Every year I set myself a reading challenge on Goodreads and every year I set the bar fairly low. I’m always prone to bouts of disinterest in reading, I’ve gone weeks, months and even years without having the concentration to focus on a book and I continuously struggle to find anything I want to read.
I made a promise to myself for 2020 that I would worry less about how many books I could get through this year, and more about reading books of substance. Either stories I really enjoyed or ones that I felt were really well written. So far I’m really pleased with the majority of books i’ve read this year so I wanted to do a mid-year round up and recommend some excellent reads.
Goddesses Don’t Wear Orange, Laura Weber
The first book I read in 2020 that I absolutely loved. ‘When Florence’s boyfriend dumped her, she cried, she drank tequila, she even stabbed a voodoo doll a couple of times, but she didn’t murder the bastard. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t see it that way. ‘
We follow Florence’s story as she attempts (continuously) to regain her freedom from Coffee Correctional Facility. ‘Goddesses’ is unique, hilarious and has an excellent plot twist. I highly recommend. I think this is a Kindle-only novel, possibly self-published? Either way, I’d read anything else Weber writes.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
My first introduction to Celeste Ng and I’ll never look back. Amongst mysterious and deep storylines, Ng focuses on relationships between characters, delving into their pasts not just to set the scene but to give insight into the shaping of their, somewhat, mundane lives. She creates extraordinary storylines out of, what anyone might consider, ordinary people. I’ve never read anything like it.
Normal People, Sally Rooney
If you haven’t read this book yet you’re either refusing to give in to the hype or you’re living under a rock. Everyone is talking about the BBC adaptation of Rooney’s incredible novel exploring the changing lives and relationships of two people who navigate life from school to adulthood. Goodread’s puts it better than I do; Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship. Sally Rooney was born the same year as I, which devastates me greatly. How did she learn to write so naturally, almost simply, yet so profoundly? I’m in awe.
Noughts and Crosses, Malorie Blackman
I remember my best friend at primary school reading this when we were kids, so it’s safe to say i’m a bit late to the party with this one. Noughts and Crosses was a book club choice at work and I have to admit, after reading it I was a little embarrassed considering how…juvenile (?), the storyline is. Make no mistake, this is an excellent novel for young teenagers to read, it covers the incredibly important topic of race and should be on the book list of every 12-14 year old (maybe younger? not sure due to the skirting subject of sex), however if you’re an adult looking to read good quality novels about race, or written by a black author, there will be many other recommendations to suit you.
Wilder Girls, Rory Power
Everyone loses something to the Tox; Hetty lost her eye, Reese’s hand has changed, and Byatt just disappeared completely.
I was sucked into Wilder Girls by the front cover and the blurb lured me further in. I had no idea Feminist or Sapphic Horror existed as a genre and I had no idea Wilder Girls fell into this category. It took me quite a while to get through, I almost didn’t bother to finish it. It was quite long winded and drawn out and, considering I don’t enjoy any type of Horror, I personally didn’t find this scary at all, just a bit odd and confusing.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I’ve gushed about this book enough but for the sake of continuity in this post, i’ll go on even further about it. I absolutely loved this novel. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, especially when set during wartime era’s but this book is full of warmth, wit and gentle comedy. Intertwining sweet romance and the desperately sad results of war, If you’re looking for something easy to read with a meaningful storyline, I urge you to read this!
This Lovely City, Louise Hare
A debut novel by London-based writer Hare, This Lovely City is set in 1950 South London, surrounding a group of Windrush immigrants as they navigate their new and unwelcoming city. Both heart-breaking and heart-warming Louise Hare explores the complexities of love and belonging during a time when both were difficult for British Jamaicans.
The Little Flower Shop by the Sea, Ali McNamara
A sweet and easy to read romance novel, it was exactly what I needed during the early days of Covid19 Lockdown, something to float through whilst sitting in the garden in the sun. Set in a fictional town in Cornwall, Poppy Carmichael overcomes grief, anxiety, and her reluctance to change amongst a community of kind townsfolk. There’s a bit of a magical twist to the storyline that I didn’t think felt out of place.
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Another incredible work of fiction by Ng, who continues to blow me away with her ability to build layer upon layer in her characters and their relationships. Little Fires Everywhere explores motherhood, social class and the weight secrets can have on families.
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
If I hadn’t watched Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation i’m not sure I’d have understood this book at all, this American Classic is as bizarre as the film suggests. Set during the roaring 20’s and post WWI, The Great Gastby follows Nick Carraway as he meets and embeds himself into Jay Gatsby’s extravagant life. Exploring themes such as idealism and reluctance to change, apparently this is considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
A Study in Scarlet, Arthur Conan Doyle
The first published Sherlock Holmes novel, setting the scene by Dr Watson as he meets the genius Mr Holmes. If you have an Audible account, you can currently buy the whole unabridged Sherlock Holmes collection narrated by Stephen Fry for just one measly credit. 100% worth it. I’m not sure i’d have ever bothered to read the novels had I not been lured in by my favourite narrator and i’d definitely recommend these classics to anyone for a bit of easy listening.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge
In light of recent events I, like millions of others are waking up to the injustices of the world. It’s embarrassingly well overdue.
WINLTTPAR explores deep rooted problems within Britain around race, from eradicated black history to problematic white feminism and absolutely everything in between this book should be on every educational reading list in the country.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
June’s book club selection and one i’d never heard of before. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone—vanished from her life. I never expected this story to be anything like it was; With dry humour a plenty, Rosemary tells us about her family and the devastating consequences of a child’s actions.
Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams
Queenie is quite a dark novel, our protagonist goes through A LOT. Set in modern day South London, the novel begins in the wake of a ‘break’ between Queenie and her long-term boyfriend Tom. Carty-Williams explores friendships, sex and family relationships with some real feminist and racially charged tones. I felt endlessly sorry for Queenie who is put through the ringer as she tries to bury her feelings in ill-fated dates with men who use her and tentative baby-steps to repair her relationship with her mother. I hated every single man in this novel with a deep fiery passion that further proves my own need to be single at the moment but I loved some of the friends Queenie had in her life; Kyazike was a brilliant character who was just there for her friend at all times with sage, care-free advice and the kind of humour you need when you’re going through tough times. I can’t say I enjoyed this novel, but it sure is an important read.
Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens
This has been on every best seller and book club list going over the last few months, it’s popped up in my peripherals constantly and I continued to put off reading Owens’ debut novel because, quite frankly, it just didn’t look like a book i’d be able to push through. And then an Instagram friend offered to send me a copy in a book exchange and I thought I may as well give it a go seeing as everyone is raving about it.I can’t express how glad I am that I gave the book a chance. This novel will sit up there with The Shadow of the Wind and East of Eden as one of my most peculiar favourite novels of all time. Completely unlike anything i’ve ever written; the descriptions are long and poetic, Owens takes her time to set the scene so beautifully that you never really need to leave the Marsh. I don’t want to give any of this story away but I absolutely loved the development of Kya Clark over the years, the relationships she built and the culmination of her life and lifes work.
The books I didn’t love but want to tell you about anyway…
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The much anticipated film adaptation of Little Women was released at the beginning of the year (or the end of 2019?) and it’s one of the many classics that I wanted to add to my collection of ‘I can say i’ve read this’ books. I downloaded an Audible version of the book and unfortunately I didn’t realise it was an abridged version, so I missed a lot of the plot, including a very poignant moment that I know happens. So I didn’t start the year off too well but I do intend to read the whole book eventually
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Another Audible book that I listened to purely so I could say I knew the novel. It’s bizarre and far fetched even for me, full of the kind of deep wisdom that I find pretentious and false. I wanted to scream every time I heard the words ‘Your personal legend’. That being said, I understand why a lot of people find comfort in such a book. what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.
Skyward, Brandon Sanderson
It’s been a hot minute since i’ve read a good fantasy novel. Skyward was another Audible choice and has a rather odd plot if i’m honest; Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot and reaches hurdles and blockers at every turn thanks to the fact that her father died a traitor to the cause. Probably a book for a slightly younger audience but if you like a bit of Sci-Fi it’s worth a chance.
Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee
I started a book club at work this year and Disgrace was the first book we read. Set in post-apartheid South Africa this novel tackles some very deep issues. David Lurie, a twice divorced, 52-year-old professor of communications and Romantic Poetry at Cape Technical University seduces a student and sets in motion a series of devastating events tackling race, relationships, sex, society and status
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Josie Silver
Lydia and Freddie have been together for years, until, on her 27th Birthday, Freddie dies in a car accident. Lydia spirals deep into depression until something inexplicable happens that offers Lydia the chance to live her old life.I wanted to read a love story, something that wasn’t full of the angst and over the top romance I was used to with New or Young Adult novels. I think it can be quite difficult to write a really good love story. I’m not sure The Two Lives was what I was looking for, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
I make no promises to read as many books in the second half of the year but I am committed to continuing my streak of reading some really excellent work. I’ve got a list of about 10 books I want to get through for the rest of year but I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of these, what you thought of them, if any are on your TBR list or if you have any recommendations!