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Best Books Of 2020: 35 Must-Read New Books

What were the best books of 2020? Uncover top books released in 2020 in literary and historical fiction, inspirational nonfiction, indie, and more.

As a book blogger and reader, I never love sharing exactly how many books I’ve read every year just to prove I’m “an expert.”

The Uncorked Librarian is not about how much anyone has read. It’s about what you read, what you think, and if you uncover something new, inspiring, and out of your norm.

Plus, wine. Always wine. We are all about the wine.

I have, however, read quite a few new releases, and below, I’m sharing what I consider to be the best books of 2020 – specifically, books published in 2020 – with an emphasis on inspirational nonfiction and diverse books set around the world.

Still, I can always do better. I’m missing translated literature, for example, and YA is a little ghostly.

You might agree with some of these must-read books of 2020 or think others are complete rubbish. That’s OK, too.

I saw the Goodreads Choice Awards nominees and just about lost my mind when one of the absolute worst books I’ve read all year stared right back at me. We all have our feisty opinions.

So, what are TUL’s top books of 2020? What do we consider to be the best books of the year? Let’s get started!

P.S. If I only had to pick the 5 best books of 2020 from this list, I’d go with: The Beauty In Breaking by Michele Harper, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle, The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, A Burning by Megha Majumdar, and The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.

See what’s upcoming in 2021.

Best Books Of 2020 and Must-Read Books 2020 with book covers for The Beauty In Breaking, The Good Neighborhood, Leave The World Behind, The Death of Vivek Oji, Transcendent Kingdom, Untamed, and In Five YearsPin
Are you looking for the best books of 2020? Below, find the top books that we’ve read this year in literary fiction, indie, thrillers, LGBTQ+, YA, historical fiction, nonfiction, and so much more.

Grab your favorite 2020 books here:

  • Audible Plus: From Amazon, listen to Amazon Originals, podcasts, and audiobooks. They add new titles every week.
  • Book of the Month: Get the month’s hottest new and upcoming titles from Book of the Month. You might snag an early release or debut author. Along with selecting a book a month, find terrific add-ons, both trendy and lesser-known titles.
  • Amazon Prime Video – Stream thousands of ad-free movies and TV series on demand with Prime Video.
  • Express VPN – Using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allows you to view movies worldwide – and they help keep your information safe. Our writers couldn’t have such diverse film reviews without using a VPN.
Best Books Of 2020 To Read Pinterest Pin with book covers for The Beauty In Breaking, Simmer Down, The Vanishing Half Ties That Tether, The Boyfriend Project, A Burning, A Good Neighborhood, and Beach ReadPin
Is your TBR pile already overflowing? Save our best books of 2020 reading list for later on Pinterest and come back to it when you are ready. Many of these books are also perfect for the Uncorked 2021 Reading Challenge.

Best Books Of 2020: Literary & Contemporary Fiction

Best books of 2020 time travel fiction, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig deep blue book cover with large library structurePin

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

One of the absolute best books of 2020 about mental health and a time travel novel, Haig will stir up all of the emotions in his thought-provoking title, The Midnight Library.

Set in England, when Nora attempts to take her life, she heads to the Midnight Library to see if changing her endless regrets would have made her happier.

Find even more great books set in a library. Read more→

Best literary fiction books of 2020, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi black and pink divided book cover with black woman with hands in a prayer like steeplePin

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Transcendent Kingdom is another one of my all-time top books of 2020.

A book about racism, mental health, and science versus faith and religion, follow a family of Ghanaian immigrants living in Alabama.

Their lives are filled with tragedy, depression, and prescription pill addiction.

A med student at Stanford, Gifty studies addiction within mice hoping to help her mother. She is also trying to reconcile her belief in God. 

Read more books about Ghana.

top books of 2020 fiction, A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler white book cover with gold leafPin

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler

Reminiscent of Little Fires Everywhere with a tad of Romeo and Juliet, when the wealthy and white Whitman family moves into close-knit Oak Knoll, North Carolina, building a fancy house and killing Valerie’s tree, no one can predict the tragic outcome of this story.

Or, can they? 

Explore racism, corruption, and disgusting men abusing power.

One of the most infuriating and powerful must-read books of 2020, A Good Neighborhood is also perfect for book clubs. Read more→

Explore more books set in North Carolina.

More Top Books Of 2020 In Contemporary & Literary Fiction

Beach Read by Emily Henry – Technically, Beach Read is also a rom-com and women’s fiction, which is why I am dropping it here. January Andrews is stuck with a case of writers’ block just like Augustus Everett, January’s temporary next-door neighbor. When the two challenge one another to write in each other’s genres – romance and American lit – they learn more than just how to craft a new story. Read more→

Sex And Vanity By Kevin Kwan – I’m not sure I’d go down fighting to call Sex And Vanity one of the best books of 2020, but I love Kwan too much to leave him off of this list. In an over-the-top rom-com-esque read, head to the sexy island of Capri. Lucie meets George during an extravagant wedding weekend in Italy. Although Lucie doesn’t understand George – and they come from different cultural and financial backgrounds – they are caught via drone in a faux-pas, comprising situation. Read more→

If you love Sex and Vanity, don’t miss these books set in Italy.

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Top Books Of 2020: Women’s Fiction

Best Books of 2020 in women's fiction, In Five Years by Rebecca Serle cream book cover with NYC cityscapePin

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

One of the must-read books of 2020 that I’ve pretty much recommended to everyone, don’t miss In Five Years.

Set in NYC, Dannie has a dream and witnesses her life 5 years into the future. Shockingly, she is in the arms of a man who is not her fiancée. In fact, he’s her best friend’s beau.

This 2020 release is nothing that you expect it to be. Read more→

Top books of 2020 in women's fiction, Writers & Lovers by Lily King book cover with table covered in fruits and flowersPin

Writers & Lovers by Lily King

One of our top books of 2020 in women’s fiction – and a great book about writing and bookshead to Massachusetts to meet Casey Peabody, a writer trying to overcome the loss of her mother while also paying the bills.

With two possible love interests, how can Casey possibly choose the right man when she can barely love herself? Read more→

More Must-Read Books Of 2020 In Women’s Fiction

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore – One of the hardest to digest but best books of 2020, meet 5 different women in Odessa, Texas in the mid-1970s. All are deeply affected by the brutal attack of Gloria, a young Mexican girl. Watch poverty, racism, abandonment, and a failed justice system at its worst. I love-despised this book. Read more→

What You Wish For By Katherine Center – If you adore books about school librarians, find romance and a heartwarming novel about overcoming loss and trauma set in Galveston, Texas. Read more→

Darling Rose Gold By Stephanie Wrobel – One of the must-read books of 2020 about mother-daughter relationships, Poisonous Patty has just finished serving a 5-year prison sentence. Patty would alter her daughter, Rose Gold’s, food to make her appear sick and in need of money and help. Rose Gold allows her mom to move back in with her…which seems…off. The toxicity and manipulation make Darling Rose Gold one of the best fast-paced thrillers and spooky books of 2020. Read more→

Read around the U.S. with these 50 States books.

Best Books Of 2020: Historical Fiction

Must-Read books of 2020 historical fiction, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett book cover with swirls of blue, pink, yellow, and orange colorsPin

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

One of the most talked-about and best books of 2020 in historical fiction, The Vanishing Half follows the lives of two Black sisters growing up in the Deep South.

Each sister chooses a different path based on the color of their skin.

An intensely poignant and authentic novel about race and racism — set in Louisiana and California in the 1950s to 1990s — readers see just how deeply these mothers’ choices and feelings affect their lives and children. Read more→

Best books of 2020 in gothic fiction Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia book cover with Mexican woman wearing a maroon dress holding flowersPin

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

One of the best books of 2020 in gothic fiction, head to the 1950s and the Mexican countryside in Mexican Gothic.

Noemí Taboada receives an unsettling letter from her cousin, Catalina, at High Place. Catalina sees ghosts carrying deadly secrets within the walls.

What plagues this family? If you love haunted houses or gothic horror, this one is for you. Read more→

More Top Books Of 2020 In Historical Fiction

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon – One of the must-read books of 2020 in WWII biographical fiction, meet the woman responsible for killing an infamously savage Nazi, leading a covert part of the French Resistance with British help, and saving thousands of people’s lives. Nancy Wake jumps out of planes with her red lipstick and converts a truck into an ambulance, becoming a hero and spy with a bounty on her back. Read More→

Must-Read Books Of 2020: Romance

Top Books Of 2020 in romance, Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo book cover with young Black woman wearing purple sunglassesPin

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

Born in Nigeria, Azere and her family move to Canada. She promises her dying father that she’ll marry an Edo man, but all of that changes when she meets Rafael.

Ties That Tether is a gorgeous story about love and culture. Igharo examines the battles interracial couples face in themselves and within their families.  Read more→

Multicultural romance must-read books of 2020, Simmer Down by Sarah Smith with picture of condiments, food truck, and side of woman in a yellow dressPin

Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

One of the top foodie and multicultural romances of 2020, watch as Nikki and Callum compete in the Maui Food Truck Festival while falling in love.

You’ll feel the gorgeous island breeze as well as taste the delicious food. Read more→

Even More Best Romance Books Of 2020:

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler – Head to Moose Springs, Alaska where it’s tourists vs locals. Graham runs a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and breaks his own rules as he falls for a cute and clumsy tourist, Zoey. Read More→

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon – Rom-Com meets technology in this women-powered, multicultural story about self-growth and love set in Austin, Texas. When Samiah Brooks becomes a viral YouTube star after the man she’s dating is caught with multiple women, she and her new scorned friends decide to focus on themselves. Read more→

Best Books Of 2020: Thrillers, Suspense & Mystery

The Guest List Lucy FoleyPin

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

One of the best books of 2020 for beach reads, I enjoyed The Guest List too much.

Set on a spooky island off of the coast of Ireland, a groom is dead and the spoiled bridal party looks awfully suspicious.

Agatha Christie lovers will dive right into this one, and prepare yourself for Gatsby-proportioned wedding festivities and drunken frat boys. Read more→

Read even more books set in and about Ireland.

Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam book cover with diving board and poolPin

Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Another one of my top books of 2020 that was eerily gripping, Amanda and Clay are vacationing in a rented Airbnb on Long Island.

The older owners return, warning them of a terrifying blackout in NYC. Ruth and H.G. want their safe ‘country’ home back and end up staying with their temporary tenants who, quite frankly, disgust them.

Told over the course of a few days with limited action, a haunting story unfolds questioning how we live, what we rely upon, privilege, and human nature.

Even better, Leave the World Behind is slated to become a movie in 2023. Read more→

More Top Books Of 2020 In Thrillers & Mystery

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James – One of my favorite must-read books of 2020 and for lovers of spooky hotel novelsThe Sun Down Motel is perfect if you enjoy the My Favorite Murder podcast. Set in Upstate New York in 1982, Carly’s Aunt Viv mysteriously disappears from the Sun Down Motel.  With her mother’s recent death and a love for true crime, Carly heads off to the cursed town of Fell to investigate her aunt’s disappearance from 30 years ago. Is the same fate awaiting Carly? This is the ultimate ghost story novelRead More→

The Night Swim by Megan Goldin – A psychological thriller set in small-town North Carolina, follow Rachel Krall, a true-crime podcaster responsible for freeing a man. Recruited into a new trial as well as a mysterious disappearance and murder mystery, Rachel finds herself caught up in the deadly drama. Read more→

Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane – Set in Ithaca, New York, we know that quiet and mysterious Lila Ridgefield offed her husband — but no one can prove it. Both Lila and Aaron grew up surrounded by trauma and tragedy. Unfortunately for Lila, her scheme doesn’t go quite as planned, and her supposedly dead husband is missing.

Must Read Books Of 2020: LGBTQ+

The Death Of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi book cover with red and pink braidPin

The Death Of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Set in Nigeria and one of my all-time top books of 2020, when a son turns up dead on his mother’s doorstep, she’ll have to learn how to ask the right questions.

Did she really know and accept him?

The Death of Vivek Oji is both terribly heartbreaking but also beautiful in its friendships, writing, and messaging.

Emezi showcases the importance of community, and begs multiple questions: If we can’t live our truest lives, can we still be happy?

Why do we need to hide and from whom? And what are the consequences when others refuse to recognize and celebrate our differences? Read more→

Explore even more books filled with touching friendships, and see what other book of Emezi’s landed on our best of 2022 reading list.

A Burning by Megha Majumdar book cover with orange, red, and yellow flamesPin

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

If you are looking for the best books of 2020 in political fiction, don’t miss A Burning.

After writing a heated social media message against the government, leaders accuse Jivan — a Muslim living in the slums of India — of being a terrorist for a crime she didn’t commit.

Enter a realistic story about power and women and how three people in similar situations that were once united fall apart to save themselves.

Meet the transgender outcast dreaming of becoming a star and a physical education teacher easily persuaded to do the unthinkable when power and money dangle in front of him. Read more→

Read more books set in and about India.

Must Read and Top Books 2020 Pinterest Pin with book covers for In The Now, Transcendent Kingdom, Untamed, Darling Rose Gold, Valentine, and The Death of Vivek OjiPin
Did you find new books to read? Save our Top Books Of 2020 reading list for later, and never be without a good book recommendation, especially for our 2021 Reading Challenge.

Must-Read Books Of 2020: Indie

Top books 2020 in indie, In The Now by Jennifer Ann Shore book cover with confetti dotsPin

In The Now by Jennifer Ann Shore

Looking for the best indie books of 2020? Head to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when music sensation Olivia O returns home and learns that her mentor and father-figure is gravely ill.

She runs into her high school bully, which fast-tracks this story into an enemies-to-lovers rom-com. Read more→

Best Indie books of the year, In The Realm Of Ash And Sorrow by Kenneth W. Harmon book cover with purple mountains and young Japanese woman standing on a ledge looking outPin

In The Realm Of Ash And Sorrow by Kenneth W. Harmon

One of TUL’s top books of 2020 in WW2 historical fiction, Harmon transports readers to Japan before the bombing of Hiroshima. Micah Lund dies when his bombing plane crashes.

His spirit cannot move on, and he begins learning about the ‘enemy’ that he’s been adamantly and hatefully attacking. Read more→

More Must-Read Indie Books Of 2020

As Much As I Ever Could by Brandy Woods Snow – Set in Edisto, South Carolina, CJ’s father sends her away to spend time with her estranged and feisty grandmother. The sole survivor of a horrific car crash, CJ has given up on the world…until she falls for a race car driver. As Much As I Ever Could is the perfect summer escapist romance.

Best Books Of 2020: Nonfiction Must-Reads

Best books of 2020 in memoir, The Beauty In Breaking by Michele Harper orange and turquoise book cover with image of the internal organsPin

The Beauty In Breaking by Michele Harper

One of the absolute best books of 2020 in memoir and nonfiction, I love love loved Harper’s The Beauty In Breaking.

A Black ER physician, Harper discusses overcoming trauma, sexism, divorce, and racism through her eyes as well as through interactions with her patients.

The title is both meditative and healing, and as Harper says, there is beauty is breaking. Read more→

Must-read books 2020 nonfiction, Untamed by Glennon Doyle colorful book cover with turquoise, red, gold glitter, and pinks swirled aroundPin

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Can we talk about the top people of 2020 and their books? I also follow Doyle on Instagram.

Her book, Untamed, is one of the must-read books of 2020 in LGBTQ+ nonfiction if you are looking for a courage-inducing memoir about love, addiction, divorce, and living your truest and most beautiful life. Read more→

best nonfiction books of the year, Joy At Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein book coverPin

Joy At Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein

One of the top books of 2020 in organization & self-improvement, Kondo teams up with organizational psychologist, Scott Sonenshein, to help readers find joy in the workforce.

Uncover helpful advice for how to clean up your physical desk, hold more productive meetings, and organize all of your acclimated digital stuff.

More Must-Read Books Of 2020 In Nonfiction

The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph – Joseph and prominent members of the Black community discuss racism and how to be a better white person and antiracist. Joseph uses his own personal stories to examine everyday microaggressions to say, yup, that was racist, and here’s how to fix it.

Best Books Of 2020: YA

Top YA Books of 2020, Dear Justyce by Nic Stone book cover with young Black men wearing a blue outfit on a gray coverPin

Dear Justyce by Nic Stone

The sequel to Dear Martin, Quan finds himself trapped in the juvenile (in)justice system as a young Black man growing up in Atlanta, Georgia.

The story begins with Quan in jail. Police are accusing him of killing the police officer who had previously profiled Justyce. Read more→

Best YA Books Of The Year, Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch book cover with heart inside Greek symbolPin

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

One of the best books of 2020 in YA and set in Santorini, Greece, I loved everything about Love & Olives, including the history of Atlantis, that gorgeous bookstore, and, of course, the destination.

Liv Varanakis visits her estranged father in Greece to help him work on a National Geographic documentary about his obsessive passion, Atlantis.

Although Liv falls in love with Greece and a boy who is not her cruddy boyfriend, she’s not sure if she can forgive her father for leaving her. Read more→

More Must-Read YA & Junior Fiction Books Of 2020:

Anna K: A Love Story by Jenny Lee – If you are looking for an over-the-top YA romance written in honor of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and a teen version of Crazy Rich Asians, Anna K is for you. Enter high society, teenage drama with a love story.

On The Horizon by Lois Lowry – TUL showcases mostly adult books and occasionally YA. However, I have one junior nonfiction title that I must recommend here, Lowry’s On the Horizon. Set in both Hawaii and Japan during WW2, young readers learn more about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Find illustrations, poems, and prose that gives voice and humanity to the many affected or killed on those fateful days. Read More→

What do you consider to be the best books of 2020? Which must-read books did we miss?

It’s always so hard compiling a ‘best books of the year’ reading list, especially when you devour a lot of novels and loved them all. Plus, reading is terribly subjective.

What are your top books of 2020? Which ones met up to the hype? Which ‘best books of 2020’ disappointed you? Please let us know in the comments.

…AND, if you enjoyed this reading list, don’t forget to join our 2021 Reading Challenge here→

If You Loved These Top Books Of 2020, Try:

2021’s Hottest New Book Releases
Upcoming 2020 Books You Might Have Missed

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Christine Frascarelli

Christine (she/her) is the owner, lead editor, and tipsy book sommelier of The Uncorked Librarian LLC, an online literary publication showcasing books and movies to inspire travel and home to the famed Uncorked Reading Challenge.

With a BA in English & History from Smith College, an MLIS from USF-Tampa, and a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship in Christine's back pocket, there isn't a bookstore, library, or winery that can hide from her. Christine loves brewery yoga, adopting all of the kitties, and a glass of oaked Chardonnay. Charcuterie is her favorite food group.

Lauren Elena

Monday 23rd of November 2020

What a list! I will have to return to this list repeatedly to decide on my next books to read. These all sound great. Someone else just posted today about The Midnight Library so now I definitely want to read it. I still need to read Beach Read. I should have read that one ages ago. I know I’ll love it. And you know I loved In Five Years. Thank you again for recommending that one! I think it was a compelling and beautiful read. I love spy stories so I’d love to read Code Name Helene. Simmer Down!!! My fav for 2020. I might be biased though. ;) No, it was SO awesome. I need to go to Maui asap, I’m curious about The Guest list and Pretty Little Wife!? Whoa that sounds so good. I love stuff like that. Sounds like a book for fans of Gone Girl, which definitely is me. And finally I have to read Anna K. One of my greatest literary accomplishments was reading Anna Karenina (which I loved) so I definitely need to read the YA version. I love YA!

Awesome awesome list. Thank you for putting it together.


Tuesday 24th of November 2020

Yay! That's what I was hoping: That many of my readers will use this list when they need ideas and also for our 2021 Reading Challenge.

I really loved The Midnight Library. When I received the ARC, I had no idea what it was about (I went for the title...hello, library!), and I was blown away. Having lost a friend to suicide last year, it really made me think. The messaging is spot on, and while it's a tough read, it's one of the essential books of 2020. Plus, I was hoping more books would address mental health, and The Midnight Library does that.

People either loved or didn't love Beach Read -- but I truly thought it was a fun rom-com about writing that I really just needed this summer with the pandemic. It's light and sweet.

In Five Years was perfect and such a quick read that I want to re-read it.

The Guest List was also controversial for some, but I just freaking devoured it lol. It was too much fun with the drunk and obnoxious frat boys, and the Ireland setting was perfect.

Like you, Simmer Down was sexy and awesome for a foodie romance. The Maui setting and cat really made it. Ok, and the abs...

Pretty Little Wife is definitely like Gone Girl -- and man, this story took a dark, dark turn. I wasn't expecting it -- even though all of the clues were right there. It's a little terrifying and gripping...and graphic.

I haven't read the real Anna Karenina so I feel like I have to now. Should I?

Thanks so much!


Wednesday 18th of November 2020

I really enjoyed Joy at Work too. It was nice to get some specific examples and take some time to think about and combat digital clutter.


Wednesday 18th of November 2020

Yes! After I read Joy At Work, I went wild cleaning up my computer desktop files and my digital pictures. I also dove into organizing my emails. I didn't follow every piece of advice exactly, but most of it was perfect. I still use my "for the future," "use frequently," and "current projects" desktop folders.