Happy New Year! Reading has always been a bright spot in my life, and that certainly was the case in 2020. Despite the lockdowns, reading allowed me to travel to so many places throughout space and time, all without leaving my house. I started keeping track of the number of books I read each year back in 2017, and it has always held me accountable and helped me keep reading a priority in my life.
- 2017 goal — 24, 2017 actual — 30
- 2018 goal — 52, 2018 actual — 52
- 2019 goal — 62, 2019 actual — 72
- 2020 goal — 72, 2020 actual — 82
- 2021 goal — 75, 2021 actual — TBD!
I am excited about all the new adventures and stories that await me in the pages of books.
As I mentioned in my December 2020 on my nightstand post, I have also chosen my top reads of the year for a several years now—you can see my picks from 2019, 2018, and 2017 in past posts—but never broke out my picks into a standalone post. I like the idea of having my top books of the year separate from my December monthly recap so that it’s easier to refer back to moving forward, hence this post today. I also couldn’t pick just five because I read so many good books this year, so I expanded the field and chose 10. (Plus a bonus five because I just couldn’t pick!) So you don’t have to toggle between this post and my original review, I copied over my synopsis of each book below.
One housekeeping note—the list below is representative of the best books I read in 2020, but that doesn’t mean they were all published the same year. Some of these are older reads I just discovered, and some of them were published this year. I know some people separate their “best of” lists to create one for books that were published in the past and one published this year, but I did not do that for my list.
As a reminder, you can keep up with what’s on my nightstand in my monthly reading recaps and the extensive archives! You can always follow along with what I am reading in real-time over on Goodreads—feel free to friend me there.
I am ALWAYS looking for new books to read, so please let me know what some of your top reads from 2020 were!
So without further ado, here are my 10 best books of 2020:
10. The Growing Season by Sarah Frey
If you’ve ever bought a pumpkin or a melon in the United States, you’re probably Sarah Frey’s customer. Born of humble beginnings in rural Illinois, at age 15, Sarah moves out and starts her own produce business. By age 19, she buys her family farm from her parents and with a lot of hard work and help from her brothers, turned it into one of the largest farms in the United States. Her negotiation skills are so legendary, they are used at HBS as case studies. Her memoir takes you from her childhood all the way through to today, and it is amazing to hear Sarah’s story and all the hard work she put into her farm to making it such a beacon.
09. The Last Train to Key West by Chaneel Cleeton
Set during the Labor Day Weekend hurricane of 1935, The Last Train to Key West follows three women who don’t know each other, but who’s lives are very intertwined.
Helen is pregnant, working at Ruby’s diner in Key West and looking to escape her drunk husband. Mirta, a newlywed, is in Florida on her honeymoon. She had an arranged marriage in Cuba to Anthony Cordero, a man with a rough reputation—but someone who can shore up her family’s position after the 1933 Revolution. And then there’s Elizabeth, who finds herself arriving in Key West on Henry Flagler’s legendary railroad, looking for her brother and her last chance to save her once-wealthy family from their troubles brought on by the stock market crash.
As the hurricane approaches, danger swirls in more way than one.
08. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
In the present day, Avery Stafford returns to Aiken, South Carolina to help with her ill father. While there, she meets May Crandall, an elderly woman in the nursing home, who’s story she decides to investigate. Every other chapter, the novel flips back to the 1930s to Rill’s life. Her and her four siblings are kidnapped off their boat one night by Georgia Tann’s people and taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where they are starved, given horrible water to bathe in, and even molested. Even though their parents are alive, Georgia Tann presents them as orphans to prospective parents, as Rill fights to keep her family together so they can make their way home.
07. It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
Lily grew up in a small town in Maine and moved to Boston for college. Soon after her father’s funeral, she meets a man, Ryle, on an apartment rooftop who she thinks she’ll never see again. Lily starts her own business—the flower shop she’s always dreamed of—and by chance encounter, meets Ryle again right before she opens the doors for business. They begin dating and as Lily falls more for Ryle, she begins thinking more and more of her first love, Atlas. A chance encounter with him threatens everything she’s built with Ryle—and she’s forced to decide if she can overcome demons of the past.
06. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Lily returns to Seaview, Rhode Island over Memorial Day 1938 and is expecting a quiet summer seaside. Everything is quiet until Lily’s former best friend, Budgie Greenwald, and former fiancé, Nick Greenwald, roll into town. The two have gotten married and Budgie is determined to become the center of the social season. As the summer heats up, Nick and Lily are forced to confront what happened after their engagement all those years ago.
05. The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett
The Vignes twins, Stella and Desiree, grow up in small town Louisiana. As young girls, they witness their father lynched by white men in the middle of the night and at age 16, decide to runaway to New Orleans in hopes of finding a better life. But from there, their paths diverge—Stella gets a job as a secretary and is able to pass as white. She eventually falls in love with a white man and has no idea she grew up Black. Desiree, on the other hand, marries a Black man, and eventually ends up back in her hometown to escape his abuse. Years pass since the sisters see each other, but their fates are intertwined as their daughters lives cross paths by happenstance years later.
04. Open Book by Jessica Simpson
Jessica Simpson holds nothing back in this raw and real memoir that begins with her examining her relationship with alcohol, and why she ultimately had to give it up. She shares about her childhood, growing up as the daughter of a preacher in Texas, her rise to fame and being pitted against Christina and Britney, her marriage to Nick Lachey and their reality show, her clothing line with Vince Camuto, her toxic relationship with John Mayer, and how she met her husband at a party at her house. She shares so much that I felt like I was reading her personal diary.
03. The Great Blue Hills of God by Kreis Beall
A beautiful memoir by Kreis Beall, the co-founder of the famed Blackberry Farm. She talks about her upbringing in Tennessee, and how she met her husband, Sandy, who went on to found Ruby Tuesday, a concept restaurant he based off of PJ Clarke’s on the Upper East Side of New York. She talks about the 40 houses they bought and sold over the years, including the one they loved most in Mobile, Alabama that ultimately burned to the ground. She talks about when they bought Blackberry and how they grew it into the famed resort in the Smokies it is today. She talks about her divorce, the accident that left her deaf, losing her son in a tragic ski accident, and her journey to finding faith. I could not put this one down and was sad when it was over!
02. A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood
It’s the 1920s: Lou is 17 and lives a simple life in a Cornish village. She’s often wondered about the old Cardew house, a mansion up on the hill that overlooks the town, as it’s stood empty for many years. She knows all about the owners, Robert Cardew and his sister, Caitlin, from the society pages she loves to read with her sister.
Robert and Caitlin return to the house for the summer, and Lou can’t help but get close to the glitz and glamour, so she climbs a tree on the property, thinking she’ll go unnoticed. Only Robert strolls up to the tree she’s hiding in and offers her a drink. The next day, she receives a formal invitation to the Cardews next affair and quickly befriends the brother and sister duo. As summer marches on, Lou gets sucked into their world more and more—and realizes it might not be all fun and games.
When Calla was a baby, her mother could no longer handle Alaska and its extreme isolation, so she took Calla and moved her back to her native Toronto. Over the years, Calla fell out of touch with her father, Wren, who stayed behind in Alaska, after his promises to visit turned up empty time after time. One day out of the blue, Calla gets a call that her father has cancer and is dying. Recently laid off from her job, she decides to make the journey back to the small Alaskan town where she was born. It’s there that she tries to forge a better relationship with her father and undo the hurt from the last 20+ years. In addition to mending the relationship with her father, Calla also struggles to adapt to the rugged lifestyle of “The Great Alone”—she’s a tried-and-true city girl, so it’s quite a challenge. But then Calla realizes Jonah, Wren’s next door neighbor and star employee, is convinced she isn’t cut out for the Alaskan lifestyle—and she becomes determined to prove him wrong.
PS. I read so many good books that I had a hard time narrowing it down, so here are five more of my favorite reads from the year in no particular order: Live in Love by Lauren Akins, 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, Louisiana Lucky by Julie Pennell, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.