Here we are, both the last day of 2020 and my final wrap up post of the year! Today is the day that I get to gush about the amazing books I read this year *happy dance*.
According to my reading tracker, my most frequent ratings for books this year were 3 and 3.5 stars. I also did quite a few re-reads in 2020 (which I exclude from these types of lists). With these two things in mind, picking my top 10 this time around wasn’t as difficult as it has been previously. However, it also means that this list only includes a couple of books that I actually rated 5 stars. For those who saw my mid-year favourites post, you’ll notice some familiar faces here.
Like in 2019, I’ll be ordering this list from the bottom to my top read of the year. Now, let’s start the count down!
10. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
This fantastic, little novella swept in at the last moment to score a position on this list. For something so short (only 135 pages, in fact), it crafts such a wonderfully immersive journey. The story follows a four astronaut research team sent to explore far off planets and study their local lifeforms. It’s a quiet, gradual story, more focused on scientific discoveries, the joy of exploration, and the bonds between the characters than action or high speed adventure. The writing can be quiet science heavy at points but it really does add to the believability of it all. I loved how diverse the cast was, both ethnicity and LGBTI wise, and how hopeful the story felt. However, I do wish that the mental health of the astronauts had been dealt with in more depth, especially during one troubling part of their mission. As a whole though, beautifully done.
9. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Classics usually aren’t my thing, even the modern ones. In the interest of trying new things I decided to give The Secret History a go hoping to find some murderous, dark academia magic. Shockingly, I really enjoyed it. I’m still kind of mystified as to how it happened really – slow pacing, unreliable narrator, characters who are all shitty people, general sense of pretentiousness, and YET it’s so good! The best way I can summarise it is: a group of university classics students who try a Bacchian rite end up killing someone and have to cover it up. Dark, immersive, mysterious, over the top, tension-filled…insert a multitude of other adjectives here. The only reasons I couldn’t rate it higher on this list are my complicated feelings about the ending and a slight lull in the middle. Still, I can definitely see myself re-reading it in a few years time to see what I missed.
8. Boyfriend Material – Alexis Hall
I confess, I picked this book up because it gave me serious Red, White and Royal Blue vibes. In the end, it was different but wonderfully enjoyable all the same. It’s about the son of a rock legend named Luc who, in an effort to clean up his public image, makes a deal with a barrister called Oliver to fake a relationship for the press. Although it was super sweet, Boyfriend Material was also so much funnier than I expected it to be. The banter and chemistry between Luc & Oliver was fantastic but the supporting cast was hilarious as well. While a plotline involving Luc’s dad didn’t really end in a satisfying way, I didn’t mind so much because of how much I loved the way the opposites attract relationship developed. Easily one of my favourite romances of the year.
7. Know My Name – Chanel Miller
Many of you will be aware of the Stanford Rape Case in which swimmer Brock Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster during a frat party. For years, this woman was known only to the world as Emily Doe but, in fact, her name is Chanel Miller. In this memoir, Chanel tells her story in her own words. It’s so difficult to rate and review memoirs, especially one as difficult to put to paper as this would have been. However, this is honestly one of the most beautifully written, raw and powerful things I’ve read. I was expecting this to be a hard book to read, what I wasn’t expecting was how fantastic a writer Chanel would be. Everyone should read this and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
6. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
I’ve been raving about this book all year (to the point where I think you guys are glad it’s almost 2021 just so I’ll finally stop). As if it wasn’t going to make an appearance on this list. Wolf by Wolf is an alt-history story set in a world where the Axis won WWII and now hold an annual, deadly motorcycle race across the world. Yael, a shapeshifter, survivor of Auschwitz and member of the resistance enters the race as part of a plan to assassinate Hitler. I’m not usually big on journey narratives but I love a good competition plot and this one was handled fantastically. The pacing is good, the MC is strong yet vulnerable and well developed, the story itself is engaging, the romance is subtle and there’s a great cliffhanger ending. If only the second book had been this good but hey, it was a high bar to overcome.
5. Becoming – Michelle Obama
By the looks of my top 10, I should be reading more biographies/memoirs. Becoming is a fantastic autobiography and I’m so glad I decided to go with the audiobook. What could be better than Michelle herself telling you her story? I really enjoyed learning about Michelle’s life, all the way from her childhood on the second floor of her great-aunt’s house in Chicago to her time as FLOTUS in The White House. In retelling her journey, Michelle touches on so many important topics such as politics, parenting, relationships, the experiences of Black Americans, and the difficulties of the working class. This is the kind of book I believe anyone could take something away from. I know I certainly learnt a lot. Even if you’re not a Michelle Obama fan, it’s a thumbs up from me.
4. Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
As I mentioned in my surprises and disappointments wrap up, I did not expect to love Conversations with Friends as much as I did. This little book came out of nowhere, stole my heart and I’m still shocked. The characters are largely unlikeable people and yet they’re complex and just feel so real and human. The book deals with love, intimacy, monogamy, loneliness, and youth, and I honestly couldn’t stop thinking about it for days afterwards. It’s about a college student named Francis and her ex-girlfriend Bobby who are drawn into the world of a journalist named Melissa and her husband, Nick. Francis soon begins an affair with Nick which changes her outlook on life and herself.
3. Starsight (Skyward 2#) – Brandon Sanderson
Another entry from my mid-year favourites list which managed to make its way onto my end of year list. As soon as I finished Starsight, I knew it would be sitting on this top ten somewhere. Skyward was my number one pick of 2019 so I was incredibly relieved that the sequel was so darn good. While it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and very different from the first book in terms of narrative, pacing and characters, it was still a really engaging and entertaining read. I loved the expanded world building and additional character development, and I am crazy excited for the next book in 2021.
2. A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
This is another book that I haven’t shut up about this year so no one should be surprised to see A Little Life in the number 2 slot. With its very difficult content and 700+ page count, this definitely isn’t a book for everyone. But despite the fact that it completely wrecked me emotionally, I adored it (clearly I’m a masochist). The book follows a group of four university friends who move to NYC together and showcases the highs and lows of their lives over several decades. I loved the writing and have a special place in my heart for the characters. I don’t know if this is a book I can recommend exactly but I can say that I thought it was beautiful, memorable and worth all the tears.
Okay, time for the big one, my favourite book of everything I read in 2020…
1. The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War 2#) – R. F. Kuang
Yes, that’s right. While The Poppy War may have cracked the number three spot in my top reads of 2019, it’s The Dragon Republic which takes out the number one for 2020. When the first book in a series is amazing, I always get super nervous about the sequel but this one blew me away. I loved every minute of its 650-ish pages. The world is amazing, characters fantastic, battles engrossing, and the plot is the chef’s kiss, it’s so, so good. There’s so much action but Kuang manages to balance it out perfectly with emotional content and character development. I easily consider this series among my favourites now and I cannot wait to read the final entry. Perhaps it’ll take out the crown in 2021?
And that’s it for 2020! For those who’ve been following my blog for a while now, thank you for your continued support, it means the world to me. To those who discovered me this year, welcome! I hope my little blog has, at the very least, helped take your mind off what’s been a troubling year for many people. I’d like to wish you all and your families a very happy new year and plenty of five star reads for 2021.
My other wrap ups for 2020: