I read 102 books in 2020. The best of the lot are summarized below and my Goodreads reviews for each can be found here.
To be clear, not all of these books came out in 2020. Some are older and some, (like my Netgalley reads) won’t be published until 2021. This is just the year when I read them.
As we all know, 2020 was a very strange, stressful year. I certainly wasn’t myself, so I feel like my reading habits and tastes were ALL OVER the place. (That is perhaps why there are so many “runner up” options below.)
Hopefully you’ll find a book below that connects with you and inspires your 2021 reading list–even if that’s just to read a single book. If none of these ideas do it for you, check out my 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 or 2015 lists.
Before reading Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior Palmer, I knew next to nothing about horse races or Mongolia. That didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying a book about both topics. It’s a fascinating story, told by a fascinating woman. Runner up: I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown.
Best Self Help
Technically Untamed by Glennon Doyle is a memoir too, but I’m sticking it under self-help here because it certainly fits that bill. This book, in my opinion, lived up to the hype. If you’re looking for a kick in the pants to make some changes in 2021, this book can be the boot to get the job done. Runner up: Master of You by Cate Stillman
Best YA (Young Adult)
2020 was definitely the year I needed the escapism of a story about a crew of scrappy young adults fighting monsters. All These Monsters by Amy Tintera was a fun, fast read that also featured characters (and a love triangle) with surprising depth–a feature that is sometimes lacking in this genre. I can’t wait to read this book’s sequel in 2021. Runner up: The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe.
Best YA Series
I wasn’t totally in love with The Raven Cycle–a four book series by Maggie Stiefvater–but I certainly enjoyed reading it and respected the craft of it. This supernatural series about a group of teens has strong characters and world-building (even the adults are fully fleshed out). No side character is ever wasted, no storyline is thrown in haphazardly–all big pluses when it comes to reading a series.
I have two top pics in this category: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and The Lost Village by Camilla Sten and Alexandra Fleming (the later to be published March 23, 2021). Gothic is a veeeerry slow burn book, that still manages to be genuinely creepy. Village started off deeply scary, but (for me) became something different altogether the further I read. Neither is a classic horror tale, but instead explore new, original ground.
I finished the The Resonant Duology in 2020–a two book series by Bob Proehl consisting of The Nobody People and The Somebody People. Both books had an X-men vibe, but with a more diverse cast of characters and themes about belonging, power, and politics. Note: these books share a complex plot and cast of characters. They are best read back-to-back.
Like many white people, this year I sought to learn more about racism. I think there is no better primer on the topic than How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This is a dense book that might be overwhelming in scope for some. I recommend reading (and discussing) it with others as you go. Runner up: My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem.
Best Historical Fiction
It was not my intention to read a novel about a pandemic during a pandemic, but I’m ultimately thankful I did. The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is a beautifully written, heart-wrenching story about the Flu of 1918 that will make you thankful for all of the medical advances we have today. Runner up: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (to be released March 2, 2020).
I tried to limit my dystopian reads this year too. Nevertheless, I’m glad I made time for Happy Doomsday by David Sosnowski, a coming of age story (with a truly kick ass cover) that starts just as the world is ending (an event that is over quickly and not explored in detail.) The focus here is on the memorable characters and how they adjust to a “new normal” (which, for one character, is maybe an improvement over the old one.) Runner up: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Best Literary Fiction
I read a number of great literary fiction titles this year, but I think my favorite was a three-way tie between The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, (a story of two bi-racial sisters–one who passes in society as white, the other as black) Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, (the timely story about a social media influencer and her black au pair) and the sprawling, atmospheric, The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. All three books have made numerous “Best Of” lists for 2020 and are worth checking out.
Ironically, I always have a hard time finding a romance I truly love. However, I did really like Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan. Reading about the adventures of the terribly rich and well-traveled (such lush descriptions of Capri!) was the fun escapism I needed this year, in particular. Runner up: One Day in December by Josie Silver
I wasn’t in love with any of my outer space books this year, so my top spot is instead going to what some may call “soft sci-fi.” Followers by Megan Angelo takes place in the present AND the future–a future just different enough from our own to be genuinely disturbing. If you ever wondered what the fallout might be from today’s social media habits, this book offers an unsettling possible answer. Runner up: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong was certainly the most original book I read this year. It’s a loose re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Oh yeah, there’s a monster in it too. The whole book is kinda bonkers, (and a bit long, in my opinion) but, as a theatre nerd, I dug the concept. Runners up: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire and Ninth House by Alex Stern. (I read a lot of good fantasy this year).
I read a lot of thrillers every year, and after awhile the stories all tend to blend together. So if I can remember the book’s plot at the year’s end, it makes this list. Two books fit that bill this year: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay, a book with dual timelines and dual murders, (which will be released March 2, 2021), and His & Hers by Alice Feeney, a book with dual unreliable narrators, (written by an author who, in my opinion, consistently writes good thrillers.)
Best Stephen King
Of course I read King’s latest book, If It Bleeds and thoroughly enjoyed it, (even his wide swings into new terrain.) However, the book that gave me the biggest King vibes this year was actually Cold Storage by David Koepp. Storage will remind you of the books from King’s heyday and features relatable, easy to root for characters, snappy dialogue, a creep-tastic premise, and a wee bit of gore. This book was endorsed by King himself.
I don’t know what it’s like to parent a trans child, but I felt like This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel gave me a good (and necessary) introduction. This book tackled a rarely-explored topic with beautiful storytelling, grace, and empathy and was an all around lovely read. Runner up: The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe. (Yep. This is listed under YA too. Not quite sure where Queen belongs. I just know I liked it.)
Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman is considered a “humorous” book. While it did make me smile, some of that humor cut awfully close to home too, which made my heart hurt… in a good way. This book was an excellent reminder that sometimes life is hard, but we CAN get through it, even if we’re awkward, messy, or weird along the way–an inspirational message any year, but particularly one I needed to hear in 2020.