2020 Wrap Up; My Top Books of the Year

2020 is a year that none of us will forget. In a year defined by a global pandemic, many of us admitted to loosing our reading mojo. At times I definitely lost mine.

Yet at other times books saved me; they acted as a soothing balm, providing me with escapism – sometimes making me laugh and sometimes making me cry as I completely lost myself in the story. I’m always grateful for books, especially the ones that leave a deep impression on me, but this year, more so than ever.

Some books and their characters have really stayed with me. Hence here’s my run down of the ones, all published in 2020, that for a variety of reasons I found absolutely stunning. Please note that the books listed here are in no particular order – they are all very different but all equally brilliant.

Happy reading everyone! 🙂

Mix Tape by Jane Sanderson

Not only did Mix Tape leave me with an almighty book hangover but it introduced me to some damn good music (which has become one of my top Spotify playlists of the year).

This is a poignant story of first love that is lost. Full of nostalgia, it is loaded with intent and meaning.

Daniel was the first boy to make Alison a mix tape. Sharing a passion for music, the teenagers fall in love. But when Alison suddenly disappears from his life, Daniel is heartbroken.

Over 30 years later Daniel finds Alison on Twitter and tweets her with a link to Elvis Costello’s Pump It Up, the song from their first date in 1978. And so, through the power of song Dan and Ali reconnect – creating a new mix tape. But at what price?

Published in January 2020, this is a book that featured in my Cracking Books to Read in 2020 post. Writing this snapshot review of Mix Tape is making me want to reread Dan and Ali’s story all over again. I may just do that.

And The Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando

Waterstones has recently listed And The Stars Were Burning Brightly as one of the best books of 2020, a view I strongly agree with. Full of a rare beauty, this is a heartbreaking YA novel that explores social media, online bullying and teenage suicide. It is raw, powerful but also extremely tender.

Nathan painfully searches for answers following his older brother Al committing suicide. Megan, Al’s friend is consumed with guilt following his tragic death.

And The Stars Were Burning Brightly is authentic, compassionate and evocative. It is a tear jerker – I practically cried all the way through reading it. However every tear I shed was so worth it as at the end I was left with a beautiful sense of hope.

To find out more about this emotive book, read my full review.

Yes, this is a book that deals with difficult and extremely painful subject matter; but believe me, it is so beautiful and moving, it is a definite must read.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor

I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever raved about a book as much as I have about The Miseducation of Evie Epworth. Friends, family, colleagues, readers and non-readers – practically everyone that knows me has heard me shout about how brilliant this book is.

Set in 1962, The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is a coming of age story that is full of comedy, emotion and Yorkshire magic (you’ll need to read it to find out all about the Yorkshire magic 🙂 ).

I absolutely adored this book when I first read it. I couldn’t put it down as it had me howling with laughter and made me smile A LOT! But then a few months later when I couldn’t concentrate to read and was struggling to sleep I downloaded Evie on Audible and found it to be the tonic I needed.

The Miseducation of Evie Epworth was published in hardback in July 2020 and was a Radio 2 Book Club pick. To find out more about this great read, you can read my full book review including an interview with the author, Matson Taylor. Just a word of warning, the interview will make you very hungry indeed! 🙂

The paperback edition of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is due to be published in spring 2021.

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

I am such a big fan of wartime historical fiction, reading and reviewing it a lot. However I think Code Name Hélène is the best book I may have read in this genre – it completely blew me away. It is the truly stunning novel based on Nancy Wake, a real-life woman, spy and military leader in World War 2.

This book consumed me, shocked and inspired me. Portraying Nancy to be full of humour, courage and attitude, this is a woman that never went into battle without her favourite armour – red lipstick.

There are very few novels that totally take my breath away, but Code Name Hélène did many times for many, many reasons. It is truly stunning historic fiction that needs to be read.

When it was longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize Award I was quick to cast one of my two votes in favour of Code Name Hélène (my other vote went Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet which also features in this blog post). I was gutted though when Code Name Hélène didn’t make the shortlist as in my view it clearly deserved its place there.

To find out more about this gripping novel and the unbelievable mark Nancy Wake left on history, you can read my full book review.

Code Name Hélène is released in paperback in February 2021.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

Just as we went into lockdown back in the spring and I was scared and anxious (like many people) I was so lucky to read The Authenticity Project. This book captivated me as well as soothed me. It provided me with what I desperately craved – escapism and an uplifting story. It also gave me hope.

The Authenticity Project is a book about the power of community and connection. It is an insightful, warm and engaging read that explores difficult issues that seem to be overlooked in society, such as the social stigma of being single and childless. It also explores drug addiction, loneliness and obsessive compulsive disorder.

I love a good character driven story and The Authenticity Project is just that. With an array of diverse, flawed and very human characters, this is a book that moved me, made me smile and warmed my heart. I also found it to be very authentic.

You can read my full review book here.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

When I reviewed Hamnet just before its publication in March 2020 I wrote that it was one of the best books I had ever read. It has since gone on to win the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 as well as be named Waterstones Book of the Year.

A poignant depiction of love, loss and family tragedy, this novel is about a real life boy who history has forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the greatest literary masterpiece’s of all time –  Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamnet was Shakespeare’s son who tragically died aged 11. Since studying Hamlet at school, Maggie O’Farrell had always been ‘struck by the curious, sad symmetry of these names. What did it mean for a father to name a tragic hero after his dead son? What was the unusual act telling us?

The novel Hamnet explores this heartbreaking question. It portrays the Bard through the point of view of his children and his wife Agnes. Skillfully Shakespeare’s name is never once referred to in the narrative; rather he is always referred to as the tutorthe father or the husband. It is Agnes; wild, spirited and loyal that is the epicentre of this stunning novel. I absolutely adore O’Farrell’s depiction of Agnes; she is a true heroine.

Hamnet is a beautiful, haunting novel that cannot be forgotten.

One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie

I loved everything about One Year of Ugly – its eye catching cover, its larger than life characters and its sizzling story full of hilarity and sexual tension.

I did read a while back that One Year of Ugly may be made into a Netflix series. I really hope so!

Set in Trinidad, this is the story of a Venezuelan family who have been forced into living as illegal immigrants. When the matriarch of the family dies, the family receive a visit from Ugly, the local crime lord. They owe him a massive debt. Yes, this appears sinister and dark but believe me, this book is far from dark. It is a brilliant comedy, skillfully using dry humour to portray the dangers, hardships and prejudices facing illegal immigrants.

Told from the point of view of Yola as she tries to fight her sexual attraction towards Roman, Ugly’s dangerous right-hand man, this is a a compelling and funny page turner.

You can read my full review of One Year of Ugly here.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford

Beautifully interweaving true historical events, an evocative sense of setting and a subtle love story, The Lost Lights of St Kilda completely captured my heart.

Since I can remember I have been fascinated by the isolated community of St Kilda, the remote Scottish island over 100 miles from the mainland. Living in such harsh conditions that led to starvation, the community were forced to evacuate their beloved island in 1930.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is the love story between island girl Chrissie and Fred, a Cambridge undergraduate. Yet the true heart of the narrative is the poignant love story between a beautiful island and it’s inhabitants. Through Elisabeth Gifford’s haunting prose, the lives of the islanders vividly comes alive. The empathy I felt for the islanders was so visceral. Seeped in historical fact and powerfully portraying the natural beauty of the remote archipelago, I couldn’t put this book down.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda is an unforgettable read. You can read my full review here.

Well that’s it – my top reads of 2020. As like you are, I’m really looking forward to 2021. As well as the new year bringing us all hope, there are some exciting new books due to be published that I can’t wait to immerse myself in! 🙂

Happy reading everyone and happy New Year! 🙂

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