Most Surprising Reads of 2020

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and if you didn’t celebrate, a wonderful 25th! My family and I ate way too much for our own good, so we spent the 25th satisfied. Also, Wonder Woman 1984 had come out on HBO so we watched that, and, um, it was not good. Kind of cheesy, actually. Gal looked great, though.

I was actually surprised by how meh WW84 was because I had been on set for one of the scenes and was really excited for it. Just like with WW84, my reading, too, has had plenty of surprises (and yes, my friends, that is the best segue you will ever hear…)

This year, I tried to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I actually followed through! I hate it when there’s a pressure to read this or that, and by forgoing this expectation, I found a lot of interesting books that I did not expect. Thus, here are my most surprising reads – bad and good – of 2020:


Let’s start off with a bang, shall we? There were a handful of books that turned out to be either a) underwhelming or b) worse than I ever could have imagined.

The Wives

The Wives by Tarryn Fisher
Genre: thriller
Rating: 1 out of 5 topazes

Oh, The Wives. I picked this one up because I’ve been seeing it everywhere, and well, it sounded interesting: a polygamist thriller? Yes, please. For the first half of the book, everything was fine. The writing flowed well, the characters were intriguing, and the suspense was there. Except then the twist happened, and it was basically equivalent of “it was all a dream” but worse.

An Anonymous Girl

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Genre: thriller
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

Okay, this book wasn’t bad, per se, but it was just underwhelming. The plot has suspense, but it quickly goes away when you realize how bland the overall narrative – really, Dr. Shield’s motive – is. Also, everyone’s basically a cardboard cut-out, especially Dr. Shields who, I swear, is a robot.

The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Genre: literary, translation
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

I got this book as a gift, which was great because I’ve been trying to get more into Korean fiction. Unfortunately, The Vegetarian was a miss for me because it was just weird. And I usually LOVE weird, but this one was weird in a sexually gross way that misused the themes present. But, I didn’t give it a 1 star because all of what I said might have been Kang’s point in writing the book…

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Genre: fantasy, East Asia inspired
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

If you go on this book’s Goodreads page, you’ll see that it has above a 4.00 rating with 1K+ reviews. So, I was excited to get into this. But, UGH, it was not enough for me: it was just too short and too vague for me. If this novella were a full-length book, and Vo fleshed out some of the world and the characters’ narratives, then yes, I might have enjoyed it more.

The Seep

The Seep by Chana Porter
Genre: sci fi, magical realism
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

The Seep is set in a futuristic world during and after an alien invasion. It tackles themes like loss, grief, and love, and so you’d think it would pack a punch. It didn’t quite because it was one of those books where you’re thrust into this new world with little explanation. I still don’t know exactly what “the seep” is, for example.

Temporary Wife Temptation (The Heirs of Hansol, #1)

Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee
Genre: romance
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

I was SO excited for this Korean-American marriage of convenience romance. Our leads are both super hot (the cover!), and I was also ready for all the sexy times. Unfortunately, the sexy times are forgettable, and the leads are fine. Well, Natalie is interesting, but Garrett is *yawn*. Also, there are these time jumps that made the overall narrative confusing.

Xeni (Loose Ends #2)

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Genre: romance
Rating: 2 out of 5 topazes

I follow a couple romance BookTubers, and they raved about Xeni. I’ve heard a lot about Weatherspoon as well, so my bar was high when I went in. But, sigh, because I just didn’t care about the plot or about the chemistry between Xeni and Mason. I loved the representation though!

The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Genre: magical realism, historical, romance
Rating: 3 out of 5 topazes

I was in the mood for something circus-y and atmospheric (furthered by watching Cirque du Soleil on YouTube) so The Night Circus was the obvious choice. While I loved the dreaminess as well as the timelessness of the book, I wanted more plot aka more stakes. And not just with the romance either – everything.

The Silent Patient

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Genre: thriller
Rating: 3 out of 5 topazes

Overhyped thrillers are never a good thing because I’ve learned that they aren’t actually all that (except for Gone Girl – now that was a good book.) The Silent Patient is intriguing, so I finished it in a few sittings. So no problems there. However, there are just a lot of plot holes as well as a messed up timeline that soured the experience. Moreover, it turned out to just be a giant trope that I personally think is lazy in thrillers.

The Widow of Rose House

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller
Genre: romance, paranormal
Rating: 3 out of 5 topazes

The Widow of Rose House is not a bad book either, but I just became so much more interested in the paranormal aspects than the romance. I knew there was romance going in, but the paranormal elements that we do get are so much more interesting – but they get resolved quickly so the focus can turn to Alva and Sam.


And finally, the books that made me feel some type of good way…

The Escape Room

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin
Genre: thriller, revenge
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

Never has a book made me shake like this one has. I checked out this book 99% because of the cover. We get a corporate backdrop and sleazy characters, yes, but also a bunch of chaos that turns this book into not just a thriller but one about determination and justice.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: literary, historical, romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

I picked this one up because I was sick of seeing it everywhere. Imagine my surprise when I cried not once but TWICE reading this book. Even after finishing it, too, I thought it about it for a good week, and even now, I still think about just how tumultuous this reading experience was…in the best way possible.

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Genre: literary, magical realism, translation
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

I was a little bit anxious going into this one because one of my good friends did not like it. Fortunately, I ended up loving it. Sure, I didn’t understand half of the references, but I loved the absurdity of the plot and the characters. I especially loved Woland and Behemoth. I also enjoyed the themes of persecution and perseverance.

Last Tang Standing

Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho
Genre: chicklit, humor
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

I knew Last Tang Standing was going to funny. I didn’t understand just how hilarious it was going to be. Man, I got laughter cramps reading this. And the Power Lunch scene! *chef’s kiss* The Asian representation here is also beautiful. Dare I say that this is better than Crazy Rich Asians? Yes, I dare, because it is.

Bronze Gods (Apparatus Infernum, #1)

Bronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre
Genre: steampunk, fantasy, procedural
Rating: 5 out of 5 toapzes

I wanted to read more books with Asian heroines in genre fiction, and this one popped up. I was practically praying that Celeste Ritsuko wouldn’t be a stereotype…and she isn’t! More than that, Ritsuko and Mikani are lovely together, and the world is vibrant. The minor characters, too, are all so interesting, and overall, a wonderful start to the duology.

Lore and Lust (Queer Vampire Romance #1)

Lore & Lust by Karla Nikole
Genre: vampire, romance, LGBTQ+
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

I came across this book via an Instagram ad, and seeing that it was a queer vampire romance, I was all in. I finished this book real quick and ended up loving it so much more than I thought I would. First, it’s wholly unique: vampires feed on other vampires! Second, the romance between Nino and Haruka is so sweet. Gimme the second book, please.

Goodnight Beautiful

Goodnight Beautiful by Aimee Molloy
Genre: thriller
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

Goodnight Beautiful subverted my expectations literally every 10 pages. I didn’t get 90% of the twists (and I read a lot of thrillers), and the emotional aspect of this book was surprising and wonderfully handled. This novel isn’t your typical domestic thriller with a conniving couple or weird neighbors or whathaveyou – and for that, amazing.

Fevre Dream

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
Genre: vampire, historical, horror
Rating: 5 out of 5 topazes

What a journey. I laughed, I gasped, I cried. Freaking cried. The historical elements blended seamlessly with the unique vampire elements, and together, Martin created a story with characters I will never forget. The themes of servitude (not just with slavery) as well as absolute power are fascinating. You can read my full review here.

Fugitive (Northbridge Nights, #2)

Fugitive by Jackie Wang
Genre: romance
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 topazes

I waltzed into this book expecting an easy-breezy and sexy read, but damn, I was wrong. Fugitive was much more intense than I had anticipated – with twists and turns that were quite emotional. Rachelle undergoes a tremendous amount of growth, and I was rooting for her and Kieran all the way.

The Secret Brokers

The Secret Brokers by Alexandrea Weis
Genre: spy thriller, romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 topazes

I can just imagine this book as a pilot episode to a spy thriller series that I would so binge. The plot itself is rather simple…until that twist, and then you begin to REALLY ship Dallas and Gwen. Maybe I should have seen the twist coming, but I didn’t, and I love that I didn’t because it made the reading experience that much better.

Those are all of the reads that have surprised me one way or another this year. Another thing that was surprising: I hadn’t expected each list to be as long as it was! But thankfully, they seem to be even.

Any books you’ve read on here? If so, what did you think of them? What are some other surprising reads that you’ve read in 2020?

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