Top 10 Books Of 2020 (So Far…)

It has been a year for reading, with many of us spending a lot more time at home than we had perhaps envisioned in January. Fortunately, there have been some incredible new releases this year. Here are the books I’ve read and the books I’m most looking forward to this year…

1. My Dark Vanessa

My dark Vanessa

You may be familiar with My Dark Vanessa, a tale about a college student and her relationship with her professor. It is an interesting investigation into the manipulation and balance of power involved.

My Dark Vanessa

2. Hamnet

Hamnet

You may already have read my review of Hamnet, but suffice to say any fan of Shakespeare should read this story.

Hamnet

3. The Mirror And The Light

The mirror and the light

Another epic from Hilary Mantel, this is the final book in the trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and depicts his downfall.

The Mirror and the Light

4. Sisters

Sisters

Out in August, this is a disturbing tale from the author of Everything Under.

Sisters

5. A Long Petal of the Sea

A long petal of the sea

A riveting new historic saga by Isabel Allende, looking at love in exile.

A Long Petal of the Sea

6. Such A Fun Age

Such a fun age

A funny, fast-paced social satire about privilege in America.

Such A Fun Age

7. Long Bright River

Long bright river

A page turning thriller with murder and missing persons, based in Philadelphia.

Long Bright River

8. A Thousand Ships

A thousand ships

Although technically released in 2019, this features on my list because it is the next book I’m going to read (just waiting for it to arrive!) and it has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize this year. Feminist retelling of myths are usually a winner, so I can’t wait to start this one.

A Thousand Ships

9. The Mercies

The mercies

This book has been EVERYWHERE this year, and with good reason. It is based on the 1621 witch trials in Finland so of course I like it (my own book is based on the 1612 witch trials in Pendle), and this is beautifully crafted.

The Mercies

10. Topics of Conversation

Topics of conversation

Another that I’m eagerly anticipating- Topics of Conversation is an exploration of women’s lives through the medium of conversation.

Topics of Conversation

Which books are you most looking forward to this year? Let me know in the comments!

Flame Tree Short Stories

Flame Tree Publishing

I don’t know about you, but there’s something about these editions that just sings to me. Flame Tree Publishing have created a range of short stories collections, and they are not only fascinating but also highly aesthetically pleasing.

I have these three so far, but I hope to expand my collection soon!

Japanese Myths & Tales

Mary Shelley Horror Stories

Haunted House Short Stories

My teacup!

Canterbury Classics Word Cloud

Canterbury Classics word cloud flexibounds

These Canterbury Classics Word Cloud editions have swiftly become a #bookstagram favourite. Not are they beautifully designed, but they’re also very affordable. Win win! There are many books available in the range, but here are the ones I own:

Frankenstein

The Beautiful And Damned

My Antonia

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – only £5.25!

Wuthering Heights

The Wind in the Willows

Dubliners

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Classic Science Fiction

The Awakening

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Age of Innocence

Jane Eyre

Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh

“…any one who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums, Paul learned, who find prison so soul destroying.”

I have read Brideshead Revisited once, many years ago, but apart from that had never read anything by Evelyn Waugh until I picked up this book. I had no idea what to expect, but I had not expected a laugh-out-loud story which caused me to choke on my chuckles in the quiet carriage of a train to London.

This story tracks Paul Pennyfeather’s escapades following a rather ignominious expulsion from college. Every time things are going right, something goes wrong. The characters Paul meets along the way are invariably a mix of grossly unbelievable and intimately plausible- if you think that sounds like a contradiction, you’d better read this book.

We realise, somewhere close to the end of the story, that Paul’s decline and fall is down to the outside actions of other characters, boisterously thrusting themselves through life. Paul is a bystander and, as a result, is treated if not badly then with a great amount of indifference to his comfort. If there is a moral to this story, then perhaps it is this – do not be a bystander in your own life. I’m not sure Waugh would agree with that conclusion, though.

An entertaining account of the absurdity of life.

8/10

Decline and Fall (2) (Penguin Classics Waugh 02)

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them.”

I am so excited to finally be sharing this review with you. This book is long (635 pages!) and due to various commitments it took me about a month to read. But, I don’t regret it for a second.

So far, I have adored everything I have read by Neil Gaiman – though that is limited to Coraline, Norse Mythology and now American Gods – and it is entirely down to his story craftmanship. So unique.

Anyway, to this story – I had no idea what to expect. However, I was pleased to surmise within the first few pages that there is something to do with ancient gods within these pages – and I am fascinated by ancient gods (as Neil seems to be). I immediately thought, ‘ah! This is a story about gods’. I was wrong. It is a moving, disconcerting dissection of human grief. Well, that was the impression I was left with, though there are so many layers to this story that I am certain every reader could come away with an entirely different perspective.

This was an immense, strange masterpiece and, now that I have read it, I am greatly anticipating watching the series on television. But I’m glad I read the book first. I pity the poor person who squeezes Gaiman’s imagination into eight episodes.

9/10

The book:American Gods + Anansi Boys

The TV series:American Gods [DVD] [2017]

Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres

Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres

“Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrow.”

I adore Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The first time I read it was on holiday, sitting in the sun listening to the birds and the crickets, the scents of oranges and lemons filling the air. I am taken back every time I reread it.

However, this is not a review about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. This is a review about a less well known book by the same author- Birds Without Wings. I didn’t read this on holiday, because I have none of the nostalgia when I reread it. Instead, it is unsettling.

Louis de Bernieres weaves intensely real stories about incredibly believable people. His settings (this one is set in Anatolia) are compelling and I was left with the impression that I had physically been there. But, Louis de Bernieres takes these people, who you come to love, and these settings, where you can see yourself living, and smashes them up, leaving you heartbroken.

Of course, the smashing is done artfully and poetically. He is mimicking the destruction that occurred during World War I. He turns it into many intimate and devastating personal stories,    reflecting the huge loss of life during that conflict. He manages this, in my opinion, better than that other master of war stories, Sebastian Faulks.

At its heart, this is a love story, as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is. It is as raw and desperate and bittersweet as love can be.

7.9/10

Birds Without Wings

Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

Brushstrokes in Time – Sylvia Vetta

“I come into this world

Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow.”

My Bank Holiday Monday has not quite gone the way I expected it to. I had planned a Spring clean, preparations for the coming week at work, perhaps a walk. None of this has yet happened. I have instead read, from start to finish, Brushstrokes in Time by Sylvia Vetta.

The story, based (heart-wrenchingly) on real-life events, is set in China and spans decades, through the 1950s to the 1990s. Prior to reading this book, I had not considered life in this period as particularly difficult in China. I was born in 1988, and this struggle has been invisible to me before now. Of course, I have seen the image of the solitary man in Tiananmen Square holding up the tanks, but I didn’t know the reasons for this, nor had I considered the human stories behind it.

As with all my reviews, I do not wish to give the plot away here (the joy of reading a story is discovery, surely?) but to briefly overview – we follow a young woman who just wants to experience the joy and beauty in the world. Perhaps unwittingly, she becomes a scapegoat for a regime which is violently and embarrassingly lacking in self-confidence by this time.

By the time I finished reading, I (normally stone-hearted, as anyone who knows me will tell you) was wiping tears from my face. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the story is that our main character was relaying her life story to her daughter, born in America and unaware of the struggles her immigrant mother had faced.

A truly human story, in equal measures enlightening and disheartening. I read this story as an ebook but will be purchasing a physical copy for my bookcase so I don’t forget it.

8.5/10

Brushstrokes in Time