It is with much angst and wringing of hands that we present our Top Ten reads of 2020.
For clarity, these are books we read in 2020, not necessary books published in 2020, and presented in no particular order.
Micky’s Top Tenof 2020
My absolute top read of the year was To Sleep In A Sea Of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I believe it took years to write and it felt like sci-fi perfection to me. It truly was a series in a book and months later I remember so much detail and most of the intricate story line. I loved it truly!
While I did enjoy quite a few reads this year I found putting a “top” list together really hard. Whereas last year there was, indeed, hand wringing to narrow down my five stars, this year it was more, “what books do I still think of, regardless of top marks”. A big tell is the fact that two of these aren’t even out yet! But regardless, all of these books helped to make 2020 a little more bearable.
Have you made a top ten, top three or top fifty? Let us know some of your favourties.
Hollis here. Despite the title, this isn’t a post where we plan to poo-poo on authors who have disapponted us. It’s more to be reflective on the books we were initially anticipating or desperate for.. and how they fared in execution vs expectation. Also please know that if any of these books, or authors, are your favourites, that’s great! Every reading experience is different.
Worth noting is some of these books might have been three stars. But if we expected it to be a five, it’s kind of disappointing to only like, not love, it. Please bear that in mind. Disappointment doesn’t mean hate; but there might be some on those in this list, too. And so with that disclaimer out of the way..
In order of publication, here are the books that disappointed us in 2020 :
While this looks fairly intense when you pit it against our total books read for the year — for Micky (232) and Hollis (235) — it’s not actually that bad! Do you have a list of any disappointments, say top five? Let us know in the comments!
As we are seconds away from closing the door on 2020 (which was officially The Worst), we got to thinking about all the books set to release next year that we know of (which, admittedly, at this point only really spans the January to June-ish portion of 2021, as usual). There are so many! And so many still yet to be announced. So while we know we will have a few of these anticipated release posts throughout the year, Hollis thought to be a little.. mean.
I’m challenging myself, and my blog buddy, to narrow down an anticipated list of only ten titles. Yes. Ten. That’s not even one title per month. Ten. Dix. Dieci. Diez. T e n.
Hollis’ Top Ten (ONCE AGAIN WITH REGRETS) Anticipated Releases of 2021 (in order of publication) :
In this volume we’ll see the Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…
Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?
Title : Heartstopper Volume 3 Author : Alice Oseman Series : Heartstopper Format : online via webtoon Page Count : 320 Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ Publisher : Hodder Children’s Books Release Date : February 6, 2020
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
Sooo because of a case of epic frantic “more more” clicky finger I skipped right past the end of this volume and found myself in what is clearly (after reading the synopsis) volume four. Oops. Spoiler alert : it’s good.
But as for what amounts to this installment, I really did like it. Obviously. That said, I did like a tiny bit less than volume two, hence the slight downgrade, but what I did love is that we spent more time branching out into the friend group — and in a fun little direction I didn’t think Oseman would lean into, loved that element — which makes sense as the boys break out of their insular little twosome bubble.
I’m hesitant to say more as I truly don’t know where volume three should’ve ended if not for being click happy so.. I’ll just button it for now. And maybe come back to this review for some added thoughts once I’ve read the overdrive version.
Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingaleand The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.
The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.
Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.
Title : The Winter of the Witch Author : Katherine Arden Series : Winternight (book three) Format : physical hardback Page Count : 372 Genre : historical fiction/fantasy Publisher : Del Rey Books Release Date : January 8, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
This was a reread for me, though unlike the other books in the series it was only my second time doing so. Not to sound like a broken record but I still cannot believe how long it’s been since originally reading this series, considering how much I love this world, but I am so happy to have been reunited.
“Love is for those who know the griefs of time, for it goes hand in hand with loss. An eternity, so burdened, would be a torment. And yet –yet what else to call it, this terror and joy?“
Unlikemy recent reviews for book one and two, however, I am SOL to cheat and just copy in parts of my original reviews from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I was too in my feels to properly review it at the time. And I’m pretty much right back in the same boat so, like, damn this sucks.
“The world has lost its wonder.“
As opposed to the book which resoundly does not.. suck, that is.
“You shouldn’t have told them I was a girl. Then they might have believed that I was dangerous.“
If I thought I couldn’t say much about book two its a whole lot of that but more for a finale. But if you’re expecting a big confrontation, or two (or three?), a whole bunch of secrets revealed, heartbreak, and romance, and tears, and more? You’ll get it. A lot of all of that.
I am sorry for this awful non-review review but you’ll just have to believe that the book, this series (this author!), is worth reading. I truly honestly cannot recommend this series enough. And cuddling up to it on Christmas Eve, with some much deserved snow coming down? Nothing better.
The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingalecontinues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.
Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.
Title : The Girl in the Tower Author : Katherine Arden Series : Winternight (book two) Format : physical hardback Page Count : 384 Genre : historical fiction/fantasy Publisher : Del Rey Books Release Date : December 5, 2017
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★.5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
This was a reread for me, my third in fact (!), and yes if you’re feeling deja vue I had also just reread TheBear and the Nightingale for the third time, too. I still cannot believe how long it’s been since originally reading this series, considering how much I love this world, but I am so happy to be reunited.
Witch. We call such women so, because we have no other name.
That said, as with my recent review for book one, I’m going to cheat and just copy in parts of my original reviews from GR here to the blog. Mostly because I’m lazy but also because none of my opinions have actually changed.
“Has the world run dry of warriors? All out of brave lords? Are they sending out maidens these days to do the work of heroes?“ “There were no heroes. There was only me.“
I honestly don’t know how to review this book. So much of this story relies on book one’s plot and information but the basics are : The Girl in the Tower is a story about a brave girl and her impossible horse. But it’s also a story about the tug of war between the faith in the old world, the myths and the legends, and that of God and wealth and power. It’s about the harsh bite of cold, the hollow cramp of an empty belly, villages burned to the ground, girls stolen away in the night, and a power desperate to be unleashed from its bridle. And through all that, Vasya is still fighting for her place in the world — not that of marriage or stuck in a convent, but for adventure.. and to be believed by those she loves. The politics in book two take a sharp turn, though they’ve always been present, and an uprising must be stopped even as an ghost from Vasya’s past, who plays a significant role in a present-day evil, is laid to rest.
It is going to end. One day. This world of wonders, where steam in a bathhouse can be a creature that speaks prophecy. One day, there will be only bells and processions. The chyerti will be fog and memory and stirrings in the summer barley.
The Bear and the Nightingale is like a slow-moving chill, it creeps up on you and chips away at your warmth ever so subtly, until you’re frozen. Whereas The Girl in the Tower is more like trying to out-pace a blizzard. Both books are enjoyable but in this sequel we see Vasya tested even more than she was in the first book.. and we also see her rise above. She gets a glimpse of who she could be if not for the constraints of her sex and it’s bittersweet and beautiful.
“Curiosity is a dreadful trait in girls.”
Knowing how this one played out in advance, I loved picking up on all the clues, all the foreshadowing, that Arden laid out for her readers. None of the excitement was lost; and certainly none of the trepidation, either, for a specific chapter with a certain race. I now feel my own bit of added trepidation knowing what awaits me in book three. I want to race to it but I also want to lurch to a halt and wait. I want both. I want it all.
Suffice it to say, you need to read these books. Arden’s series is atmospheric, harsh, brutal, unkind, beautiful, magical, wonderful, hopeful. It’s everything. You deserve some of that.
Juliet Marillier brings us a beautifully re-imagined version of the Six Swans myth in Daughter of the Forest.
Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.
But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift–by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.
When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all…
Title : Daughter of the Forest Author : Juliet Marillier Series : Sevenwaters #1 Format : Paperback/Audio Page Count : 416 Genre : Fantasy Publisher : Tor Books Release Date : May 5, 2000
Reviewer : Micky Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Micky’s 5 star review
Wow, wow, wow. A late contender for my favourites of 2020 bookshelf but so worthy. I’ve been meaning to read Daughter of the Forest for a few years, had the audio, then recently acquired the paperback and I read it with these formats in tandem.
This was a description-rich story told over a number of years and it captured my imagination almost immediately. The setting of the forest, the Celtic family, the mystical islands and the sense of magic were enchanting. Sorcha a girl on the cusp of woman-hood was a character that I felt invested in. Her affinity and intuition with the forest made for good reading.
I don’t want to speak to the plot at all but it was such a tale, a tale I hadn’t read before but with plot lines that I really enjoyed. Some of the plot was just painful, the difficulties Sorcha and her family endured just hurt my heart. As the story travelled in years and location, the characters navigated some saving moments and awful ones too.
There were some fabulous characters to hate. Lord Richard and Lady Oonagh should win some kind of Maleficent award for their actions and behaviour. All the boos!
As the story wrapped up, I found myself emotional, fulfilled, heart-aching and wonderfully satisfied. I can’t wait to read on in the series
This definitely isn’t a story to rush; its detailed and full of the kind of depth that is worthy of savouring. This was published 20 years ago and although I’m late to the party, I do think readers will be discovering this still for decades to come.
Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love. An LGBTQ+ graphic novel about life, love, and everything that happens in between: this is the second volume of HEARTSTOPPER, for fans of The Art of Being Normal, Holly Bourne and Love, Simon.
Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.
But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.
Heartstopper is about friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.
Title : Heartstopper Volume 2 Author : Alice Oseman Series : Heartstopper Format : online via webtoon / eBook (overdrive) Page Count : 320 Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ Publisher : Hodder Children’s Books Release Date : July 11, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5
Hollis’ 4.5 star review
This was rude. I teared up like three times.
This was everything pure and lovely and cute from book one but more, better, fabulous. This is one of the softest things I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing whilst still, again, tackling issues like homophobia and bullying. Nonetheless the enduring sweetness and joy, and delight, is just so powerful.
If I thought I had steamrolled through volume one it was nothing compared to how I clicked through this one. Compulsive. Addictive. Yes, more. Also, shoutout to my buddy who hooked me up with the webtoon version so I wouldn’t have to wait on my library. Though I haven’t given up my hold as I will absolutely want to reread this when it pops up and experience it all over again.
Also, once again this review is not quite the greatest thing ever but you know what is? Micky’s. You can find her thoughts here for volumes one AND two.
Editing to add, after having read the official eBook version via my library, I maybe loved it a tiny bit less (I’m dropping down a tiny .5), but there were a few flourishes I don’t remember from the online version and I thought they were lovely. This is still the cutest thing ever.
Two worlds are poised on the brink of a vicious war. By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera’s rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her.
When the brutal angel emperor brings his army to the human world, Karou and Akiva are finally reunited — not in love, but in tentative alliance against their common enemy. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves.
But with even bigger threats on the horizon, are Karou and Akiva strong enough to stand among the gods and monsters?
The New York Times bestselling Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy comes to a stunning conclusion as — from the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond — humans, chimaera, and seraphim strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.
Title : Dreams of Gods & Monsters Author : Laini Taylor Series : Daughter of Smoke & Bone (book three) Format : paperback Page Count : 640 Genre : YA fantasy Publisher : Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Release Date : April 17, 2014 (original) / December 1, 2020 (new editions!)
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4 star review
I have so many feelings.
Also it’s nice to have memories because wow did I have very few of those for this installment! I definitely clung to very few recollections of any events post-book one and honestly it made the whole experience feel like the first time. I kind of love that this is how it went down.
In the legends, chimaera were sprung from tears and seraphim from blood, but in this moment they are, all of them, children of regret.
I can definitely see why this ending made many readers mad and I think I’m somewhere in the middle. There was definitely A Lot jammed in right at the end but it also didn’t feel too rushed. It was just a hard left when you think you’re going right. But also, I kind of love it? Like another series I read recently which took a lot of unexpected and not-so-popular and very risky choices, I feel this was one of those. And I guess in my old age I’m appreciating the unconventional a little more.
It was a new idea for him, that happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won — some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it — but something to carry doggedly with you through everything.
Plus, having read her more recent series, I think I finally understand the tie-in. It’s nothing to the extent that you need to read one to read the other but. Something. I’m not spoiling anything but I had a moment and then my brain tried to remember the ending of MUSE OF NIGHTMARES and I sprained something, so that was a bust, but. I feel another Taylor reread coming on.
Anyway, I just had such a good time, truly. There’s not going to be any kind of insightful breakdown or poetical word weaving in this review. Taylor’s writing is gorgeous. She loves to torment her characters (and us). There is plenty of darkness but always hope. And there are moments of such silliness, such every-day-ness by having certain “normal” persons woven in amongst all the monsters and magic, gods and other worlds, that it just grounds everything. It all just works.
“You are a conniving, deceitful hussy. I stand in awe.” “You’re sitting.“ “I sit in awe.“
I do think, in hindsight of this reread, I might love the Strange the Dreamer duology more. But I would need to reread that one to confirm my five stars are still five stars. Because this series did lose a star from each book during this experience. I still love them, and will likely revisit again in a couple years, but sometimes the bowled over and devastated or delirious feeling doesn’t quite come back. Nonetheless, I had so much fun rereading these, and it was absolutely everything I needed right now.
** I received a finished copy of the new edition from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **
Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?
Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore, and he’s sort of got a boyfriend, even if he’s kind of mean and only wants to meet up in secret.
Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him. That is, until the start of January, in which Nick and Charlie are placed in the same form group and made to sit together.
They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…
Title : Heartstopper Volume 1 Author : Alice Oseman Series : Heartstopper Format : graphic novel eBook (overdrive) Page Count : 288 Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ Publisher : Hodder Children’s Books Release Date : February 7, 2019
Reviewer : Hollis Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4 star review
This has been a long overdue read for me, mostly because I put it off thinking I would not enjoy (I don’t know where I got this idea..), and also because of sudden demand through my library, and luckily this popped up on my holds just when I needed a distraction.
This glosses over a host of topics in a fairly easy flip, but when I say gloss I don’t mean to imply anything is taken or handled lightly, and I think that’s because you get a double impact via the dialogue and the expressions and actions of the illustrations. It packs a punch whilst still distracting you with sweetness or pretty things and works to balance it all really well.
I flew through this so quickly as is fairly typical for a graphic novel. This might have been a series that would be better to binge, and I definitely wish I had the rest on hand, too, but alas.. we must continue to wait.
If you’re looking for a sweet YA graphic novel to lift your spirits, or if you need something to bump that GR reading goal up, you can’t go wrong with this.
Also, this review is not quite the greatest thing ever but you know what is? Micky’s. You can find her thoughts here but just be mindful she’s also reviewed volume two on the same post. Watch out for any potential spoilers incase you’re averse.