The Best 50 Books of 2020 (ft. The Bookish Community!)

1.01.2021

Looking for book recommendations for your 2021 reading list? Look no further.

The coming new year compels reflection. To look back on the last year in books, I've invited over 50 passionate readers, including bloggers, booktubers, and bookstagrammers, to share the stories that captivated them most this year. These are the 50 best books of 2020:

1. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang
Recommended by Lily @ Sprinkles of Dreams

The Rape of Nanking is one of the most important books I have read in 2020, and one I will always carry with me. This book was written with George Santayana's immortal warning in mind: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In it, Iris Shun-Ru Chang, a Chinese-American historian and journalist, chronicles the events of what is one of the most horrific acts in human history from three perspectives; the Japanese soldiers responsible for it, the Chinese civilians who endured it, and last, but not least, the Americans and Europeans who stayed behind, giving shelter to many of said civilians. Unfiltered, devastating, and tragic, this book is immensely powerful, and a definitive must-read.

2. The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim
Recommended by Sara @ Lyrical Reads

I first heard of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling because CW (creator of The Quiet Pond) tweeted about it before the book was released in Australia. Wai Chim’s debut officially came out in the U.S. this past November, and I was fortunate enough to join the blog tour to promote this quiet and incredible novel. I loved the nuanced relationships in Anna Chiu’s family, from her dynamic with her mother, to the pressure she felt taking care of her siblings, to her kinship with her father. I also loved how starkly Chim writes about mental illness—especially within the Asian community. Anna does not completely understand her mother’s mental health struggles, yet readers can empathize with both Anna’s frustrations and her mother’s internal battles. While the romance is sweet (and also often discusses mental health), the complexity of the Chiu family was really what made this book stand out for me. The last few lines tore me apart in the best way, and I was definitely crying. I could not have asked for a better ending to The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling.

3. Little Gods by Meng Jin
Recommended by Sunni @ vanreads

I picked this book up only because I saw it being recommended on another Asian author’s Instagram account. On Goodreads it had such a low rating that I had initially dismissed it. Little did I know that this would become one of my all time favorite books. The story is about a Chinese woman named Su Lan, who is a product of her country and cultural history, having experienced the after effects of the Cultural Revolution and Tiananmen Square Massacre. However, as a reader, we only get to know Su Lan from the perspectives of three characters in Su Lan’s life, as they deal with the aftermath of her death. What I absolutely love is that this is an insular immigrant story that explores the inner turmoils, family dynamics, and relationship to China, Su Lan’s country of origin. It was written with a Chinese American immigrant in mind, and so much of it mirrored my own family experiences, from wanting to know why my family ended up in America, to wanting to understand my parents’ lives before they came. It’s a beautifully crafted story, using history, human relationships, and physics to relay the Chinese American experience.

4. Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
Recommended by Lynne @ Words of Mystery

Loveboat, Taipei is definitely a book that is pure escapism. This is even more so during the pandemic, when most of us aren’t allowed to travel anywhere. As a child of Asian immigrants who has done a language exchange, Ever’s experience of being away from her strict parents for the first time in her life and the freedom that she experiences along with the planned programming she has to adhere to was definitely something I resonated with. I also loved how Ever also got a bit of the “Crazy Rich Asian” experience in addition to getting better acquainted with the country where her parents were from. Overall, a fun drama filled coming of age story! I actually enjoyed the romance in this book and am hoping for the next book to be centred around my two favourite secondary characters from this one! If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on Loveboat, Taipei please check out the full review here.

5. Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali
Recommended by Amani @ mischiefmanagedbibliophile

Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali is one of the best Muslim love stories I’ve ever read. It’s the first time I honestly felt represented by a Muslim author and I hope we can see more books like this in the future. It’s perfect for fans of Frankly in Love by David Yoon. This book has disability rep, a protagonist dealing with a chronic illness, and another dealing with Islamophobia. Although I’m no longer a high school student, I could resonate with the characters because this book really talks about what it’s like being a Muslim teenager. I also love that there is an airport meet-cute and that the two main characters share a marvel and oddities journal. This book made me feel seen as an American Asian Muslim and I hope others enjoy this YA contemporary romance.

6. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended by Angele @ adominiquereads

2020 is the year I’ve been able to read a lot of thick epic fantasy novels that have been on my radar for years, and Brandon Sanderson’s works were on my top priority list. I’ve practically read 9 books in his backlist, and while they’re all my new favorites, Words of Radiance, the second book in the Stormlight Archives, is definitely one I consider my best book read in 2020. Not only was it a phenomenal follow-up to an already spectacular first book, but everything done with it was just so meticulously yet effortlessly thought of that the whole reading experience of it was a ride. It had everything I love in fantasy books, such as an expansive world-building, continuous character development and their inner conflicts, a lot of political intrigue and warfare, and a very engaging plot. I also love how this series tackles on the main characters’ mental health such as anxiety and depression. This thick tome just made me yearn, laugh, and cry, and feel a hundred different emotions all at the same time.

7. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Recommended by @hunkietenet

2020 was the year in which I revisited the books that I was forced to read in high school to see if I actually liked them. The End of the Affair was one of those books that I was forced to read and did not quite like at first, however, rereading the novel actually made me appreciate the subtle nuances of the book. Graham Greene’s ability to write and document the human stream of consciousness is not rivaled by many authors. He captures the chaotic energy of the human mind through tumultuous love and grief. In addition, he explores the often contradictory nature of human emotion and behavior. The self destructive behavior of the characters in the novel juxtaposes the character’s want to improve themselves and their lives. Such juxtapositions make the novel interesting to read because it adds complexity to the characters that makes them feel whole and true. Playing into themes of religion and the human experience, Greene expertly weaves a narrative that is both heart wrenching and theoretically provoking at the same time. Such writing places The End of the Affair by Graham Greene as one of my favorite books of 2020.

8. The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Recommended by Bella @ rainstormreads

Being Asian American as well as a lifelong lover of fantasy novels, I’ve been continually disheartened by the lack of diversity in the genre. For 2020, I made it a goal to seek out and read more diverse fantasy. When I first came across The Bone Shard Daughter, I immediately added it to my tbr on Goodreads. An Asian-inspired world, sapphic representation, and a magic system, with revolution and discussion of power/privilege? Sign me up! While it was one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year, I did not get to it until later in the year. Fortunately, it did not disappoint! Andrea Stewart immediately drew me into the world of her making, and I found myself hungrily devouring the words into the wee hours of the morning. I was captivated by both the characters and the plot, clinging to details as I read, waiting for more of the mysteries to be unveiled. In addition to the world-building and fantasy elements, I appreciated how the novel explored important topics including class structure, privilege, identity, autonomy, and agency. The multiple POVs, each distinct and varied, were all brilliantly woven together by the end–it was pure magic to discover how all of the threads were connected. Andrea Stewart’s debut novel, The Bone Shard Daughter was undoubtedly one of my favorite reads of the year, sweeping me up in an intriguing saga and providing a perfect bit of escapism during a difficult year. I could not be more excited for the upcoming sequel,The Bone Shard Emperor, expected in September 2021! Trigger/content warnings for The Bone Shard Daughter: death of loved ones (off-page), kidnapping/disappearance of loved ones, body horror, blood, grief, gore, torture (off-page), cutting into skin (not self-harm), memory loss/manipulation, drowning, violence, murder, death

9. Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan
Recommended by Jess @ jessandstories

As a Taiwanese American, I began to dive deeply into the world of Taiwanese/American literature this year. Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan is a historical fiction novel that spans over fifty years of the narrator’s life. We start with the 228 incident that defined the state of martial law in Taiwan by the Kuomintang (KMT) Party in 1947. The narrator eventually moves to America, the country that’s supposed to be the land of the free. And yet, the narrator’s life continues to be impacted by the KMT while she is in America. Green Island was the novel that left the strongest impact on me this year—it’s a multigenerational story that puts the Taiwanese/American experience on the center stage, which is not often found in literature. It’s heartbreaking at times, but also hopeful and deeply powerful and beautifully written all around. For those who have never read any books on the Taiwanese experience, I would definitely recommend Green Island as a great place to start.

10. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Recommended by Isi @ The Shaggy Shepherd

I saw The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune when it first showed up on NetGalley. One of his other books wasn’t really for me and this one didn’t sound like it either so I kept passing it over and reading other books instead. While listening to What Should I Read Next, I heard Anne Bogel recommend it to a guest and based on that, I all of a sudden knew that I just had to read it! I reserved it at the library and it became available way more quickly than expected. I started listening right away and was hooked from the start. Daniel Henning is the narrator and I fell in love so quickly. He was absolutely perfect for this book. Sadly, the audiobook is only a little more than 12 hours long. I avoided listening to the last hour of the book because I was so sad it was ending. I swear I could listen to 12,000 hours worth of stories about this island and its children. This wasn’t the book I was looking for this year but it definitely was the one I needed. It may not be the book with the best world-building, the most exciting battles, or huge dragons flying all over the place (though I did very much appreciate the little one flying all over the place), but it for sure is the book that made me the happiest this year. It is sweet and kind and heart-warming. I didn’t write a huge review for this one like I sometimes do for others because I would’ve just constantly repeated that I love it, love it, love it, but between the variety of wonderful characters, the feelings, the humor, the adventure, the representation, and the ending… you just get an all-around wholesome story that will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

11. A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir
Recommended by Sanah @ Stories and Stardust

I have never been so impacted and affected by a series as the Ember in the Ashes quartet; it means the world to me, and this was the perfect conclusion. First of all, the representation. This series is the first time I saw myself represented in fantasy. The cover alone, seeing a brown girl on a fantasy cover meant everything. Reading about Elias making korma, stories of jinn I grew up hearing, seeing those Urdu words, all the South-Asian representation, and written by a Pakistani, Muslim author. It means everything. Secondly, Sabaa Tahir’s writing. It is truly original and unlike any other. Every page, every sentence, every word is intentional. She puts so much thought into everything she writes it’s like that ink on that paper is sacred. Her care for this story shines through the page and brings this world to life in the most beautiful and heart wrenching way. A reason that this series hits so hard is because of its inspiration from the real world. I think it is so powerful the parallels that Sabaa draws between this fictional world and the ongoing conflicts of reality. This is clearly a book about war and injustice (among many other things), and Sabaa crafts such a poignant narrative about oppression, brutality, and the abuse of innocents. There are many instances where I cried at the events in the story, at the things being done, because I knew they were based on horrible acts that actually happened. That happen. There are so many layers and levels to the story, and the implications are vast. It is beautiful and powerful and important and immersive. This series was a beautiful and heart-wrenching journey and, ultimately, a tale of hope and courage and sacrifice, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

12. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Recommended by Cas @ Daydreaming Ink

I’m a sucker for love stories and that includes Romeo and Juliet, even if the media is insistent that it’s become a cliché. I was super excited when I first heard about a Romeo and Juliet adaptation set in 1920s Shanghai, and Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights did not disappoint at all. In Juliette Cai we finally got a Chinese character who wasn’t the quirky side character but the heroine, and the effortless integration of Chinese culture into the plot of this book was incredible and it felt really special. This book takes all the best aspects of Shakespeare’s R&J into the 1920s Shanghai world, commenting on and exploring a range of issues such as colonialism and the identity crises that arises from being educated in the West but originating from China. I loved These Violent Delights with all my heart and highly recommend it.

13. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Recommended by Joli @ Literary Quicksand

I tend to love books that hit hard in the emotional department, and this one definitely accomplished that. I’m also a sucker for coming-of-age novels, so Dear Edward really fulfilled my bookish desires. It’s one of those books that takes a deep dive into an extremely difficult time in someone’s life and just tells a beautiful story. The portrayal of grief in this book is just stunning. If you’ve lost something or someone dear to you and understand grief on a deep level, you’ll love how Napolitano handles it: the muddling together of Edward’s first months, the difficulty with life’s most basic tasks, and the self-discovery moments of life after loss. Dear Edward was just gorgeous and told with so much empathy — it’s going to be one of those books that sticks with me for a long time.

14. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Recommended by Alyx @ The Book's Buzz

The best reads are often the ones we pick up on a whim. I walked out of my local independent bookstore with this book, after not really expecting to find anything I’d like. Transcendent Kingdom is unlike any book I’ve read before, granted I don’t read many books about faith and religion. This book is quite emotional, and I cried three times. This book follows Gifty, a neuroscience PhD student at Stanford University, who after losing her brother from a drug overdose and is left to take care of her suicidal mother, turns to her research to uncover the mysteries of her family's loss. This book is doing so many things at once, but excels in all of them! It is a moving immigrant story about science, faith, love, loss and grief. As someone who works in laboratories myself, I also loved all the science and lab scenes!

15. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Recommended by Riley @ rather.be.reading
instagram / tiktok @rileywazhere

I read many books this year but none made me feel as utterly immersed in a fictional world as much as The Starless Sea. I do not long for many other fictional worlds as much as I desire to visit the harbor of the Starless Sea. The book tells a variety of people’s stories and their interactions with the Starless Sea and reading each one was an adventure in itself. I became invested in each story. The main plot follows Zachary as he discovers the various magical attributes the harbor holds. However the harbor is not in its prime, people do not visit like they used to, it rests at the end of its life. Zachary is disappointed he does not get to see the harbor as it once was, vibrant with life, but he does get to see the artifacts people left behind. He becomes immersed in a quest with Dorian to do what is best for the Starless Sea. It is magical and beautifully written and I got absolutely lost in the pages, but don’t take my word for it, please see for yourself, open the door and drown yourself in the wonders of The Starless Sea.

16. We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
Recommended by Debjani @ Debjani's Thoughts

Moving and powerful, Traci Chee’s We Are Not Free is one of the best books I have read in 2020. It is a collective account of fourteen second-generation Japanese American teens who are rooted overnight from their homes, along with their families and forced into incarceration camps during World War II by the United States government. Chee poignantly conveys the injustice of their imprisonment without any trial or charges. Through comic-book vivid descriptions, Chee describes every character in sharp detail and brings forth each one of them to life. This is a powerfully evocative read. I am going to remember this story for years to come. Don’t miss this one.

17. Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Recommended by Ruby @ Ruby Reads and Reviews

I read more books in 2020 than I ever had before, but one of my absolute favorites was Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon. Hilarious and cute, this book follows Rowan Roth on the last day of senior year. Rowan has spent the last four years competing with her rival, Neil McNair, and would love to beat him one last time. The last competition of the year is Howl, a scavenger hunt around Seattle that the senior class participates in every year. But Rowan and Neil are forced to team up against the rest of their class, and Rowan discovers that maybe she doesn’t hate Neil as much as she originally thought. This book had great discussions about Jewish identity, reading/writing romance novels, and success in high school. Overall, this book was really fun and relatable, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an escape!

18. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Recommended by Emily @ Paperback Princess

The House in the Cerulean Sea by: T.J. Klune was by far my favourite book of the year. I borrowed it from the library, but I would definitely purchase the novel now because I can see myself reading it for years to come. The book is about a shy man named Linus who is in charge of overseeing the care of magical children in orphanages. When he is tasked with an assignment on a mysterious orphanage in the middle of an island, the Headmaster and the eccentric group of children living there teach Linus about the importance of being true to yourself and showing respect. This book was so unbelievably heartwarming. The writing was easy to read and delightful. The characters were diverse and lovable. This book has an important message and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

19. Say Hello by Carly Findlay
Recommended by Laura @ Laura's Adventures in Literature

Say Hello is 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!

20. Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena
Recommended by Sia Ahsan

As messy as 2020 was, we can agree that it has been a great reading year, for the most part. Despite many amazing books that I read this year, I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy debut of Tanaz Bhathena. Bhathena’s earlier work, A Girl Like That is one among my favorites. Hunted by the Sky is a fantasy set in medieval India, where a prophecy predicts that a girl with a star-shaped birthmark would be the downfall of the King Lohar of Ambar. A young girl named Gul, born with such a birthmark, vows to avenge her dead parents, who were murdered by the King. We follow her as she joins the sisterhood of The Golden Lotus, practices and plans for attacking the king. The story is told from a dual perspective, including a boy named Cavas, who meets Gul at a festival and their lives become intertwined. Although the story sometimes feels like an amalgamation of cliched tropes, I relished this in one sitting. It is definitely a re-read worthy book.

21. Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Recommended by Ash @ Starlight Strands

Picture Us In The Light is one of the best books I’ve read this year—if not the best book I’ve read ever—and it’s so criminally underrated that I wish more people would pick it up! This follows Danny Cheng, a Chinese 18-year-old in his senior year who has his life set ahead of him: he’s going to RISD to pursue his passion of art. But throughout the story, more and more details about his family’s past are slowly unraveled until his life is changed forever. Everything that is explored in Picture Us In the Light, from the beautifully woven relationships between Danny and his friends and family to the heartbreakingly gorgeous prose to the plot points that will make you gasp and sob all at once, is done perfectly and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re looking for a book that will rip your heart to pieces yet remind you of the achingly powerful beauty of stories, this is the one.

22. Look at Me!: The XXXTENTACION Story by Jonathan Reiss
Recommended by Alyx @ peachyguro

Look At Me!: The XXTENTACION Story is a hard read, but I enjoyed reading over the artist's short life. X was an important idol figure to me, and I felt the need to learn more about him than what I already knew. The writing is neutral, but the descriptions of what he did and how he ended up are heartbreaking and hard to swallow. There’s bits of backstory concerning his upbringing, such as little bits of knowledge about Jamaican culture, and what was going on in the music industry when X took off. Despite what I know now, his death still shocks me, and I miss him. It’s a controversy to stay by him after knowing what he did, but it’s hard to separate the art from the artist. It’s hard to separate what you use to cope with away from the one who caused harm. I wish he didn’t leave us so soon, so he could settle his personal demons, but he’s in a better place now.

23. Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Recommended by Lei @ floweringpages

You know 2020 wasn’t the best, but the writing and the books were the gifts that kept on giving! : D Out of all the books I read this year, one of my absolute favorite books was Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams! Honestly, the whole Bromance Book Club Series has become my new favorite series and I would thoroughly cry, laugh, and scream over this series! But Crazy Stupid Bromance had my heart for how it just brought me endless laughter, joy, and happiness. And given such dark times, we need more of that. I also liked the unapologetic honesty Lyssa Kay Adamas wrote with to discuss serious and very relevant topics like toxic masculinity, sexual assault or harassement, complex family relationships, and so much more. Reading this series has truly felt like a journey of getting to know all these characters and their growth. If you ever wondered what a bunch of men in a book club would be like, definitely pick this series and this book up!

24. Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
Recommended by Jacklyn @ lavendermenace

This book slapped. Interior Chinatown is a screenplay-written novel which follows the trials and tribulations of “Generic Asian Man” Willis Wu, on his quest to one day become “Kung Fu Guy.” When I first heard of Interior Chinatown, I was expecting a meticulous analysis of the racial disparities Asian Americans face on a daily basis. Then, I opened the book and read about America’s idolized vision of an epic-flippy-spinny-ultimate-kung fu-Bruce Lee-very cool-not racist-karate-boss level-dragon kick. I laughed a lot while reading this book, and then reconsidered American performances of exoticism and Hollywood's role in normalizing racism towards Asian Americans.To be candid, I think Charles Yu just hoodwinked me into learning about unspoken racism towards Asian Americans while simultaneously enjoying a not-so-lighthearted narrative about a funny dude named Willis. Neat.

25. Soulswift by Megan Bannen
Recommended by Sammy @ We Write at Dawn

Going into Soulswift, I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. The description was cool, but it felt like it would be a generic fantasy adventure with the stereotypical happy ending. I was interested, but only mildly. Until I started reading it. This book takes you on an adventure and makes you question everything. It discusses differences in culture and religion and forces our main character Gelya to question the idea that what she knows may not be the “right/best” way of living and it pushes her to understand that tolerance and acceptance are the only way to live life. As she learns about Tavik’s life and faces their cultural and religious differences, we watch them fall in love. We think there is hope. It was such a beautiful book to read and I’m still crying over it a month later. I have purchased copies for my friends as Christmas presents because everyone needs to read this book, especially if you like Serpent & Dove or Wicked Saints. Absolutely amazing!

26. A Curse of Roses by Diana Pinguicha
Recommended by Marta @ Of Waves and Pages

I have a great appreciation for A Curse of Roses, a book written by a Portuguese author and inspired by my favourite Portuguese myth. It follows Yzabel, soon to be Queen, as she lives in the castle and performs her royal duties, as well as struggling with a secret curse. As it turns out, Yzabel's touch turns food into roses, therefore making it harder for her to eat much. Since she can't control it, she fears for herself, and looks for an Enchanted Moura, Fatyan, to get rid of it. However, is Yzabel's power really a curse? What if she could reverse it, and turn flowers into food, to feed the starving people of her kingdom? Yzabel was one of the kindest characters I've ever read about, she has the purest soul and cares so much about other people, even those who have wronged her. On top of that, she's a dedicated Queen, incredibly intelligent and observant regarding the kingdom's politics. Though she has so much love for others, she keeps denying the love for herself due to the beliefs she was raised with, which made me so heartbroken, but the soft, slow-burn sapphic romance (the yearning!!!) and her character development were amazing!! The whimsical storytelling made this story magical, and the Portuguese references and words made me feel right at home.

27. These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
Recommended by Saimon @ ZanyAnomaly

This is a dark academia story about two queer men that has all the delicious darkness of The Secret History. It explores the intimacy of queer friendships/relationships when we are young, and also simultaneously shows how such a kind of "I hate the whole world except you" intimate relationships could also be incredibly unhealthy and toxic. It is poetically written with incredible pacing and an undercurrent of menace that makes you want to keep turning page after page to know how the story is going to go down. True to its title, These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever is delightfully violent and violently delightful.

28. Always Only You by Chloe Liese
Recommended by Mallory @ FigsLibrary

This year, I sought out more romance books than I ever have before. I was in need of a happy ever after, while living through our reality. Some of the most diverse books I’ve read have been romance. One of them is Always Only You by Chloe Liese. This is an own voices book featuring the heroine, who is autistic and has rheumatoid arthritis, and the hero, who is the sweetest, most thoughtful ice hockey player. Throughout the novel, you get to see these two fall in love with each other (of course with some hilarious situations), while they come to understand each other and their wants and needs. It’s such a beautiful story of two people finding their happy ever after. If you love romcoms, strong female leads, cute and swoony males, you’ll love this story.

29. The Silvered Serpents by Roshani Chokshi
Recommended by Isabella @ Solace in Reading

The Silvered Serpents is one of the last books I’m re-reading this year. Roshani Chokshi writes an engaging historical fantasy about a group of young adults looking for a stolen artifact that will prevent a fallen House from taking over the world. Séverin and his team are swept up in a journey in the brutal cold of Russia, and away from Paris, where a tragedy shook the foundations of this driven found family. I love how Chokshi incorporates analysis on colonialism and imperialism. She also weaves mythology throughout the novel to create a stunning world that makes you feel as though you are right there with the characters as they face betrayal and heartbreak. Furthermore, each character is facing their own internal struggles because all were uniquely impacted by the tragedy that occurred at the end of the first novel. How does one go forward in a world that’s been changed by a single event that none of these characters expected? This middle book in The Gilded Wolves series is as intriguing, magical, and captivating as the first novel, and I am not ready to leave Séverin, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos, and Zofia behind.

30. The Burning God by R. F. Kuang
Recommended by Jo @ The Books are Rising

This year’s entries in the Science Fiction-Fantasy genre were pretty stacked, and The Burning God came out victorious for me after a really close race. Granted, it’s a cheat code since The Poppy War series is one of my all-time favorite series; and this searing finale did not disappoint. This harrowing book sees through the completion of the overarching themes the series has set out to explore, and Kuang’s narration spares no mercy as Rin’s journey is brought to a final reckoning in its riveting, heartbreaking, and perfect conclusion. Kuang also flexes her academic prowess with several eerie historic parallels as she laments not only the devastating horrors of war, but also how a revolution struggles to keep its flame. It’s a bittersweet feeling to see this series end, but I’m incredibly excited for Kuang’s upcoming dark academia book!

31. Loveless by Alice Oseman
Recommended by Jill @ Booknerdreads

Loveless by Alice Oseman was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 and it’s fair to say it surpassed my expectations. There are just so many things that I loved about it! Loveless is about Georgia, a teenage girl who loves romance but has never actually been in love. When she goes to college, she decides to change that but ends up learning how to be true to herself in the process. I’ve read a few novels with only asexual representation, but the aromantic and asexual rep in Loveless resonated so deeply with me and my experience. Most of Georgia’s thoughts felt like they could’ve been my own. I also love that the novel takes place at a university. I’m in that awkward in-between where most YA novels are set in high school, but I can’t relate to most New Adult characters either. Loveless is just perfect for me. Suffice to say, Loveless is a book that’s close to my heart.

32. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Recommended by Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical

I tend to be unable to choose one favorite book per year - I’d love to say that’s because I read a lot, but really, it has more to do with my indecisiveness - however, it was easy to choose my favorite novel of 2020. Towards the end of the year, I finally caved in and picked up The House in the Cerulean Sea - also known as one of the most hyped books of the year - and I’m so happy I gave this beautiful story a chance. It follows a completely ordinary person, Linus, whose story can help us realize the impact a single person can have if they put their mind to something. It was easy to get lost in The House in the Cerulean Sea, as it is one of the most fairytale-esque novels I’ve ever read. The characters and their little found family stole my heart and made me tear up over and over again. I’ve already made two of my friends read it and it’s a novel I’ll surely recommend in the future too, over and over again.

33. Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro
Recommended by Gabi @ ourworldofwords

This beautiful book took me by surprise with its lyrical prose and moving exploration of the power of stories! Truly it is one of the most unique stories I’ve ever read. Our protagonist, Xochitl, is the cuentista of her village, the person people unpack their shame and guilt to, and her job is to return their stories to Solís, the sun deity from whom she was given this power of storytelling. She decides to embark on the brutal journey across the desert to find the city of Solado, finding poems left by an unknown poet and falling in love with one of her companions as they trek across the treacherous desert. Set in a Latinx-inspired fantasy world, Spanish is interwoven seamlessly throughout the story, and the slow-burn wlw romance stole my heart. Oshiro’s poetic and captivating voice expertly delves into identity, belief systems, and how stories shape our lives, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their books!

34. The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Recommended by Cher @ cherreadssharereads

2020 has been a mini-paradigm shift for me in which I’ve been challenged to rethink racism, justice, the capitalism & socialism binary, and the Vietnam War. Books have been instrumental to my learning process this year and I am in-debt to the 90-something writers who have used the power of the pen (er, keyboard?) to reshape this year into one filled with growth instead of one full of hopelessness and despair. Nguyen Que Mai Phan’s historical fiction debut The Mountains Sing touched my soul because it gave depth and perspective to the nebulous and much-disputed war America took part in (slash spearheaded?) back in the 60s. It showed me that the Vietnam War wasn’t just another war fought overseas but one that created divisions amongst brothers and tore families apart. The Mountains Sing spells out the trials the Tran family face in the aftermath of the war and the resilience of the family matriarch who did all she could to keep her family together, never wavering in hope. I read this back in May but I still think about it from time to time, and I highly recommend this to everyone and their moms! Happy New Year and happy reading, everyone!
“Grandma once told me that the challenges faced by the Vietnamese people throughout history are as tall as the tallest mountain. I have stood far enough away to see the mountaintop, yet close enough to witness how Grandma became the tallest mountain herself: always there, always strong, always protecting us.”

35. You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson
Recommended by Amber @ The Literary Phoenix

You Should See Me In A Crown checks so many boxes of, what I think, makes a good contemporary YA novel and is easily one of my favorites of 2020. I thought this was going to be a light read, and in many ways it was sweet and joyful. But it also shines a light on casual racism and elitism, while featuring an LGBTQ+ protagonist with anxiety. I loved the relationships, I loved the messiness and the honesty, and I loved the baking scene during the pageant (for no special reason, it was just fun). Crown is a book about people and making the world better and more inclusive, about the messy road of friendship, and about what many of the most endearing books are about - following your dreams and working hard to achieve them. From the issues discussed to the heart of the story to Liz’s character arc, this was such an excellent read and if you missed it in 2020, make sure you give it some love in 2021. ;)

36. Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Recommended by Katie @ Book Hugger Reviews

I read many wonderful books this year, but few captured me the way Foundryside did. The impeccable world-building, heist-based plotline, and diverse cast of characters kept me engaged and on the edge of my seat. It was one of my first adventures into adult science fiction & fantasy and has solidified my love of the genre after years of reading almost solely young adult. It is the absolute strangeness of Foundryside that captured me the most: a talking key and an intricate magic system that involves building materials speaking to Sancia, our main character. But even more than that, it provides a social commentary on a world that values some lives more than others. It was an unforgettable read and one of the rare ones that I knew I would love from the very first page. Robert Jackson Bennett has an incredible writing style that I fell so deeply in love with. Foundryside is such an underrated fantasy book that I can only hope more people will read.

37. In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Recommended by Mary @ Books In Her Head

In Five Years was definitely an unexpected favorite for me, in part because I think that the novel is pitched all wrong. The premise leads you to believe that this is a romance, and that In Five Years is a novel about a young woman who wakes up 5 years after her picturesque engagement in bed with a different man. While that plot point might be true–and it isn’t a spoiler, don’t worry–I found that to be a simplification of the story. This novel is far more character driven, and takes a deep dive into the beauty of female friendship, particularly between two working women living in NYC. Poignant and emotional, In Five Years is the sort of novel I want to hand every twentysomething I know. I just loved it.

38. The Bridge Kingdom by Danielle Jensen
Recommended by Diana @ My Bookish Escapades

I think I speak for everyone when I say 2020 has been a really tough year. It was stressful, maddening and unexpected. 2020? Definitely a crazy year. It's also the year I will dubbed as my year of re-reads. Amidst all the uncertainty, one of the few things that got me through the year is books and reading. That's why my chosen 2020 favorite is a favorite book of mine to read again and again. And again. The Bridge Kingdom is a 2019 release by Danielle Jensen. I read it a total of three times already. This year I read it twice. Enemies to lovers trope is my kryptonite and Jensen does it so well in this one. Suffice it to say, I'm most definitely obsessed. Lara and Aren have my heart. If you love high fantasy, swoony romance, amazing writing, unique and dangerous world, high stakes plot and complex characters, this one's definitely for you! *shoves the book in everyone's faces, lol*

39. Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar
Recommended by Shraddha @ Booksandstrokes

The first time I saw Star Daughter was on Goodreads in December 2019, and I instantly fell in love with the cover. In my experience, books with Indian protagonists are few and far between, and this featured a gorgeous saree-clad brown-skinned girl (I later found out that the art is by one of my favourite illustrators/artist Charlie Bowater) right on the front! In a Hindu Mythology meets Stardust (another favourite book) story, Star Daughter is about the journey of a 17 year old Indo-American girl, Sheetal, as she tries to find balance between the two facets of her life- a normal high schooler and the daughter of a celestial being (a literal Star). Shveta Thakrar’s writing is fluid, vivid and feels like a gentle melody caressing your ears. The book takes you on a visual and gastronomical journey with its beautiful settings and delicious food. The Indian (Gujarati) community is extremely relatable and aptly described. For me, Star Daughter felt like coming home to a hot cup of spiced tea after a long day’s work, and I hope it gives more readers a similar comfort!

40. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcom X and Alex Haley
Recommended by Amirah @ amrhazm

I expected this to be a heavy read but what I got instead was a masterpiece that I could not put down. Although my impression of Malcolm X before was positive, my understanding of his character was affected by the Western media’s depiction of him as a demagogue. This book showed me the man behind the image, not as he is perceived by friend or foe but as he really was: a fearless thinker, burdened by the ways of the world, yet unwaveringly true to his principles. He delved undaunted into issues central to the African American struggle of his era, balancing his ideas with his personal experiences growing up in the racist belly of his home country. Malcolm’s writing is direct and honest, possessed with an unpretentious eloquence that reflects his keen intellect and formidable will. Despite this, the book never turns mechanical or malicious in its expression (his beliefs leaned dark at times and his language can drip with bold offense) - even his most draconian ideas came from a deep sense of awareness and noble intentions. As a Muslim, I loved best the chapters that describe his journey towards Islam and the new hope that he found in its brotherhood. Here, his transformation into a world leader was completed. I ache every time I think about this profound piece; it left an indelible mark on me. I’m now an admirer of the man who was called by many labels, but who was ultimately just Malcolm / Malik. Highly recommended!

41. The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
Recommended by Sumedha @ The Wordy Habitat

The Henna Artist is set in 1950s Jaipur, the pink city of India which is full of history, tradition and architecture. Lakshmi is a henna artist who ran away from her abusive marriage to settle in Jaipur and make a living by herself. Her goal is to build a house of her own to show that she can make it just fine in the patriarchal world. To do it, she expertly navigates the politics of upper classes in the city who call upon her for her henna designs. Right when she is almost done with her house, a sister she never knew about appears and changes everything. This book is a beautifully written story following a strong and clever woman whose world is unravelled by a new arrival with the memories of her past. Not only does the book show the workings of classism, misogyny, and exploitation in the society, it also expertly shows the inner workings of an Indian society which is unique to that period like marriages being a cover for business alliances and crown princes being exiled based on astrology. Lakshmi is a unique lens to look through because she is somewhat privileged but her privilege is hard earned and can be destroyed in a week. Through her we see the entire societal hierarchy and question the definition of “a good life.” The Henna Artist is a brilliant book that deserves much more recognition.

42. The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Recommended by Wanny

Of all the books I read this year, I choose this book because it reminds me of my past. Not meaning to say that I’m still living in the past but this book has given so much in just one read. From the memories, the words, the bad intentions, everything was so relatable. I don’t know but Amelie really reminds me of myself. For how stupid she was going head over heels for someone like Reese. I always thought I was in love before, until I realised what I had wasn’t love and that was what happened to Amelie. I was hoping I could read this book long before I met him. I hate Reese so much I literally cried while reading this book. What Amelie had gone through was nothing different from mine. Holly Bourne always writes story that is so close to me. I always feel like home when reading her books. It took me weeks to finish this book, not because this book wasn’t good, but this book was so good I felt so sad to finish it straight away. That made this book the best book I’ve ever read this year, because it changed me a lot, it changed my perspective towards love as well. :)

43. Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Recommended by Dinah @ Buried in Books

I picked up this book because it was getting so much hype and I wanted to see whether it managed to live up to it. Well, I love this book with all my heart and I just shove this in people’s faces when they ask me for a book rec 😂 Henry and Alex are just so so cute together. All the thoughts going through Alex’s head when he was figuring out whether he was actually into guys is really relatable to me. There was one line from this book that really stuck with me: “Straight people probably don’t spend this much time convincing themselves they aren’t straight.” or something along the lines of that. It really hit me and wow this is one of the reasons why RWRB is so close to my heart. I love the smut in this book too 👀👀 it’s steamyyyy. If you haven’t read this book, PLEASE DO. You won’t regret it!

44. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Recommended by Lindsey Turnbull @ MissHeard Media

Oluo’s book deservingly rose through the NYT best-seller list during the protests against the murder of George Floyd. Her book offers a direct, honest conversation about the ways in which anti-Black racism insidiously wrapped into every facet of American life. She guides the reader (of any race) through many aspects of white supremacy and its harm, and does so in a way that is direct, clear, and easy to understand. So You Want to Talk About Race takes complex ideas that are ingrained into the fabric of our history, systems, and culture and gently unravels each thread so the reader gets a thorough understanding of how white supremacy affects every life it touches. I wrote my Master’s thesis on US History with a focus on race and gender (nearly 10 years ago!), and read dozens of books on similar topics, and none pop to mind that are as accessible, powerful, thorough or honest as Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. Truly a book that everyone can learn from! This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in anti-racism, justice, equity, or US History.

45. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
Recommended by Daniela @the_booksnom

I came into this book not expecting a lot and it was a big mistake. Everything about it it`s fantastic and well done. The world is so rich, the characters are so three dimensional, the magic is so perfectly explained. It took me a second to get into the story, as everything was new and different but oh Gods was it worth it! It was not your classic enemies to lovers, even if this was what I heard about it at first. This took the trope to a new level. And really I feel this is not a book about enemies to lovers, this is a book about dealing with grief and tackles racism, police brutality and emigration. It is so raw and real, way above anything I read in a YA fantasy book before. Karina is my new favorite strong female character, she is so nicely done, with flaws, strengths, and room to grief, be angry and grow. I think this was the first thing that amazed me about Karina, and how well she was written, the raw emotions she has, how she is allowed to grieve and be angry, but still, she steps up and gets things done. We, or at least I, more often than not internalize the pain we go through, and seeing it so true and painfully accurate described is everything I ever need and had no idea I needed.

46. Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
Recommended by Alli @ bigggbookgals

During 2020, I was looking mainly at feel good books to let me escape to a different world during the confusing times and those books happened to be romantic comedies. Party of Two is the fifth book in Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date series and it was my favorite book hands down. From the chemistry between Olivia and Max and their meet cue to moments that made my heart drop down to my stomach, I felt like I was a part of their relationship feeling the triumphs and miseries. Guillory switches between perspectives providing a steamy, fun read that will fill your whole day! If you’re looking for a book (or 5, next one comes out in July, I’m PUMPED!) that is just a good time, turn to Jasmine Guillory to ring in 2021.

47. Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
Recommended by @returnofthebook

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour is a gripping, haunting, yet comforting ghost story. LaCour is one of my favorite authors because she always creates atmospheric settings with immersive, lyrical storytelling; this book is no exception. Watch Over Me tells the story of Mila, who has now aged out of the foster care system and has been offered a job on a farm. On this farm, her past trauma and the trauma of others on the farm are haunting and inescapable. However, Mila is able to find moments of comfort with her new friends and new life. This is a story that depicts loneliness, grief, and family. It pulls at your heart and stays with you long after you’ve read the final page.

48. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Recommended by Jackie @ fabledfolklore

Having only released half a year ago, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett has already achieved critical acclimation, earning multiple recognitions including its Goodreads Historical Fiction of the Year, its NTY Top Ten books of the year, and rights to its TV adaptation. So much hype surrounded this book that I had no choice but to check it out for myself, and let me tell you, it does not disappoint! The Vanishing Half explores the multi-generational saga of The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, two girls whose skin were so light that they were white-passing. The twins were inseparable, growing up in the small town of Mallard, Louisiana. When the girls ran away from Mallard at 16, they also ran away from each other into vastly different futures. Desiree later moves back home to the town she vowed never to come back to while Stella assumes a new life passing as a white woman.Beyond being a story of familial relationships, Bennett explores race, colorism, privilege, loneliness, trauma, and sense of identity in the character-driven story of The Vanishing Half. Desiree’s and Stella’s stories bleed into the stories of their daughters, as the book is told from multiple POVs spanning across multiple decades. Bennett does this seamlessly, never having me struggling to keep up with each character’s story line. The Vanishing Half came at perfect timing in the second wake of the BLM movement, detailing the story of identity in America and within racial groups.

49. Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa
Recommended by Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

Julie Kagawa has long been a favorite author of mine, and her Shadow of the Fox trilogy is no exception. This series is honestly her best work yet, showing so much growth in her writing - as much as I adore her debut series, this may be my favorite of hers. Although the second book was a struggle, it was well worth it for the end. Night of the Dragon is the third and final book in the trilogy, where Yumeko and her friends are at the final part of their journey to stop the Kami Dragon from being summoned by the wrong hands. From slow burn romances to a well crafted world and an ending that will tug at your heart, I'd definitely recommend this series.

50. Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles
Recommended by Fanna @ Fanna For Books

What a pleasant surprise this book was. I knew this debut would impress me but had no idea that it would become one of my absolute favourites. Three starkly different characters held together by a thread of magic, set in a snow cold land and amidst a competitive magical contest, and beautiful imagery imparted through an excellent writing — I love everything about this story. This fantasy felt so real with the themes of smashing sexism and rebelling against systems that I instantly gave away my heart to it, and to the stunningly strong and talented woman, Kallia. Topped with romantic yearning and a mysterious air, Where Dreams Descend is a book I will not stop thinking about for a while — and probably ever.

51. Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Recommended by Astrid @ Book Lover’s Book Reviews

I read a lot of great books this year but Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo really touched me the most. I was able to connect with the main character - Xiomara. She was able to express herself through slam poetry. I have had the opportunity to express myself through my reviews online and through my overall writing. I noticed how much I enjoyed seeing my words come to life. This year, I noticed how much I also miss writing to express my ideas and creativity, it inspired me to make a goal for next year to keep writing, to polish it, work on writing more, expressing myself even more.

52. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Recommended by Autumn @ uraveragestudygal

This year, my favorite book of 2020 would have to be Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. This book deeply resonated with me for so many reasons: the writing that made me feel like I was actually standing inside the small town where the story takes place, the characters that acted as a small mirror that allowed me to see a tiny piece of myself, and the incredible representation that occurs throughout the entire Creekwood High series. Witnessing Simon Spier (the main character) become a fully formed teenager who is comfortable in his sexuality, despite the many obstacles he faces, really inspires me for my high school experience and overall future. Albertalli may have single handedly written my favorite book of all time, which really isn’t that hard, I’m not very picky. So in the words of someone on Letterboxd, it honestly “feels like coming home”, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. If you hate it (which I seriously doubt you will), I give you permission to hold me personally responsible.

53. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Recommended by Dani @ Of Stars and Pages

It’s not secret to anyone that Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the best young adult writers right now. Her work gives us all the feels while also reflecting some of the experiences latinx kids go through. Clap When You Land is a book that will break your heart and fill it with hope at the same time. I chose this book because it shows how it’s living in Latinoamérica, how dreams feel to far away sometimes but it also shows how we are reminded that every dream can come true.

54. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Recommended by Joey @ mybooktasticlife

The Starless Sea is an incredibly magical story, following several characters over a blended timeline. This book has everything I look for: mystery and intrigue, magical doors that transport you to another world, a beautiful budding romance, and talking bees! Plus, there’s LGBTQ+ representation. This story revolves around a hidden world under the surface of the earth, with a sea of honey and a twisting library stacked to the ceiling with books. Pirates, Fate, and a young girl with bunny ears all find their way to the world of the starless sea, and their stories weave beautifully together by the end. Erin Morgenstern stayed true to her lyrical writing style, but I was devastated when the book ended. Not because the ending was bad, but because I seriously never wanted it to end. Lovers of The Night Circus will surely adore The Starless Sea!

55. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-García
Recommended by Sofia @ Bookish Wanderess

Mexican Gothic is a creepy, atmospheric, and disturbing book. The writing is beautiful and captivating while being simple and unpretentious, and the main character is three-dimensional and flawed, while being charming and bewitching. This story is so effective in being scary because even when it’s not clear if there are ghosts, magic, or other supernatural things going on, the real villains of the story are manipulative, abusive, disgusting men that you could find anywhere in the world and anytime in history. This book is creepy from very early on, Moreno-García made my skin crawl with the simplest scenes, sometimes nothing too scary was happening but with one perfectly crafted phrase, I was spooked. Also, this includes important commentary on sexism, colonialism, and eugenics that gives depth to the story.

56. Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore
Recommended by Anandi @ SleepyDoeReads

In an absolutely compelling narrative, Anna-Marie McLemore brings together two stories five centuries apart with a magic that leaves a sweet aftertaste in your mouth. The biggest selling point of all of AM's books for me has always been their incredibly beautiful writing style and Dark and Deepest Red is, if anything, thier best work so far! The characters are compelling - you will not be able to resist falling in love!- and the two worlds which are so unalike each other come together in the most fantastic way possible! Also, to note, this book is filled to the brim with queerness and brownness and things that other you so easily in the world and the story is all but a metaphor to the defiance with which the othered have always existed! I cannot recommend this enough!!

that's a wrap! be sure to check out all of the incredible creators who participated in this year's best books list. it was such a pleasure to organize this post and I wish you all a happy new year! what was your favorite book of 2020?

 

9 comments :

  1. ahh thank you so much for organizing this, claire!! i'm so honored to have participated 🥺💖 all these books sound amazing and i can't wait to check them out!! happy new year 🥰

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  2. there are so many amazing titles on this list! it's amazing how you were able to get so many people involved and I can't wait to check out some of the titles I've never heard of before 💕

    riv @ dearrivarie

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  3. What an amazing list, and I see some of my tbr list on this list too! In particular I am interested in reading Malcolm X's autobiography. After reading Stamped by: Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds, I would love to learn more about Malcolm X's life.

    Thanks for putting this all together, Claire!

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  4. A bunch of these are already on my TBR list, so I’m happy that other people loved them. I got Mexican Gothic for Christmas and hope to read it this month.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. I finally got my hands on a copy of These Violent Delights and I can't wait to read it! It just sounds so good!

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  6. Such a great list of books! There are a bunch I've added to my TBR now, and so glad to see Each of Us a Desert made the list!

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  7. This is so fun. I've read and loved some of these - like Red, White, and Royal Blue. Others I need to get to!

    Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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  8. You make so many great points here that I read your article a couple of times. Your views are in accordance with my own for the most part. This is great content for your readers.Best White Gaming Keyboard

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  9. Sooo many books I added to my TBR! Ty!

    Sophie
    https://www.aimawaymessage.online

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