Best Books I Read in 2020

Welllll….2020 was a fucking mess, but here we are. I think I read during this time mainly to escape the real world for 20-30 minutes at a time. I know lots of people weren’t able to read at all and I totally get that. There are definitely times where I was like “what is a book and why did I used to like them??” but that usually meant I either needed a break or I desperately needed to DNF the book.

According to Goodreads, I read 117 books this year (and counting), but of those books, here are my absolute favorites. Not all of these came out in 2020, but because I read them this year, they are on the list.

One quick note: these are in no particular order. Just books I loved this year.

Alright, let’s take a look!

Burn by Patrick Ness

Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.

The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul, but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.

Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself.

My thoughts: HOLY. FUCKING. BALLS. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Dragons and social issues and magic. Fuck yes!

Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas

Inspector Treadles, Charlotte Holmes’s friend and collaborator, has been found locked in a room with two dead men, both of whom worked with his wife at the great manufacturing enterprise she has recently inherited.

Rumors fly. Had Inspector Treadles killed the men because they had opposed his wife’s initiatives at every turn? Had he killed in a fit of jealous rage, because he suspected Mrs. Treadles of harboring deeper feelings for one of the men? To make matters worse, he refuses to speak on his own behalf, despite the overwhelming evidence against him.

Charlotte finds herself in a case strewn with lies and secrets. But which lies are to cover up small sins, and which secrets would flay open a past better left forgotten? Not to mention, how can she concentrate on these murders, when Lord Ingram, her oldest friend and sometime lover, at last dangles before her the one thing she has always wanted?

My thoughts: I love this series with my whole heart. How could I not love Charlotte Holmes who loves cakes and elaborate dresses and solving mysteries and trying to figure out this thing called emotion and love. One of my favorite series EVER.

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

Connor Major’s summer break is turning into a nightmare.

His SAT scores bombed, the old man he delivers meals to died, and when he came out to his religious zealot mother, she had him kidnapped and shipped off to a secluded island. His final destination: Nightlight Ministries, a conversion therapy camp that will be his new home until he “changes.”

But Connor’s troubles are only beginning. At Nightlight, everyone has something to hide from the campers to the “converted” staff and cagey camp director, and it quickly becomes clear that no one is safe. Connor plans to escape and bring the other kidnapped teens with him. But first, he’s exposing the camp’s horrible truths for what they are— and taking this place down.

My thoughts: How do you make a book about a horrifying experience so damn funny?? Well, Adam Sass has done it and it’s so perfect. While I wish the time span between events was a little longer, this book was such a wonder and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

D. W. Griffith is a sorcerer, and The Birth of a Nation is a spell that drew upon the darkest thoughts and wishes from the heart of America. Now, rising in power and prominence, the Klan has a plot to unleash Hell on Earth.

Luckily, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword and a head full of tales. When she’s not running bootleg whiskey through Prohibition Georgia, she’s fighting monsters she calls “Ku Kluxes.” She’s damn good at it, too. But to confront this ongoing evil, she must journey between worlds to face nightmares made flesh–and her own demons. Together with a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter, Maryse sets out to save a world from the hate that would consume it.

My thoughts: A group of Black women killing Klan members…um, yes please!! This book was joy, sadness, strength, and friendship and damn, I loved it so much. Highly recommend

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.

My thoughts: I don’t think I’ve talked about a 2020 book more than I’ve talked about Legendborn. It’s so good and also one of the only books where I don’t want the two main love interests to be together. That is so unusual for me. Usually, I’m all for the main couple, but DAMN, I want Bree and Sel to be a thing. Beyond that, FUCK this story is so good. The history/ancestors, the magic, the training, and the fighting all combine to make an extraordinary book.

This is My America by Kim Johnson

Every week, seventeen-year-old Tracy Beaumont writes letters to Innocence X, asking the organization to help her father, an innocent Black man on death row. After seven years, Tracy is running out of time—her dad has only 267 days left. Then the unthinkable happens. The police arrive in the night, and Tracy’s older brother, Jamal, goes from being a bright, promising track star to a “thug” on the run, accused of killing a white girl. Determined to save her brother, Tracy investigates what really happened between Jamal and Angela down at the Pike. But will Tracy and her family survive the uncovering of the skeletons of their Texas town’s racist history that still haunt the present?

My thoughts: This. Book. I cried and felt like my heart fell into my stomach. But it also has happy moments to break up the difficult ones. The scene with the fire…I don’t think a scene in a book has shot me in the throat more. It’s a hard read, but the characters and the love they have for one another makes it a book I’m glad I read and hope to read again.

Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

My thoughts: Speaking of crying…damn, I sobbed during this one. I really loved the star storyline with Lita and I loved everything with Chicky and all the side characters. The interactions between the friends was more interesting to me than the beauty pageant stuff, although that was fun/scary too.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

My thoughts: Hello and welcome to books that scared the shit out of me. I’m so glad I listened to the bookstagram people and checked this out from the library. It’s definitely one of the best books I read this year, despite it making me worried about moving from the couch when I finished reading at 2AM. I definitely need to read more from this author.

The Sounds of Stars by Alechia Dow

Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?

Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.

Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.

Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.

Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both. 

My thoughts: So I tried to read this at the beginning of the year and just couldn’t get into it, but then I heard other people talking about how amazing it was and I was like WTF?! So I tried again but went with the audiobook and OH MY GOD, IT IS AMAZING!! The science, the fear, the danger, the friendship, the family, and the love. I’m usually not an alien book person, but I LOVED this book!

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

The gentrification of a Brooklyn neighborhood takes on a sinister new meaning…

Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

My thoughts: This is possibly my favorite book of the year (it’s very difficult to pick just one). I knew Alyssa Cole from her wonderful romance books, but this just blew my complete head off. The way it deals with gentrification and racism is very well done and the issues are weaved inside the bigger horror story is masterful. I hope Alyssa Cole writes more in this genre.

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen

Toni Jensen grew up around guns: As a girl, she learned to shoot birds in rural Iowa with her father, a card-carrying member of the NRA. As an adult, she’s had guns waved in her face near Standing Rock, and felt their silent threat on the concealed-carry campus where she teaches. And she has always known that in this she is not alone. As a Métis woman, she is no stranger to the violence enacted on the bodies of indigenous women, on indigenous land, and the ways it is hidden, ignored, forgotten.

In Carry, Jensen maps her personal experience onto the historical, exploring how history is lived in the body and redefining the language we use to speak about violence in America. In the title chapter, Jensen connects the trauma of school shootings with her own experiences of racism and sexual assault on college campuses. “The Worry Line” explores the gun and gang violence in her neighborhood the year her daughter was born. “At the Workshop” focuses on her graduate school years, during which a workshop classmate repeatedly killed off thinly veiled versions of her in his stories. In “Women in the Fracklands”, Jensen takes the listener inside Standing Rock during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and bears witness to the peril faced by women in regions overcome by the fracking boom.

In prose at once forensic and deeply emotional, Toni Jensen shows herself to be a brave new voice and a fearless witness to her own difficult history – as well as to the violent cultural landscape in which she finds her coordinates. With each chapter, Carry reminds us that surviving in one’s country is not the same as surviving one’s country.

My thoughts: To say this was a difficult read would be an understatement. The way Toni Jensen intertwines being an Indigenous woman, guns in America, and violence in general is very well done. I also like how she took a non-linear approach to telling the stories from her life.

Some of her experiences felt VERY familiar to me and sent a zing of fear through my spine, but even the ones I haven’t experienced (I don’t have much experience with guns), the way Jensen writes puts you right where she was. This is a masterful book that one everyone should read.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

Today’s feminist movement has a glaring blind spot, and paradoxically, it is women. Mainstream feminists rarely talk about meeting basic needs as a feminist issue, argues Mikki Kendall, but food insecurity, access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, a living wage, and medical care are all feminist issues. All too often, however, the focus is not on basic survival for the many, but on increasing privilege for the few. That feminists refuse to prioritize these issues has only exacerbated the age-old problem of both internecine discord and women who rebuff at carrying the title. Moreover, prominent white feminists broadly suffer from their own myopia with regard to how things like race, class, sexual orientation, and ability intersect with gender. How can we stand in solidarity as a movement, Kendall asks, when there is the distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?

My thoughts: I have loved Mikki Kendall’s writing for awhile. She’s one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. This book opened my eyes to so many things. She showed that issues I didn’t associate with feminism go hand in hand in a way I’m ashamed I never thought of before. This book shows us our privileges, whether it be class, gender, race, or identity privilege. It points out each one and shows how we can all do better.

Running by Natalia Sylvester

When fifteen-year-old Cuban American Mariana Ruiz’s father runs for president, Mari starts to see him with new eyes. A novel about waking up and standing up, and what happens when you stop seeing your dad as your hero—while the whole country is watching.

In this thoughtful, authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.

But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?

My thoughts: Oh boy, this book. I listened to this on audiobook and thought I was going to have to stop because the dad pissed me off so much and the daughter wasn’t seeing it, but then she does see his assholery and HOLY SHIT, she practically blows up her whole world to do what she thinks is right and I love that. This book gave me the same feeling as when I’ve gone to protests. That feeling of change coming, of collective action. It obviously didn’t achieve the same goal because…it’s fiction, but it felt so good to read.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti–Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the lives of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W. E. B. Du Bois to legendary anti–prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading pro-slavery and pro–civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.

As Kendi illustrates, racist thinking did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Racist ideas were created and popularized in an effort to defend deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and to rationalize the nation’s racial inequities in everything from wealth to health. While racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much–needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers tools to expose them—and in the process, reason to hope.

My thoughts: This book taught me a lot. It taught me that what I learned in school was almost all a lie. It taught me the absolute and complete severity of what has been done and is still done to Black people in America and other places. I also learned how racism (and some anti-Semitism) started in the first place. It’s all connected and that makes it even more horrifying. If you haven’t read this, please do. It should be required reading for everyone, but especially for history students. I plan on reading the YA version soon.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

My thoughts: This was another audiobook I listened to this year and fuck, it’s such a fun, sad, and inspiring story. I felt like the Grinch when reading this with my heart growing three sizes with the delight of reading Felix’s journey to self-acceptance. There were also moments where I was like “FELIX!! DELETE INSTAGRAM!!” but I know teenage me would have bathed in the loathing of those awful messages so I can’t really blame him.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society. 

My thoughts: Ok, did I read this because I was offered to listen to the audiobook and it’s narrated by Richard Armitage? YES. (Don’t judge me!) But it turned out to be a wonderful, heartfelt book that had me smiling and crying at my computer. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m an obsessive Jane Austen fan. This was right up my alley.

Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.

My thoughts: I know some people didn’t like this but….that’s not me! I loved it. I loved the adventure, the girl power, the different facets of life as a girl in this terrible kingdom, the “morbid” Cinderella, the magic, and everything in between. I love retellings and this one did not disappoint me.

Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

My thoughts: I absolutely LOVE the Brown Sisters series. Dani and Zaf are delightful in their grumpiness and their love for each other. While Chloe will always be my fave, I loved Dani because despite how completely smart she is, she couldn’t see that Zaf was the love of her life. It gives me hope for my clueless self lol. Also, the audiobook scene will go down in romance history as the most relatable ever.

So This is Love by Elizabeth Lim

What if Cinderella never tried on the glass slipper?

Unable to prove that she’s the missing princess, and unable to bear life under Lady Tremaine any longer, Cinderella starts work at the palace as a seamstress. However, when Cinderella finds herself witness to a grand conspiracy to take the king – and the prince – out of power, she is faced with questions of love and loyalty to the kingdom.

Cinderella must find a way to stop the villains of past and present… before it’s too late.

My thoughts: Oh look, another Cinderella retelling that I love! While this series can be hit or miss, I find the ones written by Elizabeth Lim to be wonderful and this Cinderella retelling was everything I wanted and more. It really goes into Cinderella as a character and how she felt and dealt with the abuse from her stepmother.

I also loved that she had human friends in this. I know that’s such a small thing to point out but sometimes, animal friends aren’t enough, especially after she’s been alone/lonely for so long.

Recommended For You by Laura Silverman

Shoshanna Greenberg loves working at Once Upon, her favorite local bookstore. And with her moms fighting at home and her beloved car teetering on the brink of death, the store has become a welcome escape.

When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna sees an opportunity to at least fix her car, if none of her other problems. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan.

Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. He doesn’t even read! But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find south of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down.

But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna grow closer and realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…

My thoughts: I will literally read anything by Laura Silverman and this book did not disappoint. Jewish book nerds working in a bookstore?? How could I not love it!! There are a few HP references but I know Laura is taking those out for the second printing. Otherwise, this book is cute AF, had me crying (like anyone is surprised) and smiling in equal measure, and is just an absolute delight.

You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true?

My thoughts: Speaking of books that are absolute delights, You Should See Me in a Crown had me smiling through the whole thing…although, I did yell at Liz a few times telling her to get rid of her friend, but that’s just me lol. I listened to this on audiobook while following along in the physical book and omg the baking scene, the romance, the campaign, and the way Liz’s friends came together to support her was everything I needed. And her relationship with her brother and her grandma was THE BEST.

With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With her daughter to care for and her abuela to help support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has to make the tough decisions, and do what must be done. The one place she can let her responsibilities go is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she knows she doesn’t have enough time for her school’s new culinary arts class, doesn’t have the money for the class’s trip to Spain — and shouldn’t still be dreaming of someday working in a real kitchen. But even with all the rules she has for her life — and all the rules everyone expects her to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only real choice is to let her talent break free.

My thoughts: This is one of those books I had on my shelf for forever but finally got to this year and OMG, I’m pissed I didn’t read it sooner. I love foodie books and this one was heartwarming, beautiful, and very real. I loved Emoni’s passion for cooking, her daughter, and grandmother. I also really appreciated how the romance developed in this book. It was slow and timid because of Emoni’s past and what she felt her responsibilities were and I really enjoyed/related to that.

A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Never mind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

My thoughts: This was an absolute dream of a book. Sirens and gargoyles and strong af friendships, what more could you want?? I really loved how much emotion was put in this book. I am an emotional reader and the more that’s shown in the characters, the more I feel connected to them. I also loved how the author showed discrimination, especially racism, in the world through sirens. It’s very well-done.

I also liked that this took place in the real world. Yes, there are sirens and other creatures, but other than that, it looks like the world we all live in and that helped me connect with it even more.

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

My thoughts: Yes, I know I’m late to this train, but thank god I made it. This was extraordinary. Talk about worldbuilding at its finest! The sweets, the beauty, the brutality, and the friendship were all spectacular. I was not expecting the story to go where it went and WOOOOOW, was I surprised at some of the violent and cruel actions but it made the ending hit that much stronger. I really need to get to the second book ASAP.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons.

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

My thoughts: I have read the first two books in this series, but the first one is definitely my favorite. It’s just so sweet and accepting and DAMN, the art could not be cuter or more beautiful. If you haven’t read this and are looking for a quick read that will make your heart feel smooshy, PLEASE check this out.

The Project by Courtney Summers (Feb 21, 2021)

Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.

When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to. 

My thoughts: Yes, I know this doesn’t come out until 2021, but I have read it and HOLY HELL ON A CRACKER, it’s GOOOOOD! Will it scare the shit out of you and make you question your own brain?? Well, duh, it’s Courtney Summers. Of course it will. I have a particular fear/wariness of cults/things about cults so I went in very worried, but while Courtney does not hold back and definitely pushes you into the terror, through the story of the two sisters, she at least holds onto your pinky as you make your way through their journey. TW for cults (obv), torture, and violence (if I remember more when I write up my review, I will add them here too).

Recipe For Persuasion by Sonali Dev

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? 

Rico Silva, that’s what.  

Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster. 

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her. 

But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…? 

My thoughts: Hello and welcome to my love for The Rajes series by Sonali Dev. The first book, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was wonderful, but this play on Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Recipe for Persuasion is definitely my favorite. The food, the cooking competition, the second chance love, the parental issues…ohhhh boy, this book is packed full with emotion and brilliant characters. Cannot recommend enough. TW for suicide and sexual assault, both mentioned but not described on the page.

A Murderous Relation by Deanna Raybourn

Veronica Speedwell and her natural historian colleague Stoker are asked by Lady Wellingtonia Beauclerk to help with a potential scandal so explosive it threatens to rock the monarchy. Prince Albert Victor is a regular visitor to the most exclusive private club in London, known as the Club de l’Etoile, and the proprietess, Madame Aurore, has received an expensive gift that can be traced back to the prince. Lady Wellie would like Veronica and Stoker to retrieve the jewel from the club before scandal can break.

Worse yet, London is gripped by hysteria in the autumn of 1888, terrorized by what would become the most notorious and elusive serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper–and Lady Wellie suspects the prince may be responsible.

Veronica and Stoker reluctantly agree to go undercover at Madame Aurore’s high class brothel, where another body soon turns up. Many secrets are swirling around Veronica and the royal family–and it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to find the truth, before it’s too late for all of them.

My thoughts: Oh, look! Another one of my favorite series! The Veronica Speedwell series is one of my all-time favorites. It’s got mystery and romance and so much witty dialogue I could cry 1000 happy tears. This one focused on parts of Veronica’s “secret” family and it was such a fun adventure. She and Stoker also get up to some…things that will make any reader of this series scream FINALLY!!

Last Girls by Demetra Brodsky

No one knows how the world will end.

On a secret compound in the Washington wilderness, Honey Juniper and her sisters are training to hunt, homestead, and protect their own.

Prepare for every situation.

But when danger strikes from within, putting her sisters at risk, training becomes real life, and only one thing is certain:

Nowhere is safe.

My thoughts: I found this book through a blog tour and fuck, I am so glad I did. I seem to be drawn to stories about sisters despite having none and this one made that even more clear. This is definitely a story of things not being what they seem, but in the best way possible. You think you know what’s going on and then BOOM, you are hit with a revelation. I loved the post-apocalyptic parts of this book and the rules the girls follow and how different each of them are. You won’t be mistaking one for the other. I hope y’all check this one out.

The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann

The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.

My thoughts: This was another one I found through a blog tour and ohhhh lord, it’s a tough one to get through, but it’s worth it because of the bonds between these girls. It’s definitely a sob-generated (I CRIIIIIED) and the ending may not be as satisfying as some would want, but this one tore a hole in my gut and that’s why it made it on this list.

Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you? 

My thoughts: LOL this choice is very much “yeah, welcome to the club, Sarah” but I read it at the beginning of the year and it was very much an escape read. The ending/epilogue was NEEDED despite the world being the exact opposite of what the book predicts. Other than that bit, I loved the chaos, the love, the friendships, and the back and forth communication featured in this book. It deserves all the hype and praise it got and I hope Casey McQuiston’s next book, One Last Stop, (which I would love to read ASAP) gets just as much love.

The Winter Companion by Mimi Matthews

She Needed to be Seen…

As a lady’s companion, Clara Hartwright never receives much attention from anyone. And that’s precisely how she likes it. With a stormy past, and an unconventional plan for her future, it’s far safer to remain invisible. But when her new employer is invited to a month-long holiday at a remote coastal abbey, Clara discovers that she may not be as invisible as she’d hoped. At least, not as far as one gentleman is concerned.

He Wanted to be Heard…

Neville Cross has always been more comfortable with animals than people. An accident in his youth has left him with a brain injury that affects his speech. Forming the words to speak to his childhood friends is difficult enough. Finding the right things to say to a lovely young lady’s companion seems downright impossible. But Miss Hartwright is no ordinary companion. In fact, there may not be anything ordinary about her at all.

During a bleak Devon winter, two sensitive souls forge an unexpected friendship. But when Clara needs him most, will Neville find the courage to face his fears? Or is saying goodbye to her the most heroic thing he can do? 

My thoughts: If you’ve visited this blog for any length of time, you know this is a Mimi Matthews appreciation blog. Her Parish Orphans of Devon series wrapped up this year and I sobbed for like an hour after finishing this book. I didn’t think I could love one of her characters as much as I love Jenny from A Modest Independence but Neville is definitely up there as a favorite. This book is so heartwarming and beautiful and after this hell year, I need to reread this whole series again.

How to Build a Heart by Maria Padian

All sixteen-year-old Izzy Crawford wants is to feel like she really belongs somewhere. Her father, a marine, died in Iraq six years ago, and Izzy’s moved to a new town nearly every year since, far from the help of her extended family in North Carolina and Puerto Rico. When Izzy’s hardworking mom moves their small family to Virginia, all her dreams start clicking into place. She likes her new school—even if Izzy is careful to keep her scholarship-student status hidden from her well-to-do classmates and her new athletic and popular boyfriend. And best of all: Izzy’s family has been selected by Habitat for Humanity to build and move into a brand-new house. Izzy is this close to the community and permanence she’s been searching for, until all the secret pieces of her life begin to collide.

How to Build a Heart is the story of Izzy’s journey to find her place in the world and her discovery that the choices we make and the people we love ultimately define us and bring us home.

My thoughts: I read this book before all hell broke loose in 2020 so it feels like I read it three years ago lol. It’s another VERY emotional book, but the characters, especially Izzy, make it so you find it hard to put down. I also appreciated how it showed the Habitat for Humanity process and the thoughts and emotions of a teen going through that along with everything else that comes with being that age. The complicated romance and the many complicated friendships are really what made this book shine.

Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

My thoughts: I don’t remember how I first found out about this series, but damn, am I glad I did. I usually don’t read books in a series back to back, but that’s exactly what I did here. This book, specifically, is witty and fun and it’s impossible not to love Myrtle and Miss Judson with your whole heart. This series got me through the weeks before Xmas and I will be forever grateful to it. I’m also a sucker for a pun and the title gets me every time. The third book in the series (which I am very impatiently waiting for) is called Cold-Blooded Myrtle and I could not love the title more.

What were your favorite books of this year? Let me know in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “Best Books I Read in 2020

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