At the end of each year, the NetGalley team loves reflecting back on the great books we’ve read. These are the books that made us laugh, cry, and swoon, and kept us talking nonstop. Here’s a look at our favorite 2020 releases we read this year.
When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole
I am always excited to see what Alyssa Cole will do next. She writes across a variety of different genres, and I was thrilled when her debut thriller was announced. I couldn’t wait to dive in—especially since I was interviewing Cole. When No One is Watching is a brilliant and insidious story of a Brooklyn neighborhood being targeted and infiltrated. Cole weaves together the past and the present to explore gentrification and the way its been used to harm Black communities through the eyes of a heroine determined to preserve the place her mother loved and protect the people who have always been there for her. I particularly loved the way she used conventions of the genre to showcase the gaslighting Sydney was dealing with. This was one of my most-anticipated books of the year, and Cole absolutely delivered—blowing me away once again with her craft, plotting, and character work.
Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
2020 was a year of comfort reads and few books felt as gentle, tender, and warm to me as the two in Emily Tesh’s Greenhollow duology. They’re books that you wish you were reading in an overstuffed armchair in front of a fire, tucked away in a cabin far from the rest of the world. I found myself utterly enchanted by the world Tesh created—one where folklore and history seamlessly blend—and by the changing relationship between Tobias and Henry. Drowned Country is a beautiful conclusion to the story that begins with Silver in the Wood. Tesh explores the ways both Henry and Tobias have been affected by the wood, and how Henry’s selfishness worked to tear them apart. If you haven’t yet picked up this queer fantasy novella duology, I highly recommend taking the time to. These books feel like classic folklore tales, and the romantic thread running through them captured my heart completely.
He’s Come Undone by Emma Barry, Olivia Dade, Adriana Herrera, Ruby Lang, Cat Sebastian
I’ve read a lot of novellas and anthologies this year, and one of my favorites is this romance collection themed around buttoned-up heroes coming undone as they fall in love. I loved seeing how each author dealt with the trope differently and the sort of partner they paired this type of hero with. Emma Barry’s winning opener follows a pianist and the piano technician who helps her find her voice. Olivia Dade’s delightful and funny entry follows a math teacher who is thrown for a loop when asked to mentor the true-crime-loving new art teacher. Adriana Herrera takes readers on a passionate journey where two friends must decide if they’re willing to risk everything to be together. Ruby Lang pairs a doctor with an improv acting teacher in a moving narrative about caring for others without losing yourself. Cat Sebastian closes the anthology with an emotional second chance romance that brought me to tears, and is one of my favorite things she’s ever written. He’s Come Undone features some of my favorite romance authors, as well as new-to-me authors, which made it a particularly wonderful treat.
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, narrated by Alaska Jackson
Netflix, if you’re reading this, please adapt this book into a movie! Leah Johnson’s debut YA novel completely captivated me, and I can’t recommend the audiobook highly enough. High schooler Liz Lighty is hoping to secure a college scholarship through her school’s prom queen competition, but she believes that she’d never win if her small-town found out that she’s queer. Her road to the crown is complicated by her growing feelings for Mack, the new girl in school and one of the students competing to be queen. Johnson perfectly captures the exhilaration and anxiety of a new crush through the lens of a heroine whose wry humor and fierce protectiveness for those she loves stole my heart. It was fantastic to read along as Liz learned to go after what she really wanted and to forget about who might be watching and judging. I loved everything about this book, and cannot wait to see what Johnson writes next.
Eat a Peach by David Chang
I’ve been following David Chang’s career for quite a while now, and I was skeptical of his memoir at first… and then, right there on page one, I was hooked by the modesty and self-awareness presented. Chang provides a lot of intimate details about why he had a particularly rough reputation at the start of his career, and I think by the end of this book, he absolutely redeems himself. The balance of his life, passion for food, the restaurant business, and mental health create a beautiful memoir that I didn’t want to end. If you enjoy memoirs in general, but especially food memoirs, you need to add this to the top of your TBR.
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean
Daring and the Duke, the finale in Sarah MacLean’s Bareknuckle Bastards series, was my most anticipated release of 2020. Several months before it was published, Kelly suggested she and I buddy read MacLean’s entire backlist together—as we both love her books but hadn’t read all of them. It was so amazing seeing MacLean grow into the writer that produced Daring and the Duke because it does so much emotional work. There were so many details laid down in the prior books, and the feminist agenda here just shines. Subtle nods and references to her backlist that made it even more special. I’ve now read Daring and the Duke twice and love Grace and Ewan more with each read. Grace was an incredible and empowered heroine, and though I was unsure how MacLean was going to redeem Ewan, the antagonist of the last two books, in Daring and the Duke, I saw Ewan in a different light and I felt so much sympathy for him. Daring and the Duke is the grovel novel to end all grovels—MacLean literally burns the patriarchy and the aristocracy down. I can’t believe I have to wait a year for her next series now.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo, Melania-Luisa Marte
Elizabeth Acevedo is definitely a new favorite author; I read and loved two of her books this year. Clap When You Land is a book I couldn’t stop thinking about. I listened to the audiobook and loved that Acevedo narrates one of the points of view. Clap When You Land is a heavier YA contemporary read dealing with themes of grief, poverty, disconnect from one’s cultural heritage, sexual harassment and trafficking, and cheating. Acevedo is an incredibly powerful writer and her verse is gorgeously lyrical. I know I will be pre-ordering her next release.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria, narrated by Seraphine Valentine
I connected with You Had Me at Hola on a deeply personal level in a way that I haven’t with a book in a long time. As a half Puerto Rican reader, I felt very seen reading a heroine who wasn’t fluent in Spanish and feels insecure because of it. I also really loved seeing all of these Puerto Rican and Latinx characters on the page. I highly recommend the audiobook for this one as the characters speak Spanish quite frequently and the narrator performs the hero Ashton’s accent so well. I love a celebrity-focused romance and the way Daria incorporated fame into the narrative. Her chapters featuring the scenes the hero and heroine were filming felt really unique and heightened this story. I am really excited to read more of her work.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
I started reading Talia Hibbert books last year and they’ve quickly become comfort reads for me. I loved all of the tropes that Hibbert included in this second installment of the Brown sisters series: fake dating, grumpy meets sunshine, and cinnamon roll hero. Dani is bisexual and even when she’s with Zaf her bisexuality is never negated or forgotten. It was so great to see that representation here. I can’t wait to read the final Brown sister novel next year.
Network Effect by Martha Wells
My top fiction read of 2020 was Network Effect by Martha Wells. I was extremely excited to hear about this first novel-length volume in the Murderbot series, and it did not disappoint. It is the continuing story of a Murderbot who has freed itself from its programming and continues to learn and develop, all while fighting to defend its human friends throughout their dangerous space adventures. I highly recommend starting with the first novella in the series, All Systems Red.
The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial
My top nonfiction read of 2020 was The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial. It’s about a father’s search for his 27-year-old son, who went missing while exploring a part the Costa Rican jungle he’s not supposed to be in. It was a compelling read combining stories of their family’s past adventures exploring nature in the wild and the account of the father’s sleuthing and searching in Costa Rica to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his son.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
I fell in love with V.E. Schwab’s storytelling and lyrical prose in the Shades of Magic series, and I was thrilled when this new book was announced! From the publisher’s description: “In a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.” Addie’s story is, at times, sad and full of challenges, but watching her move through the centuries—facing hunger, cold, and war but also discovering novels, operas, and love—is addicting to read.
(Psst: Loved Addie LaRue? Read our interview with V.E. Schwab here!)
The Answer Is… by Alex Trebek
I pre-ordered And the Answer Is… as soon as I became aware of its existence and read it before Trebek’s passing. I realize as I write that sentence that an adjective usually precedes the word “passing”—often “untimely” or “tragic”—but having read this book, I find modifiers unnecessary. His story is as unique as everyone’s, and also as relatable. As the memoir shows, he took his life one step at a time, and I think he viewed death as the next step. It feels strange to describe a global celebrity as living a quiet life, but, if that’s possible, he achieved it, and that makes his story inspiring in the best way. (Also, for what it’s worth, I personally think LeVar Burton is the only acceptable successor as Jeopardy host.)
Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band by Willie Nelson, Bobbie Nelson
Me and Sister Bobbie was one of my favorite books of 2020. I don’t often stray from my usual genres, but for Willie, I took a chance. This was a dual memoir, alternating chapters between Willie and his sister Bobbie, sharing very personal, deeply moving stories about everything from their childhood, to how they got to where they are today, and every tragedy and triumph in between. I had no idea just how talented Bobbie is and my heart swelled at the never-ending support and obvious close bond between these two siblings. I was blown away by the unfailing determination of this family and the long, hard path they have survived to get to where they are now. I suffered right along with them as I read but wanted nothing more than to slowly take in every step of their journey. Many times I found myself simply shaking my head at Willie and all of his “wanderings,” but I can’t help but love the man anyway. I’m glad he’s still sharing his beautiful and charismatic personality and music with us.