Set The Tape’s Top Books of 2020

I’ve managed to read a lot of books this year, over two hundred and counting at the time of writing, so trying to whittle that list down to five of the best is really hard, especially with the quality of releases we’ve had this year. But, nevertheless, here are five books that absolutely blew me away in 2020.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

I was a fan of Lindsay Ellis from her YouTube videos, so when I saw that she was bringing out a science fiction book I was really on board to find out what she was planning to do. Despite already expecting to like the book because I like science fiction and Lindsay’s work, I wasn’t ready for just how good Axiom’s End was going to be.

Set in 2007, the book follows Cora, the daughter of a government whistle-blower currently on the run from the FBI. One of the leaks has made the claim that the US government is hiding the existence of extra-terrestrial life, but Cora isn’t a believer, until one of these alien beings enters Cora’s life. The only person that seems capable of communicating with the aliens, Cora finds herself dragged into a mystery that could have global consequences.

The blurb for the book makes you think that Axiom’s End will be focusing a lot on government conspiracy and accountability, but it’s more about people. How you can discover something so completely alien and different, but can see past that and discover the humanity within.

Despite global conspiracy and threats from space the book is such a personal story, one that will make you fall in love with the characters, human and alien alike. I’m not ashamed to say this book really touched me, and made me cry more than once. It’s a really beautiful piece of work that everyone should check out.

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Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Legendborn is a book that I enjoyed straight away, but over time I keep going back to thinking about it, it slips into my head again and again, and I’ve realised that what I first thought was a good book is actually a really, really great book.

It follows Bree Matthews, a sixteen-year-old Black girl who’s headed off to college as part of an advance placement scheme. However, once she arrives on campus she accidentally discovers the existence of otherworldly forces, and the group of people who are sworn to stop them. This revelation unlocks a memory deep with Bree, of the night her mother died, and now she’s determined to learn more about this world of magic and demons.

On the surface Legendborn is very similar to a lot of other YA Urban Fantasy books, it’s got a young woman discovering the supernatural is real, meeting a group of teens who fight against these dark forces, and there’s some romance thrown in their too. If that was all there was to the book it would be great, but what makes it amazing is how different the whole thing becomes with one simple change: making Bree Black. Suddenly the book is dealing with racism, police brutality, and class divide in ways that you rarely see in this genre, and it makes the book so damn good because of it. Bree faces demons from hell in this book, but its the scenes where you witness the blatant discrimination she faces as a Black Woman that are the most horrific.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab is a well recognised name in the publishing world, and has a number of hits under her belt. But one book that has been spoken about for years, despite only coming out in 2020, is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

I first heard about this book a year and a half before it came out, at a signing Schwab was attending, and it didn’t seem to be a new topic even then. This has been the book that she’s been working on for the better part of a decade, the one that means a lot to her. There was a lot riding on Addie LaRue, so much hype had been built up around it; luckily, it was every bit as good as we were all hoping.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is about a young woman who made a deal with dark forces in order to escape her old life, back in 1714. These forces allowed her to live for as long as she wants, to get away from the life she wanted to escape, but as with most of these deals there’s a catch; no one can remember her. Her family have no idea who she is, her existence seems to have been erased, and as soon as someone looks away from her they forget she was ever there. Having walked through the world for three hundred years Addie has tried to find ways to leave an impression of herself where she can, but has come to accept her new existence, but her entire world is thrown upside down when a man in a small New York bookshop says the words she never thought she’d hear again: ‘I remember you’.

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Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi & Yusef Salaam

Yusef Salaam might be a name familiar to some of you; he was one of the five young men wrongfully sent to prison for the rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park, a group that would be known as The Central Park Five.

Released years later after the real culprit was found, Yusef had to spend his teenage years in prison for a crime he was innocent of, and since then has dedicated himself to prison reform as has co-writer Ibi Zoboi. This is the topic they have attempted to tackle with Punching the Air.

The story is about Amal Shahid, a Black teen who gets into a fight with a white boy and, convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, is sent to prison. An artist and poet, Amal finds his entire life thrown upside down as all those around him paint him as aggressive, disruptive, and guilty just because he’s Black. The book is a deeply personal and moving story, one that allows readers insight into the mind of a young man who’s facing the prospect of their life being over, of their freedom being robbed from them, of being seen as instantly a guilty criminal because of the colour of their skin and a system designed to work against them.

Written in verse and accompanied by beautiful artwork, the book reads like poetry, with stunning lyricism it grabbed me in ways that poetry normally doesn’t, and I read through the entire book in one sitting.

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The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

T. Kingfisher has quickly become one of my favourite horror writers, and their latest book, The Hollow Places, is one that absolutely chilled me.

It centres on Kara, who following her divorce, moves in with her favourite uncle in his weird little museum. Having loved the place and its weird artefacts since she was a little girl Kara is happy for the distraction. However, when her uncle has to have knee surgery he takes some time away to recover, leaving Kara to run the place herself.

All is going well until Kara discovers a strange hole in the back wall, a hole that leads to an impossible place; and underground bunker. Trying to figure out how an upstairs wall can lead to a bunker that shouldn’t be there Kara begins to investigate, but discovers things on the other side of the wall that will shatter her view of reality.

The Hollow Places is the kind of cosmic horror that doesn’t come along too often, but really knows how to use the genre to great effect. There were times the book had me on the edge of my seat, wanting to put it down, but so desperate to find out what happens to Kara that I couldn’t. It has things in its pages that will send shivers down your spine, and make you wary of any random holes that you might come across in your own home.

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