T. A. Hernandez
My Top Ten Reads of 2020
Let's be real, 2020 was a MESS, but I actually had a pretty good year in terms of reading. I feel like I became a little more picky about my reading tastes and ratings, but I also discovered and fell in love with audiobooks, which allowed me to multitask and read even when I wasn't actually sitting and staring at the words in front of me. I really look forward to continuing that trend next year, but today I want to highlight some of the best books I picked up in 2020.
First, some quick statistics, just for fun.
Total books read in 2020: 57
Books read in audio format: 38 (67%)
Indie books: 16 (28%)
Fantasy books: 32 (56%)
Sci fi books: 11 (19%)
I also read a few thrillers, YA contemporaries, and non-fiction books this year. So which 10 were my absolute favorite? in no particular order, here they are.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Let's start with a classic and one of my oldest favorites. As some of you may know, I'm currently working on a fantasy novel called Tethered Spirits that has been in my heart for over a decade. Howl's Moving Castle was one of the oldest inspirations for the story and is a book I read many times as a teenager. I decided to reread it again this year while working on Tethered Spirits and I fell in love with it all over again. It's so magical and whimsical, and Diana Wynne Jones' writing style is just so much fine. I then went on to read the rest of the books in the series (which I didn't even know existed until this year) and they were also very enjoyable. But this one will always have a special place in my heart.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is one of my all-time favorite writers, and I've loved everything I've read by him so far. I'm still working my way through his books and picked this one up early in the year as an audiobook. He narrated it himself, which ended up being a pleasant experience. If there's one thing Gaiman excels at, it's atmosphere, and this book certainly has some fantastic atmosphere. The way he captures these mysterious and fantastical experiences from a child's perspective is so well done, and the ending was one that stuck with me for weeks after I finished reading it. Those are the best kinds of endings, I think, so I was really happy I read this one.
Beartown by Frederik Backman
The first line of this book is one of the best I've ever come across and immediately hits you in the gut, which seems fitting given how most of this story is just one gut punch after another. The book takes a very difficult topic (sexual assault) and explores the ramifications of that incident on a single town. We get to see multiple perspectives and a wide variety of responses to the situation, some of which are helpful and some of which fall infuriatingly short or are just downright harmful. It's a hard book to read, but the themes and questions that are raised and explored are important ones. It's definitely a book that will stick with me for years to come.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Let's get the depressing books out of the way and maybe ignore whatever it says about me that two books about sexual assault made my top book list for the year. This book needs all the trigger warnings, but it is so, so impactful and written about with such great care and nuance if you can handle the yucky stuff. This book explores the abusive and predatory relationship between a teacher and his student, and we get to see that both as it's unfolding and several years in the future when our protagonist is grown up and has to deal with this trauma. It's a very difficult read at times, but absolutely brilliant and very important.
One Final Vinyl by Savy Leiser
This is an indie YA contemporary that pairs together a teenage girl and a 90-year-old woman who end up going on a short, one-night road trip together. A friendship develops between them, and through that they learn some things about themselves and find the courage to move on to the next chapters of their lives. It's a quick, easy read, but so beautiful and poignant. I'm kind of picky about narrators in first-person novels, but Emma's voice really shines in this novel and you really get a sense for who she is and what she's struggling. I loved watching her grow.
Shadow of the Fox series by Julie Kagawa If I had to pick one book or series on this list that was my absolute favorite, it would be this one. Set in a fantasy world that draws heavily on Japanese mythology, we follow a sweet and naive kitsune girl named Yumeko and a a mysterious samurai named Tatsumi as they embark on a quest involving a magical scroll that could bring incredible devastation to the world. The stakes are epic, the side characters are amazing(Okame + Daisuke 5ever), and the world is completely immersive. There are some very dark things in this series, but there's also some fun and humor to balance things out. I was sobbing by the end of the last book, but it was SO FREAKING GOOD.
Orconomics and Son of a Liche by J. Zachary Pike
Need something fun and light-hearted but also engaging to cleanse your palate from all the nonsense of 2020? I know I sure did, and this series was the perfect thing. These books are an absolute delight. They're so clever and funny. I lost track of the number of times I legitimately laughed out loud while reading these. But this series is so much more than satire. The worldbuilding is very well thought out, and our main cast of characters are all compelling in their own right, with unique goals, motivations, and personal challenges that made me root for them. I can't wait until the next book in the series releases so I can see what shenanigans they get into next.
Fireborne by Rosaria Munda
If you're a fan of fantasy or dragons or incredible worldbuilding or the exploration of social/political issues in fiction (or all of those things combined) PLEASE read this book. It deserves all the hype.. The story is set in the aftermath of a revolution, but the new regime has its own problems and may not actually be that much better than the old one. Then you have some very interesting relationship dynamics between main characters Lee and Annie since Lee's family was responsible for killing Annie's, and yet they've developed this powerful friendship. The dragons in the story are very much a symbol of power, and I loved the exploration of what a society with dragons might actually look like.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
This book has gotten a lot of attention, and I've seen some people who have really loved it and others who haven't. I was one of those people who loved it. I didn't expect to, but the premise was interesting enough that I wanted to check it out, and I also wanted to give V. E. Schwab another chance as I felt kind of meh about the other two books of hers I read. I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. It is absolutely gorgeous, so beautifully written. You can tell she put a lot of time and care into it. It's very much a character-driven story with less emphasis on the plot and more focus on the characters and their development. But it worked so well and is something I definitely want to reread someday.
Sword of Kaigen by M. L. Wang
This is an indie book that has kind of been on my radar for a while, so I decided to check it out. It starts out a little slow, but there were enough questions raised to hold my interest. Things really pick up in the middle when we get to this huge battle scene that tests our characters and pushes them to their breaking point. Rather than focusing on the larger, world-altering stakes, the story hones in on a single family and the impacts that battle has on them and their relationships with each other. The ramifications of their societal values and family dynamics are explored in a way that turns every conflict into an emotional gut-punch. You'll want a box of tissues handy if you read this one.
And that's it! Did you guys read any of the books on this list? If so, what did you think about them? What were your favorite reads of 2020? Leave a comment and let me know. I want to read at least 50 books again in 2020 and I'm always looking for recommendations.