Best Books of 2020

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 100 books! I got close to making it happen at 86 books — and I’m happy with the high number I achieved. With all the bad news and unexpectedness of 2020, I have found books and the online bookish community to be a bright, positive spot in many ways. I hope you have, too.

I’ve included 20 books, 2-3 per genre, in my BEST list this year! If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2020 Goodreads year in books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my blog review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2020

Novellas

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Sweet romance. Compassion. Hope.

A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber*

Long-awaited event. Earl Gray the cat. Charismatic criminals.

Christmas in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan | Review

Belonging. Vulnerability. Vienna & the Tyrolean countryside.

Split Time

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes | Review

LIGHT. Longing. Hope.

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Puzzling mystery. Devotion. Collin O’Shaughnessy.

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes | Review

Sacrifice. Beauty in the commonplace and extraordinary. Poignant.

Contemporary

The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. by Carla Laureano | Review

Honesty. Complexity. Friendship.

Now and Then and Always by Melissa Tagg | Review

Winsome. Humorous. Faith.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck | Review

Redemption. Relationships. Enchanting concept.

Romantic Comedy

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson | Review

Frenemies-to-romance. Farm animals. Rivalry.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner | Review

Wit. FOOD. Healing.

Close to You by Kara Isaac

Adventure. Unexpected love. Hobbits.

Thriller & Suspense

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello

Immersive setting. Classic-feel mystery. Smart.

Soul Raging by Ronie Kendig | Review

Twists. Revelations. Banter.

Chasing the White Lion by James R. Hannibal | Review

High-tech action. Suspense. Purpose.

Historical

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Review

Reconciliation. Friendship. Selflessness.

An Uncommon Woman by Laura Frantz

Lyrical prose. Strength on the frontier. Riveting romance.

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews*

Daring adventure. Truth. Swoony romance.

Nonfiction

Special mention to a couple of nonfiction titles I enjoyed: Dream, Plan, and Go by Rachel McMillan, an inspirational travel memoir and guide; Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager, a family-centric memoir of love and grief.

Popular #OnTheBlog in 2020

Most popular posts:

Most popular new book reviews:

That’s it for 2020! Happy new year to you all. As always, thank you for being a blog reader and part of this bookish community.

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Review: “A Mosaic of Wings” by Kimberly Duffy

Today’s review features debut author Kimberly Duffy and her new novel set in New York and India, during the late Victorian age.

About the Book

It’s 1885, and all Nora Shipley wants, now that she’s graduating from Cornell University as valedictorian of the entomology program, is to follow in her late father’s footsteps by getting her master’s degree and taking over the scientific journal he started. The only way to uphold her father’s legacy is to win a scholarship, so she joins a research expedition in Kodaikanal, India, to prove herself in the field.

India isn’t what she expects, though, and neither is the rival classmate who accompanies her, Owen Epps. As her preconceptions of India–and of Owen–fall away, she finds both far more captivating than she expected. Forced by the expedition leader to stay at camp and illustrate exotic butterflies the men of the team find without her, Nora befriends Sita, a young Indian girl who has been dedicated to a goddess against her will.

In this spellbinding new land, Nora is soon faced with impossible choices–between saving Sita and saving her career, and between what she’s always thought she wanted and the man she’s come to love. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A Mosaic of Wings is a story of growth, selfless love, and romance. I was enraptured, like Nora, with the beauty and colors of India encountered in these pages. Her journey is one of discovering purpose, a sweet friendship-to-romance, and the joy of life.

The romance was a subtle thread at first, taking a back seat to Nora’s education and subsequent events that led her to choosing to participate in an expedition in India. It was delightful to see it grow from a deepening friendship to something more in a natural and lovely way. Owen champions Nora, selflessly, and she learns more about herself from his encouragement and confidence.

The portions of the novel that take place in India are my favorite. Kimberly Duffy impressively conveys its colors and cultures, spicy food, challenging terrain, and social customs vastly different from Nora’s norm. This environment and the new people she meets challenge Nora. They cause her to reconsider her purpose and ability to make a difference in someone else’s life, even if that means making difficult choices.

Nora begins the story with some impulsive tendencies. It’s nice to see her grow throughout the course of her travels. Toward the latter part of the story, however, she makes a series of choices which I thought undo part of her newfound maturity and go against my expectations of her character. She does learn from this, and all is righted eventually, but I would have liked to see her understanding and treatment of people reflect the growth she had already surmounted.

I am looking forward to Kimberly’s next historical novel, wherever it might take me!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Mini Review: “The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter” by Mimi Matthews

I’m over here reading my way through Mimi Matthew’s backlist of books and LOVING IT! She writes historically accurate Victorian fiction like no other.

About the Book

A WORLD-WEARY RAKE

After years of unbridled debauchery, Tristan Sinclair, Viscount St. Ashton has hit proverbial rock bottom. Seeking to escape his melancholy, he takes refuge at one of Victorian society’s most notorious house parties. As the Christmas season approaches, he prepares to settle in for a month of heavy drinking…until an unexpected encounter changes his plans—and threatens his heart.

A PRIM VICAR’S DAUGHTER

Valentine March is not the drab little spinster she appears to be. When her new job as a lady’s companion lands her smack in the middle of Yorkshire with England’s most infamous rake, she resolves to keep her head down and her eyes fixed firmly on her future—a future which most definitely does not include a sinfully handsome viscount.

A MATCH MADE IN SCANDAL

A friendship is impossible. An affair out of the question. But when one reckless act binds them together, will two star-crossed souls discover there’s more to each other than meets the eye? Or will revelations from the past end their fragile romance before it begins?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Viscount and the Vicar’s Daughter has the makings of a scandalous romance but what is found between its pages is a sweet romance and story of friendship. Tristan and Valentine have an unconventional beginning, but as their identities tie them together and more is revealed about their characters, an intriguing story of romance and second chances unfolds. Mimi’s subtle style of weaving all story elements together shines through in this novel, particularly where Valentine’s surprising history is concerned.

And oh, the themes of this story! How a person cannot be forced to change — it must be a personal choice. How faith in someone can encourage and uplift. How forgiveness, second chances, and love are all possibilities, no matter the negativity of circumstances. I also really loved the inclusion of Bible verses as a particular element and how they conversationally figure into the dynamic between Tristan and Valentine.

I was particularly happy to read this novel as it was hinted to as a distant and early-planned connection to her latest story, The Work of Art, in her draft of Art if it were to have been a Victorian piece. Alas, The Work of Art was rewritten for the Regency Era and it is a GEM of a story! But I had no qualms imaging Tristan’s story as a later-set version of Captain Arthur Heywood’s brother. (I hope all of these ramblings/gushings make sense!)

If you haven’t indulged in a Mimi Matthews novel yet, what are you waiting for?!

Content note: this novel is a clean romance but has a few mild expletives (all era appropriate) throughout.

Review: “The Aftermath” by Amy Matayo (Love in Chaos #2)

Happy book birthday to The Aftermath by Amy Matayo! This marks the second story in her “Love in Chaos” series! It’s a quick read that left me curious and excited for the next one! Read on for my thoughts & review.

About the Book

According to Riley Mae Floss, life is a ten-page menu of possibilities. As the owner of a cupcake shop in small-town Missouri, she thrives on candies and rainbows and spreading joy every chance she gets. Even her hair is the color of bubble gum. Life is just the way she likes it, so why would she want anything to change now?

But when a tornado rips into Riley Mae’s southern town and destroys nearly everything in its path, her happy little life changes in less than forty-two seconds. Buildings gone. Homes carried away. People missing or even dead. Her bakery a shell of what it once was; also her life. Riley Mae’s picture-perfect world is shattered, and everyone she cares about has been hurt in the process.

According to insurance adjuster Chad Gamble, life always works out exactly the way it’s supposed to…for other people. As for him, life is a bit of a crapfest—one where he never wins the prize, makes the starting team, or gets the girl. He’s straight-laced, suit-and-tie, all-business, and sees the world for the color it is: muted gray with a little black around the edges.
So when Chad Gamble walks into Riley Mae’s ruined bakery to “assess the damages”—his words, not hers—he has no intention of getting bogged down by sentimental nonsense. Sparks immediately start to fly, and not the good kind. Who does this pushy, pink-haired chick think she is, treating him like an outsider when all he came to do was help? He can’t figure out why the locals like her so much.

Or worse, why he can’t stop thinking about her.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Aftermath tackles natural disasters, family baggage, dreams and purpose, and a romance in the chaos that ensues. This novel portrays an honest and realistic story of how life can change in an instant and be incredibly hard…. and how it can also be filled with joy, filled with people who continue to show up and care about you. I greatly appreciate its theme and message of how the past doesn’t have the final say. (And YAY for a story setting that’s close to me in real life! Springfield, MO!)

Did I mention there are CUPCAKES!? Cupcakes and a bakery that brings a community together. Amy Matayo gets it RIGHT when it comes to the hard behind-the-scenes work of such an endeavor (I’m a baker myself). And I really, really loved how scars are used as a metaphor for Riley. They mark pain and hard things, but they also heal and fade with time (or in Riley’s case, with bandaging from an, ahem, attractive “new friend” 😉 ) In the middle of all the sweet sugar, a sweet romance unfolds that finds the characters vulnerable and sharing their aches.

Once again, I appreciate how Amy Matayo’s stories absolutely cannot be categorized or put in a box. The lighthearted moments strike a contrast with the grit and emotion of Riley and Chad as they learn and grow through the aftermath of devastation. I recommend it to fans of (clean) new adult and inspirational fiction alike!

Thank you to the author for the advance review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Just One Kiss” by Courtney Walsh

With author Courtney Walsh’s latest release, we return to the fictional town of Harbor Pointe for a story of second chances, family, and romance. Just One Kiss is the third book set in this quaint town and reads as a standalone, though you will delight over learning more about the straightforward and bright teenager, Jaden, who had an important role in book 2, Just Let Go.

About the Book

He broke her heart. Now, he’s back, and he’s determined to show her what they had isn’t over. . . and he can prove it with just one kiss.

Single mother Carly Collins likes predictability. However, when her son Jaden’s health is threatened, her neatly controlled world is tossed into a tailspin. Nothing is certain anymore, especially her feelings for Josh Dixon, Jaden’s father, her first love and the man responsible for shattering her heart sixteen years ago. 

When Josh Dixon walked out of Harbor Pointe, he left behind his only shot at a real family. Now a successful tech mogul, the town rebel has found a cause—ensure his son’s recovery and prove to Carly and Jaden that he’s not the same guy he was back then. 

Carly and Josh are forced to wade through messy emotions and questions that have gone unanswered for years, which would be easier if not for the pesky feelings, every bit as strong and impossible to ignore as they ever were. 

Will forgiveness win, giving Carly and Josh a second chance at love . . . or will the past prove too much to overcome?

A small town romance about first love second chances and how our most beautiful life might look nothing like we planned.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Courtney Walsh never fails to make me smile, swoon over the romance, and cry over the deeply emotional moments in her stories. Just One Kiss is further proof! I loved it!

Part rekindled love, part family drama, and part small town charming, this story has no qualms with facing the hard questions of life, likes the “whys” and the challenges of extending grace for second chances.

I have read several reviews of this book noting it is Courtney Walsh’s best yet. While I can’t pick a favorite of her books (I have really loved them all!), I can say that Walsh is at the top of her storytelling game with Just One Kiss. The way it balances serious themes with lighthearted moments, just the right amount of drama and romance, surprises that really deepen the story, and even details like *showing* the backstory of Carly and Josh through flashback scenes all impress me. The combination of hallmark-like moments (dress shop!) with weighty moments in hospital waiting rooms and the vulnerability of opening your heart (letting go of anger) and offering someone a second chance all work to make this an impactful story.

Just One Kiss is a book I will return to and love just as much upon rereading. There is a relatable humanity in all of the characters, through their flaws, dreams, and questions, that makes it memorable and unique. Its message of forgiveness and the simplicity of grace is desperately needed in our world.

Thank you the the author for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “The Waves” by Amy Matayo

Any time is a good time to read an Amy Matayo novel! This time, her latest independent (shortish) novel is the start of a new series. And I couldn’t be more excited about THAT! Read on for my thoughts on The Waves…

About the Book
TheWaves_Amazon_iBooks

Dillon Hayes is twenty-eight and single, an unfortunate status her overbearing family is determined to fix. So when she’s stuck on a cruise ship for a seven-day reunion with the lot of them, she’s desperate for any escape she can find, even if it means partnering with a sketchy stranger for an off-the-beaten-path snorkeling excursion. After her mother’s last matchmaking attempt, Dillon is more than willing to trade all her good sense for a few hours of solace. 

Liam Gamble is stuck in the middle of family vacation hell. The worst part: it’s not even his family. This will be the last time he ever accepts a free-vacation invitation from his best friend. At this point, he’d be willing to hand over his life savings to get off this crazy ship. So when he catches one of his friend’s cousins sneaking off board, he decides to join her, hijacking her private excursion and nearly blowing her cover. If she gets to leave, so does he. 

But what starts off as a secret escape turns into a very real nightmare when their shady tour guide leaves them stranded on an uninhabited island with nothing but the clothes on their backs and no idea how to keep themselves alive.

As hours turn into days, and the weather proves as threatening as their need for food and water, Dillon and Liam must join forces and rely on each other if they have any hope of seeing their families again. Funny thing: sometimes in life, the end of the rope is when you discover everything you value has been in front of you all along.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

With her distinct humorous tone and ability to weave deep themes into seemingly light situations, author Amy Matayo has decidedly penned another must-read story! Sarcasm and music references are included, along with a pleasant directnesss and a swiftly moving story of attraction and romance. Amy writes the guy’s POV like no other.

I was laughing at the wit of Dillon from chapter 1 and crying by chapter 3. After that comes a twisting, adventurous ride with Dillon and Liam. I loved the subtle ways loss and hope, pain and loyalty are tackled through the journey of the characters. And the romantic chemistry! Trust me, it’s there in spades.

I happened to read this book while on a little bit of a vacation, but mine was not as eventful and crazy as Liam and Dillon’s! Though at all times, Amy keeps it realistic. Survival skills are a must, ya’ll. I liked the ending — how things were brought full circle with the romance in a believable way.. I am highly anticipating the next story in this series! (And I REALLY hope it’s about Teddy)

Thanks to Relz Author Support for the review copy. This is my honest review.

First Line Fridays #11: The Heart Between Us

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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Because I’m in the mood to travel through story lately, this little #TBR novel seems like the perfect one to feature for today! Sisters, adventure, and literal heart connections combine in the upcoming release from Lindsay Harrel: The Heart Between Us.

The Heart Between Us book cover

Isn’t this cover adorable?!

First Line:

For the first time in her life, Megan Jacobs felt almost brave.

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

First Line Fridays ❤ Valentine’s Day Edition: The Breath of Dawn

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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Welcome to First Line Fridays special Valentine’s Day Edition!!!

This week is all about #romance, so I’m sharing some lines from an excellent contemporary romance/suspense book that doesn’t get enough attention here on the blog.

The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann

It’s one of my VERY FAVORITE contemporary romances for so many reasons, most of them having to do with Morgan’s eccentricities. Hehehe. Plus, it is a unique twist on a common trope found in historical–but not so much in contemporary–stories, and that is another reason it is in a class its own. Without further ado, here are the first lines from the prologue and chapter 1, which give you all a tiny introduction to the state of both main characters.

The Breath of Dawn

First Lines:

Prologue

Seeing Morgan standing still as stone beside the freshly opened earth, Noelle St. Claire Spencer believed a man could shatter.

Chapter 1

Quinn liked the way mountains made her feel small –not unusual at five three, a hundred and five, but beneath the towering peaks, she felt miniscule, practically invisible, almost invisible enough.

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

First Line Fridays #9: The Saturday Night Supper Club

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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You all know I love any combination of story and food, especially when I can eat while reading :). This upcoming foodie fiction release from author Carla Laureano made its way to me this week, so I thought it was time to hint at the story within for First Line Friday! The Saturday Night Supper Club releases February 6th from Tyndale.

The Saturday Night Supper Club

First Line:

Three hours into Saturday night dinner service and she was already running on fumes.

 

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!

First Line Fridays #8 Special Christmas Edition: The Story of the Other Wise Man

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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I have a little story behind my choice for this special Christmas edition of First Line Fridays….

I’m sharing the first line of The Story of the Other Wise Man by Henry van Dyke. This classic tale was referred to in a favorite TV movie of mine: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas” as the story of the fourth wise man. When I was antique shopping earlier this year, I saw this little copy and realized it was the same story!!!! Though I haven’t read it through yet, I WILL before Christmas day comes. My little edition was printed in 1899! A little message is written in the front in pen “To Mama, from Bennie Bee. Christmas 1912”.

Preface:

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,
May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;
While he who walks in love may wander far,
Yet God will bring him where the blessed are.

First Line:

The Sign in the Sky

In the days when Augustus Caesar was master of many kings and Herod reigned in Jerusalem, there lived in the city of Ecbatana, among the mountains of Persia, a certain man named Artaban, the Median.

What is your favorite classic Christmas story?

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! The, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!