It’s time for the most exciting list of the year…my most favourite books read during the last year!
- I read 122 books last year
- I shortlisted 33 for this list – it took a while!
- Ten of them are novels
- Two are short story anthologies
- One is a non-fiction book
- Two were published this year
- Eight were published in the last decade (2010-2019)
- Two in the noughties (the 2000s)
- One in 1922
The books – in no particular order:
Outsiders edited by Alice Slater
A really varied, inspiring anthology of stories about outsiders – people who don’t fit in, who live outside the norm, who have something about them that’s extraordinary or different. I don’t pre-order books very often, but I pre-ordered this as soon as I heard about it, and suggested it for my short story book club – that’s how excited I was! Amazingly, it surpassed my expectations, I loved it, and I’m keeping it on my bookcase to read again and again.
Buy: 3 of Cups Press
Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan
I’m also looking forward to re-reading this anthology of stories about witches. Especially the Garth Nix story, which I’m still making up fanfic for in my head! It was just lovely to read so many different takes on the concept of witches, and I want more!
Craft of Use: Post-Growth Fashion by Kate Fletcher
I would give this book 100 stars just for giving me the term ‘craft of use’ to describe everything that happens to clothes after the fashion industry has done its thing – how people wear, repair and refashion clothes. I have long collected books on this topic – and since learning this term, made a Bookshop.org list for them. But Craft of Use is unique in that it creates the terminology and categorisation required to really take this subject seriously.
Bonus: My Craft of Use reading list on Bookshop.org
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
While everybody was reading Girl. Woman. Other and I was waiting in the library’s queue for the audiobook, I decided to listen to Mr Loverman, as I’d meant to for ages. I absolutely adored it – the narrator is just fabulous, imbuing so much life into the protagonist that it’s easy to forget he’s not real. Barry is an Antiguan gentleman who moved to London with his wife Carmel, and they’ve lived in Hackney together for over forty years, having two daughters along the way. But all is not (as Barry thinks) it seems – Barry is secretly gay. He’s been in a relationship with his best friend Morris for pretty much their whole lives. Now in his 70s, Barry has finally decided that enough is enough, he’s going to get a divorce and he’s going to live with Morris but things don’t go according to plan! It deals with homophobia in Black communities as well as the world in general, as well as more personal topics like the reactions of his daughters and grandson, and Carmel gets her own voice as well – with a few chapters showing us her point of view.
Seven Days by Eve Ainsworth
A skilfully told YA novel covering seven days in the life of a bully and her victim, I couldn’t put this down and I really want to read it again, so I can marvel at how it all comes together and how cleverly the details of both girls’ lives are revealed. Small, but perfectly formed, I would recommend this to anyone who wants to understand the complexities of teenage life.
Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais
Translated by its author, this is a YA novel about three French girls, the victims of sexist abuse, who set out on a utterly ridiculous quest to cycle to Paris in order to gate crash the president’s garden party, funding the journey by selling sausages. They’re awkward and silly and smart, and the book is funny and heartwarming – somehow fitting in serious points about friendship and family as well as a detour to the home town of the narrator’s favourite cheese…
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Published in 1922, this tells the story of two bored, lonely, middle-class married women, both dissatisfied with their husbands, who see an advert in the paper for a castle in the Italian Riviera, available to rent in April and hatch a plan to go! To save some money and make it more affordable for them they find two other women to go with them once – a young, beautiful aristocrat who is fed up of being beautiful and of all the attention she gets, and a very grumpy older woman who is obsessed with all the famous men who used to come to her family home for dinners when she was a child. Off they go to this beautiful castle in this spectacular location, which works its magic on them, shaking them out of their dull, ordinary lives. It was a holiday in a book and I want to read all the author’s other books next!
Buy: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
A novel in verse about a young queer mixed-race boy growing up, discovering drag and going to university. It’s about finding friends, standing up for yourself, and having the courage to fully express who you are, and it’s just gorgeous. Even the book as a physical object is lovely, with illustrations throughout and a gorgeous cover.
26a by Diana Evans
I gave my copy of this away after reading and kind of regret it now, though this book came out some time ago and was an award winner, so many of the friends I could have passed it on to will have read it! It’s about twins Georgia and Bessi, whose loft bedroom, ’26a’, is their refuge and land of imagination, their private world away from the troubled marriage of their British father and Nigerian mother, which they try to protect from invasions by their other sisters. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking coming-of-age story which follows the girls as they grow up and struggle to adjust to a much more separate adulthood, and ultimately trauma and grief.
The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson
I honestly think this is one of the best children’s books ever written, like Journey to the River Sea, by the same author. If only this had been around when I was a kid I know I would have loved it to pieces it would have been an absolutely battered book! It’s about a young girl, Tally, in the lead-up to World War II who starts at a very unorthodox boarding school full of weird and wonderful characters. After she settles in, she persuades them that they should go on a school trip for a dance contest in the fictional country of Bergania. There, she meets the prince of Bergania, a painfully lonely boy who desperately wants a friend – and of course Tally volunteers, but then the Nazis kidnap him and Tally and her other friends have to try and and save him. It’s a delightful book with everything you could possibly want – a boarding school, kids knowing better than adults, friendship, beauty and fighting the Nazis!
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Huang
This is a gorgeous, sexy romance novel about an autistic woman who, wanting to find a boyfriend so she can get married and have children and make her mum happy, hires an escort to help her learn how! What I loved about this modern fairytale is that it’s a reverse of the typical woman meets a billionaire trope – she’s a wealthy woman who’s very good at her job, he’s the one who needs financial help – and there’s a lot of detail about both protagonists’ family lives, which makes them seem real and complex, despite the unlikeliness of the situation.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King (review copy from NetGalley)
This is set in the 1990s and follows a writer who has been through the phase of being young and acclaimed for her youth and talent and is now trying to complete a book while working in a restaurant and dating. I picked this out on a whim from NetGalley – I’m very skeptical about books about writers and often think they’re very self-indulgent. But this was an honest reflection on what it means to be a working, everyday type of writer, working on writing around a day job, while at the same time negotiating being a person in the world, falling in love, having friends and family and all the rest.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Oh, City of Girls! The most fun I had reading a book all year. It follows a young woman in the US before World War II, who after being kicked out of university, gets sent to live with her aunt who owns a theatre in New York, as a sort of punishment. There, she gets drawn into a world of women and friendship and love and betrayal, making utterly terrible life choices along the way of working out who she wants to be, and this sets her on a path for the rest of her life. It is such a unique, delightful book, I’m desperate to read something similar, but I can’t imagine anything ever living up to it!