Welcome to the first post in my End of the Year Series, where I look back at my reading for the year and give you all a recap of the best, the solid, the most surprising, and the most disappointing books. I will also be posting my 2021 Reading Plans and 2021 Most Anticipated Releases at the end of this series, which will land on the first few days of the New Year!
Today, I will tell you the Top 8 Books that I read in 2020, who may want to try each book, and why I added them to this list. I will also include content warnings for each book. These books are the top of my list for the whole year, but do not include any books from other categories. For example, there are some books in my Most Surprising Reads that could have been on this list, but I made a vow to myself not to repeat books across lists in order to keep things interesting (and make my life harder lol).
All book covers are from Goodreads and I rated all of these books 5 out of 5 stars.
Let’s start with the Best Book of the Year!
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
This adult urban fantasy is an abstract and whimsical story following an awkward, gay nerd who loves video game storylines: Zachary Ezra Rawlins. One day in his university library, Zachary stumbles upon a mysteriously unlabelled book that includes a short story that features a moment in his life. This discovery throws Zachary down a rabbit hole of secret societies, uncertain timelines, and even a bit of a side romance. Not only is Zachary now missing in the eyes of his family and friends back home, but he is not sure any of what he is experiencing is real or when he is. This book is a wild ride with a lot of convoluted storyline that is meant to leave the reader a bit out of sorts. The backdrop of this character driven fantasy, that features a gay romance, is whimsical and pleasing in a dark, mysterious way.
If you enjoy very flowery and formal writing that will take your breath away, easy to enjoy characters that make seemingly random choices, and a swoon-worthy male/male romance set against a secret society revolving around books, then this book may be just right for you. Readers to need to be aware that this book is not a leisurely read with a fast plot. This is a character driven story with a stunning backdrop and extremely confusing plot that is left open ended. Morgenstern does not hold the readers hand and explain what is happening; she leaves it abstract for the reader to ponder for months to follow. Be ready to pay attention while reading this book if you’re interested.
This book will not be for everyone for a variety of reasons, but it is definitely for me. I adore Morgenstern’s writing, and would say it got better in this book compared to her first. I loved how easy Zachary is to relate to and how uncertain the world/plot are. I also found it easy to root for the romance, when I usually am not a huge fan of romance plots. My only gripe would be that I wish this was a series to give us more answers about the world and characters, but that is not what Morgenstern intended and I can respect that. It’s also worth mentioning that I read this book twice this year and did so in two formats: physical and audiobook. This book is not an easy audiobook for a first read. And I do think this book should be read more than once if you enjoy it, because I got so much more from the story the second time through.
Death, drowning, falling (to death), darkness, fire, heartbreak, illusion of memory, elevators, caving in tunnels, taking unknown substances, bees, betrayal, false identity, stabbings, missing people, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
On to the Best Books of 2020 (in no specific order)
Jurassic Park (Jurassic Park #1) by Michael Crichton
This adult science fiction thriller features (my personal favorite) dinosaurs. Unlike the popular movie, this book is violent, graphic, and terrifying. Crichton does not shy away from gore and death in this novel. All you really need to know about this book is two things: If you’ve never seen the movie, then know it is about a man who finds a way to bring back dinosaurs to create an amusement park, but things go awry when taking professionals on a tour to prove the park’s safety. If you’ve seen the movie, the book has I way more substance, science, and action; it is definitely worth the read if you enjoyed the movie or wanted more from it.
If you can handle gore and thrilling action with discussions of mathematic and philosophical theories all revolving around dinosaurs, then I highly recommend giving this one a try. The plot is well paced, and the characters are realistic enough to sometimes even be annoying. If you love dinosaurs (like I do), then please give this book a try.
My love for dinosaurs and reptiles is almost unhealthy, and anyone who knows me, knows that I am in love with them. The movie has been a favorite since I was a small child, so I felt like a fraud when I hadn’t read the book yet. I am so glad that I finally did, because this book is so much better than the movie and I am obsessed. I can see myself rereading this book several times; that’s how much I love it.
Full review here.
Death, violence, detailed gore, death of a baby, being eaten alive, being hunted, bleeding to death, being chased, sexism, cursing, helicopters/airplanes, betrayal, fowl play between businesses, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Upside Down by N.R. Walker
A gay librarian named Jordan begins to question his sexuality as his relationship with his long time crush buds into something more. Jordan is a full time swear machine with a love for books and his quirky friends, and that may be just what Hennessy is looking for after his last failed relationship.
If you want a wholesome, sugar coated romance to swoon over while learning about asexuality, then this book is 1,000,000 % worth the read. These characters are flawed, funny, and easy to love. Not to mention the romance is exactly the right amount of cheese to go with your wine, if you like a 10 pound block of cheese (unless you don’t drink like me… it’s a joke, just laugh… please). Not only are the two main characters a joy to follow, but every side character in this story is well fleshed out and goes through their own development that will have your heart all warm gushy.
I am not a huge fan of romance or contemporary in general, but I loved every second of this book. It is a great learning resource, while also being a fantastic story to lift one’s spirits. This book is a joy and I have thought about it many times since reading it.
Full review here.
Discussions about exes, homophobia, sexuality, internalized aphobia, sex, anxiety, and miscommunication.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Once & Future (Once & Future #1) by A.R. Capetta and Cory McCarthy
As you can guess, this is a King Arthur retelling, but there’s a catch. In this story, King Arthur is Ari, a girl who is an illegal immigrant in space, hiding from the controlling and evil corporation, Mercer. Ari lives on a ship with her adoptive brother, Kay, and they are looking for their moms, who were taken prisoner by Mercer. Merlin, yes the actual Merlin from the original story, is now a teenager again due to his backwards aging. This is the 42nd time he’s had to locate, train, and assist the new Arthur and his knights, but this time things are quite different.
Anyone who likes Sci-Fi, history, retellings, mildly humorous writing, action/adventure, and/or LGBTQ+/inclusive stories. The messages and representation in this book are very important for young readers, and the sexual content is not too explicit for someone younger who is mature (but with parent approval, of course). A young person questioning their gender/sexuality could get a lot from this book, so I do recommend it for those reasons. If you don’t like drama/relationships that tend to be in YAs, then this will not be the book for you.
I personally loved this book despite the YA themes and drama. The drama was sooooo entertaining and had me screaming (literally, I am not joking, you can ask my partner). I also love the diverse cast and fast paced plot that has the reader bouncing around the galaxy. Not to mention, this retelling is quite a unique spin on the original story.
Full review here.
Around page 212, there is reference back to the original Arthur story, which involves a character talking about Arthurs less than consensual conception, but it is not detailed (if you know the original story, it basically mentions that as context for the main character who doesn’t know the original story). There is also cheating, genocide, parental death, death, battle/sword violence, mentions of a character wanting to die/commit suicide, child abduction, plague, and on/off relationships. None of these things are explicit or the center of the story, just be aware that they are mentioned or present at some parts. This book is mostly light and comical. This story ends on a cliffhanger.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
This YA fantasy retelling of the Black Cauldron is a creative spin on zombies in medieval times with magic and faeries. This story follows a strong young woman named Ryn, who happens to be the town gravedigger and the only person left who believes in the corpses that don’t stay in the ground: the Bone Houses. We also follow Ellis, who unlike Ryn is used to a pampered royal life as a map maker.
If you enjoy a kick butt female lead who ascends gender norms and wields a different kind of beauty than most YA characters, then I highly recommend this book. Not to mention there is an adorable goat sidekick and a gentle male companion that go on this journey to stop the bone houses with Ryn. Lastly, this book has so many touching family moments and heartbreaking realities that poor children face (in fantasy and real life), but don’t worry, there is a bitter sweet ending to keep the message hopeful.
I loved this story’s unique characters and themes, and even found it to be a breath of fresh air for the genre. I loved everything about this book, but I didn’t love the romance. I mainly loved the characters individually and the fast paced plot as well, even if the plot twists were a tad predictable. I know I would have loved this as a young teen and wouldn’t have had a single issue with it.
Death, detailed corpses, fighting, child abandonment, corrupt landlord, alcoholism, poverty, death of parents/family members, being chased, large body of water, and animal death.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Bone Crier’s Moon (Bone Grace #1) by Kathryn Purdie
This YA fantasy features a matriarchy of women called Bone Crier’s, who gain their abilities from sacrificing and wearing the bones of animals. But the ultimate test to become a ferrier of the dead is to sacrifice one’s true love. We follow two best friends, one the matriarch’s daughter, the other a Bone Crier who cannot stomach their way of life, and their journey to make things right after the Matriarch’s daughter fails to kill her one true love who seeks to take revenge for his father (who was taken by bone crier’s). We follow all three of these characters’ unique perspectives throughout this fast paced novel that ends on a bit of a cliff hanger anticipating the sequel.
If you enjoy a very character driven younger YA novel with dramatic relationships and quick turning plots, then this book is definitely worth a shot. The plot is fast, the characters flawed, and the hate-to-love strong, although quickly resolved.
I personally loved the strong sisterhood between the main characters, because we don’t get to see that often. I do not consider this to be the strongest book on this list, nor a flawless book for that matter, but I did enjoy it and understand that it is for a younger audience than myself.
Death, blood, bones, dead animals, betrayal, family deceit, prejudice, rituals, ocean, and more.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Home (The Magic Thief #4) by Sarah Prineas
This Middle Grade fantasy novel is the last in a series following a young thief turned wizard. There are dragons, various cultures/countries/classes, politics, and dark fantasy elements, plus a wizard school! This last book takes the major themes and characters of this series and blows them out of the water. This book was my favorite of them all, because of how much more character development and action we got than previous books, and those were also excellent!
If you enjoyed the plot and characters of the first three books in this series, you will love this last installment. If you’ve never heard of this series, then I am sorry. I have loved this series since I was a kid, and honestly never understood why people liked “the other wizard children’s series that shall not be named” when this series is so much better in my opinion. If you like children’s fantasy with wizard school and dragons and a very interesting magic system, please give this series a chance.
This book almost made it to my Most Surprising list, because I did not expect to love this book as much as a I did as an adult. But what am I kidding, I knew I’d at least enjoy this book, so it isn’t that surprising that I adored this book as much as I did. These characters and this world hold a very special place in my heart, and I can’t ignore that bias either.
(all of these are in a children appropriate context) Traumatic past, homelessness, starving on the streets, gang violence, explosions, locked in a cage, abusive family members, physical fights, heights, chimneys, chase scenes, and moreIf we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Tea Dragon #1 and #2 by Katie O’Neill
This YA fantasy graphic novel series features a diverse cast of characters who care for dragons that grow tea leaves from their heads. When someone drinks the tea from these leaves, they share the happy memories of the dragon who grew them. This series is pure joy and fluffiness, that will warm any heart.
If you can appreciate stunning art and a sweet story, then you are guaranteed to love these books. They are wholesome with important representation and themes that most graphic novels just don’t have. I will always recommend these to every person I meet. They always make my day.
Past injury that leads to disability, abandonment, anxiety, and too much dang cuteness.If we missed anything, feel free to comment. If you have a specific trigger to ask about, feel free to comment.
Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my Best Reads of 2020!
Tomorrow will be my Solid Reads of 2020, and there is plenty more coming every day this week! Please consider following this website or signing up for notifications so you don’t miss a single post ❤
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