The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to affect literally everything – books included. Most new books rely on book tours and other forms of press that involve in-person interaction. As a result, authors who have released books in 2020 are hurting.
In order to bring attention to some of these releases, I am going to share six great book releases from 2020 that deserve some love. As I built this list, I tried to choose books that were different from each other and ones that featured a wide range of characters and representation.
Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory
I could not do this without mentioning Party of Two, mostly because Jasmine Guillory is a Wellesley alum! I happen to believe it is her best book yet.
The book follows Olivia Monroe, a successful lawyer who has just moved from New York back to California in order to be closer to her family and start her own law firm with her friend, Ellie. Olivia is so busy that she has no interest in dating but allows herself to flirt with a stranger in the hotel bar anyway. Only afterward does she learn that the man she was flirting with is hotshot Senator Max Powell. Even though Max turns out to be far from the privileged white man she expected and constantly is sending her dessert, Olivia cannot quite get over the fact that dating him would mean putting herself in a public spotlight and facing media scrutiny.
Much like Guillory’s other novels, this one features a Black female lead, a good romance, a look at politics and lots of food. Olivia is a great character, and Olivia and Max’s relationship is both sweet and actually nuanced. If you are in the mood for something sweet, this one is for you!
The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert
The Boy in the Red Dress is a fun mystery, with an amazing 1920s setting and lots of gay characters. That should be enough to get you to read it, but I will give you a synopsis anyway.
It is New Year’s Eve, 1929, and Millie is left in charge of her aunt’s speakeasy for the night. This particular speakeasy is famous for the main entertainment, the dazzling drag act of Millie’s best friend, Marion. But when a group of socialites visits the club, with one of them asking for Marion, Millie knows something is up. As soon as one of them turns up murdered, it is up to her to find the real killer before the police can pin it on Marion.
Because this is a young adult book, most of the characters are teenagers. I found it to be an incredibly fun read, reminiscent of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Millie is a protagonist who is clever and is not afraid to break a few laws to find the real killer. She is also bisexual, and despite the historical setting, feels no shame in this. If you are looking for a historical fiction with representation or a swinging 1920s setting, I would definitely recommend The Boy in the Red Dress.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Yes, this is another contemporary romance. But, I am not sorry about having two on this list just because of how freaking good Beach Read is.
January Andrews is in a bit of a downward spiral. Her dad just died, her boyfriend has broken up with her, she is broke and she has writer’s block. Probably because the ideas of romance she based her writing career on have been shattered by learning that her dad actually had a mistress, and her parents’ great love was a lie. Without anywhere else to go, she finds herself in the second house her dad left her, determined to finish writing her book and sell the house by the end of summer. Things can not get worse, except they can because it turns out that her neighbor also happens to be her archenemy from college, whose book definitely placed above hers on the New York Times Bestsellers list. And just to prove to him how hard writing romance is, they make a bet that she will write a literary fiction novel, and he will write a romance. Whoever sells their book first wins, and nobody is going to fall in love.
I have actually read Beach Read twice this year. The writing is phenomenal. Although it is a romance, Emily Henry herself has said that she thinks it is a story about writer’s block. The narrative follows what it means for your worldview to be shattered and how to pull yourself back together.
I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee
This is a happy book through and through. Reading this book just made me really happy. It is a lot of fun and overall just really positive.
16-year-old Skye Shin can dance and she knows it. And she is ready to prove her mom and the world wrong by showing them that fat girls can dance. So when she auditions for the K-pop song-and-dance show only to nail her audition, she is whisked into the world of K-pop and reality television. Soon she is faced with the fat-phobic standards of K-pop, sudden fame and the possibility of a romantic tryst with Instagram star and fellow competitor, Henry Cho. Can she stand up to the challenges she is facing and show the world that she is a star?
One of the great things is the way that Skye has no problem calling herself fat, and even though she faces a lot of external discrimination because of it, the book is very clear about the fact that there should be no shame in being fat. The competition of the reality show really drew me in, so this is a great book if you are a reality TV fan. Obviously, it is a fluffy young adult read, but it also has great representation and really focuses on what it means to be true to yourself.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
Part of the genius of In Five Years is the way it constantly turns your expectations on their head. I was completely expecting this to be a typical contemporary romance, but that is not what it is at all. But I cannot tell you anything else, as I want you to be able to experience the book the way it should be.
The book opens on the best day of Dannie Kohan’s life. She nails the most important job interview of her life and gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend. When she goes to sleep at the end of this perfect day, she wakes up five years later in a different apartment, with a different man and a different engagement ring on her finger. When she goes to sleep again, she wakes back up in her original time, but the memory haunts her for four and a half years. As the five-year mark inches closer, and she has yet to meet the man of her dream, she wonders if she really did make it all up. That is, until she meets him in the most unexpected way.
I truly cannot tell you any more about the book because I do not want to give it away, but I did bawl my eyes out the last few chapters. Dannie is a type-A character, so it is a good book for all the Wendys out there. You get both a character you can relate to and some life lessons. It is really a book about how unexpected life can be, no matter how hard you try and plan it.
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
This last one is also a young adult novel. Although I cannot say that I loved it the way I did many of the others on this list, I acknowledge that other people like fantasy much more than I do. I also wanted to take the opportunity to highlight another book by a Black woman.
Tavia constantly faces anti-Blackness at her mostly white Portland high school. However, she faces discrimination on multiple fronts, as she is forced to keep her identity as a siren a complete secret. Mythical creatures are real in this world, but sirens are considered dangerous, and who knows what would happen to her if someone found out. Not to mention she has to deal with her overprotective dad, the gargoyle on their house and, oh yeah, AP homework. Luckily, she has her best-friend-turned-adopted-sister Effie to keep her sane. As the politics around sirens rise to the forefront, it becomes even harder for Tavia to stay silent. Meanwhile, Effie is forced to face her own secrets of the past as she tries to figure out who her dad is. As the two girls navigate through sirens and protests together, can they manage to get through prom without a disaster?
Personally, my favorite part of the book was the relationship between Tavia and Effie. There were times where I found the story to lag, but overall it was a pretty good read. It is a fun fusion of fantasy and contemporary young adult. And although it was published in June, Tavia and Effie’s social justice work, as well as their journey managing protests, is reminiscent of many this summer.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. I have not gotten the chance to read this one yet, but it is a fantasy novel with really good reviews as well as great representation (entirely Latinx cast and main trans character).
I hope that in this list you are able to find at least one book that interests you. Maybe even check one out from the library over Thanksgiving break, or try supporting your local bookstore!