I have read 72 books this year and out of those I have rated 18 of them 5 star. 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.
5. The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I read Daisy Jones And The Six last year and it was actually number 5 in my 2019 list. And here she is again. I’d also just watched the Netflix series Hollywood and this fitted perfectly.
What I said: Taylor Jenkins Reid produces interesting characters you want to know all about, you want the gossip. She has such a knack of transporting us to a different time and getting the feel just right.
Monique is an up and coming writer for a New York magazine. She’s surprised one day to be told that the reclusive and ageing Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo wants her to write an article about her. But once she meets Evelyn she realises she’s been sent there under false pretences and actually Evelyn wants her to write her biography, a book that could earn her millions.
Evelyn was quite the star, always making the headlines with her sultry looks, numerous husbands and Oscar winning talent. We are transported to the halcyon days of Hollywood in the 50’s and 60’s. We find out the truth behind the headlines and the husbands and who her one true love was *spoiler* it wasn’t any of the 7 husbands. I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t get enough.
Read: April 2020
4. The Phonebox At The End Of The World – Laura Imai Messina
I was very lucky to receive an arc from the publisher Manilla Press before release. My love for this book was instant. It feels very special indeed.
What I said: This book deserves to be huge. I can’t fault it. It’s perfect.
Yui lost her young daughter and mother in the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. She has struggled with the grief and guilt for many years. And then she hears about a place, Bell Gardia. Set in beautiful gardens is a phone box. A disused phone box where people come to speak to the dead. People travel from all over to make the pilgrimage to the wind phone, and Yui does too, but she doesn’t speak on the phone, she can’t bring herself to do it. Here she meets Takeshi, a widower, who is bringing up a little girl, Hana, on his own. They start to make it a ritual, once a month they travel from Tokyo to Bell Gardia together. Here they meet other grieving people, families and realise that life must go on.
For a book about such a heartbreaking matter, the subject of death is handled so delicately. Each page is filled with beautiful storytelling. There is something so comforting about this book. I wanted to wrap myself in it like a comfort blanket. I didn’t want it to end. This book was a real revelation.
Read: June 2020
3. Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman
With no holidays on the horizon, it was a dream to spend a summer in Italy with good company again.
What I said: I originally read this book in the summer of 2018 and fell in love with it. I saw the film for the first time this year (then watched it again) and wanted to re-read the book immediately. And I have to say, it’s even better the second time around.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Elio is 17 and falls in love with his dad’s 24 year old student Oliver, who is a guest at their Italian house for the summer. Both curious about their sexuality, over the next 6 weeks they experience an unforgettable friendship and lust that will last them a lifetime.
It is lush, dreamy, sensual, risque and might just make you blush. But it is also an awkward and aching voyage of self discovery. Bathed in the Italian summer sunshine, at only 248 pages it is so easy and enjoyable to read. You are immersed in the experience and location. The scenes in Rome are so vivid and atmospheric you can almost smell the Vespa fumes and taste the grappa. Call Me By Your Name is a place. It is a feeling. It is true love.
Read: August 2020
2. Know My Name – Chanel Miller
THIS BOOK!!! Everyone needs to read this book. For so long it was my number 1 book, I didn’t think anything would beat it, but it has just been pipped at the post.
What I said: In the summer of 2016 Buzz Feed posted a victim impact statement from a sexual assault survivor, known only as Emily Doe. I, along with 18 million other people read it and wanted to weep. This is her story. And her name is Chanel Miller.
There is so much power when you speak the truth. I listened to this on audiobook which is narrated by Chanel herself. I looked forward to listening to this everyday, which may seem weird given the subject matter. But it felt like Chanel was a friend and I wanted her to let me in. She has such a soothing voice. I also bought a physical copy of the book straight after I finished, as it needs to go on my bookshelf and will be one I return to again and again.
This book is about male toxicity, entitlement, consent and makes your blood boil. But it is also humourous and full of courage. It opened my eyes to a lot of things, how the media reports these crimes, how social media treats victims, how it took 15 months to come to trial, Chanel and her family in limbo, treading water all that time. And the 2 Swede’s who restored my faith in humanity.
Thank you to Chanel Miller for writing this book, sharing her story and making everyone find their voice.
Read: March 2020
1. The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
This stunning book took my breath away. The minute I finished it I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again. I wanted to shout from the rooftops “Please read this book”
What I said: The Nickel Boys has already won the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction 2020 and been named in TIME magazine’s best books of the decade. Some stories need to be told and this is one of those important occasions. No matter the difficult subject matter, this is a book I will read again and again. And please, do yourself a favour and read this too. I want to place this book in every single persons hand.
We meet Elwood, a bright, young black teenager in 1960’s America. He lives with his grandmother, is a straight A student and works hard at his part time job in the local store. He listens to Dr Martin Luther King speeches on vinyl and starts to go to civil rights protests himself. He dreams of college, and it is all possible, because Elwood is a sturdy, stand up guy.
Then, one split second decision changes all those hopes and dreams. And through no fault of his own, Elwood is arrested. He is sent to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform centre. Although these characters are a work of fiction, it is based on the real story of Dozier school in Florida. As the story opens in the modern day to archeological students excavating a secret graveyard, you know nothing good has happened in this place.
Back in the 60’s, Elwood makes a good friend in Turner. They try to stay out of trouble and serve their time. But this is hard when the place is filled with bullies, sexual predators and the adults tasked to look after them are the biggest criminals of all. The Nickel Academy is filled with evil, corrupt, racist men. The boys don’t stand a chance. Another building on the complex is called the white house and the boys pray they don’t have to visit there. Because some boys don’t come back from a trip to the white house. Their families are told they ran away.
This book will fill you with anger, rage. It will bring you to tears. And the scariest thing is, this isn’t that long ago, this is modern history. This is stunning storytelling. I was bereft when it was finished. I can’t stop thinking about this book. Elwood is a character that will live long in the memory.
Read: November 2020