Wow. 2020 was a truly terrible year, I think we can all agree. But one positive to stay-at-home orders is increased time to read. I powered through books during my work’s closure and ended up reading 125 books this year, from a broad range of genres and audiences. Did anyone else find that you were able to get through way more books than normal this year?
So many wonderful books were published in 2020, it was hard to narrow down my top picks. But I have agonized over it for a solid month and am happy to share the best of the best with you!
Best Audiobook: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
This one is no surprise. It got so much buzz and ended up on many 2020 favorite lists for a reason. It’s a rich, emotional tale about two sisters who live entirely different lives. The narration by Shayna Small was breathtaking and brilliant. I rarely listen to adult audiobooks, but I powered through this one in a day.
Best Fantasy: Empire of Gold by S.A. Chakraborty and Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst
From my blog, I think it is clear that fantasy is my favorite genre. I read many great ones this year, but absolutely loved the stunning conclusion to the Daevabad Trilogy. You can read more about my thoughts on this post, but I really recommend picking this series up when you need an escape.
I was pleasantly surprised by Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst. I like this author and have read many of her other books, but this one felt completely original. It’s a standalone novel centered on the dangerous racing of Kehoks- creatures created from monstrous souls. One woman trainer willing to take a risk, and one seventeen-year-old runaway team up in an attempt to change their fate by winning the most dangerous race. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, had a compelling and unexpected twist, and is led by two badass women. What more could you want?
Best General Fiction: The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi and Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
In the wake of a Nigerian mother’s discovery of her son’s body on her doorstep, a family struggles to discover what happened and understand the enigmatic nature of their child. Akwaeke Emezi is such a talented writer. This book was complex, heart wrenching, and filled with lyrical language. A total stunner.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn ended up on Obama’s top books this year, and we all know Obama can pick them. It’s lush, lyrical, and mystical, centering on a family whose middle child falls overboard and is returned to safety by a shark. His rescue is hailed as a sign from ancient Hawaiian gods, which shape the fate of the family for the rest of their lives. I could not put this book down.
Best Horror: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Garcia Moreno
Another one that has been populating many “best of” lists is Mexican Gothic. I love Silvia Garcia Moreno, and you can tell I love her because I willingly read a horror novel for the first time in my life. This one was creepy and atmospheric, and the heroine was plucky and smart. An engrossing and unique read.
Best Quick Read: Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
I wasn’t quite sure what category to put this one in as it crosses a few genres. But it’s short and packs a punch, so I think quick read Is fitting. It’s lyrical, complex, and candid following a brother and sister, gifted with extraordinary power, through childhoods defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. It’s honest and unflinching, with compelling elements of magical realism.
Best Romance: The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
I took my first foray into romance this year with this title, and I loved it. I am decidedly not a romantic, but this was cute and witty with enchanting chemistry between the two leads. It’s an enemies to lovers romance following a biochemical engineer from a traditional Indian family as she clashes with the lawyer assigned to save her company from collapse. Super fun and fresh.
Best Picture Book: A Polar Bear in the Snow by Mac Barnett and My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal and Trinity Neal
There is no resisting a new Mac Barnett picture book. This one is quiet and spare, following a polar bear through a world of snow and sea. Kids will love guessing where the polar bear is going and seeing all the arctic animals as the book progresses.
Where A Polar Bear in the Snow, My Rainbow is exuberant and celebratory. It’s about a dedicated mom creating the perfect rainbow wig for her transgender daughter, based on the author’s real-life experience. It’s so heartwarming and delighting to see this kind of representation in books for young readers.
Best Middle Grade: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia and The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar
Tristan Strong Destroys the World is the exciting sequel to the first Tristan Strong book. This whimsical story follows Tristan as he returns to an enchanted land and enlists the help of African gods and Black folktale heroes when his Nana is abducted from the family farm. It’s fun, funny, and action-packed.
The Henna Wars is both fun and heartfelt. Nishat has just told her parents that she is a lesbian, and is facing a lot of backlash from her traditional family. She enters a school competition and starts a henna business, but is surprised to find that her crush is opening a rival shop! The author discusses homophobia, racism, and bullying in a thoughtful way, and there are great moments of humor and positive support. I loved it and 100% did cry.
Best YA: Forest of Souls by Lori Lee and Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Forest of Souls is a totally original, Asian-influenced fantasy. Sirscha is unveiled as the first soulguide in hundreds of years, and is summoned to the domain of the Spider King to master her abilities. I love that the two female leads are fierce warriors who find strength in each other. The story is action-packed and the world-building is so compelling. I am really looking forward to the next installment of this series.
Fierce females were definitely my theme in YA this year. Raybearer follows Tarsai, a girl raised in isolation by a mother bent on revenge. When her mother sends her to kill the Crown Prince, Tarsai faces an intense battle between who she is and who she yearns to be. Intricately plotted, lush, and lyrical, this is one that stuck with me long after I set it down.
So there you have it, my unconventional Top 14 for 2020. I think I deserve an extra four on this list. We’ve all been through a lot! What were your favorite reads this year?