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The Best Fiction of 2020

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What would we have done this year without books?  

The Covid-19 pandemic shut down life for a lot of people, keeping us holed up in our homes. I found there was no better way to leave my boring living room than with a lively book transporting me to another time and world. With the pandemic still raging, we will need the comfort of books more than ever in the coming winter months.  

If you need reading ideas, don’t despair! I have compiled the BIG list of the top reviewed books of 2020 that has something for everyone, from literary and crime fiction to romance and fantasy. I gathered 36 notable lists by professional book readers, including  the Cook Memorial Public Library District staffers. I also included the genres and links to our catalog for descriptions.  Eighty books rose to the top from among 600 adult and young adult fiction titles. I was happy that two of my favorites this year, Deacon King Kong by James McBride and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, did well. It was great to see so many diverse voices included. Did any of your favorites make it? 

Start placing your holds, and we will get them ready for you to pick up in our library vestibules. On Monday I will write about the top NONFICTION adult and young adult books. 

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20 Times: 

The clear favorite of the year was The Vanishing Half  by Brit Bennett (Literary Fiction), recommended by staffers Ellen J., Andrea, Ellen B., Haley, Amy, Jenn, Jean and Becky. 

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17 Times: 

Luster by Raven Leilani (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Ellen B. 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo, Jenn, Becky and Amy V. 

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16 Times: 

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo and Ellen J. 

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell (Historical Fiction), recommended by Ellen J., Ellen B., Marianne, Jean and Jenn. 

Memorial by Bryan Washington (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Becky. 

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15 Times: 

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy), recommended by Andrea, Erica and Jo. 

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Suspense), recommended by Ellen J., Andrea, Jo, Jenn, Becky and Jean. 

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13 Times: 

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Literary Fiction), recommended by Andrea, Sarah and Jenn. 

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (Fantasy), recommended by Ellen J. and Jenn. 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Fantasy), recommended by Lindsay and Erica. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jean, Jenn and Jo. 

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12 Times: 

A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Thriller), recommended by Jean. 

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Ellen J. 

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Horror), recommended by Marianne, Mark, Joe, Erica, Nessa and Ellen J 

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Historical Fiction), recommended by Patricia. 

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11 Times: 

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel (Literary Fiction), recommended by Becky, Jenn and Ellen J. 

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Erica. 

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Short Stories). 

Weather by Jenny Offill (Literary Fiction), recommended by Erica. 

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10 Times: 

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell (Contemporary Fiction). 

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Connie. 

How Much of These Hills is Gold by Pam Zhang (Historical Fiction). 

Jack by Marilynne Robinson (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo and Nate. 

Only Good Indians by Graham Jones (Horror), recommended by Mark. 

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth (Horror), recommended by Amy V. 

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole (Thriller), recommended by Erica, Ellen J., Jenn and Jenny B. 

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9 TImes: 

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo, Andrea and Ellen J. 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (Historical Fiction), recommended by Ellen J. 

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Coming of Age Story). 

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Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Thriller), recommended by Andrea. 

The Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet (Contemporary Fiction). 

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Young Adult novel in verse). 

The Searcher by Tana French (Mystery), recommended by Jenn and Ellen J. 

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Romance). 

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7 TImes: 

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Young Adult Paranormal), recommended by Heather. 

Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford (Literary Fiction), recommended by Andrea. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jean. 

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (Historical Fiction), recommended by Ellen LJ. and Jane 

Punching the Air by  Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Young Adult Novel in Verse). 

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko (Young Adult Fantasy), recommended by Heather. 

Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Coming of Age Story). 

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn (Paranormal Fiction) 

Sisters by Daisy Johnson (Thriller). 

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore (Historical Fiction), recommended by Andrea and Ellen J. 

Writers & Lovers by Lily King (Romance), recommended by Connie, Ellen J, and Erica. 

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6 Times: 

The Actress by Anne Enright (Literary Fiction), recommended by Jo. 

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jo, Trish and Ellen J. 

Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang (Coming of Age Story). 

The Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (Suspense). 

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor (Thriller). 

Long Bright River by Liz Moore (Thriller). 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Fantasy), recommended by Ellen J. 

Monogamy by Sue Miller (Contemporary Fiction). 

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Dystopian Fiction). 

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Horror), recommended by Mark. 

Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (Contemporary Fiction). 

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (Paranormal Fiction). 

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (Literary Fiction). 

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5 Times: 

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny (Mystery), recommended by  

Almost American Girl  by Robin Ha (Young Adult Graphic Novel), recommended by Jean and Julia. 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (Contemporary Fiction). 

Beach Read by Emily Henry (Romance), recommended by Ellen J. and Jenn. 

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (Romance), recommended by Amy V. and Heather. 

Conjure Women by Afia Atakora (Historical Fiction), recommended by Jo. 

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Andrea, Jean and Ellen J. 

The Golden Cage by Camilla Läckberg (Mystery) recommended by Jenn. 

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie (Contemporary Fiction). 

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (Fantasy), recommended by Heather. 

The Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Christopher Beha (Contemporary Fiction). 

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Nam-joo Cho (Contemporary Fiction), recommended by Jean and Julia. 

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (Historical Fantasy), recommended by Joe and Erica. 

One by One by Ruth Ware (Thriller), recommended by Ellen J. 

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld (Alternative Historical Fiction). 

Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon (Historical Fiction). 

To  Be a Man by Nicole Krauss (Short Stories). 

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (Historical Fiction). 

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (Young Adult Fiction). 

We are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez (Young Adult Fiction). 

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Thriller), recommended by Andrea, Trish and Jenn. 

Sources: Amazon, American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal Long List, Barnes & Noble, BookPage, Book Riot, Buzz Feed, Chicago Public Library, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, Cook Memorial Public Library Staff Favorites, Goodreads, Entertainment, Esquire, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, The Guardian, Kirkus, Library Journal, Library Hub, Los Angeles Times, New York Public Library, New Yorker, New  York Times, NPR, Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Real Simple, School Library Journal, Slate, Time, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Vox, Vulture, Washington Post.

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