24 Books You Should Have Read In 2020

This year has had its fair share of literary hits. And the good news is, there’s still some time left this year to catch up. So, if you plan to spend the holidays curled up with a book or two, here are 24 of our favourites from 2020 to keep you company…

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon has a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. But their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs and their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week. Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written. Winner of the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2020, this is a must-read.

“Miraculous.” – Observer

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The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré

Adunni is a 14-year-old Nigerian girl who knows what she wants: an education. This, her mother has told her, is the only way to get a “louding voice”, the ability to speak for herself and decide her own future. But instead, Adunni’s father sells her to be the third wife of a local man who is eager for her to bear him a son and heir. When Adunni runs away to the city, hoping to make a better life, she finds that the only other option is servitude to a wealthy family. As a yielding daughter, a subservient wife, and a powerless slave, Adunni is told, by words and deeds, that she is nothing. But while misfortunes might muffle her voice for a time, they cannot mute it. A powerful, emotional debut novel told in an unforgettable way.

“A stunning novel – original, beautiful and powerful.” – Rosamund Lipton, author of Three Hours

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Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s debut novel is a page-turning, big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both. Alix is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. So, she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira, is confronted by a security guard in a high-end supermarket. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, he accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. But when the video unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves – and each other.

“Buoyed by a tight narrative structure, Such a Fun Age is a compulsive read.” – Elle

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Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

From the bestselling author of Rich and Pretty comes a suspenseful and provocative novel keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped – and unexpected new ones are forged – in moments of crisis. Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage children and a taste of the good life in the luxury home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are the owners of the house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area – with the TV and internet down, and no phone service – it’s hard to know what to believe. Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple – and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilisation, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other? 

“Alam's deployment of creepy, inexplicable detail is masterful… This is a thrilling book – one that will speak to readers who have felt the terror of isolation in these recent, torturous months and one that will simultaneously, as great books do, lift them out of it.” – Vogue

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The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher is the newest thriller from crime author Tana French. Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After 25 years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat, and starts to realise that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets. Perfect reading for dark evenings.

“This hushed suspense tale about thwarted dreams of escape may be her best one yet... its own kind of masterpiece.” – Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post

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There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

Kikuko Tsumura has won numerous literary awards in her native Japan. The enormously successful There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job is the first of her books to be translated into English. A young woman walks into an employment agency and requests a job that requires no reading, no writing – and, ideally, very little thinking. She is sent to a nondescript office building where she is tasked with watching the hidden-camera feed of an author suspected of storing contraband goods. As she moves from job to job, writing bus adverts for shops that mysteriously disappear, and composing advice for rice cracker wrappers that generate thousands of devoted followers, it becomes increasingly apparent that she's not searching for the easiest job at all, but something altogether more meaningful.

“Polly Barton's translation skilfully captures the protagonist's dejected, anxious voice and her deadpan humour... imaginative and unusual” Times Literary Supplement

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The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel

With The Mirror & The Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, and between royal will and a common man’s vision. It begins in May 1536 – Anne Boleyn is dead. Cromwell emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles into short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour. At 800-pages long, this one’s guaranteed to keep you going through the festive break…

It is a book not read, but lived.”Telegraph

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Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

Nina Dean has arrived at her early 30s as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a romantic who tells her on date one that he's going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan. A new relationship couldn't have come at a better time – her 30s have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone's moving to the suburbs. There's no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who's caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is suffering from dementia. Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with the smart observations about relationships and family you’d expect from the bestselling author of Everything I Know About Love.

I loved it – Dolly Alderton has clearly mastered every form of writing. Which is a surprise to nobody.” – Candice Carty-Williams

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Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

From the author of the bestselling Convenience Store Woman comes Earthlings. Natsuki isn't like the other girls. Together with her cousin Yuu, she spends her summers in the wild Nagano mountains, hoping a spaceship will take her home. When a terrible sequence of events threatens to part the cousins for ever, they make a promise: survive, no matter what. Now, Natsuki is grown. She lives quietly in an asexual marriage, pretending to be normal and hiding the horrors of her childhood from her family and friends. But dark shadows from Natsuki's past are pursuing her. Fleeing the suburbs for the mountains of Nagano, Natsuki prepares herself for a reunion with Yuu. Will he still remember their promise? And will he help her keep it? A dark and magical reckoning with what it might take to survive a shattered life, Earthlings will leave you reeling.

Shocking, heartbreaking and very funny. In short, another cult classic from the author of Convenience Store Woman.” – The Bookseller

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The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale

London, 1938. Alma Fielding, an ordinary young woman, begins to experience supernatural events in her suburban home. Nandor Fodor – a Jewish-Hungarian refugee and chief ghost hunter for the International Institute for Psychical research – begins to investigate. In doing so he discovers a different and darker type of haunting: trauma, alienation, loss – and the foreshadowing of a nation's worst fears. As the spectre of fascism lengthens over Europe, and as Fodor's obsession with the case deepens, Alma becomes ever more disturbed. With daring and insight, the award-winning pioneer of historical narrative non-fiction Kate Summerscale follows Fodor's enquiry, delving into long-hidden archives to find the human story behind a very modern haunting.

“As gripping as a novel. An engaging, unsettling, deeply satisfying read.” – Sarah Waters

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Daddy by Emma Cline

The stories in Emma Cline's (The Girls) first collection consider the dark corners of human experience, exploring the fault lines of power between men and women, parents and children, past and present. A man travels to his son's school to deal with the fallout of a violent attack and to make sure his son will not lose his college place. But what exactly has his son done – and who is to blame? A young woman trying to make it in LA, working in a clothes shop while taking acting classes, turns to a riskier way of making money but will be forced to confront the danger of the game she's playing. And a family coming together for Christmas struggle to skate over the lingering darkness caused by the very ordinary brutality of a troubled husband and father. These outstanding stories examine masculinity, male power and broken relationships, while revealing those moments of misunderstanding that can have life-changing consequences. Subtle and sophisticated, these stories are unforgettable.

These stories live in the odd corners of the world, Cline's talent at uncovering the seedy and somehow bringing it to beautiful light is brilliant. These are understated gems.” – Daisy Johnson, author of Sisters

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The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

From the bestselling author of the Neapolitan quartet comes this powerful new novel set in a divided Naples. The mysterious Elena Ferrante is unsurpassed in her ability to draw readers into her books from the very first page and she proves this again with The Lying Life of Adults. Twelve-year-old Giovanna’s pretty face has changed: according to her father it’s turning into the face of an ugly, spiteful adolescent – and that of an aunt’s she’s never met. But is she seeing things as they really are? And which mirror should she look in to find her true self? Originally published in Italian last year, The Lying Life of Adults fast became another hit for Ferrante in her home country. Now published in a further 40 countries as of this month – and translated by Ann Goldstein for the UK version – we predict another bestseller – and perhaps another HBO adaptation.

"Modern, urgent, truthful." – Lucy Hughes-Hallett, The Telegraph

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The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This classic murder mystery is the first book in The Thursday Murder Club series by TV presenter Richard Osman. In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing 80, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can this unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it's too late? A wonderfully modern and witty update on the classic whodunnit.

“So smart and funny. Deplorably good.” – Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus novels

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Sisters by Daisy Johnson

Something unspeakable has happened to sisters July and September. Desperate for a fresh start, their mother Sheela moves them across the country to an old family house that has a troubled life of its own. Noises come from behind the walls, lights flicker of their own accord, sleep feels impossible and dreams are endless. In their new, unsettling surroundings, July finds that the fierce bond she's always had with September – forged with a blood promise when they were children – is beginning to change in ways she cannot understand. Taut and profoundly moving, Sisters explodes with the fury and joy of adolescence and the equal pull of sibling love and sibling envy. A must for anyone after a gripping read.

“A short sharp explosion of a gothic thriller.” – Observer

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The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel 

From the award-winning author of Station Eleven, this exhilarating novel is set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events – a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea. Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.

“A lovely, beautifully written and constructed novel that I couldn’t put down, full of memorable, unusual characters… Mandel’s agility with time in this story was a marvel.” – Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale

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The Vanishing Half by 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 16, 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. Ten 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. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a riveting, emotional family story.
 
“The Vanishing Half is an utterly mesmerising novel. It seduces with its literary flair, surprises with its breath-taking plot twists, delights with its psychological insights, and challenges us to consider the corrupting consequences of racism on different communities and individual lives. I absolutely loved this book.” – Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize 2019
 
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Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers 

It’s 1957 in the south-east suburbs of London. Jean Swinney is a features writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and – on the brink of 40 – living a limited existence with her truculent mother. When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more she investigates, the more her life becomes strangely intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen herself, her husband Howard and her charming daughter Margaret. But they are the subject of the story Jean is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. Jean cannot bring herself to give up the chance of finally tasting happiness, but there will be a price to pay.
 
“This is one of the most tender, beautiful books I have ever read. Please, please order it now. I honestly don't want you to be without it. It is exquisite.” – Lucy Mangan, author of Bookworm
 
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Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional and physical connection that neither has previously experienced. In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton. But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail – one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the trade-offs all of us must make in building a life.

“Deviously clever… Sittenfeld’s Hillary is both a player in the Game of Thrones and a romance novel heroine. She’s a brilliant badass who has found her voice and knows how to use it. She’s whoever she wants to be.” – O: The Oprah Magazine  
 
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The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

At a family wedding, the four Sorenson sisters dot the green lawn in their summer pastels, with varying shades of hair and varying degrees of unease. Their long-infatuated parents watch on with a combination of love and concern. Sixteen years later, the already messy lives of the sisters are thrown into turmoil by the unexpected reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier – and suddenly the rich and varied tapestry of the Sorensons' past is revealed. Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us. A lovely, long read that will keep you gripped as the tale weaves between decades and voices.

“Like Meg Wolitzer. A forensic dissection of family past and present, I loved it. If you like reading about relationships, this one is for you.” – Pandora Sykes, The High-Low

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Sex & Vanity by Kevin Kwan

The author of the bestselling Crazy Rich Asians returns with a glittering tale of a young woman who finds herself torn between two men: the fiancé of her family’s dreams and George Zao, the man she is desperately trying to avoid falling in love with. On her very first morning on the jewel-like island of Capri, Lucie Churchill sets eyes on George and instantly can’t stand him. The daughter of an American-born Chinese mother and a blue-blooded New York father, Lucie has always sublimated the Asian side of herself in favour of the white side, and she adamantly denies having feelings for George. But several years later, when George unexpectedly appears in East Hampton, where Lucie is weekending with her new fiancé, Lucie finds herself drawn to George again. Soon, Lucie is spinning a web of deceit that involves her family, her fiancé, the co-op board of her Fifth Avenue apartment building, and ultimately herself as she tries to deny George entry into her world – and her heart. Moving between summer playgrounds of privilege, peppered with decadent food and extravagant fashion, Sex & Vanity is a modern love story and a brilliant comedy set between two cultures.

“An intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View.” – Publishers Weekly

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Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with an unforgettable portrait of an artist as a young woman. Blindsided by her mother's sudden death and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody arrives in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, mouldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she's been writing for six years. At 31, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. But when she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more.

“Exuberant and affirming, it's funny and immensely clever, emotionally rare and strong. I feel bereft now I've finished.” – Tessa Hadley, author of Late In The Day

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Vanessa Wye was 15 years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now 32 and the teacher, Mr Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student. Vanessa is horrified by this news: the relationship she had with Strane wasn't abuse, it was love. Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa must redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape, as well as deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many. Nuanced, uncomfortable and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.

“A package of dynamite.” – Stephen King

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This Lovely City by Louise Hare 

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London and fallen in love with the girl next door. Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery. As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart. A brilliant debut.

“Full to the brim with such complete joys and heart-aching tragedies… you can feel the warmth and colour emanating from the pages.” – Magic Radio Book Club

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Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Is this Marian Keyes' best novel yet? Considering we raced through almost 700 pages in under two days, we’re inclined to say yes. Grown Ups follows the lives of the Caseys. Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together: birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they're a happy family. But under the surface, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, others like each other a little too much. Everything stays under control until Ed's wife, Cara, gets concussion and starts revealing secrets one by one. In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it's time to finally grow up. A heartening, pacey read.

“A novel that is warm and witty but never afraid to tackle the big stuff.” – Elizabeth Day, author of How To Fail

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