The Most Brilliant Books of 2020

The year is out, but the results are in!  After much deliberation, our booksellers have compiled a selection of titles that we consider the Most Brilliant Books of 2020.  They are ranked alphabetically by author, and not by merit, as all are equally Brilliant.  Each one brought something unique to the literary landscape of 2020.  Which ones have you read?


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Cinders and Sparrows Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062289957
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Greenwillow Books - October 13th, 2020

I absolutely love this enchanting and spooky story! Zita is a 12 year old orphan who suddenly inherits a mysterious castle and finds out that she comes from a long line of witches.  A curse has been placed on her family and it is up to Zita to remove the curse and find out what really happened to them. I found myself cheering for brave Zita as she gains new confidence in herself and searches for her place in the world. Perfect for fans of Greenglass House that also enjoy magic.  —Sam

We Ride Upon Sticks: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781524748098
Availability: Backordered
Published: Pantheon - March 3rd, 2020

Field Hockey…but make it witches….kinda? This book is so hard to explain, but it was an absolute blast from start to finish.  —Kendall

If You Come to Earth Cover Image
By Sophie Blackall (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781452137797
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Chronicle Books - September 15th, 2020

I love Sophie Blackall's illustrations, her most recent book told as a child describing Earth to an alien being. Both epic in scale and focused on minor details, there is a lot to consider here for young ones about what it is to exist on and as part of a planet.  —Rachel

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water Cover Image
By Zen Cho
ISBN: 9781250269256
Availability: Backordered
Published: Tordotcom - June 23rd, 2020

This novella, written in the style of traditional Chinese “wuxia” or “martial heroes” fiction, is an utter delight. A bandit walks into a bar and meets a nun and both their lives are changed forever. This is another one to try on for an excellent audio experience —Anthony

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism Cover Image
ISBN: 9780807047408
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Beacon Press - November 17th, 2020

Brilliant Books’ 2020 best seller.  An examination by Robin DiAngelo of how and why white people are uncomfortable discussing and confronting racism.  Despite well meaning white claims of color-blindness, Diangelo illustrates how racism is part of the culture, not an aberration of it.  For white people to accept this reality implies acknowledging the racist implications of their own thoughts and deeds.  This in turn leads to defensiveness, anger, denial, all of which shut down any progress in race relations.

Spolier alert:  White people are not supposed to find discussing race comfortable at all. —Peter

How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices Cover Image
ISBN: 9780593418482
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Portfolio - October 13th, 2020

Annie Duke follows up on her 2018 best seller, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts.  As a former poker player she her outlines how best to make decisions when you do not have all the facts, when you’re armed only with ideas, conjectures and predictions.  —Peter

Axiom's End: A Novel (Noumena #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250256737
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: St. Martin's Press - July 21st, 2020

An interesting look at first contact, humanity, and communication.  Great as an audiobook!  —Caitlin

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The Overstory: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393635522
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - April 3rd, 2018

A sweeping majestic work filtered through the environmental activism of its central, disparate characters.  Powers here considers the connectedness of all things.  A must read.  —Colleen

The Barnabus Project Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735263260
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tundra Books - September 1st, 2020

Another favorite by the Fan Brothers, this newest release touches on diversity, friendship and bravery.  —Sam

Beowulf: A New Translation Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374110031
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: MCD x FSG Originals - August 25th, 2020

This radical, new translation by Maria Dahvana Headley turns everything you think you know about Beowulf on its head. A story of a hero’s glory and a mother’s thirst for revenge, this one is best enjoyed on for the true experience of listening to an oral tale told in a smokey mead hall.  —Anthony

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Beach Read Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984806734
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Berkley - May 19th, 2020

This is the absolute perfect rom com for anyone who is looking for something fun, smart, and filled with heart.  —Kendall

What About Worms!? (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781368045735
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Hyperion Books for Children - May 19th, 2020

One of my favorite early readers of the year, Tiger is not afraid of anything, except worms! Cute and silly, this one will get a giggle out of everyone and inspire some early literacy skills.  —Rachel

Woodland Dreams Cover Image
By Karen Jameson, Marc Boutavant (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781452170633
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Chronicle Books - October 27th, 2020

A rhyming bedtime story with gorgeous illustrations.  —Sam

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The City We Became: A Novel (The Great Cities Trilogy #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316509848
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Orbit - March 24th, 2020

Brash, fast-talking, quintessential New York meets cosmic interdimensional sci-fi.  I loved the audio performance on this one as well.  It was the soundtrack as I was unpacking boxes in the middle of moving house, and I would often find myself sitting beside a forgotten box just listening to the story unfold.  —Caitlin

Tweet Cute: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250237323
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wednesday Books - January 21st, 2020

This may have taken the spot of my favorite YA romance of all time. Super cute, super relatable, and just so fun. (Plus, Emma’s upcoming book is just as good!)  —Kendall

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Migrations: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250204028
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Flatiron Books - August 4th, 2020

Apparently I have a theme going with extinction and loss. Migrations appealed to the bird lover in me chronicling the migration of the last pair of arctic terns and a woman trying to reconcile her past as she tracks their final journey. Heartbreaking, gorgeous and also hopeful.  —Rachel

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The Time of Green Magic Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534462762
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books - July 28th, 2020

Hilary McKay's books are lovely to read, magical while navigating issues of trust and friendship. A mysterious house, a family tale and magical creatures make this book engaging for many kinds of readers.  —Rachel

Goodnight Beautiful: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062881922
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper - October 13th, 2020

To be honest, this isn't my all time favorite thriller, or even really the best thriller I read this year, but it did have, hands down, the greatest twist I've read since Gone Girl, and I can't believe they pulled it off even in the audiobook.  —Caitlin

Mexican Gothic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525620785
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Del Rey - June 30th, 2020

A truly exquisite gothic novel.  Deeply weird, dark, unsettling, and the transplantation of a very traditional foggy English manor into 1950s Mexico makes the setting somehow even more ominous.  What's scarier than a haunted house?  A house you had to make haunted before you could move in... —Caitlin

Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb Trilogy #2) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250313225
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tordotcom - August 4th, 2020

Tamsyn Muir’s explosive sequel to Gideon the Ninth is one of the most confusing and brilliant things I have ever experienced. All the action and mystery and magic skeletons from the first book, but wrapped in a puzzle so cunning that it took me several read-throughs (and more than one listen to the audiobook) to finally wrap my head around it.  —Anthony

Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399581755
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Ten Speed Press - October 13th, 2020

Ottolenghi's books never disappoint. Vegetable-centric, these recipes follow a similar trend in cookbooks as of late, focusing on how we build flavor. Delicious!  —Rachel

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians: A Novel (The Shadow Histories #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316459082
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Redhook - June 23rd, 2020

My favorite book this year!  I enjoyed Parry's The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep, but I absolutely adored this one.  It reads like a rather more accessible Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, and the masterful parallels with actual history had me reviewing my knowledge of the French Revolution...and then digging for more!  —Caitlin

Anatomicum: Welcome to the Museum Cover Image
ISBN: 9781536215069
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Big Picture Press - September 10th, 2020

The artwork is beautiful and fascinating, great for young readers interested in the human body.  —Sam

City Spies Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534414914
Availability: Ships from our warehouse today
Published: Aladdin - March 10th, 2020

A fun new series that had me hooked after the first chapter. I can't wait for book two, Golden Gate, coming out in March!  —Sam

A Sand Book Cover Image
ISBN: 9781951142162
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Tin House Books - February 11th, 2020

Reading A Sand Book is a vivid experience, like watching a poet run down a staircase of knives while holding a full glass of water and not spilling a drop: this controlled chaos leaves bloody footprints on your mind/heart/soul. Ariana’s style is both intimate and free flowing, drawing you into her landscape, whispering all of her secrets into your ear, and revealing a poet overflowing with intensity:

“Bring me my gold
My serpent my rod
Pour hot gold into my teeth
Bind my silver tongue
Soak it in soft white gold
And unbind my tongue Jupiter
And loose it on the world”   [excerpt from A Sand Book]


The Women of the Copper Country: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982109592
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Atria Books - July 7th, 2020

Set in the Northern Michigan mining town of Calumet on the isolated Keweenaw peninsula, The Women of the Copper Country is a meticulously researched work.  It is an engrossing narrative account of early 20th century lives of the men and women of the early labor movement that will surely resonate with today’s readers.  —Colleen

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An Inventory of Losses Cover Image
By Judith Schalansky, Jackie Smith (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780811229630
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: New Directions - December 8th, 2020

This is such a beauty of a book. Told through 12 different stories, Schalansky recounts lost places, animals, and things that only live on through memory and word. I thought this was a really thoughtful read at this time when we are feeling so much loss in our day to day -- it was nice to think about how we remember things and the role of storytelling in creating memory.  —Rachel

Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385542586
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Doubleday - August 11th, 2020

What if a scholar found lost scriptural evidence of Jesus having a wife? What if she presented those findings to the Vatican? What if it turned out to all be an elaborate forgery? These questions and more are answered in one of my very favorite reads of 2020, and my only non-fiction pick on this list. —Anthony

The List of Things That Will Not Change Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101938096
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wendy Lamb Books - April 7th, 2020

I love Rebecca Stead, her most recent release does not disappoint. She explores many issues and feelings that young people (and adults!) face every day but in a way that makes life feel just a little less complicated.  —Sam

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1) Cover Image
By Amy Timberlake, Jon Klassen (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781643750057
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Algonquin Young Readers - September 15th, 2020

Skunk and Badger best compares to Frog and Toad, a curmudgeonly rock collecting badger and sweetly pleasant skunk brought together by a shared housing arrangement that Badger is not so sure about. I read this aloud with my family, and we all loved it, humorous, but also thoughtful. Bonus illustrations from Jon Klassen really put this book over the top!  —Rachel

I was always a huge fan of Frog and Toad books growing up, this has that same cozy feel.  —Sam

Hench: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062978578
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: William Morrow - September 22nd, 2020

The origin story you never knew you needed but always wanted. In a world of vigilante superheroes sometimes the only way to survive is to be a henchman for an evil corporate CEO. After all, a boss with a mind-control device is a small price to pay for health insurance, right?  —Anthony

Red at the Bone: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525535270
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - September 17th, 2019

It’s rare that such short books pack such a massive punch, but Jacqueline Woodson is an absolute master at it.  —Kendall

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