2020 was… a year. Before I dive into my top 20 books of 2020, I just want to say: whether you read one book or 100, planned to read a book but just couldn’t find the energy, exceeded your yearly goals or abandoned them – I am proud of you. You made it through a chaotic pandemic year, and it is okay if that year didn’t turn out how you planned it. Let’s head into 2021 by giving ourselves and those around us some grace.
2020 reading recap
This year brought an unexpected abundance of extra reading time. I set my original reading goal at 52 books, which I quickly upped to 60, and then 75 as the year went on.
Who would have thought I’d have the time or headspace to read 105 books? Not me, but that’s where I ended the year! 22 of them were audiobooks, 83 physical books, for a total of 26,755 pages and 164.4 hours on audio. I had a goal for 1/3 of the books I read to be BIPOC (Black/ Indigenous/ People of Color) or LGBTQA+ authors, and clocked in at 37% (39 books). And, this year was the year I vowed to let go of books not meant for me. This was harder than expected, but I DNF’d (“did not finish”) 7 books at the 30-40% mark.
My top 20 books of 2020
I really enjoyed most of the books I read, which made narrowing down my top 20 books of 2020 pretty difficult. I’ll organize them by genre, and besides my #1 pick, these are in no particular order.
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea
The book that stood above the rest is The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. I loved everything about this book. It swept me into the story world from the first page, hit me in the emotions, and was such an enjoyable book overall. The characters are so full of life and easy to connect with. I think everyone should read this book.
I’ve always loved fantasy, and I read a lot of really interesting books across the genre this year.
2. The Kinder Poison
The Kinder Poison by Natalie Mae surprised me. It was my favorite YA Fantasy of the year and I can’t wait for the sequel in 2021! Read my review in the Instagram post below.
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3. The Wayward Children Series
I loved this delightful series of novellas by Seanan McGuire. The books are a little bit creepy, a little bit weird, and a whole lot of fun. Check out my review of the first book in the series, Every Heart a Doorway.
4. A Court of Mist and Fury
Really, the entire ACOTAR series (A Court of Thorns and Roses series) by Sara J. Maas has my heart forever, but the second book was my favorite. It’s a great mix of fantasy and romance. Rhys is my “book boyfriend.” Overall, this book and the series both were the perfect escape during the early half of the year.
5. The Ten Thousand Doors of January
One of the first books I read this year, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow still stands out to me. It’s different than most fantasy I’d read, and while it starts a bit slow, I enjoyed it from beginning to end.
Several middle grade reads really surprised me in their depth and emotion as an adult reader. Three made my top 20 books of 2020 list.
6. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise
The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart ripped my heart out. It has complex characters, made me cry multiple times, and was just a gem of a book. Highly recommend for adults and kids alike!
7. The One And Only Ivan
Also making the list of children’s books that made me cry, The One And Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate was a fun read at the start of the year. This book (that’s now a Disney movie) pulled me in with lots of emotion and fun. Learn more about it in this review.
8. Brown Girl Dreaming
Last on the middle grade list, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was a fantastic audiobook read in January. Read by the author, this book in verse form shares about Jacqueline’s life growing up as a Black child in the 60s and 70s. Many lines are breathtakingly beautiful. An excellent book, again for kids and adults alike.
Books that should be required reading
I read several books that should be required reading for anyone in the U.S. this year, especially around the topic of anti-racism. The next three books rose to the top of my 2020 book list for different reasons.
9. Hood Feminism
This nonfiction book by Mikki Kendall makes me want to tell you to stop what you’re doing and pick it up immediately. Yes, it’s that good. A very thought provoking read that will challenge how you think about race and feminism in the U.S. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
10. The Tradition
I have loved quite literally everything Jericho Brown has ever written. He is my favorite poet (and has been since I saw him read out of his previous collection back in Iowa City in my undergrad days). The Tradition was as great as I expected it to be, if not better. If you’re a poetry fan, I definitely recommend adding it to your list. It speaks for itself.
Becoming is the audiobook I kicked off the year with and the best memoir I’ve read. It’s also the first audiobook I decided to pick up, and it set the bar high for the year. I’ve always admired Michelle Obama, and her book brings a very interesting perspective into her life before and during the Obama presidency. Even if you aren’t her #1 fan, there’s lots to learn and take away from her experiences. She reads the audiobook, and that’s the format I would suggest for the full experience.
Young Adult fiction
Usually my most-read genre, YA fiction didn’t disappoint in 2020. I didn’t read nearly as many YA books as I typically do, but most I read were really great (even the ones that didn’t make the cut for this list).
12. Today Tonight Tomorrow
Rachel Lynn Solomon became one of my favorite authors this year. It was a blast being on the street team helping promote Today Tonight Tomorrow, and it’s genuinely one of my favorite books of all time. At one point this year, I had three copies (though all but one have since been donated to classroom libraries). This gem of an enemies-to-lovers YA romance swept me in and had me immediately wanting to start from the beginning and read it again.
I reviewed it a few times throughout the year, but check this review for the highlights:
13. The Black Flamingo
I will officially read anything Dean Atta blesses us by writing after picking up The Black Flamingo. Written in verse form, the language is poetic, rich with detail, and full of personality and emotion. A fantastic LGBTQ+ coming of age story that had me hooked from the very first page. I highly, highly recommend it! See more reasons why in my longer review.
14. I Wish You All The Best
Another really great audiobook I read this year, I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver was an emotional own voices coming of age story that I’m really grateful exists for teens. There isn’t a huge amount of nonbinary representation in YA literature, but luckily that’s been changing in the last few years, including with this book. I had a lot more to say about this one too in a longer-form review.
I read a lot of romance this year, and I’m not mad about it. The romance genre has so much to offer, and if you’re one of those people (like I used to be) that thinks it’s all just surface-level, cliché filled, mass market blah, you’re thoroughly missing out. Of course, some books miss the mark, but the contemporary romance genre especially really blew me away this year. Shout out to my book club for bringing romance back into my life (and for being one of the highlights of my year just generally. Y’all are the real MVPs).
The six final books rounding out my top 20 books of 2020 are all in the romance category. I guarantee at least one of these will make you a romance fan, too.
15. The Switch
The Switch (by Beth O’Leary) quickly became an all-time favorite book of mine. It’s a cozy, cute, dual point-of-view romance that follows a grandma and granddaughter on their individual paths to unexpected love. There are also themes of grief and loss, with a heaping spoonful of UK cottage vibes. I’m into it.
I was gifted an audiobook by my favorite audiobook platform, Libro.FM, and I’d recommend that format for reading this one (though it’s great in physical format too). You can get a free audioboook credit if you sign up through this link (and I’ll get one too!).
16. Red, White, and Royal Blue
I’m honestly still swooning over this book by Casey McQuiston. And, I’m still feeling all the same feelings I had when I reviewed it thinking about it now. This book is an absolute delight, and I am looking forward to reading it again with some friends in January. I will laugh. I will cry. And I will enjoy every second.
17. In A Holidaze
This book was a pleasant surprise to round out my reading this year. I’ve only read a few Christina Lauren books, but this one really drew me in. It’s a “groundhog day” style romance set in a wintery cabin, and I could see myself reading this every holiday season. See my longer review for more on why.
18. Well Met
Next up: Well Met! I was pretty skeptical when my bookstagram (book instagram) friends told me to read Well Met by Jen DeLuca. Finally, I relented, and I’m glad I did! This Renaissance Faire enemies-to-lovers romance was loads of fun. Enemies-to-lovers is my favorite romance trope; it never disappoints.
19. Take A Hint, Dani Brown
I went in expecting to love this Talia Hibbert book since I loved Get A Life, Chloe Brown. Once again, I was not disappointed. This is probably the steamiest book on this list, but it has a very well developed plot with strong characters that are full of personality. The themes in this book heavily deal with anxiety in very descriptive scenes, which was extremely relatable for me, but which could be triggering for some readers. That said, it’s a really great romance all around and I absolutely recommend it.
20. Beach Read
Last on the list, but definitely not least, I can’t forget Beach Read by Emily Henry. It’s a perfect summer romance. This one has mixed reviews from some readers, but hit all the things I love with a great pace, fun characters, and a really realistic portrayal of grief and love. I saw a lot of myself in January as I was reading, which definitely made me enjoy the book more.
Cheers to a year of great reading!
If you’ve stuck with me this long, I hope this helped you add some books to your “to be read” list for next year. I’d love to hear if any of my favorites topped your list too, or if you had a favorite read that didn’t make the cut, in the comments below.
Wishing you happy reading as we head into 2021!