book recommendations

 As I write this, I'm currently huddled up in front of the fire, Folklore vinyl on loud, having already finished my first book of 2021 and planned out my January TBR. So I guess you could say I'm feeling good! But you don't want to know about my current situ, you're here for some book reviews. My round-up of books for 2020 was basic to say the least; all the books that you've seen on bookstagram, I picked up. Yes I tried to make my reading diverse and I also mixed it up with some non-fiction in there, but it was still nothing revolutionary. So one of my goals for this year is to discover more lesser known books through visiting my local independent book shop, because they're good at supporting indie publishers, as well as making my way through some classics that I've shamefully never picked up.

Anyway, enough of the rambling and onto my top 10; in no particular order...

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo

"Camino Rios lives for  the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people... In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal's office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance - and Papi's secrets - the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they've lost everything of their father, they learn of each other."

When I first added this to by TBR I did so based solely on the plot; I was unaware of the fact that it is written in verse. I then reconsidered picking it up, but decided I still wanted to because firstly, the plot had already drawn me in, and secondly, just because I haven't read much in verse previously doesn't mean I won't enjoy it? And enjoy it I did! In a dual narrative, Acevedo writes beautifully about grief, love and everything in between; the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives. It's a magnificently emotive story that packs a lot in and had me reaching for the tissues often. 

Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo

"A love song to modern Britain and black womanhood, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years."

After (jointly) winning the Booker prize in 2019 this was on my radar for a while before I actually got around to picking it up. Evaristo writes so vibrantly of contemporary Britain, twisting between 12 narratives, each of which are cleverly interwoven in subtle ways. With a seamless feminist narrative, it speaks of race; living and surviving in a white dominant culture and its implications and repercussions, the broad church of thinking when it comes to the definition of black and the questions of identity. When I tell you I couldn't put this down! I have since picked up further works of Evaristos and am excited to get stuck into them this year.

Daisy Jones & the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

"A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s (fictitious) rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous break up."

I put off reading this book for quite some time, simply because of the hype it was getting and the fact I didn't think it would live up to it. But boy was I wrong! The unique, intriguing, captivating writing style was second to none and this book left me feeling convinced that Daisy Jones & The Six simply must have been a real band. I was so gripped by the story, the characters and even the song lyrics interwoven into the tale; hearing that Reese Witherspoons production company bought the rights to turn this into an Amazon series is beyond exciting! This is another one that I loved so much, I had to pick up more of the authors work and I am currently reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo which is just as (if not more so) wonderfully emotive.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Christy Lefteri

"Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain."

I would really struggle to pick a favourite of these books, but this one is by far the most beautifully written with such a heartbreaking, realistic rendering of the refugee experience. Lefteri seamlessly bridges the past to the present through flashbacks, Nuri's dreams and nightmares, and the simple, yet very affecting way in which the last word of a chapter is the first word of the next. It's not a very long book but it's certainly not a quick read; it's one that will sit with you long after you finish it. A beautiful story of love, loss and hope, I can't wait to get stuck in Lefteris other work.

top books of 2020

Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata

"Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of "Smile Mart", she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her increasingly pressure her to find a husband and start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action.."

My first foray into Japanese literature, this short, darkly quirky story was a wonderful introduction! It was so unique, such a refreshing read to anything I'm used to, and the perfect choice for me to conclude my 2020 reading. I felt warmth to Keiko throughout the story, despite her sometimes darker inclinations, and yes she is a bit weird, but this is certainly a story to open up conversation about fulfillment and success in life. If you're happy and enjoy your job, what's so wrong with that? Do we all have to pursue career paths? Is it weird when women are not in a relationship? Do women have to become mothers? At times funny, at times sad, always compelling.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng

"Set in the fictional suburb of Shaker Heights, where everything is planned, this book follows the arrival of artist Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl, their relationship with the Richardson family whom they rent an apartment from, and sees a custody battle over the attempted adoption of a Chinese-American baby by friends of the Richardsons."

This book is filled with so many scenarios with so many questions and no perfect answers. But it's a book that, for the first time in a long time, challenged my mind and problem solving skills!  I absolutely loved this book; I loved the characterisation, the plot, the story-telling; but I must say the Amazon Prime series doesn't quite cut it for me. Ng's first novel, Everything I Never Told You, however, has shot to the top of my TBR. 

Normal People, Sally Rooney

"At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He's popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne's house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers - one they are determined to conceal."

Oh My God, did I love this book! I feel like it ripped my heart out and put it back together with a missing piece I will never get back. It's hard to put my finger on why exactly I found this so compelling, but Rooney is simply a literary genius. Exploring the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship, if I was forced to pick a favourite from this list, I think it would have to be Normal People. Don't even get me started on the BBC adaptation and how many times I watched it last year..

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

"Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Facing pressure from all sides of the community, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what's right."

An incredibly written book that was brought to the forefront of my attention during the latest wave of the Black Lives Matter protests, this is absolutely one of the most important reads that I would recommend to everyone. It made me cry multiple times, but I simply couldn't put it down. When you find a book that combines being an important read with a political/social message, and being well-written, gripping and emotionally charged, it's rare. But boy is it good when you find them! With light-hearted moments of joy to make you smile among the often heavy themes, The Hate U Give really covers everything you could want in such a book. It's a truly eye-opening look into racial bias in the justice system in America with phenomenal characterisation and heart-warming family dynamics that I simply adored.

Such A Fun Age, Kiley Reid

"In the midst of a family crisis late one evening, white blogger Alix Chamberlain calls her African-American babysitter, Emira, asking her to take toddler Briar to the local market for distraction. There, the security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, and Alix's efforts to right the situation turn out to be good intentions selfishly mismanaged."

This book had me gripped so much so that I finished it in only 2 days! It's a very current read, which I thought might be a bad thing, but I think it actually made it more readable. It's a disheartening yet not at all surprising story, which gives an insight into how white people, however well-intentioned, can get it so so wrong by just not listening to Black people/POC, their experiences and their needs. I cringed at multiple parts of the story and definitely have a lot to say about Alix and her friends, but the characterisation was really well done and the relationship between Emira and Briar was just wonderful. A book just on those two would've been great!

The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett

"The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past."

Spanning decades from the 1950's up to the 1990's we see multiple strands and generations of the Vignes family. Dealing with racism, colourism, LGBTQ+ and domestic violence, with a heavy focus on the conflicted sense of identity and the turmoil that comes with it, this was such a compelling read. Brit Bennett is an absolute genius and her debut novel, The Mothers, is certainly high up on my TBR for this year.

What was your favourite read of 2020?

Loves. Emma.

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