Curl Up With the 20 Best and Buzziest Books of 2020

Jessica Simpson's Open Book, Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half and 18 more made the list of our favorite reads this year.

By Tierney Bricker Dec 29, 2020 11:42 PMTags
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From the most revealing celebrity memoirs that felt like getting all the gossip from a best friend to the thrillers that had us scraping the remnants of our jaws off the floor, the books of 2020 definitely provided the escape we all needed. There was nothing quite like cozying up with a new read, being transported to a different world for a few hours. 

Each month, we've been offering up hot releases for you to check out. And now, ahead of the new year, we've assembled a list of the buzziest books to come out. A sexy beach read, a heartbreaking tale of friendship and a twist-filled YA murder mystery, those are just a few of our picks that had us staying up late to read just one more page.

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Shop physical copies of our picks—which would all make great last-minute gifts, by the way—or pull them up on Kindle Unlimited or a free trial of Audible.

Here are our picks for the best reads of the year...

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Y'all, we were not prepared for Jessica Simpson to go there—reflecting on the abuse she suffered as a child, her days of heavy drinking, her road to sobriety and the highs and lows of her public and private relationships—but we're so glad she did. Open Book proved to be just that, a celebrity we all thought we knew pulling back the curtain to reveal the personality behind the persona. 

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

Instant bestseller + No. 1 book on Amazon + seven-figure deal with HBO after an intense bidding war between 17 bidders = the book everyone was reading this summer.

Her debut novel, The Mothers became one of the most successful books of 2016, and her latest, The Vanishing Half, is—dare we say?—even better. A multi-generational family saga, the novel takes place over the course of 40 years, following Black twin sisters and their racial identities. After running away from home at 16, they unexpectedly reunite as adults only to find one another completely different: One sister now lives in the same southern town they once escaped from, while the other is passing as a white women and hiding her identity from her husband. But what happens when their daughters' lives intersect? You get a riveting and revelatory read. 

They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

Gossip Girl but make it a juicy murder mystery. That's the gist of this irresistible YA novel set at a prep school on Long Island. After her best friend was brutally murdered by her boyfriend during their freshman year, Jill is now just trying to enjoy her senior year and role in Gold Coast Prep's secret society…until she receives a text insisting the killer is still out there and begins her own investigation. Basically, imagine Blair Waldorf and Veronica Mars in one body.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The one thing you can expect from Lucy Foley's novels? That you'll probably never guess the twist...or should we say twists in the case of her latest bestseller. The Guest List finds an entire wedding full of people in danger and under suspicion when one person turns up dead at the exclusive nuptials held on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Alternating points of view between the bride, the maid of honor, the wedding planner, the plus one, the best man and the groom, you'll never see the ending coming. RSVP at your own risk.

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

Much like a crisp glass of rose on a summer evening, Guillory's bestselling romance novels go down smooth. In Party of Two, Olivia's plans to focus on starting her new law firm in L.A. are thrown off-course when she falls for a handsome and kind man, only to find out he is junior senator Max Powell, a rising political star. Will Olivia be able to handle the spotlight when they finally go public with their romance? Will secrets from her past resurface? Will you be able to resist this love story?

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Fortunately, the title of Emily Henry's sexy rom-com isn't sarcastic as it's maybe the ultimate beach read of summer 2020. The novel centers on the love-hate relationship of January Andrews, a bestselling romance novelist, and Augustus Everett, a bestselling and critically acclaimed author of literary fiction. When the college rivals reunite unexpectedly years later, ending up in neighboring beach houses, they make a bet: He has to write a happy ending while she has to write the next great American novel. Tension of the sexual nature and deliciously witty back-and-forth inevitable ensue. You know what they say about opposites...

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Majumdar burst onto the literary scene with her scorching debut novel set in India with three characters who unlikely find their lives intertwined after a terrorist attack inextricably weaves them together. The novel's title is fitting as the themes it tackles—class, warfare, justice and more—will consume and stay with you long after you finish it, likely in one sitting.

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The bestselling author is trading a love affair on the Italian coast in the 1960s for the complicated dynamic between two orphaned brothers in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Jess Walters' highly anticipated sophomore outing—after his wildly popular Beautiful Ruins in 2012—is his most ambitious yet, shining a light on a less-documented era of American history: The early labor movement. The novel also includes a memorable array of fictional characters and real-life figures, most notably Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a 19-year-old union organizer who came to be known as the Rebel Girl.

One to Watch by Katie Stayman-London

Excited for the first Black Bachelor? Now prepare for the first plus-size lead. Well, at least that's the premise of this charming debut from Katie Stayman-London, centering on fashion influencer Bea Schumacher as she unexpectedly becomes the leading lady of Main Squeeze, a very Bachelorette-esque reality dating show, after her criticism of the series' lack of body and racial diversity goes viral. Timely, refreshing and delightful, you'll be rooting for Bea throughout her journey of self-love, drama and romance.

The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes by Elissa R. Sloan

If you loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six and know every lyric to a Britney Spears song, this one is definitely for you. The novel details the rise and fall of Cassidy Holmes, a.k.a. Sassy Cassy, a member of Sassy Gloss, one of the world's biggest pop groups. Fifteen years after the Glossies' big break, though, her bandmates and the world are shocked when Cassidy dies by suicide. Told in multiple perspectives and in different timelines, The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes dives into the darker side of fame.

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey

Oh, we're sorry. Did we really need to give you a reason as to why this is one of the year's must-reads? 'Cause Mariah, darlings!

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

There's a reason this was Reese Witherspoon's first book pick of the year. Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young Black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. It'll stay with you long after you finish the last page.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

There's just something about reading a novel set at a cursed New England boarding school for girls that feels extra spooky, you know? The Education of Cameron Post author transitions from YA to adult fiction in this gothic-comedy that follows the making of a horror film about the founding of the Plain Bad Heroine Society at Brookhants School For Girls in 1909 and the tragedy that followed. One part wicked, one part whimsical and completely engrossing, we're calling for a limited series ASAP—just crossing our fingers it doesn't end up haunted.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi follows up her bestselling debut Homegoing with this raw portrait of a Ghanaian family in Alabama grappling with issues like addiction, grief and faith that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

The Rich and Pretty author's third release was longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award in Fiction and attracted no less than Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington to star in the Netflix adaptation. NBD. The premise is simple—two families who don't know each other are forced to live together for a weekend on Long Island after an alleged blackout in the city—but the prose is provocative and powerful.

Luster by Raven Leilani

One of the sexiest and most urgent new releases of the year, Raven Leilani's novel follows messy millennial Edie, one of the only Black women at her low-paying job, who finds herself living with her married white co-worker, whom she's had sex with, his wife and their adopted Black daughter. Through it all, Edie navigates adulthood in all of its (sometimes) shameful glory and complications.

Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Siblings July and September are born just 10 months apart and have a deeply close bond before a case of bullying forces the sisters to relocate with their single mom, causing ripple effects in their lives. Daisy Johnson's exploration of sibling love and rivalry is powerful and tinged with a hint of menace, and you'll feel a slight pit in your stomach as July and September's fraught relationship slowly and horrifyingly continues to fracture in this new kind of love story.

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

If you are in the mood for a love story but also can't resist a great twist, In Five Years is the perfect book for you. After delivering the YA goods with Famous in Love and an indulgent fantasy in The Dinner List, Rebecca Serle released her most poignant and unputdownable book yet. Yep, this heartbreaker definitely caused us to leave an indent on our couch from not moving to finish it in one sitting.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

What would've happened if Hilary Rodham had turned down Bill Clinton's marriage proposal in 1971? Where would she be? Where would the country be? It's a huge risk deciding to take on that kind of challenge. Fortunately, Curtis Sittenfeld is an author who can handle that kind of material, weaving those what-ifs with actual historical events for one of the most ambitious books to come out in years. 

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

You never forget your first love. But what if you can't remember it properly? My Dark Vanessa is a gripping, chilling and thought-provoking tale about an all-consuming relationship between a teenage girl and her 42-year-old English teacher. Seventeen years later, Vanessa's life is shaken when she is contacted by another female student who has accused their former educator of sexual abuse. Switching between the past and present, Kate Elizabeth Russell's work here is era-defining in a post-#MeToo movement world. 

Need even more reading recs? Check out our list of juicy celebrity memoirs, including tell-alls from Mariah Carey, Matthew McConaughey and more. 

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—Originally published Dec. 21, 2020, at 3:00 a.m. PT