My Top Ten Books of 2020

Saturday 16 January 2021

2020 allowed for a lot of reading for most of us. Can't go out because of a pandemic made worse by idiots not following the rules? Then stay inside and read a book instead! So since I've read more books than ever this year, narrowing it down to a ten could have been hard, but I've read some pretty outstanding books this year, so it wasn't a difficult decision. Here's my top ten which I painstakingly put in order. Some of these have been around for a while and others were released this year, so you'll find a nice mix here. Enjoy!

10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This is a heavy book that follows young Leisel Meminger who has a history of stealing books. It all started when she steals the Gravedigger's Handbook at her brother's funeral. Leisel then goes to live with the Hubermann family, but not all is well as WWII is in full swing and Leisel and the Hubermann's don't drink the Nazi Kool-Aid but must survive by pretending they do.

I listened to this as an audiobook and I can't imagine it any other way. It's narrated by Roger Allam and he did a fantastic job. The narrator of the story is Death and Allam's smoky storyteller voice was perfect.

The Book Thief was everything I expected. You don't go into a WWII book expecting things to be happy. But what I didn't count on was being charmed by the characters, especially Liesel's foster father Hans Hubermann and his ornery wife Rosa. The characters are what set this story apart from others like it. It took me a while to read it and I'm glad because 2020 needed to be a good reading year.

9. Red, White & Royal Blue

This was a popular YA book from last year the follows First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz and his relationship with Prince Henry of Wales. The two met once and Alex has considered them mortal enemies ever since, but after a snafu at a White House Christmas party, the two are sent on a PR tour to fix it. But what Alex doesn't know is that his feelings for the Prince are going to grow.

I love love. You've heard the saying “Love is Love” and it's true. I love love stories. I love romance be it straight or any color on the LGBTQ+ rainbow, I can dig it and I'll get all sorts of warm feelings reading it. But it's more than just romance. The book has to be well written too. It needs characters who have more than one dimension. It's needs to have a realistic relationship even if the circumstances are extraordinary. It needs to be exactly what Red, White, & Royal Blue was.

If you're in the market for a solid romance with a touch of politics, this is for you. This may be labeled as YA, but like a lot of YA books, it's for everyone.

8. The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert

This was published back in July and it's about two high school students, Marva and Duke. Marva is very passionate about politics and voting as she understand People of Color need to vote if anything is going to change. After she votes for the first time she runs into Duke who is having trouble voting. So she takes it upon herself to ferry him around town, skipping school, to get his vote to count. Marva is having some relationship issues but will Duke be the answer.

I expected a basic YA romance book. Something good. Something fun. But also something I've read before. What I got instead was a YA romance that was perfectly balanced with commentary on important political issues. Brandy Colbert expertly discussed these issues while making it part of the story. The book does stand on a soapbox at times about issues like the systematic inequality for African Americans in the American political system and it does so while never letting the story of Marva and Duke get lost in the process.

Brandy Colbert's expert touch is what set this book apart from other YA romances. 

7. Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Xiala is a captain who is promised a ship of her own if she completes one job. She's tasked with ferrying a young man named Serapio to the holy city of Tova in time for the Winter Solstice. In the holy city the Sun Priest, a woman named Naranpa, prepares for the solstice celebration but finds that some of her so called political allies may be plotting against her. 

I had read Rebecca Roanhorse's Sixth World series and loved it. So when I heard she was starting a new series I preordered the book. But lucky me, I got an ARC on NetGalley and got to read this before my physical copy came.

Rebecca Roanhorse is a fantastic world builder. I had no trouble understanding the setting, the politics, and the magic of this new series. It's a vast world that doesn't get too confusing. The characters are all unique and as the story jumped between the two (3 at times) points of view I never once felt lost.

The story was enthralling and Roanhorse as an amazing way with words.

6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is a magical thing. It appears without warning, capturing the imagination of all the locals and then disappears just as fast. Celia and Marco were both trained by famous magicians and are pitted against each other in a very odd contest and the circus is the stage.

If you've heard about this book and you think it's about two magicians doing battle, I'm going to have to put a stop to that. This isn't a battle. There's no magic duel. Whoever wrote the premise to this wanted to try and make it sound more epic than it is.

What this book really is, is a beautiful story that revolves around the setting. The characters are still very important but the main character is the circus. Erin Morgenstern used some beautiful flowery language and if you listen to the audiobook you have the benefit of Jim Dale's voice which makes the whole thing feel like a bedtime story.

5. Becoming by Michelle Obama

I shy away from books about politics. But here's the great news, this isn't a political book. This is the life story (so far) of former First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama. It follows her from her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago and follows her up and up and up all the way to the White House. 

This book showed that she's more than just the wife of a president. She is a powerhouse of a person who uses her abilities and fame to advocate for women and people of color. This was also an entertaining memoir full of anecdotes that made me smile, stories that made me cringe or get teary eyed, and it was a wonderful way to relive the historic moment Barack Obama was elected.

What's more is that I put the book down and felt hopeful. Even if the last four years have been bad, there's hope that good people are out there who want to help.

4. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

To shamelessly steal the first paragraph of the synopsis: A poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

I had no idea what to expect with this book. But that's just Fredrick Backman's style. He is a true master of characterization. This was full of characters who shared the spotlight equally and not once did I get confused because I knew who everyone was.  This was a page turner but not because it was exciting or fast paced. It was a page turner because I cared about what happened to everyone and I NEEDED to know how everything went down. 

Each character had their own wonderful arch and by the end I liked everyone. Even the people I started out hating, I even grew attached to them. Is this the reading version of Stockholm syndrome? Or is Fredrik Backman a master at what he does? Or maybe it's both.

3. The Only Good Indians By Stephen Graham Jones

Four American Indian men made a horrible mistake when they were but young boys. Now, decades later, those boys are men and that event is coming back to haunt them in the form of an entity bent on revenge.

Writing a premise for this book wasn't easy. I know. It was only two sentences, but I read the official premise and it's just not quite right. I think the official premise is slightly misleading. 

Enough about that though. Jones is an amazing writer. I would compare him with Stephen King, not because they both do horror, but because they're both masters of the written word. But Jones has the benefit of getting to the point, which King can sometimes forget to do. The Only Good Indians is an amazingly written book. This is the only book of his I've ever read so all I can say is this book, at least, is a masterpiece. This is also an own voices book as Jones is Blackfoot. 

2. Punching The Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

2020 was a very volatile year. The Black Lives Matter movement exploded onto the tips of everyone's tongues due to the demonstrations caused by the rampant police violence. Due to that, Punching The Air was an unfortunately perfect timed YA Fiction piece loosely based on real events. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five (aka The Central Park Five) used his own life experience to help Ibi Zoboi craft this truly powerful story.

This revolves around Amal Shahid, a young artist and poet who was on the wrong end of a biased system and the victim of systematic racism. Due to events that wouldn't have happened had he been born White, this sixteen year old is convicted of a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison. But can he make the best of a horrid situation or will he fall victim to a system designed to make him fail?

I say this book is powerful. That's not just some meaningless critic buzzword that can be slapped on the cover of the book. It's the truth. This is a fictional tale with it's roots based in horrifying reality. But this story isn't just doom and sadness. There is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But it's going to be a fight getting there and Zoboi and Salaam were the two best authors to tell the tale.

This next book needs a trigger warning for sexual assault. There's no graphic detail but it is discussed. 

1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller

This is a story of survival and about the woman formerly known as Emily Doe, now openly known by her true name of Chanel Miller. She was made famous by her victim impact statement that went viral after the trial of convicted sex offender Brock Turner. This book shines a light on not only Miller's experience but how the horrors of sexual assault continue even after the heinous act is committed. 

I'll be honest. I was going to let this book pass me by. I was familiar with the Brock Turner case and followed it as it was going on. I, along with the rest of the world, was left dumbstruck by the light sentence the judge gave as well as the horrid statements made by Turners parents.  I read the impact statement by Miller written when she was still keeping her identity a secret. So I knew this wasn't going to be like any other memoir I've read. I tend to read memoirs by comedians and actors, people who tell funny stories and make me laugh, but after my wife read it and loved it, I new I had to read it too.

I'm so glad I did. It's a super tough subject but it's so very important to read. It's very eye opening to the court process and how unfair it is. How Miller had to defend herself even though she was the victim. She had to prove that she didn't want it or deserve it which is outrageous. Also, if her family wanted to testify they had to put their lives on hold and risk their education and jobs. It'd disgusting and Miller's story helped bring light to something I never knew.

A bonus to this book is that she has an amazing way with words. She's a fantastic writer, but even if she wasn't, this was still an important and necessary story to tell. 

So what were your favorite books of the year? Let me know! 

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