my lungs by Natalie Goldberg

Have you ever read a book and immediately knew you were going to reach for it again? That was what Top of my Lungs was like for me. The poetry is inspiringly beautiful. The artwork is soothing. I put this book on my in case of an emergency bullet journal page. If I’m in doubt, Natalie is there for me.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Yes, I know this show blew up on Netflix. No, I don’t know if I’ll be watching it. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. This book was good. This book was deep and thoughtful and felt way too real. It’s a reminder that we lose the rights we don’t insist upon. 

Savage Legion by Matt Wallace 

This is the one I haven’t finished yet. But the story is so good, I had to include it on the list. 

A young woman is sent to the front line of an unwinnable war as punishment for a barroom brawl. But it turns out she got herself sent there on purpose to find the one man who can stop this brutal practice and save the soul of their country. And I have loved every second of it. Expect a full review on that soon.

The War on Everyone by Robert Evans

This was an eye-opening book in a year that was quite eye-opening for everyone. It goes a long way to explain where we are in America and exactly how we got here. Of course, it’s written by the man who hosts a podcast called Behind the Bastards. So, be aware that this book isn’t for the faint of heart.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

I did a whole review of this book over on Haunted MTL, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. Let’s just say it’s worth a read, and for more than just the title story. Especially if you were a fan of King’s The Outsider. 

Now, then and everywhen by Rysa Walker

It’s hard to do a time travel story right. It’s even harder to do it when you’re working between a trilogy you already wrote. But Walker has done this, as well as providing a great story. There’s fighting racism in this book, exciting adventures, fun characters, funny shout outs to real-world fandoms. And I have to admit, I didn’t see the ending coming. The sequel is coming out in January, and I’m stoked.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Everyone was looking forward to this book, and it caused a lot of dust-ups among nerds. I loved it. It was a great story that didn’t humanize President Snow as much as I was worried it would. Again, I’ve done a whole review of it here, if you’d like to read it.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Again, I reviewed this book on Haunted MTL and you can read my review here. If you haven’t read Mexican Gothic, do it right now. It’s a rich, atmospheric read that I just lost myself in. 

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

This was, by far, my favorite book of the year. You might remember that last year the first book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing made my list. So it’s no surprise that the conclusion made it onto this year. It’s a difficult book to describe, but I attempted to here in my review of it. Do yourself a favor and read it now if you haven’t. 

So that’s it for my top ten list of books in 2020. I’d love to know what made it onto your list. Let us know the best book you’ve read this year in the comments below. 

Why Utopia Works

As a lover of comic books, I’m surprised it took so long for Utopia to end up on my radar. Now that it’s there, it’s easily one of the coolest shows I’ve watched all year. And given how much tv I’ve been watching recently, that’s a high bar. 

Utopia was a dark, horrifying, fun ride that honestly hasn’t had a bad episode yet. I’m waiting for the next season. While we wait, let’s break down the first season of Utopia and talk about why it works.

Utopia is the story of a group of comic fans obsessed with a comic called Dystopia. They’ve all been waiting for a follow-up series, called Utopia.

But they’re not just waiting for the story. They’re waiting to see what horrific tragedy Utopia might predict. Because this group of online buddies doesn’t just love Dystopia for the story. They’ve spent years looking deep into the storyline and artwork for clues as to what’s going on in the real world.

This is something I think a lot of us think we want to happen. I’ve had fantasies of opening wardrobes to find new worlds since I was a child. Like everyone else, I find nothing but mothballs and old coats. 

But what if I did find something? What if it turned out that your favorite fantasy world was real? I think most of us would find out pretty damn fast that we don’t really want that and we’d like to go back to our regular lives right now, talking animals or not. 

That being said, it’s really fun to think about. And that’s where a lot of the enjoyment of this show comes from. It’s a very realistic view of what might happen if our conspiracy theories turned out to be true. 

Another choice the creators made that worked well for them is to make the main character, Jessica Hyde, totally selfish and crazy. She is willing to do literally anything to survive, including straight up killing innocent people.

This was a brave choice. And it could have gone bad. I mean, we all love an anti-hero, but your MC has to be at least a little bit likable. That’s hard when your MC starts the series by shooting an innocent woman in the head.

And yet, in the way the story progresses, you don’t hate her. You understand where she’s coming from. Maybe you still don’t agree with everything she does. But you at least sort of understand why she did it.

Finally, Utopia managed to find the most perfect item that makes things go viral. It has an incredibly catchy catchphrase.

Stay alive, Jessica Hyde. 

It’s a great line that gives a lot of information. Who’s our main character? Jessica Hyde. There’s some reason why she might not stay alive, but people sure want her to. It also sums up the biggest storyline for the first season. What does Jessica Hyde want to do? Stay alive. What does the bad guy want to do? Kill her. It’s a simple conflict that has a complex resolution. The best kind.

Altogether, this show was designed to draw you in, make you scream out loud, and wait with bated breath to see what happens next. Things we could all do well to remember in our own writing.

Stay alive, Jessica Hyde. 

After a year of nightmares, Sennett and her family need a vacation. Together with Godfrey, they’ve faced assassins, killer AI dogs, mind-altering viruses and politicians. So they’re setting off for Station Central, the ultimate vacation destination with water parks, roller coasters, fine dining and the best hotels in the stations.

But they’re barely off the ship when Godfrey finds himself embroiled in Station politics that he can’t seem to avoid. Sennett discovers not one, but two people stalking her on the station. One of whom might have the secret to her birth family.

Through it all, Sennett and Godfrey are haunted by a darker set of questions. Where are the Hollow Suits, and what are they planning?

Preorder Station Central now on Smashwords.

Why Upload Works

Why isn’t everyone talking about Upload? It’s a clever, funny show that the husband and I binged in two days. Now everyone else needs to binge it in two days.

Upload is about a man named Nathan, a computer programmer. The show starts with Nathan being in a horrible car accident. His body isn’t going to make it. So his wealthy girlfriend, Ingrid, pressures him to let his mind be uploaded into a simulated afterlife called Lake View. 

So yes, this show is about a dead man living in a computer simulation. 

Lakeview is a paradise. It’s everything you could ever want. Like a retirement village you wish you’d end up in. The rooms are amazing, the food is magnificent. You can change the weather anytime you like. You can eat, sleep, swim, love, have sex. It’s just like being alive.

Except it isn’t, not really. And Lakeview is expensive. Nathan doesn’t have the kind of money someone would need to exist there. So Ingrid is paying all the bills. She’s entirely in control of Nathan, even down to what he wears. He’s entirely at her mercy. This isn’t a great set up under the best circumstances. Then, Nathan starts falling for his handler, a woman named Nora. As his very existence depends on Ingrid’s goodwill, this is a dangerous crush.

Hilarity is sure to ensue.

So, let’s talk about why this works.

To start with, this is the rare original concept. There’s nothing else like it. While it does share some traits with other stories, I can honestly say I’ve never seen a show like it.

Now, this is hard to hold up as an example to follow. I mean, coming up with original stories is what all writers are trying to do. It’s freaking hard! As a side note, I don’t see a huge issue with retelling an old story with a fresh voice. Fairy tale retellings, quests to save the kingdom, a young woman befriending dragons. I’ll consume those stories all day long and ask for more. So long as the voice is fresh and the writer brings something new to the story, I’m going to love it.

That being said, sometimes writers use that as an excuse to play it too safe. We’re afraid to reach out to the weird. To experiment outside of set genres, or blend them in weird and new ways. Don’t be scared of this! It’s exactly what people want. 

Now, let’s take a look at the characters. At the start of the season, everyone seems like the asshole. Nathan’s wrapped up in his own tragedy, not noticing that he’s surrounded by people going through the same thing. Or worse. Let’s not forget that his mom and girlfriend watched his head get chopped right the hell off with no warning.

Ingrid, the girlfriend, is entirely an asshole. She is aware that she’s financially responsible for Nathan. And she’s not afraid to use that power to make him heel. And it’s not like he’s upset that he doesn’t have a big enough allowance. Early in the series, we find out that the people who don’t have money to pay for Lake View are called Two Gigs. They have only two gigs of data a month. When that’s gone, they can’t do anything until the next month. That’s the fate that waits for Nathan if Ingrid cuts him off. She’s not shy about threatening it.

Then there’s Nathan’s friend and partner, Jamie. He’s been letting Nathan’s calls go to voicemail since he died. There are reasons, and they have something to do with the app he and Nathan were making. The app that Nathan can’t remember anything about. 

All that being said, the characters make some really hard choices. Like, things I don’t know if I could do. 

Ingrid is having a relationship with a dead man. Even if she’s being a bitch about it, she’s actively choosing to not leave him for someone who is, you know, alive. And she’s a sexy blond with a shit ton of money. It’s not like she doesn’t have options. 

Do you remember I was talking earlier about the Two Gigs? They become a crusade for Nathan. He can’t stand that these people have nothing when it would cost nothing to give them anything. He didn’t have to care about these people. He doesn’t have anything. Not anything that’s his. But he wants them to be okay.

There are harder decisions than that, for sure. But to go into them would ruin some truly wonderful surprises. 

Sorry, I know that was super vague. But a lot of the fun from this season was the misdirection. I’m going to try to explain what I mean without ruining too much. You see, there’s a mystery in this first season. Part of Nathan’s memory is missing. Someone removed it and deleted it. That’s not spoiling much, it’s in the very first episode. This sets off a list of mysteries that gets deeper and darker. 

And it’s not what you think. That’s the great thing about this whole season. Whatever you think is going on, you’re wrong. 

Finally, let’s talk about the morals of the story. There’s always a moral, whether writers mean there to be or not. Sometimes the moral is hidden, soft like a whisper. Sometimes it smacks you in the face like a dead fish. You didn’t need it, didn’t want it, and it smells rotten.

Sometimes it smacks you in the face like a cold wave in the ocean. It’s undeniable and it’s cleansing. That’s how the moral was here. I’m pretty sure you can guess it, just based on this post.

There was a lot to love about Upload. A lot to learn too. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. 

Want to know why another show, movie or book works? Suggest it in the comments.

Why Buffy The Vampire Slayer worked, until it really didn’t

Let me tell you about my Thursday nights as a kid. Well, as a teenager. It was sort of the best night of the week. I would park myself in the dining room, for three solid hours of tv. Those hours were devoted to some of the best television I’ve ever seen.

Buffy, Angel and Charmed. 

Yes, I have been a nerd my whole life. 

The darling husband and I have been binge-watching Buffy and Angel recently, because what the hell else are we going to do? And I have to say, I can see why I loved Buffy so much as a kid. As an adult, I can also see where and why it went downhill.

Boy did it go downhill fast. 

When it was good

It’s very good. It’s a fun show for a teenage girl to watch. The characters are a lot of fun. Willow is relatable, so is Zander. I loved Giles and still do.

The show was funny, but it also had deep moments. No one was a throwaway character. People reacted when someone died. 

None of the characters were perfect. Buffy was a pain in the ass. Everyone kept secrets Ozfrom each other, everyone was selfish sometimes. Except for Oz. Oz was always perfect.

It was just a really fun show to watch every week that wasn’t preachy, stupid or overly complicated. 

I’ll grant, though, that it might be benefiting from nostalgia. Would I like it so much if I didn’t still have those fond memories of Thursday nights? I honestly don’t know. That’s one of the bad things about revisiting shows we loved in the past. We can never again see them with fresh eyes. We’ll always see them through the lens of the past, with the heart of the girl who first fell in love with them.

When it started getting bad

On the other hand, my eyes have still gotten used to modern special effects, and the ones from Buffy did not stand the test of time. The husband and I just watched an episode with a giant snake monster, and we were howling anytime the thing was on the screen. Probably not the impact they were going for. 

Sad to say, but I think most of the good writers left Buffy and went to Angel when it split off. The stories from that point on got a little less mature. They got a little more silly, a little less coherent. 

And character development changed. That was a big issue for me. Buffy continued to grow as a person, but not into a very nice person. She’s selfish and unaware of how she uses people. She doesn’t care about the emotional well being of anyone else, her problems always seem to overshadow everything else. And it’s not just when we’re talking about saving the world problems. It also includes boy troubles. Which are no more crucial than anything anyone else is going through.

I also wasn’t thrilled with many of the story arches. Some of them just seemed designed to be heartbreaking. 

Like Joyce dying. I get that the actress wanted to leave the show. I get that people lose their parents. But I don’t think that this sort of thing had a place on this kind of show. It felt out of place, too mean. 

Finally, let’s talk about the worst addition to the show.


I hated this character. I love the actress, but the character is a huge pain in the ass. She’s the scrappy doo of Buffy. I honestly can’t tell you what she adds to the show. Buffy didn’t need an annoying little sister. She didn’t need additional responsibility. 

Which isn’t to say it stopped being good then. It’s still fun, so long as we’re not having a depressing episode. And the addition of the antagonist Glory was great. 

Mind you, I’m not saying that Buffy wasn’t worth watching. I still enjoy the later seasons, right up to the last episode. It just wasn’t what it was at first. It was still a revolutionary show that opened doors for a lot of work we wouldn’t have now without it. That’s worth overlooking some flaws.

Now I want to hear what you think. Did you watch Buffy when it originally aired? What are your thoughts about it now? Let us know in the comments. 

My updated podcast list, May 2020

Now and then I like to go through my list of podcasts I listen to and share it with all of you. I’m a very fickle soul and I get tired of things quickly. I also find new and exciting things to listen to. I’m kind of like a crow with a shiny new thing. So this list is changing all the time.

Right now a lot of us are at home more than we’ve ever. Many of us need some entertainment. Preferably something that doesn’t cost anything. So here’s a recent roundup of my podcasts. Some are purely for entertainment, some talk about writing. Some talk about things we should all learn about. Enjoy.


Aaron Mahnke

I’ve been listening to Lore for quite some time now. I’m pretty sure this was in my last collection. But I still love it.

The episodes talk about different dark and creepy tales from history. And they’re all told by Aaron, who has the smoothest, sexiest voice. 

Cabinet of Curiosities

Aaron Mahnke

So smooth that I started listening to the second podcast of his. This is also a history podcast, though much shorter. The stories aren’t necessarily scary, some are funny. I can honestly say I’ve never listened to a boring episode.

Writing Excuses

Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Taylor and Mary Robinette Kowal

This podcast has been included in almost every podcast update I’ve ever written. Given my aforementioned fickle nature, that should tell you all you need to know about this podcast.

But I’ll tell you a little more. I have learned so much about writing from this podcast, I can’t start to tell you. If you’re a writer just starting, listen to this podcast every week. If you think you’re an established author, listen to this podcast every week.

Ditch Diggers

Mur Lafferty and Matt Wallace

If you catch me laughing in public, I’m probably listening to this. Ditch Diggers is the most brutally honest, funny podcast about the business side of writing I’ve ever heard. I love every episode, and I’m always getting new ideas from it. 

Diy mfa

Gabriela Pereira

This is so much more than a podcast. DIY MFA is a whole online community with classes and posts all dedicated to bringing creative education within the grasp of everyone. And I am here for it! 

On the podcast, Gabriela interviews authors on a range of topics that never fail to fascinate and interest me. I learn something every time I listen.

Science Rules

Bill Nye (the science guy)

Bill, Bill, Bill! Alright, got that out of my system. 

Bill Nye has been teaching me science since I was in first grade. And he’s still doing it today with his podcast, Science Rules. It is for adults, thank you. And that’s part of the cool thing about it. Science Rules feels like I’m talking with my favorite uncle. He still remembers me as a little kid, but he recognizes that I’m an adult now, too. So, bad dad jokes but a willingness to discuss difficult topics.

One topic he’s talking a lot about right now is, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic. And if you’re looking for clear, honest information about a scary situation, this is the podcast you want to be listening to.

Bad With Money

Gaby Dunn

I think this one was also on my last list of podcasts. I hope so because it’s a great place to be if you’re, you know, bad with money. It’s simple, no-nonsense talk about money from people you don’t usually hear talking about money. Gaby doesn’t judge you about your money choices. She just lays out the facts. And some of the facts are useful. Some are inspirational. Some are just a pat on the back and the realization that you’re not alone. And maybe it’s not that you’re bad with money. Maybe it’s that our economy sucks and we’re all just doing the best we can.

So that’s my updated list of what I’m listening to. But I want to know what you think. Leave a comment below to share your favorite podcast. 

Preorder Falling From Grace now, and be entered to win a free autographed copy of Falling From Grace eBookBroken Patterns. And, get the first four chapters of Falling from Grace right away! Just send a screenshot of your preorder recipt to

A Website.

Up ↑