My Top 12 Books of 2020

I read so many good books in 2020 – many 5 and 4 or 4.5 star reads! It was a saving grace for me in a trying year, for sure. I made a point to add some diversity into my authors, genres, and I had so much more fun reading new things this year than I expected! Here, I share my 12 5-star reads, as well as 3 honorable mentions that I gave 4.5 stars (even though GoodReads only lets me do whole numbers). These are in no particular order – I could never pick one to put at the top, I love all of these dearly!

Untamed – Glennon Doyle

Glennon’s most recent book taught me how to peel back all the layers of expectations, “should do’s,” and fake traits I have taken on myself as true, real, and necessary. It has reminded me (again, as she always does), that who I am at my core, with all the anxiety, sensitivity, big love, desire for joy, deep belief in goodness and love will win… and all my faults, mistakes, and difficult parts are just as worthy and valuable as the pieces others more easily accept. It’s such a timely reminder that amidst everything, the realness at our core matters.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab

This beautiful book about how far we will go for the life we want and the love we wish for combines history, love, character growth, and a little surprise at the end. It’s a slow burn kind of book – no big moments that rocked me, no late nights staying up reading it, yet I couldn’t wait to get back to it every evening. That was part of its beauty; at the end of the book I was surprised by how much it touched me and how much I loved it. It was the kind of book that makes me understand the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts.” 

The Henna Artist – Alka Joshi

I love stories that take me into another culture, particularly when it focuses on the women’s experience within it. Women’s relationships can be so complex, and get so deep so quick sometimes that the emotional impact and the way we can influence or hurt each other is often underestimated. The beauty is in the details in this one, and I cannot wait for the sequel later in 2021!

The Alice Network – Kate Quinn

Historical fiction has long been my favorite genre; I love to learn about real history, and then love to follow that up with reading novels about that time period to get a feel for what life may have really been like. The strength of the women in this novel, and the dual timelines kept me intrigued until the last page. Kate Quinn is a master at making history come to life, with all the highs and lows that life of the time brought.

Ugly Love – Colleen Hoover

No one knows how to make interesting, flawed characters that feel so real you can’t help but have a deep connection with them like Colleen Hoover. I so appreciate that this book shows how love can be ugly even when it’s also wonderful and everything we want. That’s the truth about love – it’s messy, deep, and life changing. It’s always for better AND worse, in the end.

After all…“It’s the beautiful moments like this that make up for the ugly love.”

You Had Me at Hola – Alexis Daria

This romance had everything! Comedy, family and friendships, a great work setting for drama, and some sweet but complicated romance with a few well-placed steamy scenes. I also loved that this brought in Latin American culture to the mainstream in such a rich way. The loud, big, family with mixed language conversations, obsession with novellas, and importance of food at all family events is such a part of this culture that I grew up so closely tied to; I want everyone to feel and see the lovely in the crazy. That’s what this book did while giving us romance lovers exactly what we want in a novel.

Radical Compassion – Tara Brach

I picked up this book early in the coronavirus pandemic because I felt like it was bringing out the worst in everyone, including me. I wanted to be someone spreading kindness in the midst of fear and division. What I learned I can’t be that for others until I give that compassion and kindness to myself, first. I learned that taking care of myself isn’t selfish, but necessary.

“When we trust that we are the ocean, we are not afraid of the waves.”

In Five Years – Rebecca Serle

This book was nothing like I expected. Without giving anything away – it wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for at that moment, but I stayed up late finishing it and loved the ending, the characters, and the focus on the complicated friendship of two women who are more like sisters than friends. Go into the book with no expectations and enjoy what the story becomes.

A Madness of Sunshine – Nalini Singh

A murder mystery, some romance, and reckoning with the fact that you can leave home, but it will always call you back – especially true for those of us from small towns (I relate to this so much). This book takes place in New Zealand and looks at the nature of small towns, the culture of the locals, and how all the ties within small communities can work to hide things, or bring them to light.

The Institute – Stephen King

The special skills these otherwise normal children had, enhanced through scientific experiment, was an intriguing background for a YA plotline of teenagers fighting for the side of good. King brings his detailed description and character development and shares a wonderful story that feels like it could truly happen, just a decade or so in the future. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling.

The Huntress – Kate Quinn

Another Kate Quinn historical fiction masterpiece. The characters in this book really make the story; the events are just extra. Somehow, I end up rooting for and loving the character I don’t think I will, and I am torn at the end of the book about what I wanted to happen. I read this with my book club and it sparked so much discussion – that’s when you know it was a good one, however complicated.

The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell

What a great mystery of family secrets and how they change the course of many lives. Our families have so much impact on us, and the twists of this family story kept me guessing until the very end. Lisa Jewell does dark and twisty very well in this one, and makes me wonder what’s next after every chapter.

Honorable Mentions

These books were my 4.5 star reads – fell just short of a 5-star rating for miniscule reasons that probably have more to do with me as a reader, or the mood I was in when i read them, than the books themselves. You should absolutely read these books and decide for yourself!

Kindred – Octavia F. Butler

If I hadn’t been focused on finding books by diverse writers in 2020, I may never have come across this book – I didn’t see it in any recommendation lists I usually peruse. Historical fiction told from the perspective of a modern black women who gets sent back to the time of slavery and experiences life as a slave… it was fascinating, enlightening, and really made me think. This is a talented writer who I will be reading more from.

The Farm – Joanne Ramos

This is another work of fiction that doesn’t seem like it’s too far off from becoming reality in the near future. While it highlights the economic and cultural differences of well-off American white women and immigrant women in America, I think the deepest part of the story is its exploration of the idea that often our own beliefs and determination decide our happiness, rather than the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is a belief that I’ve struggled with and wondered about its truth, and I loved how it was explored in this unique context.

The Tidelands – Philippa Gregory

Another historical fiction piece! Philippa Gregory is well known for her historical fiction that takes place within the royal houses of the United Kingdom. This one was quite different, and one of my favorite books by her thus far. A later timeline, and a cast of everyday people, telling the story of the love and hard work they put into their daily lives as they try to provide the best lives possible for their children. I’m happy it is the beginning of a trilogy so I can enjoy this new approach from Philippa Gregory for a while longer!

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