What a year.
I mean really, I don’t have to get into it, do I? Aren’t you tired of the newsletters and blog posts and commercials and literally every other thing in life calling attention to what a crap year this has been? I’ll save you the trouble by just saying that through all the trials 2020 has thrown our way, we’ve made it to the end of the year.
I just want to thank you all for being here with me through it all. Thank you for reading, messaging me, sharing your love of books online, recommending books to your quarantined friends, and for always keeping love in your heart — even during one of the most difficult times any of us have ever faced.
Before I get into my top reads of 2020, I want to talk a little about our year together.
I published five novels this year. And I say that in the most humble and thankful way. I am beyond blessed to have been able to stay home and work on what I love most when so much turmoil was raging on outside my windows. This is what I love most about the written word — how we can connect and escape together.
This year, we have shared more than 404,000 words. WOW.
Old Fashioned was first up, rounding out the four-book series about our beloved Becker Brothers. We finally solved the mystery of their father’s death — and celebrated a LOT of love found along the way.
Next, I brought you back to “the Kandi Steiner of 2016 who brought us Weightless and A Love Letter to Whiskey” when I published the angsty, emotional stand-alone: Make Me Hate You. I loved writing in this New England summer setting, and even more that it was an absolute angst fest. Y’all know those are my favorite!
Summer also brought the fifth installment in the Palm South University series: Ritual. This crew just keeps getting rowdier and rowdier, and we’re nearing the end of their journey. The last two books of the series will be published in 2021!
When football season rolled around, so did The Right Player. We finally got to see Belle get her HEA (with perhaps the most SWOONY Hero I’ve ever written. Sigh. MAKOA!) and we got to catch up with Zach and Gemma from The Wrong Game. Wedding feels!
Last but certainly not least, I wrote a little Christmas novella that I’ve been dying to write for years. It was just the cozy thing I needed to get in the holiday spirit. The Christmas Blanket is an instant Kandi Steiner angsty classic — all thanks to y’all.
We also added three more bestsellers to the list this year: Old Fashioned hit Amazon’s Top 60, Make Me Hate You hit Amazon’s Top 30, and The Right Player hit Amazon’s Top 90. This is amazing during a normal year, let alone the hellfire that was 2020. THANK YOU. I am so, so grateful.
In spite of everything that has been thrown our way in 2020, I am thankful for the amazing adventures we’ve been on together. And just wait until you see what I’ve got in store for 2021… 😉
Read the five books I released in 2020:
And now, in alphabetical order, my top ten reads from 2020.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic hit a big home run with this girl.
First of all, I’ll start by saying that I’m a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I read and watched Eat, Pray, Love when I had just gone through my divorce and I felt like she was writing every single emotion I was feeling in that moment. She beautifully captured what I could not put into words no matter how hard I tried. Honestly, with the way she talks about big magic and creativity and inspiration, I’m convinced the universe told her to write that book so that someday I would read it and feel whole again.
But, back to the subject at hand.
I picked up Big Magic at the end of 2019 because a lot of my colleagues had been recommending it. I am SO glad I did. I read part of it and listened to part of it in audio. (her voice is SO SOOTHING, btw)
This is one of those books that reached deep down inside of me, grabbed me by the heart, and shook me until I woke up and paid attention. I will never forget reading it, nor will I forget the lessons it has taught me. One in particular that I will take with me forever is to “treat writing like an affair.” I absolutely LOVED that chapter!
The advice in this book is critical, honest, and pure. Gilbert doesn’t shy from the hard-to-hear and, even better, she doesn’t hold back on the inspiration we all need to keep going and creating.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to write a book, who is writing but struggling, who feels like they aren’t enough, or who is struggling with creation. It has changed many of my habits and ways of thinking, and for that, I am forever thankful — and forever in Gilbert’s debt.
A Bridge Between Us by K.K. Allen
Raw. Gripping. Electrifying. A Bridge Between Us will awaken your soul and set flight to your heart. I couldn’t put it down! Allen weaves a web of angst, longing, and innocence in a way only she can. You won’t just read this book — you’ll live it.
Feast of Sparks by Sierra Simone
Once again, I am completely blown away by Sierra Simone’s epic writing and extraordinary story-telling. Feast of Sparks is just as delicious as the first installment in the Thornchapel series — with just as many twists, just as many heart-pounding moments, and just as much mystery leading into the next book. I am HOOKED!
I must admit, I had never read a TRUE erotic book before I read A Lesson in Thorns. Sure, I’ve read romance with some super steamy scenes, but this was on another level. And perhaps what makes this the BEST way to start reading erotica is that with the mystery of Thornchapel and the magic of the rituals these six friends engage in, there is something… PRIMAL about the sex in these books. It’s more than just part of the story, it’s the HEART of the story. And it’s absolutely intoxicating.
I am still head over heels for all the characters. Auden, the broody prince. St. Sebastian, the sad poor boy. And my new obsession? Becket, the handsome, sweet priest who has a bad side that I can’t get enough of. These boys have me completely under their spells.
The leading ladies of the Thornchapel series are also addicting, especially our little Prosperina. I love how honest she is with her flaws, how much she owns and embraces her past as well as her present, and with no shame for what she may become in the future. It’s something I envy, really, and if anything, Prosperina’s character leaves me wanting to invest in myself more than I already do.
The last chapter of this book had my heart in my throat. JUST when everything seemed okay, seemed happy and promising, of course, Sierra drops a bomb in our lap — one I feared would come but hoped TERRIBLY that I was wrong.
I cannot wait to see what unfolds in the next installment. I’m counting down the days. Bravo, Simone. You’re an evil little kinky genius and I adore you!
Here at Dawn by Beau Taplin
There is just something… extraordinary about Beau Taplin’s poetry.
I have been a poetry fan since I was very, very young. I read my first book of poetry in the second grade and wrote my first poem in the third. Out of all the many mediums of writing, I believe poetry is the most difficult. To take something deep and passionate and terrifyingly true and not only explain it in very few words, but to also make it FELT in very few words… it’s truly magical. And Beau has the gift to do just this, to explain and to put words to feelings you never could put your finger on and to make you FEEL it.
My favorite book of Beau’s is In Bloom. I just loved that one so much, and maybe it hit me extra hard because I was “in bloom” when I read it. I was in transition, somewhere between rock bottom and a new birth, and I connected with every poem on each and every page.
Here at Dawn is a new kind of magic.
Every morning, I started my day with Here at Dawn. It started with one poem a day, and then two, as I drank my coffee and let my brain wake up. I swear, every time I opened this book, I felt myself slip away to a beautiful forest somewhere in another world. I sat down in the cool, plush grass under a beautiful willow and next to a rushing stream. I wore a crown of flowers and plucked at the grass with my bare toes as I let his words carry me away. It was always an out of body experience, and after each poem, I closed the book and stared out my window and smiled, feeling the words, feeling the magic of life.
Something special about Beau’s poetry is that I share it with my mother. We live in different states, so every morning, I take a picture of the two poems I read that day and send them to her and we discuss them. Beau may never know me personally, but he has personally affected my life. He has given me and my mother a special ritual which I cherish so much now and will cherish even more when she’s gone.
If you love poetry or if you’re new to it and just wanting to give it a try, I highly recommend Here at Dawn or ANY Beau Taplin book. You will walk away enchanted.
Inked in Lies by Giana Darling
I really loved this book! My first Giana Darling experience and wow I was BLOWN AWAY by the writing. It was so smart and clean and poignant. I was hooked from the first chapter! And gah THE ANGST. The age gap. The friends-to-lovers. OBSESSED. I highly recommend this for lovers of angsty emotional reads!
The Power by Naomi Alderman
I picked this up at a bookstore in Washington D.C. last year and have been dying to read it. I got caught up in reading other books on my list but dusted this bad boy off last month and WOW. I loved it!
The premise was so intriguing. Suddenly, all over the world, girls and women are gaining the power to spark electricity (and use it as a weapon). As this develops, power shifts from the hands of men to that of women, and trust me when I say what you think will happen is NOT what happens at all!
I loved the first half of this book — absolutely devoured it. However, I started getting a little frustrated with how the plot turned toward the end. The ending was not my favorite. BUT, it makes sense, and I think it touches on a powerful question of what someone with the power will do with it (regardless of race, gender, or background). We are all a lot more alike than we think.
I highly recommend this book. The writing is witty and sharp (and now, the weather on the ones! LOL) and the story is riveting. If you’re a sucker for thrillers like me, you’ll be sucked in immediately and won’t come up for air until you finish.
Pride & Papercuts by Staci Hart
WOW. Wow x 1,000. I have been waiting for a book to steal my breath this year, to sweep me off my feet, to whisk me away and wrap me up in a romantic spell. Nothing had delivered until now.
“I followed the line of her finger across the croweded room to the door, and I felt the entirety of the universe lean in the same direction. Toward him.”
Pride and Papercuts is the book I’ve been waiting for. It’s everything I loved about the classics, melted with everything I love about modern indie romance. Hart’s wit and charm meet Austen’s historic magic, leaving you breathless and enchanted from the first chapter to the last. Liam Darcy and Laney Bennet are absolutely magnetic on the page, and every encounter between them sizzles and pops in a way that only forbidden romance can.
“You drive me insane. Every thought is haunted by you. You’ve invaded me, invaded my work, my mind, my life, and I’m unable to be rational or patient where you’re concerned.”
Consider this the crown jewel on an already beautiful, poignant, and impressive stack of Staci Hart’s unforgettable novels. Pride and Papercuts is THE romance book of 2020, and every obsinate, headstrong girl needs this one — to steal their heart, to charm their soul, and to live on their bookshelf forevermore.
“A man shouldn’t be this lucky,” he said quietly, earnestly. “It leaves so much to lose.”
What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine
Five magical, feminist, bewitched stars!
I started this book two years ago. TWO. YEARS. I devoured the first half and fell so in love. I was excited every time I opened the book. I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.
I beta read for a friend, and then had to read an ARC to review, and before I knew it, this book was collecting dust on my bedside table and it kept getting pushed off by things I HAD to read.
Jack and I booked a weekend getaway in a cabin in North Georgia for my birthday last week, and I brought this book with me, and once again, I found myself swept away in the story within the first chapter after I picked it back up. I devoured the rest of it hungrily in just a couple of days.
I’ll never forget the feeling of reading this all cozied up by the fire after a long day of hiking. <3
But, personal experience aside, this is a must for anyone who loves young adult with a dash of fantasy, mystery, and woman power. I was so intrigued by the concept and I LOVED getting to know all of the female ancestors that made up the entire family. This wasn’t just one girl’s story — it was the story of her entire family, of ALL of us, as women. I absolutely loved it.
Five stars and highly recommended! Going on my favorites of 2020 for sure.
The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
This is, without a doubt, the most important book for women to read right now. WOW. Not only is it a gripping thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page, but it is a timely and provocative view of what it means to be a woman in the workforce, what it means to be a woman PERIOD.
I am blown away by Baker’s fiercely feminist writing and her ability to capture in words what I have always failed to. I found myself gaping at the book in my hands over and over as I read, nodding and saying out loud, “Oh, my God — she gets it!” It is truly a powerful read, and one that will stay with me forever.
Every single character in this book will remind you of someone — your best friend, your neighbor, the girl who sits next to you in the office, YOURSELF. Baker brilliantly reveals the highs and the lows of womanhood, the tricky and delicate balance of being a mother, a wife, a best friend, and a career woman. This is more than a “whodunnit.” This is a “we have all done it, now, what do we do about it?”
What’s better than the writing, and better than the characters, and better than the suspense is the overall message in Baker’s book, which is this: women need to support each other. We need to stand together and hold each other up, not back, not under. I felt so empowered at the end of this novel and I have since been shoving into the hands of every one of my friends and colleagues.
Simply put, Whisper Network is a poignant, hilarious, and timely must-read. I cannot recommend it enough. Easily going on my list of top reads in 2020!
The Wreckage of Us by Brittainy C. Cherry
Poignant and gripping from the very first page, The Wreckage of Us is a romantic masterpiece. Reading Hazel and Ian’s love story is like wrapping yourself up in the warmest, softest blanket and cozying up with your favorite person by the fire on a dark and snowy night. Simply an unforgettable reading experience and a book that will stay with me long after I’ve read the last page. My favorite book of 2020!
I loved these books SO MUCH that I want to give you the chance to win a PAPERBACK copy of one from the list — winner choice!
See all the books I read this year here.