My top ten reads of 2020

Three days left of 2020. I know dates are just numbers and everything isn’t magically going to get better at midnight on 1 January 2021 (some things are definitely getting worse, in fact), but I’m still happy to see the back of this year and hoping for better days ahead. I want to see my friends, do different things, and start going out to work again.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to work from home - in an exciting new job, no less! - and stay safe. Faced with more free time at home, I took the opportunity to read more and post a lot more reviews on my blog. Something from 2020 I am looking forward to taking into the new year is continuing to take part in blog tours - I’ve read so many great books I might not have done otherwise, for free, and I love feeling like I’ve helped authors.

I haven’t just been reading more, though. I’ve listened to much more music than usual to replace the buzz of the office - visit my Last.fm profile to see who’s provided the soundtrack of my life this year.

I’ve also been watching more. I’ve binged new series such as The Babysitters Club, Unbelievable, Ratched and Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix, and Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Celeste Ng’s excellent Little Fires Everywhere. I’ve also belatedly developed an addiction to crime dramas such as Happy Valley, Line of Duty, Unforgotten, Cardinal and The Bridge (I love Saga so much). I’m currently working my way through Borgen and looking forward to discovering more Nordic shows several years after everyone else!

And so, to books! I managed to whittle everything I read this year (Goodreads says I’ve read over 200 books, but some are duplicates - I think it’s more like 180-190, which is still quite ridiculous) down to ten 2020 releases across three categories, as well as a handful of earlier publications that I read this year and warrant a mention. So, without further ado…

Fiction

The Mercies, Sisters, The Glass House, Away with the Penguins

The Mercies, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is set in seventeenth-century Norway and based on real events. After a fishing village’s able-bodied men are all lost to the sea during a storm, the women take over their roles in order to survive - but still can’t escape patriarchal attitudes. Vivid and absorbing, I couldn’t get enough of this book.

Sisters, by Daisy Johnson is about a pair of teenage sisters who move to a house by the sea with their mother after an incident. That’s all I can give away about the plot, but I can say it’s lyrical, brutal and devastating and I devoured it in a single sitting.

The Glass House, by Eve Chase features decades-old mysteries, family secrets, a sprawling country house, a dual timeline, rich descriptions and lots of twists - all things I love.

Away with the Penguins, by Hazel Prior is about a grumpy old woman who decides to impose herself on three penguinologists working on an island off Argentina, with surprisingly positive outcomes. Life-affirming and uplifting without being saccharine.

Crime fiction

Cry Baby, The Darkest Evening, Still Life

These novels from three of my favourite authors all feature characters I love, intriguing plots, and fantastic worldbuilding.

Cry Baby, by Mark Billingham takes us back to Tom Thorne’s first big case, in 1996. I especially loved the 90s details and watching Tom meet pathologist Phil Hendricks for the first time!

The Darkest Evening, by Ann Cleeves is a welcome return to the world of Vera Stanhope (maybe in 2021 I’ll actually watch the TV series!). I adored the country house setting and the interactions between practical, dowdy Vera and her very refined relatives.

Still Life, by Val McDermid sees Karen Pirie take on another two mysterious murders. I always love how McDermid uses forensics in her books, and the complexity of the cases and race against time really made me sit up and pay attention too.

Non-fiction

Dear Reader, The Address Book, Solutions and Other Problems

Dear Reader, by Cathy Rentzenbrink is a heartwarming love letter to books that made me think about the books that have shaped my own life.

The Address Book, by Deirdre Mask is a fascinating account of why and how we name our streets which brought my attention to things I’d never even considered before.

Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh is a new collection of relatable and zany comic stories from the creator of Hyperbole and a Half. I laughed, I cried, I marvelled at how she creates such consistently good artwork in Microsoft Paint.

Honourable mentions

The Eighth Life, All Change, The Stone Diaries, A Dark Matter, Your Fault

These are the books I read this year that weren’t published in 2020, but I couldn’t not mention! The Eighth Life, by Nino Haratischvili, is a 1000+ page generation-spanning epic that I nonetheless devoured in a matter of days! Your Fault, by Andrew Cowan was another 2019 release that stood out for me - you don’t get many books set in New Towns (and I’ve always kind of wanted to write one), and this one features a heartbreaking story and brilliant 1960s details.

I read most of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles this year, and really need to get round to reading her other books as they’re so good. I also need to read more Carol Shields, having picked up The Stone Diaries for a blog tour and absolutely loved it. This was also the year I discovered Doug Johnstone, starting with the sublime A Dark Matter and going on to several of his other books.

So that’s my round-up of 2020 - I’ll be back on New Year’s Day with my December round-up, and I’ve got lots of review stops in the diary for January too!

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, editor of web content, haver of PhD

Colchester, UK https://www.draliceviolett.com