These are the 12 best new-to-me books I read in 2020. Most of them were released in 2020, but a few came out in 2019, and one goes back to 2016. I also included one 2021 book that I read in 2020 (courtesy of NetGalley.) Note: Links go either to my review, or to the Goodreads page.
The Relentless Moon (Mary Robinette Kowal) is a taut science-fiction thriller with a slightly unreliable narrator, who has to contend with a plague, racism, and possible sabotage in a Lunar colony cut off from the Earth. It’s the third in the Lady Astronaut series, and it’s terrific. Kowal’s research is impeccable, and her characterizations are superb. Easily one of the best-written books I read this year, as well as one of my favorites.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London (Garth Nix). Britain’s magical, mythological Old World collides with the mundane 1980s in Nix’s marvelous YA fantasy about magic-wielding booksellers whose job is to keep the two worlds apart, and a young woman whose very existence seems to be pulling them together. I’m secretly hoping for a sequel.
Catfishing on CatNet (Naomi Kritzer) (audiobook). Stephanie and her mother are constantly on the move, in hiding from her dangerous father. Her only real friends have been the ones she knows from CatNet, a social-media site run by a sentient AI — although no one knows CheshireCat’s true identity. When Steph’s mom gets sick and her father starts closing in on her, the AI, her CatNet friends, and her new friend Rachel are the only support she has. Catfishing on CatNet won a number of awards, all of them richly deserved. It’s a near-future SF YA thriller with a diverse and mostly teenage cast. Kritzer hits every note perfectly, blending humor, acceptance, and growing suspense into a novel I could hardly stop listening to. The audiobook narrators are excellent. And there’s a sequel coming out this summer!
The Last Passenger (Charles Finch) hands the young Charles Lenox his toughest case to date: a murder with no clues, no apparent motive, and an unidentified body. The case puts him at odds with a Scotland Yard inspector, and brings him in contact with both the abolitionist movement in London. The mystery is as well-crafted and the novel is as well-written as I have come to expect from Charles Finch, though I felt it sagged just slightly in the middle. Nonetheless, it remains one of my favorites for the year.
Chasing Cassandra (Lisa Kleypas) I admit that I was apprehensive when I started Chasing Cassandra. Given what we have seen of Severin’s ruthlessness and near-lack of emotions in previous books in the Ravenels series, I wasn’t sure Kleypas could turn him into a romantic hero. But as it turns out, I really should have trusted Lisa Kleypas. She — and heroine Cassandra — do(es) an excellent job of humanizing Severin in this book. I ended up loving both Cassandra and Tom’s relationship and the book as a whole.
Winterwood (Jacey Bedford.) A cross-dressing, magic-wielding privateer captain, her unknown and unusual half-brother, a charming shapeshifter, political intrigue, and the dangerous world of the Fae, all set during Mad King George’s reign? YES, PLEASE! Winterwood was a delicious blend of historical fantasy, adventure, and romance, and I can’t wait to read the two sequels.
Riviera Gold (Laurie R. King) The redoubtable Mrs. Hudson reappears in Riviera Gold, alive and living in Monaco, but not precisely well: shortly after Mary’s arrival, Mrs. Hudson is arrested for murder. In their efforts to clear her, Holmes and Mary are drawn into an investigation involving a Riviera art colony, smugglers, an infamous arms dealer, and White Russian emigres. I found it much more satisfying than the last Mary Russell novel (Island of the Mad.)
Red, White, and Royal Blue (Casey McQuiston) A charming, heartfelt rom-com starring Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the first female US president, and the Queen of England’s second grandson, Prince Henry. When an altercation between the two becomes a diplomatic incident, the pair agree to fake a friendship to smooth things over. But fake soon turns to real, and friendship to attraction on both the physical and emotional planes. I loved so much about this novel, from the humor to the witty dialog to the very real anguish Henry experiences as a closeted gay man. The one thing I could have done without is the amount of profanity, although it’s certainly realistic.
Hideaway (Nora Roberts) Caitlyn Sullivan comes from a golden Hollywood family, and is already a star at 9 years old. But when she is kidnapped from the family’s vacation compound and then escapes, the terrifying incident sets in motion a chain of events that still haunts her in her teens and twenties. Roberts contrasts the glitter of Hollywood with the everyday hard work of ranching without idealizing either. Hideaway may not be my favorite Nora Roberts novel, but it’s a solid, well-written standalone romantic suspense novel with all of Roberts’s signature characteristics, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown (Talia Hibbert) Warm, funny, emotional, sexy, and insightful, Get a Life, Chloe Brown hit all the right notes for me. It’s hilarious — I laughed out loud at the wry, witty exchanges between Chloe and Red (their emails, OMG!) — and heartbreaking by turns. What really makes it stand out is how well Hibbert writes the two main characters, capturing their strengths and their fears, their hopes and their pain, and the ways their various coping mechanisms both help them and stand in their way. I also love the diversity and positivity in the novel — Chloe is a plus-size black woman with ME/CFS (I think.) Red loves and accepts her completely, finding ways to help her to accomplish the things on her get-a-life list despite the exhaustion and frequent pain that characterize her chronic illness.
Angel in a Devil’s Arms (Julie Anne Long) is a worthy sequel to Lady Derring Takes a Lover. Long’s heroines (at least in this series) are not innocent young misses; Angelique Breedlove was once the mistress of a lord, left nearly destitute when the man died. She and the lord’s widow, Lady Derring, run a respectable hotel/boarding house down near the docks, in the building that was Lady Derring’s sole inheritance. Enter Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt, whom everyone thought drowned 10 years earlier. Now he’s back, seeking revenge on those who tried to kill him… and an affair with his delectable landlady, Angelique. Long writes wounded souls as well as or better than anyone in the historical and contemporary romance fields, and her characters’ situations feel surprisingly realistic despite their underlying unlikeliness. Angel in a Devil’s Arms was almost everything I was looking for in the second Palace of Rogues novel, and I can’t wait for book 3.
All the Colors of Night (Jayne Ann Krentz, 2021) is an Arcane-adjacent novel and the second in the Fogg Lake series. It’s a crazy-sauce mixture of convoluted thriller plot, wild psychic talents, and Krentz’s trademarks: sharp, often humorous dialog and sizzling heat. And I lapped it up, just like I have done with all her paranormal romantic suspense novels.