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Top books of 2020 – recommendations & reviews

I’m already a fair few books into my 2021 challenge, but I wanted to take the time to look back at my top books of 2020, with short reviews and recommendations.

I had a goal of 40, but managed 45. I discovered audiobooks, joined a book club, and finally signed up for the fantastic online selection of my local library, making my list a mix of all kinds of books.

All books marked with * were given to me through Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Top fiction reads for 2020

My Sister, the Serial Killer. Oyinkan Braithwaite. 4 stars

Dark humour novel where the main protagonist cleans after her sister who keeps killing men. It really subverted my expectations and I really enjoyed it. It’s a quick and fun read.

China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. Kevin Kwan. 4 stars

I loved both these books. It really took the Crazy Rich Asian book to another level, more toward generational saga. I love the way Kwan intertwines storylines and his descriptions. Big recommend for the series.

Mexican Gothic. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 4 stars

First book of my book club, it was a change of pace for me as I don’t often read darker, horror novels. I loved this gothic narrative, which is set in the Mexican countryside, evoking colonialism, racism, and sexism. Fantastic read that subverted the traditional gothics a bit. cw: sexual assault

*The Lost Lights of St Kilda. Elisabeth Gifford. 5 stars

What a beautiful book! I couldn’t put it down. We follow Fred and Chrissie, who meet on the island of St Kilda in the 1920s or 30s. It is moody and striking, and I could see myself on St Kilda with the characters, sharp wind and seabirds flying high above. Rarely give 5 stars, but I wouldn’t change anything about this fantastic book.

Binti. Nnedi Okorafor. 4.5 stars

I loved this short afrofuturism novel. It’s difficult to summarise as it is based in a different galaxy I think? But it was an excellent coming-of-age, YA feel, fantasy read. I can’t wait to read part 2.

The Midnight Library. Matt Haig. 4 stars

I loved this narrative that follows a woman on the brink of death as she tries all the ‘what if’ lives she could have lived. The moralistic undertone was a bit too strong for me, but I’m sure many will want/need to hear what it says.

Queenie. Candice Carty-Williams. 4 stars

This is a fresh look at a women’s 20s life crisis. Queenie is a Jamaican British woman who tries to find herself after a break up with a white partner. She makes terrible decision which all aggravate her mental health and relationships. The character is insufferable, but the growth and journey she goes through is the interesting part of the book. It’s also so well written.

*Miss Iceland. Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir. 4 stars

This book follows Hekla who wants to become a writer in 1960s traditional, patriarchal Iceland. It’s not plot driven, but I adored the writing, which was very nostalgic and evocative.

*Willa and the Whale. Chad Morris & Shelly Brown. 4 stars

Willa, who wants to become a marine biologist, starts being able to talk to whales after her mother’s death. It’s a short YA novel about grief that I thought was beautiful so I wanted to give it a mention.

The Flatshare and *The Switch. Beth O’Leary. 4 stars

I listened to the audiobook of The Switch first and loved it! In my opinion it subverts the usual chick lit narrative and I’m a big fan of O’Leary now. I read The Flatshare and it was a bit harder to get into because of the writing. Maybe would have been better to listen to it.

Exciting Times. Naoise Dolan. 3 stars

I’ve included this book at 3 stars because I somewhat enjoyed it. But that wasn’t until the end, which, to me, saved it. There’s some excellent writing in this, but I find Dolan’s (as well as Sally Rooney’s) writing disturbing, full of catholic guilt and their characters totally unlikeable. Give me a book about Edith, thank you.

Top non-fiction reads

Becoming. Michelle Obama. 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook while the counting was going on in the 2020 election and it was utterly bizarre. I loved Obama’s recounting of her life and where she came from as well as her relationships with her husband, daughters, and with herself through her journey.

Brit(ish). Afua Hirsh. 4.5 stars

I listened to Hirsh read her own book and it was fascinating look at racism and the life of Black English people. Really opened my eyes to that reality I don’t know much about. I really related to her talking about being between cultures and wondering where she belonged.

Findings. Kathleen Jamie. 5 stars

I started reading this during the holidays and it ended up becoming my favourite read of the year. It is a series of evocative essays on Scottish travel and nature writing that make you want to slow down and observe the world.

*How Should One Read a Book? Virginia Woolf. 4 stars

This is a short essay about reading books – meta I know! Woolf talks to us about our prejudices when it comes to different genres, about approaching books with an open mind, and appreciating time we spend with the books and with ourselves. 

My French books of 2020

I read 3 French language books in 2020. All courtesy of my mum, of course.

I loved De quoi t’ennuie-tu, Eveline?, a short novella by the excellent Gabrielle Roy. I discovered Kim Thuy, a Vietnamese-born Canadian writer, by reading ru. Another book I enjoyed was the short novel Le sumo qui ne pouvait pas grossir by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt.

As we’re now a few weeks into the new year, I’m well into my reading list. But you can read my reading goals for 2021 here.

What are your top books of 2020? Any recommendations?xx

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