My Favorite Reads of 2020

This week, we’re sharing our favorite books of 2020 for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). 

I found it hard this year to identify ten favorite books, maybe because I read more than usual or because I read a wider range of books. Or maybe just because it’s 2020. I found myself struggling to compare books that impacted me more emotionally versus books that had more critical acclaim. Ultimately I went with books that moved me the most. This was a a year I read to get away, to be distracted, and to learn more about the world.

I decided to identify a few books as favorites in five broad categories: contemporary fiction, historical fiction, fantasy/science fiction, romance, and nonfiction. 

Contemporary fiction:

  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (audio): I loved this story about a young neuroscientist trying to cope with her mother’s mental illness and the traumatic loss of her brother due to opioid addiction.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (audio): I really got into this story of two sisters and their two daughters, and how they lose each other and find each other again. Bennett explores complicated issues of race and family relationships. Each of the characters was complex, flawed but sympathetic.
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Annaparra: Set in an impoverished neighborhood in India, and told through the eyes of a young boy, the novel explores what happens when children start disappearing and the police have no interest in investigating.
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: I love a really flawed main character and a good story about overcoming trauma. This book feels light, has a sharp sense of humor, and carries an emotional punch.

Historical fiction:

  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (audio): This was easily my favorite of the year, for O’Farrell’s brilliant depiction of life in Elizabethan England, her fascinating portrayal of Anne Hathaway, and her exploration of the art of William Shakespeare.
  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue: So many books seemed to be about plague this year! This book was a vivid illustration of one city’s experience with the influenza epidemic of 1918. It’s rich in historical detail as well as character development.
  • The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich: Erdrich wrote this novel about her own grandfather, a scholar and an activist who motivates his community to fight a bill that would “emancipate” his tribe.
  • Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell: I loved the characters in this book, but I loved Mitchell’s look at the rock music of the late 60s even more. I’m not a musician, but it’s a great band story.

Nonfiction:

  • Know My Name by Chanel Miller: Even if you know what happened, Miller’s perspective on her assault and the criminal trial that followed is so powerful. A must-read.
  • When Time Stopped by Ariana Neumann: Neumann researches her father’s history as a young Jewish man in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust. It’s beautifully written and touched me on so many levels, partly because of the similarities to my own family.
  • They Called Us Enemy by George Takei: Only the second graphic memoir I’ve read, Takei’s story is humorous and moving and informative. Another must-read, especially for younger people who want to understand the history of the Japanese internment camps.
  • No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder: This is a book I recommend to many people, because it discusses the early red flags of relationship violence but it also considers ways to rehabilitate offenders and prevent the escalation of violence. It’s important to see that there are strategies to address relationship violence that go beyond shelters.

Romance:

  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (audio): This book blew me away; it follows none of the formulas and tropes of most romance novels, and had two of the most endearing characters I’ve read in a romance, plus it features a biracial relationship and a heroine with a disability. The sequel is great too.
  • Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (audio): I was starting to feel like all period romances were the same, until I read this one. Clever writing, a smart heroine, and a sexy love story, all with the historical background of the suffrage movement in England.
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory (audio): Fair notice, I’m partial to this novel because it reminded me of my own love story (sigh), but also because I enjoyed Guillory’s snarky writing. Mostly, I like a novel that focuses on day-to-day relationship building rather than crazy plot devices. And it’s got a great sister story as well.

Science fiction and fantasy:

  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (audio): This is a story about wishes gone wrong. Addie sells her soul for a chance at freedom, but the freedom she gets is terrifying. This is a fantastic story about what it means to live, to love, and to be remembered.
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (audio): This story about a case worker who’s asked to investigate an orphanage of unusual children is pure comfort reading. I strongly recommend the audio for this one.
  • Atlas Alone by Emma Newman (audio): If Cerulean Sea is comfort reading, this one is just the opposite. Newman’s Planetfall series is some of my favorite science fiction and I feel like she’s sadly unrecognized. She’s also a fantastic audio reader. Don’t start with this one if you haven’t read the others though.
  • The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow: A fantastic story that combines fairy tales and alternate history. Three sisters who were separated for years come back together in an attempt to bring back the power of women through witchcraft. I enjoyed everything about this book.

I read so many good books this year that didn’t make this list, but you can find more of my favorite reads at these other “Best of 2020” posts:

I hope you find something you want to read on this list. Let me know if there are any books you agree or disagree with (I’m always happy to hear differing opinions about books!). In the next few weeks I’ll be posting a wrap-up of my year in reading and blogging, and my resolutions and challenges for the coming year.  Until then, wishing you all a happy New Year!

  34 comments for “My Favorite Reads of 2020

  1. lydiaschoch
    December 29, 2020 at 7:53 am

    I really ought to read Queenie sometime.

    My post.

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:38 pm

      Queenie is one of those books that’s funny but also very dark. It took me a little while to warm to the story because the main character has a lot of issues. Hope you like it!

  2. December 29, 2020 at 7:57 am

    I’ve added Hamnet to my TBR, The Vanishing Half is one I need to go back too in paperback, I couldn’t follow the narration of the audiobook. Happy reading! https://readwithstefani.com/top-10-books-of-2020/

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:37 pm

      I hope you enjoy Hamnet as much as I did! Sorry to hear you didn’t like the audiobook of Vanishing Half, but then I’ve noticed some audiobook narrators just don’t work for me either. Thanks for commenting and happy 2021!

  3. December 29, 2020 at 8:20 am

    I loved Queenie and The Vanishing Half and feel they will make my top 15 though I haven’t formulated it yet. Those Talia Brown books look great (funny how they’ve marketed her covers and also I find British Dirty an amusing category!) and I’ve added them to my wishlist. A great year of reading for you!

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:40 pm

      I had a lot of trouble deciding which books ended up on my list, there were a number that were close. Talia Hibbert is one of my new favorite authors, I just love her writing. And if “British Dirty” is a category, sign me up!

  4. December 29, 2020 at 8:21 am

    Such a great list. I have loved so many of these! Hamnet, Dani Brown, and The Pull of the Stars are in my top ten for the year.

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      Glad to hear we share some favorites Kristin! Though I’m not surprised at all, I get a lot of great recommendations from your blog. Happy reading in 2021!

      • December 29, 2020 at 2:45 pm

        Aw thank you! Same goes for you! I think we have similar reading taste for sure. Happy New Year!

  5. December 29, 2020 at 9:22 am

    This is such a great list. I have The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue at the top of my TBR. I hope to get to it soon.

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:43 pm

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! It’s very different from her other books, not like anything else I’ve read.

  6. December 29, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Great list and also great idea breaking up into different categories! Should’ve done that to fit more books in 😂 The House in the Cerulean Sea made it onto my list today too though. I also loved Chloe Brown and can’t wait to continue on with Dani’s book!

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:45 pm

      Thanks for visiting! I did kind of cheat naming 20 books instead of 10, but I just wasn’t going to get close to 10 this year. I hope you love Cerulean Sea! I’ve seen it on a few other lists as well.

  7. December 29, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Addie LaRue was on my list this week too! I need to read Chanel Miller’s book at some point soon, it sounds really powerful.
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/top-ten-tuesday-296/

    • December 29, 2020 at 2:48 pm

      Chanel Miller’s book is pretty amazing. I had followed that story closely when it happened, as a Stanford alum, but it’s very different to see it from her perspective. I love that she told her story her way.

      • December 30, 2020 at 10:05 am

        I followed the story when it happened, but I’d definitely love to see what she had to say about it.

  8. December 29, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    I haven’t read any of these, but a number of them are on my TBR list somewhere! Funny enough, I just bought a copy of THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA at my local indie yesterday. I’m excited to read it in 2021. I’ve heard great things about it.

    Happy TTT!

    Susan
    http://www.blogginboutbooks.com

    • December 30, 2020 at 7:53 am

      Thanks for commenting, I hope you like Cerulean Sea as much as I did. And happy reading in 2021!

  9. December 29, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    I spotted quite a few I want to read including The Vanishing Half. Looks like you had a great reading year! I like that you divided them into your favorite genres too.

    • December 30, 2020 at 8:04 am

      Thanks for commenting Laura! I hope you like Vanishing Half if you read it. I get so many great suggestions from these lists. The genre thing worked well this year, so I may do it in the future. It’s so hard to compare different types of books.

  10. December 29, 2020 at 1:23 pm

    So many good books on your list to add to my 2021 TBR list! I especially want to read The House in the Cerulean Sea and The Djinn Patrol. But the others all look good, too. 😀

    • December 30, 2020 at 8:00 am

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you like Cerulean Sea and Djinn Patrol as much as I did. Happy reading in 2021!

  11. December 29, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    The Wedding Date was a fun romance. I’m glad it was one that brought you joy this year.

    • December 30, 2020 at 7:59 am

      Thanks! Yes, not a weighty book like some of the others on this list, but one I really enjoyed, and I needed more of that this year. Have a very happy 2021!

  12. December 29, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    The Vanishing Half, Hamnet, Addie LaRue, Take A Hint Chloe Brown and Bringing Down The Duke are high on my TBR pile! I really loved Get A Life Chloe Brown. I’ve also seen The House In The Cerulean Sea a couple times today and I’m intrigued!

    • December 30, 2020 at 7:58 am

      Cerulean Sea is wonderful, and perfect for a time you need something to make you feel good (and it’s definitely been that kind of year). I hope you like the others if you read them. Happy reading in 2021!

  13. December 29, 2020 at 8:11 pm

    I love how you approached this because I had a lot of the same issues this week. How do I define a list of favorites when I’ve read so many great books that don’t necessarily compare? And I love that Queenie is represented here. Such a great book.

    • December 30, 2020 at 7:56 am

      Thanks Christopher! I usually can come up with a list of 10 (or 15) pretty easily. I debated between Queenie and Writers and Lovers for this list, both great books but Queenie had more emotional impact on me. Happy reading in 2021!

  14. December 30, 2020 at 8:46 am

    I really want to read Hamnet and the Brown Sisters series as I’ve heard so many good things about them 🙂

    • December 31, 2020 at 4:06 pm

      Hamnet is amazing! I hope you love it.

  15. December 30, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve read three of your four non-fiction picks, so I should probably check out the 4th too! So many great books on your list. Wishing you lots more great reading in 2021!

    • December 31, 2020 at 4:07 pm

      Thanks Lisa, wishing you a happy 2021 as well!

  16. January 1, 2021 at 8:46 pm

    I’m looking forward to Hamnet and Addie LaRue. I’m excited to see what the hype is about. Happy 2021!

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