What are the top books of 2020? From The New York Times bestsellers to the most popular new releases, here are all of this year’s must-read books.
Why do I get to decide which are the best books of the year?
Since I started book blogging, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in new releases. So far, I’ve read 91 new releases this year, with still more on my to-read list. That’s by far more than I read last year for my best books of 2019 list.
Suffice it to say, I have the qualifications to comment on the top books to read in 2020. But keep in mind, my list is really just a list of opinions. I’d love to hear what books you think are the best of the best.
Before you begin, let me throw in one major caveat. I usually limit my list strictly to 2020 releases, but this year I made one exception. I’m sure you’ll understand why.
2020’s Book of the Year
Ibram X. Kendi
Although published in 2019, I’m just going to go ahead and declare How to Be an Antiracist as the book of the year in 2020. In the most talked-about book of the year, Kendi has penned the premier work on racial justice in America. Using history, law, ethics and, science, Kendi shows what an antiracist society would look like and helps illustrate how we can contribute to the building of a more equitable world. A must-read for any antiracist reading list.
Top Books of 2020: Contemporary Fiction
In Mexico, bookstore owner Lydia is charmed to meet Javier, a man who shares her taste in books, only to find he is the local drug lord. When the wrath of the cartel falls upon her family, Lydia and her son Luca must flee all the way to American soil in this mesmerizing story. One of the most controversial books of 2020, American Dirt sparked an important discussion about who can tell what stories.
On a flight from New York City to Los Angeles, 191 people are killed in a plane crash. The sole survivor: 12-year-old Edward Adler. With split narration between Edward’s post-crash years and the time leading up to the fatal accident, Dear Edward shows that surviving is just the beginning. Napolitano hits the emotions just right in this novel, making you deeply care about Edward’s progress while not turning the story into a full-blown tearjerker. A touching tale, Napolitano perfectly conveys Edward’s complicated coming of age years, giving you hope that even amid such tragedy, joy can be found.
After the death of her fiance, Lydia is struggling to cope. Thanks to an experimental sleeping pill, she gets a chance to live the life she would have had with her fiance in her dreams. However, living in her dream life is messing with her waking life. Which life should she choose? Silver does an excellent job showing how much grief has changed Lydia and how dangerous it is to interfere with the grief process.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
This dark debut novel explores the relationship between a naive young girl and her manipulative teacher. As a fifteen-year-old, Vanessa began an affair with her 42-year-old English teacher. Now almost two decades later, when allegations arise against Mr. Strane, Vanessa must confront the reality of her past and reassess her first love. In the post #Metoo era, Russell raises questions about such pressing topics as consent and victimhood.
When she was sixteen, Emmie Blue released a balloon in England which Lucas discovers across the channel in France, leading to a lifelong friendship. When Lucas gets engaged to be married, Emmie begins to realize that you can’t leave your life up to fate. A heartwarming love story about friendship and loyalty, Dear Emmie Blue was one of my favorite summer releases. You’ll love the complicated relationship between Emmie and Lucas and Emmie’s journey of self-discovery during the novel. (Trigger warning: Sexual Assault.)
Although I didn’t love it, I had to mention this summer’s bestselling beach read. Six years after a fight ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when her ex-best friend Drue Cavanaugh begs Daphne to be her maid-of-honor. No longer a shy side-kick, Daphne is now a confident plus-size influencer and a weekend in Cape Cod is too tempting to pass up. With a little steamy romance, a little mystery, and a whole lot of woman finding confidence in herself, Big Summer has a little bit of everything.
Best Historical Fiction of 2020
At the top of my list of books to look out for in 2020 is Ariel Lawhon’s amazing World War II novel. Nancy Wake, a New Zealander living in Paris, becomes a spy for the British and rises to one of the top leaders of the French Resistance and one of the most decorated women of the war. The story is split into two narratives – the first starting with Nancy parachuting into France in 1944 and the second telling of her courtship with her husband, Henri Fiocca, before the war. You’ll fall in love with Henri and cheer on Nancy as she transforms into a fierce fighter and respected commander. As the earlier timeline catches up with the later one, you’ll feel all the emotions of a woman caught up in a terrible war.
Growing up in a Southern black community obsessed with skin color, the Vignes sisters run away at age sixteen. Though identical twins, their lives end in completely different paths. One returns to live in their hometown while the other secretly passes as white. A fascinating story from beginning to end, Bennett explores more than race, as she contemplates how the past affects future generations when their daughters’ lives intersect. Nuanced and complicated, this through-provoking book is just what you want out of literary fiction and every bit deserving of its spot among the New York Times best sellers.
In post World War II Japan, Nori, the illegitimate daughter of a Japanese aristocrat and a Black American GI, is hidden away on her grandmother’s estate to conceal the family shame. All Nori knows is the attic she is confined to until she meets her legitimate half-brother, Akira, a boy who shows her the world contains so much more. A clear winner among the best books of 2020, this complicated story about shame and the need for acceptance would be a perfect choice for your book club.
Reminiscent of Anita Diamant’s The Boston Girl, Beanland’s debut novel is perfect for fans of literary historical fiction. While training to swim across the English Channel in 1934, Florence Adler drowns off the coast of Atlantic City. After the tragedy, her mother makes a fateful decision – to keep Florence’s death a secret from her other daughter Fannie, on bed rest for an extremely high-risk pregnancy. Rachel Beanland knocks it out of the park with this debut novel based on a true story from her family’s history. With an insightful look at the intricacies of family life, Florence Adler Swims Forever has won itself a spot among the top books of 2020.
See which books made the New York Times Fiction Best Seller List in 2020!
Best New Thriller Books of 2020
The creepiest book of the year award goes to Romy Hausmann’s German bestseller which builds to an incredibly thrilling ending. Kept locked in the woods in a windowless shack, Lena and her two children live as virtual prisoners to her “husband.” When Lena escapes, the nightmare should be over. Yet things don’t seem to be adding up, and Lena isn’t who she claims to be. Of all the must-read thriller books of 2020, this is my top choice.
As a child, Olivia disappeared one night while sleepwalking, only to be found safe days later. After years of enduring fame, Olivia moved away and changed her name. With the 20th Anniversary of her miracle rescue coming up, she starts sleepwalking again, only to wake up to the dead body of someone she used to know. An edge-of-your-seat thriller, I couldn’t get enough of this mystery. With well-rounded characters and surprises that just keep coming, it’s one of the best thriller books of 2020.
On a remote island, the perfect wedding turns deadly in this thrilling mystery. The high profile wedding between a television star and a magazine publisher is supposed to be the perfect event. Set off the coast of Ireland, all the stops have been pulled out. Yet once the guests arrive, past conflicts come into play and someone turns up dead. Was it the bride? The best man? The wedding planner? Foley keeps you guessing until the end, giving each suspect a firm motive to want to commit murder. Looking for something gripping to distract you, The Guest List is the perfect page-turner to read this year.
Maggie Holt has always lived in the shadow of her father’s bestselling horror book – a “true” story of their twenty days living in a haunted house when she was five. Having inherited the infamous house from her father, she is determined to fix it up. Ghosts aren’t real, so there’s nothing to worry about, right? Jumping between her father’s novel and Maggie’s return to the house, Sager keeps you on edge the whole time.
At an exclusive French ski resort, the shareholders for the up-and-coming social media company Snoop must decide on an offer of a billion-dollar sale. One person doesn’t make it back to the lodge after skiing, and things go from bad to worse when an avalanche hits threatening them all. Would someone be willing to resort to murder to get their way? Among the latest thriller books, Ruth Ware’s new book is the perfect thriller to read this winter.
Discover All the Top Thrillers of 2020!
2020’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy
V. E. Schwab
To escape a forced marriage, Addie LaRue makes a bargain with the devil in 1714. She gets to live forever, but the catch is she will be forgotten by everyone she meets. After 300 years, Addie has become resigned to her fate until she meets a young man who remembers her name. An all-around joy of a read that is one of 2020’s must-reads.
After tackling zombies, Max Brooks now has a slow-burn examination of the legendary Bigfoot. In the aftermath of Mount Rainer’s eruption, Kate Holland’s diary is discovered detailing a firsthand account of a Sasquatch massacre of a high tech eco-community. How will we survive the winter? evolves into How will we survive a band of murderous Sasquatch? Although not as good as the masterpiece that is World War Z, this violent and rather gory monster story is still riveting.
Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas kicks off her new Crescent City adult fantasy series with the story of half-Fae half-human Bryce Quinlan intent on avenging the death of her friends. She teams up with Fallen Angel Hunt Athalar for a tale of danger, romance, and magic. With two huge fantasy series under her belt (Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses), you shouldn’t be surprised that Maas’s newest book was a #1 New York Times bestseller this year.
The Best Nonfiction Books of 2020
Former United States President Barack Obama has a 700+ page memoir coming out days after the 2020 presidential election. Describing his political journey, Obama recounts the grassroots movement that helped him rise to the presidency and details the politics and diplomacy from his term in office. Along with intimate insights into his presidency, Obama thoughtfully ponders the reach and limits of presidential power.
Among the most popular nonfiction books of 2020 is an examination of caste by bestselling author Isabel Wilkerson. When you think of castes, India’s strict caste system likely comes to mind. Wilkerson argues that America has its own hidden caste system, a hierarchy that has influenced the United States both historically and currently. Using fascinating stories, Wilkerson points out that on top of race and class, our understanding of caste systems must also change if we are to better ourselves as a nation.
Bestselling author Erik Larson turns his attention to Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister as he unites a nation in the face of the horrors of the London Blitz. With thorough in-depth research, Larson brings Churchill to life – sharing details on his political and personal life. At over 600 pages, you need to love history books to appreciate this thick tome. As long as you are expecting an informative read instead of a thrilling read, you’ll find this one of the top books of 2020.
Shortly after World War II, Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American Dream, raising their twelve children in Colorado. Until one after another, six of their ten sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The tale of an American family who became the center of most of our current research on schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road has become one of the top nonfiction best sellers of 2020.
After writing about recovering a marriage rocked by infidelity in Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle has a new memoir about her love story with US soccer star Abby Wambach. Doyle details how she found herself by realizing her true power comes from within and not from the expectations others put on her. Part self-help and part-memoir, Untamed has become one of the best selling nonfiction books of 2020, spending months on the New York Times bestseller list.
Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein
Decluttering queen Marie Kondo is back, helping you spark joy in your job. With organizational psychologist Scott Sonenshein, she tackles the decluttering process as it pertains to the workplace. Helping inspire you to tidy up your office, Kondo uses her KonMari method to show you that minimalism is just as important at work as at home. With organizing advice from Sonenshein to help you get to get your inbox in order and rework your schedule, Joy at Work is a winning collaboration between these two authors.
Should you try to have it all and be the perfect version of yourself or should you ignore what others think and do whatever you want? Kendra Adachi implores you to take a third path – the lazy genius way. By being a genius about what matters to you and lazy about what doesn’t, Adachi promises to help you avoid overwhelm and discover a better way to live. For women looking for nonfiction books to read to help streamline their life, this is a great choice.
What do you think are the top books of 2020?