My usual love for year-end lists has doubled this year, because I’m delighted to see the stories that offered bright spots in a year so burdened down by, well, everything. As I looked back on my reading this year there were a few things that really stuck out. First, I binge read series like wild before I gave birth to Little S, and then I was all about the stand alones that I could sip in small pieces while I’ve been adjusting to mom life.
The second, and probably more useful for others, thing I noticed was I generally turned toward novels that brought me hope, softness, resilience, and joy. (I say this knowing that the first book on my list is super murder-y. It leans into that resilience piece, okay?)
All but one book on my list is either first in a series or a stand alone. So you can jump in immediately. Basically, my Best of 2020 list brings you powerful prose, characters that captivated, and reads that you can dive into on dark winter nights and feel a little better about the world.
BEST BOOKS OF 2020
- The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
The eerie tone of a Gothic ghost story meets the setting-as-a-character of an urban fantasy in this captivating mystery. With an almost entirely female cast, The Sun Down Motel explores the stories used to scare women, the secrets that need to be shared, and the truth buried in nighttime.
The dual POV gives us two timelines—Viv in 1982 and her niece Carly in 2017. The parallels are potent, but what I loved more was thinking I had an answer because of the 2017 timeline and still being surprised by the plot.
The ghastly vibes of the motel made me hesitate to read this one before bed, but then I couldn’t resist staying up to finish it. Total book rec.
2. Archangel’s Sun by Nalini Singh
Nalini Singh continues to prove herself a master storyteller with Archangel’s Sun. Her Guild Hunter series has long been a favorite of mine—hello, book No. 13—and I especially love the novels that feature new couples. Here we get Archangel Titus and The Hummingbird/Sharine (aka Bluebell’s mom), their journey is one of badass adults being badass adults. So, low angst in the romance arc, but high conflict as the plot centers on dealing with the fallout from the big bad of the previous arc.
See how I’m avoiding spoilers? Well, I’m doing that because a) I hate spoilers and b) Nalini set this one up to work as yet another entry point to the series. There’s enough info about what happened in the Cascade to follow what’s happening without having read the previous books, but it’d also leave you wanting to dive into the earlier novels to know more—which is great in this weird time where having a series of 10+ books to binge is a godsend.
TL;DR: Gorgeous character arcs (as always with Nalini) alongside great fight scenes and a really excellent plot twist.
3. Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust
Beautifully layered story bringing to life Persian fairy tales. I loved the way Bashardoust paced out the elements in the title and spent the final third trying to guess how “thorn” would appear and how it would change the trajectory of the story.
If you’re here for character arcs, there’s stunning parallels throughout the book—which really resonate upon finishing. The romance is a small subplot, but sweet (and sapphic).
4. The Roommate by Rosie Danan
The Roommate is charming and refreshing and totally what I needed in these stressful times.
I see everyone labeling this as a rom-com, but I wouldn’t. (Though, it should be noted, that I’m not really a rom-com kind of person.) Instead The Roommate is the kind of high-chemistry and low-angst read that sizzles without stressing you out.
There’s a healthy bit about our own perceptions of self and how they can get in the way, but also plenty of high-heat-level action.
5. Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal
Ink in the Blood is about community and friendship and owning your future in whatever way you can. And I absolutely loved it.
Magic tattoos and running away to the circus was enough to put Ink in the Blood on my radar, but the clever world building and constant surprises—both in character and plot—kept me turning the pages.
I wasn’t prepared for how badly I’d fall for the Plague Doctor in this. I was even less prepared for how much harder I’d ‘ship friendships.
Which novels topped your list? And which 2021 releases are you already counting down the days to?