Top 10 2020 part 2

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.

Published: 2017

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.

Published: 2020

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.

Published: 2007

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.

Published: 2019

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.

Published: 2019

Read: November 2020

Top 10 2020 part 1

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.

Published: 2018

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.

Published: 2020

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.

Published: 2020

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.

Published: 2012

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.

Published: 2020

Read: July 2020

One By One readalong

Strap yourselves in people because this is a terrifically terrifying rollercoaster ride of a book. Full of suspense, surprises and freaking out.

The employees of Snoop, a cool, hip music app have booked a chalet in the French Alps to discuss a very important business deal, one that could make them multi millionaires. But not all are on the same page, causing tensions to run high. At the chalet we are also introduced to Danny the chef and Erin the chalet girl, whose job it is to look after them all week, no matter how pompous or annoying they are.

The cast of characters are interesting. All seem to come from privileged backgrounds and not all are likeable, especially Topher the co founder of Snoop. One character is different from the rest, Liz. She comes across as shy and quiet and is actually an ex Snoop employee. The story is told in alternating chapters from her point of view and Erin’s. I love that in a book and the chapters are short, you just want to read on and find out what happens next.

As this is a Ruth Ware book you will not be surprised to know that the relaxing, luxurious holiday does not go to plan. On the first day of skiing, one of the party goes missing. Then, when the others are in their chalet, there is a massive avalanche, trapping them. And then they start getting picked off One By One.

I definitely got Agatha Christie And Then There Were None vibes. I loved the scenario of them all in the one location, trapped, knowing one of them is a killer. You will suspect them all. And even when the murderer confessed, I was still convinced there was going to be another twist. The last 100 pages or so are a double header and absolute perfection. It is so dark and there is an epic chase scene, your heart will be in your mouth. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you so much to Tandem Collective, Ruth Ware and the publisher Vintage Books for allowing me to be part of this readalong, I absolutely loved it. So much fun trying to be the detective and work out the clues.

Bring your own book

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Between The Covers – a programme about books, on BBC 2 every Friday night at 7.30. Expertly hosted by Sara Cox, she and four guests chat all things bookish. It’s like a cool, relaxed book club we’re all invited to. And I love that a TV show about books is on prime time telly.

In one part of the show, Sara asks her guests what book they have brought along as their favourite. And so far we’ve had answers ranging from The Iliad to Harry Potter. It’s also got me reaching for a pen as I take notes to add to my ever increasing TBR list. And it’s also got me thinking – which book would I choose? Some people say picking your favourite book is like picking your favourite child (something you shouldn’t do) Well, lucky for me, I don’t have kids.

I have many favourite books, but the one I ALWAYS come back to, like a comfort blanket or a warm hug, with the cracked spine and well thumbed browning pages is One Day by David Nicholls. And I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but to me it is everything. Some snobby readers may dismiss this as chick lit or rom com, but it is so much more than that.

I love the concept. We follow two very different people, Emma and Dexter on one day – the 15th July, for two decades. Emma and Dexter meet at university in Edinburgh and the book follows them on a twenty year journey of will they, won’t they. I love that we follow them and get to see them grow. Get to see all the good and bad points. The failed relationships, the changing careers. And we see their relationship change as things realistically do over time. It isn’t perfect, sometimes we don’t get the happy ending no matter how hard we try.

David Nicholls has such a knack of making real, relatable characters that you get emotionally invested in. I adore them and this book so much. Em and Dex are like friends to me and I laugh and cry no matter how many times I read this book.

The wonder of Maya Angelou

How gorgeous are these Virago Press editions of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies? I read and finished the first of her autobiographies I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings this week. And it is one of those rare occasions where you read something by an author and then immediately want to read everything they’ve ever written. Once I read the final page, I went online and bought the next two books in the series.

I’m going to hold my hands up and admit my ignorance. I had no idea Maya Angelou had seven!! autobiographies and numerous poetry collections. She’s one of the all time American greats and I’m only discovering her now. I’m going to be busy. I enjoy a strong female voice and Maya Angelou may just be the strongest.

A civil rights activist who was seen as a spokesperson for black people and women. When I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was published in 1969, she was one of the first black, female writers to write a memoir. Unapologetically writing about black culture, putting herself at the forefront of the story, rather than being marginalized.

Her debut is a truthful depiction of life in the American south in the 1930’s and 40’s. There is poverty and discrimination. Never shying away from the difficult topics, we are shown the true extent of the racism she, her family and her peers had to deal with.

Other titles include The Heart Of A Woman, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes, A Song Flung Up To Heaven and Mom and Me and Mom. I am going to savour these special books.

Love Orange buddy read

In 2020 I have definitely embraced the buddy read. I had already requested this on Netgalley after the synopsis grabbed my attention: A disturbing portrait of a modern American family…exposing secrets within…from beneath the plastic surfaces of their new “smart” home. Love Orange charts the gentle absurdities of their lives and the devastating consequences of casual choices.

Then, I got an email saying the publisher was running a buddy read. I have loved every minute of it. For the past 3 Monday nights I have spent an hour chatting to like minded bookworms about this book on twitter. Tonight is the fourth and final night. I think it actually increased my enjoyment of the book. We’d read a set number of chapters each week and then discuss. It was great to get different views and observations. It was like being part of a book club, which in these odd times, was great to connect with people over a new book. I want to thank Riverrun Books for organising this. And would love if this became the norm, as it was so much fun. I can’t wait to hear what everyone’s final thoughts will be on this book. But here’s mine.

Thank you to the author Natasha Randall, publishers Riverrun Books and Quercus and Netgalley for an arc of this debut book.

Meet The Tinkley’s. Jenny and Hank with their smart house filled with technology, look like they’ve got it all. But scratch beneath the surface and you see that not all is as it seems. With Hank obsessing over his Viking heritage, Jenny secretly writing to an imprisoned convict named John and two sons, one in therapy and one surfing the dark web, things are most definitely dsyfunctional.

A book that also highlights the danger and dependence on technology. Written before lockdown, but eerily predicting what the near future may hold. Have a confession to make at church? Just text it into the God Phone.

The Tinkley family are put under the microscope in this unpredictable, modern look at gender roles. A Stepford Wives for the millennium generation. Hank is annoyingly chauvinistic, but because he does breathing exercises and yoga, thinks that he’s in touch with his softer side. And we see Jenny slowly unravel as she loses control and becomes dependent on the orange flavour paper John sends her. Sharp and witty. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And was Team Jenny all the way (especially after you find out how they met) ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Out now #loveorange 🧡🍊

“She had once asked Hank, ‘Is there anything hard about being a man?’ She knew it was an odd question so she explained herself. ‘I mean, I can tell you what’s hard about being a woman… there are body issues, age issues, the periods, childbirth, the problem of being taken seriously, glass ceilings – you know that sort of thing. But, I’m just thinking, what about for men?'”

Book review – Bitter Orange

Last week I was the lucky winner of an Instagram giveaway by author Claire Fuller, an American edition of her book Bitter Orange. This was in my top 5 books of 2019 so I’m so pleased I won and now have a beautiful signed copy to sit with all my other favourite books on the shelf. Here is my original review and I stand by every word ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

We are transported back to the lush, hot summer of 1969 and a grand house in the country called Lyntons. Here we meet mild mannered Frances, a 39 year old spinster and charming Peter, who have both been asked to carry out surveys and inventories on the house before the new American owner arrives. Peter is accompanied by his younger, fiery girlfriend Cara. And the three of them spend one glorious, lazy summer together. Swimming in the lake during the day, drinking and eating homemade pasta at night. Making wonderful discoveries in this house full of secrets and entertaining each other in the evenings. Living in their own little bubble, until the bubble bursts with dramatic consequences.

I found myself connecting with Frances. Lonely and coming to terms with her mother’s death, after caring for her for many years, she is drawn into the decadent and exciting life of Peter and Cara. To always be an outsider and then suddenly be welcomed into the inner circle, to feel you belong. Peter and Cara are so vivid and full of life no matter how imperfect and Frances can’t help but be drawn to them. Her beige world is now full of colour.

It is just such a gorgeous book. Lyntons deserves to go down in fictional folklore like du Maurier’s Manderley. This is a book about wanting, belonging, friendship, jealousy. Dark and bewitching. I can’t stop thinking about it. “She thanked me for listening, and I saw it was that easy, that was all I had to do to make a friend; she wasn’t looking for answers. It was that afternoon when she told me I was beautiful, and for a summer, for a month, I chose to believe her”