2020 didn’t give us much, but with pandemic furloughs, it did give some of us a lot more time to read and for that we’re surprisingly grateful. We even started a historical romance book club! Now that one is unsurprising, we know. Thus, while I mainly caught up on reading I had missed from a few years ago, some of the new releases this year were exceptional and brought great joy in an otherwise terrible year.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Emily Henry’s Beach Read was the unforeseen glimmer of hope that was needed this year. As writers, so many of us often struggle with the idea of creating something new and exciting, something thrilling that people will talk about and want more of. But sometimes, when you tell people you want to create quiet stories of two people who find happiness with each other, you’re often met with with mutters and negativity. Beach Read tackles the romance genre through an exquisite meta narrative that’s both achingly vulnerable and unexpectedly comforting. Henry’s complex characters and real, simple struggles made for an excellent page turner that’s bound to stay with you for a long time. It’s yet again proof of the fact that romance is a genre we need to continuously uplift and credit, for its ability to heal hearts is unmatched. (I’m going to end up writing an entire defense of the genre one day, I know it.)
“When you love someone,” he said haltingly, “. . . you want to make this world look different for them. To give all the ugly stuff meaning, and amplify the good. That’s what you do. For your readers. For me. You make beautiful things, because you love the world, and maybe the world doesn’t always look how it does in your books, but . . . I think putting them out there, that changes the world a little bit. And the world can’t afford to lose that.”
I could write an entire novel on this quote alone, and how at the end of the day, the novel captures my own personal desire of wanting to create things that mean something to people when the world’s especially dark.
Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall
Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism is the most important thing we read this year and one of the most important books to cover both feminism and women of color. As women, feminism and equality is crucial to us, but so often, marginalized women take the backseat to white feminism. Kendall brilliantly and efficiently shows readers what solidarity actually looks like in the world of feminism. Hood Feminism shows readers what it really means to fight for equal rights and how to devote the same fervor to marginalized women lacking the most basic rights privileged women don’t often face. At one point, Kendall states: “Too often white women decide that when they feel uncomfortable, upset, or threatened, they can turn to the patriarchy for protection. Because they don’t want to lose that protection (dubious as it is), they stand by when it’s convenient, and challenge it only when it directly threatens them” and she’s right. Hood Feminism is a raw, absolutely necessary wake up call and a must read for any woman, and especially, women who come from a privileged background. In order to be allies, we must be willing to listen to the voices whose struggles don’t look like ours because until we take care of and understand each other, we won’t be able to change the minds of those who don’t believe feminism is necessary.
The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton
I laughed, I cried, and I’ve got some snazzy new recipes and tips I immediately put to use. I could not be happier for someone I don’t know as I am for the life Hilarie Burton’s built for herself, the battles she’s overcome, and the blessings she’s received. I didn’t know it was possible to be a bigger fan of hers after 16 years, but here we are. She’s a damn marvel–a dreamboat, absolute force of a woman! The Rural Diaries is a stunning, remarkably moving journey and without question, the most moving biography I’ve read this year. Burton did the one thing I always tell people I want to do that’s followed by the most absurd looks–leave LA, find a small town and a farm to live happily in.
Burton’s book encapsulates vulnerability, heartaches, and the importance of staying true to oneself in an industry that’s trying to crush you. It encapsulates the importance of family and communication and fighting through even when it gets tough. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I genuinely didn’t think I’d be as moved as I was. I don’t often reread biographies, but I know I’ll reach for this one more than once.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man isn’t a novel I expected to love and I’m thrilled to have been wrong. My initial hesitations came from knowing that the main character would end up with her ex-fiancé’s brother, but Mia Sosa’s storytelling is so organically moving that it worked. I found myself rooting for them early on and the pay off felt right. There’s a fun rivalry, a retreat (no spoilers), and characters who actually communicate. The lead heroine Carolina Santos is an Afro-Latina woman who gives readers glimpses into her family’s culture while introducing our hero to parts of it too and if there’s anything we appreciate most in stories today, it’s cultural inclusivity. It’s delightfully remarkable and another one of those novels we immediately need to see turned into a film.
The Boyfriend Project by Ferrah Rochon
From beginning to end, Ferrah Rochon’s The Boyfriend Project is a page turner–with a brilliant focus on female friendships and compelling characters, there’s not a single dynamic or moment throughout the novel that didn’t feel seamless. And the love story is such a fantastic workplace romance with a twist; we really don’t need to say more other than the fact that it’s yet another novel we immediately need turned into a film. The Boyfriend Project is surprising, fun, and it’s a story about badass, kind women who get stuff done and men who admire them for it. At its core, it’s a story about friendship and transparency. This was the first novel I read by Rochon and the first present-day romance written in third person, which is a personal preference of mine. Rochon’s style is stunning, her characters are riveting and the end of this novel will leave you wanting more. (Which thankfully, we’ll likely get!)
Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean
Other than Sarah MacLean’s beautifully expressive tone, my favorite thing about the author is how she’s able to somehow make me adore the character I started off hating. When we were introduced to Ewan in Wicked and the Wallflower, I knew she’d pull a The Day of the Dutchess on us and redeem him. While Ewan is so much worse than Malcom and it felt like it’d be impossible, MacLean unsurprisingly and admirably pulled it off. Ewan and Grace were magic together–when it finally happened, it felt right. There’s a particular detail about a masquerade that I really admired and loudly cheered because of. (Ask me about privately, people deserve to be unspoiled.) The worlds they’d built apart came together gorgeously and the Barenuckle Bastards finding themselves back to each other was the cherry on top type of happy ending this series needed.
Four of these novels were recommended to us by the lovely Heather over at TV Examined who’s always got her readers covered with book reviews–be on the lookout for her Best of 2020 list too!
What have some of your favorite books of the year been? Have you read any of our favorites?