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Favourite Reads of 2020

Favourite Reads of 2020

At the time of writing this I have read 116 books and as much as I enjoy top 10 lists, I simply can’t parse those down to ten. I’ve tried. And tried. So because 2020 was hard enough without adding more stress, I’m listing out my 15 favourite reads. So here we go, in no particular order, the best of the best of a year that was … less than the best.

Three Things About Elsie

Three Things About Elsie book coverWritten by Joanna Cannon

Published by The Borough Press

While this list is in no particular order, Three Things About Elsie was my favourite of them all. I adored this sweet story, maybe more so because I listened to it as an audiobook that really brought Florence’s voice to life. This story is a bit thriller/mystery and a bit literary fiction, taking place at an elderly care facility and told through the perspective of 84 year old Florence Clayborn. A new resident has recently arrived at Cherry Tree nursing home. He is friendly, handy, a wee-bit mysterious and is quickly befriended by the staff and other residents. But Florence is certain she knows this man from her past and he wasn’t the kind, easy-going man he now appears. Unfortunately no-one believes her, thinking she is simply old and confused … except kind hearted Jack and her best friend Elsie. As Florence awaits her rescue on her apartment floor, after falling one evening, she takes us on a journey of her long forgotten past. Through memories of painful secrets, and recollections of recent events, the mystery of this strange man is slowly exposed. This strange man that Florence just happened to see die decades earlier. Three Things About Elsie genuinely moved me; it touched my heart, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me angry and it made me think. Ultimately a story of everlasting friendship and the painful path of forgiving oneself, what will truly last for me is the conversation on our treatment and attitudes towards the elderly. Our impatience, our ignorance, and our arrogance is called upon in this gentle book, highlighting a voice we seldom hear from in fiction. I will never forget Florence and the enchanting cast of characters Joanna Cannon created.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Writers & Lovers

Writers & Lovers book coverWritten by Lily King

Published by HarperCollins

This is such a carefully constructed novel, with its razor-sharp, scalpel precise sentences that created such a fast moving, compulsively readable narrative. 31 year old Casey Peabody should have her life figured out by now. Highly educated with numerous degrees, languages, and life experiences under her belt … and the debt to go with it … she longs to finish her novel, clinging to the dream of living a creative life as all her friends continue to find employment, marry, and have children. Instead she is working as a waitress in Harvard Square, in the summer of 1997, living in a tiny, moldy room on the side of a garage, bicycling to and from work, and struggling under the weight of debt and grief over her mother’s sudden passing. A true story of becoming an adult, holding on to one’s passions in the face of societal pressures and the real struggles of your early thirties to have everything figured out. With brilliant observations on sexism, grief, the challenge of living an honest life creatively and personally will resonate with anyone struggling to answer “what do I want to do with my one precious life?” Casey stole my heart right away and I simply loved this book.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Kingdom of Copper

The Kingdom of CopperWritten by S.A. Chakraborty

Published by Harper Voyager

I read this glorious fantasy series in its entirety this year and it absolutely blew me away – while I want to recommend the entire series on this list, it was book two that really stood out for me (which hardly ever happens as sequels tend to flounder in my opinion). It is hard to explain much about this book without spoiling, as it is a sequel, but here’s a brief synopsis of The City of Brass: When Nahri, a young con woman and talented healer trying to survive the streets of 18th Century Cairo, accidentally summons Dara – a powerful ancient warrior djinn – her life changes in an instant. Not only does he possess answers to the powers that have haunted her life but she is now on the run from the Ifrit (powerful djinn and sworn enemy of her kind). Ghouls, Ifrit, beasts of air and beasts of water chase her and Dara as they flee to the magical city of the gods: Daevabad, the elusive City of Brass. The city is ripe with magic, fire, and blood – as persecutions and resentments run deep after a war changed the political landscape of this magical world 1400 years ago … and Nahri now finds herself in the centre of these tensions and the civil war that is about to break it apart. I am blown away by the talent this author possesses – through her dynamic world building, her exemplarily crafted characters and the constant, careful building to an explosive, shocking conclusion … she’s left me woven in her spell. If you’re a fantasy lover sitting on this series … go read it.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Himself

Himself book coverWritten by Jess Kidd

Published by Washington Square Press

Why a crime/thriller/horror/murder story is on my favourites list, I have no idea, because none of these are genres I typically enjoy or seek out. It must be the exceptional writing in Jess Kidd’s debut novel – which I still can’t believe is a debut because it is so polished, perfectly paced, and expertly delivered! It’s 1976 and Mahony is returning to the small Irish village in which he was born to finally solve the mystery behind his mother’s disappearance and his abandonment at an orphanage when he was a baby. After being delivered a mysterious letter from a nun, Mahony learns his true name is Francis Sweeny, his mother was Orla Sweeny, and that the “curse of the town” of Mulderrig took her from him. Mahony’s arrival in Mulderrig is met with a mixture of curiosity and open hostility. Those who don’t trust outsiders, those who want to forget the past, and those who are fascinated by this handsome stranger. He stirs up not only the local residents but also the local ghosts, because Mahony has an interesting ability … he can see and communicate with the dead. With their help and the help of some eccentric brazen women, Mahony is determined to solve the mystery (murder?) of his mother. While Mahony is a fine central character, it is the brazen, eccentric women that surround him and champion his journey that really shine in this story.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing book coverWritten by Delia Owens

Published by Penguin Books

If Barbara Kingsolver, Fannie Flag, and Harper Lee created a literary child, it would be Delia Owens. This impeccably detailed, well drawn story is incredibly reminiscent of some of my absolute favourite novels: Animal Dreams, Welcome to the World Baby Girl, The Giver of Stars and To Kill a Mockingbird. Delia Owens writes with the unhurried detail of a very confident, experienced writer, which is even more impressive considering this is her first foray into fiction. This gorgeously written, almost sedative story follows Kya, a young, uneducated “marsh girl” surviving on her own in the North Carolina swamplands of Berkley Cove. When the local golden boy Chase Andrews is discovered dead, all prejudiced eyes turn to Kya as the murderer. What is the truth? Will it be enough to overcome deep rooted prejudice? This is a heartfelt story with a vividly detailed exploration into the natural environment of the North Carolina swampland, Delia Owens weaves a compelling whodunit with a captivating coming of age romance, all the while exposing the incredible tenderness and cruelty of the human condition.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Piranesi

Piranesi book coverWritten by Susanna Clarke

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

Simply put, this short, but perfectly timed, adult fantasy story expanded my mind as to what fantasy could be. It was such an odd little book that really carves out a unique literary space while still prevailing upon well-honed paths of alternate worlds and magical portals. A home made of stone with infinite rooms and infinite halls, in which the bottom floors house the ocean and the top floors house the weather. There are crumbled corridors, fresh water lakes with fish, deadly tides that can rise the staircases at any moment, and rather than filled with living people, this strange home is stuffed with an infinite number of stone statues. This is the place that Piranesi calls home. He and “The Other” are the only living people in residence. Once a week Piranesi meets with The Other to conduct research, seeking out The Great Knowledge that they believe to be located somewhere inside. The Great Knowledge may allow them to control minds of lesser beings, telecommunicate, control the weather, and many other potential possibilities. But as Piranesi explores these infinite halls, he begins to discover possible evidence that there may be another living person. Shifting his focus from hunting for The Great Knowledge to finding information on this other person, all his truths begin to unravel … maybe there are worlds beyond the one he has always known. Written in journal style from Piranesi’s perspective, this wonderfully eccentric little book will likely become a new favourite for those readers who seek the odd, the singular, and the imaginative journey that a powerfully talented storyteller can take you on.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock book coverWritten by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Published by HarperCollins

I think what has stuck with me the most with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is that it was so utterly original and I truly can’t compare it to anything else! The story has elements of historical fiction – taking place in France in the late 1700s – but also magical realism and romance. London, September 1785. Jonah Hancock, the son of a merchant son of a merchant’s son, is anxious to hear news of his ship which has been delayed for months now with no word. An urgent knocking at his door is about to change the course of his comfortable, quiet, lonely existence. His captain has returned and informs Jonah that he has sold his ship in exchange for a dead mermaid – no idyllic siren mermaid, but rather a goblin-like tiny creature with fangs and claws. The captain tells Hancock to set up pay-for viewings around London coffee shops and, perplexed as to what else to do, he follows the advice. As news spreads throughout curious London, Jonah Hancock is thrust into an entirely new, exhaustingly unnavigable world of upper class London and wealth, but also the grittier underbelly of brothels and prostitutes. At a party, he meets Angelica Neal, a beautiful courtesan & prostitute trying to climb her way to independence. Together, their lives intertwine as they navigate an often perilous journey, both with the hope for a better, freer future. A story that is ultimately about the fight for individual independence, freedom, and love, and while it definitely isn’t for everyone (see full review for content warnings and more information), I was blown away by the originality here, the incredibly detailed, well researched characters and 18th century world building.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Other Bennet Sister

The Other Bennet Sister book coverWritten by Janice Hadlow

Published by Henry Holt & Co.

Let’s take another look at Pride & Prejudice’s Mary Bennet – maybe the plain, brainy, wallflower of the family deserves a better ending? Maybe even one on par with her beautiful older sisters? Janice Hadlow explores this very concept in The Other Bennet Sister, retelling bits of the iconic story through the lens of Mary and continuing the tale past the Pride & Prejudice ending. Much like an Austen novel, at it’s core this is a story of discovering yourself and learning to accept who you are to truly be happy, but Mary’s story takes us out of the grande country estates and into the heart of London, centring on the social circles, cafes, and regulations of a completely different side of traditional Jane Austen stories. Both modern and classic at once, overlooked Mary finally gets the attention and ending she so rightly deserves. I listened to this as an audiobook and it was one of my favourites of the year, relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable, this story is going to appeal to die-hard fans of Austen, as well as the casual acquaintances (hi!), as we follow this extraordinary woman in her fight for agency and to be known for her own mind and intelligence in the shadow of her beautiful sisters.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Black Sun

Black Sun book coverWritten by Rebecca Roanhorse

Published by Simon & Schuster

This utterly unique, multi point-of-view story absolutely blew me away with its spectacular characters, mesmerizing world, and deliciously paced, compulsively readable plot. A fantasy story set in the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas, rather than typical Caucasian European settings that predominate in the genre, Black Sun absolutely shines as Roanhorse draws on the great birth of historical and cultural richness of the area. The winter solstice is quickly approaching in the city of Tova – the holy metropolis nestled high in the clouds and home to The Watchers – the Sun Priest, Priest of Knives, Priest of Succor (healing), and the Priest of Records. Normally a time of celebration this year’s solstice aligns with a solar eclipse, a rare cosmic event that the newly minted Sun Priest, Naranpa, foresees as a great unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship captained by the smart talking Xiala – an exiled siren from the watery world of the Teek – is headed to Tova with a very precious and unique piece of cargo: Serapio, a blind young man who must reach the city before the solstice in order to fulfill a prophecy that will change the Meridian Kingdom forever. Perfectly paced, perfectly timed, crackling characters, political intrigue, magical abilities, ordained destines, whip-smart dialogue and a truly amazing world left me eating up this story in giant gulps.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong book coverWritten by James McBride

Published by Riverhead Books

This was simply fantastic. It was brutal, it was raw, it was complicated and intelligent and emotional and hard-hitting. Oh, and it was funny as all heck! Listening to the audiobook elevated the voices even higher and the authenticity of that experience was really unforgettable. It’s a hot 1969 September day at Brooklyn’s Causeway Housing Project when Sportcoat, the harmless, bumbling church deacon, walks up to the biggest drug dealer of the projects and, for reasons unknown to anyone, shoots him. What follows is a deep dive into the heart of why Sportcoat made this choice, and its impact on the people surrounding the event: Sportcoat himself, the Black and Latinx residents of the projects, crime families, drug lords, corrupt & honest police, and the victim. Ultimately a carefully constructed, slowly built, but powerful novel spotlighting marginalized groups in housing projects, James McBride gives us a very honest, very real look at humanity in all its forms. Greed, corruption, mistakes, the quest for truth, love, forgiveness. Never looking down on any particular group, he simply gives us a thoroughly introspective conversation into the human condition and what I found particularly powerful, is that even through its seediest underbelly, he writes with an undercurrent of hope.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Legendborn

Legendborn book coverWritten by Tracy Deonn

Published by Simon & Schuster

This was the YA I had been wanting to read all dang year and finally – finally! – someone delivered! Thank you Tracy Deonn!! This was such an incredibly enjoyable story that combined elements of fantasy, an Arthurian legend retelling, magical societies, contemporary YA, and excellent conversations on race, grief, sexism, patriarchy and history. After losing her mother in a car accident, 16 year old Bree Matthews has shut down. Throwing up internal concrete protective walls to keep herself safe from further pain, she keeps everyone at a distance and readily accepts the opportunity to leave home and attend UNC-Chapel Hill, a South Carolina college with early age admissions. Attending the traditional first night college party at a local quarry, Bree witnesses something unbelievable – a demon feeding on the aggressive energies of fighting frat boys. Further, a mysterious dark haired mage, who calls himself a “Merlin”, kills and banishes the demon and wipes Bree’s memory of the incident … but it doesn’t work. Now thrown into the world of the Legendborn – a secret magical society descendant from Arthur and the Knights of the round table – she discovers she herself has magical powers, an ancient magical war is brewing, and she might be central to the fight. Legendborn is powerful, gripping, propulsive and beats along at an electric pace.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Uprooted

Uprooted book coverWritten by Naomi Novik

Published by Del Rey

The reason this has landed on my favourites list, even though I had some struggles with pacing and dense writing, is because it was my very first read of the year and after 115 other stories landed on top of it … I still clearly remember it, I still think about it, and I still marvel at it. An evil, malevolent, and murderous wood is determined to consume the kingdom. One wise, immortal wizard, known simply as the Dragon, is the people’s only protection. His price? Every ten years he selects one girl to serve him. He doesn’t harm them, but they are forever changed when they return and find they can no longer reside in village life. Agnieska, born in a selection year, has known her whole life that her beautiful best friend Kasia will be selected and she’ll be left all alone. But selection day does not go as predicted and it is not Kasia who is chosen. At first terrified, but full of fire, Agnieska has no idea what it is she is expected to do. She can’t cook, she can’t clean, she is clumsy and difficult and accident prone. The Dragon is a clean, precise, perfectionist. They verbally spar and grate on each other’s nerves, but Agnieska quickly learns she is different from other selected girls – discovering hidden powers inside herself that only the Dragon can help her tame. As the terrifying wood draws closer and closer, Agnieska will have to harness her powers and strength to save the people and land she loves. While there are definite Beauty and the Beast nods/themes throughout the story, Uprooted takes on a whole new identity and is all the better for it. A thoroughly plotted, at times slow, completely enveloping story for fans of stories that take their time, develop a world, and break formulas. Those looking to move away from formulaic, trope-laden fantasy will be fully enchanted here.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches book coverWritten by Alix E. Harrow

Published by Hachette Book Group

It’s 1893 and witches are no longer. Once powerful, revered, and free, witching has been reduced to simple spells to clean the dishes and keeping the white linens spotless. The right to vote is the only way for a woman to seek her power and right to autonomy. When the estranged Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth and Beatrice Belladonna – converge again in New Salem and join the suffragist movement, they quickly realize this will not be a fast, nor fair, fight. Gentle demonstrations are getting them nowhere. Turning to the lost words and ways of witching they hope to restore women’s internal power and free them from the corrupt hands of men. But dark shadows lurk at every corner and severe, deadly punishment awaits all who are caught. Can the sisters restore the lost ways before it’s too late? Or will they simply ignite another deadly period of purging and the burning of women? A hefty read with ambitious goals – combining numerous elements and plot lines: the rights and powers of women, estranged family, witching, spells, observational commentary on our current political environment, fantasy, magic, the suffragist movement, and the unbendable power of women raising women … The Once and Future Witches could easily have been an overworked, complicated disaster. But Alix E. Harrow, with her thorough, elegant writing and slowly built plotting, brings the elements together with a steady hand. A lush magical tale woven with wonderful elements of female empowerment, delicious witchcraft, and classical storytelling.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Fountains of Silence

The Fountains of Silence book coverWritten by Ruta Sepetys

Published by Philomel Books

A hard hitting crossover historical fiction that will appeal to both the YA and Adult audience, Ruta Sepetys takes us to 1950s Madrid and the terror of life under the dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. After years of civil war, Spain has just opened its doors to American tourism and eighteen year old Daniel (son of a Texan oil tycoon) has arrived at the historic Castellana Hotel. An eager budding photographer, Daniel wants to break away from his father’s business and pursue a career as a photographic journalist. Hoping to win a scholarship contest, he sets out to photograph Spain in an honest new light. The journey is a gut wrenching, eye opening experience as he is guided by the gentle Ana (a maid at the hotel) and a cast of Spanish civilians that he meets. Uncomfortable secrets are exposed through his photographs and danger lies with each step as those with power try to maintain those secrets. The tragedy of this time period, the danger of silence, and the startlingly scary parallelism to classism and politics of today is remarkable. Ruta Sepetys has done extensive research and has tried to show the history in a respectful light. The included photographs, documents and excerpts continually brought home the reality of this history and the strength of her message. An excellent historical fiction that will haunt you.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Boneless Mercies

The Boneless Mercies book coverWritten by April Genevieve Tucholke

Published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux

It was almost a DNF, but I ended up captivated by this slowly building, yet quietly compelling story. While the ending did let me down and left me somewhat befuddled, I couldn’t leave this dark horse off my list because of how thoroughly it engrossed me. The Boneless Mercies, an ancient all-female sect, are responsible for killing the weak, the sick, and the old in this ancient Vorseland world. It is brutal, lonely, exhausting work and Frey is ready to cast it aside. So when she hears of a murderous beast that is ravaging villages and leaving few survivors, Frey sees this as her opportunity to hand in her Mercy robes for a chance at independence, freedom, and glory. Together Frey and her tribe of three fierce female mercies – Ovie, Runa, and Juniper – and Trigve, their honorary male mercy and healer, will head on a cross country journey encountering evil Marsh witches, cruel Jarls, wolves with blood red fur, and witches of the sea before coming face to face with the Blue Vee Beast. Their journey will have everlasting consequences for themselves, the people of Blue Vee, and women throughout the land. Holding nothing back, this story is gory, violent, and fierce. Strongly poetic writing that is calmly, and deliberately developed in a fully realized ancient world chock-full of very real girl empowerment. Part mythological, part fairytale, and part folklore, I was completely spellbound.

Full review HERE.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

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Cherylhttps://www.aotales.com
Welcome to And other tales. The little corner of the interweb where we don’t count cups of coffee, believe cancelling plans to stay home & read is just good life advice, refuse to acknowledge the calories in baked goods and will never judge you on the number of marshmallows in your hot chocolate or the size of your TBR piles. Curl up, get comfy and click through for book reviews, life chats, playlists, vegan & gluten free baking recipes, gift guides and more.
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