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

The big 3

Welcome to my new feature Blether About Books Big 3 (or Babs big 3 for short) Every quarter I will shine a light on 3 books I reckon will be BIG in the coming months. There are so many awesome books already announced for 2021. I have a feeling it’s going to be a brilliant year for book lovers. Here are 3 debuts I have my eye on.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Published by Viking Books on 04/02/21

Synopsis: Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence.

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Published by Transworld Books on 18/02/21

Synopsis: An imposing, isolated hotel, high up in the Swiss Alps, is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But she’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when she receives an invitation out of the blue to celebrate her estranged brother’s recent engagement, she has no choice but to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge. Though it’s beautiful, something about the hotel, recently converted from an abandoned sanatorium, makes her nervous – as does her brother, Isaac.

And when they wake the following morning to discover his fiancée Laure has vanished without a trace, Elin’s unease grows. With the storm cutting off access to and from the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex

Published by Picador Books on 04/03/2021

Synopsis: Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.

What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface.

Happy reading folks!