Hello and Happy New Year! It’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog post mostly due to the flat feeling that lockdown 3.0 has left me with. Oh and the stress of buying my first home which is starting to take its toll. We’re finally getting the keys this week all being well!
My motivation and creativity decided to take a hiatus over the Christmas break which I’m sure was the same for many others but it’s meant I’ve neglected the passions I once cared so much about. Instead, my new passion has been bookstagram – a whole community of book lovers whom I’ve loved chatting to about our favourite reads. You can find me over at @kerriesbookshelf to see what I’ve been up to.
You’re probably thinking enough rambling Kerrie, get to the point. Books and my favourites of 2020. I don’t document my reads nearly as much as I should on my blog so here’s me finally writing some longer reviews about my 5 favourite reads of 2020 that you should definitely check out.
- The Mothers – Brit Bennett
I was introduced to Brit Bennett’s work last year and was completely blown away by her ability to get straight to the heart of human emotion. She writes with such beautiful depth and honesty, broaching difficult subjects such as abortion, suicide and grief in her astounding debut.
The Mothers follows three characters; Nadia, Luke and Aubrey. The book initially focuses on Nadia grieving her Mother’s recent suicide. She becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Luke, and terrified – has an abortion.
Other themes explored in this book include the concept of ‘The Mothers’ who take the form of three church members who take an interest in Nadia’s life and aim to guide her choices within the community.
What could be an incredibly heavy and depressing narrative is expertly navigated by Bennett’s way with words. You can’t help but feel for all the characters as they experience friendship, love and loss in their small, country town.
If you love a coming of age tale that questions right and wrong then be sure to add The Mothers to your reading list.
2. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
This was one of the last books I read in 2020 and not one I would usually pick up since it’s historical fiction. Thanks to the numerous, glowing reviews on Instagram, I borrowed this one from my local library and was blown away.
It’s worth stating that there’s a lot of trauma in this book so if you’re looking for an uplifting read, this isn’t it. Instead, Pachinko is a beautifully told family saga spanning 5 decades. It follows a Korean family who immigrate to Japan amidst Japanese colonisation. Beginning in the early 1900’s, we are introduced to Sunja and her mother who run a boarding house in Korea. One day, Sunja meets a wealthy stranger who saves her from torment by a group of Japanese boys. Soon, she is caught up in a love affair with the stranger which ends abruptly when Sunja finds out the man has a wife and children back home. Pregnant and distraught, Sunja must find a man to marry or risk being disgraced as a pregnant, unmarried woman.
What follows is a chain of events that will change Sunja’s life forever. She leaves Korea for Japan with a pastor who promises to care for her and her unborn child but the pastor’s homeland isn’t the salvation Sunja was hoping for.
A novel packed full of hope, sacrifice and love, I could not put this one down. The characters are wonderfully written, their hopes and desires so painful to witness as their world falls apart around them. This book will is one I recommend frequently for those looking for a book not set in the UK or US.
3. Ask Again, Yes – Mary Beth Keane
Quite possibly my favourite book of 2020, Ask Again, Yes is the story of two neighbouring families who live in the town of Gillam, New York. The Gleesons and the Stanhopes could not be more different and despite Lena Gleeson’s attempts to befriend her neighbours, they remain cold and closed off from the rest of the street. Unbeknownst to Lena, her husband Francis used to work with Brian Stanhope at the NYPD, a fact that will become bitter and important in the latter part of the book.
The parents of these families may not be friends, but their children; Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope strike up an unlikely bond which is beautiful to see unfold over the course of the novel. As their parents become colder towards each other, the pair only grow closer but one tragic night changes everything and it will be years before the families see each other again.
Years later, Kate and Peter meet as adults and reflect on the lives they left behind all those years ago.
This is a story of loneliness, of forgiveness and loyalty beyond boundaries. It’s heart breaking, incredibly well written and every character comes alive from the page. What struck me most was how well Mary Beth Keane writes unflinchingly about parent/sibling relationships and how she contrasted this between families. I honestly didn’t want it to end and I won’t stop thinking about this book for a while.
4. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the shocking, bold and adventurous tale of orphan, Cyril Avery. Cyril is told from a young age by his adoptive parents that he’s not a ‘real Avery’. This lack of compassion is monumental to Cyril’s own understanding of what it means to love and be loved. I found this portrayal of dysfunctional families interesting and it really added to the theme of identity running through this novel.
Cyril soon mets Julian Woodbead and the two become unlikely friends. Their adventures often lead them to trouble and Julian’s friendship will have an effect on Cyril for years to come.
I loved that this novel followed the ups and downs of Cyril’s entire life and his journey towards self-acceptance. It made me laugh, gasp in horror and almost cry at how cruel the world can be.
John Boyne has created a masterpiece here with interwoven strands of a plot that work so well to keep you invested in Cyril’s story, coming to an ending that left me with a big grin on my face. I’ll remember this one for a very long time.
5. The Dutch House – Ann Patchett
The Dutch House follows the lives of brother and sister; Danny and Maeve. Beginning in their childhood home of The Dutch House, it is clear to the reader the hold that this imposing house has over the siblings.
Their life in The Dutch House is lonely and uninviting. Mourning the loss of their mother who abandoned them and their father who is caught up in a new relationship, the pair can’t wait to escape and build their own lives.
It is quite simply, a beautiful piece of writing that delves deep into the intricacies of dysfunctional families and human behaviour. The whole novel is told through Danny’s eyes but I often felt myself sympathising more with Maeve who felt more central to the narrative.
The book dealt with important issues such as feeling like you have to pursue what’s expected of you, grief and sibling relationships. So much was left unsaid by the characters that I found myself filling in gaps easily and really understanding their personalities.
Overall, it was a stunning read and I can’t wait to read more of Anne Patchett’s work.
What were your favourite books of 2020?