What a year, huh? For me, one of the best things about 2020 has been the books. While below average on quantity this year, I did read quite diversely. Plus, the quality of the titles on my 2020 reading pile was very high, with four (4) novels earning my typically elusive 5-star rating.
In 2020, countless talented authors, publishers and booksellers have shown that nothing will stop them from delivering entertaining and thought-provoking literature into the hands of readers. On behalf of all booklovers that were seeking much needed distraction and meaningful engagement during this difficult time, we thank you.
My Best Books of 2020
While a high proportion of what I read this year were 2020 new book releases, you will see a couple of books first published in 2019 and earlier discussed below. And rightly so I think, because the very definition of good literature is that it does not have an expiry date!
So without further ado, let’s dive in and celebrate my Best Books of 2020 by Genre… Romance & Drama, Crime Fiction, Mysteries & Thrillers, Literature, Memoirs & NonFiction, and Historical Fiction.
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Best Romance & Drama
If ever there was a year that needed ‘uplit’ it was 2020, right? My favourite of the romance novels I read this year was Flatshare by Beth O’Leary (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑). Highly deserving of its bestselling status this novel’s quirkiness and emotional authenticity makes it genuinely memorable modern romantic fictin.
And that Beth O’Leary’s 2020 release of her second novel lived up to all our very high expectations was a great delight. The Switch (⭑⭑⭑⭑½) is mature romantic fiction with charming gusto from the quirkiest of premises.
Jane Riley’s debut novel The Likely Resolutions of Oliver Clock (⭑⭑⭑⭑½) was also something special, as hilarious as it was moving. For me, this is feel-good fiction at its finest.
The best dramatic fiction in 2020 was The Museum of Forgotten Memories (⭑⭑⭑⭑¾) . Anstey Harris does more than tick the diversity box, she smashes it in this deeply moving and uplifting novel powered by emotional honesty, strength of community and finding the gold in every day.
Favourite Crime Fiction of 2020
I had the great pleasure of reading many quality crime novels this year, but screenwriter Greg Woodland’s debut 2020 crime fiction release The Night Whistler (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑) ranks as my favourite. This ripper Aussie crime thriller is the perfect combination of atmospheric historical setting, intimate narration, taut and suspenseful pacing and authentically flawed, care-driven characters.
The highly anticipated release of Chris Hammer’s Trust (⭑⭑⭑⭑¾) the third book in his bestselling series starring journalist Martin Scarsden, did not disappoint either. I was glued to this novel’s pages with its story arc thought-provoking, the observations insightful and the characterisation gritty and authentic; investigative crime fiction at its very best.
The Sleeping Nymph / Painted in Blood by Ilaria Tuti (⭑⭑⭑⭑½) is highly character-driven, just as much about the characters who seek to unravel the criminal mystery as the historical crimes being investigated. This uniquely captivating crime novel is also my favourite 2020 fiction in translation.
Top Mystery & Thriller Novels
Stuart Turton’s The Devil and The Dark Water (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑) was one of the most highly anticipated 2020 mystery thriller releases, and for me it surpassed expectations. This rollicking yarn is told from highly appealing alternating character perspectives and Turton’s concise chapters, along with the ever-present danger the characters find themselves in, kept me enthralled and on the edge-of-my-seat.
I have always found fiction based on fact especially compelling, but political journo thriller The Twentieth Man (⭑⭑⭑⭑½) set a new bar. Tony Jones’ narrative setup, thrilling historical plot, depth of characterisation and literary prose littered with social commentary had me engrossed.
More noteworthy 2020 mystery thriller reads: Holly Watt’s mentally engaging, high-octane adventure thriller To The Lions (⭑⭑⭑⭑) and Jock Serong’s suspenseful historical mystery thriller The Burning Island (⭑⭑⭑⭑).
Best Literary Fiction of 2020
Mammoth (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑) is for me experimental literature at its finest. Never decadent or pretentious, Chris Flynn’s cutting humour and evocative characterisation offers readers fresh perspective on age-old lessons, and most importantly hope. A timely and compelling trumpet call…
I quickly found myself engrossed in Elephants with Headlights (⭑⭑⭑⭑½), enthralled by Bem Le Hunte’s inventive prose and thoroughly modern, darkly playful narrative. This novel is a metaphorical treasure hunt for lovers of wordplay.
Bernard Gallate’s debut novel The Origin of Me (⭑⭑⭑⭑) is a memorably quirky and modern coming-of-age novel. It celebrates the joy of reading and the power of books to help us understand ourselves, the world we live in and the myriad experiences (and thus perspectives) of all those we share it with.
Favourite Memoir & Nonfiction
Originally published in 2019, Breaking & Mending: A junior doctor’s stories of compassion & burnout (⭑⭑⭑⭑¾) was my favourite of the nonfiction books I read in 2020. It is a slim but strikingly honest and powerful memoir from Joanna Cannon, psychiatrist and bestselling author of literary fiction. There could not be a more fitting time to better understand and appreciate what those on the frontline are going through. I recommend tissues for this one.
Anthony Ham’s 2020 nonfiction release The Last Lions of Africa (⭑⭑⭑⭑) is a thought-provoking collection of essays exploring the various factors that have contributed to the decline of this apex predator and the challenges faced by those trying to save them. Fully appreciating the power of storytelling to engage and raise awareness, his writing style is an appealing mix of evocative scene-setting, objective reporting and commentary on personal experience.
In nostalgic memoir M15 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks (⭑⭑⭑⭑) Charlotte Bingham recounts in comically deadpan prose her experiences working for that particular secret service, and satirizes the mood and level of suspicion that had gripped London society at the beginning of the Cold War. Candida Gubbins’ audiobook narration was a delight to listen to.
Top Historical Fiction Novels of 2020
Several of my already mentioned favourite novels of 2020 could just as easily have been categorised as historical fiction, such as The Devil and The Dark Water (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑), Mammoth (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑) and The Twentieth Man (⭑⭑⭑⭑½).
In addition to those, I found myself captivated by the haunting gravitas of Polly Samson’s fictionalisation of real lives and events on Greek island Hydra in the 1960s, The Theatre for Dreamers (⭑⭑⭑⭑⭑), and admired how Alison Booth and Alexander Thorpe delivered thought-provoking historical fiction tackling discrimination and bigotry with artistic impact in The Philosopher’s Daughters (⭑⭑⭑⭑¼) and Death Leaves the Station (⭑⭑⭑⭑) respectively.
As you can see from my Best Books of 2020 list, for me reading provided engaging entertainment, stimulating perspectives and thought-provoking escapes from the often dire circumstances 2020 presented us with.
I hope books provided you safe sanctuary this year also.
More Best Books of 2020 lists
- Amazon Editors’ Best Books of 2020
- Guardian’s Best Books of 2020 Lists by Genre
- Book Depository’s Best Books of 2020
- NYTimes Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2020
- Kobo’s Best eBooks of 2020
- Vulture’s Best Books of the Year
Related reading: My Best Books of 2019