Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! For me, the word “favorite” is an important part of this list. As I go through the last year’s worth of reading, I often found that some books would strike particular chords within me more deeply than others, even if, quality-wise, another book might be stronger. Of course, this just makes it all that much harder to put them in any order. But here it goes! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, ten to six. And since it’s the end of the reading year, don’t forget to enter our “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!”
#10 “The Body in the Garden” by Katharine Schellman
This was a book that definitely took me by surprise this last year. I had fairly randomly requested it on NetGalley just based on the fact that it was a historical mystery. The cover looked kind of derpy and I hadn’t heard of the author. But then it absolutely blew me away! Not only do I just love this type historical mystery featuring a crime-solving lady, but this one broke a lot of the molds and tropes that I had begun to tire of from other similar series I’ve been reading recently. Our main character is a widow, for one thing, and one who has only fairly recently lost her husband and is still clearly mourning him. There is, of course, a gentleman friend introduced in the story, but given the circumstances, the development of any romance will look very different and there was none in this book. I also liked the inclusion of a more racially diverse cast with one of the main character’s friends being a POC young woman. The book also featured a solid mystery and found ways for a lady such as Lily Adler to solve the crime without falling into too many traps of anachronisms in behavior for a woman of the time.
#9 “Driftwood” by Marie Brennan
I also read the first in Brennan’s popular “The Memories of Lady Trent” series this year, but it was this, her recently released stand-alone novel that really captured me. It’s a strange little book about essentially the afterlife where worlds go to finally die after whatever apocalyptic event took them out in the first place. There, these worlds shrink slowly and whatever people remain, must make due in a patchwork place made up of all sorts of different peoples and worlds. It’s a place where change is everything, except for one man, Last, an individual who no one seems to really know but who has been around forever. The story jumps through various people’s tales of their interactions with Last, and through these tales, we explore a taste of the wide variety of worlds and peoples that make up Driftwood. It was such a unique story, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. It’s definitely a must-read for fans of science fiction/fantasy.
#8 “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This was a joint review for both Kate and I, and we both enjoyed it immensely. I think I’ve included a book by Moreno-Garcia on my last two “Top 10” lists, as well, so that should demonstrate my general love for this author. All of her books have been completely different, a Regency romance/fantasy, a Mexican folklore/fable, and here we have a Gothic horror story also set in Mexico. I never know what I’m going to get, but I do know that it’s always good. This book was definitely the creepiest thing I’ve read by her. It plays with all of the Gothic horror tropes in really creative ways and even has tinges of other horror stories like “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The setting is so cool, a rural town in Mexico during the 1950s, and Noemi is an excellent heroine. Fans of the author will definitely enjoy this, and as Kate can attest, horror-lovers will likely enjoy it, too.
#7 “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang
I’m currently reading the second book in this series, “The Dragon Republic,” and it’s bringing back all the memories of why I enjoyed the first book so much. Don’t get me wrong, both the fist and the second are tough reads, but that’s also because Kuang doesn’t shy away from the absolute horror that is warfare, especially the terrible impact it has on innocents caught in the crossfire. The series also explores the burdens that warfare places on its soldiers. Rin’s story is dark, heavy, but also completely compelling. She’s just the sort of character you can’t help but fall in love with while also wanting to constantly shake her and say “No, don’t do that!! Can’t you see??” I also really enjoy the interesting magic system and pantheon of gods that are introduced. Magic comes with a heavy, heavy price, and we see Rin’s struggle with it lead her into incredibly challenging moral areas. The third book came out this fall, so I’m a bit late to this series, overall. But fantasy lovers, especially military fantasy lovers, are sure to enjoy this.
#6 “A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine
I think this was the most straight-up science fiction story I read this year, and it’s only fitting that it made it’s way onto this list. It’s also another one that came out a bit ago and for whatever reason, I didn’t get to until this fall. I blame long library audiobook wait lists for delaying the pure joy that was my experience reading this book. I really loved everything about it: the interesting technology that is introduced, the various cultures that we see, the exploration of topics such as colonialism, empire, and reform. And, of course, our main character Mahit Dzmare is lovely. Taking on the role as a new ambassador to the sprawling Empire, Mahit’s story is one of untangling a complex web of politics and opposing motivations. Through her eyes, we, too, get to explore the tensions that come between both loving and fearing such an immense force as an Empire that is slowly sprawling out across the galaxy and subsuming all it finds in its path. The second book in the series is coming out this spring, and I have an e-ARC all queued up, so this time I’ll be more on top of things!
So that’s ten through six. Next time I will give a countdown of my top five. What have been some of your favorite reads of 2020?