Every year, the millions of active readers at Goodreads get to vote on the best books of the year in various categories. If you’re interested in which books a majority of your fellow readers thought were the best in their respective classes, you’re in luck, because many of the Goodreads winners are here for you at The Field Library. In this post, I’ll be talking about the fiction categories. I’ll talk about the nonfiction winners in a subsequent post.
In the category of Mystery and Thrillers, the winner was The Guest List, by Lucy Foley. This book was a bestseller and also a selection of Reese Witherspoon’s book group, as well as being on several other “best of 2020” lists. This is another of the “group stuck in a remote place and one of them is a killer” kind of books, like One by One. The group in this case is a wedding party, but not just any wedding party: the groom is a big television star, the bride a magazine publisher, each a celebrity in his or her own right. The setting is an island off the coast of Ireland, with the problems of spotty cell phone reception (you have to have that in an isolated place with a killer kind of book these days) and the unpredictable sea separating it from the mainland. Throw in the usual kinds of petty jealousies and spite, the craziness of a celebrity wedding in general, and then add murder to the mix. The question isn’t just whodunnit, but why, set amidst the exaggerated emotions of a wedding and reception.
The bestselling book The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, was the winner in the category of Historical Fiction. It tells the story of African American twin sisters in the 1950’s, growing up in a small Southern town until they run away. But once they get out of that town, their lives diverge dramatically. One sister ends up returning to her hometown with her black daughter. The other has passed for white so successfully her white husband doesn’t know anything of her past. The thing about the past is that it doesn’t just disappear; it shapes your life whether you want it to or not. The sisters’ lives intertwine, as do the lives of their children, and the book follows the two families for forty years, not only as a family drama (and who doesn’t love a good family drama?) but as an examination of the whole concept of “passing,” and the history of black and white relations.
The winner in the category of Fantasy is the first book in the Crescent City series, House of Earth and Blood, by Sarah Maas. In the world of Crescent City, a half-human, half-fae woman, Bryce, lives a wild life, working and partying hard, until a demon kills her friends. Angry, bereft and alone, she dives into the investigation, and finds herself working along with Hunt, a fallen angel whose freedom depends on his ability to help her in this investigation. Naturally, their investigation leads to the dark underside of the city in which they live, and deeper and more dangerous forces putting their whole world at risk.
In the area of Science Fiction, the top vote getter was To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, by Christopher Paolini, the author of the Eragon series. The protagonist is Kira Navarez, a space voyager who happens upon an alien artifact on an uncolonized planet. She’s delighted at first (because she’s obviously never seen any first contact movies, especially any in the Alien series), and then the dust around her starts moving on its own, which is disturbing and even scary. Interplanetary war erupts, the earth and its colonies are on the brink of destruction, and Kira may be the only hope for humanity’s future.
The best debut novel, according to Goodreads readers, is a book that’s been a bestseller for months, Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid (though, technically, it came out in 2019). The plot seems relatively simple and extremely relevant to 2020: Alix, a white woman who’s busy teaching other women how to make the most of their lives, hires Emira, a young black woman, to take care of her young daughter. One night Emira is at a store with little Briar when a store security officer accuses Emira of kidnapping the child. The incident is filmed (of course), and goes viral (of course), and Emira is humiliated and upset. Alix is shocked and decides to fix things for her employee, whether or not Emira wants them “fixed.” And then someone from Alix’ past shows up and things become much more complicated for both women. The story we thought we were reading turns out to be much more nuanced and much less predictable.
Of course I’m not suggesting that popular opinion is always right, and there are criticisms of the Goodreads lists every year, but if you’re interested in seeing what some of your fellow avid readers think is the cream of the cream, check these novels out from The Field Library.