Not every book can be the best, and not every book is the worst. So what are my favorites and least favorites of 2020?
It's been a couple of years since I've had enough books to choose favorites and least favorites from. And since I had a really good reading year in 2020, discovering a lot of new books that I loved, it felt like a good time to get back into choosing the best and (as Keith Habersberger would say) the least best of the year. Besides, it's the beginning of a decade, so why not get back into doing this?
Ending the year with 48 books was an impressive move for me. I haven't read this much in a couple of years, so I was happy to have this many books to choose from. It's always harder to pick favorites and least favorites when there aren't many books on the list.
I would say that overall, I had a pretty great reading year. Most of my choices resulted in high ratings, which is always a nice thing. I'd rather have more high ratings than low ratings in any reading year.
10. crazy rich asians by kevin kwan
The movie has been one of my favorites ever since it came out. I love seeing my country represented, even if it's wildly dramatic and not the norm. Choosing this book for the #AsianReadathon was a lot of fun because I got to experience a taste of home and my secondary languages in fiction. It also made me miss the food a lot since I haven't had authentic Singaporean food in over three years.
Even though I didn't love this as much as the movie, I did enjoy love it a lot and had a great time reading it. The characters were just as ridiculous, if not more ridiculous than they were in the movie. The whole thing just gave me more appreciation for my home country and simultaneously made me homesick while also relieving some of the homesickness I felt.
Also, I just need to acknowledge that I'm so grateful for the fact that my parents have never pressured me in the stereotypical way to get married and that they're fine with me taking my time.
9. YOUNG JANE YOUNG BY GABRIELLE ZEVIN
I think Gabrielle Zevin is quickly becoming an author I enjoy reading from, even though I haven't read many of her books. Something about the way she tackles difficult topics is really raw and beautiful, and her writing always makes me think deeply afterwards.
This book tackles the other side of the story in high-profile political affairs. When a young girl has an affair with a rising politician and everyone finds out, she gets shunned. But her side of the story made me think deeply about the double standard in these situations. I'd never really thought about what it means for the women once the affair is out, but this book really challenged me in a way that few other books have done. It's going to stick with me for a long time, and I want to read the rest of her backlist books to see what else I can learn from it.
It's one of those books that's incredibly frustrating to read at times, but I learned so much from it. I think more people should read this because does such a wonderful job of looking at the affair from a wide variety of angles. Never does the book make judgement on what is right or wrong, and I really liked that.
Specifically, I think men should read this. They're not going to like it because this really shows the level of power imbalance that takes place and what women go through when things like this happen. It's a really tough read for anyone, but I think that men in particular will struggle more with a book like this, and yet it's why they should read it.
8. SADIE BY COURTNEY SUMMERS
Everyone was raving about this book because it's told half in podcast format. We get to hear about an investigation into the disappearance of Sadie, a teenaged girl, and then read from her perspective. I've never read anything like this before and it totally lived up to the hype for me.
As a huge lover of true crime and true crime podcasts (podcasts in general, really), I loved getting to read the transcripts of the show. I've heard that it's amazing in audiobook format too because there's a cast, and I know that I want to listen to that at some point to compare the expereince.
It's always fun to read about a crime from multiple perspectives, especially when it's done well like this. Seeing it play out as the investigation through the podcast is so interesting when you get to compare it to what Sadie is going through. It's also one of the rare times when I like endings like this.
7. THE RAVEN BOYS BY MAGGIE STIEFVATER
This has been on my shelf for so many years, I can't believe it took this long to get to it. One of the reasons I finally did was because Maggie read and loved it at the beginning of 2020 and it pushed me to include the first book among my reads of the year too.
There's something so intriguing and fun about a fantasy story that's as complex as this. I'm not used to YA being so complicated that I have trouble keeping up at times, but this is one of those times. My love of complicated, well-written fantasy kept me going with this book and I was thoroughly rewarded with a great story and characters.
I can easily see why so many people love the series and it's sure to become one of my favorites too. On the other hand, I can also see why people struggle to get into the books because they're not written in the easiest way. I happen to like that it took effort to understand the book, which I'm happy about because I've always wanted to read and love these books.
6. six of crows by leigh bardugo
Having read the original Grisha trilogy a couple of summers ago and DNF-ed the last book, I looked forward to reading this because I knew I'd like it more. And I was right. I loved everything about this book and the characters it follows.
This is another complicated fantasy, partly because it's set a in world that has been established in an earlier series, but also because it features a complex heist. If there's anything I love, it's a well-planned heist that brings together a band of misfits. Heck, I tried writing one about four years ago and it was terrible. But this book is the opposite of terrible. This book is amazing.
One of the things I loved most was watching how each of the characters came together to play an important role in the heist crew. Kaz Brekker has my heart in many ways and I aspire to be as badass as Inej and Nina combined. In fact, I would love to work on a cosplay for Inej in the future, and I've already asked Maggie to be my Nina because those girls have such a wonderful female friendship.
5. rebel by marie lu
This was one of my most anticipated books that I'd been keeping for a rainy day because I knew it would make me super happy and make me bawl at the same time. The Legend series has been part of my life for ages, and it was the first time I saw myself being represented in literature. Reading from an author who is also Chinese, featuring a character who is half-Asian, made me feel seen in a way I hadn't been before. It was the first time I saw an example of an Asian being an attractive love interest rather than the sidekick.
Reading this book was such an experience. It took me back to my teenaged years as I followed June and Day on their adventure to take down the government. Of course, the way Lu sets up this book is incredibly relevant to what's going on in the world now and I wrote down so many quotes that stood out to me. I'm glad she took the time to write this because it's so special. Knowing that there's a connecting between this series and the Warcross duology makes reading the book even better because I've read all the books and can see how Lu needed to write the world of Warcross before she could finish out the Legend series with this book.
Did I ugly sob through the last 30 pages of the book because I was so happy? Absolutely. It was so hard to see the words on the page but I was so incredibly happy and my heart was so full. This series and the characters are incredibly close to my growing-up experience, so it was an amazing experience to read an ending that was even better than anything I could have imagined.
4. shadow of the fox by julie kagawa
Japanese mythology has interested me for years, mostly due to my exposure to the anime culture. I've learned snippets here and there from the various series I've watched over the past decade, but nothing quite as in depth as the mythology I got from this book.
The story lends itself to a lot of character development and space for the Japanese culture to come to life, both of which I greatly enjoyed. It was fun to use my very limited understanding of the mythology to guess what the different creatures were, all while testing my retention of the random Japanese words I know (I literally know nothing useful except for calling the police and asking for the bathroom).
It had been a long time since I felt such a compelling pull toward a trilogy that made me want to buy the sequels immediately. Even longer since I had binged a book series in the same year. The fact that this book got me to fly through the books and recommend them incessantly speaks volumes for how well it's written and how underrated I think the trilogy is. Adding in the fact that this is an own-voices novel puts it even higher on my recommendation list, and I will keep talking about it until it gets the recognition it deserves.
Also, this is the book that made me fully realize how much I love and prefer slow-burn romance. It's just better when they have actual reasons to fall for each other rather than immediately liking each other.
3. the hand on the wall by maureen johnson
It was hard picking one in the series for this, but since this wrapped up the first mystery so well, I had to pick it.
The first three books in general are really well-written. It's one of the few times I haven't been able to figure out the mystery before the characters all did, and I'm incredibly happy with that. Rarely do I find YA mysteries complex enough for my taste, but this one met and exceeded every expectation.
I really like that it took three books to cover a single case. For one, it's realistic to how long an investigation takes. Secondly, you really get to know the details of what's going on when you spend so much time focused on one thing. And I loved watching the development of character relationships as the story went on. It made everything just a little more real.
The fourth book in the series, featuring the beginning of a new mystery arc, is coming out in April and I'm probably going to pre-order it once I can because it's such a good series. I trust that Johnson will again make the mystery beautifully complex and make me wish that all the books in this arc were already out so I could binge them.
2. the night circus by erin morgenstern
This book was so close to taking the spot of being my favorite of the year. Having heard nothing but amazing things about it for years (I've owned this book for six years), I knew it was one I wanted to finally check off my list. And wow, it was such an amazing reading experience.
I went into this knowing very little about it and I think that was to my benefit. There's so much mystery to a circus that opens at dusk and closes at dawn, I liked learning about it along with the characters. The story is beautifully written and once again, wonderfully complex (are you sensing a theme here with my favorites?) as each chapter manages to explain more but also complicate things more. It's such a tightly woven story and I'm impressed that Morgenstern drafted this during NaNoWriMo.
One of my favorite things about this is how beautifully vivid the imagery is. I could picture myself among the characters no matter what was going on. Having the circus described to me made it possible for me to imagine being there and seeing all that it had to offer. The characters are layered dynamically, allowing the story to capture their growth as time goes on. It's a display of skill that so many of the characters are so lovable, while also being so human. And if there was a chance to see something as beautiful as this, I would jump at it in a heartbeat.
1. the invisible life of addie larue by v.e. schwab
If you're surprised by this choice, I don't know how that's possible. Honestly, if it weren't for this book, The Night Circus would have been my favorite of the year. But I can't do that to Addie, not after everything she's gone through.
This has been my most anticipated book for over two years. From the moment I heard Schwab talking about it on her Twitter, I knew this was going to be very special to me, and I was right. The story of a girl who makes a deal with a god that answered after dark isn't new to anyone, but the way Schwab spins the story makes it feel fresh and shows off the skills she's developed over the past decade. I understand why she had to push herself to become a better writer in order to tell this story, and I appreciate all the work she did to make this a real book.
I've been calling this the book of my heart for reasons I don't quite have the words to explain yet. The story touched me in a way I've rarely experienced, and I was blown away at how much I enjoyed the lyrical nature of the prose. It's unlike any of her other work that I've read, and I'm honestly glad that this one stands so differently from the rest of her books because I think The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue deserves to have that distinction. After all, it's a display of literary fiction crossing and blending genres while remaining accessible.
And I think it says something about my love for this book that I own three copies (B&N Exclusive w/ bonus short story; B&N signed edition; & the exclusive Owlcrate edition) which all sit together on my shelves. This is a story I will come back to time and time again for so many reasons, and I think it's easily going to remain a favorite for the rest of my life.
5. goodnight beautiful by aimee molloy
I don't think there are many words to describe my reading experience for this book other than "bored" and "frustrated." The author lost me early on with the different perspectives, which left me confused and annoyed as the story went on.
My main reason for disliking this book is that I didn't like the set-up for the culprit. It's hard to explain without spoiling everything, but basically, the culprit's backstory didn't feel like a good enough reason for all this to be happening. Nothing really convinces me that obsessive stalking is excusable (also speaking from the experience of having a stalker), and the logic behind everything fell flat for me.
It felt like the book was trying to take down every stereotype of a modern mystery, but it didn't work for me. Already, I'm not a fan of books that do the "and then the person isn't who you think they are and I've tricked you with perspective" thing because I find it's often poorly done. This made me like it even less because of the things it insinuated about a character and how that continued to play out during the rest of the story.
Overall, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone and I was glad to be done with it.
4. BEYOND THE BRIGHT SEA BY lauren wolk
I sort of understand why this was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, but there were a lot of things that I also didn't get. Maybe I'm too old for the story or didn't read it closely enough, but the book just didn't interest me all that much.
Along with several other people, I read this for Children's Literature during my final semester. Unfortunately, I missed out of the discussion part of the class because I had to leave early for an article interview (it's fine, I got to meet and interview Dr. Minnijean Brown-Trickey), so I don't really know what my classmates thought. I did hear that it was pretty mixed, which makes sense to me.
I think my main problem was that the story felt like to was going in several directions and I ultimately didn't get a satisfying ending. There are several things the main character comes across that didn't really have a conclusion, and the focal point at the end was entirely different than what I thought it was going to be. A bunch of things didn't make sense in my head, which caused problems as I got closer to the end because I had little idea of what was going on.
In the end, I found myself mostly frustrated with the book and the way the story was being told. I do wish I could have been there for the discussion to hear why the professor loved this because I think that would have helped a lot. But I also preferred talking to Dr. Brown-Trickey.
3. THE PIANO TEACHER BY JANICE Y.K. LEE
I will admit that my main problem with this book was the characters. I really didn't like the main female character and nothing about the story was able to change that for me, and the main male character went from being likable to meh in about 60 pages.
Already, I'm not a fan of stories that feature affairs, and even less so when it's done like this. I have zero understanding of why the main guy liked the main woman or why their affair began, except for maybe the fact that they're both white people working for a rich Hong Kong family? I don't even really remember much of the book or its plot, to be honest.
Despite my desire to enjoy this because it was the first book I ever read that's set in Hong Kong, the story ultimately didn't do anything for me. I read reviews later that talked about how this was a raw depiction of WWII in Hong Kong and how the unlikable characters made the story better, but I politely disagree.
2. THE RETURN by rachel harrison
I won an ARC for this in a giveaway after someone from BookRiot rated it highly and said that it totally creeped her out. Hoping that this would be a good introduction to horror, I read my copy and waited to be scared. But nothing happened.
That was my problem with the book. Absolutely nothing happened. It's set up in a way that gives us an unreliable narrator and an unnerving setting. I thought the location would have more to do with the story, but it ended up doing very little. Things that could have added to the creepy factor fell flat and the twist at the end felt like it was missing a major scare factor. This coming from someone easily terrified by horror, I think it says a lot.
There's a chance that the final version was better, but from what I heard from a reviewer I really trust, few things changed. The story had a lot of potential, but it just fell really short of that in the end.
1. The Green mile by stephen king
Stephen King is overrated and this book convinced me of that. Incidentally, all of my social media came together to agree with me on that after I read this book.
There are so many things to dislike about this book. The stereotypical characters, the mask of social commentary, the sexism, and the fact that it's so long. None of the prison guards became more than their stereotype, even though the intention was to show how different they became. The mask of social commentary on the incarceration of black men ended up being nothing more than "Oh yeah, he's not guilty but we're not actually going to do anything to disprove that." And the sexism was abundantly clear in the way the main character treated his wife as nothing more than a sex object each time he was sad, angry, or had a long day.
One could argue that all of these things are meant to bring awareness to injustice, but I think it's just King getting away with being stereotypical because he's an acclaimed author. His writing it long-winded and I've learned far more about men having UTIs than I ever wanted to know.
anne of green gables by l.m. montgomery (favorite)
I counted this as an honorable mention because it's a re-read and I didn't want to take away from another book that deserved more recognition (*ahem* Shadow of the Fox).
This story is a classic for a reason, and I love that I still got something out of it now. I've read and re-read this several times already, but the story was just as beautiful and the characters just as memorable. Each time I go through this book, it makes me want to visit Prince Edward Island in Canada. Or just makes me want to go to Canada in general.
There's something about the person Anne grows into that has always made me aspire to be more like her. The friendship she has with Diana is beautiful, and so is the way her friendship/romance with Gilbert develops. And I love that the story has stood the test of time for so long.
my dark vanessa by kate elizabeth russell (favorite)
This nearly made it onto my favorites list above, but I have a hard time calling it a favorite. There's nothing about this book that would make me call it that because it's a book about pedophilia and rape. Yes, the book is really good and I think it's worth reading, but it's such a hard thing to recommend because not every reader can manage the content.
It's going to stick with me for a long time, that's for sure. I might pick up a copy for myself to re-read it because I think it's worth going over again. The fact that this exists and handles the topic so well is enough reason for me to call this an honorable mention. For those who can handle the subject matter, I think it's something you should definitely pick up.
a darker shade of magic by v.e. schwab (favorite)
This was my first V.E. Schwab book of the year and I am sad that I didn't make more of an effort to finish out the trilogy last year. The fantasy world that Schwab creates is filled with possibility and potential for so many different characters and stories.
I love Kell and Lila so much already, and I want to see where the story goes. The magic system is really intriguing and I'm glad I've managed to avoid enough spoilers that I can enjoy and discover things for myself. There's something so simple and yet complicated about this story. It's not the most original concept to have multiple fantasy worlds interconnected, but Schwab makes it fresh and that's good enough for me.
There's no question that I'm going to continue with the trilogy this year. I know that a companion trilogy coming out eventually, so I'd like to be caught up with this and the graphic novels by the time that happens.
locke & key by joe hill; illustrated by gabriel rodríguez (favorite)
Gotta shout of these graphic novels again because they're so good. Crude and violent, but so good.
The story is well-written and does a wonderful job of explaining such a complex idea of different keys unlocking magic only for children. Occasionally, it falls into the same trap of bringing in diverse content for the sake of diversity, but Hill does a good job of not falling into the same pitfalls as his father. And if anything, I think Hill is a better writer so far, enough that I really want to read his novels.
If you're looking to get into graphic novels and don't mind gruesome content, this is a good series to check out.
through the woods by emily carroll (least favorite)
I picked this up after hearing that it was really scary and unsettling, but it ultimately fell flat for me. Mostly, it was down to pacing. It's hard to create such short horror stories and keep up the scare factor all the time. Combining text and art is a difficult thing, even more so when you're trying to set a tone to scare the reader. And though the first story did a good job with the set-up, the payoff was lacking. Which unfortunately became a theme for the rest of the stories.
The color choices were well thought-out and did a good job of adding to the story. Art wise, I think the style is a little too simplistic for my taste. The type of drawing runs a little more reminiscent of a comic artist I follow online. And though it's beautiful, it might not be the right kind of style to lend itself to something as setting-focused as horror.
Maybe I'm more resilient of a horror reader than I thought.
a stranger in the house by Shari lapena (least favorite)
This was among my audiobooks listens for 2020, which I decided to get to after having it on my Audible TBR for awhile. The premise was interesting, but the execution was lacking.
I figured out early on that things weren't what they seemed and it became a guessing game of what kind of twist it'd bring up next. In the end, the reveals were too generic and I'd read other books that used the same types or twists before. The characters weren't super original either, so I was left with a plot that felt recycled in the greater mystery genre. Plus, it's another case of obsessive stalking and I'm realizing how much I don't like stories like that.
It's fun to be able to make a list like this again. I've missed going through my reads for the year and picking out the ones I loved most and the ones I strongly disliked. Thankfully, I had few reads that got low ratings, so I mostly had to debate which highly rated books I was going to choose from.
If you're curious about what I'm reading throughout the year, you can add or follow me on Goodreads, follow my Bookstagram, or subscribe to my YouTube channel. I post daily on Bookstagram, weekly on YouTube, and update all of my books through Goodreads so there's never a lack of content from me.
I hope you had some good reads last year too, and I would love to know if any of our reads overlapped.