I have read 72 books this year and out of those I have rated 18 of them 5 stars. There’s some familiar faces from last year – Backman and Jenkins Reid, I’m looking at you. But there were also a great deal of new authors to me.
I’m paraphrasing, but I remember one of my favourite bookstagrammers say, “I’m sick of reading sad stories about white women in London” This year I sought out different voices and different stories. And I have been rewarded, educated and empowered.
In what has been a difficult year for us all, I have once again found great joy and comfort in these books. So thank you to all the authors and publishers who make this possible.
10. Normal People – Sally Rooney
2020 will always be known as the year of Paul Mescal and Connell’s chain (or Covid, you decide) The BBC 3 adaptation was a bit of a phenomenon (62 million views and counting) and like a good bibliophile I needed to read the book first.
What I said: We follow Marianne and Connell from their late teens to early twenties. From high school to university in Dublin. Connell’s mum is Marianne’s family cleaner. Marianne doesn’t have any friends at school, but slowly opens up to Connell. They start having an intimate relationship, but only if they can keep it a secret as Connell doesn’t want his friends finding out. We are voyeurs being let into the intricacies and complexities of this relationship. It’s an exploration into the torture and angst of first love. No matter what happens, there will always be that one person you call when it matters most. And Marianne and Connell are that to each other, even if they don’t always see it.
Connell is a brilliant mixture of modern masculinity. He’s smart, sporty, sensitive and loves to read. And then there’s that connection with Marianne. It’s easy to see why readers and viewers alike are falling in love with him.
Read: May 2020
9. Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano
I expected this to be huge, but it seems to have flown under the radar (excuse the pun) I’d highly recommend giving this book a chance.
What I said: The year is 2013 and 12 year old Eddie is moving with his mum, dad and 15 year old brother Jordan, all the way across the states, from New York to LA. It’s a big move and a big opportunity for all of them. But they don’t make it. They are in a plane crash and out of the 191 passengers, Eddie is the only survivor. This is the crazy but brilliant premise of this book and I was hooked instantly.
The book is told in alternating chapters between the present day and the plane journey in real time. We know the plane is going to crash, but because of the build up and each chapter getting to know about the passengers on the plane, getting an insight into the lives of all these different individuals, it ranks up the tension and emotion, that by the time we get to 2.12pm the time of the crash, I was a mess.
On the ground and in the present, Edward starts to rebuild his life and deal with the trauma. It’s a long road ahead, filled with grief, growing pains and struggles but one that we get to go on with him as he grows older and stronger. We also learn more about the victims and the victims families. And how Edward deals with being the lone survivor. Brilliantly written and executed with a satisfying ending.
Read: January 2020
8. Three Hours – Rosamund Lupton
This book got a lot of love from the bookstagram community and quite rightly so.
What I said: Three Hours tells the story of a liberal English high school under threat from gunmen one ordinary morning. When the kids go to school that day they don’t imagine they will be building a barricade from books in the library, or making pottery tiles to protect the windows. They don’t think they will be taking their clothes off to stem the blood from their headmasters gunshot wounds. But they do all this and more in this evocative novel which showcases the strength of the human spirit.
In extraordinary circumstances we never know how we would react, who would be the hero? I loved all the different characters and all the different reactions to the terrible actions that are going on around them. You really feel the will to survive and protect. Especially the teachers towards their pupils. I loved the characters of Rafi, Basi, Hannah and Neil.
They have no idea why they are under threat or who is doing this to them. But as time passes they get information from the police and social media. It is soon a race against time before anything worse happens. I thought the use of social media was really clever and makes you think about the messages that are put out there from the media and certain individuals. I think this is very much a book for the moment.
Read: February 2020
7. A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
Welcome back Mr Backman, one of my favourite authors and the man who wrote my favourite reads of 2019 – Bear Town and Us Against You (because really, you can’t have one without the other)
What I said: Ove comes across as a grumpy old man, old fashioned and stuck in his ways. He’s very particular and likes things done in the right way, which usually means Ove’s way or no way.
In the beginning you think he’s a bit of a loner and how could anyone possibly like him. But we are shown even working at a builder’s as a young man, when he’s shy and doesn’t really fit in, his work colleagues endearingly call him ‘the puppy’ because he’s the youngest and it’s their way of showing they like him. And as the book progresses he becomes a grandad figure and he touches everyone’s lives without realising it. And they all care for him deeply and depend on him. I loved the sense of community all these different and diverse characters build and stand up for what is right, not, what is easy.
I cried, of course I cried because Fredrik Backman is a genius. He has a knack of making you fall for these characters, who, on the surface may not seem like the greatest people, but over time they open up to us and we see their weaknesses and vulnerability and that makes them loveable and you root for them. You want them to win at life.
This book is about having a life worth living. Bad things happen, but never give up, never stop living.
Read: October 2020
6. The Cat And The City – Nick Bradley
I’ve not read a lot of short story collections, but this was the book that changed my mind.
What I said: I loved and adored everything about this book. We are in Tokyo in the run up to the Olympics in 2020 (which of course have now been postponed) and are gifted a whole host of interlinked short stories. I loved the same characters popping up in different stories and figuring out how it worked together. The main thread running through the whole book is a beautiful young woman with piercing green eyes and a tattoo of the city across her whole back and a Calico cat that pops up throughout the city.
The stories I particularly loved were Fallen Words, Copy Cat and Hikikomori, Futoko and Neko. I loved reading about a different culture and really got a feeling for the city. I could read this book again and again. There were so many stories to be told. This felt like the tip of the iceberg.
Read: July 2020