TS’s Top 20 Books Read in 2020

TS’s Top 20 Books Read in 2020

2020 has been such a strange, stressful and complicated year.  I took a one-year sabbatical leave from work from mid-2019 and managed to do quite a bit of travelling for about six months before the world got completely turned upside down.  I’ve read/listen over 120 books this year, 73 of which was completed during the first half when I wasn’t working and the entire world was on lockdown.  Getting back to work during the second half in the midst of a global pandemic and a new challenging role did affect my ability to read and also write reviews on a regular basis.

Despite 2020 being such a watershed/dumpster year, it’s been an incredible one for my reading as I’ve completed a lot books ranging from great to masterpieces.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve added so many books onto my favourites shelf (many of which were from the same series).  If you’re curious/interested, you also can see my year in books for 2020 right here.

Similar to my previous list, I do not limit this to only books released this year.  There are simply too many great books that have been published prior and that I’ve yet to read, so there will always be older books included.  Below are the parameters that I’ve set for the list.

  • Rereads don’t count
  • One book per author
  • Not limited to books which are released this year.

None of these are ranked except for the top five.  The rest, I’ve listed them in the chronological order of when I’ve read them this year.  Almost all of these have been reviewed by me on Novel Notions and Goodreads, albeit some are quite brief.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry
Published: Redhook (US) and Orbit (UK), 2019

How many of us readers have experienced the kind of immersion and connection to a story, its setting or its characters, which made us wish that it could be real? I’d gander a guess that it covers pretty much all of us. H.G. Parry’s marvellous debut novel, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, perfectly illustrates the magic of stories and words on a page.

The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is a magical, delightfully clever and fun celebration of books.  I’ve not read many books about books yet, but I can safely recommend this to pretty much all bibliophiles, who appreciate stories about the wonder of reading.

Circe by Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (US) and Bloomsbury Publishing (UK), 2018

I love Greek mythology and have read a few simplified versions of the more well-known old Greek classics. But nothing ever came close to my experience of reading Circe by Madeline Miller. This beautifully-written retelling of the story of the witch of Aiaia was something truly special. Miller imparted much emotional depth into the story of Circe; emotions which were largely absent in most mythological writings.

Circe has become one of those books which I look forward to rereading, time and again. I’ve not read The Song of Achilles, but now I’m very keen to pick up Miller’s debut as I cannot get enough of her exquisite writing. I really hope that we’ll see more of such mythological retellings from this gifted writer. Highly, highly recommended.

The Fold by Peter Clines
Publisher: Crown Publishing (US), 2015

The Fold is yet another utterly absorbing and entertaining genre-bending novel by Peter Clines, which was impeccably narrated by Ray Porter. I simply can’t get enough of this blend of science-fiction, mystery and Lovecraftian horror. With 14 and The Fold, Clines has earned a new fan of his Threshold series. I also hope that Ray Porter continues to narrate his books because he has the perfect cadence and timing for the kind of witty and snappy dialogue in Clines’ books. Porter is also exceptional in giving his characters’ distinct voices and his accents are impeccable. In short, The Fold is a compulsively addictive read, or rather listen, that kept me wanting more.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Publisher: Gallery/Saga Press (US) and Head of Zeus (UK), 2016

As with most collections, the quality inevitably varies from one story to another. Regardless, as a collective, they echo the same theme, and that is the importance of stories, regardless of which genre it came in.  The majority of these short pieces were incredibly moving.  That Ken Liu managed to convey so much through so few words is a testament of his immense talent and the profundity of his imagination.  His writing is evocative with an Eastern-like grace which is understated yet heartbreaking.  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an enchanting collection of short stories that is meant to be savoured time and again.

Blight Marked (Ethereal Earth, #3) by Josh Erikson
Publisher: Josh Erikson (self-published), 2020

Josh Erikson has utterly upped his game in Blight Marked. A heady concoction of compelling character development, interesting worldbuilding, exhilarating action scenes and great humour, the only thing that made it even better was Erikson’s stellar self-narration.

Blight Marked has elevated the Ethereal Earth series to greater heights.  It ticked all the right boxes which make urban fantasy so fun and entertaining, then knocked it out of the park with its superb character work and outstanding audio narration.

Age of Empyre (The Legends of the First Empire, #6) by Michael J. Sullivan
Publisher: Grim Oak Press, 2020

Age of Empyre proves once again that Michael J. Sullivan is a masterful storyteller that really knows how to captivate and conclude a well-crafted tale.  As I turned the final page, I couldn’t help feeling that I’m going to miss all the wonderful characters that I’ve grown to love.

Sullivan’s stories have never failed to make me feel through its characters, and The Legends of the First Empire was no exception. I’ve said many times how important this is for me when I read, for a book is only as unforgettable as its characters are.  I highly recommend this series, especially for fans of classic fantasy in general, and fans of the Riyria books specifically.

Night Shift Dragons (DFZ, #3) by Rachel Aaron
Publisher: Aaron/Bach (self-published), 2020

Night Shift Dragons delivered a spectacular and hugely emotionally satisfying conclusion to Rachel Aaron’s follow-up urban fantasy series set in the insanely cool, quirky and vibrant free city of the DFZ.

Rachel Aaron continues to meet and even surpass my expectations with every new book or series that she embarked in. Night Shift Dragons knocked it out of the park with a beautifully crafted resolution to the core emotional conflict of the DFZ trilogy, and wrapped it up with a spectacular climax that showcases her worldbuilding magic at its finest.

Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3) by Joe Abercrombie
Publisher: Gollancz (UK), 2008 and Orbit (US), 2015

I’ve been meaning to read The First Law trilogy for years, after hearing loads of accolades from far and wide across the fantasy bibliosphere. Now that I’ve done so, I could safely say that Abercrombie deserved all those praises, and I’ll contribute by heaping on more of the same.

The First Law was grimdark at its most brilliant, with Last Argument of Kings delivering a superb finale. There’s no denying that this is a dark and bleak tale, but there was enough humour to temper all that gritty darkness to make it a wholly enjoyable read. The balance of these contrasting attributes was truly sublime. And all these are achieved through some of the best characterisations that I’ve ever read.

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (US) and Puffin (UK), 2020

The Unadoptables is author Hana Tooke’s debut and it has all the makings of a great classic to be loved by generations to come.  A whimsical and wonderful tale of friendship and found family, this is a book which could be appreciated by all – children and adults alike – and which I found to be perfect during this depressing and trying times.

So, kick back with some Stroopwafels, a cup of coffee or tea, and let The Unadoptables whisk you away to 19th century Amsterdam for a fun and gothic adventure that will warm the cockles of your heart.

Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon
Publisher:  Open Road Media (republihed), 2011

Boy’s Life is a beautifully written and captivating coming-of-age story.  The story and its characters felt so real and relatable that I could almost believe that Zephyr exists and that this book was a real-life childhood memoir.  At the same time, there’s a magical quality in the writing that captured the sense of wonder and awe that usually came with childhood memories and its imaginings.  In spite of its darker turns as well as some sad and poignant moments, Boy’s Life as a whole was beautifully uplifting and hopeful.  If you need a bit of magic back in your life, read this book.

Wintersteel (Cradle, #8) by Will Wight
Publisher: Hidden Gnome Publishing (Indie), 2020

Another immensely addictive, fun and fantastic continuation of the Cradle series, Wintersteel stayed true to its sub-genre as a progression fantasy with everything progressing to spectacular levels.  Character growth and development just keep getting better in these books.  The stakes were considerably higher and the action was even bigger, better and bolder.  Even as the biggest book in the series by far, I made short work of it as it was once again simply unputdownable.

Be More Keanu by James King
Publisher: Penguin Books (Square Peg), 2020

Not a memoir nor a biography per se, this pocket philosophy cum self-help book is centered around the wonderful human being and presence that is Keanu Reeves. That alone made it a winner in my books. While I may be totally biased as far as he was concerned, I’m sure many will agree that Keanu is a true gem.  Just about everyone loves Keanu Reeves right now, but that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve been an avid fan for almost three decades who saw great subtlety in his many roles despite how critics and even general viewers pan him for being wooden. His life story was tragic but yet Keanu maintains an almost zen-like persona that radiates kindness, humility and even wisdom.

So, if you love Keanu, check out this book. If you want to gain a grounded philosophy and be more contented in life, check out this book. There’re so many noteworthy quotations that would enable one to #bemorekeanu.  Trust me, it’s worth checking out.

The Devil and The Dark Water by Stuart Turton
Publisher: Raven Books, UK, 2020

Atmospheric as hell and brilliantly crafted, Stuart Turton’s sophomore release, The Devil and the Dark Water, was one of the best mystery novels I’ve ever read, and it solidly cemented his status as a must-read author for me.  As much as I enjoyed Turton’s debut, this book blew it out of the water with the most deliciously atmospheric, gripping, spooky, twisty and unpredictable mystery plot I’ve yet to come across.

Deft plotting aside, Turton’s key strength as an author is his writing. This man truly knows how to turn an eloquent and evocative phrase, without ever coming across as pompous, which makes such an impact on the narrative.  Turton has won me over completely and I’m eagerly waiting for more.   If you love complex and eerie mysteries, and historical settings, you won’t want to miss this one

Changes (The Dresden Files, #12) by Jim Butcher
Publisher: Orbit (UK) & Roc (US), 2010

I’ve not written full length reviews for this series after the fifth book, and that was when The Dresden Files really took off in its quality and consistency.  The past several books have been great but Changes has got to the best of the series so far.  Butcher wasn’t kidding when he titled the book “Changes”.  It was a real game-changer with some very bold development in the characters, particularly for Harry, and I loved it.  When I finished the previous book, Turn Coat, I thought that was emotional.  This one legit broke my heart and made me cry.

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Publisher: Zaffre Publishing, 2020

Literary fiction has not featured much in my reading repertoire but if there are more of such gems out there, please sign me up!  We Begin At the End was to me more literary fiction than crime fiction, despite the story being centred around a murder and the people so irrevocably affected by it.  While the narrative started with a pretty slow burn, I was captivated with the authenticity of the characters, all whom are so memorable, even if not entirely all likeable.  The tone of the story had a firm grip on my emotions, sometimes tugging it gently and sometimes much more assertively, until it destroyed me with a crescendo of raw, gut-wrenching pain.   A masterfully written and powerful story about living with guilt and regret, enduring love and the lengths that one would willingly go through for it.

#5: Paternus: War of Gods (The Paternus Trilogy, #3) by Dyrk Ashton
Publisher: Paternus Book Media (indie), 2020

A truly stunning and magnificent conclusion to an incredibly unique and fun urban fantasy adventure, Paternus: War of Gods cemented The Paternus Trilogy as one of my all-time favourites.

Fantasy fans, you owe it to yourself to read this insanely imaginative, fantastically fun and enormously epic urban fantasy trilogy.  The concluding climax in War of Gods (which was almost half the length of the book) was even more epic than some epic/high fantasy series that I’ve read. Not only does this trilogy have everything a fantasy geek would want, it would also bring unending delight to fans of mythology, as it certainly did for me.  The Paternus Trilogy is a powerhouse urban fantasy that explored the very edge of possibility of what this subgenre could offer, and it was glorious.

#4: A Time of Courage (Of Blood and Bone, #3) by John Gwynne
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (UK) & (US), 2020

A Time of Courage is a stunning masterpiece that proved yet again that John Gwynne is a force to be reckoned with; primed and poised to joined the ranks of the greatest fantasy authors.

A magnificent finale to a phenomenal series of books which started from Malice, I’m certain that A Time of Courage would earn itself a spot in many “Best Reads of The Year” lists (as it would be on mine). It is time to say goodbye to The Banished Lands, but I will look forward eagerly to anything that John Gwynne writes in the future.

#3:  The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy, #3) by James Islington
Publisher: Orbit (US & UK), 2019

A breathtakingly audacious masterpiece of epic fantasy, The Light of All That Falls is an emotionally satisfying and flawless conclusion to the phenomenal Licanius Trilogy.

I am astounded and in awe, and I think that James Islington is an extraordinarily gifted epic fantasy writer.  This is a debut series that was ambitious beyond belief, and yet Islington was able to masterfully wrap and tie up every crucial thread and loop; pulling off an amazingly perfect finale that kept me thinking about it long after I’ve turned the last page.  This has become one of my all-time favourite trilogies; a rare feat for a debut trilogy of such vision and ambition, and I cannot recommend this highly enough for fans of epic fantasy.

#2:  The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carloz Ruiz Zafón
Publisher: Weidenfield & Nicholson, Orion Books (UK) & Harper (US), 2018

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It has it all – evocative history, engrossing mystery, atmospheric setting, compelling characters, incredible emotional depth – wrapped up in writing so beautiful that it moves your soul.  Zafón’s writing and Graves’ translation seemed to work magic on the emotions of the reader. There’s a musical quality to it that worked in cadences and tones to convey the heart and soul of the story.  Sadly, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s passed on earlier this year; the world has truly lost an incredible talent and is now duller with his absence.

With storytelling almost as perfect as it could be, The Cemetery of Forgotten Books was simply too memorable to be forgotten. Highly, highly recommended to all readers.

#1: (Surprising… absolutely no one!)
Rhythm of War (The Stormlight Archive, #4) by Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor Books (US) and Gollancz (UK), 2020

My most anticipated book of the year!  Even with my sky-high expectations for this book, Sanderson has surpassed them yet again. This book was STORMING INCREDIBLE!  For the first time since The Way of Kings, I was actually able to name my favourite book of my all-time favourite series and it is Rhythm of War – yet another masterpiece and the most emotionally powerful one for me so far.

It managed to push the development of our beloved characters even further, causing so much heartbreak but yet remaining hopeful and inspirational.  It elevated the worldbuilding to greater heights with the most ingenious melding of technology with magic, the binding of which was built upon the lore of the world.  It dropped a tonne of Cosmere connections without alienating those not in the know.  It then ended with the most jaw-dropping turn of event which will have massive implications, not only for the final book of the first five-book arc but for the rest of the Cosmere stories to come.

With four really big books into The Stormlight Archive, Sanderson doesn’t appear to be slowing down in the least, but in fact, is getting better. To me, this is epic fantasy unparalleled in its quality, consistency and scope, while still being accessible.  And finishing one always, always gave me the hardest hitting book hangover.

I would like to thank all these authors for the wonderful stories that they’ve shared with the world.   I couldn’t imagine life in 2020 without the escapism and solace offered by these incredible books.  I am also grateful for my amazing co-bloggers, whom I chat with every single day.  The friendship bond that we’ve built out of our mutual love for books is truly a marvel and testament to how good stories could connect people from all over the world.

Have a Happy New Year and here’s hoping that 2021 will be a much better year for all.

3 thoughts on “TS’s Top 20 Books Read in 2020

  1. Ooh thank you for listing out your favorites of the year! I’ve read none of these * gasp * but they all sound like books I’d love! Definitely adding to my reading list!

  2. Wondeful list as usual, TS. Quite a few I’ve never heard of! I’ve resolved to get away from SFF more this year and some of these titles have piqued my interest. I hope you’re doing well!

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