A Review Of Every Book I Read Last Year & How I Reached My Reading Goal

…this year, I’m taking it a little easier…

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Books, glorious books. Honestly I’m not sure what I would have done last year without my daily dose of snuggling up in bed with my Kindle* and pretending that I lived in a different world. I know some people found it hard to concentrate and loose themselves in a book with everything that was going on, but for me it felt comforting and is the one thing that remained constant in what was a pretty turbulent year. I might not have completed many puzzles, but books were where it was at. At the beginning of 2020 I set my reading goal at 50 books which is something that I have never even got close to before and was extremely pie in the sky, but little did I know that I have had more time on my hands last year than ever before and I somehow managed to squeeze out one extra – taking my 2020 reading total to 51. In terms of how I did it check out my tips in this post – but it basically comes to down the fact that I’m a numbers and data gal and Kindle is my JAM, and also I just read books that I actually want to read. It sounds like an obvious one, but it’s where I was going wrong for years. YEEEARRRSSS.

I reviewed the books that I read in the first half of 2020 here, so here’s a review of everything that I read from June onwards…

*‘Commonwealth’ by Ann Patchett. I’m having to cast my mind back here because I read this back in the early summer of 2020, but from what I remember it was a solid intergenerational family drama that tells the story of two families that are bought together then torn apart. It’s not a spot on The Dutch House, but I still enjoyed it. 4/5

*‘The Most Fun We Ever Had’ by Claire Lombardo. Ah ha – another intergenerational family drama! Here we have a couple wildly in love that give birth to four daughters, and the story spans their lifetime into adulthood. I’ve knocked off half a point here because it’s extremely long and feels like it could have been 200 pages shorter, but aside from that it was a good one. 3.5/5

*’The Vanishing Half’ by Brit Bennett. I absolutely loved this book and trust me when I say that it’s well worth the hype. Two identical twins go on to lead exceptionally different lives, with one of them secretly passing as white and the other remaining in the town they grew up in. Such an interesting story and so well put together. One of my favourites from 2020. 5/5

*‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. An absolute must-read and one that I couldn’t put down. An important look at what it is to be a person of colour in Britain today, Eddo-Lodge explores a whole range of topics from whitewashed feminism to issues eradicated from black history. 5/5

*‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ by Maya Angelou. There are eight volumes of Angelou’s autobiographical work in total and this is the first one. I need to add her others to my list because this book ends on quite the cliffhanger that left me wanting more. Beautifully written she writes about her early years  growing up in a small southern town in the U.S. 5/5

*‘Ask Again, Yes’ by Mary Beth Keane. My slightly lower mark for this is probably my own fault because once again we have an intergenerational family drama piece of fiction and I struggled so much to decipher this from Commonwealth and The Most Fun We Ever Had. But if my memory serves me correctly, if you like this genre then it’s still worth a read. 3.75/5

*‘We Are Never Meeting in Real Life’ by Samantha Irby. The second of Irby’s books which are a collection of essays that cover a whole host of mostly hilarious topics and it was a laugh out loud one for me again. I loved the stories in this volume about her cat Helen Keller, of whom she has the ultimate love/hate relationship with. Very cute. 4/5

*‘Homegoing’ by Yaa Gyasi. If you read one book this year, then make it this one. I don’t think I’ve ever read something as good as this. Each chapter follows on from a decedent of the half-sisters who the novel opens with and traces 300 years in Ghanian history. It’s an absolute masterpiece that’s heart-breaking, but such an outstanding piece of fiction. 5/5

*‘Red At The Bone’ by Jacqueline Woodson. This was a speedy read and one I’d recommend if you’ve haven’t picked up a book in a while and just want something that’s still substantial and satisfying in subject matter, but something that you could easily read over a weekend. 3.75/5

*‘The Chiffon Trenches’ by André Leon Talley. I’ve always enjoyed Talley’s turns as guest judge and mentor on various fashion reality shows I’ve watched over the years – he’s just a character and an all-round fabulous human. His stories are MAD and give a great insight into the world of high fashion and fashion journalism. I loved it. 4/5

*‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ by Ocean Vuong. This book is critically acclaimed, but I have to admit that I really struggled. It’s probably down to me as at the time I was reading it we’d just moved in with my parents and everything felt a bit in flux, so my concentration just wasn’t there – but the poetic-heavy prose was something I struggled to grasp. 3.5/5

*‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett. The story of a hostage situation during a high-society dinner, this wasn’t a plot that I’d come across before and it felt completely different to the other things that I’ve read from Patchett, but I enjoyed it and it held my attention as I managed to consume it in just a few days. 4/5

*‘Dear Martin’ by Nic Stone. Don’t dismiss this book as a piece of YA fiction that isn’t for you as I learnt a lot from Stone’s story. She tackles societal racism, toxic masculinity and police brutality and opens the readers eyes to what it means to be a black individual in the U.S right now. 4/5

*‘Nightingale Point’ by Luan Goldie. I didn’t realise at the beginning that this novel is based on a true-life event, which makes the whole thing even more harrowing. Telling the story that unfolds after an aircraft crashes into a multi-storey block of flats on an estate, it features some of the most graphic senses of death I’ve ever read. This one has stayed with me. 4/5

*‘The Colour Purple’ by Alice Walker. This book is a classic for a reason and one that I still think about months after reading. Depicting the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia and narrating their lives through pain, struggle and companionship, this novel broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse. Add this to your ‘to read’ list immediately. 5/5

*‘Trivial Pursuits’ by Raven Smith. I’d seem so much Internet buzz about Smith’s debut collection of essays and although I was proud of myself for getting the majority of his pop culture references, there were essays I enjoyed more than others. I still stand by the the fact that he would be the perfect ‘I’m at a party and I don’t know anyone‘ guest – you’d have a cracking time. Follow him on Instagram, he’s very funny. 3/5

*‘The Wife’ by Meg Wolitzer. I’d previously loved Wolitzer’s books, but this was my least favourite that I had read so far. Written from the perspective of a wife who has given up her own ambitions to support her husbands, there’s part of the plot that you don’t see coming, but it wasn’t enough to save it for me. 3/5

*‘Meaty’ by Samantha Irby. Just like Gavin & Stacey, which I bizarrely watched from end to beginning, I finished my Irby trilogy by ending with her debut book. I just love her. If you want essays that cover a range of topics from dating, to diarrhoea then this is for you. 4/5

*‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier. I read a lot of modern fiction and not that many classics, so I thought I’d dip in to the archives and have a read of this. It definitely wasn’t ‘up there’ for me, but it does make up for the slow start with a pretty explosive ending that made me want more. 3.75/5

*‘The Interior Design Handbook’ by Frida Ramstedt. I wouldn’t normally put these ‘coffee table’-esque books towards my reading goal, but this is so much more than that. If you have an interest in interior design and love a bit of theory – then this is the book for you. I read it cover to cover and can’t wait to refer back to it as we decorate. 4/5

*‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This book had been on my ‘to-read’ pile for yonks and I’d quite honestly put it off because it’s long – it’s definitely a time-investment, but it’s one that I urge you to make. One of my favourites of the year, it’s fundamentally a love story of two teenagers who grow up in Nigeria and set of on different journeys in life. It’s a tough read in parts, but an important one. 5/5

*‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides. My first thriller of the year and I gobbled this one up. I loved it  – definitely one of my favourites. It might feel slow in places, but stick with it because the twist in the tale is one that actually made me gasp out loud. It’s gooooood. 5/5

*‘If We Had Known’ by Elise Juska. The story of the aftermath of what happens after a schoolboy goes on a shooting spree in a local shopping centre; it explores the dilemma of responsibility and accountability. A powerful message and plot, I’m just not sure I really ‘got‘ this book and felt like I was missing something. 3/5

*‘The Escape Room’ by Megan Goldin. Buoyed by my discovery that I love a thriller I thought I’d give this one a go and it wasn’t half bad. It felt a lot cheesier and extreme compared to The Silent Patient, but was a quick read that I chowed down on in the matter of a few evenings. 3.75/5

*‘The Mothers’ by Brit Bennett. I thought I’d dip back in to some of Bennett’s work, seeing as I loved The Vanishing Half so much, but this story didn’t grab me in the same way. A tale of secrets, young love, ambition and familial politics, it’s still worth a read in my book. 3.5/5

*‘SantaLand Diaries’ by David Sedaris. I thought this would be a nice little pre-Christmas read, but sadly it was the more disappointing collections of Sedaris’ work that I’ve read (focusing more on his earlier work than his recent stuff which I prefer). Although I do love his stories of working as an Elf in a department store, the rest of the book fell flat for me. 2.5/5

*‘Quite’ by Claudia Winkleman. After a few disappointing reads I thought I’d mix it up with a memoir-ish non-fiction read, but it sadly didn’t really hit the spot either. Winkleman certainly imparts some wisdom – especially when it comes to romantic relationships and friendships, and there were some moments that made me chuckle, but it wasn’t my fave. 3/5

*‘Intimations’ by Zadie Smith. I’ve really enjoyed Smith’s fictional stories in the past, but this collection of essays written over the lockdown periods last year didn’t hold my attention as much. I will say that it’s worth sticking with as the pace picked up for me more towards the end. 3/5 

*‘1984’ by George Orwell. This felt like a very weird book to read at this exact moment in time, but it’s a classic that I’d never picked up before. The story of a nightmarish and bureaucratic world certainly held tension, but I wasn’t here for the long party text that was sandwiched in the middle of the book – I found that tough to get through. 4/5 

So what’s the plan now? Well I’ve decreased my Goodreads reading goal for the year somewhat to 30, so I can concentrate on reading what I want, instead of paying such close attention to the page count. And I feel like I’ve started off strong already with some crackers. If you want to see what I’m reading as always my Goodreads profile is the place that’s the most up to date and if you want to chat about books some more then the Facebook group is always a good place to come and have a natter. Right, time to dive back in to my latest read…

Photos by Mark Newton