A lot of my fun in 2020 revolved around wine, fire, leggings and reading. And it’s looking like that’s the forecast for 2021 as well. The plus side: I love reading and I read more this year than honestly ever. I knocked some books on my TBR list that had been on there for YEARS and as you’ll see from the list below, I read A LOT. If you would also like to fill every spare moment with reading, I’m giving you my top favorites list, and then books by genre, all linked to Amazon. If it’s a zero stars, I marked that as well — when you increase the volume, you get way more winners (yay!) and some losers too (boo!)
Pin the list for later!
Where Do I Get My Books?
So reading can definitely get expensive — especially if your reading list spawns out of control, Gremlin style, and the more you read from the list, somehow the longer the list grows! But here are my three main avenues for reading:
The Digital Library – this is just super convenient for me and way easier in COVID times. I live in a fairly small town, but my library uses an app called Libby. You can search for books, request them, get them delivered right to your phone and read in the Libby app or on your Kindle. You get two weeks with each book and they’re delivered instantly and returned without you having to go anywhere. And you can request books and get on wait lists for the super popular ones.
Book of the Month – Book of the Month led to a Reading Renaissance for me. Every month they curate five new books and you can pick one for $14.99 and you get a gorgeous hardcover shipped to you. It’s no problem to skip a month and every book I’ve gotten from them has been at least a 7/10. They are master curators! If you’re curious to give it a try, you can sign up with my referral code here.
Kindle Unlimited – They run different deals, but I think it’s around $12 a month. You can have 10 books borrowed at a time and read as many books as you’d like in a month. They have a pretty good selection! Also, randomly the kindle version of a book I’ve had on my wish list will be 99 cents, so I grab some books that way too.
How do I read?
Kindle – I have this one here and I love it. you can read outside and you can adjust the brightness so it’s just like paper, brighten it up to read when it’s darker and the battery lasts forever. Think like your 2002 Nokia Candy Bar Phone battery life.
Phone – I love that I can toggle between my Kindle and my phone if a reading opportunity presents itself, but I try not to too much since it just gives me phone vibes vs. reading vibes if that makes sense.
Regular Books – Obviously this is a reading option, but I wanted to share this book light – I love to read before bed and this way I’m not keeping my husband up. And the book light gives me 1992 vibes from when my dad gave me one so I’d zip it about asking him to drive with dome light on so I could keep reading on car rides.
Now on to the list! I’ve mentioned in past reading list roundups that I’m a terrible synopsis giver so I’ve given you a little bit about why I liked it with a link to Amazon if you’d like to get a legit synopsis. This post contains affiliate links.
This Tender Land – Historical Fiction – kind of a Huckleberry Finn retelling. The writing is gorgeous, the story is deeply compelling and it’s easily one of my favorite books EVER.
Code Name Helene – Historical Fiction – based on a true story about WWII spy Nancy Wake. This was so compelling and Nancy is intensely sassy and likeable.
A Man Called Ove – Literary Fiction – I have learned an important lesson this year — if the synopsis leaves you lukewarm, but the book is rolling in 5-star reviews, you must read it. I drug my feet on this one and it was one of my favorites of all time. It will make you laugh, give you all the feels and just take you on this incredible emotional journey.
The Woman in Cabin 10 – Thriller/Mystery – My friend enthusiastically recommended Ruth Ware (her other novels are in the Thriller/Mystery section!) and she’s quickly become a favorite. This storyline about a missing socialite wife is so crazy twisty and my favorite Ruth so far.
All the Light We Cannot See – Historical Fiction – set in WWII, this was another lukewarm synopsis/rave reviews situation. The writing was gorgeous and I honestly felt like I lived this life and went to these places. Truly, truly beautiful.
Where’d you go, Bernadette? – I told you some books had been on my list for years! The upcoming film adaptation made me want to give this a go and it was so funny, witty and original — I can’t wait to watch the movie as well!
In Five Years – Literary Fiction – Okay, so I’ve mentioned on Instagram that if the story line is you time traveling in your own life, that’s a book I want to read. What Alice Forgot got me hooked on that type of story. In this book a woman falls asleep with one fiance and wakes up 5 Years Later seemingly living with a total stranger then goes back to her original time. This one was a little more emotional than my typical faves, but it was so good and original.
Oona Out of Order – Literary Fiction – Same genre, intra-life time travel lol! After the age of 18, Oona wakes up on New Year’s Day experiencing a completely new age from her life but in a random order. So from 18 to 51 to 37, etc. The concept was so original and well done.
The Guest List – Thriller/Mystery – as someone who reads A LOT of Thriller/Mysteries as you’ll see in the list below, I’m tough to shock for the most part. I GASPED at the conclusion and was reeling days later.
Eleanor and Park – Literary Fiction – another on the list for years! It’s kind of a Romeo & Juliet like YA set in the late 80’s, but the original synopsis and this one I’ve just written is doing it ZERO justice and I thought about this book for weeks afterward.
The Cactus – Literary Fiction – I love the Rosie Project series and am always looking for more like it and this is it! This one is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick or I would have totally missed it. The main character is a very prickly, particular person and the storyline follow her and it was so super funny and witty and just overall fantastic.
Station Eleven – Literary Fiction – So I love a dystopian novel but like as a dystopian tourist, I don’t want to like live there. This book always pops up as recommended, but the synopsis made me feel meh. Plus it’s set after a global pandemic and I didn’t know if that would be a super beneficial read right now. Answer: yes. This book was phenomenal. The writing, the setting, everything was fantastic!
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – Magical Realism/SciFi – I debated if this one made the tops list since I don’t know if it’s just that it’s a recent read, so it’s fresh, but it made it! This book does contain a vampire, but it’s not Twilighty, etc. It’s more like if a super creepy/unsettling person moved into your neighborhood and you had to protect your family. Perfect Halloween read!
Where the Crawdads Sing – set in the past, but I’d still call it Literary Fiction – this one has been so super hyped, but I felt like it 100% lived up to it. The writing was gorgeous and it was a super interesting premise.
Now on to the rest of the list, separated by genre. I would recommend any book I put in here, but if it was a bad one, it went into it’s own special bad section at the bottom.
Daisy Jones and the Six – a “behind the music” type feel written in interview format about a fictional 1960’s band.
The Fountains of Silence – set in 1950’s Spain which is a time and a place that I knew very little about. The writing was gorgeous and I felt like I lived that life!
Giver of the Stars – Based on the true story of the Kentucky Library Women in the Depression era.
The Downstairs Girl – By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” This book was delightful and I felt like I lived this life!
Flight Girls – Based on the true story of WWII era women fighter pilots — a WWII perspective that I had not read before.
The Only Woman in the Room – Based on the true story of 1940’s Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr and her significant contributions to science and the war effort.
The Lost Roses – So this is by the same author as The Lilac Girls, which made the bad list! This is the author’s second novel and her writing improved so much that I would absolutely recommend this one. Set around WW1 with dual storylines in Russia and the US
The Tatooist of Auschwitz – predictably this was a very hard but very worthwhile read.
Cilka’s Journey – by the same author as The Tattooist, and is a continuation of one of the characters from the earlier book. It’s set largely after WWII ends.
City of Girls – This is set in 1940’s NYC and I loved it — it was fun and really made the time come alive. The unbridled hedonism started to wear on me, but it was still a good read.
Next Year in Havana – Set as Fidel Castro comes to power and in modern times as well, this was such an interesting glimpse into that time in history.
The Secrets We Kept – This is how the CIA worked to get Dr. Zhivago published, which sounds super snoozy, but was really excellent.
In a Dark, Dark Wood – My first Ruth Ware! An isolated bachelorette party and a killer on the loose!
The Turn of the Key – Ruth again! A spooky supernatural mystery vibes at an isolated manor house.
One by One – Ruth again! No one writes an isolated scene like her. This is set in a French chalet, cut off by an avalanche and … you guessed it, murderer on the loose. I loved this setting!
The Silent Patient – everyone was so nuts about this one I was afraid to read it, but the twist is so insane that I read that page like 5 times to process it. Super original concept!
The 7 1/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – the narrator wakes up to relive the same day Groundhog Style in a Clue like setting, trying to solve a mystery. One I almost didn’t read because I couldn’t get my head around the concept, but it was so good!
Something in the Water – this one starts with the protagonist burying a body and keeps you guessing from there
The Last Flight – Two women are trying to disappear and they switch flight tickets at the last minute and one of the planes crashes — this was an interesting concept and very different!
Home Before Dark – Riley Sager’s had me hooked since The Last Time I Lied — this was another great page turner!
I’ve Got My Eye on You – Mary Higgins Clark always delivers, this was a good, classic MHC.
Watching You – This was my first Lisa Jewell and about a beloved school headmaster that is mysteriously murdered, leaving the town reeling.
Then She Was Gone – Another Lisa Jewell where a women’s daughter goes missing and later a child that looks exactly like her comes into her life.
The Family Upstairs – My last Lisa Jewell! A woman is the only survivor of a seemingly cult suicide pact and inherits the property where it happened as an adult.
The Sundown Motel – Spooky and supernatural mystery thriller.
No Exit – A woman stranded at a rest stop in a blizzard figures out someone trapped with her is a kidnapper. This was twisty and original, but it had some really triggering themes — so I would recommend it, but proceed with caution.
Sleep Like a Baby – This is from the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris and is a solid mystery series!
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry – another Mary Higgins Clark that dellivers!
Emma in the Night – a young woman and her sister disappear and then one of the sisters reappears years later. This was twisty and original!
Before She Knew Him – a woman suspects her new neighbor is a killer. Kinda sorta a Rear Window vibe.
A Good Marriage – a lawyer gets a call from an old friend after his wife is found murdered and he is charged. This one was excellent at showing that just because everything looks perfect, doesn’t mean it is.
The Holdout – a twisty courtroom thriller about someone who is hunting a jury years after the verdict.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – this cozy mystery series has been on my list for a while and I was glad to try it out!
The Last Mrs. Parrish – I would sorta recommend this one. It’s been so hyped, but there a lot of other books with really similar twists, so it left me feeling a little underwhelmed. But I would 100% have had FOMO if I didn’t give it a go.
The Night Swim – a successful true crime podcaster finds mysterious links between a current rape trial and a 20 year old unsolved mystery.
Beach Read – sometimes when books are called “laugh out loud funny” I so rarely really lol. But this one was hilarious and charming! I went back to re-read the funny parts several times.
Frankly in Love – a YA romance told from the perspective of a teenage boy but it’s so much more. Smart and funny!
Evvie Drake Starts Over – this one is about a widow that finds new love, but it was charming and smart and funny and a fun journey.
Bringing Down the Duke – when I hear “Regency Romance” I kinda tune out. I know some people love them, but they are typically not for me — this was a Regency Romance 2.0.
Head Over Heels – I don’t always love romances — I like romantic stories that are a slice of life and like real though. This one gave you a peek into the world of competitive gymnastics (and as someone who couldn’t be less gymnastic, this was a whole new world for me.)
Troubles in Paradise – the third book in Elin Hilderbrand’s Paradise trilogy and my only regret is I started this trilogy as the first book was released and have been chomping at the bit for the rest of the story!
28 Summers – another Elin one but about a couple that gets together once a year just for a weekend every summer. The premise was okay, but the way Elin writes a location makes you feel like you’ve been there.
Things You Save in a Fire – this book and the two below are all Katherine Center and I am officially a fan! Various emotional journeys with super likeable and unique characters!
How to Walk Away – see above!
What You Wish For – see above!
Olive Kitteridge – this was a Pulitzer Prize winner and I’m glad I read it — I wouldn’t say I burned through it by any means but I thought about it a lot afterward.
800 Grapes – fun fact, that’s how many grapes go into every bottle of wine! This story follows a woman on a self-discovery journey, but I loved learning about the vineyard world.
Nothing to See Here – the premise — a woman takes a nannying job for kids that mysteriously can burst into flames — sounded weird, but the story was excellent.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – this one gave me Rosie Project vibes, which I loved, but it’s about someone staying true to themselves while also finding new connections in the world.
The Goldfinch – another hyped one and Pulitzer Prize winner that’s now a Netflix series, it’s long, but worth it. The writing was phenomenal and it takes you on such a journey.
Happy and You Know It – a look at an elite NYC playgroup and the lives (or secret lives) of each of the members.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler – a mom gets a chance at re-finding herself after kids.
The Reckless Oath We Made – kinda hard to describe, it’s about a guy who thinks he’s a knight, but it’s a really well told story.
The Great Alone – this is the same author as The Nightingale, which was my best book of 2019. This story was set in the 1970’s, but it’s more of a literary deal vs. historical fiction. Focusing on a family becoming more and more isolated in Alaska – this was a MISTAKE to read during quarantine, but overall a great book.
Recursion – This was a twisty sci-fi thriller by the same author as below. I’m not always a keen sci-fi lover, but both were interesting and good reads!
Dark Matter – Same as above!
The Library of Legends – a group of students seeks safety in 1940’s China with an invaluable ancient library. Sounds like not the greatest storyline but it was a story you could really sink into.
The Night Tiger – another super hyped one. I’m glad I read it and I remember enjoying it but it didn’t leave a huge impression. If it’s on your TBR list, it’s worth a look.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – this one had been on my list for YEARS — like interested, but don’t want to commit to buying it, so the library app for the win! It’s about a sort of magical bookstore, which magic and books, count me in.
Landline – my second Rainbow Rowell after Eleanor & Park from the tops list. Rainbow just makes you feel all the feels. Like you feel what they feel and she writes in such a way that makes you just like sink into that world.
Educated – I’m not really one for memoirs or non-fiction but this one was so highly recommended just everywhere. It’s a memoir of a woman raised in a fundamentalist family who never attends school and her path to finding education and what it means. It gave me a ton to think about.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – this one is just about worrying way less and how to just dial it down on caring about every single thing. Like sometimes dinner is a Lunchable and that’s OKAY.
Never Split the Difference – this was a book about negotiating written by a former FBI hostage negotiator. Definitely worth a read!
Now if you loved any of these books, I am sorry for throwing shade at them! Whenever I get a book that just isn’t for me, I always hop on Amazon to read other 1-star reviews to feel like vindicated. But there’s always some 5-star ones in there, so book taste is subjective, but these were books that I just would never, ever recommend. Ever. So I did not link them.
We Were Liars – billed as a twisty mystery, but I couldn’t wait for it to end and couldn’t have cared less in the big reveal. Actually, I did care, I was mad lol.
Lilac Girls – same author as The Lost Roses which I liked, but this one was terrible! It’s based on a true story, but they add a weird and honestly stupid fictional romance. If someone wrote a story based on my life and I had this cool and amazing life and they gave me a fake and terrible love interest, when the true story was better PLUS she can’t be interesting without an imagined romance? Nope, no thank you. And the dialogue was stilted and just not real. Truly, the author’s writing was leaps and bounds better for the second book.
The Glittering Hour – I just am not keen on “we can’t ever be together?!?!?!” stories. Like work it out or don’t, which I know makes me very unromantic. But seriously.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January – a cool magical realism plot that I thought I would love, but I couldn’t stand the protagonist and really the only interesting part of it was her pet dog.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. – I SLOGGED through like 25% and then abandoned ship. It came across as a real ode to bro culture, and hard pass from me.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk – I thought I would love this one — a woman reminisces about the past 70 or so years of her fabulous NYC life, but I could not connect or care about the protagonist at all and thought she was actually a really mean person.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts – I thought this would be a spooky supernatural cool mystery. No. The characters are just sooo quirky that the writing is just like “we’re so quirky!” We get it. And the supernatural element was a snoozefest. And if you can make ghosts snoozy, that’s really saying something.
The Heir Affair – this one might be a case of books I loved in an earlier time. This is the sequel to The Royal We which I read maybe 7 years ago and adored. I anxiously awaited this one and it was did not finish. I gave up like 25% of the way in because who cares. Maybe my tastes have changed?
One caveat on reading — my reading levels have gone up and down over the years. If you’ve been wanting to get back into reading, I hope this sparks finding some stories you love! If you’re not a reader, don’t worry about it! There can be so much pressure on reading and that takes away the fun, so never let people take something you love and make it un-fun. AKA The Wet Blanket treatment. Let’s pass on Wet Blankets this year.
That’s my 2020 list ~ pin it for later or check out my past book recommendations here. Are there any books on hear that you’ve read and loved? Any you’ve been wondering about? Let me know in the comments!