Some debuted this year, others in recent years, but all of these novels impacted me in some way during this tumultuous year. I’m proud that I was able to read through one hundred books this year! These are the top 10%.
10. The Ten Thousand Doors of January- Alix E. Harrow
The periwinkle prose mixed with mystery and dipped in wonder is what puts this book on the top ten. I thoroughly enjoyed January’s journey and the worlds she discovered with the underlying tension that isn’t resolved til the last page.
Excerpt: In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.
Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.
9. Beach Read -Emily Henry
I’m more of a romance-as-a-subplot-person, not a straight-up-romance-plotline person, but 2020 helped me discover a genre that became my guilty pleasure: The romcom. Equally funny and sexy, Beach Read is about two authors who had a fling in college and wind up renting beach houses next to each other while trying to draft their next novel. They decide to switch genres on a bet, and the result is gratifying.
Excerpt: Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
8. Fable- Adrienne Young
Pirates stories aren’t usually my thing. This one stole my heart completely with everything I didn’t know I needed: A badass teenage chick who holds her breath way longer than I ever could, a pirate ship crew full of secrets, extreme pirate king who’s also the daddy issues, and simple but marvelous prose that literally transported me onto the high seas.
Excerpt: For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.
But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.
7. The Invisible Life of Addie Larure – V.E. Schwab
This book ticked all the buttons I wanted from it: Historical fiction laced in fantasy, travel, temptation, true love, and sacrifice. Nobody remembers Addie once she leaves their sight, and that makes for a frustrating and intense premise.
Excerpt: France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
6. American Dirt – Jeanine Cummings
This tale captured me from beginning to end. One woman is forced to flee her home country to escape one bad mistake that threatens her family. The thrills and tears came page after page.
Excerpt: Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
5. The Sun Down Motel – Simone St. James
I went into this book warily, wondering if it would be a cheesy wannabe horror about a haunted hotel. Boy, was I wrong. So wrong, in fact, that I stayed up til 2:30 am finishing it because I HAD to know how it ended. One woman is drawn to the small town and hotel where her aunt disappeared years before, only to find what she didn’t expect.
Excerpt: The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.
Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…
4. Untamed – Glennon Doyle
A memoir unlike any other, and one I absolutely resonated with. Risking reputation, respect, career, and family for love and freedom? It worked out for Glennon, but not without significant issues to overcome. She realizes that what she thought was happiness, in fact, was a cage built around her made up of expectations from everyone.
Excerpt:There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves.
For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living.
Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is.
3. Oona Out of Order – Margarita Montimore
I can’t describe this book perfectly other than saying it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. A new spin on time travel as a curse, not a blessing, and piecing the puzzles of her life together makes this awesome plot into the top 3. Oona is cursed with living her life out of order: She lives each new year the same age on the inside, but a very different age on the outside. The writing and the premise swept me away to the point where I could’ve finished this book in one sitting, if it weren’t for kids.
Excerpt: It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order…
Hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips, Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met? Surprising, magical, and heart-wrenching, Margarita Montimore has crafted an unforgettable story about the burdens of time, the endurance of love, and the power of family.
2. The House in the Cerulean Sea – TJ Klune
I’ve never cried in a book because I was so incredibly happy. That’s why this magical book is my number 2 pick. It pulled at my heartstrings, made me love every character fiercely, made me laugh, and made me want to give everyone a hug. Poor Linus, he’s forced out of his comfort zone to do his job in the most unexpected place possible: A house on a sea that housed the most dangerous magical children. He expects to do his job, not find a sense of belonging and family. Not a lot of fantasy books feature middle age main characters, and I thought this representation was brilliant.
Excerpt: Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.
When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.
But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.
1. The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
Pure magic from page to page, I couldn’t put this down. I woke up thinking about when I could steal away time to read more of it. I’d go to bed thinking about it. My heart soared over Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian, some of my favorite characters I’ve discovered this year. The Starless Sea is a place I want to visit, and I’m so glad I was able to in my imagination by the time this book was over. I was so pleasantly surprised to find in the Acknowledgements that one of my favorite video games played as inspiration: Dragon Age Inquisition.
Excerpt:Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.
A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.
I read many 4-5 star reads this year, and have to list some that very nearly made the top ten, and are still ABSOLUTELY worth reading.