2020’s Best Reads (Books That Made 2020 a Better Experience)

Yesterday, we went through my least favourite reads of the year, but today we’re dropping the negativity and looking at my favourite reads of 2020.

Probably the first thing you’ll notice on here is that there is a lot of non-fiction! I loved reading so much non-fiction this year and it made up a good chunk of my 2020 reads. You’ll also notice there’s a lot of adult on here! I’ve been reading the odd adult book here and there since I was about fourteen or fifteen, but this year was the first year I really got into reading adult and, surprisingly, I really enjoyed most of them!

Anyway, these are my five star, and high four star reads! Let’s get into them!

Wild Sea: A History of the Southern Ocean by Joy McCann

As is implied in the title, this book is a history of the Southern Ocean, the ocean which surrounds part of Australia, New Zealand. It touched on a lot of fascinating topics, like the histories of whaling and sealing in the sub-Antarctic islands, a lot about the impact humans have had on the Southern Ocean, and it touched on the future of the Southern Ocean as well. It was really enjoyable and thought-and-action provoking.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I enjoyed this one more than any of the other books in the series, excepting Prisoner of Azkaban. I know this one cops a lot of flak because “Harry is whiny and just can’t get over himself”. But honestly, that isn’t fair. Yeah, Harry is angry and upset through a lot of it, but honestly, I think its one of the best depictions of trauma response in YA fantasy I’ve ever seen. And it really rang true to me. Harry has just watched his friend senselessly and purposelessly murdered in front of him, and you know what? He has a right to be angry. Leave him alone. This was also the first book I actually liked Harry and it was honestly because he reacted in a way I could relate to.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

Another very good non-fiction read. This one was about the agriculture of Australian Aboriginals before colonialisation and it was an incredibly eye-opening read that I think every single Australian needs to read, especially in the light of the Black lives matter movement that has recently taken the world. Even in 2020, white Australians still believe that Aboriginal Australians were primitive, stone age people who actually really needed the British to teach them how to advance in life. In actual fact, they were advanced people with the oldest technology in the world . I hope to have a proper review on this book coming next month!

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

This book is exactly my cup of tea. It’s a non-fiction where the author, Bill Bryson, walks around his house and talk about the history of each room, touching on a vast amount of Western History as he does so. It’s absolutely fascinating and I really enjoyed it. I also listened to an audiobook read by the author and really enjoyed how soothing his voice was.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

My favourite of all the Harry Potter books. Extraordinarily well written, and I liked it mostly because there were so many dogs and werewolves in it. Two of my favourite things.

Never and Forever by Cressida Cowell

The stunning conclusion to Cressida Cowell’s MG/YA fantasy series The Wizards of Once. Adored it and desperately need to read it again. I love Wish and Xar. The only quibble I had was with the last chapter which absolutely thwacked me out of the blue and I really didn’t know how to deal with it.

Unnatural Causes: The Life and Many Deaths of Britain’s Top Forensic Pathologist by Dr. Richard Shepherd

If I could recommend a non-fiction book to absolutely everyone, it would be this one. It demystifies death and the process of dying in a way that I’ve never seen any book do before. It blew me away and I loved it. It just may be my absolute favourite read of the year.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

An adult literary novel about the ways women have fallen through the cracks of history. Our main character works as a lexicographer, putting together the Oxford English Dictionary, and working on a secret dictionary of words that are “women’s words”, forgotten by the powerful and influential men who are writing the dictionary. Loved it. It was feminist in a way that wasn’t in your face, it was a quiet book that celebrated women from all walks of life and brought to light the ways women experienced the world in both a historical and modern context. Definitely recommend to everyone over the age of 15/16.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Very good non-fiction by a world renown psychologist about shame and imperfection and I felt 100% felt called out and comforted by it.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I had mixed feelings on this book. On one hand, it’s a novel about how disabled people, particularly children, were treated in history and it was upsetting to read. Michael, the grandchild of the main character Norah, has autism, though he is referred to as a “changeling” in the story. The ending was also extremely upsetting for me, but at the same time it was incredibly well written and it tackled a subject that I have never seen tackled in fiction.

What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs by Cat Warren

Another brilliant non-fiction! This one is about cadaver dogs, aka dogs that are trained to find the bodies of the dead. After adopting a wild, aggressive and stubborn German Shepherd puppy, Cat Warren decided to train her dog to detect human remains and this action launches her into a world of cooperating with law enforcement, searching for missing people, and trudging through every environment imaginable–from swamps, to mountain ranges, to open water.

I recommend this book to absolutely everyone, it doesn’t matter whether you like dogs or not. This book is entertaining, informative, serious and funny. Go read it.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Another adult literary fiction. It absolutely blew me away and it was definitely in the top ten reads for the year. This one is about the last woman executed in Iceland and her story and it just tore my heart out with beautiful prose, amazingly complex characters and such a rich, deep portrayal of Iceland’s landscape and culture.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter

I think this one is an adult fantasy, but I’m not 100% sure about that. It might be YA? Either way, it was really good, and I highly recommend it for fantasy lovers over the age of 16 or 17 (it does have some questionable content, and as always, if you want content warnings for any of these books, just ask in the comments!) It’s set in a fantasy version of West Africa, where certain women can call down dragons and certain men have the ability to make themselves into “supermen” with the aid of the women’s magic. There’s a complex class structures, a likeable protagonist (sort of), and a believable vengeance plot. Also highly recommend the audiobook.

The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

Yet another adult literary novel! This one leant toward romance, but it had just enough action and angst to keep me enthralled. Set in the French Revolution, it’s about a marquis’ daughter who falls in love with the renowned gardener who has been sent to plant a garden for the marquis’ wife. When he is refused her hand in marriage by her father, he sets off for China, determined to bring back a red rose. This is somewhat based in historical fact, as red roses were unknown in Europe before the French Revolution, but it’s obviously a little dramatised. I really loved it though and have since read several of the author’s other novels.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Another adult fantasy! I tried reading this one a few years ago and couldn’t get into it, but I picked up the audio (thank the good Lord for audiobooks) and absolutely loved it. I raved about it so much that my mum (who hardly ever gets time to read because #kids) read it too and loved it as well! This is such a unique retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale with loveable heroines, horrible fire demon and frost elf kings and a host of other fascinating elements which I really enjoyed.

The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Probably one of my favourite YA books this year, it was whimsical fairy tale in the historical fantasy genre, with Nannerl Mozart, Wolfgang Mozart’s elder sister, as the protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of Marie Lu’s, but I did enjoy this book quite a lot. The only thing that rankled me here was, as BeckytheMothling mentions here, that Wolfgang was almost certainly autistic (I have always headcanoned both him and Wilbur Wright as being autistic anyway, but I headcanon so many historical figures as autistic) and like Becky I would have liked it if he was portrayed that way.

The Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda

I’m just putting the whole series here because it’s my childhood and it’s such a good series. Seriously though, I often reread childhood favourites and find them not as good as they were when I read them as a kid, but this series really held up–a fact which surprised me. Also, my youngest brothers were reading them for the first time, so I had to refresh my memory on them so that I could talk to them about it. Talking with siblings about books is the absolute best.

The Pacific: in the Wake of Captain Cook, with Sam Neill by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

I did a whole review on this one, so I’ll leave that for you to peruse.

Great South Land by Rob Mundle

Fascinating book which was I completely hooked on! Essentially, it was about all the Europeans who had contact with Australia before Captain Cook “discovered” it. I listened to it over my three hour commute to and from the job I was working at the time and it was honestly the only thing that made those drives worth it.

Also, it inspired the novel I talked about here

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

My final favourite YA book for this year! This was a contemporary YA which I rated five stars (I never rate contemporaries five stars). It’s about a teen mom who loves to cook and wants to go to Spain for a culinary class, but also needs to look after her daughter, care for her ailing ‘abuela, and juggle her ex’s custody weekends and get to know the cute new guy at school. It was just so good. I loved it.

What about you guys? What books have you read and loved this year? Were any of your 2020 reads on this list? Did you read outside your usual categories/genres at all? What’s on your TBR for 2021?

15 thoughts on “2020’s Best Reads (Books That Made 2020 a Better Experience)

  1. Harry Potters 3 and 5 are amazing! (I’m also partial to 7, myself.)

    And isn’t Spinning Silver fantastic? My whole family loves that one.

    I’ll have to look up that Unnatural Death one–that looks like it would be right up my alley. (I know–I have a weird alley. XD)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 2020= some of my favorite reads were The Odyssey, Bleak House, and the Shades of Magic Trilogy.

    I thought I read Spinning Silver this year- but now don’t remember when. This was one of my favorite fantasy book. I usually am nervous around retellings, but this one didn’t. Just by looking at the Blurb and noticing it was the same author who wrote Uprooted helped me want to read Spinning Silver.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always been an oddball for enjoying The Order of the Phoenix, so I’m glad to see someone else who likes it! Harry isn’t whiny, he has maaajor PTSD!! You’re spot-on there. Also, even though it’s the longest book in the series, I felt like Goblet of Fire was way longer (the Quidditch World Cup was not that exciting LOL; I am not a sports person). But Prisoner of Azkaban absolutely slaps.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely have to check out some of these books! Burial Rites is one of my all-time favorite books and has been, since I read it about five years ago now. You summed up my feelings on it pretty well. I remember being absolutely heartbroken by it and I feel the need to go back and reread it every so often! The Prisoner of Azkaban is also my favorite Harry Potter book. I’ve never been able to entirely pinpoint what it was about it, but it’s my favorite! I’ve heard so many good things about Naomi Novik over the past few years, maybe 2021 will finally be the year in which I read one of her books! Wishing you and your family a happy new year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Burial Rites was soo good and I regret not reading it years ago so much! I felt the need to reread it literally as soon as I finished reading it 😀
    Yes, I love POA! And you’re right, its really hard to pin down what’s so great about it, but it really is awesome.
    Definitely try Naomi Novik! I think she’d definitely be your style. Spinning Silver and Uprooted are my favourites, but I’ve got two others of hers which I’ll hopefully read in 2021.
    And your family too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes, yes, yes! And the Quidditch world cup was absolute torture. I listened to it on a six hour drive where I was literally a captive audience and that was the only thing that got me through it.
    100% POA is the best.


  7. Yes they definitely are! 7 was pretty good too, especially the ending.
    Spinning Silver is now my gold (no pun intended) standard for modern fantasy!
    Unnatural Death is a great book and I definitely recommend it. A few parts are a little bit squeamish, but if that’s your alley I’m sure you’ll be fine 😀


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