2020 Favorite Contemporary & Historical Novels
Updated: Mar 10
I lumped my favorite contemporary and historical novels together because they tend to be what I like to call my "weekday books." These are books I like to read over multiple days right before I go to bed. Despite the fact I read them slower (and therefore read less of them), these two genres always contain some of my favorite books from the year. These are my absolute favorites this year!
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
There was a lot of buzz around this book when it came out this year. It was Reid’s debut novel and fit well into our larger conversations around race, especially subtler forms of modern racism and white guilt. A lot of my favorite contemporary books revolved around a sort of twenty-something anxiety and this book does an amazing job talking about not only the pressure and anxiety of being in your twenties and trying to solidify your career path and balance your enjoyment with future aspirations. The novel follows Emira, a twenty-something black woman, who is a nanny for a wealthy white family, whose mother is a lifestyle blogger. The novel alternates perspectives from Emira and Alix (the mom of the family she’s nannying for) as they explore their relationship and what their next steps in their careers and lives look like. Both women are such compelling characters and I finished the novel in an afternoon but spent weeks thinking about it afterward.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
Lilac Girls is a historical fiction novel about three women during World War II, who all are encountering the war from a completely different perspective. We have a woman in America, who is working to fundraise and provide support for orphans in France. A young doctor in Germany joins the Nazis because it is the best opportunity to further her career. And a teenage girl in Poland who joins the resistance movement. Historical fiction novels about World War II are a dime a dozen, but I particularly enjoyed this novel because of the intimate look at each of these women’s lives and the unique challenges they endure.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5
Honestly, this book is so much less about the plot than the writing and the characters. Not that there isn’t a lot that happens (there is!), but I loved this book because I loved the characters and how Ng painted a vivid picture of their lives and challenges. The most striking part of this book is the contrast between the two moms and the larger conversation about what it means to be a good mom.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
This book is brilliant. It follows people in two timelines, the first follows Yale, a gay man, as he navigates Chicago during the 1980s AIDs epidemic. The other follows Fiona, a woman in modern-day Paris, as she searches for her daughter and grandchild. I found it to be a little on the slower side, but it is a truly beautifully devastating story of family and loss.
My biggest struggle with this book, and the only reason it didn’t get 5 stars, is the alternating chapters. I often struggle with this structure, because inevitably I’ll enjoy one story more than the other. In the case of this book, I was so much more emotionally invested in Yale’s story for the first half of the book, that I just wanted Fiona’s chapters to be over! Fiona’s story picked up for me in the latter half of the book, but it really slowed down my progress for the first half.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨/5
This book was a delight! It follows Vivian as she moves in with her eccentric aunt in New York City after being kicked out of Vassar. It’s essentially a coming-of-age novel, where Vivian learns what it means to be an adult while living a wild life in New York City. It was so much fun, but also really sweet and impactful in other places. I’ve heard it compared to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and while this book didn’t devastate me in the same way, I would say it has a similar spirit!
I'll be sharing my full list of 2020 reads (including several more great contemporary and historical fiction novels) next week!
💩 = Hot Garbage*
😢 = I shed a tear**
😭 = I ugly cried**
🍆 = Some steamy scenes (Rated R)
💎 = A gem
💘 = Warmed my heart
👻 = Scary!
*I loving refer to these books as hot garbage. I want to be clear that just because it’s hot garbage, doesn’t mean it wasn’t an enjoyable read. It just means it’s not particularly enriching or fine literature. Sometimes you want a hot garbage read and that’s okay.
** I’m a pretty easy crier, so take that with a grain of salt.