2020 – The Year in Books

Alrighty, 2020 in books. It was a year with mostly hits and just a few disappointments. I strayed out of genre on a few occasions and even began listening to some books as audiobooks. Reading while walking, now, there’s a concept.

Anyways, without further havering, here’s the wrap-up.

How many books did I read?

According to Goodreads, so far this year I’ve read 95 books, although there were others that didn’t make it to Goodreads.

Yes, that’s a lot of reading, but I read most afternoons for an hour after I log off from the day job – it’s the equivalent to the time I used to spend reading on the bus and helps me switch my brain out of corporate and into creative. I also read every night before I go to sleep. I read books instead of magazines at the hairdressers, at the beach, lying in or beside the pool. 

And the ones that didn’t make it to Goodreads? Mostly genre romances that were devoured in an hour or so and are absolute comfort reads – like vegemite and cheese on white bread with butter. Also not on the list are cookbooks – not even those that I’ve read from cover to cover such as Nigella’s latest where there is joy in the recipes within the stories.

The longest book?

The longest book I read was John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga at 872 pages – although, in fairness, this was originally published as (I think) three books. 

The shortest was a Christmas novella, The Six Rules of Christmas by Penelope Janu at 70 pages, and the average length came in at 350 pages.

Any new series?

Absolutely. A.M Stuart’s Hannah Gordon mysteries, Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly, Lynne Truss’ Constable Twitten, and the CB Strike series by Robert Galbraith.

Additions to favourite series?

The wait was finally over for a new instalment in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series, A Song For The Dark Times. There was also a new Rowland Sinclair novel by Sulari Gentill, A Testament of Character.

Series I missed this year?

Nope. All good.

Revisiting the classics…

In 2020 I re-read some of my old favourites – it felt like the right time to curl up with a classic.

  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  • The Forsyte saga, by John Galsworthy
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  • The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton
  • All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriott
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Thanks for the recommendation…

I rely on my book blogger friend Debbish for additions to my to-be-read pile, and she certainly didn’t let me down in 2020. Sammy from The Annoyed Thyroid was also a reliable source of reading recommendations as were the bookstagrammers I follow on Instagram. Special thanks for book recommendations also to my simply stunning blogging group.

Stand out reads?

I’m not a great critic – if I’ve really enjoyed something it will get the marks from me, even if it is far from being a literary masterpiece. 

In order of the month I read them, here are my favourite reads. Some months it was tough keeping it to just one…so I didn’t.

January

The Most Beautiful Walk In The World, by John Baxter, was on the bookshelf at our accommodation in Wyck Rissington. 

It’s a memoir, but mostly it’s about Paris and walking, and people who walk in Paris, and the stories about famous people, mostly artists and writers, who walk in Paris. It’s a ramble – as if you’re sitting having a glass of wine and chatting. He writes the way I’d love to write.

The Little Shop Of Happily Ever After by Jenny Colgan. I’d read the sequel to this before I read the book but that didn’t matter at all. 

The easiest way to describe this is to say it’s the loveliest book I’ve read in a long while. Maybe since Nicholas Barreau’s Paris Is Always a Good Idea. It’s a book for anyone who loves books, who can escape into a story and who truly believes there is a book for every mood and for every ill.

Plus, it’s set in Scotland, which is always a good thing.

February

The Clergyman’s Wife, by Molly Greeley

Pride and Prejudice is one of my all time favourite books, yet I’ve often wondered about Charlotte Lucas and her marriage to Mr Collins. Molly Greeley has gone one step further than wondering – she’s written it. This is beautifully written, and quietly, heartbreakingly sad in so many ways – not so much because of what happened but because of what was unable to happen. 

March

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes. 

At 656 pages long I dithered a tad – I’m not great with commitment – but was so glad that I took the plunge. Apparently, the audiobook is narrated by her so if you prefer your books in your ears instead of your hands this would be a good one.

April

Shakespeare, by Bill Bryson

Despite the millions of papers and research documents about William Shakespeare there’s actually not a whole lot that we know for sure. For starters, there’s a whole lot of wilderness years following when (we think that we know) he left Stratford Upon Avon and his wife and family and when (we think) his first play was performed (although we don’t even know for sure which was, in fact, his first play). 

The important parts of what we do know or think we know are told to us by Bryson – along with a few fabulous conspiracy theories about how Shakespeare isn’t really responsible for writing those plays – with trademark Bryson wit.

May

The Buccaneers, by Edith Wharton

This is a book that if I had a desert island list (which I’m seriously contemplating for blog purposes) this one would be on it. I love this story and can’t believe it’s been so many years since I’ve read it. There are scenes from this book that make my heart beat faster every single time.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Sometimes I think this is my favourite of Jane Austen’s books, then I think my favourite is Sense and Sensibility, and then I think, no, it’s actually Pride and Prejudice. Occasionally, I lean towards Emma. One thing that doesn’t change is how these stories are transferable into today – in fact, I’d love to write a modern telling of this one.

Anne Elliott is a quiet protagonist, but no less present for that, and Austen’s wit is, perhaps, more pronounced because of it. Captain Wentworth is flawed, yet redeemable, others are flawed and not so redeemable. A classic.

June

Phosphorescence, by Julia Baird

I did not expect to like this book and downloaded it from Audible because I loved the title and the cover. 

This isn’t a book about being happy all the time, it’s about finding joy and little pieces of light that shimmer in the darkness – for that reason, it’s very now.

Baird talks about awe and wonder, about allowing yourself to feel small in the presence of the things that bring awe and make you wonder – even when society is telling us to not be afraid to take up space. That’s fine, she says, in the corporate world, but to feel small in the face of nature and storms and true awesomeness, is entirely another thing. 

There was so much that I loved about this book, especially taken in small bits as I did. As with Obama’s Becoming and Leigh Sales’ On Any Ordinary Day, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as I did if I didn’t listen to it rather than read it.

July

The Museum of Forgotten Memories, by Anstey Harris

I adored Harris’ previous book, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton – in fact, it was one of my top reads of 2019 – and had been looking forward to this one.

To be honest, while I can tell you what this story is about, I don’t really know that I can say what it’s really about – a fine but important difference. Harris says that it’s about the human condition, and I suppose that it is.

While I’m not one for literary novels or unnecessary words, this is really quite beautiful and understated, gentle almost. It’s bleak and hopeful and light and dark all at the same time, and I really loved it. 

August

The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

Any book that contains the word Scriptorium is, in my book (no pun intended), a good one. It’s a word that brings to mind the store in York that I love – Imaginarium – which is a word that could have been invented just for me.

This is historical fiction at its best and had me in tears more than once. My only problem with the book was the ending – it works, but at the same time it feels a tad, I don’t know, rushed. Sarah said the same…which leads me to the most special part of this book – Sarah who, up until the last year has been a non-reader, read this before I did. It’s the first time I’ve been able to have a discussion about a book with my daughter. That’s priceless.

The Flat Share, Beth O’Leary

Not only is it an unusual love story with characters that shone on the page, but there’s a very current “gas-lighting” theme that O’Leary has wound through the story that made me love Leon more than I already did.

September

The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith

Okay, the entire world knows that Robert Galbraith and JK Rowling are the same person, but reading this, it absolutely doesn’t matter. I loved Harry Potter and I think I have a bit of a crush on Cormoran Strike.

I watched the TV series, C.B Strike, earlier this year but hadn’t actually read the books. When this one appeared on the shelf at my local op shop, I snapped it up – and am glad I did. Now I can’t wait to read the rest.

October

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman

I was all set to declare Us as my favourite read for the month – until I began this one. How can that be, I hear you ask. Us was long listed for some prize or another and this is a cozy crime from a debut author. And that, dear reader, is why I’ll never make it as a critic (of pretty much anything) – because for me it’s based purely on enjoyment, and oh how I enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club.

What else can I say about this? It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s warm and I didn’t guess whodunnit – I was having way too much fun that I almost didn’t care.

Love, Clancy, by Richard Glover

This is the perfect book for 2020 – it’s about love, loyalty, life lessons, and pleasure… pure, simple pleasure.

The premise is simple – having recently lost their 14 year old much loved best dog in the world kelpie, Darcy, a kelpie pup named Clancy comes into Richard and his partner’s home. These are Clancy’s letters home to his pawrents back in the country.

Now, before you say that it sounds naff, it absolutely is far from that. I had tears rolling down my cheeks as Glover spoke, his voice cracking ever so slightly, about the loss of Darcy, the story of the old dog in Homer’s Odyssey; then I found myself laughing out loud at the picture of Clancy thoughtfully picking the empty tomato sauce bottle and milk bottle out of the recycling box and chewing them to pieces on Glover’s white doona. (I listened to this while walking so people must have wondered who the strange woman was laughing at nothing.)

This is full of life lessons through Clancy’s doggy eyes. Lessons such as the ability to find pleasure everywhere and judge no one; how a dog loves unconditionally and without care for appearances. Mostly though there’s the one about how we sit with our problems and low self-esteem, too afraid to ask for love, fearing that we don’t deserve it. Not so the dog who will use his wet nose to reposition the human hand to fulfil its proper function – to rub a doggy tummy or pat a doggy head.

If you’re a dog lover, you have to read (or listen to) this book. It might make you cry, but mostly you’ll laugh and nod and understand where the tears are coming from.

November

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, Milly Johnson

This book was the perfect beginning to my annual festival of festive reading – and every time I see the title, I can’t help but sing the song. If you don’t know it, it’s by Wizzard and you’ll find it here. It brings back pre-Christmas in England for me as it was blaring out of every second shop in Oxford Street and I’d sing it every time… but I digress.

This novel is the magic of Christmas in word form.

December

Clanlands, by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

If you don’t know them, Heughan is Jamie Fraser in Outlander and McTavish is Dougal MacKenzie in the same series. This is a boys own adventure in a campervan as Heughan and McTavish drive around Scotland to make a series about, well, clans and all things Scottish. There’s whisky, kilts, history, whisky, stories, whisky, history and some more whisky.

Special mention…

A special call-out to indie friends who released fabulous books in 2020:

Blue, by Sue Ellen Pashley – my first foray into YA with an urban retelling of Pinnochio. Fabulous.

I read a few by my friend Nicki Edwards in 2020 and all were reliably good. She has a way of bringing the Victorian country to life and a heartwarming style that I truly love. Check out Holding Onto Hope, and The Final Siren. While I’ve downloaded Settle The Score, it’s on my list for January.

In December I was fortunate to get an advance copy for review purposes of Davina Stone’s, The Alice Equation. I loved loved loved this debut. It’s the perfect chick lit novel, friends to lovers (my absolute favourite trope) & I found myself really caring about Alice and Aaron. An absolute joy & I’m so glad I saved it for my Boxing Day holiday read.

Any books adapted into a movie?

No, but I did read the first in the CB Strike series which has been made into a TV series and All Creatures Great and Small has also been remade into (very enjoyable) TV. Clanlands has also been made into a series (in fact I think the series came before the book) but it hasn’t yet been released.

Genre-hopping?

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been reading more non-fiction than I had previously. This year was no different and helped along by Audible – I’ve found I can listen to memoir and biography far more easily than I can read it.

Food and travel was covered off with fabulous offerings by John Baxter, Jay Rayner, Peter Mayle and Bee Wilson and not so enjoyable (for me) reads from Cheryl Strayed and Sarah Lyall. I also laughed out loud at Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish’s Clanlands.

I learnt about Shakespeare from Bill Bryson, and Norse mythology by Neil Gaiman; and ventured into autobiography with Michelle Obama and Jennifer Saunders.

Real life was covered off by Julia Baird, Leigh Sales and Claire Bowditch; animals by James Herriott, trees by Peter Wohlleben, and the case for (and against) eating meat by Matthew Evans.

Craft books read?

No, not this year.

Any business books?

Nope.

What about cookbooks?

Okay, so I didn’t lose any weight this year which means there were no cookbook rewards for every 5kgs lost (and yes, I realise how counter-intuitive that sounds). There was, however, birthdays, Mother’s Day and Christmas, so the following books were added to my collection…

  • Islands To Highlands, by James Martin
  • One Tin Bakes, by Edd Kimber
  • Bread, by Paul Hollywood
  • Shetland, by James Morton
  • Aran, by Flora Sheldon
  • In Praise of Veg, by Alice Zavlesky
  • Flavour, by Yottam Ottolenghi
  • Simple, by Yottam Ottolenghi
  • Cook, Eat, Repeat, by Nigella Lawson
  • Oats in the North, Wheat from the South, by Regula Ysewijn
  • Italian Kitchen, by Anna del Conte

Festive Reads

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day, by Milly Johnson

A Granite Springs Christmas, by Maggie Christensen

Christmas at The Island Hotel, by Jenny Colgan

Together By Christmas, by Karen Swan

The Christmas Lights, by Karen Swan

Christmas on Primrose Hill, by Karen Swan

The Trouble With Christmas, by Amy Andrews

One More For Christmas, by Sarah Morgan

Christmas For Beginners, by Carole Matthews

Christmas Gifts at The Beach Cafe, by Lucy Diamond

Sleigh Rides and Silver bells at the Christmas Fair, by Heidi Swain

Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market, by Heidi Swain

Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland, by Heidi Swain

The Six Rules of Christmas, by Penelope Janu

Christmas Under The Stars, by Karen Swan

Christmas at Kissing Point, an anthology

The Winter Garden, by Heidi Swain

Once Upon a Christmas, by Tilly Tennant

2021 Book-related resolutions?

I actually intend to read less this year – and write more, although I said that last year too.

I have books on my bookshelf – both physical and virtual – that are crying out for attention and yet last year (and the year before and the year before that and…you get the idea) spent the equivalent of a very good holiday on books. I intend to work my way through some of these this year. And yes, I said all of this last year too!

In 2021 I’ll be featuring a cookbook a month to review and feature a recipe from – sort of like a virtual cookbook club. I have some other ideas regarding this too but need to get these straight in my head before I tell you about it. Plus, for the first time ever, I’m in a book club, so watch this space.

What about you? Any favourites? Recommendations?

Author: Jo

I write, I bake, I chase sunrises.

18 thoughts

  1. When I started blogging, I imagined that I would be writing book reviews left and right…the whole retired librarian thing. But that hasn’t been the case. While I am reading more grown-up books than I ever have, I haven’t been sharing what I read. I hope to change that in 2021. I really enjoyed The Flat Share and A Million Dreams was excellent but a tough read for me. The Dictionary of Lost Words sounds so good and is on my to-read shelf. Just need to get to it!!

    Love that you read so many seasonal/holiday books. I would like to read more Christmas stories next year. They can really put us in the spirit of the holidays.

    1. I try and do a round-up each month – and I track what I read on Goodreads. I’m not great at the whole critic thing though- for me it really is what I’ve enjoyed.

  2. Awesome list, Jo!
    I’ve only read three of the books that you’ve mentioned here. None of them were listed among your favourites and one you listed as a dislike. Hope we can still be friends! 😀
    *** I have read several of the authors that you have mentioned – just not that particular book – hope that helps with the friendship thing!

    1. Ha! I reckon I know which one you’re talking about. I think given that we share a fave in Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods we can agree to disagree over the other one.

  3. I enjoyed Grown Ups too. I was so excited for this Marian Keyes (people were hyping it up online) and I really enjoyed it. At first, I thought it was the beachy vibe because we were on holidays but I recently read it again and loved the little things I felt I missed when I first read it. Would recommend. 😉

  4. What a comprehensive round up Jo, I loved your recommendations and I too follow Debbish for her book reviews. I’ve read quite a few of the same books throughout the year (not the cookbooks) and look forward to adding some of the others to my Want to Read section in Goodreads. The Dictionary of Lost Words is up there as a fave and I liked Grown Ups and of course all YOUR books 🙂 Thanks for the enjoyment!!

    1. Some months there were a number of contenders for the top spot & in other months the choice was an easier one. Thank goodness for both Goodreads & my monthly round-ups!

  5. Loved this round-up – and wow 95 books! I’ve actually heard of very few of these books so I’ll be checking in our library to see if they’re available. But since I’ve finished writing – and have published – my business book, I’m digging back into my novel in progress. Hope to find a balance of reading and writing in 2021. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I have not tracked the books I read, Jo. I may have told you before, I usually read one fiction and one non-fiction at a time. I do a great deal of reading during the night, when I cannot sleep. I think I have also mentioned to you how I am loving and savouring a specific book right now! ❤️ I always appreciate book recommendations. Hmmm, “Shakespeare” by Bill Bryson sounds intriguing.

    1. I usually do the same – have multiple books going at any one time. Shakespeare is really interesting…

  7. A fab round up Jo, some I’ve read but there were plenty that I haven’t read or need to revisit. My daughter just discovered the Strike books, my husband discovered them some time ago and we’ve watched the TV series. I’ve joined a Book Club this year and we are starting with a Classic – Wuthering Heights. I’m looking forward to the discussion. Thanks for the list and I’ll be re-reading your posts and adding books to my Goodreads list. Happy reading! x

    1. I’ve only read Cuckoo’s Calling but will be working my way through the rest of the Strike series this year. I’m interested to hear about your impressions of WH.

  8. As you’d imagine I’ve not read too many on your list but recognise a few names. I wish I’d read Phosphorescence as I’ve only heard great things and – though it’s not usually my kind of read (I think!) I wish I’d read Grown Ups. Of course there’s still time and I keep thinking there’ll be a gap in time for me to open something not sent to me for review.

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