Friday, December 11, 2020

Looking at the "best of" historical fiction lists for 2020

As the year winds down, media outlets, bloggers, and other review venues are compiling lists of their favorite novels of 2020.  Not all include historical fiction as its own category, but here are some sites that do.  I enjoy looking over these lists to see which books I've read already (usually not many, since my tastes are eclectic and my reading is partly based on what I'm assigned), to get introduced to new titles, and to see whether I agree with the choices made.

In the Goodreads Choice Awards, Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half won the historical fiction category handily with over 100K votes.  The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner took second place.  I loved both books.  And I've actually read 7 out of the 16 that were finalists, which isn't typical.  My favorites among the finalists are The Vanishing Half, The Jane Austen Society, and Ariel Lawhon's Code Name Hélène.

The New York Times lists 10 standout novels of historical fiction.  My favorite among them is Daniel Kehlmann's Tyll.  There are a couple novels on this list I was lukewarm about.  Only two titles overlap between the NYT list and the Goodreads list (Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet and Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light).

Kirkus Reviews also posted their Best Historical Fiction of 2020, with a dozen selections (Hamnet is the only one I've read).

NPR's Book Concierge is always fun to explore.  I like how they intermix adult and children's titles in their historical fiction collage, along with historical romance. This site uses the broadest umbrella for the genre, which appeals to me.  

Glancing at these lists so far, Alice Randall's Black Bottom Saints (Black Detroit from the early 20th century), Emma Donoghue's The Pull of the Stars (the 1918 flu epidemic), Jess Walter's The Cold Millions (early 20th-c Spokane), and Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet (Shakespeare's England) make multiple appearances.

She Reads has two lists of best historicals for 2020, ones chosen by their historical fiction reviewer, Cindy Burnett, and another of their winners in the official She Reads awards.

The Times (London) lists their favorite novels set in the past. You'll need a login (which gives access to some free articles) to read it.  This list includes one title I hadn't come across before, All Our Broken Idols by Paul M.M. Cooper, set in ancient Assyria and the present day.  Mantel and O'Farrell are here too.

If I missed any lists, please let me know in the comments. I'm still debating about whether to post my own list, plus my year of reading isn't over yet.


  1. Lists are fun to peruse - do post your own once the New Year rolls around! I spent some time this year paring down my TBR list, so now I'm ready for a better reading year - too many blah books in 2020. Happy Holidays!

    1. I'll give it some thought! There were a few books I loved this year that I didn't review (my brain was too tired). I may revisit them in a later post. Hope 2021 will be an improved reading year for you. Happy holidays!

  2. I always find these lists interesting because they pick titles I don't like or didn't read. Only 1 list shows a book I liked: The Mountains Sing.

    1. I've been meaning to read that one.

  3. Great collection of lists here - thanks for pulling them all together! My problem with all the end-of-year book lists is that I rarely get to new releases - I am usually playing catch-up (you know, too many books and too little time!).

    I do really want to read The vanishing Half and Code Name Helene, among others.

    Thanks for the inspiration for my 2021 reading list!


    Book By Book

    1. I know how that goes all too well!

      The Vanishing Half and Code Name Helene are on my 2020 favorites list. Hope you get the time to read them!