This post is about some of my favorite new-to-me authors in 2020 (so far). I focused more on fiction than nonfiction, with a couple of exceptions. I’ve read some excellent nonfiction this year, like Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises and Garrett Graf’s The Only Plane in the Sky, but here I’ve chosen books that make me want to read more of that author’s body of work.
I was really moved by Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa. I know some found it too long and rambling, but I really got swept up in what this main character experienced. I know Russell is writing from some personal experience (though she emphasizes this is not a memoir), so I look forward to seeing what she writes next.
I was also moved by Courtney Summers’ novel Sadie. This is a young adult novel that was a devastating story about a teenager who is abused by her stepfather, abandoned by her mother, and who sets off to find her missing sister. It’s on the melodramatic side, but it’s told through the plot device of a podcast which makes it a perfect audiobook. I’m really interested in reading more from this author.
I absolutely loved Ariel Lawhon’s Code Name Helene, a historical novel about a very real woman, Nancy Wake, who led a group in the French Resistance in World War II. It’s inspiring, terrifying, and sad. The characters depicted in this novel, who are nearly all real people, lose so much in World War II, as did so many people. Lawhon really makes you feel like you’re there — which will make you wonder, if you could have been the same kind of hero these Resistance fighters were?
From the Women’s Prize longlist:
I discovered five new authors from this year’s Women’s Prize longlist, and I’m excited to read more by them. Claire Lombardo wrote The Most Fun We Ever Had, a dark and complicated family saga that reminded me of Ann Patchett and Maggie O’Farrell. Bernadine Evaristo wrote the excellent, and Booker Prize winning, Girl, Woman, Other. This book is told in loosely related chapters from the perspectives of different women of color living in London, and touches on so many interesting issues related to race, feminism, and family. Candice Carty-Williams wrote Queenie, a book I almost put down at first because the main character is pretty difficult to like. But it’s a book that’s worth the effort; it’s humorous but also insightful. Jing-Jing Lee’s How We Disappeared was a moving and informative story about a woman forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese in World War II Singapore. Finally, I loved Deepa Anappara’s Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, a book that tells the story of a young boy in India who’s trying to find his friend who may have been kidnapped. The real story here is the lack of interest from police and other officials in helping these poor families.
Romance Writers: I’ve been reading a lot of romance this year, and I’ve happily discovered some wonderful new authors, and I’m particularly happy to see more diversity in the romance genre.
My favorite new romance writer is Talia Hibbert, who wrote Get A Life, Chloe Brown and Take a Hint, Dani Brown. Her books are really funny, and I like the way she has fun with romance tropes while also dealing with serious issues like trauma, disability, and race. Her books have a modern feel to them that I wasn’t expecting to find in a romance novel.
Similarly, I really liked Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date and sequel The Wedding Party. While a lot of romance novels focus on complicated plot setups, Guillory’s novels focus more on the day to day relationship issues of people who just aren’t quite ready to commit to each other. Some readers complained that Guillory spends a LOT of time talking about what her characters eat and drink, and I don’t disagree with that. But I like that attention to detail, and let’s face it, how you eat in front of the person you just started dating is something women think about.
Evie Dunmore is my newest favorite historical romance writer. I was expecting Bringing Down the Duke to be like every other historical romance with the word “Duke” in the title. But instead this book gave me a ton of detail about the suffrage movement, and a romance I found surprisingly smart and sexy.
I’ve been reading a lot of books about race and feminism this year. One of my favorites was Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. Of all the books I’ve read about race this year, this one felt the most practical yet also heartfelt. While White Fragility is good for telling white people what they should and shouldn’t do (which I appreciate), this book really explains Oluo’s perspective on what it feels like to be black and to experience microaggressions and racism. Her book left me with an understanding I didn’t have before, and she shares personal stories that I remember every time I drive or go into a nice store.
I also really loved listening to Lindy West’s Shrill. I saw the show with Aidy Bryant, which was great, but not as good as hearing West herself. I will definitely be reading more of her books.
And one more: I couldn’t figure out how to work T.J. Klune into this list, but his The House in the Cerulean Sea was one of my absolute favorites this year. If you like fantasy, and you’re looking for something comforting, I can’t recommend this enough. It’s funny and clever and sometimes adorable (and I hate books that are adorable). It reminded me of the movie Monsters, Inc. in that it somehow manages to combine office humor and kindly monsters. I recommend this by audiobook if you have the option. The narrator is so, so good.
So those are some of the best new authors I’ve discovered this year. Some of them (Anappara, Lombardo, Russell, and Carty-Williams) are debut novelists so they don’t have more books I can read. For the others, if you’ve read them, do you have any recommendations of what I should read next? And if you haven’t, I hope you’ll find a new favorite among this list.