Tag Archives: best of 2020

Best of 2020: Romance Novels

Like so many others, romance novels helped get me through this terrible year. The comfort in a promised happily ever after and stories that are extremely character-focused were something I could handle when my ability to follow complex plots was limited. Stories about healing and thriving after hardship were a reminder that better days were to come and that the future is worth fighting for. The kindness extended these characters at their lowest and the belief that they deserved happiness reminded me to extend that same kindness to myself when I was struggling. Romance was here to make me smile, to make my cry, and to make me forget everything else, if only for a little while, and live in the joy of these characters and the many I couldn’t include in this list.

But more than the books itself, it was the community that meant the most. It was a rocky start to the year as RWA continued its very public implosion but it also brought me a whole lot of new authors to follow on Twitter (which in turn brought me more recommendations and even more happiness). Their discussions on Romancelandia and where they would like to see it go in the future, feelings and analysis of current events, and their general no-nonsense attitude when it comes to dealing with outdated, often sexist, attempts to devalue the work they do educated me, made me think, and gave me hope when I needed it most.

Then the Fated Mates phonebanking and Romancing the Runoff happened and I really got to see the power of community. Out of a shared interest in stories, people joined together to turn that love into action and it was inspiring to watch. As of December 17th, Romancing the Runoff raised almost half a million dollars in a month and a half for voting rights organizations in Georgia and Fated Mates have made hundreds of thousands of phone calls and organized postcard drives for both the national election and the Georgia runoff. The enthusiasm and drive was infectious and did so much to make a never ending election feel a little more survivable. I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this corner of this community and what they have chosen to stand for.

1. Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon I am pretty sure that Rebekah Weatherspoon is my most read author of the year at 8 books and this was my very favorite of hers. As with all of her books, there is a grace and compassion that she extends toward her protagonists that gets me every time and then couples that with supportive friendships and truly some of the best sex scenes in the genre. I loved Xeni as a character from the little bit we got of her in Rafe and loved this particular story for her. It is a contemporary marriage of convenience plot with two bisexual leads, a whole lot of family secrets and baggage, and an incredibly sweet love story. It was a connection they never expected when they started the project (though there’s never any real animosity or bickering as they figured out their arrangement) and they were both able to find comfort and security in the other. They are both such good, kind, loyal people that you root for their happiness individually and with each other. Her books, especially her Loose Ends series, which are very connected with the Fit and Beards and Bondage trilogies, are some of the emotionally fulfilling romances I’ve read and I love their emphasis on healing and community. This book may be my favorite but really, this is just a plea for you to check out Weatherspoon’s work in general because she deserves to be a huge success. (Add to Goodreads)

2. The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon How do you not immediately love a book where three women realize their boyfriend is cheating on them with the others and instantly decide they’re going to be friends from there forward? I am in love with all three of these women and the easy friendship they struck up, it is probably my favorite trilogy setup in a very long time. This is Samiah’s story and first of all, I love that she is a Black woman developing an app that I would very much like to use. We do not talk about women in the tech world enough and that is especially true for Black women and other women of color so I appreciated that we got this look in what that means in her work life. Romance novels in general have been terrific at exploring lived experiences like this and not shying away from both the difficulties and the joys and it really brings them to life. Second, few things are more enjoyable to read than inconvenient romances. Love doesn’t always come on a timeframe and that is exactly what Samiah and Daniel found in each other. There were reasons that they should have started anything but the chemistry and attraction was undeniable and they took a chance that (of course) ultimately paid off. Sometimes we have to let our feelings take us where they will instead of shove them away and take joy when it comes and I loved watching Samiah do just that.  (Add to Goodreads)

3. Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert This was one of my most anticipated books of 2020 after loving Get A Life, Chloe Brown last year and it did not disappoint. I love a determined heroine who insists she doesn’t have time (or the emotional capacity) for romance and a hero with a soft heart. Throw in some fake dating and I am all the way in. But one of my favorite things about this trilogy so far (and Hibbert as an author in general) is the weight she gives to the mental health of her characters. Zaf has anxiety, including an on page panic attack, and it’s never treated as anything that makes him less desirable as a person. Dani has some issues to work through with feeling like her personality and way of approaching the world makes her fundamentally incompatible with romance and they both start to work through and address those issues. They’re never things keeping them from being together, just things to work on and with to be the best versions of themselves. It is full of compassion for these two characters at every stage of their journeys and celebrates holding the things that bring us joy and fulfillment close, which was a message we all needed this year. (Add to Goodreads)

4. Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall If you haven’t had enough fake dating, don’t worry because this book also has you covered. Luc is the son of a rockstar and enough of a mess that he’s a tabloid staple. Oliver is the son who will never live up to his parents’ expectations but he’s going to try his hardest anyway and shut out anything that might mess up that image of himself. So naturally, when Luc needs a boyfriend to convince his nonprofit’s stuffy donors to continue to support them, his friend Bridget recommends Oliver. They are both a pile of unaddressed issues and coping mechanisms disguised as reasonably functioning adults and in addition to seeing them learn to fit together, we get to see them start to heal and move past their traumas. It gets heavy in moments but never overwhelming as it all takes place alongside Luc’s absolutely ridiculous coworkers and his fantastic group of friends who have the best group chat names. Luc’s world feels real and lived in and it’s truly wonderful to see Oliver find his place in it. (Add to Goodreads)

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Best of 2020: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books

I say this every year and it continues to be true so it’s worth saying again – these two genres are producing so much amazing content right now that it is hard to keep up with it all. But when with as many of them I read this year, there are so many more that generated a lot of enthusiasm that I couldn’t fit in and that is truly an exciting place to be as a reader. I love the variety of stories being told and all the ways these authors and more are expanding the ideas of what these genres can be and who these stories are about and for. These were some of the books that moved and excited me the most this past year, regardless of genre, with many favorite authors and some that I got to discover for the first time this year.

1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune This was my favorite book of 2020. It is beautifully kind and has the most precious found family full of slightly unusual children that deserve all of the love in the world. It’s a fantasy take on a “very regimented main character learns that sometimes a little chaos makes for a happier life” story but mostly it’s about finding your place and your people where you’re allowed to be exactly what you are and so you become a better, fuller version of yourself. Arthur is truly the best adoptive father to his house full of children that no one else would care for and seeing how all of these children blossom throughout the story is heartwarming, as is Linus’s growing love and protectiveness toward them. They may have started as an assignment but they became his and learning to reconcile that with the life he thought he was supposed to have, where he never knew that colors like cerulean could exist and be a part of your life, is the most satisfying emotional journey. It’s a story of good people finding happiness and it was the story I and so many others needed this year. (Add to Goodreads)

2. The City We Became by NK Jemisin I was always going to love this book. It’s by an author I love and it has an amazing premise (5 New Yorkers band together to protect their city from an ancient evil). But even going in with high hopes, it moved me in a way I wasn’t fully prepared for because of when I read it. Fiction is never divorced from our world, it is created from what is and what could be and what ifs. But to read a story of these people fighting for the soul of their city, explicitly against a villain that foments hate and distrust in others, while pausing to browse Twitter and see New York (along with cities across the county) turning out in huge numbers to say that Black Lives Matter and to demand a better, more just world, was an incredibly powerful experience. It is a love letter to New York and the diversity of its residents and neighborhoods and the way they stand together. It’s a world that is simultaneously ours and not ours and that makes the anger and sharpness of the rebukes more straightforward than the sentiments in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (which is also a gorgeous, searing read) but it does the same thing for the hope. It is a book that explicitly says “the world might be awful, but we don’t have to like it that way” and tells us to want and fight for better. It’s a tremendous start to what is sure to be another outstanding trilogy and I cannot wait for more. (Add to Goodreads)

3. A Killing Frost by Seanan McGuire No piece of media I consumed this year gave me as much excitement or happiness as this book. It is the 14th book in the October Daye series and I don’t understand how this series keeps getting bigger and deeper while still feeling so small and character-driven. It’s a book with gigantic plot implications that immediately set my theorizing brain (and that of the wonderful fandom on Discord) going in all sorts of fun ways but it also features one of McGuire’s favorite things to write about and that is the idea of finding your way home. Over the course of the book, it’s a description that could apply to three different characters and each time, it made me very emotional. Home is the place you fit, where there are people who love you. Whether that is a daughter, a squire, a fiance, an aunt, the man you once loved and his wife, or any of the other complicated string of relationships that make up this wonderful universe, it is finding those people and holding on to them. It gave a character I adore the happiest ending (or maybe just a new beginning) that could ever exist for him, in a way I was so utterly unprepared for and that still fills me with indescribable joy, and expanded (or just made official) Toby’s ever-expanding family and was the brightest spot during a difficult time. I am so grateful for this book and this series and the way it continues to mean a little more to me with every passing year. (Add to Goodreads)

4.The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal I absolutely love this alternate history of the space race and attempts to move significant portions of Earth’s population to space after a natural disaster. I think the worldbuilding is fascinating and with this book, we get to see a different aspect of it after the first two books spent with Elma navigating the space program as the first Lady Astronaut. Nicole is a politician’s wife as well as an accomplished pilot with space experience and watching her navigate those two warring identities would have been fascinating enough for a whole book. But then it threw in a compelling mystery with sabotage and betrayal and I couldn’t put it down. I love stories about politically savvy women who are all about image management. They know who they are expected to be and use that to their fullest advantage. I find them utterly fascinating and Nicole is such a good example. She gets to be what others expect her to be on the surface and full of depth below that she is only able to show to a few trusted friends. She’s calculating and brutal and will do it all with a smile and heels and it’s a thing of beauty to witness. It pushes things forward in a very interesting way and leaves you completely satisfied before we return to Elma’s journey to Mars in book 4. (Add to Goodreads)

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Best of 2020: YA Fiction

I may not read a lot of YA these days but some of things that moved me the most this year fell into that classification and I was thrilled to find that I at least read enough to do a Top 10 list celebrating the wonderful work these authors are doing. Some of these books were enthusiastically recommended on Twitter (a truly wonderful side effect of following a lot of authors), some were nominated or have the potential to be nominated for Lodestar awards, and some have been on my TBR list for a while but all brought me joy this year and excited me for what they could mean to teens today. Even as an adult, these books can still teach and reinforce messages that we need to internalize and there is value to be found in continuing to read them.

1. I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn I was just expecting a cute romance and teen girl discovering herself, which would have honestly been enough for me, but what I ended up getting was even better. I got a portrayal of a terrific grandparent-granddaughter relationship that reminded me of my own (and made me cry as a result) and a line that resonated so deeply that I can add it to the list of things I’m grateful to Kuhn for giving me, not just in this book but in her Heroine Complex series as well. One thing she does really well is capture the particular experience that comes with being full or partly Japanese American whose family has been in the US for multiple generations. In this book, Kimi reflects on her lack of knowledge about her family’s history, particularly as it relates to the internment camps during World War II. No one offered and she never pushed until this trip. It’s a realization I came to in my own life over the past few years but there’s no one who was alive at the time to answer my questions. My grandparents lived around 15 miles from Pearl Harbor in 1941, they would have been in their late teens, and I don’t know what that was like for them. It’s not something they would have wanted to talk about at all but it’s also knowledge that has been lost that I regret not considering while they were alive. It’s such a specific reflection but it hit home for me in a way that will undoubtedly stick with me. (Add to Goodreads)

2. Each of Us A Desert by Mark Oshiro This book is STUNNING. I have been a fan of Oshiro’s media thoughts and reviews on Mark Reads and Mark Watches for a very long time and it’s been exciting to see them become an acclaimed author. I took advantage of the fact that book tours and publicity were virtual in this disaster of a year and got to listen to them talk about it with Sarah Gailey and hearing this book’s journey to a finished product only made it more rewarding to read. It’s beautifully and lyrically written with original poems (in both English and Spanish) throughout and I love the way they play with the overall form by framing the book as a prayer. It was incredibly clever and well done but on top of that, it’s the kind of story I love as a reader. It is all about questioning the stories you’ve been told all your life and what they mean for your destiny. It’s a story of self-discovery and self-definition and learning to trust others to help hold your stories. Xochitl is achingly relatable in her desire to be more than the service she provides to others and to be free to discover who she is divorced from her role as the village cuentista and the journey she undertakes is so incredibly rewarding. (Add to Goodreads)

3. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo This was the first book I had read by Acevedo and I have read another one since then, which is always a good indication that I really enjoyed an author. This is a book I had always wanted to read but was a little bit intimidated by because it is a novel-in-verse and that’s not a style I feel particularly comfortable reading. So I chose to listen to the audiobook instead, read by the author, and it let me focus on the words and the story instead of being concerned that I was somehow reading it wrong. And wow, what a good story it is. I loved Xiomara’s self-discovery and finding her passion and her voice. Her questioning and pushing back against restrictive gender roles and religious practices she isn’t sure she believes in is captured so well in this format and it does really feel like a young girl using poetry to get out complicated emotions that would have been hard to access in any other form. I fully understand why this book is so acclaimed and loved and if you try it, I highly recommend the audiobook to fully inhabit the story. (Add to Goodreads)

4. You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson This book was everything I wanted in a teen romantic and coming of age story and I don’t understand how it hasn’t already been optioned for a movie or show. I loved the setting of this very intense high school prom culture with a competition and scholarship money. It was exactly the correct level of heightened stakes for me and within it, I love the relationships that grew from it. I really loved Liz and Mack from the moment they met and the tension they had with Liz wanting to stay closeted because being queer and Black in this midwest school didn’t really feel like a possibility if she wanted to be prom queen and get the much needed scholarship money. But she was proven wrong (and a little right but mostly wrong) in the best possible way. I also really loved the way Liz and Jordan came back together to repair their friendship and the past miscommunications and outside interference they had to work though. Childhood friends know those quirks about you in a way new friends can’t and the ease with which they fell back into something supportive and real was everything to me. So I am going to need 2021 to get on with an adaptation of some sort and until then, I’ll settle for encouraging everyone I know to read this book. (Add to Goodreads)

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Best of 2020: Nonfiction Books

It’s time to talk about the things we loved this year! This was not a huge year of TV for me so my friends at Marvelous Geeks and Nerdy Girl Notes teamed up to do a a couple podcast episodes together instead of writing our own lists! You can list to us talk about our favorite performances, characters, and platonic relationships in part one and our favorite romantic relationships and episodes (plus a quick bonus discussion on the shows that made us happiest this year) in part two. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with both of them for the first time in this format and I hope you’ll go listen if you’re mostly here for TV content and let us know your thoughts! And for more year end content, be sure to check out the rest of the great content at Marvelous Geeks.

I may have watched much less TV than usual this year but it was a terrific year for books. I have no explanation for why my brain couldn’t focus on a 25-minute episode of TV but could sit down and read a book but it’s 2020 and we had to roll with the things we could enjoy wherever possible. This is the first of four book lists and potentially a couple other lists of things I loved depending on time so if nonfiction isn’t your favorite, stay tuned for other things you may enjoy more.

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, my academic area of interest was social psychology and sociology and I’m a big fan of understanding systems and the way things operate. I love the way it allows me to get a better understanding of the world around me and to incorporate new knowledge into a broader and more thorough mental image of society and all that entails. Which is terrific for me, there are a lot of books designed to talk about exactly those things. However, it does mean that I choose things on the heavier side or things that are likely to make me mad while I’m reading them because we live in a society that has deeply rooted systemic problems. I know these books aren’t going to be the kind of reading that everyone wants to do in their limited free time but if the mood strikes for one, they can be so rewarding. They can take a lot out of you and make you examine your own thought patterns or weaker areas (which is not always the most comfortable) but they can also help make you better to your fellow humans and more determined to build a society that works for everyone, which is a reward I can always get behind.

1. Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall This is the nonfiction book I have thought about more than any other since I read it in April because it shifted my framing of feminism and what it should be. It’s a book I want everyone to read and learn from and then take the ideas found within and remake the world. In the introduction, Kendall writes “For a movement that’s meant to represent all women, it often centers on those who already have most of their needs met” and she’s right, yet that’s not what our conversations look like. It’s a dichotomy that had never fully occurred to me before because I have been privileged enough that it’s never needed to and I’m grateful it exposed that gap in my thinking and understanding of the world. It challenges each of us to really examine what we can do to truly show up and consider the needs of all women in all areas of life, from housing and education access to the environment, because they are all feminist issues. What would it look like to build a world that was actually concerned with meeting the needs of the most marginalized and trusting in the work those communities are already doing to support themselves? It’s an exciting thought and one I look forward to keep with me as I continue to learn and grow. (Add to Goodreads)

2. How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong I have no idea how I discovered this book but I am so grateful that I did. In a year with a lot of physical isolation, this book’s focus on how we build communities within our lives and how we live out those connections spoke so deeply to me. It was the same feeling I got while reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, that idea of finding a way to describe the values you hold most dear but didn’t have the words to vocalize. I love the intentionality behind Birdsong’s writing and life and the excitement in building something outside the model we’ve been given all our lives. There is joy and reflection and a deep sense of commitment to the work of nurturing the connections in our lives. It is beautiful and inspiring and a balm for my soul this year and I hope more people discover this book and get as much from it as I did. (Add to Goodreads)

3. March trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell I can struggle with graphic novels, my brain hasn’t quite figured out how to absorb both the words and the pictures and use them together to tell a story. That being said, I think the choice to tell John Lewis’s story in this way was a smart one. The juxtaposition that was possible between his fight in the civil rights movement and President Obama’s inauguration was extremely powerful and there are a couple jumps between time periods that took my breath away. It also allowed readers to experience the violence and hatred of the time in a more visceral way than just words on a page would have fully conveyed. It makes it a tough trilogy to get through but it’s no less worthwhile for it. You will be moved and feel such deep admiration for this man who fought so strongly, not just on the front lines in the South during Jim Crow but continued that fight in Congress until his death. He was a remarkable man and we are all better off because of him.  (Add to Goodreads)

Continue reading Best of 2020: Nonfiction Books