Book Recommendations

The Best Books I Read in 2020

Me, looking back at 2020: well… that happened.

It feels like this year has happened both very slowly, and very, very fast. Time whirled past me in a blur of images and colors, and sometimes, it fell away like petals from a blown flower, numbingly unhurried. But always, the inexorable tides of time receded into nothingness when I was lost inside a book.

There were many days this year when it seemed like the world was falling down around me, when I felt unmoored, hideously lonely and unsteady as a reflection in boiling water, missing home and my family and feeling sick with it, but stories always dulled the edge of my despair, even if it were only for the space of a few hundred pages. They took my mind out of its iron cage, and let it swim in a pool of make-believe wonders and terrors. They coaxed me from my sulks, and threw my troubles into the air, leaving them to be carried off by the winds. Stories found me sinking beneath the surface of a cavernous gloom, slowly dropping out of sight of heat and light and air, and stretched out to me, offering me a life buoy.

This post is a thank you to the stories that kept me sane and kept me company. Stories that I honestly cannot imagine surviving this year without. So, without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2020.

P.S. Books with LGBTQIA+ representation have a little rainbow flag emoji next to the title! (Disclaimer: it’s like, pretty much all of them.)

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review: black sun by rebecca roanhorse


It’s hard to talk about this book because it is so many thing.

It’s a heady epic and an intimate portrait of people wracked with the wounds of generational trauma, of unbelonging, of being an outsider in a land that cradles you with one arm and pushes you away with the other. It’s a bracingly earnest inquiry into what it means to be a “hero” vs. “villain”, “a good person” vs “a bad person” vs “a monster”. It’s a masterclass in subverting the wearisome euro-centricity of epic fantasy that carves new spaces where Indigenous stories can breathe, challenging a world that is adamant on crushing them down to sleep and darkness, and coming out victorious. It’s a triumph of queerness that imagines a world where queer people can just be, without a statement.

There’s a bisexual mermaid/sea-captain and a goth who is a vessel for a wrathful god. A scholar-priestess with way too many enemies, save perhaps one non-binary assassin who loves her. The inherent intimacy of tracing someone’s palm, of sharing a bed mere moments before tragedy. Gratuitous mass murders via a murder of crows (the pun practically wrote itself). And then more.

It is, at the end of the day, not so much a novel, but an experience. Roanhorse’s storytelling will carry you far from home, sweeping like a sweet wind past jagged mountains and over vast expanses of ocean and cliff cities that weathered the anger of gods. It will pour you into ships with fickle crewmen and ill-lit cells that unlock to new beginnings. It will siphon you away from the dead-end corridors of a loveless house before the walls hem you in, and pin your heart to a small, hushed cabin where longing still lingers in the air like lightning. And, at last, you will fall still atop a freestanding mesa where a man opens his eyes and becomes a god.  

And you will realize you need the sequel like an ember needs air.


Review: Raybearer (Raybearer #1) by Jordan Ifueko

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Nothing is more important than loyalty.
But what if you’ve sworn to protect the one you were born to destroy?

Tarisai has always longed for the warmth of a family. She was raised in isolation by a mysterious, often absent mother known only as The Lady. The Lady sends her to the capital of the global empire of Aritsar to compete with other children to be chosen as one of the Crown Prince’s Council of 11. If she’s picked, she’ll be joined with the other Council members through the Ray, a bond deeper than blood. That closeness is irresistible to Tarisai, who has always wanted to belong somewhere. But The Lady has other ideas, including a magical wish that Tarisai is compelled to obey: Kill the Crown Prince once she gains his trust. Tarisai won’t stand by and become someone’s pawn—but is she strong enough to choose a different path for herself? 

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

Raybearer is nothing less than stunning. The synopsis drew my eyes like a flare, and I knew from reading my friends’ reviews that I was going to be blown away by this novel—I just wasn’t prepared to be catapulted into the stratosphere!

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Review: Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

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In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers—a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.

A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles.

In these pages Jennings assures you that gothic delights, uncanny family horror, and strange, unsettling prose can live—and even thrive—under a burning sun.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

The experience of reading this book is almost surreal. Flyaway has the quality of a dream that thins into wisps the moment you try to describe it. There’s a strange, almost drunken sense of unreality throughout, as if the world the author created would shift the moment you had your back turned. As if I might jolt awake at any second, lift my head, and find myself in a darkening room, alone, the book still left open on my chest. A part of my mind still thinks I imagined it, pages and spine and all. Maybe it was all a hallucination, however real it seemed in the moment.

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Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi



Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her.

But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief–a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut. 

RATING: ☆★☆★


             It’s the kind of word that looks so simple at first glance, as easy as finding your footing on an even ground. But when you hold it, make sure your grasp is as steady as you can make it, turn it this way and that, look for the key to open it up and force it to make sense—you realize the key isn’t there. Most of us drift through life searching for it as though hunting for a tree through a thick fog. Some of us seize it like fingertips tickling the very end of a balloon’s string before it drifts out of reach. I reckon those of us who are really, really lucky don’t even have to think about it.

Continue reading “Review: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi”