It seems strange to be compiling my books of the year post already, and yet here we are. I have to admit that I’m not sorry to see the back of 2020. It’s a year that has a lot to answer for, but at least there were books to make things a little better.
These books – all published in 2020 and ordered by publication date – are the ones that really stood out for me this year. As ever, it was difficult to narrow it down to just ten, and I’ve been working on this list for weeks, but here are my ten favourite reads from 2020, with links to my reviews.
Bloomsbury Circus, January 2020
When Emira is apprehended at a supermarket for ‘kidnapping’ the white child she’s actually babysitting, it sets off an explosive chain of events. Her employer Alix, a feminist blogger with the best of intentions, resolves to make things right.
But Emira herself is aimless, broke and wary of Alix’s desire to help. When a surprising connection emerges between the two women, it sends them on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know – about themselves, each other, and the messy dynamics of privilege.
Viking, January 2020
In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege.
Pupils and teachers barricade themselves into classrooms, the library, the theatre. The headmaster lies wounded in the library, unable to help his trapped students and staff. Outside, a police psychiatrist must identify the gunmen, while parents gather desperate for news.
In three intense hours, all must find the courage to stand up to evil and save the people they love.
Orion, January 2020
Welcome to the café that never sleeps.
Day and night, Stella’s Café opens its doors to the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It’s a place where everyone is always welcome, where life can wait at the door.
Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They love working at Stella’s – the different people they meet, the small kindnesses exchanged. But is it time to step outside and make their own way in life?
Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café, where one day might just be enough to change your life…
Pushkin Press, February 2020
If everyone was eating human meat, would you?
Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans – only no one calls them that. He works with numbers, consignments, processing. One day, he’s given a specimen of the finest quality. He leaves her tied up in an outhouse, a problem to be disposed of later.
But she haunts Marcos. Her trembling body, and watchful gaze, seem to understand. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost – and what might still be saved…
Penguin, March 2020
He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.
When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.
But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.
Will you listen to them?
An addictive literary page-turner about a crime as shocking as it is commonplace, Keeper will leave you reeling long after the final page is turned.
Doubleday, March 2020
On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toy-maker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada where a journalist, battling a terrible disease, risks everything for one last chance to live.
Taking inspiration from a remarkable true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life.
Tinder Press, March 2020
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.
On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?
Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.
Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
Century, April 2020
A lifetime of love. Six months of silence. One last chance.
Frank hasn’t spoken to his wife Maggie for six months.
For weeks they have lived under the same roof, slept in the same bed and eaten at the same table – all without words.
Maggie has plenty of ideas as to why her husband has gone quiet, but it will take another heartbreaking turn of events before Frank finally starts to unravel the secrets that have silenced him.
Is this where their story ends?
Or is it where it begins?
With characters that will capture your heart, The Silent Treatment celebrates the phenomenal power of love and the importance of leaving nothing unsaid.
Virago, April 2020
America. In the twilight of the Gold Rush, two siblings cross a landscape with a gun in their hands and the body of their father on their backs…
Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the run. With their father’s body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with giant buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial.
How Much of These Hills is Gold is a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories.
Canongate, August 2020
Between life and death there is a library.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.
Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?
This will be my last post of 2020 – I’m off to eat, drink, and be as merry as it’s possible to be in the circumstances. I hope you all have a lovely and safe Christmas, and I’ll see you in the new year for more bookish fun, and hopefully a better year all round.