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Top Books of 2020

2020 broke my heart in more ways than one, as I'm sure it did for a lot of people. It can be hard to find silver linings in a year that was so painful but I've been able to find a lot of things I'm grateful for, including discovering some new favorite books. I think that's why I love reading so much ---- no matter what is happening in the world or even in my personal life, I can always pick up a book to escape or find comfort. While I definitely had periods of not being able to read because my mind was way too loud, I did read some incredible stories that will stay with me for years to come.

I will note that 2020 wrecked a lot of my reading goals. I'm not beating myself up for how my reading game went this year, nor am I self-scolding for not posting on this website as much as I hoped. Instead of using this year to expand my worldview and learn about different cultures or important events or people like I originally planned, I came back to my adolescent love of reading. This year, I read to feel that warmth that comes with reading beautiful, hopeful, mainly fictional stories. And I have to say, I read quite a few of those this year and I could not be more thankful for these books that brought me joy.

So, here are the top 10 books I read in 2020, with the best book of the year coming in at the end.


I recently realized (after reading one too many cringe-y chick-lit romance books this year) that I don't typically love pure romance novels. I need a story with a main character who is struggling with a conflict outside of love or a partner. If romance is a secondary plotline, I'm much more likely to enjoy the book.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is about a woman named Evvie who loses her husband in a car accident, although you learn early on that she had intended to leave him on the day she finds out he has passed. She carries guilt, shame, and sadness with her for two years, unable to forgive herself. In walks Dean, a former New York Yankees pitcher, who has been struggling with "yips" and is unable to throw on the level he used to and he banishes himself to Evvie's small Maine town. The two become friends as they share their struggles with one another and of course, inevitably fall for each other.

I loved both Evvie and Dean, and Holmes created a world I easily slipped into, describing the characters' mundane, everyday lives in a beautiful and engrossing way. The characters felt relatable, and their emotional reactions to their circumstances made sense to me. There is something about a book that puts detail into the small things, like the color of the coffee cup or the way a character uses their hands to describe something, that makes a book feel wonderfully realistic and tangible. It was easy to get lost in Evvie and Dean's story and I was left feeling warm, hopeful, and content.

If you're a fan of contemporary romance but need more meat to the story, I definitely recommend Evvie Drake Starts Over.


This was the book that helped me crawl out of my quarantine reading rut post Harry Potter re-read in the spring. The Dirty Life is a memoir by Kristin Kimball who was a writer living in New York City when she interviewed a young farmer outside of the city and they quickly fell in love. While she knew nothing of growing vegetables, caring for animals, or the incredibly hard work that goes into sustaining a farm, she agreed to leave NYC and join her new boyfriend on his quest to buy land and turn it into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.

I know ---- this sounds like the plot of a charming Hallmark movie, but Kimball gives the gritty details of the difficult yet rewarding life of a farmer. She paints a vivid picture of her everyday life, down to the color and flavor of the crops, and the tools and techniques they use. The book reflects the first year of her relationship and the farm, breaking it up by season. She explains the obstacles and themes of each season and what is most important to accomplish, even though the work of a farmer is never-ending. Kimball breathes such animated life into her words that I felt like I was there with her.

If you're looking for an easy but beautiful story that will make you wish you could also fall in love with a farmer, raise chickens, grow crops, and spend the majority of your time on your feet and outside (wait, was that just me?), I couldn't recommend this book enough.


This was the most unexpectedly wonderful book I read this year. I'm pretty sure I saw this cover on someone's bookstagram and I was enraptured, proceeding to look it up and snag it from the library. Something about the cover makes me feel all warm and cozy inside (this just shows how important cover marketing is). To be honest, I barely read the blurb but was intrigued enough to reach for it immediately.

The Smell of Other People's Houses (I adore this title) is set in Alaska in 1970. It follows four teenagers living very different lives as they struggle to find love, security, and themselves. As the story progresses, their lives become entangled in the most unexpected but enchanting ways.

When I first began reading this book, I was a little bothered by having to follow four main characters, each with their own life and story. I think I was unsure how the author was going to be able to tie everyone together while differentiating each character and their journey. However, Hitchcock exceeded my expectations, and I was left in awe. Each teenager has their own struggles whether with poverty, absent parents, changes out of their control, or finding real friends. Each voice is unique and distinct, and I felt empathy and even related to many of the emotions each teen was going through. There were times when Hitchcock's words rang so true I would tear up. She articulated so many adolescent emotions that I'd forgotten about until I read them on the page. Even just the idea the title evokes, The Smell of Other People's Houses, brings back memories of spending weekends at friends' houses and how each friend had a distinct smell to their house that would often bring varying levels of comfort to me. It is such a strange but moving experience when an author can bring back memories and nostalgia that you didn't even know were buried inside.

The ending was absolutely perfect and wonderful and despite some difficult topics brought up throughout the book, I was left feeling hopeful and content. It brought me some desperately needed peace, especially with all that's happening in the world. I know a lot of us could appreciate some of those good feels right about now, so I encourage you to give this book a try.


Ah, another spectacular book by my favorite author of all time. Yes, I stand by that statement because every single book I've read by Jon Krakauer has blown me away and just convinces me further that he is the best nonfiction writer to ever live.

Into Thin Air follows Krakauer on an incredible but terrifying journey to climb Mount Everest in the spring of 1996. Krakauer takes on a reporting job for Outside magazine when they ask him to report on the commercialization of the legendary climb. He joins a well-respected expedition led by Rob Hall, and details each day on the mountain.

Despite knowing the outcome of this disaster, I was still on the edge of my seat as Krakauer went into excruciating details over each and every member of not only his expedition but the others who were on the mountain that fateful day. This is exactly why I love Krakauer ---- he always keeps me gripped to the page in anticipation despite knowing what technically happens at the end of his books. Also, the fact that this book is a first-hand account of someone who climbed to the peak and survived to tell the tale when many did not is simply unparalleled storytelling. Krakauer published this book pretty soon (considering) after the disaster, but it is so clear that his attempts to process and grieve through the writing of this book was not successful. His pain is left trailing the last pages of the book as it seems even he does not know what to make of what happened that day.

I always tell people who are looking to get more into nonfiction to start with Krakauer ---- although my favorite of his will always be Under the Banner of Heaven, this novel does not disappoint in thrills, facts, and captivity. I couldn't recommend it enough.


As a die-hard library gal, I almost never buy a book before I've read it, especially not a new release as they are usually expensive and over-hyped. However, I have never (and I mean never) seen so many rave reviews for a new release in my entire life. Bookstagram was blowing up about this book and I felt like I only saw five-star reviews. Based on the blurb, I decided to jump the gun and buy the book.

The story starts out in a small French village in 1714. A young woman named Addie LaRue is being forced to marry a man she hardly knows, and in a last-ditch attempt to escape her fate, she calls upon any power that is listening to give her freedom. Turns out, the devil was listening and he agrees to liberate Addie from her fate and grant her immortality, but with the unintended consequence that Addie is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

The book jumps back and forth over the years, switching between present-day Addie and her difficult journey over the centuries as she attempts to leave her mark on a world that refuses to remember her. When she meets a man in a bookstore who remembers her name, her fate is once again altered.

I think people are so enamored by this book because it is a story-line unlike anything seen before. Schwab weaves in and out of history, showing historical moments through the eyes of a woman who is cursed to live forever. The prose is magical and absorbing and fascinating. The characters are unique and memorable and complicated. I finished this book in 24 hours because I couldn't put it down. The ending is imperfect and beautiful and weirdly satisfying, and one I was unable to guess as the story progressed.

If you're looking to get lost in a dazzling fictional story, you should definitely bite the bullet and buy this book, preferably from a local bookstore. My DC favorites are Kramer's, Lost City Books, Bridge Street Books and Loyalty Bookstore. My Durham favorite has always been The Regulator Bookshop on Ninth Street. My NYC favorite is Strand Bookstore. Definitely try to shop minority-owned if you don't have a personal preference.


While self-love may be a more recent concept that is popular with millennials, its importance cannot be stressed enough. Good Morning, I Love You is a newly published personal development book written by Dr. Shauna Shapiro, who has been studying mindfulness and self-love for over twenty years. She goes deep into the science of mindfulness, self-compassion, and kindness and it's astounding just how undervalued all those practices are, even in the modern world.

I think many people think that personal shaming for mistakes is the only way to learn and grow, but Dr. Shapiro proves that the only way to heal and develop is to actually treat yourself with kindness and compassion. I definitely have struggled with this over the last year, even questioning my self-worth at times. Reading this book has pushed me to accept my mistakes and forgive myself, while also speaking to myself with a gentle graciousness. One of the lessons I learned in 2020 is that my worth is not inherent in how productive I am, how many people love me, or how few mistakes I make. My worth comes from myself and myself only, and realizing how beautiful imperfection is has helped me get through the last few years.

Healing takes time and patience, but this book has made a world of a difference in my own personal healing journey. I couldn't recommend it enough.


This multi-generational novel dives deep into the Sorenson family, a suburban Chicago family with four daughters. The book jumps back and forth between the years of 1970, when the parents Marilyn and David met, and the present day when all girls are fully grown with their own families. The story goes through each character's life, looking at the same situation from several perspectives.

Claire Lombardo is an extraordinary writer and writes with a level of wisdom and poignancy I have never seen. To be able to write from a mother's perspective, then a father's, then one daughter's, and have it all make sense and feel so real is an amazing feat, and she does it with ease. Each character is so distinct in their voice, and while I was worried in the beginning of being able to differentiate between the four daughters, I quickly realized that each woman was unique and recognizable, and so I never got confused. Instead, I grew to have such weirdly intense emotions about each character. I absolutely adored Marilyn and David, applauded Jonah, had empathy for Liza, felt an affinity for Grace, was sympathetic though sometimes annoyed at Wendy, and freaking detested Violet.

I'm not used to reading stories about the struggles of privileged middle-class America. It was an often uncomfortable read because I couldn't believe how spoiled and selfish the daughters could be when their lives had so much support and love. But I think that's what makes this book so astounding ---- it pulled anger and frustration out of me because I was trying to understand characters who were so ridiculously flawed. And I think that's what happens to us constantly in real life. We try to understand the ones we love but are often left disappointed or confused, and even hurt.

But when Lombardo would dive into the emotional depth of each character, she dove so deep that I was honestly shocked. So many things rang true for me, as a daughter, as a friend, as a sister. I couldn't believe that Lombardo was able to articulate so many of life's confusing emotions, and in a way that was relatable yet beautiful. There were countless times where I had to stop reading, put my hand on my chest, and take a breath because I was overwhelmed by my reaction and the palpable emotion that was coursing through me.

The Most Fun We Ever Had spoke to my soul in a way most books don't ---- it went deep into the messy and uncomfortable parts of life and love and family. It made me call my parents and my sister to tell them I love and appreciate them. It made me feel grateful for the people in my life and the support I have. It made me view the world differently, perhaps with a little more kindness and compassion.


This might have been the most personally valuable book I read in 2020. Looking back, it's almost comical that I read it at the beginning of the year when I was already struggling, and because of the way this year has gone, I came back to its pages again and again, always finding comfort and encouragement.

This short book of poetic essays isn't necessarily typical of the poetry genre. It's more along the lines of Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey. Sparacino writes as if she is speaking to a close friend, and that warmth and kindness is exactly what I needed to hear. She reminds readers to be gentle and compassionate towards themselves, especially in the face of loss, grief, and even anger. I think many of us have a tendency to shoulder shame and guilt, even in situations we shouldn't. Sometimes, it feels easier to blame ourselves for something that happened rather than someone else because it gives us more control. Sparacino reminded me of the importance of facing emotions in order to let go and move on, and that there is strength in being honest and vulnerable.

There is quite a bit of repetitiveness in her prose. She goes through the same ideas many times, and some expressions are much more powerful and poignant than others. But it's a short book, a quick read, and I usually didn't mind because no one page felt like it dragged on. Nothing she writes is necessarily revolutionary, but I think she expressed well-known ideas in a way that felt comforting, relatable, and warm.

I read a few pieces before bed every night for about a week, which I think is a great way to spend time with this book. This book also led me to Sparacino's incredible podcast, In Your Feelings, which I also highly recommend. She writes "Be gentle with yourself; you are still learning." Her words felt like a hug from a friend, and I think it would feel the same way for anyone who is still struggling and feels a little lost in 2021.


I've definitely gotten more into nonfiction over the last few years, with even the best book I read in 2019 being the life-changing Evicted. But the soul-filling magic that a great fiction story brings me is unmatched. Fiction becomes a part of me in ways that nonfiction usually does not. There is something about knowing a story isn't real that makes it that more magical and personal.

This book centers around Zachary Ezra Rawlins, an introverted graduate student who is way too into his books and love of reading (sound familiar?). He discovers a mysterious book in his school library and reads something that shakes him to his core: a story from his own childhood. He begins a desperate search to find out how his own life came to be recorded in a book, and that search leads him to a secret club, an ancient library in New York, and a magical world that is hidden beneath the surface of the earth. Zachary learns of the sacrifices countless souls have made to preserve the sanctity of story-telling, and he begins to realize he may have to make a similar sacrifice.

The Starless Sea has everything I adore about fiction ---- a story rooted in magical realism, a main character obsessed with books and adventure, and the most enchanting prose I've read in years. Time and time again, this book filled me with that giddy, heart-skipping excitement that I get when I read a story that makes me feel like the fantastical is hidden behind a door that I have yet to discover. I feel like a child again when I read books like this one, hopeful that magic exists if I'm observant enough to find it. Honestly, if I were to write a fictional book, it would be extremely close to this one, and the fact that I was able to dive into a story that speaks to my book-loving soul was the most marvelous reading experience I've had in a long time.

If you're anything like me and relish the possibility that magic exists right under our noses, I think you will love this book.


The best book I read in 2020 was, without a doubt, Kindred by Octavia Butler. I had been meaning to read Octavia Butler for a few years and happened to pick Kindred up from the library just as the Black Lives Matter resurgence was picking up speed over the summer. I was excited to dive into a fantasy book by an acclaimed author (she was a pioneer Black woman author of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, becoming the first science-fiction writer to win the MacArthur fellowship in 1995).

Kindred follows Dana, a Black woman living in1970s Los Angeles who begins being transported back and forth between her present-day and pre-Civil War Maryland. The time-traveling is connected to her ancestor, Rufus, a young and white slaveholder, who needs Dana's help every time he is near death. She realizes that in order to solidify her existence, she has to ensure Rufus and her ancestor Alice meet and continue her bloodline.

I've never read a slave narrative quite like this one. Butler did an incredible job combining the ideas and beliefs of the present day with the antiquated and horrific customs of a slaveholding America. By having Dana thrown back and forth between the two times, Butler was able to give a modern narrative to a historic story. Like many slave narratives, this book is filled with the terrifying realities slaves faced for generations. There are scenes of extreme violence and pain. However, I felt that every sickening scene was there for a reason. Butler does not do violence or gore just for the sake of shocking the reader ---- she does it to show the reader the atrocities of the time, but then points to the psychological effects this had on slaves. Dana both realizes and experiences firsthand the difficult and life-threatening choices Black people had to make to survive ---- sometimes that meant risking torture and death, sometimes it meant staying put to protect family and loved ones. It is a heartbreaking and sobering reality that I honestly feel like I didn't understand fully until reading this novel.

This story had me hooked from the first page and I finished it within hours because I couldn't stop reading. The characters are well-fleshed out and complex, the plot moved quickly and fiercely, and Dana's struggles and strife felt like punches to the gut. I had so many emotions reading this book and it left me grappling with the legacy of slavery and how it is still intertwined with American society today.

This book is important but it is also one of the most masterful stories I've ever read. I think it should be added to everyone's reading list, whether you're trying to read more books by Black authors or you simply want a gripping story that will leave you haunted for days.


I hope 2021 is kinder to us all and that we are able to give ourselves more grace in the coming year.

If none of these recommendations pique your interest, shoot me a message through the Personalized Recs page and I can recommend books based on what you specifically want.

Stay safe, stay sane, and happy reading!


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