Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the best book you read in 2020?

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsHooray, 2020 is almost over! Even with all the disruptions and turmoil, we hope you’ve had a wonderful reading year and that our work here at FanLit helped you achieve that.

Now we want to know: What is the best book you read in 2020?

It doesn’t have to be a book that was published in 2020. Just read in 2020. It doesn’t even have to be speculative fiction.

Feel free to post a full review of the book here, or a link to the review on your blog, or just write a few sentences about why you thought it was awesome.

Soon we’ll be telling you about our favorite SFF books published this year.

And, as always, we have plenty more reading recommendations on our Fanlit Faves page and our 5-Star SFF page. And we’ve also got a constantly updating list of new and forthcoming releases.

One commenter will choose a book from our stacks.


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27 comments

  1. Mary Henaghen /

    The best book I read in 2020 hands down, waz To Sleep in a Sea of Stars.

  2. I loved “Invisible Chains” by Michelle Lane. It’s a different look at vampires the the lens of a plantation, the South, and black women heroics! It has the rawness of the films ‘Django’ and ‘Nosferatu.’

  3. I can’t do this! There were too many great books!

  4. John Smith /

    I highly recommend the short graphic novel “Rascal” by Jean-Luc Deglin. It’s basically “daily strip”-style four-panel cartoons on each page, and the author portrays Rascal, a cat, with such incredibly accurate psychology, and in wonderfully incisive drawings that really capture everything about cats with a few lively strokes of pen and ink. I especially appreciated the book because Rascal is a “feisty” cat, like the one we have.

    I like the original French title and cat name “Crapule” much better because it captures the cat’s character and the way he joined the household as a bit of a foundling. “Crapule” means something along the lines of “little bit of crap.” You might have a crapule on your shirt, etc.

  5. Jacqie Hasan /

    Breath of the Sun by Isaac Fellman

  6. Erik Stone /

    Haven’t yet decided about the “best” book of 2020, but the most fun was definitely “A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking”. Plus it has dancing gingerbread men so I’m choosing to read it as a Christmas story

  7. Paul Connelly /

    My lockdown inactivity gave me time to read roughly 80 fantasy/SF/horror (and genre-adjacent) books this past year. Somewhat disappointingly, my two best reads for last January and February are still my picks for best fiction reads of the year. Blood of Empire by Brian McClellan and The Broken Heavens by Kameron Hurley were both very good series ending novels, maybe not perfect but still satisfying conclusions. The more series (and ultra-thick single novels) I read, the more I appreciate how hard it is to nail the finish of a long, complex narrative. There were several very good standalone novels this year. The entrancing Piranesi by Susanna Clarke was probably the best of those (may be some recency bias here). I read much more nonfiction than usual this year, and will do a separate post for the bests in that area.

  8. In SF/F: Network Effect by Martha Wells
    Elsewhere: Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

  9. Michael Voss /

    Gotta be Patrick Rothfuss’s THE NAME OF THE WIND, with Steven Erikson’s Malazan tale MEMORIES OF ICE a pretty close second.

  10. South of the Buttonwood Tree by Heather Webber. I don’t read much magical realism but I enjoyed this author’s previous books so I decided to give this a try. It was a really hard book to put down.

  11. The best book by far has been Children by Bjorn Larssen. By genre it is mythology retold. But, its so much more, highly literate, funny, absurd, really brutal at times and always engaging. Freya as Mommy Dearest has to be one of the great sendups of all time. The characters go to a lot of dark places and mostly come out scathed. This is the first of a series and it promises to be quite a wild ride.

  12. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I’m going to say “Corum: The King of the Swords” #11 (of the comic adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s novel) for Erekosë, Elric and Corum coming together and traveling through time and space, the mythos really starting to heat up.

  13. Paul Connelly /

    There were four thoroughly researched nonfiction works that really stood out from my readings in 2020. Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas (Mari Sandoz) was written while some of the great warrior’s contemporaries were still alive. It presents his life story totally from the Lakota point of view in a style that slightly anticipates the later “non-fiction novel”. The Triumph of the Moon (Ronald Hutton) recounts how Gerald Gardner and Edith Woodford-Grimes created the new religion of Wicca (not by that name to start) with an inadvertent assist from the dying Aleister Crowley–as well as what the earlier cultural changes were (especially in academic thought) that made this possible. Hutton also covers the later branching of different Wiccan groups. The Construction of Homosexuality (David F. Greenberg) is an eye-opening and densely footnoted history of how different societies have integrated (or rejected) homosexual behavior without ever recognizing the “homosexual person” as a social identity. The author presents the case for such a social identity only emerging in the late 17th century (still earlier than Michel Foucault’s proposal). Otherworld Journeys (Carol Zaleski) compares accounts of near-death experiences in medieval sources with those recorded by medical professionals in the last half century. It’s apparent that many of the experiences share common features and motifs, but are also strongly conditioned by the person’s social and religious background. Zaleski does not judge how “real” these experiences are.

  14. Best read of 2020.
    Hmmm.
    Squeeze Me by Carl Hiasen. It’s Floridana so I could argue it’s at least genre adjacent.

    Stealing Fire by Steven Kottler which is a fascinating book about altered states, how to get there and maximizing human performance.

    Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson. Picked this up after learning about it on Cory Doctorow’s Plura-list. It’s funny, touching, thoughtful, funny and assumes the reader is decently smart. And the aliens are _alien_ and funny.

    Stealing Worlds by Karl Schroeder. Sure me. He’s a favorite. Anyway, he’s exploring a climate collapsing future where the 1% are taking over everything. But it’s protagonist, Sura Neelin is on the run and begins to hide out in virtual game worlds. And then, he’s off and begins to play with the concept and his usuals with AI and volition.

    A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. Look, it got a lot of well deserved how when it was published. It’s all well deserved. Go enjoy it if you have already.

  15. The Distinguished Professor /

    For me, the best was Volume III of “The Last Lion”, William Manchester’s posthumously completed biography of Winston Churchill. Churchill’s witty quips to his peers provided me no end of entertainment and insight.

  16. Katharine Ott /

    For 2020, which was somewhat of a blah reading year, my favorite was the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden: “The Bear and the Nightingale”, “The Girl in the Tower” and “The Winter of the Witch.” All satisfying, classic folklore fantasies that I thoroughly enjoyed.

  17. Lady Morar /

    Liza Mundy’s Code Girls. I liked this book so much; it was a disappointment when I realized the show on Netflix was called “Cable Girls” instead.

  18. Jillian /

    By far The Way of Kings by the king himself. Nobody is surprised, nothing can top it.

  19. My favorite reads for the year were The Expanse series (first time read through) and The Stormlight Archives (a reread)!

  20. Susan Whitehead /

    This is a difficult year to identify the “best book” I read. I, like so many others, have read LOTS of books. We are so fortunate to have so many good books in SFF to read. A hard decision but here are a few that stand out for me.

    Network Effect by Martha Wells. So entertaining. It was great to have Murderbot and ART, two unique AI personalities that become friends, together for the next Murderbot desperate adventure.

    I am working my way through all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books. This year, in addition to his most recent book, A Brightness Long Ago, I read Tigana and Ysabel. Tigana is a fairly standard epic fantasy story about a country that a sorcerer conqueror has wiped from everyone’s memory in retaliation for the death of his son during that invasion. Except the few residents who lived in that country, Tigana, are immune from the curse and are committed to reclaiming their homeland. A powerful story although I wish it had been a little tighter. I think that would have enhanced the emotional impact. Ysabel is, as far as I know, the only book Kay has written in a current setting. A teenage boy is in the south of France with his famous photographer father on a photo shoot and starts having weird experiences around some Roman ruins. The story is focused, with great, everyday characters, so the events occurring around them are especially disturbing. I will say, though, that Under Heaven remains my favorite Kay book – so far.

    The books with the most intriguing setting, so they stand out for me, is the Tide Child series by R.J. Barker: The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships. I am very fond of sea stories so these resonated with me. An ocean world with only barely arable islands. The source of most industry is the killing and harvesting of bones from giant whalelike creatures, keyshans thus the “bone ships”. Two different “countries” have battled for these creatures, capture and enslave children from each other and are, generally, eternal enemies. However, the keyshans have disappeared for a generation. Resources are scarce and the living is brutal under a matriarchal system. Then, a keyshan is sited and that catapults this story. Very strong characters and a fascinating world and culture.

    Finally, while not the “best books” of this year it was great to have new Dresden Files books to read, Peace Talks and Battleground, and a new Alex Varus book, Forged. With Battleground, Butcher has opened up some new areas for future Dresden books while also, sadly, killing off a favorite character. Forged just ratcheted up the dire situation of Alex Varus who, increasingly has fewer and fewer options in how he is going to survive. All three are nonstop page turners.

  21. “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse! The ending alone makes the anticipation for Book 2 both worthwhile and tense!

    • Kevin S. /

      I might have to give this book another try. I got about 50 pages in and it just wasn’t working for me. Maybe I wasn’t patient enough!

  22. Erik Stone,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

  23. Kevin S. /

    I mostly read fantasy, so I’m going to divide this into the best fantasy and best of all others :)

    Best fantasy: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.

    Best of all others: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather.

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