My books of the year –2020

crime fiction highlights 20I haven’t read as many new releases as usual this year. Partly, of course, because a lot of books have been held back, but also because I’ve been turning to comfort reading. So I’m throwing new, backlist, and all genres together this year. Tap on a link to read my full review.

I’ve been looking for lighter reads and turned back to the Bernie Rhodenbarr series by Lawrence Block, Bernie is a burglar and bookseller who has a terrible knack of getting embroiled in murders. It’s funny, warm and has lots of clever genre references for the crime fiction fan.

Carl Hiaasen’s new novel Squeeze Me was great fun, even if it does show the perils of addressing topical issues. It’s about murder and corruption (and pythons on the loose!) around the Winter White House in Florida, but as it portrays a world which is both post-Covid and has a Trump presidency it already feels like another era.

The latest Val McDermid novel featuring Karen Pirie, Still Life, is a police procedural which is more escapism than realism, as the cold case detective jets off around Europe to solve two crimes which link art, reinvention and disappearing suspects.

Earlier in the year I enjoyed the atmospheric 1970s-set tartan noir Bobby March Will Live Forever by Alan Parks, which finds Glasgow in the midst of a heatwave as detectives race to find a missing child. The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel is a tense and darkly comic cat-and-mouse thriller about a young woman rebuilding her life and the return of the mother who abused her.

The Sandpit by Nicholas Shakespeare is interesting if you like a thriller with more of a literary feel. It’s a tale of espionage and corruption among the parents at an exclusive Oxford prep school. It has both an international flavour and a claustrophobic sense of the tight-knit world of privilege.

I’ve loved the Damien Seeker novels by SG MacLean, crime novels featuring a spymaster in Cromwell’s England. They are are rich in atmosphere and adventure, while also asking complex questions about conviction and commitment. So it was bittersweet to read The House of Lamentations, the final book in the series. I can’t wait to see what MacLean does next!

the gates of athens conn igguldenAfter bingeing on Conn Iggulden’s Genghis Khan series,  I was equally impressed by his latest novel, The Gates of Athens. From Marathon to Thermopylae, he brilliantly dramatises this story of a  democracy under threat, from military aggression and from its own citizens.

I discovered Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann (translated by Ross Benjamin) thanks to this great review by Susan at A Life in Books. It is a dazzlingly inventive story about an itinerant minstrel inserting himself into the chaos of the Thirty Years War, brutalised and brutal, transcending the rules of rank and allegiance, dancing to his own unfettered tune.

Otherwise I’ve been reading a lot of older literary fiction. One of my highlights was discovering Passing by Nella Larsen. This beautifully spare novella set in the Harlem Renaissance has a pervasive sense of menace and a thought-provoking final twist. 

All Adults Here by Emma Straub provides a ray of literary sunshine as a mother and her adult children come to terms with the limits their respective roles in the family have placed on them. In Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, a black babysitter and her white employer’s relationship is complicated by divisions of race, class and money.

I’ve been bingeing the backlist of authors including Tracy Chevalier, Elizabeth Strout and Anne Tyler, who I have somehow never read until now. I’ve particularly enjoyed the way Tyler blends the small dramas and deep losses of ordinary families with sharp humour, and have found her books a great place to escape to!

What have you enjoyed this year? Has lockdown changed your reading habits?

6 Comments

  1. I remember a fair few of your reviews from this list, Kate, a plus for someone like me with the memory of span of a couple of goldfish! Myself, I’ve read a lot more books than usual almost regardless of lockdown — over eighty, and counting — and have even managed to review virtually all of them. (It does help that I no longer need to hold down a job and can read at night and write crits by day.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s impressive that you’ve reviewed so many books! I’ve read a similar number to you but have only reviewed a handful. I prioritise books where I’ve had an ARC and only tend to get to others if I feel strongly about them.

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  3. I’ve loved Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout for some time and think they’re perfect reading for these strange times. The only one of the mystery writers you’ve been enjoying, whose work I’ve read much of, is McDermid…but I’d like to read more. Lockdown hasn’t really changed my reading habits very much, which is fortunate, I know. Hope you continue to stay safe and well and continue to find pleasure and comfort and distraction in your reading.

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