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The 8 Best Fiction Books I Read in 2020

In 2020, I read a total of 27 books. I will be honest that I am not a very good book critic. I rarely find books that I truly dislike and tend to be very generous with my reviews. That being said, I will offer up a few notes/criticisms of some of these to give you a more balanced opinion than “this was amazing.” Just don’t expect my ratings to be too low! 

Although I’m not including all of the books I read (even though I liked them all), I’m still splitting my reviews into three separate posts. This post is focused only on the best works of fiction I read this past year. To give more context than my synopsis of the book, I have ranked them all by readability, content and impact. Readability here refers to the level of focus/interpretation required to fully understand and digest the book. Books with fairly straightforward narratives and without any unlabeled time or perspective switches will be very readable. Content refers to well, the content. In this situation, I’m specficially considering the character development, possible plot holes, dialogue, etc. Lastly, impact refers to how relevant the information felt after I finished reading and how well it stuck with me. This is easy to understand for non-fiction books but it also applies to fiction books here. Some fiction books are just pleasant stories to read that you won’t think about much after you’ve finished them, and that is perfectly fine. Other stories show you something about yourself or the world and change the way you see things. Those fiction stories have a higher impact. 

If you missed my best books post from last year, you can read it here for more recommendations and reviews. 

Fiction

Ann Patchett has a wonderful way of making seemingly ordinary stories about family relationships and troubles incredibly captivating. Her stories sneak up on you, leaving you entirely invested in her characters before you even know what happened to you. This story is set in motion by the purchase of the Dutch House. Danny’s father, Cyril Conroy, buys the house as a surprise for his wife and this “sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.” The story is told by Danny over the course of five decades, as he and his older sister Maeve are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother and thrown back into poverty. Through memories and visits to sit outside the Dutch House, Patchett vividly paints the bond between the siblings and their anguish over a past that they can’t seem to escape. 

Readability

10/10

content

9/10

impact

6/10

This is possibly one of the most beautiful love stories I have ever read and is a story that won’t be leaving me any time soon. Set in Burma, the books follows a successful lawyer, Julia, who has come from New York in pursuit of her father who mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Her only clue is a love letter he wrote long ago to a woman she has never heard of. The story she discovers is one of unshakeable love, acceptance and resilience that is from what she expected. This book touched me deeply. It will make your soul stir and renew your belief in the power of love. 

Readability

10/10

content

10/10

impact

9/10

*contains some explicit content*

Toni Morrison is a well-known name in American literature, yet this was my first of her novels. The story itself of a little black girl named Pecola Breedlove who prays for blue eyes so she can be beautiful is heart-wrenching and powerful. Once you add Morrison’s rich language and unique style of writing, the story of Pecola Breedlove becomes truly unforgettable. The feelings that Morrison evokes of shame and yearning are as palpable as the weight of the unbridled injustice of life placed squarely on a little girls shoulders. * If you’re looking to diversify the authors you read, this is a great place to start *

Readability

7/10

content

10/10

impact

9/10

While most people know Elizabeth Gilbert for her non-fiction book Eat, Pray, Love, she also writes delightful fiction. City of Girls is told through letters, the actual story nestled inside. Looking back at her youth, Vivian Morris tells the story of a most unique love story set in the theater world of New York City during the 1940’s. From its eccentric characters and lively drama, on and off the stage, the story is fun, captivating and freeing. Exploring female sexuality, shame and the breaking of rigid norms and expectations, City of Girls is a vibrant read that doesn’t weigh too heavy on the mind. 

Readability

10/10

content

8/10

impact

6/10

*contains some explicit content*

A deceivingly simply written and short novel, Normal People winds through time to tell the complicated story of Connell and Marianne as they fall for each other, and then fall victim to miscommunications and their own destructive habits. I could not have predicted how entangled I would become in their story and how often I would continue to wonder about them after closing the cover. The connection and poignancy of the emotions between Connell and Marianne hits home and keeps you engaged all throughout the book. This is a great book if you’re not ready to commit to a longer read that will draw you in from the beginning, without attempting to teach you any lesson. 

Readability

10/10

content

9/10

impact

7/10

*contains some explicit content*

This is a book that I picked up on a whim, admittedly drawn in by the title. The book begins with the four Gold children seeking out a famed mystic woman who has shown up in New York City. The next five decades of all of their lives are impacted by this moment, as they are all told the day they will die by this woman. We see how each of their lives unfold and the drastically different ways in which this information has affected each of them as Simon escapes to San Francisco looking for love, Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, Daniel seeks security as an army doctor, and Varya wraps herself in a life of predictable research and little else. The magic of this book is a bit difficult to put into words. The deft way in which it explores destiny and choice and reality and illusion simply has to be experienced.

Readability

10/10

content

10/10

impact

7/10

If you’re a historical fiction lover, this is a story you’ll likely love. It follows Ernest Hemingway’s passionate but difficult marriage to Martha Gellhorn, from her perspective. Gellhorn is an strong and independent war correspondent who finds herself falling for Hemingway. Their relationship is a tumultuous struggle for Gellhorn not to lose herself in the shadow of Hemingway as she fights to have her own career. I’ve previously read The Paris Wife, also by McLain, about Hemingway’s first wife and loved it. McLain has a special touch for bringing these stories to life and really making them feel like they’re unfolding before you, not occuring in the past. 

Readability

10/10

content

7/10

impact

6/10

This book got a lot of buzz and for good reason. Delia Owens writes a beautiful coming of age story unlike many others, without that distinctly “teenage-angst” feeling that make many others difficult to relate to once you’ve already “come of age.” The story of Kya becoming a woman is set against the backdrop of the Carolina marshlands and intertwined with stories of isolation, love, and murder. Owens wraps all of these elements in a layer of rich description of the natural world around Kya. While the narrative and some of the dialogue and character development can be a bit simplistic at times, it’s still a beautiful story to read, particularly because of the eloquent descriptions of nature. 

Readability

10/10

content

7/10

impact

7/10

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

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