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11 Goodreads Choice Awards Finalists We’ve Read & Loved in 2020

December 2 2020

Now that the final round voting has concluded for the 12th Annual Goodreads Choice Awards, we’re all waiting anxiously for the winners to be announced in each category on December 8. The results in each round so far have caused quite the stir among all of us at Off the Shelf. Some of us are mourning the elimination of favorite reads along the way. Others are basking in the glow of seeing top picks make it to the next level. But something we can all agree on is that we’ll be thrilled if any of the books below stick around to be proclaimed as best of the best, ’cause they’ve already won a place in our hearts.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out these Goodreads Choice Awards finalists that we’ve read and loved this year. You may just feel inspired to add them to your own TBR list!

In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle

Best Romance

Courtney says: IN FIVE YEARS involves a few of my favorite things: New York, a look into the future, and questioning life choices. Dannie Kohan has her life mapped out. From her perfect fiancé to her dream job, she has all the answers. That is, until she goes to bed and wakes up five years later next to a different man and with a different ring on her finger. Spending only an hour in what seems to be a parallel universe, she’s back in bed next to her current fiancé and becomes determined to move past the strange experience. However, four and a half years later, she meets the man from her strange dream, and now she’s questioning everything. Because not only is the day from her dream just six months away, but the circumstances under which she meets this mystery man in real life make her even more confused as to her heart’s future. As this truly unexpected love story unfolds, you will not be able to put the book down until you reach the final page.

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In Five Years
Rebecca Serle

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A Good Morning America, FabFitFun, and Marie Claire Book Club Pick

In Five Years is as clever as it is moving, the rare read-in-one-sitting novel you won’t forget.” —Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists

Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day—a striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.

She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.

But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.

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Big Summer
by Jennifer Weiner

Best Fiction

Sabrina says: Jennifer Weiner’s BIG SUMMER follows the witty, moving, and suspenseful story of Daphne Berg, a body-positive social media Instagrammer who is starting to bloom in her own skin when her ex–best friend, the most perfect girl in high school, invites her to be her maid of honor. Drue Cavanaugh and Daphne Berg have not exchanged words in seven years, so when Daphne finds herself answering to Drue’s beck and call under the guise of a waterfront Cape Cod mansion wedding with the promise of hot guys and brand partnerships, she begins to question the true motive of Drue’s invitation. Is everything as it seems? Weiner explores issues of appearance versus reality, female friendship, and family bonds in this riveting summer tale. 

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Big Summer
Jennifer Weiner

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“Sexy and satisfying, Big Summer is the perfect quarantine read.” —USA TODAY

“The beach read to end all beach reads.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Big fun, and then some. It’s empowering and surprising—a reminder to put down the phone and enjoy each moment for what it is.” —The Washington Post

A deliciously funny, remarkably poignant, and simply unputdownable novel about the power of friendship, the lure of frenemies, and the importance of making peace with yourself through all life’s ups and down. From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Good in Bed and Best Friends Forever, Big Summer is the perfect escape with one of the most lovable heroines to come to the page in years.

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

A sparkling novel about the complexities of female relationships, the pitfalls of living out loud and online, and the resilience of the human heart, Big Summer is a witty, moving story about family, friendship, and figuring out what matters most.

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Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman

Best Fiction

Emily says: In Fredrik Backman's latest release, your average open house turns into a terrifying scenario when a robber burst in and holds eight strangers hostage. The captives come from all walks of life: finance careers, young messy lovers, a rebellious old lady, the list goes on. Seeing the many different reactions from these characters is hilarious, heartbreaking, life-affirming, and definitely has the hostage rethinking his strategy. There’s nothing that’ll reignite your faith in (and celebration of) humanity more than a novel about fickle strangers uniting across boundaries and breaking down barriers.

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Anxious People
Fredrik Backman

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious times.

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Transcendent Kingdom
by Yaa Gyasi

Best Fiction

Emily says: After reading HOMEGOING, I put Yaa Gyasi down on my list of authors-whose-new-book-I-will-drop-everything-for. In that debut novel, the author navigated time jumps and generations so expertly and concisely, that I can’t wait to see how she’ll break my heart this time with the more linear, granular story of TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM. Gifty is a brilliant neuroscience student, studying addiction and depression in the neural pathways of mice. Outside her professional life, she approaches her personal life with a similar scientific process. Questioning everything, she attempts to arrive at conclusions about Christianity, mental illness, love, and all the other forces that run through her family’s devastating history and what they left in its wake.

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Transcendent Kingdom
Yaa Gyasi

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MENTIONED IN:

11 Goodreads Choice Awards Finalists We’ve Read & Loved in 2020

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 2, 2020

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Magic Lessons
by Alice Hoffman

Best Historical Fiction

Sara says: Alice Hoffman is back with another addition to the story of the Owens women, this time taking readers to its source, the progenitor of the curse, Maria Owens. Abandoned as a baby in 1600s England, young Maria is taken in by Hannah Owens, who teaches her to harness her powers. The real trouble starts when Maria follows—all the way to Salem, Massachusetts—the man who loved and left her. MAGIC LESSONS is captivating and all-consuming, and Hoffman somehow manages to create a work so different from the other books in the series, yet still imbued with the same magical touch. A dark, emotional tale of what we will do for love, and a caution to be careful what you wish for, either for yourself or others.

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Magic Lessons
Alice Hoffman

In an unforgettable novel that traces a centuries-old curse to its source, beloved author Alice Hoffman unveils the story of Maria Owens, accused of witchcraft in Salem, and matriarch of a line of the amazing Owens women and men featured in Practical Magic and The Rules of Magic.

Where does the story of the Owens bloodline begin? With Maria Owens, in the 1600s, when she’s abandoned in a snowy field in rural England as a baby. Under the care of Hannah Owens, Maria learns about the “Unnamed Arts.” Hannah recognizes that Maria has a gift and she teaches the girl all she knows. It is here that she learns her first important lesson: Always love someone who will love you back.

When Maria is abandoned by the man who has declared his love for her, she follows him to Salem, Massachusetts. Here she invokes the curse that will haunt her family. And it’s here that she learns the rules of magic and the lesson that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Love is the only thing that matters.

Magic Lessons is a celebration of life and love and a showcase of Alice Hoffman’s masterful storytelling.

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MENTIONED IN:

11 Goodreads Choice Awards Finalists We’ve Read & Loved in 2020

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 2, 2020

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The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel

Best Historical Fiction

Holly says: Elderly librarian Eva Traube Abrams has spent the last sixty years attempting to erase the painful memories of how she spent her early twenties painstakingly forging legal documents in the underground French Resistance during World War II. Eva sacrificed her own safety and well-being to aid in helping hundreds of Jewish children escape over the French border into neutral land. Now, in the present day, when historians uncover a secret wartime text that holds an indecipherable code, Eva is met with the decision to re-open her past wounds of her time in the Resistance. Often I turn to books for comfort, for a spark of joy in moments of uncertainty and spells of anxiety. And more times than not, books respond with a soothing sense of hope. THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES by Kristin Harmel was exactly that for me—a sanguine story of courage and resilience that I needed.  

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The Book of Lost Names
Kristin Harmel

Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the international bestselling author of the “epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale” (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker’s Wife.

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

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One by One
by Ruth Ware

Best Thriller/Mystery

Saimah says: In Ruth Ware's latest thriller, ONE BY ONE, a group of employees at tech startup Snoop head to a luxury ski chalet in the French Alps for a corporate retreat. But upon arrival, there seems to be some tension among the employees. One of the co-founders of the company escalates things by bringing up a lucrative and contentious buyout. The company is on the brink—depending on how the shareholders vote, it could mean disaster or a massive payday. In an attempt to take a break from the weighty decision they must make, the group decides to hit the slopes and mull things over. While out on the mountain, the group gets separated, and then a mammoth avalanche hits, causing a power outage. They are left stranded. When one among them is found dead, the anxiety and distrust escalate, and the group starts to dwindle one by one....

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One by One
Ruth Ware

“The Agatha Christie of our generation.” —David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Diabolically clever.” —Riley Sager, author of Final Girls

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Turn of the Key and In a Dark Dark Wood returns with another suspenseful thriller set on a snow-covered mountain.

Getting snowed in at a luxurious, rustic ski chalet high in the French Alps doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world. Especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a full-service chef and housekeeper, a cozy fire to keep you warm, and others to keep you company. Unless that company happens to be eight coworkers…each with something to gain, something to lose, and something to hide.

When the cofounder of Snoop, a trendy London-based tech startup, organizes a weeklong trip for the team in the French Alps, it starts out as a corporate retreat like any other: PowerPoint presentations and strategy sessions broken up by mandatory bonding on the slopes. But as soon as one shareholder upends the agenda by pushing a lucrative but contentious buyout offer, tensions simmer and loyalties are tested. The storm brewing inside the chalet is no match for the one outside, however, and a devastating avalanche leaves the group cut off from all access to the outside world. Even worse, one Snooper hadn’t made it back from the slopes when the avalanche hit.

As each hour passes without any sign of rescue, panic mounts, the chalet grows colder, and the group dwindles further…one by one.

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Solutions and Other Problems
by Allie Brosh

Best Humor

Anne says: Allie Brosh's newest book SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS is about being kind to yourself, and I can't think of a better message in 2020. Allie's iconic MS-paint-style cartoons are shockingly expressive and stories such as "Richard" and "Poop Mystery" will make you laugh out loud, while other stories will leave you ugly-crying in the best way. 

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Solutions and Other Problems
Allie Brosh

INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

For the first time in seven years, Allie Brosh—beloved author and artist of the extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller Hyperbole and a Half—returns with a new collection of comedic, autobiographical, and illustrated essays.

Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life.

This full-color, beautifully illustrated edition features all-new material with more than 1,600 pieces of art. Solutions and Other Problems marks the return of a beloved American humorist who has “the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian” (Bill Gates).

Praise for Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half:
“Imagine if David Sedaris could draw….Enchanting.” —People
“One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.” Marc Maron
“Will make you laugh until you sob, even when Brosh describes her struggle with depression.” —Entertainment Weekly
“I would gladly pay to sit in a room full of people reading this book, merely to share the laughter.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“In a culture that encourages people to carry mental illness as a secret burden….Brosh’s bracing honesty is a gift.” —Chicago Tribune

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If It Bleeds
by Stephen King

Best Horror

Justin says: Stephen King just doesn’t let up. Throughout his incredibly prolific career, the master storyteller has consistently returned to the novella format between novels, and IF IT BLEEDS continues that tradition. The book of four spine-chilling works of short fiction will grip you, twist the knife in, and be over before you know it—leaving one wholly satisfied reader.

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If It Bleeds
Stephen King

From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas—Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds—each pulling you into intriguing and frightening places.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, including “The Body” (Stand By Me) and “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (Shawshank Redemption). Like Four Past Midnight, Different Seasons, and most recently Full Dark, No Stars, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

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The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones

Best Horror

Sara says: When four American Indian teens kill a pregnant deer, they set themselves and their loved ones on a dark and deadly path. Stephen Graham Jones is known for surreal horror that shakes you to your core, usually in more ways than one. THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is not only filled with terrifying imagery and heart-stopping twists, it’s also laden with social commentary on masculinity, the trauma of systematic oppression, and the ongoing negotiation between identity and culture. If you need a read that'll send chills down your spine, this story is it.

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The Only Good Indians
Stephen Graham Jones

“One of 2020’s buzziest horror novels.” —Entertainment Weekly

The Only Good Indians is a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, yet warm and heartbreaking in the best way, Stephen Graham Jones has written a horror novel about injustice and, ultimately, about hope….And it gives me hope that this book exists and is now in your hands.” —Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World

“Bloody and brutal at times, but also intimate, heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful.” —Rebecca Roanhorse, New York Times bestselling author of Trail of Lightning

The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

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Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Best Horror

Hannah says: Not only did MEXICAN GOTHIC get me out of my reading rut, but it was by far one of the best books I’ve read recently. In 1950s Mexico, a young socialite named Noemi travels to a mountain town to visit her cousin, who thinks the house she lives in with her controlling new husband and his strange family is trying to kill her. The house is creepy, and the more time Noemi spends there, the more terrifying her dreams about it becomeThis book is a big nod to the Gothic genre, social commentary and all, and is just gruesome enough that non-horror fans like me can still enjoy it.  

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Mexican Gothic
Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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MENTIONED IN:

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photo credit: iStock / fstop123

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