By popular demand, I'm rounding up the best books from 2020! After reading about a book per week, many of you have requested that I compile a list of my favorites from the past year. This will give you quick, easy access to plenty of great reading options to keep you busy in the months ahead. Even better? My fellow bookworm blog readers have submitted their favorite titles from the past year, too! Consider this the ultimate list of everyone's top picks. Happy reading!
Before we get started, I should clarify a couple of things:
- These books were not all published in 2020. I'm not that cool! It often takes me a couple of years to get around to a great novel, so most of these were actually released in prior years. This is just a list of highlights from what I've actually read during the current calendar year.
- When I requested book recommendations from my readers, y'all delivered! My inbox was flooded with so many suggestions. This is wonderful, amazing, and totally overwhelming! I tried to include most of them here, but I also may have missed or omitted some. My goal was to focus on those titles that seemed to come up repeatedly.
- Some of these are affiliate links, which just means that I may earn a small commission (at no additional expense to you) for purchases that you make using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
My Favorite Books that I Read in 2020
Since I read well over 50 books this year and didn't do a good job of keeping track of them all, I'm doing my best to compile a list of the favorites that stand out in my mind. I'm sure I've forgotten some! Going forward, my resolution for 2021 will be to keep an ongoing list of every book that I read. That will make this task much easier at the end of next year!
In no particular order, here are the standouts from my personal reading adventures in 2020:
- This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger: similar to Where the Crawdads Sing (another favorite from last year), this beautifully written novel is sad in parts, but also incredibly heartwarming. It's the unforgettable story of four orphans who travel the Mississippi River on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression.
- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson: Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, this is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman's belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home. Another great book inspired by the same general topic: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes!
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett: a richly moving story that explores the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go. The Dutch House is the tale of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. I loved this one so much that it sent me down a rabbit hole reading many more of Ann Patchett's books (some I enjoyed more than others, but Commonwealth was another great read).
- The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine: with shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end, this book is a fresh, juicy, and utterly addictive thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Such a fun read!
- Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah: I read (and loved) The Great Alone and The Nightingale in past years, so this year I was excited to dive into a couple of Hannah's other books. More than a coming-of-age novel, Firefly Lane is the story of a generation of women who were both blessed and cursed by choices. It's about promises and secrets and betrayals. And ultimately, about the one person who really, truly knows you---and knows what has the power to hurt you . . . and heal you. Firefly Lane is a story you'll never forget, and one you'll want to pass on to your best friend. I should also mention Magic Hour, which I read this year, too. It was wonderful as well!
- Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series. Hands-down the best murder mysteries I've read! I finished quite a few of these books over the course of 2020, and I'm now on book 10 of 16. If you're new to the series, I'd start with the first book (Still Life) and read them in order. You'll fall in love with the characters!
- Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera: an extraordinary historical debut novel that follows three fierce Southern women in an unforgettable story of motherhood and womanhood. If you liked Where the Crawdads Sing or The Secret Life of Bees, then you'll definitely enjoy this one!
- The Huntress by Kate Quinn: a fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America. I read a lot of historical fiction, and this was definitely my favorite from that genre this year.
- Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg: a delightful novel of friendship, community, and the way small acts of kindness can change your life. This is the sequel to one of my favorite reads from last year, The Story of Arthur Truluv.
- Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore: every Saturday afternoon, Catherine Grace Cline sits at the Dairy Queen in her small Georgia town, eating Dilly Bars and plotting her getaway to Atlanta. And when, with the help of a family friend, the dream becomes a reality, she immediately packs her bags, leaving her family and the boy she loves to claim the life she’s always imagined. But before things have even begun to get off the ground in Atlanta, tragedy brings Catherine Grace back home. As a series of extraordinary events alter her perspective--and sweeping changes come to her hometown--Catherine Grace begins to wonder if her place in the world may actually be, against all odds, right where she began. This novel has been compared to Fannie Flagg's writing, and I totally agree!
- The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis: enter the lush world of 1950s New York City, where a generation of aspiring models, secretaries, and editors live side by side in the glamorous Barbizon Hotel for Women while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success. I also read and really enjoyed The Address by the same author.
When I asked you to send me the titles of your favorite books from 2020, the results were overwhelming (in a good way). It makes me so happy to know that many of you enjoy reading just as much as I do! I've done my best to compile a list of your recommendations -- especially focusing on those titles that received numerous mentions. There's something here for everyone -- from murder mysteries to historical fiction, memoirs, thrillers and romance. Please feel free to continue this discussion in the comments with any additional suggestions. We can all use new options!
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: I lost count of how many of you recommended this book! It was a favorite of mine when I read it last year, too. It's at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
- The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly: I read this last year and loved it, too! Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.
- The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck: a WWII novel that has been compared to Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale.
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle: in her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, and bestselling author explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us.
- The Beginning by Catherine Coulter: the first in a long series of wildly-popular FBI thrillers.
- Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: a powerful tale of family, of sisters, of secrets kept and secrets shared. Lisa Wingate was mentioned repeatedly by many of you, so I'm looking forward to diving into some of her novels in the coming year.
- The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: set in London and Cornwall between World War II and the present, this is the story of the Keeling family, and of the passions and heart-break that have held them together for three generations--a story of life, hope, children.
- The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen: a beautiful and heart-rending novel of a woman’s love and sacrifice during the First World War.
- The Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schultz: hidden desires, long-held secrets, and the sacrifices people make for family are at the heart of this powerful first novel by the popular Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist. One blog reader said that the story about growing up in an industrial town east of Cleveland reminded her of her grandmother!
- The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson: an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of courage and leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis. Also recommended numerous times by blog readers!
- Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James: a truly spine-chilling page turner and a riveting tale of dark suspense set in 1919 within a crumbling mansion turned mental hospital. If you love a good ghost story, you will be entranced.
- Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon: In this epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.
- The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs: an intricate patchwork of old wounds and new beginnings, romance and the healing power of friendship, wrapped in a lovely little community that’s hiding a few secrets of its own.
- Frontier Follies by Ree Drummond: a light read by The Pioneer Woman that will make you laugh!
- The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer: this historical novel alternates between WWII, following a young Polish couple as they survive in a war-torn country, and present-day Florida, when one of their ancestors must discover important details about the family's past.
- The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley: the story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love.
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris: this beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.
- Some Luck by Jane Smiley: from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a powerful, engrossing novel—the life and times of a remarkable family over three transformative decades in America. This is the first book in Smiley's The Last Hundred Years trilogy.
- The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel: this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family, tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.
- Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber: a captivating blend of magical realism, heartwarming romance, and small-town Southern charm.
- The Last Flight by Julie Clark: this one has been on my radar for a long time, since many folks have recommended it! This is the story of two women―both alone, both scared―and one agonizing decision that will change the trajectory of both of their lives.
- In Another Time by Jillian Cantor: a love song to the most powerful of all human emotions: hope. It is the story of Max and Hanna, two star-crossed lovers fighting to stay together during an impossible moment in history. It is gripping, mysterious, romantic, and altogether unique.
- The Swan House by Elizabeth Musser: a complex coming-of-age novel set in Atlanta in 1962. The author ties the plot strands together and builds to a moving climax and a rosy future.
- The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister: a “heartbreakingly delicious” national bestseller about a chef, her students, and the evocative lessons that food teaches about life.
- A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa: the harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: I loved this book too when I read it many years ago! The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean: Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a “delightful…reflection on the past, present, and future of libraries in America” that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.
- The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield: a remarkable story of the heroic and unbreakable bond between a father and son.
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel: a triumphant close to the trilogy that Mantel began with her peerless, Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion and courage.
- Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult: with richly layered characters and a gripping moral dilemma that will lead readers to question everything they know about privilege, power, and race, Small Great Things is a stunning page-turner.
- Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan: Based on the true story of a forgotten hero, this is the triumphant, epic tale of one young man’s incredible courage and resilience during WWII and one of history’s darkest hours.
- Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child: Jack Reacher comes to the aid of an elderly couple . . . and confronts his most dangerous opponents yet. Jack Reacher is today’s James Bond, a thriller hero we can’t get enough of!
- The Paper Bracelet by Rachael English: Inspired by heartrending true events in a home for unwed mothers, set in Ireland, Boston and London. This is a gripping novel of heartbreaking secrets.
- No Greater Love by Danielle Steel: On the maiden voyage of the Titanic, Edwina Winfield was returning from her engagement trip to England with her fiance, her parents and five siblings. In one fatal, unforgettable night, Edwina instantly becomes a woman mourning the loss of the man she loved, and mother to her five brothers and sisters. Her struggles to keep the family together go on for twelve long years, but as each child sets sail at last, to Hollywood, Europe, and elsewhere, Edwina finds her own life finally, and frees herself from the ghosts of those she loved and lost on the Titanic.
- A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership by James Comey: former FBI director James Comey shares his never-before-told experiences from some of the highest-stakes situations of his career in the past two decades of American government, exploring what good, ethical leadership looks like, and how it drives sound decisions. His journey provides an unprecedented entry into the corridors of power, and a remarkable lesson in what makes an effective leader.
- Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain: a novel of chilling intrigue, a decades-old disappearance, and one woman’s quest to find the truth…
- The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony: a heartwarming, exciting, funny, and sometimes sad memoir of Anthony's experiences with these huge yet sympathetic creatures. Set against the background of life on an African game reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, Anthony's unrelenting efforts at animal protection and his remarkable connection with nature will inspire animal lovers and adventurous souls everywhere.
- Becoming by Michelle Obama: an intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.
- Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: a striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.
- The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao: in this riveting tale about the secrets and betrayals that can accompany exorbitant wealth, two sisters from a Chinese-Indonesian family grapple with the past after one of them poisons their entire family.
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel: an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events--a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.
- Honeysuckle Season by Mary Ellen Taylor: a story about profound loss, hard truths, and an overgrown greenhouse full of old secrets.
- There There by Tommy Orange: One of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year and winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, this wondrous and shattering bestselling novel follows twelve characters from Native communities: all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow, all connected to one another in ways they may not yet realize. Together, this chorus of voices tells of the plight of the urban Native American—grappling with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and spirituality, with communion and sacrifice and heroism.
- American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: From its heart-stopping first sentence to its heart-shattering last, Cummins’s story of immigrants is just what we need now. Gritty yet sensitive, realistic yet hopeful, grand and granular, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a Grapes of Wrath for our times.
There you go, friends! Thank you so much to all of you who sent me emails and left comments with your personal favorites from the past year. This list ought to keep us all busy in 2021! I hope that you find it helpful. Happy reading!