My Favorite Books of 2020

In a reading rut? Let go of the books holding you back in your to-read stack and reach for one of these engrossing novels instead!
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Reading may have been how I survived 2020. And as soon as I stumbled on this list, I found even more books to devour now that it's the New Year. But the best part? The freedom to abandon books I didn't love. SO life-changing.

I call 2020 the Year of Abandoned books.

On top of everything else, COVID-19 also affected my reading habits. At first, I could barely read at all. Then I gravitated toward easy, fluffy reads, totally abandoning nonfiction to go read a novel. I ended the year with a plethora of psychological thrillers—not my usual genre!

But in between almost every book I finished, there were a handful I let go after the first few chapters.

I suppose my patience dwindled when I thought the world was ending. Not that I thought the world was actually ending…but you know what I mean. 😉

Thankfully, every abandoned book freed up more time to discover new authors and stories.

5-Star Reads of 2020

Out of 43 books (fewer than last year), I gave a five-star rating to 5 of them–all fiction. Most fall into that psychological genre I mentioned earlier. So if reading unexpected twists is your jam, you’ll love the following recommendations.

But don’t worry, I’ve also sprinkled a delightful royal series, a couple self-help books, and historical fiction in there as well! So scan the list below and go read a novel!

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

What do a kidnapped teenager, a quirky math tutor, and a charming stranger have in common? As you read, you will spend the entire book trying to find out.

I loved how the author jumped from storyline to storyline as you work to piece the past and present together. In fact, this trend defines many of my recommended books. I think this particular structure keeps plot lines interesting and moving quickly!

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

I had a really hard time putting down this thriller. I read it in two days. Why is this woman is so intent on stalking her ex-husband and “her replacement”!?

This chilling thriller follows a tangled web of characters…each with their own peculiar motives. You will make assumptions as you read. Assume NOTHING. Because those assumptions will be wrong no matter what.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Amber wakes up in the hospital, but she can’t move…or speak. She’s in a coma with enough brain function to realize that she’s lost her memory, and she can’t shake the uncanny feeling that someone wanted to hurt her.

Every few chapters my eyes popped wide open as the author peeled away more and more layers, with childhood diaries playing a pivotal role. This thriller is amazingly well-written with twists and turns no one can predict. Move it to the top of your TBR list STAT!

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

This book starts off slow, but you will learn to love this emotional coming-of-age story. I just adored Leni’s character. She defied the odds of a broken family while navigating the cruelty of the Alaskan wilderness.

Some say the entire book was depressing, but I prefer the terms “raw and realistic.” This is my first Kristin Hannah book, but it won’t be my last!

The Last Letter from Your Lover by JoJo Moyes

This time period is not my usual genre, but I trusted a friend’s recommendation enough to crack open the first page. She didn’t steer me wrong.

Jojo Moyes brilliantly weaves a love story that surpasses time…and timing as you bounce back and forth between the year 2003 and the 1960’s, following a woman who loses her memory and discovers old letters secreted away inside her home…written by a man who is not her husband.

4-Star Reads of 2020

3-Star Reads of 2020

  • Shard of Glass by Emily Deady
  • Didn’t See That Coming by Rachel Hollis
  • The Winters by Lisa Gabriele
  • A Change of Heart by Jordan Kimberly Rae
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • The Princess Trials by Cordelia Castel
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Followers by Megan Angelo
  • All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment by Hannah Anderson
  • The Betrothed by Kiera Cass
  • The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
  • Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews
  • Flipping into Amazon FBA by Wes Davis
  • The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

2-Star Reads of 2020

  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • A Sensible Arrangement by Tracie Peterson

This Year’s Abandoned Books

Like I mentioned before, there were quite a few titles I did not finish this year. I’m never afraid to stop reading a book if it doesn’t live up to the hype and isn’t worth the time I’d invest in finishing it.

So this is me giving you permission to do the same!

  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
  • Accidental Presidents by Jared Cohen
  • Point of View by Elizabeth Hasselback
  • The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
  • The Lakotas and the Black Hills by Jeffery Ostler

Plus a few others that I didn’t write down because, obviously, they were not that memorable!

Side Note: I was disappointed to find that whenever I started a historical non-fiction book, I could not read it without falling asleep. If you have any recommendations for historical books that don’t read like actual history textbooks, I’d love to try them! Comment below!

Is one of your goals this year to read more (or more intentionally?)? You also might be interested in How to Know What to Read Next (Every Time).

How I Track My Reading

I track all of my books on Goodreads so I can see my progress toward my reading goal (and house all of my many lists!), but this year I also added a page in my bullet journal called “Books By Month.”

I wanted to know which months were my best reading months, as well as how many books I read via various mediums:

  • Borrowed from the library via Overdrive
  • Read through Kindle Unlimited
  • Owned myself
  • Borrowed from a friend

This Books by Month layout became very popular on Instagram, so this year, I created a printable version to add to The Brainbook Printable Library. Grab yourself a membership if you’d like this printable and over one hundred more!

If you’re looking to read a novel soon, I hope you enjoy picking up some of these books yourselves, especially if our literary styles are a match made in heaven.

Happy Reading!

Want to see my newest booklist? Here are my favorite reads for 2021.

What was your favorite book from 2020?

Did you struggle with reading this year like I did?

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. Glad to see there is someone else out there that didn’t think “Such a Fun Age” was fabulous! My five star reads last year were: The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Calypso, The Green Mile, Angela’s Ashes and Running Outside the Comfort Zone: An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running.

  2. Plus one to Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone. I used to read voraciously (English Major and child of theologian here), but once I went to law school, the whole process of reading became more …. difficult. I joined book clubs to reconnect with fiction, and then Audible basically changed my life! Being able to listen (and sync with Kindle) while stuck in the car (and now home with an earbud) is GENIUS.

    And you MUST read Winter Garden. I will say that it took a minute to engage, but holy cow once I did … it almost is a story within a story. Weeks later I am STILL affected by it.

    If you haven’t read All the Light We Cannot See, speaking of historical fiction, do it right now. I also loved Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, It’s.Nice.Outside by Jim Kokoris, and if you do YA, the Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is a must read. I’m determined to read two books a month in 2021, starting with the Murmur of Bees!

  3. Since you like thrillers, you need to read A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight. I literally stayed up all night to finish it. SO! GOOD!

  4. I have had a hard time reading since my divorce 5 years ago and the pandemic didn’t help. One book I did read this year and loved was “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera. It’s a coming of age story – a little dark and also uplifting. It was great.

    Recommendation for historical nonfiction would be Empire of the Summer Moon by S C Gwynn. Interesting history of the Comanches wrapped with an unusual story about a white woman who was captured by the Comanches and her life. I don’t love historical non-fiction, but I liked this one.

  5. My year was spent escaping with fiction. Normally I read a healthy dose of nonfiction but not this year! I needed the escape. I read a lot of Colleen Coble (mysteries without being too scary because I’m a wimp) and dove head first into Kristin Hannah too! I really enjoyed The Great Alone but a Winter Garden is my favorite book by her so far! Also, just finished Majesty and you were right. The second book was even better than the first!

  6. Thank you for this review. I also read the Chanel Cleeton books that Maryanne suggested. I highly recommend them. They are on my favorites list, which I will reread (actually, I will listen) at some point. Another recommendation I have is Chilka’s Journey by Heather Morris. This is about a 16-year old girl’s survival in a concentration camp.

  7. I picked up Chanel Cleeton’s “Next Year in Havana” and ended up enjoying it so much that I read the other two books in that series – “When We Left Cuba” and “Last Train to Key West.” Historical fiction is not a genre that I typically read, but these books were so good!

  8. Thanks for the suggestions! Like you, I love historical fiction but have not found any recently. Here are a few of my 5 star reads.
    Winter Garden, Kristen Hannah
    The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Kim Michele Richardson (a MUST read)
    The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides
    Educated, Tara Westover
    Spilled Milk, K.L.Randis
    No Time on My Hands, Grace Snyder
    There’s nothing like a good book to escape with.

  9. I really struggled with reading this last year – my ADHD was in overdrive – I think because of the pandemic, and what that meant for me and my church community (I’m a minister) my own brain was in overdrive all the time. So reading non-fiction was nearly impossible (and I love non-fiction too – so that made me so sad!)! So I did myself a favor and re-read all the Harry Potter books LOL! That felt good.

    I love your list – and appreciate your sharing what you decided to put down – a couple “possibilities” were in your list, and I think I may just bypass them for now 🙂 Thanks Kalyn!

  10. I’d recommend The Giver of Stars for historical fiction. (I love historical fiction and found this one especially accessible.) Thanks for your suggestions, Abby!

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