Best of 2020: Fiction

Updated: January 29, 2021

The best books of the year, as selected by Los Angeles Public Library staff. Perfect for holiday gift-giving! For more book lists and featured book reviews, check LAPL Reads.

Book cover for A beautiful crime : a novel
A beautiful crime : a novel
Bollen, Christopher, 1975-

In this stylish and sophisticated thriller, antiques appraiser/swindler Nick Brink and his hustler boyfriend Clay Guillory flee New York City for a new hunting ground: the grand palazzos of Venice.The criminal couple is determined to pull off the get-rich-quick con of a lifetime: selling a huge collection of bogus antiques to a wealthy American expatriate. But Nick and Clay are risking far more than they think, and in Venice death is only a gondola cruise away.

Book cover for Boyfriend Material
Boyfriend Material
Hall, Alexis J

Alexis Hall broke into the mainstream with this romantic comedy. The novel follows Luc O'Donnell, the son of a famous rock star, as he works to rehabilitate his tattered media image with the help of uptight barrister Oliver Blackwood. As Luc and Oliver enter into a fake-dating agreement, there are many fun allusions to classic British rom-com such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, but this book is very much its own quirky creation.

Book cover for Breasts and eggs
Breasts and eggs
Kawakami, Mieko, 1976-

Three women in modern Japan confront self-perceptions as they are faced with societal pressures about image, marriage, bearing children and old age. As women have more life choices, Kawakami's writing style and form are unique in presenting universal issues that women deal with more frequentlyl than ever before.

Book cover for The City We Became
The City We Became
Jemisin, N. K.

When a city has been around long enough, it comes alive...literally. Hong Kong, São Paolo, and other great cities have all gone through the process, and now it's New York's turn. But as New York awakens, something goes wrong, and its avatars—five humans personifying the five buroughs—must fight an ancient evil to prevent the destruction of their beloved city.

Book cover for Come Tumbling Down
Come Tumbling Down
McGuire, Seanan

Readers initially met Jack & Jill in Every Heart a Doorway. Their story was continued in Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Their story continues in this novel. It is, as Jack states, “a story of murder, and betrayal, and sisterly love turned sour." Come Tumbling Down is an incredible addition to an already exceptional series.


Book cover for Conventionally yours
Conventionally yours
Albert, Annabeth

Two diametrically opposed gamers find themselves on a cross-country road trip to compete in a life-changing competition. What could possibly go wrong? What could possibly go right? There are surprise on the trip and after the young men arrive in Las Vegas. Readers will be kept guessing about winner. The novel explores a number of realistic concerns, insecurities and potential misunderstandings, allowing the relationship to develop nicely.

Book cover for Crossings : consisting of three manuscripts
Crossings : consisting of three manuscripts
Landragin, Alex

This debut novel is unique in format. It is one story, told in three novellas that can be read in two distinctly different ways. A tremendous and audacious debut that will leave the reader wondering how the author was able to write a single text that could be read and experienced so differently. Doing that while also telling a compelling and thought-provoking story is truly an achievement.

Book cover for A deadly education : a novel
A deadly education : a novel
Novik, Naomi

El is a junior at the infamous Scholomance--a cutthroat school of magic with an obscenely high mortality rate. El's only goal is to make it out of the Scholomance alive, and to do so, she'll need to learn spells, build up power, and form alliances with her classmates. But how can she get anyone to trust her when she's brimming with a dark power that could slaughter millions?

Book cover for The exiles : a novel
The exiles : a novel
Kline, Christina Baker, 1964-

In the 1840s, Evangeline, a disgraced, pregnant, British governess is exiled, along with other convict women and men, on a slaver's ship to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). While onboard, Evangeline gives birth to a baby girl, and then the young mother is murdered before landing. Kline vividly portrays the gritty survivor Hazel's convict prison life in Tasmania, orphanages, and British imperialism as shown through Matthina, an adopted aborigine girl. However there is also the lure of a beautiful new world that may give a chance for redemption.

Book cover for Fresh water for flowers
Fresh water for flowers
Perrin, Valérie, 1961-

Violette Toussaint is the caretaker of a cemetery in a small town in France, where she makes the arrangements for funerals and religious services for the deceased and their family.  Her life is uneventful until a stranger appears and has an unusual request for dealing with the ashes of his dead mother. This sets off a series of events that peel back layers of Violette's former life, which are poignant and funny, and reveal mysteries and secrets that were perhaps best left buried.

Book cover for The house in the cerulean sea
The house in the cerulean sea
Klune, TJ

Meet Linus Baker. He works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth as a caseworker. He knows the rules and regulations, knows that they are drawn up with the best interest of the children, and is dedicated to doing his best for the children. He is sent to investigate an orphanage on a distant island by Extremely Upper Management. There he meets 6 very special children and the adults who care for them. Will Linus learn that the best help lies past the rules and regulations?

Book cover for Hurricane season
Hurricane season
Melchor, Fernanda, 1982-

A small town so isolated there could be a wall around it. There is an insularity that has created a world where truth is based on suspicion, rumor and myths. Is there a way out if there is no hope? Told in brilliant, raw prose, this is a town that could be anywhere in the world.

Book cover for Little constructions : a novel
Little constructions : a novel
Burns, Anna, 1962-

There is a good deal of gallows humor in this story about a small town, Tiptoe Floorboard, that is dominated by the Doe clan, whose criminal activities dominate the lives of everyone, until Jetty Doe steals a Kalishnikov from a gun store. As in her other book, Milkman, for which she was awarded the Dublin Literary Award 2020, Anna Burns reveals the truth about unjust behavior that everyone knows is taking place, but few have the gumption to call out. Burns is not a writer who will look away and she will not allow us to do that.

Book cover for The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
Zapata, Michael

A pirate, a refugee, two pre-teen boys in love with speculative fiction stories, and two adult men who are friends and are each searching for what seems to be missing in their lives. This debut novel is a wonderful story of resourcefulness, perseverance, and connections that transcend time, space and death itself.

Book cover for The Lying Life of Adults
The Lying Life of Adults
Ferrante, Elena

An adolescent girl discovers that adults do not always tell the truth, in fact they do a good deal of lying. Those lies can be hurtful and damaging when they are expressed about a child, which is what happens to Giovanna when she hears her father describe her as ugly.

Book cover for Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder
Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder
Willberg, T. A.

A chilling murder, a secret detective agency with offices located in a myriad of tunnels located beneath London, and a young apprentice determined to find the killer to clear one of her closest friends. In her debut novel, T.A. Willberg provides an enjoyable and compelling read for those interested in mysteries with just a tinge of the fantastic! A marvelous debut!

Book cover for Oona Out of Order
Oona Out of Order
Montimore, Margarita

In this debut novel, Montimore explores not only how dependent we are on time, but also how time restrains us and influences our decisions (large and small). She emphasizes the adage that “youth is wasted on the young”, provides the fantasy of an older person experiencing their body at a younger age, and explores the need for older people to maintain some of the liberty that is generally lost from their youth. Above all, Montimore seems to stress the necessity to do the best that we have with the life that we’re given, even when it turns out that that life isn’t “normal” by most standards and that, in those deviations from the norm, there are always benefits to offset the perceived losses.

Book cover for Our riches
Our riches
Adimi, Kaouther, 1986-

A tender and unusual remembrance of a real bookstore in Algiers, told from the perspective of a modern call for gentrification of an old neighborhood. By way of the plot and the recounting of the store's history and origins, the author pays tribute to a love of reading, freedom of expression by writers and visual artists, and to the autonomy and power of indendent bookstores.

Book cover for Please see us
Please see us
Mullen, Caitlin

A murderer stalks young women in Atlantic City, and it’s up to a young psychic and a woman, rebuilding her life, to figure out what haunts their town, before it’s too late. Haunting and thrilling, this book will keep you turning pages well into the night.

Book cover for The pull of the stars : a novel
The pull of the stars : a novel
Donoghue, Emma, 1969-

If you like the BBC series Call the Midwife, and wonder what the show would be like if set in a Dublin hospital during the 1918 flu epidemic, check out this novel. As with the show, the personal is political and a strong stomach is required. Keep an eye on your heart, else it might break.

Book cover for Saint X
Saint X
Schaitkin, Alexis, 1985-

Loosely inspired by the real-life disappearance of Natalee Holloway, on the surface Saint X is a ripped-from-the-headlines crime thriller. But on a deeper level, it is an incisive examination of racism, colonialism, income inequality, injustice and trial-by-tabloid. Narrated by the younger sister of the missing teenager, this beautifully written debut novel also looks at the ravages of survivor guilt and the wreckage of a family destroyed by violence.

Book cover for Simmer down
Simmer down
Smith, Sarah, 1985-
Call Number: e-Book

When her beloved father passes away, Nikki DiMarco leaves her life behind in the Pacific Northwest and moves to Maui to help her mother run their Filipino food truck. But when a British food truck run by the swoon-worthy Callum James and his brother tries to take over their prime parking spot, threatening their slim profits, the fryer oil isn't the only thing that heats up.

Book cover for Smoke bitten
Smoke bitten
Briggs, Patricia

This book just like all the others was fabulous. A word of caution however, this book is challenging in a number of places and the reader didn’t quite know what direction it would take. Would it go from dark to darker or stay on course. In various interviews with Patricia Briggs, she has stated that "we’re dealing with some unpleasant individuals and creatures sometimes. Everything will not always come up smelling like roses." Adam and Mercedes have a few issues to deal with on a personal level in this book. Somethings they are painful to watch but as a fan, you have to be there to see them through the good and the bad.

Book cover for The southern book club's guide to slaying vampires
The southern book club's guide to slaying vampires
Hendrix, Grady

Brace yourself, this is no ordinary book club! Motherhood has never been easy, but it becomes a lot harder for Patricia Campbell when she begins to suspect her new next-door neighbor, James Harris, might be preying upon the children that keep disappearing from the poor side of town. As the truth unfolds, the polite ladies of Patricia's book club are forced to decide what they're willing to risk to protect their children.

Book cover for A Star is Bored
A Star is Bored
Lane, Byron

In his deut novel, Byron Lane, a former personal assistant to actress/icon Carrie Fisher, tells a tale that, while fictionalized, is impossible to read without seeing the actress in the character of Kathi Kannon. This adds an extra layer to the novel, whether in terms of Kannon’s outrageous behavior, or the tragic end of Fisher’s life in December of 2016. It is a fun read with tinges of the bittersweet.

Book cover for Straight from the horse's mouth : a novel
Straight from the horse's mouth : a novel
Alaoui, Meryem
Call Number: e-Book

An irreverent debut novel set in Casablanca, where 34-year-old Jmiaa Bent Larbi dreams of escaping the life her wayward husband has forced upon her--prostitution.  She may have been the victim of his scheming, but she feels anything but victimized. She is smart with a saucy way of expressing her insights about humanity, and does some calculated planning when a good opportunity presents itself. A humorous, sharp and beautiful story set against the backdrop of a corrupt city, and with a female protagonist not to be messed with.

Book cover for Take a hint, Dani Brown : a novel
Take a hint, Dani Brown : a novel
Hibbert, Talia

When two friends, a college professor and former rugby player, pose as a couple. However, when social media takes notice of them, they didn't count on their fake relationship becoming something more. Fun, witty, and utterly romantic!

Book cover for And their children after them
And their children after them
Mathieu, Nicolas, 1978-

Heillange, near France's border with Luxembourg, is a town in decline, left for dead when its metalworks shut its doors and disgorged its employees out onto the street. Against this backdrop, we follow the anomic lives of the town's teenaged children: Anthony, son of an alcoholic father and thwarted mother; Stéphanie, aimless daughter of wealthy parents; and Hacine, drug-dealing son of a hard-working North African immigrant father.

Book cover for Trouble the Saints
Trouble the Saints
Johnson, Alaya Dawn, 1982-

An underworld assassin, who keeps her race under wraps, must come to terms with her power. Magic, love, racism and justice in 1940s New York.

Book cover for The truants
The truants
Weinberg, Kate

This debut novel is a true genre buster: part college campus novel, part classic British mystery, part literary thriller, and part coming of age story. The twisty plot centers on charismatic literature professor Lorna Clay and four of her most devoted students. All five characters are burdened by secrets and lies, and when a tragedy brings them to light the result is devastation and ruin.

Book cover for Utopia Avenue : a novel
Utopia Avenue : a novel
Mitchell, David

Master storyteller David Mitchell weaves the epic story of the fictional band Utopia Avenue, who come together in England in 1967 and take the music scene by storm. Blending together elements of rock, R&B, jazz, and folk, the band evokes Mitchell's own ability to combine disparate genres into an inimitable whole. Devotees of Mitchell's Horologists will recognize the surname of Utopia Avenue's virtuoso guitarist Jasper de Zoet, descendant of the titular character of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. But this being a Mitchell novel, that is most certainly not the only intertextual connection to the rest of his œuvre.

Book cover for Writers & lovers : a novel
Writers & lovers : a novel
King, Lily

Underwater on student debt and living in a room that used to be a potting shed, 31-year-old Casey Peabody pedals through Harvard Square on someone’s discarded bicycle to get to her waitressing job. While most of her peers have abandoned their creative pursuits, Casey is still attempting to finish the novel she has been writing for six years. With a fine blend of humor and despair, she wends her way through the backstabbing and self-aggrandizing worlds of restaurant workers and authors, bolstered by friends and two potential lovers who, like Casey, are grieving the loss of a relative.