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The Best Books of the 2020s: What Lifted Us Up and Out

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Ann-Marie Cahill


Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

So far, the 2020s have been the longest century of my life while simultaneously feeling like they passed in a blur. For three years running, I was asked to pick a fave book – and for three years running, I have drawn an absolute blank on what I have read. I’m not alone on this. I know y’all have been feeling it too. There have been plenty of moments when my fellow Book Rioters have suggested a book, thinking it was published in 2022, only to find out it has been sitting on their shelves since 2020. Of course, it’s much better when you no longer have to feel guilty about your TBR pile – It’s not that bad, after all!

For those needing a little catch-up, I have revisited some of the best books of the 2020s. These books were funny, light-hearted, uplifting, and showed the best of us during the last three years. Because let’s face it: the last three years sucked. Just a couple of ground rules:

  • No Medical Dramas: We have already had enough of that.
  • No Horror: Good vibes only.
  • Keep It Light and Simple: Pretty self-explanatory.

Seems fair, doesn’t it? And I promise you – once we have finished this list, you will feel ready to hit 2023 running. Good vibes only!!

Best Books of 2020

cover of Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones

Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

I had completely forgotten about Book 2! I remember being so eager for this sequel and the return of my favourite little cinnamon rolls. This is the book where Bitty becomes confident enough to share himself with the world. Despite its release in April 2020, there were so many elements we could relate to: baking obsessions, vlogger obsessions, and romance obsessions. Revisiting CP#2 is like revisiting 2020 with a fondness I didn’t think I had. I know it’s a fave here at Book Riot because it has been mentioned 29 times in 2022 alone.

cover of Finna

Finna (LitenVerse #1) by Nino Cipri

2020 was the year many of us started working and learning/teaching from home. Our living space was suddenly changed, and we weren’t even allowed to go shopping at IKEA to prepare for it!! It would have been fairly easy to escape to an alternate universe through any of the portals available at our local IKEA store. That’s essentially the concept behind Finna. There’s a missing granny in the store – well, in one of the multiverse dimensions you can reach within the store. Unfortunately, Ava and Jules are assigned to find the sweet granny. Even more unfortunate is their recent relationship breakup and a lot of debris left over from that. Finna is as much about surviving relationships as it is about surviving retail work.

cover of Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe

More with the escapism, be it ever so sweet and wholesome. This middle grade fantasy is in the vein of Kiki’s Delivery Service, with the kind of “feel good” vibes that appeal to readers of any age, and it’s one of the best books in 2020. Eva is an almost-13-year-old girl hoping to ace her tests and become a Novice Witch. Or at least bumble through and pass with a moderate level of dignity. She is the daughter of a powerful witch, but only holds a pinch of magic herself. That doesn’t stop her from wanting to help others.

Best Books of 2021

cover of Arsenic and Adobo

Arsenic and Adobo (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery #1) by Mia P. Manansala

This is a super cozy mystery centred on Lila and her family’s Filipino restaurant. Lila is pulling herself back together after she finds out her now ex-boyfriend was cheating on her. She returns home, hoping to regroup and reconnect with the family amidst harsh reviews of their restaurant from another ex-boyfriend. And then suddenly, that guy dies. Face down in a bowl. It’s a murder mystery surrounded by lots of Filipino food and family hijinks. There are now three books in the series, and I still have room for dessert.

cover of Amari and the Night Brothers

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

By 2021, I was struggling to find books I could read with my kids and NOT pull my own eyes out. Amari and the Night Brothers brings the best of Percy Jackson and X-Men: Generation X with a strong sense of good family vibes. Amari is a 13-year-old whose big brother has suddenly disappeared. The only clue he left her (and only her) is a nomination for Amari to attend the summer tryouts at the secretive Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. If Amari wants to find her brother, she must first find her way through the mermaids, dwarves, yetis, magicians, and whatever-the-hell-that-was. The good news is book two, Amari and the Great Game, was released in 2022, and book three is scheduled to come out in 2023.

cover of Boys Run the Riot

Boys Run the Riot by Keito Gaku, Translated by Leo McDonagh

Easily the best graphic novel of 2021, Boys Run the Riot touches on real life in Japan while exploring social issues faced everywhere. It was released just as manga experienced a massive boom in the North American market, paving the way for comics like this to be readily available in English. It’s a story about a transgender teen living in contemporary Japan, finding social connections through street fashion. There are four volumes available in Japanese (the original was first published in Japanese in 2020), but only one in English.

Best Books of 2022

cover of The Cartographers

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

I am the biggest fan of books featuring treasure-hunting mysteries (check out my long list of faves here). In 2022, we were all looking for our own map to navigate this reality, and The Cartographers ticked all the boxes. Nell’s greatest passion is cartography, just like her father – the same father she has not spoken to since they fought over a map, and he subsequently fired her and ruined her reputation. But now he is dead, and the same map is the only key she has to solve the mystery.

cover of Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner

The last three years have left me with mild social anxiety. It takes a bit for me to build up the confidence to go out and socialise again. I’m afraid of meeting people in the wrong settings, but after reading this book, I don’t think I could experience anything as absolutely MESSED UP (at least to begin with). It easily was my fave romcom of the year. This book is told through the eyes of Erin and Cassie, two gorgeous women who hook up for a one-nighter and then meet again the next day, thanks to Erin’s daughter…who is Cassie’s best friend. Oh, yeah. Mistakes were made.

cover of Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky

Blue: A History of the Color as Deep as the Sea and as Wide as the Sky by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Illustrated by Daniel Minter

Nothing prepared me for this children’s picture book. It hit me out of the blue. Visual art was one of the few activities that helped my daughter and I hold on to happiness during Lockdown Learning. Finding a book filled with such beauty, history, and careful consideration was an absolute treasure. You start by thinking it is a book about art: the cultivation of colour and our association with it. Then the book guides you down a path of appropriation, consumerism, and understanding of the price we pay for “blue”. However, by the end of the book, there is a newfound wonder that encourages you to step outside and seek out this colour. To find it in nature and bring it back to everyone’s everyday lives. It’s absolutely stunning, and I hope they consider making more books about other colours too.

Naturally, there are MANY books published in the 2020s, and not all of them can fit on this list. These are the books with the most uplifting reading experiences, floating to the top as Best Books of the 2020s, almost despite everything thrown at us during those years. You might also be interested in the Best Books of 2020, the Best Books of 2021, and the Best Books of 2022.

Now, it’s time to prep for the new books coming in 2023. It’s a fresh new year with new reading delights. Check out some Readathons and Reading Challenges for 2023 (yes, you can still catch up!).