My Favorite Books of 2020

by - Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 was a record-breaking year of books for me. I finished 126, and a lot of them were really, really good.

Typically in my year-end book post, I round up all the books I gave five stars on Goodreads over the course of the year. I'm still going to do that here, but since there are so many of them in the fiction category, I'm also going to highlight my top five fiction books of the year to make it easy for you if you're looking for a quick recommendation.

Books in review 2020

Favorite Nonfiction

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern IrelandSay Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Growing up in an Irish Catholic family, I heard stories about the Troubles and how it wasn't safe to visit Northern Ireland when my parents were growing up. When I visited Belfast a few years ago, it was eye opening to see what had changed and what hadn't since the cease-fire. This book added a level of depth and color to my understanding of the Troubles that I never had before. It tackles the subject of people who were "disappeared," the hunger strikes by famous IRA prisoners, the rise of Sinn Féin, and leaves you wondering about how things ended. The Troubles wasn't a "war" so the crimes committed during it are not considered war crimes. The book leaves you wondering who should be held accountable, how do families get any sort of justice, and since Northern Ireland is still part of the UK, was it even worth it?

Know My NameKnow My Name by Chanel Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This audio book ripped my heart out and at the same time left me filled with hope. That's probably a really strange thing to say about a book that recounts Chanel Miller's sexual assault and the trial that followed. But her writing and her reflection on what happened to her is really beautiful and her positivity about in the face of everything she had to deal with just something else to listen to.

Open BookOpen Book by Jessica Simpson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I honestly can't believe I'm giving a celeb memoir five stars, but this book was really captivating. I listened to the audio version, and something about hearing Simpson tell her own story just really fascinated me. She also got choked up at times during some of the harder parts of her story, and hearing that was really powerful. Yes there's some good celeb gossip (you know I lived for the Tony Romo shade), but this is all around a great book about a celeb, I kind of only new about from the tabloid covers.

How to Be an AntiracistHow to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the book we need for our times right now. By sharing his own struggles with racist thoughts and ideas, Kendi never makes you feel like a bad person while reading this book. His tone is approachable and offers practical tips about how we can all strive to be more antiracist. I easily understood his definitions of different forms of racism in society and his practical examples helped illustrate how many racist ideas and policies permeate society and what can be done to change that.

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIALife Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's rare that I find a memoir this griping and hard to put down. After reading tons and tons of fiction books about CIA spies and clandestine operations (see my love of Vince Flynn books), I loved getting an inside look at one real spy's experience in the CIA. From recruitment through her 10 years working on covert missions, I thought Fox painted a picture of both the rush of her missions and the impact her secret life had on her personal life.

Top Five Fiction Books

The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #1)The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was beautifully written and such an incredible story about two people attempting to survive the horrors of Auschwitz. It makes me look forward to reading the next book in this series.

AllegedlyAllegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This will definitely go down as one of my favorite books of the year. It is a completely crazy story of a nine-year-old black girl convicted of murdering a white baby...allegedly. Mary stopped speaking for years after the baby was killed, so people could only speculate what happened. A jury convicted her and she was sent to prison. Now she's 16 and pregnant and trying to set the story straight. This book is just such a good, and completely crazy, story and you won't want to put it down.

The Last FlightThe Last Flight by Julie Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was un-put-downable. I just needed to know what happened after two women switched plane tickets and boarded each others' flights. One plane crashed. The other arrived at its destination carrying a different person. I stayed up so late to finish this book, and it largely did not disappoint. Fast paced, fun thriller.

We Were the Lucky OnesWe Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my gosh this book was tragic and beautiful, and half the time I couldn't even believe it was true. One family was ripped apart by World War II and had to fight to survive in countries through out the world. The way the book jumps from person to person and place to place was so compelling and made this book read more like a novel than a family history.

The Night TigerThe Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully written and griping book that mixes historical fiction with Malayan and Chinese folklore. When Ren's master dies and leaves him with the task of finding his missing finger so he can be buried "whole," Ren sets off on a mission steeped in loyalty to his former master. At the same time, Ji Lin a teenage girl working two jobs to help her mother pay off her debts finds herself in possession of the missing finger. As the story twists and turns, people in the small community keep chalking up mysterious incidents to a weretiger or "night tiger, and Ren believes it's the ghost of his former master searching for his missing finger. As the two characters' paths overlap, nothing is quite as it seems, and they must make sense of it all before danger befalls them.

The Rest of the Five-Star Fiction Books

Winter Solstice (Winter #4)Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This five-star review is for the entire Winter series. I fell in love with the Quinn family over the course of the four books in this series. These are by far some of Elin Hilderbrand's best books. You find yourself cheering for the family as they go through a series of bad stuff -- crimes, war deployments, infidelity and more -- and yet somehow manage to still pull together. Margaret and Kelley, the matriarch and patriarch of the family were some of my favorite characters.

Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know the author of this book has a problematic history, but this book is beautifully written and pulled me in almost from the get-go. I loved how Kya used animal's lives and mating history to teach herself the ins and outs of human interaction after her family abandons her in the marsh. I didn't see the twist at the end of the book coming, though perhaps I should have. Highly recommend.

Dear EdwardDear Edward by Ann Napolitano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd heard this was a really great book, and I was stuck on the waitlist for a long time. But it was definitely worth the wait, and I tore through it. The book follows the story of Edward, the sole survivor of a plane crash. The story jumps back and forth between Edward in the present day, trying to get over the trauma and Edward on the airplane not knowing what's about to happen.

HomegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I knew the basic premise of this book and that it was told from the perspective of two sisters in Ghana -- one married off to a white man and one sold as a slave and shipped to America. But I didn't realize that the threads of this book follow the generations of ancestors of these two sisters on family line dealing with wars and the growing slave trade in Ghana, one dealing with the impacts of slavery in America. This book was beautifully written, and I can't wait to talk about it in book club later this month.

Cilka's Journey (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #2)Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After meeting Cilka in the Tattooist of Auschwitz, I was curious to learn more about her life. She survived Auschwitz only to be convicted as a Nazi conspirator by the Soviets and sent to a gulag in Siberia. While this story is fictional, the author's note at the end makes it very clear where she took liberties with the story and where she drew on facts in her research. This book was heart-wrenching and yet somehow still hopeful. I loved following Cilka's story and learning more about this tragic history.

28 Summers28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Elin Hilderbrand's new book. I read it at the beach, and it was one of those books where I was sad when I was finished because I didn't want to let go of the characters or the story. It was the perfect summer read.

The Silent Wife (Will Trent, #10)The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was un-put-downable. I just wanted to keep reading and find out who the killer was. This book as dark and at times a bit gruesome, but it was such a fast and gripping read. Definitely the best thriller/mystery/suspense I've read in a while.

The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh this book was so twisty and good. An excellent suspenseful thriller that kept me company as an audio book on my long runs. Basically everything you assume in the first part of the book turns out to be totally wrong and you get pulled along on one crazy journey. I am loving the books by these two authors. I hope they write more soon!

Clap When You LandClap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was such a pleasure to read. I've really become a fan of Elizabeth Acevedo this year. This is the story of two girls, one who lives in the Dominican Republic and one who lives in New York, that are sisters but don't know it. When their father's plane crashes they slowly start to uncover family secrets and learn about each other. This book is written in verse, which makes it a fast, yet deeply impactful read.

The Vanishing HalfThe Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It was beautifully written, and so many times while I was reading, I would stop and go, "No....that did not just happen." The book tells the story of two sisters both light-skinned Black women. One chooses to live life as a Black woman, and the other decides to "pass" as a white woman. This book makes you think quite a bit about why anyone should need to pretend to be white.

One to WatchOne to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a delightful, fast and fun read. It's about Bea, a plus-sized fashion blogger who gets asked to be the star of The Main Squeeze (this book's version of the Bachelor/Bachelorette). I love those shows, and this book hit all the right points for. Bea had guys who were villains and completely awful to her. She had suitors that "weren't there for the right reasons." All the while, Bea had to deal with her own insecurities while on national TV, unsure if she even deserved love. This was one of my favorite books of the summer.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, #1)Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to this book on my long runs, and it totally made the miles fly by. This book is a complete fantasy that asks you to believe that children can be "peculiar" or have special abilities -- like brute strength, invisibility and even elements of time travel. But because these children aren't "normal," they are outcasts from society and hunted down by others. I got half way through it one one of my long runs and I couldn't wait for the next run to finish the story.

Things You Save in a FireThings You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book took me a bit to get into, but once it got going, I just couldn't put it down. The book tells the story of Cassie -- a female firefighter in Austin, TX -- forced to leave her job and move north to take care of her ailing mother that she hasn't spoken to in almost 10 years. She's able to find a job at a new fire station in small town in MA, where female firefighters aren't looked kindly upon. And while she's trying to figure out how to earn the acceptance of her new colleagues, she's also forced to re-examine her relationship with her mother. I loved this author's writing style and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books in the future.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn HardcastleThe 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars! What a great, creative, twisty-turny book. I listened to this book on all my social distancing walks around the neighborhood and every time I got back home, I hated turning it off because I just wanted to know what happens next. Aiden Bishop arrives at Blackheath for a celebration, but he finds himself continuing to live the same day over and over as he tries to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. The catch is, each time Aidan wakes up, he's in the body of a different person at the party. Seeing the same events play out over and over from different people's perspectives make it very unclear who you can and can't trust and hard to know what is true. A fun mystery that I highly recommend.

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