Best and Worst Books I Read in 2020

Book cover for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. Orange background with an eerie house in the mid-ground and a dark foreground with the title and author.

Not reading enough is the kiss of death for a writer, because it’s very easy to get out of touch with what readers in your genre of choice want to read. My number one tip to other authors has always been not just to read, read, read, but do it in your genre with books that have been published within the last five to ten years. That way, you’re not pounding away at your keyboard on a story that’s been done again and again or writing in a style that was popular 20 years ago and has since fallen out of favor.

As 2019 began to draw to a close, however, I realized I hadn’t been following my own advice. I was on Facebook, reading a lot of posts about books I had heard of but hadn’t bothered to actually read yet. So, I made a resolution of sorts and got to reading. I just didn’t wait until December or January to do it. (Which was good, because by December 17th, I was sick as a dog with what I now know was Covid-19.)

So, last September, I renewed my library card and got to reading. Now fast-forwarding to this year, I can tell you I blew the doors off my reading count from last year. In a way, I have Covid to thank for this, because thanks to it, I’ve been battling memory issues, a persistent cough, and chronic fatigue for most of 2020.

When you’re too tired to do much but lie down in a dark room, it’s amazing how much more time you have to read.

This isn’t a method for plowing through your TBR pile that I’d recommend to others, though. Chronic illness frankly sucks. (And if you have a sudden urge to suggest remedies you think might help me, please resist. Chances are good I’ve gotten the advice you’re about to give already, and my chronic health issues isn’t really what this post is about anyhow.)

Due to the memory issues, I had to look in my Libby app to see what all I read this year. According to my borrows timeline, I read 52 books from January 1st to now. In some ways, I don’t feel like what I read was as enjoyable as last year’s reads. There were a lot more titles I started and quit on within 50 or so pages this year. Others I really liked until X point that ruined the rest of the book for me. And I picked up a few that were giant letdowns. But I did finally finish a few books I started a long time ago and didn’t get back to until this year, most notably The Historian.

Without further ado, let’s get to how I broke things down. Rather than just have two categories, I went with three plus an Honorable Mentions category, because I like a little more nuance in my categorizing. I lead off with the best of 2020, because who wants to start with the negative stuff?

Best Reads of 2020 (And I Would Read Them Again)

Note that this list isn’t a list of books also published in 2020, just the ones I actually read in 2020. I tend not to read the latest and greatest. For whatever reason, my reading habits tend to run behind by a year or more in terms of the release date versus when I get to them.

It was really hard for me to get this down to just five, thus the Honorable Mentions category at the end of this post.

Book cover for The Girl in Red by Christina Henry. Tan background with a drawing of a girl in a red hoodie standing on the back of a large black wolf.

The Girl in Red – This was a really imaginative piece. The ending felt a little rushed, but I’d definitely read it again.

Prince of Fools – I loved every book in this trilogy, despite the iffy nature of the main character. The overall concepts were intriguing, and who doesn’t love a good Norseman thrown into a tale of necromancy, mythology, and magic?

A Little Hatred – I really liked this until about the 75% mark, but even so, I decided to put it into the Best Of list, simply because I liked the rest so much.

Book cover for This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Pale blue background with a red cardinal and a bluejay in the foreground.

This Is How You Lose the Time War – This book thinks outside the box with its structure. It’s told through letters back and forth. Not the usual thing I’d read, but I really enjoyed the departure.

Before They Are Hanged – I loved The Blade Itself, but I think this is my favorite out of the three original First Law books, because they showed a really nuanced, human side to Glokta that was somewhat lacking in the first book.

Meh (Overrated or Just Okay)

The Name of the Wind – This a book that people seem to love or hate. I don’t feel like I fall into the hate column, but I definitely think this book is overrated. The main character is the most perfect at everything, women love him, men want to be him. I don’t like to say a character was written as the author’s ideal self, but I think it’s definitely true about Kvothe. It started out really good, though. It just totally lost its focus 25% in and never recovered. Finishing it took six different borrows over the course of this year.

Book cover for His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik. Red background with a black dragon surrounding a pendant with a sailing ship on it.

His Majesty’s Dragon – I started out enjoying this book, but the further it went on, the harder it was for me to like it. I had a really hard time believing Lawrence was ever given command of a naval vessel, because he just didn’t seem to have enough backbone. I didn’t feel like he needed to be the grizzled, cursing every other word type, but his wishy-washy behavior around his father and former love interest felt odd to me. Ultimately, this one ended up as a DNF.

Best Served Cold – I tried really hard to like this one. I like several of the characters a lot, but I can’t stand Monza. Her motivations for revenge felt really weak – I mean, why did she even like her brother? I put it down after a certain point, and I’m just not sure if I’ll ever go back to it.

Book cover for The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes. Gray and black background with a figure in a red shirt holding a sword behind his back in the foreground.

Gideon the Ninth – This was another that I tried hard to like. I didn’t understand a lot of the opening and had trouble caring about Gideon’s character. Eventually it turned into a DNF.

The City Stained Red – The opening to this one was SO promising. The rest didn’t deliver. It became a DNF within a couple chapters, because I just couldn’t find a character I cared about.

Worst (Didn’t Finish and Have No Plans To)

Book cover for The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Light background with the illustration of a sword in the foreground.

The Dragonbone Chair – I tried to be open-minded about this book, since it was written some 35 years ago. But to be honest, it was one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. I got to about page 170 before I just had to give up, because NOTHING HAPPENED! I’ve been told it gets better after page 220 or so, but I have limited time and energy for boring books.

Vicious – I’ve come to the conclusion V.E. Schwab is an author whose work I’m never going to like. I enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic when I read it last year, but every one of her books I’ve tried to read since have been DNFs. This one, I couldn’t stomach the main character’s petty jealousy or the completely unbelievable (even for an urban fantasy) circumstances of the girlfriend’s death and how the MC got his powers.

Imaginary Friend – This and the next two were the biggest disappointments I’ve read in a long time. I loved the concept of this book, but it just dragged and dragged and dragged. I quit when I hit page 400 and there were still 400 more to go. Seriously, it could have been wrapped up in about 350 pages if Chbosky had a good editor.

Book cover for A Diswcovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Dark blue background with an astrological chart in the mid-ground.

A Discovery of Witches – I don’t usually like first person POV novels, but I liked the character’s voice and decided to press on. The first third of the book was really good. Until the love affair with the vampire consumed the brain of the MC and the plot. I got tired of flipping ahead to get to something good again. DNF.

Promise of Blood – I heard such good things about this book and was really excited to read it. I ended up DNFing it after I realized I hated all but one of the characters. I don’t plan to try again.

Honorable Mentions

The City of Ember – This is more a middle grade title than an adult one. I read it when I needed something really simple. I’d recommend it to any parent looking for a intelligent, clever book for their child.

Book cover for Funny, You Don't Look Autistic by Michael McCreary. Blue background with a picture of the author standing in the foreground.

Lovecraft Country – I haven’t finished this one yet. I’m a third of the way in, and I really like it. The characters are well-written and the plot is interesting. The overt racism of many of the side characters is hard to take sometimes, but the story takes place during a dark time in US history, so I’ve done my best.

Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic – I don’t read many non-fiction books, but this one is great. Whether you’re autistic or not, I recommend it. It’s smart, well-written, and of course, funny.

So, that’s my list for 2020. What did you read that you loved or hated? And what do you have coming up?