The Long Anticipated List: The 20 Five Star Books of 2020

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2020 is the year of book binging. 

Collectively, the three of us read over 250 books this year. If we add the re-reads of the entire Ilona Andrews and Tamora Pierce series, we read over 300 books this year! Now we have always been prolific readers, but staying at home has exponentially increased our reading this year to new heights that I’m not sure if we will be able to reach again.

During our weekly zoom call, we tried to narrow down our favorite books for 2020 out these 250 books, and it may have been the hardest decision we have made this year (slight hyperbole). 

We originally tried to decide on just the top 3 books, but that was almost impossible. How do you pick only three books out of the 250 new books we read? There were SO MANY absolutely fantastic books this year that picking just 1 book each felt like trying to pick my favorite pet or favorite sibling.

 

Then we tried the top 3 books each, but how do you compare so many fantastic books across different genres? Is a Five Star fiction book less deserving of praise than a Five Star non-fiction book? Does a fantasy book trump contemporary fiction? (IMO, Yes 😀 ) Do we include books that were published before 2020 or only new releases?

Finally, we threw our hands up and decided to include every book that we read in 2020 that we considered a Five Star Book, no matter the genre, the subject matter, or what the final number that tallied up at the end. 

I was a little nervous that we were going to end up with a list of 100+ books…

How We Decided on the Definition of Five Star Books

You may have noticed on AlchemyBookshop that we really don’t rank books as some other book blogs and bookstagrammers do. Occasionally we throw around random ratings like 3 star, 4ish stars, it has a certain number of stars but still wouldn’t read again. Generally our internal ratings are something like this:

  • Ugh, wish I never read and will gladly pass on only to my enemies (since I have so many enemies)
  • Meh, likely won’t re-read but don’t regret reading
  • Sigh, so happy I read this book
  • Swoon, will absolutely re-read

However, the only rating we hold sacred is the “Five Star Book”. 

So what do we mean when we say it was a Five Star Book?

Five Star Books are stories that stick with me long after the last page is read. They are stories that I dream about, that I can’t wait to talk to friends about, and I gift to other friends and family members just in hopes that they will finally read the book. 

These are books that I own both the physical and E-book copy to have the ability to re-read at my leisure when I’m outdoors on my E-reader and to annotate on my physical copy. If I borrowed these books from a friend or the library, I IMMEDIATELY run to buy my own copy of the books to treasure. That is a Five Star Book.

Our 20 Five Star Books Of 2020

Genre Menu:

Historical Fiction

Brit Bennett

Vanishing half is a book I originally requested from the library, was 71th in line, and now I am purchasing my own copy because it is THAT GOOD. 

Two light-skinned girls, Stella and Desiree, spent their childhood together, depending on each other after their father was the victim of a lynching by white men. The twins run away to New Orleans to escape their past and their town, but end up taking very different paths. Stella disappears to pass as white and leaves the other twin Desiree, who married the darkest man she could find. The book follows the story of the twins and their daughters in a beautiful intertwining tale over several decades of family and relationships.

Goodreads Best for Historical Fiction

Jennie Fields

It’s the story of a Rosalind: a scientist who originally worked with Fermi on the Atomic Bomb and who is now stuck in anonymity working behind a jewelry counter at the local Chicago department store. Her past comes back to haunt her as the FBI (via a dreamy agent) pushes her to gather intelligence on her former coworker and lover- who just may be selling secrets to the Russians during the Cold War.

This book ticked all the boxes for me: smart female narrator, period drama, and murder.

Fantasy

V.E. Schwab

This book was the absolute perfect story to distract me on election day this year when my nerves were literally through the roof. This book took such a hold over me, I read it over the course of the day in about 8 hours. 

Addie has made a deal with the devil; she will live forever, but no one will ever remember her. Over the past 300 years, she has lived on the edge of history until one day, someone remembers her name.

Should have won the Goodread’s Best of Fantasy for 2020.   V.E. Schwab, you were ROBBED!

Katherine Arden

A fantasy trilogy inspired by Russian Folklore?! Yes, Please!

Vasilisa is the youngest daughter of a Medieval Russian Lord and has inherited the magic and ability to see the household spirits from her mother’s side who died when she was born. She is brave and mischievous, but everything starts to change when her father brings home a new stepmother that forbids the worship of the household spirits. Misfortunes begin to befall the village and Vasilisa with her lack of supposed female propriety is the target of everyone’s, including the new priest’s, wrath.

N.K. Jemisin

I actually purchased this book in 2019 and for some unknown reason, it sat on my shelf for months. When I finally picked up it, I devoured the book and the rest of the trilogy in a matter of days. This is such a unique fantasy book with an incredibly creative magic system. Highly highly recommend picking it up if you adore fantasy.  It won the Hugo Award for a reason.

Erin Morgenstern

This is one of those books you either really love or really don’t like. I think you need to be in the mood to wander through a waking dream and have your head in the proverbial clouds for a time. 

If you love stories about stories and the impact they have on our lives, pick up this book. You may not always know where you are when reading this book, but it takes you on such a journey.

Jennifer L. Armentrout

Poppy is “The Maiden” the one chosen by the gods. As she bucks tradition and expectations more and more you begin to question exactly who chose her… and for what purpose. The chemistry between her and her love interest was off the charts, and there are some really interesting questions about what we consider normal within the societies that we live in.

I would classify this book as more of a fantasy romance, it has some STEAMY scenes. However, the world building is superb and the society that Poppy inhabits is filled with intrigue. 

Goodreads Best Romance for 2020

Susanna Clarke

Listen, do not read anything about this book before you read it. Just trust me, go pick this book up and let its mysteries unfold before you. I probably would never have picked this book up on my own, but it was a Christmas gift and I read it in one sitting on Christmas day. 

If you loved the whimsy and mystery of “The Starless Sea“, but crave a little more clarity and plot… you need to pick up this book.

Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver is such a beautiful reimagining of Rumpelstiltskin.   It is one of those books that worms its way into your brain. It’s not flashy, it’s not fast. It’s a slow methodical master class on beautiful writing, strong character development, and an intriguing plot. I found myself thinking about the three main characters while I was away from them, and couldn’t wait to get back to finish their stories. 

20 Five Star Books of 2020

Thriller/ Mystery

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

It’s the Winner of the Goodreads Pick for Horror for a reason.

I can’t tell you how CREEPY this book is. I had to shut it so many times during the read because I was that freaked out! Noemí is an amazing protagonist, and you find yourself enthralled by her struggle to save her cousin from a family who lives in an isolated and rotting house.

Liz Moore

Two sisters are estranged in the middle of the opioid crisis in their neighborhood. One sister, Kacey, is in the throes of her addiction and the other, Mickey, is a police officer.  When Kacey disappears and people are turning up dead, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding the murderer and her sister before it is too late.

Aimee Molloy

A fantastic psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Annie is newly married to her gorgeous psychologist husband, Sam, who has relocated to a small town in Upstate New York.  However, one day he leaves his office and doesn’t return home.  The twists and turns of the novel are unreal!

Nonfiction

Isabel Wilkerson

This is a tough read, and by that, I do mean emotionally tough. Isabel Wilkerson explores the horrible past and present of racism in the United States and how it relates to Caste by comparing it to both the Caste system in India and that of Nazi Germany. I’ve learned a lot from this book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

If you need any more persuasion, this was also one of Oprah’s Book Club recommendations and winner of the Goodreads Best of History for 2020.

Trevor Noah

Best known as the host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah was born in South Africa to a White father and a Black mother when it was a CRIME punishable by 5 years in prison for such a union to occur.  He spent most of his early childhood hidden as he was proof of that supposed crime.

This book made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think. I particularly was struck by the injustices Trevor’s mother had to face. Walking through the world as a black woman in apartheid South Africa was not a forgiving existence for her. 

I highly encourage you to listen to this as an audiobook so that you can get the full experience of Trevor telling you his own life story. 

Mikki Kendall

Hood Feminism was one of my favorite reads this year. As the world mourned the death of George Floyd and we took to the streets in anger and with a demand for change, it’s important to put in the work to be the best co-conspirator possible. Intersectionalism is not just a buzzword, it’s vital to feminists movements. 

Access to basic needs such as food, health care and education should be the foundations of feminist ideals but are frequently forgotten.  It is a powerful reminder that we need to do better and be more inclusive.

Mikki Kendall makes these concepts accessible via her book.

Contemporary Fiction/ Rom-Com

Delia Owens

I picked up this book as it is set on the rural coast of North Carolina close to where I grew up.  However, I procrastinated about starting the novel as I typically don’t like books that the whole world is raving about.

Kya or “Marsh Girl” has been abandoned by everyone in her family and is pariah in her small town. She learns to fend for herself starting at an incredibly early age. The book takes you through Kya’s life as she grows up and learns to trust again. Beautifully written scenery that make me want to buy a ticket back home immediately. 

Emily Henry

This is not the lighthearted rom-com that the cover and title lead you to believe. 

A romance author, who no longer believes in love, and a fiction author, who likes to kill off his entire cast, are accidental neighbors in a small lakeside town, and both are suffering from giant case writer’s block.  They make a bet to switch genres and see who can write the next bestseller. 

I listen to this book as an audiobook; the voice actress is phenomenal.

Talia Hibberty

This is the first rom-com that I have read featuring a woman with chronic illnesses, and there needs to be MORE.  The author was tired of reading the same perfect women in romance books and decided to write her own rom-coms featuring characters that are so much more real.  

After a near-death experience, Chloe Brown decides she had enough.  She isn’t going to let her chronic illness rule her life and she has made a list of 7 ways she is going to “Get a Life”.  First, move into her own apartment. Then, enjoy a drunken night out, a motorcycle ride, meaningless sex, go camping, travel the world, and do something… bad.  She is going to need someone to help her finish her list.

This book is STEAMY!

Elon Gree (March 2021)

Y’all, this book is SO FUN. I am so here for the #ownvoices movement. Never before in history (so far) have we had such a richness of stories that have been told and for me to read. Helen Hoang writes a riveting book that I could not put down. 

Stella is a 30-year old math genius with Aspergers. She’s incredibly successful in her career but not so much in romance. After some pointed comments from her mother about starting a family she decides she needs to pay attention to that side of life.  She does the reasonable thing and hires an escort, Michael, to teach her sexy lessons from her thoroughly thought out lesson plan.

Another STEAMY book that you will absolutely love. 

Poetry

Reginald Dwayne Betts

An absolutely captivating account of the time spent behind bars in poems.  An incredible powerful series of poems describing the life of raising two black men and the systemic prejudices and injustices they face.  

These poems gripped me from the start and would not let go. 

2020 was a fantastic reading year, and I look forward to trying to achieve my personal goal of 120 new books in 2021.  Collectively, our goal is to read over 300 books for 2021!

It’s going to be hard to imagine that we are going to read as many Five Star Books in 2021, but I have a fairly large list of new releases that I’m over the moon excited for.  If you are interested, check out the 26 New Releases for the first half of 2021.

What were your favorite books of 2020?  What is your reading goal for 2021?

-Alice

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    14 thoughts on “The Long Anticipated List: The 20 Five Star Books of 2020”

    1. I think honestly almost all bloggers rate a little differently. I rarely have anything besides 3-5 stars on my blog because if I’m not enjoying, I just don’t finish them anymore. There are too many books out there I want to read to waste time on ones I’m not enjoying. You’ve got a few on this list I’ve read in years past and really enjoyed, so I can see why you chose them! You also have a few I need to read soon. Great list!
      My Top 10 of 2020

      Reply
    2. It is always hard to narrow down favorite reads. I read a lot this year and I’m getting fairly good at picking out the good ones so overall I had a great reading year (there was only one or two duds).

      Reply
    3. So many great books here! Beach Read was my favorite book of the year, and The Kiss Quotient was a five-star read for me, too. I’m excited to read The Bear and the Nightingale and The Vanishing Half, as well. Happy Reading in 2021!

      Reply
      • Beach read was surprisingly fantastic. I think the cover and title really throw you off a little thinking it’s just a feel good rom com, but it is so much better than that with surprising depth. There was at least one section that had me tearing up in the car while listening to the audiobook. I will read everything from that author now!

        Reply
    4. I just received The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and I can’t wait to start it. I totally agree with your 5 star book rating–if a book sticks with me long after and I can keep recommending it to others, then it’s my 5 star book also. Jason Reynolds Long Way Down is still one of those books for me and I read it over 2 years ago. In fact, I just read the graphic novel adaptation and loved it too. Picking a favorite book is way too hard for book lovers!

      Reply

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