My top 20 of 2020
Hoo buddy, 2020 was some kind of year. Putting this list together was fairly challenging, not because I didn’t read a lot in 2020, but because I no longer have a functioning concept of time and couldn’t remember what I read last year versus two or three years ago. My top 20 of 2020 includes a lot of things published in the last couple of years, as well as a few older comfort rereads.
The Good Old Days
Every year I inevitably reread some of my favorite books because in times of uncertainty it’s nice to re-experience the joys of a story without any of the anxiety. Each of these three titles is the first in a series and I highly recommend the entire series.
Soulless by Gail Carriger – Set in a steampunk Victorian era London, Soulless is part paranormal romance, part comedy of manners, an all-around good time.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – Space college and terrifying tentacled aliens, what is not to love? This trilogy of short novellas pack an amazing amount of world building and character development into a remarkably small number of pages.
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda – This is hands down one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. Takeda’s art compliments Liu’s storytelling so seamlessly. Part fantasy, part Lovecraftian horror, there is so much in these books that you can easily reread them many times and always find something new.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore – The fourth book in this series came out in January 2021 so I did a reread of the series in preparation and was reminded of how much I love them. Gracelings are people born with extreme skills and the series follows a different graceling in each book. Travels and quests and searching to figure out who you are at heart, all my favorite things in a fantasy novel.
Cozy Mysteries and Romances
I adore cozy mysteries and romance novels for much the same reason. With each you have the opportunity for an intriguing plotline, a quirky and heartfelt protagonist, and minimal violence and bloodshed. A number of my favorite cozy mysteries come with a side of romance so it’s also a wonderful cross genre opportunity.
A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman – Set in Victorian London, this series follows the young widowed Countess of Harleigh. Quirky heroine – Check. Lavish London parties and fashion – Check. Slow burn romance with handsome neighbor – Check. I particularly enjoyed the audiobook version of these books.
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore – Another Victorian era title (Can you tell I have a type?) this romance series follows members of the suffrage movement as they set out to conquer men of influence politically and romantically. The suffrage movement storyline that runs through these adds a nice historical fiction touch to the books.
Murder at Archly Manor by Sara Rosett – Set in the early 1920s, a cozy mystery series with a high society flapperesque feel. A very fun series, another great audiobook option.
A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas – This is probably one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes takes. Charlotte Holmes solves mysteries under the guise of assisting her brilliant but ill brother Sherlock Holmes. Thomas does a great job flexing the original stories and I love the character relationships in this series.
Bits and Bobs – Graphic Novels and Short Story Anthologies
Graphic novels and short story anthologies fill a niche for me in my reading because it’s the format that appeals so much. I find it so much easier to dive into a graphic novel or a short story collection because I get all the aspects of a great story but I can take them in smaller chunks, just an issue or a story at a time, so they’re super accessible.
Once and Future by Kieron Gillen – King Arthur back from the dead, a monster hunting granny, and her unwitting grandson sidekick. I really enjoy Gillen’s work in general and was thrilled when I found out he was doing an urban fantasy King Arthur series. And Bridgette McGuire is hardcore #lifegoals. I hope I’m that cool when I’m an old lady.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh – This is a story anthology featuring retellings of Asian myths and legends written by an absolutely amazing slate of authors. I love collections like this because it is hands down my favorite way to discover new authors. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys myths and legends from any culture.
Bitter Root by David Walker and Sanford Greene – More monster hunters! This one is set during the Harlem Renaissance and follows an entire family of monster hunters. Filled with just as much family drama as monster hunting it’s beautiful artwork combined with a great story.
Tales from the Folly by Ben Aaronovitch – I was torn about including this because it’s currently only available on Hoopla as an audiobook, but it’s such a great collection of stories from the Rivers of London series that I couldn’t resist. The Rivers of London series is urban fantasy that follows PC Peter Grant as he discovers ghosts, gods, and magic are all things that still exist. The series now includes both books and a graphic novel line. It’s hilarious and entertaining and I can’t recommend it enough.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Hands down, the bulk of my reading every year definitely falls into the sci-fi and fantasy category. Fantasy especially, it’s what I grew up reading and it’s still my go-to comfort genre. Especially a hefty, stagger under the weight of it epic fantasy.
The City We Became by NK Jemisin – NK Jemisin is an absolute star in fantasy. Her Broken Kingdom series won a Hugo Award three years in a row. While The City We Became is urban fantasy set in the “real world” she still does an incredible amount of world building, imbuing cities with souls and avatars in battle against a host of eldritch gods.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee – Space war at its finest. Set in space with all the fascinating technology of sci-fi but with just as much about tactics and warfare as a good historical fiction novel. It’s an interesting mix and one that really appeals to me.
Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse – When people talk about epic fantasy, a lot of times that defaults to a medieval type setting with kings and knights and dragons. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good dragon, but I love that epic fantasy can be so much more than that. Black Sun has every single hallmark of what I love about epic fantasy (a great evil, mystical creatures, quest, prophecy, everything) but set against a background inspired by the Pre-Columbian Americas.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Okay so this is definitely gothic horror more than fantasy, but I feel like it has enough fantasy to make it work. Gothic and Lovecraftian horror elements work so well together. Set in the mountains of the Mexican countryside you have that sense of isolation and crumbling grandeur that I think is so key to gothic horror. Noemi, glamourous debutante that she is, makes the perfect unassuming yet totally badass gothic heroine.
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – The go-to tagline I hear for this book is “Lesbian necromancers in space”. Which is 100% what someone said to me and I immediately picked up the book. Gideon may be one of my favorite characters of all time. Snarky, irreverent, hilarious, kind of anti-hero but also absolutely no doubt about it, the hero who will save the day.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – I was massively unprepared for how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up knowing very little about it except that it involved an orphanage for magical youths. It is very much a story of finding yourself and finding a family that will love you even when it isn’t the family you are born into. It’s a really sweet and tender read and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Klune.
Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne – An urban fantasy series that’s spun-off of Hearne’s Iron Druid series. It has all the hallmarks of my favorite urban fantasy novels, a little mystery, a cranky protagonist, and some snarky magical creatures. The focus on magic via sigils instead of the more traditional spoken spells or wand use was a treat.
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen – Time travel is one of those sci-fi plots that works so well with very domestic family based storylines because with time travel someone is always being left behind. How do you choose between one time and another? And how far will you go to save the people you love and left behind?