In 2020, I somehow managed to read more books than any other year. Ever. So when it came down to choosing the best of the best, I had a bit of a task on my hands. How do you narrow down 120 books to 10 or 15 favourites?
With difficulty, apparently.
But after some musing and deliberating, I managed to do it. This list doesn’t include rereads, only books that I read for the first time last year.
So, grab a drink, grab a snack, and make yourself comfortable for the best 18 books I read in 2020.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
I read this in February for F/F February and it became an instant new favourite for me.
The story of Evelyn, her life as a movie star, her husbands, and her true love had me completely enrapt. The way Evelyn discovered her sexuality felt very resonant with me, as her gradual realisation felt very similar to my own.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s narrative is sublime and the way she brings the two timelines closer and closer together until we realise the final twist is *CHEF’S KISS*
Everything Leads to You
I also read this for F/F Feb and I completely fell in love with the characters and story. The writing style was so beautiful that I was swept up in the setting and plot.
The whole book had an atmosphere like a sunset, bathed in gold and each chapter gives us glamour, but also sadness and longing, creating a rich tapestry of nostalgia and warmth. There’s something really beautiful about Nina LaCour’s writing, it’s lyrical and gentle, and bursting with feeling.
Harley in the Sky
This book is the third Akemi Dawn Bowman novel I’ve read and probably my favourite of all three. Set primarily at a circus, the story follows Harley, an aerialist, as she leaves home after a fight with her parents to join a rival traveling circus.
The discussions of mental health, loneliness, and understanding your identity in this story were powerful and Akemi Dawn Bowman strikes a good balance between exploring these issues, developing her characters, and furthering the plot.
This book is full of emotion and I think, because I read it in about three sittings, I was completely swept up in it.
Upright Women Wanted
I listened to this book on audio in spring and was completely taken in by how unique it was. Set in a future American southwest, we follow Esther who stows away in a wagon with a group of librarians who are travelling across country.
But these librarians are a little different to usual. They’re queer, warrior librarians, who smuggle books and people in need across country.
I thoroughly enjoyed the action and romance in this story, as well as the fact that there was a non-binary character, a sapphic romance, and a polyamorous romance. Women and non-binary characters were at the front and center of this novel and I loved it.
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water
This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it lived up to all my expectations. This wuxia-inspired fantasy follows Guet Imm, a nunn who joins up with a group of bandits to protect a sacred object.
The story had everything I love in fantasy: vibrant world-building, brilliant characters, action, romance, and fantastic writing. There’s also a trans character and queer romance that made my heart swell. Immaculate vibes.
The Black Tides of Heaven
Another historical fantasy that I was completely enchanted by is The Black Tides of Heaven. I read this in May and then spent the rest of the year telling anyone who would listen how great the series is.
Mokoya and Akeha are twins born into the royal family who both possess great power and are sent away to a monastery to grow up and control it. But when they come of age, the royal family decides it wants to reclaim one twin…but not the other.
The world-building and fantasy elements in this story are so imaginative and the writing is fantastic. There are also multiple queer characters and, in this world, everyone grows up non-binary until they choose their gender. I listened to the audiobooks for the first two novels in the series and I absolutely loved them.
The Empress of Salt and Fortune
Another beautifully-written novel that took my heart and said ‘this is mine now’ is The Empress of Salt and Fortune.
This book is about Chih, a cleric, and Almost Brilliant, a magical hoopoe who can record events in perfect detail, as they take account of Empress In-yo’s history from the perspective of her companion, Rabbit.
The story runs in dual timelines between Rabbit’s past and the present. The writing is sublime and the very end of the story was so emotional that I had tears in my eyes.
An Ember in the Ashes
An Ember in the Ashes is such a hyped book in the book community and I’d seen lots of friends read and love it, so I went in with high hopes. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The story follows Laia and Elias as they try to take down the empire from different sides. The audiobooks for this series are so well narrated and I loved the explosive action and tension in the first novel.
Some of the scenes where Elias and Laia were fighting for their lives had me so STRESSED, but in a good way? I was stressed but I couldn’t look away at the same time because it was so exciting.
If I had to tell you which book made me laugh the most in 2020, it’s definitely this one. Boyfriend Material is an M/M romantic comedy about Luc, the son of a rock star and always seems to find himself in the tabloids for the wrong reasons.
When his work tell him he needs to improve his image, Luc’s friends set him up with Oliver, a lawyer and all-round good guy, in order to improve his reputation.
The humour in this book really tickled me and I ended up frequently snorting with laughter at Luc’s quips. I also love a good fake dating story when it’s done well and this felt believable while still being incredibly entertaining.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown
This book was an absolute delight. Pure and simple.
It begins with Chloe Brown having a near miss involving with a drunk driver and deciding she needs to ‘get a life’ (roll titles). Chloe makes a list of things she wants to do, starting with moving out. At her new place, she meets Red, the grumpy building superintendent and it’s dislike at first sight. But not for long…
The romance in this book was SO cute and I loved the way it developed from enemies to lovers. The steamy scenes were a lot of fun and I enjoyed the discussions of chronic illness and fibromyalgia because I haven’t read many books that talked about these topics in so much detail.
I read Wicked Fox in 2019 and it was one of my favourite books for that year, so I’m happy to report that I read Vicious Spirits in 2020 it became one of my favourites for last year.
Where the first book centred on Miyoung and Jihoon, this book focuses on Somin and Junu. Both are secondary characters in Wicked Fox, but they become protagonists in this book and I loved seeing their character development.
I LOVE the squad in this duology, would 100% protect them with my life. I really enjoyed the complexities of their friendship and seeing them grow closer (I’m soft for them). The narrative was so good at point in the story that it made me nostalgic for a place I’ve never been to??? Witchcraft.
Speaking of amazing sequels, Iron Heart was an immediate new favourite. The recap at the beginning was the perfect way to dive back into this world and I really enjoyed the way this book took a darker turn with the corrupt monsters.
The sequel shows us Crier and Ayla trying to save humanity from Scyre Kinok, who is trying to turn the Automa into gruesome monsters and destroy all humans.
I enjoyed the introduction of new allies (can we get a spin-off of Hook and Erren???) and the companionship, romantic moments, and humorous dialogue between Ayla and Crier make for some of the best moments in the novel.
The easy grace and elegance of Nina Varela’s writing style gives us beautiful descriptions and incredibly poignant moments.
Punching the Air
I listened to this on audio and it’s fantastic. The poetic, lyrical nature of the writing is made even more powerful by Ethan Herisse’s narration.
Punching the Air is about Amal Shahid, a student who loves creating art and writing poetry, but is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Amal is subjected to racial profiling, racist stereotypes, and harsher treatments from his school teachers just for being Black.
Creativity is hugely important in this book and I loved the way Amal expresses creative side in poetry and drawing. I found Amal so easy to connect and sympathise with and I spent the whole novel wanting him to receive justice and to find happiness.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
Unsurprisingly, this was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and since it’s made my best books of 2020 list, you can probably guess how I feel about it.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is about a young woman who wants a different life than the one she has, so she makes a deal with the Old Gods to live forever. But in exchange, she’s cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
I’ve never read a book like this. A book with so much emotion and magic folded into each page. A book that’s so beautifully written that my heart physically ached in certain scenes.
In the running for one of the best fantasies I read in 2020 is Black Sun. The story follows Xiala, a Teek ship captain, who is tasked with sailing a mysterious man to the city of Tova for the solstice.
*Raises megaphone* This is SUCH A GOOD BOOK. The setting is inspired by Pre-Columbian Americas and has some fantastic world-building. The magic system is clever and captivating and the discussions of religion, moral compasses, revenge and family are incredibly thoughtful and nuanced.
Queerness is naturalised and celebrated throughout the story and homophobia doesn’t appear to exist in this society. This is the first book I’ve read by Rebecca Roanhorse and I will definitely be reading more.
The Poet X
After I read Punching the Air, I picked this up for Latinx/Latine Heritage month and it also became one of my favourites of the year. The power of novels-in-verse by BIPOC authors is truly transcendent.
This story is about Xiomara, a young girl who finds her voice through spoken word poetry.
Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing style is beautiful and I loved the emphasis on slam poetry and finding your voice. I’ve been to quite a few slams in the last few years so I really enjoyed seeing them featured in the novel.
A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
This was a wonderful surprise for me in 2020. I expected to like it, but I didn’t expect to LOVE it.
It’s a wholesome romance between Lila, who loves baking and goes to Winchester for the summer after a bereavement, and Orion, a soft boy who’s trying to keep his shop afloat.
I have ONLY GOOD THINGS to say about this book. It’s book is full of sweet scenes between siblings, moments of friends looking out for other friends, and some tasty recipes, but it also discusses grief in a thoughtful, nuanced way, showing that there’s no one way that people grieve and that everyone handles loss differently.
Criminal Intentions: Where There’s Smoke
It seems fitting to end this post with a series that has become a new, all-time favourite.
Criminal Intentions is about two detectives, Malcolm Khalaji and Seong-Jae Yoon, who have always worked alone but are suddenly partnered together to solve crimes after a brutal murder case. As the two get to know each other, they start to have feelings for each other.
Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I love this series. It’s brilliantly written, has dynamic action scenes, and includes the enemies-to-lovers AND grumpy/sunshine trope. The main characters are all BIPOC and there’s gay, bi, ace, aro, sapphic and non-binary rep. Mal and Seong-Jae is the ship I WOULD GO DOWN WITH.
If you made it to the end of this post congrats and thanks for reading. I’m really happy I read so many good books in 2020 and found some new favourites.
Which books did you read in 2020? Have you read any of these?