At the close of every year, I like to share some of my favorite books, music, podcasts, movies, and TV shows from the year. 2020 was certainly the year of content consumption – what else are we going to do while sitting at home? – and I have quite the list for you. In no particular order, here is my best of 2020.
When the pandemic hit, I really thought I was going to read a lot more. For the last two years, my goal has been to read 24 books. I was a couple shy in 2019, and only made it to 18 this year. I blame a combination of not traveling – I like to read on planes and beaches – and starting grad school. Here are my favorites reads in 2020.
One To Watch by Kate Stayman-London was brilliant. It follows plus-sized blogger Bea Schumacher as she becomes the bachelorette on a reality dating show after tweeting her thoughts about the show’s casting. As a former plus-sized girl (and still “plus sized” depending on whether the media likes a size 10 this week…) that isn’t the best at dating, I related to Bea and found her story realistic in spite of how unrealistic some of it was.
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston was a great twist on American politics and British royals. The president’s son – a latina female president, mind you! – falls in love with the Prince of Wales who is afraid to come out because the expectations around being a royal. It was laugh out loud funny at times – the First Family is from Texas and lack filters when they aren’t in public – and I was sorry to see it end. One of my favorites of 2020 for sure.
Verity by Colleen Hoover was the thriller I didn’t expect to like based on the description. It sounded like a run of the mill suspense novel with nothing new or different about its storyline. I kept seeing it pop up in Facebook groups I’m a part of and a friend read it and enjoyed it, so I decided why not? I could not put it down. I read it in a weekend and the ending was very much a “what the bleep” moment. Don’t let the description stop you on this one.
My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan is battling with One To Watch as a top favorite of 2020. I read it in a day,. I loved every moment of it. I laughed, I cried, I fantasized about moving to England (not that it takes much for me to do that…) and I held my breath through the final chapters, afraid for the fates of the characters I had come to love. Read this one ASAP.
The Grace Year by Kim Liggert was the first book I read in 2020 and it is a Top 3 favorite. The girls of Garner County are sent into the woods for their sixteenth year to banish their magic and purify themselves for marriage. It’s a bit Hunger Games-like in some regards and as soon as I finished it, I went searching to see if it had been optioned for a movie or TV series because I WANTED IT. It has been and I’m both salty that I didn’t get a shot at it and thrilled that it will be brought to life.
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager was a jaw-dropping page turner. I absolutely could not believe what was happening. I have loved all of Sager’s books, but this one, while not quite surpassing The Last Time I Lied as my favorite of his, was right up there. I also read his Home Before Dark this year which I didn’t love as much. But honestly? Any Sager book is worth picking up.
Live In Love by Lauren Akins, wife of Thomas Rhett, had me in tears. I was so inspired by Lauren’s story of faith and following her heart. I cried throughout the last third of the book and reflected on my own relationship with faith. Even if you’re not a Christian, this book has something for you.
Many of you know music was my first love, not as a musician, trust me, you don’t want me to sing OR touch an instrument, but as a journalist. I have maintained my love of music and I certainly listened to a ton of it this year given both the at-home nature of 2020 and the hours upon hours I spent going on long walks. Some of my favorite music of 2020:
folklore and evermore. Taylor Swift really came through in 2020, didn’t she? I absolutely loved both of her albums. The more alternative, moody vibes really fit the year. I like how bold she has become with her songwriting. Favorites from folklore include “invisible string,” “last great american dynasty,” “exile,” “betty,” and “mirrorball.” I’m still absorbing evermore, but my favorites as of writing this are “no body, no crime,” “champagne problems,” “‘tis the damn season,” and “long story short.” That “long story short, it was a bad time” lyric really hits differently in 2020.
kelsea and ballerini. Kelsea Ballerini was another artist that released two albums in 2020. In her case, she released kelsea first which features her songs in a studio-produced sense and ballerini later in the year which is the same songs, stripped down. I really liked the kelsea album, but ballerini showcases just how talented she is. “bragger” is a fun favorite from both albums, as is “half of my hometown” which hit me hard as a girl going far from her hometown to chase a big dream. But her song “la” wrecked me the first time I heard it and maintains a special spot in my heart. She reflects on her “love and hate relationship with L.A.” as both a Tennessee girl and a celebrity and there is one line, “if I let down my hair in the ocean air, will Tennessee be mad at me?” that made me bawl at my desk at work. I had just found out I was accepted to USC and the realization that I would be moving to Los Angeles for this wild dream was starting to sink in. I’m really from Virginia, but so much of who I am was born in Tennessee. That line hit me right in the gut.
*Side note – all of these artists using all lowercase really messes with my writer’s heart…
Wild World. Many of my Nashville friends know my love for Kip Moore runs deep. He is a brilliant songwriter and I appreciate how he lives his life in a fully authentic manner. His Wild World album is his best yet and the title track, “Wild World,” was another “stop me in my tracks” song. The track “Payin’ Hard” is gritty and reflective. I think all of us would relate to it. I also love “More Than Enough” and “Fire and Flame.” But “Red White and Blue Jean American Dream” was my absolute go-to summer jam as well as “Don’t Go Changing” which he released after Wild World came out.
“What’s Your Country Song.” I’m also a big Thomas Rhett fan. I remember going to a Chris Young show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville several years ago when Thomas Rhett opened for him. He was so good that by the time Chris came out, while he was just fine, TR had eclipsed him. He released his single “What’s Your Country Song” towards the end of 2020 and I went full nostalgia mode listening to it. I grew up listening to country music on backroads and it took me right back to those moments.
SOUTHSIDE. Sam Hunt might be a little messy sometimes, but the guy can put out some jams. I really liked “Kinfolks” when it dropped earlier this year, but “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90’s” has been my year-end jam of choice. Sam has a point – it was a lot easier to break up in the days before social media. I wouldn’t know – I wasn’t old enough to date in the 90’s – but I’ve stalked enough exes on Instagram and Facebook to get Sam’s point.
My podcast listening plummeted once my office went remote mid-March. I used to listen to podcasts at my desk and find it harder to listen when I’m at home. I did manage a few when driving long distances throughout the year and hope to listen to a whole lot more in 2021. Good thing we’re starting off the year with a cross-country drive, huh?
Murder Squad continues to be an absolute favorite podcast. Billy Jensen and Paul Holes are just so good at walking the listener through cold cases with a scientific and investigative lens. The two-part episode on Black Dahlia was so well done I had to pause mid-listen to recover. Warning: it’s a graphic murder and Jensen and Holes are very detailed and clinical. If you like true crime, you are absolutely missing out by not listening to this one.
Living Fully by Mallory Ervin just makes me happy. I follow Mallory on Instagram and I think we would be best friends in real life. She’s real, her husband is hilarious, and her boys are precious. I love that she will both “slum it” in Target sweats and rock her Gucci boots. Her podcast has evolved into something I can’t wait to listen to with guests like Gabby Bernstein and Bob Goff. She’s an excellent interviewer – I don’t say that lightly about folks – and I always find myself a bit sad that an episode has come to an end.
Expanded with Lacy Phillips is one of my favorite “woo woo” podcasts. I really appreciate Lacy’s view of the Law of Attraction and her scientific approach to it. It’s a great podcast to cherry pick episodes from that mesh with your interests, but it’s also a great one to just full on binge. I listened to it for nearly all of my eight hour drive to Pennsylvania in August.
Confession: I’m an aspiring TV writer that doesn’t watch a lot of movies. Terrible, I know. I did watch a long list of “required viewing” for school that included some old favorites like E.T., Casablanca, and Groundhog’s Day, but I’m not including them below. Here are a few movies I watched and enjoyed in 2020. I’m not saying they are the best movies ever… Just that I watched them and didn’t hate them.
The Kissing Booth 2. I took a long time to get around to watching The Kissing Booth and was surprised by how much I liked it, so when The Kissing Booth 2 came out, I watched it that weekend. It had some predictable storylines, but it was the feel-good kind of movie I needed at the time. I will admit though, some of the more graphic scenes and language did take me by surprise given that it feels like it’s meant to be a teenage movie.
Jingle Jangle. Honestly the best movie I watched in 2020. I loved every moment of this animated masterpiece. The music, the storyline, the animation, all of it. I watched it a few times during the holiday season and I swear it got better with every re-watch. It is an instant holiday classic.
Holidate. Let’s be honest. Holidate isn’t a great movie. But it made me laugh out loud many times over. I enjoyed the casting, the ridiculousness of it all, and frankly, it was relatable in the sense that I have been – I am – that girl that has to avoid the awkward family questions about my dating life during the holidays.
Onward. I watched a LOT of Disney+ during quarantine. There’s just something so comforting about going back to your childhood and watching classics like Zenon and Smart House while the world is burning. When they added Onward, I had to watch it. I had seen the previews back when we were allowed to go to theaters and thought I’d like it. Perhaps it was the loss of my mom still being relatively fresh, but it wrecked me in the best way.
And here’s where the rubber meets the road on my content consumption in 2020. TV shows. How I lose all my time and gain so much inspiration. I absolutely love TV and honestly? I probably should have made this its own post, but here we are. Let’s get to it.
Schitt’s Creek. I don’t watch a lot of comedies, but I started Schitt’s Creek a couple of years ago and I’ve been all in ever since. The episode where David loses it over compromise? Hi, I’m David. I binged the final season when it hit Netflix earlier this year and it was just so good. Talk about a well-done series from start to finish. THAT is how a television show should go – character growth and a solid wrap up.
Medici. I got into Medici at the end of 2019 and was caught up in it pretty quickly. I love a good period piece and I love Florence. I somehow watched the second season first, which stars Daniel Sharman, then went back and watched season one which stars Richard Madden and is set 20 years earlier. Sharman is so good as Lorenzo that I watched season three the moment it hit Netflix and was not disappointed. Lorenzo’s death scene was a thing of pained beauty.
Cursed. I really love the fantasy genre and, well, the Cursed creator followed me on Instagram and Daniel Sharman is in it, so I watched it. While it follows the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ Nimue, Sharman’s Weeping Monk was a scene stealer. He speaks very little, but his movements and physical presence carry every scene he’s in. I also really loved Merlin’s character and the last fifteen of the season finale was just – WHOA. It hasn’t been renewed yet, but I’m holding out hope – there is so much story left to tell.
The Queen’s Gambit. Did anyone not watch The Queens Gambit? I was late to the party (as in I waited nearly a week to watch it), but I thought it was fantastic. I do think it was maybe two episodes too long, but it was so well-done I don’t even care. The last episodes in Russia were fantastic and the lead actress, Anya Taylor-Joy, is phenomenal. And of course, I would be remiss not to mention my newfound love for Jacob Fortune-Lloyd who plays Townes and is also in Medici. Those British actors, I tell you…
Normal People. I was also late to the Normal People party, but it was one of the best shows I watched in 2020. I absolutely loved it. I loved the moodiness of it, the messiness of the characters, the realness of their relationships… So many good things to say about this series. I haven’t read the book, but it’s on my “to read” list. I loved the show so much though that I’m almost afraid to read the book and ruin the show. After all, isn’t the book almost always better?
The Boys. Season two of the boys was just as great and ridiculous as season one. It’s that show no one expects me to watch, let alone be a fan of, but I can’t look away. It’s awkward as hell at times, hilarious, and sometimes cringeworthy in a “I cannot watch this with my dad in the room” kind of way. There is sometimes too much going on with a cast of so many characters, but it somehow works itself out in the end. It’s been picked up for season three and I’m hoping we get more of The Deep with the rest of the Supes this go-around.
The Resident. We had to watch the season three finale of The Resident for one of my classes and I was hooked. It took me a few episodes to realize the lead character, Conrad Hawkins, is played by Matt Czuchry, also known to the masses as Logan Huntzberger from Gilrmore Girls. What I love about The Resident is that it’s a show about doctors and medicine, not a show about love triangles and the personal issues of people who happen to be doctors like a lot of medical dramas. All of the relationship and personal stories are runners, not front and center. They tackle healthcare in America in some really candid ways that I’m a big fan of. I won’t step onto my healthcare soapbox, but this show’s commentary on it gets it right. I’m looking forward to watching season 4 in “real time.”
Emily in Paris. People gave Emily in Paris a hard time for not being “authentic” or else stereotyping both the French and Americans too much, but I loved it. It was funny, inspired my wanderlust, and I was rooting for Emily the entire time. It’s been renewed for season two and while it will likely be a while before it hits Netflix – thanks, COVID – I’m excited to see how things play out. I’m also excited to get back to Paris and spend more than 36-hours there.
Sweet Magnolias. I wasn’t sure about Sweet Magnolias at first, but I quickly changed my tune. It’s like a grown up Gilmore Girls. Give me a show set in a small southern town with a diverse group of lifelong best friends and I’m all in. The season finale ended on a cliffhanger so intense I actually cursed out loud when I realized it was, in fact, the final episode. I could not believe they left us hanging like that. It took Netflix a while to announce a season two, but I’m immensely glad we’re going to find out what happened after that final scene.
All-American. One of my all-time favorite shows is Friday Night Lights. A friend of mine who knows my love for FNL texted me that I HAD to watch All-American, so I gave it a go early into quarantine and yes, yes I had to watch it. I binged the entire thing and I’m on the edge of my seat for the new season. It’s smart storytelling and while football is a central theme, it also focuses on social issues in a very real and adept way.
I’ll wrap it up there. I could go on and on about my favorites of 2020, especially in television, but it’s time to prepare to greet 2021 with a drive across the country with my few remaining possessions to start life in Los Angeles.
Wonder if any of these British actors want to help me move in?