Normal People – Sally Rooney 2.5 stars
Sadly, the year began with one I was quite disappointed by. I really wanted to like Normal People, I really did. The hype was huge when I read it, and got even greater once the series came out back in April. But unfortunately, this one was not for me! I didn’t find the main characters, Marianne and Connell very likeable, and if they just communicated like, you know, ‘normal people’, they might have found things a bit easier.
A History Of The World In 21 Women – Jenni Murray 4.5 stars
Murray’s round up of 21 women who changed the path of history was both interesting and inspiring. Her choices represented a great range of both time and geography, from Joan Of Arc or Empress Dowager Cixi, to Toni Morisson or Angela Merkel. Towards the more recent figures that Murray has had a personal experience with, they feel a little more biased, but on the whole she presented their flaws as well as their achievements with great depth – this is the perfect book to dip in and out of depending on who you fancied reading about.
Home Work – Julie Andrews 4.5 stars
I was excited to read Julie Andrews’ memoir of her Hollywood years largely to read about filming two of my favourite films, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. Although these were over and done with in the first few chapters, I was still engrossed in the story of the rest of her work in the film industry, learning a lot about her career. She often kept us at arms-length, I feel a little more emotion would have been powerful, but nonetheless, I found this memoir to be a very enjoyable read.
Dishonesty is the Second Best Policy – David Mitchell 4 stars
As an avid fan of the show Would I Lie To You?, I decided to read team captain David Mitchell’s latest book, a collection of his columns written for The Observer. On the whole, they were very witty and well-written, personally I preferred the more popular culture-focused subjects, topics such as Christmas and Patisserie Valerie – some of the political essays towards the end were written as early as 2015, so now felt a bit irrelevant.
The German House – Annette Hess 3 stars
Hess’ novel The German House wins the award for weirdest book I read this year; I’m still struggling to get my head around it months later. Set in Frankfurt in 1963, almost twenty years after the end of WWII, young Eva Bruhns becomes a translator for trials about the war she can barely remember. The historical, Holocaust trial side of the book was incredibly insightful and heartbreaking – exploring the sentiment in Germany towards their role in the war not very long after it was a very interesting take. However, the other side of the story focuses on Eva’s family and that whole storyline was very strange and littered with plot-holes, which detracted from the trial story.
To War With the Walkers – Annabel Venning 4 stars
A true account of six siblings’ experience of the Second World War, from many different lenses including a London hospital, a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and the battlegrounds of Italy. It’s a wonder all the siblings managed to survive the war as you’ll find many close encounters and near misses in this book; it’s definitely an emotional one.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath 4 stars
I never feel all that comfortable giving star ratings to classic novels such as The Bell Jar, because they’ve already been defined as classics for a reason, but here we are. I feel the book is very much split into two parts – the decadent, exciting life in 1950s New York, contrasts with the breakdown of mental health in the second part. I think the contrast between these almost makes you feel like it’s two different books in one, which somehow makes it such a good read.
The Giver of Stars – Jojo Moyes 5 stars
We come to my first 5 star book of the list, and my first Jojo Moyes read! The Giver of Stars is such a captivating read, set in 1930s Kentucky, about a female-run, horse-riding, travelling library. The English protagonist, Alice Van Cleave, is totally out of her depth when she learns married life to an American isn’t all she expected, and her character development and growth of confidence was an amazing journey.
The Five Year Plan – Carla Burgess 3.5 stars
I read this one in a day, which would suggest it was pretty good, right, because I couldn’t put it down? However, it was actually quite unforgettable – I totally forgot I read it until I went on Goodreads. An easy read with likeable characters, but it bugged me that Orla’s love interest, Aiden, was basically trying to pull her away from her dream, her ‘plan’, all the time, just to suit him. Not cool.
City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert 3 stars
The setting of the novel, 1940s New York, sure is decadent and gorgeous to read about. Our protagonist Vivian Morris, is age 95 and telling her story. While the chatty narration style is enjoyable, unfortunately the character is not. So self-obsessed and superficial that most of the time, she wasn’t even aware that the world was caught up in such a major war! The first page introduces a character that she doesn’t officially meet until 80% of the way through the novel, so I was impatiently waiting for a turn in the story that didn’t come until it was too late.
The Prime Ministers – Steve Richards 4 stars
Steve Richard’s reflections of the British leaders during ‘modern times’, The Prime Ministers provides a balanced insight into the ups and downs that contribute to their elections and downfalls. I have a much greater understanding of the logistics of British politics through reading this; as a history student, it really helps me to understand the present by looking at previous leaderships. He highlighted the media’s influence on politics which I found really insightful.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton 2.5 stars
Based on reviews I’ve read, I feel like this is a bit of a love it or hate it book, and disappointedly I found myself in team ‘hate it’. While it gets better as it goes along (you could say, as Dolly matures), I struggled to see its purpose or how it is supposed to be so relatable. It seemed ironic that Dolly spoke about how excited she was to be a ‘grown-up’, yet carried on acting so annoyingly childish.
Expectation – Anna Hope 4 stars
This sat on my shelf for a while because I was so scared it wouldn’t live up to my expectations (no pun intended) but I am happy to say that it did. The three female protagonists, Cate, Hannah and Lissa, each had their flaws but Hope created her characters in a relatable, rather than annoying way. Their imperfections were what made them all into such strong characters and accompanied by the London setting, this was a very enjoyable read.
The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary 5 stars
I was so sad when I got to the end of this, because quite frankly I would have been happy if it never ended and I simply carried on reading about Tiffy and Leon’s lives forever! The two share a flat but have never met, thus through post-it notes their lives begin to intertwine in a way neither could have ever predicted. I love that Beth O’Leary doesn’t stray away from more serious subjects either, creating a story that made me both laugh and cry like crazy.
Half A World Away – Mike Gayle 4 stars
Warning – this is an incredible emotional read! I had to put the book down and take a break at one point because it was simply TOO MUCH EMOTION. TEARS EVERYWHERE! A heartfelt and well-written tale about two siblings separated as children who find their way back to each other’s lives. I loved Gayle’s technique of omitting information from the reader so we are unknowingly misled like one of the characters.
Never Greener – Ruth Jones 3.5 stars
I had high hopes for Ruth Jones’ novel debut, which I think is why I was so disappointed by Never Greener. Her incredible Gavin and Stacey is such a success because of its lovable characters, and yet the protagonist of Never Greener, Kate, is simply despicable! After reuniting with her first love, Kate begins to wonder if the grass could have been greener, exploring what it means to have a second chance at what could have been.
Why We Get The Wrong Politicians – Isabel Hardman 4 stars
This provides a real insight into the world of parliament, including what exactly MPs get up to on a daily basis and the logistics surrounding this. While I learnt a lot from this book, the title is very misleading. It’s more about the life of a politician, rather than why we get the wrong ones, and although Hardman goes on to explain why politicians make bad laws, they themselves aren’t exactly what is wrong with the system.
The Switch – Beth O’Leary 4 stars
Beth O’Leary’s sophomore novel, it was certainly going to be hard for this one to live up to The Flatshare! Leena and her grandmother Eileen switch lives, with Eileen moving into Leena’s London flat looking for a second chance at love, and Leena moving up to rural Yorkshire for a break from her high-pressure job. The characters of The Switch are just as lovable as those in The Flatshare and the story is fun and quirky.
The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes 4.5 stars
I look back on this book with such fondness! Single mum Jess is just trying to do the best for her children. She’s struggling to do it all on her own, but will never admit it. After an unfortunate mishap, Ed finds his life turned upside down, and just wants to make good. On an unlikely trip, their lives are pulled together in the most unusual ways. I absolutely love Jojo Moyes’ writing style and this was such a fun story, I loved all the characters, especially the quirky children, Tanzie and Nicky.
The Secret Barrister 3 stars
The cover describes this one as ‘stories of the law and how it is broken’, so I think I was expecting some thought-provoking and grabbing court case tales. However, this is more of an explanation of how the British legal system works, and why this is good or bad. I learnt a lot from it, but it was rather dry so took a while to get through.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman 4 stars
Gail Honeyman’s bestseller was an enjoyable read; very character, rather than plot driven, which suits me but isn’t always for everyone. Eleanor leads a simple life, with a predictable routine – go to work, get a meal deal, go home, repeat. But it’s fine, she’s happy. Or is she? I loved how Eleanor was a very quirky yet likeable character – aspects of her personality that could potentially be annoying ended up being very endearing. I loved getting to know her and I think you will too.
Such A Fun Age – Kiley Reid 4 stars
One of the most exciting releases of 2020, Such A Fun Age is an American novel about two women, career woman Alix, and her daughter’s babysitter, Emira. The two women end up shocked by their unlikely connection to the same man. Reid explores ideas of race and class in modern America with such insight and the novel is so well-written – I would never have guessed this was a debut. While I found the ending of the novel quite unfulfilling, I can’t wait for more of her work.
Grown Ups – Marian Keyes 4.5 stars
My first ever Marian Keyes read was her latest novel, Grown Ups and it wins the award for the longest book I read this year; it’s a LONG one. Which says even more about the fact that I read over half of it in one day, it gripped me so much! The Caseys are a big family who spend every occasion together – birthdays, anniversaries and holidays in Tuscany. However, tensions are brewing under the surface – what happens when the secrets all come tumbling out? There’s a lot of characters to get to know and remember – it’s a good job there’s a family tree at the beginning! While I didn’t find most of them very likeable, I was still thinking about the story a week later, and this impact made me rate it so high.
Me Before You – Jojo Moyes 5 stars
Louisa Clark starts an unusual job, looking after Will Traynor who became paralysed after an accident. The ultimate rom-com novel, I absolutely adored this book. Because I had watched the film a few months earlier, I knew what to expect and wasn’t too emotional, but there are many moments that the film omits that give even more depth to the characters.
An Unsuitable Match – Joanna Trollope 3 stars
When Rose and Tyler get engaged as each other’s second chance at love, the reaction of their children threatens to ruin everything. Unfortunately, An Unsuitable Match was a slow and dull read – all the characters just seemed to be moaning about something, from beginning to end! It seemed like no family member was prepared for anyone else to be happy.
She Said – Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey 4.5 stars
A true account of the two New York Times journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Kantor & Twohey’s investigation was incredibly gripping. I was hooked and shocked from the get-go and the work they did was truly groundbreaking. The book deviates towards the end, touching on the Brett Kavanaugh case, which felt detached because it wasn’t their investigation to tell. But, overall this is a must-read.
Daisy Jones & The Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid 3.5 stars
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is very unusual – an interview style of a fictional seventies band, describing the rock and roll drama they experienced. In theory, it sounded like a great idea, but because it’s difficult to imagine the songs of the band, it was difficult to emotionally connect to. Despite the interesting characters, the ending fell flat, giving me mixed opinions about this one.
After You – Jojo Moyes 3.5 stars
Jojo Moyes reunites us with Louisa Clark in the second installment of the Me Before You trilogy, but sadly it did not live up to the original. After promising Will she would try new things, Louisa finds herself stuck struggling in a dead-end job. Not the exciting adventure I was expecting!
Olive – Emma Gannon 5 stars
Olive is an absolute gem, to the point I almost teared up a bit at its final page. Olive has always been in sync with her three close friends, but feels lost as they drift apart, towards marriage and motherhood without her. I loved all four of the women in the novel; despite Olive being the central character, the issues Bea, Cecily and Isla faced were equally explored and valid. Chuck in a bunch of paralleling coincidences, from them going to the same university as me, to the same Portguese village on holiday, and I couldn’t be more in love with this book.
Airhead – Emily Maitlis 3.5 stars
Presenter of BBC Newsnight, Emily Maitlis breaks down some of her most groundbreaking interviews; from the shocking to the unplanned. Airhead is an interesting and enjoyable read, but I expected more of an in-depth look at journalism, rather than simply rehashing specific interviews, making some chapters more appealing than others.
Only You – Kate Eberlen 3.5 stars
Letty, from London, and Alf, from Blackpool, meet in Rome where dance provides them with an instant connection. Split into three parts, part 1 and 3 are enjoyable, however things get a bit messy in part 2. The reason I read this was to see how the author would portray Blackpool – not very well, I must add.
Quite – Claudia Winkleman 4 stars
After being in a book reading slump (all that extra uni reading started to take its toll), Claudia Winkleman’s recent memoir, Quite, was the perfect read to raise spirits. With chapters about different aspects of her life – from strictly to eyeliner – it was funny, relatable, and very Claudia – her personality shone throughout.
Paris Echo – Sebastian Faulks 3.5 stars
Faulks alternates between the narratives of Hannah, an American academic studying women during The Occupation, and Tariq, a Moroccan teenager attempting to connect with his mother’s past life in Paris. I enjoyed the historical occupation excerpts, but felt the writing was emotionally detached from them, and there were a few confusing plot points left unexplained.
The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell 3 stars
A day-to-day diary of life owning a bookshop in a Scottish town, The Diary of a Bookseller was fun to begin with, but became increasingly dry as it went on, because it was all a bit of the same. And when it wasn’t the same, it was about some fishing trip that I really wasn’t interested in!
Billy and Me – Giovanna Fletcher 4 stars
I reserved this on BorrowBox before it was announced Giovanna was going into the I’m A Celeb castle, but it felt even more fitting to read her debut novel while she was in there! Sophie May is a waitress in her ordinary town, but her life is turned upside down when heartthrob actor Billy comes to shoot a film there. An exciting novel but Billy’s character definitely needed more depth, sometimes it seemed like Sophie is complaining and worrying for no reason and other moments feel out of character. But overall, a great debut novel – I can’t wait to work my way through the rest of her work!
Still Me – Jojo Moyes – 4 stars
The Best Books of 2020
You may have noticed that there were four five star reads this year; The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Olive by Emma Gannon. Coincidentally, they are all novels that have been released in the past year or so, with the exception of Me Before You being written several years earlier. These were ones that made me feel emotional, made me not want to put it down, and made me want it to never end. They were all great novels that I wholeheartedly recommend – but I’d say if any I gave at least four stars to take your fancy, they are worth the read.
Looking Forward – My 2021 Reading Goals:
Reading thirty-six books this year can be owed to lockdown, and I’m very much hoping that I don’t have quite as much spare time on my hands next year! In 2021 I’m going to be setting my GoodReads goal as 21 books (21 for 2021!) but I hope to read between 21 and 24; I think two books per month isn’t too much pressure.
I have quite a few books on my shelf I am excited to be getting on with next year! I can’t wait to get stuck into all the books in my birthday book haul, and I also have the hugely raved about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens that are sat on my shelf and ready to be read.