2020. What. A. Year. The one we’ll all look back on, possibly while blowing a raspberry, sticking two fingers up at it, and necking a bottle of rum. I want to celebrate that it’s over so I won’t go on about it. But, as we start a new year, still making our way through a dark and (for so many of us) Lockdowned tunnel, we can see a light at the end of it. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the UK on 30 December. What wonderful news! I’m hoping that this news, and the promise it brings, means that I can think a bit more about all the good things – the books that I love high among them and meeting up once more with my lovely booky friends.
I must pay tribute to the authors and publishers who have worked so hard to write and promote their books at such a difficult time. We’ve all grown used to postponed publication dates but it’s hard to imagine how these must affect a writer, especially a debut author, as well as the wonderful publicists, many of whom were furloughed or working from home. You are all amazing! I also want to salute my fellow bloggers. It’s been a challenge for many of us to keep on reading, what with changes to our daily routines but also because of anxiety and lack of concentration. But I have found great support in the book and blogging Community. Friendships have tightened over this year. And now I feel like my reading is picking up again and hopefully my reviewing will, too.
But while I’ve read fewer books in 2020 – at last count 103 instead of my usual 200 – this year saw an Epiphany. I discovered Audiobooks! I’ve been avoiding these pesky blighters for years but they have fulfilled a really strong need to keep on reading while turning my brain off. Jigsaws proved themselves my saviour in 2020. They provide relaxation but also make me concentrate intensely and the strived for goal of completion isn’t stressful but achievable and pleasantly so. Add an audiobook and jigsaws are even more enjoyable. It’s as if jigsaws have replaced the commute, giving me that break between work and blogging. Of the 103 books I read this year, 28 were audiobooks.
There’s a group of books that isn’t included in my list of favourites for 2020, or in my reading tally of the year. I was honoured to be a judge again for the 2020 Historical Writers Association Gold Crown Award. Do take a look at the HWA website page for our wonderful shortlist and winner.
Now to business! This is a list of my favourite books published in 2020, so it doesn’t include anything else I’ve read this year that was published in another year. This has been one of those years when I haven’t persevered with books that I didn’t love and that means that I enjoyed every one of those 100 plus books that kept me company, sometimes through some very dark times. But as I read fewer books than usual, I’ve decided to be strict with myself and, for once, my Top Ten actually means ten! This is a first, I realise. They are presented in no particular order, except for the final top three.
Favourite ten books of 2020
The Cutting Place by Jane Casey
DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent are among my most favourite fictional detectives and this novel is, in my opinion, the very best of what is a very fine series. It’s disturbing, emotional and utterly engrossing. As for that plot…. stunning! A review.
Deep State by Chris Hauty
There’s little better than a good political thriller and this is one of the best I’ve ever read. Hayley Chill is a brilliant character while the plot literally took my breath away – I gasped in shock (on a bus)! It’s not often I’m so completely blindsided by a book. I can’t wait to read the second book, Savage Road, which is out this January.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
This relatively short novel is one of the most powerful and moving novels I’ve ever read, demanding, I think, to be read in one sitting. It’s a devastatingly beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to love. While not a romance, it’s a love story all the same and not the one you expect. What a book! Don’t let the cover or the synopsis fool you.
Possessed by Peter Laws
I love horror novels and this is my favourite of 2020. It brings horror and crime together brilliantly and at its heart is the fantastic character of Matt Hunter, one of the most likeable characters you’ll find. The story here is absolutely fantastic and it’s a genuinely disturbing and frightening novel – excellent!
River of Gold by Anthony Riches
I’m a big fan of Roman historical fiction and I adore this series, featuring Marcus Corvus, his superior Scaurus and their band of Tungrians and Britons. They always get the most dangerous missions, thanks to Emperor Commodus and his henchmen, who want them dead but find them too useful to kill. How I love them and what makes this book even more irresistible is that it’s set in Roman Egypt. Fabulous!
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
I was so pleased to see the return of Tom Hawkins and Kitty Sparks after a gap of a few years. I love Antonia Hodgson’s portrayal of Georgian London. It’s a spicey place, scandalous, funny and terribly dangerous. This is a fabulous story, which stands alone very well, and is really hard hitting, with themes of slavery and parenthood.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton
This book had a hard act to follow (The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle) but it succeeds brilliantly, despite being very different and, again, original. It is such an evocative and atmospheric tale of devilry and evil on the high seas. It is very creepy, extremely clever – ingenious, really – and a joy to read.
My top three books of 2020
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
There was a lot of hype and excitement surrounding this book’s publication and every single bit of it is deserved. What a fantastic mystery this is! It’s a treasure of a novel, beautifully written and so witty, with a wonderful cast of very interesting people of a certain age. I was thoroughly engaged from start to finish and I long for the Thursday Murder Club and its members to return.
The Second Marriage by Gill Paul
I have such a deep love for this novel. Gill Paul’s portrayal of Maria Callas worked its way into my heart and I’ll never forget her. I knew little bits of this story but not enough of it and I was gripped by the tale of this astonishing love triangle of Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy. This is also my favourite audiobook of the year, superbly narrated by Lisa Flanagan.
We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker
Chris Whitaker had already established himself as a favourite author of mine before We Begin at the End arrived and swept me off my feet. What a writer! This book is astonishingly rich in place, character and emotion. It’s a masterpiece and deserves nothing less than to be my top book of 2020.
There have been so many reading highlights in 2020 but I do want to also mention these two books.
The Stasi Game by David Young
It’s always sad when a favourite series comes to an end but The Stasi Game finishes this particular series perfectly. I’ll miss Karin Müller and the times I’ve spent immersed in East Germany during the 1970s and early 1980s, thanks to David Young’s brilliantly written set of six novels. The author really knows his stuff. I also like how the novels draw on the legacy of the Second World War. This is especially true in this novel which is set in Dresden.
The Human Son by Adrian J Walker.
I haven’t read as much science fiction as normal this year but this is my favourite of those I did read. It’s a beautiful portrayal of love, selfless and relentless, as the Erta and the last remaining human learn to understand each other and one another on an Earth from which humanity has been removed.
I also want to mention the thrillers that have given me so much joy this year. Ben Hope is my favourite thriller hero and I thoroughly enjoyed his two adventures of 2020 – The Pretender’s Gold and The Demon Club. I am also such a fan of Clive Cussler and have read his thrillers for almost all my life. I loved Journey of the Pharaohs this year, the publication of which sadly coincided with his death. His legacy will undoubtedly live on.
Other books from other years
In 2020 I read far more books published in previous years than I have done for a long time. I took the time to read some books that I’ve wanted to read in ages and they were highlights of the year. I must mention Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch (wow!!), and Jodi Taylor’s Chronicles of St Mary’s time travel series. I have devoured five of these in 2020 as well as the two books so far in the Time Police series.
So, although I read fewer books in 2020, my reading was more varied than usual, with books picked perhaps more carefully and with less of an eye on deadlines. There is much of that that I want to continue in 2021. But 2021 is going to be a bumper year for books! Some books I’m really keen to read have been postponed from 2020, such as Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson, while others that I’ve read quite a time ago will at long last be released into the world, such as When I was Ten by Fiona Cummins – a brilliant book! There is so much to look forward to!
I wish you all a safe, healthy and happy 2021 x