It’s coming up to that time of year when you’ll likely see lots of lists of ‘My Favourite Read of 2020’ or ‘Best Books of 2020’, featuring novels, non-fiction, children’s books and more. Such lists and articles often make great reading and can help you find new authors to try or books to get immersed in. Is it any wonder then that this is a bandwagon we’re wholeheartedly jumping on? We’ll talk about books any time – books we loved, books we liked, books we thought were ‘okay’ so for today’s post, here are some of the books that have entertained and captivated Warwickshire Libraries’ library staff this year.
Dune by Frank Herbert
‘Dune’ was always one of those books I wanted to read. So, in Lockdown, I did!
A sweeping epic, the science fiction sibling of Lord of the Rings, it centres around Spice, a vital commodity found only on one planet, that everybody needs to survive and a young Messiah who emerges to claim ultimate control of it.
A consuming narrative with compelling characters. Like the aforementioned Spice that everybody coverts, you’ll become addicted!
The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
How long have you gone without any contact with another person? A few hours? A few days? Christopher Knight lived alone in the woods of Maine, North America for almost 30years and did not speak to another human in all that time. Apparently on the spur of the moment, 20 year old Chris walked into the woods, abandoning his car, his job and his family. He survived by his wits, being extremely cautious and resourceful. Breaking into holiday cabins around the nearby lakes, he selectively stole food, clothes, books and other provisions, when the occupants were away. He developed ingenious ways to store food and water in order to avoid freezing to death in his tent during the harsh winters. In the process, he unwittingly terrified a community unable to solve the mysterious burglaries and over time became local myth – the North Pond hermit. He was eventually captured during a raid on a canteen in April 2013.
Based on interviews and surrounding research, this fascinating story is brought to us by a journalist who became obsessed with this tale of secluded life and the challenges faced on returning to society. It is a book that explores through its pages and the methods of bringing those pages about, experiences of solitude and our right to privacy.
I found this a struggle! I’ve read some lovely books this year so here are my top three. The first two were perfect lockdown reads for the simple reason that, while reading them, you forgot 2020 completely – pure escapism!
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow
I absolutely loved this unique book! Instantly you are drawn into its deep magic and taken on a mysterious adventure through intriguing doors to other worlds… a beautifully written fantasy novel you will savour and be reluctant to finish!
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This much-hyped book more than deserves the attention it received this year, delivering a fabulous plot, great characters and best of all a bewitchingly wild marshland setting that is beautifully described. This is another world you don’t want to say goodbye to!
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
What a delightful friendship, unusually centred around a museum exhibit featuring the remains of the Iron Age Tollund Man! You would need to read this book to understand just how I came to invest so much in this story, but let’s just say that Anne Youngson’s writing is so gentle and exquisite that by the end I had tears in my eyes.
My fiction choice is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Clarke’s follow-up to best-selling sensation Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell could not be more different in story, but it obviously comes from the same wondrous imagination. Clarke’s fans have waited 16 years for this second novel, and it was certainly worth the wait. From the first page, I was captivated by the strange world inhabited by very unreliable narrator, Piranesi. He lives a solitary life in a vast palace that he calls the House, which consists of an endless series of enormous halls, peopled by tier upon tier of statues, each unique and providing a great source of comfort and meaning to Piranesi. The House is so vast, it has its own weather system; the lower levels contain an ocean where Piranesi fishes. Some halls are flooded by tides.
Piranesi spends his days exploring the House and documenting his experiences in a journal. He loves the House and his life. By Piranesi’s reckoning, there have existed exactly 15 people — himself, the 13 skeletons he has found in various parts of the House, and a man he calls The Other, who visits him once or twice a week. Who is Piranesi? How did he come to be in the House? Who is The Other? The answers are uncovered gradually by Piranesi himself, and the story is masterfully played out for us so that the reader is given just enough to try to solve the mysteries.. This book is a beautiful study of solitude, time, and the nature of fantasy itself. It is certainly my favourite novel of 2020.
My Nonfiction choice is The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold
Jack the Ripper, whoever he was, has gone from myth to legend to industry. There’s endless speculation about his identity. But the women he killed are remembered only as victims. Hallie Rubenhold has done extensive research to reconstruct the lives of these women: Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly.
I learned so much about the precariousness of life in the Victorian period, how a family could so very easily slip from respectable working people to homelessness and indigence. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that these women were prostitutes. They were ordinary women who fell on hard times and addiction, mostly through no fault of their own. This was the best nonfiction book I read in 2020, and I highly recommend it.
The Familiars by Stacey Halls
Set in Lancaster in 1612, The Familiars tells the story of seventeen year old Fleetwood Shuttleworth. Pregnant for the fourth time, after three previous pregnancies have ended in tragedy, she is desperate to find a midwife to help her. But these were dark times, especially for women, where using herbal remedies could often lead to rumours of witchcraft with tragic consequences.
Based on the true story of the Pendle witch trials it describes female friendships and everyday life against a backdrop of suspicion and fear. Halls manages to weave fact and fiction into this spellbinding novel. An added bonus is that it has one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen.
If you enjoy historical fiction and want a female protagonist who is fierce and loyal and will feel like she’s a friend, The Familiars will be perfect for you.
The Offing by Ben Myers
This book tells the story of the unlikely friendship between a teenage boy destined to follow his father to work in the mines of post war Britain and an eccentric older woman living an isolated life in a cliff top cottage above Robin Hood’s Bay. The story highlights the way our lives can be affected by those we meet, accidentally or otherwise, regardless of age, gender, social class, or background. It reminded me to cherish every interaction no matter how insignificant it may appear to be at the time.
I read this book after a recommendation from a customer who had read it with her book group. I subsequently suggested that my partner and work colleagues read it and I love that we all took something very different away from the experience.
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde
Being the owner of a house rabbit and working for the library service, how could I not pick up a novel that starts with speed librarying in a branch library, and is about anthropomorphised rabbits who read books, drive cars and grow their own vegetables? And this is how I became introduced to the brilliant, funny and creative author that is Jasper Fforde. I now have several of his titles ready on my TBR title. I guess you can say I rather liked this book.
50 years prior to this novel’s setting an unexplained Anthropomorphising event mean rabbits live in houses, have jobs and pay taxes. The governing political party are best known as the UKARP – the United Kingdom Against Rabbit Population. When a family of rabbits move into a small village (who happen to be up for the best kept village award) their neighbour and our protagonist Peter Knox discovers you cannot be friends with both humans and rabbits…
A timely thought-provoking and amusing novel about discrimination and complicity and also a little bit about rabbits.
Well, after some agonising, I have narrowed it down to:
Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co series #1) by Anna James
Tilly discovers she is a ‘bookwanderer’ meaning that she can go into fictional stories – every bookworms dream! With the help of Anne of Green Gables, Alice (from Wonderland) and her real-life grandparents and new best friend, she unravels the mystery surrounding her mother’s disappearance. If that isn’t enough to entice, she lives in a bookstore with her grandparents which has a café selling food from fiction.
The overload of the book world coupled with mouth-watering descriptions of the food is a fantastic coupling. It’s the first of a series – the next has us wandering into volatile Fairy Tales over in Paris and the third takes us to America to battle a villain.
The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon
Because everyone should know of the life of this woman, the wonder. Her grasp and use of language amazes me.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
This is the awe-inspiring true story of Raynor and Moth’s epic challenge to walk the mighty 630-mile South-West Coast Path on impulse, their defiant response to losing their home and Moth’s terminal brain disease. I found myself rooting for them every step of the way, sharing in both their joy and sadness, as they try to redefine what ‘home’ means to them and overcome the adversity they are faced with. Be prepared to be moved by their plight but equally uplifted by their strength and endurance.
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
Brilliant – absolutely loved this. Clever, sensitive, heart breaking and intriguing. I was gripped – couldn’t wait to keep reading.
The story begins in the 1970’s when widowed mum Caroline Sears learns that her unborn baby has a heart defect and doctors believe that there is nothing anyone can do. Caroline’s brother-in-law, a physicist with a curious and secretive past, tells Caroline that it is possible something can be done to save her baby, but she must make an incredible leap of faith.
Spanning about 60 years and pushing our believes surrounding physics and the possibilities of the universe to the maximum, this book will tear at your heart strings and test your faith in how far we will go for the love, health and happiness of our children.
Me by Elton John
Utterly, utterly excellent. Brilliant to listen to, but I think it would also make a great read. Honest, open, funny, sad – brilliant. Elton John writes with such candid honesty and there are moments of laugh out loud hilarity as he recalls an anecdote, but also moments that will bring tears to your eyes. His life is more chequered and full of extravagance, exuberance, joy, sadness, addiction and love than you can ever begin to imagine before you read this – but his honesty and openness in this book is remarkable.
We hope that’s given you a few reading ideas for 2021. Some of the titles above will be available on BorrowBox as either eBooks or on eAudio, while others you’ll find listed on our catalogue for you to request.
If you’re just getting started with BorrowBox, or need any help at all, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or we have two videos – one about getting started which you can view here and a second with tips and tricks for making the most of BorrowBox, available to view here. This includes the all-important ‘hit return’ – when you’ve finished with a title, please hit the return link in your ‘My Loans’ list so that the next reader can enjoy the title.
You can also read our earlier blog post to ensure you’re a BorrowBox whizz, including finding out how to adjust the font, font size and background when reading eBooks and change the playback speed when listening to eAudio books to ensure you get a reading/listening experience that suits you.
Let us know what books you’ve enjoyed reading in 2020 and we wish you Happy Reading now and throughout 2021!