As we get ready for the New Year, we also wanted to look back at the annus horribilis of 2020 and try to find the silver linings. It was a year that we’ll always remember for the founding of our Newport bookstore… and hopefully forget everything else. But before we indulge in collective amnesia, we’re here to send off 2020 by highlighting the very best of the very worst year. Here’s our Top 5 favorite books of the year, with a sneak peek at what’s coming in 2021.

THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel

Few novels this year were as highly anticipated as this one, Emily St. John Mandel’s follow-up to 2014’s STATION ELEVEN. Brilliantly unfolding the story of a Ponzi scheme’s collapse, Mandel reveals the interconnected relationships of her cast one snapshot at a time. THE GLASS HOTEL is as gripping as a crime thriller but populated with characters of such poignant humanity that readers will luxuriate in every page. Pre-order the paperback, out 2/16/21

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND by Rumaan Alam

A family on vacation finds themselves awakened in the middle of the night by an elderly couple who claims to own the house they’re renting. Something happened in New York and they’d like to stay in their country home until things are better understood. Is this a story of an elderly couple afraid of a blackout, scammers, or something much worse? There is no part of this novel that isn’t tense. It’s damn close to perfect.

A BAD DAY FOR SUNSHINE by Darynda Jones

I can’t stress enough how much you need to read this book. It follows a newly elected sheriff who, on her first day, must locate a missing girl, deal with a local crime family, and reconcile with her family’s past. The book is funny, thrilling, and keeps the violence, sex, and swears to a minimum (But there’s still enough of all those things to still be interesting.) This isn’t Faulkner, but it puts a neat spin on the modern detective novel.

EVERYONE’S AWAKE by Colin Meloy & Shawn Harris

A boy is only trying to sleep but everyone at his house is still awake – and their thunderous antics progress from the quirkily annoying (tap-dancing to Prince) to the violently disruptive (juggling dinner plates) to the outright surreal (waging a war in France). This is a hilariously bizarre bedtime story that will delight parents as much as tired kids.

THE BARNABUS PROJECT by the Fan Brothers

The three Fan brothers are picture book magicians. Their stories are fantastic modern fables with darkness tugging at the edges of every page. In this typically gorgeous book, a ‘failed’ Perfect Pet named Barnabus engineers a great escape from the underground lab where he and other imperfect creations were imprisoned.

Coming in 2021 – Pre-Order from Us Today:

CONCRETE ROSE by Angie Thomas (January 12)

International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of THE HATE U GIVE in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood. Pre-orders are already coming in for what will certainly be a YA bestseller in 2021.

A SWIM IN THE POND IN THE RAIN by George Saunders (January 12)

Anyone who’s ever read a word of George Saunders – especially his Man Booker Prize winning LINCOLN IN THE BARDO – dreams of dropping in on his MFA classes at Syracuse. With this upcoming collection, we can all can experience a literary master class on what makes great stories work and what they can tell us about ourselves—and our world today.

MY YEAR ABROAD by Chang-rae Lee (February 2)

Like Around the World in 80 Days, but refreshingly weird, Asian, and modern, the latest from Pulitzer finalist Chang-rae Lee is told by an aimless New Jersey undergrad as he follows eccentric Chinese businessman Pong on a strange business trip. Every page is unpredictable, but Lee’s unique language is what keeps you turning them.

THE INCREDIBLE PAINTING OF FELIX CLOUSSEAU by Jon Agee (February 9)

The prolific Jon Agee is one of our favorite children’s author/illustrators, and we couldn’t be more excited that his early classic is being reissued in a new edition this year. Clousseau’s paintings startle everyone at the Paris exposition when they miraculously come to life, but only fans of Chris Van Allsburgh might guess the plot twist at the end.

A LITTLE DEVIL IN AMERICA: NOTES IN PRAISE OF BLACK PERFORMANCE by Hanif Abdurraqib (March 30)

This man cannot be stopped. In the past three years, he’s given us bestselling books of essays, poetry (Yes! Bestselling poetry!) and a meditation on A Tribe Called Quest that somehow appealed to every music lover. We can’t wait for his revelations on a topic as expansive as this.

WHEREABOUTS by Jhumpa Lahiri (April 27)

Pulitzer Prize Winner (and South Kingstown-raised) Jhumpa Lahiri drops her first novel in almost a decade this April. We haven’t gotten a look at it yet, but we expect only the best from the author of THE NAMESAKE and INTERPRETER OF MALADIES. Rhode Island represent!

More From What’s Up Newp

Steve Iwanski, Charter Books

Steve Iwanski grew up in Tiverton and got his start in retail working summer jobs at the Sakonnet Boathouse and the Army-Navy Surplus. He graduated from Tiverton High School and the University of Notre Dame. In 2010 he joined Teach For America and taught high school English for four years in the Mississippi Delta. In 2014 he was hired as a bookseller at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, MS. When author and owner Jamie Kornegay stepped away from the store in 2016, he asked Steve to serve as manager. Under his management, Turnrow was Main Street Greenwood’s 2017 Retailer of the Year and the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Small Business of the Year. He also served as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Retail Committee and served for two years as a board member of Main Street Greenwood. He's excited to bring his passion for community and bookselling back home to Newport County with the opening of Charter Books at 8 Broadway in Newport.