2020 has been a pretty grim year in many ways. The pandemic has had a terrible impact on many people’s lives and has been felt right across the world. After such a stressful year, I felt like I could use a pick-me-up.
So, I asked bloggers, readers, and booktubers alike to share one book (or more if they couldn’t choose) that improved 2020 for them and made their year that little bit better. I was hopeful that we could share a few bookish positives after an overwhelmingly bleak year.
And everyone really came through with the positives. Here are the books they chose.
The book that has improved 2020 for me should be no surprise to anyone who knows me even the slightest, but that is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
It was my most anticipated release of the whole year, and it was really fun to count down the days until its release on Twitter. The book came out at the perfect timing for me because my mental health wasn’t the best at the time.
Reading about Henry… I felt seen and understood, and I really needed that. Not only the experience of reading the book was amazing, but I was also really grateful to see three live talks with V.E. Schwab, which gave me more details into the process of writing this beautiful book.
And of course, I loved talking about it with Kate, and with anyone who joined the Schwab Readalong. I’ll forever cherish those memories!
Like a lot of people, this year I started reading The Poppy War series, and it changed my life honestly.
It’s such a fantastic book and series and every time I think about it I get a thrill because it’s so well written and developed. It’s the kind of book that can take you to another world, which I’ve sorely needed this year.
A book that really improved my year was Say Hello by Carly Findlay. It’s a memoir about disability as well as a guide for non-disabled allies.
I loved it because it was hugely empowering for people with a disability, and reminded me that I don’t have to hide or be ashamed of my disability. I’m planning to reread it in 2021 and every year after!
So for me it was definitely A Winter’s Promise and the entire Mirror Visitor series by Christelle Dabos. I became obsessed with these books after a reading slump and they really managed to take my mind off things for a while.
In A Winter’s Promise, the so called Rupture has torn the world apart and people live on Arks now. Each Ark has an ancestor, a kind of spirit that influences its surroundings and descendants with a power.
Ophelia, the protagonist, lives on Anima, an Ark where objects have souls. She loves nothing more than the museum she works in but then her family arranges for her to marry a man from another Ark. She has to leave her home to live on the Pole with her fiancé, Thorn, a grumpy man who is as cold as the Ark he lives on. She soon realizes, there is much more to the engagement than she thought. And that nothing there is as it seems.
This book really was unlike anything I’ve read in a while. It’s both dark and sweet, brutal but hopeful. A Winter’s Promise got me back into reading and find new favourite books that really helped me through the toughest months of the year.
2020 has been a lot of things. None of them are positives. Well, maybe one or two. We still had books, and I was very lucky that I had them with me this year. One, in particular, was Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall.
I mean, yes, I did read the finales of three of my favourite trilogies. And I did come across new favourites that I could gab about for hours, but Boyfriend Material takes the cake with this one. I have never laughed out loud at a book so much before. I’m not usually into humorous books, but make it a witty British take on fake dating with a lawyer and a rock star’s son, and I’m sold!
The jokes were hilarious, so much so that I would find family members around the house and just read the passages out so we could all have a laugh. Thank you for making me smile in 2020, Alexis Hall!
I picked up this novella series by chance and I’m so glad that I did, as the audiobooks have been a great source of comfort for me, especially when I was stressed out at the end of October due to moving.
The story has a fantastic protagonist called Murderbot (a bot/human construct) whose uncertainty about what its purpose was supposed to be and introversion I could relate to so much!
Murderbot’s distinct character voice really makes these books stand out to me and it was comforting to see a competent character also show doubt and make mistakes. Following its adventures provided me with some much-needed escapism from the world!
Rilke’s collection of letters titled The Dark Interval is not an easy read, but if you are inspired to confront your emotions and become acquainted with your heart, this book is for you.
Rilke’s consoling letters were the perfect companion for a year such as this one.
The book I’ve chosen is Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron. It was was an enchanting, spectacular read that did put an original twist on the story of Cinderella.
The diversity within it was great with a black, sapphic main character and you get so many feminist vibes which is just outstanding. Each female character within the story was strong, badass and fierce and is the perfect representation of how we want women to be perceived in YA fantasy. This is a book that definitely helped me escape and one that I will be rereading.
I’ve read a lot of wonderful books in 2020 but the book that really improved my year was My Man Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse. It was the first of the six Jeeves books I read this year that were like a balm for my tired and stressed brain.
The plot lines are simple and similar, the pacing is practiced and perfected, and every story gave me a laugh. Whenever 2020 got too…2020, Jeeves was my comfort character!
If there is one book that left an impact on me this year long, long after I’d finished it and set it aside, it’s Know My Name by Chanel Miller.
In it, she reclaims her identity; takes back her power, after having been depicted as the “unconscious, intoxicated woman” in a rapist’s story, regurgitated in countless newspaper articles all over the world, wholly saturated with rape culture narratives.
It’s one of the most stunning, heart-wrenching, powerful, and inspiring memoirs I’ve had the chance to read—and one everyone should read. (TWs: rape, sexual assault, rape culture.)
I could honestly pick several because I had so many books that really resonated with me or made me happy in some way but if I have to pick just one then the book that really improved 2020 for me was Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen!
It was such a joyously quiet read that just made my heart sing with happiness; the friendships, the romance, everything about it was delightful and brought me so much joy when I read it (and also when I re-read it!).
Raybearer is so intricately and lovingly written, and fittingly, it feels like sitting in the warm rays of the sun. It really brightened up my 2020!
Like everyone else, 2020 was an incredibly challenging year for me. My coping mechanism was diving into books, and I read a lot more than I have in quite a while. Two books that I especially enjoyed and that truly helped me were Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty and The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi.
I don’t know how, but I had not read the Daevabad books before this year. I started seeing stuff about the release of Empire of Gold and I decided to dive right in. This series has quickly become one of my all-time favorites, but Kingdom of Copper was something special.
This book meant a lot to me for several reasons. First, I loved Ali’s passion for his faith was something I loved to see. In the midst of everything that happened in that book, he turns to his faith so often, and I loved to see that- because it’s the same thing I did this year.
I also loved to see how both Ali and Nahri grew as characters despite everything going on. The world was also just such a great place to disappear into, when our world was so awful. This world was one that gave me a place to disappear into when this year sent me into depression and anxiety spirals.
If there’s something I love, it’s big cast books with heist plots. Seriously, you tell me a book has that, and I’ll snatch it right up. The Silvered Serpents has both of these elements, and I was so excited to read it, especially with how much I loved The Gilded Wolves.
This book was my other favorite read of the year for so many reasons, but I think a major part was because I saw myself in quite literally every one of these phenomenal characters. I know people wanted to punch Séverin after this book, and I certainly did too, but I also really resonated with his desire to protect everyone around him, no matter the cost.
Enrique’s fear of forever being overlooked, Hypnos’ desire to fit in and find a friend group, Laila’s desire for everyone to feel loved, and Zofia’s attempts to figure out how she fit in, were also all parts of myself that I saw reflected thanks to these characters. Parts of myself that I viewed as weaknesses or things I needed to improve, but in these characters were stronger for them.
Chokshi’s book reminded me that what I view as weaknesses might be just the opposite. I don’t think I could’ve gotten through this year without all the books I read, and these two were definitely two of the best!
In one heck of a crazy year, I found a brilliant spark of joy in reading Legendborn by Tracy Deonn! I’ve always loved fantasy, but as a Black girl, growing up I never got to see myself or my culture in the genre.
Moreover, as an academically “gifted” Black girl, I rarely found depictions of Black girls like me in fiction, which tended to portray Black girls as “sporty.” So reading Legendborn—a contemporary fantasy about an academically gifted Black girl and featuring magic rooted in African American history and culture—was so wonderful, for me now and for my inner child!
Legendborn is exactly the kinda book I wish my teen self had had, but even now, in my late twenties it gave me such great joy to read it! It was the kind of magical literary homecoming of sorts that really brightened my year.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman was the first book I read in 2020, and one that’s stayed with me ever since. Beartown is a story about ice hockey and the community. It’s a story that sees the best and worst of people.
It’s emotionally raw and highlights the devastating power of silence, but within the sadness and rage, there is a quiet yet profound sense of strength found in the face of hardship.
It’s one of those books that is so authentic in its exploration of human nature that you feel a sense of kinship with these characters. Beartown is beautiful, ugly, raw, and real, an easy highlight of 2020.
To be honest, 2020 was not doing well for me, and it’s not only because of everything going on. I’ve had personal issues back-to-back, having no break. But there was one book that kept me together and it was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
I know it wasn’t a 2020 release, but this book feels timeless to me. It really improved my 2020 quite a bit, considering it was about a woman who is lonely and socially awkward until she comes across new friends, and a singer she has a crush on.
She is literally me right there, and I cannot get enough. And another way this book improved this year is that it wants me to keep going. If anything good comes out for Eleanor, so it should for me. And it turns out, it did in some way, for now I’m getting my life together. So if you feel alone and hopeless, I think Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Find might help. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig came at a perfect time for me. This year, like many of us, I really struggled with my mental health and this came in when I really needed it.
My reading life took a major hit in 2020. I was reading half as much as usual half as quickly and feeling mostly unenthused by my reading choices; despite that, objectively, there was nothing overly wrong with them.
Then, I started Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse. It was like the magic of the whole world opened up to me again. Ironically, a book that built towards a world-changing phenomenon became my rock with its richly-woven world-building, fascinating characters, and enjoyable prose.
I was reminded that fantasy can still be written in a completely original way. That diverse writers telling diverse stories are more important than ever. That joy can still be captured between the pages even when the stakes are high and darkness feels like it’s drawing ever closer. I haven’t stopped thinking about this book or recommending it to everyone I talk to.
I immediately followed it up with A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, a debut YA fantasy novel by Roseanne A. Brown, about a boy who struggles with anxiety and a princess who is just trying to be good enough while the pressure only grows.
I saw every pitfall this debut could fall into and was beyond impressed as Brown deftly darted past every one of them, conjuring forth a story that is full of magic and determination, heart and family, love and betrayal.
In Malik and Karina, I saw some of the less flattering parts of myself that had surfaced in 2020, and I was inspired each time they rose above them or harnessed their flaws as strengths. I hope even more readers come to know the start of their story along with its Black boy joy and Black girl magic. This is a gem of a book that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali is one of the best books I read this year because it’s the first time I felt represented as Muslim. Love from A to Z is a love story, it has disability rep, deals with Islamophobia, and talks about what it’s like to be a Muslim teenager in the U.S. Although I’m no longer a high school student, I could relate to it a lot as a Muslim and I love that a younger generation of readers will get to resonate with these characters.
Another book that is a must-read series is A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. This fantasy series has Arabic and Pakistani inspired words in it. I also love how Sabaa Tahir can write such a mind-blowing fantasy series with such a satisfying ending.
For me it was The Tea Dragon Festival. This year I’ve really struggled with my mental health (as have so many!) and I fell into a huge reading slump and couldn’t bring myself to read.
The Tea Dragon Festival brought so much joy and got me out of my reading slump. It’s such a joyful and soft read and perfect for escaping the world. Especially if you love tea, like me!
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi gave me a found family that was functionally dysfunctional and I loved them so much. Chokshi’s writing is stunning and I couldn’t help but fall into the story as if I was there with the characters. It’s also a diverse story that covers about important topics.
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is a series that I slept on for too long. I picked this series up when my retail job opened up (to just the employees while we cleaned and reorganized) after the shutdown.
I listened to all three audiobooks in like four days. I was extremely anxious about returning to work after being safe at home for three months and this series really kept me out of my head, kept me from hyper-focusing on my anxiety about my store opening to the public and how busy it would be. This series will forever standout in my memory because it helped me through this transition.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a book that surprised me. I liked her first book, but this one absolutely blew me away. I couldn’t think about anything else until I finished this book, and even then I thought about it for weeks afterward. That’s exactly what I wanted from the books I read this year, books that I could devour, that might devour me in return. This book did that.
The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke is the story of an angry teenage lesbian witch. I devoured this book. It was absolute perfection. It was diverse in sexuality and race. There’s just something about angry teen girls (especially witches) kicking ass, taking names, and fighting back. It was a story about self-discovery, which is something that I realized I needed this year. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and all of the queer books I’ve read, especially this one, have helped me.
Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds is the first book to actually make me sob in 2020. This book was so powerful and full of emotion. I tended to sick to romance books, or action packed fantasy and science fiction for most of the year. But this month I finally read this beautiful story filled with grief, making amends, and friends and family.
The story was told in such an interesting way that I couldn’t stop listening to the audiobook despite the fact that I sobbed several times while listening. It was a sort outlet for my own emotions that have built up through the year.
The Red Rising saga by Pierce Brown is a backlist series that I started on audiobook toward the end of October. I listened to all five books in the span of a month (which is fast because some of these audiobooks are 30+ hours). This series was dark and gritty. It was gory and violent. Despite all of that, it was full of characters that I couldn’t help but become invested in. This series helped me find entertainment in a darkness that wasn’t the world we live in.
I’ve read a lot of great books this year so it’s really hard to narrow it down to just one. But, I just *have* to mention 40-Love by Olivia Dade.
An adult romance with an age gap, fat rep and such an unproblematic (yet steamy) relationship, it was everything I needed wrapped up with a beautiful cover. It stoked my love for romance and raised the bar super high for all of my future reads.
Plus Olivia Dade is an absolutely lovely human being and it has been such fun interacting with her online and reading her backlist too! I devoured this book in less than 24 hours and it gave me butterflies, had me laughing out loud and screeching at just how perfect it was. This just had to be my choice.
Peace Talks and Battle Ground by Jim Butcher; yes, both these books are on here as without the other they are incomplete and yes they ripped my heart to shreds with the events happening within.
So why are they my comfort books? Well because The Dresden Files is my favourite series of all time. I’ve followed these characters for 17 books (prior to read these two) I know these characters like the back of my hand. They are my friends, no they are like family, and reading the Dresden Files feels like coming home even though I cried multiple times reading these books.
I felt at easy to be reading them since it was familiar and they really improved my year for the better even though I’m never forgiving Jim for chapter 22 in Battle Ground.
This year has obviously been a colossal mess, and more than ever I’ve found books to be a haven. While I’ve always been a huge lover of a good romance, 2020 brought out the true romantic in me and for the first time since I started tracking my reads, my most read genre wasn’t fantasy.
While my absolute fave book of the year was Addie, I think the most significant mood boosters that have really helped me cope with this hell hole of a year was finding a deep rooted love for Elle Kennedy’s Off Campus and Briar U series, The Roommate by Rosie Danan, Talia Hibbert’s Brown Sisters trilogy and Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert.
Romances have been my saving grace this year, allowing me to lose myself in a whirlwind of feel-good and happily ever afters.
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman was one of the most thought provoking and incredible books I’ve read this year, and it is most definitely a 5 star read.
Whilst there are many aspects of this book and Kiko’s character that I couldn’t relate to (but gained a new/better understanding of), there were other things that I could and because of that, I felt like I was less alone in some of my own feelings.
Sometimes knowing that somebody else, fictional or real, has felt the same way as you can be a wonderful thing.
Let’s Talk About Love was the book that improved my year because it was a book that gave me hope concerning my own identity. As someone who has only recently come out as ace, the fear that I wouldn’t find someone who could accept me was always at the back of my mind.
Claire Kann wrote a beautiful story that gave me hope that like Alice, I will find people who will accept me for who I am. Moreover, it was wonderful to find a book by an ace author too. It gave me hope that soon I’ll come across more ace stories too.
The book that really improved 2020 for me was You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle. I feel like everyone this year needed something light and fun to escape into and this book is definitely a perfect example of that.
I’ve never laughed out loud in a book as much as I did with this one. I finished it and immediately re-read it afterwards because I loved it that much. A fun, light-hearted adult romance was definitely what I needed in 2020.
A book that really improved 2020 for me is Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui. Ann is a journalist and the daughter of Chinese immigrants who moved to Canada before Ann was born.
In the book, Ann travels across Canada eating at chop suey restaurants in small towns. Her aim is to learn about the history of Chinese Canadian food culture and her family’s own personal history.
This book was so impactful to me because I’m Chinese Canadian and grew up eating in these restaurants. I loved hearing familiar names of places and dishes. It felt like home! And in a year that’s felt so disconnected from family, I really cherished reading this book.
2020 has been such a freaking roller coaster, and not the good kind. I definitely needed a pick-me-up, in fact a dozen pick-me-up books this year, and Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli might have been the best of them. Kate sent it to me as a birthday gift and oh my god it was the perfect warm hug I needed!
I love the Simonverse and its characters and returning to them felt like home. It definitely helped me escape reality and I was successfully reduced into a puddle of giggles and tears. It’s such a cute and short novella, I would definitely recommend ending your year with a read or re-read of this heart-warming book.
It didn’t seem fair to ask everyone else to share a book without sharing my own choice, which is The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang.
I picked this up in May during the first UK lockdown, when things were looking pretty bleak. Covid cases were on the rise, people were furloughed, and morale was pretty low. I’d been looking for some fantasy to give me a boost so I picked this up because it had been on my TBR for a long time.
And it was fantastic. JY Yang’s writing is sublime; I was completely transported by the vivid, imaginative world-building, finding myself totally immersed in the story. The characters drew me in and I knew very quickly that this was going to become a new favourite.
And it did. I’ve since read the sequel, will be picking up the third book soon, and I think about this series every week. The Black Tides of Heaven improved my year without a shadow of a doubt.
A huge thank you to everyone that contributed to this blog post. Your answers were all fantastic and I hope everyone reading this post will enjoy them as much as I did.
Which books improved your 2020? Are there any on this list that you loved too?